This is the only children's story I've written. I hope my wife can do the illustrations. Meanwhile I have a few photos of our own cats with which to liven the tale.
"Wow! What a big cat!".
That was David's first thought as he looked at the animal that had jumped his fence and landed in his yard.
That was David's first thought as he looked at the animal that had jumped his fence and landed in his yard.
David wanted all creatures to have good homes and plenty of food. People in his neighborhood called him "Mister Zoo" because he adopted so many animals. He had six cats, four dogs, a parrot, a guinea pig and a pony. They all lived in the house except for the pony, who slept under an awning in a fenced patch of grass. The pony was only about the size of a little boy and spent the day wandering around with the other animals.
David watched the cat quietly. The animal was sitting like a king in his garden. He had long black and white fur. His ears were torn from fights and there was a scar on his nose. His fur was matted with mud and was full of sharp sticky little leaves and twigs. His paws were so big that David already had a name for him. He was Paws!
David knew that trouble was coming. The wind changed direction. It carried the smell of a strange animal. Six cats, four dogs, a guinea pig, a parrot and a pony caught the smell of the new cat. Their heads turned at the same time, eyes and noses searching for the stranger in their garden. They saw him, sitting calmly in the middle of a patch of red flowers.
It was as if someone had blown a whistle to start a race. Tweet! All of David's animals went zooming across the yard at top speed, barking, flapping, neighing and hissing. Attack attack! A stranger is in our midst! Drive him away!
That's how animals treat strangers. Animals think about food a lot, and strangers might eat their food. So their first idea is to chase away new animals.
Paws didn't run away. The animals came to a sudden stop in a circle around the new cat. Wait a minute! What's going on here? This cat should be running for his life. Instead he's standing straight and tall and telling everyone, " You don't want to mess with me. I'm a pretty tough cat."
Sniff sniff. Sniff sniff. The animals circled the stranger, sniffing his nose, sniffing his toes, sniffing his ears and sniffing his other parts. Paws sniffed back. In animal language this sniffing is like seeing a movie or reading a book. The sniffing says everything. After sniffing, animals aren't strangers any more. They decide by sniffing who's going to be their friend.
This time David's animals decided that Paws was going to be a friend. They turned and walked towards the back porch, escorting Paws like a super hero. They let him go up the steps first. The food and water dishes were on the porch. The pony waited for everyone else to get up the steps and then he followed. His hooves made sounds like drum beats on the wooden deck.
Paws was hungry and thirsty. The animals stood back while the cat drank a long drink, his tongue going "flup flup flup flup." Then he ate all the kibble in one of the dishes.
He was a big cat and he was really hungry!
David went into the house. The animals followed. Even the horse went into the house.
David had never seen anything like this, never seen his animals make friends so quickly. They not only accepted the cat: they made him their leader, just like that!
Paws rubbed against David's legs with his tail going swish swish swish swish. David got onto the floor and gave Paws a scratch on the ears The cat rolled onto his back while his tail went swish swish swish swish. David scratched his tummy and the cat's eyes were half closed with happiness.
One thing was strange to David. Paws didn't purr. David could tell if animals were sad or lonely. He could tell if they had made a great journey across mountains and deserts. Paws was one of those cats who had traveled a long way. Today he had found a new home! He should be happy.
But he didn't purr. That was strange. Happy cats purr. Don't they?
David was tired from working in the garden all morning. He went into his living room and sat on his big soft chair. He was surprised when Paws jumped right onto his lap and looked straight into his eyes.
"I wonder," thought David, "what stories this cat would tell me if only he could talk."
It seemed as if the cat heard his mind. He's trying to tell me his story, David realized. Paws opened his mouth and said softly, "Yow?. Myow?" His voice was gentle, almost too quiet to hear. It was a sweet voice for such a big tough looking cat.
I wish, thought David, that I could speak the language of animals. They could teach me so many things!
David stared into Paws' eyes. As Paws said, "Myow?", a light slowly came from his eyes, a golden light that floated like a cloud around David's head. The cloud became so thick that David couldn't see his house any more. Instead, he saw people and places, he saw summer and winter, he saw deserts with cactus and high snowy mountains. He saw good people and bad people. Then David heard Paws' voice. Inside the golden cloud, the cat was speaking to him in a new kind of language, and he understood! There were words in this language but there were also pictures and feelings.
