Jul 31, 2005

HR, 29

Harlequin looked up from his conference to see the crowd still waiting. He tried to swallow away the nervousness that tightened his throat.

"They're waiting for the human," whispered Hubert, leaning in close and accidentally slobbering on Harlequin's ear.

Harlequin managed a confident smile and whispered back worriedly: "I don't even have a plan yet! Pegasus, do you think you could run them trhough some combat maneuvers?"

Peg's eyes brightened and she nodded. She paraded in front of the recruits, demonstrating one-legged battle techniques as Harlequin and Hubert snuck out of the alley and into the field to where Homeless Tony lay snoring.

Harlequin chewed on his claw. The one brilliant plan to make everything work was stubbornly eluding him.

"I wish I could speak English," said Hubert wistfully. "I'd tell him what a mess alcohol makes of men. Hmmmmm... My poor old master never learned."

Harlequin jumped up in the air suddenly and did a cartwheel.

"Why that's just the thing!" he shouted, a little breathlessly. "If we both speak English, he'll have to believe I'm not a hallucination. After all, he's already seen you be a normal dog."

"But I can't speak English," protested Hubert.

"Nonsense! Simplest thing in the world... You just..." Harlequin tugged at his lip; he couldn't remember how he'd learned to speak it. It had com so naturally. And he'd never met another creature who could speak English; perhaps he was as strange as others had always said he was.

"It's at least worth a try. What shall we say... I know! No more alcohol! Try it like this."

Harlequin said "no more alcohol" in English, stretching out each word for Hubert to hear the difference.

Hubert chuckled sheepishly, but tried after some more coaxing. With a variety of growls, howls and groans, he imitated the noise. It came out like this: "rrrroo errrr erggooohoollll!"

Homeless Tony stirred under the awful noise, but remained asleep. Harlequin remained optimistic.

"That last part, where you howled, that sounded right. This time try howling the 'no' and the 'more.'"

A few more tries and Hubert had come up with "noooo moooorrrr arroooohoool."

"Much better! Now think of the 'alc' sound as a gulp: swallow." Hubert swallowed and heard his throat click. He grunted in recognition and eagerly sounded his best rendition yet. Harlequin hoped that the long 'r's and the slur only made it sound more like Homeless Tony. "That should do it," he said, crossing his claws. "Hubert, lick his face to get him up."

Hubert obliged and Homeless Tony sprang up with a splutter.

"Ahhh! It's the demon chipmunk again. Go away until I sleep you off. Get away, dog!" Homeless Tony was unnerved to have them both staring at and stared back at them for a moment. Harlequin caught Hubert's eye and nodded. They faced a suspicious Homeless Tony and recited their phrase together.

"Nggg mrr alcohoooo!" Hubert looked disappointed in himself. Homeless Tony backed away slowly, worried that the two animals were bleating in their death throes or something similar. "Again," said Harlequin.

"No more alcohol!" The words rang as clear as a bell. Hubert's own eyes widened in surprise; Homeless Tony's nearly jumped from their sockets. His mouth dropped and his tongue hung lifelessly from it. Suddenly he clasped his hands together and wildly swung them up to the sky.

"Alright, God!" he shouted. "I get the message! No more!"

Jul 30, 2005

HR, 28

The squirrel was next in line to speak.

"I'm with the mice," he said, in a reedy, old voice. "If you really do get the man to help, I'll do what I can to help you."

Peg spoke for the birds:

"We'll serve you to the death!"

The sound of cawing above set all eyes to the sky: Sergei flew with great speed and kicked up a great deal of dust as he scampered to the ground. Ignoring the crowd, Sergei rushed to Harlequin and spoke between gasping breaths.

"We did not make it to the rookery. We met some of our brethren foraging on the northeast road and spoke to them of the news. As we spoke, the Pack appeared around the corner. The little one pointed at me and said that I was with the Chipmunk, and the General told the dog-things to catch us. They caught us and treated us most roughly to make us talk. The General said to tell you that he would come at sunset. He said he wants to fight the creature who destroyed Attila!"

Harlequin's face fell at the last piece of news. Sergei continued:

"Pavel has flown to rookery to tell them news. I come here to warn you to run away. You seem to be good creature, and I would not like to see you come to harm."

Harlequin looked around him: the rest of the creatures had not heard Sergei because of hushed breathless voice, but looked generally concerned after seeing Harlequin's crestfallen face. He stiffened his lip resolutely and called Hubert and Pegasus to his side, while pulling Sergei in a little closer.

"A brief war council," he explained to the crowd. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "Sergei, we plan to fight the pack; Hubert and Pegasus are my lieutenants. Don't look so shocked: we have a good chance if we stick together, and we've got the whole field behind us. Sergei, I've put aside a pile of treasure that I'm going to use in return for the claw. I'll need you to watch that for me until just before sunset." A few more words and Sergei was dismissed to the tree, questioning Harlequin's sanity, but enraptured by the new piece of treasure: Attila's claw.

Harlequin brought his voice even lower for Hubert and Pegasus. "Unfortunately, I've already promised them Homeless Tony, and he's still not with us. I think he's a good enough sort, but I can't get him to believe I'm real. If we can make him believe it, I can get him to help us."

Jul 29, 2005

HR, 27

There were several white trash bags waiting outside the Chinese restaurant. Harlequin slit one open and began handing out the goodies. The mice got a heaping pile of fried rice; the squirrel gobbled cashew bits by the pawful; the birds dabbled in everything, taking special pleasure in a lone shrimp; Hubert chomped on sweet and sour meatballs; his passenger, the yellowjacket drone, occupied himself with the sauce that had dripped onto the ground.

The mice, especially, were not used to human food and many began to feel queasy, but overall the feast was a smashing success for Harlequin. The animals were full, happy and grateful and, best of all, ready to listen.

Harlequin, having just polished off a batch of egg foo yung, burped and began to speak.

"Friends, now that we have eaten, I've another item of business. I suppose you all know the Pack?" There were a few shudders. One mouse, emboldened by the meal and his taste of freedom, uttered a few loud curses on the Pack.

"We're going to have to deal with them sooner or later. As the vanquisher of Attila, I take responsibility for meeting with the General. I plan to reason with him: tell him what a good sort you creatures are, and how no beast should have the right to rule over us against our will. However," Harlequin raised his voice and gave it the most resolute rumble he could muster; "should he choose oppression over freedom, I say we'll be ready for him!"

Harlequin had hoped for cheers; he got a ferocious war squawk from Pegasus and a "hurray" from the emboldened mouse, but the rest gave him worried looks.

"I see your faces. I see the fear. A sensible fear, from sensible animals. Know this: your fears are unjustified. We have with us a powerful dog, formerly of the Pack: Hubert!" At this statement, Hubert chuckled nervously.

"We also have the finest warbird in the city: Pegasus!" Pegasus squawked proudly and hopped about fiercely. Harlequin turned his eyes to the sparrows and pigeons: "She can lead you to victory in battle over any of these runt dogs."

"Friends there is more. The crows have a great deal of human technology that would put the dogs to flight as soon as they caught wind of it. Great mechanical terrors, I tell you, at the tips of our claws. I know how to work them, I'll just need help from the mice and my good squirrel over there to deploy them."

"As if that weren't enough, we have a human! Homeless Tony, the man sleeping over there, is a friend of mine. I know the secret of human speech and he will help us. What dog would dare face a fully-grown human? I say 'no!' But I will need your help. Can I count on you as allies in this noble defense of this field?"

