Ella Frey had a soft heart – to paraphrase the song from “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown”, she was kind to all the animals and every living thing. So when she saw the children tormenting a small cat on her way home from the market, she stopped to give them a piece of her mind.
“What DO you think you are doing?” Her fierce tone stopped the three boys in their tracks – at least for a second. Then two of them, recognizing that her age meant she wouldn’t catch them if she ran, bolted. The third, Jeremy Ratchett, reacted too slowly to avoid her grasp.
“Hey. We’re just fooling around, y’know? No big deal.”
His nonchalance caused her to see red even more than she was already. She scooped up the huddled youngling cat as carefully as her fury would allow and shoved it in the boy’s face. “Look at him, Jeremy! LOOK at him! He’s terrified! Imagine how you’d feel, if someone or something larger than you hurt you! Wouldn’t you be scared?”
The boy looked away from her. “Maybe I don’t have to imagine,” he muttered so low that she could barely make out the words.
Her anger leaked out suddenly. “I’m sorry, Jeremy. But if you know, why would you do this?”
He shrugged and stared fixedly at his shoes.
“Look.” Ella let his arm go and cuddled the cat to herself. “Jeremy, if you ever need a safe place, you can – can come to me, okay?”
He looked up with something in his eyes that looked like hope. “Yeah?”
Jeremy left, but kept glancing over his shoulder. Ella watched him leave and then scratched the cat’s head. “Oh, dear, kitty. Was that a good idea?”
No good deed goes unpunished. Ella had had her rescued kitty (which she named Jack Sparrow – she loved Johnny Depp) for two weeks when she realized the cat had brought some visitors with him. Ella was reading in her favorite chair when she felt something on her leg. Several somethings, in fact. When she felt one of them bite her, she looked down to see seven or eight fleas. She knew that meant there were probably hundreds in the carpet. Maybe thousands.
“Oh, for —“
The fleas on her leg simultaneously jumped to her outstretched hand. If she could have seen their eyes, she’d swear they were staring at her. Impatient with herself, she shook her hand and dismissed the thought as fanciful, if not outright nuts.
“You’re losing it.” With a brisk nod, she made up her mind to do what she needed to.
The next day, after a visit to a local pet shop and a trip to take Jack Sparrow to the vet (which he protested about vociferously coming and going), Ella was ready to tackle the flea problem in her house. As she moved from room to room, she thought about the life she was taking and her conscience began to whisper to her. Uncertainly, her finger slipped off the spray button on the can she held. “They’re pests, yes, but …”
As if her thought was parent to it, a one foot square area of the wall she was facing was suddenly covered with an untold number of fleas. There was a shift of light, and then a letter appeared on the wall. Y.
The Y disappeared. The fleas reformed. STP. And again, after a moment. NOT. And finally: KIL.
Her arm fell to her side in her confusion and the can was dropped, unnoticed.
Finally, her mind cleared. But, if they’re sentient, is it right to kill them? She retrieved the spray can and looked at it. Did I really see that, or have I finally lost it? Did I inhale some of this and now I’m hallucinating?
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous.” When she raised the can to keep spraying, fleas leaped on her from all directions. She staggered through the living room, the little pests in her eyes, her nose, her mouth, stopping her breathing. The can fell again, but this time she didn’t notice it.
Jeremy pounded on the door, hands shaking, out of breath. Oh, man, I hope she meant what she said. Steps approached the door and it swung slowly open.
Ella stood there, eyes glazed, a rictus smile on her face. “Jeremy, how nice.” A flea hopped from her hair to the hand holding the door. They both stared at it. “Oh, never mind that.” Her hand jerked and the flea ended up on the ground.
Jeremy seemed to reconsider for a moment, but perhaps remembering what awaited him at home, he swallowed hard. “You said – you said. If I needed a place.”
“Of course, dear. Come in.” Ella stepped back to let Jeremy in. “You’re very welcome. We’re glad to have you.” As he passed her, her smile widened. “Very glad indeed.”