‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through Civil War Tails every creature was stirring, including the mice. The clay Civil War cats were taking full advantage of the fact that the humans had gone away for Christmas. Every diorama had emptied, and miniature cats swarmed everywhere—dancing at the ball under the towering 8’ Christmas tree, sipping eggnog or mulled cider around the smaller skinny tree, taking sleigh rides around the snowy white tree, and nibbling popcorn under the Civil War tree. Cavalry and artillery horses frolicked with reindeer. Infantrycats and kittens of all scales mingled on Little Round Top, skiing and sledding down slopes of whipped cream. Patrick, the only clay dog, lay snuggled in one of Kelly the Museum Dog’s blankets, a nibbled Pupperoni—almost as big as he was—by his side, and mumbling something about “…are as comfy as she says!”
In the kitchen, the real mice danced with Nana Kitty’s toy mice, enjoying some time off from worrying about the real critters; the kittens were shut away upstairs, and Kelly was off on vacation at the kennel.
The clay cats had sent a courteous email to Kelly, wishing her a Merry Christmas and asking how it was going, but all they got was an away message of “woof woof woof.” Patrick was no help—every time he read it, he just started giggling and never told the cats what it said. They had a sneaking suspicion it was something very doggy and anti-cat.
Gen. Lee stretched his paws to the heat vent and purred. “Just think, Ulysses, tomorrow we get a Christmas all to ourselves! I can’t remember ever having a Christmas where we could be ourselves.”
Gen. Grant hiccupped from the chair beside him. He had promised Julia that he wouldn’t drink too much of the famous eggnog until tomorrow, so he could avoid a Christmas Day hangover, but he’d lost count of cups around noon, and now he had had just a teensy weensy bit too much. Julia just threw her paws in the air and went off to gather some ladies to join her in making another batch of eggnog for tomorrow. “It’s such a shame we can’t let the humans in on the secret,” he said. “I mean, they know now, after watching ‘Night at the Museum.’”
“Yes, and my cats on Little Round Top let slip once. Fortunately, Reb chalked it up to miscounting and thought nothing of it. But it was a close call. We really can’t let slip like that.”
“A slip of the lip might sink a ship,” Grant began caterwauling and ended up hiccupping and giggling.
“General,” Lee said stiffly, “I think you need some coffee.”
A frenzied clatter of hoofbeats interrupted Grant’s reply. It was Private Quinlan Sullivan, mounted on an artillery horse that trailed the traces from its harness. The cat saluted. “Capt. Hall begs to report, sirs. Car Jack has been sighted, coming through town.”
Both generals sat bolt upright.
“What?” Lee exclaimed.
“That’s impossible!” Grant chimed. He frowned. “It is Christmas Eve, not Christmas Observed Monday, right?”
“Yes, sir. But the signal station at the Square reported a red Ford Focus coming through.”
“There are lots of red Focuses that look like Jack.”
Quinlan gave him an “I know, general” look. “This one had reindeer antlers and a Rudolph nose. The Middle Street station reports it had Jack’s bumper stickers.”
“Oh dear,” Lee murmured.
Grant pushed himself out of his chair. “Private, get back to Little Round Top and fire a signal gun. We’ve got to get everyone’s attention!”
The artillerycat saluted, wheeled his horse, and galloped off. Moments later, the solid booms of two cannons echoed around the museum. The merry mayhem fell silent with startled apprehension.
Lee stood on the top of the barrister’s bookcase, overlooking the mess of party paraphernalia below. He took a deep breath. “We’ve just received word that the humans are on their way home. They already passed Middle Street!”
“High Street,” Grant said grimly, reading a note a winded courier from Bigelow’s battery had just handed him.
“High Street!” Lee yelped. “We only have minutes! I never thought I’d say this, but… Everyone: SCURRYFUNGE*!!!!”
9,161 pairs of ears perked straight up, and more than a few tails bushed in panic. Then the stunned silence exploded into chaos.