The mice conferred together; the squirrel looked on; the birds pecked at stray crumbs of food. Hubert ambled alongside Harlequin and told him what a foolish thing he was getting them all into. Finally, the mice came to some sort of agreement; an older one stepped forward from the group and spoke up.

"We mice feel that you're a strange creature, but that you mean well. So long as this human really is for you, we'll help in what ways we can."

Jul 28, 2005

HR, 26

Harlequin grimaced. He'd forgotten to provide the food. The crowd had assembled before him, oblivious to each other, all studying the chipmunk before them. Harlequin felt a little unnerved.

A leader must be above such things, he thought; he put on his resolute and courageous face. Jumping theatrically to the trunk of the tree, he hung over his audience, two paws clutching the bark and the others ready to accompany his speech.

"Friends, countrymen! My name is Harlequin, a humble chipmunk called to a greater service in this time of need. I have promised food, and I will fulfill that promise, but first, a matter of urgent importance to us all..." Harlequin trailed off as the birds of the audience began to wander away.

The pigeons and sparrows had very short attention spans and were ignoring Harlequin as they picked among the weeds for bugs. Harlequin was at a loss for words; he tried feebly to call them back to attention. Pegasus, who'd taken up roost in the tree with Harlequin as one of his "officers," sprung off her one leg into furious flight, dive-bombing the wayward birds with harsh squawks and blows from her beak and wings.

Angry bird-talk erupted, too fast for Harlequin to understand. After a few more jabs from Pegasus, the birds lined-up with rest heads cocked attentively. Pegasus returned to Harlequin's side.

"Thanks, Peg," he whispered. She preened importantly. Harlequin resumed with renewed confidence.

"It is my understanding that this field has long been under the cruel claw of Attila the Cat." At the mention of the name, the mice squeaked fearfully and looked about. "And this evil creature has been tolerated by the 'Pack' that claims to protect us, simply because he brings them creatures like ourselves for them to eat." Here there were a few exclamations of horror, and some nasty looks were directed Hubert's way.

"Friends, the cat is no more!" Harlequin thrust forth the claw for all of them to see. "We've been rid of his evil. Now, we're free to make this land our own, without the fear of death lurking in the grass!"

"And to celebrate this freedom, we shall have a feast in the alley. The finest Chinese food you've ever tasted! Follow me!"

Hopping down from the tree, Harlequin marched towards the alley, not bothering to look behind to see if the crowd followed. The squirrel, a skinny old thing who looked as if he could use the food, was the first to fall in step. The birds were next, under the fiere eye of Pegasus. The mice followed timidly behind, looking about as if they were unconvinced that death no longer lurked in the grass. The yellowjacket, a weak drone who'd exhausted himself on the flight over, rested amidst the furry folds on Hubert's back; Hubert brought up the rear guard.

Jul 27, 2005

HR, 25

Harlequin was not intimidated by Hubert's report; he simply clapped his paws together and exhorted his companions to diligence. After a moment of contemplative silence, he resumed giving orders.

"Hubert, I charge you and Peg with rounding out the locals. Tell them... tell them Attila has been defeated and his conqueror would like to speak to them. No, scratch that. Tell them I've got food for them. That'll do it. In the meantime, I'll be seeing what manner of an arsenal I can round up for this silver cask and this shiny claw."

The trio dispersed across the field to perform their tasks. Harlequin headed straight for the tree, still muttering strategies. Only Mitzi was still at the tree with the babies: Pavel and Sergei had left to update the rookery on all the news.

Mitzi had tendered a cautious affection for Harlequin for his role in ridding the field of Attila and freely let him roam the tree.

As a chipmunk, Harlequin was a natural climber. The feel of his claws clenching into spongy bark was pleasantly nostalgic of the forest. His strong, quick paws carried him gracefully within reach of the many treasures. He was looking for weapons of warfare.

It was a time-consuming process. The crows were very indiscriminate in their findings: if it was shiny, they grabbed it. Glittery paper and aluminum foil did not lend themselves well to combat, but they were all Harlequin could seem to find. He did find a lot of copper wire and some glittery string. What he considered potential useful he place of a bare section of branch.

An hour passed and Harlequin's eyes were a little sore from staring at flashy objects. He'd had enough and so, he made his way down the branches to speak with Mitzi. On his way down he found a little cannister that had been tucked away behind some leaves. It was a small plastic capsule half-filled with liquid. Instead of a lid, there was a metal contraption rigged into the top.

Harlequin had seen humans carrying these around, but he'd never known what they were for. Taking it in one paw, he examined the top. From left to right, there was a small hole, a little metal wheel and a button on the end. He brought up his other paw to test the wheel. He pushed at it and it turned with a scraping noise, flashing a spark that singed his paw.

Harlequin was impressed and set it on his useful pile. He hopped down to Mitzi's branch to try and trade the claw for his finds, but Mitzi would have none of it: Sergei was the officer in charge, and nothing could be traded without him or a superior officer present. She did agree to keep the pile in its present place until Sergei returned.

Scampering out from under the dense boughs of the tree, Harlequin saw Hubert approaching, followed by a dozen hungry looking mice. Peg was behind, hopping stoically on her one leg, with a squirrel, a few pigeons and sparrows and a solitary yellowjacket trailing her.

Jul 26, 2005

HR, 24

"Well, that's actually something of a mystery." Harlequin chuckled. The fierce pigeon was incapable of showing amusement.

"You fight dogs, too?" she asked.

"Hopefully not. I hope that I can sit down and reason with them, talk about civilization and such."

Pegasus tried to spit in disgust. "They are mean dogs. Fighting is their only way of talking."

"I'm afraid she's right," Hubert chimed in. "The General doesn't like to talk. He'd rather eat you than listen to you."

"Well, I'm still hopeful," said Harlequin with stubborn optimism in his tone. "Nevertheless, I'm capable of humane and civilized warfare, if that's what is required."

Pegasus cooed affirmatively, but Hubert rolled his eyes. Harlequin began a contemplative.

"The first key to warfare is strong leadership," Harlequin reasoned with a steady voice, gesturing authoritatively with his tail. "As it is my strange fortune to have defeated Attila and caused this disorder, I offer to take the honor and terrible responsibility of Commander of the Allied Defense. Any objections?"

Hubert and Pegasus were silent, entranced by the stern determination in Harlequin's face.

"So be it. As Commander, I appoint you, Pegasus, to be my Chief Warrior. You've got the courage and spirit to slay a dragon."

Pegasus didn't know what a dragon was, but fluffed her feathers proudly.

"Hubert: you know a great deal," continued Harlequin. "You will be my Senior Advisor in Combat Affairs. As your first official duty, I'd like you to give us a rundown on the opponent."

Hubert coughed self-consciously.

"Like I said, there's seven of them, but without me, I guess they're only six. You've seen Dorian, already. Little, but mean. Hmmmm... There's Jasper, old Toothless... hmmm... yes, Scout. They're all tough old dogs: wouldn't like tangling with any of them. I haven't seen the new recruit, yet. Word is he's big and mean. Ahh, yes, the General. As tough as they come. Sharpest teeth I ever saw, real strong, fiercer than any dog. Hmmm..." Hubert trailed off, and seemed to be reconsidering the wisdom of his decision.

Jul 25, 2005

HR, 23

"What's going on here?" Harlequin shouted over the din of squawks and curses.

Pegasus stopped her wild flapping and came down to rest on her one leg.

