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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
here
. But, read the first three chapters first, for FREE–try it before you buy it!

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.

I said,  “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,” I continued, undaunted.

“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, when will that be?” I asked, rhetorically.

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. hey 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.

She added, “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.”

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