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Words on Wednesday – #5 – The Land of Milk and Honey (a feline horror story) – Part Two

This is the second 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. If you are afraid of cats, this story is not for you!

Please click here for episode one.

All characters and events are entirely fictional

The Land of Milk and Honey (a feline horror story) – Part Two – © copyright Roslyn M Wilkins

That night he awoke with a start. The sound he had heard—so ordinary on Earth he would merely have sworn under his breath, buried his head under the pillow and gone back to sleep—now terrified him out of all proportion. Then there was silence for so long he thought perhaps he had been dreaming. But just as he was about to fall asleep he heard it again: a loud, piercing meow. 

He looked over at Carol but she was deep in slumber. He could hear her sweet little snore that was usually so comforting to him. Roger pulled back the drapes to peer out into the darkness but saw nothing. There were no city lights to brighten the landscape. Only the pale glimmer of the pink moon.

Maybe he was making too much out of this cat thing. After all, he had not actually seen any all day. And with all the birds and mice twittering and scurrying around, surely he would have seen one on the prowl. Or maybe Carol was right, cats did act differently on other planets, and if there were any, they would stay out of their way and wouldn’t bother them at all.

Anyway, no point in losing a night’s sleep over a meow. He had done enough of that on Earth with the cat chorus going on all night. And maybe it wasn’t a meow at all. Perhaps it was a bird screeching. He couldn’t be sure anymore. He went back to bed, curled up next to Carol, and dropped off to sleep immediately.

The next morning, which would have been Sunday on Earth, both Roger and Carol woke up feeling refreshed and energetic, ready for another hearty breakfast.  After downing a pile of scrambled eggs and preserved vegetables, Roger suggested a picnic. “We could explore the woods to the south and see what kinds of plants and birds are in that area.” He was hoping they might find a large bird that could account for the screeching of the previous night. Then he could put his mind to rest.

They found a little stream running through the woods and it was fun to splash around in the milky liquid. “Wouldn’t the Anderson’s be jealous?” Carol chortled as she thought of the former neighbors they had stopped speaking to.

“Don’t spoil everything by mentioning them!” Roger spat out the last word. Carol squeezed his hand, sorry she had brought up bad feelings.

Just then a family of blue mice strolled by, two adults and three babies. They stopped to sniff at the humans then went on their way. “How adorable!” Carol squealed and Roger managed a smile.

They spread their tablecloth under the shade of a rainbow-colored tree and unpacked the picnic basket. Roger opened the wine. It was only 11:00am but they were no longer on a schedule. Carol unwrapped the ready-made sandwiches that were part of their stash in the underground pantry. A red mouse sprinted over to Carol and looked at her longingly (or at least that was her description). “All right, then, just one piece of cheese but don’t tell your friends.”  

“Mice could be worse than ants,” laughed Roger. Carol was happy to see him unwinding and enjoying himself. The wine probably helped.

They sat under the tree chatting about their new life until they both fell asleep. Carol woke up to find a green bird sitting on her arm preening itself. A slight breeze was rustling the leaves. A brightly-colored leaf fell from the tree, disturbing the bird which flew off.

It was four o’clock by the time they started off for home. As they reached the picket fence, Roger stopped. “There, did you hear that?”

“No, dear, I didn’t hear anything. What is it?”

“A meow. I thought I heard a meow.” He opened the wooden gate and Carol followed him up the path.

“Oh look!” She pointed at the bed of pansies she had so lovingly planted the previous afternoon. “They’ve all been uprooted! What could have done that?”

“Damn cats.  I told you so!”

“But why would cats dig up pansies?”

“I don’t know but it’s a good thing I brought Uncle Harry’s old shotgun. Just joking, dear,” he responded to Carol’s glare.

All was silent that night.

Monday morning Carol opened the kitchen door to empty the trash and screamed. Roger was at her side in an instant.  Two pale blue mice lay on the top of the back step, neatly decapitated. Roger thought he saw the flick of a black tail as it disappeared over the rise behind the house. It had rained during the night and there were several sets of muddy paw prints on the paving stones. Roger knelt down and studied them. “Don’t these look like cat paw prints to you?”

