Spontoon Archipelago, 1939
Story & art by Warren Hutch
© 2010 Warren Hutch
PART 9 - HOME AWAY FROM HOME
As Dorothy Pearl and Jane Early walked
along the darkened thoroughfare, they passed the looming edifices of
the resort hotels clustered along the beach, the distant sounds of
music and revelry drifting through the dank, slightly chilled air
blowing in from the lagoon.
The further they went, the more off
balance the rabbit doe's awkward load became, so they stopped in the
light of a bug-festooned street lamp for a moment and set their burdens
Mrs. Pearl's eyes flickered nervously as she noticed
movement in the darkness behind them, and she nudged her cohort,
nodding down the way they had come. Miss Early's long ears twitched at
the sound of footsteps coming up the path behind them, and she turned
warily, setting the large bundle down next to the duffel bag and easing
into a wide footed fighting stance.
A tall feline figure stepped into
the light, as if a bit of the night had detached itself from it's
surroundings. Her fur was a deep, dark grey brown, with faint speckled
patterns of darker black scattered across her face and down her neck,
the markings of a melanistic leopard, and her lustrous black hair was
bound in a braid that hung down her back in echo of her gently swaying
tail, underneath a red bandanna tied at four corners to make a cap. She
wore an ankle length skirt of dark colored fabric, and clutched a shawl
of colorfully woven native cloth around her broad shoulders, over a
white cotton long sleeved shirt and a stained white apron. In her other
hand, she carried a bundle wrapped in a checkered red and white cloth.
Her coppery eyes regarded them
evenly as she bowed, the shells on her earrings and necklace rattling
softly. "Good evening, o wayfarers."
She smiled knowingly as Dorothy's
gaze washed over her, and held her hands out to her sides with palms
Beneath her simple garments she was svelte and
powerfully muscled, with fur brushed into patterns that counterpointed
the dark rosettes. The smaller feline's eyes flickered as she saw a
swelling in the leopardess' belly indicating that she was beginning to
show a pregnancy. Aside from a few bands hung with tiny, decorative sea
shells, the only other remarkable thing she wore on her person was a
small pouch strapped to her hip containing five Spontoon shell notes, a
matchbook from the La Royale hotel, an Alpine army knife, and a gold
ring with a simple setting of a diamond flanked by two smaller red and
blue gemstones, and a brass key on a loop of knotted red yarn. In the
bundle in her hand, the tabby saw the tinfoil wrapped leftovers of
several gourmet meals, and blushed slightly at the sound of her own
stomach grumbling faintly.
Dorothy's eyebrows raised in interest as she peered
into the stranger's aura, noticing that the ephemeral patterns of
energy closely mirrored the patterns brushed into the female's fur. She
saw a kind, gentle soul with a touch of sadness at the edges, an
undercurrent of anxiousness, but a core of unshakeable optimism, and
signs of an uncanny connection to larger forces. A faint, pulsing
spark, simple and as innocent as emptiness, could be seen in the depths
of the leopardess' belly. She could see that the dark furred stranger
meant her and her lapine companion no harm, at least.
As her vision refocused, she could feel the rabbit
doe tense at her side, her voice guarded. "Y'all part o' the welcomin'
The leopardess nodded as Dorothy laid a calming hand
on Miss Early's shoulder. "Easy, Jane. She's friendly."
A slash of white teeth appeared across the
stranger's dark features. "It is so. I am Huakela Jones, daughter of
Mrs. Pearl haltingly acknowledged her. "I'm Dorothy
Pearl, and this is Jane Early. How can we help you, Missus Jones?"
An eyebrow cocked in the dark face,
shifting a rosette of faint spots higher on her broad forehead. "I am
here to help you, Dorothy Pearl and Jane Early. It has come to me that
you are lacking a place to sleep tonight. I would offer you both
hammocks in my hut, if you would care to accept my hospitality and my
The rabbit eyed her suspiciously. "How'd y'all know
we were outta doors?"
The leopardess flicked an ear with a wry smile.
"Perhaps I have strange mystery powers. Or perhaps word just travels
fast." She winked a coppery eye at them both. "Or perhaps I was walking
home from my shift at the Royale, and overheard you in the lobby of the
Pelican shouting great slanders against poor Mister Dinkhov's lineage."
Miss Early blushed as she relaxed and rubbed the
back of her head. "Ah, well that explains it, I reckon. My voice
carries purty far when I git my mad on. Sorry y'all had t'hear that..."
