Smart Aleck’s Wish

This is a story in progress.

[panther with gleaming black coat occupying entire cover]

[flowering shrubs with faces seen between branches: inside cover]

In the far-off land of Sassaquin, where its people inhabited a grove of flowering shrubs, lived a child named Luna.

[prowling panther as seen through the branches, revealed by Luna]

Under the thick shrub branches prowled Aleck, a sleek black panther, always watchful, always hungry, or so the parents of young children claimed.  The panther had been prowling ever since the shrubs had grown and become the people’s home.  He prevented them from exploring the ground and they watched him nervously.

The shrub dwellers harvested nuts and fruits that they dried and stored in branch hollows.  They tamed wild birds and gathered their eggs.  Young children groomed bumblebees and buffed beetle armor to a high shine. Teenagers collected rainwater in hand-coiled vine baskets.  The men wove the tree branches into dense mats and women braided sturdy vines into hammocks used to rock babies to sleep.

[sleeping babies rocking in hammocks]

Rain had not fallen for many days and slowly the shrub’s flowers and leaves began to wilt.  The number of water baskets dwindled, causing alarm.  Still below, the big cat paced, smirking maliciously.

[ council meeting]

The Council of the Wise wasted many days arguing back and forth.  Not one of the Council members had ever experienced a drought, and thirst kept them bickering.  The shrub dwellers worried, they bit their nails, they were very irritable and their children cried.  Then the child Luna spoke up.

[Luna standing up and addressing the council]

“Why are we so scared of Aleck?” Luna firmly questioned her elders.  “Has the panther ever harmed any of us?  You say that it is smiling, but a panther grin may be the same as a panther frown.  Aleck looks lonely, not hungry.  The panther is old and must be wise.  Aleck might know what to do about our lack of water.”  Luna finished her speech a little out of breath with her hands fisted on her hips.

[victorious Luna, flush with boldness]

The old men wagged their fingers; the women rocked on their heels, silent.  An elder had never ever thought of this!  The leader brushed her graying hair back behind her ears and searched Luna’s eyes.

“Yes, Luna, go to Aleck and tell the panther of our need.  Perhaps you are right and the great cat is wise.”

Even Luna was surprised by the leader’s words.  Speak to Aleck!  Wasn’t it reckless to send a child to do such a task?

She grabbed soft folds of neck fur to steady herself.  Leaning toward Aleck’s ear, Luna said in a bold voice, “Listen.  It is Luna of the Shrub dwellers speaking, listen well.”  The panther stopped and cocked its large head.  The child smell itched at its nostrils.

“Go on, girl,” the big cat growled, “I will listen, but be quick.”

Luna leaned so far forward that she lay between the huge cat’s ears, crossing its eyes.  The shrubs were silent with attention.

[Luna laying between the cat’s ears]

“We are lack water and don’t know how to find any.  I have been watching you prowl around and around below our shrubs.  You sleep in a hollow and feed in the back woods.  You must drink!  Please guide us in searching for water.”  Luna felt five inches taller after her speech. It was the big cat’s turn to speak.

[cat talking with Luna as she grows a little bit bigger]

Tilting its great head toward the Shrubs, the panther rumbled, “It is quite peculiar that you come to me now, never before have you spoken. It is an insult to send me a child. I have prowled around under this grove of shrubs because I was sure a child or two would drop by chance and I could eat it up.”

[fat babies falling]

His audience was stunned.  Luna didn’t know if Aleck was joking, she was feeling too cramped to think.  She kept bumping her head on low branches that hadn’t been so low before.

[Luna becoming cramped by the shrubbery]

“I have watched and waited while my cubs grew up and moved away.  I polished my plan while you played.  I waited patiently for a fat two-year old to snack on, but you shrub people are careful and your children are too obedient.  I’ve had to prey on easier snacks.  Still I roam around the groves; a habit is hard to break.”  The panther shook its head to clear its eyes, almost dislodging Luna, who was becoming a heavy burden.

[close up of Aleck speaking to Luna]

“I am not very wise if I couldn’t figure a way to climb up between your branches and eat my fill, yet I may know of some water…” All the people strained to hear, and some burrowed further down into the branches to get a better look.

[shrub dwellers straining to see the panther]

“The Great Cat knows of water! Water!” muffled voices sounded throughout the shrub grove.

[close up of Aleck sporting a great big grin]

“Well, Luna, it may have been easy to get down from the shrubs, but can you see a way back up?” the panther asked, grinning again.

“I cannot see how you will climb up with this crowd blocking your way. I finally have my wish!”

Many hands reached down, waving to Luna, stretching to help.

Voices buzzed caution, until a loud voice cried down, “Let her be, Aleck.  Bargain with me!”

“I cannot even see who is speaking to me without an introduction, but I suppose we can bargain,” replied the big cat.

Aleck toyed with the idea of eating the girl where she sat.  One sharp bite, a deliciously slow swallow and the panther would have the first taste of its wish.

Luna cried out, her voice ringing with delight, “Hi-ho, Smart Aleck!  I could gobble you up!”

[close up of Luna’s face]

The shrub grove looked like low hedges; she had grown that tall with all the talk!  She worked her arm around the panther and under his soft belly, quick as she could, until she held him fast. Clearing the branches, she stood up. The big cat, bold with its wishes and threats, had not noticed her growth.  Now he trembled, kicking at the air.

[Luna standing up holding a large uncomfortable housecat]

“Your water is easily seen, Aleck.  You are no longer needed.  Scat, cat!”  Luna tossed Aleck down where he landed and crawled, belly low to the ground, to hide under the cool porch where no one could scold.

[Aleck scurrying under the porch, tail between legs]

Luna reached the water quickly.  “Ahh, cold water,” she murmured.

[Luna showering the shrubs with water from the garden hose]

She stretched slowly to shake off her daydream.  Luna picked up the hose and caught the flowering shrubs in a drenching shower, making steamy rainbows in the hazy sunlight.

Note: Brackets list possible illustrations to accompany passages.

© 2010 Kathryn Berry Poulin, revised 2/2012