When our humans started getting sick and before long fell into a deep coma, we frankly feared for our lives, especially when the disease took out half of Hampton Cove’s population and for a moment it looked as if the four of us were the last ones standing. As it was, the members of the neighborhood watch had been spared, and so Gran, Scarlett, Wilbur and Father Reilly took it upon themselves to find out what was going on. Especially when it transpired that the virus was man-made and certain dark forces had launched it with a specific and nefarious goal in mind.
And so four senior citizens and their seven cats began a campaign to bring our town back from the brink and thwart the conspiracy that had put our loved ones in the hospital. And with Gran at the helm, let’s just say we were in for one bumpy ride!
Vesta had been jotting down a few random thoughts in her diary when she thought she heard a noise. She sat up a little straighter in bed—her favorite place to entrust her private musings to paper—and pricked up her ears. The sound seemed to come from the window, and as she slipped her feet from underneath the duvet—covered with drawings of orange cats as befits a self-confessed cat lady—she wondered if she shouldn’t alert her son-in-law, no doubt still fast asleep in the room next to hers.
But then she decided against it. She prided herself on being a self-sufficient type of person who didn’t need anything from anyone, and most definitely not from Tex, whom she had always considered something of an oaf. And so she tiptoed to the window, gripping her pen in her right hand as a weapon, hoping she wouldn’t encounter a burglar or some other individual intent on perpetrating some nefarious designs on her person. If it was, she would give him or her the benefit of the sharp end of her pencil. After all, the pencil is still mightier than the sword.
When she arrived at the window, which was of the dormer variety, and looked out, she saw that the noise had originated from a large bird with black plumage, who seemed intent on hammering his way into the house by applying his sharp beak to the pane. If she wasn’t mistaken, it was a raven—never a good sign!
She lowered the pencil and gave the bird a not-so-friendly look. “What do you want?” she asked in an irascible tone. If the bird understood what she was saying, it didn’t give any indication, for it simply kept hammering away, as if its life depended on it. For a moment, she considered chasing it away, but then she had a better idea. Clearly, the bird was either laboring under a misapprehension that there was food to be had inside the house it was beleaguering with its presence, and it wasn’t going to stop until it personally ascertained whether this was true or not, or it had some kind of urgent message to impart on its inhabitants.
So she tiptoed out of her room, barefoot across the wooden floor, and gently nudged open the door of her daughter and son-in-law’s room. As she had surmised, two of their four cats were sound asleep at the foot of the bed. So she let out a noise like a steam whistle, causing all those resting in the bed to sit up with a jerk. She had intended to quietly whisper a word or two to the cats, but as usual, she didn’t know the strength of her own voice.
The upshot was that both Tex and Marge were wide awake, and also Harriet and Brutus.
“There’s a bird,” she said in her defense. “I think it wants something. Could you…” She had addressed herself to Harriet and Brutus, but it was Marge who responded.
“Go back to bed, Ma,” she said. And she immediately plunked down again to show her mother how it was done.
“Not… enough… sleep,” Tex murmured as he followed his wife’s example. He smacked his lips for a moment, giving his mother-in-law a sleepy look, and promptly dozed off again.
Lucky for Vesta, Harriet and Brutus were made of sterner stuff, and after she had given them a gesture that told them all they needed to know, they obediently hopped down from the bed and followed her into her own room.
“That’s the bird,” she said, gesturing to the black raven, still pecking away to its dark heart’s content. “So if you could please ask what it wants?”
“I’m not sure this is such a good idea, Gran,” said Harriet. “Birds, as a rule, startle easily.”
“She’s right,” said Brutus. “The moment we jump up onto that windowsill, it will simply fly off.”
They were absolutely right, of course. Birds and cats will probably never really see eye to eye, owing to differing viewpoints on the nature of food. Cats consider birds an essential staple of their diet, while birds take an entirely different view.
“Just ask what it wants,” she said, “without going anywhere near it.” When her cats continued to stare at her, she clarified, “Just holler, will you?”
Harriet smiled. She had finally understood. And so she cleared her throat, opened those formidable pipes she had on her, and yelled, “Hey, bird! What do you want from us?!”
For the first time since it had landed on Vesta’s windowsill, the bird downed tools and showed an interest in the inhabitants of the room it was trying to break into.
