A Girl, a boy, a feral cat, pursuit by unhuman things.

ddse-series-cover-smashwordsI’ve got a new series of books called DDsE and you can start reading for free; download an e-version* from Smashwords**.

DDsE is a teen/YA (young adult) paranormal horror romance that will ultimately be 9 short volumes. Books 1 and 2 are now on-line. Books 3-5 will be available within weeks; the remaining 4 are coming within the next year.***

What’s DDsE about? Here’s a blurb:

Being sixteen is Tupac Eminem. Ella has no one to talk to except her new diary, which she has to hide from Ma and Pa Warden, the foster parents she’s stuck with since her family got flattened in a car accident. Now that she lives with the wardens, she has to switch to a new school, where people act like her tragedy is contagious. Her new suburb is just as boring as the last, and offers no hope of secret passageways or magic. But life is not all bad. There’s an interesting boy at the new school – although his family turns out to be impossibly dangerous. And there’s a feral cat, living in the suburb’s only open space, a pitiful excuse for woods. Sometimes the cat invades Ella’s mind. She tells her diary, ‘I’ve gone a special kind of crazy, a split personality. And my other personality is a cat, not a person.’

* Eventually, I’ll compile the short volumes and make them available as paperbacks, too.

** Soon, DDsE will also be downloadable at the Apple iStore, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Noisetrade. Eventually, it will come to Amazon, too.

*** Some of you may say, “Wait, I thought you were sending DDsE to publishers, is that effort kaput?” Still in progress. Three have declined. The first two liked the story but didn’t like the narrator. The third one loved the narrator but didn’t like the story. (I forgot how maddening this process can be.) Other verdicts are still out but apparently I don’t have enough patience (nor, perhaps, enough decades) to grind through the submission process.

Facing the Moon Again

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On the whole, I prefer cats to people and through the years I’ve been lucky to know many amazing felines. Especially Leo.

I lost him last summer. Through at least some fault of my own. He was only 3.

 

 

 

LeoyawnLeo gave his all to everything. He was enthusiastic, eccentric, hilarious. And above all, loving. He adapted, accepted, and enjoyed whatever came his way, to such a remarkable extent that I began to see him as a spiritual guide. He was always purring about something, with a motor that could be heard across a room. He purred when he ate, he purred when you looked at him, he purred as he walked around.

 

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When I scratched the side of his chin, he would invariably lean too deeply into the experience and fall over. At which he’d shake himself and lean just as deeply, again. And again. I don’t know how long he would have kept it up – I always stopped first. During the scratch-lean-fall episode in this photo, he repeatedly slid off the arm of a chair and came back for more, purring all the while. I’m probably the only one who wants to watch this video of a chin scratch session, but you’re welcome to join me…

 

 

 

When we got a rescue dog, all but one of the cats soon figured out that the dog was afraid of cats, and made nefarious use of that knowledge. Leo never got the memo and fled at any sudden movement by the dog (who in turn would flee because Leo made a sudden move). Eventually Leo discovered that dog tails make fun toys and that launched a friendship between those two exceedingly cautious individuals.

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Leo was enormous, standing a head taller than the other cats. He was galumphing yet graceful. One of my favorite things was the way his spine undulated as he strolled.

Another favorite was how he reacted if I tried to hold him. He didn’t like to be held, but he wouldn’t squirm away. Nor would he give in to it. Instead, he would stand stiffly on my chest until I released him.

 

 

 

He’s been gone for nearly a year yet it still hurts to talk about him in past tense.

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Can you spot Leo in this picture? He started life as a tiny feral stray kitten. I’m grateful to the shelter worker who devoted extra hours to handling him, to give him a chance at adoption. The feral kittens don’t often get out of the building.

As Leo grew – and grew – he maintained the view that everything was larger and tougher than he was. Tougher, perhaps was true. Such a gentle and humble nature – not descriptors that often get applied to cats.

 

 

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Leo adored and admired my older cat Luna, who became his mentor in cat behavior. Luna is innately a cool feline dude and he was patient with Leo, but Leo never quite got it. The cool feline thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leo was friendly with all other cats. When I left Missing Cat flyers on doorsteps I heard from more than one neighbor, ‘I used to see him all the time, he hung out with our cat(s).’

