Caruthers P. Cat (Part 1 of 3)
By Larry, California
Editor's Note: This story will appear in the May, June, and July 2010 issues.
Caruthers lived a sedentary lifestyle. He'd lie on a big fluffy pillow in front of large bay windows, enjoying the streaming sunlight on his fuzzy orange tummy. Despite this luxurious lifestyle, he was a fairly fit feline. His owners kept him on a reasonably healthy diet so he wouldn't develop into one of those obese furballs like Mouser, the cat who lived in the neighboring townhouse.
Periodically Caruthers could hear Mouser scratching along the shared wall between the two homes. He pretends to chase mice, Caruthers thought to himself humorously, but he wouldn't know what to do with it if he actually caught one. Although Caruthers believed Mouser to be a silly cat at times, Mouser was the closest friend he had.
The rear of the townhouses opened up to a common area, where the cats sometimes roamed, free to come and go through pet doors the owners had installed. To one side of Caruthers lived Mouser, and on the other side lived an older dog, Gruff. Poor old Gruff was generally too lazy to be bothered by the playful cats. On the off chance that a neighborhood cat would come too close, Gruff would simply raise his head, growl, and lower his head back down without even bothering to check if the cat had run off or not.
One Spring day, Caruthers was out in the commons with Mouser, chasing a floating piece of fluff in the air. The conversation was as light as the fluff they were playing with. "I've always wondered what does that 'P' in your name stand for?" Mouser asked Caruthers.
"I never knew. My owners just call me 'Caruthers P', but I think it stands for 'Purr-ty'."
Mouser laughed at his friend's humor while batting at the floating fluff again. "Good to see you've still got your sense of humor. You've been a bit pensive recently," Mouser said.
"Sorry. I had that running dream again," Caruthers said to his friend. "It was absolutely delightful. I was running faster than any other cat. I was just wondering what it might mean."
Mouser looked down at Caruthers, who was now sprawled out on the grass, haven given up on the fluff floating away. "And you laugh at me for chasing fictitious mice! You can't run fast, you're a house cat! It means nothing." Mouser said with emphasis.
"You're probably right, but I still have those dreams. But I have this feeling there should be more to life than just eating and sleeping," Caruthers said.
"There is. Chasing mice," Mouser said with a laugh. "You should learn how."
"And so should you," Caruthers joked.
"Oh, that hurts," Mouser said with feigned indignation.
"Okay. I'm sorry. But you never do catch any real mice."
"I know. I just pretend to chase them. I don't really mind the little critters; they're just living their lives, too. Doing whatever a mouse is supposed to do," Mouser said.
"But why do you do it? Why go after something you really don't wish to catch?" Caruthers asked.
"It keeps my owners happy. It's what they expect me to do," Mouser said.
"So you pretend to chase mice because they expect you to?"
"Exactly," said Mouser as he rolled over to catch a ray of light on his furry belly.
Caruthers pondered that a bit while strolling around the commons, leaving his friend to bask in the late afternoon sun. Mouser felt that life should be doing what his owners expected of him. Well, that may work for him, but I'm not sure if it works for me, Caruthers thought. Caruthers' aimless meandering brought him to within growl range of Gruff. As if on cue, Gruff raised his head, growled, and laid his head back down.
Caruthers didn't move, knowing Gruff's routine by heart. "Ahem. Excuse me, Gruff, if you will. I'd like to ask you a question."
"Make it quick," Gruff snarled.
"Why do you do that?" Caruthers asked.
"Growl at anyone that gets close. I mean, you don't seem to care if they're there, yet you growl anyway."
"It's none of your business. Now go away before someone sees me talking with a cat," Gruff said. "Especially a cat named 'Caruthers P'. And why would anyone name a cat that anyway? What ever does that 'P' stand for?"
"It stands for 'purr-sistent'," Caruthers said firmly. "Now please tell me. Why do you growl at everyone?"
"Fine. I'll tell you if it'll get you to leave me alone in peace," Gruff said, turning his head to look directly at the cat. "I do it because I'm a watchdog. And watchdogs are supposed to keep everyone away."