On the ironclads and USS Housatonic, drummers beat “to quarters” and sailors sprang into action, hefting their swabs over their shoulders and dashing for the ski slopes.
The real mice disappeared in a twinkling, leaving the fridge door open and peanut-buttery pawprints around the peanut butter jar that lay on its side on the butchers block. Housatonic sent a detail of sailors to get the kitchen ship-shape. “Mind you,” the captain called after them, “I want a clean sweep down the butcher’s block! Clear it for action!”
Ladies ran in every direction, hiding pots of eggnog and mulled cider around the dioramas so the soldiers could enjoy their libations later.
Artillery teams from Hazlett’s battery dragged the enormous chairs back into place, every horse and cat seemingly trying to pull each chair by himself.
Infantrycats from the Angle swarmed over the floor, gathering up picks and returning them to the picture frames and garlands. The cats from Devil’s Den followed close behind, sweeping up the glitter trail and running, not to the trashcan, but to their diorama with armfuls of glitter and sneaky grins. The humans insisted on stealing their glitter every January. Well, now they would have secret stashes among the caves and crannies of the boulders, and no one would ever know, except them!
“They’re at the Steinwehr traffic light!” Prof. Lowe shrieked from his observation balloon Intrepid. “Hurry!”
Lee paused in his sweeping and looked around him in dismay. “I hope that light is as long as Mom always says it is…”
Grant wiped sweat from his forehead. “Well, it’ll gain us a minute, anyway.”
Cats swarmed up the floor lamps, gathering up the tinsel that draped like Spanish moss and untangling it from candy canes. Lt. Haskell, fully engulfed in a shiny, sticky pile, shook his head and muttered, “It’s as bad as a feather dipped in molasses!”
The sailors swabbed the whipped cream frantically. Occasionally, a kitten would sled past, get a mopful of sticky fluff in the face, and tumble off the sled, giggling.
The ambulance from Meade’s Headquarters galloped hither and thither, collecting scattered ornaments, and then circling aimlessly as its frenzied driver tried to remember which ornaments came from which tree.
Miniature rubber ducks waddled in every direction, quacking and getting in the way. Patrick channeled his inner border collie and herded them back onto the player piano. They waddled after him when he left, and after three failed attempts, he took them to Ft. Sumter’s water instead, where they remained happily paddling in quacking circles. Relieved, he darted to his diorama, curled up, and went to sleep.
The whistles of the two locomotives screamed a warning. “They’re in the driveway!” the engineer of the Texas hollered.
The scurryfunging reached a fever pitch. Glitter and tinsel flew, wooden cranberries rolled everywhere, wrapping paper crackled, and dog toys squonked.
A key turned in the lock.
Lee cast one last glance around the spotless museum and breathed a sigh of relief. Grant gripped his pencil and braced himself on his table, focusing on staying in his chair and looking a little green.
The door opened, Ru entered and dashed across to turn off the house alarm, and then human chatter replaced the clay cat meows and Sculpey horse neighs.
On the Angle, Lt. Haskell’s eyes suddenly widened. The limber team from Cowan’s gun was missing. Haskell gulped. But the humans were busy unloading the car, hurrying upstairs to greet the kittens, dashing to the thermostat to turn up the heat, and shoving boxes of Oram’s Donuts* into the fridge.
After the humans were finally tucked into bed and silence had fallen once more, a faint clip-clop of hooves crossed the museum and Cowan’s limber team slunk onto their proper diorama. The cats grinned sheepishly. They’d lost their heads and followed the first limber they saw and ended up on Little Round Top. By the time the galloping team had slowed to a halt, the back door had been opening and it was too late to move the gun.
Patrick texted Kelly that night, “Missed a fun woof. Wish woof were here. Merry Woofmas.”
Kelly texted back, “Grass here is woof! And so many woofs to talk woof wiff! Gotta bring you next woof! Woof woof woof! Merry Woofmas!”
*Scurryfunge – A hasty tidying of the house between the time you see the neighbor coming and the time they knock on the door.
*Oram’s Donut Shop is home to the best donuts in the world. Just saying 😉