The leopardess chuckled. "Not at all, there was a
certain... poetry to it. I shall have to remember some of what you said
the next time I must argue with Julio the sous chef."
The embarassed doe dug her toe in the coral gravel
at her feet. "Long as y'all don't credit the source, y'all can be my
The dark furred feline looked at the she cat and
rabbit doe earnestly. "Oh no, Jane Early. Tonight you can be MY guests,
if you would follow me, please."
Mrs. Pearl shifted her shoulders in the coat wrapped
around her and gave the native leopardess a smile. "We'd be happy to
take you up on that offer, Missus Jones."
The leopardess's face lit up with a wide, white grin
of sharp teeth and she stepped forward, proffering her tablecloth
wrapped bundle to Miss Early. "I am glad. Here."
As the tan furred doe took the smaller bundle in
hand, the large feline effortlessly slung the rabbit's own bulky
package over her shoulder, beckoning them to follow her. The cat and
rabbit looked at one another, and fell into step behind her.
The leopardess led them along a winding path away
from the lights of the resorts, until a soft darkness lit only by the
stars overhead enveloped them. The rustle of foliage in the ocean winds
and the chirping of a thousand night time insects and birds surrounded
the three females, as their footsteps sounded softly on the mossy rocks
marking the pathway. Occasionally, they would pass a lonely torch on a
pole jammed into the ground alongside the path, surrounded by
fluttering, ghostly moths.
Soon, they entered a valley leading to the coast on
the opposite side of the island, where clusters of thatched huts on low
stilted porches huddled along the beach like a herd of shaggy, peaceful
sheep, their cheery yellow lights contrasting against the blues, greys,
and flat, wide blackness of the ocean beyond, it's breakers lapping
softly against the silvery beach.
Huakela led them to a smallish hut at the outskirts
of the villiage, pausing at a coffee can painted with flowers and the
name JONES that hung from the doorpost. The leopardess let out a soft
cry of joy as she found an envelope inside, her long tail waving
happily behind her as she tucked it under her arm and beckoned her
guests inside, pushing aside a canvas curtain that covered the door.
Their tall, dark-furred host set her burden down
inside the door and turned to take the checkered bundle from Miss
Early, setting it and the envelope down on a table at the center of the
She then snagged something from under a bowl that
was sitting atop it, leaning up to fiddle with a lantern hanging from
one of the roof beams. A corona of golden orange light flared as a
match was struck, and moments later the room was suffused with a
pleasant glow as she turned the wick and settled the glass into place.
She turned to her guests with a smile as she draped her shawl on one of
the chairs. The dark furred female pulled the chair out with a soft
creak of its bamboo legs scraping across the floorboards, and indicated
to Dorothy that she should sit. "Please make yourselves at home."
She indicated the bundle on the table with a smile.
"I've got bits and bobs of several fine gourmet meals to eat, and I
could put a kettle on for coffee or tea."
As the brown furred tabby settled herself into the
proffered seat, she smiled, taking her hat off and setting it down on
the table as she shook her unruly hair out. "Whatever causes you the
least trouble, Missus Jones."
The leopardess paused as she untied the apron
strings behind her back, giving the smaller feline a warm smile. "Call
me Huakela. Please. My mong
of a boss calls me Missus Jones all day and I get sick of hearing it."
Miss Early set the bags down by the door and looked
earnestly over at their hostess. "Y'all kin call me Jane, then. Is
there anythin' I kin help y'all out with, Huakela. I'm purty handy
round th' house."
The leopardess smiled over at the rabbit doe as she
hung her apron in the crook of her arm and began to unbutton her shirt.
"That is very kind of you, Jane." She nodded over at an old fashioned
wood burning stove in the corner. "If you can get the fire started
while I change out of my work clothes, you would honor my hearth."
The rabbit nodded and rolled up her sleeves as she
crossed to the small pile of firewood next to the stove and set to
work, stacking the chunks of palm log into the hinged maw of the stove
and crumpling wads of old newspapers that lay stacked nearby in around
them for kindling.