"I remember," the cat said, "I remember the first time I opened my eyes. I was being fed by my mother. My sister and two brothers and I were drinking milk
and purring. All I knew of life was a giant purr, the sweet taste of milk and the sound of my mother's heart beating.
Mother had given us our names. These are special cat names that a mother gives to her kittens when they're born. There is no way to say them in human language. I may have many names in my life but nothing is more important to me than my first name, the name my mother gave me when I was born.
As I got older, huge hands picked me up and held me in a warm place where there was a giant heart beat. My mother told me that these were the family that we lived with. They gave us names, too. They called my mother Violet. They called my sister Fanny, and my brothers, Manny and Lanny.
My name was Claude. Don't ask me why. I thought I might be Danny or Sammy, but someone named me Claude. Maybe it was because of my big paws.
When I was about a month old I found out that I was different. We had just stopped being a pile of kittens at mama's tummy and were getting picked up by people, one at a time. The family's kids picked up Manny and I could hear him purring all the way across the room. Lanny and Fanny didn't have any trouble purring. It was just me. When I got picked up, my tail went swish swish, swish swish, but there was no purr. When we were all together I thought I was purring but now I knew I was different and it made me very sad. I tried to purr. I rattled the bones in my throat, blew air through my teeth, wiggled my tongue as fast as I could. Nothing I tried sounded like a purr.
My mother was worried. Late at night she took me to the computer and used her paws to Google the word "purr". We read all kinds of things, but it seems that no one really knows how a cat purrs. It just does. Or, in my case, it doesn't.
"I'm sorry, little one," my mother said. "Without a good purr your life might be harder than most cat's lives. Just swish that tail of yours and you'll find someone to love you."
I hoped she was right. Another month passed and Manny found a home.
Then some people came to the house and fell in love with Fanny. She went away with those people. I missed my brother and sister but this is the way things are with kittens. They have to find new homes or pretty soon there will be a hundred cats in the house and in my opinion I would not want to live around a hundred cats. Not even fifty. Or twenty. Two or three is just about right.
Pretty soon I was the last kitten. A very nice lady came to the house, smiled at me and picked me up. I swished my tail as fast as I could.
"You are very handsome, little kitten," she said. I was thinking THIS IS IT THIS IS IT! Someone will love me and take me home.
A strange look came over her face. It was a look I would get to know. I would know that look on a hundred faces in a hundred places. It was a look of disappointment. It was a look of rejection. That's when someone sends a feeling at you that says, "No, I don't want you!" That's what rejection is. And it hurts. It hurts really bad.
"What a shame," the lady said. "He doesn't have a purr. Not even a little vibration. I'm sorry but I can't take him. Who wants a cat without a purr, a cat that can't tell you when he's happy?"
"I can tell you!", I yowled desperately. "I swish my tail like this, see? Swish swish. Swish swish. I'm happy I'm happy, see? See?"
She didn't see. She couldn't understand my language.
The next day my family put me in a box and took me to the grocery store.
The kids sat with me out front. They had written words on the box: FREE KITTEN.
People picked me up, stroked me, my tail went swish swish, but always that look came, that look of disappointment and rejection. The look that said NO I DON'T WANT YOU. People put me in the box and walked away
Then a man came along. He barely looked at me. He didn't pick me up. He asked the kids, " I have some mice in my apartment. I need a good mouser. Is this cat a good mouser?" The kids didn't want to lie. They shook their heads kind of up and kind of sideways and said "ummmm, welll....there aren't any mice in our house. Not a single one."
"All right, I'll take him" said the man. He picked me up, tucked me in his jacket and drove me to his place. I was filled with joy. At last, I had a new person, I had a home! It was sad to leave my first family but that's how nature works. Kittens get adopted. And now I was too. I was, at last, adopted by a new person.
The man gave me food, water, a scratching pole and a box to go in. Then he went to work and he was gone all day. The windows and doors were closed. There was no fresh air. The place didn't smell good.
