This is the first episode of The Land of Milk and Honey, one of the many stories I wrote between the 1960s and 1980s. I believe this one was written around 1984. I had just bought my first personal computer, a Kaypro 2, which ran on CMS, the precursor to DOS. It had a 5-inch screen and two floppy disks. It is now a footrest under my desk but I can’t part with it.
Like most of my stories, this one needs some re-writing but that’s the reason I am posting them to my blog… I hate re-writing and editing and that’s what I would have to do in order to get them into publishable form. So it’s either post them here or they sit in a file box for another twenty years.
All characters and events are entirely fictional.
The Land of Milk and Honey (a feline horror story) – Part One – © copyright Roslyn M Wilkins
The landing was much smoother this time. Just a short jolt then a series of small shudders. Roger could see the house a few hundred feet away. The sign was still up, the one that said, “Welcome to the Land of Milk and Honey.” He would have to take that down tomorrow. He didn’t want any billboards spoiling the view.
“We’re home,” he said to his wife and squeezed her plump hand. Carol smiled, and it seemed to Roger that the dark circles under her eyes were already fading.
“It will make a new woman out of you,” the doctor had told her. And the man from the agency had promised Roger that he would feel thirty years younger. And it seemed to be true. The balding, sixty-year-old man with the arthritic shoulder had been left millions of miles away on a planet called Earth.
And as the transport door opened and the steps were lowered, he had the uncontrollable urge to do something he hadn’t thought of doing since… well, he really couldn’t remember when.
“Race you to the house,” he laughed to his wife as he took off down the steps and sprinted across the grass to the signboard. He stopped, putting his hand to his mouth in sudden embarrassment. He looked around to see Carol being helped down the steps by the captain and walked towards her with his hands outstretched.
“Isn’t it adorable?” Carol smiled as she took Roger’s hand. “Our very own little yellow house. And look, they’ve planted flowers in the window boxes.”
The captain came up behind them. “It’ll take us several hours to unload everything and do some routine maintenance on the ship. Then we’ll leave you on your own.”
Roger turned to shake the captain’s hand. “Thanks for everything.”
“How does it feel to own your own planet,” asked the captain.
“A dream come true,” whispered Carol, still in awe of the whole situation. They had always planned on retiring to some out-of-the-way spot on some out-of-the-way planet but as the years went by that dream seemed to slip away as prices escalated and real estate became more scarce with over-crowding in the furthest reaches of the galaxy.
So they had resigned themselves to spending their retirement years on Earth, continuing to groan about the congestion and moan about the air pollution until they both went to early graves, stressed out and sick.
But one day Carol inadvertently started the chain of events that brought them to “The Land of Milk and Honey.” She was always receiving invitations from companies like “Publisher’s Videohouse” and “Great American Videozines” and “Reader’s Video Digest” to enter their sweepstakes.
She always clicked on delete without bothering to look into them. She didn’t have time to read magazines anyway, and she knew that if she didn’t subscribe to at least twenty six she stood no chance of winning. So this day, when she really wasn’t concentrating, she opened one of the emails. It was from a new one, “Universe Videozines,” and she was halfway through the brightly colored screens before she realized it was another sweepstakes announcement. She was just about to hit the delete key when her elbow brushed the coffee cup sitting next to her keyboard and in her attempt to save the coffee from spilling she accidentally hit enter instead.
Her husband was always on to her about having the holographic chip implanted over her ear so she wouldn’t have to manually type on a keyboard, but she was old fashioned, averse to jumping on to the latest technology bandwagon, and proud of it!
“Rats,” she muttered and clicked on the cancel button on the screen. But it was too late. She had become a contestant in the sweepstakes. For several months afterwards her mailbox had been cluttered with magazines which Carol had not been successful in canceling, despite at least a dozen attempts.
Then one Saturday morning, September 12th of last year to be precise, a “Highest Priority Message” had appeared in her inbox. It was from “Universe Videozines.” Carol tensed immediately, afraid she was being sued for non-payment of magazine subscriptions.
But it was not a demand letter at all. It was the announcement that she had won the sweepstakes, the only sweepstakes she had ever entered in her life. She was the owner of an entire planet called “The Land of Milk and Honey” located in some out-of-the way section of the galaxy.
