two cats leaping the air

The Aerial Princess: Flash Fiction

‘Are you sure it’s safe?’ Ignatius Pobblewell III stands in the centre ring of the circus tent, his top hat askew, wringing his gloved hands. The grand opening of his ninja cat circus is mere hours away, and they are far from ready. He stares up at the death-defying trapeze that is one-and-a-half times higher than any other, as well as the massive span to traverse. ‘What if he falls?’

Phoenix, his star performer and ninja cat circus co-founder, lounges lazily in a corner, sharpening his throwing knives. He waves a dismissive claw. ‘Cats always land on their feet.’ 

High above them, a grey Persian in an indigo spangly costume with stars on it and a cape, clutches his paws together as if in prayer, his knees wobbling and eyes clamped shut.

The last minute auditions had been a disaster. One cat tripped over its own tail before reaching the trapeze ladder, while another managed to get stuck on a pole halfway across making the traverse. It had taken a cherry picker and several hours to save the cat, who understandably had fled the circus tent, vowing never to return.

‘What’s taking so long anyway?’ Phoenix stabs the knife he is holding into the sawdust covered ground. ‘I don’t have all day for these auditions.’

‘We can delay the opening,’ Furball, Phoenix’s long-suffering assistant and sister, suggests beside him.

Phoenix rounds on her, his green eyes flashing. ‘A ninja cat circus is not complete without a stunt that demonstrates our superior ability to leap through the air.’ 

Phoenix stalks over to Ignatius and hollers up to the Persian, ‘Get on with it!’   

‘I…don’t…think…I can,’ the cat calls back through chattering teeth, his tail fluffed up like a bottle brush.

‘What’s his name, again?’ Phoenix hisses at his sister.

Furball pushes her tortoiseshell glasses with frames matching her coat, up her nose. ‘His name is Fluffy.’

Fluffy.’ Phoenix visibly shudders. ‘No that will not do. Terrible name.’ He directs his attention back to the trapeze. ‘Fl-u-ffy,’ he feigns a benevolent tone, ‘would you mind terribly, hurrying it up a tad?’

‘But I’m afraid of heights,’ Fluffy yells back.

Ignatitus’s eyes widen. ‘Why on earth is he auditioning for the trapeze?’

Phoenix shrugs. ‘We needed a trapeze artist. All it took was the promise of a never-ending supply of catnip.’ He purses his lips. ‘Obviously he didn’t have enough before he went up there.’ 

‘You can do it, Fluffy,’ Furball calls out in genuine encouragement.

Phoenix rolls his eyes. ‘Yes, yes, Fluffy, you can do it.’

Fluffy stares down at the circus floor far below, and gulps. With trembling paws, he swings his furry body forward, reaching out to grasp the trapeze bar. The silence in the circus tent is palpable as he hangs suspended in the air, his cape rippling in the wind. His claws make contact with the bar and for a split second, it appears they had found their trapeze artist. But his grip slips, and he hurtles downward, a tumbling indigo and silver ball with limbs flailing, his fall punctuated by claws-on-a-blackboard-screeching. 

With a thud, Fluffy lands safely in a giant airbag beneath the trapeze. He appears unharmed.

Fluffy emerges from the airbag, his spangly costume awry and adorned with a fresh dusting of sawdust, his cape tangled around his neck. His whiskers quake, his eyes saucers. 

Furball and Ignatius rush to Fluffy’s side. 

‘Are you alright?’ Furball reaches out to check Fluffy for injury but he bats away her paw angrily.

His fur ruffles and ears flatten against his head. ‘No amount of catnip is worth that.’ He shakes a fist up at the trapeze. ‘Or putting up with you.’ He glares at Phoenix. ‘Good day to you all.’ 

He lifts his chin, flips his cape back over his shoulder, and hobbles with as much dignity as possible from the circus tent.

Furball makes to go after Fluffy but Phoenix orders her not to. ‘We don’t need scaredy cats like him.’

Ignatius takes off his hat and rakes his fingers through his hair. ‘Now what are we supposed to do?’ 

Phoenix smirks. ‘I suppose you could always give the trapeze a try.’ He chuckles at his own joke and shoots an expectant look at Furball until she too laughs.

Ignatius’s features contort, his face blazing cherry-red. ‘Hilarious, given I’m not a cat and this is a ninja cat circus!’ He shakes his head to himself. ‘I have put every cent I own into this. I’m ruined.’ He throws his hat on the ground, tears brimming in his eyes. He heaves a sigh and trudges out of the tent.