Huakela padded across the floor to
a chest-of-drawers in the opposite corner of the hut and shrugged out
of her shirt, revealing the dappled pattern of black on dark grey
across her sinuous back, then unbuttoned the front and taillet of her
long skirt and allowed it to tumble down her muscular legs to the
floor, showing yet more rosettes down her bottom and thighs as her long
tail waved languidly behind her. She picked up the skirt and folded it
neatly, along with the shirt and apron, and laid them in a drawer, then
pulled out a length of light, floral print cotton and wrapped it around
herself and knotted it around her broad chest, the hem hanging down to
mid-thigh. The leopardess tied her apron back on over top of the
delicate cotton wrap and crossed back over to her small kitchen.
As her two companions busied themselves about the
hut, Dorothy took stock of her surroundings with her glittering eyes.
There was only one moderate-sized room to the hut,
with a small closet separated by a woven rattan partition at the end of
the room next to the wood stove. Inside that closet, a metal wash tub
and a steel drum full of rainwater, with a green glass bottle sealed in
wax sitting at the bottom full of hazy yellow-white liquor. A scorched
copper cookpot hung from a nail on the wall, presumably as a ladle, and
a crude wooden shelf held a variety of powdered soaps and other
imported cleaning products in mouldering tins and boxes, with a few
melted candles clinging like waxy pale tree stumps to the leading edge.
The stove sat on small platform of concrete, set
with mismatched ceramic tiles. The stovepipe was corroded, and had been
repaired with more recycled coffee cans and twisted wire. Next to the
stove, a sawhorse supporting a couple of planks of wood lashed together
with twine and nailed to the framework of the hut wall. This improvised
platform held a small stack of polished pots and pans, a block with a
couple of well kept kitchen knives, and some other miscellaneous
cooking tools in yet another coffee can. A shelf made from a single
plank hung from the wall by rope held a motley collection of boxes,
tins, and open packages.
The table she sat at held a souvenir ashtray modeled
as a crude topographic model of the Spontoon Atoll in green and blue
glazed ceramic. She noticed that Sacred Island had been omitted, and
that Meeting Island and in particular Casino Island's representative
bumps bore more than their share of ash marks from stubbed out
cigarettes. Several matchbooks from the La Royale resort hotel lay
scattered around the tiny model of the islands.
Her gaze lingered on the envelope their hostess had
set on the table. It was crumpled and a bit dirty, with several airmail
stamps and a postmark from Halfway Island further west in the
Pan-Orient Ocean dated a week ago. It was addressed in block letters to
Mrs. H. Jones, Halo Villiage, South Island, Spontoons, with a return
address from CPO. A. Jones, SS
She looked across the table at the wall facing her,
between two windows draped with colorful native cloth curtains. A
picture frame hung in the space from a nail, with a garland of silk
flowers around the edge, its cheap glass protecting a photo of Huakela,
clad in a white sarong and veil, with a smiling male cougar standing
behind her with his arms around her waist, dressed in a dark suit and
tie with a white peaked cap on his head. Both felines were smiling
brightly in front of a crudely painted backdrop of a tropical beach
with a straight horizon and little white letter M's that probably
represented seagulls. It took her a moment to resolve the black, jagged
shape on the end of a long neck, rather like a sea serpent or menacing
snake, into a failed representation of a palm tree.
Pulling her eyes away from the picture with a weary
twinge in her heart, she looked at the opposite side of the hut. The
plank floor was covered in woven reed mats in the corner opposite the
chest of drawers, with several cushions and patched hotel pillows
scattered about. A hammock made from heavy, striped cloth hung from the
rafters, and a couple more hung folded on the wall, ready to be strung
up as needed.
The chest-of-drawers was old and battered, with the
bottom drawer secured by an iron hasp bolted onto the wood and held
closed by a brass padlock. A selection of combs, brushes, and other
articles of toilette were scattered atop it, beneath a faded map of the
Pan Orient ocean affixed to the wall above with corroded brass thumb
tacks. An blue line in grease pencil connected several points on the
map like stars in a constellation, a pin hung with a tiny St.
Christopher's medal marking a point along the line.
The upper drawers contained
neatly folded clothing and linens, while the fortified bottom drawer
held what Mrs. Pearl surmised was the Jones family treasures. In one
corner, a fine bone china tea set, in the other a stack of papers and
several piles of neatly stacked Spontoon shell notes, all weighted down
by a grimacing canine tiki figurine with glaring eyes made from
hammered copper pennies. She decided not to pry any further, feeling a
bit ashamed of looking so deeply into this kind female's private
She snapped into focus at the sound of her hostess'
voice, looking over to see the leopardess unwrapping the bundle and
drawing forth the foil wrapped packets inside.
