The Problematic Captain Cuddles by Stephanie Barr - a short story

>> Tuesday, November 16, 2021

There was a discreet scratch at the door. Colonel Simon carefully placed the ring from a plastic bottle lid on his desk. It was orange and very enticing. "Enter," said Colonel Simon, smothering a sigh. Discipline was a necessary part of any army, but it was never something he enjoyed.

The door opened to allow a perfectly groomed soldier to enter. His nails were trimmed so that there was no sound. His whiskers were long and luxuriant but straight and perfectly spaced. His eyes were large, pale green and glimmered with a subtle sheen also seen in his gray fur. He marched in and then sat in perfect attention after saluting with his tail. "You sent for me, Colonel?"

"Close the door, Captain Cuddles."

Cuddles did so and then returned to his stance, but his face looked anxious. "Have I done something wrong, sir?"

"Captain, you had one of the best scores of all time during officer training, but I've been concerned with your performance on the field."

"Is this about the Battle of Carpet Hill?"

"It is and I'm surprised you seem surprised you'd be called into my office. We are an elite fighting unit, one of the best in the business. We did not get that way by sending in officers who have to be rescued from certain death by those under their command."

"No, sir. Of course not, sir. But I'm confused. I was the only one who had not broken formation."

"On the contrary, soldier, your men had to break formation to rescue you, putting them at considerable risk."

"Oh." Captain Cuddles, staring elsewhere in apparent unconcern, a sure sign he was deeply regretful. "But, sir, were we not ordered to take that hill?"

"We were and, despite your misstep, we were able to do so."

"All I did was advance forward to their fortifications as ordered."

"In a straight line!" the Colonel hissed. "You would have been torn apart by their guns if your men had not taken initiative and pulled you out of the line of fire."

"Was—was there something else I should have done?" Captain Cuddles asked, perplexed.

Colonel Simon twitched his white whiskers, dramatic on his black face despite his white throat, and coughed, a little at first and then with a pronounced hack. Captain Cuddles moved the trash can out of the way so Colonel Simon would have a clear shot to the carpet, but the Colonel managed not to produce a hairball. "Where was I? Captain, do you know why we release cat toys with various amounts of catnip in them?"

"No, sir. It seemed counterproductive since my men, in fact, all of our soldiers, ran after the toys in nearly every conceivable direction."


"I don't understand."

"By having our own soldiers going in every conceivable direction, they become impossible to predict. But, when some cat inexplicably ignores the toys and heads in a direct line, taking them out is child's play. Perhaps you need to go back for more training."

Captain Cuddles slit his eyes. "At training they required us to run in straight lines, climb mountains, go through obstacles."

"Yes, and they badger, pester, and cajole you to do so, using toys, feather wands, whatever it takes to induce you to conquer any obstacle."

Captain Cuddles lifted his chin. "They did not have to badger or cajole me."

Colonel Simon leapt atop his desk and began to pace. "I begin to see what the problem might be. You did what you were told with nothing more than a verbal command? Every time? Without distractions and rewards? What do you think you are?"

"A soldier, sir."

"Not a feline soldier, Cuddles. Maybe I should have you transferred to a K-9 unit."

"Sir!" Cuddles yowled, bristling.

"Stand down, soldier," the colonel said. "When you brag about blind and unquestioning obedience, you are repeating the philosophy of the dogs. Nothing wrong with that, inherently. There are situations when doing what you're told without question is a boon and we use those units for that very reason. It's their schtick. But, even among the K-9 corps, the ones that filter to the top are those that can think independently, read the situation, adapt. In the feline elite corps, that's our schtick. It's what we do down to the lowest private. Did they teach you about Battle Peter Rabbit in training?"

Cuddles, ears bent back in pouting shame, said, "Of—of course."

"Do you remember how we won that battle against a very cat-savvy opponent?"

"Yes. The enemy had littered the field with cucumbers, sir, expecting to send our entire force running in terror." He paused a heartbeat. "I passed cucumber training and pushed myself so that I could even sleep on cucumbers without effect."