"Homeless Tony!" Harlequin shouted again, this time in English. "What are you doing attacking a defenseless bird?"

Homeless Tony stopped his rolling and swearing to ogle at Harlequin, wild-eyed.

"Still there!" he gasped to himself and then gestured frantically. "Go away you demon, I'll have none of you. Send away your demon bird!"

"I'm no demon," Harlequin said matter-of-factly. "Come on, feel my fur, I'm flesh and blood."

Homeless Tony shook his head, closed his eyes, plugged his ears with his fingers and plunged his face into the grass.

"Not much of a communicator, is he?" Hubert remarked.

"Somehow I'll get through to him," muttered Harlequin. "In the meantime, how about you introduce me to Peg?"

Peg stood on her sole leg, eyeing them both suspiciously. It was not in the typical wide-eyed stare that Harlequin had become accustomed to in his dealings with birds. This bird was intense and fierce in her gaze, despite her fluffy appearance and obvious handicap.

Harlequin approached her gingerly, with Hubert following lazily behind.

"Are you alright?" he asked gently.

"Keep your distance, ground-thing. I've defeated the man-thing. I will crush you if you wish to fight."

Harlequin was a little disturbed by the threat, especially as it came from such a helpless looking bird. He stammered a bit, thinking of the most diplomatic way to talk to her.

"I don't wish to fight, Miss Pegasus. My name is Harlequin. I'm new to this field."

The pigeon looked at him with what she intended to be scorn, but her facial expressions were limited to two general emotions: interest and surprise. This one looked like interest.

"I see you are with the dogs. I spit on them." She tried to spit. "I am free and fierce. I fear nothing." Hubert growled disapprovingly and added a few more furrows to his brow.

"No, Hubert is just a friend. You see, I'm not with anybody in particular. I just want to live free of the Pack." Harlequin arched an eyebrow invitingly.

The pigeon saw the claw in his hand and changed her countenance to one of guarded surprise.

"You fight evil cat?"

Jul 24, 2005

HR, 22

As his mouth searched for words, Hubert's hindpaws scooted back as if to leave, but his forepaws remained fixed on the ground. He swiveled his head to look towards the street and then quickly back to Harlequin, causing his ears to flap about dramatically.

"I do believe you intend to stay here," he said, at last. "Strangest little creature I ever met. You do understand what staying means?" He continued on before Harlequin could respond. "It means dealing with a large pack of dogs at least 10 times your size, with sharp teeth, and hungry bellies."

Harlequin grunted. "I like this field. Beautiful grass, a human, blackberry bushes, an incredible tree loaded with treasure and a nice home already dug at its base. Not to mention it's right next to a Chinese food place. Now why should I let a dog pack ruin that. I have big dreams for this place. Give me a chance, Hubert and help me out. If I fail, I get eaten and you don't have to worry about me anymore. If I succeed, you and me can turn this into a nice home in the city, and not a playground for a few dogs."

Hubert sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "Your funeral, little one. But I'll do what I can."

Harlequin laughed happily and rubbed his paws together merrily. "C'mon, Hubert! It won't be so bad. How much time, before the General arrives?"

"He might be here within the hour, but more likely he's running our new recruit through the trials at the freeway." Hubert replied.

"Well, let's hope it takes him a long time. Let's meet the natives, shall we?"

The sound of a startled squawk and blood-curdling yell behind them caught their startled attention. Homeless Tony and a pigeon were all tangled up. Homeless Tony was shouting angrily and swiping at the bird. The bird was so flustered she couldn't seem to fly straight and repeatedly collided with Homeless Tony with little explosions of feathers. Compounding the problem, she had only one leg and fell over awkwardly whenever she found a perch steady enough to launch from.

Harlequin watched the spectacle with an open mouth. Hubert leaned over and whispered in his ear:

"Here's the first of the natives. Pegasus the Pigeon. We call her Peg."

Jul 23, 2005

HR, 21

"Wait a minute!" Harlequin shouted after Hubert, who'd begun to slink off towards the street. "You can't just leave like that, in the middle of a story. Not when I have so many questions. Not when I may need your help."

Hubert stopped at that last word. He turned about and faced Harlequin again.

"Help with what? The General's a mean dog, and he won't take kindly to anyone he sees as a threat to his authority. He's certainly not going to be happy with a man sleeping on his property. And chances are, if Attila's not dead, he'll be coming back ready to eat you. I think the best way I can help you is by getting you away from this field."

Harlequin stomped his hindpaw stubbornly.

"But this is such a nice place. There's food in abundance, a nice hole to live in that beautiful treasure trove in the tree. There's even a man here, and he talks to me. I don't want to leave, just because of a few bullies. If we stick together, there's no reason we can't work something out with Attila and the General."

Hubert looked at him seriously and wagged a paw at him.

"Easy to say. Things don't work that way, though, little chipmunk. When an animal is bigger and meaner than anyone else, he gets his way. If you stand in one's way, he'll eat you before he even looks at you. And what's to make you think you can get help from other creatures. The crows would hunt you if you were a little smaller. That homeless man will run away at the first sign of danger."

"Aren't there any others?"

"Yes, lots, but none that would be able to resist the force of the General. Fieldmice, a little squirrel family on the far side by the bee's nest, an opposum and that one-legged pigeon. Not the kind of army to phase the General."

Harlequin took on a pensive look, stroking his whiskers and nibbling on some of the noodles he'd stored in his cheek pouch.

"Do you think you could take me to meet them?"

Hubert was surprised. He fumbled for an answer.

Jul 22, 2005

HR, 20

"The Pack's grown now. We've got seven of us. The General's established residence at Packard Park up to the north a few blocks. The Pack marks up the whole neighborhood: the General says its his territory. He offered protection to the native animals, in return for obedience to the Pack."

"The general doesn't eat human-made food. He just eats what he can hunt. The rest of the Pack aren't especially good hunters. Scavenging got real hard, though. So the Pack put the squeeze on the crows to bring us the best they could find. Even then, no one was happy with just what the crows brought. Then the General met Attila. Hunts for the thrill, that cat. Skilled, too. Killed enough to feed the whole Pack. As long as he gave them a few treats from time to time, the General let him roam this field as he pleased."

Harlequin recoiled in horror. Hubert offered up a conciliatory paw and explained himself.

"Mind you, I'm strictly a dog food and pre-cooked meat dog myself. Never harm an innocent creature, such as yourself. Sickens me what the Pack does."

"But aren't you a member of the Pack?" Harlequin asked.

"In name only, little chipmunk. The General mostly leaves me be, and I stay clear of him. Never like to get involved in his business. Usually means trouble."

Harlequin was confused. "Then why did you take such an interest in me, and why are you telling me all this?"

Hubert was a little slow in responding. He scratched behind his drape-like ears, apparently mulling the question.

"I don't know exactly," he said, finally. "Does go against my philosophy a bit. I suppose it was seeing that claw in your hand. Certainly, a strange sight. No beast I'd ever known had gotten the best of Atilla. Once I got to talking to you, I found you a good and trustworthy sort, and I just got to talking and the whole story came out. Now that I think about it, I should probably stop talking and get going. It's going to get bad here, once the General comes, or if Attila shows up again."

"Why? What's going to happen?" Harlequin spluttered.

"Why don't you know?" said Hubert a little dumbfoundedly. "Why don't you come with me, little buddy? Leave that claw with the crows and lay low for awhile. I know a good spot."

Hubert bobbed his head in a northern direction, away from the field and towards a busy street.

