The Ballad of Mitzy

Copyright David Daniel Ball © 2006

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"Mitzy had never heard a cat laugh before."

A Meeting

She had spent the last few days at the school year camp with friends. But that had passed and now, after a dreary hot day, she was waiting for the bus home. Then he appeared. He saw her lounging on the brick wall, waiting for the school bus. None of her usual friends surrounded her.

"I've been toying with an idea. I think it is your fault." This school teacher was immensely fat. He had recently taken to writing. In a bid to encourage her to read what he had written, he gave her 'editorial status,' which roughly translated to listening to any opinion.

The possibility of repartee was irresistible. She was very bored. "And?" An almond eye glinted with mild interest.

He brought up some camp gossip and she spoke the truth of it disinterestedly. Then she challenged him to get to the point. "Have you found out what you wanted to know?"

He grinned. "I'm only making conversation." He grinned again. "I've been thinking. You know how I promised you that if you didn't like one of my characters I would kill them, but if you liked them I would give them a puppy? Well it started me thinking."

"In one of my stories, I kill my sister. I thought that harsh, but she had to die because of the story. So I thought and decided to award her a puppy!"

"But then I realised what would have to happen. The puppy will be left alone without the mistress. The puppy will have to journey, perhaps exacting revenge or justice. It's a hard world for the very young on their own..."

The bus arrived and he began to walk away from her. "I wanted to thank you for the idea. But .. it seems a bit harsh. Couldn't you have given me a kinder thought?"

"Not my fault!" She was satisfied with the repartee, but she needed to correct him before he walked away. He flashed another grin before going home.

***

At Home

Puppies aren't taken immediately from their mother. The mother feeds them, but also instructs them in behaviour. Mitzy didn't remember her mother, but she would always follow those lessons. Mitzy's earliest memories were of the Mistress and Master. Both were young. Mistress liked dolls and to set scenes for play. Master liked rough play. It probably was unlucky that it turned out as it did, but then it might have been different and far less distressing and Mitzy might be less than what others now know.

Master never did everything that Mum and Dad asked. They would instruct him to 'play nicely' and one might not see all that 'nicely' meant to Master. Master would lie on his belly, facing Mitzy. A hand would stretch with fingers waving invitingly. Then, the hand would grasp Mitzy's head, above the snout. Mitzy's black ears would move from side to side as she struggled to free herself. She would snarl and nip cutely, and ineffectively. Her snout was black, with flecks of grey around the muzzle, giving the appearance of a permanent smile. Mitzy's paws were white on black limbs, looking a lot like clean socks. When Master grabbed Mitzy's muzzle, the paws would rise to fend, but all Mitzy could do would paw at Master's hand, cutely.

Mistress was a few years younger than Master. She loved to place Mitzy in among her dolls. Mitzy, with her white tipped black tale wagging, with her black coat and white belly expanding and contracting with each short pant, looked cute. It was as if Mitzy participated in the dreams of Mistress. Together, the dolls took on life. Together with Mistress, Mitzy had childhood play.

***

A Slaying

It happened one day, in high winter, when snow covered the world and Master had gone visiting friends and Mom and Dad were relaxing, He watching TV, She pottering around the kitchen. Mistress had Mitzy to herself in her room. It smelt of perfume and nails acrylic that accompany such as Mistress. She hummed as she played with the dolls. She hummed an old, sad, folk number.

"My Bonnie lies over the ocean
My Bonnie lies over the seas
My Bonnie lies over the ocean
Oh, bring back my Bonnie to me!"

She had arranged a male and female doll as friends, waiting by the ocean. She needed another male doll and she knew where she would find it. Master was out visiting friends. He had this stupid, but rugged looking doll. It had a silly flashlight on its chest and various boys' toys. Dressed appropriately, this doll could be perfect as Bonnie, stepping from water into a tea party. Mitzy would be perfect as the faithful guard for the tea party. Mitzy could warn of giant monsters bent on interrupting tea parties. Mitzy would also have to be dressed.

