After pulling out three old but seldom handled volumes, he sat at the table nearby. He was skimming a section on curare when his focus was disturbed by a loud, clear voice.
"Once upon a time, Oh Best Beloveds, in a land not far from here, lived two cats. They were not alley cats, nor wild cats, nor gleaming tigerous sabertoothes of infinite ferocity. No, they were house cats."
Josh muttered, and tried to concentrate. Saturday morning was Story Time at the library, and the Story Lady today projected particularly well.
"The first among the cats was black as night, with gold eyes and a luxuriously bushy tail. She was proud, and majestic, and demanding. She ruled the house and the garden and the neighbors' houses and gardens as well, though perhaps not with their support."
"The second cat was yellow as the sun, with tigerous stripes and green eyes. His tail was smooth and sleek, and his body a bit roundish around the edges. He was a simple, happy beast, who liked nothing more than to sleep, and eat, and be with the people of the house."
"The people were busy folk. In fact, Oh Best Beloveds, the people in this house were extremely busy, since they were the rulers of the land. Every now and then an absent hand would pet a cat, and the servants were generally good about feeding them. It was an ideal place for Night, as she could supervise and correct the conduct of an entire entourage."
"Entourage, Billy. That means a group of folks who find someone they think is important and follow them around. This time it means the Emperor's Court, though Night thought they were there for her."
"Sun wasn't fond of the fact that people were busy, but their were a lot of them. It wasn't too hard to get a quick skritch or a pat from a servant, and quite often he could get fed several times a day, which made him fat and lazy. The gardens were large and bright, and there were plenty of places for a busy cat to take a short siesta. Which means nap, Billy."
"Sun's other joy in life was to follow Night around, and help her. He would help her by chasing her, by standing in front of her, or by sitting on her tail. For he was Night's little brother, and we know how little brothers are, right?"
"One day, Night was managing a team of gardeners, who were hoeing the vegetable patch. She kept up a running stream of miaouing commentary, deriding the workers for their laziness and pointing out weeds they had missed along the way. Sun watched for a while, but soon grew sleepy in the day's warmth and sacked curled around the gnomon of a sundial. The gnomon is that pointy part that casts the shadow."
"When the light started to fade, the workers packed up their tools and put them in the shed. As Night was inspecting the tools for cleanliness and organization, a distracted gardener closed and locked the shed. Night was trapped!"
"She miaoued, and miaoued, and miaoued, using all the words in her large vocabulary, including, I regret to tell you, some of the more naughty ones. No one heard, because all the people were in the house (yes, it was really a castle) enjoying their evening meal. No one was there to hear, and her strong, insistent voice began to get a little hoarse."
Josh abandoned all pretense of studying odd poisons, and settled in to listen. He had been there many times, mentally if not physically, trapped in a shed with no one to free him. It got to the point where he had stopped crying for help.
"No one heard her, and she was losing hope, when she heard the tiny baby miaou of her younger brother Sun at the shed door. 'Get me out of here, Sun. Get the servants and free me!' Sun ran to the house to do just that, for as much as he teased his big sister, he loved her very much."
"Sun scratched at the door, and scratched at the window, but no one heard. He squeaked at the wall, and squeaked at the mail slot, and squeaked at the downspouts. For, you see, Sun never had to ask to be let out, or for much of anything, before. Night had always taken care of him. That's why he never learned to use his full sized cat voice, or to use the impressive array of words (some nice, some naughty) that his sister knew. She had always cared for him, in her way, and now she needed his help."
"I have to tell you, Oh Best Beloveds, that Sun began to lose some of his good nature. Night was still trapped, and would be forever at this rate. He stood at the back door, which smelled the most like his friends from the kitchen, drew in all the air he could, and yowled."
"A mighty yowl... it wasn't. It was more like his normal squeak with a bit of a cough thrown in. He shook his head quickly in frustration, his ears making a bit of a flibbidy-flibbidy noise. His hair stood up all over, making his orangey-yellow tigerously striped tail bushy, almost as bushy as his sister's. He breathed in, swelling visibly, and yowled for all he was worth."
"It worked! He was loud, louder than Night, louder even than the dogs which also happened to live in the house. He heard a crash as one of the people dropped a stack of dishes in fright. The back door flew open and the cook and a couple of maids stood there, staring at the furry striped pumpkin doing an impersonation of a Paris police car. "WHAT THE..." shouted the cook.
"Sun responded with a stream of miaou words, mostly of the naughty variety, which he evidently HAD learned from his sister over the years. He trotted off toward the shed, still talking, and looking over his shoulder to make sure the people were following."
"That cat has gone crazy! Maybe he's rabid? Looks like he wants us to follow! Follow a cat? Why should I follow a cat? If we don't, we'll never shut him up."
"All the servants were talking at once, but were at the same time following Sun, so that was good. He stopped in front of the shed, still miaouing. Between his outbursts, one could hear Night's hoarse additions from inside the shed. Well, one could, except the servants were still babbling indecisively."
"Garden shed? What's he afraid of, honest work? This is stupid, let's go back inside. He's still yelling, though. So odd, that cat has never said as much as 'boo' before. He sure won't shut up now, though! Who's got the keys, let's get this over with."
"With that, the cook (who had his own collection of tools for the herb garden in the shed) unlocked the door. Night, who was by now grey with dust and festooned (that means covered, Billy) with cobwebs, dashed through the narrow opening. Sun, relieved, let go with one final MIAOU and went quiet."
"It was several days before Night got her voice back. She soon returned to her habit of directing the people in their jobs, and generally being the Boss Cat. Sun followed her around, again, when he wasn't busy eating or sleeping or being with the people of the house. He never said another word. It was just like before... except, of course, that both cats, and some of the smarter people, knew that there was more to Sun than met the eye. And that he knew how be smart, and be brave, and to help. He knew how to get what he wanted."
"And he had everything he wanted. And he was happy. And so was his sister, and so were the people, at least in dealing with the cats, which is where, Oh Best Beloved, it really counted."
The Story Reader closed the book, and said goodbye to the children after a short discussion. Josh hesitated, then worked up the courage to approach her.
"Great story. Sounded a lot like Kipling, though I don't remember reading it. I'm Josh."
"Glad you liked it," the Story Reader smiled. "I love Kipling's Just So Stories, so I decided to write my own. My name is Sandra..."
Josh smiled in return and a curious light-hearted warmth spread through him. "Sandra. I read the Just So Stories over and over as a kid. Ummm..." He ran his fingers through his hair, not knowing it left him looking a bit like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals. "Could I buy you a cup of coffee?"
And he did.