"Of course, you did. But that means you missed the point of cucumber training." Colonel Simon decided to give Cuddles an opportunity to think things through so he began washing his hind leg, letting only the twitch of his tail remind Cuddles that he was still in censure.


"What happened in the battle?"

"While our troops were spooked by the cucumbers, instead of retreating, they leapt in every direction, making their attacks on the enemy impossible to predict. Although the enemy had the superiority in numbers, they effectively enabled their soldiers to be individually flanked by jumping cats and lost the battle decidedly, confused and disheartened."

"What would have happened if, instead of leaping in every direction, they had just advanced like you did."
Cuddles began to wash his face. "The enemy had set down a line of mines in front of them. Our jumping in the way we did sidestepped those mines and even drove a few of their soldiers into the mines, making us aware of their existence."

Satisfied that Cuddles understood his mistake, Simon stopped washing his leg and collapsed into zen pose on his desk. "Do you understand what I want from you, Cuddles? I want the discipline and physical skills you built in training, but I want you to think and act like a cat, able to adapt and be unpredictable. Do you think you can do it, or should I prepare a transfer?"

"Sir, yes sir, I can."

"Good. Dismissed."

Captain Cuddles turned to leave but, before he had completely left, the Colonel called out to him. "Next time I leave an enticement like this ring on my desk, I'd like to see you try for it."

Cuddles said nothing but left, the door still open as Simon, as he'd been longing to throughout the interview, batted the ring off his desk and began chasing it around the room.


Captain Cuddles crept out of HQ, tail and head down. With a furtive glance to either side, he would have scurried to his quarters if another voice hadn't spoken up behind him. "Captain?"

Cuddles leapt into the air, spinning as he did and then lowered his hackles when he recognized his own second in command, Sergeant Patch. "Patch, I didn't see you there."

"Got grilled for not being cat enough, didn't you?"

"How did you know?" but Cuddles knew the answer to that. The reason he lived through the Battle of Carpet Hill was because Patch had rallied Cuddles' men to save him when his own actions had put his life in danger. If Cuddles was half the leader he wanted to be, he'd have made a point to tell Colonel Simon about Patch's extraordinary initiative. But he didn't want to lose Patch. He was an exceptional leader and his next promotion would definitely get him moved to someone more important.

"Tain't blind," Patch said, with a gasping laugh. He loved blind jokes given that he only had one eye left. "Whatcha gonna do?"

"I—I have to teach myself to get distracted. Somehow."

"Happen I could help you with that."

"Would—would you?"

Patch opened his mouth in a sharp-toothed smile. "You're a good kid, good bottom. And you're my CO." His smile disappeared and he let a little growl creep into his voice, but not enough to skirt insubordination. "And I can't have you puttin' the whole unit at risk because you're too green to be on the field."

He turned his back and lifted his tail jauntily, despite the crook at the end of it. "Let's get to work."

Cuddles, feeling less like a commander than ever, followed him to a practice field. Several feet in, there was a ball, bright green with a bell in it. Patch sat and indicated the ball with a paw. "So, bat that over to me." He paused. "Sir."

That didn't sound too hard. What was the catch? Cuddles loped over and, without looking at Patch, knocked it over toward him. Patch batted it away toward the distance, a look of disgust on his face. "Have you no instincts, sir?"

Cuddles was legitimately baffled. "Why did you do that? Didn't you want me to do that?"

"Sir. What kind of self-respecting cat deliberately bats his own toy to another cat? I'm the last place in this field you should have batted it to. And, even if you overcame your inclination, you should have at least been reluctant, resisted the urge to keep it yourself. Do you have no feeling for the ball? Did you hear the bell when it when it rolled? Didn't you have the urge to chase it?"

"Was I supposed to?" Cuddles asked, abashed.

"How were you raised?"

"Well, my mother died just outside a German Shepherd rescue. They took me in anyway, but I was the only cat. My siblings never made it."

"So, we'll have to start from the beginning. Go fetch that ball and, for Bastet's sake, don't just hand it back over to me."

