The wrong point of view can ruin the most fantastic of stories. Maybe you jump from character to character too much. Maybe the character you designated as narrator has taken over the story, or that particular character can’t possibly be present for the necessary plot points.
This is the quandary I’m in now with a bit of short fiction. I’m not even sure I want to use the title “Normal’s Menace.” But then, I’m not even sure I want to tell it with the narrator I currently have.
Well, like any scientific experiment, the process of elimination will show me which voice best serves the story. Since you’ve been patient enough with my brainstorming through music and photography, let’s continue on through this, my first draft.
I loved Captain Whiskers. He was the best thing to come from Quiet Mound. You don’t know where that is, because it’s on my farm and you shouldn’t be going all over it unless you got a snowmobile, I guess, but Daddy hates those things, and he shot at one when he thought it was a bear, so it’s just not a good idea to come here.
You can sort of see it past the first field. I see it, anyway. I always look at it when I wait for the bus in winter. Hard to do anything else when you’re in a snow suit. Mom’s gotta yank my arms through the straps of my backpack, but it’s up to me not to drop my She-Ra lunchbox. She’s the Princess of Power, you know. You drop She-Ra, the Evil Horde wins.
So I hold on super-tight to my lunchbox, and imagine that Quiet Mound is a portal to Etheria, where She-Ra fights for the Great Rebellion. Nothing grows on Quiet Mound, even though it’s got this pond big enough for two ice shanties at the top of it, like…oh! Like when you make your mash potatoes into a crater and put all the gravy in it. Like that. It’s all protected and cut-off because of the trees. Winter makes them look like someone strung them out and wrapped them together again, like the webs barn spiders make.
That’s where I found Captain Whiskers.
The first big snow, and I’ve just freed She-Ra from Hordak’s Ice-Ray, and there’s this cat. I didn’t see him at first because its speckles matched the last brown leaves stuck on a thorny bush along some of the trees. I thought he was stuck, so I pulled out my real pocket knife to cut him out. He looked starved and pretty beat up, with scrapes and cuts deep in his fur, but he was still super nice when I cut some of the branches, and his eyes were the prettiest purple, prettier even than She-Ra’s friend Glimmer. He purred while he watched me the whole time, and when I touched him! Oh, it was magical. I could see, you know? Really see She-Ra on Swift Wind, and the Horde Robots marching through the trees. And she called to me, ME, Millie the Magnificent, to fight by her side! And my pocket knife was a real sword, and the pool was lava, and I fought all those robots into the lava and melted them and She-Ra knighted me for the honor of Grey Skull and bestowed a captainship upon The Bravest Cat in the Galaxy—
–and that’s when Daddy found me with his rifle slung over his shoulder and a dead turkey in his hand. “What are you doing, Mil?” I wrenched my pocket knife out of a dead tree trunk. He spat a little tobacco at Captain Whiskers. Captain Whiskers went on licking my feet as if they were covered in milk. “We don’t have room for strays, Millie.”
“Barn’s always got mice, Dad.”
He snorted into the snow like a bull in the cartoons, and set a bunch of snowflakes all whirly. “Fine. Barn only.”
And for Mom and Dad, that was that with Captain Whiskers. They didn’t know how he came to my window every night to take me back to Etheria, to make magic with Madame Razz and spy on the Horde with Bow. They missed all that. Captain Whiskers made it all real. It was…it was just so awesome, I can’t tell you. I didn’t need television or my cassettes or even food, really—made for some awkward dinners with my parents, let me tell you. They started to watch me eat just to make sure I wasn’t the one fattening Captain Whiskers. It’s just that…food’s so boring, you know? Who needs food or sleep when you can go on adventures that take you away, inside and out? I even snuck Captain Whiskers with me to school a few times until Captain Whiskers cursed Molly Grunewald.
Yeah, that’s right. Cursed Molly Grunewald. All he had to do was stare at her, and I saw her for the Horde Robot she really was, and I held up my sword to strike, but she leaked all this oil and fell before I could cut her head off. Turns out she peed her pants real bad. But she didn’t want other people to know she peed her pants, so she said Captain Whiskers peed on her. But I was there. He got her to pee herself. No more bullies for me! But I couldn’t let Captain Whiskers do that all the time, so I kept him out of school unless I needed him.
Then that stupid guy came out of the trees and ruined everything.
