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Cotton image 1

Cotton ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp 

There were five of us: me, a brother and three sisters. When we were old enough, we were taken away one after the other. I think my mother was a little glad to see us go. She was getting old and wanted only to lie in the sun and take uninterrupted naps.

As with all of us, a big one came to get me. He smelled funny but he handled me gently as he put me into a carrier and closed the door. I cried a little and pulled at the door with my paws but I knew it wouldn’t do any good—I wouldn’t be let out again until I was in my new home.

The car ride made me sleepy and made me forget that I had to pee. I had ridden in a car before on a couple of different occasions and I knew how it either makes you want to throw up or go to sleep. I curled up in a tight ball, making myself as small as I could, and went to sleep.

The car went a long, long way from where we started but finally it came to a stop. When the big one got out, I stood up in anticipation of being let out. I was knocked off my feet again, though, when he picked up the carrier, carried it inside the house and set it down on the floor. (A rough but short ride.) Right away I smelled all kinds of awful smells that I couldn’t identify. Was it the smell of another cat? My heart started to pound. All I wanted was to go back to the safety of my mother.

When the big one saw I didn’t want to come out of the carrier, he stuck his big hairless, pink face through the door and spoke the terrifying language that to me sounded like a dog barking. I crouched down and backed up into the corner.

He upended the carrier—I tried holding on but there was nothing to hold to—and I went sliding out against my will. I stood up and took a few steps, stretched my muscles and licked my paw. The big one seemed to approve.

Just then a different big one, a “she” big one, came out of nowhere and scared me with her loud voice. I started to run for cover but she scooped me up in her paws. Now, I have to tell you it’s an odd sensation to be picked up by something fifty times bigger than you are. I meowed a couple of times to let her know I didn’t like what she was doing to me, but she nuzzled me and started scratching my neck and ears. In spite of the bad smells that made me want to gag, I began to purr a little.

The “he” big one said something to the “she” and they both made that hideous sound that I was to recognize later as laughter. They gave me some water out of a little red bowl and, after I took a good long drink, I was directed to the litter box, which I was very glad to see. I scratched in the box for a few seconds, sat on my haunches, made a tiny wet spot and covered it up so it didn’t show.

The two big ones began playing with me, even though I was in no mood. They had a toy mouse on a string that they dangled in front of my face. I thought I smelled another cat on the toy mouse, but I obliged them anyway by batting at it with my paw and trying to catch it in my mouth. After they tired of this game, they gave me some food, which I was barely able to eat because it didn’t smell like anything I had ever eaten before. I guess I was still too nervous to eat, anyway.

Later on they left me alone to do some exploring on my own. I went into the next room and then the room after that. I jumped up on a big table but there was nothing there that interested me so I jumped down. I walked the length of the couch and the chairs in the living room, exploring every inch of the stinky fabric; I stuck my paws in the dirt of some plants and then I climbed on the TV. I crawled under the couch and came out with dust stuck in my whiskers that caused me to sneeze. I jumped onto the counter in the kitchen, nosed into the sink and took a couple of licks out of a greasy skillet on the stove.

I went into the bedroom, which seemed to be the best room of all. The bed was soft with enough room for a hundred cats like me. As good as the top of the bed was, the underside was even better. It was dark and there were some boxes and things that offered complete concealment from any dangers that might still be lurking. I was thinking it would make a good place for a nap when Finley jumped out at me and scared me so bad I jumped sideways and took a few spider-like steps backwards. The fur ruffled up on my back and my tail puffed out to three times its normal size.

Finley was a young cat, not quite full grown, but bigger than me. He was a long-haired cat that made him seem bigger than he was and he had a mane like a lion. He let out a couple of guttural meows that to me sounded like war cries and came running toward me. I wouldn’t let him get near me, though. I ran into the other room with him chasing me. I didn’t know if he was going to kill me or just hurt me.

I dove under the couch and I knew right away it was a smart move because Finley wouldn’t fit. He could see me, though, and he knew I wasn’t going anywhere and that if I came out he would know it. Every now and then he stuck his paw under to try to grab at me, but I pulled away out of his reach.

