Our Great Summer Novel — Chapter 11: The Animals Rally For a Rescue
“Tasered again,” Davis thought, who knows how long after hitting the tile, once his scattered neurons could form a thought. He wondered why his kitchen floor was suddenly tilted at, he estimated, an alarming 33 degrees, and he wondered why he wasn’t flopping around in full trout mode, like the last time.
And he wondered why a not great-smelling sheepdog was alternately licking his cheek and panting warm dog breath into his ear.
“Awww,” cooed the dog. “Lil’ buddy’s awake!”
“Eeeennghhh,” said Davis.
“Yuck,” a disapproving Texan drawled from somewhere to Davis’ left. “Stop licking him.”
“Mr. Tater’s being a gwouch,” the dog baby-talked to Davis. “Isn’t he? Isn’t he? Yes, he is. A big, big gwouch.”
Davis opened a bleary eye, the one not mashed into the floor, and wondered how an emu got into his kitchen. And an alpaca. Or maybe it was a llama? No, definitely an alpaca. And it was looming over Lina, who was seated on a kitchen chair and glowering at the animal.
“One false move, pícara, and I weel eh-speet on joo so hard,” the alpaca threatened. Davis couldn’t decide if sounding like Ricardo Montalban made it more or less threatening, but that probably didn’t even matter. Who wants to get spit on?
“Yeah, mate,” the obviously Australian emu seconded. Davis moved his head a fraction of a painful inch and noticed the emu was standing guard over Kuai, seated in the chair next to Lina. “Look at these thighs. Move and I’ll kick you and it’ll hurt a lot.”
“Wo bù míngbáile,” Kuai said sadly. “Wo xihuan dòngwù.”
“I know you don’t understand,” Lina told him, “and I know you love animals, but these demon spawn…”
“Really, Lina,” Tater interrupted with a huff. “We’re here saving the day. What did you ever do besides not feed me enough?”
He flounced over to Davis and nudged the sheepdog aside. “Excuse me, Punkin,” he said, and patted Davis’ cheek a few times. “OK, you’ve had quite a shock” — the camel that had stuck his head through the open kitchen door gave a snorting guffaw — “but it’s time to get up. Get up now.”
“Bllllerrrrgh,” Davis said.
Tater switched from cheek patting to cheek scratching.
“Yeeeowww!” Davis yelled, his eyes popping open. “What is wrong with you?”
“Seeing how I’m the one who’s upright and not melted onto the kitchen floor, I’d have to ask what’s wrong with you,” Tater countered. “Except I know what is: Your brother semi-poisoned you and a lot of other people in this town. Now, eat this peach.”
Tater nudged a big, rosy Suncrest toward Davis’ face, which Davis was slowly unplastering from the kitchen tile. Every millimeter of movement hurt, so he adopted a yank-off-the-Band-Aid philosophy: Just do it all at once. He jerked his head up with a yelp, but it was enough that he could turn it and look into Tater’s bossy face.
“If we’re going to have a moment of Palisade Pride right now, I’d sooner have some wine,” Davis informed the cat. He felt like his body was encased in plaster.
“Like you’re Han Solo frozen in carbonite,” Punkin the sheepdog added sympathetically. Apparently mind reading was more common than Davis had thought, not that he’d ever thought about it before today.
“Trust me,” Tater said. “Eat the peach.”
It wasn’t worth an argument, so Davis lowered his mouth over the fuzzy skin and took a juicy bite. The immediate explosion of flavor was unlike anything he’d ever tasted. It was nirvana in his mouth and every nerve ending in his body zinged with delight. He quickly took another bite and moved his arms to push himself up into a sitting position.
“This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life,” Davis informed nobody in particular. Man, he suddenly felt good!
“That’s because it’s an antidote,” Tater told Davis. “It’s pretty clever, when you think about it. This guy here” — he jerked his fuzzy head toward Kuai — “creates an airborne serum that cripples Palisade, but designs it so the antidote is something that saves Palisade.”
“I didn’t want to cripple anything,” Kuai said, leaning around the emu to speak. “I just wanted… I just…”
He paused to consider for a moment. “I grew up without a father. And my mother did the best she could, but it’s so hard to get ahead in rural China. We were so poor. And then, once I’m an adult and my mother had died, this man shows up, he says he’s my father, he says he never knew he had a son in China, he begs me to go to Palisade, this wonderful place, Palisade, so wonderful. We’ll get to know each other, we’ll make up for lost time.
“He had no idea how hard my life had been. Just come to Palisade! Abandon China! And then, not six months later, I find out he’d died. But my serum was already here. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, I just wanted him to know what it’s like to see strange things happen to a place he loved. Like I had.”
Neither human nor animal knew what to say to that. A mystified silence hung in Davis’ Palisade kitchen for several seconds.
Then, “What about this animal army plan?” Davis finally asked.
“Oh, that,” Kuai replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I was an undergraduate. I wasn’t serious. It was one of those hypotheticals you toss out when you and all your friends think you’re very smart and philosophical, and you’ve had a lot of rice wine.”
“Wait,” Lina interrupted. “You weren’t serious about that?”
“Were you?” Kuai asked.
“Well…,” Lina hedged.
“Number one, that is insane,” Kuai said. “Number two, why would you care about taking over China? You’re not from there, I never thought you even liked it there. In fact, I always rather wondered if you even liked me. You spent so much time with Davis.”
“I’ll tell you what it is, friend,” said the camel still peering interestedly into the kitchen. “Pure, unadulterated megalomania. She won’t be happy until she’s queen of the world, or queen of something. And speaking of which, we’ve got a town to save.”
Davis cast a questioning look at Tater, who gave a feline shrug and headed out the door. Davis slowly stood up and followed, and learned that his entire backyard had become the weirdest menagerie he’d ever seen: dozens of house cats and well-fed dogs, some parakeets hovering around, donkeys, sheep, goats, more alpacas and two enormous draft horses pulling a fancy open wagon that Davis remembered seeing in parades. It was filled with bushel baskets of peaches.
Bisbee the cockatiel swooped down from the big cottonwood and called to the animals still in the kitchen, “Oi! You lot stay ‘ere and don’t let those two rotters go anywhere. The rest o’ you, follow me. The entire Palisade police force is on the roof o’ the grocery store an’ that Boots just took off in the fire truck.”