"War! At Long Last!" The headline on my newspaper read. My cat had just been appointed the new Field Marshal. Smart move, unusual for the government.
The other candidates were cheese, a lily, and a puppy with more drool than brains. I was expecting the cheese to get the position, since his relatives custard and yogurt were in charge of the National Dairy Conglomerates. Laugh all you want at them, they got more power than the military these days.
I rolled up the newspaper and waved goodbye as my cat, Lord Silverskin, was escorted to the armored limousine. Being a peasant, I was not allowed to go anywhere near the military's Great Potato, and therefore couldn't join him in his luxurious, six-dozen seater car.
I turned away as the luxury car left my front garden, and shut the door. My daughter Angel had just woken up, and she looked at me from the stairs.
"Mummy? Where's Lord Silverskin?" she asked.
"He's the new Field Marshal now, Angel. He had to go as soon as he could, they got big plans at the Great Potato," I replied.
Angel yawned, then went to the fridge and threw a ball of yarn into the trash. Then she threw more of my cat's toys away. I stopped her before she could fling the tuna-encrusted sock, Lord Silverskin's favorite artifact.
"What are you doing?" I asked my daughter with both confusion and concern.
There were tears in her eyes as she answered my question. "Lord Silverskin's one of them now, he's never coming back. Even if he does, he wouldn't want any of these poor peasant's toys."
She was wrong, of course. Field Marshals never stayed that way for long. Soon as the war ends, Lord Silverskin would come back. I told her this, and she stopped throwing things away.
She wiped away her tears, and hugged me. Soft, warm. Wet. My shirt was covered in tears.
Our house would be a little lonelier for a while. I was not okay with it, never agreed with it, but I had to accept it. Lord Silverskin would be the new Field Marshal of our country's armed forces. The old cat was hard to amuse; maybe he'd just leave the Great Potato out of boredom.
After I finished comforting Angel, I rested on my favorite chair and turned on the microwave. The soft, mushy texture of this seat's cushion feels great against my rump. Felt like I shouldn't ever have to get up ever again.
A few minutes passed and the microwave dinged. I took my breakfast, feeling as hot as the sun on my bare hands. My kitchen's wallpaper melted as the intense heat of my meal took over the entire kitchen, but I was undaunted.
The runny egg poured into my mouth and I swallowed. Only two weeks past expiration date. Not bad.
I went to the living room and turn on the old telly. Angel was just sitting silently on the floor, pretending to be staring at our television. A smiling custard pie dressed in garish military fatigues appeared on-screen and asked me and my daughter a question: "Are you ready for the coolest fight of your life?"
We both shook our heads.
The pie yelled at us with enthusiasm that went beyond terrifying: "WELL TOO BAD 'cause Field Marshal Lord Silverskin just decreed that EVERY household in the country has to have at least one family member in the military!"
"Oh no," I exclaimed out loud.
"Oh YES!" Said the pie, with obvious glee. "Now then, is it going to be Angel or Samantha that's going to be doing all the shootin' and stabbin' and bleedin' and whatever?"
There was no way I would ever send Angel off to the battlefield. So I raised my hand and-
Angel, no! Why did you raise your hand?!
The pie laughed, and teeth came flying out of its mouth "Well then! Looks like both mother and daughter are going off to the front!"
No no no no no! This couldn't be! "Angel,why did you put up your hand?!" I asked with exasperation.
She turned to me and said "Because I don't want you to go the front, and grandpa always said you was bad at fighting."
The poor girl wanted to keep ME safe. Me! I'm her mother, I'm the one who's supposed to keep her safe! Also, dad was a liar! I was NOT 'bad at fighting'! I used to mug people for a living!
Angel was only twelve; she'd be sent to the Mine Detectors Corp on account of her small size. Little children, with the exception of the morbidly obese, were too light to set off the modern mine and were therefore deemed appropriate for the task, though I still found it distasteful that we had to use children instead of underweight adults. Or hell, why not rats?! Not the rat-people, but the small scurrying ones! Absolute nonsense.
