CharmCat CoverWho can resist a delightful story about cats? Charm (An Amazing Story of a Little Black Cat) written and illustrated by the talented Leyla Atke has it all–it’s a tale about love, loss, and continuing on, despite the pain of the loss that exists when one’s beloved pet dies and leaves an empty, cat-shaped hole in one’s heart. How can such an abyss be filled? And, how did the feelings toward the handsome black cat, which the narrator calls Charm, develop in the first place?

In Charm, the author weaves a story that is, itself, charming. Atke introduces the short but sweet book by reminiscing, in the first chapter, about how Charm came into her life and changed it forever for the better. She has the first-person narrator tell of “a hot summer day in June of 2006″ when she “was leaving work for a break.” The reason she is leaving is “to get a new hairstyle” and she is in a hurry to fit in the hairstyle into her busy day. Such are the times when Fate, or God, enters into our plans and sometimes, if we’re lucky, changes them in ways that we’d never planned, but which bring a touch of happiness to our lives.
At a busy intersection, on the way to her hair appointment, the narrator notices “something small and black” in the middle of the road, among the rushing cars. She notices that it is moving, and she decides to see what it is, so she stops her car and gets out to get a closer look. As she approaches the object, she sees that it is “a small black kitten sitting in the middle of the road.” With the cars “waiting for a green light from both sides,” she realizes that she has the chance to rescue the kitten, and she takes it.

Even then after the narrator saves the kitten, she’s not sure what to do with it, and considers if she should just “leave it in the park” which is nearby. However, struck by how cute and gentle the kitten is, though it is dirty and its fur is “smelling like kerosene” she takes the animal to her aunt’s house. She, like the narrator, has her own cat, but she agrees “to shelter the kitten only until the evening.” That enables the narrator to return to work, think about what has transpired, and make her decision about keeping the kitten.

I don’t want to give anything else away, except to say that she does decide to keep the small black kitten, and to call it Charm. I throughly enjoyed reading Leyla Atke’s book, and her wonderful illustrations help give the reader a genuine feel for how Charm must have looked, and how the kitten managed to, well, charm his way into the narrator’s life.

There is something else I should mention, though, about the book. It is written primarily for young teens on up. What ultimately happens to Charm is sad, and the description of the cat’s body after his demise might be too much for younger readers to handle, though the author is being honest about relating the details. Also, the author writes that “Vaccination and castration” will be musts for a new kitten that enters into her life, who she first sees just “a couple of steps away from Charm’s grave,” and who she also decides to call Charm. These elements don’t at all detract (at least not in my humble opinion) from the appeal of the book; but, I thought I should mention these things, so that if someone decides to buy it for younger kids, they will know that the kids might come to them with some very interesting questions about death and the definition of “castration.”

Charm (An Amazing Story of a Little Black Cat) is a truly charming story about how much a kitten can effect a person’s life and bring joy to it. If you are an animal lover, and perhaps own a cat or have owned them in the past, you’ll definitely want to add this delightful short book to your reading lists. It would also make a great gift for a cat lover in your life. I highly recommend Charm to anyone who has ever owned, or who currently owns, a kitten or a cat.


Christtmas CapersHere are the first three chapters of Lily and PAWS: Christmas Capers for you to read for FREE. I hope you like what you read, and will then consider buying the novella for just 99 cents from Amazon. It’s a funny, heart-warming, and suspenseful addition to my series The Case File of Lily and PAWS. Can Lily, her 14-year-old “Owner” Celeste, and the rest of PAWS save Christmas and prevent boys & girls around the world from being disappointed on Christmas morning? Find out by reading this cool Christmas novella. Click here to buy it!

Chapter One
“The Twelve Days of
Lilymas”

“Celeste,” I said to my bestest friend in the whole wide world, fourteen-year-old Celeste Elizabeth Quince, twelve days before Christmas, “I have an idea.”
“Oh?” Celeste said. “I think I should be scared; very scared.”
“What do you mean by that snide remark?”
“Your ‘ideas’ generally cause us to get into lots of trouble. Your ‘ideas’ have often almost resulted in the destruction of the entire city of Centralia. Your ‘ideas’ have led to our friends being kidnapped, to my death, to—”
“Yeah, yeah—blah, blah, blah,” I said. “That’s all ancient history now. Can’t you let sleeping pterodactyls lie? My ideas had resulted in countless lives being saved, this city being saved, the rescue of my friends and fellow members of PAWS—Private Army of Warrior Sleuths—and your being resurrected from the dead. Why must you always look at the glass as being half-full?”
“What-ev-er,” Celeste said. “None of those things would have had to happen at all, if it weren’t for your so-called spectacular ‘ideas,’ Lily.”
“Oh, don’t be so grumpy, Celeste! Christmas is only twelve days away; where’s your Christmas spirit?”
“I have tons of Christmas spirit, Lily—I just hope that we don’t get visited by any Christmas spirits—like the ghost of Belle Starr who visited us at the start of this past summer! Not to mention the other ghosts that almost made us into ghosts, like the specter of the mad Dr. Norman Baker of the Crescent Hotel.”
“You forgot to mention the steampunk automatons, the werewolves, the vampires, the witches, the evil Leprechauns—”
“I didn’t forget them; I was only trying to refer to ghosts, though, because you mentioned ‘Christmas spirits.’ Lily.”
I am Celeste’s “owner,”—that much is certain, though Celeste still stubbornly clings to the erroneous assumption that she is the “owner” and that I am the pet. The things that teenagers are taught in schools these days…. She and I were conversing with each other in Celeste Quince’s bedroom, on the second floor of her parents’ two-story, 250,000 square foot mansion at 221 Baker Street in Centralia, Arkansas.
Though Celeste and I were the best of friends, we often had disagreements, ranging from minor to major ones; but, no one ever said that friends had to agree on everything. For the most part, though, we got along very well with each other. She just didn’t always like to admit when she was incorrect about certain things, and I, of course, am never and have never been wrong. I suppose I could understand why Celeste wouldn’t want to admit that, though I have cheerfully told her on more than one occasion that the saying is “To err is human.” It says nothing about pterodactyls, like me.
“Celeste,” I said. “I have a modest proposal for you. You’ve heard the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas,’ right?”
“Ye-e-es,” Celeste said cautiously. “Most people have—it’s on the radio every Christmas, and lots of people sing it when they go Caroling—but, what’s your point? What does that have to do with your proposal, if anything?”
“Well, there’s also the Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night, and some people still celebrate each night of the twelve nights…wouldn’t it make much more sense to celebrate something else on those twelve nights?”
“Like what, Lily?”
“Umm…er…you almost had it with the question you just asked me, if the words are switched around a bit, and one of them is changed…. The answer is, duh, like me, Lily.”
“So, you’re saying that you’d like the entire world to not celebrate the twelve days of Christmas, but to instead, celebrate the twelve days of Lily?”
“Yes, that’s the ticket; your powers of deduction improve by leaps and bounds daily, Celeste! I’m very impressed that you have reached the same conclusion on this as I have, that ‘The Twelve Days of Lilymas’ has so much of a better ring to it than ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas.’”
“Now, hold on a minute, Lily!” Celeste said. “I reached no such ‘conclusion.’ I believe that the song and the holiday should be left as they are, and not monkeyed with.”
“Don’t you mean, in this particular case, you don’t want them pterodactyled with? No matter; I suppose I assumed too much about your improved deductive powers, and that they perhaps have not improved quite as much as I was giving you credit for. That is one of my practically nonexistent faults: to think too highly of others, at times. I guess it’s just one of my saintly qualities shining through.”
“’Saintly?’ Ha!” my friend replied. “That is not something I would confuse you as being, Lily! Let’s see—there are a number of other adjectives I might have in mind to call you, though, like egotistical, snide, snarky, a major pain in my—neck—”
“I don’t believe the last thing you said exactly qualifies as an adjective, Celeste,” I said.
“Maybe not, but it does describe how you are, occasionally.”
“Let’s not quibble over minor details; we both know deep down in our hearts that every time I open my mouth, I speak the truth, so let’s move on to our plans to change the name of the song and how people celebrate the ‘Twelve Days of Lilymas.’
“I think, for example, that on the first day of Lilymas, people should decorate their yards and houses with images of me, and—
“Only you, huh? Don’t you think that’s just a wee bit egotistical, just like I said you are?” Celeste asked me.
“No, no—don’t be silly,” I answered. “There could be some decorations of Santa and me, the baby Jesus and me, perhaps a Buddha and me—as long as I am included somewhere in each individual decoration, that’s all that counts, isn’t it? Keeping the spirit of Lilymas in your heart, and proving it to the world in the money you spend on decorating your yards and houses for the most wonderful time of the year, Lilymas?”
”What do you mean, ‘that’s all that counts,’ Lily? You’ve gone way too far—what you’re saying is sacrilegious.”
“Oh, c’mon, Celeste! As usual, you’ve misunderstood what I was saying—I don’t need this Lilymas holiday to be one on which I’m worshipped—I just want to, in my humble way, be remembered every once in a while—like, say, once a year—for the countless times I’ve saved the world from disaster. Now, is that asking too much? What’s the matter—have I left you speechless?”
Celeste shook her head “No” and pointed at her window that overlooked the fenced-in backyard.
There, I saw a being floating, and staring into the room at us. At first, I thought, “Not again! Not another run-in with the vampires of Centralia’s Belgian Quarter!” But, the being at the window was not a vampire. It was something infinitely scarier, at least to dentists everywhere. The being was a Sugar Plum Fairy.
Picture a male Tinkerbell, but human-sized, with purple, sugar-speckled wings, and you might have somewhat of an idea about what this particular Sugar Plum Fairy looked like.
Oh, and he was round, his torso was, anyway, much like a plum. Sugared plums were a delicious Christmas treat that was increasingly rarely made in America by Moms and Grandmothers. Why bother with the fuss and mess of that, when you could just as well buy solid chocolate Santas, and a wide variety of other candy to stuff into Christmas stockings?
“Hmm…” I said, as the Sugar Plum Fairy then began to lightly knock at Celeste’s window, as if he didn’t notice us staring at him. “Are you going to let our visitor in? You know, the lightly knocking one, like the raven in Poe’s famous poem about a….”
“Raven?”
“No, no—don’t be ri-donk-ulous, Celeste—more like a…raven, that’s it, not what you said, whatever that was.”
Celeste went to her window, and said: “Come on in, out of the cold, whoever you are. Get warm, and tell us why you’ve decided to visit us on this first night of Christmas.”
Contrary to what you might think, by the fact that the being who flew in Celeste’s window was a Sugar Plum Fairy, he spoke with a deep, sonorous voice, sounding kind of like a cross between the voices of Morgan Freeman and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“It’s about time you let me in, Pilgrim,” the Sugar Plum Fairy said to Celeste, imitating the star of Western movies, John Wayne. It seemed he could alter his voice to fit the situation, sort of like Robin Williams did. Of course, Robin Williams would never dress in such an outrageous costume, though—he has way more dignity than that. “I was freezing my wings off out there! You two didn’t see me because you were both engrossed in your argument. Now I know what a fly on the wall feels like!”
“O-kay,” I said. “So we didn’t notice you and you got cold and your feelings got hurt. Waah, waah. You must be here for a reason—what is it? Do you have a mystery for us and PAWS to solve? Is anyone in danger? Well, c’mon, spit it out—are you going to tell us by using charades, or sign language?”
“I do actually have a case for you, Celeste, and PAWS to solve—what’s that stand for, anyway?”
“Umm, Private Army of Warrior Sleuths,” Celeste answered. “Not that Lily and three of her friends amount to an actual army—”
“Hey,” I said, trying to justify the acronym, as it did make sense, if one thought about it, “we may not have the numerical amount of people that most armies have; but, we have the formidable power and strength of an army! At first blush, we may not seem like we’re much—”
“…and at second and third blush….” Celeste rudely added.
“…but, appearances can be deceiving. We each have specialized fighting skills, and the power to control minds. We’re lean, mean, fightin’ machines!”
“Pardon me,” the Sugar Plum Fairy said. “I didn’t mean to start up an argument; I just wanted to ask you for your help. You might recall from having heard a certain poem that, on Christmas night, children around the world are supposed to see visions of sugar plums dancing around their heads. This year, I’m afraid, that tradition might be over.”
“What did you say your name was, again?” I asked, suddenly getting more interested in this strange fellow than I had been before. “You’re not really in cahoots with the evil Christmas elves, are you, or our arch-enemies, the Scarlet S.N.U.R.F.L.E.S?
“Er—nothing personal, though your eyes do look kind of beady and too set close together for my peace of mind and comfort. I’m only asking, you understand, because this seems to be something right up their alley: a master plan to destroy Christmas! It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve tried to do it, and ruin the joys of good boys and girls (and animals) with their confounded criminal activities!”
“My name’s Peter Trundlebed Johansen. It’s a Swedish name—don’t ask, please. We Sugar Plum Fairies are a close-knit group, and don’t socialize with elves much, whether they be good or evil ones. And, I’ve never even heard of the SNORKLES before, so—”
“Not SNORKLES!” I said. “Sheesh! I said SNURFLES! They’re the Super Nefarious Union of Rascals Formidably Linked in Everlasting Solidarity! It’s difficult for me to believe you’ve never heard of them! They’re only the most elite, top-notch criminal organization ever, is all! Snorkles, on the other hand, are used to allow people to breathe underwater.”
“You’ll have to excuse me,” the Sugar Plum Fairy said. “As you might have surmised, by my wings, I and other Sugar Plum Fairies are not exactly an aquatic race. I wouldn’t know a snorkel from—that other thing you said, that criminal organization, the SNIFFLES or something like that.”
“No, not the SNIFFLES! You get those when you get a cold, or the flu! I said the SNURFLES! Tell me, are you, by any chance, related to a certain Chinese Crested/rhino friend of mine, Fuzzy Wally MacGee?”
“No; why do you ask?”
“No reason—just forget about it—anyway, why is it that the tradition of children seeing sugar plums dancing around their heads on Christmas Eve in danger this year?” I asked.
“Because,” Peter Trundlebed Johansen said, “there are no plums anywhere to be found in the world. It’s as if they’ve disappeared off of the face of the Earth.”
“That must make life tough for little Jack Horner, too—if plums have been wiped out all over the world, what will he pull out of pies with his thumb from now on? Maybe Mandarin oranges, or possibly kiwi fruit?”
“Guys,” Celeste said, “I’ve been just now looking up the term ‘sugar plums’ on the Internet, and—”
“No, not the Internet!” Peter the Sugar Plum Fairy said. “The Internet: the place where dreams are crushed, people lose their beliefs, and where information gets confused with the truth!”
“Yes, the Internet,” Celeste replied. “Anyway, the sources I checked say that sugar plums originally had nothing at all to do with actual plums. Instead, the term referred to layer after layer of sugar that was built up over something tiny, like a coriander, caraway, or cardamom seed, until it was oval or round in shape. They were like jawbreakers, in a way. Almonds could also be used.”
“Ouch,” Peter said, dejectedly. “That really hurts, you know? Next thing you’ll be telling me is that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny—”
“Don’t even go there,” Celeste interrupted. “They’re real, of course; and, whatever the term ‘sugar plum’ used to mean, I see you before me, so I know that you’re real. Plums can be coated with sugar, and there are lots of great recipes I could let you have I looked up on the Internet that explain how to make fantastic sugar-coated plums. Some also use almonds—yum!”
“Yes, yes; yum, indeed,” Peter said. “Exactly my point. If enough people believe in something, eventually it will become true, whether it was before or not. And, if they stop believing—”
“That won’t happen!” said Celeste. “I used to not believe in ghosts, werewolves, witches, aliens, Bigfoot, evil Leprechauns and elves, or talking pterodactyls, but that didn’t stop them from existing and eventually proving to me that they are as real as—well—sugar plum fairies.”
“So, you’re saying you believe me, and that you’ll take my case?” he asked.
“Hmm…” I said. “How’s this for an answer? There’s a meeting of PAWS tomorrow morning, Mr. Johansen. Your case will be the main topic of the meeting, you can rest assured of that.”

Chapter Two
“The Call of Duty”

“In times like these,” I said, speaking before the weekly meeting of PAWS at nine in the morning on a Saturday, “when duty calls, what will your answer be? What will you say?”
“Is my phone going off again?” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said. He is a rhino, but when humans look at him, they believe they’re seeing a Chinese Crested dog. He’s the “Distracter” of our team. “I probably shouldn’t have chosen the tweeting of birds as my ringtone. It makes it kind of confusing sometimes to tell the difference between my ringtone and, say, a merry robin or barn thrush. But, I guess I’d have to say, ‘Hello? I’m Fuzzy Wally MacGee. Hello? I think you might have the wrong number.’”
“That is not what I was referring to, Fuzzy!” I said.
“My ringtone sounds more like the sound a rattlesnake makes when it’s angry,” Prince Alphonse Saed said. He resembles to the eyes of people a miniature dachshund, but he’s really a Mountain Lion. Alphonse, or “Fonz” or “Fonzie” as he’s often called, is an expert at using Ninja weapons, and he can (sometimes) predict the future by using crystal balls or Tarot cards.
“Nobody asked me,” Lucy Marmoset Higgins exclaimed. “But, my ring tone sounds kind of like a banana.” Lucy was an orangutan, thought humans perceived her as being a Great Dane. She’s an excellent fighter, and she comes in handy for cracking safes and hacking into computers.
“Like a banana?” I asked.
“Yes,” Lucy answered. “Well, not exactly. Bananas generally are sort of…soft and squishy, and don’t make many noises. My ringtone is more like…the sound of bananas when they’re sliced up into crunchy cereal…a ‘crunch, crunch, crunch,’ sort of sound. But, I know that the bananas are there, and that’s all that really matters, right, Lily?”
“Uh, um…yes, I suppose,” I said. “But, I wasn’t talking about a phone call when I said ‘duty calls,’ I was saying that when you are asked to do something, and you know that you should do it, it’s your duty to do, er, whatever it might be you’ve been asked to do.”
“You said ‘doodie,’ Fuzzy Wally MacGee said, laughing.
“No, no, I did not,” I said. “You misheard me, I suspect on purpose. I said duty, d-u-t-y. When the Sugar Plum Fairy, Peter Trundlebed Johansen—quit laughing, Fuzzy, and you too, Lucy and Fonzie—it’s quite an acceptable, normal-sounding name, at least in Sweden, land of…cheeses and…chocolates, my mouth is watering just mentioning the very word…where was I? Oh, yes—when this Swedish Sugar Plum fellow was fluttering outside of our window, my first instinct was to run and get an ultra-large flyswatter to deal with the problem then and there. But, did I do that?”
“Probably,” Fuzzy said. “That’s what I would have done.”
“Perhaps, Fuzzy, perhaps,” I said. “But, Johansen didn’t flutter outside of your window, so we’ll never really know, now will we?” I asked rhetorically. “Anyway, Celeste let the Sugar Plum Fairy inside, and he told us a tale of woe, indeed. He said that Christmas as we know it might be ruined, that on Christmas Eve, there might not be any sugar plums dancing around or through children’s heads, that—”
“I have bananas dancing through my head,” Lucy said. “But, not just on Christmas Eve—they do it on every eve. As a matter of fact, they’re doing it now. They’re kind of making my stomach growl from hunger….”
“Lucy, did you skip breakfast again? The most important meal of the day?” Celeste asked her.
“No, I just must have bananas on the brain,” she said.
“Fortunately, I have a bunch I always carry with me in my handbag for just such emergencies,” Celeste said. Her “handbag” had gotten rather large over the years since I made her an Honorary Member of PAWS (I couldn’t make her a full-blown member as she wasn’t an animal, unless you counted humans as being animals). She reach in and gave the entire bunch to Lucy, who peeled one after the other, and ate them, with a very contented expression on her face.
“Returning to what I was saying,” I said, “The reason that there might not be sugar plums dancing around children’s heads this Christmas Eve is that all of the plums in the world seem to have been stolen, or they have disappeared.”
“But, Lily,” Fonzie said, “aren’t sugar plums really not plums, but—”
“Originally, they weren’t; but, now they very often are actual sugar-coated plums,” I said, cutting him off before he could complete his thought. “It’s up to us, as members of PAWS, to discover who stole the plums and make sure that they get put back into the world’s stores so that people can once again buy them, and so that Christmas won’t be ruined for children everywhere.”
“Well,” Prince Alphonse Saed said, “if the past was any indication, I’d say that there’s one group of criminals who have a track record of trying to destroy Christmas forever, and they would be—”
“The Grinch Society of America?” Fuzzy pondered out loud.
“No; that’s not it,” Fonzie continued. “It looks like the work of the Scarlet SNURFLES, or maybe the Scarlet Mafia, or both working together.”
“Perhaps,” I said, though it’s also possible that this is the work of the criminal mastermind who most recently plagued us by having us solve seven of the most difficult cases we’ve ever had to…er, solve, namely Professor Polynesia!”
I was, of course, referring to the extremely bad Polly with an attitude that wouldn’t quit, who was the great-granddaughter of Doctor Doolittle’s Polynesia. While I wasn’t really sure what her attitude towards Christmas was, her attitude in general led me to believe that she certainly had to rank very high up on our list of potential suspects.
“Can’t people use prunes?” Fuzzy Wally MacGee asked. “They are just dried-up plums, aren’t they? So, couldn’t they be dreamt of by the children of the world, instead of plums?”
“While dried prunes are a fairly tasty treat,” I said, “the idea of prunes to most children would be one of stewed prunes, which would most likely give children nightmares, rather than pleasant dreams. Also, whoever heard of a Sugar Prune Fairy? Besides that, even if children accepted prunes as a substitute, the point is, we can’t allow whoever did this to get away with the crime of stealing the world’s plums, can we?”
“Is that another one of your rhetor-rhetor-questions you don’t really expect an answer to, Lily?” Fuzzy asked, non-rhetorically.
“Yes, and no,” I replied. “I expected that the only possible logical answer anyone here would think of giving me, if they gave me an answer, would be a resounding ‘No, we can’t let the criminals get away with that, Lily!’ But, once again, Fuzzy, you’ve managed to come up with an entirely unexpected answer.”
“Thank you!” Fuzzy said.
“I wasn’t praising you, Fuzzy, by calling your answer ‘unexpected.’ What I was saying is that—”
“Prunes, nature’s magical fruit;/The more you eat,/The more you toot,” Fuzzy sang.
“How many times have I had to say, ‘No singing at the meetings,’ to you, Fuzzy? That’s a rhetorical question, for your information, so don’t bother answering,” I said.
Just then, a flock of Scarlet Macaws appeared on the horizon, headed towards us. They had plastic bags clenched tightly in their claws. When they got immediately over our heads, they squawked, “Bombs away!” and dropped their bags upon our heads, like hundred of water balloons. Only, their plastic bags weren’t filled with water; no, instead they were filled with stewed prunes! Much to our surprise and dismay, we soon found ourselves covered from head to foot—er, paws, hooves, etc.—with stewed prunes and prune juice. Blech!
“That’s just a taste of what the future will be like without your precious ‘sugar plums!’” the leader of the Scarlet Macaws, Frankie Sinister, squawked. “Stewed prunes—bwa-ack! If you can’t get your precious plums back, you’ll be blamed by the children of the world, ’cause you couldn’t even defeat a bunch of parrots! Ba-wah, ha, ha!”
Then, before we could mount a counter-offensive and attack, the Scarlet Macaws flew through a glowing red-framed opening that appeared in the sky, one that quickly closed behind them. They had attacked us like this in the past, flying through a vortex from another dimension, then retreating back through it as it closed. We had been unable to pursue them, that is, until Celeste had gotten a red coral rattlesnake talisman from the ghost of David O. Dodd, the “Boy Martyr” of the Confederacy. The Duke of Owlington told us where to go to find it, to Mount Holy Cemetery. Thanks to Dodd’s ghost, who retrieved it from where it lay buried, we could now follow our foes to whatever dimension or universe they went.
“Maybe there’s still a chance to get them and the sugar plums,” I said, “if you get the rattlesnake talisman and hold it in your hands as we fly up to where the opening was, Celeste!” I cried.
“I—I don’t have it with me, Lily,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d need to carry it with me all of the time, after we defeated the Scarlet SNURFLES and the Scarlet Mafia and they split up into two separate groups, as they had been before Bennie the Beak, the head of the Scarlet Mafia, became the leader of their combined forces.”
“You don’t have it—with you?” I spluttered.
“No—it’s at home, where I put it, inside—” Celeste said.
“Don’t say it, Celeste!” I said. “There are likely spies everywhere! We don’t want one of them that overhears where you hid it to find it and take away from us the one way we can take the attack to the Scarlet SNUFLES when they try to escape from us! We will just have to wait until another day, I suppose.”
“What we need to do,” Celeste said, “is to have you all jump into the pond and wash that prune juice off of your bodies, before I take you back to your ‘owners.’ And, I doubt my Dad would like to drive you anywhere in his blue Mustang like you are, stinking of prunes. It’d take him forever to get the smell out of his car.”
There was a chill in the air, but I saw the logic in Celeste’s words. We ran towards the pond (I say it’s a large lake, but Celeste insists it isn’t) where we had spent so much fun diving into and swimming in this past summer, and dove into its waters once more. The water was very cold, so we were in it only as long as was necessary to wash the prune juice from our bodies, and then we stood shivering on the shores of the pond, waiting for Celeste to towel us dry.
She had, thankfully, included in her handbag enough towels to dry us after our dip. It seemed that the size of her handbag had mysteriously grown in proportion to how much time she’d spent as an Honorary Member of PAWS. She claimed that there was a link; but, I think she just liked large handbags.
We would not be humiliated again, I promised myself. Celeste would have the red rattlesnake talisman with her whenever we might meet up with the Scarlet SNURFLES in the future. The next time, we would be better prepared. We had better be, not for us, but for all of the boys and girls of the world.

