Friday, March 23, 2012

Per Your Suggestion #1: "Buddy, The Balloon, & The Birthday Dance"

Today's blog post is the first in what I hope will be a long series of posts entitled "Per Your Suggestion." Last week on my Facebook page, I asked whomever would participate for some writing prompts. They could give me something as simple as an interesting word, a possible title, a fragment of an idea, or a fully fleshed-out story outline. I received several very interesting responses, many of which I hope to use to write a story and/or a blog post in the coming weeks. Some of the prompts may end up being a traditional blog post (Things I Find Fascinating, random thoughts, etc.) while others may end up becoming a story, like this one did.

This short story was suggested by my friend Racheal Rankin Hoaglan, and is based on a childhood experience of hers. She gave me the title "Buddy, The Balloon, & The Birthday Dance," and told me only that it involved a cat with a balloon attached to its collar. That's all I knew before writing this, and that's all I know after writing it. The rest of the story is completely from my imagination. I have no idea how close or how far this story is from the actual experience from Racheal's childhood, but I just went with it. 

Racheal, if you're reading this, I hope you like it. I decided to make you and your sister actual characters in the story, although the characters as written may or may not accurately represent the real you or her. If you want me to change their names now or at any point, just let me know and I'll be happy to do so. Also, since I've never met your parents, it should be noted that my representation of them as characters in this story is entirely fictional.


For no reason in particular, Buddy the Cat was in a festive mood. So he didn't protest at all when little Racheal tied her balloon string to his collar. Buddy didn't really understand what purpose balloons were supposed to serve, but the gesture seemed to make Racheal happy – and anything that made the little girl happy pleased Buddy as well. He looked up at Racheal and purred heartily. The deep, motor-like sound of his purr was simple enough for Buddy to produce, yet was remarkably effective at bringing joy to his favorite person. When little Racheal squeezed him with delight in response, Buddy grunted grumpily – almost a growl, but not quite – hugging wasn't his favorite thing to do. Fortunately, it was a quick hug and seconds later Racheal was headed back toward the patio.

Something interesting was going on today. Racheal's dad was at the grill cooking hamburgers where he'd been for the past hour, while her mom was setting the patio table with brightly colored napkins and plates, and even chasing down Racheal and her sister to place funny pointed hats on their heads. Buddy didn't understand what all the fuss was about; he just hoped that Racheal's dad would give him a bite or two of the delicious-smelling hamburgers. Maybe he'd even "accidentally" drop a whole burger, which Buddy would quickly snap up and carry away to his favorite spot under the holly bush at the side of the house.

As Buddy was daydreaming about how juicy and scrumptious those hamburgers must be, he suddenly felt a strange sensation. He felt lighter somehow, almost as if he was walking on air. Buddy looked down at his forepaws and was shocked to see that the grass beneath his feet had moved. It was farther away than it had been just a second before! Panicked, Buddy swiveled his head left, then right, then back left again. There was no mistaking it now – he had left the ground, and was floating at least three feet above the lawn. Frantically, Buddy propelled all four legs forward as if to run away from his dilemma, but it was to no avail. He was flying!

Just then, he heard a shriek from the patio area. It was Racheal's sister, Rebecca – she looked a lot like her twin sister, but Buddy could always tell the difference between them. Rebecca had seen Buddy lift up off the ground and was shouting, "Mom! Mom! Look at Buddy!" Racheal turned from her spot at the table where she'd been eating potato chips and screamed in horror: "Buddy! Buddy!"

Buddy was continuing to flail about when a sudden breeze lifted the balloon – and Buddy – even higher into the air. By this time, Racheal's mom and dad were sprinting across the lawn to where Buddy was hovering, with a spatula (her dad) and candles (her mom) still clutched tightly in their hands.

Racheal's dad started swatting at the air with the spatula, just below where Buddy was floating. Buddy wasn't sure what exactly this would have accomplished if the spatula actually made contact with his body, other than causing him a bit of pain; but he assumed the kindly man was trying his best to bring Buddy back down to the ground. Meanwhile, Racheal's mom simply looked lost. Gazing at the candles in her hand, the mom realized that they'd be of little help to her or Buddy, so she tossed them away and just started screaming – which was as good a response as any, Buddy supposed.

Racheal and Rebecca had also rushed to the scene of Buddy's ascension and were now standing directly underneath him, squealing loudly but not happily. Slightly nauseated, Buddy hoped he wouldn't throw up on the little girls, especially not Racheal, his favorite person in the world. He tried to steady himself and come up with a plan as to how to get himself back down to earth; but Buddy was a cat, and logical thinking did not come naturally to cats.

