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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2095791-The-Cheshire-Cat-Chapter-1
Rated: 13+ · Novella · Fantasy · #2095791
The first person perspective following the life of the last remaining Cheshire cat.

The Bird.

The Cheshire cat had been walking for days. He was far from his destination still and tired. And, for the first time in his short life, hungry. He knew he had to eat. Now, a Cheshire cat is not likely to eat anything, because in the land of Cheshire, when it still existed, they did not need to eat at all. The magic in which they were born and lived nourished them, and so Cheshire cats never developed the very cat-like instinct of stalking and catching prey. They chose only to drink, and only used their teeth to form their words.

But the Cheshire cat knew he would eat. He knew it because he had seen it in his mind’s eye, as a part of his future. He had seen himself chew and crunch his way through the bones of a black bird, its feathers snapping and breaking in his jaws. The image had frightened him, but he knew it would happen, because he had seen it happen.

Though he approached this future with distaste, he had no choice. He had been walking for days, directed only by the intermittent visions in his head; informing him he would turn at this rock or cross over this bridge. He was a kitten whose entire race had been eradicated, leaving him alone and friendless. He mourned without knowing it, as only the young can, which made the burden heavier. His fur was unkempt and dirty, and one could see his bones under the sallow pelt. Yet it never occurred to him not to go, not to carry on as his parents and people had bid him. He was a Cheshire cat, and such was his destiny. He bore it with the resignation of those who would never think to challenge their fate.

He halted now, beneath a copse of trees that grew multicoloured shoes as their fruit. He searched until he smelled water, and stopped to drink. Then from here for the first time since he had left his home, he began to wash himself. As his rasped tongue ran over the layers of dirt in his fur, his true colour began to emerge. Currently his fur showed itself to be a pale purple in colour, with a faint suggestion of stripes. The tips of his pointed eras were darker blue and his nose the same. His eyes, a bright gold in colour contrasted sharply with these sombre colours, and made him seem like a jewel in the shaded oasis. Finally, once he had finished his cleaning, he stretched and dashed up a nearby tree.

He sat, still as the tree itself, on a branch mid way up. His tail curled around the branch below him, his eyes wide and staring seemingly at the horizon he could see for this vantage point. But it wasn’t long, before he was joined in this branch.

A glossy black bird glided expertly between the leaves and landed with perfect aplomb on this branch, a small leap away from the immobile cat. He settled, and began to preen his feathers. The Cheshire cats muscles tensed silently. His claws, never sheathed, gripped the branch and he poised to spring...

“Hello cat.” Said the bird.

The poor Cheshire kitten almost fell off his branch. He looked at the bird with shock.

‘How can you be surprised? Your great gold eyes gave you away. As if your purple fur would blend into this wood in any case.” The birded chuckled.

The Cheshire cat said nothing. He was confused now, for his prediction was not occurring as he had seen it. He was also awash with disappointment, because he suddenly saw, more importantly, he would not eat now, and would remain hungry. Already he only had the dregs of his strength to use, and here he saw that not only would he not be able to catch this bird, but he would be mocked for it too.

Completely dejected, he simply turned and began to make his way back down the tree, and away from his shame and confusion.

As he began to climb down, the glossy black bird hopped closer. He peered keenly out of one beady red eye at the kitten before him, and suddenly exclaimed.

‘My feathers, you cannot be a Cheshire cat?’

Such was his amazement that his feathers ruffled all at once and stuck out every which way. The cat halted in his climb, and looked at the bird. Still saying nothing, he reversed and settled himself once again on the branch with the bird. His large gold eyes wide and curious.

‘I am.’ He said, his voice still young, but full of quiet pride.

The bird hopped slightly closer, then back again, unable to keep still in excitement.

‘But...how that is...this is the first time I have ever met a Cheshire cat!”He exclaimed.

The cat watched the black bird chirp happily to himself, congratulating himself on meeting a Cheshire cat, on spotting one in this tree, asking himself what to ask him. Finally bored, he began his descent once more, but the bird stopped him.

‘But how are you away from you birthplace? Never has a Cheshire cat ever been seen outside Cheshire!” he demanded.

The Cheshire cat realised that this bird had not yet heard of the tragedy the king had wrought on Cheshire. For this bird, the marvel was seeing a Cheshire cat out of Cheshire, not seeing the last Cheshire cat alive. He also could not know that he was not an adult, but a kitten. He thought carefully of what to do next. Cheshire cats are born with all the wisdom they would need in their lives and it is possible that here stood a cat born with more wisdom than his forefathers, as he would lead a completely different life to those before him. It was this wisdom that aided him in doing what he did next.