Harlequin was so mixed up trying to digest the story, and trying to figure out what had happened to Attila that he didn't know what to say for a moment.

Jul 21, 2005

HR, 19

"I was not always a stray. I come from a long line of beloved pets, always serving the Maslow family. My mother, bless her departed soul, gave birth to me as the last of seven. As seven was too much for one household, I was given to a relative, my mistress' father, Old Man Maslow. He was a good master, but for the times he'd been at the bottle. It was a lonely life: he fed me and took me for walks and I brought him his newspapers and stayed away when he drank."

"I was still a pup at the time and not very intimidating. My master wanted a dog who could keep prowlers out of the yard. He owned a vacant lot a few miles away. When the dog-catchers caught the General on that property, they questioned my master first. When my master saw the General, he adopted him on the spot. You see, the General's a very intimidating looking dog."

"As a young pup, I was overjoyed to have a friend, but the General would have none of it. He thrashed me once just to show his strength and then he ignored me. He did relish the task of guarding the house from intruders and gave chase as long as the chain my master kept him on would allow."

"It was shortly after the General arrived that my master began to change. One night he threw out all of his whiskey bottles. He softened a lot towards me; he petted me a lot. He tried to pet the General, too, but he'd have none of that.

"For the first time since I'd been there, the master's daughter came to visit, bringing her own baby daughter with her. The master was so happy that night that he gave both me and the general steaks to eat."

"His daughter came over more and more frequently and took to leaving her baby with my master for an hour or two at a time. She was a beautiful little child, around two years of old in human years. Her name was Macy. She had the prettiest blonde hair you ever saw, and soft, chubby hands she used to pat me with. She charmed all of us: my master, me and, especially, the General."

"The General wouldn't allow anyone to get near him, but Macy; she could do whatever she liked with him. They were a fine pair. And I loved her, too. Having her around made me as protective of that house as the General. Between the two of us, no one was going to harm her."

Hubert stopped and kept silent for a moment. Harlequin would have thought he looked sad, but he always did. He continued:

"There's something I should explain about the General. He'd had a rough past. Never told me everything, but I saw it clear enough. Wicked masters, the hard life as a stray, fights all the time. He was always on the edge."

"One day, my master had run up the stairs to grab a wooden toy he'd carved for Macy (awful fond of woodwork, my master was); he'd set her down on the floor between me and the General. The mailman had just come and the General hated that. He was growling at the window and barking to scare him away. Then the mailman disappeared behind the door. Smelled him strong as paint, though. The General was scratching at the door and whining angrily. I was a little worried, too; I barked at the door a few times."

"Macy, poor little child. Got so excited that she jumped on the General's back. The General was so mad with hate for the mailman that he snarled and turned on her without thinking. Such a terrible shriek. She was bit real bad on the face. The General was horrified and he started to lick at her cuts anxiously to stop the bleeding. My master had come running when he heard Macy and he charged down the stairs and kicked us away from her. He snatched up Macy, all red in the face and swearing and crying.

A few minutes later Macy's mother rushed in and snatched her away from my master. They had a terrible fight and she ran off with Macy in her arms. I never saw the child again."

"Master found a bottle and got drunk that night. He brought out his shotgun and started coming for us. The General panicked as soon as he saw it and scrambled for the door. He dragged me along with him. We ran like the devil was chasing us. We spent the night in the lot the General first got found in. Never saw my master again after that."

"The General has never been the same. He got this idea that all men were bad and that they'd done the harm to Macy. He got the idea that no dog should obey them, or allow themselves to be tamed. He wanted to return to the the ancient ways of the dog: the Pack. He despised me because I whimpered and wanted to go home, but he made me the first member of his pack.

Jul 20, 2005

HR, 18

Harlequin explained who Homeless Tony was and his quest for more alcohol.

"Ahhhhhh," Hubert boomed; "the drunkard... The Pack's always been worried about him, but he keeps to himself. Mostly. Hmmmmmm."

Harlequin was beginning to like Hubert more and more. Of all the creatures he'd met so far, the sad-looking basset hound was the most thoughtful and the most willing to share information. Yet, he was still a mystery, and Harlequin was not absolutely sure of him, or the "Pack."

They went back into the field and stopped over Homeless Tony's prone figure; his side rose and fell lightly in sleep. A few pokes and shouts from Harlequin did not wake him. Hubert brought up his paw to stay a more forceful blow.

"Best to let him lie, you know..."

"I don't!" Harlequin protested. "Why?"

"He's got to sleep it off. Just like my old master. Wake them up and they can be frightful fierce."

Harlequin was fascinated. He forgot about Homeless Tony for the moment, and unleashed the questions that had been building up in him for some time:

"You had a human master? Tell me: what are they like? And what's this Pack you mention? And why is Attila so important?"

A laugh started somewhere beneath Hubert's great folds of fur and chuckled it's way out. It was a strange sight: his morose demeanor brightened by laughter.

"Indeed, you are a strange creature. Are you sure you're interested? It's a bit of a sad story."

Harlequin nodded vigorously and made himself comfortable in the grass. Hubert cast his giant eyes about, gathering his thoughts. His eyes came to a rest on the oblivious Homeless Tony. His momentary cheer drifted away as he sighed and began.

Jul 19, 2005

HR, 17

"I'd like to hear more of your encounter with Attila," said Hubert ever so slowly.

Though Hubert was a dog and therefore a predator, Harlequin felt safe in his presence. Such was his trust that he freely mentioned food in his presence, normally a mistake when talking to a carnivore.

"Shall we go to the spot where I met him? There's some excellent Chinese food there, if you want to eat and talk." Hubert nodded. The crows declined and flew off, probably to tell the news to their fellows at the rookery. Harlequin trotted southwards towards the alley, with Hubert following lazily. The long grass fell in great clumps under his baggy paws.

"I'm afraid I wasn't perfectly honest with your friend Dorian," Harlequin continued. "You see, I did have something of a scrap with Attila, and this is his claw. But I don't know exactly what became of him, and I know it wasn't my doing."

They arrived at the alley and Harlequin found it just as he'd left it. He acted out his adventure with Attila. He played both parts and did a great deal of roaring and hissing, to go along with chasing and lunging around a bit. He reached the end and stopped suddenly.

"There was a voice I heard, just before the door swung open and brained me. I don't remember exactly what it said."

Hubert sat down heavily and rested his heavy gaze on the door to the restaurant.

"Hmmmmmmm," he rumbled thoughtfully, digesting the information. "A human must have opened the door. It would do us well to get to the bottom of this. Mustn't let a cat like Attila out of sight. Dangerous beast, indeed."

"Do you think we should talk to the humans inside?" asked Harlequin impulsively. "I can speak English."

"Hmmmmmm. No, I don't think that would be... hmmmmm. No, it's best to let humans talk to humans. The natural order of things..."

Harlequin stewed for a bit and than slapped his side suddenly. "I've got it! Homeless Tony! If we can get him his alcohol, maybe he'll help us find out what happened."

Jul 18, 2005

HR, 16

Harlequin was not usually given to lying; it was a vice he despised in others. With the dogs, and the crows, to a lesser extent, looking on in awe, he excused himself to stretch the truth a little.

"Took this off an alley-cat in a fight today. Quite a beast, that one." Harlequin brandished it suddenly and snarled. The little dog yelped and cowered. Harlequin laughed.

The little dog blushed in embarassed anger. The basset hound was not so flustered; he had his huge brown eyes trained hypnotically on Harlequin. He coughed a little and spoke up.

