Aaron Steinmetz

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

Cocoa Tales: Episode Twelve

Moaning in the bushes, Faber made a quick mental check of his appendages: fingers, hands, arms, they were fine. Toes, feet, legs, they still worked. He slowly lifted himself out of the bushes, turned and saw that Floyd was either dead or unconscious.

Faber jabbed Floyd in the ribs and he groaned. Unconscious, not dead, though Faber was somewhat wishing they both were as he scanned the smoldering remains of the high school.

"Why," Floyd started through pants, "did they all look the same?"

"I don’t know, Floyd," Faber said. "For now, let’s just make sure the fire department is on the way."

Floyd pointed at a group of looky-loos already gathering at the scene of the crime, phones at their ears. "I don’t think that’ll be a problem," he said.

"We’re fine, by the way," Faber hollered out. "Thanks for the help!"

"Come on, Faber," Floyd said. "We have to contact the chief."

"How!" Faber exclaimed. "Have you seen our car!?"

He pointed at the smoldering remains of their car and Floyd groaned. "Man," he said, "took us so long to get that car."

"We’re gonna be stuck in Smokey again," Faber said with a shake of his head.

Rubbing his forehead, Floyd added, "Assuming we even have jobs when this is all done."

They did. When the chief arrived he had several four-letter words for them I cannot reprint here if I want this available in grade school libraries, but he ultimately let them off the hook as even he had to admit he hadn’t considered the possibility that it was a cat with resources enough to have several other kitty bombs at her disposal.

Floyd was the one to put two and two together: several identical cats, and all but one of them explode? Had to be some sort of feline bomb. Floyd got a pat on the back for the conclusion and Faber got a figurative kick in the backside for not making the connection himself.

As they were slowly walking away from the remains of the high school, Faber said, "So we’re taking the city bus then?"

"It would appear so," Floyd replied.

With a nod, Faber said, "You know, I haven’t ridden the bus since I was in high school."

"Really?" Floyd replied.

Back at the school a burning support timber finally gave way and collapsed, a large chunk of roofing hitting a gas vein. The metal pipe burst open sending a cloud of gas flowing quickly across the concrete. It flowed into a smoldering fire, burst white and sent flames shooting back the opposite direction until it reached the busted pipe. The remainder of the chemistry department burst white in an explosion that could be seen all the way to Cottonwood.

That is to say, a decent distance away.

The trees before Faber and Floyd illuminated a bright daylight white, but the two detectives didn’t turn around.

"Yeah," Faber said to Floyd. "Haven’t needed to ride a bus since then."

"You’re lucky," Floyd said as a new set of onlookers gasped in horror at the rising flames. "I was stuck in mass transit hell all through college."

Marley Bean’s Daily Ground was bustling. News reporters were getting their caffeine fix to speak as quickly as possible of the destruction and mayhem sans actual death and the return of the Redding Bomber. One particular reporter was breaking in with the news that the Redding Bomber had been a cat all along having spoken with a gray-faced chief of police who assured the Redding populace they did all they could.

From behind the potted plant, Cocoa took it all in with a scowl. Still, somehow, no one was dead, and she had precious hours left to get her kill in lest she return to the Underground in shame. The sun was up. Daylight was working against her.

But she had an ace up her sleeve.

The remainder of the unused C4 from the previous batch of bombings was hidden under a bench in that very coffee shop where it all began. And that would be where it ended. As Cocoa fed the wires into the large chunk of clay explosive, only one person in the coffee shop suspected something was awry. And as he sipped his coffee, he smiled because he’d found the missing piece, the way to kill Montgomery Gerald once and for all.

The Sandman was clever that way.

He watched the blurred shadow of a cat as it set the explosive, and then he watched the shadow cross the room and slip unnoticed out of Marley Bean’s Daily Ground coffee shop.

