Sunday, January 24, 2016

Short Stories: The Sentinel

The Sentinel

The observer remained motionless in the dark, his black cloak masking every feature except for his own faint silhouette whenever the clouds thinned. He was naturally well-suited to this job as a trusted sentinel, having spent several years training his keen night vision, hearing and sense of smell into a formidable ability to immediately detect the slightest movement or change in his surroundings, whether due to the wind or other causes. He also had the remarkable ability to keep stealthily alert for long periods and still remain poised without discomfort; traits easily noticed and admired by those who knew him. It was a lonely job, but an important one, and this sentinel actually enjoyed the silence, independence and personal satisfaction it provided. But, he also knew -with certainty- that he would be handsomely rewarded after each such successful vigil.
Every night, as his wards slept soundly, the sentinel would leave his post just before dawn and carefully patrol the perimeter until he was satisfied that all was well. Then, he would quietly make his way back to his next assigned position, recalling as he went what he had seen, heard and sensed during this latest watch. He did this instinctively, summoning all his training, innate cunning and the genetically inherited characteristics of his unique breeding.

Off-duty, the sentinel assumed a different personality, enjoying activities with those he liked, regularly visiting favorite haunts, napping often and eating well. Yet, he maintained his fitness and health easily and without much effort at all. A remarkable physical specimen with a pleasing personality, he was widely admired and liked. But, this he seemed to take in stride as simply befitting his nature. He did dislike loud noise, confinement, traveling in vehicles not under his control, and being bothered or threatened by unwelcome visitors. And, occasionally, he liked to chase and kill. Gideon was his given name, although he rarely answered to it. He preferred certain other nicknames instead, but communicated vocally only as it suited him, and in a style all his own. No one took exception to these peculiarities, least of all those who knew him.

This particular name - Gideon - seemed to fit him, since it conveyed the image of an Old Testament Biblical hero who was appointed by God to defeat numerous enemies of Israel, using only 300 men - an ancient equivalent of modern day special forces, or the Spartans defending Thermopylae.
That Gideon had also reconnoitered the enemy camp at night, gathered intelligence, then launched a surprise attack, using bugles and torches to frighten Israel’s greatly larger force of enemies into first attacking themselves, then retreating in a rout. The victorious Gideon then reluctantly served as Israel’s ruler and esteemed judge for 40 years thereafter, dying in old age after siring 70 sons.
Should one deduce that Gideon was not an ordinary human, they are right, although his family of friends considered him capable of human traits, motives and reactions. He inspired such comparisons because he effortlessly endeared himself to - almost - anyone he met.

The sentinel’s actual name, bestowed upon his adoption was Giddy Gato, a quasi-Italian inspired version of ‘Kitty Cat’. It was strange enough to be noticed, yet accepted by most that came to know him. Most came to call him just ‘Giddy’. He was a member of the species ‘Felis Catus', an ancient group of mammals thought to have been domesticated in the Middle East almost 10,000 years ago. He was a Bombay cat, a type of short-haired cat developed by breeding sable Burmese with black American shorthairs, thus producing a hybrid with a sleek, tight, silky, black coat, resembling a mini-panther.

Kitten Gideon first found his wards by silently moving through ferns in a forest area when only 4 months old. Immediately adopted, he lived with them almost 11 years. One day, as his wards returned home from a trip, it was apparent that something was seriously wrong with Giddy, who was normally healthy. Now, he seemed lethargic, had visibly lost weight, and didn't respond to the usual irresistible enticements for food and fun. His wards waited a week, then took him to the vet for examination, definitely not his favorite activity.

The test results weren’t exactly good, so a different diet was prescribed, along with medications. This gave the wards hope; then came results indicating troubling abnormalities. Biopsy tests showed positive, still his wards remained in denial that Giddy had a dire disease from which recovery was doubtful. The wards paid more attention to Giddy than he could fully appreciate. This worked initially, but his downward trend resumed, so after two days of not eating or drinking and barely moving, Giddy was back at the vet again for intravenous re-hydration.

This time, the vet was blunt with the diagnosis, and the wards got the full message; Giddy was dying, and it was only a matter of days or weeks before his demise.
Although the implications had been right there in front all the while, the wards had chosen to hear only those parts they wanted to hear - that Giddy would improve and optimistically, his life might extend up to a year longer - but with suffering.
Yet, again, Giddy responded well to his new regimen, rallied strongly, gained weight and acted closer to normal, although without his old strength and vitality. Then, began his final decline, culminating with a peaceful death. Giddy had sensed that his time was approaching, and like most animals, was better prepared for it than humans.

One thing will always remain; our faithful sentinel - and watchcat -still honors our home, as his ashes reside in a memorial white urn, marked ‘Giddy Gato 08-08-08’. And, of course, our memories of the little creature that had miraculously invited himself into our home; had adopted US, loved us, enriched us, entertained us, and had brought much joy to the entire neighborhood.
Now, our refrigerator door magnet proclaims 'A House Is Not A Home Without A Cat’.

