The reunion part 15

A rough, rhythmic hacking sound filled the softly lit room where the really real Chris lay sleeping. It slowly filtered into her sleeping mind...

Suddenly her eyes dragged themselves open and she limped into sleepy and clumsy action. Stiff fingers reached for the plastic bag she kept by the bedside, but it was too late. A steaming brown stream of liquified and partially digested cat food splattered onto the bed. She groped for the bedside barf towel and waited for the customary "encore barf." Twitch always barfed the same way. He would start with a prelude of lip smacking and twitching (whence he earned his name). Next he would sit up straight and commence an overture of raucous, full-body retched. The finale soon followed in the form of a dancing fountain containing his last meal. And finally, the encore, being a lesser version of the finale. On special occasions there could two encores and once he even managed three.

Luckily this was a short performance. when it was over Chris, still mostly asleep, half sat up and wiped away the barf, while Twitch, boldly, deliberately and inexplicably peed on her pillow.

This woke her up. "Twitch, man, what the fuck are you doing?" she asked, rhetorically. She checked the pillow, as if not believing what she'd seen. There was indeed a small wet patch. Verifying this, Chis asked yet another question to which she expected no reply. "Holy fuck, Twitch, what is wrong with you?"

She sighed and checked the pee stain for signs of blood that might indicate a bladder infection. It was clear. The strange pee behavior itself could by a symptom of infection, but she hadn't seen him straining at the litterbox or visiting it frequently. She made a mental note to buy the replacement part for the second automatic cat box, buy some cat litter, watch for signs of bladder infection, update Twitch's medical log, pick up his prescription from the vet and "clean the fuck out this house" when she woke up.

"Is it any wonder I write escapist fiction," she muttered as she turned the pillow over and flopped her head onto it. She put her CPAP mask back on and was thankful that it filtered away all smells. She dimly noted that regurgitated prescription canned cat food smell considerably better than it did fresh. "It's like opening up a can of shit!" had been her remark the previous evening.

Twitch cuddled up next to Chris. Mr. Kitten went over to the barfy towel on the floor and made a lot of noise scraping his paws on the carpet and trying to bury it until Chris pulled the mask away from her face and yelled at him. Chris petted Twitch lovingly, told him he was disgusting and went back to sleep. Pin It Now!

The reunion part 14


The real Chris Hugh and Rupert walked up to the gate of the small, million dollar Silicon Valley home. 

"Well, I'm going to go now," Rupert said.

Chris turned in surprise and disappointment. "Don't you want to go for a walk with me and Twitch?"

"No, I'll just go."

Chris knew that Rupert had important, world-changing things to do. Whether he was going to build a hospital  or use his fantastic intellect to invent a new method and apparatus to achieve some feat of electronicality about which Chris was clueless, the world needed him. Therefore, she limited her pouting and whining and thanked him for the lovely outing. He gallantly thanked her for the pleasure of her company, and left.

"Hello, sweethearts! Anyone want to go for a walk?" the real Chris called as she walked into the cathedral ceilinged living room. The real Mr. Kitten and Twitch greeted her in their usual way, which was to continue whatever they were doing as if she didn't exist.

"Hi, darling," she said, seeing Twitch lounging on the living room sofa. "Would you like to go for a walk in your stroller?"

Twitch stared at her with green eyes whose strange luminescence had baffled the specialists at UC Davis. All they could do was attribute it to aging and warn her that he might lose his vision completely. He already had difficulty seeing in dim light and Chris had begun keeping  some light on all the time in all rooms, even the bedroom.

"How have you been? Whatcha been doing?" Chris asked, completely unaware of the idiotic baby voice she was using. Being a real cat, Twitch did not reply.

"You are so handsome!" 

Chris sat next to the cat and petted his stomach. He had recently had the exploratory surgery that had found the cancer, so his abdomen had been shaved. The surgeon had taken the opportunity to remove a bladder stone, so all his little cat junk had also been shaved. Bare patches on his front legs showed where the intravenous lines had gone. Since he had recently begin insisting on sleeping on Chris' bare belly, and because he was not always fastidious about controlling his reflexes whn he lost traction, he wore vinyl caps on all his claws. Unfortunately, Chris had only been able to find the caps in pink sparkles. To top off his eccentric appearance, he was wearing a black and white striped ensemble Chris had sewed for him and dubbed "Jailhouse Rock."

