Tag Archives: parable

The Trees That Wanted To Travel

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… A PARABLE

Do you know the story about the trees that wanted to travel?

These were young, tall,  beautiful, trees, and they were able to see very far away. The horizons they saw looked so sunny and pleasantly warm, and appealing. So the trees wondered if not maybe in those lands, far, far away, there was no winter, and they might not have to lose their proud, glorious leavage and maybe they didn’t have to sleep through an entire cold, bleak season only to wake to the same old corn fields.

So they started dreaming about the faraway lands with shimmering white brooks and friendly flowers and strange squirrels. They wondered what it would be like to be caressed and tickled by those flowers, put to sleep by the incessant giggles of those sweet, funny squirrels. Each spring, when the earth thawed, they would begin to stretch and move and try to take at least one step towards the faraway horizons they so longed for.  They tried to lift their roots like a shy bride lifts her train on her way out of the church, they tried to drag their dusty bark a little closer to their dream.  They were never successful.  They prayed and prayed, night after night in the lonely wind, they cried tears of jelly, they implored Heaven.

“Wait a little”, Heaven said. Each time, their prayers were heard, and yet, Heaven said, each time, “Wait a little”.

They asked older trees about it:  “How come you are so at peace? Can you not see the lovely horizons?”, they would ask. But the old trees were wise and rarely spoke. “We have a different journey”, they said, and then looked around to their fruits with their inner seeds, as they lay scattered around on the ground, bathing in their forefathers’ shade.

“They are just sad, too sad to leave their seeds alone, too frightened”, the young trees thought. “They have wasted their entire energy in bearing fruit, and now they can no longer leave, they can no longer reach the horizon. But we, why should we also waste our precious sap on those heavy round things that burden our branches and tie us down?”

Little by little, the young trees became depressed. They simply wanted to travel, they wanted to be free, to move to different places, not to be burdened with fruit, because fruit, they felt, brings responsibility, and responsibility brings sadness, and sadness stops one from moving.

“After all, look what happened to the old trees”, they thought.

They were young, they were so young and full of life and did not want to wait anymore.

“We are taller than the old ones, and our sight is better. They do not know how wonderful the horizons are, but we do, and we want to go!  Wind, will you help us?”

“Of course, said the wind, I will help you.”

“Oh, how great!”, rejoiced the young trees.  “So do it, do it now!”

“But the time is not right!”, said the Wind, astonished.  “Because you have no flowers yet, and no fruit, and there is no seed to carry”.

“It makes no difference, to us”, said the trees, “oh, please, please, mighty Wind, start up a storm and pull us from our roots and transport us, through the stars, towards the gleaming horizons!”

“But then the old trees will be gone too”, said the wind.  “And I cannot take them against their will.  What shall we do?”

“Make a tornado, said the youngsters, take only us, the old ones are sullen and gray and rarely talk. We want to be alone, free from them, too.”

So the wind said “Ok” and started up a tornado, and uprooted many of the young trees, and they were transported through the sky, at incredible speeds, and through the stars, and fell on the horizon.  They fell flat on their backs, and the earth was hard and coarse and it hurt a little, but “no matter”, they said, “how wonderful that we have arrived”.  So they rejoiced.

But after a while, they got thirsty.

“Mighty Rain”, they pleaded, “will you help us?”

“Of course I will help you”, Rain said.

“Then give us a little water!”

“But the time is not right”, Rain said astonished, “because your roots are not in the ground and cannot garner my water.”

“No matter”, said the trees, “oh, please, will you sprinkle us with a little water!”

“Ok”, said the rain, and sprayed them with nourishing water. But they were still on their backs, and pretty soon after, the sun came out again. After all, this horizon was always sunny and without winter. And they had no roots. They struggled and crept, but they could no longer stay erect on their own. But they couldn’t complain. The scenery, the landscape, the sun and the soil, everything was so new to them, and so interesting. So they were contented. Thirsty but contented.

But then one of them caught rot on the side he was lying on, the side that never saw the sun anymore, and got really sick. They nurtured it from afar, but they were very young, and did not know of the cures of the old. So their friend withered away, little by little, and eventually, with a pleading whimper, he died. The other trees became very sad, and worried that they might catch the disease too. They started trying to avoid touching each other, they kept their branches only to themselves, and didn’t reach out anymore. Pretty soon they also stopped speaking, and pretty soon they forgot how to speak altogether. People started coming to the site where the trees had rained down and hauling  them in their carriages to their stoves.

“How poetical”, the other trees thought, “here we are needed, we make warmth for these nice people.”

But soon there was nothing left from them but ashes.

And so, one by one, the trees died. Only one was left in the field, a tall, beautiful, young tree, who began to wonder about the journey.

“Was it the right thing, should I have stayed back home?” These were the questions that his mind fretted with. Here he was on a lovely horizon, but he was, once again, stuck and lonely.  And his roots nearly rotted away like all the others.

Just then, a forester came, and saw the beautiful tree, how knotless his wood was, and how neat.  “What a wonderful kitchen table I could make from this one”, he said to himself, but the sound immediately woke up the tree, and he replied: “Please, don’t, don’t chop me apart”, the tree said, suddenly remembering his forgotten language. “Please help me up on my feet, I mean on my roots, and I will be a beautiful tree for you, I will adorn your yard or your forest, and I will give you shade and pleasant smells all year long.”

“But the soil here is not suited for you”, the forester said.

“Oh, but it is, I will grow and flourish… how can it not be?”

“Well, said the man scratching his head, I simply have never seen any tree quite like you in these parts, I do not know if you can grow here, and you are also so weak…”

“Oh, please try” mighty Man, “plant me please, and nourish my soil, and I will be your pride.”

“Ok”, said the man, and he did. And the tree had a hard time at first, but then he grew and flourished. He felt a little stronger. He was so grateful to the man, and he felt so lucky indeed, that he didn’t dare to remind him of his dream, to travel the world. He decided to stay this time, even though he missed the corn fields, he missed giving his shade to them and he even missed sleeping during winter. But how could he make the journey back? Back to himself? “There is no way”, he resigned himself to the thought. And thus, because he had promised the man, he spread his roots and even bore fruit and he watched his seeds get carried by the Wind to distant places, and watered by the Rain, and he watched his offspring grow at the hem of his shade and he watched them bear fruit of their own, and spread their seeds.  And he got old, very old, and very wise, because the man was a good master, and did not cut him down.

But then in the end, as he watched his offspring create first a bush, then a grove, then a whole forest whose end he could not perceive, as he watched it spread his seed further and further away to fill the horizon, it occurred to him.

“I understand now”, he whispered, now that he rarely ever spoke anymore. “I understand the old trees now. I understand their journey, for they travelled too. And so have I, since I first arrived here.  I have travelled back to myself, after all.”

And the real journey after the storm was this:  they bore fruit, and seed of their own type, and then the Wind would say, “Very well, I will help you when the time is right”, and carry their seed to proper fertile soil, and then the Rain would say, “Very well, I will help you when the time is right”, and water their seed, and a twig would grow out of it, and then that twig would become a tree and spread its seed to fertile soil, and the men would say, “Very well, I will help you, because the soil is right”, and nurture the soil and gather the fruits and plant their seeds and so on until the horizon was reached.

And now, he understood Heaven, when Heaven said “Wait a little”.

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Pigli and Cleo (12)

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CHAPTER TWELVE

‘Oh, shit, I stepped in something!’, Neil said visibly disgusted. The sun was rising. ‘Looks like dog poop’, he added. ‘Do you suppose the posse came this way?’

Pigli was at his side in less than a second.

‘Let me see!’, he urged. Immediately, he knew. The worry lines on his forehead suddenly leveled, his tired features relaxed as lighted by the glory of an epiphany and his face broke into as big a smile as they’d ever seen. ‘This is no dog poop, guys’, he exulted, ‘It’s a wolf’s! And it’s fresh! Hurray!’ he said and hugged them so hard he almost broke their ribs. ‘Oh, what a great discovery, what bliss! This means she’s got to be here somewhere! She can’t be far now!’ he said, bouncing up and down with impatience. ‘We’re not far from the northern entrance to the reservation. Less than an hour, I reckon, no more. If she came through here earlier in the day, there’s a good chance she’s made it!’, he cried.

