Chapter 18 - What Kind of Cat is That or The Cowardly ????
If not for William, distracting the brutal beast with an earsplitting bellow, I’d have been cat food.
While I backed up at light speed, my dear and brave Dorothy, fearful of my safety, and heedless of danger, rushed forward.
With a mighty slap at the nose of the beast, Dorothy screamed in its fearsome face, “No one messes with my dog…or shoes! Don't you dare to bite Toto! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, a massive beast like you, harming my friends and going after my poor little dog!"
William snorted. With a nudge of her head, she shoved Dorothy from danger and faced this magnificent cat-like creature. With a lowered head, the threat of William’s horns was great.
"I didn't bite him," it replied with wide wild eyes as it licked and pawed gingerly at its nose. “My, impressive horns you have there.” After a brief hesitation and a curious cock of its head at William, it continued. “I should like to know the difference between my teeth and your horns.”
“I can assure you that the difference is subtle. Pounce, if your curiosity outweighs your common sense,” William replied.
The creature dropped its gaze, looked up slightly with hangdog eyes, a downturned mouth whined as it spoke. “I have no desire to fight; I make terrible and frightening noises, but my heart is cowardly.”
Dorothy stepped in front of William and thumped the great creature on the nose again. “You are a coward at that,” she said…, “striking a stuffed man too, the poor scarecrow!"
With a shake of his great mane, his beautiful amber eyes narrowed as he watched Dorothy set Scrobins upon his feet. With its voice filled with amazement, "He’s stuffed…and, I see that I knocked the stuffing out of him.”
While Dorothy tucked straw, poked, and prodded Scrobins back into shape again, she replied with fiery eyes. "Of course he's stuffed!"
“Well,” said Scrobins, “that was not one of my funnier falls.”
"I’m not sure what I find more amazing, you stuffed with straw or your ability to speak. Is the other one stuffed also?"
"No," said Dorothy, "he's made of metal and is a mighty woodman, but his great weight makes him clumsy. I’m not strong enough to help you up, Woodman."
With a deep bow to the creature, Scrobins introduced himself and asked, “You appear to be of feline origin - you are a cat of some sort…aren’t you?"
“I am a male Manticore…and…in my prime.” The creature rippled his coat and fluffed his mane as if to prove the point.
William ambled to the downed Woodman, “Take my horn, and not with your snipper, and I’ll pull you upright. Chip released his ax and gripped one of William’s horns. She lifted her head which easily righted the Woodman.
"That's why the woodman nearly blunted my claws," said the beast. "When my nails scratched against the metal, it made a cold shiver run down my back. What’s that little black creature you’re so fond of?"
"He’s my dog, Toto," answered Dorothy.
"Is he made of metal, or stuffed?" asked this strange miscreant.
“What I am made of is none of your business,” I raged ferociously and advanced toward the brute, determined to show my authority. “But if you must know, it’s meanness. Pure meanness is the substance from which I’m made. I’m Mr. Toto, leader of this group, and Mr. Toto is the only name that you may call me.”
Dorothy over talked me. "Neither metal nor straw, Toto is a hothead and unique throughout the great state of Kansas. With those cute little bottom buckteeth, and dirty mop of a hairdo, Uncle Henry says there’s nothing scarier than Toto the terrier!”
Dorothy then shook her head and with a short smile, said, “Toto, what am I to do with you? Sometimes I worry that you have more bark than brains. Perhaps you need more than gizzards when you visit the wizard.”
"Oh! He’s a curious animal and seems remarkably small. His tiny roar brings to mind some words of wisdom that I frequently heard when I lived next door to a family of alligators. They had a saying for their youngsters; ‘don’t let your alligator mouth over load your mockingbird tail’.”
As Dorothy dusted off Chip Chopper, the Manticore continued with his wisdom.
“Gators lay a good deal of eggs, you see,” said the beast as he as he settled onto his haunches, “but few hatchlings live long enough to become adults. The irritating and crusty nature of these tiny youngsters often brings about their demise. The youngsters, many less than ten inches in length, sass, speak to, and treat elders, who often outweigh these nestlings by a hundredfold, as if they, too, are hatchlings. It seems that the elders would rather eat the youngsters than listen to years of sass and disrespect while waiting for them to learn better manners. Daddy Gator’s first and only lesson: If you want to make it in the swamp, don’t let your alligator mouth overload your mockingbird tail.”
“Enough posturing, gentlemen,” Dorothy said, “I do believe that your egos are the mightiest part of each of you.”
“I apologize for rambling…a meat dog, you say?” said the Manticore with a shake of his head. As he sized me up, he made a point to lick his razor sharp canines with his huge pink tongue.
William broke the tension. “Why do you say that you’re a coward?” “You’re a great beast and nearly as large as me?”
"It's a mystery," replied the beast with a sigh. "I suppose I was born that way. All the other animals in the forest bow to me and hail me as the Baddest of Beasts. When my roar rips through the night, every living thing is frightened, and they run from me. However, I’m scared when I meet man; but before I lose my courage, I put my soul into my roar and fortunately, men find it terrifying. Once they run off, I breathe a sigh of relief. No one knows that I am a coward…except for all of you now.”
"But that isn't right. The Baddest of Beasts shouldn't be a coward," said Scrobins with a dramatic fist to his open straw palm.
"I know it," returned the Manticore, wiping a tear from his eye with the tip of his tail. "My cowardice brings me unending sorrow and makes my heart ache."
"Perhaps you have heart disease," said the Metal Woodman. “I have no heart, but would risk heart disease to have one.”
"Have you brains?" asked Scrobins.
"I suppose so. I've never looked to see," replied the Manticore.
"I am going to the Great Oz to ask him to give me some," remarked Scrobins, "for my head is stuffed with straw."
"And I’m going to ask him to give me a heart," said the Woodman.
"And I’m going to ask him to send Toto and me back to Kansas," added Dorothy.
“Thank you everyone, but the Manticore has important business and has no interest in your life’s story. Shall we get back on the road again?” I said.
William continued loudly with a wink and sly smile my way. “I’m going to ask him to make my butter better, in fact, better than butter,”
“No one cares, William. The Manticore has a life,” I said.
"Do you think Oz could give me courage?" the Cowardly Manticore said to William.
"Just as easily as he could give me brains," interrupted Scrobins.
"Or give me a heart," said the Metal Woodman.
"Or send me back to Kansas," said Dorothy.
“Aye aye aye,” I said with a shake of my head.
“Or make my butter better…, in fact, better than butter. Wait…we’ve not heard from Toto. I forgot, Mr. Toto, sir,” William added, “Why are you going to Oz?”
“Laugh if you like, William, but I’ll likely be tasting the wonderful gizzards of Oz well before Dorothy gets to Kansas, Scrobins gets a brain, the woodman, a heart, and before you get, butter better than butter!”
That shut all of them up…for a few seconds.…