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Cry of the cat: plus critical thinking and precise communication.


Sonny Shaw sat alone on a large craggy rock about to bite into an apple. He was staring intently into the distance, at a dark structure on top of a steep hill. Between Sonny's rock and the hill lay a vast marshy swampland filled with bulrushes and cattails. In the evening sky, broad blankets of warm pink and yellow clouds shone brilliantly. But just above the dark outline of the hill, the hazy sky glowed a peculiar green, a sickly contrast to the delicate colors of the setting sun.

A puff of cold wind blew up from the swamp and Sonny shivered. Trails of white mist rose from the tall reedy cattails and bulrushes that grew throughout the swamp. The brown furry spikes of these strange water plants waved momentarily in the chill breeze.

There, above the tallest cattails, high on the hill's peak, stood old Jim Hawkson's house. It stood alone, sealed shut, because some years ago when old Jim Hawkson died he'd willed it to the wind and the rain. Nobody was allowed to enter the house. That is, nobody except his ghost. Everyone in Deep Valley knew old Jim Hawkson had turned into a ghost to scare people away. They all knew this because the old folks in Deep Valley said it was so, and since they said it was so, his ghost must be there. And they said it was especially so because old Jim had left instructions to have himself buried near the front of the house to make sure nobody entered it.

Before old Jim Hawkson died he had donated a portrait of himself to the town library. Along with the portrait was a gift of several thousand dollars to be used to refurbish one of the library's reading rooms. He stipulated large windows were to be installed, so people could read by natural light. And, of course, his portrait was to hang in a prominent place in the room so people could easily see it. When some townspeople had decided that he was in his house floating around as a ghost, they said they wanted the picture taken down. The town council, however, stuck to its agreement, so old Jim Hawkson now keeps a sharp eye on all who enter his reading room.

Even now, looking up at old Jim Hawkson's gloomy house, Sonny could not rid his mind's eye of that evil-looking portrait of stern, stolid, disapproving old Jim Hawkson glaring down at everyone.

A nervous twitch shook Sonny's upper body. Still squinting up at the haunted building's black silhouette, he felt behind him on the rock for the reassuring touch of his walkie-talkie. Was that a light flickering inside the derelict house?

Sonny brought the walkie-talkie up and pressed the talk switch. "Rick! Rick, come in. Calling Rick Greystone. Come in, Rick."

For a moment, all he heard was static, then his best friend's voice replied.

"Come in, Sonny Shaw. Rick Greystone calling back."

"Rick! I'm on the rock - you know that really big one where the swamp starts, just off the bike trail? I gotta show you something."

"Show me what? I'm with my dad and we're going to take a run along the bike trail by the river."

"You gotta see this!" shouted Sonny excitedly. "There's something weird going on up at old Jim Hawkson's house."

"It's been deserted for years."

"I saw a light, Rick. I swear I did. Come and look, you're not far from here."

In his excitement, Sonny bit hard into his apple. He immediately spit out everything onto the rock, and then looked down with disgust at a wiggling white worm among the bits of apple. The day before he'd eaten two apples from the same bag and both had been fine. Standing up, Sonny flung the apple into the thick jungle of cattails and bulrushes at the base of the rock.

Tugging nervously at the visor of his baseball cap, Sonny whispered to himself, "Come on Rick, wherever you are." The sky was darkening, but Sonny could still see the outline of old Jim Hawkson's house.

Sonny stood silently surveying the sweep of the swamp and distant hill. The chalk-gray rock with its craggy edges still radiated the warmth of the afternoon sun, only to remind Sonny of the cold damp air now chilling his hands and face. Hurry, Rick, while that light is still flickering, thought Sonny anxiously.

The stern voice of Rick's father startled Sonny. "Don't go too close to the swamp, Sonny, it's getting dark fast."

Sonny turned and saw two figures approaching through the long grass between the rock and the bike trail, small Rick and his slender dad. "Those water holes are dangerous. And that rock you're on, it's awfully high. Come on back to the bike trail. Rick and I will walk you home."

Sonny didn't like being told what to do, but he didn't say so.