Saturday, right? No busses to wait for, and winter meant chores weren’t too bad, so I was going to have lots of time with Captain Whiskers on Quiet Mound. I got him from the barn. He was so sweet that morning rubbing his head right against my heart and purring, even licking a little. I could see the portal’s light all sparkly and secret through the trees from the driveway—
–but something moved. Something low.
Skulking, that’s the word. It skulked around the edge of the trees, eyes right—
Captain Whiskers went NUTS. He leapt out of my coat and took off faster than I could blink. Even Cheetara never had a chance of catching him.
The thing stopped skulking and lifted its head.
Like a huskie on steroids. Big. Black. Nasty.
I shrieked high and as loud—trust me, I get pretty high. Even that far away, it had to shake my noise out of its ears. Mom rushed out asking what I broke, but then she saw it run up Quiet Mound and yanked me into the house and declared I was stuck inside until Dad trapped whatever that was.
What really stunk was that Captain Whiskers wouldn’t leave the barn that night. I spent more time out of bed than in, peeking out the window to see if The Nasty ever took a break from skulking. My hands shook for my sword. I shivered for Etheria. It got so bad I tried walking down the stairs to find Captain Whiskers in the barn, but my feet weren’t listening to my head and I clunked too hard on the groaning boards. Mom fussed me back into bed with a cold pack and a slug of something gooey and dreadful. My dreams were as hollow as a snake skin.
Next morning I find a note from Mom: they’re helping neighbors with traps, stay inside, be good, eat some food you look like a skeleton, blah blah blah. Are you kidding me? It’s the first sun we’ve had in weeks. The trees sparkled with all their little icicles, and I could see the…the…what’s the word…meniscus! That line the top of water makes. It sparkled, too, like the portal I always saw with Captain Whiskers. I opened my bedroom window to look at it better, Captain Whiskers came in purring, and the air just bit with magic, you know? Cold, too, but magic. I knew, through and through, that something amazing was going to happen at Quiet Mound today.
And then, that guy.
He stood by the trees, hands in a ripped up trench coat. I know the homeless people in our town because I help Mom with the free lunches our church holds a few times a month. This guy was new. Or a hitchhiker? That was more a summer thing. What the heck was he doing out there? Just, hands in his pockets, standing in dirt and snow, and…looking.
At my window.
The window blew a bunch of snowy ice off the trees. It whipped his coat around his knees, it blew his black hair around his face, but he didn’t move.
Captain Whiskers took one look at him and totally freaked out a gazillion times worse than yesterday. He hissed and spat and ran around my room and clawed the closet door in no way that I could cover up with my folks. Stupid cat. I yelled at him to stop, turned to the window again, and—
–that guy was walking through our field. Not that stupid fast-walk old people do instead of jogging. Just this steady step, step, step. Through our field! He didn’t even have a snowmobile!
Call the Grunewalds for my parents? No way, not letting Molly know I’m scared. Call the police? I went for the phone, but Captain Whiskers knocked the receiver out of my hand and he just…he glared. And his paws held my hand down. I didn’t even know he had claws. Ever catch your hand on an old nail under the couch when you reach down there to get something? Like that. Like eight of that.
I sucked in air and bit my lip and made my tears go silently into my hair. “Stop it, Captain Whiskers. We need help.”
He shook his head.
“But he’s coming. What are we gonna do?”
Captain Whisker’s ears fell flat as his hair rose up. He…it was such a weird sound, something I never heard from a cat before. Like a groan people make when they’re really frustrated, but there was a hiss in it, too. He let go of my hand and licked my blood off his claws. Morning light and dust mites shimmered above his head, came together and made—
The Princess of Power stood in my room—still a little bit see-through, but wowzers, she was in my room! “He heralds the coming of Hordak to your world. He is determined to enslave you all.”
I couldn’t help it—I looked out the window.
Oh no…but…”but he’s just one guy.”
She-Ra bent forward, and…wow, that scowl. Her eyes weren’t blue like in the cartoon, but all black, and when she brought her face to mine I thought I was going to fall in, get buried alive. “Do you want the Evil Horde to conquer your world?”
“N-no.” My voice didn’t even sound like me, so small and stupid and scared.
“Then evade his capture.” Now her skin lit up like diamonds on tv, and she smelled like summer. “Reach the water, and your captain will bring you safely to Etheria, and to me. Do not fail me, Sir Millie the Magnificent.”
I wanted summer. I wanted Etheria. No more stupid snow suits or barns or schools or parents. I wanted to fight by She-Ra’s side forever and ever and ever. “Never!”
Her skin got really shiny, then broke up like dust in the sunlight.