Chris scooped up the impassive cat and held him like a baby. "Have you been a good boy? Who's handsome? Who's handsome? Wanna go for a walk?" She hugged him and kissed him and he drooled with pleasure. After a while, Twitch struggled a bit and Chris dropped him into his stroller. It looked like a baby stroller with a mesh box rather than a child's seat.

"Wanna go for a walk, Kitten?" Chris called as she gathered her keys. She knew he didn't. He never wanted to leave the house and viewed all Chris' ideas with deep suspicion. She only asked him to be polite.

Chris and Twitch walked under the stars and Chris told him all about her dinner with Rupert, her thoughts on the issues of the day, and various other topics, none of which Twitch cared about, but he enjoyed the sound of her voice. He sat up in his stroller, breathing in the night air and soaking up the sights and sounds.

He enjoyed their walk so much that even after they got home, he stayed in his stroller until Chris called to him.

"Ooh, Twitch, I forgot. We brought some goodies for you!" She opened the take-home box from Pampas and filled his food dish with samples from her and Rupert's dinner. Twitch sniffed at the little bits of roasted lamb, top sirloin, filet mignon and other good things.

Chris petted him while he ate, his favorite way of eating. "Come on, Twitch, what's up?"

Twitch finally relented. "Thanks a million, Chris. You're my BF!"

"That's my boy," Chris said. She relaxed and ruffled his fur. "But don't you mean BFF--Best Friends Forever?"

"I dunno," Twitch said, stepping on his baby scale. "That rotten brat called Warrior Cat 'BF' and said it stood for 'Best Friend.'"

Chris gently moved Twitch off the scale so she could turn it on and zero it. Once it was ready, she guided him onto it again. "Hmm," she said, writing down his weight. "Maybe she's calling him by his initials. His name is Bananas Foster."

Twitch looked up at her, his eyes wide and dilated. "Bananas Foster?" he asked.

Kitten poked his head around a corner. 

"Well, yes." Chris said. "I know he's kind of a tough guy, but with that creamy yellow fur of his--oh, hey, are you okay?"

Twitch had fallen off the scale, screaming with laughter. "Bananas Foster?" He clutched his bare belly. Mr. Kitten collapsed on the floor, flopped onto his back and choked out, "Bananas Foster?" Twitch rolled off the counter and onto the floor. He buried his giggles in Mr. Kitten's fluffy stomach. Kitten waggled his legs in the air and barked. Twitch nipped Kitten's tail, Kitten jumped in the air. They hugged each other. They chased each other. They shrieked with laughter. "Bananas Foster! Bananas Foster!"

Later on that night, Chris spot cleaned the carpet. The cats had literally laughed until they were sick.
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The Reunion Part 13

"It means he's my best friend, silly cat." Stacey replied with a prideful smile. Ting Ting covered her mouth, trying not to laugh...as she anticipated what would happen next.

Twitch looked at Stacey very thoughtfully, his mouth forming soundless words as he concentrated on something. Then he borrowed a pen and wrote something on his hand. At last, referring to his hand, he said, "Do you know what SSGYASYRLB stands for?"

"No," Stacey said. Her voice was richly expressive. It conveyed contempt for anyone who would have to ask what "BF" stood for, preemptive boredom with anything Twitch might say, and the certain knowledge that she was doing him a grand favor by even deigning to talk to him. It also gave the impression that she was watching, hawklike, for anything Twitch might say or do that would give her the chance to mock him. Derision, scorn, skepticism, arrogance, callousness and cruelty formed a nuanced tapestry of sound that she augmented by rolling her eyes, sticking out her tongue, and kicking Twitch in the shins.

"It means," Twitch said, "Someone Should Give You A Spanking, You Rotten Little Brat." 

A moment later, the restaurant was filled with the sounds of Stacey's whiny, petulant, drama queen screams.  Mr. Kitten ran up. He was in human form, a handsome, heavily built man with dark chocolate skin and mutton chops. "What's the problem?" he roared, looking from Twitch to Stacey. "He hasn't even touched you, you spoiled, rude, nasty little--" Stacey kicked him in the shins and ran away. Ting Ting's merry laughter rang out and several characters applauded.

Twitch laughed too. "Someday, somebody really should spank that girl."

Kitten chuckled. "Kids," he said, shaking his head.

Chris was the only one unamused. "If that brat mouths off to Twitch again, I'm going to change her into a ferret."

