The swallow-schlepped sojourners somehow swam against the air currents.
The tomcat’s paw repeatedly peeked out from inside the backpack. He was trying to swat at one particular greyish chick.
A minor portion of the flock would display a stuck-out-tongue emoticon at the feline each time he failed to capture it.
“What is… that… gobbledygook of yours?!” Duo whinnied at the birds, irked. “I cannot seem to grasp its meaning.”
“Duo! No! Don’t touch the birds! Bad cat! Swallows are our friends! Don’t swallow them!” Una shook the backpack left and right as if stirring a cat broth.
“Killjoy.” Duo retreated to the safety of his fortification. “Ah, at least you did not call me ‘kitty.’ I am tremendously bored. And I officially no longer have acrophobia. I had no idea flying is just like sitting in a waiting room, biding one’s time till the appointment with Dr. Ground.”
“Walking in the air is so delightful, Duo! I wish it wasn’t so scary to be this far from the ground! My tummy keeps making nasty tumbles whenever I look down!” Una closed her eyes.
Duo’s blue eye and a yellow eye joint-binoculared the ground.
“Una. There is some kind of kerfuffle down there. Maybe you should look, just in case. I am a mere tomcat after all. Who am I to comprehend the hullaballoo of The Human Affairs Department?”
Una understood only the “maybe you should look” part.
Plus, she stumbled upon anxiety in Duo’s voice.
The lackluster landscape stretched its arms to embrace her at a dizzying speed, sporting a whirly kaleidoscope of colors.
“I know where we are! We are exactly above the Imperial Fresh Ice Cream Parlor! Something’s not right, Duo!”
Puppy-shaped flames lovingly licked the building foundations with an all-out ardor.
“‘Something is not right’ is an understatement as big as a house. That parlor might just get blown to smithereens!” Duo’s head was now pryingly propped on Una’s shoulder.
“Duo! If the petal is in there, it will burn! We need it for the next poem! Darling swallows, can you take us down there faster?” Una chirped in a plea.
Her desperate beg-song obtained a birdlike rising cadence.
Two-hundred-winged aircraft touched down amidst the murky mist.
“It is difficult to see, but I surmise we are witnessing Store Wars!” sooty smoke swooped out of the tomcat’s jaw.
“Store Wars?” Una was flummoxed.
An XXL-sized burnt cake whooshed past them, catapulted out of the bellicose bread shop from across the street.
“Ah. I was right. ‘Countly Cakes’ is doing a ‘fire-at-will’ thingie against ‘Imperial Icecreams’. Earnings enmity,” said Duo.
A next piece of the flaming tart got wedged in the “Imperial Icecreams” foundation.
A tangerine-colored flare expanded lickety-split.
“Bullseye!” Duo did a mini-clap with his front paws. He hastily hid them behind his furry back at Una’s disapproving glance.
“I occasionally enjoy warfare theatricals,” the tomcat muttered apologetically. “And, there’s sustenance for us now. We can’t afford to be picky! The five-second rule!”
Una’s stomach did a hungry barrel roll. Then she changed her mind. “Eww! Carrot cake. I am not that hungry. I’ll pass.”
Another burnt cookie kerplunked at their feet and paws.
“Mar-ve-lous Mar-mi-te Coo-kie. Ptooey! Yuk!” Duo read the label out loud.
His tongue rolled out of his mouth like a celebrity-welcoming red carpet.
“I have never tasted a marmite cookie,” said Una cautiously.
“I strongly advise against it, Una. Remember this: you eat marmite, somewhere out there a fairy dies.” Duo nodded knowledgeably. “Now, let us step away from this line of fire.”
“I wish we could do something! No one seems to be helping, at all!”
“Humans resemble cats in that regard. Something like this happens, and it’s every man for themselves,” said Duo.
“It shouldn’t be like that!” Una sulked.
“Now, now. Be reasonable. Sometimes one wishes to accomplish a goal, but cannot. Then, it is prudent to abandon such objective and… change the course of action.” Duo’s tail swished left and right.
Una raised her arms towards the winged army of her own that was still hovering over the battlegrounds.
The birds bolted out of sight and returned at the drop of the hat.
Thousands of droplets dripped from their beaks and onto the Imperial Icecream Parlor.
They quickly quenched the thirst of the bone-dry bonfire.
