The Quilled Cougar

The month of March came in like a lion around my house.

First, came the deadline to submit a manuscript to my agent. Furious revision and editing ensued but we met the deadline.

Then, we came home to hot water pouring out of our attic from a busted hot water heater. (Don’t ask why they put them in the attic in Houston. It’s stupid, I know). So after 4 loads of towels and 4 days of loud fans and dehumidifiers, the house is dry. As a bonus, we also have nice views into the walls and ceilings, and sections of exposed floorboard. And for any rodents who might be looking for a place to live, there are precut holes along the base of many walls.

In the middle of the flood, we adopted two cats for my girls (scheduled). There’s nothing like kittens, huge noisy fans, and demoltion. But it turned out to be a good thing because it’s Spring Break and every day has been spent waiting for water remediation, adjusters, and home warranty folks to show up. So the cats and the girls have been hanging out in the laundry room. The dog, however, has been hanging out in front of the laundry room. 🙂

But God is good all the time, and I’m back to working on my own stories now, including Flash Flood: In Search of Dragons.

If this is your first introduction to the story, let me summarize where we are:

Laurel and Alexa are on vacation with their parents at a dude ranch. Laurel is convinced dragons exist and sets out at night because she thinks she sees one outside the window of her cabin. Her big sister, Alexa, follows to keep her out of trouble. While they are out, the dude ranch disappears. They’re not sure what to do until a talking jackalope named Flapjack shows up to offer them help. They follow Flapjack to his burrow where he tells them that the only way home is to find the dragon whose scale Laurel is carrying. He offers to take them to a guide who can help them on their quest…

FF DRAGONS LONG

Scrub brush crowded the trail on both sides and scratched at the girls’ arms as they walked. Flapjack led them up an incline to the top of a ridge. From it, the entire area where the dude ranch should have been was visible. They followed the ridge line for a time, Laurel using the view to scope the scenery for dragons. Before long, they came to a flat rock overhanging the ridge. A dirt-colored animal lay in the center in a large patch of sunshine.

“Be quiet now, girlies.” Flapjack put his paw to his hare-lip as if to shush them. “Sometimes he gets a bit miffed when you wake him during the day.”

“Then maybe we should let him sleep.” That was Alexa—always considerate of others’ feelings. And probably a bit scared to wake up the large beast.

“I thought you were in a hurry to get home?” The unflappable Flapjack replied.

Laurel peered around the jackalope to get a better view of the slumberer. The beast’s tail moved up and down like a languid whip, and his ears twitched like miniature satellite dishes. “Are you sure he’s asleep?”

Flapjack followed her gaze. “Mostly. Can’t be out in the open like that and be completely asleep. Wouldn’t live very long.”

Laurel wasn’t sure, but she thought Alexa squeaked.

Flapjack lifted his back right foot and thumped it against the ground a few times. The animal on the ledge sprang to its feet and bared its long canines at them with a hiss. He had the features of a mountain lion but his fur was too long and coarse, almost like a porcupine’s quills. The large feline hunkered down ready to spring.

Flapjack dropped to all fours and Laurel felt a twinge of apprehension for her friend. Would he bolt? Weren’t rabbits supposed to be afraid of cats, especially large ones? But he lowered his head as if aiming his antlers at the cat and Laurel’s fear fled. Rabbits might be afraid of cats, but jackalopes weren’t.

Then the cat charged.

Alexa screamed. Laurel shuffled backward as the cat grabbed Flapjack by the end of one of his antlers and lifted him in the air with his mouth.

Feet off the ground, the jackalope hung in the air scowling. “Put me down, you big rat catcher. You’re scaring the girls.”sketch-of-curious-little-cat-looking-at-something-on-the-ground-vector-illu_fJGZGMdu

The cat’s eyes rounded as he caught sight of them, the pupils in his eyes narrowing to slits in the bright morning sunlight. He opened his mouth and Flapjack tumbled to the ground. “You know better than to wake me in the morning, Flap. And you know how I feel about humans.”

“Late night, Hero?” Flapjack dusted off his overalls and then sat on his back legs, crossing his arms in front of him. “Drink from one too many barrel cacti?”

