When Aggie was tossed over that Reservoir fence, she landed face-up on a bed of twigs and moss. She thought about Poo and the Christmas cookies she’d get to eat soon, as she waited for Rhea to find her. It was cold lying there; the green jacket with kittens embroidered on the pockets clung to only one of her arms. She repeated her whispered prayer, “Please God, help Rhea find me. I want to go home.” She heard the rustle of footsteps on leaves, coming closer. “Rhea!” she called out, as loud as she could but she could barely hear her voice, “I’m over here!”
She tried to get up but she couldn’t move. As the footsteps got closer, she looked up to see Rhea’s face through the trees, hoping she’d have something sweet to eat. Instead she saw the glitter of two sets of grey eyes. And she knew. Coyotes had come to eat her.
The coyotes crept close. Their breath felt nice on Aggie’s bare feet, it felt warm. But she was afraid. She tried to think of other things, like blue birds flying free and the smell of grass in spring but it was hard to concentrate. She could still move her eyes so she decided to look the coyotes in their eyes and ask them to please leave enough of her behind for Rhea to find. And when she looked down, she saw…
Tamarind! Alive again, standing on her knee, waving her broken leg at the coyotes, yelling, “Leave her alone! She’s been a good a friend to me!”
But the coyotes were hungry. With bared teeth and a low growl, they lunged for her. Tam opened her hairy little mouth and bit one of their legs. He howled and fell back, landing on a nearly empty Cheetos bag. The cheesy smell puffed out. They snatched it up and took it behind a creosote bush to lick up the last little crumbs. Tamarind wobbled up to Aggie’s face, walked right through her tears and settled on her cheek just below her eye. “Hello my friend.” she said.
”I thought you were dead.” Aggie whispered, so very happy to see her.
”Not any more.” Tamarind smiled, “Thank you for your prayer.”
Aggie smiled back but it quivered, “I’m cold, Tam.”
”Do you think my sister will find me?” Aggie asked, hoping Tamarind had some inside information.
“Not here she won’t.” Tamarind said then peered into the dark woods. “We need to get to the top of that hill.”
”OK.” Aggie said, feeling hopeful. Then she tried again to move. “I can’t get up.” she cried.
“It’s OK. Don’t cry. I’ll get some help.” Tamarind promised. She wobbled off of Aggie’s face and jumped down into the brush.
A moment later, out of the shadows, came a single whispered word: “Cake!”
All of a sudden the entire floor of the wooded bramble started to ripple and move as thousands and thousands of ants, sal bugs, silverfish, beetles and other spiders too – scurried out from under holly oak leaves, rocks and weeds and gathered around Tamarind, fueled by the promise of cake. Maybe it would be strawberry shortcake (made with biscuits and real whipped cream), or lemon pound cake drizzled in glaze or butterscotch caramel… or blueberry cheesecake with raspberry mousse or French vanilla cake covered in buttercream roses or blue velvet with cream cheese icing or maybe even a Christmas jelly roll or two. The bugs all had only one thought:
“What do we need to do?”
Tamarind pointed at Aggie.” Get underneath this girl; under every single part.”
The bugs crawled beneath Aggie and filled every nook, every cranny, every crevice.
“Are you ready?” Tam asked Aggie.
“Yes.” Aggie nodded,
Tam looked at the bugs, “OK. Carefully, carefully, carefully… Ready, set… Move!”
The bugs lifted Aggie up. It was just a tiny bit, a fraction of a fraction, you had to look really close to see but… as Tamarind started wobbling up an incline, into the moonless, misty woods, the bugs followed her, carrying Aggie on their backs.
The odd little procession marched steadily through a tangle of bushes and leaves. They carried her right past the two coyotes, who were still hungry. They couldn’t believe the feast parading before them. They crept closer and closer, ready to pounce.
Tam could feel them closing in. She turned her head and hissed, her words hitting them like spit:
“God will be mad if you do!”
Undaunted, the coyote named Ralph declared, “I don’t know if we believe in God. We’ve never seen him.”
“Well, then…” Tam argued, as the bugs paused the procession, “There’s karma to consider.”
“Huh?” Ralph pondered so Tam explained,
“If you do good, good comes to you. If you do something bad, bad will happen to you.”
“But we’re hungry!” the coyote named Lacey explained. “How is that bad? And besides, the little girl is nearly dead and it wasn’t us who killed her.”
“Ok ok ok but consider this:” Tam went on, “If you help us get her to the spot where she’ll be found, it will be a really nice thing to do. And nice things always end with…”
“Cake.” Ten thousand bug voices confirmed.
Or…” Tam added, honestly, “…at least they should.”
Ralph and Lacey looked at each other and considered everything. “OK.” they said, in unison, “Sign us up.”
“You, then. Over there.” Tam directed Ralph to take a position at Aggie’s feet. Lacey took her place at Aggie’s head. “You are to guard us.” Tam ordered. They nodded, earnestly then Tam reminded them,
“And don’t eat anyone.”
With a wave of Tam’s arm, they continued their journey.
As the mist settled in, they carried Aggie under a broken part of the fence, across a little road, over a patch of rocks, through a thicket of scrubby brush and into a grove of dark red Manzanita trees. The night was quiet. The only thing heard was the soft rustle and crunch of dirt and leaves and the breathing of ten hundred thousand bugs, carrying a heavy load. Sometimes there was a snippet of conversation as strangers became friends.
“Do you know of any good parties on New Years Eve?” one bug asked another, and “Where did you get that hat?”
