THE RAT

What baloney. “All I thought about was winning the race.”

It was no mistake of mine that I didn’t wake that fool up. I didn’t forget, I didn’t think about winning. 

I thought about revenge. Vengeance.

Ok, that might’ve sounded a bit harsh. Especially since I’m supposed to be trying to clear my name. But you see, I’m the one who’s been wronged. It’s about time that someone cleared things up, anyhow.

The cat was the one who first lended a helping hand. Or rather, a helping paw. I was stranded in a snowstorm, shivering like mad. Although my heavenly hole was just a few meters away, I wasn’t sure if I’d make it. Just then, something warm and furry wrapped around me, almost like a cozy blanket. I almost fell asleep then and there. The sound of a meow was enough to startle me. What was a cat doing around here? And weren’t predators like them supposed to be snatching up prey, not snuggling with them? I had heard that his cousin, the lion, slayed five whole sheep in a few minutes. 

“Don’t worry my friend, I’ve got you. Let me carry you home.”

It was a soft, calming, purring sound, that I’ve never heard before. It was actually soothing at the moment. I slowly nodded, letting my guard down.

At first, I had thought he’d carry me to my hole, but I guess he couldn’t see it. Instead, he carried me to his den. All the way, I was snuggled up behind his ear.

When I did get there, he treated me like a true guest. The place was huge, and I could feel how grand and majestic it was. It was a haven. No, heaven. I felt like I had died.

I was treated to a royal feast, or at least, a royal feast to me. It was only a fraction of what the cat was eating, but I was starving. While I scarfed down the pieces of fruit and cheese, I remember thinking just how lucky I was. Though in reality, I was trapped inside an hourglass, about to be buried, little by little. 

After the initial night, the dream continued. We hit it off, and to me, we were like true friends. He had an interesting sense of humor, and we’d play hide and seek all the time (obviously I won most of the time, but he didn’t seem to mind). Time flew by, and in the blink of an eye, spring arrived. All the animals began to search for food, us included. 

Within a week, we were referred to as the Oddball Combo. Nobody had seen such a combination, predator and prey, friends instead of foes. We truly did spend every waking hour together. However, some of my friends warned me of potential dangers. “Who knows what that cat is really up to?”

I dismissed their remarks, and continued to hang out with the cat. Little by little, my connections with my best mates began to die off. Desperate, I figured that I needed to talk to my wise friend, the beaver.

“Hey cat, would you mind if I went to the river bank?”
“Oh sure, I’ll be ready in a second.”

“Um, I meant, alone.”

The cat’s eyes widened a bit, staring at me quizzically. “No no, I insist. I’m your best friend, I’ll escort you there.”

I could sense something in his voice. Was it anger? Or fear? The tension was building up. I was running out of time. 

“Fine, you can come with me to the river bank. I’m just meeting an old friend of mine, the beaver. He has a phobia of big animals though, so would you mind waiting outside? I might be in there for a while, so maybe bring your toy?”

The cat’s demeanor returned to normal, and before long, we were on our way. All the while though, I grew suspicious. What was it in his voice? Was he hiding anything?

When we got to the beaver’s, the cat said, “I’ll wait for you out here.”

“Thanks a lot, mate.”

I scurried inside, and the beaver was there awaiting me. 

“You came really fast! You didn’t bring that cat with you, did you?”

“Um, no no, he’s back in his den, napping.”

“Really? He didn’t say he needed to meet someone?”

“No…? Why?”

“I heard from the raven that he’s been communicating with the fox. Today is supposed to be the first time they meet.”

My jaw dropped. My tail stood on end. I could hardly believe it. 

“I’m going to go check on him. I’ll be back if I find anything else.”

“Wait, don’t you want some-”

I was already out the door. 

Sure enough, the cat was nowhere to be seen. I had to act fast. I scrambled as quickly as I could back to the den, and after what seemed like an eternity, I found a clue. 

‘Meet at ||||||||’

What were all those lines? Why were they so tall-

Oh. They were meeting in the high grasslands.

It wasn’t far from here, and I ran as fast as my tiny paws could carry me. Before I even made it though, I heard an unmistakable voice.

“I need to get back soon. He’ll be expecting me.”

“Ooooh, noo need to woooorrry. I’m sure he’s taking his time. And you. You need to take your time. Build a good foundation, a good relationship. The fruit will ripen, but first, you need to build your plate. The platter, will commmme.”

“I got it. I’ll take my time. Besides, once he’s taken care of, as you say, it’s no doubt his friends will panic.”

I had heard enough. Traitor. Traitor. Traitor. Traitor. Traitor.

But, I needed a good time to strike back. I snuck here, and I needed to outsmart him. I needed a plan to pay him back for betraying me. 

So for the next few days, I acted as if nothing had happened. And so did he. But I was seething inside, and I knew that I was running out of time. Out of air. 

Eventually, my saviour came. The Jade Emperor. He announced the great race. It was then that the cat asked me to wake him up, so we could travel together. That traitor, he was probably going to ditch me then, drown me on the way or something to further devastate me. I knew the time was right. It was time to cast my lifeline. It was do, or never. 

And so, I ditched him. I ran. I scurried. I plotted. I climbed aboard the ox. I leapt off of the ox’s head, leaving my past behind. By winning the race, I was safe from the cat’s evil plans. I was protected by the Jade Emperor, and my legacy would be passed on, not his. 

Was I selfish? Was I a terrible thing, to have betrayed him? I do sometimes feel sorry for my younger generations, since they have to put up with a harsh enemy. But as for doing a terrible thing, no. He started it first. And as the first animal in the zodiac calendar, there is nothing more disgraceful than betrayal. 


Photo: turtleluck.com