“I suppose they could be.” Carol stooped down next to him for a closer inspection.

“But there’s something different. See here, this looks like a normal housecat paw print, but then here on the side is an extra pad, kind of like a thumb.”

“Then maybe it’s not a cat,” Carol suggested.

“It’s a cat.” Roger stood up, now totally convinced he had been right. He surveyed the lush trees and the gently rolling hills. Paradise was beginning to turn into the opposite. “There’s something strange going on here and I don’t like it one bit.”

“Oh, Roger, don’t talk like that.” Carol tensed up. “You’re frightening me.”

Roger placed his hand on Carol’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, dear, but think about it. We’ve seen all these tame mice and birds without a care in the world. And now we have two dead mice on our back step, presumable killed by some cat-like creature. Something doesn’t add up.”

A horrifying thought occurred to Carol. “You don’t suppose a couple of cats stowed away in our transport? Oh my god, we could have inadvertently upset the balance of the planet. You know, like the cats that used to stow away on ocean-going vessels on Earth and start feral colonies and then decimate the wildlife and…” 

“Carol, pull yourself together. No, I don’t think that. The transports are thoroughly inspected and monitored. There’s never been a case of cats, or any other animals, stowing away. Animals only travel when they’re supposed to. There are too many controls. This is something else.”

“Then what?”

“Right now, let’s get rid of these mice.” Roger didn’t want to speculate. Just the thought that they had traveled all this way to get away from cats only to find them in their midst was too much for him to deal with.

He scooped up the mice and threw them in the incinerator. A yellow bird settled on the back of a patio chair and burst into song. Roger couldn’t appreciate it at that moment.

He spent the rest of the morning putting the finishing touches on the picket fence. Carol repaired the damage to the molested flower bed as best she could. Every now and again Roger found himself looking over his shoulder. He had the uneasy feeling he was being watched.

Carol put up the prefabricated simulated marble birdbath she had always wanted, complete with a miniature St. Francis of Assissi standing guard. As she stepped back to admire handiwork, two purple birds flew over and sat on the edge. A yellow mouse sniffed at the base then ambled off. Carol felt a little like St. Francis herself, surrounded by the creatures of the forest.

But the peaceful mood was disturbed by a loud crash. She saw Roger drop his tools and run over to where they had temporarily stacked the packing crates behind the storage shed.

“Whatever is it?” asked Carol, a little out of breath as she came up behind her husband. He turned to look at her, hand on hips. “Now what do you think?”

The crates that had been so carefully taken apart and stacked, awaiting the next visit of the transport, were in disarray. Some of the plastimetal boards that had survived the journey from Earth and the rough handling of the crew, were severely buckled at the edges.  

“What are we dealing with here?” wondered Roger.

“Maybe it’s wolves or bears. Perhaps there’s larger wildlife here than anybody knew about?” offered Carol.

“No, it’s cats. Their prints are all over the place.” He kicked one of the pieces. “I suppose we’d better get this mess cleared up. Let’s move it all to the underground storage where they can’t get to it.”

Carol really didn’t believe cats could cause that much damage but she chose not to voice her opinion.

At lunch, Roger announced he was going hunting. “For cats. I want to know where they are hiding out. Maybe we can set some traps…”

“No Roger. I won’t allow it. There has to be another answer. Whatever animal this is might merely be curious about us and after a while…”

“Carol, dear, I think it’s important that they learn from the very beginning who is master here. I’m not talking about killing or maiming them, just some traps to catch them and teach them a lesson.” Roger tied up the laces on his hiking boots, assured Carol he would be better off going alone, and took his shotgun out of the hall closet, just in case.

“I thought you were joking about the gun.” Now she was concerned. Things had taken a serious turn.

“Just be sure to keep all the doors and windows closed. I don’t want a cat getting in and ripping up the furniture.”

“Or me,” added Carol.

“Well, of course you dear!”