 

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It’s safer, of course, for cats to stay indoors, but they’re so much happier outside. So I let them out during the day then locked them in at supper time. Every morning I’d get a knot of anxiety when I opened the cat door, and breathe a thanks when they were safely back inside. But I knew that if they could talk they’d tell me they’d rather live short interesting lives outside; so I honored those preferences. Until recently.

Last summer I was away from home for nearly 3 weeks, on work trips with a vacation sandwiched between. Leo, especially, hated it when my suitcase came out and I left home. I was the only human he had any bond with.

 

A few days into my trip, I got a phone call that Leo had stopped coming inside. He was hanging out down the street but wouldn’t come home.

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When I got the call, I was enjoying a lazy afternoon by my brother and sister-in-law’s pool. The trip took on a taint after that call. I was thousands of miles from home. I’ve rarely felt more helpless.

I love traveling but I am a complete homebody and always get homesick.  When I’m away from home, I use the moon to connect with my absent loved ones. I look up, know I’m seeing the same moon that they are, and with that can better enjoy my time away.

 

On that wretched trip, my last night away there was a gorgeous full moon. That night, like every night since the phone call, I tried to send Leo thought messages while I stared at the moon. Silly, of course, unless it wasn’t. Go home buddy, I’ll be there soon.

When I woke up to catch my pre-dawn flight, I was swept with dread, a certainty that something terrible had happened to Leo.

I’ve got a lot of if onlys.

If only I’d kept the cats locked in the whole time I was away. Sure they would have been miserable and driven my daughter crazy. But.

If only I’d flown home early, right after I got that phone call about Leo. Sure it would have cost lots of money I didn’t have. But based on neighbors’ reports, he was around, people saw him – until right before I got back.

If only I’d paid more attention to numerous indications that the drought was driving more wildlife down from the mountains and into my neighborhood. Once I got back home from my trip, I learned from neighbors that on every block, multiple cats had gone missing of late. Coyote sightings increased from occasionally to daily. I could have realized some of that earlier.

I could have done so many things differently.

If only.

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Our neighborhood is empty of cats now. Some are now forced to be indoor cats, like my unhappy campers. Actually, mine now have a giant dog-run cage thing that lets them go slightly outdoors. One of them thinks the cage is cool, one is indifferent, and one of them thinks it’s a cruel trick.

 

 

 

 

They used to love to hang out on this patio, as Luna and Leo are doing in this photo. Leo was always in one planter or another. He was rough on the plants.

A couple months into Leo’s disappearance, I took down the signs I’d posted around the neighborhood. It wasn’t intentional, my putting them in his favorite planter.

I found myself incapable of trashing the posters. They sat in the planter through the winter. Finally, after the rain ruined them, they no longer felt connected to Leo and I could recycle them.

I don’t know what happened to Leo. No remains have been found. But then that’s how cat disappearances go. Certainly, no one has called about his microchip number. I’ve been searching shelters and Craig’s list ever since; although sporadically now, eleven months later. I’ve been blessed with volunteered help, well-wishes, and miracle reunion stories from numerous wonderful strangers; and I’ve been harassed by  ‘we found your pet’ scams.

Perhaps a coyote didn’t get Leo. But that’s by far the most likely scenario.  Beautiful warm night, full moon, Leo chasing bugs, doesn’t notice the pack until… 

Every damn time I walk outside, I still have a flash instant’s fantasy that he’ll come running up from god-knows-where he’s been.

I hate being outside in my neighborhood at night now, especially when the moon is bright. I need to get my moon-gazing back. It was one of my favorite things about being alive.

I usually honor my animals with memorials when their lives conclude, but I haven’t been able to manage one for Leo. For almost a year, I haven’t been able to look at photos of him and have shied away from my memories.

But I need to get past that. Avoiding memories is worse than losing him. It’s like he never existed, never graced my life at all. Nothing could be more wrong than that.

Leo, your presence in my life was such a gift. I miss you so much.

Hope to see you on the other side.

(Written for WP Weekly Photo Challenges Admiration and Pure.)

Moments Now vs. Moments Later

I know I’m not alone with this dilemma: the more photographs I take, the harder it is to enjoy the moment. That camera-phone stuck to my face – that oh! good shot! scrutiny – blocks my senses.

