by Jackson Voorhaar
Unfortunately for Arthur, not all cats are created equal. Where most cats are blessed with nine lives, Arthur was the runt of his litter and, as such, only had one life. Even his sister Enid, who was mauled by a dog when she was a kitten, still had three lives left. But Arthur decided from an early age that he wouldn’t let that stop him enjoying that life to the full.
Arthur took up skydiving when he was still a kitten. It started as a unique attempt to try and get to one of his mothers nipples to feed.
Maybe if I came in from above, he thought, I might be able to wedge myself into a position where my brothers and sisters only push me closer in to my mother.
After all, how was he going to grow any bigger if his greedy siblings deprived him of food? Plus, a third of time it actually worked too.
Arthur’s sibling weren’t nice to him at all. Many times they said that they had wished that Arthur had been mauled by a dog, instead of Enid.
“At least you only have one life to lose”, said his brother Kevin, “Enid lost six lives”.
Arthur would show them though. He became determined to show his brothers and sisters that being the runt doesn’t mean you can’t be capable of greatness, one life or not.
Arthur’s first parachute was made of a magpie hide. He hollowed out the insides, bones and all, and clung to the end of its wings. It provided more than enough air-resistance for him to leap from the trees above and lower his small frame safely to the ground. Once it had been established that this was possible he worked to improve on his design. Incrementally he went higher and higher. He enjoyed being able to free-fall for longer. From the tops of the trees he could see the human city in the distance and the human park where dogs dragged their human masters around for exercise. The other cats refused to go there, it was too dangerous, and Arthur was no different, but he liked being able to keep an eye on them.
It wasn’t long until Arthur began to draw a crowd of curious onlookers. Never before had they seen a fellow cat take to the skies like a fish to water and they couldn’t get enough. He began to dress up for his dives and people would donate pieces of food to him for the entertainment they received. Felix, the runt of the family litter after Arthur’s began to follow him everywhere. Arthur was Felix’s idol and said one day he too would show the world that being a runt didn’t matter, what mattered was ambition and drive to be the best you can be. One life meant you had nothing to fall back on and made it all the more important that you use that life to improve the world around you.
Soon the day arrived that Arthur stood at the top of the highest tree in the wood, his white cape flapped in the wind and the audience, tiny dots below him held their breath as Arthur, or Evel Katnievel as he had begun to call himself, threw himself into the yawning sky and hurtled downwards. He clung onto the parachute with his claws and, when the time was right, he opened it up and it inflated. But the speed at which he fell caused a claw to break off his right paw and the parachute slipped out of his grasp. The parachute flapped above him and did nothing to ease his descent towards the oncoming forest floor. He held the parachute tightly in his left paw and reached for the flapping parachute grip with his right, ignoring the pain in his broken claw. The ground raced up at him and he reached upwards into the sky. He caught the parachute string with a single claw on his left paw and the parachute inflated again. But that claw broke too and still he plummeted towards the hard ground, just seconds away. He reached again, snagged the parachute and clung on for dear life. He slammed into the forest floor but had managed to lessen his speed in his final moments. The crowd gasped. Husbands licked their wives tears away. He was lucky. His heart pounded and he wanted more. As he lay there in pain, but alive, Arthur decided that if there were no higher trees to jump from, he would remove his need for them. No more free-falling. Now he craved flight itself.
What started as a method of getting fed was now Arthur’s personal quest to show the entire of the cat community that he was capable of even greater things and that if you give up on your dreams you may as well just impale yourself on a canine’s canines because that is no way to live.
Arthur knew he couldn’t do it alone. His convalescence and a design for a serviceable flying machine would require assistance from a cat of science. Professor Meowsenberg was that cat.
Meowsenberg was a cool cat. He wore dark sunglasses, a black hat and had dyed his entire coat blue. He didn’t live with the rest of the community, he lived alone on the outskirts of town and had mostly devoted his life to methods of devouring a fish in one mouthful that left just a fish skeleton behind but he’d had limited success.
Luckily for Arthur, the great Meowsenberg loved a challenge and was happy to take a break from his research and assist Arthur in his new quest. Arthur wanted to soar and swoop, to not just free-fall but to command the skies and take cat-kind into a new epoch of supremacy. To leave the dogs helpless on the ground. They could chase them all they wanted but dogs were never going to be smart enough to fly, even if they had managed to partially enslave human kind.
The plan, though simple in theory, was going to be difficult to carry out in practice. First, they needed to get control of a larger bird. Then, they needed to figure out a way to get Arthur inside it and able to control it.
Meowsenberg had arranged to get help from a symbiotic parasite, known as Jeff, to first gain control of the bird then, in exchange for the warm place to gestate his maggots inside the bird’s head, Jeff had agreed to relinquish control of the bird to Arthur so that he may use the bird to achieve flight. Finding a bird of the necessary size shouldn’t prove too difficult, after all, Arthur still wasn’t a large or heavy cat so most birds should be able to support his extra weight. Plus, while Arthur was recovering he stumbled across a discarded ham sandwich which would prove to be the perfect tool to use it to lure a bird near enough for himself and Meowsenberg to pounce on it and hold it down while Meowsendberg slipped Jeff into the bird’s ear hole. That was the plan anyway.
After lying in wait and shooing away any birds that weren’t of adequate size, finally they had their mark; a Raven nearly twice the size of Arthur himself, but hopefully he wouldn’t be able to contend with Arthur and Meowsenberg together.
