THE LIGHTER THAN AIR CAT/ a science fiction short story

Some members of the Royal Family, moved by the draft of the story written within these pages, and, to a lesser degree, the Australian and British governments, as well as (with some urgency) the general community and The Animal Liberation Lobby, have asked me to submit my tale as a report in the interests of greater public understanding of the phenomenon that was, is, and always will be, to me, ‘The Day Of The Cat’. I didn’t really want to do it, the report, so the piece will appear publicly under either the name Orlando de Gaulle, or Oberon de Gaulle, and although of course there are now, throughout the world, many titles for the strange events that affected almost everyone on Earth. Please don’t blame that one (the title) on me. I leave it to the prosperity to decide which becomes events most suitably. I agreed to the report after accepting a small commission, on condition the title ‘A Lighter Look At The Second Coming’, suggested by our pious Home Secretary, was summarily dropped, although I did manage to swing mention of this former title into the deal, as you have seen here.

Yes, I can twattle with the best of them. To the rub…..

A lighter-than-air-cat does not swoop or swerve. It is far too polite for that. A lighter-than-air-cat does not wheel in the sky. That is for psychedelia. A lighter-than-air-cat does not have wings or folds of elastic skin between its armpits. Just because one cannot see a lighter-than-air-cat by no means excludes the possibility that it isn’t there. I do not know if lighter-than-air-cats are a personal friend of Primo Levi or Gabriel Marquez or Michael Gary Larson. It is speculated that a lighter-than-air-cat drinks water from clouds and simply opens its mouth to flying insects in order to feed. An occasional swipe at a passing bird or bat is not beyond imagining.

A lighter-than-air-cat is a little larger than a domestic cat, but not so big as to be considered a Big Cat. Certainly close inspection reveals no big gas bags as part of its anatomy. It is not known if such creatures come under the encyclopaedic heading of Angel, and it is my own personal opinion that the association with the encyclaepic heading of Saint is unwarranted (as new encyclopaedic publishings have now incorporated, tentatively, one or the other or both). The latter might construe a level of sufferance that might, in all honesty and without evidence, be untrue. A lighter-than-air-cat does not smoke dope, and is certainly not prone to drunkenness or other forms of celebration (as the higher altitude thin air theorists have speculated). Perhaps a lighter-than-air-cat attends the midnight reveries of elves, pixies and goblins, soberly and with personal modesty. Who could say? A friend of Santa or a Grand Turtle at the beginning of Time? Why not? The nature of the beast does not exclude this possibility. Such science may not be of this world, or has not as yet, or perhaps was, once, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

I am less modest. I fed that cat for years. For years I left pieces of pizza and bowls of cereal and chocolate cake and Pepsi cola on the roofs of houses all over England, and Australia, and the travel routes of Alexander the Great. Perhaps Elton John did the same. I really wouldn’t like to say. It’s all just popcorn to me now, I guess, except for the “Candle In The Wind” song, which is ok and probably inspired by a lighter-than-air-cat. But not brilliant or anything.

There is a popular children’s tale these days that a lighter-than-air-cat first emerged from the Arabian Sea in an explosion of light. I believe the kitten first emerged from an old pair of boots, perhaps Wellington, perhaps Jack, perhaps Hubbard. Again, I really wouldn’t like to say…

‘The Floating Feline’ would also have made a good title for this report because that is precisely what lighter-than-air-cats like to do, merely float. The tail is sometimes waved in a snake-like pattern. A lighter-than-air-cat is very good at floating, either with the wind, sailing over trees and mountains and fiords and crystal-blue lakes and sunny patchwork meadows and such like, or by remaining absolutely still. A lighter-than-air-cat is absolutely awesome at floating. It can remain perfectly still at absolutely any height, for any amount of time, in any weather.

A lighter-than-air-cat sometimes floats on its side, or on its back, or backward, or on its side on its back. Backwards generally indicated bands have to be set up again, children have a chance to finish their homework, speeches have to be rewritten, news writers have to redraft, problems have to be redressed, or readdressed, prayers said all over again. A backward orientation is a lighter-than-air-cat’s sleep. Who knows what such a beast would dream? A lighter-than-air-cat never ever touches the ground; indeed, a lighter-than-air-cat does not like to touch anything. It is speculated that food and drink float into its mouth to be then spiritually digested by special osmosis.