The Anchorite interrupted. "A ferret? Didn't a mouthy, spoiled kid get changed into ferret in Harry Pot--"

"She hardly has a monopoly on changed brats into ferrets!" Chris snapped. She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry."

"You should be," the Anchorite said, a smile in his voice. "With all these cats here, we should..."

"...change her into a mouse!" they concluded together.

***

A few minutes later, the Anchorite and Chris had gathered their most important and intelligent characters at a quiet table to plan their defense strategy. Claire, one of the the Anchorite's author avatars was there with her girlfriend Heather. Faber, a super intelligent human-chimpanzee from a long abandoned ("On hiatus," Faber corrected) thriller was there with his boyfriend Brian. And Stanley was there, missing Blondhilda and wondering why there were so many gays.

The Anchorite stood and spoke solemnly from within his dark cowl. "My friends," he said, "we are in great danger. We must each use all the intelligence and creativity we have to address--"

Suddenly, a tall, muscular man walked into the restaurant and all eyes turned to him. Wisdom and intelligence shone in his handsome face and strength lay in his hands. Some men felt insecure in the sweeping wave of clean masculinity that emanated from him. They began to posture, but immediately gave it up a pointless. No one could compete, and the man's good humored dignity made them feel foolish. The women stared at him with naked admiration and a few swooned. He walked past the potted ferns and flowers bloomed in them. Wood floors installed, leveled and varnished themselves as his manly boots stepped on them. Stanley Chester Brown took one look at him and threw away his thick glasses.

The man came up to Chris. "Hi, Rupert," she said. "Rupert, may I present my characters. Everyone, say hello to my husband, Rupert."

They greeted him with friendly awe and restrained the impulse to beg for an autograph. The Anchorite was stunned, overwhelmed in the presense of the man he had heard so much about.  "What the Anchorite was saying," Chris continued for him, "is that we need absolute concentration to meet this challenge. 100% effort, no distractions. We need to focus like lasers. Nothing matters as much as this. This planning session is our number one and only priority. Got it?"

"Chrissy?" Rupert said.

"Yes, dear?"

"We're having dinner at the real Pampas restaurant in 45 minutes."

Chris grabbed her purse. "Gotta go, everybody. See ya later."
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The Reunion part 12

By the Anchorite




Warrior Cat shifted into his professional mode, with his expression only slightly betraying the dismay he felt at having to abruptly end his fun while the assembled partygoers continued their revelry. As Anton Fitzgibbon’s right-hand cat tasked with his security, the Warrior Cat had to be ready to drop whatever he was doing at a moment’s notice for the good of felinekind. He was not about to let any villains ruin the Chaircat’s party and they would serve as convenient, cathartic outlets for his frustration.

“Ladies and gentle cats,” he addressed the group “we’ve been invaded. That vile man Grease is set on sabotaging this soiree and that simply will not happen under my watch. I already foiled his initial attempt, but he’s one tough customer. He can take any punishment I can dish out and come back for more. With his powers of regeneration, he won’t stay down and it’s next to impossible to permanently defeat him. He shrugs off death like most of us do colds and while I tore him to shreds on our last encounter, he’s re-assembling himself as we speak and he will return.

“Even worse, he’s gathered a group of villains to assist him so he’ll be back with reinforcements. I may be the biggest, baddest warrior in all of catdom, but even I cannot do this alone and need your help. Normally, I would gather my tried and true crew but some cat took them out.”

The Warrior Cat glared at Twitch, who nonchalantly shrugged his shoulders in response.

“I’ve thus assembled a new team to take the battle to Grease. Ting Ting’s human Regia kindly volunteered. Where have you been keeping her, Ting? Regia’s combat skills are impressive and I had no idea that you had such an attractive human.”

“Keep your claws sheathed, Warrior Cat,” replied Ting Ting, “and don’t even think about it. I know your real name.”

“Just saying, is all. Chris Hugh and Stanley Chester Brown offered me the services of their most formidable warriors three. I present:  Blondhilda, Grimgudrun, and Hello Sailor. The four of you ladies are not the crew I usually run with, but I’ll admit you’re a lot easier on the eyes. Together, we will take down Grease’s thugs and the assembled party guests will not notice anything amiss. Why, Grimgudrun, we’ll even have time to grab some Caipirinhas afterwards. I haven’t seen you in your battle gear until now, but I have to say: those are some killer tats.”