Carol watched Roger until he disappeared over the rise a few hundred yards from the house. She knew there was really nothing to be worried about. Roger had let his imagination run away with him. Nevertheless, the grilled cheese sandwich she had eaten for lunch hit her stomach like a rock. Where had she put the bicarbonate of soda? Good thing she had brought it with her after all, as she nearly threw it in the trash before leaving Earth. She didn’t think she would be needing it ever again.

Clearing away the packing crates that morning had left her exhausted, so as she didn’t feel it was prudent to go outside to work in the garden while Roger was gone, she decided to take a nap. She laid down on top of the quilt covering the king size bed. She had bought the lilac patterned quilt months before the journey and been excited to take it out of the wrapping to spread across the new bed. She closed her eyes and imagined she could smell the lilacs.

Her peaceful mood was soon shattered when the bed shook under her. She opened her eyes to see a giant black panther with huge jagged teeth snarling at her. “Aaaaaahhhhh….” she screamed. This time she awoke for real and realized it was merely a dream. “This is truly ridiculous,” she scolded herself. She was going to be a bag of nerves in no time if she didn’t get a grip.

But a noise coming from the kitchen startled her so badly she gasped for breath. She mentally checked all the doors and windows and remembered locking them al l before coming upstairs. That knowledge calmed her somewhat. She grabbed one of Roger’s shoes from the closet. Having a weapon of some kind, if even a shoe, gave her a sense of false courage as she quietly made her way down the stairs. She heard the noise again–a rasping, tearing sound—definitely coming from the kitchen.

She could hardly muster the strength to open the kitchen door. She was shaking so much she could barely hold on to the shoe. Opening the door a crack she thrust the shoe in front of her as if that would protect her against the intruder. Nothing happened so she opened the door wide. Everything was in its place, undisturbed. She felt a sense of relief. Maybe it was the wind.

Then she heard the rasping sound again. Something was at the screen door. The last thing she wanted to do was open the door to find out what it was. On the other hand she knew she couldn’t wait until Roger returned. By then she would have imagined all kinds of hideous and horrible things and turned into a quivering mound of jelly. No, she had to take hold of the situation and deal with it now, no matter what.

She picked a carving knife out of the drawer and opened the door a couple of inches.

“You wretched animals,” she screamed almost involuntarily. The screen door had been ripped to shreds. Black, orange and white fur hung in clumps all over the torn wire mesh. Roger was right. It had to be cats. There were none in sight but now the awful truth came crashing down on her. She unlocked what was left of the screen door and ran down the steps brandishing the carving knife. The adrenaline had kicked in and she was more furious than afraid, envisioning herself cutting up the feline vandals into little pieces. But of course, in reality she could never do anything like that. 

She came back inside, locking the screen door and the back door behind her. She stood at the kitchen counter, fondling the carving knife. What were they going to do now? What was she going to do? She had never liked cats but hadn’t ever been scared of them. Now she was. Perhaps Roger had the right idea—a couple of humane traps in the right places might do the trick and at least frighten the cats away from the house.

She wished Roger would come home. This was no time to be separated. Was he even safe out there by himself, gun or no gun?

She returned to the bedroom, taking the carving knife with her. Better to be safe than sorry. The breeze from the bedroom window was flapping the white lace curtains. She walked over to the window to close it. Hadn’t she made sure the window was closed and locked before taking her nap? Her heart skipped a beat. She sat down on the bed and felt something lumpy under the quilt. She pulled it back in slow motion. And there on the crisp white sheets with the matching imprinted lilacs were the heads and tails of half a dozen mice, laid out in two neat rows, heads above tails. It was a fresh kill. Blood was still oozing out of the grisly pieces of pink flesh.

Carol gagged as she backed away from the bed towards the door. And when she felt the hand on her shoulder she fainted.

When she came to she was lying on the daybed in the second bedroom that Roger planned to use as his study. Roger was standing over her with a glass of orange juice in his hand. “Here, drink this. It’ll make you feel better.”

Carol propped herself up on one elbow and took a gulp of the juice. Her hands shook. Her whole body shook.

“I’m sorry I scared you,” said Roger. “But you backed right into me and I didn’t have a chance to say anything before you fainted.”

