Anna was tracking a stray, brown cat that we saw through the back door. Then its paw prints suddenly disappeared. I wondered what happened. Rather than investigate, I chose to fictionalize where Brownie ended up. Spoiler alert: he’s okay, but he did have a rough go of it for a while.

* * *

Brownie the cat discovered he could fly at an inopportune time. He was exploring the backyard of new neighbors who’d moved onto his land. Like other squatters, he didn’t mind the newcomers. So long as they put their garbage out on time, and said garbage contained a healthy amount of unhealthy takeout food scraps, he was cool with them laying claim to his land with their flimsy human deeds.

He smiled to himself as he watched the newcomers through the back window into their family room. Before long, he noticed the safe that likely contained their precious documents. He would remember its look in case he ever had to come back to teach them a lesson.

Reconnaissance conducted, he jumped down into the snow, heading for home. He stole one last glance over his shoulder at the newcomers. Suddenly he was aware of the angle of his vision changing, the purchase of his paws on the snow releasing. Instead of looking up at the newcomers, he found himself hovering at the top of the glass.

He found himself flying.

Up over the house he rose. A gust of wind blew him toward the street and onto an idling UPS truck. The driver hopped into the cab as Brownie was settling onto the roof, his newfound hovering ability petering out. The driver gunned the engine, and Brownie was thrown backward. He dug in his claws, leaving long scratch marks in the truck’s paint, but Brownie thought it looked better that way. He wasn’t sure what was happening to him, and he was glad he was leaving his mark on the world, or at least on a UPS truck. The truck sped on toward the highway.

Brownie dug his claws into the roof like circus tent spikes. He had avoided dying, but he realized if he didn’t get off the truck now, he would leave his kingdom. Who knew if he could find his way back? Then Snowball, that pretentious and, he had to say, slightly racist cat would assume leadership of the subdivision and insist that all BBQing had to be hamburgers and hotdogs from Walmart. There would be no room for cultural color.

Brownie was the product of Red Vines Banana Runts and Blue Airheads (his parents’ parents were candy hippies). He understood the value of combining choice desserts from the aisles of the QuikTrip and feeling okay giving a genuine up-chin greeting to the cashier. Snowball would give the ass-down, leave-a-present greeting, which, Brownie had observed, Snowball rudely called brownies, figuratively rubbing his leader’s face in his calling card. Snowball had no imagination. Just rudeness. Brownie was different. He kept the balance of the subdivision healthy.

And he could fly.

He breathed deeply, relaxed his body, and retracted his claws from the roof of the truck.

He flew off like a leaf in a storm released from under a boot. He swirled and tumbled. He saw the sewer grate approaching his head. He knew he would never fit between the bars. He’d be stuck or skewered.

But the shish kebobs, courtesy of the city’s public works department, would have to wait. Brownie stopped inches from the grate, hovering. He opened his eyes. He had told himself to stop, and he did stop. He was getting the hang of this. He told himself to fly, and he flew.

He flew up to twice the height of his previous elevation. He felt the winds strengthen and try to blow him off course like a huge, malfunctioning hairdryer with its cord stuck in the bathtub. He was new to this, but he felt control rising. Skill was accruing to him. From where? He didn’t know. But he knew he could use this power, so he did. He flew back to the house of the new people.

Still several houses away, he saw Snowball perched where he himself had been only minutes earlier. The attempted succession had already begun. Power grabs wait for no one, especially not for cats who find their leader with a barely controlled ability to fly.

Brownie descended but did not decelerate. He lowered his head and beaned Snowball on his flank like a fastball fired from a Major League Baseball pitcher. Snowball flew into a snowbank and disappeared. After a few minutes, Brownie saw the snow moving, but he didn’t see Snowball again. The message had been delivered.

Brownie was king of this subdivision. He had the knowledge. He had the experience. He had the willingness to steal important documents, as needed. But most importantly, he could fly.

He lifted off and never came down.

When the tracks faded in the spring melt, other subdivision cat leaders across town and across the state discussed whether Brownie was alive, whether he had ever been real. But a healthy amount of unhealthy food scraps continued showing up, and many new residents, whether they knew it or not, had signed over their deeds to Brownie. A review of county records proved this.

Brownie’s legend grew.

His tracks, history.

* * *

Ambitious, shady real estate scheming, and flying cat culture could be happening in your backyard. Don’t worry about the paw prints ending.

Someone could have learned to fly.