The copper colored eyes looked at her quizzically.
"Miz Pearl? Miz Pearl? Are you hungry? Hello?"
Before Dorothy could reply, her stomach grumbled,
much louder than before. She gave her hostess a rueful, fragile smile,
twirling one of her loose strands of dark hair absently on a
finger. "Hungry, tired, filthy, frazzled, sore, you name it. It's
been a long day."
Huakela smiled over her shoulder as she carried a
double handful of the foil packets and laid them out atop the stove.
"We can see about each of those problems in turn. How about you and
Jane start by washing up while we wait for the food to get warm?"
She crossed back to the table and plucked a
matchbook from the surface then went into the small partitioned space
past the stove and lit the candles, filling the little room with
flickering golden light. She plucked a cake of soap from the shelf and
laid it on the table in front of Dorothy. A rich scent not unlike
coconut rose up from the unassuming white block. Huakela briskly
crossed to the chest of drawers and pulled out two more light cotton
wraps and a thick beach towel.
A large smile settled on Jane's face and she
shrugged out of her suspenders and pulled her shirt off over her head,
hanging it in the crook of her arm as she leaned against the wall of
the hut and started to untie her boots. Their dark furred host set the
things she carried down on the table and stepped around behind the
smaller feline. After helping her to her feet, Huakela pulled the slip
up and off over Dorothy's head and upraised arms.
The feline looked over to see the tan-furred doe had
finished undressing and had left her clothing in a pile on the floor as
she walked over and stood beside the doorway looking over her shoulder
with her cotton tail flicking as she cocked her head toward the
doorway. The brown-furred tabby gathered up the towel, soap, and
sarongs and hurried after her.
The she-cat and rabbit doe
proceeded to take turns standing in the washtub while the other dumped
potfulls of rain water over their companion's head, rinsing off the
rich lather from the cake of soap, and then took turns drying each
other off with the towel, followed by a brisk session with brush
and comb. The native made soap had left a residue of light oil that
caused their fur and hair to become soft and lustrous when brushed out,
and filled the air with more of that pleasant, coconut smell.
As they walked back into the main room, each wrapped
in a clean, slightly clinging sarong, a delicious scent of cooking food
was filling the air. Dorothy stood with her eyes closed and sniffed the
air with a luxurious smile on her face, as Jane crossed behind her and
picked up her clothing from beside the wall.
The she cat sighed. "Mmmm. That smells SO good. I
haven't had anything since that bottle of soda this afternoon."
The black furred leopardess stepped back from the
stove and looked at her with a critical, coppery eye. "That's all? No
wonder you're thin as a bamboo staff." She scooped the foil packets up
from the stove and carried them back to the table. "Come, let us fix
The rabbit and cat sat themselves down on the chairs
on either side of the table and ate heartily as their hostess bustled
in her simple kitchen. It was the best meal that either had had in a
long time. While the food was in small portions of any given dish,
combined together it made for quite a feast, and the quality was top
notch, lacking only the presentation of a gourmet restaurant as they
ate with their fingers out of the foil wrappers shaped into serving
dishes by Huakela's deft hands.
As the meal was drawing to a close
and the feline and lapine sat back in their chairs, satisfied, drowsy
smiles on their faces, the leopardess ducked into the side room and
reached down into the rain barrel, pulling forth the wax stoppered
bottle. She walked back into the main room, wiping her arm dry with a
hand towel and set the bottle on the table. With a smile on her face,
she popped a thumb claw and cut away the wax on the bottle, the fished
her folding knife out of the little pouch at her hip and opened out the
corkscrew, driving it down into the chunk of cork and pulling it loose.
With her white teeth splitting her dark features in
a broad grin, she proffered the bottle to Dorothy. "Here. This is some
of the islands' finest pineapple brandy. I would share what we
Spontoonies call <the kiss of
dear friends who gather around the strong fruit mash> with
With a nervous smile, the feline took the bottle and
placed it to her lips. Her ice blue eyes widened as the cloudy yellow
liquor burned its way down her throat and into her full stomach. She
gripped the edge of the table, her ears levered back and her tail
frizzing, as tears started at the corners of her eyes, but she blinked
them back and forced her expression back into a smile, as her claws
scraped shaky lines into the underside of the tabletop.
Huakela grinned knowingly and took the bottle back,
then handed it to Jane, who accepted it with a smirk and took a long
pull. A moment later the rabbit's long ears flopped down onto her
shoulders as she exploded in a violent fit of coughing. "Thunderation!
