An Interview with Jack M. (#3 in a TMW Interview Series)

TMW has embarked on a series of weekend posts comprised of interviews of us blog writers (scroll down a couple posts to see the last two entries). Today, the esteemed Jack M. provides his perspectives on various writing and book-related matters.

Please note, Catdust respectfully takes exception to some of the comments in Question #7.

Interview

1. What form does your inspiration usually take? As in, do you usually start with a concept, a character, a plot, or something else?

The threat of a deadline is the usual source of inspiration, but I cultivate a backlog of ideas to pull from when I need to write. Some ideas begin with a phrase – Death & Taxis, for instance – whereas Frank’s Social Experiment was inspired by a conversation with a friend about a what-if question: what if someone found a way to go literally months without social interaction? What would they be like after all that time?

2. Pick a favorite author, and tell me what you like most about their writing style.

Walker Percy conveys subtle humor into his writing, and he can turn simple topics into entertaining reading. cf his essay, “Bourbon, Neat”

3. What are two or three writing traits that you most want to emulate? What are two or three writing traits that you most want to avoid?

Traits of Percy I most want to emulate? Humor, and the ability to flank comprehensive barriers – or instance, to describe a concept such as biblical love, but in a way that moves past the cultural clichés associated with that word and into something that breaks through to understanding by use of a different vehicle – often fiction.

Avoidable writing traits in general? Loquaciousness and sentimentality and reliance upon convention. I haven’t read enough Percy to have identified traits of his I’d want to avoid.

4. Name a book that you didn’t expect to enjoy, but did.

Rob Bell’s Love Wins – or at least, I read the first several chapters and enjoyed them more than I expected.

5. Do you think the book is always better than the movie? If so, why so, and if not, why not?

No, but I can’t think of an example that would settle the matter.

6. What is your favorite piece you’ve written for TMW, and why?

“My Neighbor,” because it was something I didn’t write for myself, but in honor of a friend.

7. What is your least favorite piece you’ve written for TMW, and why?

“George and the Werewolf,” because the subsequent authors in the story ruined the concept! 😉 But the story is now attached to my name and reflective of my writing ability.

My least favorite pieces are my movie reviews because they were cheaply written and of limited use. I don’t read movie reviews, and find that most people don’t – the level of critical discernment isn’t there: I’m not going to read a 600 word essay to decide whether to watch Hot Rod. Instead, I’m going to spend 30 minutes surfing Netflix before choosing Hot Rod because the trailer looks dumb and it’s a 98% match. But I do read stories and come back to them.

8. What are you reading at the moment?

These questions.

Also, Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy, and Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.

9. What’s a book you’ve had on your shelf to read, but haven’t yet?

Worship Matters, by Bob Kauflin

For Emily, in the Spring

A Rumination on Patience.

“If he were coming in the fall,” I dreamed,
“I’d brush the summer by,
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.”

But when summer’s sum was all but spent,
And fall did not you bring,
When winter passed, I thought perhaps
To find you myself in spring.

Yet “no” was all the refrain I heard,
Summer and fall, until you felt lost.
No, not there, and no, not in Winter,
And no, not him, discovered at cost.

I did not know, as I traveled up the year,
That you traveled down, your own course making.
And you did come, just then, that June,
And now time will be ours for the spending.

Inspiration and quoted passages courtesy of Emily Dickinson, “If You Were Coming in the Fall.”

Stupid Humans

At his day job, Jason Whitaker was actually known as a pretty social guy. But he had a side hustle that meant he really didn’t like it when anyone watched him for too long. Or, as he was quickly realizing, anything.

He and his buddy were in the alleyway at the back of his house, unloading a TV and speakers they’d swiped from a some place across town, when he first noticed it – just a prickling on the back of his neck that made him pause and glance ‘round. The only light came from the chinks in the blinds, but it was enough to reflect off something a little ways down the fence.

“Hold up,” he said, motioning to his buddy. He jumped down from the truck, pulled out his phone and swiped the flashlight on. Its faint beam illuminated a large tabby cat sitting there on the fence, just staring in his direction.

