The Strangest Thing

cheetah  I don’t write a lot of fiction. 

However, once a month, my writers group gives a special assignment to break up the routine of our regular works in progress. For August, we were to write something, in any style, about the prompt, “A baby cheetah knocks on your door and asks for a sandwich.”

Here is mine — a short story about friendly revenge.

NOTE: It shouldn’t need to be said, but in this day and age, everything needs to be said: no animals, cheetah or otherwise, were hurt in the writing of this story!

THE STRANGEST THING 

I slurped another gurgle of beer and tipped the frosted mug toward my friend, Chuck, perched on the next stool.

“Yea, so the strangest thing happened to me the other day.”

“Do tell.”

“I was watching the Sox game – they were losing again, what a shitty season they’re having this year!”

“Ok, nothing too strange about that.”

“Hold on, I’m not finished. I was watching the game when I heard someone knocking on the door.”

I raised the glass to my lips once again. It was a hot day. I was parched and couldn’t get the cold, amber relief to the back of my throat fast enough.

“Anyway Mr. Impatient, I got up and answered the door, and what do you think I saw there?”

“Jeezus, man, I don’t know! Please just tell me. I have to get home some time tonight or my wife is going to kick my ass. I’ve been out every night this week.” Chuck sipped his Crown Royal neat, his drink of choice ever since we met in college thirty years ago. He tossed a handful of corn nuts into his mouth just as I started to answer. Bad timing on my part.

“It was a baby cheetah – Hey! Don’t choke!” I firmly smacked Chuck on the back to help him find his breath.

“What the hell? Did you say a baby cheetah?”

“Yep.”

“A baby cheetah? As in, a jungle cat?”

“Technically they live more on the plains of Africa, but yes.”

“Ah, yes…I should have known that factoid,” he said, a little too dry and snarky for my taste. Still, he is my best friend, so I let it go. He took another drink to try to wash down the rogue corn nut remnants. “Ok wise guy, what gives? And get to getting to the point already…”

“So, like I said…”

“Hold on one doggone minute!” Chuck pushed his left palm nearly into my face. “Just stop right there. Is this another one of your stupid long-winded jokes?”

“Sir, I do not know to what jokes you refer.” I elevated my nose slightly, feigning indignation at his disdain and doubt-ridden suggestion.

“You know what the hell I mean. I mean like the one about a moth flying into a podiatrist’s office that goes on and on and on forever before you finally get to the stupid punchline and laugh yourself silly.”

“Tsk-tsk…” I clicked my tongue loudly and rolled my eyes. “Don’t take it out on me just because you have no taste or sense of humor.”

“I have no sense of humor? Mr. Kettle, may I introduce you to Mr. Pot?”

“Whatever. You mock, but I swear, this is absolutely true. So, there I was, staring down at a baby cheetah. And guess what happened next?”

“Here we go again…” Chuck turned away and grabbed another handful of nuts.

“The cheetah asked for a sandwich.”

A storm of half-chewed, spit-cemented nuts spewed from Chuck’s mouth. I kind of felt bad for the guy. He is my best friend, after all. Well, maybe not all that bad, but a little sympathetic, at least.

“Hardy-har-har,” Chuck said, slamming into each syllable. “He talked? A baby cheetah talked to you? He used actual words?”

“Naturally. How else do you think he asked for a sandwich? Sign language?”

“Fine, Mr. Smarty Pants. I’ll bite. So what kind of a sandwich did he request? Antelope? Gazelle? Hippo?”

“Of course not! That’s just stupid. First, why would I have any of that? And second, it’s a baby cheetah. Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said? It wanted peanut butter and jelly, like all kids.”

“Ok, if you say so.”

“I know so.”

“Fine. So, when this cheetah…”

“Baby cheetah.”

“Right. Baby cheetah. When this baby cheetah magically shows up on your porch…”

“Uh-huh.”

“…and speaks to you…”

“Now you’ve got it.”

“In English, no less…”

“Why wouldn’t it speak English? This is America, after all.”

“…and asks you for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich…”

“Uh-huh.”

“…what did you do?”

“What anyone would do. I went back in the house and made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

“And you served it to him – I’m sorry, I’m assuming it was a male?”

“Good question. Truthfully, it was hard to tell. I was so amazed that words were coming from his mouth that I didn’t really look at its hind quarters, if you know what I mean. Plus, you know, at that age, the male voice sounds just like a girl’s so I can’t say for sure.”

“Ah, of course,” Chuck said, letting this tidbit of clean, clear, pure logic roll over his brain. “Silly me! What am I thinking? So, you served the sandwich to it?”

“Certainly! Why wouldn’t I? Poor, little thing looked hungry, and it’d come all that way from…wherever it came from. But first I invited it in. I didn’t want to be rude.”

“Heaven forbid! So, what did you do then?”

“What any reasonable person would do. I offered him a side to go with his sandwich.”