With everything present that Mistress needed, she started on her task of dress. She had tailored Mitzy with a tartan kilt and an open breasted long sleeve shirt. A wide brimmed hat with a secured string collar completed Mitzy's uniform. She had stripped Master's doll, and was proceeding with the wet-ware when 'IT' happened.

Mitzy became aware of it first. Mistress seemed to Mitzy to be removing the scent of Master from his toy. Yet the scent was growing stronger and another, additional scent that just seemed wrong accompanied it. Mitzy whined and looked at the door. Mistress misinterpreted the action.

"The story will begin soon, Mitzy. We'll relax with biscuits and tea while Hero man apologises for being overseas."

It was Master. Master was outside the door, looking in. Only, he didn't look a lot like Master. All who saw it, later, died, and so it was never reported thus. A leg was the first thing Mitzy saw, but not a normal human leg. Rather it was a leg of a spider, if a six foot tall beast can in fact be called a spider. Two furry legs and then six more. The legs supported an enormous abdomen, upon which was the torso and head of Master. The same face and hair, but Master didn't normally have the body of a spider, or eight legs.

Master approached, eyes fixed on Mistress playing with his doll. The look he gave wasn't of hatred, but it was un-natural, and focused. Mitzy was sure that Master was paying her no heed, but she feared for Mistress. Mitzy launched forward, constricted by the clothing Mistress had put on her. Then a spider's leg pinned the open shirt of Mitzy, so that Mitzy was momentarily trapped, and had to wriggle free of her clothing. Mitzy glimpsed the face of Mistress, before the hat obscured her view. Mistress seemed irritated and unaware of Master.

When Mitzy freed herself, Master had gone. Mom was coming up the stairs to investigate Mitzy's yelps. Mistress' body was swinging from where it had been casually hung, in the cupboard, lifeless.

***

Master's New House

Mitzy followed his tracks out the back door. She could smell where he had been. She could also smell so many other things. It would have been confusing if she weren't so focused on tracking down Master.

Then what? What would she do when she found him? What could she do? Mistress was gone. Mitzy chose not to focus on that.

Mitzy didn't know what she would do when she tracked down Master .. if she tracked down Master. Mistress was gone, now Mitzy would find Master. Where had Master gone? He had disappeared in the bathroom. Mom saw him as he began to change into a large spider .. that began to shrink. Mom called for Dad to kill the spider, then followed Mitzy's call to Mistress' room. When Dad went to strike Master's spider self with the newspaper, Mom's scream echoed in Mitzy's mind, Mom had found Mistress' body. Mitzy didn't know where Master had gone, but Mitzy could follow where Master had come from and she felt certain he wasn't dead.

The trail led out the back of the house and around to the front, the street. Mitzy had never been to the front of the house before. This evening, under the full moon, faced with the winter garden covered in snow, with cars on the bitumen road and the smell of the cursed Master, Mitzy forgot her confusion and focused on the task at hand.

The road had been sanded, and either side of the bitumen, the snow was black and iced. Occasionally, a car roared into view and out. Mitzy did not know what to make of these night animals with their bright, confusing eyes and felt it best not to get too near. However, Master had crossed the street, and so Mitzy quickly did the same. Those enormous bright-eyed beasts seemed to completely ignore her.

The house Mitzy came too was magnificent, old and apparently deserted. The rusty ranch style gate was open. Master and his friends had been this way. There was a bad smell here. Like that which had accompanied Master. Mitzy left the tracks and circled the house. Master had not gone this way, but there was THAT smell there.

Untrimmed bushes covered in white snow made a perimeter around Master's home. Mitzy followed this virgin path to the back door. She was unprepared for the sight or smell that greeted her. A black cat sat languidly on the cement stairway, which led to the back door. On one side was a long unused hose and tap. On Mitzy's side was a wooden door, which covered the entrance to a cellar. On that door was the horror scene of human bones .. Master's friends made part of the scent. The full horror lay with the cat. It sat preening. It was dead, but it sat, preening.

