Years ago while watching Soap I came across the dictum that if you grow up with a Jewish Mother eventually you become one. (I assume this only applies to girls but I’ve never explored the question that closely.) It seems to be another truth that if you grow up with a writer eventually you become one. Even the younger boy is being dragged to the writing side even if kicking, screaming and attempting to pull out eyes.
The older boy has been a lost cause for longer than that, having written and published several short stories, starting at thirteen. At thirteen, also, in a fit of insanity, he sat down to write a novel. He finished at fourteen and we started trying to sell it. The problem, for those of you who know Robert’s writing, wasn‘t so much that it was odd. It was more that it was SO odd it could not be classified. Half the people who read it thought it should be YA because it has talking cats. But that entirely ignores the sex (okay, it’s mostly lustful thoughts) and violence (so a lot of it is screamingly funny, but still). Then some people thought that it shouldn’t have cats using implements and drinking tea, as though the fact that the cats use magic weren’t a bigger violation of the-world-as-we-know-it.
Finally, Naked Reader Press decided to bring it out. Mind you, they too weren’t too sure what to make of it, but since Robert’s story Bite One is one of the press’s bestsellers, they figured they’d risk it. It wasn’t until the copy editor read it that we got a perfect description for it when he said, in a stroke of genius “It’s like Watership Down meets Terminator. With cats.”
Take a world in which the mountain at the end of the universe on which a birdie wipes its beak every thousand years is not a metaphor. Then make that our world. There is only one more beak wipe left, and once the bird does it — no more universe. The cats are the only ones who know about this. For aeons two magical cat-forces have arrayed themselves for and against The Bird (whose name incidentally is Happy). The cat royal family has always stood as protectors of the universe, their mission being to kill the bird before it does the deed. But now the last heir of the royal family was killed, leaving behind his pregnant girlfriend. Or is he the last heir?
Told in a style reminiscent of what would happen if a Heinlein novel collided with a Pratchett novel at high speed, the book contains sex, violence, squirrels grasshoppers, eagles, prairie dogs and very odd magic and it’s coming out from Naked Reader Press in a week or two . With permission from the house, I’m posting the beginning below.
Robert A. Hoyt
Many humans know there is a mountain at the end of the universe to which a bird flies every thousand years to sharpen its beak, until the end of the mountain comes, and thus the end of eternity.
What few know, however, is that a rather unimaginative power-that-once-was had, in a fit of originality, named the bird Happy.
Thusly, the bird also had the sort of monumental chip on its shoulder which could only come from spending several billion years with the name Happy. To add insult to injury, it was also the dullest grey bird in existence, which seemed to it a disgraceful state for a creature of its stature.
And, more the worse for humanity, is that the entire fate of the universe was in its wings.
It was about half past noon at the end of the universe, and a sort of pale light which had no discernible source poured in, flowing into the air like warm butter in sponge cake.
Happy was within sight of the mountain, which was not a very great distance, because, at this point, the mountain was little more than a pebble rooted in semi-existent turf. The Bird landed and, with great ceremony, bent over, scraping its beak until it sent up brilliant white sparks which died with little pops.
Somewhere behind Happy’s mad little red eyes, his brain could process the idea of the universe ending. That was fine by him. Overall, he hadn’t been too impressed with the universe to begin with, and several millennia had not improved his opinion.
Casually, the way one might realize they had forgotten to buy cabbage on their last trip to the market, he remembered his most recent master would be dead by now. It would be time to find another one.
Fortunately there were always creatures ready to provide shelter for an innocent-looking, harmless grey bird.
Not that this made him feel any better.
After five minutes, he was contented with his beak’s edge, and took a quick look at the remainder of the mountain.
Only one more trip there. Just as well, my wings are getting tired, he thought. A malevolent little smile decorated his drab features. Serve them right to find themselves nonexistent. Humph…Happy.
At the end of the universe, something was listening — in an equal state of discontent. Anyone present would have been certain the wind was swearing.
The trip back would prove to be filled with extensive grudge-keeping on Happy’s part. And after so much time, The Bird was very good at keeping a grudge.
One thousand years later, Mr. Beaconcaw stepped out into the dawn rising over the city. Or at least what passed for dawn in his much befuddled mind. From a technical point of view, there were no stars; but then again, there was also no sun. However, the faint red traces at the horizon signaled the possibility of it rising, and a dyed-in-the-wool pigeon hobbyist is up before the chickens.
His penthouse apartment had a lovely rooftop loft. Mr. Beaconcaw was in possession of a fortune of the sort of undefined size which suggested he could buy a small city, so the landlords just sent him regular bills, thoughtfully adding their tip to it so he wouldn’t have to bother himself about it.