Phoenix gives another shrug and goes back to sharpening his knives. 

Furball frowns. She knows her brother has a gruff and at times unpleasant demeanour but it is mostly bluff, a protective mechanism. They had been separated from their mother as kittens, and it had been Phoenix who’d kept them alive. He was the one who made sure they had enough to eat and had somewhere safe to sleep. Yes, he gave his sister her name after she had nearly choked on a furball, but he was also the one who saved her with the Heimlich manoeuvre. And yes, she did sport a scar or two where he had used her as a target for knife-throwing practice, but that practice had meant no one ever dared threaten either of them, and those skills had brought them here. The ninja cat circus was their ticket to all their dreams, never having to worry about where their next meal was coming from again. And the circus had another purpose. A purpose the siblings held close to their hearts.

Furball approaches her brother. ‘You’re not going to give up. This is too important.’

Phoenix tightens his grip on the knife in his hand. ‘You should know by now that life doesn’t always turn out the way you want. The circus was a stupid idea anyway.’

Furball marches over to stand directly before Phoenix, and juts out her chin. ‘The ninja cat circus is a brilliant idea – your idea as much as Igantius’s. I know you can do it. I believe in you.’

Phoenix bares his teeth. ‘Well you shouldn’t. I have failed. Don’t you see, it’s over.’

Furball, though, stands her ground. ‘We can’t give in when we’re so close. We have your act. We have Tawny and Tori the tumbling acrobats. We have the pole and rope climbing routine, and then there are the swords, staff and throwing stars demonstrations. We have enough.’ 

Phoenix shakes his head. ‘It’s all filler. The top-billed act, the one everyone is talking about, is the world’s highest trapeze. We can’t go ahead without it.’ Phoenix hangs his head. ‘It is over. We will have to go back to the streets.’ He looks up at his sister from downcast eyes, his tail drooping. ‘I’m sorry, Furball, but without the circus, we’re stuck here and we’ll never find our mother.’

He turns away before Furball can protest, his shoulders slumped with defeat. She feels a mix of frustration and determination surging through her. She refuses to let their dream crumble so easily, especially when their mother’s whereabouts hang in the balance.

With grit and resolve, Furball marches over to the ladder leading up to the trapeze. Ignoring the doubts echoing in her mind, she grasps the first rung and propels herself upward. Her agile paws find firm footing and she ascends, gaining confidence with each step. 

She reaches the top. Phoenix’s gasp reverberates around the empty tent.

‘No Furball. Come down. It’s too dangerous,’ he cries.

But it only spurs her on. Right now her brother needs her. She takes a deep breath and reaches out for the bar. Her paws grip the metal tightly as she pulls herself up. Furball swings herself forward, soaring higher and higher, Phoenix’s cries nothing but background noise.

She swings toward the bar in the distance, the span she must traverse appears even wider up here. She inhales deeply, summoning all her courage, and takes a leap of faith, her paws lifting from her bar. The air rushes past her as she swings through the void.

Instinct takes over and she twists, twirls and spins in mid-air, her eyes searching for the other bar. She sees it. She holds her breath and with outstretched paws she reaches for it…

Furball latches onto the other bar and her heart swells as Phoenix applauds and gives a protracted victory meow. 

High on a newfound sense of accomplishment Furball doesn’t remember getting back down to the ground but she is there with Phoenix wrapping her in an embrace. 

‘That was incredible! I…I didn’t know you had it in you.’

Furball, still catching her breath, manages a tired smile. ‘We can’t give up, Phoenix. The circus, finding our mother…We have to keep going.’

Phoenix’s usually stern expression has vanished. He looks at his sister, his expression filled with admiration. ‘You’re right, Furball. We’ll make this work. Together.’ His brow furrows. ‘There’s just one problem.’

Furball’s throat constricts. What was he about to say? Had all her effort been a waste?

Phoenix then grins. ‘If you are to be our trapeze star, you will need another name.’ Furball blinks rapidly. ‘And I have the perfect moniker in mind.’

‘Alright,’ Furball says hesitantly.

‘You shall be called Priscilla.’

Furnall gapes. ‘Our mother’s name?’

‘Exactly,’ he declares. ‘But not entirely the same name. You, my magnificent sister, will be Priscilla the Aerial Princess.’

Furball beams with pride. Thanks to her, the ninja cat circus was saved, and if that dream can come true, there’s no reason others couldn’t too.

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Photo by Gratisography via Pexels.

Kylie Fennell
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