Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New Beginning 643 (short story)

The cat has at least a hundred names and possibly as many as a thousand. He sits at the bottom of the steps while she climbs to the room with the glass wall. Once he followed her, kitten-fluffy, snake-fast, followed her ahead of her to the locked lead door. Time and patience has taught him to sit and wait for her return. He only miaows. Then turns, Grimalkin-grey, puss-soft, away.

She remembers her husband telling her cats couldn't be trained like dogs. She knows that's true, but now she'd like to tell him--if she could--that cats can be trained like cats.

He has, after all, learnt patience, sphinx-like waiting at the threshold; he can walk ninja-soft across the room and fur-tickle her leg before she knows he is there; his claws, rapier-quick, can vanquish any enemy, leaving entrails scattered wide. Muscular, cat-handsome, intelligent beyond human comprehension . . .

* * *

Barnacle heard a sound: the rattle of the door handle. With a deft swipe of the paw, he hit save, and clicked on close. By the time the door opened, the computer was just as she'd left it, and Barnacle was in front of the fire, licking his balls.


Opening: BuffySquirrel.....Continuation: Anonymous

42 comments:

150 said...

I really liked this, although the hyphenates got annoying after the first two or so. And the continuation was great. :)

fairyhedgehog said...

I really liked this. I was trying to imagine what happened when the cat got ahead of her on a previous occasion. (I'm not asking to be told, I just like the sense of things implied.)

I love the continuation too - the end is very funny.

Dave F. said...

Buffy,
I'm troubled by pronouns.
- The cat is a he, a Tom, and I'm still not getting that into my head. The mysterious woman is she. I first read the opening lines way too casually and had to return to understand it.
- "followed her ahead of her to the locked lead door" - It seems to me that something is wrong here.

The shift from cat to person is sudden. It made my head spin.

I like all of this in so many ways. I liked it even better when I read it aloud and realized how much cadence there was in it and how much action existed in the words. The first paragraph is a delight of playful English. And the second paragraph just dances away from the first, so different, like a variation in music.
But I'm still butting my head against those pronouns and the ambiguity they introduce.

_*Rachel*_ said...

I like this, too. The only thing that gets me is having the ()-() 4 times in one paragraph; it feels like it's a bit too much.

Was that you a few hours ago on the sidewalk? You went up the tree before I said hi? I hope it was you; I'd rather you weren't the one on the road... the one who's still there.

Robin S. said...

followed her ahead of her Gotta pick one of the two choices here, I'm thinking.

So is this third-person omniscient?


P.S. The continuation is incontrovertibly sublime.

chelsea said...

I like the imagery of this and can see the cat clearly. I also like the concept of training cats like cats. The only part that felt a little awkward was "Once he followed her . . . followed her ahead of her." Not only do the "hers" get a bit repetitive, but he's not technically following her if he's ahead of her. He's following the path he knows she's going to take.

Also, while I imagine you're using "once" to mean "at one point in time", it can also mean "literally one time". You could say, "When he was a kitten he followed/led her, snake-fast . . ." which could cut out one of the hyphens, too.

Stick and Move said...

Ditto the comments on the hyphens. It works the first time, draws attention to itself the second time, gets annoying the third time, and the fourth one gets noticed only because it is positioned so closely to the third one that I can't slam the book shut fast enough not to see it. Other than that, good imagery.

The continuation is an instant classic. Good God that was funny.

Dave F. said...

I actually like the hyphenated doohickey things. They create a distinctive voice.

kitten-fluffy, snake-fast,
Grimalkin-grey, puss-soft
If those are applied only to the cat, and then sparingly, it can work. That type of construct around a character wouldn't stop me from reading any book or story.

Read this aloud for drama and cadence.

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:


He knows, though, that cats will never be as good as dogs. Cats, too-bland, taste-less, will never be as good as dogs.

--Rachel


As husbands can be trained like husbands in that grey light puss-soft way.

But the the cat of many names will only lead one to the doors with no handles. It is a place where she lies upon occasion and upon the dew drained wound of a suburban Arizona lawn- scratched skin and soul...unreproached.

--Wendy


Which means that cats know only two human sounds: the can opener and 'Dammit'.

--Khazar-Khum


She has started, already, scattering tintacks on the stairs while the cat precedes her from behind. When his soft paws land on the sharp points, he flees, bristle-furred, Elaine-Page-yowling, to the safe haven below. It works well; except, when she comes back down the stairs, the affronted cat flies, needle-toothed, Macavity-sudden, directly at her face.

That's why she can't tell her husband. The cat has got her tongue.

--Steve

Anonymous said...