Chapter Three
“Here Comes Lily Quince”

Before I closed the meeting, I had to fill in the other members of PAWS about what my plans were to defeat the Scarlet SNURFLES. I had to also fill in Celeste. That’s because, duh, I had just thought up the plans on the spur of the moment. But, I felt sure they couldn’t fail.
“What song,” I asked everyone assembled, “do you usually associate with Christmas?”
Fuzzy’s right hoof automatically went up, but I didn’t want to call on him. Like an unpopular teacher in school, I called upon a member of PAWS who hadn’t raised his paw, Prince Alphonse Saed.
“Fonzie? What song comes to your mind?” I asked.
“Um, er, ‘White Christmas,’” he said, uncomfortably.
“No, that is incorrect. Try again,” I said.
“Well, I—that is the song I’d think of first, but how about ‘Jingle Bells?’”
“Is that a question or an answer?” I asked.
“A—um—answer?”
“Sorry, you are wrong again, Fonzie!” I said. “How about you, Lucy; what song would you think of, not counting the ones Fonzie already got wrong?”
“‘The Banana Boat Song’ I’d have to say,” Lucy replied.
“Lucy, a Christmas song; remember the category of song that I’m asking you to give your answer to, okay?”
“Well, maybe ‘Frostie the Snowman,’” Lucy said, “but instead of a carrot, when I build a snowman, I use a banana for its nose. It doesn’t last very long before I eat it, but that’s how I roll—can I get a ‘Wha-What?’”
“No, you may not, and sadly, that is incorrect, as well. Celeste—any ideas?”
“Yes; let’s get in my Dad’s car, out of the cold, and take Fonzie and Lucy to their homes—that’s my idea, Lily!” she said, rather huffily.
“Fi-ine, then,” I said. “The correct answer is ‘Here Comes Santa Claus.’ But, instead of Santa Claus coming here, because it’s still several days away from Christmas, I—we—are going to go to him.
“Just as it makes very good sense to celebrate the Twelve Days of Lilymas instead of the Twelve Days of Christmas, there’s going to be a brand-new Christmas—er, Lilymas—song, called ‘Here Comes Lily Quince.’”
“Here comes Lily Quince,/Here comes Lily Quince,” Fuzzy sang, “Her singing makes grown men wince—“
“Fuzzy!” I roared. “I told you no more singing at these meetings!”
“I am just trying to get into the holiday spirit, and spread Lilymas joy to everyone around,” he protested.
“I appreciate the sentiment,” I said, “but you always seem to butcher what could have been a perfectly good song, and often, you do it at my expense.
“Anyway,” I said, ever the master at changing the subject, “we need help from the man—”
“Upstairs?” Fuzzy asked.
“Who wrangles snakes?” Fonzie suggested.
“Who tallies the bananas, all the day-o long?” Lucy put in.
“No; we need help from the man up north, at the North Pole—namely, Santa Claus! That means you all need to dress very snuggly when I come to pick you up for the trip tonight, around midnight!” I roared. “Bring your own pillows, blankets, and ropes to strap yourself onto my back, too; but, I doubt you’ll get much shut-eye, once you see the glory of the aurora borealis!”
“I’ve seen what it looks like online, Lily,” Celeste said, “and it is beautiful!”
“Yes, it is,” I agreed, “and bright. By my calculations, it will take us an hour to get there, which means I’ll be flying…well…let’s just say very fast. That’s why the ropes will not only be handy, but very necessary. If you don’t already have your Christmas, er, Lilymas lists made up, I suggest you use the rest of the day thinking up what you might like, so you can give Santa Claus your lists in person tonight!
“Once we’re there, we probably can get Santa’s help without taking up too much time. Maybe he’ll even give us a guided tour of his workshop. That should take an hour at the most, and with the return flight, you should all be at your homes at approximately three in the morning!”
“Lily, I don’t think that even Santa’s reindeer could travel that fast!” Celeste said.
“I could fly much faster, but I don’t want to accidently send the Earth out of its orbit. Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race, you know—or, at least that’s what Aesop says is the moral in one of his fables.”
****
Celeste was on her Christmas holiday, and wouldn’t have to return to school until January 3rd , so she could sleep late tomorrow if our trip lasted longer than I anticipated it would. Her parents would probably believe that she was merely sleeping in, like most teenagers do when they’re not in school for the holidays or in the summertime. She would be; but, the reason would not be one that they would ever expect it to be.
I’d been to Istanbul, Belgrade, London, Egypt, Pakistan, Tahiti, Belgium, the Polynesian Islands, Moscow, and Da Bronx, among many other places; but, traveling to the North Pole and visiting Santa’s workshop would be an entirely new experience for me. I was eagerly looking forward to touring Santa’s Toy Shop and watching the elves assemble toys.
Celeste, Lucy, Fuzzy, and Fonzie would probably not need the ropes I suggested, but I wanted to mess with them and make them wonder. They’d ridden on my back several times before, but for shorter distances, and I’d flown slower then than I would tonight. But, the Earth moves at a very fast rate of speed, and no one falls off. I thought that my friends would likely be plastered to my body, much like people are when they ride certain carnival rides, so that they couldn’t fall off even if they tried.
As midnight neared, I donned my leather flight helmet and goggles in preparation. Celeste wore a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, her heavy winter coat, and gloves. She was hoping to have a snowball fight later. We didn’t get much snow usually in Fort Smith, so she was excited about that, as well as about seeing Santa Claus. Celeste also had her red coral rattlesnake talisman with her, in case we had another encounter with Freddie and his gang of plum-stealing Pollies.
It didn’t take very long to fly to the houses of the MacGees, Saeds, and Higginses. Fuzzy, Lucy, and Fonzie were bundled up like Eskimos. They were not fans of cold weather, like I was—to each his or her own, I guess. Rhinos and orangutans like warmer weather, so they had on two coats and leather water-proof boots. Fuzzy, in particular, looked very bulky wearing so many layers of winter clothing, and he looked more awkward than he normally did, trying to wear boots that were not made for hooves and to walk in them.
“All aboard Pterodactyl One!” I said. “Next stop, the North Pole!”
Celeste, Fonzie, Lucy, and Fuzzy whooped and cheered. I could see the excitement in their eyes, when I craned my head to look at them after they had gotten comfortable and were tied in with ropes that wound around my back, sides, and belly.
As I expected, the speed at which I flew kept them safely on my back, but I had thought that the ropes would ease their minds and make them feel more secure. I’m always concerned about the safety of Celeste, Lucy, Fonzie, and Fuzzy, though despite my best efforts, we have been in many more dangerous situations in the past than I’d have liked us to be in.
To avoid being detected by radar and being mistaken for a UFO, I flied low to the ground (for me), but high enough up so that hopefully no one would notice me if they gazed up into the sky. Maybe, if they did happen to look up as I flew overhead, they’d think that I was a huge eagle soaring above them. They might even think that they’d seen a…dragon. I didn’t breathe fire, but I could form fire balls with my pyrokinetic powers, so I’m fairly sure I’d been mistaken for one on some of our other adventures and detective cases.
The aurora borealis was amazing! It was very beautiful, and waves of shimmering colors flowed into each other like rivers and tributaries, but ones which were side-by-side, intermingling. My passengers “Oohed!” and “Aahed!” at nature’s colorful display, one which the greatest artists who have ever lived couldn’t match.
The hour went by quickly, and soon we were touching down on the landing strip that Santa uses for his wonderful sleigh. Elves dressed in green greeted us, and after my friends were untied we walked with them to Santa’s palace. It was perfectly camouflaged to blend in with the ice and snow, making it difficult to impossible to spot from the sky. Santa required as much privacy as possible, so that he could continue doing his good work of providing toys and other things to good boys and girls without being bothered by constant interruptions and interviews that the media would request from him.
The elves laughed and chattered amongst themselves as we entered through the massive wooden double doors of Santa’s palace.
“Santa’s in his throne room, throne room, throne room!” one of them, whose green hat’s tip drooped at a jaunty angle, said in a high voice.
“He’s been expecting you!” another elf near us said.
“But—but how did he know—” I stammered.
“How did he know that you were coming?” the elf who spoke first asked. “How do you think he knew? He’s Santa Claus, that’s how!”
“We’ve been extra busy,” a short, squatty elf with a wide grin on his face said, “Especially since two weeks ago, when our toy-making was disrupted for three days.”
“That’s terrible!” Celeste said. “What happened?”
“We were attacked by a horde of evil Christmas elves who wanted to shut our operation down,” the same elf replied. “They snuck closer and closer towards us, hiding behind snow banks, icy outcroppings of rocks, and snowmen.”
“We’ve had trouble with evil Christmas elves before, also,” I said. “They tried to destroy Christmas then, and it seems as if they’re trying to do it again, but in a different way. They sang and danced outside of Centralia Mall—Centralia’s the city where we live—and demanded that everyone contributed ‘donations’ into their scarlet-and-green kettles.
“Their songs and acrobatic dances produced a spellbinding, hypnotic effect on the crowds who viewed them. Really, to anyone who was not hypnotized by their singing and dancing, like me, if you listened to the words of the songs, they were singing about kicking in doors and robbing the city’s houses of their valuables. They had to be stopped, before they ruined Centralia’s economy. We were the only ones who knew what was actually going on and who could put a halt to their plans.”
We walked through passageway after passageway, until we finally came to Santa’s Throne Room. We could feel the excitement building in the air. When we entered, Celeste gasped out “Santa! Oh, no!”


Debut author, Freddie Owens, swings for the fences and hits a home run with his excellent coming-of-age story set primarily in Kentucky, Then Like the Blind Man. When Orbie’s father dies, his life changes forever. His mother, Ruby, finds herself attracted to the smooth-talking, poetic atheist Victor Denalsky, who had been Orbie’s father’s foreman at a steel mill in Detroit. After Orbie’s father dies, Victor courts Orbie’s mother, and eventually marries her. Not wanting to nor desiring to take care of a nine-year-old boy with an attitude, like Orbie, who can’t stand his stepfather, anyway, Ruby and Victor decide to drop Orbie off at Ruby’s parents’ house in Kentucky, with the promise that they’ll come back to get him once they’ve settled in Florida, where Victor supposedly has a job lined up. Orbie’s mother and Victor take with them Orbie’s younger sister, Missy.

The novel is told in the first person by Orbie, who, though young, is very insightful for his age. As I read, I was often reminded of another famous novel told from the POV of a child, Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird. The themes are different, but Orbie’s and Scout’s perspectives on African Americans in the 1950′s are significant to understanding both books. Orbie has some bad experiences with some of the black people he comes in contact with early on in the novel, so he calls them the “n,” word at various points in the story.

Through the course of Then Like the Blind Man, Orbie eventually realizes that his grandparents are great people who love him. They may not have attained a high level of school education, but they are wise about farm life and human nature.

They don’t like it that their daughter, Ruby, has developed a prejudice for blacks, nor that she’s passed it on to Orbie. That’s one of the many nice touches I liked about Freddie Owen’s debut novel, that in it, it’s not Orbie’s grandparents who live in Kentucky that exhibit a prejudiced point of view, but it’s learned from experiences Orbie and his family have living in Detroit, in the north. Of course, in reality, unfortunately you can find prejudice in every state to this day; but, the author didn’t go the stereotypical route of having his northern characters expressing an enlightened POV, and his southern ones being all racists.
Owens, a published poet, has infused Then Like the Blind Man with a poetic sensibility that makes his story and characters come to life for the reader. Through Owens, and Orbie’s story, we feel the emotions of being dumped off somewhere he doesn’t want to live, at his grandparents’ house; but, we come to see them as positive, nurturing influences on Orbie’s life. Though Orbie despises the alcoholic Victor, and how his mother has made wrong decisions (to his POV, anyway), Victor is not portrayed as being completely bad. He does show an interest in Orbie at times, like when Orbie expresses his fascination with a scar Victor has on his neck that he got in WWII.

Orbie comes to think that Victor acts nicely towards him only further to ingratiate himself with Ruby, Orbie’s mother. Ruby is the type of woman who thinks she can change the man she loves, to rehabilitate him, and she always holds out a spark of hope for Victor. This is an aspect about her that kind of frustrated me as a reader, and made me want to tell her–if she was real and in front of me–to stop deluding herself and wake up and realize what a jerk Victor is most of the time. But, thinking of a man who has faults as being some sort of “project,” or someone who can be “rehabilitated,” is a trait that some women have, so Ruby’s having this trait brought even more realism to the story.

Besides there being various themes and messages in Then Like the Blind Man, Orbie’s boyhood exuberance, how he relates to his grandparents, his changing point of view about much of what he’d taken for granted; and his adventures are what really makes the novel captivating. Freddie Owens fills the pages of his novel with other very memorable characters, like the humpbacked elderly lady, Bird; Moses Mashbone; Mrs. Profit; and Nealy Harlan. If you’re a fan of novels like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, Freddie Owens’s Then Like the Blind Man is s Must Read!


What follows are the first three chapters of my latest novel in my series The Case Files of Lily and PAWS, called Lily Solves Them All. In it, Lily, her 14-year-old “owner” Celese, and the rest of PAWS attempt to solve seven of the most difficult cases they’re ever faced, using the methods of 7 of the most famous detectives of literature and the Silver Screen, like Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and more! If you like what you read, just click
here
to purchase the book for only $3.99, or you can go to Amazon and buy the papeback version for only $10.99! It, and all of the series, makes for great Christmas gifts!

PART ONE:
The Case of the Copper Crooks

Chapter One
“The Game’s Afoot!”
“As you may have already heard,” I said, addressing my friends, the fellow members of PAWS (Private Army of Warrior Sleuths),”a letter of great import arrived in my mail today, which prompted me to call this emergency meeting.”
“Hear, hear!” one of my best friends, Fuzzy Wally MacGee, bellowed out. This sentiment was echoed by the other members of PAWS, Prince Alphonse Saed and Lucy Marmoset Higgins, and also by my best-est friend in the world, the now fourteen-year-old Celeste Elizabeth Quince.
We were convening our meeting in the Centralia, AR. City Dog Park, despite the fact that none of us were—technically speaking—dogs. I, of course, am Lily, the leader of PAWS, and a mutant pterodactyl who has (among other powers) the power to cloud people’s minds into them thinking they’re seeing a wee brindle black-and-white terrier. Fuzzy, Alphonse, and Lucy are also mutants. You humans see only what we want you to see.
Celeste knows our secret, as I let her in on it and made her an Honorary Member of PAWS; and, Billy Zest, who lives in an alt-universe we visited as recounted in the second volume of my cases and memoirs, Lily and PAWS: The Ghosts of Summer, knows about us. With the exception of a certain lactose-intolerant Sasquatch, Beano Gruntley the Third, and a powerful witch friend of ours, Witch Hagatha, no-one else knows our secret identities, and that we are a powerful crime-fighting organization with the very apt motto: “Be Ever Vigilant!” The public has learned that there is, or may be, a crime-fighting organization called PAWS, but they know scant else about us.
Fuzzy Wally MacGee resembles to humans a Chinese Crested dog, though he is, in reality, a rhinocerous who loves to play rugby. He is known as the Distracter of PAWS, as his peculiar appearance and demeanor is very—um—distracting. He is a fun, rough-and-tumble kinda guy, whose zigzagging gait is a little like the drunken style of walking a dog might have that has licked up too much Antifreeze (not a drink I’d recommend to anyone, as it is quite poisonous, though I’ve heard it is rather sweet-tasting).
Lucy Marmoset Higgins is another dear friend of mine. She looks like a Great Dane to the eyes of humans, but she is actually an orangutan of superior intelligence. She is a fantastic fighter, and is a wonder at cracking safes and hacking into computers. Her skills (and opposable thumbs) have come in handy many times in the past, and have enabled us to enter many buildings which we might not otherwise have been able to access.
Prince Alphonse Saed is the only member of royalty in our close-knit group. He appears to be a relatively harmless, though quite feisty, Miniature Dachsund. However, Fonzie, as he’s often called, is really a Mountain Lion. He is an expert at using several types of ninja weapons and at being stealthy. As well, he often wears a turban, and can foretell the future (to an extent) through the use of Tarot cards and crystal balls.
As for Celeste, she is the teenage daughter of the Quinces, the family I live with. She has trained in martial arts like Aikido and Judo, and she’s become quite a good fighter and an awesome addition to PAWS in several other ways. She earns money now and then, given to her by the “owners,” of Fuzzy, Lucy, and Fonzie, through taking us for walks or taking care of my three friends when their owners are out of town. This serves as an excellent cover for our periodic meetings. It is difficult to put into words how much I care for her, other than to say she is my best-est friend. But, we both like to mess with each other and even exchange…er…playful insults back and forth. Her parents, the Quinces, are both multimillionaires, and are eccentric but very nice people to live with, on the whole.
Quentin Quintilius Quince, or Triple Q, Celeste’s father, has come up with some inventions on his own, but most are ones I have implanted into his mind, to make him believe he came up with them on his own. One of the inventions, for example, are the Melon Bottom Jeans, which aid “shorties” on the dance floor in springing back upright if they happen to get too “low, low, low,” through the use of a strategically hidden squeeze bulb and tube.
Clare, Celeste’s mother, has dreamed up many interesting inventions herself, all without my help. She is a wildlife specialist and an excellent painter. Her inventions are primarily animal-related ones, like coming up with an excellent shampoo for parrots and other animals. She is always volunteering to work with the animals at the zoo, and she often likes to take in and care for injured wildlife. This is very kind-hearted of her, but it has gotten us into many jams in the past.
“It is perhaps not appropriate to shout ‘Hear, hear!’ after a simple statement of fact,” I said to the gathering, “but anyway, about this very odd letter. It is brief, and appears to be threatening in style and suspicious in substance.”
“Maybe it’s just a Get Well card,” Lucy Marmoset Higgins suggested, “or perhaps one wishing you Condolences because a dear, loved one has passed away.”
“No, Lucy,” I said, attempting to be the model of restraint that I most generally am, “No, it is most definitely not either a ‘Get Well card,’ nor one wishing me ‘Condolences.’ First of all, as you can plainly see, what I hold in my hands—er, talons—is not a card at all, but is, in fact, a letter. Secondly, I am not sick, nor do I know anyone who is sick. Thirdly, I also know no-one who has passed away. I deal in facts, as you all well know, not haphazard theories and guesses.
“The author of this letter,” I continued, “has issued me, and by extension, all of us, a challenge: to solve seven mysterious cases. Failure to solve even one of them will brand us laughingstocks, as the person who penned this says he, or she, will expose our failure to the newspapers and television stations.”
“That’s a rather sticky wicket,” Prince Alphonse Saed said. “Is that the correct term to use? I get so confused between American English, Australian English, Indian English, English English, and as to the Cockneys—well—“
“Yes, that would be an accurate summation of the state of affairs we’re currently in,” I answered hurriedly, to try to prevent Fonzie from saying anything that might be even more insulting to anyone who might read about this case in the future than what he’d already said.
“Who signed it, Lily, if anyone?” Celeste asked. Through long experience listening to us, and with the help of my tutelage, she’d come to understand our various languages.
“The signer is obviously mocking us, or me, anyway,” I said, “as he/she has not included a name, just saying that he/she is a ‘Friend.’ That can’t be, as why would a friend be writing me a threatening letter?”
I had asked the question rhetorically, but Fuzzy Wally MacGee said: “He could just be playing a game, yeah, that’s the ticket. Maybe like Tiddley-winks, or Uno, or Hide-and-Go-Seek, or—“
“No, Fuzzy, my friend! Well, actually, you could say yes!” I said.
“Which is it, no or yes?” Fuzzy asked. “You can be very confusing sometimes, Lily! I might not be as smart as you, but—”
“The person is not a friend, as he/she is trying to ruin us, and prove to the world that we are inept and can’t solve the cases he will present us. The game the writer of the letter suggests that we play with him is not a simple, though fun, sort of game, like the ones you named, Fuzzy. No, it is a much more deadly game, one that might be a matter of life or death.
As the famous detective Sherlock Bones says in cases like this: ‘The game’s afoot!’” I roared, regretting the unwanted attention in the form of uneasy stares that this caused us.
“Oh, so it’s a deadly game played with the feet, eh?” Fuzzy Wally MacGee asked. “You must mean it’s wicked good fun! So, what is it, Lily? Is it soccer, American football, rugby?” He said “rugby,” quite hopefully, but I dashed his ill-conceived notion to the ground with my reply.
“No, none of those,” I explained. “They’re all fine games. What I mean, though, is that whoever sent me this letter (an email would have been so much easier, though less personal, I suppose) is playing a game with our heads. He/she wants us to take the bait, to swallow it hook, line, and sinker, to—”
“Oh, I get what you’re trying to say now!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said. “You weren’t talking about a game at all; you were talking about that we’re about to go fishing! That sounds like a great idea!”
“GRRR! No, just like my saying ‘game,’ when I’m talking about the evil scheme the author of this letter has dreamt up, I’m using the symbolism of a fish taking bait to describe how this nefarious person wants us to do what he/she requests! He/she wants us to solve seven cases, and we’re going to accept his challenge. Each case must be solved according to the methods certain famous detectives have used in besting their foes. After we solve each case, we will be sent further information about subsequent cases.”
“Which detective does the author of the letter say he wants you to be like for the first case?” Celeste asked me.
“Why, one of my very favorite ones, who, like me, uses deductive logic to solve cases: Sherlock Bones!” I answered her.
“That should be right up your alley!” Celeste said. “It should give you no trouble at all!”
“And what,” Prince Alphonse Saed asked, “is the first case about?”
“I—we—are to solve who’s behind a recent rash of thefts around Centralia,” I answered.
“What’s been stolen?” Fonzie continued. ”Gold, silver, jewels?”
“No, Fonzie,” I said. “Though it is a metal that is becoming ever more scarce daily and is being sought after more and more by crooks who will stop at nothing to obtain it. The metal I’m speaking of is copper, and it appears that someone or possibly a group of thieves is trying to corner the local market on it by stealing it wherever they can find it.”
“I once knew a horse named Copper,” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said. “Are they after horses, too, Lily?”
“The crooks are after just copper. and not horses.” I replied. “They are ruthless in their drive to obtain the metal, which keeps going up in price, making the costs of many things also greatly increase. We must round up the culprits and stop them! What was perhaps once a penny-ante crime is now a very serious offense, costing the citizens of Centralia, our state, and the world millions, maybe even billions of dollars every year.”
“How can we catch them,” Lucy asked, “when the police have obviously failed?”
“Do not be too hard on the police, Lucy, but that is a good question!” I said, pondering my response to her carefully before I went on. “These thieves, they are like ghosts! The police do capture copper thieves, but the scale that this person or group of people the writer of this letter mentions operates under is much larger than that dreamt of by most of the other criminals involved in stealing copper. We must catch these criminals in the act, which means staking out possible locations where the thieves might strike next!”
“I suppose you have a few ideas of exactly where these ‘ghosts,’ might materialize next that the police have not thought of yet?” Celeste asked, rather snarkily, I thought to myself.
“Why, actually, I do,” I stated, somewhat perturbed. “Businesses like car dealerships, manufacturers of washers and dryers, and building sites. Oh, and also places that cast brass statues, libraries, cemeteries, and any place that has a statue standing in front of it.”
“Well, that really narrows down the list of possible places where the crooks will strike next.” Celeste said. “Why, Lily, would the thieves be interested in brass when you say they are specializing in stealing copper?”
“They desire anything that contains copper—that much is obvious. They want to steal items like copper wires and pipes, so that explains their interest in building sites. They also have used metal saws to cut the catalytic converters from every car at a dealership, all in one night, as the converters contain substantial amounts of copper in them.
“The crooks are interested in anything made out of brass, as they can melt it down into its components, tin and copper, and sell each for more than the overall cost of the brass. They have been stealing statues from in front of government buildings, libraries, and parks. They have even stooped to stealing brass statues and vases from graveyards,” I stated.
“Lily!” Prince Saed shouted. “Over there, by those trees to the left—“
“What is it you sense, or that you see?” I asked, thinking back to our first case (well, at any rate, of those I’ve so far recorded for posterity). “Don’t tell me, let me guess—Scarlet Macaws?”
“No, Lily; something shiny, one could say—” Fonzie began; but, I cut him off, seeing the approaching figure now myself.
“Coppery!” I roared, not caring how loud I was; we were under attack, and all protocol went out the window. “Quick, we must defend ourselves!”
The copper-colored automaton was human in shape, and walked, or ran, on two legs, jointed at the ankles, knees, and hips. It barreled at us, and engaged Lucy in a fight. Though Lucy is very powerful, she was no match for the mechanical might of the Steampunk robot. The android grasped Lucy about her neck, trying its best to choke the life from her body.

Chapter Two
“The Copper-Clad Alibi”
We’d been practically frozen in place, disbelief etched on our faces, but our friend’s desperate gasps for air were so urgent that we emerged from our daze and began hitting the coppery humanoid, until we were finally were able to dislodge its hands and forced it to release Lucy, who collapsed in a heap on the ground, barely breathing.
The android then started to glow, and became a cherry-red in color, as heat built up inside of its shiny metal body. Prince Alphonse Saed and Celeste hefted Lucy onto my back, as I assumed my true shape as a fierce pterodactyl. I hate doing it in the daytime, as I don’t want to chance revealing our identities; but, I saw no-one nearby, and we really had to act quickly and decisively.
I had barely made it into the air, headed for the cover of the same trees the automaton had exited from when the thing exploded with massive force. Cogs, cranks, chains, and other unidentifiable parts were blasted everywhere. I knew such a tremendous explosion would soon have the police here to investigate what had happened, though I doubt they would be able to—er—piece together the remaining evidence.
Who was behind the brilliant creation of the Steampunk android? And, who was the author of the letter? Most importantly , was Lucy going to be okay after the savage attack on her, and was somebody trying to kill all of us, or had the robot simply malfunctioned, causing it then to explode?
Whoever had created the android, I was convinced, must also be the animal or person who was behind the recent wave of copper theft. This person, or animal, must be a genius with mechanical devices, and very adept with his/her hands (though no-one could be as good with them as Lucy, of course). He/she also had to have been tipped off that we were meeting at the Centralia City Dog Park at that particular place and time, and was perhaps even informed of this by the very animal/person who had written the letter. I felt we had to have been close to whoever the culprit was, that he/she likely had been in the park watching us from a distance, with binoculars, to see his/her plan succeed.
But I had foiled him/her with my lightning-fast reflexes and actions. There was no doubt in my mind that he/she would try again.
****
I lived with Celeste and her parents at 221 Barker Street in a modest 3-story 250,000 square-foot mansion with a gabled roof. We had very recently moved, just about a week ago, from where we used to live, at 1611 Chickamunga Street, though we still lived in Centralia, AR. The move had been planned for awhile, but Celeste’s parents hadn’t officially closed on the house until the first week of August. We were only a mile away from our old house, which was roomy, at 200,000 square feet; but, you know, a growing pterodactyl needs plenty of space! Also, as an added bonus to me, being a great fan of Sherlock Bones, the name of our new street was very similar to the address where that great detective resided: 221and-a-half B Baker Street.
“Whoever the criminal mastermind is that’s behind the copper thefts and the creation of the copper automatons, Celeste,” I said to her in her bedroom that night, “is trying to throw us off the scent of the trail he is oh, so assuredly leaving.”
“What are you talking about, chica?” Celeste asked me. “You are talkin’ crazy talk. Who do you think you are, Sherlock Bones?”
“Well, he is the first famous detective I’m supposed to use the methods of in solving the—what would be a good name to call them—‘Seven Scintillating Cases,’ mentioned in the mysterious letter.”
“What do you mean, he’s trying to ‘throw us off the scent’?” Celeste asked next. “I’m sure whoever it is doesn’t want to be caught—what criminal does? But still—“
“A kleptomaniac does! But, the criminal we’re dealing with is not a kleptomaniac, though he/she is involved in a series of copper-related thefts. But, see this bit of metal I salvaged when I went back later on? The police must have missed it. It says: ‘Made In China.’ The thief must want us to think he, or she, is Chinese!” I said.
“That’s just ridiculous!” Celeste said. “Lots of things are made in China! That doesn’t mean the head of the gang is Chinese!”
“You—you’re ridiculous!” I said back to her. “Burn! You can’t help it, though—you were just born an hour ago, and you don’t know anything about the world! You are a squid-headed whale-baby, with your tentacles flapping around, and when you cry, you squirt your tears out of a blowhole on your neck! Wah! Wah!” Okay; I wasn’t exactly being mature here; but, ya gotta have a little bit of fun now and then. It helps relieve the tension when you’re on a big case, like the one we were currently engaged in solving.
“You’re the baby, and you were just born two minutes ago! You’re a whale-headed squid baby, and you have to were a bag over your head, so people won’t run in terror when they see you! You can’t help it, though; you’re new to the world, and don’t know you’re a freak of nature!”
“That wasn’t exactly being mature, Celeste!” I said. “Nor was it accurate, as you are the freak of nature, but you can’t help it; you’re all alone in the world, and are a new-born! You don’t know why the neighbors are carrying torches to the house; you don’t know things yet!
“Like why,” I said, trying to return to the subject, however much in vain my attempts might be, “the villain was trying to make us believe he’s Chinese! But, it could be he really is Chinese, and he’s trying to make us think that he isn’t, by making it seem too obvious. But, Celeste; whom do we know that is evil, and who is Chinese, that could be behind such an operation? That is the person we must find, mark my words, and then we’ll get to the bottom of this mystery!”
“Chinese?” Celeste asked. “The only person—well, the only animal we’ve ever met before who was Chinese was General Yao Xing, the red panda. But, remember? He lost his memory (because of you), was on exhibit at the Centralia Zoo for awhile, and then got flown back to China! It can’t be him that’s the criminal mastermind here—you must be barking up the wrong tree!”
“Celeste, you know I don’t bark—I roar! But, never mind that,” I said. “This case has all of the hallmarks of General Yao Xing’s being the one behind it! Who else, I ask you, would be able to plan the copper thefts so carefully, so meticulously—(drat! I hate to use two synonyms in a row like that!)? Who else is so interested in mechanical devices—well, you probably haven’t read up on his exploits in China like I have, but he does have a fascination for them—and—who else do we know who is…um…from China?”
“Lily,” Celeste said, doubt in her voice, “as I said, just because you found a hunk of metal that happens to say ‘Made In China,’ on it doesn’t mean that the person behind the thefts is from China!”
“What-ever,” I said. “You just don’t want to admit that I’m right, as usual!”
“Arrgh!” Celeste said. “Sometimes you’re so frustrating and pig-headed!”
“You! You are!” I said. “I’ll admit it seems far-fetched. But, as Sherlock Bones is fond of saying: ‘When you have eliminated the possible, the impossible, however strange it might seem, must be the answer!’”
“Hmm…” Celeste said. “I’m fairly sure that’s not exactly the correct quote—“
“I tell you, I’m on to the truth here, Celeste!” I said. “In the morning, we’ll just look in the phone book, and—“
“The phone book?” Celeste asked. “You really think that if General Yao Xing somehow regained his memory and made it all the way back to America, he would have also traveled to Arkansas once again, just to try to annoy you and foil you?”
“You’re speaking of General Yao Xing, Celeste!” I said. “He not only could have done something just like that, but he would if he could! In that respect, he is somewhat similar to a woodchuck, rather than to a red panda.”
“Just to prove you wrong,” Celeste said, “How about I get the phone book now, and we can see if his name is in it?”
“Ah!” I said. “There’s hope for you yet, my dear Celeste! That’s just what I was about to suggest, though we’ll have to put off trying to find where he lives until the morning, as the hour is getting late….”
“General Yao Xing’s name won’t be in the phone book, Lily! But if it will get you to shut up and admit you’re wrong for once in your life, I’ll look up the name for you!”
Celeste went down the stairs to the kitchen, three flights below, acting oddly huffy. I’m not sure what excuse she gave to her parents, if they asked her what she was doing; but, it didn’t take Cel very long to return with the book in her hands. I impatiently waited, looking over her shoulders, and—BAM—there was his name! Well, it didn’t say ‘General,’ but it did list a number for a ‘Xing, Yao.’ We had, it seems caught a bit of luck for a change!
“Lily, okay, there is a ‘Xing, Yao,” at 1112 Sparrow Street, but that is just a coincidence! There must be a million Yao Xings in the world, and the odds of this particular one being the red panda General Yao Xing must be astronomical!”
“Taking into account the population of China, which is currently at 3,571,896, and factoring in the commonality of the name compared to other Chinese names, there are, it’s safe to say, 2,548,923 gentlemen with that name. But, the vast majority of them are still living in China, not here. In America, there are fewer than 1,000 people with that name, and only one other who lives in Arkansas, an 87-year-old fellow in Little Rock.
“Ergo, by the process of elimination,” I continued, “the Yao Xing now residing at 1112 Sparrow Street has a very high degree of probability of being our General Yao Xing. Besides, he has a Facebook page—check it out!”
I showed her the results of a search I’d just done on my laptop computer, which I kept in her room underneath her bed. There, looking back at us from the monitor’s screen, was the smiling face of the red panda General Yao Xing. There was no mention at all about his ever having had a career in the military, of course; he didn’t want that knowledge broadcast for the authorities to use against him, if they ever had the reason to investigate his background.
“Fine!” Celeste said, again in a very huffy tone of voice. “We’ll go to his address tomorrow, and ask him a few polite questions. Still, it might be just a distant relative, like a second cousin, to General Yao Xing.”
“I’ll admit that there is a microscopic possibility that you could be correct, Celeste,” I said. “Perhaps in the light of the day, my brilliant deductions will be shown to be erroneous. But, I highly doubt that. We shall see, we shall see.”
“Will you please stop talking like that?” Celeste asked me.
“Like what?” I said.
“Like you’re the actor Basil Rathbone, who played Sherlock Bones in lots of black-and-white movies!” she said.
“There are ears and eyes everywhere!” I said. “I need to not only assume the methods of the great Sherlock Bones, and the deductive ratiocination he displays, but I need to even act like him, lest someone questions whether the case was solved in the manner stated in the letter. One can never be too careful, Celeste!”
“Oh, just shut up and go to bed!” she said.
With those words as my cue—not the kind used in billiards, but as my none-to-subtle hint to leave her room—I did as she asked, and went to sleep, curled up beside her, with my head on her other pillow and my body underneath her toasty-warm covers.
****
The following day was a Sunday. In just another week on a Monday, Celeste would be starting 9th. grade at Centralia Jr. High, “Home of the Fightin’ Musk Ox.” The skies were cloudy, indicating that a thunderstorm was on the way. Still, if my calculations were accurate, based upon past weather patterns and thunderstorm occurrences, we had time to eat our breakfast (the most important meal of the day), round up the rest of PAWS, and get to the address before the storm began—if we had a little bit of help, in the form of Triple Q’s driving us in his blue Mustang.
The breakfast was spectacular, as usual. The Quinces had ham, bacon, scrambled eggs, and buttered toast with jam. I had…horrors…dog food. But, Celeste slipped me some choice pieces of bacon, and her mother gave me what was left of the scrambled eggs, so I had a pretty decent breakfast, myself.
Triple Q was Centralia’s mayor, despite the attempts of certain criminal elements, i.e., the SNURFLES, at having the election results overturned. Celeste asked her father to drive her to pick up the other members of PAWS for a walk, and he could hardly refuse, as we did not now live as close to them as we once had.
“I’ll give you a ride, no problem!” he said. “I’ll take you to the dog park, and you can walk them there, okay? It could storm soon, so I will wait in the car while you walk them for about a half hour or so. But, get some towels from the bathroom, so if it does start raining, you can wipe off their paws so the car doesn’t get dirty.”
“But, Dad,” Celeste said, “I just took them to the dog park yesterday! I was thinking of walking them around our neighborhood today. Why can’t I do that, instead?”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” Triple Q said, “but there are some crazy people around, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.”
“Celeste,” I softly growled, “Don’t worry! Let’s just go; I’ll make sure we make our planned rendezvous with the General!”
With a stack of five towels in hand, and myself on—yet another indignity—a leash we climbed into Triple Q’s Mustang and drove off to gather up the other members of PAWS. Fortunately, we learned upon picking up Lucy, that she had not experienced any lingering effects of the attack. She seemed to be alright, though her voice was a little hoarse. I used my ability to control minds by ordering Celeste’s Dad to then drive us not to the dog park, but to—you guessed it—1112 Sparrow Street.
Getting out of the Mustang, with all of our leashes in her hand, Celeste walked up to General Yao Xing’s front door and rang the bell. Nobody answered it after the first ring, so thirty seconds later, she rang it again. We heard footsteps approaching, and someone fumbling with a chain, and then the door opened and we saw the red panda within.
“Yes? General Yao Xing said. “Can I help you? Have we met before?”
“General Yao Xing, I presume,” I said. “I am Lily Elizabeth Quince, though some people for some odd reason call me Victoria. Anyway, You know very well you’ve seen me, Celeste, Fuzzy Wally MacGee, Lucy Marmoset Higgins, and Prince Alphonse Saed before. We are the ones who put you behind bars, at the Centralia Zoo, until your country asked for you back!”
“Lily?” General Yao Xing pondered. “I seem to dimly recall a ‘Lily,’ who shot me with a tranquilizer dart even though I was actually trying to turn against the SNURFLES and reform! And then, you made me “accidently” lose my memory, and after wondering who I was and how I’d ended up behind bars in a zoo, I do remember a lengthy boat ride back to China. But, now I’ve returned, and I’ve reformed for good. I am living an honest, honorable life, so—not that I don’t enjoy reunions, but—you can all leave now!” he said, about to close the door.
“Wait just a moment!” I said. “We have some questions for you first!”
“Will you go away and leave me alone if I answer your silly questions?” General Yao Xing asked. Huffiness, it seemed, was like a disease, spreading from person to person to even animal.
“Yes,” I said. “You have my word on it! But, only if you answer me honestly, Yao. Now, admit it; it’s for your own good—you are the one responsible for the recent wave of copper theft in Centralia, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” General Yao Xing stubbornly replied. “I have heard about there being such thefts taking place, but I have nothing to do with them! I told you, I’ve reformed!”
“Where were you the night of August 4th , then, Yao? Answer me that!” I said, trying to shake his story and catch him in a lie.
“I was—out of town visiting a sick relative.”
“And what about the night of August 11th.?” I asked him.
“Yeah, and how about the afternoon of the 12th, and morning of the 14th?” Fuzzy Wally MacGee chimed in, just saying dates at random.
“Uh, um…” General Yao Xing began, thoroughly confused. “The night of August 11th., I was, um, at a basketball game, watching the Centralia Dragons defeat the Alabama Meercats The afternoon of the 12th, I was here, watching TV. The morning of the 14, I was…where was I? Oh, mowing the lawn, I believe!”
“You believe, or you know?” Prince Alphonse interjected. “Tell us what it really was, or we’ll have to turn you over to the cops!”
“That’s what I really was doing!” the red panda said. “Mowing the lawn! It was supposed to rain later in the day, so I wanted to get it over with before the rain started.”
I almost felt sorry for the poor red panda that had once been one of China’s greatest criminal masterminds. Perhaps he still was, and he was just feigning ignorance.
“We’ll check all of those dates, you understand, Yao?” I asked. “If there is anything squirrely about any of them—and you know how much I hate squirrels—though, they taste rather delicious, if prepared correctly—we will be back!”
“What?” Lucy muttered as we walked away from Yao’s door. . “Is that all we’re going to do to him? Just let him go?”
“Why, yes, Lucy,” I answered her. “For now, anyway. You see, if what General Yao Xing is telling us is true, he has a copper-clad alibi. The nights of August 4th and August 11th are two nights when copper thefts occurred. On the night of the 4th, the two bronze statues of lions were stolen from in front of the Centralia Public Library. Then, on the night of August 11th, the housing development that’s being built downtown was also hit, and all of the copper pipes and wiring that was going to be used in constructing the houses was pilfered. We will corroborate his story, but even someone like General Yao Xing can’t be in two places at once.”
“Wouldn’t it be accurate to say that General Yao Xing has an iron-clad alibi, Lily?” Celeste asked, as we got into the Mustang.
“Copper-clad sounds cooler,” I said. “Burn!”

