Mr. Buckley And The Rising River
Published by GYR Marsh, L.L.C.
Copyright © 2017 Michelle Novak
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To adventurous souls, both human and animal
Mr. Buckley And The Rising River
Baths are for chumps and I’m no chump. I know what water does to cats. It turns us into wet, drippy matted rats. I prefer my orange fur to be fluffed with cobwebs and shined with a coat of dust.
“Come on Mr. Buckley,” says Sweet Girl as she tries to pry my claws off the top rung of the barn ladder.
I look below to the floor and see an oval steel tub filed halfway with a dark pool of water.
“MEOW,” I screech as Sweet Girl pulls at my belly to loosen me from the ladder. Sweet Girl, whose human name is Lizzy, is my young friend who feeds me tasty leftovers and gives me a lap to lounge on, but right now she is my enemy.
“You’re being stubborn,” says Sweet Girl, her brown curls drooping in front of her blue eyes. “It’s just a bath. You’re stinky and dirty from sleeping in the hayloft. A bath will make you shiny and pretty again.”
I’m a 12-year old barn cat. I haven’t been shiny and pretty since I was a kitten and even back then I was only clean when I accidently fell in the watering can while chasing mice.
Those were the days. I loved chasing mice through the fields and grabbing at their spindly tails as they ran for cover.
But those days are gone. I have a strict pact with the barn mice not to eat them since they were kind enough to save me from a stampeding herd of cows. So all I can do now is cringe as they giggle at my predicament.
“You’re going to get soaked,” laughs Mousetrap, my hobbled mouse friend who fought with a mousetrap and won. He and his family share the hayloft with me. They make friendly company, but sometimes I still wish I could eat them.
“No…I’m…not,” I say. “I’m not going anywhere near that tub. It goes against all the rules of being a cat. No water. No soap. No bath.”
I am stubborn, but Sweet Girl’s strong arms easily pull me to her chest and I feel myself going down the ladder and towards the tub below.
“Merowwl,” I howl and I push against her shoulder with my feet. The rough texture of her blue overalls burns my feet. I bobble in her arms, but she catches me by my belly. I have a broad girth so she has plenty of belly to grip.
“It’s not that bad,” says Sweet Girl as she lowers me into the tub. I kick at the water when I feel it touch the pads of my feet.
“Rowrl,” I scream.
“Aww. Just get in the tub,” pleads Sweet Girl. “You’ll feel great once your fur is clean and shiny.”
I stretch my legs against the side of the tub, trying to grip the edge with my claws. It is no use. The metal is slippery with soap and my struggle is to no avail. I slide down the tub walls and land in the soapy water with a plop.
“I HATE WATER!”
“Look how pretty he is,” says Sweet Girl as she shows me off to her teenage brother Coyote Boy, who is called Tim by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. McNeal. He is stretched out on the porch swing looking through a bike catalog.
The front porch runs the full front of the North Dakota farm house and provides the perfect resting spot. I jump up onto Coyote Boy’s lap to relax after the terrifying bath.
I am embarrassed by my soppy appearance, but Coyote Boy’s orange hair looks just as soppy as mine. I relax and lick my fur, trying to undo the damage Sweet Girl has done.
“Looks like an orange rat,” says Coyote Boy as he pages through his magazine.
“That’s not nice,” says Mr. McNeal who is helping Mrs. McNeal peel potatoes on the front porch.
Both are dressed in purple flannel shirts, jeans, and bunny slippers. They look like twins except that Mr. McNeal’s clothes hang loosely on his willowy body.
“Why did you wash the cat?” asks Mrs. McNeal, whose bushy red hair and freckles clash with her shirt.
She tosses a handful of potato peels into the tulip bed for fertilizer. Even though the temperature has topped 50 degrees, there are still dirty piles of snow stacked up on both sides of the porch steps.
The tulips are just starting to pop through the icy mess to show their April blooms.
“I’m not sure barn cats really need baths,” says Mrs. McNeal. “But he does smell better.”
“I wanted him to look pretty for spring,” says Sweet Girl. “Everything is new and sparkly in the spring. And since this is our first spring with Mr. Buckley, I figured he should look sparkly, too.”