“Dude, it’s a cat?” his buddy questioned.

Jason put his phone back in his jeans, slightly ashamed of himself. “Yeah, my bad, sorry, thought it was something else.”

He thought nothing of it, until the next week, when he was unloading another TV from another house, with another buddy. This time, his headlights illuminated the animal as he backed up to the garage.

“I swear that stupid cat was there last week,” he murmured.

“I mean, it probably lives around here,” his buddy replied. This guy was a cat person, so he walked up to the fence rubbing his hand and making a “tnt, tnt, tnt,” noise with his tongue. No dice; the cat didn’t budge, but only stared incredulously down.

That was a cat for you. Jason honestly didn’t really think anything of it until the fourth or fifth time he was unloading more stolen goods, and that stupid cat was still there. As soon as Jason got out of the car, he picked up a piece of gravel and flung it at the animal. He missed of course, and since his buddy was that same cat person, all Jason got for his trouble was an admonishment to just chill out. The cat nonchalantly picked itself up and set up shop again a few yards down the fence.

The stupid cat was back to his usual spot the next time. And the next time. And the time after that. It was always there, through every unloading. It got to the point where if Jason could have shot the animal, he would have. But he lived in too nice a neighborhood to get away with that without someone calling the cops, which was a much worse scenario than some random cat watching him.

He was still managing to think of the cat as random, or at least to refer to it as such in his head.

Instead, Jason was just starting to look into whether cat traps were a thing, when he came home from work one day, walked into his living room, and saw that very same, stupid cat sitting in his girlfriend’s lap. He used some very choice words to demand why she had a cat that wasn’t his in own house.

“Yeesh, calm down!” she said, in a voice that was the opposite of calm. “I think it’s just stray, but it was acting like it was hungry, so I was just feeding it and petting it, no big deal.” Her voice and her defensiveness rose with each statement.

Some part of Jason recognized that it was slightly irrational to yell at his girlfriend because a cat he was just sure was following his every move was in the house. So instead, he took a different approach and decided to go off about how she may have a key to his house, but that didn’t mean she could act like she lived there, she was always getting into stuff she didn’t think through…

The fight got bad, like most of their fights did these days, and Jason could have sworn the the cat looked like it was enjoying it.

When his girlfriend ran out crying, the stupid cat darted out as well.

But it was back again a couple days later. It was sitting right there in his driveway when the police came knocking, asking about a string of thefts across town, and with a warrant to search the house. And the cat was still there when the police car drove away, with Jason in the back in handcuffs.

What Jason didn’t see was this: when the car was out of sight, and the police were still tearing up the house, the cat got up and meandered up the street to a car that was parked a little ways away. It leapt onto the hood, darted up the windshield, and jumped through the open moonroof.

“I suppose there’s absolutely no use telling you ‘Good job,’” said the man inside the car.

The cat sat in the passenger seat and began to unceremoniously lick its haunches. “Oh, I know I did an excellent job, Stupid Human. I always do. This may have been one of my masterpieces, of course, seducing the girlfriend. I actually got them to fight over me, have I told you that, Stupid Human?”

“Several times,” the man assured the cat. “But, of course, you’re worth fighting over,” he added, in a completely deadpan voice.

“Yes, indeed, and lucky I am,” replied the cat, without a hint of irony. “Because that’s how I told you the girlfriend might be willing to tattle on her criminal mate. But enough chit-chat. Where’s my reward, Stupid Human?”

The man reached across to the glovebox, and pulled out a tiny, cloth bag. “Two ounces of catnip, as we agreed. You know, if I were a cop, I suppose this would be the same as bribing a source with drugs?”

The cat’s ears had already begun to perk, and its whiskers twitched. “You know you might be the stupidest human of all the Stupid Humans. It’s my understanding that you could go quite far with the stupid human police with such tips as someone like me brings you.”