Chapter Three
“He Who Smelt It, Dealt It”
The return drive was uneventful. That is, until suddenly there was an awful aroma in the car, emanating, my keen nose told me, from the direction of Fuzzy Wally MacGee. I wasn’t about to say anything to embarrass him, but truth be told, Fuzzy Wally MacGee is not someone who’s embarrassed easily.
Celeste had no such compunctions, however, about whether or not she embarrassed anyone, so she said: “Holy crap! What is that smell? Did someone die in here?”
“Ha, ha!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee laughed, looking very pleased with himself, as if he’d done an amazing trick. “She who smelled it dealt it!”
“Eureka!” I roared. “Fuzzy Wally, you’re a genius!”
“Yeah, I know…wait…what was that you just said?” he asked, bewildered.
“I said, you’re a genius!” I repeated.
“Why-why are you saying that?” Fuzzy asked.
“Elementary, my dear Fuzzy!” I said. “Everyone knows that to extract copper from copper ore, it must be smelted. Therefore, it stands to reason, wherever the nearest place is that smelts copper must be the next place we investigate!”
“I went on a field trip to the Centralia Copper Smelting Plant in 6th grade,” Celeste said. “It’s pretty near to us, just over on Temple Street.”
“That must be our destination, then!” I said. “There is still time to get to the bottom of this and solve the case, before the storm comes!”
“Do you really think you can solve the case that quickly?” Celeste asked.
“It is entirely possible,” I answered. “Who knows until we try?”
The exterior of the Centralia Copper Smelting Plant was made of white bricks that had gotten progressively dingy over the years. Smokestacks arose from the rooftop and smoke issued forth, but it was not nearly as grey-black as it had been when the plant was first constructed. New antipollution regulations had greatly reduced the amount of pollution they spewed into the atmosphere. An engraved copper sign affixed to the bricks by the entrance stated that the building was the property of Lao Tzu Xing.
We—all of us, including Celeste’s father—entered the facility through the visitors’ entrance, but strangely enough, we saw no secretaries at the front desks nor any other employees within sight. Not letting that stop us, we went through two doors that led onto a railed balcony overlooking the shop floor. Below us, there was a bustle of activity, but none of it coming from humans. There were noisy machines all around us, being operated by copper automatons. There were also huge vats that glowed with the heat of the molten metal that they contained. The entire factory appeared to be self-sufficient, with human employees having been made obsolete due to the extreme efficiency of the androids.
“Get you dirty, stinkin’ robot hands off of me!” Prince Alphonse Saed suddenly yelled. Automatons dress in security guard uniforms had snuck up on us and one had grabbed Fonzie. I blasted the robot with fire I created using my pyrokinetic abilities, doubtless resembling a dragon of old. The automaton immediately let go, and Fonzie whipped out a special pair of steel nunchuks from where he’d kept them hidden inside his turban. He wanted to be prepared after the fiasco yesterday so he’d be ready if he ever had to do battle with automatons again. The fight was on!
Lucy had recovered from her mild injuries, but didn’t want to risk the chance of getting surprised and throttled again, so she was very wary, dodging the attacks of her foes. She got in blow after blow on them, swinging her forearms like they were massive billy clubs, but only seemed to be denting their bodies with her efforts.
Celeste managed to exploit the size and weight of her opponents and use it against them, throwing two of the copper automatons into vats of boiling metal. They landed with a huge splash, sending up waves of molten copper into the air before they then sunk, after thrashing about a bit. Besides fighting the automatons, we needed to prevent them from accidently harming Triple Q, who was still in a hypnotized, dazed state.
“Stop! Stop that fighting right away!” someone yelled. I turned my head and saw the form of a red panda racing as fast as his stubby legs could go towards us.
“Finally!” I said. “So you’re calling off your copper goons?”
“Are you kidding?” the red panda asked, I assume rhetorically. “You might damage them if you’re not careful! Go easy on them!”
“’Go easy on them’?” I repeated. “They’re the ones who started it! We only came here to interrog—uh, ask the owner of this place, Lao Tzu Xing, some questions!”
“I am the person you speak of, Lao Tzu Xing, but you will have to leave immediately! Visiting hours are over!”
“We’re not here to merely ‘visit’” I said. “As I said, we’re here to ask some questions to—the identical twin brother of General Yao Xing!”
“But—how did you know I was the twin brother of General Yao Xing? How did you find me?” Lao Tzu asked.
“Though you both have the same last names, I wasn’t sure until you just now confirmed my suspicions,” I said. “Confess, Lao Tzu! You are the criminal mastermind behind the recent thefts of copper around Centralia, aren’t you?”
“Copper thefts?” Lao Tzu said. “No; I am a law-abiding citizen of America! If my brother, the General, is involved with this mess, go arrest him, if you’re the police! I don’t want anything to do with him. I disowned him years ago, after he became a member of that criminal organization—“
“The S.N.U.R.F.L.E.S.?” I said. “The Super Nefarious Union of Rascals Formidably Linked in Everlasting Solidarity?
“Yes, that’s the one!” he said.
“So, you deny creating these copper automatons and sending one to try to kill us at the Centralia City Dog Park yesterday afternoon?” I asked him.
“Yes, and no,” Lao Tzu Xing answered. “Yes, I invented the automatons. I wanted to see if I could make some that were just as good as the ones I have read about in Steampunk novels. I’m a fan of them, you see. And, I found that I could make the Steampunk robots I read about come to life! But, I did not send one of them to mur-der you. I would not want to risk that any of my…I think of them as my children…would become damaged!”
“Come now!” I said, anger entering into my voice. “Fact: Someone sent a copper automaton after us! Fact: When the automaton failed at strangling Lucy to death, it still attempted to fulfill its mission by exploding! Who else would have had access to the automatons, other than you?”
“There is one other ‘person,’ who had access to them…” the red panda said.
“Who? Your brother, General Yao Xing? Was he working with you all along, despite your previous claim that you’d ‘disowned’ him?” I asked, pressing the matter, wanting to—nay, needing to—solve this case once and for all.
“No, not him. I’d heard rumors he’d made his way back to America, and had given up his life of crime; but, I didn’t try to find out if the rumors were true or not.”
“If not him, then who was it?” I said.
“I needed help programming my creations,” Lao Tzu Xing said. “I had built them, everything seemed to be in order. The robots should have worked. I didn’t know what was wrong, why they wouldn’t get up off of the wooden work tables and move. That’s when I was contacted by a mysterious individual who called herself Professor Polynesia.”
“Professor Polynesia!” I roared. “How could I have been so stupid not to have detected her hand—er, wing—in this whole sordid affair!”
“Professor Polynesia?” Celeste echoed us. “Who’s that? I thought we were done with parrots for awhile, now that you’ve become obsessed with solving these seven mysteries.”
“Professor Polynesia is my arch nemesis, that’s who!” I said. “Well, she’s among my—how would I say it?—arch nemesii? Sometimes even I lose track of how many I have! But, she’s definitely in the Top Five, or Top Ten…
“Anyway,” I went on, “Long story short, she is the granddaughter of the Polynesia, who was Dr. Doolittle’s Macaw..or, he was, I suppose, her doctor…she hatched not more than twenty years ago, so she is still fairly young as far as Macaws go. Unlike Doolittle’s Polynesia, or vice-versa, Professor Polynesia is evil. I wouldn’t doubt if it’s her claw-writing on the letter I received! But why…why would she risk my solving this case, and putting an end to what seems to be a profitable criminal enterprise?”
“Maybe she likes you, and wants to be friends!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said. “I likes perty birdies! Maybe she could even join PAWS!”
“Wha-wha-what?” I said. “Professor Polynesia is ‘perty,’ as you suggest, Fuzzy; one could even say she’s beautiful; but, she is a criminal, and so she could never be a member of PAWS, so get that idea out of your head!”
“Aw,” Fuzzy said, “Couldn’t we make an eggs-ception? Maybe, like General Yao Xing, she reformed!”
“As you may recall, Fuzzy, it was Professor Polynesia who sent one of these copper-clad criminals after us at the dog park. Lucy, and all of us, could have been killed by what she tried to do!”
“We could let bygones be bygones, can’t we, Lily?” Fuzzy protested.
“About some things, Fuzzy, yes—but, I take an assassination attempt on any of my friends or myself very personally.”
Still without having had my question answered, I pondered it over. “She must not really care very much about this copper theft scheme she’s dragged you into, Lao Tzu,” I finally said. “That’s got to be the answer! She intended you to be left to take the responsibility for the copper crimes, if I made it this far in solving the case. She would be long gone, and—”
“Lily!” Celeste shouted, “We’re being surrounded! All of the robots have been closing in on us while you were yakking with Fuzzy!”
“Nice,” I said. “Blame your ‘best-est friend,’ for this trap we now find ourselves in! I can’t help it if I think aloud sometimes. I guess Professor Polynesia hasn’t gone, after all…she was just ensnaring us in her wicked web!”
“I thought you said that she was a Macaw, Lily, not a spider!” Fuzzy said.
“She is a Macaw, Fuzzmeister,” I said. “but she acted like a spider, in that she—’
“Leave the explanations for later!” Celeste said. “How in the heck can we get out of here? We can’t fight against all of these automatons!”
“Lao Tzu, there is still a chance they will listen to you!” I roared. “Order them to get back to work and leave us alone!”
“I’ll try, but I don’t think it will work,” Lao Tzu Xing said. “I command you all to return to your jobs!”
Unfortunately, his order fell on deaf ears. The copper-clad criminals, who likely were the ones who had stolen Centralia’s copper to make even more of themselves at the commands of Professor Polynesia—their real boss—kept getting closer and closer.


Read the first three chapters of Lily and PAWS: The Ghosts of Summer FREE right here! And, if you like what you read, which I hope you WILL, click the word “here” that’s the first “here” that I wrote, highlightlighted above, to buy it for just $2.99! You can get it at Amazon in paperback, too, for only $8.99!

Chapter One
“Lookin’ Mighty Squatchy”

What started out as a camping trip and a Sasquatch summer turned out to be a ghost-hunting summer filled with spine-tingling chills. Oh, and all of the unusual suspects still plagued me and my friends, the crime-fighting members of P.A.W.S.(Private Army of Warrior Sleuths), namely S.N.U.R.F.L.E.S. (Super Nefarious Union of Rascals Formidably Linked in Everlasting Solidarity), scarlet and otherwise hued. Who would think that two scarlet Macaws, liked Frankie Sinister and the Scarlet Mafia head, Benny the Beak, could cause so much trouble? Not to mention, the added headaches a sinister red panda (hiding behind an innocent appearance) General Yao Xing, caused, and Omar Khalid Ali’s, the red Egyptian fox’s, attempts to assassinate me and burn down the Quince’s house.
But, I am getting both ahead of and behind myself. I am living too much in the past, but the Case of the Scarlet S.N.U.R.F.L.E.S. (recounted in my first book) haunted me almost as much as the ghosts I met did (and still do, in ways), which are the spooky main subject of this book. And, I don’t want to get either too much ahead of myself, nor too much behind myself; then, there’s a danger I wouldn’t know whether I’m coming or going. I don’t want that to happen again–not after the last incident, involving an irate saber tooth tiger and a bubbling tar pit.
Who am I? Lily Elizabeth Quince, a black-and-white (though mostly black) pterodactyl with the heart of a highly courageous terrier. And, because of my ability to cloud peoples’ minds, unless I desire them to see me in my true form, they only see a wee Toto-ish terrier when they look at me. So much the better, as I’ve found it’s more fun to prove how wrong someone was to underestimate me than it is to eat crow if I overestimate my own abilities and screw up. That doesn’t happen much, but still, the former beats the latter, hands down!
“Lily-bear,” fourteen-year-old Celeste said to me as she and her extremely wealthy parents, Quentin Quintilius Quince (or Triple Q, as I like to call him) and Clare set up tents, “camping in the Oauchita National Forest is going to be fantastic, don’t you think? Just smell the pine trees, and don’t you just love breathing the fresh air, and being in the Great Outdoors?”
“Blech!” I said. “The Great Outdoors is overrated!” To Celeste’s parents, my words sounded like a series of barks and yaps, but I had unlocked the elusive part of Celeste’s brain that allowed her to understand what I and the other members of PAWS talked about, when we met with each other. Celeste was, after all, an Honorary Member of PAWS, as well as being my best-est friend in the entire world.”Don’t be so grumpy, Lily!” Celeste said. “This is the oldest and largest National Forest in the South, and has over 700 miles of trails, and some of the best fishing in Arkansas!”
“Yeah, well, if Fuzzy Wally MacGee (he was a rhino who took the appearance of a Chinese crested)or Lucy Marmoset Higgins (an orangutan who looked to humans like a Great Dane)or Prince Alphonse Saed (a Mountain Lion who, to human eyes, looked like a miniature dachsund) was here with me, perhaps I wouldn’t be as ‘grumpy,’ as you put it, because we could get a real investigation going and bring to light all of the crimes that are going on here right under your unsuspecting noses!
“Yes, in a National Forest–don’t look at me like that–there’s crime here, too, just like there is in the Big City! And, I have no doubt at all that there are SNURFLES lurking in the underbrush and perhaps hiding out in hollow trees and logs….”
“SNURFLES? We’re hours away from them! Kick back, take it easy, enjoy yourself–quit dwelling on the nasty scarlet SNURFLES!” Celeste said, trying to make me feel better.”Just because there are no evil Macaws around, red pandas, and Egyptian red foxes, Cel, doesn’t mean that there aren’t still evil squirrels and snakes and other sorts of non-scarlet SNURFLES about, just waiting for their chance to pounce! And then, there are always the Squatches–“
“‘Pounce?’ Lily, nothing is going to try to get us, and we’re only going to be here for the weekend!” Celeste said, sounding exasperated, though for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. “And there are no such thing as Sasquatches, Lily!”
“Whatever, chica!” I grumbled. “That’s what you said about witches, the aliens known as the Greys, and Leprechauns not so very long ago, remember?”
“Every dog has her day….” Celeste said mockingly.
“‘Dog’?” I said. “Don’t insult me like that!”
“Temper, temper, Lily!”
About then, Triple Q and Clare walked over, after setting up their tent. It was the last weekend in May, Celeste had had no snow days in her school district, so she was free for the entire blissful summer. I’d much have preferred it if we had decided to spend our time camping at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge (the Quinces, being multi-millionaires, could have certainly afforded to do so, but it was closed for renovations until 2013), but hey, at least they thought enough of me to take me along, rather than considering having me boarded with actual dogs. “Hey, Celeste!” Triple Q said. “Want any help with your tent?”
“Of course she wants help, Quentin!” Clare said. “She just doesn’t want to admit that she does!” Clare and Triple Q soon had the tent up, though Celeste had done a pretty good job on her own, and probably could have done the same thing, given another ten minutes or so.
“Thanks, Mom, Dad!” she said, graciously. “I’m starving! When do we eat?”
“Right after we catch the fish, of course!” Quentin said.
“No, Celeste–right after we get a fire going and cook up the hotdogs I brought over it,” Clare said. “There’ll be plenty of time to fish tomorrow, Sunday, and Monday, before we leave so your Dad can get back by Tuesday. Being the mayor of Centralia comes with responsibilities, you know.”
“But–but–” Triple Q spluttered. “I want to go fishing now.”
“Oh, you whine sometimes more than Lily, dear,” Clare said. How dare she? I thought to myself. I have never whined in my entire life!
“Do no-ot–nyah!” Triple Q said. “I just am anxious to start reeling the big ones in, and try out my latest invention, the Quince Quick-Catch Rod & Reel Combo! I can’t very well claim it’s ‘Guaranteed to Catch the Big Ones,’ like I have planned to use as it’s motto unless I can catch the ‘Big Ones’ myself, can I?”
Triple Q had made millions on his inventions, and this was the next one he hoped would add more millions to the Quince family’s coffers. I had given him telepathically the ideas for them, and siphoned off a small portion of his profits for myself. He wouldn’t miss a million here or a million there. Clare had made another fortune with her own line of products, as she was quite inventive on her own, with no extra help from me nor anyone else.
“I suppose, but tomorrow’s soon enough; I’m hungry, Celeste’s starving, and I wouldn’t doubt that Lily’s hungry, too. Maybe you could try later tonight, but we’re not going to put off supper while you and Celeste catch our meal, no matter how ‘quick’ your new rod and reel might be in catching fish!”
That was the end of that, and after we had a fire going, we found ourselves good hotdog sticks and sat down to cook ourselves a feast. Well, a ‘feast’ might be exaggerating things somewhat; but, the hotdog Celeste cooked for me sure tasted delicious on an empty stomach, as did the chips she let me have when her parents weren’t looking. Technically, I was on a diet, but when one’s camping, building up a fierce hunger, who cares about diets?
A few hours later, we had that unbeatable camping treat, S’mores. Yes, I know; chocolate is bad for dogs. Fortunately, I’m not a dog, so I wolfed–er–pterodactyled some down when Triple Q inadvertently held one of the tasty treats down by his side as he sat by the fire. He acted all “What’s up with that?” and “quit eatin’ my chocolate, dude–that ain’t even right!” but who ended up with the S’more? I did, that’s who!
We turned in around ten–I could tell by the stars, not to mention from when I took a glimpse at Celeste’s watch–she in her sleeping bag, and I, curled up beside her. We weren’t asleep for much more than an hour when I heard the first, distant, roar from across the sparkling expanse of Lake Ouachita underneath a full moon.
I hurriedly woke Celeste by licking her hand, and when she asked me what was wrong, I just told her to be quiet for a little bit and just listen. Within a couple of minutes, the long, plaintive, echoing, drawn-out roar commenced again, and we both heard it plainly.
“What was that, Lily?” Celeste asked me.
“It could only be one thing that’s making that noise, Cel. The creature that you said doesn’t exist, the Fouke Monster, the Wild Man of the Woods, the Wooly Bugger, the Bogey Creek Monster, the Skunk Ape, the Big Foot, the Sasquatch!”That sounds like more than one creature, Lily….” Celeste said.
“There’re all just different names for the same being, Cel: the Sasquatch, or Squatch, for short!”
“For ‘short’? Don’t you mean for ‘tall’?”
“Never mind that, girl fri-e-e-end!” I said. “Time’s a’wastin’, chica! Let’s investigate this for ourselves!”
“Investigate?” Celeste asked, unable to believe what she’d just heard from my lips. “I don’t want to, nuh-uh, no way, no how!”
“Yes, you do–you may not know it yet, but you do! Do it in the name of science, do it for your own sake, for knowledge–do it for me, chica–eh?”
“I don’t know why I let myself get talked into these things, but I’ll go with you, Lily. As long as you are sure you’re prepared to show the Bigfoot you’ll get all prehistoric on his hairy behind if he tries to do anything to us.”
We snuck quietly out of the tent and headed for the shore of the lake. When we got there, the silence seemed oppressive. Even the crickets had stopped chirping. Time seemed to stand still. I roared, and before very long, we heard an answering roar come back to us. Was it my imagination, or did the roar sound as if whatever was making it was coming closer and closer?
“It’s lookin’ mighty Squatchy around here,” I said. We stood by the shore for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only five minutes. Then, there was a muffled crashing sound, and coming towards us through heavy underbrush was the looming, hairy figure of a Bigfoot that had to be at least seven feet tall. He was covered with shaggy brown hair, and was intimidating-looking, but we held our ground.
“Urgh!” he grunted, and farted at approximately the same time.
“Shoo-weeee!” Celeste exclaimed. “No offense, but it’s no wonder why some people call your kind ‘Skunk Apes’”
“Hey, I am lactose intolerant, and just ate half a cow and chugged a bucket of milk because of a bet I couldn’t do it that some scared farmer left behind—it’s a Squatch thang, you wouldn’t understand! Anyway, I won the bet, you called me as if you were in distress, I came to help, and you don’t even need any help. I guess that’s what I get for tryin’ to do a good deed. I may be hairy and have, well, big feet and have flatulence issues, but there’s no need for you to get personal with me and lay on the insults. Next thing I know, you’ll be talkin’ smack about my mother!”
“Yes, Celeste, apologize to mister–um–what was your name again, sir?”
“You think we might not have names, is that it now? We have names. Mine is Beano Gruntley the Third. Before you ask, I come from a long line of Gruntleys, and Beano is a name that’s been popular in my family for generations.”
“We really meant no offense, Mr. Beano, sir,” Celeste said. “It’s just not every day that you meet a–well–”
“Say it, go ahead–a Squatch, Isn’t that what you were going to say?” Beano asked.
“Okay, yes–a Squatch, if that is not a derogatory term for your kind. And that you speak English is surprising, because on T.V., you’re–”
“Usually portrayed as being dumb Neanderthals? Just because we live in forest and caves doesn’t mean we’re total morons,” Beano replied, sounding even more offended than before.
“There you go again, Celeste, insulting the nice man,” I said. “I dunno, Mr. Gruntley, sir–I can’t take her anywhere,” I said.
“I better get back to my family before you start lighting torches on fire and chasing me with them.” Beano turned away, and trudged back the direction he’d come. He paused, though, and said over his shoulder:
“Ah, I’m too much of a hot-head. You’re both okay, I suppose, for a human girl and a pterodactyl with an image problem. If you’re ever in this neck of the woods again, and actually need help, just roar, and I’ll be there. And, if you’re anywhere else in the state in a forest, do the same, and tell whoever comes that you’re a pal of Beano Gruntley’s, and they’ll treat you right.”
“What a pleasant fellow,” I said to Celeste. “See how nice a person can be when you talk to them kindly?”
“Wha-wha-what?” Celeste said. “You, nice to people? I love you, and all, but you have to admit you’re not always easy to get along with!”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, chica. I am always polite and cordial in all of my dealings with others. Playing nice is one of my many admirable qualities, along with modesty and humbleness,” I very humbly replied. She rolled her eyes at me, the Doubting Thomasina that she is, and we went back to our tent to get as much sleep as we could before the rising sun would signal the beginning of another day.