Ting Ting rolled her eyes while Grimgudrun looked bemused by the compliment. The Warrior Cat felt a tug on his trouser leg and looked down to see his human Stacey clutching his leg. He gently scooped her up in a massive arm and lifted her to his eye level. She moved her embrace to his neck and said,

“You be careful out there, BF.”

Warrior Cat kissed her on the forehead and replied,

“Don’t worry, Stacey. I have this one. I have a party to save and I’ll be back before you know it.” 

He rubbed noses with his young human and set her back on the floor. She waved them goodbye as the Warrior Cat led his deputized squad to their mission. After they left Twitch asked out loud,

“What does BF mean?”

“It means he’s my best friend, silly cat.” Stacey replied with a prideful smile. Ting Ting covered her mouth, trying not to laugh...  
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The reunion Part 11



Back at Pampas, Chris and the Anchorite's conversation had turned to legal issues surrounding using real place names and businesses in fictional works.

"They sure didn't cover this area of law in law school," Chris said. "I have no clue. Crimes I can do – well, you know what I mean. But this…."

The Anchorite's electronically modified voice emanated from his shadowy figure. "I'm more of a [area of law redacted] guy myself," he said.

"You're pretty serious about maintaining your anonymity online aren't you? Anyway, about these legal issues--Amazon to the rescue!" Then Chris paused and bit her lip. "I mean, if I can say 'Amazon.'"

"Just go with it for now. What are you finding?"

Chris peered down at her iPad, where she was searching Amazon.com. "Most of the legal guidebooks for writers concentrate on protecting the writers' legal rights. It's hard to find a book for writers on how to respect others rights."

"You portray all the businesses in a very positive light, so you shouldn't have a problem," the Anchorite said. "But we want to be sure."

"I really only like to write about things I like," Chris said. "The best restaurants in one of the most affluent areas in the world, my favorite books, my favorite retailer — okay, I think I found the book I want. I'm ordering it now."

"What is it?"

"'The Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers.'"

"Can we mention the name of the book?"

"I guess we'll find out after I get it," Chris said. "In the meantime, let's follow your suggestion and just continue the story."

***

With a flash of red light and the sound of a Chinese gong, Grease and the others had been transported to a different restaurant. Grease looked around blearily. He had seldom been in such a lovely space. The interior was large, elegant and somehow cozy in the classiest possible way. The walls were a warm buttery yellow with white crown moldings and wainscoting. The illuminated and soffited ceiling gave the interior a light, rarefied atmosphere. Softly lit wall alcoves charmingly displayed elaborate bouquets and fine art objects.

Just as Grease's eyes cleared, Pope Hian slapped him across the face with a pair of embroidered silk gloves. "Fool," he said. "How could you forget I exist?"






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I'm not in favor of legalizing gay marriage...


You know why? Because I don't think the government belongs in any marriage. Government is a necessary evil. It doesn't belong in every aspect of our lives.

Instead of legalizing gay marriage, I'd rather see the government get out of straight marriage. Then it's the same for everyone (including polygamy people, ever stop to think about them? Huh? Me neither) and we don't have the government stinking up a social institution and/or religious institution.

Marriage is real if it's real. The government doesn't make it real.

So what brings on this soliloquy? What prompts me to share my opinion despite the conspicuous lack of people begging me to share my mind on this subject?

These awesome rainbow roses. OMG, they make me wish I had some gay friends who were getting married so I could give them some. Rainbow roses! Wow. Pin It Now!

The reunion part 11


In the crawlspace, scattered pieces of bloody meat slowly gathered into a pile. Strip after exasperated strip of ragged, slimy, miserable flesh hauled itself back to the whole, incorporating itself with a disconcerting sense of déjà vu into the form of a man. 

Soon the dark crawl space concealed a large man with short cropped sandy hair and brutish features. Once again he was dressed in  a dirty wife beater T-shirt, jeans, heavy boots and a motorcycle jacket. A handgun, knife and cigarettes coalesced out of nothingness as they had so often done before.

Grease was back.

"$#%#¥," he said to himself as he opened his eyes. "Not again."

He sat up and lit a cigarette. His eyes narrowed and his mouth moved in silent snarls as he considered his direction in life. He thought about all the crimes he tried to commit for no good reason, and the mind boggling retributions that were immediately visited upon him. 