Sweet Girl wipes my fur with a raggedy blue towel which makes my hair stand up in uneven clumps. I dig my claws into Coyote Boy’s stomach in protest.
“Ouch,” he says. “Stop brushing him. He’s clawing me.”
Sweet Girl ignores him and keeps brushing. She flattens the hair clumps with a metal bristled pink brush.
Once she flattens out the clumps, the brushing isn’t horrible. I even purr as the comb tines scratch my back. The brushing almost makes up for the torture of bath time…almost.
“There,” she says after she brushes that last of my stray fur into place. “Very pretty.”
Just then thunder rumbles and growls. Then lightening spits, cracks, and streaks across the sky. Suddenly, the heavens let loose with a downpour of rain.
I jump off Coyote Boy’s lap, hightail it off the porch, and race to the barn only to land right in the middle of a mud puddle.
“That’s better,” I meow.
The spring rains come to the Red River Valley of North Dakota along with continuous rolling thunder, spectacular lightning shows, and king- size raindrops. The rain water pours off the roof of my barn like a waterfall and sends me hiding behind a hay bail.
I hate April rain. It’s wet and cold and ploppy on my nose.
The April day lilies have barely poked their green leaves through the slushy remains of a hard winter, when the torrents of water urge their roots to the surface.
“Play with us,” say the plucky baby mice that have newly arrived in the hayloft.
Mother Mouse’s watchful eye isn’t enough to keep them safely in their hay bale nest. Adventure calls and the hayloft is their playground. The baby mice swat my nose with their tales egging me on.
I shake my bottom and pounce, catching a brown mouse’s tail between my teeth.
“Na ah,” says Mousetrap shaking his tail at me. “Remember your agreement, Cat.”
He stands against the barn wall with his hands on his hips. He holds a stick cane under his arm to take weight off his left leg, twisted from a run-in with a mousetrap.
“Right,” I say grinning sheepishly and raise my right paw. “I promise not to eat mice since you saved me from certain doom when the moos broke through the barn door and nearly trampled me to smithereens.”
“That’s right,” said Mousetrap. “The baby mice are no snack for you.”
“I promise not to eat them,” I say. “But that won’t stop me from chasing them.”
I tear across the hayloft and swat at the scattering mice with my paws. They squeal in delight.
Mousetrap shakes his head, but I see a smile escape from the corner of his mouth.
“I’m glad it’s spring even if it is raining like crazy,” says Coyote Boy as he watches the gray clouds drift across the sky. “This winter was nuts. Twenty days of 40 degrees below zero is not what I call fun.”
Coyote Boy swings back and forth on the squeaking porch swing. He shivers just thinking about the winter that is now passing.
“Well, it’s all over now,” says Sweet Girl splashing in a puddle on the sidewalk. Her pink kitty cat boots protect her feet from the crisp water that flows in a lazy river down the driveway.
“Spring is here, the flowers are sprouting, and life is good.”
“Sure is,” I meow. I am grateful that I no longer need to slog through six feet of snow to get from the barn to my favorite napping spot on the porch swing.
Since I wore myself out chasing the baby mice around the hayloft, a nap on the porch is overdue.
I stretch my front legs and shake off an icy drip of water that falls on my back from the porch roof. I brush against Coyote Boy’s leg to hint that he should pick me up.
When he ignores me, I jump up on his lap, turn around three times, and cuddle in.
I’m a cat. I will not be ignored.
“It’s a little bit worse for the wear,” said Mrs. McNeal examining the front of the farmhouse during a break in the rain.
I look up from my napping spot to examine the house. The white paint on the house siding has chipped away from the wood showing large swatches of graying wood. The blue window shutters have curled up their wings, aging the house beyond its 80 years.
“Winter has taken its toll, but a good coat of white paint and new shutters will help bring this house back to its glory,” says Mr. McNeal. “I’ll head to Fargo tomorrow for paint and new shutters.”
“Can we come?” asks Coyote Boy, his eyes brightening with hope. “Now that our snowmen have melted, it would be great to see some actual people.”
Coyote Boy is right. Arthur can be a tough place to be in winter. Even cats get bored in Arthur during wintertime.
Arthur is a small farming town with more cows than people. When the snow falls, the community huddles around their fireplaces and stays hidden inside their homes until spring. Even the wildlife hunkers down until spring.
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