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King o’ the Cats

Told by Aaron Shepard

Reader’s Theater Edition #36 ~ Team Version

Adapted for reader’s theater (or readers theatre) by the author, from his picture book published by Atheneum, New York, 2004

For more reader’s theater, visit Aaron Shepard’s RT Page at www.aaronshep.com.

Story copyright © 2004 Aaron Shepard. Script copyright © 2004, 2005 Aaron Shepard. Scripts in this series are free and may be copied, shared, and performed for any noncommercial purpose, except the texts may not be posted publicly without permission.

PREVIEW: Peter is notorious for telling wild stories—so who will believe him now, with his crazy claims about cats?

GENRE: Folktales, tall tales, ghost stories
CULTURE: British (English)
THEME: Credibility
LENGTH: 10 minutes

READER 1—Narrator 1, Tom
READER 2—Narrator 2, Cat
READER 3—Peter
READER 4—Father Allen, Bishop, (Dog)

NOTES: This is a much expanded retelling of the original folktale. Most meowing together should be random, not in unison. Meowing and barking can be added elsewhere as needed and even extended under spoken parts—but make sure the spoken parts can be heard and understood!

All special features are at www.aaronshep.com/extras.

NARRATOR 1:  Young Peter Black was a good man, but everyone said he had one big fault. He loved to tell wild stories.

NARRATOR 2:  Peter was the sexton at the Church of St. Thomas the Believer, there in the little town of Tabby-on-Thames. He stayed in the cottage behind the church, right next to Father Allen’s house.

NARRATOR 1:  Many were the jobs he’d held before that, but with his wild stories, he’d managed to lose every one.

NARRATOR 2:  Father Allen had warned him.

FATHER ALLEN:  (sternly) Peter, this is the last job you’re likely to get in this town. If you want to keep it, your wild stories must stop!

* * *

NARRATOR 1:  One night Peter couldn’t sleep. He tossed and he turned and at last got up to make himself some tea. But when he glanced out his window, he saw the windows of the church ablaze with light.

PETER:  (muttering) What in the world . . . ? There shouldn’t be anyone there, this time of night. And how’d they get in, anyway?

NARRATOR 2:  Peter pulled on a coat, crossed the yard, and quietly unlocked the back door. As he crept through the vestry, he heard a sound from the church.

BISHOP:  (as if performing a ceremony) Meow, meow . . . .

PETER:  Sounds like a cat! But I never knew a cat to light a candle.

NARRATOR 1:  He peered around the curtain hung at the church entrance, and what he saw made him gasp.

PETER:  (gasps)

NARRATOR 2:  There was not one cat, but hundreds of cats, of every size and coloring. They filled the pews, and all of them sat upright just like people.

NARRATOR 1:  On the steps to the altar, a big black cat—the biggest cat Peter had ever seen—was kneeling with his head bowed. Standing above him with paws upraised was a black cat in bishop’s robes, intoning,

BISHOP:  Meow, meow . . . .

NARRATOR 2:  An altar kitten approached with a velvet pillow on which lay a small golden crown. The bishop lifted the crown and solemnly placed it on the kneeling cat’s head.

NARRATOR 1:  The church exploded with cries of

NARRATOR 1 & CAT:  (as if cheering) Meow, meow!

NARRATOR 1:  Peter didn’t wait to see more. He raced through the vestry and back to his cottage, where he jumped into bed and stayed trembling under the covers till morning.

PETER:  (moans in terror)

NARRATOR 2:  Bright and early, Peter was over to see Father Allen. The priest was reading in the conservatory, his black cat Tom curled up on his lap.

FATHER ALLEN:  (pleasantly) Good morning, Peter. What brings you here so early?

PETER:  (urgently, wide‑eyed and gesturing) Father Allen, I came to tell you about something terribly weird in the church last night. I saw these lights and I went over to check, and I heard a meow—

TOM:  (like a normal cat) Meow.

NARRATOR 2:  . . . said the priest’s cat, Tom.

PETER:  (looking and pointing at Tom) Yes, just like that. (looks back at Father Allen) And when I looked, there were hundreds of cats in the church. And there was this one big black cat, and he was kneeling in front, and their bishop was crowning him—

FATHER ALLEN:  (looking at him sternly and interrupting) Peter . . . . Do you remember what I told you about wild stories?

PETER:  Of course I do, Father.

FATHER ALLEN:  Then let’s have no more of this, all right?

PETER:  But, Father—

FATHER ALLEN:  (changing subject) Listen, Peter, I have an errand for you. Will you walk over to Brambleton today and deliver a message to Father Rowan?

NARRATOR 1:  Peter would and Peter did. But he didn’t get to it till late afternoon, and by the time he started home, it was already dusk. He decided to take a shortcut cross-country.

He was halfway through a meadow and up to a stand of trees when he heard a commotion. From beyond the meadow came the barking of a dog and a chorus of

NARRATOR 1 & CAT:  Meow, meow.

PETER:  (in alarm) Is it those cats again?

NARRATOR 1:  . . . said Peter in alarm, ducking behind a tree.

An Irish setter raced into the meadow, barking for all it was worth. Right behind were a dozen cats with bows and arrows, riding—yes, riding—on the backs of bridled foxes. The big black cat at their head was wearing a golden crown.

At first Peter thought the setter was leading the cats on the trail of their quarry. Then he realized,

PETER:  (in shocked surprise, to himself) No, they’re hunting the dog!

NARRATOR 1:  As the cat with the crown rode by a large rock, his fox tripped and stumbled and the cat went flying. He struck his head on the rock and lay still.

CAT:  (gasps)

NARRATOR 1:  The other cats gave up the chase and crowded anxiously around him. Then with loud, mournful cries of

NARRATOR 1 & CAT:  (loudly, mournfully) Meow, meow.

