The Sally Squad: Chapter One
“As soon as the python started screaming, I pirouetted down her tongue and out of her mouth,” the grey rat says standing on his tippy toes. He raises his arms above his head and touches his fingertips together. “It was just like my days in the Nutcracker, I mean RatCracker. It was a very famous rodent ballet, except this time my stage was a python’s tongue.”
He drops to his back in the pet carrier, scrunches the newspaper underneath him, and then rubs his belly as the jet engines settle into a steady rumble.
“That can’t be true,” says the cat. “First,” she points to a claw on her right front paw, “I don’t believe there is a rodent ballet. Second,” she points to the next claw, “you can’t pirouette off the tongue of a python; and third,” claw three pops out, “pythons don’t scream.” She crosses her arms as she stares at the rat in the carrier above her.
The airplane cargo area is crowded with stacks of boxes and crates of different sizes. Most of the boxes are cardboard and stacked two or three high. At the other end of the plane is luggage in many shapes, sizes and colors.
“For your information,” the rat says, “I was the star of the RatCracker, and when a python screams it sounds like PPPPSSSHHHAAA!!!”
The cat slaps both paws over her ears. “STOP! That’s a terrible noise, but it isn’t the SSSSSSSSSSSSSSS sound a snake makes,” she says. “And since a python is a snake, albeit a giant snake, I’m sure it doesn’t make that awful sound.”
“Listen,” the rat jumps to its feet, “you weren’t there, and I was! So who should know what a python sounds like?”
“I’m just saying . . .”
“Hello? Um, excuse me?” A polite puppy calls out from a pink dog carrier. She is on her way to meet her new family and was expecting her first airplane ride to be quiet and uneventful. Then the two noisy animals started yakking.
“Sounds like you’re calling me a liar,” the rat says.
“Yoo-hoo,” the voice calls out again.
“Well, whoever heard of a rodent ballet or pirouetting on the tongue of a python?” the cat asks.
“Could you please tone it down a bit?’” the puppy says. “Your screeching is hurting my ears.” She lies down on her pink satin blanket and tucks her long white snout under her paws.
“It’s not screeching,” the grey rat says. He pokes his twitching nose through his door and sniffs the air. “It’s called meowing and squeaking.”
“Everyone knows meowing and squeaking are not screeching,” the black cat says. “Well, maybe everyone but a dog.” She lies on her back licking her white paw.
“Is that a dog?” the rat asks. He wiggles his whiskers. “I thought it was a piglet.”
“I’m not a piglet,” the little white dog says. “I’m a miniature bull terrier.”
“Yeah but you’re pink and you have a long snout,” the cat says. “You kinda look like a pig.” She rolls back and forth on her back, rubbing her head against the cage door. Her white paws stick up in the air.
“Maybe you’ve just never met a bull terrier before.” The puppy tentatively sticks one white, slender paw through the grates. “Even though my skin is pink, my fur is white.”
“Okay, whatever,” the rat says. “back to my great escape from the anaconda using my magnificent ballet moves.” He raises his arms over his head again and stands on his tiptoes.
“I thought it was a python,” Sally says. She looks over at the cat. “My name is Sally,” she says. “I don’t mean to be nosy, but is your name Mittens?”
“Hey Mittey, you know this guy?” the rat asks. He narrows his eyes as he looks from one to the other. “I mean, how come he knows your name?”
“And I would guess your name is Whiskers?” the dog asks the rat.
“What? How does he know that?” Mittens asks, rolling onto her tummy.
“Hey, are you one of them psychic pigs?” Whiskers asks. He tilts his head and squints.
”I told you, I’m a dog, not a pig.”
“I thought you said you were a bull,” Mittens says. “Make up your mind.”
“So how come you know our names?” Whiskers asks. He sits down and scratches his head with a back paw. “Are you one of them pet detectives? Cuz if you are, I didn’t do it.”
“Do what?” Mittens rolls from side-to-side on her tummy, looking from Sally to Whiskers.