"Yes." Cuddles retrieved it and then, at Patch's instruction, played with it for three hours straight. Periodically, Patch would ask for him to bat it his direction and several times he fell for it and was punished by having to retrieve it from the far reaches of the field. But, by the time Patch called it quits, Cuddles was becoming adept at resisting the requests. He didn't feel particularly possessive of the ball, but he did find himself enjoying the exercise now and again.

Sides heaving, Cuddles held the ball under his paw as Patch approached. "Do you get it?" Patch asked. "Do you understand the appeal of the ball?"

"Well," Cuddles said after a moment's reflection. "It does have a pleasant jingle."

Patch sighed. "Well, that will have to do for now."

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash


Whatever other criticisms one might have for Captain Cuddles, he could not be faulted for dedication. Every free hour, he was out there, playing with one toy or another. Sometimes, he took a subordinate to challenge him. Sometimes, even into the late hours of the morning, he'd bat this or that toy around by himself.

When Patch realized he was losing himself in the play, losing track of time, even forgetting why he was doing it in the first place, Patch nodded sagely and sent a memo to Simon. Good thing. The Lepus were on the move and scuttlebutt said the Crazy Cats were going to be called in for a raid. Cuddles was as ready as Patch could make him, as ready as Cuddles could make himself. And the orders were clear. If Cuddles put himself in the line of fire again, no one was to save him. He'd have to save himself.

Pity. Cuddles gave great tongue.

At 0430 they were mustered, Captain Cuddles bleary after playing with a catnip mouse until just an hour or so before. Even so, he combed his whiskers and cleared his throat, giving orders as he had been trained to do. Hi subordinates followed as they always did. Like cats. But Captain Cuddles didn't feel himself frustrated by that for the first time.

There'd be a parachute drop, though it had to be far enough away they wouldn't be detected by the Lepus guards. Cuddles' and one other unit would be sneaking into the Lepus stronghold from behind while others in the corps would be setting up a distraction elsewhere.

Cuddles found it a sound plan, if he could herd his subordinates to the right location. He had to make use of the feather wand repeatedly and once the water sprayer to keep his unit in a semblance of unity until, at last, they had the stronghold in sight.

Cuddles had studied the topography in detail some weeks past and, as he looked at the terrain between the line of trees and the fortress, something struck him as different. Halfway between where he stood and the walls, a trench had been dug, but not one for sheltering enemy soldiers because the ground sloped from his location down to the bottom of the trench. On the other side, the ground was level as it had been before.

Cuddles felt himself spooked, not wanting to venture forth, at least until he had had time to fathom this change out and what it meant. However, the signal was given—the distraction had begun and they were ordered forward, tiny balls of yarn tossed out as enticements. His troops moved forward, batting the little balls of colorful string in every direction. Cuddles gave his own a little bat, enjoying the way it bounced along, leaving a trail of teal-colored yarn. He hit it in another direction, chasing after it, when it hit him.

They weren't going in every direction. All of them were going down the slope and would end up in the trench. They were being herded at the enemy's behest. It was a trap!

But how could he stop it? He spotted Patch batting an adorable ball of pink to his left and pounced, first knocking it from right between Patch's paws and then sending it soaring, up and over the trench to land safely on the other side. "The trench is death," he hissed to Patch as he leapt after the yellow ball of another of his soldiers.

"Don't settle for your own ball of yarn. What's the fun of that?" Cuddles shouted, sending the yellow yarn flying to safety. "Take your fellows' yarn and bat it out of his reach."

The idea appealed to some, clearly, as they began stealing and scuffling over the yarn. Those that didn't, enraptured by the colorful orbs, Cuddles stole himself, sending them harmlessly past the trench. He saw that Patch was doing the same. Cuddles worked himself over to the other commander, Lieutenant Diddums, who was already arching his back and hissing at Cuddles' interference. Cuddles still snagged his yarn and sent it flying, then leapt over him, covering him and crushing him with his own weight as he said, "They're herding us into the trench with our own toys. If we can't get everyone safely to the other side, we'll be killed. Help me."

Diddums looked confused but a particularly spry calico tumbled into the trench at that moment and exploded in a brutal blast. "Mines!" Diddums spat. He turned to his own sergeant. "You heard Cuddles, let's get these toys over the trench so we don't lose any more. And then we'll take the fight to the rabbits."