As it turned out, it was the answer to their prayers. Carol and Roger were both coming up on retirement age and after much research had been unsuccessful in locating the perfect planet for their old age. They knew they didn’t want to retire on Earth. Earth was a planet for people of working age who needed the gray, noisy, glass and concrete cities in order to work in offices and factories.
They dreamed of trees and green hills, and streams with real fish that they both remembered from their distant childhoods. But as Earthlings had moved away from the overcrowding of their home planet, settling in the far reaches of the Milky Way, they had taken with them all the trappings of human civilization. Unsettled planets were scarce and the ones that were available—and inhabitable—were far too expensive for a middle class couple with modest pensions.
On their first visit to “The Land of Milk and Honey” they had fallen in love instantly.
“Truly a Garden of Eden,” Roger had declared.
“It’s paradise!” Carol had exclaimed.
Multi-colored birds sang in the trees, pink and white puffy clouds hung in the lavender sky, and the rivers flowed with a milk-like liquid as sweet as honey. They were reluctant to leave, and upon their return to Earth, realized how much more they disliked the hustle and bustle of big planet life. They couldn’t wait to return to the serenity of their new home.
And now they were back. For the rest of their lives they could live in peace and quiet. It was a hectic first day, but that was to be expected. The underground solar freezer was stocked with provisions. The furniture was arranged to Carol’s liking. The countless boxes of personal belongings were stacked around the house.
Finally the captain and crew of the transport ship shook hands with the Wests and left for Earth.
“Well, Mrs. West, that’s the last time we’ll see human beings for six months,” commented Roger. And good riddance too, he thought. “I wonder what it’ll be like with no neighbor’s barking dogs, no children shouting in the street, no traffic, no hordes of people everywhere we go. It’s too good to be true!”
He sat in his favorite armchair, the one he had insisted on bringing, despite the threadbare armrests.
“Yes, too good to be true,” repeated Carol. “Let’s leave the rest of the things unpacked until tomorrow and explore a bit. I want to see one of those milk rivers again.”
“I don’t see why not. But let’s have something to eat first.”
With peanut butter sandwiches filling their stomachs they climbed the rise behind the house holding hands. It was like being on a second honeymoon. They walked for half an hour without speaking, only turning to smile at each other and stopping to smell the aroma of the strange flowers.
Carol jumped the first time a yellow bird flew out of a tree and landed on her head, but then two blue birds landed on Roger and they laughed at each other’s feathered head adornments. The birds flew off and the Wests continued their walk. Occasionally they noticed mice sticking their noses out from under rocks to sniff at the giant intruders. Roger almost stepped on a couple of purple mice dozing in the grass.
“Isn’t this splendid?” smiled Carol as they sat under a willow tree on the edge of a vanilla ice cream lake. “And I can’t get over how tame the wildlife is.” As if to emphasize her point, three blue speckled mice appeared about a yard from Carol and cocked their heads in appraisal of the strangers. “Look, Roger, they’re not afraid at all.”
“Why should they be? Obviously they don’t have any predators. And they’ve never seen humans before.”
“It really IS the Garden of Eden, isn’t it? Rivers flowing with milk, flowers dripping with nectar, and animals that are as tame as pets.”
“Yes, it’s wonderful.”
“More than wonderful,” sighed Carol dreamily.
“I think it’s time we walked back to the house,” said Roger, as a band of gleaming lilac clouds streaked the orange pastel sunset. “I wonder if those are rain clouds.”
Roger awoke at two o’clock in the morning to the sound of soft rain falling on the roof. He looked out the window and in the darkness the milk rain looked like silver ribbons suspended from heaven. The beauty of the planet had awoken the latent poet within him. The man from the agency had been so right. This was paradise. There was no question about it.
They were both up early the next morning and surprised themselves at how much breakfast they ate. Back home it had always been a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice before they both rushed off to their jobs. Roger had been a claims adjuster for Northern Insurance Company. The last one on earth, as it turned out, for on his retirement he was replaced by a robot. And Carol had recently been asked to retire from All Cities Bank as the company no longer had any use for a human teller.