“Ah. You’re full of surprises, I’ll give you that. Swallows became your fire… birds. Firemen would not be the correct terminology to employ here. And here I thought you were a greenhorn.” Duo tilted his head to the left. “Well-played.”
“We still need to save the owner, Miss Rosalinda,” Una said.
“Fine. I can be of assistance. Chuck me into the ice cream shoppe. But don’t tell anyone!” Duo threatened with a vindictive paw movement. “No one hurls a cat anywhere and lives to tell the tale.”
One cat-toss later and before Una knew it, a grey lady came fast and furious through what used to be a building door.
“Done and done. I found her on the floor and licked her face until she woke up. Which did not take long. Such a haphazard interior, too. Everything in there is helter-skelter,” Duo meowed.
“Well, how do you expect it to be? It’s been scorched!” the ashen apparition gnarred.
“Someone seems to be still breathing fire.” Duo hid behind Una.
“I’m so sorry this happened to you, Miss Rosalinda.” Una placed a comforting chilly palm on the owner’s scalding skin.
The calming touch cooled the woman’s attitude. “Una. Were you the one who put out the fuoco?”
“Yes, Una put out the fuoco and I saved your vita. How about some appreciativeness?”
“You are right, signor gatto. Mi dispiace. Come inside.” Rosalinda beckoned.
Once within the charred skeleton of Imperial Icecreams, Una felt drawn to a marble mantelpiece with a grey edge-charred photo.
An alluring woman rested her arm on the wooden frame, wearing an outlandish muumuu.
“Who is this?” The words made a quick getaway from Una’s lip-jail before she could sound the brain-alarm.
“Questa è my Italian great-grandmother. Isabella Imperial. She brought the joy of gelato to your hometown.” Rosalinda replied.
“She looks so beautiful!” Una exclaimed. “How sad that people had to be black-and-white in the past. I wonder when they started buying colored clothes!”
“Mia povera bisnonna. It would pain her to see this. My business is over.” Rosalinda moped.
“No! Don’t say that!” Una’s eyes filled with tears. “Nothing is ever over for good. Not if you don’t want it to be. I have been looking for my sister for an entire morning and afternoon. And I will never stop searching. When I find her, I might not be the same. She might not be the same. But we will rebuild. You can rebuild, too! Maybe you can still make that famous ice cream of yours!”
“Una speaks the truth.” Duo pointed a tiny claw towards the store owner. “You are to accept the past fire and come to terms with it. Only once you have faced the reality, the Reconstruction may, no, ‘must’ begin. The process starts when you seek a solution and a way to come out of your grief.”
“You’re right.” Rosalinda rolled up her sleeves, revealing a recorded recipe on her right arm. “The top-secret formula for our very best ice cream is safe with me. It’s tattooed right on my skin. And there is one place that the fire didn’t touch. The flame-proof box with the ingredients.”
“I can get it for you!” Una offered. “We can make the ice cream right now!” She dashed towards the indicated direction.
“You are going to help her make it? Goodness me! We might have another fire on our hands.” Duo sniggered. “Una, you don’t know diddly-squat about cooking, baking, or ice-cream making.”
“Cooking is easy,” retorted Rosalinda. “It’s just passing ingredients through water or oil and minding the time. Still, I am afraid this particular ice cream is to be made by me and me only.”
Rosalinda then brought forth the most peculiar-looking receptacle.
“A dodecahedronal cauldron?” said Duo appreciatively.
“A do-do…? What? Now I have seen everything.” Una frowned, returning with a heavy box.
“It’s a polyhedron with twelve flat faces… Never you mind. Don’t say that. The world is chock-full of miracles you haven’t even dreamt of. You’ll never have seen it all. It’s just… It’s a whole lotta cauldron for such ice cream, that’s what it is. But I do like her attitude. Rosalinda has gone from milquetoast to pugnacious.” Duo nodded approvingly.
The store owner was already elbow-deep in the components of her to-be-concoction. She was ferreting numerous objects and jars with unknown labels from the footlocker.
What horrified Una the most was that Rosalinda would then chuck them all into the container over her shoulder.
“She doesn’t even look back to see whether they have safely landed in there,” Una whispered.
“A lock of Isabella Imperial’s descendant hair. Deodorant for men ‘Tundra with Mint’ for the taste. A tennis ball for the scoop perfect shape. Chocolate for… happy chemicals. Some gorgonzola and mascarpone for cheesiness…” Frantic feverish murmurs and sounds of broken glass reached Una and Duo.