‘Uh-oh!’, Neil suddenly said in a really somber voice.

‘What is it? I don’t like the sound of that!’, Pigli cried and turned around.

‘Maybe you should see this, too’, Neil answered and his face was pale. Three drops of dark red blood were evident on the forest floor only two steps away. Pigli nearly fainted.

‘It’s only a little blood. It can’t be a large wound. I’ll nurse her. You guys will help me. She’ll heal. I’ll hunt for her’, he said, looking for solace. Cleo and Neil nodded in silence trying to appease his grief, but their faces told a different story. They were staring into the ground, pale and tragic.

Then the shot gun irrupted. It seemed to come from several dozen yards below them, to their left. It drove a murderous, burning dagger through Pigli’s heart. ‘Oh, no, you don’t! ‘, he shouted, completely beyond himself. ‘Not again! Not when I’m so close!’, and darted forth like a spring. He seemed wrought in steel. He felt invincible.

‘Stop!!!’, cried Neil.

‘You’re going to get yourself killed!!!’ yelled Cleo. One more shot was heard. Then there was a loud yelp and angry voices were filling the valley.

‘Tiiiinaaa!’, Neil bellowed and rushed forward stumbling over his wings.

‘Boooss!’, Cleo roared in tears and raced along.

‘Yes?!’, they both replied at unison and the four of them bumped into each other in a crossroads in the middle of the forest.

It took a while before reality settled in and they became aware of it. All four of them were gaping at each other, not knowing who they were, what had happened or where to begin. Then Tina and Pigli fell into each other’s arms and wept.

‘Tina, you’re here! Are you alright, my love? I’ll protect you now, I will, I promise’, Pigli said, between sobs.

‘Oh, my darling, I missed you so much!’

‘Me too. I’m so sorry I let them take you away, so sorry.’

‘There was nothing you could do, I know that.’

‘I’ll never leave you again. Oh, my love!’, he soothed her and caressed her. They smiled and he tickled her ears and covered her with kisses. ‘Come on, let us cross into the reservation, there we’ll all be safe.’

A few minutes away, they saw the brown signpost with the park’s logo and map. They were out of danger now.

‘What was that last shot then?’, asked Neil, who was still a little dumbfounded.

‘The fools shot one of their own dogs in the foot’, Tina said and giggled .

‘Oh, your foot, I completely forgot! Let me see the wound! Does it hurt?’, Pigli wanted to know.

‘Oh, that healed a long time ago.’

‘No, dear, the new one. Where did they get you?’

‘Which new one, darling?’

‘I saw the blood in the forest, don’t try to be brave now, show me.’

‘Oh, no you silly’, she laughed. ‘That’s no wound. I’m just getting my period.’

‘So, you mean, it’s a good time to…?’

‘Mhmmm….’

‘Oh, I love you, Tina!’

How typically male, Cleo thought. Barely a “Hello, how are you” and already he’s thinking about sex… Neil gave a shriek of joy, leaped up, batted his wings and began to sing “For he’s a jolly good fellow” really off-key.

‘Neil?!’, Tina said languorously and stopped him before it was too late.

‘Yes, Tina?…’, he answered and dilated his pupils, completely won over by the sweetness of her voice.

‘You need to take some singing lessons, honey’, she whispered, amicably.

‘Ahm, I… see’, he replied. ‘Uh, my voice’s a little hoarse’. There was a latent tear in the corner of his eye as he swallowed his pride.

‘The French Quarter in New Orleans is supposed to be great for artists. Don’t waste such a talent as yours’, she offered a kindhearted suggestion.

‘Right. Ok. I hear you. I’ll make you proud!’ he said, his enthusiasm thus reinstated.

Cleo gave a pleasant laugh and patted him generously on the back. ‘I’m sure you will’, she encouraged him. Her eyes were moist. ‘Come on. Let’s give the love birds some space. What do you say we do a little sightseeing’, she said and – nudging Neil along – started down the pebble paths of Hollow Peaks National Park.

AFTERWORD

Pigli and Tina lived happily in the woods. Cleo eventually went on air for a documentary-maker and clarified the whole story. She even starred in one of the episodes. The wolves were safe now and so were the people, by learning more about them. Damaris and Alexander, the couple’s first pups were born in early June. A bunch of late bloomers, but strong, playful and lively. Cleo was of course invited to the pups’ christening, as their godmother, and took her task seriously. She delivered a long and touching speech. She was very good in that role. Cleo had grown quite accustomed to speaking in public. Not before the tabloid press, though. She had found another way to people’s hearts and to their minds. Through good deeds. Her civic activism was the talk of the forest. She had begun volunteering for various organizations and was currently working as a teacher and counselor at the Sheep Day Care Center for Preschool Lambs. In the evenings, she was giving self-assertiveness classes to their moms and since her involvement, the domestic violence rates had dropped dramatically.

She had also heard from Neil. He was sending his best. ‘Since I have left the forest, no less than eight people have tried to catch me and stuff me into a bag, terrified that I might be carrying the dreaded H5N1 virus’, he wrote. The constant aggression had weakened his heart, but definitely strengthened his wings as it had prompted him to learn how to fly. He was now quite good at it. One of the best in his Avian Fitness Club.

Since he had thus toppled his mental barriers and begun flying like an eagle, he had really turned his life around. He was off drugs. He had dropped the “dude”. He had begun cultivating his voice and was now a lead singer in a New Orleans night club. He was making good money, a large portion of which he had already donated to the reconstruction effort under way after Hurricane Katrina. ‘It’s the least I can do for the poor victims, apart from warming their hearts with my music’, he said in his missive. In his spare time, when he wasn’t composing or working on his contralto, he was writing his memoirs, advising young chicken against dope. ‘There’s more euphoria to be had in real life than in these treacherous surrogates’, he worded it. There was little about women in his letters, and surely nothing had perspired about a girlfriend, but Cleo’s exceptional emotional intuition was quick to read between the lines. ‘He’s so shy and private’, she said. And then imparted the news that he was enjoying a hot love-affair with a ravishing brunette – in her opinion, the barmaid.

THE (HAPPY) END.

Pigli and Cleo (11)

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

They ran without interruption all through the night and into the early hours of the morning. The tiny birds of the forest started chirping, putting their homes in order, calling out for their mates or demanding their servings of food, and the first rays of light were on the leaves as the three friends decided to pause and rest. Neil was tempted to discharge his daily morning quaver into the world, but Pigli’s appalled look froze the music in his throat.

‘Ahm… sorry. Instinct, dude, what can I do?’, he quickly apologized.

Immediately after, they fell on the ground exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and sunk into a deep sleep, devoid of dreams.

They awoke two hours later and continued to climb stealthily. They had to be particularly cautious so they were forced to take a lot of detours. Pigli was intent on the tracks. He knew Tina’s thinking and, assuming she was still alive and free, she would not have walked in broad daylight either. There was a pleasant spring breeze in the air but with all the surrounding tension, it was difficult for them to enjoy it. For one thing, they were glad that it directed Tina’s scent into their nostrils, but on the other hand, they worried it would make it just as easy for the posse to locate them, should there be dogs on the trail behind them. They had to keep as quiet and be as inconspicuous as possible and that was hell for Cleo.

‘From ecstasy to agony…’ she kept mumbling to herself. ‘Now would be a good time to be constipated’, she said. ‘But unfortunately I’m not’. That gave Pigli an idea.

‘That’s excellent, actually! Go ahead and go. Your strong smell will throw the posse off target. They’ll never imagine a sheep and a wolf walking together!’

‘And have the dogs on my tracks? No, thank you!,  she whispered terrified.

‘Fine! Hold it in, then!’, Pigli replied, a little upset. ‘I offer you a solution that would benefit everyone, and all you can say is No.’ But what Pigli didn’t quite grasp was that Cleo was a runaway too, and she had no intention of being dragged back to her flock tail between the legs by two raging canids. As for Neil, he didn’t even dare to clear his throat, much less tune his voice. He was dead worried he’d fall out of practice but remained silent as a fish. They only stopped once, around noon, to cool down because it was getting warm. There were plenty of insects filling the air. The conditions were strenuous, but they managed to put a considerable stretch of road behind them until late afternoon, when they arrived at the Spruce Rift weather station.