The man smiled. “Yes, yes, we’ve discussed how stupid I am many times. My mother would say much the same thing – although she wouldn’t tell me I’m stupid so much as impatient. I never did like paperwork. And the private eye gig often pays just as well, although looking into this string of thefts was a personal favor for a friend.”

“Ah, the magnanimous nature of humans,” the cat replied, without a hint of sarcasm. “I often wonder at it. But I am doing you no favors. Stop jawing, Stupid Human, and hand me the bag!”

The cat took the bag in his mouth, then bounded up and out the moonroof.

“Until next time!” the man called.

“Shhhoopid Hwoomun,” he heard the cat mumble, as it disappeared into the night.

Well, the cat might think humans were magnanimous beings, but after his years of experience, the man was quite sure that cats were absolute jerks.

‘Coon

Dad still insists – and will likely insist until his dyin’ day – that his old huntin’ dogs Andy and CC, were perfectly sane, model examples of squirrel dogs – or would have been if not for being “hot-nosed,” “high-strung,” or some other colloquialism. Never mind Dad once had to literally dig Andy out of a hole where he had wedged himself in and was slowly suffocating trying to reach a possum that was somewhere at the other end. CC was equally as unhelpfully tenacious; she once bit my brother Adam’s (ex) girlfriend’s dog on the rear end and refused to let go, forcin’ Adam to pry her jaws open. Both dogs had an adversarial relationship with Adam, Andy especially. In addition to jumpin’ out of the truck on Adam’s watch and gettin’ lost for more than a week, Andy also had the annoying habit of swimming laps across the fishin’ pond and disturbin’ the water every time Adam was out there tryin’ to catch something.

But they were Dad’s dogs and he was fond of them, and, I must admit, he could usually persuade them to find a squirrel. A single squirrel, that was usually found not by any craft or cunnin’, but by accidentally trippin’ over it.

And then there was this one time that it was Adam’s last Christmas break of his college career. This would have been a wistful event under any circumstance, but was made even more so because he was about to take a job more than a thousand miles away. So, for his sake, I decided to forgo a nice relaxin’ day surrounded by my holiday loot, and instead volunteered to go squirrel huntin’ with my him and my dad. Dad arose at some unspecified 0-dark-thirty hour, I flung myself out of bed at seven, Adam lurched down the hallway at seven-thirty, and we set off for the Bottom at eight, dogs in tow.

“The Bottom” is what everybody back home calls the acres and acres and acres of woods just south of here, through which San Miguel creek runs, which the locals, includin’ myself, pronounce “Sammy Gil.” These hills and the bottom-lands in between are divided between various folks’ barbed-wire fences and “Posted” signs. As we got to the border of our own tract, Adam jumped out and opened a gate, and we drove into our land. We dismounted at the Old House Place, named so because my great-grandparents lived there back before their house burnt down. Their yellow daffodils still bloom under the big magnolia tree.

We let Andy and C.C. jump down from the back of the truck and take off runnin’, while Adam and Dad adjusted their guns. I never carried a gun myself, havin’ no fondness for loud explosions and a demonstration of Newton’s Third Law of Motion right next to my ear. Instead, my job was to be the “vine-shaker.” I would find a vine hangin’ from the tree, shake it, and hope that a squirrel up in there would move, be seen, and thus be shot. Yes, a dead squirrel did once fall in my hair.

But on this particular trip, we had no such luck. Andy and CC didn’t cooperate with our commands to branch out into the woods and sniff out squirrels like they were supposed to. Instead, they ran straight down the road, frolickin’ about, enjoying the fine January weather. Eventually, we managed to lose ‘em, and so Dad, Adam and myself found a nice log and sat down.

I was drawin’ flowers in the dirt, Dad was gazin’ at the ground, and Adam was starin’ off into the distance when we heard it: a nondescript, respectable bark from Andy, coupled with CC’s high-pitched, frantic “EEEYEP! AYEEEE AYEEEEP!”