Rosalinda’s enumerations went on for quite some time.
Una found herself dozing away with Duo on her lap.
A loud thud stirred them both from their siesta.
“Is that a…” Una started the sentence.
“A refrigerator.” Duo finished it.
The grey lady was indeed hoisting a massive charred fridge up in the air.
Then, she let it take flight.
It landed into a dodecahedronal cauldron with an elegant whoosh, disappearing under the surface.
“Did you see that?” Una clasped her mouth.
“If you are referring to the act of that woman tossing a refrigerator towards the cauldron as if it were light as air, then yes, I did see it.” Duo’s mismatched eyes widened with wonderment.
“Ecco! It still needs some time to mull over its existence and to reconcile the ingredients,” said Rosalinda.
She glanced at Una and Duo.
“I know, I know. A refrigerator might seem a tad unconventional.” Rosalinda lifted her palms. “I would normally use a fan for the Permafrost-effect. But: this fridge was all that I had left! I needed to get creative. It will also make for a greater quantity of the ice-cream. People will buy Rosalinda’s Rambunctious Recipe Ice Cream, over Countly Calamitous Cakes!”
“That was a finicky recipe if I ever saw one. What a mishmash. You didn’t even say any hocus-pocus over it. I do hope this will work, and that it will be tasty and edible. Non-poisonous, too,” Duo was skeptically snarky.
“Speaking of tasty and edible. How about some food? You must be starving, after that long journey!” Rosalinda exclaimed. “I’m afraid there isn’t much left. Still, there are some hushpuppies for you, honey. I pulled them out of the fridge right before cauldroning it.” She turned to Una.
“I love hushpuppies!” Una first squealed and then nodded timidly. Mom and Dad always taught her not to admit that she was hungry and not to eat too much when visiting friends.
“Might I inquire about the hushpuppies accompanying dish?” Duo lifted an ear. “They are usually served with catfish.”
“Catfish it is.” Rosalinda nodded.
“I am stuffed. This catfish was quite delicious. I think I am going to lie down for a while.” Duo let out a yawn after the mini-feast, stretched out on the floor.
“Leave some space for dessert, Signor Gatto.” Rosalinda smiled.
“Ah. I am not certain I shall be allowed to feast upon that desert,” said Duo.
“Mommy and Daddy aren’t here, Duo. I will let you lick it!”
“Me-ow.” Duo perked up instantly, after having heard that promise.
“But only once.” Una raised her finger.
They sat expectantly at a singed wooden table covered with a scorched red-and-white cloth.
“Pretty,” Una commented with a smile.
“Not. It’s called a houndstooth pattern.” Duo shuddered.
Two white ice-cream balls floated inside two white ice-cream bowls.
“How… Non-descript. All that for two white ice cream scoops? With your hair in them,” said Duo.
Rosalinda wiped her hands on an apron as if wiping her mind from the ugly past experience.
“This is a very special treat. Wish Your Flavor Ice Cream.”
“Wish Your Flavor Ice Cream?” Una exclaimed.
“Yes! It tastes like any ice cream you wish. Sometimes, like a mix of two, or more, or all of them at once.”
“Eww.” Duo shook his catty head. “The mix of all the colors in the palette is an ugly brown. Such an unpleasant visage. How is it different, here? I cannot imagine why someone would want such a taste. I’ll pass.” he meowed, disappointed.
“Wish Your Flavor Ice Cream allows you to distinguish every flavor at the same time. They do not mix, I can promise you that!”
“It is a bit like life, then. It can be both sad and happy. What you make of it, whatever you imagine and envision,” Duo thought out loud.
“Let’s try!” Una squealed. “Kinder chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry!”
The ice-cream still looked as white and as nondescript as ever but the trio of tastes raced over Una’s tongue.
“How wondrous! It works!” She cheered.
“I should have never entered Store Wars. I thought it was just a silly competitive joke.” Rosalinda sat next to them with a sigh.
“A joke is sometimes an offense hidden in a gift-wrapping paper.” Duo purred. “You should know that.”
“We just kept adding more wood onto the Feud Fire. Our inner flames grew. Then, we were both burning, just like this building,” Rosalinda added.
“I think that the fire outside us is bad. Because it destroys. But maybe the fire inside us is not that bad,” said Una.