"Pardon us for being so rude, little one," he began; his voice was deep and came out thick and slow, like molasses. "My name's Hubert and my companion is Dorian."

Dorian, recovered from his embarassment, whined in disgust.

"Fool!" he spat scornfully. "Apologizing to a rodent who fancies he's defeated Atilla. I'll bet you just found that claw." Dorian gained more confidence as he spoke. "No stinking mouse runs around lying and threatening dogs. This is Pack domain. It's dogs' law in these parts. Just wait until I bring the General."

Dorian sneered and trotted north. "C'mon, Hubert. Let's report," he shouted over his shoulder.

"I'll be along in a moment," Hubert drawled, keeping his eyes on Harlequin.

Harlequin stood uneasily under his gaze. Basset hounds are usually droopy in appearance, but Hubert outdid them all. His great ears hung all the way to the ground and lay wrinkled on the ground. He had altogether too much skin for his frame: where it wasn't sagging from his cheeks and chin it bunched together in great folds on his forehead, legs and throat. His appearance was naturally mournful and forlorn. His enormous eyes confirmed his depression: they were soft with good inentions, but sad in their tenderness.

Within a few moments of being under Hubert's stare, Harlequin was disarmed and cast away the false front he'd put on for Dorian.

Jul 17, 2005

HR, 15

Harlequin sat still in the burrow for a moment. In the stillness, he could have mistaken this for his old home in the forest. This was no wild forest, however; this was his home in the city. He was a chipmunk among men.

A dirty blind hole would no longer do. He needed some furnishings, some creature comforts, some heating and, certainly, some light. He also wanted to make room for guests. There was little chance of fitting even the smallest human into the hole, but perhaps he could bring in a few fieldmice, or some of the crows to show them the wonders of civilization. He might build something outside when he had a human to host. He would need both the crows' treasures and Homeless Tony's help.

Some commotion outside interrupted his planning session. It sounded as if Sergei was arguing with someone above ground. Stepping out into the light, Harlequin saw two dogs, one a battered looking basset hound and the other a fiesty, pint-sized mutt. The small one yipped unintelligibly at Sergei, while the basset hound looked on with his big, sad eyes.

Sergei spotted Harlequin emerging from the hole and hopped alongside.

"This is one I spoke of," Sergei said pushing Harlequin forward with his wing. The little dog approached growling. He dealt Harlequin's chest a shove and drooled contemptuously.

"Crow here says you know what's happened to Attila. What's a little pipsqueak like you to Attila?" The little dogs voice was high pitched and whiny, with a cruel edge to it. He shoved Harlequin again.

Harlequin didn't take kindly to being pushed, but kept his temper. His rule of thumb was to never pick a fight with sharp teeth. Nevertheless, it was with a little bravado that he produced the claw. Emboldened by the dogs' stunned reactions, he spoke up:

"I took this off him, if that's what you're wondering. Fearsome little weapon, isn't it?" He held it up with exaggerated thoughtfullness. "I shudder to think what it could do to a tiny, gentle thing such as yourself."

Jul 16, 2005

HR, 14

Nestled under Sergei's wing, Harlequin looked up in wonder as they came under the tree's dense cover. The sights within took his breath from him in a gasp.

"What in the world..." he mumbled, his mouth falling ajar. Every branch on the interior was extravagantly adorned in shiny brick-a-brack. The branches extended like long arms covered in gaudy jewelry: all manner of gold and silver ear-rings, an abundance of sliver gum wrappers, bits of copper wire, marbles, beads and bracelets.

Sergei beamed proudly as Harlequin pointed in awe at a single twig supporting at a polished gold pocket-watch dangling from a slender golden chain. Sergei clucked approvingly. With his other wing he gestured broadly across the sea of glittering treasures.

"These are treasures of many generation of Great North Rookery. Every crow bring his finds to our secret place. I, Sergei, and my family, have been given honorable duty of protecting secret tree. When I, and my brother Pavel, the Shark, have died, my son will carry on noble duty." Sergei pointed the tip of his wing to a brown nest, separate from the treasures, which Mitzi now sat beside. On cue, a baby crow peeked its fuzzy grey head over the nest and looked about curiously.

"For the claw of great cat," Sergei continued, "you may have whatever you choose."

Harlequin was, for once, speechless. Thoughts skipped about giddily in his brain. The treasure trove was not just full of shiny things, but all sorts of useful things. To take apart the watch and see its working would be fascinating; a pearl-handled pen-knife would have countless uses. He calmed himself down a bit and tried to think rationally; he couldn't make a choice at the moment.

"Is it possible that we could make a trade later?" he asked. Sergei nodded.

"I'm looking for some alcohol. But first, I want to find a place to stay for the night. I was wondering if I could dig a home at the base of this tree, if you and your family wouldn't mind?"

Sergei nodded again and even bowed. He seemed in awe of Harlequin. Harlequin saw that there was already a little burrow. It was very dusty and looked as if it hadn't been used in many months. He pushed his way through a pile of dirt and scramble around in the dark.

Jul 15, 2005

HR, 13

"Who are you, stranger?" asked the dignified crow in accented common tongue.

Harlequin introduced himself.

"I am Sergei, former Lieutentant Scavenger of Great North Rookery," the dignified one said. "This is my wife, Mitzi, and this -" he extended his wing towards the fierce crow, "is my brother, Pavel, the 'Shark.' If you please, why are you here, when cat roam fields?"

"I'm interested to know what happened to the cat, actually. You see-" Harlequin began, before Sergei interrupted him.

"Cat very bad, eat small creature like you. We have to protect babies, tree; no help for you. Please, leave." He eyed the cask with ill-concealed greed. "Also, leave shiny object."

"But it's not mine! It belongs to Homeless Tony and I'm to find alcohol for him."

Sergei turned impatiently and cawed something in Pavel's ear. Pavel's eyes, dark lifeless globes, honed in on the cask and he hopped threateningly to the ground and approached Harlequin.

Harlequin moved back cautiously, but continued to talk. "You don't understand: I don't think he's around any longer." Harlequin remembered the cat's claw he held in his paw. "Look!" he said, bringing the claw, where its shiny black sheen flashed for the crows to see.

Mitzi shrieked, Sergei momentarily lost his perch and even Pavel the Shark jumped back at the sight.

"Attila's claw!" Sergei whispered in hushed excitement. "The beast is slain!"

"He's dead?" Harlequin asked. "I guess the door could have killed him. It sure knocked me cold!"

Sergei could not remove his gaze from the claw. Harlequin saw that it was pretty impressive, in the sunlight. If he had a bit of string, he thought, it might look dashing hanging from his neck.

Sergei hopped to the ground beside a wide-eyed and much less dangerous looking Pavel. He approached with much more caution and even a little fear.

"If I may be bold," he said dramatically, bowing his black tufted head a little. "I would offer you the choice of my rookery's treasure, in trade for this, this..." He trailed off, hypnotized by the claw.

"Treasure?" Harlequin asked, wide-eyed himself.

"Yes," Sergei said, not moving his eyes. He wrapped a great wing around Harlequin's shoulder's - he felt warm and soft in his feathers- and led him under the tree.

Jul 14, 2005

HR, 12

Harlequin had met a few crows in his day. They were very aggressive, unfriendly birds that he preferred to avoid but they didn't strike the fear of death into him. Thus, it was with his furry eyebrows skeptically raised that he considered the bird's warning.