A man was out and about. As they approached, Cleo carelessly stepped on a twig and it snapped. The sound had a tremendous effect on the meteorologist, because the man went back inside and returned only a few minutes later carrying a rifle of mythical proportions. He was looking warily around him all the time, and practically slid alongside the cabin walls to the fenced enclosure where his measuring instruments were. In his hand he had a loose piece of paper, typed in bold capitals, which he hurriedly attached to the enclosure door.

‘What’s he doing?’ Neil asked. ‘I can’t see very well.’

‘It looks like he’s putting up a notice, or something’, Pigli answered.

‘What does it say?’, inquired the cock.

‘Cleo!’, Pigli summoned her. ‘You go! Go read what it says. I can’t show my face here. Please!’, he added.

The man went to check all his instruments, one by one. When he re-entered the cabin, to compile the readings and mail in his report, Cleo crept out of their hiding place and scuttled off. She stopped in front of the notice, and as she started reading her eyes grew bigger and bigger, until she finally gave a shrill gasp and put her hoof to her mouth. She rushed back to the other two like an arrow. They were both tense, holding their breaths.

‘Well, what is it?’, Pigli asked.

‘You’d better sit down’, Cleo uttered gravely.

‘How about I roll over and play dead, too, while I’m at it?!’, Pigli growled. ‘Will that do?’

‘Ok, ok, but it’s serious. It says, ‘BEWARE! BEWARE! RUNAWAY WOLF ON THE LOOSE. WAS SPOTTED LAST NIGHT IN JELLYVILLE ENGORGING RABBITS. SHE IS CONSIDERED DANGEROUS. RANGERS HAVE ORDERS TO SHOOT ON SIGHT. It doesn’t say whether with real bullets or tranquilizers. And it gives Tina’s description.’

‘Oh, no!’, cried Pigli.

‘Sure, they mistook you for her’, said Neil. ‘After all, I did too. You see, they don’t have your description, because it was night and my master caught only a glimpse of you in the flashlight, but the Zoo must have a detailed description of her. And to humans, all wolves look alike.’

‘Sure enough’, attested Cleo.

‘Poor Tina! At least this notice is fresh, which means they haven’t captured her yet. We have to find her! We have to make it to the reservation!’, Pigli pleaded.

‘I was just thinking’, Neil said. ‘We’re looking for Tina but so is the posse. What if they get to her sooner? What if they’ve made another sighting today and are closing in on her as we speak? I mean, we’re following tracks that are at least two days old. What if they have information we don’t have? Why don’t we do a little spying?’

‘What are you suggesting?’, Pigli asked.

‘If they do know more about her, it’s bound to be in the press’, Cleo chipped in. ‘They wouldn’t miss it for the world. They’re probably going to say something during the seven o’clock news, a warning to people or something like that, and we might find out more.’

‘But that’s in an hour’s time!’, Pigli cried.

‘I know, it’s a delay, dude, but imagine you find out something important, that allows us to take a shortcut. Although’, he added, ‘one rarely learns anything of importance from television.’

‘Who knows, Boss? He’s got a point. And anyway, we can make up that time. You know these woods better than anyone, right?’

‘I’m not so sure anymore’, Pigli whispered and gave in to their suggestion.

It was the most excruciating wait. Pigli had insisted they at least use this time to rest and freshen up, but inside the cabin the meteorologist was laughing out loud watching some silly show and his outbursts would startle them over and over again. So they were all wide awake. By seven o’clock it was already pitch black and they braced themselves and drew closer to the log cabin. Inside, the TV image was flickering, but the sound was good. They slouched and listened. The wolf story was the breaking news. There were two anchors dissecting the information in the studio. Every 10 seconds they would switch over to one of the five correspondents the station had positioned in the area. The first talked to the Zoo keeper, who was astonished by Tina’s behaviour, but moderate. The reporter cut him short and gave the line to the second one. This went on to interview the posse, an incoherent bunch of chubby-faced men who described Tina as “extremely dangerous and not afraid of humans.” A duplex was set up on the screen. The third correspondent was busy interviewing Neil’s former master who was jumping to apocalyptical conclusions.

‘First the bird flu and now this!’, he was yelling in to the microphone. ‘Beware people; the whole world’s gone crazy! What’s the government doing? Why haven’t they killed that beast yet? What are they waiting for? First a cock, now a rabbit, next thing you know it’ll snatch a child! Our very lives are in danger!’, he went on an on.

‘For crying out loud, stop hollering, dude!’, Neil addressed the image on the screen and then turned away and sat. He looked at Pigli. ‘How distasteful!’, he added. He felt repulsed and ashamed of his master.

‘Bloody tabloid press. Always ready to unleash a war on someone or other’, Pigli said and spat. It depressed him. ‘When did I ever touch a human being? What would I even want with one?’, he asked. Both his friends met his saddened glance and looked down. ‘Look at the fuss he’s making about one lousy rabbit. You’d think I robbed him of his livelihood entirely. What is one supposed to eat if anywhere you turn all there’s left is rabbits?’ He sounded defeated.

‘Perhaps we can counter them with our own PR’, made Cleo an attempt to cheer the mood. ‘An appeal for sympathy. Something glitzy, something catchy like… like… uh, if it hadn’t been for wolves, Rome itself would not have existed. You know, Romulus and Remus who were suckled by one…’

Cleo, the media-savvy sheep turned publicity hound.

‘Thanks, but for Tina and me there’s no more time’, Pigli said drearily. On TV, the wolf story carried on in a crescendo of high-pitched and fanatical voices which had already exceeded their allotted time slot. ‘Bloody tabloid media’, he said once more, in a dwindling voice. ‘Look, it’s obvious I only have tonight to find her. It’s life or death. I have to risk it. Thanks for everything, but I really have to go now.’

For a moment they were disconcerted. Then, Cleo broke the silence.

‘We’re coming with you!’, she said boldly. ‘The heck with the press. I don’t want to be famous that way.’

‘You’ll be in danger’s way. I can’t take that kind of responsibility. This is not your fight.’

‘How do you get that?’, Neil raised his head. ‘You’re forgetting what she did for me. Danger? I could sit around all day and still get run over by a car or scalded in soup. That’s life. But I have never met a nobler creature than your Tina. Yeah, of course we’re coming, and we’re going to find her too!,’ reinforced Neil his determination.

‘Definitely. Don’t you worry’, added Cleo.

Pigli looked at them both with big gentle eyes. There was a lump in his throat. ‘I’m grateful for your friendship’, he said.

(to be continued)

Pigli and Cleo (10)

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CHAPTER TEN

Night was falling, which was just as well. Pigli and Cleo had queued up behind the cock and were tiptoeing in the darkness, silently circling the house and the barn until Neil exclaimed, ‘Here! This is the right spot!’ That, of course, didn’t prevent him from hitting his head on a piece of board and just about waking up the entire hen-coop.

‘Shhhhh!’, Pigli demanded. But the broads were fast asleep, it seemed. Not one flinched.

‘Don’t worry!’, Neil reassured him. ‘They’re worn out. Long evening in front of the tube, you see.’

They crawled across the backyard flat on their bellies and felt their way through the darkness with some difficulty. It was heaven for Cleo, her heart thudding out of control. Ah, the adventure, she exulted. What do you know, I’m lurking in the shadows like a wolf! She was feeling thankful and generous. To Pigli’s surprise, they left the hen-coop a few strides to the right, and continued onwards in the direction of the main house. On the northern porch, just opposite the wooden cote where the quiet birds were snoozing, there was a rectangular chamber with a large stainless-steel door, scintillating in the moonlight. Neil grabbed the handle and swung the huge door open very smoothly, with an expert’s hand. It opened without a creak.

‘There!’, he beamed.

‘What is this?’, Pigli asked, wide-eyed and astonished.

‘Well, it’s the fridge of course, what else? Come on now, don’t be shy, dude, I’m sure there’s chicken inside.’

‘Hmm, smells interesting. Let me see!’, whispered Cleo from behind and trotted up to the fridge door. She stretched her neck inside and slid all the drawers open, one by one. ‘Hey, boys’, she said. ‘Check this out!’ And taking one step backwards, she revealed the horrid secret.’

