THE GOOD DEED BUG
Al leaped over the brush, slid own the embankment, tumbled into the river, clutched a log and whispered a prayer as he floated toward Catsdoom Falls. Al E. Katt was in too deep and over his head. He was fifteen, a troublemaker and a bully. This time he picked the wrong victim. He threw ice water on old Bull "Mad Dog" Pitts. Mad Dog woke up snarling, spotted Al and gave chase as fast as his stubby legs would go, forgetting about his chain. Neck attached to collar, collar to chain, chain to doghouse. “SPANG!” He did a double back flip. Al laughed so hard he rolled about in the dirt, tears streaming from his eyes.
"Heee, heee, heee," he howled, "Oh, dat’s too funny."
Al lived to make others look stupid, it was such a high. Mad Dog stood up, shook himself and lunged. This time the “SPANG” was his neck and collar parting ways.
"This is the last time Katt,” he yelled, ”I'm gonna break your flea-bitten neck."
His hind legs were pumping so fast, small rooster tails of dust sprouted behind him as he charged. Al’s eyes grew round as saucers and his fur puffed out in all directions. He arched his back, yowled and dashed for the river.
Faeolin Stronghold, Al's home, was on the banks of the Catahoochee River. It wandered, snakelike, across the land before taking its fatal five hundred foot plunge down to the wasteland of Deadstone Desert. The falls roared in Al's ears like an earthquake as he sped toward the edge. Mad Dog stood on the bank, watching Al as he disappeared. He wagged his tail, barked gleefully and headed home, satisfied that his honor was still intact.
The desert sun was just rising when Al woke. He was lying on a sandy riverbank next to the embers of a campfire. His fur was a smelly tangled mess; the inside of his mouth tasted like dead things and his eyes wouldn't focus.
"Well, how's my guest this morning, hmmm? I trust you slept well. You know, there's really nothing like a good shower before beddy-bye time to make one sleep like a kitten."
The deep voice sounded educated, like someone who might have graduated from some fancy-dancy college.
"Who da heck are you? And what's with da smart alecky remarks?" Al growled, his crumpled right ear twitching angrily.
“Well pussycat, I'm you're savior. If not for my heroic act, jumping into the water and all, you'd be dead. You can thank me anytime now."
"Thank you? Hah, dat’ll be da day. Whatcha want, huh? Nobody does somethin for nuttin. You ain’t told me yer name yet, neither.”
Al's voice had an edge to it, like a jagged piece of broken glass.
"Okay, Al, don't turn all hostile on me. I'm Drago, wizard of West Deadstone. Oh, and I'm also what you Faeolin folk call an "Elder", a Meerkat."
"Get outta heah. Dere’s no such ting as wizards or Meerkats. Dose are just legends, old wives tales, and how’s come you know my name?"
His eyes were starting to clear. The creature did look like a Meerkat though, except that his fur was snow white, he had slanted green eyes and walked with a limp.
"This can't be, I gotta git back home," Al mumbled, staggering to his feet.
"Home? There's no going home from here Al, you should know that."
"You just don't git it, do ya,” Al said, ”I'll croak here, you know, belly up, die, I gotta go."
"Tuff catnip, furball, you're out of luck. The cliffs of Faeolin are unscaleable and there’s no other way.”
"You claim to be a wizard, do some wizard junk, help me get outta heah."
"Hmmm, okay, I’ll strike a bargain with you. Bring me a Good Deed Bug. They live in the desert and are extremely shy. Very few have seen them and even fewer have caught one. Only an unselfish act will bring them out and they can’t be tricked. Once caught, however, they’re yours for life. Come back to me with one and I’ll help you.”
“See, I knew it! Nobody does nuttin’ less they want sumthin’ back.”
“You asked for my help, Al. I’m sure that back in Faeolin you’ve heard the saying that “nothing’s free”, haven’t you? Well, that saying holds true here also. Do we have a deal?”
Al agreed to Drago’s terms and set off to find a bug. Months passed before he finally got one. He trekked back across the desert and arrived at the camp, dirty, smelly and bedraggled.
“Well Katt, that’s about the scrawniest looking bug I’ve ever seen. How did you make it follow you? Poor thing looks half dead.”
“It was worse when I found it lying, dying in da sand. Its little body was deflated and it looked like it was ready to turn to dust and blow away. I had just one drop of water left, I gave it to da bug.”
“That unselfish drop of water was your ticket home Katt. Know that this good deed bug is yours for life. If mistreated it’ll die. If it dies, you’ll be doomed to walk this desert forever, is that clear?”
“Yeah, okay, okay, Drago, enough preaching, let’s get goin’.”
They hiked back to the base of the waterfall. Drago stretched his lanky body upward, arms and fingers extended toward the heights. An odd mewling sound followed by several short barks came from his throat. The air shimmered for just an instant, and then Al was standing on the precipice, looking back down at Drago. He smiled, waved, and started eagerly back to Faeolin.
“Don’t forget about mee!” a little voice whispered. “I get to go too, don’t I?”
Katt remembered his scrawny little bug. He smiled, gently picked it up and headed back home, looking for another good deed along the way.