Fiction logo

An Examined Life

The King of Dirt is rather small, not what you think a king in size should be.

By Erin LeonardPublished 2 years ago 12 min read

The King of Dirt is rather small, not what you would think a king in size should be. The King’s body is an old pepper mill—a wooden one. The King of Dirt has wild hair of thick locks which spiral straight up in upside down tornados. His face is pinched clay and meme alien. His eyes black glass beads, and his arm and legs spindly, long, and made of clock wire. In one hand the King hold a pen quill, in the other a tea-strainer painted to look full of ink. From the place where pepper should pour hangs a chain so you know this is a king and not a queen, as the wings on his back may confuse you because of eons of gender fairy tale brainwashing.

The King of Dirt has an imp companion that sports a similar hair style and stands forever on all fours beside him. The imp has the face of a rat but is actually the size of an emancipated mouse. Both are glued to a display shelf that hangs on the wall by two thin nails.

One would think looking at the King of Dirt, terrible odors should waft about, of molds and dank basement rot. For what is the meaning of dirt anyway? But the King of Dirt doesn’t really have a smell that is suggested, unless you get awfully close, so close that you notice the diamond chips are buckles for his shoes, and the hint of pepper comes through.

What is paramount is the King of Dirt’s castle—a two story Dutch Colonial hundred-year-old house overgrown with blackberry and evil English ivy. Sidewalks are missing. So unaccounted for, that nobody can figure how one should walk to the front door and for a decade now, and instead follows a straight dirt path made by the house dogs to the back door at the kitchen. The path makers also are the window smear makers, dissectors of anything cardboard in the recycling bin, and fur depositors of all horizontal surfaces or static electric vertical ones, such as the dishwasher. This is weird because the dishwasher hasn’t washed a dish in over four years—something faulty going on making the entire unit suitable for only a landfill. The hair sticks to the stainless-steel dishwasher surface because of its proximity to the back door in a kingdom in The Land of Continuous Rain. Once inside, paws all muddied up and coats dripping wet, the house dogs waste not a step more and shake, shake, shake, which pleases the king.

The King of Dirt is installed on the dining room wall overlooking the kitchen. The dining room table has stacks of anything stackable. Bills and books mixed with magazines. Neat piles of perpetual clean laundry folded and waiting to be shelved or shoved into drawers. Bits of pieces of stuff like screws, phone chargers, dead batteries, and scribbled lines of poetry on backs of envelopes of opened mail. That is to the west and east. To the south is a hallway and the room with the television where most of the noise of the castle comes from. To the north from where the King stands, is the dark hall that leads to the basement where the King’s favorite subject, the cat, disappears to and from a couple of times a day.

Every so often the cat comes bearing a mouse in its mouth. Sometimes the mouse is dead and the cat hurries upstairs to the only room in the house where the cat will eat the mouse, the bathroom, on the bath matt, right outside the shower. If this is the case, then the King of Dirt has learned to wait the approximate twenty minutes before the cat returns downstairs to the coolness of the kitchen’s slate floor, the only spot in the house where the cat vomits, close to the cupboard door where the dry cat food is kept. Other times, and only when the humans are out of the house, the cat brings up a live mouse and drops it within sight of the King. Between the stone floor of the kitchen and the wood of the dining and hall, the gladiator game of mouse rugby thrills the king, with each cat smack of the mouse hitting some surface, be that the brick of the fireplace or the leg of a dining chair, comes little splats of blood so small that they will go undetected unless the cat screws up and leaves the spent mouse lying in obvious view. Which, this cat of seventeen years has only done twice, and never to be repeated because of the complete shrill screaming coming from the cat’s beloved human once she comes across a rodent, dead or alive. Yes, even if you are a cat and don’t give a fuck about what anything else thinks, this cat gives a fuck about that, because life is simply too short to witness such pointless terror expended in someone who feeds you whenever you want to be fed.