I grabbed my coat. Captain Whiskers stood with me at the top of the stairs.
He wasn’t even American!
This time my feet listened to my head. I tiptoed down a bunch, managed to skip the groaners even, but once the stairs were in view of the door I laid back and started sliding on my butt instead. I could see a head with wavy hair behind the stained glass on the door. Captain Whiskers had been moving behind me, but once the head came into view he shot down and round for the kitchen.
The head moved with him.
“I’m with Animal Control. It is urgent I speak with you about a rabid animal loose in these parts.”
“Come off it, you, you sod!” I heard people like him say that on PBS.
“I know you’re in there.”
Guess he doesn’t watch PBS.
I back-stepped towards the kitchen and back door.
HE KNEW MY NAME!?
My hand froze over the backdoor’s knob. The front door’s knob clicked against the lock. Click. Click. Thunk.
Oh I bolted. I flung that door open and RAN. Didn’t think about steps or claws or wind or cold. Just barn barn barn barn barn barn
I slid through the cow poop at the door and ran up the ramp and up the bales to the hayloft. He’ll use the main door to avoid the poop and—
He sat in the hayloft’s threshing door like he’d been there all morning. He even had his hands folded like this was all normal! “Look can I just—“
“NO!” Captain Whiskers leapt onto my chest and dug his claws into my bones and I turned to run but my feet flew into the air and I fell over the loft edge, I was going to die with poop on my shoes—
A hand grabbed my leg and YANKED. I was upping and not downing, overing and not splatting, overing and downing and thud. Hay this time.
The guy hunched on hands and knees where I would have landed—hard cold floor. I should have broken my neck where he stood, but he had saved me.
—but I was still in so much pain. Not from the fall. From Captain Whiskers.
Why did he hold me like that? My heart felt like it was screaming and running and shaking all at once. Like Captain Whiskers had my heart for real in its claws.
The guy shook himself out like a dog and sent hay everywhere. It was…it was really weird. I knew Captain Whiskers wanted me to keep running, but how? This guy beat us to the barn. There was no out-running him.
“Sorry about the fright,” he said. “I’m not used to manners on two legs.” He stood up, and I saw his eyes for the first time: one was green, and one was sky blue. I’d seen eyes like that on a Huskie once, but never on a person. “May I please ask you where you got that cat?”
Now I didn’t believe for one Horde Second that he was from Animal Control. He wasn’t going to tell me the truth—I’m just a dumb little girl to him. But he’d have to tell the truth when Mom and Dad find him in here with me in tears, especially when Dad has his rifle…
I realized then I wasn’t holding Captain Whiskers. His claws were in me so hard that I didn’t have to. “Found him.” I still felt like I had to hide him somehow, so I zipped up my coat.
“You must love him very much.”
“He’s drawing blood.” He pointed at my jeans. Hay clumped to little red stripes rolling down to my knees.
“He’s my cat.” That was all I could figure out to say. I felt muddled and hot inside. Outside the world sparkled with Etheria magic, but off somehow, like light in a cracked prism..
The guy took one step forward. Captain Whiskers hissed hot spit on my neck. “Thorn is no one’s cat.”
“His name’s not Thorn, it’s Captain Whiskers and he’s mine.”
Ever watch someone’s eyes when they laugh? They get this sort of extra smile in them. The guy’s green eye got that smile, but the blue didn’t. The blue one looked…angry. Like, Dad-watched-a-snowmobile-run-over-a-calf angry. That freaked me out more than his magical showing-upping in the hayloft. “Captain Whiskers. Nice, erm, name.”
“She-Ra gave it to him.” And I found I could hold Captain Whiskers, so long as I didn’t press him. He even started licking my chest and made the pain back off a bit. “You get a name from the Princess of Power, you keep it!”
He sucked his lip. The cows’ gossip got really loud for that moment. When he talked again, he went really slow, without a smile anywhere on him. “Has she spoken to you as well?” He didn’t ask like other grown-ups, who always assume it’s all pretend. He asked me like she was real.
Because she was.
I pulled out my pocket knife, and it grew, and was a sword and for REAL. Yes, for real. I pointed it at him with both hands, and it knicked his coat. Shut up, like one more tear was going to matter.
And you know? He wasn’t even surprised. He just stuck his hands back in his pockets and glared at Captain Whiskers’ head sticking out of my own coat. “And for how long have you and Captain Whiskers been going on adventures with the Princess of Power?”