It wasn't long before the army showed up at our doorstep. I packed only my toothbrush and my diary, which was about as thick as a brick. Considering that I was going to war, I thought it would prove useful as a weapon, or maybe it would work like in the movies and it would stop a bullet or something.
My daughter Angel, who hated brushing her teeth, instead packed a sack of sugar-covered candy cubes as if her intent was to destroy her teeth before she reached adulthood. I considered scolding her, but decided we could afford dentures afterwards if all her teeth were lost either to sugar or war. I decided that denying her the comfort of sugar when she'd be in a hellish warzone would count as some form of abuse.
The only good thing I could look forward to in the Army was that I would be paid 900 dollars a month, about twice what I was making as a con artist. I'd been selling forged documents to illiterate foreigners who wanted to buy tobacco farms in our nation of Scarvino. Considering that Scarvino had no legal tobacco farms, as tobacco was banned a century ago, it still amazed me that there were still people looking to buy my fake land deeds. Guess I should have counted myself lucky that so many people didn't know our laws that well.
Of course, my 'business' of selling fake land deeds would have to be put on hold, at least not until the war ended. I gave Angel one last hug before we were separated into different buses, which were powered by the tears of children. No doubt they would shove sliced onions into my daughter's eyes to add more speed to their vehicle. I could only hope that my daughter would not be rendered blind by the time she reached the front lines.
I stepped onto bus number 452. It was covered in eggs and tomatoes, the work of activists and conscientious objectors. The smell reminded me of our weekly trash-truck.
All the other passengers were women of varying size, color and species. Cat-people, rat-people, lizard-people, many kinds of hair and scales. I found an empty space next to a purple lizard woman with jewels on her neck and old faded roses all over her chest.
Her clothes announced to me that she was a Bungaren, a person who worshipped flowers. They loved adding wilted flowers to their apparel; it was their way of saying even the dead should not be discarded like rubbish.
I greeted her with a smile and the friendliest "Hello"I could muster. She answered back with a friendly "Hi", and told me her name was Lifta. I told her my name, Samantha Cole, and we started talking from there.
Despite being covered in tough scales and blessed with sharp teeth, Lifta gave me the impression that her soul was the kind and gentle type. Her voice reminded me of mice or tiny kittens, with a similar cadence.
"Where are you from?" I asked Lifta.
"From the Boogadoo River, House 17. I was the oldest sister and daddy was too weak to fight, so I lifted my hand when that weird pie-thing showed up", Lifta answered.
"Do you know how to fight? We're heading face-first into a war", I asked.
"I know how to use a sword and my fangs are poisonous, but both don't mean much when you go up against rockets and machine-guns. Still, I guess that's better than nothing. You ever fought before?", Lifta asked.
I gained a lot of experience from fighting the police back when I was a purse-snatcher, but decided to leave that little detail out when I told Lifta. I just said "I fought a lot of men who were armed with blunt weapons."
"Were you in the police force?" Lifta asked. Oh, the irony.
Suddenly, a third voice pierced the air. Refined, blessed with authority. "No, she was a thief. She stole one of my purses three years ago," said the lady in the seat behind me. It was Madame Farrah von Haus, a black cat-woman whose purse I once snatched.
"Nice to see you here, Samantha Cole", the wealthy cat-lady said with genuine cheer.
Lifta looked at me with a frown "You're a thief?"
"N-not anymore. These days I'm a real estate agent. My mugging days are behind me, promise", I answered with embarrassment. My cheeks must have been redder than cherry.
"Still a thief then!" Farrah said with a laugh that slowly faded into a giggle. "So, how's your husband?" she asked me as she grinned.
"Dead," I replied. "Killed by a Zymogi bomb. Mark was in the Rootberg Confederacy when it happened, away on business trying to sell silver trinkets to some idiot with more money than sense."
"I'm sorry, Samantha, I truly am", Farrah said with as much sincerity anyone could possibly put into a sentence. "I can't imagine how your daughter felt when she heard the news."
Madame Farrah von Haus was an unusual person of wealth. She was the kind of woman who cared more about the well-being of others rather than maintaining any sort of image of having high class. People were more important to her than pretension. They were certainly more important to her than money.