We took off. Dad barreled his way through whatever underbrush, branches and almost-trees that stood in his way, while Adam and I had to circle ‘round saplin’s and trip over roots. Eventually, we found the dogs starin’ up a big pine tree.

“Oh, I love big ol’ pine trees,” Dad said with sarcastic enthusiasm – these trees have furry-looking leaf silhouettes and dark bark that squirrels can easily hide in. However, Andy and CC hadn’t made up their minds. They barked at the pine, then barked at the oak, and finally sniffed up an entirely different tree, and none of us humans could locate any creature of any sort up any tree. We departed the vicinity, with Dad askin’ the dogs what was wrong with them.

He continued to ask them that through a series of other failed tree-ings. Discouraged, and about to go home, Dad noted to his human children: “Well, it’s a purty day.”

“I had fun!” I offered.

Adam, on the other hand, had a different philosophy. “I came to the woods to kill somethin’,” he growled.

My brother you, see, is a lover of nature. He loves making friends with lizards and fillin’ feeders for birds and adoptin’ stray cats, and also meanderin’ through our ancestral woods, shootin’ authorized fauna and dinin’ on his quarry. So, he was a tad disappointed by the barrenness of the day.

Until the dogs started barking. Really barking. In retrospect, we should have know that such frantic bays could lead to little good, but we took off through the woods till we stumbled on the dogs havin’ conniptions at the base of a huge, barren oak.

“I see it,” Adam said.

“Where?”

“Well, I can only see the tail.”

I found a vine, and on Adam’s signal, started shakin’ it. And that’s when all hell broke loose.

You see, Dad’s nickname for Adam is “Lead-Slinger.” He shoots early, he shots often, and he shoots accurately. If you eat any of the squirrels he brings back, be prepared to spit out a lot of lead.

“There it is!” Adam cried

Boom!

“There’s another one!”

Boom!

“There’s two of them!”

Boom! Boom!

Like Wile E. Coyote transfixed by a fallin’ anvil, I saw two large shapes fallin’ down at me from the tree. But, being smarter than that particular coyote, I took off runnin’. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that wasn’t no squirrel fallin’.

Bump. Bump.

“Adam, boy, those’re ‘coons!” Dad exclaimed, holding up what was indeed a pair of coon cadavers.

“For goodness sake, Adam!” I admonished.

“Poor ‘coons, Adam shootin’ at ‘em,” Dad said.

“I didn’t know it was a ‘coon!” Adam protested, “All I could see was the tail!”

“Poor ‘coon,” Dad repeated.

The dogs likewise decided that it was Adam’s fault they had decided to corner a pair of coons, and wagged their tails judgmentally.

Well, waste not, want not. Adam had set off in the mornin’ on a quest to find lunch, and was determined to find said lunch no matter what unusual form it took. So, he brought the ‘coons home, skinned ‘em, seasoned ‘em, and barbecued e’m.

It was not the best meat I’ve ever tasted, but it is one of the best stories I’ll ever tell.

The Nine Days’ Quarantine

I’ve been in quarantined for nine days now.

Now that I’ve gotten your attention, I’m tempted to use twisted phrasing, bent facts, key omissions and other such dark marketing powers to paint you a harrowing picture of my circumstances. Instead, I’ll go ahead and tell you the less-than-pitiable truth of how I got here.

Nine days ago, I returned from a lovely five day vacation in the tropical waters of Grand Cayman with my boyfriend and his family. When we first arrived in Grand Cayman, things in the U.S. were just starting to get weird, but hadn’t yet gotten bad. Through sheer luck, we even managed to time our return plane trip so that we avoided the mass panic at DFW International Airport. Still, since we’d been “traveling internationally,” Boyfriend and I decided to quarantine ourselves for the requisite 14 days in an abundance of caution.

So, essentially, I was sheltering in place before it was cool.

My boyfriend and I have since spent most days working from home together – him holed up on one end of the room with headphones in, and me holed up on the other end of the room with headphones in. For the interest of the general public, here is a non-comprehensive list of items we have accomplished during this time, ranked in order of Most Useful to Most Useless. Items in italics were accomplished by Boyfriend.

