"Ted, you're gonna get yourself killed!" The words sound distant and dithered through the haze of an adrenaline rush. "Get off that rock this instant!"
Laughing, I cling to the nearest handhold and look down to the desert floor, where my lion friend stood waving his arms. His image danced in and out of my twin fox tails. "Come on, Andrew!" I scream down to him. "This is a real easy climb -- lots of footholds, landings, easy lines... and besides, the air's _great_ up here! Join me!"
"You don't have any gear!" the lion screamed back. He continued ranting, but I felt my ears twist and turn to pick up the sounds of pebbles dribbling their way down the cliff face. He just didn't have a good concept of adventure, I told myself. He didn't understand what it meant to live life.
I climbed onward. After a few more feet of elevation gained my friend's voice snapped back to life: "I tell you, you're gonna regret it when you fall! That's got to be at least four stories up, and you've still got four to go!"
"I won't fall!" I screamed back to him. "This is Toontopia. You can do anything here, if you just try!"
The lion stifled a curse under his breath. "I swear, Ted... you're going to die young. Too young. Hell, you're not even 14 and you're cheating death on a cliff face!"
"Lighten up, Andrew," I shook my head and turned back to the cliff face, where my light brown paws were waiting to continue the climb. I pushed my muzzle close to the wall, found my next handhold, and resumed the climb.
"I've got an idea!" I blurted. Andrew stopped cold. "You need to learn to let go of the real world. So let's try some new names!" I laughed. The lion groaned. I continued to climb as I thought about where to take the conversation, my tails swishing through the air as I moved, struggling to keep my balance.
"So how about you call me Tails?" I offered to him. "It's kind of toony, isn't it? Childish, bright, and it fits me."
"Those tails are getting to your head, Ted."
"That's Tails' tails," I corrected him, chuckling. I found my way to a few really stable footholds as I turned to look down at him again. "What do you want to be called?"
"Wrong." I paused. "How does Cat strike you?"
"Just the look I was going for!"
The lion threw his arms in disgust. "I swear, you're the most childish person I have ever known. You're probably one of those idiots that wishes on a shooting star every time you see it and honestly thinks it may come true."
"Sometimes things just happen without a good reason. We _did_ turn into toons, after all; can you explain that?" Chuckling, I turned back to the wall and extended to grab the next crack in the rock face.
I came back with a handful of pebbles.
My world grew wheels and took off like a bullet. There was no chance to recover, to scream, to breathe; the ground was rapidly moving to reclaim my body and restore equilibrium to the force of gravity. My heart leapt to my throat and lodged itself behind my tongue. My skin turned to ice. I felt my tails flailing wildly behind me, even though the rest of my body refused to move.
Andrew screamed. All my senses seemed dulled, prepared for a painful and messy impact. Just before the ground completely filled my vision I closed my eyes. Time stopped on a dime. I waited.
My wits came back to me bit by bit.
Tentatively, I opened my eyes just enough to peek at the ground. After a few moments, I opened both eyes fully and stared at individual specks of dust for a few moments of time. Nothing was changing. I thought that I had scared myself right out of the space-time continuum, like some bad science fiction film. I wasn't going up; I wasn't going down; I was simply floating.
My ears picked up on Andrew's shallow breathing. Slowly, I tilted my head up to see him looking right back at me. His pupils were pinpricks. I paused for a moment more while I waited for my mind to catch up. "What happened?" I managed.
"I was going to ask the same thing." He pointed over my head. Curious, my head whipped around to follow his finger.
There, sticking out of my back, were two fox tails swirling around at a blazing fast pace. They made a blur of orange as they moved. As I watched I started to feel the air they pushed kissing off my back fur, and my nose tickled with the dust I was kicking up. For a moment I split my attention between my tail and my feet, my feet and my tail, with my head flicking around like some confused little bird.
"Shouldn't I fall?" I asked the lion.
"Yes, you should fall."
"Can you explain it?"
He shrugged. "I have no clue."
The adrenaline started to drain from my system after a few minutes of hovering. I found myself experimenting with the tails. First I moved forward an inch. Then, backwards the same distance. A few degrees' rotation followed. As I experimented the lion looked on with wide-eyed awe.
"I can't believe it," he said as I learned to gain altitude. "This can't be right. You're supposed to be a fox -- two tailed fox, sure -- but foxes don't fly."
"Welcome to Toontopia," I replied with a smile. "I _told_ you anything could happen here!" I gained courage in my flying; simple turns and dips turned into swoops and diving turns. Butterflies danced in my gut as I continued flying. Me. I was flying. I had no flying machine, no jetpack, no virtual reality headset pumping the stimulus to my brain. This was just me, the air, and my two tails.
Free! I thought to myself, I'm free!
"Amazing!" I screamed out. "This is what I've always dreamed of! I'm flying, Andrew! I'm flying!"
"You certainly are," he managed. The words seemed halfhearted, like the cat had his tongue.
With a laugh I landed on the ground and brought my tails to a rest, only to jump and take off again a second later. The light, wonderful feeling in my gut intensified. It was childhood wonder, passionate love, the joy of dreamland... oh, it was all those and more! The air cradled me in clean, fresh air as I dipped and darted through the sky, finally free of the ground.
"I still can't figure it out," Andrew kept saying to himself. After a time I landed and shushed him.
"I told you, we don't have to figure it out. But if you'd like..." I pointed to the top of the eight-story cliff. "We can think about it up there. I'm sure the view is wonderful."
"I can't climb that."
I lifted off once again and offered a hand. "I can give you a lift, if you want it."
The lion sighed and looked up to where I was floating in space. "You're lucky."
"You will be too, if you let yourself be." I beckoned with my outstretched hand. "You just have to let yourself dream. Come on, Andrew. Let's go."
"Call me Cat," he said as he took a hold of my hand. Together we soared into the air, laughing, dreaming, and carrying on like we had no limits but our imaginations. We were children born again.