A lighter-than-air-cat is often a ginger colour, sometimes tawny, with dark stripes and thick white whiskers, and a little grey about the ears. A snow-white lighter-than-air-cat was once seen over over the steely grey sky of Moscow at a time when the city was in a classical mood.

A lighter-than-air-cat has a very peculiar, yet pleasant and popular, smell that lies somewhere between freshly cooked corn-on-the-cob and musk lifesavers. After rain a lighter-than-air-cat smells of flowers.

Many have speculated that there is just one such cat, but I personally choose to believe that there may be more than one. A purlieus lover in the clouds perhaps? The lighter-than-air-cat I knew never cried like a Tom, but that does not discount the possibility that there is a whole brood of them up there on the Plains of Heaven, you know, frisky little scallywags with a nice old couple of senior citizen Ancient God cats, the Isis family perhaps, living next door. Another satisfied customer on God’s family-lot, neighbourhood-watch scheme? Anything’s possible, but I think one should also grant the bachelors of this world their due, their belief. The Holy Orbit was their vision too. Aviation freedom and Bob Dylan independence verses skywriters of hearts and kiddie cloud shapes. The answer my friend….

I personally refuse to believe that Jesus Christ had a pet cat, or that Adam had a pet cat. Of course, The Virgin Mary was always a bit of a floater.

I first knew the lighter-than-air-cat as a boy. At night I used to get terrible asthma attacks, and suffered very vivid dreams as a result, often spilling into reality during breathlessness. I would often see the lighter-than-air-cat floating about my room. I talked to it, mostly about television. When I was a little older, about ten or so, I used to take walks in the woods behind our house. The family lived in Hertfordshire then, and there was quite a bit of wood around. The lighter-than-air-cat would sometimes follow me as I ran along the paths, barely visible through the tangle of trees. It was a bit like being chased by the sun or the moon when travelling in a car. The lighter-than-air-cat was often in the wood, but always at a distance. You can’t catch something like that, anymore than you can catch the end of a rainbow. (Oh I know…I could do it with my Wacom and Photoshop, but if that sort of thought has just occurred to you whilst reading this, then maybe your Muse needs to put the brushes away for a while).

It’s a funny thing now when I recall it, but at the same time the family used to travel to Cannes for the holidays. I caught glimpses of the lighter-than-air-cat from looking out of the window on the train down from Paris. It was real fast when it wanted to be.

I loved the beach at Cannes. It was where I learnt to swim. I loved to peer under the water. I guess it’s just stupid and irrevelevant now, but at the time I honestly expected to see the lighter-than-air-cat somewhere down there under the water. It seemed my way of thinking at the time the a lighter-than-air-cat should also be an under-the-water-cat. But no such luck, perhaps the under-the-water-cat was the privilege of some other child. I felt sure that my magical friend knew Flipper and Nemo and Jacques Cousteau and Aqua Boy and all those guys, and I had seen those glimpses from the train. It was a bit of a blow, weird, but there you have it, a bit of a blow. When we returned back to England the Alice In Wonderland/Babes In The Wood thing was still happening, you know, with the Cheshire Cat as the patron saint of climbing trees, but I still felt duped by way of Underwater World. It was our first tiff. It tested my faith.

I kept a close eye on Doctor Who of course, for some sign of a floating cat to confirm my calling. I also knew for a fact that the Beatles knew of my experience and had skilfully written lighter-than-air-cat lyrics. Strawberry Fields referred to the woods at the back of my house. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds was obvious. Octopus’s Garden confirmed my under-the-water theories. Come Together had lighter-than-air-cat written all over it.

The family decided to move to Australia. One day we all set sail on the Flotto Lauro. I fully expected to see the lighter-than-air-cat floating somewhere about the Suez, what with Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon and The Sphinx and everything, but hours of staring out the porthole only netted me a few flying fish, a dose of seasickness (eased by moving to the top deck), a straw camel sold to me by a travelling salesman (it fell to bits after about fifteen minutes of playing Lawrence of Arabia) and a glimpse of Neptune’s trident as we crossed the equator.

That pretty much brings me to the present. Early in my twenties I was living in a little upstairs room of a boarding house in North Adelaide. I had a nice room, with trees outside the window, a television set and a small stereo where I used to play my Duke of Burlington tapes. Anyway, one night, just after I’d made myself a lightly fried broccoli sandwich, I noticed a tawny striped cat floating around outside my window, looking in. I quickly checked it wasn’t a reflection or a multi-dimensional hologram or something. It wasn’t. It was my old friend come to see me.

