By Ezra and Vivienne Lanoue
Robert the human orphan hid in a crack in a ruined building, waiting for a huge swarm of galas to disappear. A cat prowled out of the crack, looked up, and gave the orphans a signal with his tail that meant the birds were gone.
Robert got out of the crack along with many other human orphans and they once again flooded through the city streets. The birds never knew and thought the city was empty. The only reason the birds still checked is because occasionally they caught sight of the human orphans.
Each human orphan group had a cat or two with them to help them survive. They had no food in the city any more, all the food had been burnt down, but the cats hunted rats and frogs for them.
“We found something!” An orphan group called out, and their cats ran over to each orphan group and gave them the signal with their tail which meant a big find.
The orphans crowded around a car. The car was damaged horribly, but one orphan still knew how to drive. He got in the car, and carefully started it – It began to drive, and the car drove all around, the orphan inside laughing in pleasure.
But a swarm of ravens flew over the sky.
“Get down!” Robert screamed, and all the orphans hid, except the one in the car that couldn’t stop fast enough.
The ravens carried the orphan into the sky as he screamed and screamed, but he was murdered by all the pecking and stopped screaming gradually. The ravens split into another group and the other group carried up the car and disappeared.
“It was our last chance…” Harriet whispered. “We will never escape the city.”
“We have to have hope,” Robert said, “maybe the Americans will come save us.”
“Americans?” Asked Charlie, rubbing his fat tummy hungrily “Is that a kind of snack?”
“Oh Charlie,” Harriet groaned, “don’t you think about anything besides food?”
Charlie sighed, “I can’t help it! I’m hungry!”
Their cat signaled to them to let them know the birds were still circling above, now on high alert for humans. They had no choice but to go back down into the sewers. Robert and his two friends went back down to their home made out of garbage in the old sewer tunnels underneath the Sydney Opera house. Harriet opened the door, then gasped.
“There’s… there’s someone in the house!” She said, “Shh!”
Charlie and Robert moved closer, peering through the dark doorway into the damp interior they called their home. There was an old bearded man with wild tangled hair dressed in rags lying on Charlie’s bed.
Charlie looked nervous. Robert noticed sweat beading on his chubby cheeks.
“Are you ok, Charlie?” He asked.
Charlie nodded, “I think so.” He paused, “Do you… do you think… do you think we could eat… him?”
Robert gasped, “Charlie! No! That’s what birds do, not people!”
Charlie shrugged, “I’m just hungry!” He groaned, “it makes me feel crazy!”
The old man stirred, woken by Robert’s exclamations. “Huh? What’s all this?” He grumbled.
Harriet stepped forward, “what are you doing in our house, old man?” She asked, one hand at her bowie knife.
The old man sat up and chuckled, “Goodness gracious! I had no idea this was someone’s house! I thought it was just a comfortable pile of trash! You’ll have to excuse me for intruding, ha ha!”
“You better not have eaten any of our leftovers!” Said Charlie, hands on his hips.
The old man shrugged, “unless that rat that died in the back corner or that old can of engine grease were leftovers, I think you’re fine.”
Charlie gasped, “our only food!”
A cat rubbed against Charlie reassuringly, then began to hack up a half-digested rat.
“Good lord Charlie!” Huffed Harriet, turning away in disgust from the boy on the ground scrabbling to stuff his face with what was practically a hairball.
Robert looked at the old man, who seemed remarkably well-fed and healthy for an adult human. “How did you survive the second great emu war?” He asked, “how have you survived till now? I don’t see a cat with you.”
The old man looked down sorrowfully. “Ah. The emu war. I lost my kids then. One of them in the battle and the other two on a ship that sank just off-coast. Truth be told, I don’t know how I survived. Everyone around me… everyone I knew died. You’re the first humans I’ve seen in five years. Sometimes I think god wanted me to live, but then I think… how could god exist in a world like this. No, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was either the devil or pure stupid luck that kept me alive all these years. And if it was the devil, then I’m sure he has a beak. I’ve wandered these sewers for five years, eating the remains of our ancient civilization to stay alive. It’s astonishing how much we threw away, enough that I’m still alive, I guess. I’ve been too afraid to put my head above ground all these years. I don’t even know if I can believe my eyes that you three children exist, I’ve hallucinated so many people from my past. Sometimes I hear them whispering in my dreams… melting into screams.”
And then there was a distant rumbling outside, and a huge crash. A cat who knew a few human words ran in.
“Wall broken. Cassowary coming.” The cat said.
The old man gasped, shaking with fear. “I find that, even after all these years, I still don’t want to die.”
Harriet shook her head, “don’t worry, the Cassowary doesn’t know about these tunnels. We’ll just have to stay underground for awhile.”
The man relaxed, then started again as he realized that the cat had spoken.
Outside, a cassowary slowly drove above ground in the same car the ravens had stolen. he drove with his flexible, large talons, and an eagle perched on top of the car.
Two young emus were in the backseats of the car, looking around. A cat ran across the street but the eagle picked up the cassowary and zoomed over to the cat, instantly completely destroying it.
The young emus got out of the car and looked around.
“Hmm… I can’t see any more, but we definitely know they must be here.” One of them said.