‘Why, it’s full of chicken! What the…’, Neil stammered and, dashing in the other direction, peeped through the window of the wooden cote. The hen-coop was a ghost town but the freezer was stuffed.

‘Full of frozen chicken, you frigging bird! Is that your idea of dinner? I’m starving and you drag me all the way down here to treat me to stone-hard frozen chicken?’, Pigli hissed a veiled threat in Neil’s ear. But Neil was so horrified and numb that he couldn’t hear him anymore. His knees were feeling weak.

‘Gees…I always said that TV will kill them, but… all of them? At once?!’ he stuttered in disbelief. ‘What, did they convert to some suicidal sect I knew nothing about?’ He tried a little irony to pluck up some courage. At that point he heard a voice over his shoulder.

‘Psst, Neil! Psst!’ Under the quiet and lonely night sky, the neighbor’s rooster was issuing a call.

‘Nick, dude! Is that you?’

‘Yeah. Keep it down!’

‘What on Earth happened here? What’s with the… henocide?’

‘Not so loud! You mean you don’t know?! I thought you knew. I thought that’s why you ran away. I said to myself, now, that’s one smart fellow!’

‘Whoa… what happened?’

‘It is bad, man. It’s like the holocaust. He slaughtered them all; they all did, for fear of avian flu.’

‘Fear of what?’

‘Hey, if you don’t mind!’ Pigli tried to assert himself and cut the conversation short. Pointless. They continued to unwind the news.

‘Bird flu. It’s supposed to be deadly. So I guess they wanted to sacrifice the birds before they get sick. Switched over to some mammals. Can you imagine?! Oh, sorry M’am’, he said turning to Cleo. ‘No offense.’

‘None taken’, she replied.

‘I’m in hiding, myself’, Nick added. ‘I have a friend over in Jockstown. Says he’ll take me in.’

‘So you mean, no more chicks, no more roosters, nothing?’

‘Nothing, man.’

‘HEY!!!’ Pigli made another attempt.

‘Wow! As live and breathe…’, Neil carried on. ‘Well, break a leg, dude. And thanks for the info.’

‘No problem. Good luck to you, too.

I left just in time. What a narrow escape…, Neil thought and was quite shocked by the realization. So much so, actually, that Cleo had to give him a hug.

I know I’m an artist but I mean, talk about inspiration!’, Neil whispered as he contemplated his fate.There was gloom in the atmosphere and he was very shaken. So was Pigli, but for other reasons. He was literally shaken by hunger.

‘That’s it!’, the wolf cried on the verge of a nervous breakdown. ‘I’ve had it with you! Tina needs me! I’ll take my chances. Maybe your owner just missed one. I just hope your ex-lovers are tasty and not too stringy.’

With these words, he stormed into the hen-coop, slammed the door into the wall… and found himself in an ocean of white, long, fluffy ears.

‘Aaaaaaarghhh!’, he screamed. ‘Rabbits!’

Then the ferocious barking started.

‘He bought a dog?!’, Neil cried, still in a trance.

‘And a cat!’, quickly observed Cleo, who was looking in the other direction.

The vicious mutt made a huge leap out of his brand new kennel and that put him right in the pussy’s way. Seeing him come, she drew out her claws, braked and turned to a wheel of fur before the two of them clashed mightily. A loud yelp filled the yard. That confused them, of course, and a few precious seconds were wasted away in fratricidal wrestling before they could remember who the real, common enemy was.

By the time they turned their attention once more to their trespasser, Pigli had already snatched up a sickly-looking little creature by the ears, slit its throat and was getting ready to silence his overpowering stomach in the middle of the dirt court. The dog was now barking to raise the dead, showing his teeth and chasing Pigli around, whose own teeth were red with blood and not about to relinquish their prey. Neil’s tuft had almost turned yellow and a terrified Cleo understood that if they were to escape, they had to do it soon. Amid the general commotion, she noticed a hole in the fence. She took it for a safe doorway to freedom and sprang through. Huge blunder! That was the wrong doorway to freedom.

‘Come on, C, wiggle your body through, there’s more of us coming!’ hollered Neil impatiently from behind.

‘I can’t! I can’t! I’m stuck!!!’, came a muffled and horrified reply from the other side. She was kicking and screaming like a mad woman, with her body suspended in midair. Neil attempted to give her a shove with his beak. Obviously that didn’t work.

‘Aaaaaouch!!!’, she whimpered. ‘What’s with the peck, you fool? Are you trying to maim me?’ She still couldn’t touch the ground.

‘Oh my God, I’m going to die!!! Sniff. Sniff. The mad dog’s going to devour me! Mercy! Mercy! Take pity on me!!!’

Pigli heard her despair and made a sharp turn, throwing his enemy off balance. With a screech of his nails, he positioned himself between the dog and Cleo’s frantic butt. He propped himself firmly on his two front paws and lunged the other two with such force into Cleo’s hams that she nearly popped. This however helped to dislodge her, and she rolled over on the other side like a billiard ball. Neil immediately followed, surrendering a red feather to the infuriated feline behind him.

‘I never imagined I’d be so grateful to get my ass kicked’, Cleo muttered, relieved.

Pigli was in a tough spot. Cleo and Neil were urging him to follow but he was ambushed. The dog and the cat were colluding against him and were both only two feet away. The lights in the main house were now on. He could hear human voices, screams and doors slamming and knew he didn’t have much time. He was hungry, tired and out of shape. He quickly recollected the one other major fight of his life. The alpha dog had almost torn him to shreds. What had he done wrong? Come on, remember those martial arts classes!, he told himself. And then it struck him like lightning.To use their energy.

‘Would you like a piece of me, you lily-livered pooch?’, he sneered, inviting his main opponent to approach. Then, as both the dog and the overzealous cat dashed forward and almost climbed on him, he ducked, leaving them without a stable foothold and they collided once more, landing in a heap near the fence. The dog was taken aback. The cat was the first to regain her feet. She sprang on him but he was ready with the punch. Right between the eyes. All he had to do was stretch out his fist, she thrust herself upon it. Then Pigli grabbed her tail, swung her around a few times and threw her on the dog’s back, who squealed and barked like an enraged beast. Old quarrels thus rekindled, they rolled away in the opposite direction, a ball of dirt and hair and entangled limbs. Pigli was just about to make his exit as a flashlight blinded him and stopped him in his tracks.

‘The wolf! It’s here! It’s back! And it’s tearing a rabbit apart with his teeth!’

‘Uh… sorry. I’m not used to eating with a fork’, apologized Pigli and the next second he was over the fence. Their hearts pounding to break their chest, the threesome ran for their lives until they reached the darkness and safety of the woods. It was only way past Abbot Point that they slowed down and caught their breath.

‘Boy, to think the first night I was afraid of darkness’, Cleo said. ‘And what a blessing it is now.’

‘Great’, said Neil. ‘Now the posse is after us, too.’

Pigli said nothing. He looked wild. He had dived into his rabbit and for the first time in months he was indulging himself with raw meet. Heck, he was enjoying it. The white of his eyes looked sharp and feverish and this almost scared his friends. He was happy. He was free. He had outsmarted the enemy and before a new day broke he knew he had the strength to fight for his freedom and for his love to the bitter end.

Pigli and Cleo (9)

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CHAPTER NINE

 

The wolf’s monologue was brief. It was a simple story, and Pigly unravelled it calmly. ‘We were raised together’, he said. ‘We became friends. She grew up to be one of the hottest females of the pack and I…, well, let’s just say I wasn’t the alpha dog. Quite the contrary. But I fell in love. I saw it coming and I knew it was hopeless and still I couldn’t help it. I felt I knew her best and she knew me. But she had a lot of suitors. It was difficult to be around and to watch. One day I couldn’t take it anymore. So I challenged the leader. It was a messy affair. I lost a lot of blood, two inches of my tail, and my left ear was badly punctured. I was exiled. I had to run away and find a new territory. That’s how I came here. I was devastated. Not only could I never dream of seeing Tina again, but I had lost all my other friends, my family, everything. I was completely alone in the world. Full of bruises and scars and alone and there was nothing I could do about it. Yes, I was very sad. But then the most amazing thing happened! The next morning, when I opened my eyes, she was there beside me. Friends should stick together, she said, smiled and started licking my wounds. She had tracked me down. She is so smart. We had so many good days together after that. Playing, hunting, talking, watching the stars… I didn’t see that bullet coming. I just didn’t see it. I had left her behind and that’s when they got her. I was terrified. I didn’t jump to her rescue fast enough and before I knew it they carried her away. She loved me and I didn’t save her. If only she had stayed with the pack, this wouldn’t have happened. But she chose me, the pariah, and I couldn’t protect her. I’m no good! I did nothing! Do you understand? I just stood there, petrified… And after she was gone I just didn’t have the energy. She was my vital energy…’ He broke out in quiets sobs.