I was delighted. We settled down to discuss television. It was just like the old days. Me sitting in my tree house in the woods, and the lighter-than-air-cat floating a little way off listen to my purls of wisdom.

Now, it must be said, that I was under the allusion that lighter-than-air-cats have an affinity with television. I mentioned as much to my friend, but received only a sort of snort in reply, which is cat talk for Not Impressed. My cat had moved on. Our new relationship was off on a bad footing, so to speak.

It was a bit of a revelation. I began to realize that television was nothing but flattery and shopping, and often illogical. Take, for example, our old friend cereals. Both Pussy and I were very fond of cereals. How often had Pussy enjoyed a rooftop bowl of Fruit Loops or Coco Pops? It quickly became apparent that Corn Flakes being one of the simple things in life did not necessarily make it one of the best things. Using an economic newspaper for one’s toilet is also a simple thing in life. I realized that just because one cares for one’s health and family, the premise does not necessarily follow or support the conjecture that NutriGrains are therefore better for you. And just because Uncle Toby put more energy in Ian Thorpe’s day, it did not necessarily follow therefore, by proportion to Mr Thorpe, that the energy and health value of this food would be even greater for every other member of the cereal consuming public. This, I came to realize, is lighter-than-air-cat think.

Finding myself carefully set within both time and space, and with a pair of feline eyes over my shoulder, the wonder that had been television began to shake at its foundations. Television suddenly seemed so pathetically amusing, but also rather dishonest because of it. Perhaps it was always ever and forever just an amusement device to fool 10 year olds. News tended to be highlights and sensation (to my older mind obviously lacking context), and often biased back upon itself to that same sensation it had just created itself. Deforestation strategies were actually being advertised as in the public interest, much to my chagrin, as well as Pussy’s. It was an issue close to our hearts. A lighter-than-air-cat can’t really exist without a forest. There was a murder trial that might actually be abandoned because of media coverage. Pussy showed me that so much of television was formula. Highly transparent formula, which is how television got away with it. Its very transparency was its ‘innocence’ in the gullible reverse psychology collective consciousness of our times. Where would television be without thunderstorms and loveable fat men, not to mention cleverly repackaged repeats?

I think it was the sex and violence thing that really got to the lighter-than-air-cat. We were watching a show about a guy whom used to beat his wife, so much so that this once his wife cut his dick off with a pair of scissors. The operation that sowed the man’s dick back on was such a television success that now he’s a porn star and general celebrity.

Pussy’s eyes changed from yellow to bright green, and flashed about the room like a strobe.

And then the walls came down. Across my room, and next door, and across the street, in fact, all over the world, the unimaginable, the unthinkable, actually happened…

Everything went blank.

Flash. Bing. Gone!

Television died.

The neighbours started banging on my door, asking if I was fiddling with the power again.

In fact, neighbours were banging on doors all around the world.

This rather terrifying termination (and the reader really does need to appreciate the grinding import of this) didn’t, as it turned out, have anything to do with me, although I admit that my attempts to bring Kermit my pet frog (whom could sing the entire retinue of Abba songs known to the public at this time) back to life had had a few hiccups over the years and I was beginning to grieve that I’d never see (or hear) him alive again, though thankfully his little body showed no sign of decomposition.

Perhaps it was all the result of our television discussions. Perhaps Pussy didn’t like the idea of someone else having such an influence over my life. Whatever, the screen was blank, and somewhere in the mathematical calculations of transmission science an electron molecule had slipped by unnoticed, crashed, defied physics, and now the dream was over. Mankind’s Slightly Corrupt But Kindly And Conservative Celestial Nanny had kicked the bucket.

A kind of hush came all over the world. Well, until the radio and the videos came out of the fog (which did not include, incidentally, the internet). People began to walk the streets, to read, to talk. With everyone’s eyes open all of a sudden a lot of positive things happened. There was a huge sweep to anti-conservatism.

I don’t know if the lighter-than-air-cat was grinning as the Lighter Than Air Tour got underway. I’d never seen any such smile, just a twinkle in the eye, indeed, often there was a highly visible twinkle about the entire cat. Twinkles are a bit of a hallmark for a lighter-than-air-cat. Part of the trade. I shed a tear as I set out on my new career as a Happy Blues Busker, and waved as an indistinct blob in the sky passed overhead.