“We’ll make our dad and mom proud by being heroes and killing the humans and banishing them from our island forever!” The other one cheered.
“Pay attention,” The cassowary reminded them, getting out of the car. “Alert me if there’s any cats, too… Cats can get to the bush and kill our babies.”
“Okay.” The young emus said.
The flock of ravens flew over them. The cassowary looked up at them and gave them a sign all was going well. The leader of the group nodded and flew off towards a desert.
“Look! Look!!” One of the emus shrieked, pointing to three cats running across the street.
The cassowary murdered two, but one evaded his lethal talons and got away.
“Hunt it down, quickly!” The cassowary ordered, and the young emu picked up rocks and ran after the cat.
The young emu nodded and sped off towards the cat with his amazing emu speed.
“Didn’t you say cats… kill emu babies..?” The remaining young emu asked anxiously.
“He has rocks. It’s okay.” The cassowary assured.
“I hope you’re right, the stories make them seem pretty dangerous.” The young emu said.
From somewhere in the distance there was a sound of a hard smack, like a rock hitting cat-flesh. The car slowly drove towards the sound, the cassowary confidently steering it through the rubble and the young emu shaking in fear for its sibling.
The cassowary shook his head in exasperation, “don’t worry you—what could possibly happen?”
They heard the sound of cat yowling and emu squawks from up ahead, just around the corner of a collapsed building.
“See?” The cassowary said, “everything is perfectly fin–…” then trailed off.
The young emu was horribly injured, lying on the ground with many oozing wounds from small razor-sharp claws and bites. It made warning thumping noises deep in its chest.
The cassowary threw open the door of the car and lunged towards the young emu it had been charged with protecting. “My chick! What happened to you? Who did this!” The cassowary screamed.
The emu slowly raised its bloody head and coughed out, “cats… there were… so many of them…”
The cassowary shook the emu with its clawed wings. “Where did they go? Where did they go?”
The emu weakly gestured in the direction of an old alleyway littered with human bones.
The cassowary let out an enormous roar, determined to kill every dirty cat that had ever lived, and charged into the alleyway.
From somewhere up above, the orphans and the old man heard a loud cassowary roar. Robert involuntarily shivered—the sound haunted his nightmares. It was the sound he had heard right before his parents had been ripped apart right in front of him and his baby sister had been taken away by the birds. Probably to be eaten.
They had just been explaining to Pierre—the old man—that cats were the reason they had survived so long. After the war they had led the children into the sewers and guided them above-ground with their advanced senses and easily hidden forms. Pierre had asked them why the cats helped them.
Robert had responded: “I’ve often wondered the same thing. Perhaps it’s a form of repayment for the thousands of years we fed them and cared for them that they now defend and care for us, or perhaps their hatred of birds was so strong that they protect us in the hopes that we will one day regain our strength and drive back the bird armies once again, or perhaps its merely sentimentality that propels them to save our lives and give their own time after time after time.”
Wanting to contribute actual fact in addition to mere conjecture, Harriet had added: “Back before the war, scientists talked about something called imprinting, where a baby animal grows up with a human and thinks it’s their mother. Maybe the kittens left after the emu war imprinted on us. Or remember all those cat researchers just before the war who said that cats actually had IQs two standard deviations above the average human and that they were just pretending to be stupid so we would feed them? Maybe they were right all along.”
The old man nodded, “huh. Just like those old comics—about that cat named Garfield who was smarter than his owner.”
Charlie suddenly looked up from his belly button, “hey! I remember Garfield! Wasn’t he always eating lasagna?”
Pierre smiled, “that he was.” He patted the cat on the head and chuckled, “I bet you’d like some lasagna, wouldn’t you boy?”
Charlie groaned, “no fair! I want the lasagna!”
Harriet laughed, “you can share the lasagna silly! Anyway, it’s not like it’s even real!”
Suddenly they heard a creak and footsteps echoing far away in the sewers – bird footsteps.
Far back in the sewer, the cassowary was preparing to go in.
“Do you want to go home yet? The cockatoos can carry you as well.” He asked the unhurt young emu as a flock of cockatoos carried his heavily wounded brother in the air.
“No… I will make him proud of me. I will bring honor to our family!” The young emu said. “When I was an egg, a lizard snuck into our nest and ate two of our eggs. My father was too far away and could do nothing… And when I hatched, the lizard came back and right in front of me and my sibling’s eyes as we hid in a bush, the lizard brutally murdered my siblings, it was so small my father couldn’t aim his kicks correctly. Our family… It’s like it doomed with every generation. When I got a little older, my grandpa got sick when he was babysitting us. He had a heart attack, and my father wasn’t there to help him, no one was there. Me and my sibling just thought it was a joke and we were playing, so we just jumped on him. But after a while, we noticed… We noticed something was wrong. And then he died because we were just stupid babies! And then my mom, we barely ever saw her because she was a warrior and a messenger. One day she went across the sea on an albatross. She was supposed to come back in a week, but… We never saw her again. If I lose my last remaining sibling, then… I don’t know what I’ll do. I will make him proud of me, I will make all of them proud. They will look down on me so very proudly. I will be the best warrior, I will do everything perfect, I will kill the humans and cats who made this happen. I will do it!!” The young emu replied. “Bring my brother home as soon as possible, cockatoos! I will stay!”