Roger had brought a pre-fabricated picket fence with him from Earth, not because the only house on the whole planet needed a fence, but because he had always wanted a white picket fence, and now he was going to have it. Fixing the fence up was most definitely his first project.
“Well, I think I’ll get everything straightened up inside the house,” Carol announced, so Roger went off to put up the fence by himself. He started to pound the posts into the ground, but realizing he didn’t have the right tools, went to the storage shed behind the house. On the paving all around the shed he noticed animal tracks. As all they had seen so far were mice and birds, he was curious. These prints obviously didn’t belong to either one. They were too big. Wolves maybe? No, they weren’t that big. And anyway, they had been assured that the wildlife on the planet was not dangerous… just small creatures like lizards and small rodents… all very tame.
He bent down to look at the prints more closely. No. How could it be? Cats! House cats! That was definitely it. He could recognize a cat paw print when he saw one. Why weren’t they warned about this? That was the reason he had fallen out with the Anderson’s, their cat-loving neighbor back on Earth. Every morning he had to clean the paw prints off his car. Not that he had anything against people owning pets, but they should at least have the decency to keep them locked up indoors. Especially cats. Always winding around your legs and leaving their fur all over you, he shuddered with the thought. And the racket they made at night. It was completely uncivilized.
Yet, there was something a little odd about these prints. Some of them were distinctly every day house cat paw prints. But some of them…
He went back to pounding in the picket fence. The soil was a grey color right around the house, rather sandy in texture. He was letting his imagination run away with him. But he remembered the cat litter box he had seen in his neighbor’s garage. Oh, don’t be ridiculous, he chided himself! Now he was being really silly.
At precisely twelve noon, Earth time (they were ecstatic to learn that their little planet revolved around its sun in the same time frame as their home planet as they could not have dealt with that kind of time change), he stopped work for lunch.
Carol presented him with a tuna salad on a bed of multi-colored lettuces looking exactly how he liked it back on earth. The organic preservation techniques had apparently worked perfectly.
“My dear,” he said after swallowing the first bite of salad. “What would you say if I told you there were cats living around here?”
“Cats?” Carol almost choked on her lettuce. “You mean like mountain lions and panthers?”
“No, I mean like Fuzzy and Tinker and Snowball.” Those were the cats owned by their neighbors on Earth.
“Really? Just living wild like feral cats?”
“Well, I haven’t exactly seen any, just their tracks. At least they look like cat tracks although I can’t be 100% certain. It could be some other animal native to this planet. Sort of cat-like!”
“What do you mean by cat-like?”
“I don’t know. But doesn’t that seem odd to you?”
“I suppose if there are birds and mice there could be cats too.” Carol put down her fork and scraped her chair back. “I didn’t put enough pepper on the tuna. Do you want some?”
Roger ignored her question. “All the birds and mice we’ve seen are so tame. But if there are cats around waiting to pounce on them, don’t you think they’d be a little more wary?”
Carol sat back down, pepper mill in hand. “Maybe the cats on this planet are different from Earth cats. Perhaps they’re vegetarians.”
“Cats are cats. It makes no sense.” Roger wiped his mouth with Carol’s favorite napkins from Earth, the ones with the big yellow sunflowers and orange poppies. “In any case we were told there was no wildlife bigger than a small rabbit.” He had specifically asked about cats and was assured cats were not indigenous to the planet.
“Well, if I was a cat, this is definitely the kind of planet I would want to live on,” Carol chuckled. “Milky rivers and birds and mice all over the place. Why, it’s cat paradise, isn’t it?” Carol didn’t share her husband’s dislike of felines but she could certainly live without them.
Roger folded up his napkin, placed it neatly next to his plate and stood up.
“Did you like the salad, dear? You didn’t say anything. Was there enough tuna?”
But Roger was distracted. “I’ll be finishing up the fence if you need me.” Carol kissed him gently on the cheek as he opened the kitchen door. “Cats!” he muttered.
Roger didn’t mention the subject of felines to Carol the rest of the day. No need to upset her, or himself, any further. It was such a spectacular day and he wanted to enjoy it. But the thought remained in the back of his mind.
Stay tuned to this spot next week for part two!