Fortunately, he never noticed, since he was also in possession of the sort of mind that would buy a small city, and then shortly thereafter misplace it somewhere among candy wrappers and stale bread.
He only really cared for his pigeons. Or anything vaguely pigeon-shaped.
His newest acquisition was an extremely boring bird in a cage which appeared to have been pieced together by a master rust craftsman. It seemed as old as time itself, and was his latest and most single-minded interest.
He walked slowly to each pigeon cage, sloshing coffee about as he attended to the various birds.
Thanks to the caffeine-soaked food he owned some of the most alert pigeons in the country.
But he attended to the grey bird with extra care. As far as his failing eyesight could determine, he was looking at a solid grey pigeon, a valuable and beautiful bird.
As far as the bird was concerned, he was looking at a large absentminded lump of food.
Mr. Beaconcaw was now to the point where the bird took enough regular chunks out of him that it really had no need for other means of feed. But today he got a bitten finger for a different reason.
There was a clink of an opening cage, a piercing scream which woke up a city block, and a solid thud as a coffee cup hit the ground, falling down so straight not a drop was spilt.
A very disappointed pigeon hobbyist watched as far as his failing eyesight would allow as his new bird flew out of sight. For a second he nursed his bleeding finger. Then, bending, he picked up the coffee mug, took a sip of stone cold. pigeon feed infused coffee and then turned around and very quietly walked down the stairs, having forgotten why he was looking at the sky.
It was a lovely day for the universe to end.
Tom was spending what he considered to be a very productive morning in the dumpster behind Penne Pizza. Penne Pizza was not your classy eatery — cockroaches often turned it down over hygiene issues — but Tom was not a classy cat. It was a dumpy building which gave the impression of having been drawn in pencil and much smudged, with a cracked cement facade and a clientele list that was very similar to the college frat house assignments. Saturday night encased the building in a visible cloud of alcohol fumes.
It was this smell that attracted Tom, a disreputable-looking cat with a white mark on his chest that could have been a cravat. Granted, it would involve wishing very hard, and squinting harder.
Tom also liked beer. He didn’t think about why. He just told girl cats that he drank to forget.
But then, being as he had started drinking beer four weeks after birth in the dumpster his mother had birthed him in, he had forgotten just shy of everything.
Sometimes, when he finally passed out from a pleasant stream of alcohol, he was thankful for that much. The nightmares he had while inebriated were enough to make a fellow take to the bottle.
Carefully he worked through the beer bottles, his black and white fur acquiring a fine layer of dust, while Tom gained the interesting world view held by a cat who had long since departed sobriety.
It was eight ‘o’ clock, and the beginning commuters for Broxton, Colorado, were flooding the sidewalks.
It was Tom’s favorite time of day, since the rest of the feral cats around the city were hiding in dark corners catching oversized city rats — unless the rats happened to catch them first. This meant that Tom was free to enjoy the beer leftover from those in the city who had no reservations about drinking liquor in vast quantities.
Halfway through managing to stick his tongue completely into a lovely bottle of Guinness, Tom suddenly sensed a newcomer in his alley. He also caught on that the newcomer was female.
Pulling his tongue out of the bottle, Tom looked her up and down. She was a beautiful white Persian, who looked like someone who had gotten lost in her mind and couldn’t find anyone to ask for directions.
She had a faux diamond collar, which as a cat either meant you were an indoor cat or you were a hard case; in the former, because your owner didn’t want you lost, and in the latter, so you would never run out of people who you could beat up over eyeballing you.
Tom immediately decided on indoor, if only because trying to imagine her in a fight was like imagining a small, dense rock as an Olympic sprinter, and then only if everyone else got a head start.
She was, however, definitely Tom’s type. Not that this was hard, since his type ranged between animate and inanimate objects, and — on one memorable occasion – both. But she was a cute, uncorrupted bit of fluff, a state which he hoped to change.
Tom abandoned the beer bottle. Sitting up, he made a half-hearted attempt to groom himself, up until the point he he realized this was impossible.
Dizzily, he sidled up beside the girl cat.
In as sultry a manner as an extremely drunk cat could, he spoke.
“Hello kitten. Need some help?” His tone implied that the word help had several contexts.
For a moment, she continued to look intensely at nothing, and then turned to acknowledge the extremely tipsy apparition standing in front of her train of thought.
“Do you know where the mountains are? I don’t see any out here.” Her question took Tom by surprise. He wasn’t used to geography anywhere near foreplay. The gears in his head ground to a nerve-racking full stop, as lust met trivia head on.