I’ll guess I’ll learn to live with it. A lighter-than-air-cat has to do what a lighter-than-air-cat has to do. Without words, we both just sorta ‘knew’.

The old familiar cry went up. Pussy’s timing was awesome.

“Look, up in the sky….. is it a bird?….. is it a plane?……
What the Muggles is that anyway?!!!…..”

There was quite a sensation. Headlines opened when a lady threatening suicide from the top of a tower building (TV deprivation depression, or, TVDTs) was suddenly struck dumb by a lighter-than-air-cat floating by. She says the cat was grinning, from ear to ear. The lady in question thought the phenomenon so funny that she instantly gave up the idea of suicide and laughed all the way back down the elevator (as cops scratched their heads). The event became quite a famous photograph. Somehow the tour had just made its ‘touchdown’.

It went on for years. Darkly, there was a Frankenstein Theory, and then A Book Of The Dead theory. That mood lightened when the lighter-than-air-cat appeared to Tibetan monks in a vision.

For photographers, now with standard SLRs and telescopic attachments, Pussy was highly photogenic. A real photo Genie. It was a new celebration of High Art, bigger than royalty or off-duty Pop Stars.

There were pictures of a lighter-than-air-cat above the Eiffel Tower, from the Statue of Liberty, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Sydney Opera House, The Taj Mahal. Most photos were mysteriously silhouetted against the roof of Buckingham Palace. In fact, Pussy probably had a thing about castles. And crop circles. Hippies also caught action footage over Stone Henge and the Horse Hill.

Postcards. Some had Pussy wearing sunglasses and a top hat. No, not Photoshop, and a bit of a worry for me personally, until I realized that my busking antics were not incompatible, and I realized Pussy had been thinking of me. Postcards of Pussy smoking cigars were banned. Most people never get that anti-conservative, even if the supposition of smoke rings and natural clouds could be quite surrealistic.

Pussy was seen by balloonists, mountain climbers and hang gliders. Pussy became the patron saint of window cleaners. Falsely accused prisoners often saw her through cell windows. Lost children followed Pussy to safety. A pattern was developing, one of which (thankfully) history might now fondly recall.

And Pussy became famous for those remarkably accurate lighter-than-air sneezes. Pussy had one hell of a sneeze. There were sneezes over traffic jams, over factories, over woodchip mills, over oil spills.

Soon every town all over the world had a Peeping Tom story. I guess that was the real light of the world.

Suddenly the clouds of this world had new mystery. Clouds became big white fluffy balls of Hope. Cat Watcher Societies blossomed globally.

Every child wanted a lighter-than-air-cat for Christmas. Helium filled cat balloons were sold on the streets. Street theatre went cat mad and every busker was asked to play ‘Year of the Cat’. Children asked parents if there was any relationship between Pussy and ET, or Fatcat, or Ronald MacDonald, or Teletubby, or pigeons, or Avatar, etc. City Mayors, hoping some day for a photographic coup, made the strangest speeches imaginable.

There was a serious campaign to Clean Up The Skies. The idea that Pussy was the messenger of a superior alien civilization that had sent its pet cat to keep the inhabitants of Planet Earth under scrutiny became serious. Nobody wants to offend a higher power.

Australians insisted Pussy wasn’t a cat at all, but a long lost marsupial, related to the Tasmanian Tiger, and aboriginals were claiming proof of the Dreamtime.

But generally good cheer reigned worldwide.

Me? I was worried. What goes up…. Every movie I have ever seen, every history, all reassured me that every epic has to have a sad bit. Usually a very sad, if not ultimately totally disastrously, sad bit. Where was it? Could a lighter-than-air-cat really handle its own epic of super stardom?

Then the FBI was offering a seven-figure reward for capture.

Worse, Hollywood was offering eight.

The United Nations warned any interference with the lighter-than-air-cat would result in serious sanctions against the offender. The figures were removed and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Actually it was a GREAT time. Without media bytes the sting and sensationalism went out of tasteless footage of people hurting themselves or others and out of context slips of speech by politicians or celebrities could only be reported, not blown out of proportion. Photography had to hold its own and prove itself for journalism. Journalism had to cut the mustard, and there was more of it, much more widely read than before. And more people attended local, state, national or international debates. Peace initiatives began to work.