“I’m just sayin’ it wasn’t me.”
Sally stares at them, turning her head from left to right and back again as they talk.
“Who said you did something?” Mittens asks.
“Just in case someone does, it wasn’t me that did it,” Whiskers says. He stops scratching, grabs the grates with both paws and glares at Sally. “Who said I did somethin’?”
“No one said you did anything,” Sally says. “And you are both very confusing.”
“Well then, how did you know our names?” Whiskers asks.
“I just guessed,” Sally says. She points at Mittens. “It looks like you’re wearing mittens because you are all black with white paws.”
Mittens holds up a white paw and licks it. “Correctamundo! That is exactly why my owner named me Mittens,” she says.
“It doesn’t explain why the little piggy knew my name,” Whiskers says.
“Well, your super long whiskers are sticking out of the cage,” Sally says. “So it was either Whiskers or Gabby because you’re always talking.” She smiles shyly.
“Ha ha ha,” Mittens says. “The little dog is funny.” She rubs her tummy with her paws.
“Yeah, she’s a laugh a minute,” Whiskers says with a sarcastic tone.
The plane starts bouncing and the stacks of boxes sway from side-to-side. Sally creeps backwards.
“What’s going on?” Mittens asks. Her voice wavers as she huddles into a ball.
“Hey Mittey, be cool,” Whiskers says. “It’s only what they call turbulence. It’ll calm down in a minute or two.” He grabs his door and hangs on as the plane bumps up and down.
After a moment or two, the plane smooths out and stops bouncing.
“Whew, not cool,” Mittens says, wiping a paw across her forehead.
“Happens all the time,” Whiskers says. He sits and scratches his forehead. “I remember this one trip, I was going to Alaska and there was a bear riding with us.”
Sally inches forward and listens.
“There was no bear riding with you,” Mittens says, shaking her head.
“I’m telling you, there was a bear. A big one, too. The plane started shaking and that big old dumb bear was crying like a baby.”
“How sad,” Sally says. “What did you do?”
“I told him to quit his blubbering and be quiet,” Whiskers says with his paws on his hips. “What do you think I did? He was keeping me awake, the big sissy.”
Sally looks at Whiskers’ carrier. “Hey, you’re awful close to the edge of Mittens’ crate,” she says. “You better sit still or it might fall.”
“I laugh in danger’s face,” Whiskers says. “Ha ha ha!” He jumps up and down and runs back and forth and his crate doesn’t move. “See, no problem. You worry too much, little p…” Whiskers’ crate falls with a loud crash to the steel floor of the plane.
“Whiskers, are you okay!” Mittens calls out. She grabs her door with two front paws and presses her face against it. “Buddy, say something.”
Whiskers’ carrier is upside down and behind a box so Mittens and Sally can’t see inside.
“Oh my gosh, oh my gosh,” Mittens says. She paces back and forth, over and over. “What are we going to do? Whiskers is dead!”
She stops and sticks her paws out, reaching as far as she can, turning her face and smooshing it against the door. “If only my arms were a little longer.”
“I told him to be careful,” Sally says, trembling and shaking her head.
Mittens pulls her paws back in and slumps down. She lays her head on her paws. “I can’t believe my best friend in the whole world is dead.”
“Didn’t you guys just meet?” Sally asks, her eyebrows knitted together.
“Yeah, I forge friendships fast.”
“What in the heck does forge mean?” Sally tilts her head.
“I’m not sure. I thought it sounded like a cool word though. Tumultuous. That’s a cool word, too. And kumquat,” she says. “Yeah, I like that word.”
“You must be super smart to know all those words,” Sally says. “I only know easy words.”
“Yeah, I am pretty smart,” Mittens says. She sits upright, touches her paws together in the form of a steeple, and taps her lips with them. “My owner was an English teacher and she read vocabulary quizzes out loud to me. By the way, vocabulary is another favorite word.”