‘Dude’, Neil said softly. ‘We all make mistakes.’

‘So this was the burden you were carrying…’, Cleo said. ‘You feel guilty. You wanted to punish yourself, to share her fate. Or perhaps save her? Is that what the whole Zoo fixation was about?’ she asked.

‘Yes! Maybe. I don’t know… Cleo, I can’t forgive myself for deserting her! The life she must have had afterwards, locked up and alone among strangers, the disillusion… It can eat away at one’s soul.’

‘And what would you have done differently?’

‘Held her, picked her up, dragged her to safety, nursed her. Told her how much I loved her… ’

‘But don’t you think she knows that? That your love was sincere, that you wanted to help? Do you think she would have come to you, do you think she would have left her family behind if she hadn’t been convinced you loved her?’, delivered Cleo the traditional pep talk.

‘I don’t know, I don’t know. She was so brave…’

‘If you don’t mind my interrupting’, Neil said in a somber voice, ‘she still is brave. Look what she did for me. She is valiant. That Zoo didn’t break her. But she might just need us. Now, are we going to reminisce about the past, or do something about her future? Imagine how bad you’d feel to know she roamed here free only to be caught and put behind bars again.’

‘Yes, I must admit it, he’s right, he’s right!’, Cleo said.

‘So, where was she running to? Can you find her?’, Neil insisted.

‘The tracks continue along a level curve for a while, then upwards and to the north. My guess is she’s heading to the northern regions, where it’s colder. There’s still a lot of snow around those parts and it’ll be hard for the posse to follow her there without special equipment, and even so, she’d be more flexible than them.’

‘Now you’re talking! You’re using your brain! You’re back! Ah, that’s how I like you!’, cheered the sheep.

‘Excellent, what are we waiting for?’, said Neil.

‘Well…’ Pigli said giving both of them long, serious, concerned looks. ‘There’s just one more thing I need to take care of.’

‘Well?’, they said and looked at each other, terribly anxious.

‘I, uh… I need to eat.’

‘Oooh, he’s got an appetite! Way to go, dude! Good for you! I’m happy for….  uh-oh….’, Neil applauded enthusiastically before he grasped what was implied. Gradually his voice forsook him, dying down to a timid squeak.

‘You mean… one of us?!’, Cleo cried abruptly, sweaty and dishevelled. ‘You would eat your friends?…’

‘No, not you, cotton head! But I need to eat something. My resources are running low and it’s a long way ahead. We are near the village now. Later, we might not be so lucky. There’s some hope of food in the remote areas of the reservation – and my guess is that’s where she’s headed – but you can never know and it’s an exhausting climb. Now, if I am to be of any use to her, and not faint when the going gets tough, if I’m going to be right on and efficient, I need some food, and I need it quick. I’m feeling dizzy already.’

‘Oh my, dear you! Your blood sugar levels must have plummeted. You haven’t eaten in two days!’, Cleo commiserated. ‘We’ll get you some food, don’t you worry. Neil! How are we going to get Boss some food?’

Neil gave his colorful crop a few tender strokes and started to think hard.

‘As much as I hate to do this, dude, I mean, believe it or not, I’m a loyal fellow and I wouldn’t kill a fly… but under these dire circumstances, I’ll chance it. Come with me. My owner sacrifices chicken everyday. I’ll show you where he keeps them. You won’t even have to worry about picking the feathers from your teeth. He’s into these featherless types lately. Says they’re more profitable. And if he catches me, well… so be it! Come on.’

(to be continued)

Pigli and Cleo (8)

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CHAPTER EIGHT

‘What is this?! What is this? We can’t go there, we have a plan! We have a deal!!! Come back right now!!!’

Cleo’s desperate yells were echoing through the forest. They emptied the trees of clusters after clusters of birds now darting terrified in all directions. And yet, the wolf and the cock raced ahead. Neil, of course, had to be carried, but Pigli had discovered new strength and his limbs worked like turbo-reactors. They were fast and firm and through his nostrils the cold damp forest air circulated leaving behind only small wreaths of fog. Only Cleo kept screaming and pleading from behind:

‘What about me? Don’t go! Come back! Come back now! We have a deal!’

At this point Pigli braked to a skidding halt on the wet, leaf-covered floor of the forest, which sent Neil flying longer than he’d ever flown in one stretch during his entire existence, until his glorious and quite enjoyable ascension was suddenly cut short by a bald-faced tree. The wolf turned to Cleo, and atomized her with the intensity of his glare.

‘You listen here and you listen good’, Pigli began his shocking discourse which launched a shudder through Cleo’s ringlets. ‘The deal’s off. Do you hear me? You can join us or you can return to your lot, and I won’t be terribly grieved if you do. It’s your choice. But you’d better stop this yelling RIGHT NOW!!! I’m a wolf, darn it, and I’m not your puppet!’

Cleo’s eyes widened all the way to her ears, which were already flattened towards the back of her neck from the fright she had just received. For a couple of moments she was incapacitated. She couldn’t move from the spot. Not a single inch. It was as if she had taken root. She was petrified and, at the same time, unable to control the quiver in her tummy and the cold chills along her spine. Her eyelids filled with burning, glittering tears, like a string of sharp little diamonds, dribbling onto the forest floor, and only her super-ovine ambition kept her from wailing out loud. But after a few minutes, with Boss and Neil gone, the realisation of finding herself all alone in the dark womb of the forest and the terrible restrain of not having anyone to talk to made the blood return to her body. It came swiftly, with new warmth and a new fire, and spurred her onwards. She was not about to go back a loser. She was not going to desert her friends. And she was not going to be a burden. She’ll let everyone know what Cleo the Sheep is made of. She’ll let everyone know what Cleo the Sheep can do! And as for the wolf, well, a strange awe for him crept over her, and she didn’t fight it back. At least now she could see why everybody called him “the Boss”.

They arrived at the place Neil rigorously indicated in the afternoon. It was pleasant and warm, the pink blossoms were swaying in the apricot trees and the valley gaped beneath them as far as the eye could see. As soon as they’d gotten there, Pigli had become unapproachable; there was no way to communicate with him. He did not talk and he did not listen, he did not eat and he just barely breathed. He was totally focused on his detective work. Identifying tracks, footprints and scents. Neil and Cleo on the other hand welcomed the opportunity to lie on their backs, sunbathe, and enjoy a little snack. No one felt too much like talking. Everyone was getting in touch with their own selves, fighting their own ghosts, I guess. A few hours trickled away. The evening was glorious and they were glad of it. Suddenly, however, the wolf squealed so loud that they both sprang to their feet and rushed into the brushwood to help him, worried to death he had fallen into a trap. But he hadn’t. They found him sitting by a series of footprints with lowered forehead.

‘The left posterior paw. Look at the mark. It’s shallower. A limp. She wasn’t using this one so much.’

‘You mean, I wasn’t dreaming?’, Neil ventured a question, fascinated by the discovery.

‘No. It’s her. It’s Tina.’

‘Who’s Tina?’, the cock inquired softly, genuinely baffled. There was something about Pigli’s attitude and sorrow. No one dared to talk too loud.

Uh-oh, here it goes – love pains, thought Cleo. It dawned on her. All that disappointment with life, that imperturbable cynicism, and then the sudden passion, the anger that took possession of him as he recalled the shooting incident. What else can it be when a male goes months without shaving and no longer enjoys the hunt? It wasn’t hard to put 2 and 2 together and Cleo was quite the investigator herself. Now she understood but refrained from giving tongue to it. She extended the wolf a kind, considerate glance. He reciprocated it and lay himself down by the footprints, nearly embracing them.

‘Who is Tina?’, Neil whispered again into Cleo’s ear.