Memorabilia plastered my walls. Rooftop photos. In front of the TV photos. Tour clippings. Since Pussy had left on The Lighter Than Air Tour wonderful things had happened in my life. People sat next to me on public transport. My letters to the General Post Office were finally answered. Yes, my paintings of the lighter-than-air-cat could be made into a series of stamps. Indeed, overall it was a boom time for Illustrators. I painted cats as postcards to sell alongside my busking songs, and they sold well. I found a new and bigger frog than Kermit, whom promptly swallowed good old Kermit whole, and added to the Abba repertoire several Led Zeppelin songs and one by Ramstein. My doctor informed me I was only the second other person he had ever encountered whom had actually overcome a sexually transmitted disease entirely without medical intervention, though it had been known elsewhere (exercise did the trick).

But I was definitely worried. And it was not just the thought that now I probably wouldn’t be good enough for a cat with international stardom.

The sad bit. I could feel it coming in my bones.

I went to the park one day and walked around. It was early, everywhere couples were strolling arm in arm, you know, big love karma, coddling and whatever, though, oddly enough, a new idea for lovers (since people had had to actually consider what goes on in the sky), many were discussing not having children until the world could support a realistic future.

I was a little depressed. I was worried about Pussy. What if a jet airliner accidentally……. how does a lighter-than-air-cat cope with a swarm of South American killer bees….. What if one of those gorgeous Tibetan snow leopards got its claws into Pussy….. What are the true implications of emotional breakdowns of high-rise dwellers…… all sorts of anxieties.

I truly loved the lighter-than-air-cat you see. It wasn’t something I tried to understand, like everyone else. I just knew what I felt. And at that moment that love was of profound concern.

What if Pussy took a short cut through a Swiss mountain tunnel and there was some sort of cave in or collision…? ….. A stray missile…?…… a death ray from the moon?……. (God only knew what really also existed in the world now that we knew for sure about the lighter-than-air-cat)…… The story of Icarus?..…. how old was Pussy, I didn’t know……. was everything the equivalent of an eighty-year old socialite celebrity? Tornados….. Sun spots…….. Real UFOs…….. Pussy had already floated past the Space Shuttle. Brilliant photos….. but what were her limits?

Pink Floyd had re-issued their famous Animals album, substituting a cat for the pig that had previously taken pride of place on the cover artwork. I was not really pleased about this. I liked the album but the change gave me an odd feeling. I really couldn’t get a whisker on it, but it bothered me.

I staggered about the park, bumped into a wall. The graffiti said ‘Isn’t It A Wonderful Day’. I stumbled past the Salvation Army Band singing “All Things Bright And Beautiful”. I stumbled into a market. It was a lighter-than-air festival, cat trinkets everywhere, happy people laughing it up, and lots of colour. It was great, you know, very community and all that, but, well, you know, I kinda felt alone. People just didn’t love Pussy the way I did. It was all so idealized, as if dreams were answered. Not the same as a very serious intellectual relationship with a childhood friend, then grown to maturity. Mine was a coming of age story, not a merry-go-round with ice cream for adults. There was a postcard stand with lots of types of cats from all around the world, wild and domestic. That was normal. Illustrations of cats in many styles. That was normal. The one of The Last Supper with a lighter-than-air-cat floating above Jesus, and a panda with a bear and an eagle all snuggling together in the foreground was a bit out there. The Disciples all had cat badges. There was not, I noted hopefully, any postcards of cats with wings.

I stumbled into a bar on the edge of town. You know, just to get out of the sun-showers (that fell with regularity these days), maybe find a new writing style. The punters were all sipping Milk Vodka Catnips and the new Feline Frothies, with their unfathomable bubbles that rose a little way from the top of the glass before popping audibly. In the corner was a clown with a round nose, tiger striped ponytail and long white whiskers playing “Love Cat” on the piano. I remember the original version was “Love Cats”, plural. I sauntered up to the clown and asked him if he could play “Lassie Come Home”. He just looked at me as if I were queer or something and then smiled and said ‘get outta here’ and ‘you almost had me there’ and gave me a friendly punch on the shoulder.