“What about the mice? Did you see them on the bed? “ For a moment she thought—hoped—that she had dreamed the whole scene.

“Yes,” a sudden shiver traveled up his spine as he envisioned the body parts. “I threw them in the incinerator. I’ll change the sheets later. I should never have left you alone, I’m sorry, don’t know what I was thinking.” He bent over to kiss her forehead. “Are you feeling better now?”

Carol sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll feel better until we can do something about those cats. What do you think they want? Did you see any when you were out?”

Roger moved Carol’s legs to make room for him to sit down. Carol’s toes dug into his back. He liked the feeling of intimacy. He suddenly felt an overwhelming affection for her, something he hadn’t felt in many years. If anything should happen to her… He didn’t want to think about that right now.

“I thought I saw one sitting up in a tree but if it was there it was gone before I could get close enough. And once or twice I thought I heard a faint meow, but that was all. They don’t intend to come out in the open, that’s for sure. Probably why no one knew they were living on the planet.” He stroked her foot and she giggled. He had a flash of memory of when they were high school sweethearts, another lifetime ago. Certainly another world.

“Let’s open a good bottle of wine for dinner, shall we?” he suggested. “I think we deserve it. But first things first.” He stretched out next to Carol, placing his arm around her waist.

“Why Roger,” she exclaimed. “Anybody would think we were newlyweds!”

After dinner which included a delicious California Merlot with the chicken and a heated apricot brandy for dessert, Roger and Carol settled back to watch a 1950’s classic movie with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The alcohol coursing through Carol’s bloodstream was slowly refiling the events of the afternoon into that section of the mind that still allowed for the event, but dulled the absolute terror of the moment.

Fred and Ginger were dancing cheek to cheek. She couldn’t remember how long it had been since Roger had danced with her like that. Maybe he never had. But it didn’t matter now. It was enough to be on the sofa curled up next to Roger in their own little house, millions of miles away from all the pressures and anxieties of modern civilization. She felt good. Probably almost as good as Ginger felt when Fred looked at her that way.

“That was our story,” laughed Carol as The End appeared on the screen.

There was a knock at the front door. “Now who could that…” Roger started to say, then realized it couldn’t possibly be anybody.


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Words on Wednesday – #4 – The Land of Milk and Honey (a feline horror story) – Part One

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!


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Words on Wednesday – #3 – Uncle Theo – Part Three

This is the final episode of Uncle Theo so now I have to decide on another story that deserves to be exposed to the light.

As I have mentioned, Uncle Theo is one of the many stories I wrote between the 1960s and 1980s. I believe this one was written in the 1980s. I only wish I had dated them at the time but I didn’t. Fiction, and possibly science fiction/fantasy allows a tremendous freedom as anything is possible!

My hope is that once I have all or most of these dozens of stories out in the universe, I can write more stories from a different viewpoint three or more decades later.

Although many of my stories are written in the first person, all characters and events are entirely fictional

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Uncle Theo – Part Three – © copyright Roslyn M Wilkins

There were a number of years between childhood and adulthood when I refuted all magic and miracles. I embraced reality and was busy studying the nervous systems of frogs and wrestling with algebra while dealing with the assassinations of world leaders and desperately trying to figure out how I could fit into a world I did not fit into. I discovered that the transition from child to adult was a difficult and serious business that I was not cut out for.

During my eighteenth year, when high school was over and university not yet begun, I rediscovered Ray Bradbury. His stories brought back memories of Uncle Theo and I believed in him for one more summer.

But that summer passed and Ray Bradbury was buried once again along with Uncle Theo under an onslaught of exams, papers and seminars in my first year of university. I had enough to cope with in the real world without struggling with a fantastical one as well.

As the years went by I did think of Uncle Theo once in a while, but mostly as a pathetic old man with a wild imagination. And then, as that long-ago summer became more and more distant and my childhood seemed to belong to some other person entirely, Uncle Theo ceased to exist for me.