I discovered then that Finley was the most patient cat in the world. He stood guard there, stalking me, for the rest of the day and most of the night. I was hungry and thirsty and I had to use the litter box, but I was still too scared to come out. When the big one tried to coax me out by shining a flashlight in my face, I just ignored him.

Finally, in the morning, with the big one there to keep Finley at bay, I came out. The big one picked me up and set me on the table in the kitchen to feed me. He spooned some food into a bowl and I began eating. When Finley, who knew everything that was going on, realized I was eating what he thought of as his food, he tried to get at me to push me away. The big one had to make him stay away from me so I could eat. (That’s when I learned how to eat and growl threateningly at the same time.) After I ate, I had a good drink of water and a satisfying couple of minutes in the litter box, while the “she” big one held Finley in her arms and whispered in his ear.

After a couple of days I was feeling more courageous and I stood up to Finley, nose to nose. Instead of hurting me, as I thought he was going to do, he licked me on the face and head. I guess I discovered then that he wasn’t as bad as I thought he was going to be. What I thought at first was meanness and aggression was more curiosity and playfulness, with just a little jealousy thrown in.

I was still leery of him for a week or so, keeping my distance and hiding from him if I found him a little too overbearing, but I began to get used to him after a while. If he wants the spot on the couch that I’ve made warm, he makes no qualms about trying to take it from me, but more often than not I’m willing to move to another spot and let him have it.

Cold weather was coming on. Cats, as you probably know, are always looking for extra warmth. Finley makes a really good sleeping partner. Not only is he warm, but he has the softest fur I’ve ever felt. Sometimes we sleep head to head or cheek to cheek or crossed over each other like a couple of earthworms. Sometimes I use his belly for a pillow or he uses mine. When winter comes and the nights are really cold, the big one lets us sleep under the covers with him in the bed. There is no warmer place in the house.

Finley and I are now inseparable friends. We play together a lot and keep each other company. We’re a lot alike but also a lot different. Sometimes we eat together out of the same bowl, but most of the time he lets me eat first before he eats. If anybody ever knocks on the door, I run and hide but Finley stays right there to find out what is going on. When we both are taken to the doctor at the same time, I’m still scared but not as scared as I would be if Finley wasn’t with me. When I hiss, he hisses, like two parts of the same hissing machine.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

Typehouse Literary Magazine, September 2014, Issue 3

Typehouse Literary Magazine, September 2014, Issue 3 ~  

Typehouse, September 2014, Issue 3, cover

For a PDF version, click on this link:

In This Issue:


Blood on the Bayou: Dani Nicole
The Orphan Cleopatra: Kristen Abate
The Apprentice: Neal DeRidder
Mama Hari Dass: Jeff Burt
Zumba: Kalpana Negi
Cold Fort: Michael B. Tager
Poor Harvest: Joe Berry
The Good Death: Allen Kopp
The Man Behind Me: Kole
We Have a History: Tony Conaway


Carol Shillibeer
Alyssa D. Ross
Nathaniel Sverlow
Sally Yazwinski

Visual Art

W. Jack Savage
Sheri L. Wright
Shannon Cavanaugh
Denny E. Marshall

Poised on the Edge of Eternity

Acrobats on ledge

Poised on the Edge of Eternity ~ 

In this undated vintage photo, a trio of young men demonstrate their skill and courage by balancing in concert on the ledge of a tall building in New York City. One tiny wobble and they could all go tumbling over the side. That’s enough excitement for one day!


Odd Family

Odd family

Odd Family ~

In this undated vintage photo, the adult in the picture, obviously a woman (the mother?), is covered from head to toe like a warehouse statue. There must be a good reason, but, of course, we don’t know what it is. Is she just simply camera shy or horribly ugly and disfigured as the covering suggests? Even her hands are covered. Maybe she’s trying to give the illusion that she’s not even there. (We see you even if you think we don’t!) Possibly she’s allergic to dust or to those three odd young ones. The boy looks angry, the girl looks sad and the baby looks mystified.



