Once upon a time and whence upon a land, a majestic house cat prowled the expansive planes of 143 Lanted Drive. This house cat stalked the interior of her castle, patrolling for intruders which were few and far between, happily eating and napping at heart’s will, and awing onlookers with her immense fluffy beauty and soft, golden-patched calico fur. She was a queen in her land, and she loved her luxurious life.
The house cat’s life on 143 Lanted Drive was fairly ideal. Every morning at sunrise the house cat would do her A.M. yoga upon her caretaker’s chest and summon the day’s first bowl of food. She shared her house only with a caged iguana and a school of goldfish, whom were her loyal subjects that she enjoyed tormenting or teasing. The caretaker also lived in the house, and then there was the caretaker’s husband, who was mostly used for his warmth, by both the caretaker and the house cat.
Most days, the caretaker gave the house cat the extra tasty food as opposed to the moderately tasty food, and only rarely did she undergo the suffering of a mostly-empty dish. In the basement, she had two cat boxes set up, and even though there was a spider-web in the corner by the cat box, where a rather disgruntled old spider lived and yelled at the house cat for creating too much wind with her tail, the care taker was usually good at upkeeping her the cleanliness of the house cat’s smelly box. The house cat was also able to enjoy daily activities such as sunbathing spread-eagle below any of the many windows, sliding across the slippery hardwood floor upon the rugs, sleeping on any of the abundant shelves or ledges, or if the opportunity presented itself, upon a stack of papers. And of course, one of her favorite pastimes was growling at the birds who got too close to the front window.
And it was the birds who first got into the house cat’s head.
One day while the house cat watched the birds in the shrub outside the window twitter about and pick around for twigs and worms, a bird with a scratched leg chirped to her through the screen window, “I feel so sad for you, just sitting there stuck in that house, staring outside longingly.”
“What do you mean?” asked the house cat. Stuck? This was her home; she wasn’t stuck, she just had no reason to leave.
“Why, you’re all stuck up in that little box, trapped by your owners! You’re caged up while all the real animals get to play outside all day, no boundaries!” The bird didn’t mention that earlier he had gotten a concussion from flying into the windshield of a moving car.
“Stuck inside?” asked the house cat. She had never thought about it that way.
The bird shrugged. “See, you don’t even know how bad you have it. We can do whatever we want out here. Nobody to tell us how to live our life. But, you probably couldn’t even escape if you wanted to, and you’re definitely not tough enough to handle it our here, fancy paws. You’re too coddled–”
The house cat hissed, and the care taker who was sitting on the couch nearby ran over to shut the window, while the bird cackled outside and the house cat jumped away from the window.
The house cat started looking around her with disgust. Now that she thought of it, the bird was right. She was stuck in here! The caretaker always kept her away from open doors. Why did she always have to eat on the care taker’s terms? How come other animals were autonomous, but she had to be locked away? Why did she always have to be pet and touched by dirty human hands? She looked around the sun room with boredom at the familiar setting. Other animals got to explore and hunt, while she could only lay around.
The iguana noticed the house cat moping around and called out to her. “Why so blue?”
“I’m stuck inside,” pouted the house cat.
“Inside where?” the iguana asked.
“Inside the house! Duh!” said the house cat.
The iguana looked at the house cat blankly, and then a look of realization formed, and he began laughing coldly. “Oh! Poor you! You’re stuck in the house? I’m stuck in an actual cage! I would love to be stuck in something as large as the house!”
The house cat rolled her eyes. “Yeah yeah,” she said. “You’re in there because you make people uncomfortable,” and she walked away.
The house cat went to the kitchen to stress-eat. Her newly-discovered imprisonment felt suffocating now, and the walls of all the same rooms were shrinking in on her.
While she was crunching on her morsels, a mouse with a bent ear scampered up the basement steps behind the house cat and under the stove.
“Who’s that?” asked the house cat, perking up from her dish.
“No one!” chirped a voice.
The house cat returned to her grazing. “Well I’m too bummed to chase you anyway,” she said.
“Oh?” the mouse inquired, uncertain with this merciful opportunity. The mouse was about to keep on her way, when, against her better judgment, she stopped and asked, “Well, is everything okay?” peeking out from beneath the stove.
The house cat dropped the food bit from her mouth and glanced at the mouse. “No! I’m stuck in the house. I want to live outside.”
The mouse forgot her hesitancy with the house cat and popped out from beneath the stove with excitement. “I love the outside! You should go!”
With a flick of the house cat’s tail, she sat up straight from her food dish. “Tell me about it.”
“It’s huge out there. You can go anywhere you want. I was born in a house, in a basement, and for a while I didn’t even know about the outside. But then my friend showed me the way out, and I loved it!” The mouse didn’t mention that she usually stayed in the house because there were so many more potential food options here.
The house cat sighed and left the kitchen and the mouse. She wandered upstairs, to the caretaker’s office, where the aquarium of goldfish sat on a table. She liked watching the fish move and swatting at the glass to scare them. She was hoping their terror would cheer her up.
“Mercy! Please leave us alone!” the goldfish started shouting as soon as they saw the house cat jump upon the desk, which was near the table the aquarium was set upon.
The house cat chirped meanly and her pupils grew larger as she fixated on their frantic, swimming movements.
“We’ll give you anything!” one goldfish cried. “Just don’t tap the glass!”