“Smart conclusion,” said Duo. “Inner flames are good. Set your mind ablaze with new ideas, and your burning soul will begin illuminating the way. Soon enough, you will be ready to spew sparks against the surroundings again.”
“Thank you so much for this icy treat! We have to go now! Good luck with the Reconstruction!” Una stood up from the table.
“Grazie mille. Before you go, take some of the Wish Your Flavor Ice Cream! It has PermaFrost, it won’t melt. And—” Rosalinda removed the mantelpiece photograph frame, pulling something out from behind it. “I always knew this was meant for you to have it.”
A gleaming Imperial-red petal fluttered unto Una’s palm.
When she flipped it, she met with an obsidian obstacle.
“Oh no.” Una covered her mouth. “The other side is… black.”
“Is there something wrong?” Rosalinda asked.
Her glance was going from Una to Duo like a needle on a metronome.
“There was supposed to be a poem…”
“A haiku.” Duo cleared his cat-throat as if preparing to cough up yet another furbie.
“Yes, a haiku,” Una corrected herself. “But now the petal is charred and… the letters show themselves as they are supposed to!”
“I am so sorry. I will re-construct thanks to your construct-ive advice. But: what will become of you?” Rosalinda asked.
Duo leaped upon an Imperial Icecream’s coal-blackened window sill.
He stared steadily towards the horizon. “There might be a way.”
Una came closer, looking through the window as well.
A rainbow stretching from the left to right reminded her of a giant seven-colored striped tigress.
“Let us press forward.” Duo graciously leapt out of the glassless window.
Una jumped out behind him, casting an apologetic glance towards Rosalinda.
“Where are we going, Duo? Duo!” Una beckoned to her tomcat to slow down.
To no avail.
Duo kept running, his pliable paws a blur.
Una’s sneakers unglued from the grey pavement. She was almost walking in the air again.
They passed the Store Wars battlefront in a split second.
The colossal pluricolored she-tiger seemed to be even nearer-at-hand.
“Fit-for-king ice-cream, before the color spectrum!” Una realized. “The color spectrum. THE COLOUR SPECTRUM! Rainbow!”
“Yes. Rainbow.” Duo’s voice whooshed back at her through the air.
He trotted tirelessly, tiny tornado incarnated.
“The fire outside and the fire within. Wish Your Flavor ice cream. The rainbow. They are life, Una. Destructive and creative. Melaknoli and happy. Rain and sunrays.”
Duo’s coat coloring flew through Una’s mind.
“Black and gold,” she whispered.
Duo halted. “We’re here.”
“Where?” Una couldn’t even hear the sound of her own voice.
“We ran under the Radiant Rainbow,” said Duo.
“Yes,” a voice boomed before them. “Congratulations. You ran under my belly.”
“You are the Radiant Rainbow?” Una couldn’t hide her surprise.
“I took the shape you imagined me with,” The Seven-Colored Tigress growled. “Now: what is it that you desire? If you run under the rainbow, it makes your one wish come true.”
“There is only one thing I wish. To see my sister again. Take me to her, please,” Una begged.
The seven-colored tigress swatted her red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet tail.
“I cannot fulfill a wish that affects a person’s will. I do not know whether your sister wants to be found. Think some more.” She roared at Una and turned to Duo. “How about you, little one?”
“I might argue I am quite content with my life. I have a good head on my furry shoulders, a comfortable cot, and several human servants. This is more than many people… and cats can say. What is that I am lacking?” Duo placed a paw on his chin, pondering. “I know! I would like to be more stylish. How about a bow-tie?”
“Your wish is granted,” the Radiant Rainbow said.
A polychromatic adornment appeared around Duo’s neck.
“Huh. I like it. Summa summarum: some of us got to eat Wish Your Flavor Icecream. Others got to wear an Every Color Bow-Tie.”
“A rain-bow-tie!” Una giggled. “You look so dashing, Duo!”
“Have you had enough time to think over your wish, child?” the Radiant Rainbow re-addressed Una.
“I have.” Una nodded. “This is what I wish for: take us to the next petal location.”
The tigress leered, showing a string of sharp canines. “Smart choice. That, I can do.”
She arched her back, thus creating a radiant rainbow slide.
“How fortuitous. Lucky rainbow ride,” said Duo. “Hey: guess what else is new: I wasted a rainbow wish on a fashion accessory. Oh well. At least, I’ve got pizzazz.”