Diminutive Pickpocket

Diminutive Pickpocket

Diminutive Pickpocket ~ 

A photogenic idler and a pickpocket, he gazes serenely into the camera across the gulf of a hundred and thirteen years.



Night Work

Night Work image 2

Night Work ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

It was eleven o’clock on a Saturday night. I had spent a strenuous day doing next to nothing, laying around my apartment reading Dostoevsky, and was ready to go to sleep, when the phone rang. I was inclined to let it ring, but I figured it was probably the Lord and Master, Mr. Ludwig, He Who Pays Me Well, so I answered. I was right.

“Got a little job for you,” he said.

“I don’t suppose it matters that I was about to go to bed,” I said.

“I can always get somebody else if you’re indisposed.”

“Just kidding,” I said. “Spill me the details.”

“A doctor had somebody die in his office. A young woman. He wants her removed before morning.”

“What was he doing to her?”

“It doesn’t matter. The doctor has a problem and is paying us plenty to remove it for him.”

“Shall I wear my Boris Karloff disguise?”

He gave me the address and I wrote it down on the inside of a match book. “There’s a dead-end alley that runs behind the doctor’s building,” he said. “Pull in there. The doctor will be waiting for you.”

“Sounds like a cinch to me.”

“Bring the deceased to me.”

“I won’t exactly be taking her out for a night on the town.”

I found the address easily enough. As expected, the doctor was waiting. Dressed all in white as he was, he looked like a ghost.

“You the man Ludwig sent?” he asked.


“Turn off those headlights!”

“No need to be so jittery,” I said.

“Did anybody see you?”

“There’s nobody around this time of night.”

“Nobody but the police,” he said.

He pulled the door back and pointed down. He had the girl in a body bag right inside the door.

“You sure she’s dead?” I asked.

“I strangled her,” he said.

She was so light I thought she must only be a child. I was glad I didn’t have to see her face. I put her in the trunk and turned to bid the doctor farewell.

“You have a wonderful evening, now,” I said.

“You were never here!” he said, slamming the door.

Mr. Ludwig lived twelve miles outside of town in a hundred-year-old house that he probably built himself, he was so old. He was some kind of doctor, I think, but I didn’t know what kind. I didn’t ask questions and I knew without being told that he admired that quality above all others.

Any time I drove out to the Ludwig manse, it seemed I was leaving civilization behind. The road was hilly, curvy, and dark with that special kind of lonely darkness that exists only in the country. I hardly ever met any other cars and if I did I figured whoever was driving them was lost.

I made sure I didn’t exceed the speed limit—I couldn’t afford to be stopped with a corpse in my trunk—and I got to Mr. Ludwig’s place a little before one o’clock. The big iron gate opened for me as if by magic and I drove through, up to the big house and around to the back.

I stopped the car and got out. I stood there beside the car, looking up at the silent hulk of the house and listening to the crickets. In a couple of minutes Mr. Ludwig came out the door with one of his goons, a muscle boy named Kurt Spengler.

“Any problems?” Mr. Ludwig asked.

“No,” I said.

“Nobody saw you turn in here?”

“Only a couple of owls.”

“Well, bring her on inside then.”

I opened the trunk and Kurt lifted the bundle like a sack of feathers and carried it inside. Mr. Ludwig motioned for me to follow him so we could sit down in his study and complete the transaction (I could get my money, that is) and call it a night.

 “Would you like a drink?” he asked as I sat down on his expensive leather sofa.

“No, thanks,” I said. “It’s late and I just want my money.”

“Stay and have a drink with me,” he said. “I hardly ever have a chance for any intelligent conversation.”

“Just one,” I said.

He poured some scotch, a drink I hated, into a glass and handed it to me. He was a large man, slightly stooped in the shoulders, wearing a cashmere smoking jacket that made him look like an enormous brown bear.

“How has the world been treating you?” he asked.

“I can’t complain,” I said.