He remembered kidnapping Helen and bringing her deep into the desert. He'd planned to drag her into a rocky defile, crack her skull and leave her for the buzzards, but she'd managed to break away from him and hide. He'd finally given up, figuring she'd die soon enough. The story ended when he'd climbed back to the barren flats and found Helen had escaped in his car. Chris Hugh hadn't even bothered to write about his slow anguish, the days of terrible thirst. Grease looked down at his hands. He had bloodied them trying to dig for water in the dry riverbed. And the horrible regret, almost worse than the thirst: he'd thought he was so cautious, making sure to leave his keys with the car. He knew he was completely isolated and didn't want to take any chance of losing his keys in the defile. He'd laughed madly over his caution. He'd never imagine the butterball lawyer would get away from him. He'd signed his in death warrant by leaving the keys in the car. And the cases of bottled water he'd so carefully stored in the trunk--he'd cried when he thought of them, then caught his tears and licked the precious liquid from his fingers. His last sight had been a clumsy vulture vomiting on its own feet in order to cool down in the searing heat. And then it hobbled toward him...

That was his first death, but there had been many more. That death was slow, but at least it had dignity.  Since then, he had been chopped into three pieces right in the middle of delivering one of the few bits of dialog he'd ever had. He'd been transformed into a dainty white cat strangled in a case of mistaken identity. He'd been tripped down the stairs and peed on by another cat. 

Grease shook his head at the memories, then winced with embarrassment as he recalled being inexplicably eaten alive by a shark while standing on dry land. That was the LOLshark. "Yeah, LOL--Laugh Out Loud for everyone but me," he sighed. 

He thought for a long time about his actions and the things that happened to him. Then he thought about the good things that happened to the characters that were basically good.

"Every time I try to do something rotten," he finally concluded, "I get punished all to $&@$. But characters that act decent end up at a fancy ass party in downtown Palo Alto." He leaned back against a foundation post and scratched his scruffy chin. Every single character that had ever appeared in a Chris Hugh or Anchorite story was upstairs, having a party in one of the best restaurants in California. He took a long drag on his cigarette. "I need to do something different."

He put out his cigarette and kneeled down. And in that dusty crawl space he prayed for the first time in his existence. "Oh creator," he said. "The burdens on my weak shoulders are too much. For your greater glory, so that I may fulfill my ordained purpose, please look to me with pity. I, your humble servant ask this of you. Oh creator, please look into the deepest reaches of your memory and grant me some seriously evil cronies to work with."

***

Meanwhile, Chris and the Anchorite were having dinner, or what they termed "noms."

"I'm not really comfortable with Grease praying to me," Chris said. "It seems sacriligous."

"Well, you are his creator."

"Yeah, but..."

The Anchorite held up his hand and googled the word 'sacriligous' on his phone. "'Grossly irreverent to what is considered sacred,'" he said. "You're making fun if yourself, not religion, so this is not irreverent. Certainly not grossly irreverent."

"And I'm careful not to capitalize 'creator' in reference to myself, even though good grammar dictates that I probably should since the word is being used as a name," Chris said. "That should count for something."

"I think you're fine," the Anchorite said.

They each agreed with the other, then discussed copyright issues regarding well known fictional villains. They concluded that it was a vast, complicated and incredibly boring area of law and that the safest guideline would be to only use characters whose creators had been dead for more than 70 years and that were very clearly in the public domain.

***

Down in the crawlspace, Professor Moriarty, Dr. Jekyll and Frankenstein's Monster stared at Grease resentfully. Only Count Dracula seemed happy. Sauron and Lord Voldemort had left to have dinner at Zibibbo's down the street.

***




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The reunion part ten


by the Anchorite

Ting Ting tried to contain her excitement as she concentrated on precisely following the instructions that Chris Hugh and the Anchorite provided her. She held the lodestone invested with their creative energy. Ting Ting closed her eyes and concentrated on feeling one with the warm stone that glowed in her hands and visualized the images that the two writers told her to project in her imagination. The lodestone grew warmer and disintegrated into powder in her hands. Ting Ting opened her eyes and saw the air in front of her tear open like a sheet of paper as the portal opened.

An Asian woman walked through the portal into the room. She stood taller than Ting Ting and had a curvy yet lithe figure and even if she was not as beautiful or graceful as Ting Ting in her human form, she had the regal bearing of noble breeding. Ting Ting, usually elegant and restrained, could not hold back the tears that flowed when she saw her human, Regia Sun Yin Hian. As she used to do when Regia came home, Ting Ting ran up to her human and gave her a tight embrace. She repeatedly said,

“It’s you, it’s really you. Chris and the Anchorite came through.”

