by Jon Fox
He knows it’s not long now. This is his sixth cycle and he’s a cat of all things.
He steps carefully along the rickety fence with such stealth that even the small rustle of the leaves in the faint breeze is more audible than he. The robin certainly has no idea he’s occupying the tiny garden space with the feline. The cat will not kill the bird immediately. He wishes to experiment first. He wants to know how it communicates its pain, the sound it makes. He wants the animal to know that it is an inferior being and, as such, has no place in this garden. No place in the same world as he.
Not everyone knows about the cycles. In fact, very few have ever been aware of them. But then the cat has a far superior intellect to almost everyone – and everything on the planet. It takes total awareness to realize such a theory.
He stops and closes his eyes, savours the moment before the extermination. It takes all his will power to refrain from purring. But will power is something he has in spades. He is the most disciplined creature in the universe. He knows what it’s like to suffer fools, to wait patiently. The bird cannot be allowed to escape, so he waits, just as he has for nearly six lifetimes.
His first cycle was nothing. Barely any memory existed at all. He only knew that he felt small. Infinitesimally so. His awakening came on the second cycle and he felt, as he feels now, a sense of outrage. A pig. He had become a pig. Was this someone’s idea of a joke? Anyway, it was as a pig that he became fully aware of himself. Who he was, who he’d been and what he’d become. Memories and flashbacks would flood into his mind, typically at feeding time. Then there was that curious black mark under his snout that he’d glimpsed in the oily reflection of his trough water. In that instant he remembered Berlin… The Fatherland? But nothing more would come. Just before they slit his throat and let him bleed out he got the faintest flashback of some kind of shelter surrounded by rubble. Then darkness.
The cat sees his reflection in the shed window, the square patch of black fur just beneath his nose as prominent as ever. He jumps from the fence and lands in the flowerbed, expertly leaving the bright yellow flowers undisturbed. The bird pecks at the lawn. Peck. Peck. Pause. Peck. The cat wonders who the bird once might have been. Can it even remember? He doubts it. Most creatures are too stupid to survive. He suspects this one is no exception.
During the third cycle everything became clearer. He wasn’t sure what he was, but he knew he was in the sea. Deep down in the pitch black, sensing his way around. In this existence he had a lot of thinking time. More memories came back to him. The Reich. Blitzkrieg. The successes and the work still to be done. Now he couldn’t wait to return and finish what he had begun, no matter how long it took. This life, this cycle, was ended by a shark. Not a pleasant way to go. But nature is all about survival of the fittest. This was his last conscious thought, which would have put a smile on his face, if he’d had one.
The bird chirps and squeaks and squeals, but it is useless. The cat has it. He can feel its heart pounding in its minute chest and he purrs. The cat looks into the bird’s eye, the eye that’s turned to face the attacker, the one eye that remains. It’s asking for a reason to spare it, but no reason exists. The garden belongs to the cat and no other creature. There can only be one leader.
His forth cycle (a penguin) was spent in deep thought. This is when he finally understood that, with the seventh cycle, he would become human again. It had to be so. If man lives through seven ages, so he must also die through seven ages. As he endured his useless life as a bird he ordered his mind in preparation, recalling ’43 when everything was operating according to plan. When he could trust those who surrounded him. Before his people turned on him. Before they became like vultures. Admittedly that had come to an unfortunate end, but he was confident he could continue what he had started. This time he wouldn’t be so generous.
He feels the satisfying pop of bone snapping under his paw. The wing. Now the bird will not escape and will surely die. His task complete, the cat sits back to watch the useless creature fade. He looks up to its nest. The bird’s mate looks down to the carnage below. Good, thinks the cat, all the birds will know to leave the garden now.
A butterfly, his fifth cycle, was his most pleasant existence, largely because it was the shortest. He was losing patience and becoming unbearably agitated in his eagerness to return to human form, so he welcomed a short life. He could, of course, have committed suicide, but he’d regretted that strategy first time around and had berated himself for taking the coward’s way out. He was made of sterner stuff than that.
It’s his preoccupation with his task that finally does for him. His success with the bird gives him the taste for further conquests. He owns the garden now – no creature will trespass without seeking him out first, but now is not the time to stop and rest. Not when he has this much power. For there is further work to be done: There is a street and the houses beyond. He sees no reason why he shouldn’t lay claim to them all. They are rightfully his. He doesn’t bother justifying this stance to himself. Not yet, at least. That will come later. He wanders off in search of new land.
As he awoke on his sixth cycle, the first thing he saw was his cat-mother. More specifically it was his cat-mother’s teat. The outrage at understanding that he was a cat was replaced with a hunger and an urge to feed. He was only vaguely aware of his siblings around him. They would have to wait – this was survival of the fittest. He gnawed down on one of the teats – the one that looked like it was dripping most with nourishing, life-affirming milk. He barely heard the yelp of his mother as he feasted.
This will make for fascinating reading, he reasons, as he stalks his newly claimed territory. When he finally reaches his seventh cycle he will write a book and share his genius. This is his final goal. He is deeply consumed with these thoughts when the car strikes him.
Elsewhere the mother screams and screams and screams from her hospital bed and, eventually, the baby is born. She continues to scream while the nurse notes how very few babies are this silent when they are introduced into the world. Fewer still arrive smiling.
Jon Fox is a London man. He sells stuff for living, but prefers writing. He has written screenplays for short films, short stories and novellas. He has a wife, a mortgage and a very dark streak.