I was caught up in the nightmare of learning how to be a grownup. I couldn’t seem to get a handle on it no matter how hard I tried. All my friends managed it so easily. They knew what they wanted out of life—a career, marriage, security—and they went out and got it. I had the same opportunities they did, but somehow was unable to take advantage of them. I was still floundering around trying to find myself while all my contemporaries were busy raising families and running corporations.

I went through periods of deep despair when I wondered if it was worth continuing on with my life. But I did continue. I had no way of knowing, of course, that Uncle Theo would not have allowed it any other way.

So alienated was I from that summer that when my mother’s letter arrived, it took me a few seconds to figure out who she was referring to. Uncle Theo, she wrote, had passed away some weeks before in an old folks’ home in the north of England. She said she had lost track of him many years ago, and if she had known where he was she would have at least made an attempt to visit him before he passed. But she guessed he had been too proud to let on about his circumstances. Anyway, he had given my mother’s name as his closest relative, and the director of the home had contacted her asking about the disposition of the body. My mother had opted for cremation.

Folded up in the letter was a small envelope with “Little Bunny” written in a shaky hand. My mother said this had arrived with Uncle Theo’s personal belongings. She apologized for taking so long to write, but this whole business of Uncle Theo dying had really taken up a lot of her time and she certainly had never dreamed that she would be the one left to deal with it all.

I opened the envelope. It contained a single piece of white paper. On it was written: “In this World is all of Me/Let the Magic set you Free!”

I recalled the glass sphere Uncle Theo had given me that summer. Where was it now? I vaguely remembered stashing it in the back of my storage room. I had intended to leave it behind when I left for California but when I was unpacking, there it was wrapped up in old newspaper just the way Uncle Theo had presented it to me all those years ago.

I wrestled three boxes to the floor from the top shelf. The first contained a family photograph album my mother had insisted I take with me to my new home plus a sheaf of sloppily typed, sentimental poems I had written in better times when I had still had some hope for my life.

The second box was where my childhood teddy bear lived. His arms and legs were attached to his body solely by the auspices of a tattered knitted suit I had made for him many years ago. And there, in the third box nestled between a pair of brass candlesticks, so ugly they had never seen the light of day, was a ball of newspaper. I was disappointed to discover I must have re-wrapped it because the paper wasn’t printed in Drataurean characters, or even Arabic, but in ordinary English, extolling the events of Derring-on-Sea in the month of April when I had left my home country and my parents for an adventure in the New World. I had a university degree in one hand and a marriage certificate in the other. As I discovered, neither piece of paper turned out to be of much use. Nor did the second degree, or the second marriage certificate.

I unwrapped the sphere and read the poem it had harbored all these years. Uncle Theo had promised I would understand its meaning when the time was right. I wondered if his death meant that time had come.

I carried the globe into the living room as carefully as if it was an injured bird. And like a bird, it seemed to take wing when it caught the glare of the California sun burning through the glass sliding doors. The strange shapes and other-worldly colors I remembered from some other lifetime, wakened at last from their dark slumber, flitted over the stark white walls of my apartment.

I sensed his presence in the room even before I saw him. Uncle Theo stood no more than five feet away from me in his red and white striped polo shirt. He was young and robust, his orange moustache thicker than ever. The green flash of his eyes seared into mine and emblazoned my brain with images of silver birds, golden forests and luminescent seas. My feet left the floor and my body was lighter than the air. I was transported to another galaxy where color was substance and light was form. I soared above the highest mountains of what I knew was Drataur, feeling colors, hearing emotions and seeing sounds.

Uncle Theo was flying beside me.

“I Knew I could Count on You to be Here,” he said. I was thrilled to hear the capital letters again. “You must Carry on for me Now, Little Bunny.”

I was beginning to understand. “All those years in the nursing home…”

“I needed a Safe Place to leave my Body while My Substance Traveled. There are Planets and Galaxies out there with such Beauty you could never Dream of!” he exclaimed as he spiraled downwards, executed a double somersault and flew back up on my other side.

“Isn’t this Fun? You Try it!”

“Oh no, this is the first time I’ve ever flown,” I exclaimed. Just looking down was making me dizzy.