I went back to the park, absent-mindedly catching a passing City Cat commuter bus to get there, feeling a bit like that bloke in “Catcher In The Rye”. A policeman smiled at me and said ‘Isn’t It A Lovely Day’ before tipping his hat and moving on. A billboard across the street announced the re-release of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats”, now renamed (and re-modelled with theatre wires and pulleys) “Cats Del Arielle”. Teenagers rushed by with Tom and Jerry or Ichy And Scratchy or Top Cat or Catwoman or Felix The Cat or any other competing Japanese or American cat-shirts flapping in the wind. I fished around in my pocket for something to suck on. It seemed the thing to do at the time. Suck. A five-dollar note fell out of my pocket. I picked it up and noticed someone had written ‘Kiss Somebody Today’ on it. Maybe it’s just a throwback to prehistoric times or something, but I can tell you, I really felt stupid all of a sudden. I crumpled up the note and stuck it in my back pocket. I didn’t feel like kissing anyone. I felt like crying. It was getting dark. Lights were coming on. But a lot of people lingered outdoors of course, you know, cold turkey television.

I remembered the good old days, you know, just me and the Cheshire Cat running free in an English wood.

Forlornly I looked up at the sky through the park trees. Stars started mingling with the leaves. In the distance someone was playing with a huge cloud-kissing spotlight. Not since the Blitz had such skies been so watched. So I redirected my attention. The park lights shed a sort of purple haze on everything, you know, since the City had decided to upgrade the globes. I looked back at the sky. There were a couple of fluffy white clouds up there all right, you know, the sort Pussy liked so much.

But wait….what was that? I tried to focus. There was something in the trees. What was it? Could it be?

It was just a dumb old owl. I can’t describe how disappointed I felt. It was about four feet directly above me, staring at me intensely without moving.

Hello I said. No Pea Green Boat tonight?

Whoo. Whooo.

An owl. Ancient messenger of the Goddess Athena. The symbol for wisdom. A real owl. Actually, quite a rare species. Not renown for chats with sensitive new age cat lovers. Not everyday one runs into a real live owl.

Actually….WOW! I reached into my pocket for a camera. Everyone carried a camera these days. I took a picture (risked a long exposure). Some balance for my memorabilia.

Thanks, I said.

Whoo. Whoo.

Happier, I went home singing Big Bill Bronzy drinking songs. When I got home I used my dark room and put my new owl picture on the wall, then did my meditation exercises and finally fell asleep.

The next day I heard the lighter-than-air-cat was in Australia. It had been spotted in Queensland. Queensland had just been through another horrid time of droughts and floods and cyclones. I could imagine the people waving to the lighter-than-air-cat as it passed overhead. Mothers hanging out the washing, children playing on monkey bars, shopkeepers from shop doorways, bicycle riders looking up from double-gee punctures, people walking their new cats and dogs and tame leopards, pink and yellow and green and red galahs all screeching Polly Wants A Cracker, house painters taking a breather from the tops of ladders, technicians fixing television aerials. Actually, better scratch that last one.

Maybe Pussy was heading home? The thought nearly paralysed me. How would we get on after all this time? Who would initiate the conversation? Was Pussy still into cereals? Did Pussy still race the Moon? Had Pussy been to Underwater World? Had Pussy found Culture?

Pussy would soon be home. I was sure of it. Oh the joy, the Joy! I made a hundred preparations. There was so much to be done. I’d have to wash the windows, order new curtains. And maybe something special to eat. I’d buy one of those variety cereal packs and raid health food stores. Maybe some honeycomb and a special batch of natural ginger bread men. I’d open a pack of Twisty Pods. I’d get a new soda fountain. I’d better buy a duster, those sneezes were worrying. Maybe a bit of a banner?

Nothing good lasts forever. There came a report on the local radio. I felt like I’d been shot. High calibre. (“Well, do ya punk?”) A big hand slammed into my chest and gave my heart a twist. Something went Snap inside my brain. Oh no! This was terrible! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! It was a nightmare! Pussy just wouldn’t be that stupid. The crazy lug. That crazy, stubborn, sweet fool. I had to do something, I knew it without a second thought, I had to act, and fast…. very fast…..

With a groan I wished for the first time ever that taxi drivers still existed for the likes of the ordinary public.

It was dizzying what I did with that bicycle. It was super human. Clouds of dust and billions of cats eyes swirled in my wake.

I kept telling myself everything would be all right. Pussy would just make a point and float right on along, you know, catch the next breeze, same as always. It’d all be all right.

I swore that if we got over this the first thing I’d do is buy a kite. The crazy lug.