‘My fate lies beyond Cheshire, beyond even this land, to a neighbouring world. I am journeying alone; to a place my forefathers will never go and never have been. I was sent from the nest of my mother and siblings, for this.” He explained. He did not do so with any emotional inflection in his tone, but to explain to the bird in the most concise manner he could. ‘This is my first attempt at hunting, as I never have before. I apologise.”

At this the bird was shocked into utter stillness. He stared at the Cheshire cat unblinkingly, stunned beyond words. Not only had the Cheshire cat spoken to him, but he had explained himself beyond what was required. And then further apologised for attempting to end his life. All he could think was never had a bird ever had this experience, never had a bird been spoken to by a Cheshire cat, nevertheless apologised to by one. He was also struck by the unique realisation that he, and he alone was speaking to a kitten of this magical species, and slowly came to see that this creature was in need a none of his kind had ever been before. It was a large realisation to burden one’s mind.

The cat waited. After several moments, the bird shook his head violently and settled his feathers.

‘I am honoured to meet a cat from the land of Cheshire. It s a great task you must have to do such a thing as this. And please do not apologise. Even had you been adept in the art of hunting, you would not have caught me.” He said quietly, his arrogant tone almost gone now.

The Cheshire cat blinked his large golden eyes slowly. The bird took this to mean that he should go on.

“Being a magical creature myself, I had already spotted you before I landed on this branch. But never did I imagine that you were a Cheshire cat!”

The cat said nothing, and yawned in response. The bird was not put off.

“But even had you been a non magical cat, I would have seen you. Maybe it is because you are so young, and you do not realise such things, but gold eyes and a purple coat only hinder you. How are you ever to hide in the grass? How can you disappear in a tree?”

The Cheshire kitten looked down now, at the ground is below. ‘I see this now, since you pointed it out. And you are right. I am young, and I do not know these things.” He looked again at the black bird. “Yes.” He said.

“Yes?” the bird echoed.’ Yes to what?”

“Yes, I will agree to tell your future, if you agree to teach me what you know.” Said the cat equably.

The bird hopped a few times on the spot, and peered at him with one eye. “What is it I know that you want to learn?”

“How to disappear.” Said the cat.

The bird was silent once again. It was clear that what the cat said was true, and his bird like mind spun in trying to decipher how the cat knew that he knew this art. In fact it was simple. The cat had listened when the bird told him that he was also of a magical nature, and instead of wondering how this birds magic came to manifest, he looked into his own future once again. He saw the bird teaching him to disappear. So now he waited for the bird to ascent to his terms. His wide olden eyes stared unblinkingly at the bird, with an intensity that made the black bird nervous.

“It is true, I can teach you this.” He said grudgingly. “It is a great secret of my kind. It is how we have survived for thousands of years.”

“So it is not the ability to disappear that you have, but the knowledge of how it is done.” The cat said.

The bird looked haughtily aside. “Yes. It is impossible to deny it, since you know it already.”

“I do.” He said. “And so, do we have an agreement?”

The black bird, in essence, was a prideful, vain sort of creature. And as all birds are, very curious. He could not resist the temptation to have his future told, as this chance would be likely never to come again. He squawked loudly, and then, in an eager voice, said ‘Yes.”

“Then ask your question.” Said the Cheshire cat.

For a moment the bird was silent and thinking, then, “Will my standing amongst my people ever change?”

The cat tilted his head and looked away. For a long while he was quiet, and the black bird jumped from foot to foot. His feathers flared and settled, and he clicked his beak in excitement and impatience. The cat ignored him. Finally he turned back to the bird.

‘Yes. You are destined to become much greater than you are now, and fulfil that which you most desire.” Predicted the cat.

Now, although the cat could have been far more specific than this, he had chosen not to be, and the bird, knowing the reputation of
Cheshire cats, knew to be satisfied with the answer he got. He preened and his feathers shone more glossily.

“That is a very favourable prediction, Cheshire cat.” He said, glancing at him slyly.

The cat simply yawned and said, “I cannot lie.”

This seemed to satisfy the bird. “Very well, I will fulfil my bargain. Let me teach you how to disappear. I would have taught you for the asking however.” He added.

The cat began once again his descent. “You lie. As I cannot tell a lie I can easily see when others do. You would not have taught me, but left me, had I not tempted you with a prophecy.”

The bird said nothing, but flew down to the ground to meet the Cheshire cat.

And so it began. It did not take long, only the length of an afternoon. Since both of them were creatures of magic, the teaching and the learning of this art was smooth and soon, the cat began to be able to make himself vanish. It was not simple camouflage, but true vanishing, where he was no longer visible to the naked eye, and could move around while invisible if he so wished. The black bird taught him with much squawking and frustration, for birds are not known for their patience, but the Cheshire cat learned slowly and carefully, making sure he fully understood this new magic. They practiced using one limb at a time, first a paw, then a leg. Then perhaps an ear and both legs at once, until the cat knew how to make his body disappear altogether. The bird specifically emphasised his eyes. “If you do not know how to hide your eyes, this entire lesson will be pointless.” He cried. By the time the sun began its proper descent, the cat knew it. And so again this Cheshire cat did something no other Cheshire cat had ever been able to do, or wished to; he could become invisible at will.

