Kingdom of the Cats
As Buck hopped down to join the group, the big yellow tabby began licking his best friend Tom’s head, and then began moving down the line, giving each of the other felines a token lick. It was, Sam understood, a sign of friendship, so he was naturally moved when he felt Buck’s tongue on himself. It was, he recalled the sensation, a rough little tongue. Buck purred loudly as he moved the muscle up and down Sam’s head. A familiar chirrup accentuated the purring sound, at times becoming a rumbling noise—typical feline noises indicating friendship and, in this case, a greeting. Not knowing if he should respond, Sam looked with embarrassment at the ground. He felt moved, but he was also aware of something terribly wrong with this behavior. Of the six bewitched humans gathered in the field, at least Buck understood what being feline meant. He was too genuine for Sam’s comfort, reminding him very much of his own tabby cat when he was a child.
When Sam tried to respond, a mewing followed out his throat, phonetically indistinguishable except for the infliction he put on each meow. He couldn’t muster up a purr or chirrup yet, but it seemed to be enough for the other cats. They all began licking him too, as had Buck, as if, now that their leader accepted him, he was okay in their eyes, no longer the self-righteous son of a bitch they knew at Shadowbrook Arms.
All of the cats, including himself, had some of the same characteristics they once had as humans. Sam looked down at his paws and glanced back at his rump to discover that his sable coat was the same shade of dark brown he once had on his head when he was human. He was, judging by the shadows he and Buck cast during their flight, a medium-sized cat just as he had been a medium-sized young man. Buck Logan, who had a shock of blond curls on his big head before, was now a large yellow tabby with brilliant copper-colored eyes. A strange and incomprehensible buzz filled Sam’s head, as if everyone was attempting to communicate all at once. Their voices were muffled and unclear. He couldn’t discern words yet, only grunting and groaning emotions. The big tabby licked him in response to his own effort to talk and promptly showed him his behind. It was as if, in spite of the lack of females, he was nothing more than a member of Buck’s pride. After being an overbearing young man, he was, naturally enough, top cat of the group.
Tom Wellitz was the next feline to greet him—a low, friendly rumble emanating from his throat. He was, as the other members of Buck’s gang, a follower, rather than a leader. Normally silent and taciturn until he had something to say, he now exhibited that same serenity he had as a mortal man. He reminded Sam very much, in both body and temperament, of a Maine coon: a sturdy, longhaired and emerald-eyed cat, with patches of white on is paws and nose, whose striped tail resembled the tail of a raccoon.
It was not difficult for Sam to pick Jim Courtney out of the group. Jim, a portly man in life, was now the largest member of the gang: a fluffy, fat, blue-eyed cat, with calico fur. Good natured and talkative in his first life, he was now the most noisy of the felines, meowing when he had nothing to meow about and purring non-stop since Buck introduced Sam.
All of the cats, including Buck, Sam believed, were trying desperately to talk. There were definite sounds in his mind coming from various felines, which expressed puzzlement, amusement, anger, and surprise, but no words. Not knowing from whom the sounds originated, Sam did not even know who was trying to communicate until someone bumped up against him or licked his head. He was able to match the other two cats with their human names by a process of elimination. Drew Connors, who had been a gawky, tow-headed youth, was now the scrawny, tan colored feline sitting by himself, the most dejected looking member of the group. As if the dark forces of magic had a sense of humor, Ed Montez now had the classic features of a pedigreed Havana, a shorthaired cat with a dog-like muzzle, whose chocolate colored coat, Sam recalled, was similar to a Cuban cigar.
Unlike the other cats who seemed concerned about their state of affairs, Ed played abstractedly with a bug. Now, after several moments of idly batting it around with his little paw, the small grasshopper he had trapped on the ground, was dead. A curious look appeared in his green eyes, and his canine muzzle seemed to draw up into a pout. It almost seemed to Sam that, losing his humanity, Ed didn’t understand what he had done. He had just tortured a defenseless bug to death, and he felt no remorse, only that feline curiosity Sam had seen in his own childhood cat when he had just killed a mouse or bird.