Buddy began swishing his tail back and forth rapidly, trying to somehow shift his equilibrium and cause himself to descend gradually, if not fall suddenly, back onto the lawn. The tail swishing seemed to be tipping him slightly backward, so he decided to continue with it and add to that the paw flailing. For some reason, his efforts caused the little girls to laugh – Buddy wondered if he looked as stupid as he felt.

A brief gust of wind flung Buddy forward another yard or so, but when he looked down he was sure the ground was a bit closer now. Racheal's dad rushed forward and once again extended the spatula out toward Buddy. This time the spatula was close enough that Buddy could grab onto it with his front claws. Its slick surfaces didn't give Buddy much purchase, but apparently it was just enough. Racheal's dad brought the spatula down carefully with Buddy clinging onto it for dear life. A second later, Buddy fell into the waiting arms of Racheal's dad.

Racheal and Rebecca clapped excitedly at the sight, and made their way over to them. Their dad gently placed Buddy back down onto the lawn and held him firmly while their mom untied the balloon from around his collar. Racheal reached Buddy first, and greeted him with a full-body hug, squeezing twice as hard as before. Buddy grunted again, thinking he had been through quite enough, thank you very much, without having to deal with another unwanted hug. But he realized the hug made Racheal happy and so he grudgingly purred to let her know he wasn't upset with her.

"Oh, Buddy, I'm so glad you're all right! I thought you were going to fly up to outer space!" Racheal said, laughing nervously. Then she hugged him again. Buddy extended his front claws as a warning, and Racheal got the hint and quickly put him down. Rebecca came over and stroked Buddy's back while Racheal scratched him under his chin. His purr came easily this time.

A minute later, the two little girls walked back to the patio, leaving Buddy behind to recuperate from his harrowing ordeal. They hugged their dad for saving Buddy – the dad didn't seem to mind it as much as Buddy did – and Racheal beckoned the much taller man to bend down so she could whisper something in his ear. Buddy's hearing was excellent, but he didn't understand English (not much at least) so he was unaware of the surprise he was about to receive.

Racheal's dad nodded at her, stood up, and turned back toward the grill. "Buddy!" Racheal called. His ears perked up – this was the tone of voice Racheal used when she was going to give him a treat.  He waited a second longer to make sure he had heard correctly. "Buddy!" she cried again, louder this time. He ran toward her in fewer steps than seemed possible, especially given the stress he'd just endured.

"I have a surprise for you!" Racheal teased, both hands tucked behind her back. Buddy looked up at her expectantly and meowed. She pulled her hands back suddenly, and in one of them she held an entire hamburger patty! Buddy meowed again, more insistent this time.

"But first you have to do the birthday dance again," Racheal said. What is a birthday dance? thought Buddy. For that matter, what is a birthday? "You know, the birthday dance, like you did up in the air?"

Buddy stared at her, uncomprehending, simply wanting that juicy hamburger and nothing more. He meowed again, but Racheal did not lower the hamburger where he could reach it.

"Come on, Buddy, do the birthday dance!" said Racheal, and Rebecca echoed, "Yeah, do the birthday dance!"

Confused, Buddy decided that whatever the girls were talking about didn't matter nearly as much as sinking his teeth into that delectable hamburger. Buddy stood up on his hind legs and batted at the air just below where Racheal was now holding out the hamburger toward him. But the tasty treat was just out of Buddy's reach. An idea suddenly occurring to him, Buddy leaped into the air at least a foot off the ground, legs flailing in all directions like a dog catching a frisbee (although Buddy would probably resent that comparison). At the pinnacle of his jump, Buddy snagged the burger out of Racheal's hand and, of course, landed squarely on his feet.

"He did it! He did it! Buddy did the birthday dance!" the girls giggled as one. Their parents put a hand on each of the girls' shoulders and laughed along with them.

But Buddy saw none of this. He didn't know what a birthday dance was, or how he had apparently performed it as the girls had requested, and frankly he didn't care. All Buddy cared about was the hot, juicy piece of meat dangling from his mouth. He ran quickly to his favorite spot underneath the holly bush, the burger in tow the whole way. 

Buddy chomped down every meaty morsel of the hamburger – purring the whole time – before settling in for a nice afternoon nap. All in all, the day could have gone a lot worse...

If you have any ideas for a story you'd like me to write, comment on this post or get at me on Facebook and I'll do my best to come up with something interesting. Till next time...

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