Finally, the black cat looked in Mitzy's direction. "I've met your Master."

Mitzy, cold, exhausted and scared didn't know how to respond to that. The cat spoke again. "Why are you here?"

"Master killed my Mistress!"

"So?" Cat stood, tail almost erect as it sought balance while sauntering down steps. "You want him to kill her back to life?" Cat's teeth were yellow and sharp.

"That can happen?" Mitzy had never heard a cat laugh before.

The fight was as quick as it was serious. Cat had struck Mitzy across the side with open claws. Suddenly, without warning. Bloodied, Mitzy quickly scampered back and away. Snow stained red. Mitzy scampered away, and Cat didn't follow.

***

The Cow

Mitzy was blinded by pain. She felt herself moving through the bushes separating property. She heard those big animals with their bright eyes roaring on the road, indifferent to her pain. Bush and branch gave way to wood. Snow gave way to the foundation-less style dirt floors peculiar to barns and very old homes. This was a barn.

It was a very big sound, from a very large animal that had attracted Mitzy, in her fatigue and pain. Mitzy had seen toys of such a beast in Mistress' toy farm. It had an enormous rectangular body, supported by four legs. A large head and a little tail. Mistress would make 'moo' sounds, but these were inadequate to describe the despairing, sad call emanating from this beast.

"Why are you crying?" Mitzy was in pain, but remembered her manners. If she could help, she would.

"Why aren't you?" The reply startled Mitzy. Why wasn't Mitzy crying? Others might come to her aid against the dead cat. Mitzy realised she wasn't looking for a fight, but safety and crying wouldn't be safe.

"You feel safe, so you can cry?" It was a guess.

"I am safe because my keeper is hungry. He feeds me and will not notice you, so you are safe here for the moment. My name is Adora."

"Thank you Adora. I'm Mitzy. I'm very tired. I would help you if I could."

"Grief will not go away. Tomorrow you can help. Rest."

Mitzy didn't need a second invitation, or wonder at the cryptic offer. Mitzy slept. Badly. Adora chewing cud, refrained from mooing, for a time, and the neighbourhood seemed, if not peaceful, quiet.

***

Mitzy woke, stretched and instantly regretted it. The wounds had healed a little, on her side, and she nuzzled and licked them clean.

"It is near time" said Adora.

"Time?"

"You offered to help."

"If I can." Mitzy felt a little timid.

Adora laughed, gently. "You can do this. A few days ago, I calved, and my little one was taken from me. My keeper took him next door. I cannot go there. All I ask is that you take a little of my milk to him. Only a little."

Adora helped Mitzy get the milk. Mitzy had to drink some as well, apologising for not being able to carry much. "You only need a little, a reminder of me."

The milk was warm to Mitzy's tongue, and nourishing. The wound of yesterday now seemed less. Mitzy kept her mouth closed, breathing through her nostrils. She made her journey, but not before Adora thanked her, gravely and sadly.

"A mother's grief can be short, yet her duty is lifelong, and even then, she may be called to service. Give my love and my milk, and apologise for me, who wanted so much more."

Now, as Mitzy entered this other, smaller barn, her mouth closed and forced to breathe through her nose, she discovered the grief of Adora. The Barn's roof was 'A framed' and the frames supported a horizontal post. Adora's calf was here, hanging upside down. Skinned. Gutted. Ropes secured the calf to the horizontal pole through loops that went between the bones in the lower limbs and wrapped so the bones wouldn't separate.

Mitzy walked to the calf, and released the milk from her mouth, below him, onto the floor, to mix with his blood.

"She loves you." Mitzy spoke to the corpse. "She is sorry she couldn't give you more."

The smell of the drying corpse was unbearable. Mitzy left, but decided not to face Adora, who already knew the fate of her calf.

***

Following Master

Mitzy retraced her steps to Master's new house. She was more cautious than before, yet Cat awaited her.