In this throne room, what used to be called the dining room, is a window with a ledge where the cat naps and sits for hours watching the Robins, Blue Jays, and Fox Squirrels flit about the birdfeeder right outside the window. Just this mid-morning a young male coyote stood staring back inside the castle’s thin windows. Not at the cat but beyond what could be seen and instead smelled back on the stove, in a can half full of fresh bacon grease.

Now, in the radiant heat of afternoon, the cat is in good spirits and willingly chatty. The King of Dirt is free to ask the cat any questions about the rest of the house. The cat is good with detail and knows every inch of the house, under every bed, in every closet, sniffs behind every bookshelf.

“Tell me," asks the King, “where in the realm is the dust at its thickest?”

“That’s easy,” answers the cat, “where the dolls used to live.”

The cat closes his eyes to sleepy slits and starts to purr.

“Wait!” shouts the king, as he has lost the cat to a beam of sunshine before.

The cat eyes snap open. The cat’s tail twitches. “What?” the cat says.

“Details please” says the king.

The cat yawns. Sandpaper tongue snake coils and the cat draws the tongue back in and licks his lips. “Are you sure?” the cat asks. “Because I have lived here a long, long, time, before the days of that Labrador and that intolerable poodle-mix. There are things about this house and what has happened in it that some, even Royal Highnesses, might be better off not knowing. Curiosity kills you-know-what,” says the cat.

“Tell me,” says the King, “I command you.”

“Very well then,” the cat answers and hops over to the dining room chair directly under the King of Dirt and his demon imp. The cat climbs up the back of the chair and gently takes a bat at the imp. The imp rattles back and forth from the vibration of being struck. The cat eyes dilate at the sight. The cat waits a moment and strikes again, this time at the thin wire legs of the King.

“Stop it!” the King shrieks.

“Go ahead, say it,” the cat hisses.

“I command you” the King whimpers.

The cat jumps and lands in the soft cushion of the chair, then hops back to his place in the sun. The cat sits, watches the King settle back to his stationary position, and starts to lick one paw—the striking one. “You are not who you think you are,” the cat says in between licks, “Your Majesty. Once upon a time in the room on the bookcase where all the One Who Feeds Me sleeps, stood these dolls” the cat starts.

“I’m most grateful” the King interrupts, “truly, you’re my only ally.”

“How tactful of you” the cat meows, “now, don’t interrupt me because this story has moral and meaning, an intention to answer the very question of existence, now where was I?”

As characteristic of most orange tabbies, the cat is excellent at telling epic tall tales that began with times of easy living, and so the cat starts with a few details of the One Who Feeds Me that are completely embellished on “. “As a young girl, the One Who Feeds Me was so known for worshipping cats that she had hundreds living in her former castle, and when she needed to find a new castle, she knew that she would have to leave all of her beloved cats behind, except one, me, her soul tiger.”

The cat continues with the One Who Feed Me journey. The dark days of when she met the One Who Hates Me and as the years went on along came the children—One Who is Afraid of Me and the other, One Who Tortures Insects. The story persists on and on in cat obsessive fashion, until the One Who is Afraid of Me and the One Who Tortures Insects moves out. And it is here that the dolls become, once more, an element of plot.

“The dolls from her childhood, from her parent’s travels, had been put up on that top shelf for protection from the hands of her own children and quite frankly had been completely forgotten about. Their cloth faces and clothes covered in sequins were all dark and of the color of dried house flies--”

“Dried house flies! Wonderful detail,” the King shouts.

The cat hops up on the dining room table and crouches down. The cat’s tail twitches, and the imp seems to pull closer to the wire legs of the King. Jerking the tail with the precision of a fly fisherman, the cat continues in a higher pitch: “I’ll just cut to the chase your Royal Object, those sequins on your belt there are from a dead doll. You are nothing but a direct metaphor and ascetically simple in meaning. Before One Who Feeds Me found you in a Goodwill bin, you were a discarded peppermill. She brought you home to her glue gun and bits of pieces of doll parts that were rescued from the dishwasher. Yes, that is right, she thought she could save them by putting them all on the top rack and washed them on the “Fine China,” only to find them in various states of dissolve when she opened the dishwasher door. Why you are nothing but bits and pieces of what was and should have been thrown in the trash.”