  • Attended virtual church and virtual church community group – I’ll say it: quarantine ain’t what it used to be back in the good ol’ Medieval ages.
  • Finalized multiple work-related projects – not to go all sappy, but we’re both incredibly lucky to work for companies that give us remote work capabilities.
  • Applied a liberal dosage of WD-40 to Girlfriend’s squeaky bathroom door.
  • Called my Grandma – she’d left a voicemail while I was flying over the Gulf on Monday that didn’t actually show up on my phone until Friday. What strange corridors of the Verizon network it got lost in, we may never know.
  • Took a field trip to Boyfriend’s house (we’ve taken the stance that if one of us is infected, the other probably is too) and cleaned out his closets. Many dust bunnies were slain.
  • Discovered a 12 pack of toilet paper I’d bought a month ago and forgotten in the back of my car. Yes, I also hoarded toilet paper before it was cool.
  • Exercised almost every day – I’ve been exploring workout videos on fitnessblender.com and utilizing my stationary bike.
  • Persuaded girlfriend to join in daily exercise, mostly through the use of bribery via chocolate cake.
  • Wiped off my bathroom counter for the first time in none-of-your-business.
  • Successfully made spaghetti squash.
  • Learned there was more than one way to cook spaghetti squash.
  • Threw a shark themed birthday party for two – Boyfriend’s birthday was this week, and I’d managed to order some shark-themed decorations (streamers, balloons, tablecloth, etc.) from Amazon right before things went from weird to weirder. Why shark? Unclear; some scholars point to origins as a macabre joke surrounding scuba diving in Grand Cayman.
  • Played Small World with boyfriend, a board game that I’d had on my shelf for quite some time, but hadn’t actually gotten into yet.
  • Learned how to play Small World, subsequently beat girlfriend at Small World.
  • Played Villainous, a Disney villain-themed board game; ditto on the extended shelf life.
  • Learned how to play Villainous, subsequently beat girlfriend at Villainous.
  • Taught girlfriend how to play solitaire.
  • Learned how to play solitaire.
  • Played approximately 24 games of solitaire in 24 hours.
  • Accepted delivery of a large coffee cup full of gin, a six pack of rose cider, three rolls of toilet paper and a potato. No further elaboration will be given at this time.
  • Played approximately 54 games of Speed with Girlfriend.
  • Lost approximately 50 games of Speed.
  • Got Boyfriend to watch Frozen II.
  • Eventually got Boyfriend to stop pointing out plot holes in Frozen II and just enjoy the music.
  • Finished the TV show Firefly and watched its cinematic continuation, Serenity.
  • Yelled at Boyfriend because of certain [spoiler] in Serenity.
  • For some reason, spent approximately five minutes digging out my sticker collection so I could give Boyfriend a snail sticker and tell him it was the “snail of approval.”
  • Inundated Boyfriend with approximately 80,000 coronavirus memes.
  • Hid the chocolate cake while Boyfriend was in the bathroom.
  • Dropped ice down the back of Girlfriend’s shirt to extract information about whereabouts of chocolate cake.
  • Taped balloons to streamers so that the balloons hung from the ceiling.
  • Spent approximately ten minutes of work day “boop-ing” balloons on head.
  • Spent approximately ten minutes of work day “boop-ing” balloons on head.
  • Taped mass of balloons to girlfriend’s desk while she wasn’t looking.
  • Dropped roll of toilet paper in the toilet.
  • When asked what he was doing, Boyfriend said he was shuffling cards. When asked why, he said, “’Cause every day I’m shufflin.’”

Honorable, Non-Ranked Mention:

  • Made this blog post.

The Wedding Ballad of Lottie and Paul

A bizarre ballad in honor of Sarah, who must attend many weddings this year, and Katie, who set the fork on fire.

There was once was a lass named Lottie,
Who thought to marry a lad named Paul.
And though ‘twas not true, I’m sure they believed
That the other was the fairest of all.