I was terribly lonely. The hours went by so slowly that I wanted to cry.
Then I heard a tiny sound. I looked under the couch. A little creature with a pointy nose and a long tail was looking back at me.
"OH!" It was surprised and almost ran away. "OH!" I yelped and almost ran away too. Then the creature took a close look at me. "Whew, what a relief," it said. "For a minute I thought you were a mouser. But I can tell you're not the type. Right?"
"A mouser?" I said. "You mean? Uh..."
"See?" the creature said with relief. "Your mother wasn't a mouser and your grandmother wasn't a mouser and I'll bet your great grandmother wasn't a mouser either. It runs in the family. You either are or you aren't. And you're not!"
"So", I said,..."I presume that you are a mouse."
"That's right, I'm a mouse. My name is Duke."
He extended his paw and we shook paws and decided to become friends. All the rest of that day we talked and played. When we talked we used the language that all animals use. It's called Everything Language. All around the world animals talk to one another in Everything Language. For some reason, people can't speak this language. That's sad because if people spoke Everything Language maybe they wouldn't treat us like we don't have any feelings.
When the man came home Duke vanished under the couch.
After the man sat down with his newspaper I jumped up on his lap, swishing my tail. "Hello kitty," he said, "we haven't given you a name yet. What shall we call you?"
I rolled over on my back and stretched. I rubbed my chin on the man's knee. I was doing everything a happy cat can do. I was watching the man's face. I was praying that I would not see that dreadful look on the man's face.
"What's the matter," the man said. "Don't you like me?" There it was, the look that I feared. If a face could be a door, this one was closing.
"I gave you the best food," he snarled. "I got you a bed and a scratching pole. Why can't you give me one little purr, to say 'thank you'"?
"I'm doing my best," I said in Everything Language, which of course the man did not understand. "I'm swishing my tail! That says I'm happy, see?" Swish swish, swish swish.
The man didn't understand. At that very moment, Duke poked his head from under the couch and said, "Forget it, dude. The guy's a total loser. He doesn't have any friends, he doesn't do anything besides work, he never goes out to have fun. He just watches TV all the time."
Then Duke ran scampering all the way across the room and vanished beneath the refrigerator. Talk about bad timing!
The man had seen my new mouse friend. His face turned red, and he picked me up roughly. "That's it! I've got a name for you. Useless! That's your name! Useless, Useless, Useless!"
He opened the door of the apartment and threw me into the street. The door slammed shut.
I didn't know what to do. This was supposed to be my new home. I had a new friend. I couldn't leave Duke. I scratched at the door and cried. When it opened I thought I had been forgiven. I was wrong. The man hit me with a rolled up newspaper and yelled "Get out of here you useless cat!"
I ran and ran until I came to a place with trees and a little creek. It was getting dark. I found a hole in a fallen tree and crawled inside as the night covered the woods like a blanket. I heard the flapping of owls' wings and the wind whispered through the moonlit branches. I was so scared that I could only repeat my first name, the name my mother gave to me, my secret cat name. I said it over and over.
After a while I was so hungry that I forgot to be scared. I went back to the place where the man lived. I saw people putting bags of good smelling stuff into silver cans. When I was sure no one was looking I jumped on top of one of the silver cans and tried to get food out. The lid was too tight, so I made the can rock back and forth until it fell to the ground with a big clatter.
There was food all over the place. There was chicken, hamburger and cheese. I was just taking a bite when something came running out of the woods and knocked me backwards so hard that I turned a circle in the air.
"Who...who are you?" I whispered. I was looking into a face full of sharp teeth. They belonged to a creature with a long ringed tail and a black mask over its face. Behind the leader there were four more of the animals, snorting and growling. I thought it was the end, that my life was over.
The animal stood up on its hind feet and puffed out its chest.
"I am Raccoon Tour," it said. "And these are my brothers, Raccoon Bob, Raccoon Slob, Raccoon Knob and Raccoon Job. They are so stupid they wouldn't be able to find their own tails if I didn't help them along."