A peace settled over them as they soldiered on. When they were about one-third of the way up, coming through a gnarly patch of thistle, the slithery tongue of a lizard lashed out at the seven hundred and ninety three ants carrying Aggie’s hand. They screamed and cowered. With a whack of a paw, Ralph sent the lizard flying. The ants righted themselves, everyone thanked Ralph for his quick response and everyone carried on. When they were almost half-way up, a sal bug spotted an old MacDonald’s bag and hollered,
“Keep walking.” Tam ordered, “I’ll get it.” She looked inside the bag but only the bun was left. She dragged it back to the group and everyone got a crumb. Fourteen ants crawled onto Aggie’s face and offered her their share.
“No thank you.” she said, her voice getting weaker, “You need it more than me.”
They ate their snack high up on Aggie’s nose, cooled by the fog, until two huge clawed feet swooped down, aiming for Aggie’s head. They screamed and Lacey leapt up. She grabbed the owl’s leg in her teeth and flung it back into the sky. They all walked on, a little weary, a little unnerved but still dedicated to their journey. To stave off their fears, some of them started to hum, then sing an old Bob Dylan song:
“You must leave now, take what you need you think will last. But whatever you wish to keep you better grab it fast.” Those who knew the song joined in… “Yonder stands your orphan with his gun; crying like a fire in the sun. Look out, the saints are coming through. And it’s all over now, baby blue…”
They made it through a patch of mud and past two sleeping raccoons. They started to think their troubles were over when they came upon a gigantic boulder that was way too big to go over. To the right of the boulder was the dark, dark forest. To the left it was very dark too. If Tam chose the wrong direction they could get lost and never make it to the top.
“Please God.” everyone prayed, “Show us the way.” Then they waited.
After a little while, a sliver of light fluttered down to the ground and landed on the left side of the boulder. It was a piece of Christmas tinsel. Tamarind took a few steps to the left, looked around that side of the boulder and gasped. Everyone followed, Everyone looked and everyone gasped, too.
“What is it?” Aggie whispered. An extra thousand bugs wriggled under her head and managed to push it up enough that she could see: In the blackness of the night, in the dark of the forest, a silver trail emerged, winding up the hill as a blue parakeet dropped bits of tinsel that lead the way.
”Tyrone!” Aggie cried out with one of the last bits of life she had. Tyrone fluttered his wings at her and flew on, lighting their way.
They followed the silver trail, up and up. In the distance, the faint sound of an old recording of the Temptations singing “Silent Night” started to play. Out of the shadowy mist came the almost melodic “meow” of a familiar cat voice trying to sing along. Suddenly, there was Poo, looking a little tired and a little bit thin but so happy to be with Aggie again. She nodded to Tam in apology and nuzzled Aggie’s hand as she joined the procession.
The forest started to thin. Soon they reached a ridge near the top of the hill, over which the letters of the Hollywood Sign loomed, hazy in the night’s mist. Just below was a line of houses; their back patios were set on the ridge. The patios were decked out in palm trees and yucca plants, hung with Christmas lights and tinsel. And on little tables under almost every tree were plates of cookies and cake left out for Santa Claus: yule log cakes, sprinkle cookies, chocolate chip cookies and frosted scones. There were shortbread and gingerbread cookies and lemon pound cake; red velvet, vanilla, rainbow and devil’s food cupcakes piled high with frosting. And carrot cake for the reindeer, peanut butter cookies which would be nice for Poo and candy canes everywhere.
The ten hundred thousand bugs marched right past, keeping time to the Temptations’ Christmas song, following their leader, Tam, carrying their precious cargo. Tamarind walked ahead to a little, deserted stone and stucco house that kind of crumbled down the side of the hill. At a small level spot she turned and looked at the view. Before her lay the whole little forest. It hugged the Hollywood reservoir. Just beyond that, the lights of LA glittered like diamonds reaching clear to the horizon. Tam waved to the bugs.
“Here.” She said.
The bugs set Aggie down, on that spot. They backed away. Tamarind wobbled up Aggie’s arm, then her shoulder, then onto Aggie’s face. She looked her in the eye.
“How are you doing?”
”I’m tired.” Aggie barely whispered.
“I know.” Tam replied. “It’s almost time for you to decide…” Aggie looked at her and Tam went on, “After you die you can stay here and wait for your sister or you can leave and go to heaven then get reborn whenever you want.” Aggie struggled. It was hard to decide. “Let’s all pray.” Tam told the bugs and coyotes. Everyone bowed their head and thought their very best thoughts.
After a minute, Aggie turned to Tamarind and said, “I want to stay.”
”OK.” Tamarind cuddled up on Aggie’s cheek. The bugs and coyotes surrounded them and softly joined in the last chorus of a Motown “Silent Night”. “Sleep In heavenly peace….”
Just then, the light went out in Aggie’s eyes and she died.
Aggie’s Soul rose up… an ethereal, shimmering slip of light in the shape of a girl. It slowed a little as it rose then stopped in the branches of a tree. After a pause – just three seconds or so – it fluttered back down. The shimmering stopped and it looked and sounded just like Aggie. She sat with Tamarind and watched Ralph and Lacey dig her grave then put her body in it, whole, and bury it.
A group of ants walked towards the houses while the new dead Aggie, Tamarind, Ralph, Lacey and most of the bugs sat out on the ridge by the grave, together. Soon, the ants returned carrying big hunks of cake, seven different kinds, which they shared with everyone. They all looked out over the ridge at the lights of LA and ate. Friends now forever.
“I am a long way from Normal Road.” Aggie said.
“She’ll find you.” Tamarind comforted her.
“I know.” Aggie nodded.
To be continued…