Strider, Taran, Felix, and Fenix
Taran decided he would like some ice cream.
“What’s that?” inquired Fenix, stretched across the porch in the blistering heat, trying not to move.
Felix knew. “It’s cold, and sweet, and we never get any. They eat it with cake when the balloons show up, to keep them from being depressed about the balloons, I guess.”
Strider was desperately hot. “Where would we find any?”
“We could go buy some.” Pixie sounded like she knew what she was talking about.
“What’s that?” inquired Felix. “What is ‘buy’? How do you do it? Is that how you make ice cream?”
“Don’t know how you make it,” said Jasmine. “But I know how you get it, and I know where to go.”
Jasmine had been around longer than any of the rest of them, so she could say almost anything, and they wouldn’t know if she were pulling their collective rear legs, or what. OK, ice cream sounded good, maybe she knew something.
Gary pulled up in his old red Explorer, hopped out of the car, and went into the house.
“You guys up for this? OK, let’s go!” Jasmine bounded across the yard to the Explorer, jumped in the door that had been left open, and jumped up on the dashboard. The other cats followed her to the car, uncertain about what was unfolding, and a little nervous about approaching a car with the engine left running … they had heard rumor of what happened when cats and running cars got too friendly. Too well acquainted. Too … close.
But they all jumped in.
“Taran. Keep hold of the seat, and pull that door closed. Fenix, get down on the floor, ready to push on that flat thing close to the middle of the car. Felix, you get ready to push on the smaller thing closer to the door. Strider, see this stick? I need you to move it up and down when I say to. Pixie and Taran, you have to make this round thing turn, whichever way I say. Everyone ready? Taran — get the door closed!”
Gary found the book he had forgotten, and started back to the car. No, better get a drink for the ride. Let’s see, any Coke Zero in the fridge? Yeah, there’s one. OK, get a replacement in. OK, that’s cooling. Oh, forgot to take meds… better do that. Where’s my pill cup?
Taran got the door closed. On Jasmine’s direction, Strider hung on the stick and bounced it down … to D1.
“Now push on that thing I sent you to push on!”
When the car stopped rolling forward, they started over.
Gary remembered his sunglasses had found their way into the bathroom, so he started towards the back of the house to search for them.
Jasmine got them coordinated enough to start the car rolling backwards. Across the street and into the woods.
“Oh, why didn’t you say so?”
“When I say your name, do your job!”
“OK, OK, don’t get your tail in a tangle!”
Gary came back to the kitchen, and decided he wanted some ginger snaps for this trip. None in the cookie jar. Maybe in the pantry.
“OK, team, let’s go! Strider, rock that thing down until there’s a ‘D’ in the window there. Fenix, push a little bit on the ‘go’ thing. Yes, that one. Taran, Pixie … turn slowly left.”
The car began moving, but the steering wheel did not turn.
“She said ‘left’.”
“I am turning it left.”
“No you’re not! I’m trying to turn it left, but you’re turning it right!”
“You wouldn’t know left from left out!”
“Do you know right from a right punch? Which you’re going to get, right now?”
“Felix!” interrupted Jasmine.
“What? Why do you keep yelling at me? Oh, right, sorry, got it.”
Gary decided he would settle for some low-carb fake chocolate. Where’s Marilyn? Better tell her I’m going. In the bedroom? On the deck? Must be upstairs.
“Taran. When I say ‘left’, you pull the top towards you. Pixie, help him move it that way. Got it?”
They got it.
“Pixie. When I say ‘right’, you pull the top towards you. Taran, help her move it that way. Got it?
This was getting confusing. They got it, maybe. Sort of.
“And when I say ‘straight’, get it back where it was.”
This was really confusing. How would you know when it was back where it started?
“Once again. Fenix, start us up. Left. Left. Not so left — right! Good. Felix. Felix!! Thank you. Everyone still here? That was kind of a quick stop.”
Everyone seemed to still be in the car.
“Right turn. Fenix, easy. OK, back left, until I say … OK, go straight.”
Gary walked out to the car, and … and … where was the car?
“Officer, I guess it has just been stolen. I think I left it running on the driveway, while I went in for a second … well, a few seconds … and it’s gone. ‘92 Explorer, red, license plate …K…A…5 …”
The Explorer careened into Highway 249, and managed to turn south without running into anyone and only getting two wheels over the curb on the other side of the road. A dump truck, full of dirt and broken concrete, rumbled by, honking. The horn blast scared them so much Felix jammed them to a stop, in the middle of the road.
“No! You can’t do that!”
But he had, and she now had to coordinate the effort to get them moving again.
About the time they made it past Hicks Road, their failure to be nice about the red light caught the attention of one of Tomball’s finest. He turned on the red and blue lights and pulled in behind the Explorer. The occupants, however, had no idea what that meant, and kept going.
A few hundred yards later, traffic was stopped, so Jasmine got the car stopped. Before it could start up again, the officer had gotten the word that a car looking a lot like this had been stolen, a car with this license plate, in fact. He pulled up behind it, stopped the patrol car, got out, and walked up to the driver’s window.
No one seemed to be in the car. Several cats were curled up in the back seat, apparently napping. Where had the driver gone?
He walked all the way around the car, looked about, looked under it … and walked back to the patrol car, thoroughly puzzled. As he sat down and reached for the radio, the Explorer pulled away with the rest of the traffic.
The officer closed his door, buckled up, and continued to follow the Explorer with his lights on. One of the cats seemed to have climbed up on the dashboard, but he could still see no driver.
When the car stopped again with the rest of the traffic at Highway 2920, he unbuckled, got out, and … watched the car drive away, across the intersection. Ignoring his flashing signals.