"You're still hurt. Why come back?"

"You wouldn't understand love." It was a game. They were sparring in much the same way Master would spar with Mitzy. There were no rules, and Mitzy new she had scored well when Cat feigning disinterest, began to groom.

"Why don't you leave that house?" Mitzy wanted to widen the score. "It isn't as if you live there." The delivery was mild.

Cat stopped grooming and hissed.

"You can't leave, can you?" Mitzy wasn't really enjoying this, but she was trying to learn what was happening. Master would often corner Mistress and gloat. Master would then learn, from Mistress, things. He would learn about what she enjoyed, so he could stop it. He would learn about what she liked, so he could break it. It was all about power, and having control.

"Only Master can leave. But if you come close enough, I can kill you."

"So Master keeps you as he would a faithful hound?" Mitzy was beginning to enjoy the sparring, and Cat knew it. Cat rose and, with a flick of the tail, walked away. This left Mitzy free to inspect the area around the house .. but the house itself was off limits, because although Cat didn't show it, Cat watched Mitzy intently.

***

The appearance of Master surprised Mitzy. He looked like an old man. Yet he smelled like Master and .. something else. Mitzy was horrified to realise part of the other smell was Mistress and his friends. What Master said also surprised Mitzy. He was warning people. Telling them to stay away, because of the curse. Yet people ignored him. Mitzy kept herself hidden from Master, watching.

She didn't have to wait too long. In the evening, Master left the house and provided a third surprise for Mitzy. As he passed the gate, he became an enormous Spider. Just like when he killed Mistress.

Without Cat to guard him, Mitzy got close to Master. This was how she learned the last, horrible truth. Master didn't enjoy killing. In fact he regretted it. But he was hungry.

Mitzy too, was hungry.

She didn't want to go back to Mistress' house. As with Adora, she didn't know how to face the grief. Master's house was near a restaurant. She discovered it when she heard a piano being played to the sad refrain

"Last night as I lay on my pillow
Last night as I lay on my bed
Last night as I lay on my pillow
I dreamed that my bonnie was dead"

Mitzy discovered this restaurant provided no protection for its scraps. Other pets from the neighbourhood were in on the secret. It was there, Mitzy learned how to fight. She resolved she would fight Master.

***

The Cow after two moons

Two moons had passed. Winter had gone, and amid the desolation, Mitzy had learned all that she could. She had watched Master as he energetically and despairingly warned others of the curse. She had watched Master as he stood at the window overlooking the entrance, and watched the street at night. She heard Master beg his victims for an end to his curse.

Three times, Mitzy had fought Cat. The wounds she earned were terrible. She hadn't meant to, but she had strayed near the house. Perhaps too near.

Now she decided to visit Adora.

The bushes that separated the farm from Master's house were beginning to green, but the summer insects had not yet arrived. The calf's barn looked disused, while Adora's seemed run down.

"Thank you." said Adora, simply.

"You remember me?"

"Grief never forgets. Nor love. Can I help you?"

"I want to kill Master. I want to lift the curse."

"So which is it?"

Mitzy didn't understand Adora's question.

"Do you want to kill the loser, or do you want to end the curse? You might not be able to do both."

"I want to end the curse. What must I do?"

"The keepers like to repeat things. Find out what should happen, but doesn't."

Mitzy didn't understand this either.

"The keepers repeat everything. Every day they take my milk. They open the door the same way. They feed me, stocking the same patch. They service me with a type of bull. They take my calves, selling the females. Everything they do they repeat. Look to the house, and see what they might do, but don't. That should end the curse."

***

An intercession

Mitzy looked at the house of Master, wondering how it was different from others. The chimney was like all the other houses in the neighbourhood. There was a belfry at a nearby church. The windows and paint needed work, but so did other places. Cat had carrion in the back, but so did other places. Mitzy was stuck, but determined to follow Adora's advice.