The bird, sighed in happiness and relief, for he had never had to teach someone the art before. It had taxed his patience and his stamina, and now he felt exhausted. And, not entirely engrossed in his own fatigue, he saw the Cheshire kitten was trembling too, with tiredness and hunger. Feeling full of pity for the kitten he offered to retrieve some shoe fruit for him.

“No, “he refused.” I cannot eat that.”

The bird, at a loss to what else to do, bid him goodnight, and flew to rest himself for the night in the trees. The cat, summoning up some last strength, walked the short way to the water nearby and drank, only then settling down to regain his strength.

The night fell softly, and no other creatures joined them in their small oasis. The bird slept with his head beneath his wing and the cat curled himself around himself, tail wrapped around his small body. He felt desperately hungry and weak, hoping that the night would restore some of his strength, so that he might be able to employ what he had just learned. He closed his eyes.

No sooner had he done this, but the quiet night was interrupted by a flapping, and then something crashed into the ground just beyond the pool by which he slept. He looked up; eyes lambent, then without thinking made himself disappear.

The creature gathered itself, and in the near darkness the Cheshire cat saw it was another black bird, near identical to the black bird he had already met, except for his eyes, which were yellow.

“Aronor? Brother, where are you?” cried the bird breathlessly. Silence greeted him. Slowly, the Cheshire cat moved closer to him, quiet.

The bird said nothing more, but began to gather himself. It was then that the Cheshire cat’s stomach took over, and thought gave way to instincts which his non-magical brethren favoured. He bunched his muscles and sprang at the bird. His jaws closed around the bird’s neck, and with a snap the creature was dead. He began to tear at the dead thing he wrought, teeth crunching the feathers and bones, mouth filling with warm blood. His stomach roared for more, and he gave it, congratulating himself at successfully using his new skill and also making his first kill for his own survival. He shed his invisibility, and for a time, only the sounds of a cat enjoying his kill punctuated the night.

Then, the black bird landed beside him. He stared at the mess of blood and feathers, and then he raised his eyes to the cat. He suddenly squawked with glee, and began flying through the air, chirping madly as he did so. Finally, as the cat was licking his face and claws, feeling very satisfied, the bird came beside him once more.

“Oh Cheshire cat, do you realise what you have done?” he exclaimed, full of glee.

The cat, said nothing, put kept on cleaning his paws and face.

The bird, impatient, didn’t wait for an answer too long. “You made your own prediction come to fruition!” he exclaimed. “That was my brother, prince of my kind! He came looking for me to be part of his marriage! And now you have killed him!”

The cat stopped in mid wash. Slowly he stared at the prince who had been his meal. But the bird did not stop.

“Now you have not only ensured that I, his brother, take his place as regent, but I am to take his bride, a beautiful bird I have desired the entire time she was his betrothed!” the black bird crowed with delight.

The Cheshire cat sat stunned, and full of a profound sadness. He turned his eyes to the bird.

“You are Aronor?” he asked.

“Yes, indeed I am! Prince Aronor!” he chirped.

“But he called you? You heard him and you let me kill him? He came searching for you!” the cat cried. Gone was his calm demeanour, replaced by distress. He had committed murder. He had allowed someone to enable him in that murder. He was revolted by the actions of this bird and his own, committed without sense of intelligence, only instinct.

He shrunk back. The bird saw this, but nothing could dampen his glee.

“O cat, if you had not made that prediction, this would never have to pass.” He cried.

“No”, the cat whispered.” If you had not asked your question, this would not have happened.”

The bird stopped hopping for a moment, and quirked his head at the cat. “Is that so cat? Truly? Was it not you that made the bargain?”

The Cheshire cat did not respond. He began to disappear, until only his wide, frightened eyes remained. The bird only laughed cruelly, and with that launched himself into the night, crowing his victory as he flew.

And alone in an oasis, a small invisible kitten curled up on his shame, unable to escape his own foretelling. For as he had seen, he had killed his first meal, a black bird, and he could still feel the crunch and snap of feather and bone.

But how to understand what he had done? He had committed murder, though he had been ignorant. More frighteningly, his own magic had betrayed him. All these wrongdoings he added to himself, unable to convince himself he was responsible for the outcomes of his prediction. Perhaps if his parents had been there to teach him about distance, about the nature of destiny and cause and effect...but they were not. The Cheshire kitten was alone, and now a murderer, who could not trust his own magic.
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