She owned several businesses, most of them involving food. Farms, restaurants, napkin manufacturers... if it had something to do with food, she'd be involved. Farrah von Haus believed that no nation could run on an empty stomach, and worked hard to make sure everybody in Scarvino could afford to eat. A millionaire with a conscience. Rare sort of millionaire.
Adored as an employer and an altruist, there were those who suspected her of having a motive other than the desire to make the world a less bitter place. One of those people hired me to pilfer Farrah's purse in the hopes of acquiring her diary and learning whatever dark secrets she may have had.
I still remember it all.
On that cold autumn night, I bumped into Madame von Haus in front of a workshop, and without hesitation I removed the modest leather purse from Farrah's shoulder. I ran as fast as I could, wondering why the Madame did not shout for help or give chase.
When I reached an alley dark enough to hide myself, I opened the purse and found seven thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills. There was also a note, which read:
“You need this more than I do. Good luck! - Madame Farrah von Haus”
For a long time, I just stood there in that alley, wondering how my client would react to this. In the end, I decided to return the purse, without taking a single bill or coin out of it. To steal from someone like this would be a mark of shame. Even I had standards.
Farrah welcomed me into her house, and offered tea. After being absolutely certain that it was not poisoned, I accepted it. We both had a pleasant, if awkward chat. Madame von Haus offered me, her new friend, a job in one of the cornfields north of the city, but I politely refused. Told her I did not like farm work, and that my husband would strike it rich soon. Of course, that last bit was a lie. I just didn't want to deal with the embarrassment of working for von Haus after I stole from her.
After von Haus returned home, I confronted my client, who was angrier than a child being denied their favorite dessert. The client accused me of taking a bribe, and I responded with a very swift kick to the balls. His bodyguards also got whacks to the ribs. Two days later the idiot met me again with three humongous thugs, and they all wound up in the hospital with broken knees and elbows. The moron finally got the message and never contacted me again.
Madame von Haus became a frequent guest at my home. Though I was too proud to accept any money from her, my husband Mark would always secretly ask the wealthy businesswoman for loans. He said 'loans' and not 'donations', because Mark really believed that he too would be rich one day, and would be able to pay it all back. Of course, Farrah never really wanted her money back, even if Mark ever became a millionaire. She wanted us to live. We were one family among thousands more, breaking our backs just to make ends meet.
Mark's finally a millionaire, up in Heaven. Of course, that didn't matter much since everything there is free anyway, but it was always nice to imagine my husband swimming in a pile of gold and platinum, with a chorus of angels singing his favorite tunes.
The bus bumps, and I return to the present.
I stared at the black-furred cat-lady, dressed in modest but meticulously crafted clothing. Wondered why someone like Farrah von Haus would volunteer for military service. I asked Farrah, and the reply was:
"Military service? Oh you have me quite mistaken, dear. I'm not a soldier and never will be. I am simply taking a ride to meet a colonel who wishes to make a deal with me."
Lifta tilted her head and asked: "Somethin' to do with food, ma'am?"
"You could say that," Farrah answered. "I offered tons and tons of nutritious food for our soldiers in exchange for- well, that's a secret."
I honestly couldn't guess what sort of thing the military could give to Farrah. She never cared much about money and was more interested in rare objects which she deemed worthy of public viewing. Statues and paintings were usually on her list, exhibited in her independent Museum of International History and Totally Groovy Artifacts.
I actually visited her museum a couple of times. Would never forget the first time I saw The World's Oldest Pie, older than any living person yet still edible. Foodologists and archaeologists still don't understand how plain old blueberry could last that long. It was completely green and it glowed whenever the full moon appeared, but other than that it was safe to eat. Of course, after a huge chunk of it had been consumed, eating a piece of that special pie is only reserved for people richer than Madame Farrah.
Maybe there was an old ornate tank or a long-forgotten poem stuck inside a dead general's pocket that she wanted. Couldn't see how the military would have anything she'd want, honestly.
We all continued to speak for the rest of the trip, mostly avoiding the topic of our incoming conscription and the war itself. When we finally arrived, enormous military officers greeted us and threw us out of the vehicle one by one.
Whether we wanted to or not, war would come and slam us in the teeth.