Joey ran around Drizzle’s sleeping form, laughing and giggling. Occasionally, he would reach out and tap on the cat as
he ran past.
    
        “Tag! You’re it,” echoed across the open field.
    
        Drizzle ignored the bothersome child for a few more passes until he could not take any more. “Will you stop? I’m trying to
sleep.”
    
        This only enticed the child more. He ran past several additional times, smacking the humecat on the ears, nose and
rump with each pass.
    
        As Joey made another pass, the cat reached out and snagged the youngsters pants with a claw, causing him to fall.
Joey landed with a huff, the smile wiped off his face in an instant.
    
        “I told you to stop.”
    
        The child’s hazel eyes filled with tears. He yelled, “I only wanted to play! I don’t have any friends to play with, you big
meanie!”
    
        Drizzle looked at the pint size version of Joseph. The boy glared at the cat with open defiance. Both held their stares for
a moment longer before a chuckle escaped from the cat.
    
        “You know, you may look like your father, but you’re a carbon copy of your mother when it comes to attitude—won’t back
down from anything.”
    
        A growl emitted from the cat’s throat. It was neither threatening nor serious. The tail started swishing back and forth in a
rapid fashion. Suddenly, Drizzle pounced on the boy. He play wrestled with him, pretending to bite him but never doing so. This
was the part Joey loved best. He never fully understood what the cat meant by the other stuff, but he always loved the playing
that followed.
    
        Shyanne watched from the window in the kitchen. Joey and Drizzle had played this game so many times. It always
brought a smile to her face every time she watched it. She saw the pair run off toward the woods. This part of the game was
over. Now, the hide and seek part began. She returned her attention to the task at hand.
    
        Material lay on the table. Several pieces sat off to the side already cut out, waiting for her to sew them together. She
picked up the scissors. They were from a time before the virus. Holding them up, she stared at them, remembering the time
when she and Joseph had found them in some rubble. The metal was protected from the elements by a carrying pouch and it
was shear blind luck that they were found at all. Shyanne had tripped over a chunk of stone and nearly smashed her knee on
them. Since then, they have been a useful addition to her life.
    
        The soft material cut easily with the sharp scissors. A low humming sound emitted from her as she eyed which way to
cut next. It was a pleasant song from long ago. First, I’ll go this way then that. In no time, I’ll have another outfit ready for the baby,
she thought.
    
        Some clothes were available from when Joey was a baby. On the other hand, if this one was a girl—then what? To
make sure she was ready, either way, she embroidered several touches to the jumpers: a flower here, a hummingbird there.
Joseph just shook his head whenever he saw her embroidering. He knew better than to tell his wife not to do it.
    
        An hour later, she straightened up. With a groan, she arched her back as far as her swollen belly would let her. Her
pregnancy was going along without any difficulty, just like the first one. She was happy that she had not experienced the nausea
and swelling most women experienced, or any other problems for that matter. Now, it was almost over. The only thing that
bothered her was an ever-present tiredness. A nap usually resolved that.
    
        The chair scraped against the wood floor as she slid it back. Going to the window, she looked for her son and Drizzle.
They were nowhere to be seen.
    
        Drizzle was a godsend. The cat was created by her father’s workplace before the virus, a virus that escaped its creators
and almost wiped out every human being on the planet. With his ability to think and speak like a human, hence the designation
humecat, he kept Joey well occupied.
    
        Must be off on another adventure. Those two are hopeless together. Shyanne stretched again. An eye-scrunching yawn
accompanied the stretch. I’m going to take a short nap. Drizzle will keep Joey safe. As she moved down the hall, she thought, I
hope Joseph gets home soon; I sure could use a back massage.
    
        The bed never looked so inviting. She pulled back the covers and eased her tired body under them. Snuggling her head
deeper into the feather pillow, she drifted into what she hoped would be a restful nap.

                                                                                    *     *     *

    
        Joey ran into the woods to hide from the cat chasing him. They played this game of hide and seek often. It usually ended
with him hiding somewhere in the house and the cat finding him. The boy remembered the times he had hid in great places, only
to be sniffed out by Drizzle highly sensitive nose. He found better places now, places the cat could not sniff.
    
        Once he had rubbed onions all over his body to mask his scent. When he presented himself to his parents later that
evening, they tried to wash off the smell. Unfortunately, nothing worked. His skin was raw from so much scrubbing and he stunk
for a week before the scent finally dissipated.
    
        This time he wanted to try something new. Joey watched as Drizzle ducked into the trees then ran with all the speed his
little legs could muster back to the house. He made it without being spotted. With a snicker, he darted inside, ran quietly to his
room and crawled out the open window. He crept around to the cellar doors. Reaching out, he grabbed the handles and
backtracked to his window.
            Furball will think I’m hiding in the cellar. Ha! Let him, he thought as he crawled inside.
    
        Joey ran back to the woods, sprinkling some of the precious spices he took from the kitchen to cover his tracks. His
parents may be overprotective and, in his opinion, too busy to play with him, but they had at least taken the time to teach him
how to cover his tracks. Moreover, they had taught him how to survive if he got lost in the woods. At the young age of five, he
knew more about how to stay alive in the wilderness than most grown men did.
            Let old furball try and find me now. He’ll sneeze and sneeze and sneeze. Maybe I’ll hide so I can see it. I bet it’ll look
real funny.
Joey hid a giggle behind a small hand.
    
