There was a miser who had a cat.
The miser, that is.
The cat was fine.
The miser, who’d hoarded, cheated, and loaned at exorbitant and inflexible rates, left all his wealth to the cat.
Had this been strictly a matter of what was written in his will, his lawyer (whom he’d swindled) and the judge (whom he’d nearly bankrupted) would gladly have mislaid or invalidated anything bearing the miser’s signature.
But the miser had guaranteed his wishes by locking his fortune in a brass-bound trunk he buried beneath the oldest, tallest tree in the forest, and by hanging the trunk key on the cat’s collar.
Now, you’ve heard that cats have nine lives, but that doesn’t mean a string of lives lived one after another. Cats live all nine at once. And only one is a cat life. For instance, the miser’s cat was also a riverboat captain, a seamstress, a calendar-scribe, a mathematician, and several other things.
On a cloudy day, the lawyer and the judge finished decoding clues the miser had left in his will, and dug around the roots of some old, tall trees until they struck the brass-bound trunk with a shovel-bending clang! At the very same moment, miles away, the cat wriggled through an inconvenient fence and snagged its collar there, key and all.
While the lawyer and judge rested before raising the trunk, a seamstress and a mathematician were crossing the fence-divided field from different sides. These two women spotted the key at the same moment they spotted each other.
Don’t mistake this for a coincidence–this kind of thing happens all the time. In that country, there’s an expression, “They’re two lives of the same cat.” So it was with the seamstress and the mathematician.
It began to rain, softly, but as if it weren’t planning to stop, so they took refuge in the forest. Following the map on the inside of the collar, they found the trunk, opened it, and lived together happily in a vast mansion for many, many years.
The lawyer and the judge, who’d each stolen away to scheme how to defraud the other of his share of the treasure, returned to find the trunk open and empty. The lawyer was convinced that the judge had taken all the treasure, and vice versa, and the feud between them lasted three generations.
The cat, meanwhile, was fine.
“Your wolves have no names,” Cybele remarked.
“That’s true,” agreed Artemis. “They all know each other, you see; it’s not important to them.”
“So how do you call any of them when you want them?” asked Cybele.
“I never feel the need,” replied Artemis, coldly this time.
“Let’s race,” Cybele suggested.
“No, let’s not,” said Artemis. “You know how that sort of thing just gets to be a myth.”
“Oh, come on,” said Cybele.
“All right then,” Artemis sighed, and swung her quiver over her shoulder.
“Go!” cried Cybele.
They shot off like moonbeams, and the wolves (named and unnamed) followed them, down mountainsides cheering with wildflowers and rockslides, through the sudden quiet of pine forests, down to the roar of the sea.
Artemis stopped at the water, but Cybele kept running, and when she saw the other goddess standing on the shore, she called, “Don’t be an idiot! Are you a moon goddess or what?”
Artemis remembered how lightly the moon walks on the waves. She looked at Cybele’s slender dancing feet, and then down at her own, high arched and silver-ringed. (All goddesses have perfect feet, even if they are perfect for different things.)
Artemis took a deep breath and stepped out across the water. In a moment she began to run, and in another she had caught up with laughing Cybele. They ran all day, and came back at sunset with a tuna to grill on the beach, together with crabs and oysters they pulled from the pools. The wolves, not caring for fish, got themselves rabbits in the rocks.
“I think I won the first half of the race, out onto the water,” said Cybele.
“But I beat you to the tuna,” said Artemis. “Thank you for teaching me to walk on water,” she added.
“No problem. Hope you don’t mind if it becomes a myth,” Cybele replied.
“I won’t tell if you won’t,” said Artemis.
“Agreed!” laughed Cybele. “Pass the aïoli, please.”
She didn’t understand why I had wanted to go to college. She thought I ought to be out there. A special boy like me, finally using his specialness for good. “Don’t be so shy,” she’d hiss, pushing me toward the burning building. “Go save the nuns. Go on!” But I could never do it. Not when everyone was looking at me. Wasn’t that what fire fighters were for?
She figured, once I was 18, once I was a mature adult, I would see that I was put here on earth for a purpose. I wouldn’t hide my light under a bushel any more. Maybe college would just be a phase. She clicked her tongue against her teeth every time she came home and saw me sitting on the couch, when she turned on the news and saw that North Korea still had nuclear weapons, that trains still derailed, that small children everywhere were trapped under various cars.
I said, “What am I supposed to do? There’s no Superhero section in the Classifieds.” And she sighed in that disappointed way and waved her hands around her head. She looked old and tired in her nurse’s uniform. She said, “Haven’t I taught you anything? Haven’t I taught you how to make your own way in the world? To forge your own path? When your father left us, didn’t I take care of everything?”
I had to agree there. She had. And I lifted heavy rocks for her, and took care of the gutters—I didn’t need a ladder, and I wasn’t afraid of falling. I cleaned out the sewage drain, because I could hold my breath indefinitely. My x-ray vision found her missing earring; my superspeed saved her cat. And I washed the dishes after dinner, never breaking a single one. But I think the only reason she didn’t kick me out of the house was because she was afraid I’d kill her with my heat vision.
“I got an A on my midterm,” I said, almost hopefully.
“You’re wasting your gifts,” she said. She took the remote and turned off the television.
“I want to be a marine biologist,” I said quietly.
She pursed her lips. “At least you might save a whale,” she said, and went to her room. I don’t care what anyone says–disappointment is way worse than a super villain.