Chapter Two
“The Ghost of Belle Starr”

The next morning, after a yumma-licious breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon, Celeste and I went fishing with her Dad, Triple Q. He had one of his Quince Quick-Catch Rod & Reel Combos for himself and one for Cel. Though he’d really wanted to get an even earlier start, at the crack of dawn, soon he and his invention and the container of worms he’d bought at a nearby convenience store had managed to fill two stringers of crappie and large mouth bass. Celeste reeled them in almost as fast as her Dad could bait the hook, and his luck was equally spectacular. By Celeste’s and Triple Qs whoops and hollers of glee, I could tell they were having a ton of fun. Whether it was, in fact, the invention, or the reason was more that the fish were hungry for worms at that particular time and place, the Quince Quick-Catch Rod & Reel Combos proved their worth by catching more than enough fish for both our lunch and supper.
Still, we came back to fish some more after lunch, and Clare came, too, and used one of the inventions. They ended up having so much fish they gave some away to the campers on either side of us! I had had faith that the invention would work, and using it, a person could set the hook into a fish’s mouth quicker than with any other method. Nothing could beat seeing the evidence of its success with my own eyes, though.
That night, we told ghost stories around the campfire. Triple Q told one about a cemetery that was not very far away, called the Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery. “It was,” he said, “supposedly haunted by the ghost of a girl who was surrounded by wolves in the winter of the year in the 1800’s. She climbed up a tree to escape the ravenous wolves, but she couldn’t escape the cruel icy fingers of winter that gripped her. She was discovered frozen to death, still clinging to the tree in fear. There is a ghostly light that many people have seen at the cemetery late in the night, that is, some say, the ghost of that poor girl.”
When we eventually hit the hay, I roared in a quiet voice (as quietly as a roar could be, anyway): “Don’t even think about going to sleep, chica.”
“What now, Lily?” Celeste tiredly asked. “We already did the ‘Let’s meet the grouchy Squatch’ thang, girl, last night. What do you have up your sleeves—don’t say it; I know you don’t really have sleeves; it’s only an expression–now?”
“You and I are going to take a little flight, that’s what. We’re going to buzz over to–you guessed it–the Rich Mountain Cemetery to do a little bit of ghostly sight-seeing, chica!”
“No, no, no, no, no!” Celeste said in a shouted whisper. “You may go wherever you want to and see how ever many ghosts you want to, Lily, but count this girl out of it!”
“Ah, come on, Celeste. You know how this is going to go—I’ll argue with you, you with me, back and forth, and you’ll eventually cave in and come with me to the cemetery against your better judgment; so, why don’t we just skip all of that, you and I, and fly the friendly skies?”
“Arrrgh! What-ever, Lily! I am not that predictable, and I’m not going to cave in this time, so you can stop even trying to convince me–just give it up!” Cel said angrily.
“Less than a quarter hour later, we were on our way. Celeste brought a blanket with her, as she found my spine somewhat bumpy.
“Next stop, the Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery!” I roared in exhilaration when we had achieved the altitude of five hundred feet.
Celeste and I landed at the entrance of the ancient cemetery in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, or the equivalent of a couple thousand flaps of a pterodactyl’s wings. Triple Q’s tale was more than mere superstitious nonsense; it was based on a true story, and Celeste and I saw the ghostly light hovering over the gravestones in a forlorn manner. It wasn’t frightening, but it was kind of eerie, and more than a little sad.
Then it was that we saw the full body apparition of the ghost of the infamous outlaw known in her lifetime as the “Bandit Queen,” Belle Starr. We knew it was her ghost, for she spoke to us, saying quite clearly:
“I am the ghost of Belle Starr! Be not afraid; I mean you no harm. Instead, I have come to you to enlist your help. It’s a matter of afterlife and death!”
“Ma-ma-ma’am, how could we possibly help you?” Celeste inquired, adding indelicately: “After all, you are a ghost, and–well–”
“Am beyond mortal help to save either my life or my eternal soul? Think again, Celeste Elizabeth Quince! Yes, I know your name, and I know the name of your friend, beside you, Lily—you’re well-known in the spectral circles I travel in. This is not my usual haunt, but unusual times call for unusual measures.
“In my life, I was a bandit, finally tried and convicted for the crime of larceny for stealing a horse by Judge Isaac C. Parker of Fort Smith. I was only sentenced to nine months, though I admit the crimes I wasn’t arrested for, both on my own and with Carl Younger and Frank and Jesse James, friends of mine, if I had been held responsible for, would have landed me in jail for the rest of my life or hanging at the end of a noose, swaying in the breeze.
“But, that’s all behind me now. You can’t change the past, more’s the pity. There are things worse than death, and that’s what I’m here about. Someone, or some group of people, are going to all of the famous haunted places in Arkansas trying to siphon off the ghostly energy that charges them and makes the locations such popular sites for people to investigate and tourists to go to, and I want you to help me stop them!”
“Us?” Celeste asked. That’s just impossible!
“Impossible? Nothing’s impossible!” the Bandit Queen thundered.
“Even though it’s summer, and Celeste is not in school now,” I spoke up, “she relies upon her Mom or Dad to take her places. I can fly, but as the leader of PAWS, it’s my duty to Be Ever Vigilant, solve crimes, and make sure the SNURFLES aren’t causing any crimes with their activities. I have an obligation to my fellow PAWS members and friends, and to my best-est friend, Celeste! No, I’m sorry, Belle, but if it involves traveling all throughout Arkansas for the entire summer, I don’t think we can manage that.”
“You might think that for the time being, Lily and Celeste,” Belle Starr said, with what I could have sworn was a twinkle in her translucent eyes, “but Fate, she has her ways. As sure as I’m floating here in front of you, we will meet again. And you will see, you will see, the truth of my words, and realize that helping me and the other ghosts of Arkansas also helps you!”
“Mrs. Starr, ma’am, could you please tell us about your buried treasure?” Celeste asked. Belle had seemed like she’d been about to fade away, after having delivered her ominous message, but she paused and flickered again into view, hat, chaps, and boots fully visible once more.
“That’s a sore topic I don’t really want to discuss,” she said. “I took the loot I and Frank and Jesse stole from a bank in Missouri and buried it in Shiloh, over $30,000 dollars’ worth. Greedy people have been trying to find it ever since, including members of my own family. Truth is, I was bushwhacked and shot off my horse before I could go back and dig it up myself, and I’m not even sure I can remember where exactly I buried it, unless I travel there in person and the places I marked haven’t been destroyed by the whims of time and so-called progress.
“If you be thinkin’ you’ll get a fortune out of this, don’t. I’m sorry to tell you, it ain’t gonna happen. But even if you’re disappointed by what I’m sayin’ about the treasure, and your roles in saving the ghosts and the living, that still won’t stop you from living out your shared fates.” As she was saying these last words, the ghost of Belle Starr slowly faded away, until she was gone.
“What do you think she meant, Lily, about helping her and the other ghosts of Arkansas, and how that would also somehow be helping the living?” Celeste asked me. “And, how can she be so sure we’ll do what she is asking us to do, especially when under the circumstances, it seems to be so impossible to do? I’d like to do whatever I can for her and the other ghosts, but she sure seems to be assuming a lot, and expecting a lot out of us, girl.”
“What I think she meant, Cel, is exactly what she said! She definitely believes that we will somehow find a way to come to her and the other ghosts’ aid, that it’s our, and I quote, ‘shared fates.’ It’s hard to argue with a ghost, you know; especially one who is a Bandit Queen,” I answered.
“She certainly does have a regal and bossy attitude, doesn’t she? Kind of like someone I know quite well, really, kind of like you! And don’t sit there looking all innocent-like–you know it’s true!”
“Celeste, Celeste, Celeste–you do have the most active imagination!” I said. “Now, after I change my appearance to that of a pterodactyl once again, hop onto my back and let’s ride!”
“I think that Ozzy Osbourne must have ridden on a pterodactyl before, don’t you?” I asked as she climbed aboard and situated herself comfortably. “That’s probably where he got the title for his song ‘Flying High Again,’ don’t you think? And, hey, who knows, Celeste? Despite what Miss Bossy Ghost-pants said, we may never see her again, and she could have been just spouting spectral nonsense that doesn’t amount to anything.”
As I said these words, I doubted what I was suggesting, but I didn’t have the heart to tell Celeste that. I felt sure that Belle Starr had met us at the Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery for a reason, the very reason she stated to us. I felt sure that what she said about our “shared fates” was the truth, and that somehow, someday, we would once again meet up with the ghost of Belle Starr.
The rest of that weekend seemed to pass in a blur. We had fun just being together, and doing family stuff, and of course catching more fish than we could ever eat ourselves (but I gave it a try–to me, nothing beats the taste of freshly caught and fried fish).
Still, a sort of pallor seemed to hang over the rest of the holiday weekend. It was because of the sense of duty, of obligation that Belle Starr’s ghost had imposed on Celeste and myself. I love mysteries and solving crimes and making the world a better place to live in, but I like to do it on my own terms. I like to live life on the edge, but I want to be the one to put myself there, and not to let some ghost make that decision for me.
Also, I was looking forward all that weekend, really, to returning to my friends, the other members of PAWS. I and Celeste would have a lot to tell them, both about the Squatch, Beano Gruntley the Third, and about the mission the ghost of Belle Starr had entrusted us with.
Some people would probably say that it was just coincidence that we met Beano and Belle on the same weekend. I would humbly say that those people don’t know what they’re talking about, are not to be trusted, and potentially might be SNURFLES, door-to-door salesmen, mailmen, Girl Scouts, or some other sort of untrustworthy criminal type. The truth is, that there are no coincidences. Everything is tied together, I’ve found over the years. Nothing is truly random, however much it might seem to be at first glance.

Chapter Three
“Botswana Is Not Little Rock”

“Chick-a Chick-a Munga, Chick-a Chick-a Munga!/That’s where I want to be,/Chick-a Chick-a Munga, where life is easy and carefree!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee sang as he strolled down the middle of the street, namely, Chickamunga Street, the one I lived on with the Quinces. He was staggering awkwardly and tangling his legs up and swaying from side to side, as if he was drunk. His eyes goggled, his tongue lolled out, his Mohawk crest of hair blew in the breeze. Yet, he could be as graceful as a ballerina, if, at least, that ballerina also happened to be a rugby-playing rhino.
I was in the front yard, which had recently been fenced in, like the backyard. The backyard’s fence was wooden, though, and the one in the front was a chain-link one. I could have flown and greeted him, but I generally didn’t like to display my true nature during the daytime, so instead I ran and jumped against the metal fence and roared my greeting to my friend. He’d come to be known as the Distractor for obvious reasons, and he’d served PAWS in many capacities during our adventures and investigations together. He’d even almost become the mayor of Centralia, leading in the polls until Triple Q won via write-in votes. Not bad, despite the opinions of some people that will go unnamed (Celeste! Ooops, how did that slip out?) that Fuzzy is–er–intellectually challenged, shall we say.
Triple Q is a great mayor, but I can’t help but wonder how different Centralia would be today if Fuzzy Wally MacGee had received the majority of the votes instead of Celeste’s Dad. His idea, for instance, of repairing potholes in Centralia’s roads by planting trees in them, while being ridiculous on the surface, had its merits. The holes would be filled, the city beautified, and there would have been more toilet facilities strategically placed about the city, also–a win-win situation, all around. Fuzzy came over to the fence, and we talked for awhile. I told him what had happened over the weekend.
“Fuzzy, you’ll never guess what happened to Cel and myself! It’s news I must get to Lucy and Prince Alphonse “Fonzie,” Saed, also, as soon as possible!”
“I know eggs-zactickally what happened, Lily!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said, leaving me momentarily at a loss for words.
“What, then?” I eventually asked, after a few seconds.
“You had a great time, and caught a ton of fish, and I see you’ve put on a few pounds!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee answered.
“I don’t dispute your logic, Fuzzy; you’re getting better at deductive reasoning all of the time; but, that was also a fairly obvious answer, as I told you before I left that’s what we were going to do,” I said.
Noticing he was looking crest-fallen, I added, “But, you are correct, Fuzzy. We did catch lots of fish, and had a fun time. And then, here’s the part I was meaning you wouldn’t believe: we met a Sasquatch named Beano Gruntley the Third on Friday night, and to follow that up, we were introduced to the ghost of Belle Starr on Saturday night at the Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery.”
“Well, that is a pretty big surprise, Lily, to be sure!” my friend said. “And it explains what that Public Service Announcement that’s been on the T.V. ever since you left must be about.”
“What P.S.A., Fuzzy? Tell me what it said! It could be vitally important!” I roared.
“It was about a Bee Call, or something like that, I remember that much….”
“A Bee Call? Are you sure it wasn’t maybe about a recall?” I asked.
Fuzzy looked startled, a bit more so than usual, even, and said: “That’s it! How did you know? Did you see the P.S.A., too?”
“No, I just deduced that you’d really heard the word recall, because it sounds similar to Bee Call. What else do you remember, Fuzzy?”
“Something about–oh, yes–a group that believes that Quentin Quintilius Quince, whoever that is (it sounds like a made-up name, if you ask my opinion), shouldn’t be Centralia’s mayor anymore, and that there should be a brand-new election, and that the scarlet Macaw Frankie ought to be Centralia’s new mayor, because he doesn’t like to befriend ghosts. Instead, he believes they should be forcibly removed from every place they haunt. And, at the end of the P.S.A., a voice mentioned that it was paid for by SNURFLES, and that Frankie Sinister approved the message. That’s all—I’m sorry I can’t rememberize any more.”
“Don’t worry, Fuzzy–you did a great job remembering! I should have suspected that Frankie and his organization, SNURFLES, was behind this whole business. He’s undoubtedly trying to harness the ectoplasmic energy of the ghosts for his own evil purposes. And, if he destroys the meager existence that the ghosts cling to that keeps them here on Earth, it’s just too bad, so sad for them, in the eyes of himself and SNURFLES. Instead of someone exposing Frankie and SNURFLES for the–excuse my language–cabbages they are, Frankie is attempting to use his evil extermination of the ghosts of Arkansas to try to overturn the mayoral election, Fuzzy. He’s trying to claim that it’s a good thing he’s doing, and I’m afraid people might be falling for it.”
“So the world would not be better off without scary ghosties?” Fuzzy asked.
“Some ghosts may be scary, Fuzzy, but no, the world would not be ‘better off’ without them. Ghosts let us know that there is something more after this life, Fuzzy, that at least a part of ourselves, our inner essences, or souls, live on. Most of us hopefully move on beyond this world, but some are doomed to stay here. But still, the ones who stay and are ghosts have a purpose, even if they are unaware of it, other than letting us know there is an afterlife.” I answered Fuzzy.
“What is that, Lily?”
“Why, to do what you and many others think is so bad: to scare people! To warn them about dangers, or what might happen if they continue their ways, like Ebenezer Scrooge, for example, who was visited by three ghosts during the night of Christmas Eve who changed his life for the better after that. And, if an old cemetery, battlefield, school, or house is known as being haunted, the ghosts also attract tourists, ghost hunters with scientific equipment, and authors. The ghosts make these old and important locations, and history, live again for people. History becomes interesting, instead of dull, boring, and forgotten.”
“And here, I’ve just been thinkin’ ghosts are lazy layabouts who, every once in awhile, like to scare the pee out of people and animals, for their own amusement.” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said.
“Well, I won’t lie, Fuzzy–there might be some ghosts who are like that–but still, like I said, in bringing attention and publicity, whether good or bad, to historic locations, even these sorts of ghosts serve a greater purpose.” I explained to him.
“Lily! Stop that barking and come in! You’re bothering the neighbors!” Clare yelled from the open front doorway.
I told Fuzzy Wally MacGee I had to go, but I asked him to tell Lucy Marmoset Higgins and Prince Alphonse “Fonzie,” Saed, about what I said, if he happened to see them. Though he’d never met a dog catcher (nor a rhino catcher) that he couldn’t evade, I also warned him that it wasn’t a very safe behavior to be wandering down the middle of a road. One burst of speed put on by the sadistic driver of an eighteen-wheeler, and it’d be “Bye, Bye, Cruel World,” and “Hello, Road Kill Du Jour!”
I went to Celeste’s bedroom, and told her about the P.S.A. I said: “We need to help the ghost of Belle Starr and the other ghosts of Arkansas even more now, Cel! The Scarlet One, Frankie, is trying to discredit your Dad and force another election, which he intends to win!
“Yeah, Lily-bear, I just saw it while you were outside, girl. The lies and innuendos in it were terrible, but what can we do?” she asked. “We have to get you ready and prettied up for this coming weekend’s American Kennel Club Dog Show in Little Rock, and you have a date with the groomers on Thursday! Helping the ghosts and Dad will have to wait, I guess.”
That night, I went through the doggie/pterodactyl door into the backyard. I felt I had to call an emergency meeting of PAWS, and meet with all of them. Since Fuzzy Wally MacGee lived just three houses down, and I’d already told him about the past weekend, I decided to fly over to Prince Alphonse Saed’s house first, then Lucy Marmoset Higgins’, and then take them to the Fuzzmeister’s for our meeting.
“What’s the haps, Lily-girl?” Lucy asked when I landed in her yard.
“I have a tale to tell you, chica, about ghosts, Squatches, and SNURFLES, so I am calling an emergency meeting of PAWS over at Fuzzy’s place. But first, we must go and pick up Fonz, so we can all be together. The very future of Centralia, Arkansas, and the world might be at stake!” Lucy looked a bit reluctant. “I’ve brought you yummy ba-na-nas!” I said.
Lucy climbed up onto my back and immediately started peeling a banana she’d grabbed from a large bunch of the yellow fruit I had in a plastic bag awaiting her as an enticement. “I dunno, Lily…” The almost neon-orange fur of Lucy Marmoset Higgins practically glowed in the dark like a beacon. Lucy mumbled around the chunks of banana she was biting off: “It sounds kinda sketchy, but you know that the way to my heart is through my stomach, and that I’m not above accepting bribes, so let’s get on with the program, yo, before I change my mind!
Soon, we were at the house of the only member of royalty to be also a member of PAWS, Prince Alphonse Saed.
“I’ve got news that will blow your mind, Fonz, and convince you that there really is a life after death! I need you to come with Lucy and myself to an emergency meeting of PAWS at Fuzzy’s, so leap aboard!” Without a moment’s hesitation, the Mountain Lion that was Fonzie flexed the muscles of his hind legs and jumped onto my back.
At Fuzzy’s, after Lucy and Alphonse had gotten onto solid ground once again, I called the meeting to order with a subdued roar. I didn’t want to get the neighborhood riled up, so I had to turn down the volume a notch. It didn’t take very long to fill them in on the details about Beano Gruntley the Third and the ghost of Belle Starr, but what would we do next, to combat our long-time foes, the organization known as SNURFLES? How could we ensure that the mayoral election wasn’t a do-over?
“And, on top of what I just told you, I’m going to take part in, of all things perverse and strange, a dog show in Little Rock this coming weekend! I will need you to be my eyes and ears here to keep me alerted as to the activities of SNURFLES while I’m gone, though I wish you could come along with me to aid my investigations in case Celeste and I run into any ghosts while we’re there.”
“You wanna wish that we could come along?” Lucy asked. “You get your wish, then, girl-fri-end, because Mr. and Mrs. Higgins have entered me into the dog show, so I’ll be there, also!
“Me, too!” Prince Alphonse said. “If you wanna wish that, you’re in luck. The Saeds think I have a very good chance of winning, and who am I to disagree with them?
“Wanna, wanna,/Botswana, wanna,/Flora and fauna,/I’m a-gonna, gonna/ Make it thre-he-he!” Fuzzy sang, sounding oddly like Freddie Mercury of Queen. “I’m goin’, too–Botswana, Woo-hoo!”
“I hate to break it to you, Fuzzy, but Botswana is not like Little Rock,” I said, adding: “But I’m glad you all can come to Little Rock, also. Belle Starr’s ghost said that Celeste and I would have ‘shared fates,’ but I’m thinking that she was maybe also referring to everyone in PAWS. It looks like we’re in this together, guys. SNURFLES may think they’ve won this time, but the battle’s barely begun! Each of us individually is tough to beat, but when we work together as a team, we’re unstoppable!
I called the meeting to a close, and tiredly flew Lucy and Fonzie to their homes. After that, I went into the Quince’s house the way I had left, curled myself up next to the sleeping form of Celeste in her bed, and promptly fell into a deep sleep.
****
Thursday was like any other day. Any other day when I might have one of the most traumatic experiences in my life, that is. Though I had scales, not hair (being a pterodactyl), the illusion I projected needed to be totally realistic, so it had to seem as if my hair grew just as if I was an actual terrier. This was rather awkward when it came time to be taken to Petco to be groomed. The poor groomers would shampoo my non-existent hair, act as if their scissors were cutting fur that was actually there instead of only in their imaginations, and then sweep up piles of what was really just air (as opposed to hair) into dust pans that they would then empty into trash cans. Talk about an exercise in futility! Of course, they didn’t realize this, though, and Mrs. Quince–Clare–had to pay them in real money for shampooing and cutting hair that wasn’t, um, there.
Well, this particular Thursday was, to tell you the truth, really not like any other day, nor even like every other day I’ve suffered the humiliation of going to the groomers. The reason why it wasn’t is that it was a bit crowded that day. There was room for three other dogs to be groomed at the same time, and it so happened that there were three other “dogs” there with me: Fuzzy Wally MacGee, Lucy Marmoset Higgins, and Prince Alphonse Saed.
Fuzzy Wally MacGee kept trying to lick the shampoo off of his hair. “Yum! Whippity cream! Tastes a little strange, though–kinda Mango flavored!”
This, of course, prompted Lucy and Fonz to also try the shampoo. “Mine tastes like bananas!” Lucy said.
“Hmm…I dunno….” Prince Alphonse Saed said. “I’d say mine tastes more like shampoo, guys, because that’s what it is, not ‘whippity cream’! But, it does taste pretty good, still…kinda like strawberries. What does your shampoo taste like, Lily?”
“Oh, no, you’re not going to get me to taste any nasty shampoo! It’s meant to be used to clean one’s hair, not to be eaten!” I said indignantly.
“It won’t hurt you, Lily,” Fuzzy said. “It’s really quite good.
I hate to admit it, but I tried licking some of my shampoo after Fuzzy said this, and it wasn’t that bad at all. “Ummm…Blueberries!” I said. “That’s it, fresh-picked blueberries, with a hint of cream!
And then, things went from awkward to worse. The UPS man dropped by with some packages, and he just had time to leave them at the service counter before he was unceremoniously chased out of the store by Fuzzy, Lucy, and Alphonse. Anyone who says I was right in front leading the pack should not be believed, and is a rumor-monger at best, and I wouldn’t doubt he or she is a card-carrying member of SNURFLES. If they even carry cards…I’ve always wondered about that.
“Lily, you look more like a sleek miniature black-and-white brindle greyhound now that you’ve gotten your hair cut,” Celeste said on the drive home, “rather than the pudgy fur-ball of a badger that you looked like before.
“Hey,” I said, “I never have looked like a badger in my entire life! Probably because, for one thing, I don’t have any hair, just scales!
“Humph!” Cel said. “For not having any hair, you sure left a lot behind on the floor at the Petco shop! My Mom had to leave them an extra-large tip for them to ever make another appointment in the future!
“What was that you’re saying, Cel?” Clare asked from the front seat.
“Oh, nothing, Mom–I was just telling Lily how beautiful she looks now, and how she’s sure to win Best of Show in Little Rock this weekend, that’s all.”
“Lies!” I said. “You know better than that, Cel….
“Quit grumbling…you want her to still believe you’re a dog, don’t you?
“Yeah, well….” I said.
I wondered how the dog show would go, especially since the day at the dog groomers’ hadn’t gone so well. And, would we meet the ghost of Belle Starr again in Little Rock, or would it be later? Would we all be able to get together, and do an investigation of a haunted location in Little Rock? If so, what sorts of ghosts would we find, and could we get to them before SNURFLES did, to save them from becoming a power source for SNURFLES’ evil scheme? Would Frankie eventually become Centralia’s mayor, or would Triple Q still retain the position?
These thoughts and more flitted though my brain as we traveled back home. I wanted to have as much faith in our ability to save the day as Belle Starr’s ghost seemed to have, but everything appeared to be stacked against us. Would this be the time when SNURFLES would win not only the battle, but the entire war, getting rid of Arkansas’ ghosts, gaining political control of the state, and possibly destroying PAWS in one fell swoop? It was a future too terrible to contemplate, but one that could quite possibly come to pass.
Saturday was approaching quickly. Saturday, usually one of my favorite days of the week, but not this particular one. I had a sense of foreboding that stuck in my throat like a broken chicken bone. Was my luck going to run out, like the sand in an hourglass? It was not a good idea to tempt fate as many times as I already had done. Was this to be my last case?


Here are the first three chapters of My Brother The Zombie (The Zombie Revolution: Book One). It’s available at Amazon for only 99 cents–just click
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Chapter One
“When Zombies Weren’t Cool”

