Caruthers P. Cat (Part 3 of 3)
By Larry, California
Editor's Note: This story appears in the May, June, and July 2010 issues. To see the first two parts, go to Part 1: The Student and Part 2: The Wanderer.
Deep in his own musings, Caruthers walked straight into a dirty, scraggily cat, obviously a stray. "Oh, excuse me," Caruthers said. "I didn't see you there."
"You must look to be able to see," the stray said.
Caruthers ignored the comment. He attempted to pass the stray, keeping his distance, lest some stray flea jump from the bedraggled beast onto himself, but the stray stepped into his path. Caruthers sidestepped again, and was again blocked. Exasperated, Caruthers said politely, "Excuse me, sir, but I would like to pass."
"I know you have many questions of me," the grungy, stray cat stated boldly while standing his ground.
"I do?" Caruthers asked incredulously. "I only have but one question: why do you block my way?"
"Because you seek answers. And sometimes those answers may come in the strangest of forms."
"Okay, I'll bite. But first tell me your name," Caruthers demanded, still keeping his distance. His nose wrinkled as the breeze brought the stray's vile stench to his sensitive nose.
"You may address me as 'Master'," the stray cat said solemnly.
Caruthers nearly burst out of his fur with laughter. He rolled on the ground; tears filled his eyes. Looking up, he saw 'Master' still standing stoically above him. "You are really serious? Why should I call you Master, if you can't even keep yourself clean?"
"You see what I want you to see. You are not yet ready to see me as I truly am."
Realizing that the stray was being gravely serious, and clearly unsure of the cat's sanity, Caruthers decided to play along for a bit. "Okay, Master, then please tell me how I can run faster. What technique can you teach that will cause my legs to be more efficient?"
"Ah, now we're getting somewhere. First you must ask yourself why you run."
"Why I run?" Caruthers had never thought about it before. "Why I run? Well, to improve myself. I think there is more to life than just being a lowly house cat."
"Is the position of a house cat so lowly?" Master asked.
Upon seeing the deplorable condition of the stray cat in front of him, Caruthers realized that being a pampered house cat perhaps wasn't such a low position after all. In fact, if there existed a caste system for cats, Caruthers began to understand, a house cat would probably be somewhere near the top, if not actually considered the very pinnacle of cat success. "No, I guess not," he finally replied.
"So, even though your position is safe and sound, you still seek to improve yourself?"
"Yes," Caruthers admitted.
"And you think that running fast makes you a better cat?"
"If I can do something no other cat has done, to perhaps develop a better technique, then yes, I do."
Master strutted around Caruthers, appearing to contemplate the former house cat. Caruthers noticed that the smell didn't bother him as much as before; perhaps he was growing accustomed to it. Master finally spoke. "But have you not already discovered techniques for running very fast? Though he'll never openly admit it, you bruised old Champ's ego. I saw you run through his yard. He'll doubt himself now that he's seen a cat move as you have. Now that you can beat the self-proclaimed champion runner, is that not enough for you?"
Caruthers thought about that for a moment. "No, actually not. I feel as if there is more to learn still. To just run for the sake of running is unfulfilling."
"Very good. The student is ready. Let us proceed. Walk with me," Master said.
Caruthers hadn't noticed it before, probably due to his preoccupation with the stray cat, but a short ways away was a large field, even larger than the commons back home. Master led him to the field. Trailing behind Master, Caruthers caught no malodorous whiff. It wasn't that he had gotten used to the smell; it was that there was no smell. Actually, none at all, he thought to himself. Not even a normal cat smell. How strange.
They reached the field in short order. Master said, "Please show me your technique. I wish to study it."
Caruthers was only too happy to finally show off to someone who seemed to appreciate his months of hard work and training. He made a dash through the field, seeing the dandelions blur beside him, just like in his dream. Caruthers reached the middle of the field, slowed, then turned, and sprinted back to Master, patiently waiting for him.
Self-satisfied, Caruthers wasn't even panting hard. "There," he said proudly. "What do you think of my technique?"
"Not that bad," Master said, unimpressed. "I see you have studied and practiced hard. That is a good first step."
"First step!" Caruthers felt his ire grow before he caught himself and calmed himself. Lessons may come from the strangest places; something Champ would never learn. "Okay, then. How do I improve it?"