Well, I'll be totally honest here. As I was reading this, I thought: How lush the language, (poetic prose, my favorite-when-done-well)doesn't this author know that doesn't sell?. . .what a strange lady and her cat . . . hmmm, glass wall but lead door. . .husband out of the picture, wonder if she killed him? Hmm. . .wonder if this is a SS? My final thought before I scrolled down to see who wrote it was: more power to ya, author unknown, if you can get this published. And then I was very surprised to see Bsqrl's name.

I should add, I have a very high tolerance for hyphens. I would read on.

Meri

fairyhedgehog said...

I laughed out loud at Steve's continuation.

Anonymous said...

I had to read this several times before it made sense to me, because, you've chose to take artistic license with both, pronouns and commas. Plus you love clauses. Thrown in for good measure, they add flavor, but you use them in every sentence.

The cat has at least a hundred names and possibly (comma)as many as (comma) a thousand.(though you could just delete as many as, which, as an added bonus, will make take this sentence from passive to active) He sits at the bottom of the steps (comma) while she climbs to the room (comma) with the glass wall. Once he followed her, kitten-fluffy, snake-fast, followed her ahead of her (clause arn't the issue here- 2 followed hers, and one ahead of her) to the locked lead door (I thought this was the room with teh class wall?) Time and patience has taught him to sit and wait for her return. (Since this seems to be in resent tense, I think you'd do better to makeo present tense, then tell us what time has learned him: He waits, tail curled and quiet, for her return. Time has taught him. He only miaows (unless there is a different spelling across the pond, I'm fairly certain meow is misspelled). Then turns, Grimalkin-grey, puss-soft, away. (I'm confused. In the previous sentence you had him sitting and waiting for her return. Now you tell us he doesn't do that at all- he meows and leaves?)

She remembers her husband telling her cats couldn't be trained like dogs. She knows that's true, but now she'd like to tell him--if she could--that cats can be trained like cats. (This can be solved with commas. She knows that's true, but she'd like to tell him, if she could, that cats can be trained like cats.)

I think you have lots of talent, however I don't think there's much of a story here, because it's been lost in the creative word use:

"Once he followed her, kitten-fluffy, snake-fast, followed her ahead of her to the locked lead door." (This is back story, but it's moving us forward, progressing towards something)

Time and patience has taught him to sit and wait for her return. He only miaows. Then turns, Grimalkin-grey, puss-soft, away. (We've halted everything, nothing happens, the focus has left the story and landed on "look what I can do")

BuffySquirrel said...

LOL at the continuation!

Chelsea, you may technically be correct, but I think all cat owners will recognise the behaviour from the description :).

Anonymous said...

Ouch, Anon 5:53 AM. Get thee to Amazon and buy yourself a Strunk & White. Immediately. It's for your own good...

Sarah Laurenson said...

I love the lyrical style and the hyphens. I got lost in time with the first paragraph. We were present, then past, then future, then present? I don't know. Too hard for me to figure out what was happening now.

This is one that I would ignore the first paragraph for content and read on to see if the rest made more sense.

150 said...

I had to read this several times before it made sense to me, because, you've chose to take artistic license with both, pronouns and commas.Wow.

Dave F. said...

I honestly think that changing the very first "cat" to "tomcat" and "she climbs" to "his mistress climbs" and fixing followed her ahead of her is the only thing this opening needs. That's it. No more. It's a lovely collection of plain words that is really quite complex and sophisticated. In these two short paragraphs we know that the cat is more than just a cat and that his mistress is doing something out of the ordinary. It's so spare, don't mess with it. Fix the little words with little words and be done. IMO.

All this other stuff about punctuation and hyphens and POV, messes with what seems like a very distinctive style. (And don't think that this is me sucking up to Buffy. HAH! What a comedy that would be. We could do whole hours of stand-up on that premise alone.)

BuffySquirrel said...

"He" must be the cat. Therefore, logically, "she" can't be. I don't see the problem :).

BuffySquirrel said...

(oh, and thanks everyone for the comments--especially for the redesign of English grammar!)

chelsea said...

Buffy,

You are right about that.

The cat sees you coming and intuits your destination. The cat takes off (often cutting you off) and runs ahead to the place you're going. My cat likes to do this when I'm going down the stairs. Sometimes I think he's trying to kill me.

Anon 5:53,

Please (comma) tell (comma) me (exclamation) you (semi-colon) are (question mark) joking.

BuffySquirrel said...

Yep, that sounds right, Chelsea!

batgirl said...

I've proposed for some time that since 'dogging someone's footsteps' is to follow closely behind, treading on their heels, that 'catting someone's footsteps' should mean to saunter erratically right in front of them until they kick you or you trip them.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon 5:53, you might want to check out http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/01/ for comma usage. I think your comma use is rather... artistic; reminiscent of Matthew 7:3-5.

I hope I haven't been overly offensive.

Anonymous said...

This is too lyrical and that's not a good thing. A copy of Strunk and White will tell you the same thing.

