Monday, May 13, 2013

Gracie Award Writing Contest Entry

The result are in for the Black Lilac Kitty Gracie Award Contest.

In this contest, we had to writea short story (2,000 to 7,000) words that included:
  • a cat
  • a Rottweiler that could not be mean
  • the phrase "It was a dark and stormy night
They did not publish any of the winning stories, but they did list the winners names. On the blog post, there are a few more comments about what appealed to the judge about each story.

Meanwhile, my entry is below, it is titled "Guardian". Enjoy




Standing on my porch was a gray and white cat, dressed in formal business wear, featuring a HELLO! My name is… nametag, with JASPER written in permanent marker. Having nothing better to do, I invited him in.

Jasper strolled through my house with a bit of a swagger, a natural effect given his anatomy and preference to walk on his rear legs. He looked around for a bit before deciding to sit on the loveseat. He looked at me as if he wanted something. I spent half an hour trying to figure that out. Each time I offered something he didn’t like, he’d flick his paw at me dismissively. I finally figured out that he liked tea, served in a mug, with a handle that fit his paw. Again, this is a cat we are talking about.

I stared at Jasper for a bit, wondering where he came from. The circus wasn’t in town. I hadn’t seen any Lost Cat signs in the neighborhood recently. On a whim, I decided to ask him.
"Where did you come from?"

He pulled out a folded brochure from his breast pocket. By pull, I mean he used his teeth to bite and hold the paper. It was for a senior living home not far from my house. Having answered his place of origin, I now had another question. How in the world did he understand what I asked him?

"You understand what I’m saying?" Jasper nodded. Smarty cat.

"Why are you here?" He took another piece of paper out of his pocket, this time very delicately. It was an old piece of newspaper, about ten years or so. It was a classified ad.

Wanted. Animals that want to be humans. Reward possible. I knew whose number was on the bottom of the ad. I had married her after all. I had forgotten about the ad, nothing had ever come of it. Until now. Before I could think of how to tell her, Rita came in through the garage door.

"Hey sweetie, I’m – what’s that?" She noticed Jasper. I had rather hoped she’d mistake him for a new throw pillow.

"He just showed up at the doorstep today. I think he wandered over from Sunny Acres."

"Well, have you called? I’m sure someone who loved their cat so much to dress him like this would miss him terribly."

Jasper mewed and shook his head.

"The cat says no." I interpreted.

"He’s probably hungry and scared. We should get him some milk"

"I don’t think so. He’s had some tea already and didn’t seem much interested in fish or crackers or milk or much of anything else really."

"Tea? Since when do cat’s drink tea?"

"I don’t know, but I’m also pretty certain that most cats couldn’t follow this conversation."

"Fred, I’m not sure I follow this conversation."

"He knows what we’re saying."

"That’s impossible." Rita crouched by Jasper and looked him in the eye. He stared right back, and though there was silence, I swear he was speaking to her. "You do understand us, don’t you?"

Jasper nodded.

"Fred, we have to get him back home. Such an incredible cat should be returned right away to his owner. You said he came from Sunny Acres? How did you know that?"

"He gave me a brochure?"

"He what? Never mind, of course he did. I’m going to give them a call."

I tried to tell Rita that there was more, but she waved me off as she dialed the phone.

She discovered he belonged to Petunia Rothschild, a widow. She received Jasper when he was a kitten. She talked with him every day, almost continually. He would sit and listen with unshakeable attention. Most people wrote Petunia off as crazy, but the nurse who worked with her said that she just liked having someone around to listen to her. She passed away the same morning that Jasper arrived at my house. The receptionist said the nursing home would welcome Jasper back anytime.

"Well, it’s getting late now. We’ll just bring him in the morning." Rita asserted. She scooped Jasper in her arms. He finally resumed typical cat behavior, purring as she scratched his head.

"Sweetheart, there’s something else I haven’t told you yet." I handed her the scrap of newspaper with the classified ad. She looked at the ad for a while, stared back at Jasper, and then her eyes met mine.

"When is the next full moon?" She asked.

"Tonight."

"You know what we have to do."

*****

Rita and I first met when I worked at the local rescue shelter. She asked me if she could help take care of the dogs. I guided her through all the chores and she went to work, caring to each of the canines with the tenderness of a new mother. I went to find her when it was time to close, and was shocked to see her face was swollen and blotchy, and she was having trouble breathing. I ran for an Epi-Pen and escorted her to the lobby.