“Well, you have Plenty of Time to get used to it. Light Years and Light Years of it.”

“But why me, Uncle Theo?”

“Didn’t I teach you anything that summer?”

“Apparently not. My whole life’s been a failure. Nothing ever worked out for me. I don’t know how to carry on for you.”

“But that’s exactly the Point, Little Bunny!” He reached out for my hand. “Let’s Float Down and Sit for a While.”

Next thing I knew we were back in my living room, he on the sofa and me on my rocking chair.

“Nothing ever Worked out for you Because you are Special. Not like your Friends. They are Ordinary—They don’t have the Gift.”

“The gift? You mean the globe you gave me?”

“Not Exactly, but in a Way. The Globe is only a Symbol of what I Gave you—of what you’ve Had all Along really.” He walked over to the table where I had left the sphere. He picked it up and ran his fingers over the surface. “You tried to be like Everybody Else but that wasn’t the Plan. You were going about Life in all the Wrong Ways. You always dealt with Life in a Rational, Logical Manner. But Imagine what would have Happened if you had Allowed Magic to Play its Hand…” The globe was a bright green sun, so bright I couldn’t look at it. It filled the room with its greenness. “…if you had Wished Upon a Star or Thrown a Coin in the Fountain or even Rubbed an Olde Lamp once in a while…”

“You’re making fun of me now, aren’t you? You’re being a little childish!”

“I hope so! Being Childish—or a better word would be Childlike—is what it’s all About. Being Open to the Wonder—thinking of the Future like a Five-Year-Old where Everything is Possible.” He put the globe down. The bright yellow light calmed to a pale, shimmering cream color.

I was upset. My life had been such a struggle. “Why didn’t you tell me all this before and save me all the grief?”

“I tried to. That Summer Night, sitting on the Park Bench, I asked you not to Forget how to be a Child, not to Forget the Magic.”

“I didn’t understand what you meant then. I was only ten.” No, the truth. “I didn’t really believe in you.”

“There were things you had to Discover for yourself, Little Bunny, through the Pain of Living.”

“That’s not very fair. I hurt a lot.”

“You think I didn’t Know? You think there weren’t Times when I wanted to Step in and Rescue you? But I couldn’t. It doesn’t Work that Way. I had to go through the Same Things myself. Oh yes. I went through the First Part of My Life bumping into Walls and falling through Trap Doors, just like YOU!”

The sun in the California sky was waning. My white walls were turning grey. But I didn’t want any artificial light invading our space.

“I was Presented with the Gift and Introduced to Drataur. I wasn’t Born there, Nobody is, you have to be Invited. But now it’s Time for me to Leave Drataur and Join the Others as one more Voice in the Hum of the Universe. And so I Pass the Mysteries of Drataur on to you. And when your Time comes to Pass the Magic on to Another, when you have learned all there is to Learn of the Chanting Birds of Saltir and the Quizzical Dailils of Grxxl 3 and the Wafting Grasses of the Tiger Moons and so much More, your Voice, too, will Join the Choir of the Cosmos and you will be Free. But for now…”

Uncle Theo’s arm had transformed into a silken wing. It was translucent and fragile-looking, but when he touched my arm I could feel the power seething within the membranes. It was pouring out of him and into me. I felt his strength and his energy. And at that moment I knew I could indeed continue.

We were once again flying through the atmosphere of Drataur. But with his newly formed wings, Uncle Theo was too fast for me and I lost sight of him. Then a purple cloud drifted by and temporarily blocked the light from the Twin Suns. There was no goodbye. He was gone.

I was back in my apartment. It was dark outside. The sounds of the traffic hurtling by on the freeway just a quarter mile away pounded on the night air like surf at the beach.

I sat with the sphere cradled in my hands. This was to be my memory of Uncle Theo. His world was contained within it. I rocked back and forth, back and forth, staring into the globe as the glimmer of green within grew stronger. And I knew it was up to me now to find my own Magic.