In prior journeys he 'd gotten quite proficient in bird talk, and squawked out a few syllables:

"I'm just a four-leg nut-eater!" he shouted at the branches in the tree (bird's had names only for each other and referred to all other creatures by features and function).

A patch of dense brown leaves shook, some breaking of fall stems and gliding to the ground. A lady black crow's head took up the hole they left.

"Where did you learn bird talk, four-leg?" she cawed with a mixture of distrust and curiosity.

"Oh, around," replied Harlequin. "I used to share a tree with a family of sparrows. My name's Harlequin, what's yours?"

"I'm Mitzi, from the southside rookery. What's a four-leg like you doing out? Attila is back!"

"Attila? Is that the cat?" Harlequin asked. Mitzi had disappeared behind the foliage.

"Run while you still can," her voice came from inside the tree.

"Do you know where I can get alcohol?"

Before she could reply, he heard the the beating of wings and two more crows
appeared from the north watching him sternly from the air. They both landed on the wall that stretched around the field. One was especially large and flew like a hawk, the other was more crow-like, but carried himself with an un-crow like dignity. The dignified one eyed him suspiciously.

"Watch him," he chirped to his companion, and flew out of sight into the tree. The hawkish one fixed a feral gaze on Harlequin and did his best to shape his rigid beak into a snarl. It was fascinated by the cask at his side. Harlequin had never seen such a strange looking crow and didn't want to risk provoking it by talking. He heard Mitzi and the other one conferring.

"How are the babies?" came the voice of the male.

"Attila came by and was sniffing around the base of the tree this morning! Where were you?"

"That wretched beast! I should have moved us when we had the chance. I'll ask the rook tomorrow. They have to help us." There was a silence before he continued. "What is that four-leg with the shiny thing doing?"

"He speaks bird-talk!"

"What! Let's have a talk with him then."

The crow couple flew out of the tree and joined their strange friend in looking at Harlequin. All were fascinated by Homeless Tony's cask.

Jul 13, 2005

HR, 11

Harlequin's frustration played made a muddled stew when mixed with his excitement over meeting a real live human being. So much to ask, so much to learn about being human.

He picked up the cask and chose not to let the opportunity for enlightenment pass him by; now, he was faced with the task of filling the cask with alcohol. He'd heard the word before, but he had little idea what it was and no idea how to find it. He did not feel confident heading south, back the the Chinese food place, so he headed west. Over the long grass, he could see only the big tree and a grayish building obscured by its branches.

He noted happily that the field smelt sweetly of rich soil and flowers in bloom, enough to overpower the stench of the city. This, he decided as he strolled through golden grass longer than he, would be the home base from which he made his adventures. Perhaps before he found the alcohol he could find a place suitable for making a temporary home.

Trees were usually abundant sources of such places, if they weren't laid hold of by other animals. The raucous caw that greeted Harlequin's approach indicated that the tree was indeed occupied, from the sound of it, by a crow.

"I mean no harm," called Harlequin (in Common Animal Language) with practiced diplomacy. "I come only to find place in the roots of your tree." He stepped forward a few paces.

The cawing grew in pitch and frequency, interrupted only by a roughly spoken warning:

"Death comes! Stay away!"

Jul 12, 2005

HR, 10

It was Harlequin's turn to poke. He jabbed at the man's shaking side.

"What's wrong with you?" he shouted over the laughter. The man refused to look at him and cackled on.

Frowning, Harlequin went to retrieve the cask the man had lost. It had landed spout first in the dirt, and its rose-colored liquid contents were rapidly turning the area to mud. Harlequin pulled it out with a loud slurp and shook the muck and the last droplets of the liquid from the cask, holding it as a distance as he scampered back to the man.

"I think this is yours," he said, holding it out. The man immediately ceased from his laughter and snatched it jealously from Harlequin's outstretched paws. He shook it violently over his open mouth and swore loudly when nothing came out. The many wrinkles in his face, upturned by his delirious laughter, sagged and his jaw fell open. His twinkling eyes retreated behind drooping lids. He let his arms fall limply to his sides; the cask's empty innards sounded as it hit the ground.

Harlequin was thoroughly puzzled. "What is the matter with you?" he asked.

The man looked at him blankly. He snorted in morose amusement.

"Everything. I'm an ugly, smelly old drunk." He looked at Harlequin despondently: "And I'm talking to a dead squirrel. Aren't hallucinations supposed to disappear? The booze is gone, go away."

"I'm not a squirrel, I'm a chipmunk. And I'm not a hallucination."

The man had moved his gaze to the ground and was playing half-heartedly with the long grass. Harlequin continued:

"What's your name? And why don't you live like other humans?"

The man sat up suddenly and lifted his countenance to the sky, his profile noble and defiant, if a little hairy. His voice got loud again.

"My name is Tony Clemenza, son of my father, and greatly admired of all men. The world is my adventure." He lost his balance and fell into an akward squat and his bravado evaporated. He shook his head sadly. "Go on, look at me. Homeless Tony Clemenza."

Harlequin tried a few more questions, but Homeless Tony Clemenza would only mumble responses, growing more and more flustered with Harlequin's persistence. Finally, he cut him off in mid-sentence.

"Listen, Hallucination. If you want to talk, fine. It's just I don't think it's healthy to talk to imaginary friends. And if I am going to be unhealthy, I'm going to need some medication. So, if you want to talk, take my bottle and fill it with alcohol. And then you can bring all your talking squirrel friends and we'll have a great old time. Deal?" Homeless Tony dropped the cask into Harlequin's paws and rolled over onto his side.

"Wait-" he began to protest.

"I can't hear you, you're not real," said Homeless Tony, covering his ears. He pretended to snore.

Harlequin stared at the cask, frustrated.

Jul 11, 2005

HR, 9

Harlequin awoke to a new smell and a stubbly human face staring down at him. The man smelled like rotten fruit and bad cologne; Harlequin later learned that this was the smell of cheap wine. The man wore ratty clothes that hung off him loosely; he had long stringy brown hair matted over his squinted face.

The man moved to poke at him but somehow missed and planted his finger in the grass. He tried again, this time getting Harlequin in the stomach and knocking the wind out him. Harlequin kicked his finger away, but sat still too bewildered to make a move.

"Some kind of dead mouse, I wonder," the man blurted. He had a uneven voice that wavered in and out of sentences. "Squirrel, maybe? Wonder if that Attila got him. Mean old brute killing stupid mouse-things..." His voice trailed off. He took his eyes off Harlequin to take in the sights around. Harlequin looked around, too, and noticed for the first time that his patch of grass extended into a large field, with a big tree on the far side, flowers everywhere and what looked like blackberry bushes all around. What a strange place to find in the middle of the city, he thought.

He found that the man was staring at him again, this time with a look of sad contemplation. The man scratched at his stubble and began again in his wild way:

"Nature's so cruel. Beautiful squirrel, cut down in the best of its life by that evil creature, that horrible, vicious cat. No justice there. It's true! Nothing but misery." The man sniffed and took several gulps from a cask he'd been holding at his side. He continued: "But I'm the good Steward. Yes, sir." He cast a fond look and brought his head close to Harlequin to whisper loudly. "Rest still, my furry child. I'll give you a proper decent Christian burial, like my daddy gave me."

With that he gave a mighty kick to the dusty ground at his feet: a cloud of dirt covered Harlequin and set him gagging and coughing. The man reared his foot back for another kick. Harlequin spluttered, looked straight up at the man and shouted "stop it!" at the top of his lungs.