In the middle of the collision, another fact cut in. He was beginning to become aware of an unpleasant smell about her which he recognized all too well. It had a disappointing tone to it, best defined as a bucket of cold water in the face.
Edgily, he answered the question. “You would be referring to those big blue lumps in the distance, right?”
She looked in the direction of his outstretched paw, and brightened up.
“Oh, those aren’t very big; I’ll be there by the end of the day. I would have thought this business would be harder. Thank you.”
Something about the words “this business” had caused the bits of Tom’s brain which managed his love interests to tell him to cut his losses. His alcohol impaired nose almost had a fix on the smell he recognized. Against his better judgment, he forged on.
“You don’t get out much, do you? Mountains aren’t known for being small. They are, however, several miles away. Exactly why do you want to go there, anyway?” Suddenly, the smell clicked into place. His amorous ideas shattered painfully.
After a second he added, “And more importantly, are you pregnant?”
Eye sat on the carved throne at the head of the cave. Around it, ten foot thick columns supported a cavernous ceiling like giants holding up the sky. Carefully hewn statues of creatures not seen since the dawn of time ringed the cave, staring at the mass of followers.
Eye was ancient. The scars about his body bulged on layers of muscle unnatural for a cat of his age. His blood-ringed sightless eyes shone an unnerving red in the darkness. But then, vision would have been an unnecessary distraction to Eye, considering his impossibly accurate hearing.
He listened studiously to the chanting of his followers, bouncing off the walls of the cave, and forever telling him what the room looked like.
Indeed, it was better than sight — he could feel the room around him. He waited patiently for the hymn to end, and then rose to his feet in the silence.
It was a massive motion, like ten thousand mountain ranges rising in chorus.
He towered above his audience; easily four or five times the size of anyone present. When he spoke, his voice battered the walls like a cannon, hard and metallic; No trace of compassion tainted his speech.
He did not speak above a low growling whisper, but everyone heard him.
“Brethren. You all now know of how I destroyed the royal family, their proud King and their arrogant Queen, and put to death four of the royal princes with my army so that they might no longer hinder us,” The crowd nodded, and a general sound of agreement, in a low, deep, growl echoed.
“One of my loyal followers has brought news of the fifth. Talon, step forward,” A beautiful Cornish Rex materialized out of the shadows behind him. Eye could sense the minute light reflecting off of the brown and black tortoiseshell fur that made her glinting golden eyes startling in the blackness.
He felt the air shift as she bowed deeply “You summoned me, lord?”
“What of the prince? Have you dealt with him as bidden?”
“Yes, my lord. With him, we have disposed of the last of the princes.”
“Well done, Talon. I shall see to a reward for you.” He turned his head to face his audience, and with a new passion began “And yet I see in your hearts that still are unsatisfied. Some among you even dare to doubt I deserve to rule above the royals…” He smiled.
It was an incredibly unpleasant smile, which chilled your heart and made you wish overall that you had lived a much better life.
“…And say that I should have dealt with them myself, to prove that I was worthy. To which, I reply that you needn’t wait any longer – the last of the royal line will come here, and I will eradicate them myself. When I am done, I will crush all those who dared to oppose me as well.”
He noted those who shuffled, weighed every echo of those who coughed, before finishing his speech. They would find guards waiting at their doors, and be taken publicly as an example.
“Rest assured, the noble lineage of the brothers will live, and with the end of the Royals, the bird which shall destroy the universe will fly unopposed. Our long awaited rise will come, and we shall recreate all things again as it pleases us,” He paused for a second. Time stood still, and the air itself seemed to be anticipating the next thing he would do. Finally, his voice came, more quietly than before.
“I dismiss you, Brothers — I shall summon you again, when the Royals arrive.” And he turned his back to the assembled congregation.
In a voice like the crack of doom, the cats replied “Hail Eye, Seventh Lord of the Bird.” It was an ancient tradition, and the age made itself felt as it was spoken. The sound echoed off the walls and returned joined with the harmonics of more ancient voices. As the last trace of resonance died the acolytes filed out swiftly and silently.
When the throne room was empty, Eye called out to his adviser.
“Beak, come to me.” From the shadow beside him stepped an incredibly old Manx cat, its flesh withered by the ravages of age and disease, its voice cracked and dusty.
“I have listened carefully of the prince’s last hour. Keep an eye on the female whom the prince impregnated. Never let her out of your magic’s sight. I must know everything she does now. The prince has told her to return to the mountain — he didn’t know we had destroyed the palace. He’ll have sent her there for safekeeping, among the servants whom we killed. Tell me all that occurs.” He turned away as Beak departed.