THE END


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Words on Wednesday – #2 – Uncle Theo – Part Two

I am still bathing in the glow of posting Part One of Uncle Theo last week. That act has already changed my life. My short stories and poems from the 1960s through the 1980s have sat in file boxes for decades. I knew if I didn’t make the effort to expose them to daylight they would spend another couple of decades sitting in the dark. Just posting Part One of this little story has now allowed me to make decisions and move on with other projects. It is freeing!

(If you haven’t read Part One, please read it here before reading Part Two.) 

And so, here we go with Part Two:

Although many of my stories are written in the first person, all characters and events are entirely fictional

Uncle Theo – Part Two – © copyright Roslyn M Wilkins

Morning came eventually. I was late downstairs for breakfast. Dad had already left for work. Uncle Theo was apparently still in his room. “Must be exhausted after his long trip,” suggested my mother. Hah, if she only knew!

“Of course, he’s not really your uncle,” she told me in answer to my question about his place on the family tree. “He’s a second cousin, I believe, several times removed, but I’m not sure what part of the family he actually belongs to.”

I chuckled to myself as I built a peanut butter mountain on my toast. Of course she wouldn’t know anything about the Drataur side of the family. I wondered what all the other second cousins several times removed were doing at that very moment and if they had ever made the trip from Drataur to Earth.

Were my distant cousins munching on peanut butter sandwiches and chugging down glasses of orange juice? Could they smell bacon and eggs frying on the stove? Or were they picnicking under silver trees on a pink hillside with turquoise clouds floating by in a lilac sky?

“I don’t suppose it’s possible for you to leave some peanut butter for someone else, huh?” My mother interrupted my reverie. “Linda! Do we have the honor of your company or are you off on some other planet?” She yanked the peanut butter jar out of my hand. For a moment I was shocked at her reference to another planet. But, of course, she couldn’t possibly know. “Look, you’re dropping it all over the table cloth.”

“Sorry! I wasn’t concentrating.” I had made up my mind to ask Uncle Theo about my distant relatives. If he really was an alien being then I wanted to know the whole story. And if he wasn’t—well, I didn’t want to face that possibility at this moment in time. I was willing to fully embrace his version of life. I no longer had any doubts.

Uncle Theo eventually made his grand entrance into the kitchen, hugging my mother, which made her squirm, and then me. After seconds of the cereal, toast, eggs, and bacon and having carefully wiped the remains of said breakfast from his moustache, Uncle Theo announced he was going for a walk around the neighborhood. Would I like to join him? He didn’t have to ask twice.

“What are the children like on Drataur?” I asked as soon as we were out the front door. “Do they have to go to school?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so. Children Everywhere have to go to School.”

“Oh.” I was disappointed.

“But School is a little Different on Drataur because the Children Learn to Fly on the Wings of Imagination and they are Taught the Songs of the Universe, and they Discover the Meaning of Happiness.”

“But do they have to sit in a classroom?”

“Only the Classroom of Life.”

I tried again: “Do children have to tidy up their rooms and help with the dishes and do homework?”

“Well, yes. Children have to do all those things, no matter what planet they live on. But only if they have rooms and dishes and homework…”

“Some people don’t?”

“The Universe is full of all Kinds of People in all Kinds of Situations.”

“Hmmm. I guess so.” I was growing impatient. I wanted answers even though I wasn’t really sure of the questions.

“But Look, Let me Show you Something Special.” Uncle Theo held out his hands, palms turned up. “You see my Hands are Empty?”

“Yes.”

He made fists and passed his right hand over his left. “Now, open my left hand.”

I bent the middle finger back. There was something metallic between his index finger and third finger. A silver coin.

“Where did that come from?”

“Oh, we do that all the time on Drataur. That way we don’t have to be bothered with carrying pockets full of jingly coins. We just pull them out of nowhere.”

I wished Uncle Theo had been with me the week before when I had wanted to buy that jigsaw puzzle and didn’t have enough money because I had already spent too much on lemon sherbets.

“Now look in your pocket,” he said.

I put my left hand in my jacket pocket and when I pulled it out, I was holding a string of pink pearls. “They’re beautiful.”

“I Picked them off the Pearl Tree that grows Outside my Front Door. Here, let me Put Them on You.”

