Read an Excerpt
The loud, shrill noise made my ears twitch.
The sound came from the ringy-box on the wall. It was a strange, little white box that hung in the kitchen. Every time it said, "Ring...Ring," the Mama would pick it up and start talking to herself.
Mama left the dishes she was working on in the sink and wiped her hands on the towel. She picked up the little ringy-box and held it against the side of her head.
"Hello," she said to herself. Suddenly a smile crept across her face. "Well, hi." Her tone was light and happy. "It's good to hear your voice, too." Her eyes got big. "Really? You're going to have that much time off at Christmas? How wonderful! Hang on a second." Cupping a hand to the side of her mouth, she turned toward the living room. "Owen, get the other phone. It's the kids!"
The smile on Mama's face stretched from one ear to the other. She grinned and giggled. She leaned against the wall. She turned in circles and got the cord on the ringy-box all wrapped around herself, but Mama never seemed to notice. She just kept talking to herself with the ringy-box against her ear. The more she talked to herself, the more happy and excited she seemed to get.
People were really hard to understand.
I mean...well...I guess I talked to myself sometimes, too. I didn't get all excited about it. I didn't meow and talk out loud, and I didn't go flittering all over the house. Mostly, I just told myself that I wasn't really afraid of the big rats that lived in the barn. I told myself that I was getting stronger and braver each day. Soon I wouldn't bescared of them. They would be scared of me!
That's what Callie told me to do. Callie was the old cat who was already here when I came to live with my new family. She was wise and brave. She knew a whole lot more than I did. Callie told me to keep telling myself how brave and strong I was, and that sooner or later I would believe it. I did. Only I still didn't believe -- not really.
Callie also told me that my friend Flea would come back before I knew it. Each day I climbed onto the windowsill in the playroom. The Mama had a feeder that hung from a limb on the pecan tree. I watched out the window as the birds fluttered around. They flittered and hopped from one limb to the next. They chirped and ate the seeds. Sometimes they even flew about and chased each other. But Flea wasn't with them. I kept telling myself that she would come back. When I didn't see her, it made me feel sad inside.
All right...I know it's kind of weird for a cat to have a mockingbird as a friend. Flea was different, though. She wasn't just any old mockingbird -- she was kind of like my adopted family. When we first met, Flea wanted me to eat her. That was because she was afraid to fly. Her family went "south" without her. She was scared and lonely and so hungry she was about to starve.
Since I don't eat birds, she finally talked me into feeding her instead. I had fun helping her learn to fly. It wasn't easy, but with some help from Callie and Mr. Bullsnake, we finally taught her. She started her trip south a few weeks after the rest of her family. I worried that she might be cold or even lost some place. But Callie promised that she would be fine. She said that Flea would be back. Winter followed fall, and spring followed winter. It was winter. Flea had only been gone a few months, but it seemed to me that winter was forever and spring would never come.
So, I kept telling myself that Flea would be back, and I kept telling myself that I wasn't afraid of the big rats.
Only I didn't smile and laugh and get all excited when I talked to myself. Mama was weird.
My tail flipped as I watched her almost dance around the kitchen, holding the ringy-box and jabbering away. The Mama talked to herself for a long time. When she finally put the box back on the wall, she let out a squeal. The Daddy came in and grabbed her in his arms.
"I can't believe it. They'll all be home for Christmas! I can't wait!"
Daddy spun Mama around once, then put her down. He gave her a kiss on the cheek and patted her bottom. Mama pushed his hand away.
"Quit...we don't have time for any of your nonsense. There's lots to do and not much time to get ready!" Mama jumped around and started working again.
I looked up at the Mama and Daddy. There was excitement in the house. There was a happy feeling. I liked this. I liked the good feeling.
For a while it seemed as if there was nothing but sad in the house. I was sad because my Flea flew south for the winter. The Mama and Daddy were sad because of Muffy. Muffy was the brown dog who lived in the backyard. She was very old and not very friendly to me. I think it was because Muffy's bones and legs hurt so bad. I think it was because she didn't feel well.
The Mama and Daddy had to take Muffy to the vet. Even before they left the house, the sadness had crept in. They moved slow -- as if they really didn't want to go. When they came home, the sad feel in the house was even worse. Water leaked from the Mama's eyes when they came inside. I don't know what happened to Muffy. I don't know why she didn't come home from the vet. I do know that the Mama and Daddy were very, very sad.
Now, for the first time in a long while, they were happy. It made me happy, too. It made me feel good.
Fact was, it made me feel so good that I marched straight to the front door. I put my paws on the wood and meowed as loud as I could.
"Let me out!" I demanded. "Out. Now!"
It wasn't long before Mama came. She leaned down and stroked my head, then she opened the door for me. Feeling bigger and braver and stronger than I had ever felt before, I pranced down the sidewalk. I marched straight to the big barn and stood at the crack between the two giant doors.
The smell of rodents was everywhere. I pushed my head in through the crack. I knew the rats were there. This time I was sure I could handle them.
With a little wiggle, I slipped inside. I paused a moment, letting my eyes get used to the dark. Four large, dark forms sat by the grain bin. Crunching sounds came to my ears. I guess the rats were gnawing on some kernels of corn. A knot kind of stuck in my throat when I swallowed. These creatures were even bigger than I remembered.
I eased closer. The rats didn't seem to notice as I inched toward them. Suddenly two of them spotted me and darted for a hole in the corner. When they ran, it made me feel big and brave.
The two other rats stopped eating and looked up. They didn't run. "Hey, Nora. Look at the little kitty cat!"
"Yeah, Smitty. I've seen him before. He's the fraidy-cat, remember?"
The one called Smitty took a step toward me. "Yeah, he's the one we chased. Nearly got him, too. Reckon he's slower now? He's a lot fatter, almost big enough to eat." Smitty licked his lips.
Nora's yellow eyes pierced like hot embers as the two rats glared at me.
My stomach did a flip-flop. I backed slowly toward the door. Both rats inched forward. They moved apart -- one came at me from the right, the other from the left. I felt my tail fuzz. It sprang straight up behind me, almost as big around as the rest of me was.
They stopped and stared. Not even their whiskers twitched. Then they moved again, quicker this time. I felt a shiver as I suddenly realized they were trying to surround me. They were trying to block my escape from the big, dark barn.
Without taking my eyes from them, I backed up.
"Now!"' Nora hissed in her ratty voice. "Let's get him!"
Copyright © 1999 by Bill Wallace and Carol Wallace