My older brother was a zombie when zombies weren’t cool. He became a zombie like most people did in those early days of greater innocence: through the alien plague that the giant (for insects, anyway) six-foot-tall beetles known as the Blaxons from the (much-maligned in science fiction novels) Sirius galaxy brought with them. The Blaxons weren’t here on a mission of conquest or expansion; that was the damnedest thing about the whole miserable outcome of their arrival. They arrived on Earth on Christmas day on a mission of peace, unlike the Europeans who colonized the United States and infected the native population on purpose with smallpox-ridden blankets.
Peace & love, and good will to all men; that is the message they wanted to spread. Instead, they spread a virus that caused people who came into contact with it, like my brother Ben, to turn into zombies.
Ben didn’t die, or anything dramatic like that. He just happened to be one of the first people to greet the aliens who landed in the world’s major cities. Ben shook the hands of the emissary Blaxon Major Slycon Glunk in Chicago, Illinois, when my brother was on a band trip to play his melophone on Navy Pier. He was the only one, the “lucky” one, from our band to be chosen for the dubious honor. That one handshake was all it took. Of course, beetles don’t actually have hands, but you get the idea.
Then, later that night where they were staying at the Westside Clarion Hotel, Ben started to feel feverish. He had the sweats, and complained of stomach cramps. He doubled over from the pain, and Mrs. Jessica Irons, the band director, even considered taking him to the hospital, though Centralia High’s insurance would take a hit. Within the second hour, Ben’s fever broke, so Mrs. Irons changed her mind. His chills did away with his temporary fever.
Since the closest disease to Ben’s symptoms, to Mrs. Irons’s recollection, was malaria, but she knew that malaria had been eradicated in America, she told my brother:
“Maybe it’s just the stomach flu. Or, a mild case of the West Nile fever. Would you like me to notify your parents?”
“No, that’s alright,” my brother said, “I’m feeling really much better, and seem to be getting my appetite back.”
“Well, that’s good,” Mrs. Irons said. “Especially because tomorrow, there’ll be an all-you-can-eat breakfast downstairs. And, we’re going to Casa Juan Bufo’s TexMex restaurant for lunch, for a genuine taste of Old Mexico, and for supper, we’re having our meal catered here by Mama Mia’s Pizzaria. You don’t want to miss out on that.”
“Do you think I could get Casa Juan Bufo’s to make me fajitas with raw steak?” Ben asked. “I know it sounds kinda gross, but I likes my steak to moo!”
“Hmm…” Mrs. Irons pondered. “I suppose that could be arranged. I’ll have to check up on that later and let you know. I just wish you weren’t still looking pale, but I’m sure that will pass once you get some food in you.”
“Yes,” my brother said, not wanting to alarm the band director, and believing that the yummy food that was on the horizon would vanquish his hunger pains. “I can hardly wait to tear into a leg—er—chicken leg, that sounds good, or a breast, or a—um—breakfast burrito or two would be great”
“O-kay then,” said Mrs. Irons. “Well, we’re going to have another busy day tomorrow, so perhaps it would be best for you to get to bed now and rest up.”
And that’s exactly what Ben did, or at least, what he tried to do. He went to his room, which he shared with Franklin Stubbs, who played the trumpet.
“Dude, I thought you were going to start throwing up all over Mrs. Irons’ designer shoes or something,” Frank said. “Are you sure you’re feelin’ better? Your eyes are dilated and rolling around like pinballs. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and have it be all like it’s ‘Game Over’ for you. I don’t want to sleep in the same room with a dead body. It wouldn’t be good for my image.”
“It’s like I told Mrs. Irons, Frank,” Ben said (or so he told me later), “I’m fine. It was just a, um, bug I must have contacted from the, um, giant bugs. Can you imagine if I started to turn into one, just like in that story by the Kafka guy?”
“Metamorphosis?”
“Yeah, that’s the one! Denise would drop me like a hot rock if I began to grow feelers out of the top of my head, and mandibles!”
“Nah, dude, she’d probably get into it, and it’d be the newest cool trend at Centralia High. Any guy who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, sprout feelers and mandibles would be an Untouchable!”Stubbs said.
And, maybe he was onto something, for whatever my brother did, it somehow ended up making him more popular and solidifying his role as the leader of the “Cool Brigade,” as they were called back then.
At the time all of this went down, I was fifteen, and a lowly sophomore, and my brother was seventeen and a senior, with the girls flocking to him as if he was the star football player. He always had a certain animal magnetism about him, but more about that, later. He was like the Alpha male lion at the top of the food chain, and I was like a groveling hyena to him, supposed to be more than satisfied with the scraps he left behind.
That night, the hunger was growing in Ben. However, his lusting after the flesh was not sexual in nature, but more like the craving for food that a bear awoken from hibernation feels. Unlike Yogi, though, no amount of picnic baskets would be able to satisfy his hunger, unless they were stocked with human body parts and brains. Even the host of That’s Bizarre, Anthony Zimmer, would probably turn up his nose at the sort of meal Ben was contemplating at that moment. So, he did the only wise thing he could think of doing: made up an excuse to put as much distance between himself and Frank as he could. The hotel maids’ lives were probably difficult enough without adding getting blood stains out of the carpet, the drapes, the bedspread, the everything, to their duties.
“Frank, man, feelin’ nauseous here—need to get some fresh air,” Ben said, heading towards the door. “I’ll be back soon, but don’t wait up or worry about me. I’m a big boy.”
“Dude, if whatever teacher who’s chosen to make the rounds notices you’re not here, you’re going to be in some big trouble,” Frank said.
“Yeah, well,” Ben said. “I guess he or she will just have to get over it. I won’t be gone too long. After all, I have to be rested for tomorrow’s list of scheduled activities and carb loading. I’ll try not to wake you when I come in.”
“I’m not good at making up excuses,” Frank said. “I suppose I could say something like you’re downstairs in the Exercise Room, but if someone checks—“
“I’m outa here. Later, Frank!” my brother said, leaving the room.
Somehow, Ben made it outside without slaughtering anyone in cold blood. He considered that to be a great accomplishment in itself, taking into account the intense cravings he was experiencing. There were no cops he could see anywhere, though there was no telling if there were any surveillance cameras pointed his way.
Lake Michigan would be an ideal place to dispose of any bodies, Ben mused to himself. Then, he shook his head, and muttered: “What sort of crazy thoughts am I thinking? Disposing bodies of my victims in Lake Michigan? Who do I think I am, Al Capone? Or, perhaps Dexter, or some unholy combination of the two?”
Pondering about how foolish he felt, and the insane direction his thoughts were taking him into, did not do anything to alleviate his insatiable hunger pangs. Also, his muttering to himself did nothing to put the only other person on the sidewalk, a young woman who looked like she was in her early twenties, at ease.
Ben wasn’t paying attention to where he was, and was barreling down the sidewalk directly towards the woman. Startled, believing she was about to become the victim of a mugging (or worse), the young lady stepped off of the sidewalk and into the path of a speeding electric hybrid car. The driver, more concerned with reducing his carbon footprint and saving his own butt than the life and welfare of the woman he’d ran over, kept on going as if he had done nothing worse than running over a squirrel.
My brother was filled with righteous indignation, but he was more filled with hunger. He checked her pulse first—he’d learned that from when he was a Boy Scout—and, finding none, he thought: “What the hell. I may be a cannibal, or I may be turning into a—zombie—but at least I’m not a killer. Not yet, anyway. But I’m sure I don’t have much time—the police or paramedics may be here soon—so, I’d better dig in while I can. But, I need to be careful, also, not to get any blood on my clothes, and to try to make my bites look like they’re just a part of the damage the car must have caused. Not that anyone’s likely to jump to the conclusion that after having died, someone decided to then dine on this young lady.”
And, dine is what Ben did, wanting to bury his entire face into the woman’s body, and suck out her brains with a straw, but showing a careful restraint, ripping big gobs of flesh from her stomach and then moving to her face. Next time, he thought, I need to bring a lobster bib, or something similar. Then, the inevitable distant sirens came to his ears, and my brother became the second person to flee the scene of the unfortunate accident.
Next time? Ben thought. There I go again, thinking crazy thoughts.
****
“Dude, you’ve been gone like an hour,” Frank Stubbs said, “and the shower woke me up, and I then go into the bathroom to take a piss and the floor’s covered with your wet clothes, stinking to high heaven. What gives, bro?”
“That stench,” Ben said, “would be the smell of Lake Michigan. Not the most polluted of the Great Lakes, but if you jump into almost any lake with all of your clothes on, you won’t come out smelling like a daisy.”
“You went swimming in Lake Michigan? In April, when the water’s still cold, and in the middle of the night? What were you trying to do, wash off evidence of some grisly crime, or something?” Frank asked, laughing at the ridiculousness of what he’d just said.
“I happen to be a very health conscious sort of guy,” Ben answered, “who was feeling like he was about to throw up his toenails, and thought that a brisk swim in Lake Michigan might be just what the doctor ordered to clear my head and stop my urge to purge.”
“Too much information, bro,” Frank said.
“You’re the one who asked. I’ll gather up my clothes in the morning, and put them in my empty duffle bag that I brought along for my dirty clothes. The morning will be here before you know it, though, so right now, I’m going to get some sleep.”
“That’s the most sensible thing I’ve heard you say all night. Maybe the swim in Lake Michigan really did clear your head.”
I didn’t really see my brother very much during that band trip. He was too busy with his own concerns, and I was busy with mine. Just an age difference of a couple of years can sometimes seem like an eternity, and can distance even close family members like brothers, especially once they hit their teen years. I suppose your brother becoming a zombie can do that, too, in some cases. Oddly enough, though, in some ways, Ben’s becoming a zombie brought us closer together. But, there were a few tough moments….
At home back in Centralia, Arkansas, everything was as it always had been. Mom and Dad suspected nothing, and I thought Ben had just been a little under the weather, and nothing more. Ben seemed like his usual self, though if we passed by the meat department in the supermarket, he liked to linger there in a rather creepy manner. Also, he had always liked his hamburgers and steaks medium well done, but when we returned, he insisted that they be barely browned at all. But, then again, Dad had always liked his steaks rare, and Mom sometimes ate raw hamburger meat, so they just thought that maybe his tastes were changing, and perhaps it was just a part of maturing into an adult.
They had no clue that it was really a part of transforming into a zombie.
Zombies, though, weren’t cool then. As I’ve mentioned, everything my brother did was cool, so even if they, or I, had some small inkling that Ben was exhibiting decidedly zombie-like tendencies (or, at the least, vampire-like ones), we probably figured that the changes had to be the result of anything else other than that he was becoming a full-fledged zombie. And, besides, didn’t zombies rise up out of graves? Weren’t they created by practitioners of voodoo, or hoodoo? Weren’t they mindless, shambling husks, more dead than living? And, didn’t they, like fish or relatives that have over-stayed their welcomes, begin to stink after a week’s time, max? And, zombies never, ever got the girls to fall all over them, though they did get them to sometimes trip and fall, the better to catch and eat.
There was no way, no how that my brother was becoming a zombie. You’d think that I, his own brother, his own flesh and blood, would know if he was undergoing such a drastic change before anyone else would, right? But, I didn’t even see it coming.
“Kyle,” Ben said later, “you probably didn’t see it coming because, well, being a zombie just wasn’t cool until I became one. It’s like the fad just wasn’t going to start, just wasn’t going to get off of the ground, until Fate gave me a big nudge and a wink, and said ‘You are a born trend-setter, lad. Zombies are the newest cool thang to set the world on fire, so a zombie you must become, even if it takes an alien peace-keeping mission gone horribly wrong to make you become one.’” And, who was I, I thought, to argue with such logic as that?
“Are you trying to tell me,” I asked, somewhat amused at the possibility, “that being a zombie is now suddenly cool? Is that what you’re asking me to swallow?”
“Well, after all,” Ben replied, “I’m a zombie, and I’m cool; ergo, now zombies are cool. I don’t really blame you—you just wouldn’t know what cool was even if it was a snake about to bite you.”
“A snake?” I said, stunned. “I believe I would know if there was a snake if front of me. It would be pretty obvious, wouldn’t it? It’d be either all coiled up, ready to strike, or it’d be slithering about on the floor, acting all snake-like—“
“Fine, Kyle,” Ben said. “so you know what a snake is. But, not what cool is, nor what sarcasm is—you’ve made that fairly apparent.”
“You’re a fine one to talk,” I said. “I probably know more about zombie factoids than anyone else I know, and I know that everyone knows that zombies are the living dead, and that they are only driven by hunger. It’s like an instinctual urge. They kind of lurk about, then BAM, they lunge at you when they get the chance. When they catch you, it’s pretty much a hit-or-miss proposition, unless they attack en masse, or a bunch of zombies have you surrounded. Then, you might as well just give up and face the inevitable fact that you’ll either become a zombie yourself, or get eaten. If that happens, then just your leftover bits and pieces will wiggle about, refusing to have the decency to lie still and accept death. Not a pleasant fate, and you, my brother, are not a zombie.”
“My brother, the idiot,” Ben said. “You may know most of the ways someone can become a zombie, and most of the so-called ‘facts’ about them. But, you know nothing about the type of zombie I am.”
“Oh?” I asked skeptically. “And what kind is that?”
“The kind created by alien-borne viruses, that’s what kind, idiota,” Ben said. “the kind I must have gotten when I shook hands with that Blaxon cockroach, or whatever sort of beetle he is, Major Slycon Glunk. So, you see, I am a zombie, whether you want to admit it or not. Still, I intend, my bro, to be the coolest zombie there ever was, so cool that everyone else will be wishing that they could be zombies, too. I’m going to change the entire world’s point of view about zombies.”
“What about the factoid that zombies are killing machines? Is that also untrue? What about them hungering for human flesh? Is that just the rumors people like Anderson Cooper tell the public on CNN?”
“Well, no,” Ben said, “those things are true. We’re scary fast and scary strong, and while the Blaxons never had any desire to take over the world, we do.”

Chapter Two
“Instant Fame Made Easy”
Despite my brother’s claim, I didn’t believe him for a second. Oh, I believed he believed he was a zombie, but I was used to his jumping from one fad or hobby to another, throwing his whole body and soul into it, and then dropping whatever it was usually within the space of a week. That had to be the way it was with Ben’s belief that he was a zombie. And, he was just trying to mess with me, get a rise out of me, with that overly dramatic statement about zombies wanting to take over the world. Even if there were such things as zombies, I reasoned, and even if their goal was to take over the world, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Instant fame wasn’t that easy, no matter what my brother might say to the contrary.
One question I hadn’t asked my brother is what, or who, he was eating. It was a question I definitely wanted to know the answer to, yet also definitely didn’t want to know the answer to, if you know what I mean. Other such questions included: If he was a zombie, who were his helpless victims? Did they suffer much? How many people has my big brother killed so far to satisfy his bizarre hunger, if he really was a zombie? Were the police hot on his trail, and did the tell-tale chain of evidence lead directly to our door? Was there a SWAT team, even now, outside our door, armed with shotguns to blast Ben’s head clean off of his shoulders? That was, after all, one of the better-known (and most assured) methods to kill a zombie.
The next day, the Centralia High School’s newspaper had an ad taken out in it that drew my rapt attention. Its headline proclaimed:
INSTANT FAME MADE EASY
Fame, popularity, the ability
To attract the opposite sex: Do
You Want It All?
Then Try The Zombie Method
Satisfaction Guaranteed
Or Your Money Back
Only $9.99
Call: 555-0666

The phone number seemed oddly familiar. That was probably because it was my brother’s cell phone number!
I had to put a stop to Ben’s insane money-making scheme before it started. I would do it the only way I knew how to: by getting the parental units involved. But, I couldn’t do that until after school, and I was still only in my first period Home Room class, English. It was an American Lit course, and the book we were slogging through was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It was difficult for me to pay attention, as my mind was on my brother’s twisted money-making (and, I feared, zombie-making) scheme to turn his affliction and his “Zombie Method” into a Get Rich Quick method.
Just how low can a person sink? I thought to myself. Then, I was abruptly snapped out of my reverie by Mrs. Slocomb’s grating and whiny voice calling my name:
“Kyle! Mr. Brooks! Earth to Kyle Brooks, come in, Kyle Brooks!” she said.
“Wha-wha-what?” I asked. “Is class over already?”
“No, Kyle—class is not over yet!” her Harpy-like tones assailed my ears, bombarding them like twenty-four-foot tall stereo loudspeakers of Doom. “It has barely even begun. With that kind of attitude, young man, the rest of the semester is going to seem ver-y long to you!”
“Oh, it already has seemed that to me, Mrs. Slocomb, ma’am,” I said. “This entire hour has seemed very long, actually.”
“As I said, it has barely begun. And now, it is your turn to read aloud, Mr. Brooks, and to rejoin the land of the living. We were on the part of the novel where the narrator, Nick Carroway, finally learns of how Jay Gatsby got his wealth, and becomes at least somewhat disillusioned by his knowledge. Knowledge does that sometimes, doesn’t it, Mr. Brooks?”
“Hmm…yes, I suppose it does, Mrs. Slocomb,” I replied, wondering if she was possibly somehow tuned into my thoughts about my big brother. Naw, that was just not possible!
“Begin with the first paragraph on page 107, please, Kyle,” my English teacher said.
“’And it was from Cody that he inherited money—a legacy of twenty-five thousand zombies–er—dollars’, I meant to say. ‘Zombie didn’t get it. Zombie never understood the legal device that was used against zombie but—‘” Laughter was erupting all around me. My cheeks flushed red in embarrassment.
“Mr. Kyle Brooks!” Mrs. Slocomb shouted. “Come to my desk this instant! You may think you’re being funny, but it’s not funny to disrupt an entire class and interfere with the education of others, and their appreciation of a classic American novel!”
“Not even a little funny?” I asked. I thought, hey, I’m already in trouble, I’d already crossed that invisible line, so why not infiltrate that enemy territory further? In retrospect, it was not my best idea ever, not one of my shining moments.
Yeah, well, watcha gonna do? The morning seemed to be going steadily downhill. I was never one to get into trouble, never one to buck authority. I had only my brother the zombie’s best interests at heart, and here I now was, the new Black Sheep of the family, on my way to Principal Don Delay’s office.
He was not one to waste time in idle banter, chat you up, nor delay; not Principal Delay. He was a stalwart soul, hardy of spirit, a no-nonsense sort of guy—all qualities that spelled Instant Infamy to anyone, like myself, who crossed his path. I had a definite feeling of imminent calamity about to befall me as I entered the office and sauntered to the secretary’s desk. And, wouldn’t you know it; Principal Delay was not in a conference, nor on the phone. There would be no delaying my encounter with Principal Delay.
“Ah, Mr. Kyle Brooks,” Principal Delay began, smiling a very crocodilian smile at me. “What brings you to my office today? It’s not the time of the year for the Yearbook pictures to be taken, that can’t be it. It’s not a matter related to the PTA or Honor Society, is it? I’ve got it! Your brother is in trouble and you’ve come to see me before he does, to try to get me in a good mood and not go so hard on him as I otherwise might. That’s it, isn’t it?”
“No, not really, Principal Delay, sir,” I said. “I’m afraid I’m here on my own behalf. Mrs. Slocomb sent me out of her room to see you because it’s her belief I was disrupting her class.”
“And, were you, Kyle? Disrupting her class, that is? Or was she somehow badly mistaken? Did you get into trouble for what someone else did, but that she is blaming you for, perhaps? You don’t want to get the other person in trouble, out of fear of retaliation for tattling on him or her? Come on, tell me the truth,” Principal Delay said. “I haven’t got all day, though it might appear that way, just because I’m not particularly busy right now.”
“Oh, there’s no denying that you are very busy, sir,” I said. “We were reading aloud from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and somehow, I kept saying the word ‘zombie,’ whenever I should have instead said a pronoun, like ‘he’ or ‘his.’ I really don’t know what came over me, sir. I wasn’t intending to disrupt Mrs. Slocomb’s English class. In fact, I have enjoyed reading The Great Gatsby so far, and I like reading, in general. It was like a mysterious compulsion came over me, making me say things I didn’t really want to say, and do things I didn’t want to do. I have had zombies on my brain a lot lately, though.”
“Hah!” Principal Delay laughed. “Zombies on the brain! In movies, they eat brains, and here you are, thinking about them and blurting out the word ‘zombies’ at inappropriate times, when your own brain should be on your class work. Well, I actually believe what you’re telling me, Kyle; but, that doesn’t excuse your behavior, it just explains it.
“I’ll go easy on you, because this is the first time you’ve been sent to my office for any offense; but, I still need to punish your behavior. One day’s worth of detention, shall we say, today, for a half-hour after school. Just report to Room 111 Mr. Fergusson’s Shop Class, at 3:00. And, Mr. Brooks, try to make sure that you keep the subject of zombies off your brain while you should be paying attention to the subjects your teachers are trying to teach you.”
“Today?” I said, thinking that today was the worse day possible for me to serve detention. I needed, instead, to get home, have a heart-to-heart talk with my older brother, and convince him to stop his money-making scheme and, if he had any ideas about turning his fellow classmates into zombies, to take the advice of The Sopranos from TV and “Forget about it!” If he wouldn’t listen to me, I’d have to spill the beans to Mom and Dad.
“Yes, ‘today,’” Principal Delay said, wondering why I was still in his office, and questioning the words he’d handed down to me as if he’d been given them in a moment of divine inspiration from atop the Sacred Mount. “Would you rather try for two days? No? Then take this pass back to your next class, and get outa here! I hope that in the future, you will only come to this office because you’ve been sent here on school business, and not because you’ve been a discipline problem.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, backing out of his office with the pass he’d handed to me. “Room 111 at 3:00; I’ll be there, sir.”
“See that you are. Have a good day, Kyle,” he said, then looked back down at the papers on his desk, having dismissed me.
I then walked slowly to my second period class, Mrs. Angle’s Advanced Geometry, after first stopping at my locker to pick up the textbook for her course.
Somehow, I got through my other classes of the day without another repeat of my uncontrollably blurting out the word “zombies” as I had done in my Home Room English class. I relied on Ben for transportation, so I had to tell him in the parking lot before I went for Detention that I needed him to stick around until 3:30 because Mrs. Slocomb had sent me to Principal Delay’s office.
“You, Mr. Goody Two-Shoes, got sent to Delay’s office?” Ben asked, incredulously. “Maybe there’s hope for you yet, bro. Maybe you’ve got at least a speck of coolness inside of you, struggling to surface. All I need to do is to help you bring it out.”
“Oh, no,” I said. “One day’s worth of Detention is more than enough for me, thank you very much.
“Anyway,” I added, “I’ve got to get to Shop Class, and spend the next half-hour with the Ferg-Man. I’ll see you in thirty!”
There I was, surrounded on every side by Centralia High’s Who’s Who of delinquents. I’d grabbed The Great Gatsby to read ahead, and a couple of other textbooks I needed to do homework in when I got home, and I was trying to make the best of a bad situation by spending the thirty minutes constructively, by doing my homework. Getting good grades was important to me, and besides, it helped keep Mom and Dad off my back. Maybe getting a little ahead in my classes would prevent my parents getting too angry at me for getting Detention—that was my hope, anyway. I crossed my fingers that I wasn’t deluding myself.
I heard whispered talking around me. I thought that was not very unusual; it happened in every class, every day; of course, it would happen in Detention, as well. But, then I began to listen to what was being said. Brandon Taylor and Calvin Smith were nodding their heads and pointing towards me.
I didn’t hear everything they said, but they were talking about my brother, also, and how he’d changed since the band trip. And, they talked about the ad in today’s school newspaper.
“There he is, the zombie’s bro,” Brandon said, under his breath. “What’s a nerd like him doing here?”
“I was in the same American Lit class, Old Mrs. Slocomb’s, when it happened,” Calvin said. “Slocomb asked him to read, and he just freaked, saying ‘Zombie this, and Zombie that,’ instead of what was really in the book. I think it was some book called The Great Fatsby, or something like that.”
“Cal,” Brandon said, “you must mean The Great Gatsby.” This impressed me, in spite of myself. One of the high school’s most notorious bullies knew the correct title of the book I was reading. Will wonders never cease, I thought.
“Yeah, whatever. The point is he got sent to the principal’s office. Maybe some of his brother’s coolness is rubbing off on him,” Calvin whispered. “Maybe what Ben said to us about the Zombie Method really works. It’s guaranteed; maybe we ought to give it a try.”
“But we’re already cool, so what do we need with it, Cal?”Brandon asked.
“You can never be too cool. Hey, if it helps in the Love Life department, I say it’s worth the ten bucks. If it doesn’t work, and he refuses to refund my money, I can always get the fun of beating him up, at least,” Cal said.
“When you put it that way,” Brandon said, “why not? If the Zombie Method to give someone instant fame can even work for Ben’s brother, Kyle, there’s no tellin’ what it’ll do for us.”
Crap. Things seemed to be going steadily out of control, from bad to worse. If I didn’t convince Ben to shut his newly created business down, he might get in trouble from the school, our parents, and the law. He might mean by the “Zombie Method,” that he would bite chunks of flesh from whomever paid him the $9.99, enough to satisfy his perverse appetite, and in turn, cause them to change into zombies like himself (though slightly nibbled on ones).
Yet if I did talk him into forgetting about his mad money-making scheme, that would piss off everyone who might have already paid him money. They were expecting to become cool; they were expecting, as Ben had advertised: “Instant Fame Made Easy.” At best, they would simply demand their money back, and Ben would be forced to hand it over. At worse, my brother would have spent the money already, and he would get beaten up by those he’d cheated out of their money, and I would also get beaten up, just because he was my bro and we shared the same last name. Talk about a no-win situation….
****
The drive home to our house at 1776 Washington St. was tense. As we were going down the road in his used but cherry black Trans-Am, I brought up the subject of having read the ad in the school newspaper. He tried to brush it off, and downplay any potentially bad outcome.
“I have a fool-proof method here, Kyle,” Ben insisted. “It will work. I will make it work. As long as you or no one else rats on me, I’ll make a pot full of money. Mom and Dad don’t have to be the wiser. We won’t get beaten up because I will succeed, and besides, I’m much stronger than I used to be, so if anyone tries anything, it won’t be us that is getting beaten up—it’ll be them. The Norms. The UnChanged. The UnCool.
“And, Kyle, here’s the really important part, the beauty part, which I didn’t want to tell you until the Zombie Method had made me loads of money. I know how much you want to go to college, and how you’ve been worried that maybe Mom and Dad couldn’t afford to send you there. I know how you’ve been busting your hump and studyin’ trying to earn a full scholarship so our folks won’t have to struggle to come up with the money needed to pay for your tuition if you don’t manage to earn a full scholarship.
“I was going to set aside a quarter of all the money I made, that’s right, 25%, and then give it to you as a surprise whenever you got the letter sayin’ you’d been accepted into whatever college it is you want to go to after you graduate from Centralia High. I won’t lie; I’m not doin’ this entirely for you, though you’re my bro—but, I do want to see you get the chance to go to college, if that’s what you want to do with your life.”
“I don’t know what to say,” I said.
“How about sayin’ that we’ll be partners, partner,” Ben said. “But it means you can’t tell anyone about our deal. Not Mom, Dad, or any other adult. Do you agree? Do we have a deal?”
My brother could be mighty persuasive when he wanted to be. Though it made me uncomfortable to the very bone about the wrongness and craziness of the whole scheme, and my role in it, I stuttered my agreement.”D-D-Deal.”
“That’s the Kyle I know. You are really going to go places, bro,” Ben said. “Go places and do things and make something of your life. And you just might end up being a little bit cooler, too. And don’t worry, if you are—I have no plans to bite you, and turn you into a zombie.”
“You don’t?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “For one, it’s just gross to think about biting my own brother. For another, it wouldn’t be that great of a business decision to zombify the person you’re askin’ to be your business partner, now would it?”
I’d gone from wanting to give my brother the zombie a stern talking to, to agreeing to be his business partner in the space of five minutes. I had the feeling that I’d be taken in by the cheesiest sales pitch from the sleaziest used car dealer whenever I got old enough and money enough to buy a car. My firm resolve had melted like a popsicle on a hot August day. What would Ben have me doing next, sell T-shirts from a stand in Centralia High’s hallways with “I Was Bitten By A Zombie And I Liked It,” written on them?