Raccoon Tour shrugged his shoulder. "What can you do? Family's family, right?"
The other raccoons muttered "Yeh yeh yeh yeh," as they chased one another's tails. One of them thought it had someone else's tail but turned out it was its own tail and when it pulled hard, it fell over and yelled "Ouch! Cut it out!"
The others went "Heh heh heh heh" and turned into a big pile of masked ring-tailed animals.
"These cans belong to us," Raccoon Tour said. "Nobody eats from here but my family."
"Yeh yeh yeh yeh," said the other raccoons, rolling around and biting at the air.
"Now I ain't a bad guy," said Raccoon Tour. "Here's a little somethin, so you don't starve to death'." He reached into the spilled food and held out a piece of meat about the size of his nose. It wasn't much.
"Now get outta here and don't come back, little kitty, 'fore I get mad."
"Fore he gets mad fore he gets mad" said the rest of his brothers.
I ran back to my hole in the tree. I ate the little piece of food. I was still very hungry. I repeated my secret cat name until I fell asleep.
In the morning the wind brought me smells of cooking breakfasts from a hundred directions. My stomach was growling. It kept saying "Hungry, hungry, hungry, hungry, feed me feed me feed me feed me." The noise my stomach made was even louder than the noise my mind was making. Inside my mind a voice said over and over again, "I'm scared, hide. I'm scared, hide."
I had to ignore that voice. If I listened to that voice, I would starve to death. So I picked out the best of all the smells and I followed it.
There was food, lots of food. I made myself as brave as I could and went to ask for something to eat. With all this food, no one wanted to share. Dogs chased me. People called me bad names and sometimes threw things at me. I had to find food that wasn't being eaten and guarded by such mean people.
At last I smelled something that didn't have a dog, a cat, a skunk, a raccoon or a person eating it, guarding or protecting it . The smell came from inside a big shiny car that had an open window. I was able to jump onto a fender, then crawl over a big mirror and slip into the front seat. At last, there was food! In the back seat was a slab of meat surrounded by two pieces of bread. This was wrapped in paper, which I tore apart and began to eat until my tummy bulged. I felt sleepy, so I crawled onto the floor and tucked myself under the seat.
A noise woke me. We were moving! A man with yellow hair was playing with dials on his dashboard and loud groaning sounds were coming out of speakers, sounds that I didn't understand. The whole car vibrated.
"Uh..Uh.." the speakers said, "Mama wants you to get Down Dude, Get Down Get Down Get Down, Dude...Uh..Uh..Mama wants you to get Down". The singer, if that's what it was, sounded sort of angry but he was singing about his mother, so I thought it must be okay. I don't understand human beings but everyone loves their mom.
The car drove for a long time.
It stopped at a building with colored lights blinking on and off. I hopped out of the car before the driver saw me. There was a road vanishing into the darkness. Cars zoomed by so fast that the wind made my fur move.
The building smelled like food. People went in and out, with shiny bags of meat and bread. They got back into their cars and drove off into the night, towards the mountains in one direction, towards the city in the other. I didn't want to stay near this place. The people acted bad. They walked like their legs were made out of rubber and they pushed each other around.
I was very confused. I waited for the cars to pass, then I ran across the road. This place didn't have tall trees like my birth place. The ground was sandy and I could see spiny bushes and tumbled rocks in the moonlight. I crawled into a little space in a pile of rocks, hoping that I would be safe until morning.
The sounds of the night were like the pages of a story book turning. Coyotes ran across the hills in single file, wailing at the moon.. Snakes rattled, badgers dug tunnels in the sand. Scorpions crawled from rock to rock.
Then something was hissing at my hiding place. It was too big to get in, but it sniffed and growled. The fur on my back grew stiff and I growled back, hoping to sound bigger than I was. The creature started digging at my shelter and when it peeked in with one eye I saw that it was a cat twenty times my size.
I prayed that I would be safe. Just as I thought I was about to get eaten the monster let out a scream. Its eye vanished and I heard it yelling as it ran across the desert.
"Thank you, thank you, for answering my prayers." I said to God.