“You like working for me, I take it?”


“You like night work best?”

“I guess so.”

“Everything is more exciting at night, don’t you agree?”

I didn’t know what he was talking about. “Yes, sir,” I said.

“There are infinite possibilities lurking in the dark.”

“Yeah, I guess I know what you mean.”

“I thought I’d give you a little extra this time for your trouble. Say six-fifty instead of the usual five hundred.”

“Thanks,” I said, managing a tight little smile.

“Don’t thank me. Thank Dr. Voyles. He’ll be picking up the tab.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You met him when you picked up the girl?”

“Yeah, he seemed a little nervous.”

“Did he say she bled to death, or what?”

“He said he strangled her.”

Mr. Ludwig laughed so that his jowls quivered like jelly. “That’s a good one!” he said. “An odd choice of words, but then he’s an odd character.”

“He a friend of yours?” I asked.

“Oh, I’ve known him about thirty years.”

I looked over at the clock and cleared my throat. I was so tired that everything seemed like a dream. “Well, Mr. Ludwig,” I said. “If you don’t mind, sir, I’d like to get my money and go home now.”

As if on cue, Kurt came into the room. He stood a few feet away, silently, until Mr. Ludwig looked at him.

“What is it?” Mr. Ludwig asked.

“I think you need to see this,” Kurt said.

“What is it?”

“Just come and take a look.”

Mr. Ludwig left with Kurt and in a couple of minutes he came back into the room. His jovial manner had abandoned him. The corners of his mouth turned down as if his face was made of dough.

“Anything the matter?” I asked.

“She’s alive,” he said.


“If Voyles thought he strangled her, he was wrong.”

“How could she breathe in that bag?”

“Apparently she had just enough air.”

“What are you going to do with her?” I asked.

“We’ll have to kill her.”


“Would you want her identifying you to the police?”

“She hasn’t seen me,” I said.

“Nevertheless, we’ll have to do away with her.”

He opened a drawer of his desk and took out a gun, laid it down and pushed it toward me.

“I’m not doing it,” I said. “I’m no killer. Get Kurt to do it.”

“Kurt’s no killer, either.”

“Her being alive doesn’t concern me,” I said. “I did my part, which was to deliver her to you. Now, if you’ll just give me my money…”

“You were hired to bring a dead body to me,” he said. “You brought me a live one. It’s not quite the same thing, is it? Your job isn’t finished until you give me what I’m paying you for.”

“Why do I have to do it? You’re a doctor. You do it.”

“I draw the line at killing,” he said.

“You never killed anybody before? I would have said otherwise.”

“I’ve converted. I’m a new-born man. I can’t take another person’s life any more than I can leap over the moon.”

“Are you talking about religion?”

“Not exactly,” he said.

“Is it Buddhism or something?”

“It really doesn’t concern you, whatever it is.”

“How about if I take her back to town and drop her off at the nearest hospital? An anonymous drop-off. No questions asked and none answered. She hasn’t seen you or Kurt. She hasn’t seen me. She hasn’t seen any of us. She doesn’t know where she is. She was in my trunk unconscious all the way out here.”

“When they see the state she’s in, they’ll call the police and the first thing she’ll do is put the finger on Dr. Voyles. I must do away with her to protect an old friend.”

“Maybe I can talk to her and make her promise not to say a word to anybody.”

He laughed again. “My goodness, you are naïve, aren’t you?” he said.

“It won’t do any good to argue about this,” I said. “I won’t do it. That’s not my line. I’ll bet you have half a dozen guys on your payroll who specialize in that sort of thing.”

“None of them are here, though. You are.”

He stood up, walked around the desk and placed the gun in my hand.

“I don’t want to shoot her,” I said. “Maybe I’ll hold a pillow over face until she stops breathing.”

“Use whatever method you prefer. Just do it.”

“And what will you do with her after I kill her?” I asked.

“I have a special process all my own for dissolving bodies, including the skeleton. Nobody knows about it but me. Why do you think I have dead bodies brought to my home?”