So one spring day, as the allergens flew
O’er one’s head, like confetti Hell sent,
The lass named Lottie did marry the lad name Paul
In a modest, but pretty, small event.

The bride didn’t trip, and the groom didn’t stutter,
Nor dumb jokes did the minister make.
When the osculation was complete, they strode down the aisle
Their portraits immediately to take.

Then a fatal mistake did Paul and Lottie make,
As they wrangled their cousins and kin,
For though banishing their guests to a decorative hall,
No food nor drink did they give them.

Not a lick of liquid, nor a crumb of bread,
Could they find, their appetites to curb,
Save for the cake, that most sacred dessert,
And that they could not disturb.

So they stared at the plastic cutlery,
And gazed at the tea candles’ sparks
As the hour waned on, the guests had no choice
But to begin melting the forks.

This did amuse them for quite some time,
Holding forks to the flame to admire.
As the plastic did wither, their amusement did grow,
Until the tablecloth soon caught on fire.

Take thee then a warning from Lottie and Paul,
And give your guests food while they wait.
Or else forks will burn, and the venue too
And you’ll be out quite a deposit.

Outlook Obscurification

What I Wrote:

Hi Patrica!

Just checking on any markups you have/edits you want to make to the presentation ahead of tomorrow’s meeting? I have a commitment tonight at around 7, but can be available up until then. 

Thank you!
catdust19

What I Meant:

Pay attention to me, Patricia!

Please let me know if I should plan on working late again because of you; I have a date tonight, and I’d really rather not.

I am very polite and helpful,
Me

What I Wrote:

Hi Jamie!

Attached is the addendum that was issued last week.

Thank you!
catdust19

What I Meant:

Pay attention to me, Jamie!

Please note that I am replying to the email I already sent you last week that had the addendum attached.

I am very polite and helpful,
Me

What I Wrote:

Hi Jordan!

Per my last email, this isn’t really something that my team would handle; I’m thinking Mike or Stephan would?

Thank you!
catdust19

What I Meant:

Pay attention to me, Jordan!

Go back and read the email I already wrote you, but here’s some extra information to get you off my case.

I am very polite and helpful,
Me

What I Wrote:

Hi David!

Attached is something I threw together based on the info you gave me; let me know if this works, or what edits you’d like to make!

Thank you!
catdust19

What I Meant:

Pay attention to me, David!

Well, here’s a piece of word vomit that I think might be sort of what you’re looking for? Honestly, dude, do you even know what you want?

I am very polite and helpful,
Me

What I Wrote:

Hi David!

Awesome, glad that was what you were looking for; finalized pdf attached.

Thank you!
catdust19

What I Meant:

Pay attention to me, David!

I guess I really am that good.

I am very polite and helpful,
Me

The Beginning, Again

How far the emptiness seems to stretch before me,
Although not nothingness, for I see the days and weeks ahead,
Peering into their empty shells, without form
Passing through the void of the coming year.
Yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Never fear, this is just my new calendar,
Empty, yes, but not for long, soon to be full of
Wonders that will happen this coming year; I hope.

Yesterday’s deeds are crossed out, and new
Events are written in – a sortie soon to the symphony,
A work thing in February, birthdays, and a trip, as
Round the sun again we go.

I Have Expensive Taste

I have expensive taste – in some things,
but not in others. I’ve found
that most important to me
is the person who’ll be my company.

If it came to it, I’d choose to stand
in line with you. However long
the wait, it’d be a better home
than fireworks and music for me alone.

What I remember most about that eve
isn’t the performance itself. Though
it was lovely, it would mean much less
without you in that suit, and me in that dress.

I have expensive taste – in company,
in time shared. Remember
the museum? It was our laughter and light
that brought those paintings to life.

Truth in the Forest

I don’t think I’ve ever told you of that Halloween night eighteen years back – a night that started off merely eerie, and ended in something like horror. I haven’t forgotten it, and by the time I’m done, neither will you. And, before you ask, yes, this story is actually true. Just because something is told like a story doesn’t mean it is only a story.