Of course, I’d seen the Ban The Duck Shooters protest in the papers, but it just hadn’t clicked. Nor the Ban The Recreational Fishing campaign. Or the huge It’s Time To Go Green and Eat Veg (run by Toyota). It just hadn’t clicked. But whilst people recognised that the arrival of the lighter-than-air-cat and the end of television was something that was wonderfully and very very cosmically BIG, there were some things that weren’t about to take a step backward. Such as Matt Preston opening the new Iron Chief show (now staged like a stadium rock show from the seventies). Or Curtis Stone opening the Olympics on the front page of every tabloid (rival Jamie Oliver was Time’s Man of the Year, and Gordon Ramsey had a successful travelling circus). Indeed, the new Olympic sport of the international cook-off had only gone from strength to strength in public tournaments around the world, with all ages and comparative ‘kitchen weight handicaps’ having being set by an international body of chiefs involved. It just hadn’t clicked. Only home renovation or make-me-a-star-overnight shows (all at open air or within huge auditoriums with live radio) could rival the publics’ continuing obsession with home-cooked restaurant quality food. Rare pink flesh and crispy skin and gooey centres and melts-in-your-mouth and light and fluffy perfect soufflé still ruled supreme. It just hadn’t clicked.

It was clicking now.

How could I have been such a fool?

There was a huge crowd when I got to the lakes. My hair stuck straight out of the back of my head and I didn’t care. There were banners and reporters and binoculars and cameras and personal camcorders. I dashed past the police line. A cop tried to grab me and yelled ‘Hey Buddy You Can’t Go In There’ but I was too fast for him. I was running so fast I almost ran on water. Maybe I did. Who cares? Electric guitar solos were exploding in my brain. I could see the lighter-than-air-cat in the sky up ahead and a group of protesters waving more banners and another group of burly looking men all wearing hardware store caps who were waving their shotguns back at the protesters.

‘Get Away’, I screamed

“G E T A W A Y…….”

It was horrible. Up in the sky a flock of ducks were circling around the lighter-than-air-cat. There was a cacophony of quacks and angry voices and shouts and water splashing and crickets cricketing and frogs desperately trying to sing ABBA songs in harmony and as fast as possible and….

Suddenly a shot rang out. It echoed, thundered, left Time in its wake. The whole world shattered.

“NOOOOOOO”, I screamed.

Everything went into slow motion. The sky turned grey. Long drawn out seconds became anvils, smashing into the ground at the end of every racing heartbeat. A huge man saw me coming and slammed his huge ham fist into my face. As I reeled I heard a wild scream from up above and a mad flap of wings.

I reeled. A strange silence descended.

“Oh dear”, said someone.

Everyone was looking up. I shook my head and tried to regain my senses. Then, slowly, I too, looked up.

The lighter-than-air-cat was still above the crowd. Pussy was rolling from side to side, and meowing. Loudly. All other sound seemed obliterated. Pussy’s head was twisting every which way. ‘Oh no’, I whispered, through broken teeth. A lighter-than-air-cat is such a little thing really. The pain must have been terrible. I saw the gaping hole. And I saw the blood. It was the blood that held everybody spellbound.

The trail of blood was falling up, not down. That terrible red trickle was actually ascending, as if…

I heard some oaf of a man dressed in army camouflage and holding a smoking gun whisper ‘Er, Whoops’ before one of the protesters yelled ‘You Crazy Bastard You’ve Killed God’ and then there was chaos.

I don’t really know what happened to the guy who shot the lighter-than-air-cat, but after all, it was you and me. I wasn’t interested at the time. I saw Pussy catch a breeze and begin to drift toward the hills.

Over hill and dale I followed that cat. Over swamps and marshes and bogs and quagmire. I followed through thick and thin. I smashed my way through brambles and made treacherous leaps over quicksand and fissures and gullies and bull ant nests and several dugites. My jaw hurt and my mouth bled and I got sunburnt and caked in mud and dust and scratched to blue blazes. I was exhausted, but I guess that’s enough of me. Actually I had no idea such wilderness still existed. Perhaps it didn’t. Perhaps it was all in my mind.

I yelled to that cat all the way. Did it ever listen? The relationship was probably ruined. I was human after all, and although I’m not biased, a lighter-than-air-cat sort of belongs to the world, and not really just to me. That was a tough one to swallow.