"Sorry." She whispered after the medicine had run its course. "I’m allergic to dogs."

I was genuinely befuddled. Did she have a death wish or something? Why would someone torture herself like that?

"Perhaps we can find you some other animals that need assistance."

"No. I want to work with dogs."

"And go through this every time?"

"If that’s what it takes. Thanks for your help by the way."

"Sure, no problem, but I don’t think I can stand by and watch you put yourself through Hell."

"Please. I need this."

"But why?"

She looked at me with tears in her eyes. She didn’t tell me why, but she didn’t have to. I could tell there was a deep motivator for her compassion.

"Alright, come back tomorrow. We’ll limit your exposure to fifteen minutes at a time. You need to wear gloves, glasses, and a surgical mask. You should also keep some allergy meds with you."

She smiled, hugged me, and kissed me on the nose. The warmth of her lips travelled the course of my body.

"Thank you." She said as she left into the snowy night.

Our relationship grew over the next few months. Rita was simultaneously fragile as a tulip and tenacious as a cactus. Her passion was dogs. She’d swallow a river to save one if she had to. She was especially drawn to the Rottweiler breed, and it wasn’t long before I found out why.

One day, I lost track of time filing some paperwork. I realized that Rita hadn’t come back from the kennels. I raced down the hall. When I got to the kennels, my heart froze. She was unconscious on the floor, her mask and gloves discarded beside her. She wasn’t breathing. I called 911 and started to administer CPR. I can’t express how beautiful of a sound it was to hear the rasp wind of breath come from her mouth.

Later, at the hospital, she explained what happened.

"Before, I tell you what happened at the shelter, you need to know about my past. My dad was evil. He did things to me that no father should ever, ever, do to their child." Rita paused. Her lip quivered. I held her hand.

"There was a night when he almost killed me. I was seven. He had me deep in the woods behind our house, I would have died, except out of nowhere came this low growl. It was the first time I had ever seen fear in my father’s eyes. The dog, a Rottweiler, chased him away. Then, she came back to me, curled up next to me and we slept through the night together. In the morning, when I had a little strength, she guided me to a road just as a police car was passing by. In short, she rescued me. I never forgot her face as she looked at me while the squad car took me to safety. And ever since she saved me, I have devoted myself to trying to return the favor as best I can."

She took a shaky breath. I held her hand and kissed her forehead.

"I saw her again at the shelter today. I know without a doubt, it was her."

"But, Rita, there isn’t a single Rottweiler registered with us."

"She was there, and Fred, she spoke to me. Or at least I could hear her thoughts as if they were my own."

"Honey, maybe you lost your surgical mask and passed out and dreamed all this."

"No. It was real. Please, I need you to believe me."

I doubted her story, but her statement was still true. At this moment, she needed my faith.

"Okay. What did she say to you?"

"She said I could be a guardian like her."

"Well, I can certainly agree with that. You are the most compassionate person I know."

"She meant I could become like her in every way. I could become a dog."

"And you would want this?"

"Desperately."

I exhaled. I told myself that this wasn’t real, that it wasn’t possible, but Rita’s earnestness spoke otherwise.

"So how does that happen?"

"Zoe, that’s her name by the way, told me that the only way a transition can happen is if there’s something else to balance the equation. There has to be an animal that desires to be human. Then, in a secluded place at midnight, under a full moon, we share blood. "

"Share blood! This is getting preposterous. Why don’t you get some rest? We can talk about it in the morning."

"I’ll agree to rest, but I won’t promise that anything will change." I reached across her to turn of the light, and she put her hand on my cheek. "I love you Freddie." She kissed the tip of my nose, just like the first time I rescued her. I sighed and left the room for a sleepless night.

When I arrived the next morning, Rita was dressed and eager to leave. She marched with a sense of purpose. I almost had to jog to keep up with her.

"Care for some coffee and breakfast?" I attempted to slow her down.

"I already ate, I want to get home. I have a lot to do."

"Rita, can we talk about this?"

"If you are going to tell me not to do it, I don’t want to listen."

"I’m not going to try to stop you, but I want you to hear what I have to say."

She stopped.

"Just promise me that we won’t spend our whole lives ensconced in this. I know that this is the ultimate dream come true of yours, but if for whatever reason it doesn’t happen, I want to be able to move on with our lives. I want to be with you forever Rita. And even though this might take you from me, it’s worth it if it brings you happiness. But, I think I can also bring you a lot of happiness as well. I’m as loyal as any dog you’d find, and while maybe not as cute, I’m certainly not as hairy. So, what do you think?"