“Well, he’s finally succeeded,” Drew’s thoughts filled Sam’s head. “He and the rest of those strays are going to make fine cats. As for myself, I keep expecting to wake up, and all of this nonsense will be a bad dream!”
Though his mouth had not moved, it occurred immediately to Sam that the tan cat, whom he was certain was Drew, had ‘spoken.’ The same brooding gray eyes he had as a human were focused upon him now. After watching the cats’ feline movements and hearing their feral cries, Sam realized, with great relief, that he was not alone. At least one of them could still talk. As the sound on a badly tuned radio, the buzz in Sam’s head was suddenly muted; above the confusing din, Drew Connors, as a voice in the wilderness, was communicating… with his mind!
Judging by his past, Drew had the most complete metamorphosis of them all. He had, Sam recalled light-headedly now, always been backward and uncoordinated as a mortal, and yet he was, as a cat and in spite of his humble anatomy, obviously the smartest member of Buck’s gang.
“What? What did you say?” he looked at Drew in disbelief. “Your mouth didn’t move, and yet and yet—”
“I spoke! It’s true,” Drew looked squarely into Sam’s warm, golden eyes. “It sounds like science fiction, but I spoke. I could hear you thoughts too, not as a human, of course; we no longer have vocal chords. And don’t ask me how it’s done.”
“But I heard you immediately!” thought Sam, trotting up to him. “All I hear from those guys is racket: purrs, chirps, and grunts.”
“Those dummies have learned how to do it yet,” explained Drew. “Either that or they’re too stupid to try.”
“Why did you and I learn so quickly, while the others act so much like cats?”
“Look at yourself.” Drew cocked his head. “You are a cat too. We both are. They’re just more stupid than us. I think they’re trying though. I just hope they learn soon. It’s not something you can teach anyone; there’s no textbook for reading minds.”
“Mind-reading!” Sam looked up to the sky. “Is it possible? I thought that kind’ve stuff was all make-believe. I never believed in telepathy or extra-sensory perception, and yet we’re living proof of it.” “We’ve… we’ve,” he searched for the right words, “been truly blessed!”
Settling next to each other now and exchanging companionable looks, Sam and Drew became fast friends. An incredible awareness filled Sam’s mind. The fear that he wouldn’t be able to communicate with the other cats had been cancelled. Cats could communicate; Drew proved it. The other cats were learning too. He could hear their efforts, rising from unintelligible mental grunts to short, uncouth sentences that only humans thought could make. When Drew transmitted his thoughts to him, Sam understood him as clearly as if he spoke in English to him. Though they couldn’t actually talk, they had read each other’s thoughts as well as cat-like movements: the expression in each other’s eyes, bodily movements, and the quiver of each other’s snout. Was this form of telepathy a typical cat trait that all cats possessed? Or had it been bestowed upon them by God? If it had been a gift from God, it wasn’t in the Bible, and yet it was like spiritual balm for Sam’s troubled soul.
“Thank you Lord,” he mewed hopefully under his breath. “In my wretchedness, you’ve given me special gifts: a feline’s instincts, a mortal’s brain, and most of all the ability to read minds!”
“Very pretty,” Drew nodded to him, “… but it’ll get worse, my friend, if we begin thinking like cats.”
“What do you mean?” Sam tried to frown.
“It’s part of the spell,” Drew seemed to sigh. “After awhile, India promised us tonight, we won’t even know who we are.”
“I can’t believe that,” Sam shook his head. “God’s punished us enough! He won’t let her do that!”
“You really believe He cares about us?” Drew replied glumly. “We’re cats Sam: felis catus. We don’t have souls.”
“Who said we don’t?” Sam reasoned desperately. “Where in the Bible does it say we don’t have souls…. You have a soul Drew. I have a soul. Remember that, if nothing else. That’s one thing India Crowley can’t change!”