“Despite what I said there is no use my fighting a pregnant female; at best it takes my time, and I doubt it will calm those in the order who are insufficiently loyal — I’m depending on you to arrange an accident for her. It must, however, look as though you were not involved, to avoid unnecessary upheaval. Beak will be most obliging in keeping you abreast of her movements. I can gloss it over in my court, and then I will put you to the task of destroying those disloyal elements. When we rebuild the world, you shall see your just reward.” Talon bowed deeply, touching the floor, and then disappeared into the inky blackness without a sound.
Eye sat alone, listening blindly in the darkness.
“It started when this boy cat came to the window of my master, Mrs. Apron. He was terribly handsome, and he seemed exotic, and he wanted do something that he said was fun. Only it wasn’t really all that much fun… But he made a huge fuss, yowling to wake the whole neighborhood. Anyway, he hung around for a little while, climbing the fire escape to see me…”
Tom’s patience was wearing thin. The bit of fluff was babbling at several hundred words a minute, and it was getting old.
“But then another cat got in his way. I ducked, because they started fighting, and when I came back to the window the boy cat was a mess, torn to pieces. He said go to the mountain… The big building there… it’s safe and then he went to sleep.” Tom winced for a second, considering shattering her naiveté, then thought better of it. Her ability to imitate sounds was uncanny, but apparently she paid little to no attention to what they meant.
“Look, sweetheart, that’s very nice and all, but I’ve made a long career of not being a homebound father to a litter of kittens and I certainly don’t intend to break a perfect record. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a bottle of lager I’ve been saving for last.”
Tom’s mind breathed a sigh of relief. He had finally come to his senses.
The girl cat’s train of thought, having only barely recovered from Tom’s intervention in the first place, now flew off of the suddenly foreshortened track. She stood very still, as she realized that the other end of the conversation had disappeared. After a while, very quietly, she began to walk away down the alley.
Well done, went the voice in Tom’s head, Now all you need to do is walk away and find some other pleasant distraction.
Tom started to obey.
You know, he told himself, she hasn’t got the common sense to find her way out of an empty room without walls. She has less than no chance of making it to those mountains. There was something else there too, a nagging little kitten who knew what it was like to be lost and alone in the world. Tom promptly classified the thought as irrelevant.
Don’t start getting all ethical on me, the voice said. Let some other chump do the job. You and I both know you’re no tour guide.
Tom considered this. He tried another angle on his voice, without quite understanding why. In the most insouciant manner possible, he sidled up to his own libido.
She is a fine piece of tail. This guy has to have had a reason for sending her into the mountains. He probably has contacts up there to keep her safe. She can have the kittens and leave them up there. That way, we get a shot at her too.
Tom’s mind, or at least something he thought with, considered his very convincing argument.
He’d never stuck around long enough to find out what happened after he got his payoff. He judged that between motherly instinct, and getting back into the game, a female cat probably would be more than happy to leave the bleating balls of fluff with friends. His voice concurred.
The business can’t take too long, can it? But mind you, at two days, maybe three at the outside, we cut out… I’m not ready to make cats the next species to mate for life.
Fair enough, Tom shook paws with his mind, and turned around. Bit of fluff had left the alley.
He ran to the end, tripping on garbage and a drunkard due to wake up in about an hour with a headache the size of Atlas.
He looked one way, and then the next. Suddenly, through the wall of people on the sidewalk, he saw her near the corner. She was about to walk into the middle of the street.
Tom crashed franticly through the commuters and briefcases, doing a fair impression of a bolt of lightning crossed with a pinball.
In a tumble of fur and adrenaline, he pounced on the girl cat just as she was about to walk out into the middle of the street, slamming into her at subsonic speeds.
She looked up, dazed. Then, her expression turned icy.
“Oh, you again. I thought you were too busy to come along. Go on then, what are you doing jumping on unsuspecting cats for no reason?”
Tom sped around the edge of the gaping hole of a situation he was somehow being yanked into.
“I changed my mind,” he said, and switched the subject while she was off balance. “Tell me, what possessed you to try to walk into the middle of a street on the ‘don’t walk’ symbol? That little flashing orange hand is an indication not to walk in front of the cars.”
The girl cat looked vaguely confused, and then seemed to notice the two walking signals on the signposts. Slow revelation dawned on her face.
After a second, Tom thought to ask, “What is your name anyway?”
The girl’s eyes crossed desperately. She dug deep into her mind, as if she had just been posed with an incredibly difficult question regarding quantum physics.
“Fluffy” she finally said.
Fluffy…. Bit of Fluff….well anyway, I wasn’t that far off, was I? Tom thought.