A few other Deep Valley residents, like Rick and his dad, were out for their evening exercise on the trail beside Rock River. A few, very few, would steal a glance at old Jim Hawkson's house high up on the hill. Most would pretend they didn't see it. Late at night, many would pretend they didn't hear the soft eerie cries coming down the hill. And even less would allow their thoughts to flash back to that summer when Sheriff Rob Lockwood had found skeletons in back of the house. The sheriff had said these bones were from animals, but there was hushed talk of other possibilities.

Sonny, still standing on the large craggy rock, yelled down to Rick's father, "Is it okay if I show something to Rick, Mr. Greystone?"

"Show me what, Sonny? Show me what?" asked Rick, and he started scrambling up the rock.

In the falling darkness, Sonny grabbed Rick's arm and pulled him up on top of the big rock. "Look. That light up where the roof peaks, see it flickering?" whispered Sonny, pointing up at the old house.

"You mean near the attic?"

Suddenly they froze.

"Me - ow - ow - ow - ow - ow.... "A mournful, pleading cry floated out over the swamp below them.

"There's that cry again," Sonny whispered, grabbing Rick's arm. "I don't like cats when they cry like that. It's scary."

"It's just a cat in the swamp."

"What would a cat be doing in the swamp? Cats hate water."

Rick was staring hard up at the Hawkson place. "I don't see any light up there," he said firmly.

"I saw a light. A yellow one. It was flickering inside that high window."

"Well, I don't see anything. It could be some kind of a reflection."

"Or old Jim Hawkson's ghost."

"Sonny, there's no such thing as ghosts," said Rick stubbornly.

"Well, I think the cry came from the house. It didn't come from the swamp."

"Ghosts don't cry, Sonny, and they don't keep cats, either. They just laugh at people who get scared."

"Well, Rick, if there's no ghost up there and if that's a cat in the swamp, how about meeting me here tomorrow? Just before sunset. Then we can still see the house and watch it. Let's meet right here, on top of this rock. We'll watch and listen and see if something happens."

"Uh, well ... I'm not sure," Rick stammered, suddenly looking nervous.

"Nothing will happen to us, Rick. Besides, you don't believe in ghosts."

From the ground behind and below them, Mr. Greystone called out again in his stern voice, "Come on, Rick, time to go. Sonny, are you walking with us?"

"Tomorrow?" hissed Sonny.

Rick hesitated, then whispered to Sonny as they moved to the edge of the rock. "Okay, I'll meet you here. Let's help each other down this rock."


A. You live in two worlds. One is a no-words world. The other is a words world. Let's first look at your no-words world.

In your no-words world there are three kinds of facts to remember..

1. There are objects, like a chair.

2. There are happenings, like your walking.

3. There are feelings, like when you pinch yourself.

Interesting, just three kinds of facts: objects, happenings and feelings.

The best way to get to know these no-words world facts is by pointing at them and saying no words. They don't need words. Try this - go into a room, close the door and ...

1. Look at a chair, an object, and point to it.

2. Walk about the room and point to your walking, which we mentioned is a happening.

3. Now pinch yourself and point to the feeling, but say no words, not even "ouch!"

B. Sonny sat on a boulder, an object. He was about to bite into an apple. When he does, it's a happening. Because Sonny is sitting on a boulder, we can assume he feels its rough edges, a feeling.

C. Sonny was in the no-words world. He didn't say a word. He didn't need to.

D. During the day, look for the no-words world kind of facts, and just point to them. Next week do the same thing. Get to know these three kinds of facts by pointing at them.

Lyman J. Houfek holds degrees from the University of Wisconsin and Northwestern University. At the latter institution he studied general semantics with Irving J. Lee. He worked as marketing executive with the Hobart Corporation of Troy, Ohio, manufacturer of commercial and home kitchen equipment. While at Hobart he invented a sequential valve system used on high-pressure steam cookers. He has written for newspapers and trade publications. Now retired, he lives in Walnut Creek, California, where he is working on book two of Sonny's and Rick's adventures, provisionally titled Harbor Horn Smugglers.
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Title Annotation:excerpt from Lyman Houfek's book 'Cry of the Cat'; fiction
Author:Houfek, Lyman
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Excerpt
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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