She bit her lip as she thought about what I had said. After a few moments, she nodded and kissed the tip of my nose.


****

The first thing she did was place the classified ad in the paper. Everyday someone called to talk about a pet. Each one only showed an ability to do human things, but not a genuine desire to be human. There were dogs that slept in beds, cats that could sing, a parrot that rode a skateboard, and much more. In any other circumstance, the antics would have been thoroughly entertaining. As the weeks wore on, Rita became more and more frustrated with each exhibition. Weeks turned into months, and the phone stopped ringing. Rita grew sad and withdrawn, and it killed to me to watch her dream be pummeled into oblivion.

It was a year or so after the incident that I suggested a vacation. We drove to the coast and spent a few days distracted from the disappointment. The sand and sun had the desired therapeutic effect. We were catching some afternoon rays when she gave me playful poke.

"I’m ready." She was smiling.

"Ready for what?"

"To let you be the source of my happiness. I don’t want to let go of the possibility of magic, but perhaps it won’t come if you’re looking for it. You’ve been incredible, and you’re support means everything to me. I want to give you that same gift."

We got married at a courthouse nearby. That was close to ten years ago. I had kept my promise, Rita had been happy. But happiness isn’t the same thing as fulfillment.

****

As the sun dipped below the horizon, Rita started to make preparations. She put on hiking boots and put new batteries in the flashlight. I attempted to persuade her not to do this, or at least let me go with her, but she would have none of it.

"At least tell me where you are going."

"To the woods behind my old house." She said solemnly. "It seems fitting that I would make the transition at the place this all began."

I scowled. "Are you going to be all right?"

Finally, her fa├žade broke. Tears streamed from her eyes. "I don’t know Fred. I’m really scared. What if this really is a bunch of nonsense? Am I crazy? I haven’t been back there, and what if I can’t go through with it?"

I hugged her. She released everything that had been building inside her. After a few minutes, she wiped her eyes.

"You are a remarkable woman." I said. "As long as I’ve known you, you’ve done nothing but inspire me. I can’t say for sure if this is real, but you have to take this chance. If it fails, then you get the awful torture of coming back to me. If it succeeds, then you become a real life miracle. I don’t think you can lose."

She laughed a little and kissed me on my nose. "Thank you." She plucked the keys from the table, and left into the night. Jasper, in his typical swagger, ambled behind her.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I took a walk around the neighborhood. The night was beautiful, the air crisp, the moon as shiny as freshly polished platinum. But inside my head, it was a dark and stormy night. I came back to the house, poured myself a stiff drink and unsuccessfully tried to sleep.

She didn’t come back the next morning. She wasn’t back by lunch either. I couldn’t bear waiting much longer than that, so I set off to see if I could find her. I followed her directions to her childhood home. It was in an isolated patch of forest, a mile or so off the main road. Her car sat in the front.

I combed the woods, calling her name. After about an hour, I saw her. She was sitting in the middle of a clearing. She was petting Jasper in her lap. He was licking a cut on her palm. When I came through the bushes, she looked up at me. Tears ran down her face.

I ran to her and threw my arms around her.

"Are you okay?" I asked. She nodded.

"I’m sorry things didn’t work out."

"But they did." She whispered.

"I don’t understand. I thought if it worked, you would transform into a dog."

"It was beautiful. As I pressed the blade against my skin last night, I heard a rustle in the bushes. I called out and looked around, but no one was around. I started the cut again, and once more, there was rustling. I still couldn’t determine what was causing the noise. The next time, I decided to proceed no matter what. As I drew blood, my mysterious companion revealed herself. It was Zoe. As I stared at her under the moonlight I realized the truth. I wasn’t going to become like her. I was her, and she was me."

"What do you mean?"

"I don’t know how it works exactly, but the best I can tell is that Zoe appears when I am in trouble. I’m not sure how real she is, but now I know that she is always inside me and ready to protect me whenever I need her. I never knew I had so much strength inside me."

I smiled at her. "I always did. But what about Jasper? Didn’t he want to be human?"

Rita laughed. "Jasper, although very peculiar, is and always will be a cat. I hope you don’t mind if we keep him. Besides, he knows all of my secrets." She winked at me.

"I don’t mind, but what does he know that I don’t?"

Rita leaned forward and kissed my nose, took my hand, and placed it on her belly

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