For the new Sam Burns, Drew, Buck, and their circle of friends were now his family and home. Right this moment, in fact, Drew Connors was his link to the outside world. Soon, however, to Sam’s relief, his head was filled with Buck, Tom, Jim, and Ed along with Drew’s thoughts—a maddening experience at first, but reassurance that, in their mental humanity, he and Drew were not alone. The other cats were learning to communicate their thought processes, as Drew hoped they would. Sam wondered if the stimulus of he and Drew’s telepathic discourse had jogged their feline minds. Together, as a team, they would lift the spell. And they must hurry, he and Drew now reminded them, for they were running out of time!
Already, a mere hour after India’s imprecation, as part of her curse, they could be losing their humanity. Sam feared, in spite of his own fine words, the bewitched cats would, as a result, also lose their souls. For the time being, as he sat alongside of Drew, Sam concentrated upon his blessings, looking wistfully in the direction of Shadowbrook Arms. He was alive…. He was not a frog or toad…. He had special powers and could read minds!
Buck, he noticed, was trying to be brave. The big tabby’s mental words to his gang were simple, but encouraging, at this stage, growing in coherency as he used his telepathic powers. At first his efforts demonstrated the difficulties he and most of his friends had while in their feline bodies. The instincts of cats also worked against the mental capabilities of human beings. Since Buck, Jim, Tom, and Ed were physically driven young men, it seemed only natural that they would have problems now. And yet, at one point, in the simplicity of his logic, Buck uttered what Sam thought might be the ultimate solution for their dilemma: “We must kill the Shadowbrook Witch!” Almost immediately as if a mental fog had lifted, the remaining cats began chattering intelligently with each other inside everyone’s head.
“Didn’t Dorothy’s house destroy the Wicked Witch of the East’s power by squashing her to death?” Buck asked them in a surprisingly articulate way.
“Yeah,” replied Tom, nodding with excitement, “remember what happened to the monkeys when the Wicked Witch of the West melted on the floor?”
“The spell was broken!” Ed cried with glee.
“They turned back into people!” Jim blared into their collective thoughts.
“Wait a moment!” Drew protested, scarcely believing his ears. “That was a movie! Those people were actors, not real people! That doesn’t count!”
“Maybe it’s true,” Sam murmured reflectively, looking back at Drew. “It could be our only option.”
“What?” Drew cried in disbelief. “That can’t be our only option. That woman is dangerous, Sam, and would probably have had us all stuffed!”
Hearing Sam’s declaration of support, Buck gave him an approving look but frowned at the reaction from his gang. There was merit in Drew’s concern. Both Sam and Buck reflected upon India’s hatred for them.
“Kill the bitch! Kill the bitch!” chanted Jim, Tom, and Ed.
They simply could not rush back and take on the Shadowbrook Witch. Buck, as a leader of his gang, wanted a plan, but he had no idea of what it might be.
“Listen, you numbskulls,” he snapped, hopping upon his stump, “you want to wind up as a trophies on India’s wall?”
“No,” they meowed.
“Would you like to be turned into frogs or toads?”
“No-no,” they replied hissing and humping up their backs.
“Then hunker down lads,” Buck counseled gently. “Let’s get some shuteye and wait for the dawn.”
Upon Buck’s signal, Sam trotted over and joined him on his stump. Drew joined Buck uneasily on his other side.
“We must think of a plan,” Sam transmitted to Buck.
“Yeah,” Buck agreed, looking down at his gang, “a good plan!”
“Plan? What plan?” Drew blurted mentally. “We have no hands to hold weapons or implement plans. Our bodies would be crushed by that woman. We’re cats now, guys, no longer men. What possible plan could we have?”
Buck and Sam didn’t have a clue.
The six cats’ eyes flashed on and off eerily as they caught passing motorist’s lights. Sam knew that the mirror behind the felines’ light sensitive eyes had merely transformed their copper, green, blue, and hazel eye colors into fleeting flashes of brilliance, and yet he shuddered at this effect. He could see them so clearly with so little light, but it was their smells that formed constellations around him now. Already, he could distinguish Buck and Drew’s odors from the others. The awful din of their collective thoughts, which would take getting used to, remained as restless murmurs in his head. The rubbing and purring of Buck and Drew was a distraction too. The group’s feral feelings, which had no language, pervaded his mind, as the primal, unspoken, emotions of all cats.