“Good job. Your fury… I can sense it in you. You rage and your vengefulness. I believe in you.” The cassowary said as the cockatoos flew back to the bush. “Now come with me—I hope you’re ready to do some killing.”
The sewer was so dark they could barely see. A thin trickle of water chilled their feet as they bent over and walked in. It smelled like polluted dirty water and stale air. Eventually they came to a point where two more tunnels to their left and right opened up. They had three choices.
“Do you smell any humans or cats?” Asked the cassowary, relying on the emu’s superior senses.
The emu sniffed. “No, but my rage tells me to go this way.” He walked straight ahead.
Suddenly they heard a skittering from behind in the left tunnel, coupled with a hideous yowling. The cassowary head shot straight up, bonking into the roof and giving him a headache. “Cat!” he squawked.
They both turned to pursue the cat, black eyes gleaming in the darkness and claws sharpened and ready for battle.
Meanwhile, the orphans heard the distant noises of the birds getting slowly softer.
Harriet sighed in relief. “It sounds like the cats are leading them away. That was a close one, they’ve never come down into the tunnels before,” she said.
Pierre gritted his teeth, “if they come here I’ll show them a thing or two. Us Aussies can still pack a punch.”
Robert looked up at hm in surprise. “Fight birds?” He exclaimed, “but that’s impossible They’re too strong!”
A wistful look came over Pierre’s face, “Ah my boy, I suppose you’re too young to remember. I fought in the first great emu war, you know. Back in the day the emus were wrecking all the farms so we loaded guns on the back of trucks and all went out to shoot at them. We killed thousands of emus in those days to keep them from gaining strength.”
Harriet had read about the great emu war, “what happened? How did the birds defeat us?”
“Little did we know,” Pierre responded, “we were making the worst enemies we would ever face. We fought amongst ourselves about things that didn’t matter and buried ourselves in virtual realities. We became so disconnected from nature that people started to go insane. When the emus attacked, we just weren’t ready. Society was already hanging by a thread, the emus just reached out and cut it.”
Charlie remembered the word nature from snacks he had eaten long ago. “What’s nature, Pierre?” He asked.
“Now that’s a big question, kid.” Said Pierre, “a question for another time, because right now I’m going to build some emu traps out of this garbage to protect your house just in case those birds come this way. Hand me that old saw blade, would you?”
Charlie handed over the blade readily enough—it wasn’t like it was food—and soon they were all helping Pierre build traps to catch any birds that came from either entrance to the room. Harriet watched intently, reminded of physics, mechanics, and engineering books she had read as a younger child.
“Wouldn’t it make more sense to place the counterweight on the other side of that beam so that the pulley system can operate more smoothly to drop the payload?” She inquired, hesitantly.
Pierre stopped and stared at the work, realizing that that did, indeed, make more sense. “Why, yes… I suppose it would!” He said, “what an intelligent child!”
“I don’t see why we’re putting so much effort into something that’s not giving us food,.” Said Charlie.
“Well Charlie…” Said Robert, “if we catch a bird, we could always eat that.”
Charlie’s eyes grew round, he had never eaten something as big as a bird before. He suddenly began working three times as fast.
The cassowary hesitated.
“Wait… The cats are leading us in a complete circle.” The cassowary realized.
“I knew it, my rage sensors… They were getting so weak. I’m going! I’m going!” The young emu screamed and ran off.
“I blinked, what now?” The cassowary asked. “Hello? Emu chick? Oh gosh darn it, I promised his father I’d protect him. I’ll just have to go through these disgusting sewer tunnels… All for one stupid emu chick.”
The cassowary sighed and trudged through the tunnels until he realized how important this was, then sped up.
The emu chick darted through the tunnels, fast as lightning. He slipped on a puddle and hurt his leg badly. He struggled to get up and continued despite a limp. But suddenly he felt the floor disappear beneath him, and he was lifted up in a sack, an old rusty sawblade held at his neck. He chirped in alarm.
“Cassowary! Cassowary! Save me!” He screamed.
Suddenly there was a hideous human face right in front of his, eyes huge and hungry looking. It licked its lips.
“I’m too young to die! Please, please no! I have to bring honor to my family first!” The baby emu screamed.
He heard the cassowary running behind him, but suddenly its footsteps stopped. The emu twisted its head to see his protector frozen in place, eyes full of horror. The humans—there were four of them—were making whooping noises and gesturing angrily. Their eyes seemed to say if you come any closer the baby dies.
The cassowary knew what he must do. If he could just go fast enough, he could get help, and he could destroy the humans with them. Now they could be certain that there were humans left. Now they would rage through the city. He slowly began leaving.
The young emu chirped for help, unable to really move his head from the sawblade.
The cassowary looked behind his shoulder, looking the little emu right in the eye. His eye was begging, begging for help, and they both knew if the cassowary was gone too long, the young emu would die. The cassowary slowly turned away and walked through the tunnels, disappearing from sight. A tear rolled down his beak.