‘An old… friend’, she finally explained, looking deep into Pigli’s eyes. It’s ok, you can tell him, they read.

‘An old girlfriend’, she added.

(to be continued)

Pigli and Cleo (7)

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CHAPTER SEVEN

This would probably be a good time to tell you he had corns. Who? Well, Neil of course, who else. They noticed that while rubbing the reflex zones on his feet, to resuscitate him. It was hard work. Especially amid that stench emanating from his toes… You see, Cleo’s relaxation had been brief and had soon given way to a violent attack of panic. It appeared to her he had stopped breathing. So a new instinct, a new frantic passion she had not been aware of before, was taking possession of her. Mothering. She was at it with a sort of crazy fervor. Pigli reluctantly joined in, just to please her, or better said, to make her desperate yells stop. He tried to convince her they were better off with him dead, at least this way he could never harm anyone with his singing again. But that only sent her berserk. She was terrified Neil would die in her arms and, after all, she wasn’t about destroying lesser creatures, such as cocks; there was no fame to be had in that. No, no, she was determined Neil would live. Which he did. Eventually. Corny feet and all.

The first thing Neil did when he came to his senses was moan. The second thing Neil did was to purse his lips and whisper softly ‘Thank you, thank you, gentle creature’ to Pigli who was leaning over him at an unusually close distance. It must be said, in Pigli’s defense, however, that he had not arrived at this solution by choice. His free will had been drastically impaired by Cleo’s hysteria until he was basically left with only two options: to give Neil a mouth-to-mouth or to risk being viciously attacked by an – in all probability – rabid and paranoid sheep.

Neil’s eyes finally opened, but they were dim and opaque, so Cleo promptly poured a gallon of cold source water on his face and nearly drowned him. He choked and sneezed half a dozen times. His eyes gleamed a little more vividly after that. But to Cleo’s unspoken dismay, it was the indolent wolf that was absorbing Neil’s attention entirely. After all her efforts! She had been on this planet a long time, but she had yet to get used to male ingratitude. She had met with it so often and still she couldn’t master it without a sob. She could see Neil was not in full possession of his faculties – and, between you and me, she doubted he ever would be – but he was visibly struck by Pigli’s presence. As for Pigli, the cold-blooded devil-may-care had turned his back on the whole affair, too busy wiping his mouth with the back of his paw. He sat in the shade looking disgusted.

‘Say, haven’t we met before?’, the giddy cock finally managed to articulate.

‘Ohhh, you probably say that to all your girlfriends…’ Cleo answered and blushed.

‘Not you, I mean… her!’

‘Her?!’ Cleo’s jealous cry shot through the woods and resonated with the distant corners of the Universe. A supernova somewhere must have imploded from the reverberation. Ah, the deception! Ah, the sorrows of the dedicated nurse whose patient returns to health and leaves unaware of her endeavour! Ah, the pain in a protective mother’s bosom when her only-born gets engaged!… ‘Which her?!’

‘Well, the wolf.’ Startled, Pigli began to make his way back towards them. ‘I’m sure I’ve seen her before. Unless I was dreaming, she saved my life once before. Two days ago, not far from here.’

‘You were dreaming’, said Cleo curtly.

‘That’s quite possible’, Neil readily agreed. ‘I’m an artist you know, that’s what we do.’

‘Yeah, yeah, we know all about it’, she ruffled him. ‘That’s what drugs will do to you. You’re delusional. You fell and hit your head. First of all, this wolf’, she said, pointing to Pigli who was approaching, ‘is a guy. His name is Boss, and I’m Cleo. Remember, I introduced you. But I can see you’re full of unfulfilled fantasies…’

‘Yes, what do you suppose it could all mean?’, Neil asked with genuine interest.

‘Second of all’, Cleo purposefully ignored the interruption, ‘we just got here and there’s no other wolf in these woods. And hasn’t been for a long time. He told me so himself.’

‘For real?’ Neil’s eyes bulged out like Brussels sprouts. ‘But I could swear…’

‘I believe you could, but I’d rather you didn’t. Swearing is very very bad’, she said, swinging a pedagogical hoof in front of his face.

‘No, I meant…. Well, anyway…. Wow, are you sure?’

‘Mhmm…!’

‘I have to ease up on those uppers, baby. I never knew smoking on an empty stomach can do that to you. And it wasn’t much help to my music either.’

You can say that again, Cleo thought but instead muttered only, ‘Mhmm’ and crossed her two front legs on her chest in righteous outrage.

‘What’s going on here?’ Pigli said, as he stopped by their side. Color was seeping back into Neil’s plumage.

‘Well, someone’s looking better’, Pigli said listlessly.

‘Thaaaanks!’ baaed Cleo, flipping her eyelashes.

‘I meant him.’

‘Oh.’ Another twinge, another kick in the stomach.

‘I see you’re back’, Pigli growled. ‘Are you here to stay this time, or should I plan my dinner?’

‘Ha ha ha! Sarcastic’, Neil said. ‘I like that.’ But there was a lump in his throat which he eventually swallowed.

‘So, she tells me you’re the only wolf left in these parts, huh?’, Neil inquired.

‘I am. Yes. What of it?’

‘Boy, in that case, I must have really had a bad week!’

‘No kidding…’, Pigli said and rolled his eyes.

‘Yeah, ’cause just two days ago, I could swear another wolf saved my life, not far from here, in a clearing just above the village.’

‘Another wolf? You mean… here?’, Pigli’s ears perked up. He toyed with a hypothesis but quickly dismissed it. ‘Nah, that’s impossible’, he concluded. It was no use getting his hopes up on the ravings of a lunatic.

‘Go figure. It must have been a dream, a mirage or something. I hadn’t eaten in a while… But this wolf, I mean, she felt so real, my throat still hurts. I mean, why do you suppose I would dream a she-wolf? Can it mean something? Oh my gosh, danger, enemies, what?’

‘Wait a minute, wait a minute! A she-wolf, you said? Describe this… dream of yours, will you?’, the Boss urged.

From the sidelines of her self-imposed exile, Cleo noticed an unusual spark in the wolf’s eyes.

‘Well, you see, I had just run away from the barn. There was a loose plank and I snuck out under it during the night. It was early morning already, they were bound to realize I was missing – no wake-up call, you see – and I had barely gotten as far as Abbot Point. You know the place? Yes.’ Pigli was nodding heavily, eager to push the story ahead. ‘Well, I was drained, I’m not much good at flying – not enough practice I suppose – so that’s when they caught up with me. My master and his posse. So I darted into the bushes for cover, determined to make one last run for it when, what do you know?’

‘What? What!’

‘I find myself face to face with a wolf! As close as you and me, dude, you know’.

‘So?’

‘So… I freeze. I totally freeze, paralyzed with fear. I must have passed out I guess, with the posse on my tracks, that’s the only explanation. And while I was out I was imagining things. I mean, there she is, this wolf, across my path, right before me, I can feel her breath on my feathers… I shake. I stammer. I mumble my prayers. I tell myself this must be the end, you know. Funny. It still feels so real… How come you’re interested, by the way?’

‘That’s me. I like to hear mental patients’ stories. Go ahead.’

‘So then the most amazing thing happens. This creature, this angel in a wolf’s coat, what does she do?’

‘You’re sure it was a she?’

‘I think it was a she. Definitely. I mean, I should be able to recognize a she, you’d think.’

‘Ok, ok. So what does she do?’

‘See, this is where I should have heard the first alarm bells – she talks! And in the kindest and most gentle of voices. Now, what is wrong with this picture? This cannot be real. I mean, how often does that happen in real life? You tell me.’

‘Very clever… What did she say ?’

Poor you, you look beat, she says. Do you need any help? I’m thinking, she’s pulling my leg, right? I’ll be the main dish for lunch. But just imagine, before I can make a gesture, she snatches me up by the throat, tells me to play dead – that’s not hard at this point, trust me – and what do you think she does next?’

‘What? What?’

‘She makes a run for it, dude! She leaps out of the forest, into the clearing, snarls at the posse, shows a couple of white, razor-sharp fangs, and puts them all to flight. There, she says. They’ll all think you’re paté now, and they’ll stop searching. You’re safe. I know what it’s like to be a prisoner, she tells me. I was one myself. Take care now, and she vanishes. Before I can even say thanks. Then I notice a limp in her left leg. Is that some kind of sign, in dream language or what? I mean it’s not even plausible, right?’