“Yeah, just tell us what it is you want,” Brutus added his two cents, also hollering at the top of his lungs, which, like Harriet’s, were quite formidable.
The bird now cocked its head, as birds often do, and prefaced any remarks it intended to make by giving Vesta the benefit of a lengthy stare. Then it finally gave them the benefit of the sound of its voice by declaring something that Vesta didn’t understand since she didn’t speak the creature’s language.
She turned to Harriet. “What did it say?”
“I think it wants you to open the window.”
“But then it will fly away,” said Vesta. “Won’t it?”
Brutus shrugged. “I got the same message,” he confessed.
And since a full quorum had given her the go-ahead, Vesta stalked over to the window and opened it. She shouldn’t have been afraid the bird would take flight. Instead, it hopped onto the windowsill and glanced around the room. When its beady eyes landed on Harriet and Brutus, it seemed to puff out its chest and launched into a long harangue of words that came across as a lot of chirruping. When finally the stream of chirps dried up, Vesta saw that Harriet and Brutus sat looking up at the bird with looks of surprise etched on their furry faces.
“Well?” she asked. “What does it want? Tell me already!”
Brutus cleared his throat. “It says that…” He glanced uncertainly in Harriet’s direction, but the Persian, contrary to her habit, seemed to have been struck dumb.
“What?” Vesta prompted. She was still holding on to her pencil, and if someone didn’t start talking soon, she had a good mind to prod them with said pencil.
Finally, it was Harriet who spoke. She glanced up at Vesta with those remarkable green eyes of hers and said, “The bird wants you to cease and desist.”
“Cease and desist? Cease and desist what?” She hated it when people spoke in riddles, and that applied to cats and birds, too.
“Cease and desist turning your backyard into a dead zone,” said Brutus.
“And the front yard, too,” said Harriet.
“I don’t get it,” she admitted. “My backyard isn’t a dead zone. It’s full of flowers and plants and all manner of greenery!” If there was anything she prided herself in, it was the fact that she possessed a green thumb.
“You use too many pesticides,” Brutus said. “Causing all the worms to take a hike. And worms being a principal food source for birds, you’re depriving this poor bird and all of its friends of sustenance.”
The bird launched into a series of chirrups once more, with Harriet and Brutus listening intently. “It also says you have to convince your neighbors to stop using pesticides,” said Harriet.
“But most importantly,” said Brutus. “It wants you and that neighborhood watch of yours to stop the development of Blake’s field.”
Now that Vesta could understand. The field that ran behind her house—and all the houses of their neighbors—had, in recent years, been allowed to turn into a minor jungle, with weeds and all manner of life allowed to spring up in wild abandon, no doubt becoming a haven for the local bird population. But now that Blake Carrington had given the go-ahead for the piece of land to be sold off and put into development, it wouldn’t be long before that was all a thing of the past, with devastating consequences for all the species that lived there.
“There isn’t a lot I can do about that,” she said. “Blake sold the land, and the new owner seems intent on getting rid of what he calls an eyesore.” Most of their neighbors were glad that the field would finally yield to a more aesthetically pleasing development, and everyone was hoping for a nice set of condos that would considerably raise the value of their own properties.
“Clark says you have to stop the development,” Harriet reiterated. “In fact, he says that you’re his last hope.”
Now this was more to Vesta’s liking. She often got the impression that she was the only one who valued the existence of their neighborhood watch, but clearly there were others who thought the same thing—even if those others were of the feathered variety. “I’m afraid I don’t know very much about it,” she said. “All I know is that the field was sold off. I don’t know anything about the new owner.”
Brutus gave her a keen look. “So maybe it’s time you found out, Gran?”
“After all, if they erect some tall building, it will make a big difference for all of us,” Harriet argued. “Or imagine if they build a noisy factory? Or a wall?”
She shivered. The thought had occurred to her, but seeing as life had kept her pretty busy of late, she hadn’t really looked into the sale of Blake’s field yet. So she turned to the bird. “Clark, is it?”
The bird nodded. Or at least she thought it did.
“I’ll look into the sale of the field,” she said. “But I can’t promise you that what I find will make you happy. And I can’t promise that I’ll be able to stop any development plans that might be harmful to your species.”