The King of Dirt clears his throat. “I see,” the King says watching the increase speed in the flick of the cat’s tail. He before has witnessed the cat’s agility to leap great distances once fired up for a kill.

“Have you ever read any Tolstoy?” asks the King.

“You know perfectly well cats don’t read,” says the cat. “Remember last week when you convinced me what terrific fun and an excellent mess it would make if I would knock a canister of breadcrumbs off the shelf and instead, I kicked over a canister of Comet over? You said the dogs would thank me and instead all of us suffered from burns on the pads of our feet. He Who Feeds Me is still polluting our water bowl with Rescue Remedy over that.”

“Oh, apologies again. I am after all just a piece of art, and from the sound of it a found object one at that,” says the King. “But this is how Tolstoy defined art, he wrote: ’Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by the means of certain external signs, hands on to other feelings he has lived through, and the other people are infected by these feelings and also experiences them.’”

“Your point,” the cat smirks as he sits back to lick his chest.

“Well actually, my point is to question your point of telling that story. Your original premise was that I may not be who I think I might be, correct?” offers the King of Dirt.

The cat moves on to his anus and deliberately licks slowly because he knows the King and the imp enjoy this. The cat looks up. “An insufferable peppermill,” he says.

“Used to be” the King says, “but now I have meaning, for meaning is an intention, a design, and here extended from my peppermill body in my hands.”

The cat hisses, “Taiwanese dancer doll hands, that’s why your fingers look double jointed.”

“In my Taiwanese dancer hands,” say the King of Dirt, “I hold a pen and a bucket of ink. I am the manifestation of the One Who Feeds Me desire to write and making that desire a priority in a Monarch declaration to let the muddy paw prints be and the house to cluttered chaos.”

The cat sits back up. “Bullshit,” the cat says, “the One Who Feeds Me, feeds me, which to you would make her—the One Who Glued Me Together.”

“Exactly right my furry friend,” says the King of Dirt, “the One Who Makes It All Happen for Both of Us. Before us, there was just Her, this single consciousness who made ours matter for…no, wait just a sec…our matter is a property of her consciousness. Hold it, I think I’m on to something big—before the beginning of time there was a single consciousness. Follow me?”

“Your wordiness is starting to annoy me” says the cat and pulls his body into a crouch to pounce.

The imp saw it coming, but not the King. The King of Dirt was in a state of found object art ecstasy, which being the sum of his parts in newfound clarity and of artist statement purpose, The King of Dirt was one with all matter, because all the mattered was the consciousness that made him, and he was matter made of it. The cat in a precise move leap toward the King of Dirt and latched his armed around his peppermill body. The cat bites into the King of Dirt’s hair. Finally, silence, at last. The cat holds firm, then fall backward. His nails hold onto the King until the cat releases, and with cat stealth, lands to the padded seat of the chair.

The King of Dirt and the Imp first slammed into the edge of the table. The King’s head takes flight from its body and skids across the wood floor. The remainder of the King and Imp explode into pieces upon impact to the floor.

The cat disappears into the basement for the next twelve hours.

Outside, the coyote sits as witness. The coyote waits for the cat to return to the window until the motor of a car comes near, then he breaks to trot off into the woods behind the house, never to return.

This coyote story is told over and over for generation after generation, of a land far, far away, where there are dens the size of mountains made of bacon grease and full of fat cats waiting for a coyote’s return. Of lives well lived and deemed a righteous by all litters who came after and will continue in a world without end.


Short Story

About the Creator

Erin Leonard

As a writer, I enjoy writing short stories, screenplays, and poems.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.