A great darkness fell upon the land, a darkness without shape, for it was the shadow of No One, who was no one at all. Beneath it was the shadow of the giant who served this imagined master. His master wanted food, so the giant raided butchers’ shops and fishing villages. His master wanted blankets, so the giant stole all the sheep he could find. His master wanted a castle, so the giant ripped one out of the ground and carried it to the forest where No One dwelled.
And in that forest, in that castle, No One’s smaller servants reaped the benefits of a suffering land, although the fly was too simple-minded to understand and the dog too dutiful to question. The cat knew. The cat understood. She had more power than any other cat she’d heard of and she knew far too many cats for one lifetime which, as everyone knows, goes nine for cats.
The people of this land fled in search of help, off to neighboring nations, countries, kingdoms, fiefdoms, empires, city-states, and even scattered folk of rivers and mountains and deserts. Yet whenever they tried to tell of who persecuted them, they could only say they were hurt by No One. Everyone who heard this confused No One with no one at all and thought this land was crumbling under its own problems, that the giant was simply helping himself to looting the land’s corpse. The cat’s verbal trickery had spread I power, and unlike Polyphemus who had fallen into a similar trap long ago, the desperate people under the cat’s dominion had no mighty father to smite those who hurt them. The gods sent them no aid. It was up to the people to help themselves.
One day the fly came buzzing to the cat, who sat in the castle’s main hall surrounded by all manner of meat, fish, beds, and toys suited for a feline queen. Her body was beginning to fill a good portion of the hall.
“Cat,” said the fly, “I was in the market searching for a good rotten thing when I heard there’s to be a gathering tonight. The people, they speak of a library front.”
Generally a cat doesn’t care about very much, and what little she cares about, she cares very little. This cat, however, cared very much about keeping what she’d earned, and so she pressed the fly. “Are you certain that’s what they said?”
“May have been a litigation front.”
“Are you certain?”
“Or a liberation front.”
It was as the cat feared. She did not know if these people had discovered the giant’s true master and she needed to be certain. “Fly, you must follow these people to this meeting and return to tell me why they have gathered. And remember their words.”
The fly promised he would and buzzed off to do as he was told. The cat waited a while, too anxious to eat, too paranoid for sleep, and soon the fly returned. “Well?” asked the cat. “What did you overhear?”
“Grave news and yet no so grave,” said the fly. “They mean to murder No One, which is grave.”
The cat was not satisfied. “No one at all or No One the imaginary master?”
“I … do not know. But No One is no one at all, right? So it is not so grave.”
“No One is me,” the cat snapped. She summoned the dog to her presence, who spent many a day guarding the castle, even though no master made him do so. “Dog, head to this meeting where the fly has failed us and discover what this liberation front intends.”
The ever faithful dog promised he would and ran off to do as he was told. Once more the cat waited, too anxious to eat, too paranoid for sleep, and she paced the castle so many times that she returned to her old size. At last the dog returned. “Well?” asked the cat. “What did you learn?”
“Grave news and yet not so grave,” said the dog. “Tonight they intend to sneak into the castle, which is grave, and assassinate No One, which is not so grave.”
The cat seethed. “No one at all or No One the master?”
The dog whimpered. “I’m sure they mean the master, who is no one at all.”
“No One is me,” the cat snapped. She summoned the giant to her presence, who had been off rampaging because his master made him so. “Giant, there is a meeting of people who conspire against our great master. None of us are strong enough to stop them, but you are.”
The giant stared strangely at the cat and then tromped off to do as he was told. A third time, the cat waited, too anxious to eat, too paranoid for sleep, and something kept her pacing, pacing fervently, pacing grooves into the stone floor and a path through the castle, pacing until her body became bony. She had missed something, something important in that giant’s stare, and all the pacing in the world couldn’t work it into her mind.
Eventually the giant returned with a grim grin on his face.
“Well?” asked the cat. “How did it go?”
“Grave and yet not so grave,” said the giant. “These people told me of a plan to bring the mountain down on No One and I told them of my defeat and servitude. They explained many things and I stopped them with a word that I would do their deed for them. Grave for No One, but not so grave for me.”
The cat knew her error now—if the master was not strong enough, then he could no longer be stronger than the giant. Worse, he had told the people and they had guessed and told him back. “Then you know—”
“You are No One,” the giant bellowed, grasping for the near-skeletal cat. “And soon you will be no one at all!”
The cat ducked the massive fingers and dashed madly through the castle she had paced. The giant tore at its walls, its floors, its ceilings, and finally left its halls and went outside, where he lifted it over his head. Then he shook it, hard as he could, and out came the fly, who buzzed in search of less troublesome places, and out came the dog, who ran looking for less deceitful pastures. After that came the treasures the cat had collected—fish, meat, money, sheep—and all of it scattered to the four winds to give others either a fortunate find or a sheep-shaped blow to the head. Only the cat remained inside the castle and her claws clung desperately to the stone walls.
“Out, cat!” the giant roared. “Out to face your fate!”
“No,” the cat said. “It’ll not return to that life.”
“So be it.” The giant shook and shook. He shook the castle until half the cat’s bones broke, and yet she still clung to the wall. He shook the castle until from head to tail off came the cat’s hide. He shook and at last the cat’s claws snapped from her paws. Out of the castle flew the hairless, hideless, clawless, limp lump, but the giant took no notice. He was on the lookout for a cat, not some red, crawling thing that was not a cat, could never have been a cat, would never be a cat. He went on shaking the castle until it shook to pieces. When he found the claws, he presumed the cat dead, and ran away laughing, off to do whatever terrors giants do best.
The thing on the forest floor did not laugh, but only shivered and dragged herself into the brush in search of shelter. She would’ve gladly served the dog again to regain her bones, her hide, her claws, but no fairy godmother or goddess of cats was on her way to grant that wish.