Chapter Three
“Don’t Give a Sucker An Even Break”
“It’s a simple matter of salesmanship, bro,” Ben said to me. “You’re gonna be the poster boy for the Zombie Method, the lure for the masses, the stink bait for the masses of catfish we’re gonna reel in, the manure for the—“
“Hey, hey! Let’s not get too personal! You’ve already compared me to stink bait, which is bad enough—but manure?” I asked. “Isn’t the Zombie Method supposed to make people cooler, not stinkier?”
“Yes, and it does, Kyle,” Ben said. “But who’s better as a Before Zombie Method poster boy than you? And, it’ll make the After Zombie Method results look even more impressive to our potential suckers—er—clients.”
“If it works so well,” I said, “then why call our clients ‘suckers’?”
“Oh, ye of little faith—now, where have I heard that expression before? Never mind; I was just thinking of a famous saying of the black-and-white comedian W.C. Fields, ‘Never give a sucker an even break.’ Of course, I didn’t really mean that our clients are ‘suckers’—what would give you that silly impression?”
“Why, you gave me ‘that silly impression,’ that’s who,” I said, “probably when you called our clients ‘suckers’.”
“Let’s not split hairs here, and argue who called whom ‘suckers,’” my brother said. “The point is, one of the best sales tactics there is involves showing suck–clients—how well a product works by showing them an example of the outcome of using said product. That example, bro, will be you.”
“Let’s say for argument’s sake that I agree to be your ‘example,’” I said, “what would you plan to do with me to convince people that your Zombie Method actually works, and is on the level? Remember, nothing that requires me to get bitten by you or anything or one else!”
“Relax, Kyle! Geez, you whine more than our neighbor’s Chihuahua, dude!” Ben said. “I already told you; you’re safe from me; I’m not going to bite you; we’ll get you a couple of concert T-shirts, hair gel, stylin’ tennis shoes, squirt you with some Zombie Extract, so you’ll be irresistible to the fairer sex–”
“Hold on, hold on!” I said. “Watcha mean, ‘squirt you with some Zombie Extract’? Just what are the ingredients to this stuff? Is it approved by the FDA? How do I know it’s hypoallergenic, or doesn’t cause cancer?”
“Trust me, bro.” Ben said. “It’s an all-natural, very Green formula. It isn’t technically approved by the FDA, whoever they are—what are they, a bunch of scientists in some secret government facility?”
“They’re not that; the initials stand for the Food and Drug Administration.” I answered my brother. “They tell us what’s safe to use, except for slip-ups, like with Phen-Phen, or Restilax, which was supposed to relieve the symptoms of people with the Crazy Leg Syndrome, but which actually caused severe stomach cramps. It was later remarketed as a cure for constipation, and made the company, PleasureX Industries, beaucoup dollars. Don’t you listen to CNN or read the newspapers?”
“As little as possible,” Ben replied. “Zombie Extract, to answer your question is a special formulation I developed that is the whole key to our success, Kyle. It is made from various herbs, quality H2O, fruit extracts I got at the Gorgon’s Head Natural Health Food Shoppe downtown to give it a pleasant odor, and zombie pheromones made from my own—“
“Don’t say it; don’t say your own sweat, don’t say it!” I said.
“From my own perspiration,” Ben said. “just like the perfume that used to be made in the times of the ancient Roman gladiators, K-Man. Groupies would buy up bottles of the gladiators’ sweat by the cartload, to attract the man or woman of their dreams.
“Hmm…K-Man—that could be a great nickname for you, another good way to increase your popularity, Kyle,” my brother continued, “not that you’ll need anything besides a daily squirt from a bottle like this one here, which just so happens to have my picture on its label.”
“Where do you get the ‘perspiration’? Your armpits?” I asked. “No, wait—don’t tell me—I don’t think I really want to know the answer to that. But, what makes you think that people will want to spray that stuff all over their bodies? What makes you think that I want to spray it all over my body?”
“Oh, you’ll do it,” Ben said, “for the Instant Fame, and for the hot bods that are sure to follow you. You’ll have as many followers as Ashton Kutcher after you use this for a week, Kyle. That’s why you will want to use it. And of course, think of attending the college, of driving fancy sports cars, holding hands and pressing lips with actual girls…”
“I’ve held hands with girls before!” I indignantly said.
“Helping elderly ladies cross the street doesn’t count, Kyle.”
“I’ve held hand with more females than those, Ben!” I said. “Oh, fork over the bottle—I will try anything once—but, if it starts to burn my skin—“
“It’s not going to burn your skin, Kyle! Just try it, and stop complaining!”
So I did. I tried it, and it did not burn my skin off. It tingled a bit, but my brother said that was what it was supposed to do; it just meant that it was working its magic on me, that its special mojo was interacting with my piss poor mojo, and counteracting it. And, it did not smell like sweaty gym socks or armpits, which I’d feared. It actually smelled pretty nice, kind of like apple shampoo, not that I usually use apple shampoo or anything. I hoped that it would work like Ben claimed it would, but I wasn’t about to hold my breath.
Zombie Extract just might be the next Big Thing, I found myself thinking, if my brother was correct and it actually did attract the opposite sex. I felt like cruising the Centralia Mall, or even—gag—like going to school, just to (you understand) check out whether or not heads would turn when they got close enough to me to inhale a whiff of the magical Zombie Extract. Could it be that my brother really had hit on a Get-Rich Quick scheme that really worked? Would Instant Fame & Fortune be his, and by extension, mine?
****
The following day at school, I exuded a brand-new confidence. I had on a Maroon 5 T-shirt, and walking down the hallways, I had moves that Mick Jagger would have been jealous of, if he’d seen me. Heads definitely turned as I strolled by, and this time, not because my fly was down, like that oh-so-embarrassing moment back in ninth grade when I didn’t notice it for half the day, but wondered why I was getting a definite chill below the belt. At the mall, the female cashiers had seemed more pleasant, flirting with me and my zombie brother; but, then I wasn’t sure if it was just him that drew their attention, or if I had played a part in it, also. Now, I knew for sure: the Zombie Extract was some potent stuff, like sexual lightning in a bottle.
“Nice tennis shoes,” Adele Morgan, one of the cutest cheerleaders at Centralia High, said as we passed each other, “and are those new designer jeans?”
“Why, yes, they are.” I said. “Thanks for noticing. Maybe we can hang out with each other this Saturday, maybe take in a movie?” Please, please, please, say yes! I was thinking to myself. I hoped she didn’t notice how nervous I felt.
“Yeah, sure, why not?” she said, then quickly jotted her cell phone number on a scrap of paper, and handed it to me, saying “Catch you later! I gotta get to my Latin class before I’m late! See you, Kyle!”
“See you later, Adele!” I said. She actually knew my name! I thought I was too unimportant or ordinary or geeky for her to pay any attention to; but, I thought as I beat the buzzer and plopped into a seat in my English class, maybe I was wrong. Or, maybe the apple-scented Zombie Extract was what made her suddenly pay attention to me. I was fifty percent sure that I was one hundred percent sure that it was the Zombie Extract that had transformed me into a babe magnet.
In Mrs. Slocomb’s English class, all heads turned my way. But, that was probably because I had started to sweat profusely, and I had a sudden attack of stomach cramps that twisted and churned my guts like kids at Halloween ripping out the innards of pumpkins to make them into Jack-O’Lanterns
I ran to the restrooms, doubled over, without bothering to slow down and asking for permission, and barely made it there before the projectile puking commenced. That would have really impressed the ladies. Fortunately, I hadn’t got any vomit on my clothes or new tennis shoes, but my breath smelled rank. I rinsed my mouth in the sink (like that would really help) then grabbed my Tic-Tacs from my front pants pocket and crammed them into my cheeks until a looked like a chipmunk. Then, head lowered, hoping I wouldn’t be busted for being in the halls between classes without a pass, I headed back to Mrs. Slocomb’s class.
I was thinking that this would be two days in a row I was going to wind up in Principal Delay’s office and then detention, and I was feeling sorry for myself, and still sick to my stomach. And, there was another urge I was experiencing, that I couldn’t place my finger on; I was feeling so empty, so drained, so…hungry. Hungry for…flesh, for a delicious platter full of brains, maybe with some Nacho Cheese sauce—oh, yeah, that’s what the Kyle-ster wants!
What was I thinking? Where did those thoughts come from? Those were more the kind of thoughts that, well, my brother the zombie told me he’d thought. The urgings and cravings I felt were—his. What was happening to me?
Then it came to me, the horrifying realization that I was becoming like my brother Ben, probably because of the Zombie Extract! I had learned that people could catch certain diseases through the transmission of bodily fluids, but it just hadn’t occurred to me when I sprayed myself with the Zombie Extract that by doing so I might infect myself with whatever alien virus that had caused my brother to become a zombie. The active virus must have seeped its way through my pores into my system, into my blood.
But, I vowed I would fight the urges. I would not give in. I would not eat human flesh like my brother did. I would not be a part of any plan to spread the cult of Zombieism that my brother was attempting to cultivate through his totally screwed-up invention, Zombie Extract.
“Don’t give a sucker an even break, Kyle. Never give a sucker an even break.” Ben’s words kept running through my brain, infiltrating my thoughts, taking control over me. I was like the character of Jack Nicholson in The Shining—by spraying the Zombie Extract on myself, it was like I had listened to the creepy twin girls in the corridors of the Overlook Hotel who said: “Be one of us, be one of us…forever and ever, and ever.”
Mrs. Slocomb took one look at me, and said “You poor dear!” Maybe the animal magnetism that was the one good thing about the Zombie Extract’s effects was still at work. Maybe it was just because I looked as sick as a dog. She continued: “Here; take this pass and go to the school nurse’s office right away, Kyle. I was about to hand out a quiz, but you can retake it when you feel better.”
“Thanks,” I said to Mrs. Slocomb. “I don’t know what came over me. It must be a, um, bug. My brother had it a while ago, and—“
“Well, we wouldn’t want you to turn into a zombie like him, now would we?” she asked as I was almost out the door.
“What was that? A what?” I asked, refusing to believe my ears.
“A zombie, Kyle,” Mrs. Slocomb said. “Oh, I’m just teasing you. I’m sure you’ve heard the ludicrous rumors that have been floating around that your brother is a zombie. I’m just messing with you. Everybody knows that zombies aren’t real, Kyle. You didn’t think I was being actually serious, did you?”
“Uh no, ha, ha,” I said. “Of course not. Like you said, everyone knows zombies aren’t real. I’d better get to the nurse’s office. See you tomorrow, Mrs. Slocomb!”
I guess I couldn’t escape my fate. I was doomed to follow in my brother’s footsteps. I was destined to become a zombie just like him.
****
After the Blaxons first landed on Earth, there were rumors, of course (just like the “rumors” that Mrs. Slocomb had heard about my brother), about zombies that walked the land, zombies that were somehow linked to our would-be alien friends. Many people believed that the Blaxons brought the zombie curse with them. Other people, and scientists, vociferously stated the impossibility of that idea.
“It’s just another wild conspiracy theory,” said Attorney General Lamar Romero. “There’re no such things as zombies,” he said to the American people. “I’d stake my life on it.” And he did.
He was some months later tied to a wooden stake outside of huge but hastily-constructed wooden gates that his city’s inhabitants had erected, at the height of the Zombie Epidemic. Attorney General Lamar Romero was torn to pieces, eaten alive by a pack of roaming zombies. That was the type of revenge that was enacted by the populace upon scientists, doctors, and other people in authority, like politicians, that lied to them (whether knowingly or not) during those days.
But such things were hushed up, as best as the government could manage, even when famous people like the Attorney General were involved. Witnesses disappeared; people were paid off; what was the truth became called “the crazy speculation of extremist rednecks,” or of “right-wing religious fanatics.” New media “talking heads” replaced the old ones.
There were stories of Blaxon spaceships being swarmed by men with shotguns, or blasted from the skies by heat-seeking missiles, to come crashing down to Earth as giant fireballs. Men with cans of Raid aimed them at any Blaxons they saw, and killed them dead. And then, even the Blaxons had enough, and eventually they retaliated. But, I am getting ahead of myself by several years. All of this happened in the era when zombies were once again no longer thought of as being “cool.” But, they once were…I and my brother are proof of that.
****
“Ben,” I said on our way home after school, “we need to stop selling your Zombie Extract. We need to find all of the bottles you’ve already sold and gather them together and set fire to them. They must be destroyed!”
“What are you talking about, Kyle?” Ben asked. “You seemed fine with being the Zombie Poster Boy yesterday. What’s changed your mind?”
“I was never really ‘fine’ with it,” I said. “I just got my mind clouded up with ideas of wealth, and college, and other things I could do with the money if the Zombie Extract worked and your money-making scheme really succeeded.”
“Yeah, and it is succeeding, Kyle,” Ben said. “It’s succeeding like a charm. I’ve sold all of the bottles I had already. I was thinking of lifting weights when we get home, to really get the sweat flowin’, so we can have more Zombie Extract to sell tomorrow.”
Oh, no,” I said. “That just can’t happen, Ben. That stuff works, but I think it’s changing me into a zombie, just like you. Instead of selling more of the Zombie Extract and spreading the virus, we need to figure out a way to cure it, and prevent the spread of Zombieism.”
“What about the Instant Fame? What about the girls? What about the piles of money, and going to college? What about the girls?” Ben asked me.
“You said ‘What about the girls,’ twice,” I said.
“Yeah, but it bears repeating. I was tryin’ to do you a favor, a solid. What’s wrong with the world when an older brother can’t help out his younger brother?”
“Help me by turning me into a flesh-eating zombie, like—“ I said.
“Like me, you mean?” Ben asked.
“I was going to say, like the ones in ‘Night of the Living Dead.’”
“You’re my bro, bro,” Ben said. “I may not like giving suckers even breaks, but I was honestly just tryin’ to do what’s best for you. At least, best in the long run.”
“What do mean, the ‘long run’? I asked.”How’s being a zombie any better in the long run? Zombies are zombies, after all.”
“Ah-ha!” Ben said. “They’re not at all the same, Kyle. And, you just asked the most important question of your new life as a zombie, whether or not you realize it.”


Here are the first three chapters of Lily, Unleashed for your reading enjoyment. You can buy the ebook for just 99 CENTS by clicking
here
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Chapter One
“A Bellow For Help”

Me and Fuzzy Wally MacGee and the rest of P.A.W.S. had been in some sticky situations before, but none so perilous and sticky as the one in which we found ourselves currently in, covered in maple syrup and tied to stone tables with very sharp-looking scythes going back and forth over our necks, slowly lowering ever downward. The maple syrup, S.N.U.R.F.L.E.S. likely thought, would attract the red fire ants they had also arranged to be in the room with us. If, for some reason, there was a malfunction with the cogs and chains that were lowering the scythes, they figured that if our fate wasn't meant that we would end up sliced and diced, there was always then the option that we would succumb to the stings of hundreds of fire ants and meet our demise that way. How thoughtful of them to be like Boy Scouts, and always have a backup plan! But, I'm getting ahead of myself, putting the cart before the horse, as it were. You might well be asking yourselves: "How did a super heroine like myself and my gang of fellow animal detectives, P.A.W.S. (Private Army of Warrior Sleuths), get into such a predicament in the first place?"
Rather than calling you a bunch of exceedingly nosy people (I would never be that rude, no, not I), I will relate to you the circumstances that led up to our–um–sticky present situation in a case I like to call: The Case of the Scarlet SNURFLES. Why I choose to use that name for this case should become, as the great Sherlock Bones was fond of saying: "Elementary!" in short order, so let us proceed, Dear Readers, to the meat of the matter.
Just like Spider-Man, Bat-Man, Super Girl or the Flash, I have my own origin story to tell, and also the related tale (or should that be tail) of the origin of PAWS. Radioactivity, spider-bites, or a thirst for vengeance isn't what made me a pterodactyl, though–to put it simply, in the words of Lady Gaga, I was just born that way. Well, I guess hatched would be a more accurate way of saying it, but you get the picture!
I live at 1611 Chickamunga St. in Centralia, Arkansas, home of the Centralia Fightin' Musk Oxen, whose motto is: "We're Brave and Powerful In Both Strength and Odor!" I've lived there all of my life, or at least, as long as I can remember, with my family. Who am I, you ask? Only the heroine of this story, that's all, Lily (or Victoria) Elizabeth Quince, a mostly black with some white brindle-colored pterodactyl. Among my other specialized mental gifts is my ability to cloud the minds of others, and make them see what I choose for them to see. That is why most
people, most of the time, see me as a rather small black-and-white brindle terrier. It's a helpful disguise, so folks don't go running down the street in stark terror when they see me soaring and swooping down on nefarious bad guys to bring them to justice.
The family I live with, who believe (erroneously) that they are my owners, are nice, despite their quirks and sometimes eccentric behavior. They are the Quinces, a name that just so happens to rhyme with mince, one of my favorite pies! I allow them to have the run of the house, and they, in turn (and I suspect in thanks), provide me with dog food and water. I have a stomach of iron, so I can eat most anything, even something as disgusting as dog food, but I supplement my diet with the occasional cat, squirrel, armadillo, or eagle unlucky enough to cross my path. Hey, super heroines have to eat, too, you know.
Quentin Quintilius Quince, or Triple Q, is Celeste's dad. He is a bit of a nut, but I get along with him, usually. I also am able to control his mind, so I can use his mouth and larynx to communicate with Triple Q's thirteen-year-old daughter, Celeste Elizabeth Quince. Celeste (again erroneously) believes she is my primary owner. That arrangement is, of course, really the other way around. Anyway, it is thanks to Quentin's brilliant inventive ideas (supplied secretly by me) that the Quinces are fabulously wealthy, though they don't like to flaunt their wealth and are really very down-to-earth people–for humans! Quince's Melon-Bottom Jeans made him a multimillionaire. They were a big hit on the dance floor, with air bag technology installed where it really counts–the rear, or bottom, of the jeans. Then, if "shortie," ever got "real, real low," so low she actually fell on the dance floor, no problem! She'd bounce right back up, and it'd look as if she'd done it on purpose! It'd only take a few quick pumps from the supplied bulb and discrete hose to re-inflate the air bag within the jeans, and get "shortie," good to go for the next dance. Triple Q's millions got added to be yet more millions when he started up a nation-wide chain of Lumbar Support groups. It was an idea whose time had come, and which made Dr. Phil green with envy. Lumbar Support groups were for men who'd lost their spines and the end goal was for them to regain them again, so they could stand up for themselves. It's so sweet to drink out of a diamond-encrusted water bowl!
Clare Clooney-Quince (distantly related to George Clooney) is the mom. She's an environmentalist and wildlife behavioralist and believes in the value of homeopathic medicines, like treating headaches with tea made from willow bark, and using her own gel cap machine to make pills made from purple cone flowers, or Echinacea, to treat colds. She's also an accomplished violinist, and cures many of her family's (and the neighborhood's) ills with the ancient science of acupuncture. Pine needles, I learned from her, are a good source of vitamin C, if you brew them in a cup of hot water. They're not so great to just put in your mouth for a couple of minutes and suck on, though–I know this from personal experience. Blech!
Celeste Elizabeth Quince is an eighth grader attending Centralia Junior High. She is the only human who knows that I'm really not a terrier, but am a pterodactyl. She knows this because, although I have many, many animal friends and acquaintances, I often hang around the Quince's house, as it's the main base for PAWS, so if I didn't talk to someone human, I'd probably feel a bit lonely. And, when I take over Quentin's brain to talk to her, it's a great way for the three of us to spend some quality time together and shoot the breeze. Now, it's true that Triple Q doesn't remember any of my parts of the conversation, and just believes that he's going along with his daughter or humoring her, but what he doesn't know won't hurt him…much. Celeste likes to read, practice judo and aikido, play the clarinet, speed skate really fast down very gravelly hills, and her major dislikes include dogs peeing on her feet and crashing due to skating down gravelly hills too fast. I distinctly recall finding her under a rock, but she has the false memory I implanted in her brain of being driven by her mom to a puppy mill and choosing me because I was the "runt" of the litter. Me, the runt of the litter! That was a joke of mine, to make her believe that; runts don't have twenty-foot wing spans!
The fourth member of our family is Celeste's older brother, Dexter Walter Quince. He's a nice guy, and I like him even though he tries to make me do things a dog might do, like chase after sticks and beg. He's moved to a house with his girlfriend, Nicole Edison (whom I also like–she gives me yummy things I'm told aren't good for me, like pepperoni pizza and chocolate chip cookies), so I don't get to visit with them often, but they both come over occasionally. When we play Rock Band III, I love to sing the alto parts of every song–that is, when I'm not playing the drums.
Dexter loves to play video games, co-host web shows, and he's the head chef at (and co-owner of, with Nicole) one of the Quince's favorite restaurants, La Bella Notte, named after the restaurant from Disney's Lady and the Tramp. It's got delicious Italian food, and it's a place that's great for families, and the meatballs are huge, but kind of spicy. It's got five star and four fork reviews and I must say, for someone who used to primarily like only mac and cheese and chicken strips, his classes at the Cordon Bleu really paid off. They're already scouting out locations for a second restaurant, this one for vegetarians on a budget, The Vegenomical Solution.
Oh, and also, they've recently opened up a bakery, warning customers of how rich and decadent their pies, cakes, and assorted pastries are with its very name: Eternity On Your Thighs. Their slogan, "A Second On Your Lips, an Eternity On Your Thighs," is an apt one, indeed.
You may well be wondering how I met the rag-tag band of animals I gathered to form PAWS, and how my training made them into the dedicated tight-knit fighting force to be reckoned with that they eventually became. "Stranger Danger!" and "Be Ever Vigilant!" are the two maxims I required them to devote to memory right from the get-go. Without these two ever so meaningful phrases to spur them on in their duties, I doubt that all of the training in the world–yes, even my expert training–would have had much of an impact on their Play-Dough like minds.
The initial one I gathered into my fold (and to my bosom) was Fuzzy Wally MacGee. He lives three houses down from me, at 1617 Chickamunga St. To the clouded and boggled minds of humans, he appears to be a rather ugly Chinese Crested dog, with a lolling tongue and crossed eyes, and when he walks, it looks like he's got a drunken gait, like he might have lapped up a bit too much Antifreeze. But, he's actually a quite clever (though nowhere as clever as myself, of course) rhinoceros. Despite his ponderous size, he's great at getting in and out of tight places, and because of his somewhat distracting appearance and behavior, he's earned the position on PAWS as being the–um–Distractor of the team.
Lucy Marmoset Higgins is another vital member of PAWS. She's a Great Dane/orangutan, a
combination that's hard to beat, you'll have to admit. She lives at the end of a cul-de-sac on 1313 Dover. Because of her size, strength, and opposable thumbs, she's crucial for jobs like cracking safes and hacking computers, and she's often referred to as the "strong arm" of PAWS. Her "accidently" dropping banana peels on the floors of some of Centralia's better establishments has led to breaks in several of our cases over the years, not to mention breaks in several people's arms, legs, fingers, etc. Oh, well–it's results that count, and she has definitely produced more results and breaks than you can shake a stick at.
Prince Alphonse Saed is the only member of royalty on PAW's team. This fierce warrior and sleuth has the nose, perseverance, and instincts of a bloodhound, but he's a miniature Dachsund to the eyes of humans, while the true reality of who he is, is quite different. He's a tawny-coated Mountain Lion with razor-sharp claws. He's quite good at chasing down Leprechauns (evil and otherwise), bankers, lawyers, and assorted other suspicious (and sometimes supposedly mythical) characters. His specialties included being an expert at using Ninja weapons like nunchucks and throwing stars, and divining the future by reading crystal balls and Tarot cards. He's helped make sure that the futures of countless criminals included lengthy stays behind bars. His friends call him Fonzie, or Fonz, for short, and just like the one from Happy Days, Saed is a chick magnet, though I have no trouble resisting him, as I am devoted to a "higher calling."
That "higher calling," is, of course, to my role as the leader of PAWS. It's a difficult job, but someone has to do it, and that someone is me! I am very modest–modesty is one of the many qualities I excel at more than most, but I don't like to toot my own horn about it–but it's a lot of hard work making the neighborhood, town, state, country, and the world safe for animal-kind, oh, and I guess for human-kind, too. I'm literally on call 24/7, ready to jump into action and soar to wherever I'm needed at a moment's notice. Those are the times when my specially-made collar with the red-and-blue flashing light on top and my leather flight cap and goggles and siren come in handy the most. But, the constant pressure I feel and the energy I consume saving animals and people sure leave me feeling tired. I have tried to explain this to Celeste, but she for some strange reason has doubts about whether or not I'm being entirely truthful to her.
"Lily-Bear (that's what Celeste insists on calling me, though I keep telling her I'm not a bear), why do you just like to lie around almost the entire day?"
"I don't do that (I say, though the words come out of Triple Q's mouth against his will). You don't know me, chica. You don't know where I've been!"
"Sure I do, Lily! You have been lying on top of me on my blanket, licking on it, acting like it's your baby or something! You were only outside a couple of times today, to use the bathroom, and then you mostly just barked at the neighbors and people walking across the street!"
"Oh no you didn't, girl! See, it only seems to you that I was outside for just a few minutes, but it was actually for three hours, and I was fighting the forces of SNURFLES all over the place. I then flew backwards around the Earth, and made time itself go backwards, so that I would be right where you left me in our backyard when you came out to get me. Oh, and also–I don't bark, I roar, and it's highly possible that the strangers I saw were really witting (or unwitting) agents of SNURFLES!"
"SNURFLES? What's that supposed to be?"
"It's not supposed to be anything! It's what it is, which is an acronym like PAWS. SNURFLES stands for Super Nefarious Union of Rascals Formidably Linked in Everlasting Solidarity–don't they teach you anything in school?""Yeah, important subjects like Math, Science, English, History–but I've never heard of SNURFLES before, because it doesn't exist!"
"Yes, they do! How would you know, chica? Until last year, you didn't even know that I could talk. I am keeping the neighborhood safe from strangers, and if you'd ever met them, you'd know that SNURFLES are some of the strangest strangers you'll come across!"
"Hmm, hmm, what, what was that you're talking to Lily about, Celeste?" Triple Q asked her, looking up from the book he'd been reading.. "You know that she doesn't really talk back to you, right? And what's all this about SNURFLES?"
"Lily does talk, dad! She's been talking to me for awhile now, saying stuff about how she's some superheroine or crime fighter, how she's keeping the neighborhood and the world safe from strangers, how she turned back time by flying backward around the Earth very fast–"
“Like Superman, huh? But, how can she fly when she's a dog?" Quentin asked.
"Yeah, like Superman, I guess, but she claims she's not a dog, but a pterodactyl, and–"
"That's just crazy–Lily looks nothing like a pterodactyl."
"Well, not to us, but she says that's because she has powers of mind control, and is 'clouding and boggling' our minds!"
"I haven't heard her talking at all–maybe growling and wheezing now and then, like she might have asthma."
"But, dad, you couldn't hear her because she says she controls your mind, also, and uses you to communicate with me, by using your voice, but a higher version of it. You don't remember because she has you under a kind of hypnosis or something!"
"Su-hure she does! Now, I've got a lot of reading to get to, and I want to finish this book so I can start another one. Maybe I'll play Trivial Pursuit or a Wii game with you later, though, if you want," Quentin said, and picked up the book he'd set down, opened to the page he was on, on the arm of his chair.
It was just two hours and twenty-two minutes later that one of my greatest fears happened, other than when Oprah announced that this was the final year of her show. Dr. Oz must surely be high up in the SNURFLES organization! If he even is a real doctor…I make it a rule never to trust a doctor who's named after a Judy Garland movie. And that Dr. Phil–he'd probably have tried counseling Dorothy for falling asleep in the poppy fields, claiming that proves she has an "addictive personality." They both bear watching, that's for sure!
I got side-tracked for a second there, something that I very rarely do. It was two hours and twenty-two minutes later that I went into the backyard again, for the final time that night, and I heard the plaintive bellowing that other ears might have heard as barking, which let me know that Fuzzy Wally MacGee was in serious trouble and needed my help.
The problem is as I was answering him with a series of mighty roars, and was just getting prepared to launch myself into the air to fly to his assistance, I saw a black and white cat, and didn't want a potential agent of SNURFLES so close to my house when I was about to leave on a mission of mercy to rescue a fellow member of PAWS. So, I proceeded to give chase to the offending feline, to teach it a lesson it wouldn't soon forget.
Sadly, it taught me a lesson I wouldn't soon forget, when the "cat" turned out to really be a skunk and it sprayed me right in the face before casually sauntering off. Triple Q, Celeste, and Clare were not amused (as, obviously, neither was I) when Triple Q brought me into the house shortly after, reeking of my misadventure with what could have been an ordinary cat in disguise with a squirt bottle of eau de skunk perfume, or could have been an ordinary skunk (let's not quibble here about minor differences of opinion).
Some time later, after having had several baths, two with tomato juice, and none of which proved totally satisfactory in completely eliminating the malodorous odor (it stubbornly lingered for weeks, which made me very suspicious that this was not the work of an ordinary skunk, if you get my drift), I fell into a deep sleep, but it was one plagued with visions of poor Fuzzy Wally MacGee calling for me to help him, sad and forlorn because I failed in my number one priority in helping a fellow member of PAWS in need. I vowed it would never happen again.

Chapter Two
The Scarlet One

The next morning the sun rose as if nothing world-shattering had occurred the previous night. But, I knew better. The attack on my person so close to the sanctity of my home proved to be quite unnerving to me, and I was a bundle of nerves. I couldn't let on to anyone else that I was so shook up, though, so I acted as if I was cool and calm, and as if nothing had happened. The first chance I had, when I got outside, I hailed Fuzzy to learn if he'd somehow managed to survive the night. He answered me back that he had, but that he'd also had a run-in with the mysterious cat who was an agent of SNURFLES, and that he'd been trying to warn me to be on the look-out for it, to be–well–"Ever Vigilant." How those words haunted me now, as if they'd come back to me mockingly to bite me on the rear like an angry flea thirsting for my life's blood!
I resolved then and there to have an emergency mandatory meeting of PAWS at noon. I sent Fuzzy the message, and he commenced to relaying it to the other members of PAWS. We'd meet at the Centralia City Dog Park, where I knew the entire gang usually hung out on Sundays about that time. There was something in the air besides the scent of skunk, or the delicious odor of baking cakes, cookies, and pies coming to my oh so sensitive nose from the Eternity On Your Thighs baked goods shop a mile and a half away, and I was bound and determined to get to the bottom of it!
Like knights in shining armor of old, we dutifully meet at the dog park and discussed the events of the previous night and what to do about them. We were free to roam about at will, because here we were free to be ourselves, and not to be led around by the leashes of "Da Man." There was a pond there that reminded me very much of the English Channel, and my days on the Pterodactyl Olympic Swimming Team when I took a gold medal in the 100 meter Pterodactyl Paddle, a story best left for another day. I dove in for a refreshing dip before the meeting, and rolled in the grass afterward, trying to dry off, and shaking my head to get the water out of my ears. Now, instead of smelling of skunk, I smelled of skunk, tomato juice, and dirty pond water–almost like my old self once again, though I still had a ways to go.
Prince Alphonse Saed opened the meeting with his customary mountain lion "yowl," signifying that he was calling for order. The other members of PAWS stopped their traditional ways of greeting each other by sniffing each other's posteriors and they focused their attention forward to hear me address them.
"Members of PAWS, united we stand in our efforts–Lucy, I said stand–(Lucy was temporarily distracted, not by the odor nor antics of our Distractor, Fuzzy Wally MacGee, but by wanting to swing from the limbs of the nearest tree) get down from that tree, so I can continue–right, then–I say, united we stand in our efforts to fight the dangers of strangers and other criminal elements in our city and the entire world, especially the nefarious plots and schemes of SNURFLES!"Which brings me to the main point of why I called this meeting today. Last night, as I was in the backyard, I heard the plaintive bellows of a rhinoceros in dire need of help. They were not the bellows of just any rhinoceros you might find at your ordinary zoo or circus or Africa or neighborhood or at the Centralia City Mall, shopping for rhinoceros sneakers or other accessories, indeed, no! They were the bellows of a fellow member of PAWS, who just so happens to be here today, namely Fuzzy Wally MacGee!"Not only that, as if that weren't enough of a reason to call this meeting–but as I was about to leap into the night sky to respond to his calls for help (at this point, all of the other members of PAWS shouted encouraging remarks like "Hear, hear!" and "That's the way to go!" and "Spoken like a true friend!"), I was attacked, blind-sided you might accurately say, by a cat pretending to be a skunk, who assaulted me quite viciously and with malice aforethought, by squirting me in my face with a bottle of eau de skunk perfume.
"This resulted, as you can well imagine, in the entire Quince household being roused up and in my enduring the agony and humiliation of multiple baths! Needless to say (but I will, anyway), the worst part of it was I couldn't go to the aid of our good friend, Fuzzy. It wasn't until this very morning that I learned that he, also, had been subject to attack by the very same cat wielding a squirt bottle! Coincidence? I don't think so–no, it had to have been the latest plot by SNURFLES, doubtless designed to incapacitate two of the members of PAWS at one time, so we'd be out of commission when the next leg of their plan commences! And, what will that be?" It was then that I saw a brilliant flash of scarlet in the tree-tops, just for the barest second, then whatever it was that I saw vanished. But, it didn't disappear before I started mightily roaring, which alerted the other members of PAWS to turn their heads and catch a glimpse of scarlet, as well. Lucy Marmoset Higgins hauled herself up onto a tree limb to give pursuit to the strange creature, but it sped off before she could swing for more than a couple of branches. She returned with disappointment plain on her face, but nobody could fault her for giving it her best effort.
My ferocious roaring unfortunately called attention to the humans who brought the other members of PAWS to the dog park that "the game was afoot," as Sherlock Bones would say, and that there was criminal activity taking place right under their noses (and above their heads). I heard someone comment about the "beautiful nesting cardinals," in the area, but I highly doubted that one of those was the source of the mysterious scarlet flash I saw in the treetops. There could be only one answer–that a scarlet-colored member of SNURFLES had been in our very midst, attempting to spy on our activities, no doubt alerted to our planned meeting by his feline partner-in-crime, the hit-and-run sprayer of eau de skunk.
But, I asked myself as I headed home, why scarlet? Two and two, I told myself; two and two. What's two and two equal? What did the clues add up to? The answer must be that scarlet is the color of blood, and that SNURFLES had very deadly plans that meant they would possibly even try to assassinate myself or other members of PAWS. That was the true reason that the member of SNURFLES we all saw with our own eyes was clad in scarlet. A cardinal? Pshaw, I say! I knew that this new phase in SNURFLES' schemes meant that we would have to be even more vigilant than ever!Quite unlike my usual, non-confrontational, peaceful nature, for days after that meeting I would roar at perfect strangers, like the mailman, people going in and out of the church across the street, joggers, little old ladies, and little old lady joggers, their blue-colored hair bouncing up and down as they jogged hurriedly away when they heard me roar, Girl Scouts, and other disreputable door-to-door salespeople. Who knew, really, who could be a potential member of SNURFLES?
That was when packages started to be delivered to our door. Packages that were delivered by–you guessed it–people dressed in scarlet colored uniforms! The truck the delivery men came in was also scarlet, and painted on the side of it in big letters was the phrase:

SCARLET O'HAIR-A'S
DELIVERY SERVICE BEATS
BROWN
HANDS DOWN

You can probably imagine the roars of indignation that escaped my (already sore) throat whenever the deliverymen (if that's what they were) brought packages to our door. There was notelling if they were perhaps members of a terrorist cell, which I believe are tiny, one-celled organisms with nasty attitudes, or if they were members of SNURFLES in disguise. If I was a betting pterodactyl, though, I'd say the latter. Sure, the packages they brought strangely coincided with orders for rare, collectible Goofy figurines that Clare bought to add to her burgeoning collection, but you know what they say about coincidences!
You do, don't you? Everything is for a reason; there are no coincidences! Being knowledgeable of this obvious truism, I realized that the deliverymen's bringing the collectible Goofy figurines was just a cover-up for their step-by-step plan to gain the Quince's confidences so that they could then proceed to PHASE II of their scheme. All of the tiles were falling into place now, slowly revealing more and more of the BIG PICTURE.
Luckily, I wasn't born yesterday, and I wasn't taken in by their wiles and ploys like the Quinces seemed to be. I smelled something fishy one day, so, snorting and snarling, I ripped into the bubble wrap that one package contained, popping bubble after bubble with ferocious and gleeful abandon, because I knew that at long last I would discover underneath the bubble wrap the secret that I had been looking for! It was only after I'd popped all of the bubbles and stared deep down into the package that I realized that…it pains me to say it…there was nothing but yet another Goofy figurine within! The deliverymen must have tricked me by eating fish fillet sandwiches before arriving, to try to throw me off the track and discredit me!
Okay, I said to myself–this battle may go to you, SNURFLES, but the war has just begun!
And, just a little bit later that day, when I went outside to use the facilities and chase after some extremely evil squirrels (I don't think that they were members of SNURFLES, though, but they might have been), I had my chance to parlay with the original scarlet creature whom I saw in the treetops of the Centralia City Dog Park, and whom I'd come to refer to in my own musings about it as "The Scarlet One."
You will probably find this hard to believe, Dear Readers, but I had begun to doubt whether or not the creature I'd seen in the dog park was an agent of SNURFLES. Cardinals, as I mentioned, were nesting in the area, so I was questioning what I had thought I'd seen. To be sure, an agent of SNURFLES spying on a meeting of PAWS from the treetops is something I'd expect from them. It fit their sneaky M.O., or modus operandi, or to my non-Latin speaking Readers, Mode of Operating. Not many pterodactyls are conversant in Latin, either; but then again, not many are Warrior Sleuths, either, like myself. In fact, I think I might be the only one!
Anyway, as I was saying, when I strolled outside and caught some evil squirrels attempting to rob acorns from the ground, as the squirrels hauled their furry little heinies up the oak tree and a nearby pine tree, that's when I saw The Scarlet One again. It was perched one a low tree branch, almost, but not quite, within my reach. Of course, I could have manifested into my true shape, that of a pterodactyl, and then flown up to grab The Scarlet One; but, I figured that it was a messenger of the SNURFLES, and I decided it would be better to hear what it had to say, and then let it go back to the headquarters of SNURFLES, and to perhaps track it there. Knowing where the HQ of the SNURFLES was would be important knowledge to eventually bringing them all to justice."I'm Lily Quince, leader of PAWS. Who are you?" I roared softly, well, as softly as possible, for I didn't want to risk having to go back inside the house until I'd learned more.
"Bwa-ack! Bwa-ack!" the Scarlet Macaw screeched, for that is what the creature was, a possible escapee from a pet store, zoo, circus, or maybe a stowaway on a cruise ship who had previously been involved in criminal activity in the Amazon Rainforest. Crime can happen anywhere, you know; rainforests can be (and often are) hotbeds of criminal activities.
"That's not a very informative answer, whoever you are! Tell me who you are, and what do you want from me? Did SNURFLES send you?"
The Scarlet One bobbed its head up and down several times, by way of answering. Then, it said: "Bwa-ack! Frankie wants a cracker! Bwa-ack!"
I decided that The Scarlet One had to be speaking in code. But, what could it be meaning by its mysterious words? Was "cracker" code for information, perhaps? I was sensing that this Frankie fellow was trying to tell me something, give me some sort of information, or he wanted some, or both. Before I could ask him to clarify himself, he spoke again:
"Bwa-ack! Warning, warning, danger, Will Robinson! Danger!"
"I told you, Frankie, that my name is Lily, Lily Quince, though some of my friends call me Vic-tor-ia! Don't ask me why; it's a long story. The point is, my name isn't 'Will Robinson.' I'm sure that whoever Will Robinson is, he's a nice person; but I'm not him."
But, whether he'd heard my words or not, I didn't know until later, for when I looked up into the oak tree again, Frankie was gone. I'd missed my opportunity to follow The Scarlet One by probably mere seconds. I deduced that for whatever reason Frankie kept calling me "Will
Robinson," he was likely attempting to warn me that I was getting too close to breaking this case wide open, just like a cracked Brazil nut, one of the foods Macaws (particularly Scarlet ones) love to eat as midnight snacks. I was used to living on the edge of danger, though. Danger wasn't my middle name, but it was the middle name of my Great Aunt, Gertie Danger McPherson, so danger was definitely in my blood!
As far as I am concerned, I say that both squirrels and Macaws not only like to eat nuts, but they are nuts, generally not making much sense when you talk to them. Still, I couldn't help but think that if The Scarlet One had just stayed a few minutes longer, he was on the verge of telling me something that was vitally important. Maybe I would have another chance to talk to Frankie. If he didn't spill the beans, then I wouldn't rule out using excessive force, and maybe even Barbecue Shake & Bake for Parrots.
When Celeste let me in the house after I politely pounded on the door, slamming into it with my entire body, she gave me a big hug and called me her best-est friend. I said, "No, you're my best-est friend," and licked her face for emphasis. Humans definitely have their faults, but sometimes, when they're at their best, they are pretty good at comforting pterodactyls in their times of need. I was glad to have a friend like Celeste.

Chapter Three

Clare Sees Red

Things were pretty normal for a change over the next several days. After school, Celeste would often take me over to talk with the other members of PAWS, individually and collectively. Sometimes she had martial arts classes to go to after school, or had to do lots of homework or practice her Flag Line routines and her clarinet to prepare for Sectionals, but she was still able to devote plenty of quality stomach-scratching time to me, and take me on my rounds to conduct my bid-ness with my PAWS peeps.
But then, one Friday towards the end of September brought yet another surprise into my life. When Celeste and I came home from an important meeting with PAWS (it was a teacher in-service day so Celeste didn't have to attend school), I heard a strangely familiar squawking sound coming from the basement of the house, where Clare kept various species of wildlife that she'd rescued until they got healthy enough to release into the wild again.Celeste ran down the stairs with me in her arms to investigate what the fuss was about. Scarlet feathers were drifting in the air, and littering the concrete floor, and in a huge metal barred cage at the left side of the room, there was an indignant, squawking, half-naked Frankie! Clare was standing by the front of the cage, trying to talk soothingly to the enraged Macaw to calm him, but to no avail. I kept roaring in anger that The Scarlet One had somehow tricked Celeste's mom into bringing him right into our inner sanctum, our castle, and got her to sympathize with him.
"The big guy here, who calls himself 'Frankie,' is just molting, Celeste! You need to get Lily to shut up and stop her barking–it's scaring this poor Macaw! He must have gone through a lot. I noticed him when I went to take the trash out, pitifully clinging to a tree limb, hardly able to flap his wings. First, though, I just saw red, the scarlet red of the poor guy's feathers fluttering in the air and falling to the ground."
After Celeste talked soothingly to me, telling me "It's okay, you're okay, Lily, it's just a bird," I calmed down, though I was still seething with anger inside. Frankie wasn't calming down, though. "I know just what will get Frankie to settle down," Clare said. She went over to a refrigerator that she kept there for the animals, and removed from it a container with a lid on it. She got a tablespoon from a drawer, took the lid off, and started feeding the contents to Frankie, who devoured the food as if he was starving. Then, she got a box from the cupboard and gave Frankie a couple of the crackers inside it, which the greedy bird also ate with gusto.
Clare had an inventive streak of her own, which resulted in even more millions for the Quince family. The food she'd feed Frankie initially was labeled "Clare's Cuttlefish Chutney," a spicy blend of cuttlefish bits to help parrots' beak stay shiny and sharp, and a mixture of vegetable and fruit in chutney sauce. The motto on the container was: "Satisfies Even the Sauciest Parrot's Palate!"
The crackers in the brightly-colored box with pictures of parrots and Macaws on it was called "Clare's Exotic Bird Crackers." Its motto? "Guaranteed to Please Even the Most Finicky Polly!" I'd like to take credit for having thought up these inventions and their mottoes, but Clare did it all on her own. I was proud of her, but I thought the last thing we should be doing is to encourage that freeloading bird Frankie from frequenting our family's house. We should kick him out on his freaky, feathery butt!
Unfortunately, my feelings were not echoed by Clare nor Celeste. They kept "Ooohing!" and "Aaahing!" over "Poor widdle Fwankie." and his extreme case of molting, or "Macaw pattern baldness," or whatever politically correct turn of phrase you might want to describe his condition. I sort of liked referring to Frankie as being: "TFC," or "Temporarily Flight Challenged," or "FBN," "Featherless By Nature." Celeste said I was just being catty, but I don't know what she means by that. I told her that, being a pterodactyl, I like to eat small animals like cats. Maybe she was referring to that….
Celeste carried me back upstairs and into the house. I hoped that The Scarlet One would grow new feathers soon. It couldn't happen too soon for me, because I wanted that dirty bird sent back to the wilds asap.
Celeste excitedly told her dad about Frankie. Quentin said that he knew, he already saw Frankie and he said: "He's a pretty cool bird, isn't he, even looking kind of strange, with half his feathers gone."
"I mean," he went on, now in my voice, as I'd taken over his mind, "He looks like a scrawny plucked chicken, and we need to get rid of him at our earliest possible convenience! He's an obvious spy and he's managed to infiltrate our house with the utmost ease! SNURFLES is making a mockery out of PAWS and our motto: "Be Ever Vigilant!"
"Lily," Celeste said, "He's just a bird. He's an animal that came to us in his time of need, and we can't just turn him away! We have to keep him here and take care of him at least until his feathers grow back! He may even be someone from another branch of PAWS, who was trying to warn you about a SNURFLES plot!"
"Celeste, Celeste, Celeste. Poor, naive Celeste," I said. "Frankie really has you snowed, doesn't he? Who else but a high ranking member of SNURFLES would dare to initiate such a bold plan to learn the Top Secret secrets of PAWS? You obviously just aren't thinking very clearly!"
"You aren't thinking clearly! Burn!" Celeste said. That was unbecoming of her. I resolved not to stop to the level of petty insults.
"No, you aren't–your face isn't thinking clearly! Ooooh, double dog burn!" I said, through Triple Q. So much for my resolution. Oh, well….
"Even if Frankie is a member of SNURFLES," Celeste said, "what does it hurt for him to be here until he grows his feathers back? He might see that his enemies aren't so bad and he may re-think SNURFLES plans for world domination."
"They will never change their plans, Celeste! We're talking about SNURFLES here, not someone trying to decide if she should buy a chocolate or strawberry triple-scoop ice cream cone, or a dozen oatmeal cookies versus a dozen chocolate chip cookies, or….I'm suddenly getting hungry. All the hard work I do fighting the forces of evil sure works up a powerful hunger, I tell you w-hut! And, I didn't say 'what' like that because I've watched too many episodes of 'King of the Hill,'so don't even go there, girlfri-end!"
"Well, you know you can't have chocolate. That's not good for dogs, Lily!"
"That means it's perfect for me, as I'm a pterodactyl, and not a dog! There, I logically ran rings around you, so nyaah!"
"No, you didn't, you didn't run rings around anything! You already have food in your bowl, eat that if you're so hungry!" Celeste said.
"My, aren't we touchy!" I said, then grumbled some more, and headed towards my food bowl. Even though it's diamond encrusted, dog food is still dog food, no matter what type of bowl you put it in. Isn't variety supposed to be the spice of life? That's what I was looking for–just a little variety now and then, maybe a nice fudge-covered piece of chewy caramel nougat, or a…oh, what's the use? The only way I would ever be able to get any of the "good stuff," would involve underhanded, cunning scheming, a plan designed by a true mastermind, a plan..hey, wait! I'm a mastermind! I'm an expert at making cunning plans!
I have a minor CONFESSION to make: I have a sweet tooth. Technically, what I was contemplating was maybe not what an upstanding young law-abiding pterodactyl ought to be contemplating. But, my sweet tooth sometimes over-ruled my heart and my brain, and it would once in a blue moon get me in trouble despite my best intentions. To accomplish what I was considering would take the combined efforts of the entire PAWS team, but we would split up our ill-gotten gains evenly: I would get fifty percent, and they would get the other fifty percent to divide up amongst themselves. What could be more fair than that?
The plan was slowly developing in my mind. But, before I could put it into action, I had the more immediate problem of The Scarlet One to deal with. I hated the idea that SNURFLES had placed a mole in the form of a Macaw in our midst. But, I also knew Frankie couldn't leave (unless he was carried out in a casket) on his own until he grew back his feathers. I wasn't positive how long it took in general for molting birds to regrow their feathers, but I thought probably a long time, and I didn't want to wait.
So, I came up with another plan, one so clever it simply had to work! Knowing that Celeste's favorite gum was Sprint Spearmint Gum, and that when she was threw chewing it, she spit it into the trash can in her room, when she was busy watching the television in the livingroom I snuck stealthily into her room like the ninja that I was, and snagged a couple of her latest contributions she'd half-way wrapped in paper. I carried them in my mouth very daintily down the stairs to the basement, carefully and quietly. The gum still retained some of its flavor, and my mouth was watering, so I gave in to the temptation, and started chewing it. The door was partially open, and before you could say: "Jack Russell Terrier!" I was in the basement!
Now came the tricky part. There were low lights plugged into electrical sockets in the baseboards, which provided me with enough light to carry out my solo mission. I rapidly yanked the cloth that had been covering Frankie's cage off with my massive and razor-sharp talons, and flung it to the floor. Next, I blew a humongous bubble with the gum, as big as I could make it, and it finally exploded, covering both Frankie and myself with gum. It hit and coated Frankie like there had been a bull's eye painted on The Scarlet One (whose name, currently, should be perhaps The Bald One), though unfortunately, some also got plastered onto me.
I had to work quickly. Before the startled bird could get a single "Squawk!" out of his beak, I scooped together a bunch of his molted feathers and threw them at Frankie. A lot of them just sailed back to the floor, like colorful confetti; but, many of them stuck to the Macaw, and quite a lot of them got stuck on me. He then found his voice, and started squawking loudly enough to wake the dead!
I told him: "Shut up, you stupid bird–I'm only trying to help you!" but Frankie just squawked even louder.
"Bwa-ack! Bwa-ack!" The Scarlet One screeched. "Bad Lily! Dead meat! Dead Meat!" he screamed, as I was still trying to shush him.
Then, I heard footsteps hurrying down the stairs. Suddenly, Frankie changed what he was saying to: "Frankie hungry! Bwa-ack! Frankie wants a treat! Frankie wants a treat! Bwa-ack!"
"What's going on?" Clare, Quentin, and Celeste were in the doorway, acting alarmed and looking at the scene before them in shock, with wide eyes. My ears went low, and I kind of slunk about. They were behaving as if all of this was somehow my fault!
"Celeste," Clare said, "This is what can happen when you leave your gum around for Lily or the other animals to get a hold of! This is why I tell you to make sure you throw it away and don't leave it on a table or the arm of the chair for her to snatch!"
"But mom," Celeste argued, "I didn't, I swear! I did throw it in the trash!"
"The gum didn't just grow legs and walk out of the trash can on its own!" Clare said, looking as if she was seeing red.
"I thought you were becoming more responsible, Celeste!" Triple Q said. "No more gum for you for an entire week!"
I felt worse for having gotten Celeste into trouble than I would have if it was just myself who got yelled at. I tried to tell Clare and Quentin to punish me, that I was really the only one at fault, but they acted as if I was speaking gibberish.
"Let's get you both cleaned up," Clare said. She grabbed a big industrial-sized bottle of Clare's Deep Cleansing Parrot Scrub Cream, "A Pirate's Second Best Friend," from the refrigerator. This was another idea she'd dreamed up and successfully marketed and which the Quinces had profited from. It was truly miraculous stuff, and though it was designed mainly for birds, and especially for ones that got trapped in oil spills and got coated with the gunky stuff, it was also good for removing a wide variety of other sticky substances. It also worked on dogs and pterodactyls, according to the label. Within a short time (but one which seemed to last an eternity to me), we were both cleaned.
"There you are, Frankie and Lily, as clean as you'll both ever get, I guess!" she said, putting away the bottle and towels she'd used. "Too bad this will probably set your growing your feathers back a week or more, but at least you're clean now!"
Wha-wha-what?" I thought to myself. My plans so rarely went wrong. I couldn't understand it. But, this was not my first bird-related misadventure, and I doubted it would be my last. I still wanted to continue my attempts to get rid of Frankie, but I knew the most pressing thing on my "To Do," list had now become seeking Celeste and trying to convince her to forgive me.
I went upstairs, and found her sitting on the couch doing her homework. She didn't look at me, or say something like "Hello, Lily!" gleefully with a smile on her face and evident in her voice as she usually did. She just ignored me. I felt like I was about two inches tall. I jumped up onto the couch and laid down beside her, placing my head in her lap and sighing loudly. I looked up into her eyes. She had been trying to concentrate on her homework, but she couldn't resist my sad, pterodactyl eyes gazing at her, and just had to look at me looking at her.
Quentin was sitting in his chair, reading, as usual. "Poor Lily!" he said. "You look almost as sad and tuckered out as Frankie!"
He really was not that bad of a guy. I just had to borrow his vocal chords again to explain to Celeste why I did what I did. "Celeste, I wasn't trying to get you into trouble! I was only trying to help!" I said.
"Even though the stupid bird is an agent of SNURFLES. I'm more sure of that than ever before! But, I know the sooner Frankie re-grows his feathers, the sooner he can go, and leave me in peace, so why should I want to delay that from happening?"
"I can't stay mad at you, Lily-Bear!" Celeste said, making me so happy it set my tail to wagging uncontrollably. "You were very bad, but I suppose your heart was in the right place." "I still think I could have done it, if I'd had a little more time and Frankie's cooperation. I could have arranged those feathers just right, if I hadn't been so rushed, and that bird-brain would be flying out the window by now! I, for one, wouldn't be boo-hooing," I said.
"How could one small dog–er, excuse me–pterodactyl–get into so much trouble?"
"When you work for PAWS, anything can happen at any time! And, Celeste, there's something that you don't know–The Scarlet One dared to threaten me! He said I was dead meat!"
"You probably misheard him. But, even if you didn't, he was probably just mad ."
"Mad? Whatever could he have to be mad about?" I asked, genuinely puzzled.
"How about your waking him up from a sound sleep, getting gum all over him, and then throwing his old feathers at him and getting them stuck all over his body?"
"Oh, that!" I said. "I'm sure he'll let bygones be bygones and forget all about that. The point is, he threatened my life!"
"You worry too much, Lily! Frankie's locked in his cage, so even if he is a member of SNURFLES and even if he threatened you and you're not being paranoid (that's a big 'if'), he can't get at you where he is, so you're safe!"
Somehow, though, Celeste's words did little to reassure me. She hadn't been there to hear the sheer menace in that Macaw's voice.


For your reading pleasure (I hope), here are the 1st. three chapters of my latest Historical Novel/Western, Crossing The Dead Line. You can buy it for the very low price of just 99 cents by clicking
here
.

Chapter One
1875: Crawford County, AR.

Bass Reeves, the man on the large red stallion named Blaze after the white blaze on its forehead, nudged his horse gently and they trotted up to meet a very familiar figure riding on horseback towards Bass’ farm, U.S. Marshal James F. Fagan. It was still early in the morning, and wisps of fog clung tenaciously to the lower parts of Reeves’ farm.
“What’s got you to come all the way out here from Fort Smith this foggy mornin’, Jim?” Bass asked. “Is it my Jennie’s delicious cookin’? She’s a mighty fine cook, but I daresay you can find a fillin’ enough breakfast without travelin’ this far to get it.”
“Yeah, I suppose so, Bass,” Jim Fagan replied, “but not one that’s any grander or that’d stick to my ribs any better.”
Smoke coming from the chimney of the eight-room house Bass Reeves had built by hand for his wife and ten children, five boys and five girls, wafted the enticing scents of breakfast to the two men. His wife’s name was Nellie Jennie, but she usually went by just Jennie. Reeves and Fagan could smell bacon frying, and eggs, and the aroma of biscuits was like a Siren call to their rumbling stomachs.
“Well, come on in, then; what’s one more mouth to feed—the more the merrier. But, still, I don’t think that the prospect of breakfast is the only thing that brought you to Van Buren today. Fess up; tell me the real reason for your visit. Is it that you have another job scoutin’ for me to do, is that it? The extra money sure would be appreciated.”
“After breakfast, Bass, if you don’t mind. I do have some business to discuss with you, but I’d rather tell you with some grub in me first, if it’s all the same to you.”
The two men went into Reeves’ house and stood awkwardly around the kitchen table. They removed their hats, and Bass said to his wife: “You remember Marshal Jim Fagan, don’t you, Jennie? He dropped by to talk about some business, and I invited him to breakfast with us.”
“Talk?” Nellie said. She wore a blue-and-white gingham dress. “It looks more like he’s here to eat. No offense, Marshal. The good Lord’s blessed us with an overabundance, so pull up a chair and dig in! There’s plenty to go around.”
“Thanks, Ma’am. Sorry to barge in unannounced on you,” Fagan apologized.
The two men then took seats at the already crowded breakfast table. Jane asked one of her sons, Bennie, to say the Grace before the meal, which he did, despite seeming a little embarrassed to be doing it in front of company.
“God is great, God is good, thank you God for this food. Amen,” he concluded, with everyone then saying “amen,” after him.
Reeves and Fagan were a study in contrasts. Bass Reeves had been a slave, but had been made free by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. He’d lived for a time in the Indian Territory, learning the languages of several tribes there, after high-tailing it out of Texas. He had used his massive fists to pummel his owner following a dispute over a card game. The Indian Territory, one of the last refuges for people trying to escape the law, seemed the best place to hole up for awhile. Other than his fleeing his past owner to escape to a new life and freedom, Reeves was known to be a very honorable and trustworthy man, and he was fluent in several Indian tongues he’d picked up while living in the Indian Territory.
Physically imposing, Bass stood six foot two inches tall. He was a crack shot with both pistols and his Winchester carbine rifle, and liked to carry his Colt .45s butt-first in his holsters. This made is easier for Reeves to cross-draw his Colts, and he considered this method to be the fastest way for someone to draw on an opponent. Besides his imposing height (he was a good three inches taller than Fagan) and his frame of 180 pounds of lean muscle, perhaps Bass’s most noticeable feature was his large, bushy black mustache.
U.S. Marshal James F. Fagan was a tough but kind man, unless you got on his wrong side. Shorter and weighing less than Reeves, at around 165 pounds, he was nevertheless an excellent fighter and a very good shot, as well. He had a full beard and mustache, much like President Ulysses S. Grant. Grant had appointed him, Judge Isaac C. Parker, and the judge’s Prosecuting Attorney W.H.H. Clayton to help bring justice to the Wild West and make it a bit less wild and more civilized.
After the meal, punctuated by lively banter between Reeves’ children, curiosity got the better of Bass and he asked Jim once again what the business was that had sent him riding out to his farm.
“I was going to tell you alone, but this concerns you, too, Ma’am,” Fagan said, addressing Bass’ wife, “and really your entire family. You see, I’m on a mission to hire two hundred new Deputy U.S. Marshals, Bass, and I and Judge Isaac C. Parker want you to be one of the two hundred. You know the Indian and Oklahoma Territory as well as a cook knows her kitchen, and you can communicate with the Indians in their own languages. What I’m sayin’, Bass, is if you want it, you can have one of the new jobs.”
“Oh, c’mon, Jim,” Bass replied, “You really want me? I’d be likely the first black lawman ever in this area. You think people would show me the respect of the office, or just take one look at the color of my skin and either laugh in my face or cuss me when they see me?”
“There’re a lot of changes in the air, Bass, and people, in general, in this state have already gone through more changes than they ever thought they would in their entire lives,” Fagan said. “They’ll accept you, especially when they see that you’re helpin’ get rid of the outlaws that descend down on us from the Indian and Oklahoma Territories.”
“Maybe so, Jim, but the goin’ won’t be smooth, at least not ‘til folks get used to the idea of a black man bein’ a lawman. But, aside from that, I think you’re holdin’ back on me, Jim. What else does the job entail, and what’s the pay like?”
“Well, I’m not gonna lie to you, Bass, you bein’ what I consider to be a friend, and not after I’ve sat down to such a great breakfast, for sure. There are plenty of dangers, like the possibility of bein’ ambushed by the very outlaws you’re searching for, and shot, or getting’ strung up by them. They’ve done it to lawmen before, and with you, and the other black men we’re intendin’ on hiring, some of the outlaws will want to get you just because you ain’t…’cause you ain’t got the same color of skin as they do.”
“I would show them the same treatment as anyone else who I’d catch breakin’ the law. The Civil War’s over, whether some want to live in the past or not. They’d either get arrested and cuffed, or if they tried to go for their guns, they’d get dead.,” Reeves said.
“You’ve go a decent idea of what it’d be like, bein’ a U.S. Deputy Marshal, already, of course, ‘cause of your years spent scouting for us and translating the Indians’ languages. You’ve helped save lives and reduce misunderstandings considerably. But, you know, the saying’s true: ‘No Sunday West of St. Louis, No God West of Ft. Smith.’’
“Travel eighty miles away from Ft. Smith, headed West or towards the Oklahoma and Indian Territories,” U.S. Marshal James F. Fagan continued, “and you hit an invisible line, one you can’t see but that the outlaws are very well aware of. It’s got a name, the ‘dead line,’ and if you cross over it, you become fair game.”
“You tryin’ to scare me away from acceptin’ the job now, Jim? You think I’m not up to doin’ it? Is that what you’re sayin’?”
“No. I just want you to know what you’re in for. You’ve got definite skills with guns, and that will be one factor that might keep you alive long enough to become successful. How many Turkey Shoots is it that you’ve been banned from enterin’ now, Bass? Six, or is it seven, maybe?”
“I lost count, and I don’t bother tryin’ to keep a record of such things,” Bass answered. “It’s been more ’en five, and I guess less than a dozen, not that it really matters.”
“That’s mighty fine shootin’, but the turkeys don’t shoot back at you, of course. I’ve seen you draw, though, when you’ve acted as a scout, and you are one of the fastest I ever did see, Bass.
“You asked me about the pay,” Fagan went on. “You ain’t gonna become a rich man actin’ as a Deputy U.S. Marshal, but the pay’s not that bad, neither. And, though you have to ride a round-trip circuit of over eight hundred miles, and you’d be away from your family for months—that’s why I felt it was important to include your wife in on this, so all of you will know both the pros and cons of takin’ on this duty and also wearin’ the badge of a lawman—you do a good job, and bring in the outlaws you get sent out after, then you can earn several hundred dollars when you return.”
“What’s it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?” Jane interjected to her husband. “What’s a few hundred dollars if it costs you your soul, or your life? And, what’re we supposed to do, with you gone for months at a time? It’s a chore and a half to keep the farm goin’ even when you’re here every day.”
“My wife’s right, Jim,” Bass said, “as usual. But, our children are getting’ older, and bigger, Jane, and they’re pullin’ their weight and doin’ chores and, well, what’s a few months when the money I’d earn is more than I’d be able to make in over a year if I stayed? Raising and selling horses like we do earns us more money than our crops and livestock do, but still, all of it together wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans compared to what I could earn as a Deputy U.S. Marshal. When you need my decision, Jim?”
“I hate to be pushy,” Fagan said, “but, now. If you’d like the job, I’d want you to ride back with me to Ft. Smith, so’s you can get sworn in as soon as possible and get your first arrest warrants from Judge Parker. I’ve got a lot more people to visit, and minds to convince, so I really need your answer now.”
“It’s an opportunity I can’t let slide by. It’s risky, and I appreciate that you told us about the risks; but, then again, what in life ain’t risky? I’ll take the job.”
Just like that, with one momentous decision, the lives of Bass Reeves and his family changed forever. He’d agreed to become one of the two hundred new U.S. Deputy Marshals. “What have I gotten myself into?” he thought to himself more than once on the ride back to Ft. Smith. He’d have many other occasions in the coming years throughout his career of over thirty years as a lawman to think the same thing.