I caught glimpses of the lighter-than-air-cat over the next few days, you know, just sort of staring at me through the trees, a little dimmer perhaps, but just like in the old days. The good old days. Mind you, I also reckon I caught a glimpse of Pan playing the flutes, but maybe that was just the mushrooms I ate. In the mornings I’d wake to the sound of purrs and buzzing insects trying to get into my nostrils. I tell you, sometimes it really tickled. I guess the lighter-than-air-cat had finally faced the lighter-than-air-cat demons or fate or whatever it was that makes a lighter-than-air-cat a lighter-than-air-cat or whatever and was, you know, happier within or something. A new Pussy. Complete and whole. Perhaps that’s all just babble, badly remembered in my delirium. I caught a glimpse of the wound, which was caked in mud. I guess we understood each other better now. I don’t suppose it could ever have been the same again.

Were lighter-than-air-cats once, a long time ago, the natural prey of dragons? Were lighter-than-air-cats once, long ago, the intimate and secret friends of abused chimney sweeps? Or were they a special envoy from a Galactic Federation, you know, one cat, one planet, one history? Time travellers? The mind boggles. And only Time could tell. One could certainly say that lighter-than-air-cats are the natural high of science fiction.

Boy, how I enjoyed those last few days. There was a new glow about the lighter-than-air-cat, and it wasn’t just all those times hovering over nuclear power plants and sneezing.

Finally I died of hunger and had to leave the forest. As I left the foothills I looked back, just one last time. The lighter-than-air-cat was ascending toward the sky. I would have looked longer, honestly I would, but the sun got in my eyes and I had to look away. I did not cry.

Meanwhile….the world has moved on. They finally found good old Nelly, though not at Loch Ness. A chicken farmer in the Mid-West U.S.A found a large egg that gave birth to a little mutant piglet. It’s just a baby, and tiny, but it’s perfectly apparent that the pig will one day fly. In Africa a wildlife reserve has just announced the birth of a perfectly normal baby elephant, save that it’s hide is pink. It is doted on by the entire herd.

Personally I reckon’ there’s another lighter-than-air-cat under the sea, so these days you’ll find me sailing around Apollo Bay with my trusty goggles and snorker. The dermatology out patient clinic says I’m the only person they have ever known to whom they diagnosed a malignant and advanced melanoma only to find that by a day later, when an emergency last-ditch surgery was scheduled, it had miraculously completely cured itself. Dumbfounded, and without the necessary proof save the testimony of two doctors and a nurse, it was agreed only to mention it by way of this report.

I didn’t tell them about my flying fish. I don’t think I’ll tell the reader either. Sorry. When I get back home to England I’m going to teach Kermit The Second to talk properly and not just sing ABBA songs.

Oh, and I bought a kite. It’s wonderful.

I know. There’s a burning question on everybody’s lips. I’m as guilty as television for this one. I’m sorry.

What sex was the lighter-than-air-cat?

Well my Pussy was certainly very trendy indeed.

There wasn’t one.

  • * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

copyright by robertemerald, or Tich Phillips, 1997, revised February, 2011.

Views and opinions expressed in this short story are fictional and in no way reflect those of the author, anymore than those of Homer Simpson reflect upon the writers of The Simpsons. Issues dwelt upon are only present as incidental to the creative idea behind the story, and are not of anymore concern to me than any other. Indeed, much of the story endeavours, but only as part of the creative process, to redress a few current issues, generally peacefully. The entire piece is a work of pure original fiction and any similarity to persons, or cats, living or dead is purely coincidental. References to known persons are merely incidental to the substance of said fiction as a work of creative writing, a story, no more, and in no way construe any sort of slight or disapproval of any organizations, products, corporations, cultures, nationalities, etc, or of persons or occupations mentioned. Indeed I have reframed from embellishments (using current public figures, current affairs or histories) that, though they might have given the story more cultural and comic muscle, and may have made the piece much more profound or funnier, perhaps of more interest or of greater controversy, they are not necessary to the story’s general narrative. It is not my intention to cause offense, and have tried my best not to do so, wherever possible using generalisations to buttress this bizarre fictional future.

I may illustrate this tale as a graphic novel or as an animation some time soon.

Australian Copyright protects the story.

Copyright/ Tich Phillips, 1997, 2011

THE LIGHTER THAN AIR CAT/ a science fiction short story

robertemerald

Claremont, Australia

  • Artist
    Notes

Artist's Description

A bizarre future science fiction tale centering on an alien encounter. It involves contemporary ideas attitudes and preferences, and attempts to be current. That is not set in a world years in the future but the strange case of something that could happen anytime. It leans on allusion and imagery and should appeal to Illustrators, as well as, science fiction fans, photographers and journalists. The moral is an attempt to achieve Peace on Earth.

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