6 Aug 2009. Campus was deserted but I got to see the Unidome and two healthy young ladies checking me out. Checking my merchandise out, that is. Ostentatious purple plastic yards on clearance for two dollars?? In Cedar Falls, a jaw falls.
Jethro trudged through the wet gravel, the cool water between his paws the only relief from the unfiltered country sun.
The water from the Black Hawk river was clear and fresh, but the sparse diet of roots and grubs was inadequate for any bulldog. Jethro's nose was dry and his haunches were weak.
Occasionally, he saw Sir Francis Drake or the rest of The Golden Hind's crew in the distance. They would wave him onward, he would obey, they would disappear.
This time his hallucinations grew feline.
"Hey cat. You got any food." mumbled Jethro.
When the cat stalked away instead of evaporating back into his mind, Jethro realized he was dealing with a real wild animal. He stood at attention the best he could, trying to still his shaking legs.
Rustling and thumping sounded around him.
Left? No, right. No, behind!
Now right. Or left.
Jethro retreated from the open riverbed up into the wild rose shrubs.
To be pounced upon.
Dog and cat - large cat - rolled back down into the shallow water.
Jethro could barely see straight. The dizziness overtook him. His adrenaline hit empty. Conceding defeat, he lay on his back, thinking of England and its lost captain.
"I'm sorry, Drake."
The cat paused, blinking, before rearing up. Jethro's collar charm glinted in the cat's eye. It took only a second for the cat to recognize the Royal Seal.
"Sacre bleu!" said the cat. Off it ran.
Jethro gathered himself under the shade of a willow, gnawing on its fallen bark.
The cat came back to drop a dead pheasant in front of Jethro.
Jethro stood up and backed away from the cat, growling. He stopped when the cat nosed the pheasant toward him.
Jethro peered at the cat. He snatched the bird off the ground and wrapped his jowls around it. In two minutes all that remained was beak, bone, and feathers.
Jethro spit out a claw spur. "Thanks."
"Do you speak English?"
The cat licked its chops, saying nothing.
"Er....parlay voo Eenglaze?"
"My name is, oh...jay swee Jethro."
"Napoléon." said the cat in a weighty baritone.
"Where are you from? What's up with the freakout about my collar?" Jethro dingled the charm, hoping to get through with some basic paw language.
Napoléon furrowed his brow and emitted a low, gurgling mrow. He pointed his nose skyward and ran away.
"No, wait, hold on! Uh...par-ay! Alto! Aw, jeez. What a head case."
Jethro continued vaguely east. He figured with several days behind him, it was another couple weeks till Chicago.
A purple mass of fur and a toothy smile popped into Jethro's view.
"Aah! Okay, okay, now you're freakin' me out!"
Another cat joined Napoléon's side, this one with a silver coat.
Napoléon introduced her: "Joséphine."
Jethro was near starving an hour ago. Now he was having meet-and-greets in broken French with wildcat lovebirds.
"Hi. Listen, it's great that you can talk. I mean, you, me, in the middle of Iowa territory, what are the odds? And I really appreciate the bird, Napoleon. But I don't speak any French and it's taking a lot of mental - "
"You don't have to." said Joséphine with a spotty French accent.
"Oh, praise the queen."
Jethro sat, all ears now.
Napoléon and Joséphine came from the western mountains. They had learned French from the trappers in the frontier. Napoléon was just fine, thank you, with French, but Joséphine didn't hesitate to also pick up English from other pioneers. The couple's position as liaisons to humans moved them to the top of the cats' social order. But when the other cats got tired of their God's-gift-to-the-animal-kingdom attitude, or as the raconteur put it, their "jealousy and inability to carry on a conversation", Napoléon and Joséphine were exiled to northern Iowa.
Listening to Joséphine's retelling, Napoléon recognized the word exile. He bristled and hissed, "Nous avons été traités comme des chiens."
Jethro looked over for a translation. Joséphine explained, "It was our Waterloo."
"Why can't you just go back to another part of the west? It's enormously huge. You can find a new pack of wildcats or panthers or cougars or whatever the correct term is."
"All of those names are fine. But the mountains are no longer our home."
"So what now?"
"We would love to make it to Paris. The trappers tell us it is a glorious place, where the streets are filled with endlesss rats. Enough to feed the largest cats. It was only a large and fancy dream until Napoléon saw your Royal Seal. We are willing to put aside our countries' differences if you can help us get to Europe! ...That is where you were going, yes?"
"I wasn't going anywhere really. Drake and the crew are gone. Taken by prairie rodents, catapulted from buffalo-mounted coyotes in headdresses. My initial goal was Chicago."
"Oui, oui, Chicago! Nous connaissons le chemin!"
"Yes, if we take you there, can you put us on a ship to Europe?"
"I really don't have that kind of pull. Sure, I may be English, but I'm still only an English bulldog."
"Oh, please help us get home, Jethro! We will do all the hunting for you!"
"S’il vous plaît, Jethro!" Napoleon and Joséphine activated their big-kitty-eye glands.
Have you ever met a cat who wasn't manipulative and French?