“What about the pesticides, Gran?” asked Harriet. “You know you shouldn’t use those. It’s probably bad for us, too.” She gave Vesta a reproachful look that spoke volumes.
“But I don’t use pesticides!” she assured her audience. And even if she did, what harm could it do? All of it was approved by the EPA, as far as she knew. But as the bird kept giving her the evil eye and causing her to feel antsy, she finally caved. “Oh, fine,” she said, throwing up her hands. “I’ll see what I can do, all right?”
“And you will talk to the neighbors?” Brutus insisted.
“I will talk to the neighbors,” she said. Though she didn’t think they’d roll over and comply as easily as she just had. And all because of one stupid bird!
The bird chirped again, and Harriet smiled and said, “Clark says thank you, and he will be following your future progress with considerable interest.”
Somehow, and she didn’t know why, she felt that there was more than a hint of menace in those words. But then she shrugged it off and gave the bird a quick nod. Clark seemed to return the nod and then spread his wings and flew off.
Ronnie Vincent stared up at the ceiling and admired the brave and enterprising little spider that had attached itself to the corner of the molding. Lying next to his wife, he didn’t stir, for fear of waking her up and causing her to turn over and pepper him with questions about his intentions, as she had done incessantly since he had told her the news. It wasn’t that he didn’t have the answers she was looking for, but more that he didn’t want to get embroiled in another argument. After all, even though his intentions were pure, it was obvious that Lorie didn’t exactly agree with him in that regard.
He should have known that when he launched this latest venture of his there would be pushback and plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth. But he hadn’t foreseen that it would be his own wife who would be most vocal amongst that crowd of naysayers and vehement critics of his work. He had tried to explain that he was doing it all for them—for the future of their family and most importantly for their kids, Sophie and Hannah. But it had all been for naught. Clearly Lorie had entirely different notions of what that future should look like, and it certainly didn’t include the plans he had in mind.
He now placed his hands underneath his head and closed his eyes, as he gave himself up to thought. After all, it wasn’t every day that you got the chance to change the world. To make it over in your own image. From scratch, as it were. As if yours was effectively the hand of God making tabula rasa and rummaging around with all creation. He grimaced. Lorie had accused him of harboring delusions of grandeur, and as he listened to his own thoughts, he wondered if she didn’t have a point. To think he was God! Oh, the hubris!
The sleeping form of his wife stirred, and for a moment he held his breath. The last thing he needed was for another argument to ensue. He had enough on his plate as it was without trouble in the home adding to the list. But when her even breathing continued unabated, he soon relaxed. This was the moment that the tiny spider suddenly decided to take the great leap into the beyond and started abseiling from the ceiling, practically touching his face as it did. For a moment he fully thought it was going to land on his face and use it as a launch platform for further adventures. But as he watched the spider, his eyes going cross-eyed as he did, the spider must have become aware of the danger that lurked beneath and quickly reeled itself in and raced back up to the ceiling, where it was safe from harm and where no doubt it hoped to snatch a couple of fat flies as harbingers of great meals to come. Ronnie closed his eyes and dreamed of bigger things and the success of his venture, and soon he was fast asleep himself.
At least until a minor earthquake shook him to his foundations. When he opened his eyes, he saw that the earthquake consisted of their two daughters, Hannah and Sophie, and they were using his belly as a trampoline, as they often did. The noise they produced was enough to wake up an elephant, and since he and Lorie weren’t denizens of that ancient and noble species, it didn’t take them long to be fully awake. And as they gazed into each other’s eyes while their offspring settled in between them, he wondered what his wife was thinking. For some reason, he had the impression she still wasn’t very happy with him right now.
But that couldn’t be helped. Whether she liked his plans or not, he was still going ahead with them.
The die was cast, and it was too late to put the genie back in the bottle.
Brenton Brooke darted a quick look left and right, then proceeded to cross the street at a trot, as was his habit. As a kid, his pop had always told him that traffic was a killer, and that you had to approach it like you did a wild beast of the jungle: by making sure you never allowed it to catch you unawares. And so he still made sure no car could ever come anywhere close to his person and run him over, as that particular species seemed to be in the habit of doing. A great big hulking monster of a vehicle honked its horn, and if he was startled, he didn’t give any indication. He simply put more pep in his step and, not unlike a ballerina, performed a sort of pirouette in midair and made sure he was safely on the sidewalk before the vehicle could chew up parts of his person and maul him to death between its slathering jaws.