“Were you nervous when you met your new Mom?” Sally asks, biting her lip.
“Definitely, but it was love at first sight,” Mittens says, smiling for a moment. “Then my Mom got sick and died.” She dabs at tears as they slide down her whiskers.
“How awful Mittens,” Sally says. Her eyes fill with tears. “Where are you going to live now?”
“Before my Mom died, her daughter Bernadette promised to take care of me. So now I’m going to live with Bernadette.” Mittens smiles again and smooths out her tail.
“I’m on my way to meet my new family,” Sally says, “and I’m afraid they won’t like me.” She plops back on her butt and hangs her head.
“Aww, don’t be nervous,” Mittens says. “They’ll adore you.”
“Yeah!” Whiskers screams as he leaps from the floor onto the top of a box. “As long as they like pigs, they’ll like you.”
Mittens shrieks and Sally stumbles backward.
“Whiskers, you’re alive!” Mittens says, shaking with excitement. “We thought you were a goner.”
“Naw, I’ve been in worse situations.” Whiskers stalks from one edge of the box to the other. “One time this alligator came creeping up to the house and stood at the window.” He bends at the waist and puts a paw over one eye as if he is peering.
“I’ve never heard of an alligator standing up before,” Sally says, wrinkling her brow.
“Yeah, well I’m telling you this was a standing alligator.” Whiskers places his front paws on his waist. “They’re a special breed.”
“Hey Whiskers, how did you get out of your carrier?” Mittens asks, narrowing her eyes.
“Oh, easy. The door popped open when it fell on the floor.”
“Weren’t you scared when it fell?”
“Naw, remember, I laugh in danger’s face. Ha ha ha! Like the one time…”
“Whiskers, do you think you could let us out?” Mittens peeks over at Sally and winks. Sally wags her tail.
“Sure, sure, these latches are easy to open from the outside.” He hops off the box and swaggers toward Mittens. “I ain’t letting the pig out though. We don’t need a little piggy squealing and running around in here.”
“I already told you, I’m NOT a pig,” Sally says, her body trembling. “And for your information, I don’t want you to let me out.” She sticks her tongue out at Whiskers before turning her back to him. “You know you’re going to be in BIG trouble when the plane lands and you’re not in your cage.”
“Blah, blah, blah,” Whiskers says as he opens and closes his paw like a mouth. Pushing the latch on Mittens’ carrier with his other paw, the door springs open.
Mittens jumps out and runs around the boxes and luggage. “I’m free, I’m free, I’m…oops!” She stumbles on a large yellow cord and falls, sprawling on the floor.
Whiskers leaps on top of her and they roll around, pinning each other. Mittens breaks free and runs toward a stack of boxes, then stops. Whiskers slides into her butt and they topple into another heap.
“Tag, you’re it!” Whiskers says. He jumps up and twirls to run the other way.
“Whoa!” Mittens points a trembling paw at a massive cage in the dark. “What is that?” She eases forward, one carefully placed paw at a time, slinking close to the floor. “It’s awful dark in that cage.”
“Don’t get too close,” Sally says turning around. “There could be something dangerous in there.”
“Yeah, a giant attacking rat!” Whiskers pounces onto Mittens’ back and Mittens leaps straight into the air.
“Don’t do that, ya moron!” she says, taking a swipe at him.
At that moment, two furry black arms shoot out, grab Whiskers and pull him tight against the bars of the cage. Whiskers’ eyes bulge and his four tiny legs thrash as he tries to pull away from the hands, not paws, holding him.
Mittens yowls and runs backwards, her nails scrabbling on the floor. Her fur puffs out and her tail becomes twice its normal size. She looks like a fuzzy porcupine.
Sally scurries to the back of her carrier and tucks her nose under her paws.
“Let me go, you beast!” Whiskers says in a shrill voice.
The hands hold tight as the tiny grey rat flails about. Almost as fast as it happens, it ends.
Whiskers goes limp in the hands of the monster.