Frank steered the car through the congested Wal-Mart parking lot. He sang loudly, relishing the air conditioning and loving the fact that no one could hear him. He selected a parking space and eased the car in slowly. The CD changed tracks, and what should have been 54-46 Was My Number by Toots and the Maytals was a voice singing in falsetto, not unlike that of Tiny Tim.
You can’t turn your back
On the people you know,
You can’t turn away,
From the seeds that you sow.
There’s a difficulty to face,
don’t run away now!
Remember the day,
Whatever you do, never bow!
Frank turned off the ignition and yanked his keys out. He hadn’t heard the voice of Martin Songbird in decades, and now it was coming out of his radio. You’re going nuts Frank, he told himself, but at least you’re doing it in style. He lumbered through the aisles of Wal-Mart, checking off the items from his shopping list as he tossed them in his basket. He looked at the murmuring mob and saw their dead-eyed pursuit of commercial satisfaction. Walking past a display of Christmas tress, he just shook his head.
He thought about Martin Songbird, instantly recalling the motley bard and his long lute. He found himself considering his usually comical songs about maidens and naughty stable boys. I guess Martin was a representation of my repressed sexuality, concluded Frank, also thinking that Carter and Martin would get along famously. As his thoughts wandered, he steered his carriage down a narrow aisle.
“Watch what you’re doing, buddy!” reprimanded a woman in a brightly colored, yet surprisingly ill-fitting moo-moo. “You hear me buddy? You almost knocked me on my ass!” Frank looked at her make-up ridden, pock-marked face and apologized remorsefully. “And keep your eyes ahead of you next time!” she said angrily, despite the sincerity of his words. Moments later, he was the target of similar comments after he ran over the foot of an old man in the vitamin aisle.
The cashier was busily scanning items and tossing them into plastic bags. She was young and pretty, though she wore a thickly caked foundation that gave her face a mask-like quality. Frank looked at her closely and saw that she had a tiny man standing on her shoulder. He wore a tiny pointed hat and looked like a cross between Tom Bosley and Santa Claus.
“Keep it up girl! We’re almost done. You can do it! Go! Go! Go!” he was cheering on her efforts with all the enthusiasm of a stage mom. As customer after customer passed through, he kept shouting words of encouragement. Until Frank’s turn came.
“Stop!” he shouted, and the cashier immediately looked at Frank with a disgusted look. “It’s you, you ingrate!” he said, glowering.
“What did I do?” Frank asked earnestly.
“You have too many items.” rebuked the cashier.
“You aren’t heeding the call.” admonished the little man.
“I’m sorry,” Frank said, “I didn’t notice.”
“I’m going to have to ask you to go to another line. This is for customers with 10 items or less, and you’ve got like, fourteen.” explained the cashier. The little man simply stuck his tongue out at Frank.
“I’ll just go, I’m really sorry.”
“Yeah, they all say that.” said both the little man and the cashier. Frank went to another line, and after nearly a half an hour of waiting, was back inside of his economical car. He started the engine again, and was satisfied when he heard Del Shannon singing his signature hit, Run Away. Frank began to back the car out of the parking space when he noted a goblin, displaying a toothy grin, buckled into the back seat.
“You aren’t going home, pal.” said the goblin in a deep, bass voice. Distracted, Frank didn’t notice a gigantic Hummer bearing down on his tiny sedan.
“First you say it, then you do it.” said the goblin, still smiling. Frank tried to sit up, but found that he was tired down on a wooden table.
“What’s happening? What are you doing? I have my rights!” spouted out of Frank’s mouth like a torrent from a fountain. He swiftly looked around and found that he was in a concrete room with very little light.
“You’re injured, I’m fixing you, and you don’t have any plural rights any more. I’m afraid you have only one right, and its your leg.” replied the goblin with a laugh.
“What do you mean?” asked Frank, trying to look at his right arm and finally seeing it on a chair across the room. He swiftly fainted and found himself standing at his front door with his bag from Wal-Mart. He opened the front door, and called out for Claudia, and she did not answer. Instead, the black and white cat called Jeremy strolled into view, walking on his hind legs.
“She’s not home, boss.” said the cat, completely non-chalet. “Did you remember my new neck thing? I’ve been itching like a puma in the sand all day, boss.” Frank felt himself getting dizzy; the ground felt like jelly as he walked across it. He closed the door behind himself, focusing on the cat.
“I am going insane. Cats can’t talk. They can’t walk on their legs like this.” said Frank, more to himself than Jeremy, whose head cocked to one side inquisitively.
“What do you mean, boss? I could always do this. I just chose not to. I mean, I thought you were just regular people. But then I heard from the gnome across the street that you know about the worlds. So I said to myself, ’Jeremy, if the boss knows about dragons and all that, a cat being himself won’t phase him.’” Jeremy looked smug and satisfied as he moved to take the plastic bag from Frank. “Let me help out, boss. I can’t lift much, but I can help a lot, you know.”
Still in shock, Frank let go of the bag and it crashed to the floor. Jeremy sniffed at the bag and grabbed the handle with his teeth, pulling it across the floor with a great effort. Frank leaned against the door and slid down it, crumpling into a seated position on the floor. I’m off the deep end. There’s no coming back now. He lost himself in thought as he heard the cat struggling with the bag in the kitchen and singing a song.
A cat is a cat,
A man is a man,
but a cat knows who he is
While a man always questions.
The cat is a beauty,
sleek and filled with grace,
With or without a mouse,
there’s always a smile on his face.
Man is a monster,
grabbing all that he can.
He’ll never smile as wide as a cat,
no matter how he hatches his plan.
“It’s true you know. Whether here or there, men are never happy. Even now, the White Lord races to battle to try to find happiness. I don’t think he’ll ever manage it.” said Jeremy softly as he walked back into the hallway. His ears pinched back in dismay when he saw that Frank was still crumpled on the floor. “Some king of warriors you are. Can’t even stand on your feet. Here,” he kicked the box containing a flea collar over to Frank, “I need help with this, boss.”
“Sure.” responded Frank uneasily. As he opened the cardboard box, he looked at Jeremy quizzically.
“What?” asked Jeremy, his voice layered with a thick coating of offence.
“How do you know so much?”
“I’m a cat. It’s my job. Now, please put my neck thing on. We’ve got things to do.”