"Your body is fit. Improving your stride, your muscle tone, your physical technique will only shave microseconds off your already quick pace," Master said.
"But why do you imply that I have much to learn by using phrases like 'not that bad'?" Caruthers asked.
"Because it isn't that bad. And it's not only the physical that you must embrace. Improvement comes from many areas; physical training is but only one. To all things there is a physical, a mental, and a spiritual side. A triad, if you will. Think of it as a triangular pyramid, a pyramid with three sides. If one or more sides are not fully developed, the pyramid collapses under its own weight. You must balance all of these sides."
Caruthers looked confused. "I don't understand," he said.
"Allow me to demonstrate," Master said. "You believe yourself to be more physically fit and faster than me. Is that correct?"
Caruthers looked at the scruffy feline, but not wanting to hurt the cat's feelings, he replied politely, "Probably."
Master laughed. "Be truthful with yourself. You look at me and just 'know' you can beat me in any race. Is that not true?"
Caruthers admitted, "Sure. I can beat you in any race."
"Yet you have not even seen me run."
"Unless you are hiding a cheetah under your dirty fur, I don't see how it is possible for you to outrun me."
"However, I assert that I can."
Caruthers stifled a laugh. "You talk a good game; let's see it."
"First one to the other side of the field wins," Master said, sitting there patiently, relaxed, not even in a crouched position. "I am ready. Just say 'Go' when you're ready."
"Ready ... Set ... GO!" Caruthers said, taking off in a sprint. He glanced over his shoulder to see that Master was still sitting there. Thoroughly confused at what lesson Master was trying to teach him, Caruthers continued to run. It was exhilarating. Again the grass and the weeds blurred past him. Glancing up, wisps of clouds threaded in the blue sky. He felt his powerful legs thrust across the field; Caruthers was finally living his dream.
Nearing the end of the spacious meadow, he slowed. Caruthers approached the tree line and was dumbfounded by what he saw. Master was sitting there, preening himself. "That was truly an accomplished and first-rate run, Caruthers P. I commend you on your exquisite physical technique," Master said.
Stunned, Caruthers said, "But how did you get here? You never passed me. Is this some sort of trick?"
"You may think of it as a trick, or even magic, but once you truly know something, it is no longer a mystery," Master said.
Defeated, Caruthers said, "I truly have much to learn."
Master said, "Yes, but at least now you are ready." He shook himself how a wet dog shakes off water and the dirtiness that was a stray cat dissipated into the surrounding air. Left behind was an amazing, brilliantly clean, white fur.
Caruthers nearly collapsed in astonishment, instead plopping down on his furry butt. "Why would you hide your true self from me?"
"It was necessary for you to truly understand that there is more than just a physical side to everything. You must practice your mental and spiritual growth."
"How do I do that? What do you mean by spiritual? Are you saying that God makes you move so fast?" Caruthers asked.
Master chuckled. "Not in the sense that you mean it. There are those that believe we all have a piece of God within us. In that regard, if "God" is the universe as we know it, and all universes for that matter, then we being creatures of the universe must inherently have some Godness inside each of us.
"In short, mental growth is the knowing you can do something, while the spiritual side is the belief that you can do it. It may sound the same, but there is a subtle, yet important difference. To know something is to be able to discern a fact, like two plus two is four. To believe something is to understand something with all your being, like believing the integral numbering system we use to count to four is correct.
"For you to move across the field, you must start by knowing that you've already crossed it. To do that you must believe that you can cross it. You already know how to run physically ... now learn it mentally."
"But how do I do that?" Caruthers inquired.
"The first step is mental. Learn about the universes around you. You are aware of only one world now, yet there are many. Picture in your mind a universe where you are on the other side of that tree. If you then believe that you are in that other universe and close this one behind you, then the other world becomes the new reality."
"You make it sound so simple," Caruthers said.
"The concept is very simple, yet the practice takes years to master. Let's start with something simple. See that maple leaf lying on the ground? Now picture a world where it is closer to you, then make that world your reality."
Caruthers concentrated until he was sweating but could not make the maple leaf move. Master sat patiently nearby, allowing his student to fail, for he believed that in failure were the seeds of learning. "I can't do it," Caruthers finally announced. "I can't move the leaf."
"You can't move it, because it can't be moved," Master said. "Stop trying to do the impossible and begin to do the possible. Don't move it; picture it moved already. Then let that reality become yours."
