“Kitty, Kitty, Kitty! Manny! Dinner time!” The little voice rang out over the grassy terrain, a few manzanita trees dotting the landscape, while the child waited expectantly, never doubting that Manny would come. It was usually more a matter of when.
“Come on, Pumpkin, he’ll come back when he’s good and ready. By that I mean, when he’s good and hungry. That’s when we see Mr. Manny, not before, and, thank Buddha, not usually afterwards, either. I’m not sure exactly why we keep that mangy cat around.” The speaker was Ryan, a craggy-faced man, somewhere in his mid-thirties, with a week’s growth of flaming red beard, and a head of hair, that indicated he had not seen the inside of a barber shop, since the moron was President. Since the next election is about to take place, that’s been a passel of time, when it comes to letting your hair relocate.
Working in the sun contributed to the red hue, also turning his face brown, that is, after the usual period of sun-burn and peeling took place. He went through it each spring, when the rains finally stopped, so that the sun could bake the earth for the next six months. Ryan used to think it would be nice if there could be some wriggle room between the extremes of the two seasons, but what did he know?
The lass he was talking to, was ten, a spry, energetic little waif, with a head of the same color hair on her head, that he had sprouting all over his face. She was wearing a little tom-boy outfit of jeans and t-shirt, bothering with shoes only to get her to her destination, and then jettisoning them, in favor of going barefoot. She just needed to wear them because of the snakes. Ryan had drummed that into her head. Hers and Cory’s heads. Cory was her twin; the two were as inseparable as twins are want to be.
That was kind of funny, because right now, Cory was in the twins‘ tree-house, the second of two outside sanctuaries. This one really was more a playhouse than a treehouse, about four feet off the ground, in a manzanita tree, that had long since collapsed on its side. This left an exposed trunk, upon which steps had been nailed, to gain entry to the little house. There was a four feet tall “wall” around the perimeter, over which they could peer, but there was no roof. That might still take place, but probably not.
Cory was out there because he was fighting with Cali, his stubborn twin sister, who insisted that that stupid Manny-Cat was worth paying any more attention than a dead rat. The only thing Manny had going for him, were those baseball-mitt-sized paws, with the eight toes on each. That is how he’d gotten the name, Manos, Spanish for hands, and then Manny, a derivative of Manos.
As Cali bounced around the kitchen, Ryan suggested curtly that she should seek out Cory and plan a little skullduggery.
“Like you would let us get away with it,” she answered primly, “but I’m leaving, anyway,” and she did, only to come right back.
“Daddy,” she panted, “There’s a really weird noise out by the treehouse where Cory’s playing. It sounds like Mom’s pressure cooker. Come listen,” and she bounced back outside.
Ryan was already heading for the shovel leaning up against the fence, where he had been digging around the roses. He knew what made a noise like a pressure cooker, and it scared the crap out of him, when he thought about Cory, certainly aware of the noise also, if he was, indeed, in the treehouse.
Make no mistake; Cory was in the treehouse. He was backed into the farthest corner of the miniature playhouse, from the door. In the doorway of the playhouse, clearly visible from their vantage point on the front deck, was Manny-Cat, and halfway up the trunk of the fallen manzanita tree, was the source of the noise, a colossus of a reptile, fully 48 inches in length, with a girth which matched Ryan’s forearm, and was formidable indeed.
Her rattles totaled twelve, and the unmistakeable fear that she instilled, was evident in Cory’s frozen visage, in his petrified stance, from his defensive position, as far from the entrance of the little playhouse as he could cram himself. Only Manny the cat seemed unconcerned. As the serpent had advanced along the trunk, heading toward the doorway, Manny had blocked his entrance, and was engaging in the most intriguing type of swordplay.
Manny’s paws, already enlarged by three additional toes per front paw, were flitting to and fro, to either side of the snake’s head, making the lightest of contact, any time he deemed it safe. It was a mesmerizing performance, if you chose to sit and watch the show.
Cory watched the show; Cali watched the show. Ryan watched nothing but his footing, as he moved as fast as he ever remember moving in his life, clutching that shovel for dear life, as though it were Excalibur, Arthur’s sword. One fell swoop, one thud for EveryKid, and the diamond dandy of the desert was material for a belt, and this one would make a fine one.
Better still, it would make a good scarf, one for a cat with big paws.