‘Right, right…’ said Pigli in a trance, juggling hundreds of conflicting ideas in his brain all at once. His face had tautened and he had become so focused, so determined during the last minutes that even Cleo could see it was a bad time to distract him. A strange kind of inner turbulence had taken over him.

‘Tell me this’, Pigli finally said in a quick breath. ‘Do you think you could accurately locate the place from your “dream”? I mean, can you recognize the exact spot; can you take me to it? I haven’t been around those parts in a long time.’

‘I think so but why…’

‘Thank you, buddy! Let’s go!’, and without waiting for the other two, Pigli dashed ahead in the direction of Abbot Point.

(to be continued)

Pigli and Cleo (6)

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CHAPTER SIX

This is when they met Neil. They actually tripped over him. He was smoking grass in a field of daffodils. Neil was a suburb cock. His tuft was awfully pale and withered, drooping bloodless on one side of his head and his tiny beady eyes looked even smaller spinning irregularly around their orbits as they were. He was flat on his back wrapped in garlands of light-grey smoke. This really infuriated Pigli. Cleo, herself, was intrigued.

‘What on earth is that?’, she asked in disbelief.

‘You see now, this is what I was talking about. This used to be a decent neighborhood without all of society’s burnouts and freaks hanging out here.’

‘Is he… dead?  I mean, did he catch fire or something?’

‘It’s an addict, you dumb head!’ (I wonder, if he ODs will his flesh get any tenderer?, Pigli thought, but kept it to himself.)

‘An addict!!!!!’, Cleo cried in outrage and forgot to close her mouth again. ‘Oh my, how terrible! What’s he doing here?’

She was terrified of everything that might have interfered with her plans of greatness. She certainly wanted no addicts around when the press was there.

Pigli didn’t know and didn’t care. It only deepened his disgust with the current state of affairs. What’s the world coming to, he kept muttering. That was, as might be expected, not enough to quench Cleo’s thirst for knowledge and understanding of the universe; better said, her pathological curiosity and propensity for sticking her nose where it didn’t belong.

‘Hrm, hrmm…’, she politely cleared her throat as she drew closer. Nothing. She started coughing. She even attempted a sneeze. Still nothing.

‘Are you sure he isn’t dead?’, she asked again, looking to Pigli for reassurance. I wish…, he thought, as his bowels were beginning to stick to his vertebrae with hunger. ‘He ain’t dead. Yet.’,  he said loudly and full of contempt.

‘Whaaat…? Hahaha… who’s deeeaad, dude!’, Neil croaked in a drawling squeaky voice, suddenly awakened. That scared the heck out of Cleo. ‘Am I dead, hahaha?’, he continued with hiccups.

‘Well, son, you sure are on the right path to that, if you know what I mean’, Cleo said and helped him up.

‘Pleasure to meet you. Name’s Neil’, he said, rotating around his axis a few times.

‘Well, I’m Cleo’, she said ‘and this here is the Boss. Boy, you sure made a mess of yourself.’

‘Life sucks’, Neil said, and burped. ‘Whoops, sorry ’bout that. The Boss of whom?’

‘Excuse me?!’

‘The Boss – you said the Boss. The Boss of whom?’

‘Well, I don’t really know’, said Cleo. ‘Of the whole forest, I guess.’ Pigli was leaning against a tree, some distance down the track, bored to death, looking at his nails.

‘Peace, Boss, peace!’ Neil yelled and suddenly got another attack of dizziness.  ‘Not so loud, dude!’ he reprimanded himself.

‘What are you doing here?’ Cleo was gradually getting back to her actual biggest concern.

‘I ran away, dude. Couldn’t take the sexual pressure anymore, you know?’

Cleo had no idea but she nodded yes.

‘Those chicks, all they wanted was sex. Sex, sex, sex. I’m an artist, dude, you know, I’m a poet. They were sexually harassing me. I just couldn’t cope anymore. I mean, I’m an artist, you know? Did I mention that?’ Cleo nodded hastily. She was beginning to lose her patience.

‘Yeah, dude, I play jazz.  Do you think anybody likes jazz?’ Neil asked.

‘I suppose’, Cleo heard herself say politely. In fact, she had never heard the word before, but it sort of rhymed with pizzazz, so her imagination was busy at work.

‘Well nobody liked jazz in my yard. Not even the owner, dude. That really hurt, you know? I was so down, dude; I started getting high on hay. You know, you’d think you’d get some respect for waking somebody up with “It’s a beautiful life” every morning. You know what I got? A broom across the head, that’s what. I mean, I can’t expect the broads to like it, all they ever liked was sex – did I mention that?’ And Cleo found herself nodding again. ‘Yep, sex and soaps. All they ever talked about were the soaps. Who did what, who said what, bla bla bla, all day long. They would even stop laying eggs when the TV was on. It’s lucky we sometimes had power failures, or else, I swear, the stupid broads wouldn’t even eat, you know?’ Again, Cleo agreed not even knowing to what.

‘Yeah, but I mean the master, the owner, you’d expect a human being to recognize good music, you know?’ At this point Cleo decided to stop nodding no matter what, because she had already strained a muscle in her neck. ‘I have my art, you know, I have my pride, I wasn’t getting any respect over there.’

‘And so, that’s why you ran away’, Cleo summarized, eager to cut a long story short.  This guy had talked her all out of her curiosity.

‘Yeah, dude. I wasn’t getting any respect.’ And when he started to croak one of his best jazz pieces, Cleo immediately knew why.

Pigli had almost buried himself on the other side of the tree, groping desperately for things he could stuff into his ears. Cleo endured the ordeal with dignity, knowing it’s always bad to discourage a young artist in the making, but found herself sympathizing with the owner and hoping it would be over soon. She even found it within her to clap and cheer, but only in order to make him stop.

‘Well, that was… ahm… interesting! Wasn’t it, Boss?’ But Pigli couldn’t hear her. He was still rolling and quaking and bashing his head from the torture.

‘You’re ok, dude’, Neil said to Cleo. Then he burped and passed out flat on his ass.

Well, actually, it’s dudess, Cleo found the time to point out before she too collapsed, one hundred percent relieved.

(to be continued)

Pigli and Cleo (5)

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CHAPTER FIVE

As it turned out, their incipient friendship was only going to deepen, but neither of them knew it at the time – or at least wouldn’t admit it. Not even to themselves. As is the case with many an enduring relationship, closeness is usually achieved via relentless conflict. You start arguing and you get all worked up and then it strikes you: you hate and mistrust the other person’s point of view. Not only that, but you actually hate and mistrust the other person as well, and all the other person’s ancestors 20 generations back and all their offspring 20 generations from now, and the entire planet; and yet, after you’ve pulled out all your hairs, you settle down in their arms and sigh about how life would be so bland and unrecognizable without them.

So, as obviously as night follows day, once more, they fought. Pigli didn’t want to stop for sleeping.

First of all, I want to get there as soon as possible’, he had explained.  ‘Secondly, I have a very delicate sleep. I cannot doze off  just anywhere, I need my rituals, I need a certain smell,  I need to fluff my pillow of leaves twice, then turn on my left side, then on my back, and finally, on my belly.  And for that I need a den that is exactly my size. Not to mention that I need perfect darkness, and the forest is simply not dense enough here.’

‘Newsflash, my friend. Can I call you that, by the way?’, Cleo interrupted.

‘Let me warn you!’, he winced, scrunching his nose. ‘I’m tired so you’d better not risk it.’

‘Well, newsflash, anyway. At the Zoo there will be zero forest. How are you going to be able to sleep there? By the way, do you know that sleep deprivation can seriously affect your nervous system?  I mean, it can really make you crazy.’

‘Crazier than you’ve made me?  I doubt it.’

‘Seriously. You become erratic, irrational, unmanageable. I don’t want to risk that.’

‘Don’t worry! You’re already ahead of me. And while you’re at it, add a danger to society to the list’, he jeered.

‘Well, I need my eight hours of sleep. Do you want me to be a mess when I show up in front of reporters tomorrow? Do you? If you can’t sleep, fine, go watch the stars, practice your surrender, pick a wallpaper color for your cage, but I have to be credible tomorrow.  Remember?  Everything depends on that.’