“I never thought much about it.”

“That’s because you’re a doer and not a thinker.”

“Yeah, I’m a doer,” I said.

He had Kurt strong-arm me into the room where the girl was and before they closed the door, he said, “I’ll give you five minutes. We haven’t got all night.”

She was laying on a kind of dissecting table, half out of the body bag. As I approached the table, she opened her eyes.

“Who are you?” she asked weakly.

She was older than I expected, maybe around thirty. She was one of those small dames that probably stood no taller than five feet and weighed no more than a hundred and ten pounds. She looked terrible, as if she had just gone a few rounds with a gorilla.

“I’m nobody,” I said. “I’m not even here.”

“What is this place?”

“It’s the castle of a mad scientist, high on a mountaintop.”


“Do you think you can walk?”

“I see that gun you’re holding,” she said. “What are you going to do with it?”

“I’m going to shoot our way out of here if I have to.”

“I don’t like any of this,” she said.

I helped her to her feet. She was able to stand on her own but was barely able to walk. I put my left arm around her and bore most of her weight while I held the gun in my right hand. I led her to the door and banged on it with the ball of my hand. “Open up!” I said.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?” Mr. Ludwig said when the door swung open and he saw I was pointing the gun at him.

“I’m leaving with the girl,” I said, “and I’ll shoot you if I have to.”

“You’re making a big mistake to try a thing like that.”

To show him I wasn’t jesting, I fired one bullet that whizzed past his head and lodged in the wall.

Kurt stood by helplessly and looked at Mr. Ludwig. “Do you want me to call for help?” he asked.

Mr. Ludwig laughed. “Don’t bother,” he said. “With one phone call, I can have him run to ground before he even gets halfway to town.”

I don’t know how, but I managed to get the girl outside and into my car. I fumbled with the keys in the dark but finally managed to get the car started. I expected Mr. Ludwig and Kurt to come after me, but they didn’t come out of the house. I knew Mr. Ludwig didn’t like scenes and he didn’t like being discommoded, especially in his own home. He always had somebody else do all his dirty work for him.

I knew they would be expecting me to go back to town, so I went in the opposite direction, away from town. After I had driven thirty miles or so without seeing a single car and was beginning to feel more relaxed, I turned and looked at the girl. She had been so still I almost forgot she was with me and then I remembered she was the reason I was running away.

“How are you doing?” I asked her.

“I need a drink of water,” she said.

“Sorry, I don’t have any water, but I’ll stop whenever I can.”

“I guess I’ll live,” she said.

“What’s your name?”

“May August.”

“That your real name?”

“Real enough.”

“Do you remember what happened in the doctor’s office?”

“What doctor?”

“Dr. Voyles. That’s where I picked you up.”

“Oh, yeah. Him.”

“What were you doing at his office after office hours?”

“I’ll bet it’s not what you think.”

“How do you know what I think?”

“People always think the worst.”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

“Well, it’s like this. I went to buy some morphine. You know. Like black market stuff.”

“You an addict?”

“Of course not! My old man’s got a busted back. In terrible pain all the time. His doctor won’t give him any more of the pain stuff—says he won’t do anything else for him until he has an operation—so he has to get it any way he can.”

“Your old man? You mean your husband?”

“My father, you dope!”

“Don’t get excited.”

“Dr. Voyles told me to meet him at his office after he was finished seeing patients for the day. The office was dark and he was the only one there. He had me sit beside him on a couch and then he began pawing me.”

“You ought to report him to the medical authorities.”

“When he saw I wasn’t interested, he told me the only way he would sell me the medicine was if I cooperated. He tried to kiss me and we struggled. He was hurting me so I kicked him and bit him. When he wouldn’t stop, I started screaming. He became enraged and tried to strangle me. I thought I was going to die. That’s the last thing I remember.”

“He believed he killed you. He was plenty scared.”

“You were there?”

“I was the delivery boy.”

“The what?”

“I pick up the bodies of people who die by misadventure and take them to the mad scientist who lives in a mountaintop castle.”