Chapter Two
Sept. 3, 1875: Fort Smith

“Bass,” Fagan said as they hitched up there horses outside of the Fort Smith Courthouse, “This is your lucky day.”
“I reckon it is, and I’m goin’ to do my best, Jim. I’m a little worried about meetin’ Judge Parker, though. What kind of man is he? He easy to get along with?”
“Oh, he’s okay when you get to know him. But, he’s already gettin’ a reputation as bein’ tough on criminals, especially murderers. He ain’t like the corrupt son of a bitch that came before him, Judge William Story; no, not like him at all.”
“I’ve heard he’s determined to be tough on crime and send a message to outlaws that their days of killin’ folks without any worry of gettin’ their necks stretched are over. More than a few men since he came to town in May must be sweatin’ bullets and quakin’ in their boots.”
“Yes,” Fagan answered, “and that’s really why I said that today’s your lucky day, ‘cause six men are scheduled to swing today. You’ll get the chance to see what will happen to some of the worst outlaws you catch. One thing’s for sure—the six that’ll be hung today won’t be terrorizin’ people and killin’ anyone else.”
“It just don’t seem possible, six at one time,” Reeves said.
“The gallows have been specially designed to hang twelve men at once, if Parker ever desires to do so. Eight were supposed to be hung today, but it’s been brought down to six.”
“Why’s that?”
“One was shot tryin’ to escape, and the other’s sentence got commuted to life in prison, ‘cause of his young age. Still, it should be quite a show. It’s goin’ to be a grisly spectacle, but there’s sure to be a crowd, and maybe it’ll make people think twice ’fore they get it into their heads to murder someone.”
****
Five thousand gathered to watch the six outlaws led to the gallows. Entertainment was often hard to find, and people flocked to it wherever they found it, no matter how macabre. Some people brought their entire families in wagons and had blankets and picnic baskets with them. Preachers holding Bibles shouted God’s Holy Words and urged any sinners there to repent while they could.
“Judge Isaac C Parker,” one yelled to the crowds, who seemed largely to be trying to ignore him, “sentenced the six men today to be hung by their necks until they’re ‘dead, dead, dead!’ But, there’ll be a much more terrible fate that awaits them afterwards, when they’re cast into the pits of Hell! If you don’t want to join them, friends, repent now, while it’s not too late to save your immortal souls!”
“You’re the one who needs to ‘repent,’ Preacher!” a man said, and punched the preacher’s jaw, sending him staggering backwards.
“I’ve got no quarrel with you, friend,” the preacher said, holding his hands in front of him, palms towards the man who’d assaulted him, who was apparently drunk. The drunken man held a half-full bottle of whiskey in his left hand, which he then swung at the preacher’s head, who ducked just in time to avoid being struck by it.
“Getting my wife with child, and at least four other men’s wives! And you stand here, talkin’ about everybody else’s sins but your own!”
He reached for his holsters, but Fagan hurriedly restrained and handcuffed him before the drunk could draw his pistols.
“That’s enough, Sexton!” Fagan said to the drunken man, who suddenly looked abashed and ashamed at having broadcast his wife’s infidelity to the world. “C’mon, Reeves, help me get this guy to the jail, where he can cool off for awhile and get sobered up.”
Bass and Fagan were on either side of Sexton, who had suddenly gone limp, not wanting to be taken to jail. He didn’t so much resist, as drag his feet on the ground, as he was forcibly escorted to the jail, which was conveniently located underneath the courthouse.
“That blowhard had it comin’ to him!” Sexton protested. “You can’t do this to me! I’m the one who was wronged; you know that, Fagan! If anything, that preacher, Grant O’Keefe, should be the one you put in jail, not me!”
“That might be,” Fagan said, “but he’s not the one who was publically intoxicated and startin’ a fight—you were. You can tell the judge your story tomorrow, after you have cleared your thinkin.’ If you apologize, and pay the court fees, he might even dismiss the case, provided O’Keefe doesn’t press any charges.”
“Damn,” Sexton said, as Fagan locked him in a cell, “that preacher’s makin’ me miss the hangin’, too! When I get out of jail, I’ll—”
“You ain’t gonna do anything,” Fagan replied, “or I’ll have to come lookin’ for you, and you don’t want that, now do you?”
“No, I guess not,” Sexton said, as the key turned in his cell door. “Tell me what happens, though! Tell me how long they jerk, ‘fore they just hang there, won’t you?”
“Yeah, Sexton. I’ll do that for you; why not?”
****
The six men were led to the gallows in chains and shackles and had nooses put around their necks. They awaited the punishment for their crimes, each standing upon a trap door. The gallows were state-of-the-art, the latest and most efficient method for dealing with murderers.
“That man over there, Bass,” Fagan said, gesturing towards the person in question, “with the cigarette, is George Maledon, the hang man for Parker. “He’s got to have perfect timing, so as not to disappoint the onlookers and ruin their fun.”
Maledon yanked on the lever that opened the trap doors, and the six men fell in unison, kicking and spasming, the sounds of their necks snapping clearly audible in the sudden silence. There were random cheers, cat-calls, and sporadic clapping. The deaths were quick and brutal, six lives snuffed out as easily as one snuffs out candles. The crowds packed up their picnic baskets, folded their blankets, and slowly dispersed, many lingering to talk over the juicy details of the murders, the trials, and the hangings. A few stayed longer than the others, hoping to get their pictures taken with the corpses once the undertaker had positioned them in their coffins.
“C’mon, Reeves. Let’s not keep the judge waitin’ for us,” said Jim Fagan.
“Think he’ll have me start right away?” Bass asked.
“He’s been chompin’ at the bit, pushing me to hire the two hundred new deputies as soon as possible, so I’m guessin’ the answer to that would be a ‘yes.’”
Bass and Fagan met Judge Isaac C. Parker in his office at the Commisary. After Reeves was duly sworn in, Parker said to him that: “he would be in a position to serve as deputy to show the lawful as well as the lawless that a black man was the equal of any other law enforcement officer on the frontier.”
“Oh, yeah,” Parker added, shaking hands with Bass, “I’ve got your preliminary stack of arrest warrants, Reeves, and if James Fagan is correct about you, and if my initial impressions about you prove accurate, I have no doubt you’ll make one of the best U.S. Deputy Marshals there ever was.”
As they walked back towards their horses. Fagan asked: “What did you think of Parker? You still up for the job, Reeves?”
“I reckon he’ll be as good of a boss as any, but he don’t seem to have much of a sense of humor. I guess he wouldn’t, though, bein’ a judge and all, and havin’ a reputation to maintain. As for the job, I believe I can handle it. I haven’t backed down from hard work ever in my life, and I’m not goin’ to start now. But there’s one thing, Jim, I ain’t told you yet…”
“Is it somethin’ I need to know, Bass? Somethin’ that might stop you from bein’ a lawman?”
“That depends on your point of view. I ain’t afraid of anyone nor anything, and this stack of warrants, to me, is more men that’re goin to find themselves in prison or dead sooner than they think. The fact is, Jim—I’m embarrassed to say this—I never learned how to read nor write.”
“That does present a problem, Reeves. Want me to tell Parker you can’t hack it? If you can’t, you can’t; nobody will think any less of you,” Fagan said. He paused a moment, lost in thought; then he said: “There may be a way, still. How good would you say your memory is? I figure it must be pretty good, considerin’ how you’ve been able to pick up so many different Indian languages.”
“Yeah, if I hear somethin’ once, I remember it forever.”
“Well, then, Mr. New Deputy U.S. Marshal,” Fagan said. “Ride with me over to headquarters, and let’s see how long it takes you to memorize that stack of warrants. I’ll test you on it, when you think you got them memorized, and if you pass the test, Parker doesn’t have to be the wiser. I’ll help you with the reports, too—just dictate to me what you want included in them, and I’ll write them for you.”
“If this works, Jim, I’m gonna name my next boy after you!”
“Next? Ain’t five enough for you?”
“It is, yeah,” Bass said, “but don’t you think that ‘James,’ would be a silly name for a girl?”
****
“There’s thirty arrest warrants in this stack, Bass,” Jim told his friend at the main U.S. Marshal’s building in his office. “And we’ve gone over them just two times. You sure you’re ready for me to give you the test?”
“One time would’a been fine by me. The second was just to make sure. Don’t everyone memorize things every day?” Bass asked.
“Yeah, that they do. But not thirty arrest warrants. That kinda thing just ain’t done, least not by anyone I’ve ever known. But, if you’re positive you don’t need me to read them to you again—”
“I’m positive. I wouldn’t tell you I was if I wasn’t.”
“How about this warrant, then,” Fagan asked, holding one towards Bass so that he could see it briefly. “Who’s it for, and why?”
“That’d be for the half-breed, Cherokee Dan, wanted for stealin’ horses and the armed robbery of stagecoaches.”
“You sure you didn’t read that just now, when I showed the warrant to you?”
“I done told you, I can’t read nor write. I just sees different marks, or symbols, on the paper and use them to remember, kinda like when I read signs or recognize marks the Seminoles or Creeks leave on rocks, or when I can tell what animal has left certain tracks. I gets a clear picture in my head, a whole story sometimes.”
“Okay. I don’t know why, but I believe you, Bass. But, let’s go over the rest of this stack, if it’s all the same to you.”
“Why not? I don’t want to show off, though, or take up too much of your afternoon.”
“Believe me, Bass,” Fagan replied, “It ain’t a waste of my time. I ain’t seen many miracles in my life. If you can tell me what’s on these other warrants—”
“I been called a lot of things but never a ‘miracle.’ You ain’t a-funnin’ with me, are you? Raisin’ my hopes up, just to make a joke at my expense?”
“No. My wife says I got less of a sense of humor than even Judge Parker. She hasn’t left me yet, though, despite that.”
“You must be doin’ somethin’ right, yeah? Maybe in the sack?”
“I wouldn’t say that, but I ain’t got any complaints yet.—Now, how about this warrant, Bass?”
The two men went through the entire stack of warrants with Reeves being able to answer every one of Fagan’s questions about them. Then, Jim chose some randomly, mixed them up face down on his desk, and still the result was the same: Bass didn’t get one answer wrong.
“Did I pass the test, Jim?” Bass asked.
“What do you think? You know you did, without me tellin’ you. You ride out tomorrow, Reeves. Tonight, you can sleep in the bunkhouse with the other s. There’s only ten ’sides you—I still need to hire more men, and some I already hired are on the trail of the outlaws on their warrants and ain’t expected back for at least a month.
“Oh, and Reeves, I got something else to give you—this badge,” Fagan said, reaching into his shirt pocket and revealing to Bass the shiny badge he had in his hand. “Wear it proudly, and don’t dishonor it. It represents more than you and I combined.”

Chapter Three
“Never the Same Again”

Reeves was introduced that evening to the man who would be his posse-cook, William or Bill Leach. Leach would serve as both a member of a posse, if necessary, and also prepare and cook the meals on their round-trips after outlaws. Leach had already purchased the supplies they’d need and had their wagon stocked with essentials like potatoes, flour, coffee, sugar, sacks of dried beans and rice, a couple of chickens in cages, and dried jerky. He cooked the supper that night for everyone in the bunkhouse, a hearty beef and vegetable stew with biscuits to sop up the gravy.
“Bill, you cook like this for every meal and I’ll come back weighin’ more than when I left!” Bass joked with him.
“Humph,” Leach said grumpily. “I hope you’re not as big of a greenhorn as you look.”
“Leach!” Jim Fagan said. “You’re talkin’ to a man who’s lived in the Indian Territory, who’s got experience scoutin’, blazing trails, and roughin’ it. He ain’t no ‘greenhorn.’ He’s likely camped in the wilderness more ’en you have!”
“That’s okay, Jim,” Bass said. “I got some experience, it’s true; but, it’s the first time Leach’s met me, and he’s is right that I ain’t never been the one goin’ after the criminals yet. I’ve just helped while you and other Marshals and Deputy Marshals did the hardest work, arrestin’ them. In some ways, I am a greenhorn.”
“Reeves,” Leach said, ladling stew into Bass’s bowl, “I’ll tell you what it’s like, crossing the dead line your first time, if you want to know. It’s kinda like havin’ relations with a woman for yer first time. You’ll never be the same again.”
“What would you know about that, Leach?” Fagan asked the cook. “If I was you, Bass, I’d keep my eye on the chickens, if you get what I mean.”
“I’ve had my share of women,” Leach said. “I’ve been around the block. I’m just tryin’ to tell Reeves here what he’s in for, as you apparently haven’t.”
“I’ve told him the dangers, and—“
“Don’t you worry about me, Bill,” Bass said. “I ain’t ran into any trouble yet that I couldn’t deal with. Now, how about you hold off on makin’ any judgments, at least ’til after a week or two’s passed.”
Fagan and Reeves ate their last meal together at a long communal table they shared with the other ten Deputy U.S. Marshals. They talked a little bit more about what Leach had said, and about what might lie ahead.
“Don’t let Leach get to you, Bass,” Jim said. “That wasn’t half bad, what you said to him about not makin’ any sudden judgments.”
“There wouldn’t be many surprises in life if everyone acted like others think they oughta act. I aim to change Leach’s opinion of me within the week.”
“You’re just one surprise after another, ain’t you, Reeves?”
“I’d still be back in Texas, the property of another man, if I wasn’t, I reckon.”
****
Reeves and Leach traveled three days before they finally made it to the dead line. They knew they’d reached it when they began to see notes carved into boards or written on small cards that outlaws had posted by nailing to trees. The notes were threats and warnings they’d left to scare and intimidate any deputies who might come after them. The names of Deputy U.S. Marshals who were hunting specific outlaws were included, with promises of killing them in painfully slow and graphic ways.
A further day’s ride, and the two men discovered the corpses of three deputies with their eyes either gouged out or pecked at and eaten by crows. They’d been used for target practice. Their bodies were riddled with bullets and they were fastened to the thick trunks of sycamores near a stream with barb wire.
“Leach, come over and help me bury these three men,” Bass said.
“They ain’t goin’ to get to Heaven any faster in the ground, Reeves.”
“Maybe not, but it’s the Christian thing to do. If the word ever reached the members of my church that one of its deacons came across the bodies of his fellow Deputy Marshals without buryin’ ’em proper and sayin’ words over them, why, I couldn’t set foot in the church again.”
“You, a deacon?” Leach asked. “A deacon and an armed killer. How you reconcile them two things, Bass?”
“Get two shovels from the wagon and start diggin’. Bein’ a deacon or bein’ a Deputy Marshal; it’s all God’s work, Bill, however strange that might seem to you. One’s saving men’s souls for themselves; the other is actin’ as God’s right arm of vengeance, and savin’ the lives of other men from outlaws by endin’ their careers, either by the gun or by the noose.”
Digging the holes was arduous, but Reeves felt better when they were done. He said a few words from the Bible he’d memorized, conducting an impromptu funeral. He’d removed the boots and badges of the men to take back with him to give to the families of the Deputy Marshals. Then, he place large stones by where the heads of the men where, to serve as rough markers of where they lay. At least, he thought to himself, he’d done what was right, and he’d also thwarted the attempts of whoever had killed the men at potentially scaring off anyone who might come after them in the future.
They decided to camp nearby for the night. At dusk, a farmer came riding up to their fire and got of his sorrel mare. Leach had supper cooking over a blazing fire, and Bass invited the farmer to stay for the meal.
“You smell our supper cookin?” Bass asked the newcomer. “Sit with us for a spell, and grab yourself some grub and have a cup of coffee!”
“That’s mighty kind of you, sir—er, Marshal,” the farmer said. “Don’t mind if I do! But, the real reason I rode here is that I was hopin’ you were a lawman. I’d seen the Grainger brothers lightin’ from their horses at their mother’s house, not more than a mile from where you’re camped, and if I know them, they’re up to no good.”
“The Grainger brothers, you say? Hmm…” Bass said. “Elias, Trent, and Horace Grainger, wanted for horse theft, cattle rustlin’, and murder, if I recall from their warrants.”
“Yes, that sure does sound like the things that them boys would take to, like a duck to water, alright, Marshal—”
“That’d be Deputy U.S. Marshal, really. And you’d be?”
“Dave Munroe’s the name, but don’t spread it around, okay?” the farmer said. “I wouldn’t want anyone to hear I’d helped a lawman, ‘specially not the Grainger boys nor their mom. It might be bad for my health.”
“Well, then,” Reeves told him, “after your supper, Munroe, you’d better make yourself scarce, that is if you don’t want the Graingers to see you when I bring ‘em back.”
Midway through their supper, Reeves turned to speak to the farmer again. “You got any old covered wagons at your place I could borrow, and maybe some of your old duds? I got an idea….”
****
An hour later, driving Munroe’s wagon, pulled by two ancient plow horses, dressed as the farmer, and wearing a straw hat, Bass purposefully got the wheels of the wagon stuck up on the gnarled roots of a huge pin oak tree that was within shouting distance of the Grainger house. He got down and started yelling about his rotten luck, and acted like he was straining to free the wagon from where he’d “accidently,” entangled it.
Reeves removed the hat from his head, and swatted the nags attached to the wagon’s reins with it, shouting “G’up, dang it! I don’t want to be stuck all night!”
He was hoping the outlaws would be fooled by his disguise and act. A couple of minutes passed, and he heard the Graingers riding up on their horses. They got off them, and worked beside Bass, trying to get the wagon’s wheels unstuck. The very second they did, Reeves reached into the deep pockets of the coat he’d borrowed and pulled out his two Colt .45s.
“Thanks, boys! Now, come with me—I got arrest warrants for all of you!!”
One of them, Trent, tried to reach for his holsters. “I wouldn’t, if I was you,” Bass said menacingly. “You ain’t the ones what tied them three Deputy Marshals up with barb wire and killed ‘em, are you?”
“They had it comin’,” another of the brothers, Horace, said.
“How you figure that?”
“They been t-t-tied to that tree for four d-d-days,” said the brother who’d been silent up until then, Elias, who stuttered.
“Shut up, Elias!” Trent yelled. “He don’t need to hear any more!”
“We only n-n-needed the three horses,” Elias continued, ignoring what Trent had said. “There was another d-d-deputy. When we was through havin’ f-f-fun with him, we tied him to his horse, and s-s-swatted it. They’d come for us before you, but we got the j-j-jump on them.”
“Hands behind your backs, boys,” Bass ordered the gang. He cuffed them, left their horses and the farmer’s wagon where they were, and marched the Grainger brothers to where he’d set up camp.
“Three more for supper?” Leach asked upon Bass’ return. “I was just about to throw the rest of this food away. Waste not, want not, I guess.”
“Don’t bother; we done already ate,” Horace said.
“That’s fine by me,” Leach answered him. “Feedin’ this to you boys would be wastin’ it, really. I don’t feel like cleanin’ the pots, though—maybe I’ll just save it for tomorrow, and you can have supper fer your breakfast.”
Bass shackled the protesting Grainger brothers with brads. The shackles were passed through a ring in a long chain, and Reeves locked one end of the chain to the rear axel of the “tumbleweed,” or deputy’s wagon.
“Sorry I can’t offer you nice, soft pillows like you probably got back at your mother’s house,” Bass said, “but I got blankets if it gets too cold—all you have to do is whistle.”
“Screw you, nig—” Horace said.
“That’ll be Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves to you. And the song you can whistle if your asses get cold—I think ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ will do.”


Menelaus Illation Montrose, Texas gunslinger, idealist, and posthuman genius, who author John C. Wright introduced us to in his brilliant Count To a Trillion, is back in the sequel, The Hermetic Millennia. He is in cryo-suspension, but is brought out of it at periodic times. These are always at crucial turning-points in the history and evolution of mankind. Without his genius and militaristic action as the leader of the Knights Hospitalier, humanity could easily find itself enslaved, or made into the serfs of an advanced alien race, or face the possibility of extinction.

At the point when Menelaus is awoken, humans are under the control of Psychohistorians. There are the Giants and the Iron Ghosts, who both want to mold humanity’s evolution. The Giants are posthumans, articial humans within Menelaus’ intelligence range, while the Iron Ghosts are creations of the Scholars, who made the Iron Ghosts to contain emulations of Montrose’s brain. The Giants have gargantuan genetically-modified bodies to house, as Sir Guiden puts it, “their correspondingly elephantine brains.”

The Hermeticists are called that because they were originally the crew members of the spaceship, the Hermetic, who, along with Montrose, journeyed to study an alien artifact in Count To a Trillion known as “The Monument.” There, they learned technologies and techniques unknown on Earth, through the alien hieroglphs on “The Monument.” This advanced knowledge was the product of an ancient alien civilzation billions of years older than our own, much of which–to humans–seemed indistinguishable from magic. The knowledge made over sixty of the seventy crew members eventually go mad when they attempted to implement the “Prometheus augmentation,” but the remaining members of the crew became the rulers of mankind.

Sir Guiden tells Menelaus that the ringleaders of the crew and the Hermtecists somehow “are still alive and sane.” These include the Master of the Earth, Ximen del Azarchel, the commander-in-chief of the world armed forces, Narcis D’Arago, and Menelaus’ arch nemesis, Blackie. However, they have been in hiding since the “Decivilization War,” which destroyed the major cities of the Earth. They were burned to cinders by the Giants, who directed “orbital mirrors” towards the cities. The whole world saw and heard someone who looks exactly like Montrose give the orders for the cities to be burned.

The war was fought between the Giants and the Ghosts, but it was humans who suffered the most. As Sir Guiden tells Menelaus, though it involved math equations, “It was no mere abstract argument. It was about whether humanity would be dehumanized and tyrannized.” The fate of mankind, if the Hermeticists had their way, would be to make subspecies of mankind which would then serve as the slaves and serfs of the intelligent machine-life of the Hyades Cluster. But, even to do this and ensure humanity’s survival, the evolution of mankind’s intelligence would need to be artificially speeded up. The machine-life of the Hyades Cluster was accidently summoned when humans meddled with The Monument.

Among the many other conflicts that Montrose has to deal with in The Hermetic Millennia are the efforts of Rania to bring a Diamond Star made from antimatter out of its orbit. That is the only way, Rania believes, that humainty can stand a chance fighting afainst the aliens of the Hyades Cluster. That’s because, as Menelaus tells Sir Guiden, to defeat such advanced foes it would require a lot of energy: “It takes fuel to calculate. Fuel to think.” The aliens, though, have launched an offensive of their own: a dirigible gas gaint the size of Uranus which will arrive circa A.D. 11000.

A rogue Hermeticist, known as the Judge of Ages, wants to create a free version of mankind. They would then fight against the aliens, and though tey’d be about as mismatched as the Zulus were agaisnt the British, like the Zulus, they might be able to win. The energy that humanity could mine from the Diamond Star, which they could reach much more easily if Rania’s efforts are successful, could mean the difference in a potential war against the alien machine-life.

The Hermetic Millennia is sweeping and epic in scope, and is a thinking man’s Space Opera. I enjoyed reading the first book in the series, Countdown To a Trillion, but I wondered if any sequel to it would be as good. It’s a fantastic read, and a great addition to the series. Since Menelaus is so hyper-intelligent, certain parts of the book are written in a complex manner, using terms and jargon that may be unfamiliar to many readers–but, that’s often the case with the “hard science” type of science fiction that authors like Isaac Asimov wrote about in his Foundation series. If you’re a fan of Countdown To a Trillion and hard SF, I highly recommend that you read The Hermetic Millennia by John C. Wright.


What is the Next Big Thing Blog Hop? It’s a chance for authors around the world to tell you what they’re working on. Each author answers ten questions, then links up to five other authors, who then do the same, and viola! Before you know it, all of the coolest authors in the world are linked, and you, the readers, benefit by reading about awesome authors (like myself) and learning about them. Maybe you’ll also be inclined to purchase a book or two, and share a new favorite author you’ve discovered with the rest of your friends. The phenomenally great author who “tagged” me is Vonnie Winslow Crist http://vonniewinslowcrist.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/the-next-big-thing-blog-hop/ and I’ve reviewed her book of collected short stories and poems, The Greener Forest, at another website in the recent (for me) past. I hope you like reading my answers to the ten questions, and that you’ll consider then buying my books, and/or those of the other five authors I’ve “tagged.”

What is the working title of your book?

My latest ebook/paperback is Lily Solves Them All (Click to Buy for $3.99), and it’s the third book in my MG/YA series, The Case Files of Lily and PAWS. It can be read and enjoyed on its own, as a stand-alone novel, or as a part of the series. The other two ebooks/paperbacks in the series are my debut fantasy novel, Lily, Unleashed, and Lily and PAWS: The Ghosts of Summer. An unrelated YA ebook/paperback I’ve written is My Brother The Zombie (The Zombie Revolution: Book One), and now I’m working on a work of historical fiction, Crossing the Dead Line, based on the life and exploits of the Deputy U.S. Marshal, Bass Reeves, who served under the hanging judge, Judge Isaac C. Parker.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

My teenage daughter, Kaitlin, asked me to write it–well, another book in the series, anyway. She was the one who originally asked me to write a book about her dog, a black-and-white brindle terrier, Lily. Lily, Unleashed was the result.

Lily is…well, not really a dog in the novels. She is the first-person narrator, and she is a mutant pterodactyl with the power to cloud the minds of humans into thinking she’s a terrier. She also has the power of starting fires with her mind, which can make her resmeble a dragon, at times.

She is the leader of a crime-fighting organization, PAWS (Private Army of Warrior Sleuths), of other “dogs,” who are other mutant animals who also make humans think that they are dogs. In Lily Solves Them All, the longest of the novels so far at over 96,000 words, Lily is given the chalenge to solve 7 mysterious cases based on using the methods of some of the most famous detectives of literature and the Silver Screen. If she fails, she and PAWS will become the laughing-stocks of their town, if their latest arch-enemy, Professor Polynesia, has her way.

What genre does your book fall under?

MG/YA Fantasy, I suppose; though, each of the books have other elements of genres in them, like dog-related adventure mysteries, horror, and science fiction. They are also often LOL funny–at least, that was my intent–and are satires of theses genres. Oh, and they’re, hopefully, heart-warming, as well. Genres are meant to be blended–at least, that’s what I do with ‘em!

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I haven’t really given it much thought, as the majority of the characters are animals. Of course, voice actors/actresses would be needed for them, but…maybe Dakota Fanning for Lily’s voice….

I will leave that up to the movie’s producers/directors, once I get the email/phonecall from Disney or Nickelodeon Studios, knock on wood!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“Join Lily E. Quince, the World’s Most Loved Pterodactyl, as she, her fourteen-year-old “owner,” Celeste, and the rest of PAWS (Private Army of Warrior Sleuths) face the challenge of solving 7 cases based on the mehtods of 7 of the most famous sleuths of literature and the Silver Screen!” That’s a copywritten phrase. Not really….

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Oh, it’s already out, available at Amazon as an ebook, self-published, for $3.99, as it’s a fairly lengthy (but great) book.. You can also buy it in paperback form, through Amazon/CreateSpace, for $10.99.

With Crossing the Dead Line, that will be self-published, also, but I haven’t decided on a price for it yet.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Something like four months. I didn’t try to rush it, though, and I did research for it I never thought I would do, and hadn’t thought would play a role in the book, like research on the legal system of Belgium. Why Belgium, you might ask? It’s where Agatha Christie’s famous detective, Hercule Poirot, is from, that’s why, and Lily has to solve one of the cases based on using his methods. And, the city where she, Celeste, and the rest of PAWS lives in Arkansas happens to have a part of it called the Belgium Quarter…imagine that!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

There probably aren’t any, though it combines elemnts of Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown series, and I was influenced quite a bit as I wrote each of the books in The Case Files of Lily and PAWS by the ghost of Roald Dahl, of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame. And, James and the Giant Peach, Witches, Matilda, etc., etc., etc.

However, the bestselling author, Jon Land, who read/blurbed Lily, Unleashed, compared it to Watership Down. Mine, though–don’t have rabbits in them. Evil squirrels, yes, but….oh, and he’s also compared that book with the movie, “Kung Fu Panda.” You be the judge….

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I wouldn’t have written any of the novels in the series if I hadn’t been prompted to by my teen daughter, Kaitlin. I had talked to her when she was younger using the voice of Lily, and a whole mythos arose based on this….Lily’s photos grace the covers of each of the books, and they were taken by Kaitlin at a local dog park, except for the one on the cover of Lily Solves Them All. That one was taken in our backyard, now in Barling, Arkansas.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Steampunk automatons, werewolves, evil Leprechauns, witches, vampires, aliens bent on taking over the world, a mad scientist who can control time….

Oh, and the other members of PAWS, of course: Fuzzy Wally MacGee, a Chinese Crested/rhino (he is the Distractor of the team); Lucy Marmoset Higgins, a Great Dane/orangutan whose specialties include picking locks and hacking computers; and Prince Alphonse Saed, a miniature Dachsund/Mountain Lion who is an expert with ninja weapons and can tell the future.

Now, what follows are the links to the blogs of other great authors participating in “The Next Big Thing Blog Hop.” Enjoy checking them out!

1.) Thiana D:

http://www.thiadesigns.com/2012/10/the-next-big-thing-blog-hop.html

2.) L.Jagi Lamplighter:

http://www.ljagilamplighter.com/

3.) John C. Wright:

http://www.scifiwright.com/

4.) Danielle McPhail:

http://www.sidhenadaire.com/

5.) Mike McPhail:

http://www.milscifi.com/reviews/rev-MMcP-BTH.htm

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