“Don’t worry,” quipped top cat, emitting an expansive yawn, “we’ll kill the witch, just like Dorothy did in the Wizard of Oz!”
Sam, feeling uncomfortable with the big cat’s proximity, edged tactfully away.
“I’m not so sure Buck,” he tried not to sound critical, “the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz was fiction. She never existed.”
“What?” Buck tried to frown.
“You mean she wasn’t a historical character?” they could hear Jim and Ed’s thoughts.
“For Christ’s sake, it was a movie!” Drew shook his head in dismay. “Dorothy didn’t kill the wicked witch; the witch was crushed by her house. We don’t have a house men; all we have are claws on our little paws. We can’t shoot or stab her to death either. We certainly can’t hold a knife or gun!”
“Will,” drawled Buck, lapsing slowly into silence again, “… our movie will have a happy ending…. We’ll think of a plan!”
In reality, the big yellow tabby was doing what all cats do after a long eventful day: fall asleep. All of the cats, including Sam and Drew, now needed a nap. Exhaustion came suddenly over them as a heavy, pervasive wave.
Things could have been much worse for them, Sam thought, looking down at the group. They could, as Buck pointed out, have been captured by India and become trophies on her wall, and they could also have been sacrificed or thrown into her pot. There were, he believed, worse animals to be than cats. India could have turned them all into all kinds of creeping, crawling, or slimy things, much worse than even frogs or toads.
Sam wanted to believe that India had, in some ways, done him a favor in selecting such a sleek and intelligent form. He had once read a book about cats. Cats were, he learned, in many ways superior to human beings. He was, as a prime example, with his coat of sable fur, far more handsome than he had been before. He was also, with his new body, faster than he had been as a human. He could see much better and smell odors he could not possibly have detected before. In spite of everything he once thought he knew about cats, they could, after all, ‘talk.’
Whether it was called telepathy or a supernatural gift (which he would much rather believe), they could read each other’s minds and movements, as clearly as plainspoken words. This no mortal man or woman could do. There were no sentences exchanged out loud, and yet clear English words were passed back and forth inside their heads. After a short period of adjustment, even Jim and Ed were communicating quite well.
Realizing that he was this very moment sharing Buck’s stump, a man who had hated him as a human, actually filled him with pride. He was one of the pack. Sam felt his hairs bristle on his back and an involuntary purr rumbled in his throat. A strange feeling of camaraderie he had never known before overtook him: a team spirit more akin to pack mentality, devoid of clear logic or spiritual aims. He was more intelligent than Buck and had, whether they had liked it or not, been their spiritual conscience in human form in the past, receiving their verbal barbs but begrudging respect for never wavering in his faith. But now he was a sleek and agile member of Buck’s gang. He had become an animal he had always admired: a cat. His natural dread was tempered by this irrational and unbiblical pride.
The nagging fear gripping him, as he and Drew left the stump and found themselves a place to curl up and sleep, was softened greatly by his common bond with the pack. As he looked around to survey the others, however, he was struck by the lingering feral movement of the group. He watched the rest of them as they bedded down beneath bushes and a discarded cardboard box, and noticed his fellow felines scratching, preening, and purring as would ordinary cats. Already, it seemed to him, they were becoming more and more like felines…. How long did they all have?… A few weeks?… A few days?… Was it measured in mere hours?
As he looked up again to the heavens above, he felt, for the first time in his life, alienated from his God. He had always loved the little furry beasts, but did they, as he promised Drew, really have souls? When dawn came several hours from now, they would all have to face the new day, no longer as humans but as cats. Sam found himself remembering the poem he wrote in school. He realized, as he recalled each verse, what a lonely life this might turn out to be.
In the shadows, in secret play,
the feral felines roam.
Drawn by serendipity,
they live without a home.
Castaway and vagabond,
true children of the night.
In their secret twilight kingdom
they shun dawn’s lonely light.
In the alleys and the field,
among the silent grass,
all minor mammals quickly yield
or become a cat’s repast.
Wary until daylight wanes,
in darkened habitats.
At night the feral felines reign
in the Kingdom of the Cats.