It was Master who provided the clue. He had discovered a real estate agent who wanted to live. The agent had suggested that selling the house might remove the curse. This sparked the interest of Mitzy, who'd become exhausted at her own powerlessness in the face of Master's slayings.

"You only want to save your life! You would use your time to talk about me!"

"No! No! I have a client who would be interested in your place! The belfry is unusual .. but there is space they want! You don't have to kill me! I will sell it for you."

***

End of Master

The sale was arranged, and the agent's life was spared until after the deal was closed. Master had apologised to the estate agent, but explained that it was essential no one knew the truth about him. Master didn't think the sale would save him, but hoped the curse would be lifted.

It was night. Master sat downstairs, before a fireplace. Mitzy watched Master intently. Cat watched Mitzy uninterestedly. Mitzy thought she knew what she had to do, but didn't know how she would achieve it. It involved getting past Cat, and she doubted she could do that without being very hurt, or killed.

"Master?" Cat seemed concerned. Cat left its perch, and went inside through a partially open front door. This was to be Mitzy's chance, and she hesitated for a moment before seizing it.

Once inside, Mitzy saw some stairs directly ahead. On her left was a dining room with rotting food. On her right was the fireplace, Master and the dead Cat. Mitzy launched herself up the dusty stairs. Cat was trying to get Master's attention. Master's body had slumped in the chair. Drink spilled by his side.

Up the steps, a ladder led to the attic. Cat could be heard at the steps. Cat cried taunts. Mitzy climbed to the attic. Mitzy had this plan. Yet she had no idea what to do.

A belfry is many different things thrown together to achieve a result .. a bell in a tower. Pulling on a rope can ring the bell. Once a bell is pulled, it gets easier to pull with the bell's swing. That first jolt is the hardest. Mitzy had grown, and was quite tough for her young age, but as she bounded to the belfry pull and pawed at it, she discovered she might be inadequate to the task.

Cat had entered the attic, yellow teeth bared, claws extended and hissing. Mitzy leapt and grabbed the bell-pull with her teeth. As Mitzy's weight fell onto the pull, through her teeth, the bell moved, but not far enough to ring the bell.

Mitzy had leapt too high, and her feet weren't near the ground for purchase. She had her full weight on the rope and the bell hadn't rung. She had only guessed that ringing the bell would lift the curse. Evidently, the death of Master hadn't. Cat sized up the situation.

"No one got as far as you. No one ever worked out what to do." Cat shook its head, admiringly. Mitzy growled, but held fast to the rope.

It was supposed to be a coup de grace, Cat striking Mitzy across the exposed belly. Cat's claws penetrated the fur and opened the gut, but got caught on Mitzy's bone, and the weight of Mitzy, with the force of the strike, completed what Mitzy had set to achieve. The bell rung, once, twice, three times, clearly, echoingly. At the nearby farm, Adora's grief broke, and she found forgiveness to her keepers. Nearby, a local restaurant manager found some strays, adopted them and began donating to the animal shelter.

Much of the house remained the same. The new owners moved in and had Master buried at the local church. The house was dusted and cleaned. It was some time before Mitzy was found, curled beneath the bell-pull. Wounded, but not beyond repair. Cat was nowhere to be found.

***

New life

As this is about Mitzy, and not the curse of THAT house, it didn't end there. A long time later, after Mitzy had become a hero for saving her adopted family from a fire, she rested at her new home, where she had played during the day. Mitzy awaited her evening walk.

He was very tired, yet looking forward to being home. He didn't know it, but there was a medical reason for his tiredness and it went beyond the fact that he worked harder than most. Work was full, with a new job running an educational committee for television and an evaluative network for school leavers and editing a prestigious journal. It was enough to tire anyone. At home, his depressed wife and four kids, constantly fighting. His wife had recently burned down their house. Luckily their sweet natured dog turned hero and woke everyone, so that all lived without further injury from the fire. He suffered sleep apnoea, and his noisy children, led by his wife, used to laugh as he restlessly dozed after getting home. They told him he sounded like the coffee percolator.