I could tell they weren’t ordinary Earth pearls because as soon as they were against my skin I could feel the warmth against my neck. I could feel their beauty rubbing off on me and years later whenever I wore them, I always looked prettier than I did without them.

As the hours and days and weeks passed that summer, there were other miracles and feats of magic and fantastical tales of the universe. But the greatest of Uncle Theo’s wonders was his ability to fly. When he told me about the children of Drataur flying on the wings of imagination I asked him to show me how. At first he told me I wasn’t ready. I thought that was an excuse because he was lying to me and he didn’t really know how to fly.

But three weeks later after many conversations and stories and questions and answers and revelations, he announced I was ready for my final lesson. And that was the day I got him in trouble with my mother.

“But mother, Uncle Theo flew down the stairs!” I tried to explain to that particularly exasperated adult when she caught me standing on the upstairs landing, flapping my arms in an attempted take-off. Of course, I had promised not to tell but it slipped out in self-defense.

“He flew down the stairs? Uncle Theo?”

“Yes, he says it’s easy if you concentrate…” How could adults be so dense?

“Oh really! Have you actually seen him fly down the stairs?”

“Yes,” I answered defiantly.

“When?”

“This morning. He was standing right here,” I explained. “He told me to close my eyes, then there was this whooshing sound and when I opened my eyes he was standing next to me at the bottom of the stairs. He flew just like he said he would.”

“Oh, Lin!” I hated it when she shortened my name. It was her way of scolding me as she knew I didn’t like it. “How gullible can you be? He probably slid down the bannisters.”

“He flew! And my name isn’t Lin, or even Linda. It’s Bunny.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, fly down the stairs then. See if I care if you break your neck.” She left, muttering something not very nice about Uncle Theo. I heard the kitchen door slam.

I was angry too. She had as good as called Uncle Theo a liar. If he said he had flown down the stairs then that’s exactly what had happened. But I decided to postpone my maiden flight just in case.

That evening Uncle Theo and I walked over to the park. We sat on a bench and watched the old people play bowls. Clonk, clonk. The black balls hit the white balls.

Years later, in my new life far from the land of my birth, I would think back on this night as the beginning of the end, and a new beginning too. It was seven thirty on that August night in England and the sun was more than an hour away from setting.

“No, she’s right. She is your mother and she is the one to say what is to be and what is not to be as far as you are concerned. And you see,” he paused, placing his right hand on my left arm, “I also promised her I would confess that all these stories I’ve told about Drataur and magic and flying are all untrue…”

“No!” I stood up from the bench. And in that moment I realized his words were no longer emphasized with capital letters. His speech was—normal. I wanted to run. Somewhere where I couldn’t hear him.

“Wait a minute, I’m not finished.” He pulled me back down on the bench. “The problem is I can’t tell you it’s all untrue because that would be the biggest lie of all. I have never lied to you. Everything I have said, in its own way, in the way I meant it, is true.”

“Do you promise? Cross your heart and hope to die?”

“I promise. Here, give me a hug.”

We hugged. And the tears running down my cheeks mingled with his.

“Sometimes, Little Bunny, adults try so hard to get you to grow up right they forget the importance of letting you be a child.” He took a big white handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped my eyes, then his own. “Now on Drataur—that is, I mean, well, I never really grew up all the way. I got stuck somewhere in the middle. And it’s hard being a child and a grownup all at the same time. But I can’t change who I am—and I don’t want to.” He put the handkerchief back in his pocket. “Just promise me, Bunny, that you’ll never forget how to be a child and that you won’t forget the magic.”

“I promise,” I said.

After that night we never discussed Drataur again. As much as I begged and pleaded, Uncle Theo kept his promise to my mother. We still took our walks and I still crept into his room late at night to sit in the green light, but it wasn’t the same.

And as the summer came to an end, so did Uncle Theo’s visit. One morning I went downstairs to breakfast and he was gone.

“Did you see him fly away?” I asked.

My mother looked away and wouldn’t answer.

Stay tuned for part three next Wednesday.