Regia looked confused but remained composed.

“Do I know you?”

Ting Ting did not reply with words. As she used to do in what seemed like a lifetime ago, Ting Ting brushed the side of her head against Regia’s shoulder while being careful to not soak her human with her tears. Ting Ting whispered the words,

“I’m your little angel.”

Regia gasped loudly and choked back her own tears

“Ting Ting? My little angel? Is it really you?”

Ting Ting did not trust herself to speak, so she simply nodded as she sobbed. 

“What sorcery is this?”

Ting Ting took a deep breath before she answered.

“It’s the most powerful sorcery on this world, the power of creative writing. Two good writer friends shared their magic with me and gave me the means to pull you into this world, but it’s only temporary. It’s the same magic my friends here used to pull me away a moment before I was going to die by your father’s hand. You’ll be here for a few hours before you get sent back to the exact moment you left our home world, and unfortunately you will not have any memory of this night. It’ll be a dream to you when you wake up, nothing more.”

“I can’t believe you’re alive, Ting Ting. I miss you every day. Many days I felt like you were the only real friend I had and the one bright spot in my life, and Father brutally killed you just to send me a message and take away my greatest joy because he could. When I saw your broken, bloody body something in me snapped and it was the last straw. Seeing such cruelty to such an innocent beloved pet made me hate him and inspired me to stand up against him after a lifetime of abuse.”

“I know, Regia. That’s the role I served in your story, but it’s over now. The Anchorite would not agree to let me bring you here until he was assured that you would not remember any of this. He was concerned that seeing me alive would undo your character development, but after he separated us like that I guilt-tripped him into letting me see you for one night only – this special night when all cats and their humans come together to celebrate their special relationships and bonds of love.

“Now you’re here and we can celebrate together before the spell wears off and you return to our home world. I’m really happy here, Regia. I have a job working for the Chaircat, who is the host of this wonderful event. I made some great friends with the cats of this world, and I even found true love. I’d like you to meet Twitch, if I can find him. This is a wonderful place and I’d love to show you around. Look at this delightful treat, for example. This is champagne, a sparkling grape wine that has become my favorite drink. Try a glass, it’s much better than that harsh rice wine from back home. Now where did Twitch go?”
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The reunion part nine

Upstairs, Mr. Kitten was regaling Chris, Stanley, Helen, Rico, the goddess Ishtar and Santa Claws with anecdotes from his life with Chris. 

"And then there was this time," he was saying, "that she took me to the vet because she found what she so elegantly termed 'these weird growths' on my abdomen." He looked at Chris with narrow eyes. "They were my nipples."

Chris smiled sheepishly. Stanley and Helen, who were author avatars, shared her embarrassment and smiled in exactly the same way. Ishtar's laughter drifted to their ears like honeyed absinthe. Santa gave his customary "ho, ho ho!"

"And there was that other time," Kitten continued, "she took a day off work because while she was getting dressed she thought she found a cancerous tumor in my nose." He gave Chris a disgusted look and turned away. "It was a booger."

Ishtar smiled politely and her smile was a glowing light that quickened every male heart. Santa patted his washboard stomach as he laughed, then patted Ishtar on her perfect rump. She gave him a wink and bumped him with her hip. "Maybe we should find a nice place to put your toy sack," she said, managing to make it sound dirty.

"No, no. I'm giving out presents," he said. The huge man took the red bag off his shoulder, the massive muscles rippling on his arms, and put it on the floor. Then he drew his great broadsword and slashed it open. "Here we go," he said, handing out  gifts. Even Kitten got one.

Santa gave Ishtar a squeeze. "I'll pass out the rest of these, then I'll show you what I've got for you," he said, managing to make it sound dirty.

"Don't wait to open them," Santa said as he and Ishtar turned away. "You might need them."

Chris and the others looked at their gaily wrapped gifts. 

They were rather heavy.

***

Down in the basement, Grease had just finished putting himself out. He pulled off the last of his smoking, ruined clothes and assessed the situation. The fire had ruined his flashlight and walkie talkie and the trapdoor to the crawl space had fallen shut. Other than the small circle of light from the room above, he was in total darkness. He had second degree burns over most of his body, he had lost communication with his accomplices and he was naked.

