Chuck is back, working and active (he’s been working very hard). He gave us a choice of ten titles he randomly generated for us, and I suspect I’ll use some of the others as the year goes on. I managed a 1500 word story of it, although Chuck asked for 2000. It’s hard to do flashes when you’re trying to write new novels!
The Crow of Nine-World
The crow looked down from his perch high up on the tumbled rocks. A bare tree halfway down held a pitiful sight: a kitten, no older than eight weeks, was stuck – its paws dangling while it held on by its tail.
A kitten on Nine-World?
The kitten was called Paws. The vet who had returned him to his family had scratched his ears and told him: “You ought to be careful, little one, you must have used up three lives already.”
Paws mewed plaintively. So far he had survived being tied in a bag and thrown in a river, thanks to the rowers who had scooped them out before he and his siblings could drown. Two had, but the three survivors had been taken to the boathouse, where the girl rowers had decided they would be good ratters, so they ought to stay, since they obviously weren’t wanted. “Who’s going to feed them?” the rowing captain had asked. In fact he asked everyone, since none of the rest of the crews agreed with him. Rats had become a major problem, as they always did in winter, when the local population sought out new shelters along the riverbanks.
So Paws and his two sisters had found a corner in the boiler-room and been fed kitten food, and chased each other around. And chased strings on sticks, held by the rowers, who never tired of watching their antics. They were cute, definitely.
The rats were not amused. At a war council it fell to Two-toes to get rid of them. He stuck at his task diligently, sneaking up on them each night to steal their milk, and bring the rest of the gang round to polish off their food while he distracted the sisters. They cowered in the back, warm but starving. Paws was brave, they’d give him that, but after a vicious fight, his nose was half bitten off, two claws ripped out of his barely grown feet, and his ear ripped from edge to bone. He whimpered and waited for morning for one of the rowers to help him.
Just his luck the captain was first one down. He took one look at the bleeding, sorry mess, and threw him in the dustcart as it finished emptying the bins.
Paws’ whimpering as the dustcart compressor squashed all the rubbish forward was unheard over the whine of the machinery. In an unusually lucky streak, Paws rolled into a large metal container that had been chucked away. It smelled and felt disgusting, since it had recently been used to catch the oil that leaked out of a car’s engine, but it saved his life, since it resisted the pressure more than the rest of the garbage around him. It was four hours of safety while the dustcart did its rounds, before its contents were emptied onto the tip.
Paws struggled up to the light. He poked his head above some foul-smelling paper and looked around him. All he could see was a jungle of smashed paper, polythene bags, tins, and all smeared with the detritus of human beings in a city. Some of it might have been edible, but the oil and chemicals he could smell on everything decided him. He had to stagger and limp as far as he could. There was a tree, bedecked with flags like a festival, except they were rags were made of grey plastic, hanging limply as the wind died at the end of the day. Paws made towards it, getting closer and closer, as the sun set and the night came on, and with it the night creatures, all scavenging off the tip. He found a small can he could fit inside, and curled up to wait till morning.
A fox sniffed him and moved on.
Three rats came up to him, smelled the oil on his coat and moved on, despite the promise of the blood on his nose. There were easier pickings than a kitten who hissed and spat.
Morning came and Paws renewed his efforts to reach the tree. Now seagulls were the danger, huge white wings that dive-bombed from the sky with sharp piercing beaks and loud cries. One beak grabbed him by the neck, and tossed him as it lifted off. Paws saw the ground beneath him fall away, and then there was a dizzying whirl as the gull flew off with his prize, pursued by three others. Paws found himself flying through the air on his own, the ground frightening far below him, as his original attacker lost his grip. He was snatched and tossed from one gull to the other like a basketball through a game, but finally he fell out of the bird’s grasp to land in the middle of a pile of leaves.
“Oh, my!” he heard a voice at the side of the huge container he had landed in. “Did you see that? What is it, a rat?”
“Oh, no – it’s a kitten! Fetch one of the attendants. Get it out!”
So Paws was rescued and the woman took him in her car, making soothing noises. “You’ll be just fine, I know where to take you, you’ll find a nice home, you’ll see.”
The animal rescue was in the middle of admitting seven dogs who had been seized from a dog-fighting gang. Paws flattened himself against the side of a box, hoping not to be seen. When the noise died down they finally got to him.
“He looks a goner.”
“Found in the rubbish tip? Someone’s tried to get rid of a litter by the look of him.”
“Will he survive?”
“Well, it mostly looks superficial, although he’s half-starved. He might make a good pet, you never know.”
He was bathed and his cuts cleaned, and his clawless paw had a bandage put over it to stop him licking some cream off it. He checked out the small pen he was in, found some food, and decided life had taken a turn for the better. He mewed experimentally, and was answered by several other cats, of all ages.
Within a couple weeks he was well enough to be put up for adoption. With his black coat now smart and glossy, and his white chest and paw now clean, he was a handsome animal, and soon found a home.
He was well fed, and played with; another type of stick with a different type of string gave his owners some amusement as he batted it about. He marked his territory, and their legs, and enjoyed the run of the house. He particularly enjoyed the soft white cover on the thing called a bed upstairs, and although he was taken off it by the man, the woman just smiled at him and said, “Oh, Paws,” when he took up his position again.
It was only a few days later that he felt something sting his leg, and his backside, and he limped in to the woman, mewling for help. That was how he ended up at the vet, having buckshot removed from his body.
“Buckshot?” the woman had asked the vet.
“Yes, it’s surprisingly common around here, for kids to be playing with air-rifles. You need to watch out for them. Have a word with your Community Officer, too.”
Paws was worried. He didn’t need any more encounters with kids with air-rifles. Frankly, he didn’t need any more close encounters. He was a cat, he could count all right.
So when he ran out into the road to get away from one of the kids who was trying to tie a firecracker to his tail, he was hardly surprised to end up hanging from a tree by his tail. He was definitely on Nine-World. The place where he had his one last chance.
Caak! said the crow again.
Mew, said Paws.
The crow eyed him. “Have you come to stay or are you just passing through?” he asked.
“Please, sir, I’d like to stay, if you don’t mind.”
The crow swooped down and sat on the branch next to him. “You know who I am, don’t you?”
“Um, you’re the crow of Nine-World.”
“That’s correct. You have at least learned something on your fast trip through the earth-world.”
“Please, sir, what happened to my other brothers and sisters?”
“They were reborn, the ones that drowned. The others haven’t come through yet. I expect they’re okay. You, though. A sorry state.”
Paws swung on the tree and looked at his front paw where the claws were just about grown back, although a little misshapen. “I hope they have better luck next time. What happens to me?”
“If I can get you down in one piece, you can go over and join the clan of the cave cats. That’s where you belong, after all.”
“This is your ninth life, isn’t it?”
“I guess so.”
“Well, then. Off you go, I have to get back to work. I’m the crow of Nine-World, and I have to pick up all the pieces. Hard work, but somebody has to do it.”
(c) J M Pett 2016