Once The Sandman was confident Cocoa was gone, he crossed the room and sat at the booth. Reaching behind him he found his prize and pulled the chunk of C4 from behind the seat. He quickly lowered it to his lap out of sight of the unsuspecting public and Marley Bean, who was quite pleased to be serving reporters again. They buy the biggest, cheapest coffee at the highest markup and don’t even question the price. Marley Bean loved reporters.

Pulling the detonator and wires out of the C4, The Sandman looked over the sepia clay with a smile not unlike a grandfather watching his son’s son build a misshapen home with Lincoln Logs. With a sigh, he slid the C4 into his coat pocket and stepped out of the booth. He dropped a hundred-dollar bill on the table and quietly left the coffee shop, passing by a potted plant on the way which, as he passed, stopped swaying.

"Ten, nine, eight," Cocoa muttered from behind a trash can in an alley across from the Daily Ground. It was full of people. No possible way they would all survive. "Four, three," Cocoa continued, a hint of a growl coming from the back of her throat, "two, one," her face lit up.

It held that expression for a few seconds more, then a look of confusion fell across her feline face, then sheer disappointment. What had gone wrong this time?

She buried her face in her paws and moaned. The last of her C4, gone. Her last chance: gone. It was over. She failed. She felt terrible.

And so did I.

I mean, she was trying so hard. To foil her plans at every step: it wasn’t easy, even for me.

I guess that’s why I did what I did.

Not having a muse around to stop me helped.

I stepped out of the shadows and said, Hang in there, Cocoa, you’ll be fine.

Her head shooting up from her paws, Cocoa Tael looked up at me and said, "Who are you!?"

I’m the storyteller.

"The what?"

The storyteller. I tell the story.

"What story?"

This one. This story here.

Cocoa stared at me in bemusement, unable to grasp the fairly simple concept I presented to her. Though in fairness to her, if a fellow said he was narrating your story, would you accept it in a mere paragraph’s time?

"You’re...the storyteller," Cocoa said finally.


"And you’re here now," Cocoa continued, "in your own story?"

That’s right.

"In the flesh, a character within your own story?"

I am. What’s so wrong with that?

"Well, everything!" Cocoa exclaimed as she stood before me. "You can’t just bend the rules like this! You’re either a third-person narrator with an unlimited perspective on the world, a third-person narrator with a limited perspective on one character, or a first-person narrator with a limited perspective on everything! You can’t just go and insert a third-person omniscient into a story as a first-person limited! It’s not allowed!"

Oh Cocoa. There are so many aspects to storytelling you couldn’t possibly understand from your limited perspective.

"Is this the first time you’ve shown your mug?"

Actually, I’ve popped in from time to time here and there. Just not to you so far.

"Why not?"

I shrugged and said, Haven’t really gotten around to it. I guess I just felt bad about foiling your every move.

A growl growing inside her, she said with a snarl, "So you’re the one..."

Suddenly–and unexpectedly, for some reason–she leapt into the air and, clutching at my collarbones with her claws, forced me to the ground landing with a thud that knocked the wind out of me.

What are you doing, Cocoa!?

"All right, listen up, Storyteller," Cocoa Tael said with an inflection that made my title sound like a pejorative, "first of all, no one knows what ‘pejorative’ even means–"

Oh, well, it’s a Latinate word that has its roots in–

"Shut up! Second: I don’t care what my next plan is, it could be a plan to turn the moon to cottage cheese and rain down fiery cheese curds on the world, I don’t care: it will, I repeat, will succeed in killing at least one of you insufferable humans, understood!?"

Cocoa, how did you get this strong!?

She back-pawed me across the face throwing sweat and blood on an adjoining wall. "You’re not listening," she said quietly, "so I’ll repeat myself yet again: my next plan to kill a human will work. Capisce?"

I, uh, capisce.

"Good." She let me go. I scrambled away from her, bruised and bloodied.

"Oh and if you could, kind Storyteller, make the death involve fire?"

But I was gone. Not about to stick around for her next temper tantrum.