Then a little black nose appeared. A familiar face peeked into my hiding place. It was Duke. He swung a porcupine quill like a sword. He had used it to stick the mountain lion's hind legs.
"Duke! You saved my life...but...how did you get here? How did you know?"
"I've been following you since you left that jerk's place", Duke said, "that loser who hit you with a newspaper. I got into the trunk of the same car you hitched a ride in. I've been doing that for years. I've been a thousand places. Trucks are the best. Just get in where the driver won't see you and eat all the stuff he throws on the floor."
From that moment, Duke and I traveled together. He knew a hundred things about the world and he taught me how to live. He rode on my back, hidden in my long coat. We journeyed across the country from summer to winter and back again.
I grew into a full sized cat, a very big cat. Once I saved Duke from a fox that bit me on the nose before I could chase it away. Another time Duke saved me from some bad people.
I was trying to get milk from a camping place. There were a bunch of men who were trying to be friendly. "Here kitty kitty," they said, "y' want some milk?"
I started to go towards the campsite when Duke grabbed my ear. "No no, Claudio," he said. "Can't you see their eyes? You can always tell about people by the kind of light that comes from their eyes."
I looked at the men. There were guns leaning against trees and propped inside their pickup trucks. There was dark light coming from their eyes. The light looked like storm clouds.
"See that?" Duke explained. "That dark light means trouble. No matter how hungry you are, never NEVER mess with people who have dark light in their eyes. Wait until you see people whose eyes have golden light, or silver, or rainbow colors. Those are good people. They'll help you. They'll give you food even when they're starving themselves. There aren't too many people like that in the world, but you can find them if you look. Let that be your guide about human beings. Look at the light in their eyes."
One of the men kept saying "Here kitty kitty kitty," and his voice sounded like a snarl. His hand was resting on one of his guns. Now I saw the stormy light that came from his eyes. I was running fast when the gunshot went whizzing over my head. Duke was clutching my mane and we vanished into the night.
I think that was the most important lesson I ever learned.
One hot summer day Duke and I were resting in a bale of hay at the back of a barn. "Duke," I said, "Let's find a real home, with a real family."
Duke sighed. "Be my guest, o best friend of mine. Just remember: I'm a mouse. Even a purrless cat can find a home sooner or later. But a mouse? Who are you kidding? Who would want me? Mice are not welcome, not anywhere!"
"Duke, you're not just any mouse. Come on, you've got to believe in yourself. You're Duke, the wisest mouse in the world. I could not have survived without you. You taught me everything I know. We just have to keep trying and never give up until we find a home for both of us. All we have to do is watch the light in people's eyes until we find a person whose light is the purest sun-shiny gold."
Duke's shoulders slumped with weariness. "I'm getting kinda tired of wandering around, with no place to call my own. Everyone needs a home. Everyone deserves a home."
We started the search. We went from town to town and from farm to farm. There were a lot of good people in the world, but the light that came from their eyes was...well...ordinary light. It changed from bright to dark sometimes, or it was golden colored but really not very bright. Duke and I knew that our home would not be an ordinary home.
Sometimes we found people who took us in for a few weeks. They thought Duke was cute. Sooner or later, something changed. The people would stop being so friendly. They put out traps and poison, trying to get rid of Duke. It was time to move on.
We traveled all the way to the ocean. I wanted to hop a boat but Duke refused. "I get seasick, Claude. I get it bad. No boats!"
We turned around and started back towards the mountains and the deserts.
We climbed a string of hills. One day after I had reached the top of a high hill, I looked below and saw a place that was as beautiful as the place where I had been born.
Duke was very quiet. I could tell what he was thinking. It looked like his birth place too.
It was a little town. The houses had big fenced yards full of apple and pear trees. The light that came from the peoples' eyes was as clear and bright as any we had ever seen. There were children and pets everywhere, and the people moved and walked with their hands and legs swinging loose. They weren't like the people in the big cities. City people moved like they had molasses poured down their pants and were trying to keep it from running into their shoes.
We watched from the top of the hill. We went down and started going from house to house, family to family. One day I saw a man. I had never seen eyes that held such beautiful light.
