Katherine Johnson had learned many things in her long life, but the one that prevailed over all was this: kindness is key. And everyone who met her agreed, Katherine was the kindest person they knew. She waved hello to everyone on the street and always smiled through even the worst situations. On days when anyone else would give up, Katherine persevered and used the struggles of the day as lessons for a better tomorrow. Her mother, rest her soul, always used to say “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” Well, Katherine was still alive, and she was all the stronger for it.
Though there are many moments in Mrs. Johnson’s incredible life that we could recount here, from taking part in the March on Washington, to running her very own successful bakery in a neighborhood where people thought a black-owned business would never succeed, we will instead join her one cold winter’s night as she trudged home through a blizzard. The worst one in a century, if the man on the evening news program she let play while she was baking bread was to be believed. She stepped out for only a moment to purchase some necessities at the corner store, but by that time, the snow had picked up and was falling down in torrents from above, blanketing the world in white. She used a gloved hand to shield her eyes as she walked the city block back to her home, a small unassuming apartment building known as Darkmoon Drive.
Gusts of wind barraged her from all directions. The snow nipped at her cheeks, turning them a rosy red. But despite all this and the howling storm, she could just make out the most peculiar noise. A soft mewing, like that of a kitten calling for its mother. She turned her head, trying to locate the source of the noise. Her knitted scarf scratched at her cheeks and nose. Nearby, she spotted a narrow alleyway filled with discarded two metal trash bins. She placed her grocery bag on the ground and squeezed her way into the alley. She waited a beat, listening for the sound, unsure where to search first.
The mewing cried out again. Closer this time and less distorted by the wind. “Where are you?” asked Katherine, not really expecting a direct answer, but hoping that perhaps her voice would cause the kitten to keep making noise. She heard another mew. She moved deeper into the alleyway and started pulling up the boxes, looking inside them one by one and setting them aside.
“Keep talking little one,” she said.
In response, there was another mew and this time it was definitely closer. She reached down to pick up the last piece of cardboard to find a tiny black and grey striped kitten, looking up at her with big eyes and shivering in the cold. It meowed loudly at her, its small mouth taking up most of its face.
“Come now, let’s get you inside. You’ll catch your death out here,” she said, scooping the kitten up in a single hand. She cupped her other hand over it, to help shield it from the snow and cold, and then left the alley and made for the apartment building with the kitten and groceries in hand.
Back in her apartment, she quickly wrapped the kitten tightly in a blanket and placed the bundle close to the heater. She then heated a small pan of milk on the stove top. She found a saucer amidst her boxes of old and forgotten things and placed the milk in the saucer before placing it in front of the kitten who happily slurped up the milk. The kitten was so small and had no collar or any sign of ever being cared for. She felt it was safe to assume that it had been born a stray.
“You can stay here as long as you like,” she said to the kitten. Before long, she fell asleep in her rocking chair with the bundled kitten nestled safely in her arms.
By the following morning, the kitten was happily following her all around the house and snuggling with her every chance he got. It became quickly apparent that the kitten would be living with her for the foreseeable future.
“Well if you’re going to live here, you’ll need a name,” said Katherine. “Everyone’s got to have a name.” She placed the kitten on her lap and eyed him up and down. “Now let’s see.” She recalled her very first cat as a young girl. Her father was against having any animals in the house, but she placed the cat in his lap and less than five minutes later, he fell in love. It too was a dark gray color, but without the stripes like this one. At her age, this was most likely to be the last cat she’d ever live with, and it seemed an appropriate bookend for them to share a name.
“Yes, I think it suits you quite nicely,” she said. “What do you think about Milo?”
The kitten meowed at her and purred loudly.
Katherine smiled. “That sounds like a yes to me.”
And so Katherine and Milo lived happily for the next three years together. But over time Katherine’s health began to decline. She grew sick and wasn’t getting better. As every day became harder, and she felt her life coming to an end, Katherine looked back on her life and had very few regrets. There was one; however, that stood out: that she never had any children. Her husband died many years earlier, but they tried for so long. Even when the doctors told them it might not be possible. They considered adoption, but over time, they found that what they wanted most was just to love each other with everything they had to give. And the thought of looking to adopt was pushed back more and more until it simply seemed too late. And then Freddie was diagnosed with cancer. He lived longer than anyone thought he would, but in the end, it took him all the same, leaving Katherine alone.
Even so, she made the best of her life. Her bakery, though she’d passed it to her most promising apprentice many years earlier, was still thriving to this day. She traveled. She walked in multiple civil rights marches of various causes, spanning generations. The work of equality for all, it seemed, was never done. She wrote a small collection of spicy romance mystery novels that a few local bookshops still carried. She read books, so many books that she couldn’t even remember them all. Katherine Johnson lived a great life.
As she lay in bed, struggling to take each and every breath, she looked out her bedroom window and saw a single star twinkling in the night sky. Katherine didn’t believe in magic. She’d seen enough of the world to know that real magic was just living a happy healthy life, but just this once, she decided to indulge her inner child.
“Star light, star bright. First star I see tonight,” she took another deep breath. “I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.” She looked down at the full grown cat sleeping in her bed and purring loudly. He was sporting a handsome new collar with a white star pendant on it which was given to Katherine by the apartment building’s owner, Arthur Cole. He was a sweet old man that always sought to make everyone happy and empowered them to spread their wings and embrace their own gifts and talents. He offered make something special for her, but she declined and instead insisted that he make something for Milo, who would be alive much longer to enjoy it. She also made him promise that he would look after Milo when she was gone. Which of course he agreed to.
As she stared at him, petting his soft fur, she made her wish. The next morning, Katherine Johnson passed from this world, and Milo awoke in a new body. With the exception of his furry ears and fluffy tail, Milo had become a human.
* * *
Now, years later, Milo sat on a rooftop, eying the home of Alexis Perdue, a young heiress who had asked for his particular set of talents to assist in recovering a priceless painting that she was sure her brother was keeping in his home even though he swore against it. This was how Milo survived. He took odd jobs around the city that involved hunting down missing items for people with far too much money on their hands. He was quite good at it too. He had a knack for tracking a lead almost like a bloodhound. And sure, sometimes things got rough, but he was strong. Katherine raised him and cared for him so that he could have this life, and he was determined to live it. But living a life involved surviving in it. This work wasn’t for everyone, but it kept food on the table and allowed Milo to stretch his legs each night.
Now, with his pendant finally leveling up again, he felt his strength returning to him. With every level, Milo was able to jump higher, run faster and evade attacks like they were coming at him in slow motion. But he couldn’t get too comfortable. At any moment, Charlie could decide it was all too much and leave and then they’d be right back where they’d started.
Milo would just have to keep training and hope that it was enough. Every job he took was a chance to hone his skills, to build his strength. And given enough time and hard work, perhaps one day he wouldn’t need to rely on the pendant to take on the world around him. He wouldn’t need to depend on Arthurs and Katherines who left too soon or Charlies who could up and leave at any moment. He wouldn’t have to depend on anyone but himself. And that was the way he wanted it.
He shook off the barrage of thoughts and jumped down to the window banister. He gave a light knock on the window and waited for Ms. Perdue to answer. It was going to be a long night.
I know a few of you had asked for Milo’s backstory and, I’m sorry to say, it’s a bit tragic. Even so, I hope it helps to understand his character a bit better!
Just a quick reminder, no new chapter this Thursday as I will be out of town the next several days and won’t have a way of uploading!