        He entered the dense undergrowth and began looking for a good place to hide so he could watch the fun. He did not
see the tall man with dark hair watching him until he almost bumped into him. With boyhood innocence, and a little bit of
suspicion, he stared up at the stranger.
    
        “Be careful there, young man, you don’t want to hurt yourself.”
    
        “Who are you?”
    
        “I’m an old friend of the family.”
    
        “Yea?”
    
        “Yea.” The big man squat low, resting one knee on the ground so he could be at eye level with the boy. “Who are you?”
    
        “Joey.”
    
        The youngster gawked at the man. He had never seen anybody like him. Most people he saw were like his parents. This
man was huge, his body bumpy all over with muscles. And the sword on his back—wow.
   
         “Joey, huh. Well Joey, how’s your mom?”
    
        “She okay.”
    
        “Her name’s Shyanne, right?”
    
        The boy’s eyes widened at the mention of his mother’s name. “How’d you know?”
    
        “Remember—I’m an old friend of the family.”
    
        “Oh, yea. You want to come to the house? Mom’s inside, probably napping.”
    
        “Is your dad home?”
   
         “Nope. He’s gone right now. He had to go get some things from town.” Returning his gaze to the sword, Joey said,
“What’s your name?”
    
        “Ruben.”
    
        The big man extended a hand to shake with; he made no attempt to move closer. Joey looked at it. He hesitated, not
sure if he should shake it or run away. He remembered the few times his parents had had friends over and the way they had
scolded him for not being polite, so he moved forward. He grasped the huge hand with his tiny one and pumped his arm up and
down as he had seen his dad do when greeting other men.
    
        Ruben could not believe his luck. He had been watching the house for some time now, avoiding the blasted cat’s
ranging area and wondering how he was going to get the boy away long enough to take him. Now he was here, before him,
alone, so innocent and trusting.
    
        “Come say hi to mom, she’ll be happy to see you.” The boy gripped the big hand and tugged.
    
        “Joey, I can’t stay. I’ve got to go to town myself.” Ruben let go of the hand and started to walk away. He turned back
toward the youngster after a couple of steps, “Say, did you want to come with me? We can meet up with your dad.”
    
        The boy’s big hazel eyes lit up. The thought of going to town was wonderful. He had been there only a few times and
remembered all the exciting things he had seen. Upset when his father had not taken him, he was going to get the chance to
see them after all.
    
        “Really? I can go with you?”
    
        “Only if you think your mom won’t mind.”
    
        “She won’t care. I’ll be with a friend, and they always said it was okay to stay with their friends.”
    
        “Well then, let’s go.” Ruben smiled as he reached out and took the boys hand in his.
    
        They walked to another clearing a short distance from the house where a black horse with a white blaze on its forehead
grazed on the grass.
    
        “Is that your horse?” Joey was awestruck by the size of the creature. It was huge, like the man standing next to him.
    
        “His name is Wind Racer.”
    
        “We’re going to ride on him?”
    
        “Are you afraid?”
    
        Joey stammered, “N–n–n—no.”
    
        “It’s okay Joey.” Ruben leaned over closer to the boy, “To tell you the truth, I was a little afraid when I rode him the first
time.”
    
        Joey glanced sideways at the big man, “You’re teasing me—aren’t you?”
  
          “No way, I would never do that to you.” Ruben held up his hands.
   
         The five year old smiled. “Does he go fast?”
    
        “As fast as the wind. That’s why I called him Wind Racer.”
    
        The horse must have heard Ruben’s voice because he looked up at the two standing near the edge of the woods. With
a nicker and a toss of his head, he trotted over to them, his mane flowing like silk, his tail held high. Joey hid behind the big
man. He had never been this close to something so massive before. It was scary, but also thrilling at the same time. Ruben
reached up and gave the animal a firm pat on the neck.
    
        “Joey, let me introduce you to my horse. Wind Racer, this is the young man who is going to accompany us on our
journey.”
    
        The horse looked at Joey and seemed to bob his head in understanding, or at least that was what it looked like to an
excited five year old.
    
        “You ready to go?”
    
        When he bobbed his own head yes, Ruben picked him up and placed him in the saddle. Joey watched as the big man,
who said he was a friend of his parents, got up behind him. He grabbed the saddle horn when the horse shifted his weight from
one foot to the other. The ground seemed so far down.
    
        “Don’t worry Joey, I won’t let you fall.”
    
        The youngster gave the big man a sheepish look before he peered at the horse again. “I’m not afraid. I think he’s
wonderful.”
    
        “He’s my best friend,” Ruben replied. “He’ll take good care of us.”
    
        The man gripped the reins, hugged the child close, and tapped Wind Racer in the sides. The horse responded
immediately. They flew across the clearing and in a short amount of time; they were on a dirt road, heading east. Joey was
having so much fun; he failed to notice that they were heading in the opposite direction, away from the town where his father
was located.
Excerpt from the book
Stolen
Snoopy, aka: The Blob.
Miss you, baby.