Caruthers worked with Master, trying different exercises, until the sun began to set. They would have kept working if Caruthers' stomach hadn't growled. "It's okay, I can keep going," Caruthers said.
"Nonsense. Your body needs sustenance or your mind will be distracted in its learning." As Master spoke, a field mouse walked over in front of Caruthers, laid down, and died. "Thank the mouse for his sacrifice, then enjoy your meal," Master said.
A surprised, yet hungry Caruthers did as he was told, enjoying his meal. "Aren't you eating?" he asked.
"I do not require much sustenance."
"How did you get the mouse to do that?" Caruthers asked.
"Once you begin to believe in the multiverse, the multiple universes, many things are possible. Picture the universe you want, and make it your reality."
They worked on through the night, only stopping to rest and eat periodically. The darkness gave way to morning, morning turned into afternoon, and afternoon became night again. Several days passed. Caruthers worked hard, doing little exercises as instructed, but all without success. He was growing frustrated, but Master sat nearby, patiently watching.
"How long did this take you to learn, Master?"
"How long did it take you to learn your running technique?"
"Months. Are you saying it will take months before I can move a leaf?" Caruthers said with an air of frustration.
"It will take forever if you continue to think of it as moving the leaf."
"I know, I know. I must picture the maple leaf in a new place, then make that my reality," Caruthers said.
"You say the words, you seem to understand the concept, yet you don't believe it," Master said, shaking his white, furry head. "Do you believe that I can 'move the leaf' as you so often put it?"
"Yes, of course."
"But, I am just a cat, like you. If I can do it, surely you can do it too."
"You've had a lot more practice, though. You don't have my limitations," Caruthers said.
"No, only you have your own limitations," Master answered sagely. "I must live with my own limitations."
"You? Limitations?" Caruthers exclaimed in surprise.
"Yes. See those birds in the sky? I've always wanted to fly. I know there is a universe in which I can do that, but I have yet to believe it; I have yet to find it. That is my own inner struggle that I must overcome."
"Why do you waste time with a poor student like me then, when you could be working on your own goals?" Caruthers asked.
"Because it is through the passing of knowledge, that one truly begins to fully comprehend a subject."
Caruthers sat down, and for the first time, began to understand his Master. He closed his eyes, put an image of the maple leaf in his mind, displaced it, and truly believed it to be displaced by about one tail length. He felt his reality change with a tingle. When he opened his eyes, the leaf was in a new position.
"I did it!" Caruthers shouted. "I did it! I knew it was moved, and it was!"
Master smiled. "Yes. It is good. You have reached a new stage. You must practice plenty, but first we rest." Master curled up in a ball, and began to snore.
Caruthers laughed. It was the first time he had seen Master sleep. I wonder what he dreams about, Caruthers thought to himself. He probably has flying dreams that put my running dreams to shame.
Though he tried to do as Master asked, Caruthers was too excited to sleep. Instead he focused on the leaf, shifting universes until he had moved that leaf all over the meadow. Tired with the leaf, he began working with other objects - grass tufts, weeds, flowers, and even whole trees. Eventually fatigue overtook him and he curled up, finally dropping off to sleep.
Caruthers was rudely woken by a cat's wail. The sun was already halfway up the sky when he opened his eyes. Master was screeching loudly. "What, what is it?" Caruthers asked, concerned at his friend's sanity.
"What have you done!" Master yelled.
"Just what you taught me. I was practicing," Caruthers said, confused.
"But the whole field has changed!"
Caruthers looked around, blinking. It was true; nothing was the same from the previous night. Trees were all jumbled, and there were very bizarrely shaped piles of leaves and weeds in the middle of the meadow. Abashed, he said quietly, "Sorry, I guess I got a little carried away last night."
"Too much! Too much! Changing realities without reason can be dangerous. You must use more discretion!" Master then blinked and the meadow returned to its previous state from the day before. "Now let us concentrate on less intrusive lessons."
So, Master and Caruthers laid back in the grassy meadow, letting the sun warm their bellies, as they practiced drawing pictures in the sky with clouds. Master's cloud pictures were more elaborate than Caruthers' were, but Caruthers was a quick learner. When Caruthers formed a wispy ball of yarn, Master swatted at it with a gossamer cat paw. Caruthers made a cloud-rat float above them, and Master chased it with an ethereal flock of vapor birds.