The man jumped back violently, arms flailing, sending his cask flying, and falling heavily to the ground. After a moment of wide-eyed silence, he began to laugh hysterically.

"Of all the humans to meet, I get to meet you," Harlequin muttered to himself.

Jul 10, 2005

HR, 8

Chapter 2: in which Harlequin finds the Urban Oasis and meets a human

Harlequin awoke in the same spot he was knocked unconscious. His head throbbed a little and his stomach felt queasy. He didn't feel the rest of sleep; rather, he was exhausted and ached all over.

He started suddenly and looked around for the cat. He stepped forward to look around the dumpster: nothing. He stepped back and took a deep breath; perhaps it all had been a dream. A gleam caught his eye and he saw a black claw on the ground; he remembered the snap as the cat's paw hit the door. It was shiny black, the color of the obsidian arrowheads he used to collect in the forest.

He scooped it into his paw and examined it thoughtfully. It seemed the cat had gotten the worse of the door collision. But, Harlequin wondered, why had the door opened in the first place? He stared at the door, now closed, and muttered a bewildered "thank you" in case anyone was listening on the other side.

He noticed a white trash bag that wasn't there in his previous state of consciousness. It smelled of freshly discarded chop sui. He grasped the broken claw and used the sharp end to shred the bag, loosing a styrofoam box; he shuddered at the idea of the claw in contact with his belly.

He punched through the flimsy styrofoam and extracted a still warm pawful of noodles. Without ado, he devoured as much as he could hold in and stuffed the rest in his cheeks for later. Feeling fatter and much happier, he set off down the alley looking for a good place to nap.

The wall opposite the dumpsters opened up into a narrow passageway just ahead of him, and he saw, long grass poking its tips out onto the alley. Harlequin ambled sleepily towards it, eyes drooping, falling asleep on a soft patch without so much as looking around.

Jul 9, 2005

HR, 7

"Bad kitty!" Harlequin repeated in his best human voice.

The cat slumped instinctively, its predatory pose dissolving into a cowering flinch. It looked around fearfully.

Harlequin slowly backed away. The cat, not seeing any humans, scowled at its confusion and eyed him warily. He reached the edge, maintaining his bold stare until he was over the side and the cat was no longer in view. He looked up to see the cat staring down at him with dangerous skepticism. Harlequin thought he saw it tense in preparation for a pounce as he backed away.

It relaxed a little and jumped lazily off the dumpster, looking occasionally around for the source of the voice. Harlequin cleared his throat anew.

"No! Stay, kitty, stay!" Harlequin shouted. The cat whirled around, snarling desperately. Cats do not like to be outsmarted by their pray, and this one was beginning to get that feeling. Harlequin, seized by the power he held, and began to walk towards the cat, hissing "Pssst!" and "Shoo!" in his best imitation of a man.

The cat backed away hissing and clawing; Harlequin went for the knockout and tried a ferocious dog bark. His vocal chords, already strained by his yelling, managed only the growl that comes before the bark. He was very surprised to hear his voice crack and hear his bark sound as a distinctly chipmunk squeal. He covered his mouth and froze in horror.

The cat stopped its mad twirl, and focused it's wide eyes on Harlequin. A smirk of measured hatred overtook its wild countenance and returned it to its fearsome state. Determination and power renewed it's gait; it loped cooly towards him. He scrambled back, paws scraping at the cement. He felt himself collide with the unyielding wall of the Chinese restaurant. He was out of escape plans.

A human voice came from behind him, speaking in heavily accented English. "Who is out there? Anybody?"

The cat purred in cruel laughter, delighted that it had uncovered the impostor; the purr deepened into a sadistic growl. Teeth flashing, the cat covered the distance between them in a single bound and slashed at his belly with unsheathed claws.

In its bloodlust, the cat had not seen the back door of the restaurant opening and swing towards them. The door came directly between Harlequin's belly and the cat's longest claw, breaking it off with a snap. Continuing on its path, the door struck Harlequin's head with enough force to knock him unconconscious.

Jul 8, 2005

HR, 6

Chipmunks are sensitive about their tails. They will only let those they trust most touch them. Harlequin was not in any position to do anything about the animal stroking his. It seemed a gentle enough animal, but the claws felt dangerous.

Harlequin swallowed hard and addressed the creature in the common animal language.

"Hello up there? There's lots of food down here, if you'd like. If you help me through, perhaps I can get you some?"

He heard a soft, rumbling noise that sounded friendly enough, but there was no reply. He tried again, this time louder.

"Hello up-," he was cut off as a strong paw scooped him out of the crack and deposited him back on the dumpster lid. Before he could look up another paw came down over his face and held him gently but firmly; he could only see a leathery sole and the outline of sharp claws. The other paw deftly combed through his fur and up and down his limbs, as if measuring him for a suit. This paw then held him down and the other moved to the side, revealing the creature's face.

He'd never seen one in person before, but he was sure that he was staring at a cat. This was a sinewy beast with smooth gray fur and huge eyes too dark to read. It was a brief view; the cat flipped him over and dabbed at Harlequin's chubby sides. He heard another deep purr, this one sounding approving.

Pinned to the lid, Harlequin sorted through his options. First, he closed his eyes and wished that it was all a bad dream. He took several deep breaths and tried thinking of safe things. He slowly turned his head around and cracked his eyelids open. He saw a great pink expanse leading back to a cavern of some sort. Looking up he saw teeth; down, more teeth. Startled out of his reverie, he leapt back, as the teeth clashed together with a snap.

Harlequin put his legs into motion and bent to spring from the wretched dumpster. He felt something nudge at him and his legs inconceivably kicked at empty air and he fell on his belly, pinned again by the unseen paw.

Suddenly the paw released. Harlequin scrambled onto all fours and again flexed for the jump. Again he fell flat. A mirthful purr sounded behind him. Harlequin groaned: it was one of those kind of cats.

He turned his head towards the cat and shouted at it in the common language. "I'm not a normal chipmunk, you know. I eat cats for breakfast." His voice shook a little bit, but he growled as ferociously as one could expect under the circumstances.

The cat did not seem impressed. It raised its paw from Harlequin's back with another purr.

Harlequin stared at the beast, feverishly working up a plan. The cat looked on with apparent boredom. Harlequin coughed and cleared his throat and then sat up with strange boldness. He pointed one of his dull claws at the cat with an air of stern authority.

A sizable bellow rang from his tiny throat. "Bad, bad kitty!" he said, in English.

Jul 7, 2005

HR, 5

Round the long row of shops was a long, dirty alley, the ill-kept store backs and dumpsters on one side and a high cement wall on the other. The only decorations were faded attempts at graffiti. With the sun set, as it had just done, the alley could be considered scary by some, but not by Harlequin. Humans, good or evil, would have little to do with him, he thought sadly.

With that thought, he raised his nose and ambled forward, searching for the scent of foos amongst the rank smells of the back alley. Before his nose could decipher anything, he saw a black dumpster with a red dragon painted on the sign. Sure enough, it smelled strongly of all varieties of Chinese cuisine when he came within dependable sniffing distance.

Set with food at long last, Harlequin whispered a quick blessing and called upon his waning energy to scramble up the side and onto the closed lid. He saw out of the corner of his eye an opening and a slight hint of movement, but he was not easily distracted. He immediately ran to the gap between the metal side and the plastic paneling of the lid, and dove through the crack. Rather, he tried. His hips caught painfully on the edges of the lid and side and he was suspended over pitch-black expanse smelling of broccoli beef. Grunt and squirm as he might, he remained stuck.