When y'all said "pineapple brandy" I didn't realize y'all were talkin'
'bout hand grenades..."
The leopardess cocked an eyebrow as she took the
bottle back. "You didn't like it?"
The rabbit doe gave her a grin as she sat back in
her seat, fanning herself with her hand. "Shoot, darlin', I liked it
jest fine. I love a good fight, an' that was like gittin' cold cocked
by a fruit salad."
The black furred feline raised the bottle. "Indeed.
To wayfarers who become friends, fated to return from their journey one
day. <An oath of friends over
strong fruit mash.>"
With that, she took a sip, pursing her lips as the
swallow went down her throat. She plucked the cork up off of the table
and pushed it back into the bottle with her thumb, smiling warmly.
"Well, that is that. I dare not have any more with this child
quickening in my belly." She smiled gently down and ran a caressing
hand across her midriff, then looked back up at her guests. "And you
are both looking quite drowsy enough as it is. I think it is time for
Dorothy nodded with a dreamy look settling over her
face as she felt a warm, sweet heaviness spread through her from the
pit of her stomach outward to her limbs. She looked across at Jane, who
pushed herself up from her chair with some effort and returned her
gaze, cocking her head toward their hostess. "How'bout y'all let us
help clean up a li'l 'fore we do."
The feline nodded and pulled herself to her feet,
stretching with a wide, luxurious yawn and running her fingers through
her lustrous, slightly damp tresses.
She smacked her lips as she gave the leopardess a
sleepy eyed grin. "Yes, I think I have just enough left in me for that,
but then I think I'm gonna pass out."
Huakela gave a nod and a grin and beckoned them over
to the woven reed mats. "There is little to do in the kitchen but
gather the rubbish. Let us hang the hammocks and get you both tucked
In short order, the three females had hung two more
hammocks from the hut's sturdy rafters, adding pillows from the mat
beneath and blankets their leopardess hostess produced from the chest
of drawers. Dorothy and Jane then untied their sarongs at Haukela's
urging and climbed in, using the soft cotton cloth as another blanket
to wrap around their warm, weary bodies, bidding one another and their
gentle hostess good night.
Jane Early fell asleep almost instantly, nestling
down in the embrace of the canvas with a soft sigh, but Dorothy
remained awake, watching the dark furred feline through heavily lidded
The leopardess crossed over to the table and sat
down, her tail waving gently behind her. She picked up the envelope
with a tender smile, popping a claw on her pinky finger and running it
down its length with the faintest sound of tearing, followed by the
rustle of paper as she pulled forth several folded pages and read them
in the yellow light of the lantern above the table.
As the tabby studied her hostess
from across the room, the great cat female's expression went from
mirthful, to concerned, to happy, to wistful as she finally laid the
pages down and picked up a sheaf of loose bills that had come out of
the envelope as well. These she carefully counted, smoothing each down
on the stack as she went with a look of concentration on her face.
With a final nod, she gathered up the envelope and
its contents and stood, turning and walking over to the framed picture
on the wall, where she leaned forward and placed a kiss on the glass,
then removed the handkerchief on her head and carefully rubbed out the
smudge on the glass.
The leopardess then crossed to the chest of drawers
and crouched down on her haunches in front of it, fishing the key from
her hip pouch by it's red yarn loop and unlocking the padlock. She
added the letter to a string wrapped bundle, piled the money under the
snarling little tiki after planting a kiss on each of its glaring penny
eyes, and then carefully locked the drawer.
Then she stood, leaning on tip toes over the chest
of drawers with her tail idly waving behind her, and pulled the pin
with it's dangling medal from the map, and carefully pushed it in at
another point along the blue grease pencil line. She kissed her thumb
and touched the medal with it, then clasped her fingers and bowed her
head for a moment.
Her brief prayer finished, Huakela
arched her back in a long, luxurious stretch, and undid her braid,
allowing a cascade of long black hair, like oil or ink in its flow and
luster, to tumble down her back over the dark flower field of rosettes.
The leopardess paused and unbuckled her hip pouch and set it on the
dresser, then padded across the room to the table, lifted the glass on
the lantern, and blew out the light, plunging the hut into a velvety
Finally, sleep crept up upon the brown furred tabby
as the soft rustle of her hostess removing her sarong and climbing into
her own hammock sounded beside her.