Aaron Steinmetz

...be very still...the bird's angry...and I think he can see us.

Cocoa Tales: Episode Four

Chapter Two: Being a Brief Account of Carrie Gerald and her Pet Alien

All was darkness for Cocoa Tael in the moment she plotted her escape. It would be bloody, oh yes, and it would be fast. Perhaps this human, foolish enough to capture her, would provide the body that would provide her return to the Feline Underground, to the Felidus, to–

"You still here?"

The voice: it was the captor. The foolish human, so close to meet his doom.

"Did you bail? You still hanging out at my place?"

Cocoa Tael didn’t know who the man who called himself Harold was talking to. How could she? All was darkness for her.

"Look, I know you can hear me. Just remember what we talked about and don’t let this bring you down okay? There’s a lot riding on this for both of us."

With a sudden motion, the blanket covering the cage whipped off and Cocoa recoiled briefly against her back legs as she quickly looked around. The cage was on a kitchen table, the living room visible beyond the man called Harold. To her left she saw a kitchen with a knife block and a cast iron skillet and meat mallet...

"Here’s the deal," Harold said sitting at the table. He leaned down so he could look Cocoa in the eyes. "You live here, you sleep here, you eat here, you don’t make any trouble for me and I don’t make any trouble for you."

Cocoa nodded slowly. "You Feline Rehabilitation?"

Harold shut his eyes and nodded once. "You got a problem with rehabilitation?"

"A problem," Cocoa said with a smirk. "Yeah, I got a problem with my fellow cats having their identity stripped away to serve at the feet of inferior life forms."

Harold jerked a thumb toward his chest. "Hey, this inferior life form learned to talk a long time before yours did. And it’ll live a lot longer than yours."

"We’ll see," Cocoa said with a growl.

Leaning back in his chair, Harold crossed his arms. "You’re still in a cage, Cocoa Tael. You’re still at my mercy. And you know what’s funny? I could let you out and you wouldn’t know the first way back to Redding. Back to your Felidus."

He pronounced "Felidus" with a sarcastic draw that made it sound like it had four syllables. "I can get by on my own," Cocoa stated, though the doubt in her voice was evident to them both.

"Take a sniff, Cocoa Tael. Smell anything familiar?"

Cocoa didn’t bother sniffing, though he clearly knew more about her than she expected.

Harold said nothing. Just rose from his chair. Walked across the kitchen. He pulled a can opener from a drawer and said, "I’m not asking for much from you, Cocoa. I’ve rehabilitated your friends, and I’ll rehabilitate you. Eventually. You see," he opened a cabinet and reached high above him, "the rewards, they can be quite tempting."

He tapped the can opener against a small, circular can and looked at Cocoa.

"What are you doing?" Cocoa asked. Her voice trembled. Somewhere, buried deep within, her instincts knew what the can was, and what the sound meant. The purr slowly built up inside her. "What is that?"

Harold spoke slowly: "Premium...skinless...boneless...wild Alaskan salmon."

Her breathing fast, a small dot of drool appearing on her cheek, Cocoa said, "S-salmon?"

He nodded.


He nodded again, and broke the seal of the can with the can opener, began turning.

Cocoa stepped toward the bars of the cage, her feet moving without her control. "You...monster," she whispered, the purr escaping her lips as she spoke.

"You want this, don’t you?" Harold asked.

"Yes," Cocoa said as the odor filled the room. "I want...I want...I waaaaant." Her voice lost clarity and the meow took over.

Harold snipped the lid from the can and set it at the base of the cage, Cocoa meowing uncontrollably. He slowly pulled a fork from a drawer, sat at the table and pulled a chunk of salmon from the can, staring at the piece of meat at the end of the fork. Holding it out for Cocoa to see, she meowed at him, for the moment unable to speak anything by Felinese.

"Are you going to be good?" Harold asked.

Cocoa nodded.

Harold overturned the can directly to the table and opened the cage. Bursting forward, Cocoa buried her nose into the salmon, gorging herself within seconds. Harold glanced at the chunk of salmon on the fork, sniffed it once and then ate it.

"Don’t know what you see in this stuff," Harold said. "Tastes like cat food to me."

Cocoa grumbled a few feline curses, but Harold couldn’t make them out through the salmon stuffed into her mouth. Wouldn’t have mattered. Harold wouldn’t have known what they meant.

Good thing too ‘cause they were pretty darn mean.

Harold’s home, unknown to Cocoa at the time, was situated deep within the forest east of Redding. Travel even further east and you’ll find a mountain that exploded a hundred years ago. The owner of that volcano stood in his three-story mansion at the base of the mountain; his efforts to rename it Mt. Gerald were slowed, but for once he didn’t mind so much. No, Monty Gerald had something else on his mind: an assassin he didn’t want the luxury of meeting. He glanced down from his window on the third floor and saw the Deluxury pulling up and stopping.

"I can’t believe it’s so hard to rename a mountain," Monty’s wife said as she ruffled through paperwork. And didn’t Resin Gerald love to ruffle. "The Shasta family got it done in no time flat," she said.

Monty sighed. "The Shasta family renamed Mt. Lemuria during The Great Depression. Back then you could’ve renamed the whole damn country for a wooden nickel."

"Yeah, well you’ve got a lot more nickels than ole’ man Shasta," Resin replied sliding her chair away from the desk. "Mt. Lassen. What kind of name is that? It’s so boring. Mt. Gerald, now that name has some strength to it. Muscle. And history! Don’t forget how much history the Gerald family carries with it!"

"Can we deal with this some other time?" Monty replied with a groan. "I’ve got a lot of things on my mind right now."

"Like what?"

"Like an assassin that wants to kill me."

Resin slapped him on the shoulder. "There’s always someone who wants to kill you. Means you’re still worth something to someone."

"This one might pull it off," Monty muttered as he picked up his glass of scotch from the desk.

His wife, approaching the enormous window with the view of Mt. Lassen soon-to-be Gerald, quickly slid shut the curtains. Turning to look at her husband, she asked, "Does that make you feel better?"

"No," Monty said miserably.

Rolling her eyes, she stormed by him. "You are such a child. Acting like you’ve never had a hitman on your tail."

"Have you!?" Monty hollered.

"I’m not trying to rename a mountain!" she hollered back just before slamming the door.

"I doubt," Monty muttered to no one, "that’s why they hired the Sandman."

Crouched in the woods outside the mansion at the base of the mountain, the Sandman wondered if it was all worth it, the money, the power, the prestige. He was the greatest hitman on the planet. Why? Because he was the oldest. That’s it. He’d managed to survive longer than any others. Big deal. Just means more emotional scars to accompany the physical ones.

He sighed. "No collateral damage," he muttered. "Just Gerald, and no one else. For once. No collateral damage. And then," he took a deep breath, "I’m done. I’m out."

Watching servants come and go, he saw the Herculean task ahead of him. It wouldn’t be easy, but when he saw a curtain open and the outline of a small girl looking out, he raised one eyebrow. And he smiled.