At the entrance to the theater parking lot, the Explorer finally pulled in … but didn’t stop. It continued across the parking lot, until it finally lurched and bumped to a stop at the curb outside The Flavor Shop, an expresso coffee and ice cream shop.
Exasperated, he pulled in behind the Explorer, blocking its ability to leave, and angrily got out of his car. Coming to the driver’s door, he again could find no driver, though he desperately wanted to vent some frustration on such a person. There were the cats again, some in back and some in front, some sleeping and some stretching and looking at him.
As he stared, he began to think maybe he would not report this. Maybe he had not really found the stolen car. Maybe … maybe he needed to go watch for speeders somewhere … somewhere at the other end of town. Yes, that sounded like a very productive thing to do … very productive … at the other end of town. Slowly, looking around for anyone who might be watching, he casually got back in the patrol car, turned off the flashers, pretended to write on a flip pad for a few minutes, and then drove slowly away, as though his business here were finished.
Which it was, if he had any choice in the matter.
Jasmine had found a few dollar bills that had been left in the drink holder. She was not too sure how this worked, but she knew they would need that stuff inside the store.
“OK, everybody out. Strider, make sure you leave the stick showing a ‘P’ – I think it means Put it here for the night, or something.”
Strider wrestled the stick into place, then everyone jumped out through the window. Jasmine led the way to the door.
Hmm. The door. No one was around to open it. They all clustered at the door, some stretching up onto the glass.
John was wiping up the counter, after making the coffees advertised on the markerboard behind the cashier. He glanced up, seeing motion, and realized there was a crowd of cats at the front door. Cats who all seemed to be looking in. And waiting.
“Sally?” She came from the office with a stack of receipts in her hand, glad for any reason to leave Peachtree for a minute. Following his gaze, she looked at the door.
“I don’t believe it. You serve them.” She went back to the computer.
Well, it looked like it was his to figure out. He rounded the corner on the cashier desk, and worked his way through the tables to the front door. The cats had not moved, except to get more focused in their inspection of the interior of the shop.
John opened the door.
“Yes, may I help you?”
Jasmine, Taran, Felix, Fenix, Strider, and Pixie walked in. They each hopped into a plastic chair around the small tables, and sat waiting. Waiting?
“Meow.” Jasmine spoke, and John, turning to see, realized she had some bills in her mouth. She spit them out on the table in front of her.
John sat down. Only two cats were at the second table, so he took a chair with them. Just looking at them. And looking out at Gary’s car, which he recognized instantly. Suddenly he got up, went to the door, went out, and looked for Gary. This was a prank, and a good one, but he had finally figured it out.
Gary wasn’t there. No one was there. The car was running, the window was open, and … no one was there.
The cats still sat, waiting.
For what? He went back inside.
The voice came from the back room. “John, I’d suggest French Vanilla and Mint Chocolate. If they get anything at home, I’ll bet that’s what they get.”
“Did you take their money?”
He looked down. There in his hand was the cash that the black cat had put on the table.
“Then get them some ice cream! You think they’re here for coffee?”
Well, obviously not.
Well, maybe obviously not. At this point he wasn’t so sure what was obvious and what was … not.
The cats still sat there. Waiting? Apparently.
John went around the end of the counter, found some styrofoam bowls, and dished up six scoops of ice cream. Half of them were Vanilla, half were mint chocolate. Coming out, he hesitated. Which ones would want which flavors?
What am I thinking? They’re CATS.
He set a bowl in the chair next to each cat. They all looked at it. The black one jumped down, and jumped into the chair where the gold and white one was. That cat got down and took the chair where the brown and grey cat was. That cat took the bowl where the black cat had been. And they all began eating.
“Looks like I got three out of six right!” he shouted to Sally, thinking she would surely come to see the show.
“Nice try. I got two out of three, the first time.”
“You WHAT? You got what? Did you say the FIRST time??”
Pixie sat back.
“Pretty good stuff. Think this man made it?”
“No, I think they bring it from somewhere else,” said Jasmine, cleaning up her bowl. “I’ve seen the big barrels come in on a truck.”
Jasmine was watching John. “He looks confused. The lady never acted that way. And she knew I wanted Vanilla; this man isn’t that good.”
Pixie disagreed. “She messed mine up, and he got it exactly right. Don’t you get on his case!”
“OK. Let’s go. I don’t know how long that car will keep running.”
They all hopped down and went to the door. The door chime began ringing, and stopped when they all got there. The man was staring, in unbelief. “Keep the change, just let us out!” called Jasmine. No motion.
“Everyone start walking in circles,” suggested Strider. He had noticed something.
Sure enough, the doorchime began ringing, and as long as they kept walking, it kept ringing. That brought the man out of his chair, as Strider thought it might. He held the door open and all the cats jumped out, climbing into the car.
“Go for ‘R’, Strider. Felix, hold your board for a minute… OK, no one’s coming. Let up on it, and Taran, pull the wheel.”
John stood in the doorway, watching the Explorer ease out into the parking lot, turn, and head off towards the signal light. And long after it was gone, he stood in the doorway, until Sally came to pull him away so the bell would stop ringing.
“Did you see …”
Gary was lying down for a nap, waiting for the police to call with word of his car. Jasmine jumped up on the bed and nuzzled up next to him.
“Where have you been? And what’s that on your … is that ice cream?”
“Gary,” called Marilyn, “didn’t you say the car was gone?”
Strider, Pixie, Felix, Fenix, Jasmine, and Taran are from The Oak and the Cliff series of books.