"Huh, not too bad," he thought. "It's usually worse."

Then the trapdoor opened, framing the shadowed figure of a cat in its opening. Grease saw the light glint off fiery golden fur and emerald eyes, and winced as a tinkle of urine seeped onto his burned inner thighs. Warrior Cat had recovered from his encounter with Twitch more quickly than Grease expected.

The big tomcat glided to the stricken man. "Guess what," the cat hissed. "It's worse."




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Some cats make biscuits...

It's where they knead with their paws. It's the same motion kittens use when they're nursing to stimulate the flow of milk. It's cute.

A Dutch oven is where somebody releases gas under the bed covers. It's not cute.

Guess what Twitch's new specialty is? Pin It Now!

The reunion part eight


***

Meanwhile, Grease was crawling through the basement of the restaurant, pulling spiderwebs out of his hair and repeatedly smacking his head on the low ceiling.. "Dammit, I need a cigarette," he said, reaching toward the vest pocket of his dirty motorcycle jacket. Then he stopped and made a fist. Damnit. He had to change clothes before he could smoke. Some stupid fat bitch had managed to get gasoline on him earlier that day. He shook his head. How did that happen? Hell, she wasn't even the one pumping gas. He knew he had a job to do this night and he was going to let it go, but when her jive talking companion jumped in and said "sorry, my bad" he pulled out his 9 inch hunting knife with the intention of teaching them a lesson. To his chagrin, the woman had whipped out a handgun and taught him a lesson about politely accepting apologies. And bladder control.

Now he reeked of a not entirely unfamiliar combination of gasoline, sweat, leather and, well, urine. He stunk. He needed a smoke. And he was squeezed into the uncomfortable crawlspace of a fancy dancy restaurant trying to drill a hole into their lower dining room.  

"Can this day get any worse?" he snarled.

***

Twitch examined the marijuana cigarette, sniffing it carefully, briefly tasting it, and jerking his hand back when he touched the lit end. "This is some weird smelling catnip," he said, trying to hand it back to CC. "Plus, I think it's on fire."

CC leaned back grinning and Skulkin giggled like an annoying middle schooler. "You put one end in your mouth and suck it," CC finally explained.

Twitch's prednisone kicked in again. "You suck it!" He tossed the joint on the floor and stalked out of the room, making sure to shoulder Skulkin on the way out.

* * *

Underneath the dining room, Grease was blinking fiberglass insulation out of his eyes and trying to ignore the pain of his cramped muscles. He finished sawing a circle in the floor, and held the cutout of wood up with one hand while putting the jig saw down with the other, thereby simultaneously giving himself a long jagged cut on one hand while driving a thick splinter deep into the other. Through a haze of pain he could make out voices in the room above him. Conversation, then laughter, then an angry outburst. He gritted his teeth and pulled the circle of flooring free just as a marijuana cigarette came through the hole and set him on fire.

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The reunion part seven

Written by the Anchorite

Twitch followed the curious trail of smoke down the stairs and toward the lower private dining area where the curling tendrils coalesced into a soupy fog. Even with eyesight sharper than a normal human's, he struggled to make out a door barely visible behind the nearly opaque cloud. Twitch pondered the door for a moment, mouthed the words "Why not?" accompanied by a shrug of his shoulders, and walked into the doorway as the smoke parted like a curtain.

Inside the room he saw his good friend CC splayed on a sofa in his usual half-awake state. An imposing brutish man stood beside him. He had the burly build of a grizzly bear with a bald head and thick beard. Both CC and the large man smoked like chimneys, engaging in a coordinated routine of passing their smokes back and forth. CC took a huge drag of his cigarette and brushed aside the long bangs that obscured his eyes.

"Twitch! Good to see you, my friend. Forgive me if I don't get up, but it's so warm and comfy here."

He lazily waved a hand at the large man.

"Have you met my human? This fine bloke is Skullkin Green, lead singer of Solar Wind. He's not one for fancy attire like I am. Heck, wearing something with sleeves is as dressed up as he gets. We look an odd couple, but that's the dynamic between cats and humans. We fill in each other's gaps to complement each other well, isn't that right Skullkin?"

The large man flashed a toothy grin and traded smokes with CC. When his human approached, CC reached out to give Skullkin's beard a playful tug. Skullkin reacted with a hearty chuckle. Twitch looked at the beard with fascinated longing, but surmised that the big man would not react so kindly if he tried it.

