Fall2009

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On Animals

Fiction

Le Coup de Chat Noir

By Bryan Douglas

The following narrative transpires in a magical realm where beasts and foul, insects and fish, protozoa and arthropods, all communicate vocally, with the exception of squid and octopus, who, while they maintain the ability to speak, choose to write in ink. All of the creatures can speak, be heard, listen and comprehend dialogue amongst each other and with human beings who speak English. There is another much more magical land where all the creatures speak Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic, Chinese and many many more languages - but there's a cover charge to get in and I didn't remember to stop off at the ATM before I departed on this inter-dimensional voyage.

I welcome you to North Palettes, or at least to the embassy. I arrived here three days ago from San Francisco, California, via the East Palette's Express. I have to take the East Express to get to North Palettes, while I would have to take the Northeast Palettes South Express to get to East Palette - but like I said, there's a cover charge there. You, on the other hand, have the great luxury of arriving by simply turning a page and trusting me.

I usually spend my summer holiday vacations in the Palettes. Despite the name, North Palettes is much more like a southern tropical region. The pace of life is normally tranquil, yet you could not have arrived at a stranger time. I must warn you that current conditions are now treacherous. Yesterday, last night specifically, I am approached by an octopus while I sit down on the wharf at the Gale Street Beach. In all of my time here, I had never made the acquaintance of any of the octopus community. This guy sure knows who I am though. "Max," he says, or again more specifically: writes in ink on the water's surface. He swims a bit closer to where the waters are calmer. We discuss for a while random topics, small talk really: weather, news, existentialism, and abstract expressionism. Like an Italian from New York, this octopus talks with his hands a lot. Revision: talks with his tentacles - his tentacles flail and smack the surface of the water splashing about and causing a mild raucous.

Then, out of nowhere: "Oh yeah," he says, "I almost forgot to tell you - tomorrow at sunrise begins our vow of silence, so we won't be speaking until we feel like it again."

"How long will that be?" I ask.

"I don't know. We'll see who can last the longest," and with that, the octopus swims off into the deep blue sea.

So, here you are in North Palettes, the land of the English-speaking animals during the first ever recorded silent period. Ho-hum. It's a shame your arrival is now so ill-fatedly late. Yesterday morning at breakfast the crows joined me for a few moments. Sascha, who was born over my last holiday here, is having his bah mitzvah that afternoon. Sascha and his family are strict Hasidic Jews and in case you're wondering, yes - they have long curly feathers running down the sides of their heads. The party is a blast, a real success. We all have a good time dancing and singing. It was just after the party that I walked through the main drag of town down to the wharf. I don't mean to digress too much from the main plot, which as I have mentioned is riddled with danger. I just want you to get a better feel for what North Palettes was before the events of this morning. Down the main drag, Gale Street, there's an open-air market. On one side there is fresh produce. On the other side there are all kinds of shops with knick-knacks and touristy gifts - some real craftsmanship and artistry. The place bustles with activity and teems with live music on the streets at any given time. The old male beasts sit in cafes and complain about the younger generation. Occasionally a pigeon swoops down and is readily chased away. "Damn illegals!" they mutter.

Today there is no muttering. The cafes are closed. The market is closed. There is no music on the streets. There's not another beast in sight except for the cats. I was jolted awake this morning by a feline military junta. My hotel room reeks of cat urine and feces. They bombed the place. Before I could open my eyes, I feel claws digging into my thighs. A wave of cats perched on the ledge of the window just above my bed is dive bombing me. I let out a good loud howl, which does nothing to deter the next wave. I quickly yet cautiously sprint out of the hotel and down the street to the embassy, making sure not to step in any piles or puddles.

The cats have performed a perfect coup d'etat. The Gale Street beach, as seen from the embassy's roof deck, appears to have been turned into a giant litter box. The legs of all furniture in North Palettes have been gouged and defaced with razor-sharp claws. The cat-nip fields have been raided. In short, we've got some crazy drugged-up whacked-out pussies out there. The other inhabitants of North Palettes are either quietly hiding, or perhaps have gone into exile. I feel they were tipped off last night, hence the vow of silence. The cats may come clawing at the doors of the embassy at any moment.

There is a small stockpile of kibble, but I fear we'll soon run out. Then with nothing to distract the cats we're quite possibly doomed. I've already checked all the chambers and closet spaces here in the embassy. There are no giant balls of yarn. There are no feathers on strings. There are no birds either to distract the felines as they have all gone into hiding as I said. Not even the Hasidic crows remain in the occupied territories.

This is where you come into the picture. I know this all sounds far fetched to you. I expect nothing less from a human. There is one human emotion that I beg of you to display, however, and that is compassion. Please, send for help. Before the cats surround the embassy, you must take the Northwest Express Local to East Palette. When you arrive there, you'll have to speak French when going through Customs. Ask for Antonin. He is a Kangaroo. Tell him that Max has sent you. Tell him that we need flapjacks, you know, pancakes with butter and maple syrup, to be shipped immediately to Austria in small boxes. He'll understand.

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