‘I guess you have a point. I wouldn’t want you to lose it completely. At least not yet.  OK, you can sleep. I’ll just walk around a little.’

‘Make sure to get some dry wood.’

‘What for?’

‘What for?!  What for, he asks?!! To make a fire, to keep warm, what else?’

You actually expect me to make a fire?! Do I need to remind you that wolves shun fire?  Whenever we see fire, we keep away.’

‘So what am I gonna do for warmth?’

‘I don’t know. Do whatever you sheep do to keep warm.’

‘We squeeze hard against one another.’

‘Well, then… tough.’

Cleo suddenly widened her lips in a big grin, rolled her eyes and flipped her eyelashes seductively at Pigli.

‘Whaaat?! Noooo, no no no and no. No way. You’re not cuddling up with me’, he said and started walking in reverse.

‘Are you afraid of intimacy? We’re in this together after all. It might improve my performance tomorrow. Make me look more self-confident’, she continued to meow.

‘No! And that’s final! Get it into your head! I’m not gonna touch you.’

‘Hmmm… Would you rather I talked all night?’, she suddenly threw in the heavy artillery.

Pigli threw himself on the ground defeated and his face decomposed with repulsion as he felt Cleo inch her body into the thick fur on his back. She fell asleep smiling and soon began to snore. That Zoo’d better be worth it, he said to himself and spat. Where are those rabbits when you need them?

He was so angry and his nerves were so bruised that he completely forgot about his rituals and soon after fell into a deep and troubled sleep. A flock of sheep with their huge mouths puckered up and painted with red lipstick were chasing him. He was gasping and beads of cold sweat popped up on his forehead one after another. However, everything was not lost. He dreamt he was summoning his own pack to fight the wicked creatures. He was himself again, a real wolf. His blood was running, he was giving orders, dispatching the others to their positions, overseeing and planning the attack. For once, he was victorious. The sun came up upon his smile and rested on his happy face, and as he opened his eyes Cleo’s big round head was above him.

‘Aaaaaaarrrrgggg!’ he yelled.

‘Aaaaaaarrrrgggg!’ she yelled back scared to death, and her wool stood up on end.

The real-life nightmare was back, but now he could deal with it. He continued to snarl at her until he brought her to the point of imminent heart attack and then he laughed until his stomach hurt. He strutted to the nearest stream, washed his face and sprinkled his pectorals with cold water while Cleo just stood there dumbfounded and watched. For some weird reason, he was feeling good about himself. This one was really tough even for an exceptional emotional intuition such as Cleo’s.

(to be continued)

Pigli and Cleo (4)

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CHAPTER FOUR

 

They had been walking for quite some time. Cleo was happy as a lamb, prancing and cavorting all over the place, humming tunes to herself and plucking flowers for her coronation.  Then, all of a sudden, Pigli heard this behind him:

‘Oh, look, aren’t they sweet… oh, and so soft! Look, look!!!’

As he turned around, his face twisted with disgust. She was talking about rabbits.

‘Forget it. I hate them. Period.’ he said curtly, trying to hide the fact that his blood pressure had just doubled.

‘Oh, you’re so mean! I simply don’t see why’, she said, offended. ‘They seem quite harmless and vulnerable and… stoooop! You’re scaring them all away! After all, they’re creatures, just as we are.’

At this, Pigli had to fight off the desire to go smash his head against the first tree. He just barely managed it.

‘You know’, he eventually spoke, ‘you never cease to amaze me. “We’re creatures, we’re all alike”’,he began mimicking her in mockery. ‘Listen to her! Didn’t you say it yourself? Didn’t you need to be a wolf to be able to be proud of yourself? There you have it, lady. Only wolves are noble. Rabbits are jerks.’

‘Who says?’

‘You did!’

‘Well, I’m sorry if you misinterpreted. But I just happen to like rabbits. They’re just nice and fluffy and… small.  They don’t kill anybody.’

‘What are you implying? You’re the future Miss Wolf-killer, remember? That’s not nice either.’

That’s different.’

‘How is that different?!’

‘Simple. Because people are afraid of wolves. Sheep are afraid of wolves. Rabbits are afraid of wolves. Wolves are frightening. So it’s courageous and noble to kill them.’

‘Oh, really?! How enlightening! I’m sure that’d be a great comfort to Tina, who is now limping away in a Zoo, crippled and alone, because some macho hunter was looking for a noble deed!’ He couldn’t take much more of this. It’s a good thing stupidity doesn’t hurt or you’d hear the wailing on the other side of the Milky Way, he thought.

‘Uh…Who’s Tina?’

‘Just a girl I knew. A long time ago. None of your business.’

‘Sorry, Boss.’ Cleo lowered her eyes and was silent for a while, pondering his story. After a while she stopped pondering and tried her hand at appeasing the situation.

‘I guess… you’re probably right. But that’s what people say, anyway.’

‘And I know someone who’s all too eager to please them’, came the reply, sharp as a knife’s edge.

And then, they want me to pose for their tourist brochures, he started brooding.  No sir. I’ll do nothing of the sort. I am going to do nothing but lie on my back and watch the ceiling all day, just to spite them. The visions were making him scowl and grin ferociously.

‘Whoops, some hard feelings there’, Cleo thought out loud.

‘You betcha.’

‘Well, I’m surprised, to tell you the truth. I didn’t think you had it in you.’

‘Just shut up.’

‘That’s the problem. I can’t.’

‘Why?’

‘I’m hungry.’

‘Well, let’s have a rabbit then.’

‘Are you insane? You’re not really gonna eat them?!’

‘Oh, just watch me.’

‘I won’t be a part to this. I’d much rather go without food. I’ll graze later, when we come to the pasture.’

‘Fine! Suit yourself.’

‘Fine!’

Cleo realized she had upset Pigli. He had locked himself in his own thoughts and those didn’t seem very positive. From time to time he was spitting. He seemed really miserable and full of grudges. Pigli was not a happy wolf. Thank God I am a sensitive creature, emotionally intelligent and with a lot of empathy to offer, Cleo praised herself.

So they continued to walk empathically side by side towards the valley until late into the afternoon and then into the evening.  They no longer talked.  Cleo was munching on the occasional patches of thick, juicy grass that she could find and adorning the trail behind her with nice, firm, well-rounded pieces of sheep dung. She used to have frequent problems with constipation before, but not anymore. Since Pigli had informed her of his brilliant idea, her dream had slipped within reach again and that had simply revived her whole system. Or maybe it was the rich forest grass? Either way, she felt excited and enthusiastic again after all those years and when she contemplated this she could hardly prevent her eyes from becoming watery with gratitude towards the wolf. She almost began to consider him her friend. She had never really had a friend and was now discovering emotions she didn’t even know she possessed. Even though she was still very self-absorbed, she would every now and then lend a thought to Pigli and wonder what his life must have been like. Her ripe imagination concocted wild scenarios of the terrifying experiences that he had been through. She was terribly curious and burned with the desire to interrogate him again and again, but watching the nervous twitches on his face and being as emotionally intelligent as she was, she decided to let it go. For now.

Nervous twitches aside, Pigli looked his usual apathetic self and refrained from any feeding endeavor whatsoever. He probably felt he would be more than compensated afterwards, once he’d finally get to the Zoo, so finding food now was really not worth the effort. He was intent on his route and on getting there fast.  Besides, there was not much on the menu either. Wolves are the doctors of the forests, they feed on dead or sick animals, and there were no more animals left in the woods, apart from rabbits. And those were bursting with health.

Now it was getting late and, as he faced his first night in the woods away from his den, Pigli began to think. Even though his existence of late had been quite dismal and living in the forest was totally without prospects, he began to feel the first darts of regret. He realized he had left his den so impetuously, without thinking twice about it and without looking back, and he was getting, well, homesick. After all, it had been his home. He had a strange premonition that he might actually miss those sullen days when he would spend all of his waking hours thinking up new rabbit traps and playing with their psyche. He had a strange premonition that he might actually miss getting annoyed.

Slowly and silently Pigli and Cleo melted into the sunset, two black dots against the orange horizon, getting smaller every minute.

(to be continued)