But if I’ve got photographs, I can re-live (a weak yet satisfying imitation of) that moment. Without photographs, all I’d remember would be the beach with the pier is nice at sunset:

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By the time I uploaded my photos, I’d forgotten how the surf distorted the pier’s reflection:

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Nowadays, I’m really trying to live in the moment, so as I continued my walk, I pocketed my phone. Then unpocketed it. Many times.

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Capturing a pelican on camera marks a different kind of living in the moment:

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One of the great things about the beach is how quickly everything changes. Every moment really does last a moment. Here’s what happened to the sunset when the fog got just a bit thicker:

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One solution to photographing my moments away might be to keep going back to the beach. I don’t need photo memories of stuff I do and see all the time – do I? Hmm. My photo library draws a different conclusion:

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My cats and my granddaughter. I’m lucky enough to see both all the time. Yet the photo library keeps growing in both categories… Thank goodness for the digital photo era.

(The WP Weekly Photo Challenge was Broken.)

Confirmation of Feline Underpinnings

I’m not much for housework, but have always especially hated vacuuming. In fact, once as a kid, to avoid using the vacuum I picked up crud from the carpet in my room with tape. That only took 150 times longer.

Pop math quiz: assume the room was 10 feet by 10 feet, the tape was 1/2 inch wide, and I didn’t clean under my bed. How much tape did I squander that day?

Answer: no one has an answer. No one wants to do math on a frigging blog.

Anyway. Now that I’m a grownup, I live in a carpet-free house. Even without a carpet, I did need a Shop Vac in the kids’ room when they were small. I came to recognize the distinct sounds of common objects as they got sucked up the tube: the clatter of a track cleat, the rattle of a marble, the thunk-ffffff of a sock.

I believe my hatred of vacuums confirms that in a previous life I was a cat. I don’t know what I did wrong, that merited my returning as a lower life form this time.

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I wish I could credit the creator of this famous and oft-posted cartoon. Does anyone know the cartoonist’s name beyond Je-something Be-something? An admittedly casual search yields only the pages that have posted this classic.

This post responds to a WP Daily Prompt.

The Only Cat in the World

I lost a dear friend today.

Our cat Bop always wanted to be the only cat. Probably only cat in the world, certainly in the household. Those other cats were irksome; unnecessary. She spent a decade demonstrating why she was superior to the rest of her breed. She helped with paperwork:

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She critiqued my writing:

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She kept her spine supple, the better to chase other cats:

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She practiced the art of fine sleeping:

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She lived for thrills. We had an aggressive rabbit, Cookie, who would attack any cat that dared go near her cage. Yet, whenever Cookie went out in the yard, Bop would hang out in the forbidden zone:

Bop grew up to disdain other animals, with one exception. She enjoyed our rabbit Cookie, a bold and aggressive rescue bunny. Bop loved to hang out in Cookie's cage. An extreme sport. Cookie would have killed anybody (not an exaggeration) she caught in her cage.

Bop was smart and affectionate, and friendly with humans. She tolerated the dog. When I walked the dog she would start the walk with us, and run to meet us when we returned. She devoted much of her life to the thankless, Sisyphean task of eradicating other cats from the neighborhood. She mostly but grudgingly got along with our cat Luna, who joined the household from the same shelter on the same day:

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I didn’t want to bring Bop home. She was homely, mangy, and her stomach was distended with worms. When my daughter tried to cuddle her at the shelter, Bop took a clawing flying leap over my daughter’s shoulder and shot away. We caught up to her three rooms distant. My son persuaded us to choose Bop because of her lively personality. Lively became over-the-top! She also became quite sleek and beautiful when she got healthy.

Time has done its flying thing. The girl who holds kitten Bop in that last picture is now applying to med schools. The boy, holding kitten Luna, becomes a father next spring (and along the way, grew several inches taller than his sister).

Luna grew up to be friendly to all other cats. Average Luna with Bop and you get a normal cat.