"Do you see him, Duke? Do you see that light? It's like the sun but it doesn't blind me."
Duke wrinkled his nose. "Not bad. But he's got a lot of other animals. Look at all those cats. What if one of them is a mouser?"
My heart sank. The man had six cats, four dogs, a guinea pig, a parrot, and pony.
"Stay here," I told Duke. "I'll go find out."
I waited till the man wasn't looking. I jumped up on the fence and let the animals see me. They came running, barking, hissing and flapping. I ran back up the hill.
"Just wait," I told Duke. "This may take a while."
A few hours later, I jumped back up on the fence and walked back and forth.
Again, the animals came running. The dogs leaped in the air, the cats got on the fence rail. The pony neighed. The parrot squawked. The guinea pig sighed because it wasn't much good at jumping or running.
I ran away.
Later that day, I did the same thing. And I did it again. The sun started sinking behind the hills and I returned to Duke.
"You're doing a great job, buddy, a great job." Duke was sarcastic.
"Sometimes good things take time," I told my friend. "You know that.
You've said it to me many times. If something is worth having, you keep working. You don't get angry or sad, you focus on your task and you keep working."
"You're right,"Duke apologized. "I'm just sitting here watching while you do all the work."
The next day I jumped on the fence. The animals looked at me and then ignored me. They had gotten bored with my routine. So I took the next step. I jumped down from the fence and landed in the yard, in the middle of a patch of red poppies.
This was too much. The animals had to do their duty. They charged at me but this time I didn't run. I wanted to run. My fear was saying, "I'm scared, hide! I'm scared, hide!"
I told my fear voice to be quiet. I didn't run. The animals stopped and looked at me with questions in their eyes.
"Who are you?" they asked.
"My first name is the name my mother gave me," I told the animals. I said the name and the cats understood it because it's a special cat name that only cats can pronounce.
"My second name is the name given to me by my birth family, which is Claude. That's the name I use most of the time. I have another name which I never use. That name is 'Useless'. I've also been called 'Heycat, Purrless Wonder, Getouttahereyoupest,' and all sorts of names."
The cats told me their cat names and their first family names and the names they used with the man. They told me the man's name was David.
The dogs had only one name apiece. The bird had twenty names and the horse didn't know its name but it thought it might be 'Giddyup' or 'Come On Let's Go'."
I learned with great relief that none of the cats were mousers. I called to Duke. He was just outside the fence. He crawled under and came towards us. I could tell he was nervous. He got up on my back where he usually rode and clutched tightly at my fur.
Introductions were made all around. "By the way," said the cat named Isadore, " we know a lot of nice lady mice around here. You should feel right at home."
Duke and I and David's animals made a plan. Then we went to our positions and waited for David to appear. After a while, he came from his house and walked toward the garden. I sat calmly in the poppy patch while the animals put on a great show of trying to chase me away. As I had hoped, David was amazed. He approached me and bent to scratch my ears. My tail went swish swish swish.
"I've already got a name for you," he said. "I'll call you Paws."
It sounded good to me. What's one more name?
David turned to go back to the house. All the animals followed. Duke stayed hidden in my fur.
David sat in a big chair and I jumped right up on his lap and looked straight into his eyes. Then something happened. The light in David's eyes jumped out and met the light in my eyes. In that moment, somehow, David learned to speak Everything Language. We could understand each other.
David had been thinking, "I wonder what stories this cat would tell me if only he could talk."
I had always been able to talk in Everything Language. Now that David could understand, I told him my whole story. When it was over, David asked me politely, "If you're starting a new life, maybe you should have a new name. Do you mind if we call you Paws from now on?"
"Yow, myow," I said. "I don't mind."
A little wrinkled nose came from the fur behind my ears.
"You must be Duke, Paws' best friend," David said. "You've been brave, loyal and wise. Welcome. Welcome Duke and Paws. Welcome to your new home. This will be your home forever."
"Thank you," said Duke. "But I don't want a new name. Is that okay?"
"I don't make people do things," said David, " that they don't want to do."
My tail and Duke's tail went swish swish swish at the same time.
"This is my kind of place," said Duke. "A place where I can be free."