The Unexpected Animal

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Working on your WIP, but there’s something missing? The story has gone flat and stale and after careful consideration you decide you need to add a character who’ll breathe new life into the story?

Add the unexpected animal.

No, don’t put a cat on the back of the couch or have a puppy run through the room. That’s window dressing. That’s four-legged background. Instead, add an unexpected animal character. You want to grab the readers attention? Yup, add an unexpected animal. Ever read Animal Farm? Full of animals and, wow!, was that unexpected. It worked so well Orwell discarded most of the humans. Who’d have thought a pig could add so much to a story? An unexpected animal works great as the silent best friend or a conniving coworker. Think about it. Imagine if Sherlock Holmes had gone up against an orangutang mastermind in a top hat? See? It changes everything. Below is an example.

Debra leaned back in her chair. Pain caressed her temples and threatened to become a vise. It was yet another meeting where false eagerness wasn’t going to save anyone, not when sales were plummeting. What happened? Six months before sales were great. Then came the botched marketing plan and delays and poor timing. And that was just the beginning. She leaned her head back, but there wasn’t more air overhead. An oxygen tank under the conference table would be a nice touch.

Instead, she waited for Bob to start screaming. Management was a poor career choice for the balding man, and with the extra weight gathering around his middle it was becoming an additional strain on his heart. When meetings went poorly, and that was often as of late, she waited for him to clutch his chest and face plant. Poor Bob. Unsympathetic superiors and incompetent underlings. Well, most of them, anyway.

Done staring at the tabletop with his elbows down and his hands behind his head, Bob looked down the length of the table. “I’m not believing this…” His reddening face was a forewarning. The boil-over was coming. She looked at her phone. How fast could she call for emergency transport? Sensing scrutiny, Debra moved her gaze to Bob. He was looking at her. That was bad. She held her breath.

“Who had the projections last before you gave them to me, Debra?”

Oh no. “Bob…”

“You know I can find out.”

She pressed her fingers to her furrowed forehead, crossed her legs, and set her elbow on her knee. Nothing compared to ratting out a coworker in a meeting. Why couldn’t he have looked-up the records beforehand? Or had he done just that and the meeting was instead about drama? Drama with her as the snitch. Debra lowered her hand to un-obscure her view and looked at Dave across the way.

Same old Dave. He couldn’t handle the pressure. Sweat was matting his black hair to his temples. Decreased oxygen prompted his hand to dig at his tie in an effort to loosen the knot. At the instant it became a noose he jumped to his feet.

Breathless, he pointed at the opposite end of the table. “It wasn’t me. I didn’t touch the figures. It was all straight. I’d never inflate the numbers to hide mistakes. It was Mr. Chippers.”

The red feline looked at the sweating man as if the cat was a god taking note of an ant for the first time. That was Mr. Chippers, always staying cool when others panicked. There was one, slow blink that broadcast his calm condescension to everyone present. Not a whisker twitched.

Bob hung his head, shook it, and pounded both fists on the table. “Oh, come on, Dave. You know as well as I do Mr. Chippers needs to alter numbers less than anyone in this room.”

Mr. Chippers lifted a paw and spread his claws. He looked at Dave. One gold eye squinted. If he’d had eyebrows one would have raised. Everyone at the table knew the look and sank lower in their seats. Debra felt the pain again. You didn’t cross someone with Mr. Chippers’ track record. He was a feline who even knew how to market to dogs. Dogs! You didn’t cross a marketing marvel like that. Frowns and diverted gazes spread, spread to everyone except Alice from Accounting.

The woman with the curly red hair smiled and Debra wondered about the rumors. Cat treats in her purse? Sure, she had a cat at home, but Debra wasn’t the only one who’d seen her transferring the treats to her desk.

Dave paced in front of his chair. “You can’t seriously pin this on me instead of the cat?”

Leaning back in his chair, Bob crossed his arms. “You’re making this personal, Dave. I trust Mr. Chippers to handle his affairs with the upmost professionalism. He has lunch on a regular basis with some of our biggest clients. Shoot, one of them named his kid after him, for God sakes.”

“No!” Dave pounded a fist on the tabletop and turned towards Mr. Chippers. “This isn’t the end of it, cat. I’m not afraid of you.” Mr. Chippers stared at him and coughed-up a hairball on the table.

It was Dave’s last day.


3 Replies to “The Unexpected Animal”

  1. Pingback: The Unexpected Animal | Christina Anne Hawthorne

  2. Christina such fun adding this rascal to your story. I am instantly drawn to Mr Chippers (love his name too) and could imagine my cats running the board meeting like they do my house. We joke about them taking over the house when we are all asleep sitting at the table like humans and having a tea party. So I agree adding an interesting animal character can be a wonderful choice. Well done.

    • Thanks, Kath. It was done in tongue-in-cheek fun, but the irony was it livened up the story and was effective. Go figure. I was toying with various animal options when the character’s name popped into my head and I knew it was a cat. In an instant I saw him at the table, his claws extended, and a sly grin gracing his cat lips. I now have great fondness for Mr. Chippers.

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