The seriousness of it. Wrong, too wrong. “Why do you care?”
“Answer the question.”
“I don’t even know who you are.”
“My name is Dorjan.”
All that magic I felt in the air earlier? It fell out. Like in the movies, when you see zero gravity, and then gravity comes back and everything just splats. That’s what happened.
Captain Whiskers clung even harder and bared his teeth right by my throat, he was so scared. I wanted him to let go, I wanted him to keep the pain away, to keep the world away cuz it was just to muddled up and weird and dumb and I didn’t know what to say to such a dumb name so I just said, “That’s a dumb name.”
Dorjan stepped back until Captain Whiskers closed his mouth. “Yes. Well. We can’t all be Captain Whiskers.” He cracked his neck. “Now. Let her go.”
“Captain Whiskers is a boy, stupid!” But then I realized he wasn’t talking to me. His eyes were on Captain Whiskers, and they were angry. Both of them.
Captain Whiskers hissed and opened his mouth by my neck again. His teeth, pointy as the claws, on my skin, why? “Captain Whiskers, stop!” I felt small and hollow. I even cried a little. “Please, I love you, stop!” She-Ra’s scowl was all I could see, and doom. Real doom. I was going to fail her and lose my magnificence.
“Don’t be an idiot, Thorn.” Dorjan’s voice went low and slow, weird compared to Captain Whiskers’ crazy heartbeat against my own even crazier heartbeat. “The girl won’t survive the Water Road. She’ll be useless to her Ladyship, and you’ll be driven out again.”
The teeth let go.
The cat-heart slowed a little.
“You can’t win. She won’t allow it.”
A small shove from Captain Whiskers sent me back into a bale. The sword clanged, bounced, and landed a pocket knife. Bubbles of pain burst across my chest, and I suddenly went all light-headed…
…but, on the ground, hazy, I could still see Captain Whiskers make bloody pawprints as he approached the Dorjan guy. His tail bobbed in the air like a snake’s head.
“Frankly, Thorn, if I were you,” he stepped aside, and the big barn door opened to glorious sunshine and the sounds of an old truck slowing down on the highway, “I’d try Milwaukee. It’s got a casino and a rather rampant drug problem. Living there’s a breeze for our sort.”
Captain Whiskers purred.
He was leaving me!
He turned around.
Ever look in a cat’s eyes? They’re really good with that calculating look.
Captain Whiskers had it, but more. The beautiful purple in his eyes was actually swirling around the iris like a whirlpool. I held up a hand for him, to pet him, because this was his home, he was my light, my life—
He laid a paw in my hand. Purred.
Then dragged his claws across my skin.
Dorjan sucked his breath in.
I whimpered as more blood came out. It glittered in the dark. Captain Whiskers lapped some up.
I didn’t get it then. I still don’t.
He…he just showed up, took me to another world, and then left me lying in my own blood.
And then he walked away, like I was a toy he got bored with. He even approached Dorjan with his nose in the air.
Dorjan knelt beside him. “Of course,” he said, voice a growl, “if I were you, I wouldn’t be going after children in the first place because I’d know the rules, and how certain princeborns don’t take kindly to the rules being broken.” He smiled. It stretched his face. I peed my pants.
Captain Whiskers hair rippled up from head to tail. He moved his mouth as he hissed as though he could speak real words. He ran out in…it was all so slow….all couldn’t-be-happening…
…me struggling up…
…Dorjan in the air, burning like a copper fire…
…Captain Whiskers slipping on ice…
…me grabbing the door…
…Dorjan landing on four paws, not even a huskie, some sort of wolf, teeth blinding in the sun…
…Captain Whiskers long, bizarre, not furry, hands and feet and a mouth full of curses…
…me screaming his name…
…the blood in the air, but something else, too, something tragic and beautiful as it sparkled brighter than any snow…
Mom and Dad say I was traumatized. That a hawk got Captain Whiskers, and attacked me when I tried to fight it off, because that’s the crazy sort of thing I’d do in my She-Ra games.
I don’t play She-Ra anymore.
It’s all cold and fake and not-real.
I miss the old Captain Whiskers.
I miss the magic I felt that morning before Dorjan made Captain Whiskers evil.
I stand at the end of the driveway every morning and stare at Quiet Mound. Maybe another Captain Whiskers will come. When he does, we’re taking off for Etheria before another Dorjan comes and screws it all up.
Next week I’ll post from Dorjan’s point of view. We’ll see how much of the story alters…or if it’s the same story at all.