"The Chaircat graciously commissioned Solar Wind to play a set for this shindig's entertainment, so we're going through our pre-concert tradition: lots of smoking and even more drinking."

"I drank a twelve-pack of beer, all by myself." Skullkin beamed with pride.

Twitch looked at the 350 pound behemoth of a man and sarcastically asked, "Where do you put it?" 

Skullkin ignored him."And it's going to be a double bill because we'll also have Pale Cadaver play a righteous set. Speaking of which, where is that walking mummified corpse?"

At that moment, a mummified corpse walked in through the doorway's smoke cloud. Cad Cadsworth, the Cadaverous Cad, entered carrying a large bottle.

"Don't get up on my account, CC you lazy sod. I brought you a bottle of gin to drown your sorrows right before my band wipes the floor with yours."

"Whatever, you pasty skeleton. Everyone knows that Solar Wind rocks harder than any band on the planet, just like everyone knows that gin is for wankers. Whiskey's where it's at."

"Bugger off, fancy lad."

For a moment Twitch thought the two would break into a fight, but after the exchange of insults the two band mascots laughed hard. CC finally stood up to graciously pass the bottle of gin to a receptive Skullkin, and then the shoegazing cat hugged the gentleman zombie of heavy metal. CC took another deep drag from his smoke and then passed it to Cadsworth.

"Here you go, guv, this is good for what ails you."

"Mmmm this is a good crop indeed. Where did you come across such fine product?"

"It's courtesy of Her Royal Highness, Princess Cottie of the Apricot Kingdom. Her magical kingdom in known far and wide for producing the finest apricots period, but it's a lesser known fact that the climate conditions ideal for growing such amazing apricots also lend themselves to a different sort of agriculture."

"That's fine indeed, CC. This Apricot Kingdom sounds like a lovely place."

"You're in luck, Cadsworth. The Chaircat throws an epic party and he invited Princess Cottie and the Stone Prince as special guests."

"That's right, dudes!" 

The room's occupants turned to face the two teenagers that entered. Despite their young ages, the Apricot Princess and Stone Prince both had noble bearings and presences larger than their diminutive sizes.

"HHHHEEEEYYYY! Solar Wind totally rocks! Pale Cadaver IS metal!" The Stone Prince raised a hand in a devil horn gesture. Skullkin Green looked ecstatic as he took a large pull from the gin bottle.

"Thank you, your majesty. I am glad that my music pleases you."

"Pleases me? You kick ass!"

"Thank you kindly."

Princess Cottie rolled her eyes, but could not help chuckling at her close friend's enthusiasm. The Stone Prince spent countless hours rocking his playlist at full volume while stoned into a stupor. She gave the partygoers a small curtsy and removed a plastic bag from a pocket in her elegant evening gown.

"You fellows look like you're running low on supplies and I want to make sure that both bands play their best at tonight's show. Stone and I traveled a long way to come here, after all. I bring you some of the Apricot Kingdom's finest, from my own personal stash. As royal sovereigns, both the Stone Prince and I have diplomatic immunity so I deem you my honorary subjects for a day and command you: go to town and both of you band mascots take generous amounts to your musicians."

"I thank you for such a generous gift, Your Highness." Skullkin Green bowed to the royals. He removed a small square of rolling paper from a pocket in his studded leather vest and deftly rolled a pinch of Princess Cottie's gift. "Oh yeah, Solar Wind will rock tonight."

The Stone Prince opened an ornate box and held two identical stone apparatuses.

"For both Solar Wind and Pale Cadaver, I present a gift as a toke of appreciation for epic rocking. Heh, I said toke. These are bongs carved from the finest stone of my kingdom's royal quarries. May they serve you well for many years of balls-out partying!"

Casworth tipped his hat and then took the bong a handful of the herb to his band, deftly exiting the room.

CC helped himself to another joint that his human rolled for him and then handed one to Twitch.

"Come on, my friend, why don't you join us?"

CC brushed aside hair that cascaded over his eyes and whispered into Twitch's ear.

"I may be a lazy cat, but I know what's going on. I heard about your illness and I'm really sorry to hear it, but you might as well get used to some medical relief."

Twitch shrugged his shoulders. If he could survive a bout with Big Cat Brew, then how bad could this be?


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