It began like this: it was October 31st, and night, and a well-intentioned neighbor knocked on our door to let us know that she thought she’d seen our horses escape. They were normally confined to the fields and sprawling forest behind our house on the edge of town, but now they were outside the fence. Or so our neighbor thought she’d seen, she couldn’t be sure.

Panicked, my mother and I frantically pulled on boots and jackets and wound scarves hastily about our necks, for there was a wind and a chill in the air. We dashed outside, but saw no horses around the perimeter of the house, and none near the road, which was the most important part. So we decided to divide and conquer. My mother grabbed a bucket of feed and stood by the barn calling, while I set off with a flashlight and my own bucket for the woods.

It could not have been a worse night for finding the quiet, shadowy beasts that horses can be. It was a full moon, to be sure, but that wind was truly raging, shaking the nearly leafless branches and bare vines into a distracting, obstructing dance. I didn’t believe in ghouls or whatever else was supposed to inhabit such environs on such a night, but that didn’t stop me from starting when, much like Little Red Riding Hood, I discovered I was not alone. Our cat, Asta, had followed me, his sooty fur blending in with the dark.

He hopped up on a fallen tree and began meowing insistently. I gave him a caress, but that did nothing. Oh, well, no pleasing cats. I set off through the woods again, calling for the horses, loudly crunching leaves underfoot. Yes, that was the sound I was hearing, just the crunching of leaves. Those leaves crunching wasn’t masking and blending with some other, scuttling noise.

I carried on for some time, finding no evidence of horses, but slowly becoming aware that I thought I heard a buzzing sound, growing louder and a bit louder by the footstep. I was sure it was just a phantom or my own imagination, maybe vibrating leaves in the wind. And, of course, Asta was there still, his meows becoming even more demanding as he began darting in front of my feet, tripping me up more than once – accidentally, I also thought.

Finally, at one spot between two cedar trees, Asta became such a nuisance that I concluded I had better pick him up and carry him the rest of my search. Had I been paying attention, I would have noticed the buzzing sound had swelled into something real and solid, and close.

I hoisted Asta to my waist, but before I could take a step forward, he yowled and scratched at my face, forcing me to drop him. He collected himself, and stood between the two trees, back arched, fur spiked. I hardly noticed. Something was moving behind him.

I lifted my flashlight, and saw – something, several giant patches of iridescence that fluttered, and many large branches, unusually hairy, which then moved and began crawling about, and numerous giant, inky pools of eyes framed by antennae the size of saplings. And the buzzing was a veritable din.

It was then that Asta opened his mouth: “See, you really shouldn’t go that way,” he said, quite calmly, for all that. “Stupid human, I’ve been trying to warn you all night…”

Oh, fine. The talking cat taking it a bit too far?

You see, when I said the story was true, what I meant was that there was truth in the story.

It wasn’t Halloween, though it might have been October. Or November. Or maybe even December. Or, let’s be real, seasons in my neck of the woods are sometimes hard to differentiate, so it might have been January or March. I don’t remember. I did check, though, and there was a full moon on Halloween night eighteen years back. But I was in grade school back then, and when this story really took place, I was in high school.

There was definitely a moon that night, though, and it was windy, and the forest made strange shapes, but we lived on only 10 acres so it was really more like a patch of trees. We found our horses, in case you were wondering. They hadn’t escaped, and I was nowhere near the hive of very normal-sized bees that at one time lived on our property. The whole thing was eerie, a bit, true, but nowhere near that fabled “horror.”

But I’ll tell you what is true, cross my heart: out cat Marble walked by my side all through that patch of woods. No, not our black cat, Asta, who we did have. It was Marble, not black like a bat, but white and gray, like the Irish cat Pangur Bán. Marble follows me nearly every time I walk through those trees, even today. I like to imagine he is some sort of guide, guarding me from something – from what, I don’t know. But I can tell a story.