The Raven took its first few pecks of the sandwich and, as it was swallowing it’s first mouthful, they made their move. Arthur leapt onto the Raven’s back. Meowsenberg jumped onto its head and covered its eyes with his paws. Black as they are, Ravens are scared of the dark and it instinctively squirmed and kicked. Arthur was thrown clear and narrowly avoided a talon to the stomach that could have spilled his insides onto the dusty forest floor. Meowsenberg managed to keep the bird on the ground long enough for Arthur to steady himself and pounce again. The Raven kept kicking but Arthur and Meowsenberg held on for dear lives. Suddenly Felix’s tiny from appeared from out of the bushes and pounced onto the Raven as well. That extra weight was enough to bring it down. They had done it!
With deft, surgical paw movements Meowsenberg inserted Jeff into the Raven’s ear-hole and they waited as Jeff burrowed into its brain and took control. The Raven let out a deafening squawk and fought against its assailants as Jeff found the nerve endings he needed to gain control of the bird. He squawked again and then slowly gave up the fight and just like that, it was done.
Jeff was able to keep the Raven, whose name they had discovered was Glen, grounded for as long as they wanted and, after two days of preparation, they were ready. Arthur flattened himself down in front of Glen, who Meowsenberg was holding down to avoid him squirming. Slowly and carefully he backed himself into the mouth of the bird, further and further until he disappeared inside it entirely. The Raven tried to continue to squawk but was muted by half a cat in his windpipe. The bird groaned and it’s wings shot out to the side as Arthur manoeuvred his arms along inside of the bird’s wings, this is how he would achieve his goal. Flight would be his.
They didn’t know how long the bird would stay alive with Arthur inside him so Arthur immediately began to beat his wings and attempt lift-off. It was more difficult than he had anticipated but it didn’t take him too long to get the rhythm down and soon he was no longer falling from the tree-tops but flying up to them before gently soaring down to practice his landings.
When he was satisfied that he was able to take it further, they ventured back into town and a crowd quickly gathered around them. Evel Katnievel‘s adoring fans wanted to see his new stunt. His mother and father, his siblings and nearly the entire rest of the town had heard what he had planned and gathered around to see the first cat to ever fly. Today was the day cat history would be made and soon Arthur would lead cat-kind into the sky and the next step was the stars. What he did today was now greater than him, he was doing this for all of them.
Meowsenberg tied Arthur’s white cape around Glen’s neck and began the the countdown. No-one in the crowd blinked. Arthur flapped his wings as the crowd stood in awe of his momentous achievement and, in no time at all, Arthur was airborne again. Higher and higher he went. This time not to plummet towards the Earth but to conquer the sky and soar ever upwards, with this he was a pioneer, a revolutionary.
He soared, almost stationary, high on a thermal and watched and listened as the crowd beneath him brayed and screeched their applause up at him. He looked down and saw his family, for once not teasing him but watching with their mouths open at the accomplishment he had made. He saw Felix and felt proud that he was showing him that his small stature wouldn’t get in the way of his own hope and dreams.
Then, the Raven drew it’s wings in and plummeted towards the crowd, faster than Arthur had ever travelled before. He was heading straight towards Felix, who sat gaping in awe at the spectacle before him. Lower and lower he plummeted, faster and faster. Arthur tried to spread his wings out again and turn his trajectory upwards towards the heavens again but he was unable. He was no longer in control!
The Raven cried out “No one controls me!” then croaked gutturally, “you will pay!”
Arthur plummeted still, completely out of control and the Raven swooped and picked up Felix in his talons and carried him back up with them. Felix thought this was a game and was enjoying himself but the Raven tightened his grip and pierced his soft stomach and Felix began to bleed.
Away from the crowd now, a clearing opened below them. The Raven loosed its grip and Felix plummeted towards the Earth but, unlike Arthur, had no parachute to slow his descent. Arthur despaired and tried with all his might to regain control of the bird but he didn’t have the strength, already weakened by all the flapping needed to achieve flight in the first place. The Raven led them downwards again, following Felix, close enough that Arthur could see the terror in his eyes until thud, Felix hit the ground and whimpered. He was alive but badly injured and unable to move. The Raven descended gracefully and landed next to the broken kitten with barely a stirring of the wind.
“Let me out, please!” Arthur pleaded with the Raven.
“Let you out? But you climbed in of your own volition Arthur! My, you cats are indecisive.”
The Raven walked closer to Felix, screaming and writhing on the ground.
“This is what happens Arthur! This is what happens when you impose your will on others!”
The Raven bent down and pecked out Felix’s eyes and swallowed them. Arthur cried out as the eyeballs descended the bird’s neck and rested next to his face, unable to get away from them inside what had become his prison.
“Your friend Jeff is dead” shouted the Raven, “you chose a weak accomplice. I’m in control now.”
With that the Raven took off towards the sky and left Felix alone to bleed out in the inescapable blackness of blindness. They soared over the tree-tops and out towards the human city in the distance.
“Isn’t this what you wanted Arthur? You wanted to fly and you are! Look at the view! Something Felix will never be able to do, if he even survives at all. Poor kid”
“I just wanted to fly! I didn’t want any of this. Please, let me go, I promise I’ll never let anyone try anything like this again.”
“I’m sure you won’t Arthur, but best not to take any chances. You see, birds, unlike cats, are loyal to their kin”
The Raven descended and landed in the human dog park near the city. A pack of dogs as large as horses surrounded them.
“What are you doing?” cried Arthur.
“I’m already dead Arthur, you saw to that. I’m merely returning the favour.”
The dogs drew in closer, expecting the bird to fly off to safety but it never did. Arthur tried again desperately to flap his arms but it got him nowhere. The Raven was in control now and he wasn’t going anywhere.
The dogs pounced.