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“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.
“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.
“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?