The house cat put her lifted paw back down and rolled her eyes. “The only thing I’m interested in is getting outside.”
“Outside?” a particularly large goldfish with asymmetrical eyes asked. “Legend has it that our gods and goddesses swim outside, in bodies of water so large, you could get lost for thousands of lifetimes.”
“Great, so how do I get there?” asked the house cat. She no longer needed to be further convinced how amazing the outside was, she just wanted to know how to achieve it.
The large goldfish with asymmetrical eyes replied, “You must be selected by the rulers for a transport device, and escorted. It is only by great honor that you achieve such a physical and spiritual ascension. That is why every day, we strive to serve honorably and morally, so that we may one day be worthy enough to swim with the gods.”
The house cat laughed so hard she fell off the desk, then ran out of the room, embarrassed. Superstitious goldfish, she thought. I’m just going to break out.
She traveled back down to the first floor, and noticed the caretaker was nowhere in the house. Cynically, the house cat grumbled about how backwards it was that the caretaker could come and go into the outside as she desired, but not the house cat.
The window by the birds’ shrub was still closed from her earlier tiff with the bird, but she noticed a window at the back of the house was cracked. She jogged over and leapt up to the windowsill. With a quick glance, she found a small tear in the screen, and so she began clawing at the tear to widen it.
Her claws made quick work of the screen, and soon she was able to poke her head out of the hole. Her senses flared intensely as new smells and sounds met her, and the breeze blew directly at her. Desperately and ungracefully, the house cat wormed her way through the screen and fell below to the bed of flowers and mulch that lay along the house.
When the house cat hit the ground, she quickly jumped up and looked about her. Her heart was pounding and she was overwhelmed by how far she could see. Birds were overhead, and the giant metal machines were louder and closer. She didn’t know where to go; there were no cat beds, no cardboard boxes, no litter boxes anywhere in sight.
The house cat—-no longer a house cat, but an outside cat—-heard a loud, big-sounding bird and startled. In her panic, she ran along the house towards a different building with the door slightly ajar. She slipped inside and ran underneath a dusty wooden table. This building was smaller than the house, and cool, dark, and filled with tools and toys. She felt safer in here.
Wait! The house cat thought. Now I’m just back inside! She thought again. Well, at least this time, it’s on my terms…
The house cat went back and forth in her mind, then decided she was just being a scaredy cat. After a little while, the house cat worked up the courage to go back outside.
But, to the house cat’s dismay, she got lost pretty quick. What everyone told her was true—-the outside was so big. So much bigger than the house cat could comprehend! She was just exploring and trying to stay alive, but she kept getting scared and running or hiding. Before long, she was cowering behind a recycling bin beside a garage, and near some trees, and she was hungry, and tired, and she had mulch, dirt, and twigs all over her fur.
“Well look who it is!” a bird twittered, and the house cat saw the bird with the scratched leg from earlier that day land beside her. “You made it out! And you look rough.” He laughed. He didn’t mention that since he’d seen her earlier, the bird had a near-death encounter with a group of kids with a bee-bee gun.
“I’m having a great time,” the house cat snapped.
“Looks like you should have stayed inside,” the bird said, shrugging.
The house cat didn’t want to admit that the bird was right, but she kind of wished she had stayed inside, too. She really wanted a nap but didn’t feel safe enough to sleep anywhere, and she was too tired and inexperienced to hunt for food, and she eagerly wanted to give herself a bath.
So the house cat hissed at the bird and he flew away, cackling.
The sun was setting on the house cat’s new outside, and as it grew dark, it started to rain. The house cat searched and searched for her caretaker’s house, despite becoming soaking wet in the precipitation. Finally, after roaming all over the neighborhood, dodging teenagers on the sidewalks, cars on the road, and a piece of trash blowing in the wind, the house cat spotted the screen with the tear—-except the window behind it was closed, and all the lights in the house were off.
The house cat despaired. There was no way for her to get back in the house, so she curled up underneath the back porch and cried herself to sleep in the cold, wet, dirty crawlspace beneath the porch boards.
When the sun finally came up and the caretaker started moving about the house, the house cat sat at the back door and made a big fuss. The caretaker noticed, and ran outside to ambush the house cat with a large embrace that made the house cat growl and worm out of the caretaker’s arms. The disheveled house cat dashed inside and straight to her food bowl, which the caretaker quickly filled with the extra tasty food. It felt good to eat out of her own dish, the house cat thought.
After the caretaker pestered the house cat—-now a true house cat again—-with petting and combing and hugging, she left the house for work, and the house cat sat in the room with the iguana.
“How was it out there?” the iguana asked through the cage.
The house cat shrugged. “Eh. Not for me.”
“The outside is always bigger.”
“What?” the house cat asked.
“The outside always seems bigger. Until you realize, maybe you don’t need bigger. And maybe you don’t really want it, either.”
The house cat flicked her tail. “Whatever. I’m just happy to have my food bowl again.”
The iguana replied, “Plus, the lady was hysterical without you.”
“I’m sure,” the house cat said. Then, before walking away, the house cat paused and said, “It really did seem so great outside until I got there. I didn’t even really want bigger until everyone told me I should. Huh.”
The iguana nodded wisely, then replied, “So now will you help me break out of my cage?”
The house cat ignored the iguana and went upstairs to bother the goldfish, like good times, on 143 Lanted Drive.
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