He was not as athletic as most chipmunks. He'd always preferred study and conversation to wild frolicing in the trees. Now that he could not contort his way back out of the dumpster he began to regret that. He thought with horror how terrible it would be to starve to death just inches from his favorite foods. He waved his tail about in panic.

A faint scratching echoed off the unseen walls of the dumpster. Harlequin froze. Something was outside. The scratching again sounded, coming from higher up the side. He heard a light bump above him and felt pressure on the lid squeeze him tighter at the hips. He wondered, could it be human? No, too small. A bird? Perhaps, but why would a bird try to climb up instead of flying? It must, he reasoned be something four-legged, with - he stiffened as a soft touch with small sharp points stroked his tail- claws.

Jul 6, 2005

HR, 4

It was toastily warm at the front of the van. The loud engine rumbled it's heat through the cheap upholstery holding up Harlequin. He closed his eyes and let the bumps of the road rock him to a near sleep.

The van came to an abrupt halt; Harlequin's eyes snapped open as his body lurched forward, back onto the kung-pao man's shoe. The kung-pao man had already begun his exit from the vehicle. When the foot touched ground, Harlequin hopped off and let out a yawn.

He was in a parking lot facing a large black and red building, with a red plastic dragon glowering on top of the roof. It was sandwiched in between other buildings of different colors, stretching as far as he could see in both directions. He turned around, to see a busy street, merging into another, behind which were several giant office buildings. Every way he looked, he saw city; for the first time in his life he couldn't see forest. He couldn't even see a tree.

That last thought made him feel a little lonely and homesick.

"None of that now, Harlequin," he said to himself. "We're here to have adventures and make something of ourselves."

He stood up resolutely and puffed his chest out. He felt better immediately.

"First, though," he replied to himself, " we've got to get something to eat."

He saw the driver and the kung-pao man, still arguing, disappear through the doors of the dragon building. He guessed that they were delivery men and the dragon building was some sort of chinese restaurant. He knew from his days of raid Mushu Wu's that humans didn't take kindly to a chipmunk making his way to the front door. Threats of death often followed such an endeavor. The best way was to find their trash. Humans throw away a great deal of excellent food, and a patient chipmunk like Harlequin could treat himself to a feast from it.

He surmised that the best place to start was the back of the restaurant, and so he set off across the parking lot, looking for a way round.

Jul 5, 2005

HR, 3

With his nose plugged and eyes open, Harlequin realized that he was not alone on the sidewalk. Stomping feet cascaded everywhere around him. He scurried to the nearest wall and flattened himself against it, watching a lady's pointed heel skewer the poor weed an inch in front of him. Breathing a sigh of relief, he looked down and did not see the glass door to his right open and swing towards. He let out an "oof!" as he was squashed further against the wall.

Through the glass he saw a man in black emerge from the building and move to the curb. Pushing the glass from his face, Harlequin peeked his head around the opened door to get a better look. The man wore shiny black pants and a black robe with a red dragon stitched onto the back. He had yellowy-brown skin in between his collar and a head of spiky black hair.

A quick sniff and Harlequin rediscovered the kung-pao: the scent surrounded the man.

A black van with another red dragon on the side, and a similar looking driver screeched to a halt in front of the curb. The van smelt strongly of all sorts of Chinese food. The driver and the man argued in Chinese for a bit (Harlequin did not understand Chinese yet) and Harlequin braved the rain of feet to get closer. He sprung to avoid a fast-diving loafer, landing on the kung-pao man's shoe. The man was stomping his foot in tune with his argument and didn't notice.

Before Harlequin could get off, the foot again went airborne, only this time it came down in the van. He saw the kung-pao man sit down heavily and slam the door closed. Harlequin's fur could have lept out of his skin; within his first five minutes in the city, he was already riding in an automobile like a regular human. And a Chinese food van to boot!

Hopping off the man's foot, he clung to the carpeting on the floor as the van squealed it's way down an unseen road.

Jul 4, 2005

HR, Page 2

Harlequin was not big on eating meat. He'd had a few talks with a wild turkey who'd complained of the human appetite for turkey and this had convicted him a little bit. When he did eat meat, he made a point of apologizing to the pig, chicken, cow or turkey who'd made the meal possible. Hunger, in his condition, spoke a little louder than those conversations, so it was without any thought of remorse for the chicken that he followed the scent of the kung-pao chicken.

Intent in his tracking, he failed to pay enough attention to the sidewalk and the loud, stumbling footsteps shaking it beneath him. Suddenly, a large booted foot overtook him, sweeping him roughly off his paws and into the air. He saw the cement of the sidewalk become the cement of the curb and then felt himself falling towards the slime river flowing through the gutter. He landed with a cold and unpleasant slap; the slime, part mud-water and part garbage, slowly oozed in between the hairs of his fur coat. He shivered and shook himself. He pulled himself over the curb, just in time to see the booted foot disappear around the corner.

He muttered a curse (in Chipmunk) on the owner of the booted foot and lifted his nose in the air in attempt to separate it from the influence of his newly-acquired stench. He smelled many things, but he could not make any sense of them, and worst of all, he could not differentiate the kung-pao chicken from among them.

After his hours on the freeway he'd learned to ignore the smells of engines and tires. There were countless others surrounding him. There was rancid trash from an overturned dumpster behind the liqour store, cleaning fluids dripping around a window-washer, steaming fabrics and detergent of a laundromat and sticky donuts and bitter coffee from a donut shop; all new and some unwlecome experiences for his nose. He brought up his paws to cover his nose and give him time to think.

Jul 3, 2005

The Harlequin Romances, Page 1

Chapter 1: in which our Hero arrives, dumpster dives and barely survives.

Harlequin was not an ordinary chipmunk. He was leaving the lonely forest to seek friends and adventure in the human city. He was determined to live as the humans do. He would wear human clothes, live in human dwellings, talk with human people and eat human food.

His clothes and living place were still up in the air. He was learning English, but the few humans he'd met wouldn't talk to him; most would ignore him, and those that paid him any mind would usually scream and run away. (He did have a gift for languages: he already spoke the common animal tongue, and had a general knowledge of several dialects, including the notoriously difficult Dog Russian).

As for human food, Harlequin loved Chinese cuisine, cultivated during past midnight raids on the trash cans of "Mushu Wu's," a tiny restaurant on the edge of the forest. In fact, it was this passion that brought him into our lives.

The journey from the forest to the city was a long one. Harlequin had stuffed the last six chestnuts from his storehouse into his ample cheeks, but he'd eaten all of them by the time he reached the freeway. It was a cold, frosty day, and scampering on the craggy asphalt of the roadside was harder work than scampering across the soft forest floor. After an hour his fore- and hindpaws were very sore and raw, his nose and ears were stinging and his stomach began to voice it's desire for more food.

When the first buildings of the human city came in view, the wonder and excitement of an adventure begun stood his fur on end, but could not warm his chilled extremities, nor sate his quaking stomach. As he scampered away from the freeway onto the busy city road, his mind was struck by a particular fantasy: he saw himself seated on an enormous bowl of soft, steaming rice biting into juicy stir-fried water chestnuts and rich cashews, all the while smelling kung-pao chicken.

He stumbled over a crumpled soda can and realized he'd closed his eyes. There was no food in sight. There was, however, a strong aroma of kung-pao chicken.