“Are you crazy?” she asked.

I drove for a hundred and fifty miles into another state, only stopping once to gas up the car. When it was getting close to dawn, I came to a medium-sized town. I stopped and got a room for us in a hotel. One room so I could keep an eye on her and nothing more. She didn’t interest me except that I wanted, for some reason, to keep her alive. I figured if I was able to do that, it might square me a little for some of the bad things I had done. It didn’t even matter to me that maybe she didn’t deserve to live any more than I did.

We checked into the room and the first thing she wanted to do was take a bath. I left her to it and went out to try to find us something to eat. I told her not to answer the phone or open the door to anyone.

I was gone for about forty minutes and when I got back with the food I could still hear the water running in the bathroom. I was starving so I began eating, leaving her food in the bag to keep it warm. After a few minutes, I realized the water had been running the same way for an awfully long time and I knew something was wrong. I stood up and went over to the bathroom door.

“May?” I called. “Are you all right?”

When she didn’t answer, I pushed the door open slowly. She was fully reclined in the tub, the water up to her ears. Her eyes were partway open but she was lifeless. A single gunshot to the middle of her forehead. I knew there was no chance this time that she might still be alive.

I turned off the water and left. I got into my car and began driving. I didn’t know where I was going, but I supposed the only thing left for me to do was to go home. What would happen then, I didn’t know.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

A Journal of the Plague Year ~ A Capsule Book Review

A Journal of the Plague Year cover

A Journal of the Plague Year ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

English author Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) was a literary late bloomer. He wrote his three famous novels (Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders and A Journal of the Plague Year) after the age of sixty. A Journal of the Plague Year was first published in 1722 and is an account of the London plague epidemic in 1665, when Defoe was only five years old.

A Journal of the Plague Year is fiction but is told in first person, as if the narrator is there at the time of the epidemic. The fictional narrator doesn’t leave London when he has the chance when the plague starts, as many sensible people do, but stays behind. He is spared the infection but witnesses firsthand the horrors of the epidemic and lives to tell about them. Defoe supposedly drew on the journals of his uncle, one Henry Foe, in writing the novel. That is obviously what gives the story its sense of authenticity and immediacy.

People can have the plague and not even know it, so are spreading it to everybody they come into contact with. Is it airborne or does it come about only through contact with an infected person? In 1665, nobody seemed to know for sure. Those who have someplace to go outside the city leave before the epidemic takes hold. It’s mostly the poor people who have to stay behind, so they are the principal victims.

So many people are dying during the height of the epidemic that the niceties of burying the dead in coffins are dispensed with. With a thousand or more people dying a day, “dead-carts” are dispatched to round up the dead and dump them into a huge pit. The only requirement for the pits is that the dead be buried at least six feet deep. As the lucky people who collect the bodies sicken and die themselves, new people have to be found all the time to fill the job. (It sounds even worse than a job as a technical writer for a restaurant chain.)

As with any human tragedy, there are stories of heroism and sacrifice along with the stories of opportunism and charlatanism. Quack doctors prey on the poor and uneducated, selling them fake “medicines” that are supposed to be a surefire remedy against the plague. Houses of the sick are ransacked by thieves. Unscrupulous “nurses” murder the sick people they have been hired to care for. Infected people willingly spread the disease to those they know are uninfected. On the other hand, caring people risk their own lives to stay behind and care for the sick in the “pest houses.” Charities are set up that provide food and necessities to the poor to see them through the epidemic.

There isn’t much plot or story to A Journal of the Plague Year, but that doesn’t mean it’s dull reading. A plague epidemic in a large seventeenth-century city is dramatic enough without much embellishment. Once you get used to the old style of sentence structure, it’s a fascinating reading experience. I bought a paperback of the novel when I was in college for sixty cents (new, not used—so you know how long ago that was). I read a hundred or so pages of the novel back then but for some reason didn’t finish it. That’s why I undertook to read the entire book (a breezy 240 pages) this summer, and I’m glad I did.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp


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