NARRATOR 1:  . . . they laid him over the back of his fox and returned the way they had come.

Peter stood shaking till they were out of sight, then nipped off home as fast as his wobbly legs would bear him.

PETER:  (moans in terror)

NARRATOR 2:  He found Father Allen at supper, with his cat, Tom, nibbling from a dish by the table.

PETER:  (urgently, breathlessly) Father, it’s about those cats. I was crossing a meadow, and I heard a dog barking and all these cats crying meow—

TOM:  (like a normal cat) Meow.

NARRATOR 2:  . . . said Tom.

PETER:  (looking and pointing at Tom) Yes, just like that. (looks back at Father Allen) And then the cats came riding into the meadow on foxes, all of them chasing this dog, but then the cat with the crown fell off and hit his head and . . . and . . . and . . . . (looking at Tom, perplexed) Father, why’s Tom staring at me like that?

NARRATOR 2:  Father Allen put down his fork.

FATHER ALLEN:  (sternly) Peter, I’ve warned you often enough about your wild stories. Now, if you come to me talking like this again, I’m going to have to let you go. Do you understand?

PETER:  (desperately) But, Father, it’s no story. I swear it!

FATHER ALLEN:  (vehemently) That’s enough, Peter! (pauses for a deep breath to calm himself) Now, I’m sorry to ask you so late, but I have another chore for you. Mrs. Pennyweather has passed on suddenly, and tomorrow’s the funeral. I need you to dig her grave—(pointedly, almost ominously) tonight.

NARRATOR 1:  So it was that Peter was digging in the graveyard by the light of the full moon. It was hard work, and he had to keep resting, and it wasn’t till right around midnight that he finished.

Just as he was about to climb out, he heard a distant

NARRATOR 1, BISHOP, & CAT:  (plaintively, in unison) Meow.

NARRATOR 1:  . . . then again,


NARRATOR 1:  . . . and again,


PETER:  (in terror) It’s the cats!

NARRATOR 1:  He scrunched down in the grave, then carefully peered over the edge.

Coming across the graveyard was the black bishop cat, and behind him were six more black cats, carrying on their shoulders a small coffin. The box was covered with a pall of black velvet, and sitting on top was the golden crown that Peter had seen twice before.

The cats walked slowly and solemnly, and at every third step cried,

NARRATOR 1, BISHOP, & CAT:  (closer and louder) Meow.

NARRATOR 1:  Their path went right by the grave where Peter hid, and when they were but a few feet away, the bishop held up a paw for a halt. Then he turned and stared straight at Peter and spoke.

BISHOP:  (loudly, slowly, imperiously) Tell Tom Tildrum . . . that Tim Toldrum’s . . . dead.

NARRATOR 1:  Then he lowered his paw, and the cats walked on, and at every third step cried,


NARRATOR 2:  Well, Peter scrambled out of that grave and bolted for Father Allen’s.

PETER:  (moans in terror)

NARRATOR 2:  He pounded on the door, shouting,

PETER:  Father! Father! Let me in!

NARRATOR 2:  At last the door opened and Father Allen stood there sleepily in his nightshirt.

FATHER ALLEN:  (befuddled) Peter, what’s going on?

PETER:  (urgently) Let me in, Father, please, and I’ll tell you.

NARRATOR 2:  Father Allen led him into the library, where Tom yawned and stretched on his cat bed. The priest lit a lamp.

FATHER ALLEN:  (wearily) Now, what’s this all about, Peter?

PETER:  (more urgently than ever) Father, you’ve got to believe me. I was out digging Mrs. Pennyweather’s grave when I heard a meow—

TOM:  (like a normal cat) Meow.

NARRATOR 2:  . . . said Tom.

PETER:  (looking and pointing at Tom) Yes, just like that. (looks back at Father Allen) And I looked and saw seven black cats, and one was the bishop, and the others were carrying a coffin with a crown, and they came right up next to me, and the bishop stopped them and stared at me just like Tom there and . . . and . . . and . . . . (looking at Tom, perplexed) Father, why’s Tom staring at me like that?

FATHER ALLEN:  (starting to lose patience) Peter—

PETER:  But, Father, I tell you, he spoke to me! And he gave me a message. I’m to tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Toldrum’s dead. (desperately) But how can I tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Toldrum’s dead when I don’t know who Tom Tildrum is?

FATHER ALLEN:  (furiously) Peter, this is the last straw. I’ve warned you again and again—

PETER:  (staring and pointing at Tom in terror) Father! Look at Tom! Look at Tom!

NARRATOR 2:  Tom was swaying, and Tom was swelling, and Tom was standing on his two hind legs, and then Tom spoke.

TOM:  (loudly, slowly, with rhythm) What? Tim Toldrum dead? Then I’m the King o’ the Cats!

NARRATOR 2:  Tom leaped toward the fireplace, and with a single

TOM:  (loudly) Meow.

NARRATOR 2:  . . . he bounded up the chimney and was gone.

(gravely) Never to be seen again.

* * *

NARRATOR 2:  Of course, after that, there was no more talk of Peter losing his job. But as for Father Allen . . . .

Well, Father Allen was a good man, but everyone said he had one big fault. He loved to tell wild stories.

PETER:  (to audience, with smile) About Tom.

FATHER ALLEN:  (to audience, loudly, slowly, wide‑eyed and gesturing) THE KING O’ THE CATS!

TOM:  (to audience, sounding like a normal cat, but with a sly, amused look) Meow.

All special features are at www.aaronshep.com/extras.

Book cover: King o’ the Cats
Read the book!

King o’ the Cats
By Aaron Shepard
Illustrated by Kristin Sorra

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