“What do you want, rabbit? Spit it out so I can say ‘no’ and go back to my nap.” The cat’s long tail slapped the ground from side to side like an angry metronome.

“These girls are on a quest, and every quest needs a guide and a hero. You can be both.”

“Just because my name is Hero doesn’t mean I am one. And I’m not going to guide two lily-livered human kittens around on some stinking quest. Find yourself another sucker.” The cat began cleaning himself with one paw as if they weren’t watching.

“Interesting you should say that.”

The cat stilled, one paw aloft on his way to cleaning behind an ear. “Say what?”

“Sucker.”

“Why?”

“Because a peculiar breed of sucker followed their trail to my house last night…” Flapjack’s voice sounded funny, like when Laurel’s parents talked about something but there was more behind their words than what she was hearing. “One that likes goats.”

The cat hissed and his tail puffed. The hair on the cat wasn’t just coarse like quills, it really was quills.

“Are you a cactus cat?” Laurel asked.

“Of course not. There’s no such thing as…” Alexa swallowed what she had been about to say, and her face turned a warm shade of pink.

“The correct term is Quilled Cougar.” Hero’s quills settled back into place as if he were trying to look as regal as he sounded. He raised an eyebrow at Flapjack. “So a goat sucker’s after these two girls?”

Flapjack eyed Laurel and Alexa, ears twitching. “More than one, I think.”

A cool breeze blew against Laurel’s neck and down her spine, chilling her despite the heat. Whatever they were talking about didn’t sound like a good thing.

“Is this about the strange howling I heard last night?” Alexa asked, piecing the clues together quicker than Laurel. “Why would those creatures be after us?”

“I don’t know, girlie.” The jackalope scuffed one toe in the dirt, his whiskers drooping.

The cat didn’t blink as his golden gaze fixed on Alexa and then Laurel. “I guess you’d better tell me about this quest of yours.”

Jacklope Jumping Side Cartoon

“Are you sure this is a good idea, Flapjack?” Alexa whispered as they followed the cactus cat to his home. “He doesn’t even like humans.”

“Yes, girlie, I’m sure.” The jackalope hopped along between the girls. “He can protect you better than I can. No one would ever mistake a rabbit-deer hybrid for being anything but prey.”

Being capable of protecting them and being willing were two different things. As much as Laurel trusted Flapjack, she could understand her sister’s concern. Cats were finicky—they played by their own rules. Laurel had petted purring cats only to have them turn and nip at her. Would this giant quilled version be any less mercurial? “Are you sure you can’t you come with us?”

Flapjack turned to Laurel and wiggled his nose. “You don’t need me, lass. Don’t start to doubt yourself now.”

Is that what she was doing?

The cactus cat disappeared in a crevice between two large rocks. Flapjack hopped in after him, but Alexa and Laurel slowed.

Laurel’s gaze met Alexa’s wide-eyed intelligent stare. Were they really going to follow a huge cat and a rabbit with antlers into a cleft in a rock?

“We’re in this together, right?” Alexa asked.

Laurel wiped her sweaty palm on her jeans and clasped her sister’s hand. “Sisters forever.”

Dragon

If you want to catch up, you can read the earlier parts of the story here.

And because I’ve been asking for sketches and no one has provided, I am proving to you that I can’t draw above a 3rd grade level. Here is my best attempt at Flapjack. So won’t someone please take pity on me and draw a picture of a cactus cat? Excuse me, I mean “quilled cougar.”

The reason I am not an illustrator
The reason I am not an illustrator

INPUT NEEDED: Give me some reasons a goat-sucking chupacabra would be after our girls.

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2 thoughts on “The Quilled Cougar

  1. lol – you’re Flapjack is probably better than I would do! But I’ll see if i can scrape up time to try sketching something. You’re not the only one who’s had a busy month though mine was less physical disaster and more educational stress (which is still ongoing but progressing!). Glad you got the hot water heater sorted – I wonder if they put them in the attic to somehow utilize gravity in distributing hot water to the house?

    I’ll think about the chupacabra and get back to you, too. Creepy, though – I don’t much like them!

    Like

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