You should absolutely ignore their rule about lyrical witting. Better yet, make the whole thing rhyme.

Anonymous said...

Good thinking, Batgirl! And given "dogging" is anonymous sex in a secluded parking lot out of town, "catting" would be doing it as loudly and ostentatiously as possible in a neighbor's back yard.

Anonymous said...

The story has been left behind to showcase the authors skill with words. Reading this is like talking to Arthur Kade about his acting career (or reading His blog http://arthurkade.com/ )

I'm not reading a story, I'm reading a play by about the author's dexterity with words. To say it planer, there is too much ego and not enough story.

I'd set my hair on fire before I'd read any more.

chelsea said...

"Saunter erratically"! That is perfect. And hilarious.

I figure this behavior is either indicative of a blatant disregard for personal space, or is the cat's way of saying, "Today is the day I kill you and take over the kitchen, but I need it to look like an accident."

_*Rachel*_ said...

I don't agree with most of the Anons here.

chelsea said...

Yeah. We seem to be suffering an attack of the Anonymati.

I was reading this over again, and was struck by the description of the cat miaowing and turning away. Suddenly it felt very mournful, and I got this image in my head of a widow lamenting the loss of a lifelong spouse.

Then I thought, considering the lines that follow, maybe the woman in the story is a widow, and this is symbolic of that.

Then I thought, maybe I’m pulling this out of my behind. But maybe not.

Steven said...

I had to read this several times to understand it.

BuffySquirrel said...

Eh, fortunately I don't have to pay any attention to Strunk & White.

Xenith said...

Chelsea: I've been lucky enough to read the whole story so I have to agree with you.

It's one of those stories where, once you've finished, you wish you'd never read it because you know it's going to stick in your head for ever. Evocative & disturbing.

I keep trying to analyse it to work out how she gets that effect, without much luck. And if I ask her, she just says "everyone writes differently". Very annoying, but don't tell her I said that.

Neelloc said...

Stick an 'i' in 'planer', Anon. 9:13.

Hi Buffy. This is definitely interesting but I don't think I personally could read a whole novel in this style. A short story would be lovely though.
I also like your mostly simple vocabulary. Words like 'Grimalkin' help add colour.
Also my computer dictionary thinks 'grimalkin' could be 'hillwalking' or 'grimace'. :P

Phoenix said...

Hey Buffy: I'm with ME on the prose poetry. This reads quite nicely, and I did get the "followed" allusion (but, admittedly, only on a second scan of it since I was initially tripped up by it). I think it is the repetition of the "followed her" that's hard to, um, follow.

The nits (and I only do grammar nits when I have nothing else to say):

"has taught" - I would go with "time and patience" as a plural rather than single composite noun (or whatever it's technically called), so "have taught".

"couldn't be trained" - since it's a present tense sentence and "could" is not conditional here as it is in the next paragraph where it's fine as "could", I'd use "can't".

But, yanno, much as some people may disagree, some bits of grammar can be subjective. (Just none of the bits that Anon 5:53 apparently uses.)

BuffySquirrel said...

Thanks, everyone. No, I don't think I could write an entire novel in this style, either. Fortunately this is a Flash piece :D.

ril said...

Yeah. We seem to be suffering an attack of the Anonymati..

Well, it's her owned damned fault. If you cross the Salman Rushdie fan club, you've got to expect some kind of vendetta...

BuffySquirrel said...

Lol, Ril!

chelsea said...

Hehehehe. Just started reading the Rushdie book today. We shall see which side I fall on.

Maybe everything really IS connected ;)

_*Rachel*_ said...

Isn't the vendetta if you cross the ANTI-Rushdie club?

Steve said...

FWIW, I liked it a lot. It's a nice low-key opening, with quietly evocative language ... it's clear, from the outset, that there's Something Going On here. Undercurrents, that's what it's got, undercurrents. And those undercurrents will draw the reader (well, this reader at least) into the story.

The hyphen-phrases are a stylistic quirk (easily skewered by even an amateur parodist), but I'm not sure that they're an actual flaw ... they'd get irritating if there were many more of them, but something tells me the author's got better sense than that ...

BuffySquirrel said...

I thought I was the anti-Rushdie club. Insofar as you can have a club of one squirrel.

_*Rachel*_ said...

Well, I was originally confusing Salman Rushdie with Theo Van Gogh, but it turns out they both have fatwas against them--ie, there are some Muslims out there who would like nothing better than to kill them. That's the anti-Rushdie club you don't want to cross.

Me, I think Rushdie's work sounds close to what I like to read, but a little too adult. As for the anti-club... I'm not planning to pass out tracts in Mecca, but there are plenty of ways to annoy terrorists. Being an American Christian girl who likes Israel, for instance.