"Aye, sir," the Siamese said, loping after another's purple ball and smacking it to safety.

Between the calico's sad end, the whispered warnings that spread through the troops, and the fun to be had by stealing a toy someone else had claimed, more of the troops followed suit quickly. When few toys remained in the danger zone, cats leapt safely over the trench to the other side and resumed their play, now in the direction of the Lepus lair. Cuddles and Patch patrolled the upper edge of the trench, batting back the toys that had wandered back and could fall into danger, until all the troops were assailing the stronghold.

Cuddles and Patch rushed to support the assault. The rabbits had expected their passive defense to be effective so had little by way of resistance. In the end, the cats succeeded in ousting the rabbits with only a few casualties in the battle and only two, the calico and a clumsy tabby who missed his jump, to the trench.

As Captain Cuddles expected, he was again called to Colonel Simon's office, but he was not trepidatious.

They played with that ring for hours.

The End

You can find this story Pussycats Galore and find this and more books at


Just a Little Wicked releases today, and I'm in it!

>> Saturday, March 20, 2021


I signed up for a bunch of anthologies where stories (as long as novella length) will be bundled up with others. Some are for charity; some are for profit. All are fun.

This is the first, a collection of witchy tales for those of us who like to see the full gamut of witchy wonders. Here's an excerpt my story, "Best Witch in Town":  

Sylvia took another sip, grimaced, and slammed the cup back into the saucer. "You have to do something about that crazy cat. She knocked the card right out of my hand. My reading was ruined."

"Was it?"

"I did not tell him what he wanted to know. He needed reassurance."

May tsked. "Sometimes, you cannot give them what they want. They pay for truth."

Sylvia huffed and blew a perfect lock from her face. "What would they know about truth? You know nothing about business."

May's sunken lips twisted into a little smile. "True enough, Sylvia."

Sylvia stepped closer to a wavery mirror, ancient and made with blown glass, to admire herself. "This mirror is worthless."

May said nothing, though the ancient mirror was technically priceless and she'd been offered more than one fortune for it.

Pouting, Sylvia leaned on the counter and a huge black cat with tufted ears and long luxurious fur rubbed against her. She made a sound of disgust and pushed it away. "I don't know why you insist on filling my shop with all these fuzzy monsters when you know I'm—I'm –achoo!"

"You're not wearing the medicine bag I made you," May said, gathering up the huge cat in her arms and cooing to him.

"That pouch of herbs? I'm not wearing that. I told you. It's ugly and it smells funny."

May sighed. "And you needn't be mean to Beltane. He's the only one that likes you."

"More fool him." She glanced around the shop and nodded at the more obvious depleted stock, notably some soft cotton dresses in flowing fabrics imported from India, several nice silver jewelry pieces, and a statue of a dragon that had graced the entryway for nearly a year. May was already limping around the shop, pulling out additional dresses and jewelry from the cupboards behind the counter. "I see you sold that stupid dragon. I told you it would never sell. I can't believe someone bought it."

"You were right. I gave him to someone who needed him."

Sylvia shook her head with a tinkle of jewelry. "You gave it away? Who in the world needs a dragon statue?"

"Joe did. I knew someone would," May said placidly, hanging more of the dresses on the hangers.

"Whatever. I'm glad to be rid of the eyesore. This is the list of spells I was asked to cast. Write up the invoices after you restock. Did we sell anything expensive?"

May set down the box of jewelry and fished a notebook from behind the till. "A few things. I made a list," May said, handing her a notebook and taking the single sheet of paper Sylvia offered her. May looked over the list of spells and her skinny brows rose. "You didn't actually agree to a death hex? Spells like this have a karmic backlash that you can't just shrug off.".

"None of your business," Sylvia said. She looked over the notebook, snorted, and tossed it back. "Good thing I'm making money, or this place would go under in a week. And I heard you severely discount that necklace earlier."

"She needs it and only had enough to pay a hundred. She'll come back soon enough."

You can buy it right now for just 99 cents.



Blog Makeover by LadyJava Creations