Big problems arose a couple years ago, when we adopted three new shelter kittens, Bo, Leo, and Arrow:

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As they got older, Luna became fast friends with them. Here he is with Leo, who became enormous:

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Bop hated the kittens and attacked with intent to kill. We were expecting trouble from her, but not so violent nor so persistent. We had to isolate the kittens for many months. When Leo and Bo got bigger, they stood up to her attacks, so – like any bully – she backed off. She still liked to hide behind doors to ambush them, but when she sprang out they would flatten and hiss and the incident would be over. The third kitten, Arrow, remained terrified, which inspired Bop to continue to chase and harass Arrow.

We always wondered whether Arrow and Bop knew how much they looked alike. Here is Arrow (reacting to Bop):

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Here is what Arrow saw (Bop, acting tough):

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Until recently, even the other kittens couldn’t tell Bop from Arrow. We put a bell on Bop for a while, to help distinguish her, but she kept escaping the collars. Too smart for us. Mistaken identities led to many double-takes and ill-chosen encounters. Arrow would run up to play with the other kittens and they would flee, mistaking her for Bop, leaving her with the feline equivalent of a WTF expression. Conversely, enemy Bop would appear and Bo and Leo would run toward her, mistaking her for their buddy Arrow. Bop would hiss or lunge, demonstrating their mistake, and they would flee, looking confused.

A few months ago, the vet said that Bop – only 11.5 years old – had terminal cancer and a few months to live. We all figured that Bop the contrarian would survive for years. After all, Cookie the rabbit did that after a similar diagnosis, and they were kindred spirits.

But that isn’t how it turned out.

Over the last several weeks, as Bop grew sicker, the young cats grew bolder, bringing a ding dong the witch is dead atmosphere to the household. One day, even Arrow felt comfortable nosing around Bop’s special sleeping areas. It made me cry – it was a proof of how sick Bop had become.

Today was Bop’s last day, and it was a tough one, although it concluded with a tribute of a moon that reminded me of Bop’s ultra-white and densely black fur:

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I loved the underside of Bop’s front paws. On one paw, she had all white toes, with one black exception in the middle. On the other paw, she had the opposite coloring.

Bop, you didn’t need to be the only cat to stand out. You were a difficult animal – my difficult animal – and I’ll miss you every day.

(The WP Weekly Photo Challenge is Gone but Not Forgotten.)

Adventure Is Always Present Tense

A sister-in-law: “Have you read Wild by Cheryl Strayed? I think of you as I read it, because of your adventurous spirit.”

Me: “No, but I am thrilled that you think I have an adventurous spirit. Wonder if I agree.”

A sister-in-law: “Are you kidding?”

Adventurous? Moi? I wish! I do like to try new things but I generally fall short of earning the honor of that adjective.

I can be a big chicken, but that’s not what prevents me. It’s my tendency to dwell in the past and on the future. I know I’m not the only one with this problem. It afflicts most adults of our species.

Adventure can only be had right now, in the present. Kids are good at living in the present tense. So are critters. It’s a skill I’m trying to re-acquire.

When you first learn to walk, every moment is an adventure:

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A few years later, adventure is as close as your next idea, such as this tandem go-cart constructed of cardboard boxes, plywood, and skateboard wheels:

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Red and Luna would head out each morning to patrol the yard and explore anything that might be new since yesterday.

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And of course, when you’re a dog, like Shadow, adventure is always in the air – especially through a car window:

Waiting for the next walk.

Shadow and I go for walks twice a day. I vary the route but we’ve lived here for years. No matter which way we go, we’ve done it before. Many times. Yet, each time we step out the door, Shadow’s enthusiasm is as fresh as ever, and she’s always in a hurry to get going. It’s not that she needs to go – she’s got a backyard, she’s not cooped up inside. She’s eager because you just never know what might happen next.

That’s the attitude I aspire to. Except without the affinity for cat poop.

Nica, the main character of my latest novel, is completely comfortable with adventure. I’ve never written another character that I want so much to be like!

Perhaps I Bore Them

Do people yawn when we are bored, or does that only happen in fiction?

Do cats yawn when they are bored? Do cats get bored? How could we tell?

My cats yawn at me pretty frequently. Should I take it personally?

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(The WP Weekly Photo Challenge said to juxtapose two photos to engage them in dialogue. I remain clueless about what that means even after it sparked several posts!)