This game went on for hours. They laughed at each other's creations. When the sky became too dark for cloud games, Master made his announcement. "I will be leaving you soon. You must work on control and discipline like I have shown you, but is time for me to take my leave of you."
"But there is so much more you can teach me!" Caruthers complained.
"From now on the journey is yours to make. You must learn to be your own master."
"But I'm not ready!"
"Are you that poor at self-evaluation? In this short time together, you have learned how to shift reality to suit your needs. Look at you. You have no fleas or vermin on your neatly kept fur, yet you've lived in this meadow for weeks. You eat almost as little as me. No, my friend, you have become as skilled as I. You are a master now. However, you have but one more test to pass," Master said.
"What is that, Master?" Caruthers asked.
"We must see who the fastest cat is. Race you to the other side of the meadow! Ready, set ... GO!"
As Master said 'ready', Caruthers began picturing himself across the large field. On the word 'GO', Caruthers shifted his reality, feeling that tingle as the new reality formed around him. He opened his eyes to see Master pop in next to him a split-second later. "You are now ready, my friend," Master said, rubbing his fur against Caruthers.
"Thank you, Master!" Caruthers said, proudly enjoying his victory.
"Okay, one more time, just to be sure," Master said.
"Sure!" Caruthers said, with newfound confidence. "Let's do it!"
Caruthers appeared on the other side of the meadow. He started celebrating when Master didn't appear right away. His celebration turned to confusion, then alarm when Master did not appear at all. Caruthers popped over to the other side of the field, then back again, only to find no sign of Master anywhere.
Sadness overcame him as he realized that Master had left him. Caruthers let out a long plaintive meow for his now-absent master. He paced around for hours, meowing, calling for his lost friend. He had gotten so used to Master's presence, his constant badgering and explaining, that Caruthers felt a void without him around.
Finally, succumbing to the exhaustion of the day's events, Caruthers curled up and went to sleep. When he woke, the gray overcast skies fit perfectly with his current disposition. He wondered in the back of his mind if the sky actually was a reflection of his mood. When it began to rain, he sat in the center of the meadow meowing, yet not a drop of rain hit him.
Caruthers hung out in the meadow for another few days, hoping beyond hope that his friend would suddenly reappear. After a time it became clear that Master had taken his own path. Nowhere else to turn, he decided to return home. Bidding good-bye to the meadow, he imagined himself in the commons again, shifted reality, and went home.
He walked up the back steps, through the cat door, which amazingly was still available after all this time. His bowl of food was no longer there, which he took as a good sign that he hadn't yet been replaced. When the lady of the house saw him, she was overcome with joy. "Where have you been, my little fuzzy-wuzzy pretty-kitty?!" She screamed as she picked him up and nuzzled him. "Your fur is clean, so someone has taken care of you. Good! Here have some food!" she said as she placed his old food bowl on the ground.
Caruthers purred and pretended to eat, while the lady cooed over him. "I can't believe you've come back! Honey! Come see who's home again!" she called to the man of the house. "Caruthers P is back!"
Caruthers was indeed back. However, his owners, fearing he would run away again, decided that he was no longer allowed to go outside and boarded up the pet door. Not that a boarded pet door could stop Caruthers, for he would just imagine himself on the back steps and - pop! - he was there. He reacquainted himself with Mouser, who listened to his stories with skepticism. Even after demonstrating his new abilities, Mouser was inclined to believe they were simple tricks.
His owners puzzled over all the times he got caught outside, wondering how Caruthers could get outside with a boarded cat door. It drove the man of the house nuts, who eventually nailed shut every window in the house in his futile attempt to keep the cat inside. Yet sometimes, somehow Caruthers would magically, at least to his owners, still be found sunning in the commons.
One day, while lying out in the mid-autumn sun lazily gazing at the sky, Caruthers saw a cat shape begin to form in the clouds. He sat up, watching intently. No! It couldn't be! It's just an illusion, he told himself. But he knew otherwise. The cloud began to transform, changing from a fluffy, white cat, into an image of a wispy, white bird. As the image disappeared, it gave the illusion of flying off into the distance.
A happy tear fell from his eye as Caruthers lifted a paw to wave. "Good-bye, Master," he said. "You followed your dream and learned how to fly."
To Caruthers P, that was purr-fect.