"So you do it because you're supposed to?" Caruthers asked rhetorically.
Gruff let loose one more growl, and Caruthers scampered away. That night he dreamt again. Caruthers found himself running through a wide field, faster, faster, faster! The dandelions blurred past as he ran. Moving like unchained lightning, the trees that lined the field seemed to merge into one. The clouds above stretched into long streaks of white threads against a blue cloth background, yet still he ran.
Caruthers jolted awake, nearly falling off his perch in the bay window. Wow, he thought to himself. I wish I could really move that fast. Maybe someday I will. He curled up on his pillow and went back to sleep, this time dreamlessly.
Early that morning Caruthers strolled around the commons calling for Mouser to come out. After a time, Mouser sauntered through his cat door. He stretched in the morning sunlight. "What are you doing up so early?" Mouser asked with a yawn in his voice.
Caruthers told him about the dream. "Why can't I run?"
"Because you're just a house cat," Mouser said flatly. "You woke me up to tell me about your dumb old dream again? Call me if there's a mouse to chase." Mouser began to walk back toward his pet door.
"Wait. Don't you think there must be more to life? Don't you feel an urge to do something else?" Caruthers asked his friend.
Mouser stopped, looking at his friend as if he had lost his mind. "No. Not really. Look. If you want to run, then run. Try it. Then maybe you'll get this crazy idea out of your head. There, see that tree?" Mouser asked while pointing to a distant tree. "Run to that tree and back. I'll time you."
So Caruthers tried it. He ran as fast as he could to the tree and back. There was nothing blinding about his scampering. He was panting heavily, trying to catch his breath, when he eventually stood again in front of Mouser. "So, how did I do?" He asked.
"I got tired of counting after fifty. Face it. You're just a regular house cat. Give it up," Mouser said.
Disappointed, Caruthers agreed. "I guess so. I just don't understand why I would keep having that dream."
That night, though, when he knew his friend would be fast asleep after one of Mouser's exorbitant meals, Caruthers snuck outside. Pushing through the pet door, he sniffed the nighttime air, searching for scents. Nobody is around, except Gruff who is fast asleep, he thought to himself.
He ran. Not very fast, but he ran. He made it to the common's tree, then ran back. Caruthers was wheezing and out of breath, but it felt good. He ran the same course again. Then he ran it again, and again. He was exhausted, yet exhilarated, at the same time. He tiredly dragged himself back inside just before the sun came up and curled up on his pillow.
Caruthers slept well into the afternoon that day. When he at last made an appearance in the commons, Mouser was there to great him. "I see you've decided to be a real house cat today. Sleeping late is good for you."
If he only knew, Caruthers thought to himself. For now, he would keep it a secret, even from his closest friend. That night, and every night that week, Caruthers went out late to practice running. He experimented with different running styles. He taught himself to stay closer to the ground when he ran. He learned that bounding up in the air like a young kitten was inefficient. He studied how other animals ran - the scampering squirrel, the scurrying mouse, and even some playful puppies.
One night, his owners happened upon a nature show on TV that showed a Cheetah running. Caruthers watched intently, studying and memorizing the movement of those big powerful legs. Now that is a true runner, he thought to himself.
Caruthers worked hard at his running. Weeks went by, then months. All the time he was studying and continually improving. He even thought he had discovered things he could teach a Cheetah. It was hard work, but it was paying off. He thought to himself: the learning is pure joy. I may not have a stunning breakthrough each day, but the thrill is in the chance of making such a discovery!
With summer nearly gone, Caruthers thought it was time to show his friend. "Hey you lazy house cat, still waking up late, I see," Mouser said, as Caruthers pushed himself through the cat door with a stretch. "Don't they feed you? You're still as lean as a kitten."
Caruthers hadn't thought about the effect the running was having on his body. He stretched out again, feeling strong muscles flex under his fur. He was much stronger, leaner, than ever. "I'm fed quite well, thank you. However, I do have something to show you," Caruthers said to his friend.
"Uh oh. This sounds serious," Mouser joked.
"This is serious," Caruthers said.
"Okay, okay. What is it?"
"Remember a few months ago when you tried to time me running to that tree and back?" Caruthers asked.