“Let me guess – Cheetos?”

I waved my index finger at Chuck in agreement. “Aha! You would think so, right? But no, he said he doesn’t like the orange dust rubbing off onto his fur. So, I gave him goldfish crackers to go along with the sandwich…”

“Goldfish crackers?”

“Again, kids love the goldfish. Don’t you know anything about anything? Plus, you know, a cheetah? Cat? Fish?”

“Ah! Of course! Shame on me for not connecting such obvious dots and appreciating your magnificent thoughtfulness. Then what?”

“I gave him a glass of milk.”

“I get it now – cats like milk,” Chuck said, triumphantly.

I looked at Chuck like he had two heads on his shoulders. “How the hell should I know what cats like? You know perfectly well that I have two dogs and a parakeet. I am allergic to cats. How long have you known me? And you call yourself my best friend?” I rose from the barstool as if to leave.

Chuck grabbed my shoulder and shoved me back onto the stool. “Sit back down you idiot, and finish telling your incredible story.”

I smiled, happy with my small victory. I didn’t win many such battles with Chuck. Taller, more attractive, quick witted, a naturally gifted musician, he’d also always been wiser and cleverer than me. I love him like a brother – maybe even more than my own brothers, truth be told – but I admit, envy sometimes rears its ugly green head when it comes to my best buddy. So, every win, no matter how miniscule, was to be celebrated.

“Well, Ok. That is, only if you really want to hear it.”

“Yes. Pretty please, Freddie. Please honor me with the rest of your story,” Chuck said, stretching and dragging each word for melodramatic emphasis.

“Ok, so, where was I?”

“You’d given the mysterious talking baby cheetah a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and goldfish crackers because that’s what children like, and a glass of milk because…You didn’t say why you gave it a glass of milk.”

“Because milk goes perfectly with peanut butter, of course!”

“Of course. Why didn’t I think of that? So, then what did you do?”

“Well, we talked for a while.”

“About?”

“You know, the usual. The weather, politics, sports. He’s a big football fan. Likes the Bears, but his favorite teams are the Detroit Lions and the Carolina Panthers.”

“Go figure!” Heavy laughter finally rolled through the new smile on Chuck’s face. “So, then what?”

“Then I politely excused myself, went back to the kitchen and out to the garage.”

“Why did you go to the garage, pray tell?”

“Because I keep my guns in a locked cabinet in the garage, so our kids can’t get at them.”

“Wha…?” I had Chuck right where I wanted him, stuck in a briar patch of befuddlement.

“I took my revolver from the cabinet, marched back into the house and shot the cheetah right where he sat – oops, sorry, I mean, it.”

Chuck’s eyelids and mouth rattled open like broken window shades. “What the hell? You shot and killed a talking baby cheetah that had come to your door and asked for a sandwich? Are you insane? Why would you do such a thing?”

“Well, think about it. I mean, it was still a cheetah, right? A wild animal? We don’t allow wild animals in the suburbs. He could have grown up to kill us all. Or at least eat our pets!” Every muscle in my cheeks, forehead, eyebrows and chin strained under the immense pressure to hold back a guffaw. God, I was enjoying this.

His face now an ice sculpture of confusion, he slowly shook his head. “But…wha…that doesn’t make any…I mean…How…” Words spluttered through his lips like water through a clogged faucet.

Straight-faced, I continued. “Don’t worry about it! Everything is fine! I cleaned the fur real nice. No blood stains at all. Then I skinned it and cooked the meat. You ever had baby cheetah?”

No reply.

“Tastes just like ham. A little less salty, but good.”

Still no response. I could barely contain my glee. I prepared my final salvo. Took a deep breath. Then fired.

“Speaking of ham, did I ever tell you about the time I went to see Bob Franco, who lives on a farm?”

Finally, Chuck looked at me through eyes still glazed with the image of me eating a talking baby cheetah. “What? Who? Bob? The guy we knew from our freshman math class in college?”

“Yep. The very same. He’s a farmer now, and when I pulled up to his house, I noticed this three-legged pig kind of hip-hopping around the side yard. So, I asked Bob, ‘Hey, why does that pig have only three legs’?”

Chuck stared at me for about 15 seconds. I tell you, if his eyes could have shot lasers, I’d have been a pile of ash. Finally, he spun off the bar stool, grabbing a handful of corn nuts and whipping them at my head. He stampeded toward the bar’s front door, nearly toppling a waitress carrying a tray of drinks.

“Chuck! Wait!” I gasped through pounding waves of laughter.

Skating across the floor in five long steps without so much as a “good bye,” he slammed the door just as the words escaped my lips. He didn’t hear them, but I didn’t care. I had finally gotten his goat – or, cheetah, as it were.

I held my sides to keep from keeling over with laughter and yelled into the beer-battered barroom air.

“Chuck! Come back! Don’t you want to know why this pig has only three legs, Chuck? It’s the strangest thing!”

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