Short Stories: The Nap

Ray had never been an early riser, except for a stint in the Navy and the occasional need to get up early to catch a plane or keep an important engagement.  For those times when his usual sleep was shortened he often caught a nap later to compensate.
This particular morning was different since he could identify no special reason to rise early, just a vague strange feeling of something special about to happen. Even the weather seemed to portend an oddly mysterious day ahead. 

As a child Ray had been well nurtured by his mother who wished her son to be healthy, educated and comfortable.  Indeed, both parents always encouraged him to learn, explore and seek higher goals for his life. In fact, he did succeed in a broad range of endeavors, particularly those that interested him or provided a positive challenge.  Never very ambitious for higher office, status or income, Ray nevertheless sought to achieve excellence in whatever he did or aspired to, whether jobs, education, activities, or personal relationships.

Above all, Ray wanted to better understand and seek the higher meanings of life, adopting those philosophies and practicing those skillful means necessary to attain and live an enlightened life as a human being. Whatever that meant would become not only his goal, but  a constant life-long challenge for him.

As he grew older, Ray married, became a father and by choice held a succession of diverse jobs that often required relocation as well as the usual adjustments that can strain relationships, and in his case did.  His first marriage ended despite best efforts to save it and Ray was thrust into intense strain and despair that forced him to face the unwelcome reality and seek yet another change to both distract him from this failure and provide another job to support his new financial obligations - and himself.

Although Ray had never been afraid of new challenges before, this one was unremittingly tough at a different level and he began to hate just having to deal with it at all. He tried to lessen the pain by drowning it in drink, deaden it with distractions and smother it with more sleep, none of which worked.  For the first time Ray realized that more sleep wasn’t helping because it was restless sleep, often interrupted with unsettling dreams that interfered with his ability to think positively and perform well.

Eventually, Ray was fortunate to find yet another job, that also required a major relocation, which helped break his gloom.  The new venue required an energetic focus, which also began to positively affect Ray’s lifestyle, outlook and relationships.  Ray could see now how he’d gotten stuck in habits, patterns and expectations that were root-bound from his youth and sometimes unrealistically impacted both his goals and achievements, and personal satisfaction. This was a full mid-life crisis which Ray wanted desperately to resolve in a positive way.

Always a goal-oriented ascetic with high ideals, Ray decided he needed to broaden his lifestyle to include more personal enjoyment.  He found he could now adapt his interests outside of work to achieve a better balance and more personal happiness.

With a new focus on life, Ray was open to meet, love and eventually marry a woman with whom he shared many common interests. Immediately, Ray was happier than he had ever been. But, Ray’s new satisfaction with life was now threatened by yet another job crisis; his company went bankrupt forcing him to re-examine his skills, opportunities and goals, this time under duress.  While change had always been a part of Ray’s life, the sudden necessity for wholesale soul-searching, job hunting and possible retraining for lower level jobs thrust him into another very stressful situation.  This time, Ray decided to seek professional counseling, although again, he was tempted to retreat into sleep.

But, this time Ray’s crisis served to wake him up.  He reassessed his qualifications and soon found work in a new field, related to his prior work, that did not require relocation.  This new direction proved useful for several years, until one day Ray received a call from a former colleague who offered a job similar to ones Ray previously had held.  The only catch was, it required another relocation. Fortunately, Ray’s wife agreed to go with him and they began this new adventure together.

The new adventure was a happy one that endured almost 20 years before Ray’s next big crisis, which was health-related and happened shortly after his retirement.  In prime health, Ray became  suddenly aware of a serious illness, requiring major surgery and extended, debilitating treatment against long odds to bring under control.  His recovery required much rest, serving to reintroduce Ray to a former enjoyable habit.  Under these circumstances, Ray had time for personal reflection in the absence of normal physical activity and used that time to determine how he might gracefully meet his fate without trepidation and fear. Once this was done, Ray felt relief along with a clear sense of peace and equanimity, he began to fully enjoy his sleep.  The comfort, and calm Ray felt were almost addictive, allowing the stimulation of creative thought that made his waking hours more satisfying.  He became fascinated with his own family history, and actively pursued it.

As the enhanced connection with history evoked memories that recalled his life events, Ray began to re-live his life with a new perspective and throughout these protracted recollections, he seemed to float above it all, effortlessly and without attachment.  He liked that a lot.

As the distinction between waking and sleeping hours also began to fade, Ray noticed less conflict between the two states and welcomed it.  As he strived for a seamless reality, the very afternoon of the day he had that vague, strange feeling, Ray actually achieved it; when during a nap he first visualized, then spoke to and actually hugged his mother.  

This time Ray did not wake up - or did he?