He gazed up at the facade of the building, and for a moment hesitated about whether he should set foot inside or not. But then he screwed up his courage to the sticking point and placed one foot on the threshold, a hand firmly on the knocker, and gave the implement a vigorous shake. Moments later, the sturdy door was yanked open by a liveried and bearded specimen that he surmised was some species of butler, so he stated his case. The underling listened without giving any indication that there was life behind the impassive facade but then deigned to step aside and allow him entry into the abyss. And so it was, with a beating heart and bated breath, that he placed himself into the hands of fate by entering the lair of Edmond Orbell, the eminent physician who came highly recommended by anyone dealing with the affliction that currently held him in its grip. After all, if Doctor Orbell couldn’t see his way to returning him to full health, no one could.
Moments later, he was seated in the medical miracle worker’s waiting room, where he found himself in the company of no fewer than three other patients, picked up a copy of Physician’s Weekly from the salon table, and pretended to wait patiently for his turn. In actual fact, anxiety now held him firmly in its grip. And try as he might, he couldn’t escape the notion that he may have made a mistake by placing his fate in the hands of Doctor Orbell.
One by one, the other inhabitants of the waiting room were called away by a friendly-looking nurse, and then finally, it was his turn. He rose from the plush and comfortable chair, replaced the copy of the medical journal on the table, and meekly followed the nurse down the corridor. She led him into the inner sanctum of Edmond Orbell’s emporium and told him to take a seat while adding those time-honored words, “The doctor will see you soon,” then silently closed the door.
Oddly enough, she hadn’t even told him to take off all of his clothes, except for his socks and underwear. Not that he was upset about that, as he wasn’t in the habit of taking off his clothes in the presence of ladies he had never met before. He might be a lot of things, but most of all he was a gentleman, and what was more, a gentleman who was faithful to his one true love, now more or less patiently sitting at home awaiting further proceedings. For he wasn’t the only one who was anxious about what the day would bring.
Before long, the door opened and closed again, and as a man of voluminous aspect and dressed in a white smock strode in, a stethoscope dangling from his impressive neck, he knew he was in the presence of medical greatness.
“Mr... Brooke,” he said, reading from the file he carried. And as he took a seat behind his desk, he gave him the benefit of a wintry smile. “So what can I do for you, Mr. Brooke?”
Which was his cue to turn from a normal human being into a blubbering mess of a man in just about two seconds flat, possibly setting a new world record.
For some reason I couldn’t quite comprehend, I found myself on the floor of the bedroom where I like to spend my nights. Under normal circumstances, I sleep at the foot of the bed that I share with my human Odelia and her husband Chase. Now though, try as I might, I couldn’t remember how I had ended up on the floor next to the bed instead of in my usual spot. The only thing I could think was that Odelia must have had a nightmare and had kicked out with her feet, propelling me from the bed and landing my tush on the floor.
Lucky for me, Odelia has had the foresight of placing a small carpet next to the bed to protect her bare feet from the cold hardwood floor, and it was on this carpet that I now found myself, bemused and befuddled.
I glanced up at the bed, but nothing stirred, so whatever had caused me to fall from that great height, it was all in the past now. Even though I tried to search my memory, nothing presented itself as a possible explanation.
“You jumped down all by yourself, Max,” suddenly a voice rang out not that far from me. When I glanced in the direction of the sound, I discovered that Grace, Odelia and Chase’s little girl, was looking at me intently from the safety of her cot.
“I jumped down?” I asked.
“I saw you do it,” said the blond-haired little angel as she studied her fingernails. “‘’Twas the middle of the night, and not a creature stirred when all of a sudden you uttered a strange sound and jumped from the bed.”
“What sound?” I asked, intrigued by this story.
She frowned. “Eeek,” she said. “If memory serves.”
“That’s right. It sounded as if you were having a nightmare. I remember thinking something must have scared you because knowing you, it takes a lot to elicit such a sound. So whatever you were dreaming of, it must have been pretty terrifying.” She shivered. “Please tell me what it was, Max. Was it very horrible?”