"Yes? I remember. Oh no ... Don't tell me you're getting those silly notions in your furry little head again!"
"No notion. Really. Just a demonstration. I want you to time me again."
"Just time me," Caruthers insisted.
"You're really crazy; you know that? Okay. Just once, but I promise I'm not counting beyond fifty," Mouser said. "Ready? Three, two, one, GO!"
Caruthers took off toward the tree, sprinting as fast as he could go. He rounded the tree lickety-split, tearing back toward the astonished Mouser where he skidded to stop right in front of his friend."
Barely panting, Caruthers said, "Well? What do you think?"
Mouser was dumbstruck. "I forgot to count. Wow! I've never seen a cat move so fast!"
"I've learned how to run, but I think there's still much to learn. It's only a start, but let me show you what I've learned," Caruthers said.
"Oh, no, no, no." Mouser said. "You've got the wrong cat. I'm not a runner. I'm just a house cat. I could never do that."
"Oh, but you can. I'm just a house cat, too. You can learn it like I did!"
Caruthers' enthusiasm was lost on his friend however. Mouser was so conditioned to his own way of life that he had no aspiration to change. Caruthers was very disappointed that he was unable share the joy of his discoveries with his closest friend. Furthermore, not only was Mouser not going to join him, learn with him, and run with him; instead he actively began to discourage him.
"I think what you're doing is dangerous," Mouser said sternly. "You should stop this thing. It's gone too far. You're a house cat. House cats don't do what you're doing."
"But what is the harm in improving oneself?" Caruthers asked.
"To what end?" Mouser argued, "You learned how to run. Big deal. How does that help you to be a house cat?"
Caruthers had no answer to that. Dejectedly he strolled back to the house. When he got to the door, he found it wide open. His heart fell when he saw the lady of the house standing there. His owner had just seen everything. She had seen him run at top speed around the tree.
"Caruthers P Cat! Just what were you doing out there?" The lady berated him. "Running around like that! I say, you're going to get yourself hurt like that! Stop that foolishness and come get your din-din!"
Caruthers became extremely disheartened. Those closest to him thought he was being foolish even when he believed he was improving himself. He began to doubt himself, to doubt his very dream. Why am I tormenting myself with this? I proved that I can run. That should be enough, he thought to himself.
Caruthers decided to listen to the others. He would cease his running, cease his learning, and just become the best house cat he could be. For the next week, he purred around his owners, snuggled against their legs, even sat in their laps allowing them to pet him, all the things they expected out of a house cat.
But when he slept at night on his big fluffy pillow, Caruthers still had the running dream. Instead of going away, the dream seemed to be even more vivid. He ignored it, pushing it to the furthest recesses of his mind. But the more he tried to avoid it, the more intense it became. He never told Mouser about the dream again and Mouser never asked, instead appearing to forever put out of his mind that "dreadful running incident", as Mouser called it.
However he tried to suppress it, though, the dream returned nightly. Sure, Caruthers went through the motions of being a good house cat, though it was unfulfilling. He ate his food, pranced around chasing strings and whatnot, but even the delicious cream they poured for him seemed to have no taste anymore. He knew he had to do something soon; he needed to find others that could run. Maybe they, too, would share his dream.
The next day he found Mouser lying in the mid-morning sun. "Today's the day," Caruthers said.
"Whatever do you mean?" Mouser said, not even opening his eyes as he enjoyed the late summer sun.
"I mean, today's the day. I can't stop my dream. I'm running today."
Mouser rolled over and looked at his friend, "You're what? Nobody does that. You're a house cat. You stay. You sit. You get a nice bed and lots of food. You have really gone crazy, haven't you?"
"I'm sure I'll go crazy if I stay," Caruthers said firmly.
"So that it?"
"That's it. I bid you goodbye," Caruthers said, strolling away.
Mouser rolled onto his back, letting the sun warm his belly again. Foolish cat, he thought to himself. He'll be back by nightfall. It wasn't until hours later that Mouser realized he had never even said goodbye to his friend.
End of part 1. The story continues in the June issue, with part 2 (The Wanderer).