Home was a quiet, well-placed house opposite a tree park that led to a golf course. An unusual boulder sided the front door. There was fighting inside.

The youngest was in trouble, and in bed. He had refused to stay with his older, sick, sister on her way home from school that day. He had been told to stay with her, as she was afraid of a dog on the path to school. However, when he had walked with her, she would pay no heed to him, but stand at corners, ready to run at any hint that the dog might appear.

The oldest was trouble. Once, he had gone to the community swimming pool, looking for her. He found her in the presence of numerous boys, playing cards. She had been the decision maker in keeping Kiddles, the sweet natured stray Dog that was actually named Mitzy, once, long ago. The cost, from the adventure, for her and the second oldest, a brother, was that they would care for Kiddles. Kiddles had saved them from fire, but those two fought for the right to not have to walk the dog or feed it.

Tired, he walked into the house. His wife was delighted that she could give a report card on the day's shortfalls by the children. He was too tired to walk Kiddles, and the kids wouldn't. So he let Kiddles out of the house to get some exercise. "She can walk herself, and if she gets hit it will be your fault." The oldest thought that unfair, as the depressed mother had manipulated events to make things worse:

A five year old boy was never going to lead their seven year old sister from school. An eleven year old girl, left to her own devices, was always going to trade off tasks with her nine year old brother.

***

Mitzy left the home and crossed the street to her tree park. Some time later, returning home, her heart beating fast, tired but happy, Mitzy crossed the street again. Someone was playing a tune on their piano, old and sad.

"Oh blow ye the winds o'er the ocean
And blow ye the winds o'er the sea
Oh blow ye the winds o'er the ocean
And bring back my bonnie to me"

Crossing the street this time, a large beast with bright eyes appeared to Mitzy's side. Those lights were confusing. Mitzy couldn't see behind those eyes. She thought of moving back or forward, but those eyes seemed to follow.

The impact was loud. Everyone at home heard it. The eleven year old found Mitzy on the doorstep. Mitzy, in her confusion had gone home.

He was tired. The accident had stopped his dozing. He got the three oldest together, so that Mitzy might be buried that evening in the back yard. He asked the youngest if he wanted to be there, but the youngest feigned sleep, having been beaten earlier, and not wanting to be 'responsible' for anything else.

My bonnie lies over the ocean
My bonnie lies over the sea
My bonnie lies over the ocean
Oh bring back my bonnie to me
Last night as I lay on my pillow
Last night as I lay on my bed
Last night as I lay on my pillow
I dreamed that my bonnie was dead
Bring back, bring back
Bring back my Bonnie to me, to me
Bring back, bring back
Bring back my Bonnie to me
Oh blow ye the winds o'er the ocean
And blow ye the winds o'er the sea
Oh blow ye the winds o'er the ocean
And bring back my bonnie to me
The winds have blown over the ocean
The winds have blown over the sea
The winds have blown over the ocean
And brought back my bonnie to me
Bring back, bring back
Bring back my Bonnie to me, to me
Bring back, bring back
Bring back my Bonnie to me

***

A meeting reprised

Sometimes a conversation has to take place, but it isn't easy to wait to let it happen. He'd considered several different ways in which it would happen, even avoided a few. Then one day he found himself walking past the bus stop, after school. She was entertaining a few friends, but stopped as he approached and they stood facing each other a moment, awkwardly.

"I've been meaning to talk to you about that story." He started. He knew many different directions the conversation might go, but waited to allow her to direct.

"Wow! That was a really good story you wrote!" The compliment felt good for him, but he needed to clear air, and she wasn't the maudlin type.

".. Mitzy was special to me. I wrote her based on a puppy I once had, although Kiddles wasn't the type to chase monsters and bring them to justice. Unless she had to." That last was a joke.

"Mitzy came into being because of you. I wanted to thank you and I wanted to say that it isn't your fault, but something to have pride in. Mitzy was a remarkable puppy." He began to move off, promising her that he would sign her copy, if it became published.