It’s a trait I’ve noticed in many a human person: this obsession with the macabre and the ghoulish. On the one hand, they profess to hate scary things, but on the other, they love it. It’s a quirk I don’t share with them, I have to admit. For me, scary is scary, and however you choose to look at it, it never becomes fun.
“I don’t remember,” I confessed. “I don’t even remember how I ended up down here instead of up there.”
“A nightmare,” she said, nodding confidently. “And a very scary one.”
A third voice now joined the conversation. It was my good friend and housemate Dooley, and as he stuck his head over the edge of the bed and gazed down into the precipice, he looked pretty scared himself, I have to say. “Was it very terrible, Max?” he asked. “This nightmare you had? What was it about? Were there monsters? Was there…” He shook violently. “Was there a giant spider?!”
“Like I just told Grace, I don’t remember having a nightmare,” I told my fluffy-haired feline friend. “All I know is that I woke up just now and found myself on the floor.”
“On the rug,” Grace corrected me. She always was a stickler for le mot juste.
“On the rug,” I agreed, giving her the benefit of a grateful smile.
“Pity I can’t look into your head,” she said now. “And see what your nightmare was about.”
Now it was my turn to shiver violently. Imagine if people started looking into your head and reading your mind. Now, wouldn’t that be a most terrifying thing?
“I’m sure it was nothing,” I told her. “Just one of those things, you know.”
“Indigestion,” said Dooley. “It often leads to bad dreams. What did you eat last night, Max? Was it something heavy? I’ll bet that’s what made you suffer that nightmare you had.”
I didn’t recall having eaten a heavy meal. Just a few nuggets of food as usual. As a rule, I don’t like to eat before retiring for the night, since I hate falling asleep with a full stomach. But try as I might, I couldn’t convince Dooley that his theory wasn’t accurate. So finally I decided to drop it. The topic bored me already.
“I dreamed of my first day of school,” said Grace, a beatific smile on her face now. “I can’t wait to start school, you guys. Meet a lot of great friends. Meet the person who’s going to take me by the hand and lead me to the world of grown-ups. Who will transfer all of her wisdom and knowledge to me and fill my head with wonder and the miracle of enlightenment. It’s one of those watershed moments in any young person’s life that I, for one, can’t wait to launch into.”
Dooley and I both stared at the kid. “That’s… great,” I said, a little lamely, I must admit. For some reason, I had a feeling that reality might not live up to the dream. Though of course it was entirely possible that she met such a wonderful teacher who would usher in a world of wonder, erudition, culture, and intellect. As it was, she was already a lot smarter than I was, even at her young age.
She now glanced out of the window, located next to her cot. Sunlight was starting to seep in, and as she took in the new dawn, she said, “You guys, something’s going on in Blake’s field.”
“Yeah, rumor has it that the field has been sold,” I told her. “So it looks like they’ll be turning it into something other than a derelict piece of wasteland.”
“Diggers have arrived,” she said. “And if I’m not mistaken, they’re going to start digging a very big hole any moment now.”
Dooley and I shared another look, this time of alarm. “But I thought they were going to turn it into a park?” said my friend. “Do they need diggers to create a park, Max?”
“I’m sure they do,” I said. “They need to get rid of all those weeds and bushes and the ramshackle structures that have sprung up over there. So diggers are probably the best way to go.”
Dooley relaxed and placed his head on his paws. “I like parks. Parks are nice. Kids playing, people relaxing, birds chirping… Maybe we can even move cat choir to this new park. That way we don’t have to walk so far at night.”
“Yeah, that would be a good idea,” I said. Though I wasn’t sure our neighbors would necessarily agree. For some reason, humans don’t often appreciate the artistic contribution a cat choir makes to the world of music.
And I would have closed my eyes for a quick little nap when suddenly Brutus and Harriet burst into the room. “You guys!” Harriet yelled. “They’re going to turn Blake’s field into a factory!”
“Or a wall!” said Brutus.
“Or an ugly office tower!”
Odelia, who had finally woken up from all the noise, muttered sleepily, “What’s with all the racket?”
“The field, Odelia!” said Brutus. “Some developers are going to build the Empire State Building right next to our home—and we have to stop them!”
In a flash, I suddenly remembered what my nightmare had been about: for some reason, I had found myself falling into a deep, dark, bottomless pit!