Go to Next Chapter -- Return to Contents/Writer's Den

 

Chapter Five

 

India’s List

 

 

                            

          The age old question pre-dating Judeo-Christianity, “Do other living things have souls?,” was dimly felt by at least one of the bewitched humans.  In spite of having what he thought was a strong Christian faith, Sam Burn’s mind was filled with heresy now.  His childhood belief that pets had souls and the current reality that he was, in fact, a cat, left him with no other choice but to believe the ancient wisdom of Hinduism and the worshippers of primitive religion: animals had souls.  If worse came to worse, he wanted to believe, he and the other felines would remain, in purest forms, cats, but they would not lose their souls!

          It hadn’t been considered by any of them yet that India might turn all of Shadowbrook Arm’s young adults into cats.  But, as the six male cats bedded down in the field, waiting for dawn’s light, the Shadowbrook Witch, herself, remained on the prowl for more victims.  She was not finished yet; there were several on her list.  For Wanda Craven and Neva Bravnic, who India hated most, bewitching would be a more difficult task, since both of these young women were heavy sleepers and had drank heavily Halloween night.  Conventional knocking or doorbell ringing would not have awakened the pair, so India used her bony fists to club their door, until the sound of bam-bam-bam, bam-bam-bam caused a faint stir inside.

          Wanda Craven, who was currently purging herself into the commode, heard the commotion outside but was too weak to immediately respond.  She rose shakily upon her legs and moved sloth-like toward the noise.

          “I know you’re in there,” cried India. “Open the damn door!”

          Clearly, even in her drunken state, Wanda knew India was deranged.  Even in her diminished state the thought of opening the door struck her as absurd.  Wanda knew exactly what to do.

          “I’m calleeng the poleece!” She drawled through slackened jaws.

          “Who-oo izzit?” Neva called from the other room, unable to even move.

          “Iz thad bish Inndia!” Wanda staggered to the phone.

          “I just want to talk to you,” India’s voice softened but then she shrilled, “Open the god

damn door!”

          After rapping on their door until her knuckles were raw and calling out irritably several more times until she had driven herself hoarse, India decided, she would throw her spell.  “And why not?” she asked herself with a cackle.  She had the power.  What a great joke it would be on these two bimbos!  They would literally wake up as cats and not know what hit them.  The thought delighted India Crowley very much. 

“Dawn’s light will be the beginning of your new lives,” she said aloud now. “By the power within me and the powers that be, rats you once were and cats you now be!”      

 

                                                                       ******

With that chore out of the way, the Shadowbrook Witch left Wanda and Neva’s apartment and hunted for more victims on her list.  She had decided to bewitch Tanya Vetter (the Halloween mummy) next, who, like Irma Fresco, had abandoned India’s cause.

Sheldon Griffith (who had been the vampire at the party), like Alice Wagnall (who was also on her list), lived elsewhere and would both, India now decided, get their comeuppances another day.  A good time, she believed, would be when they came looking for their mates.  Alice, she was sure, would return soon looking for Sam.  Sheldon, who lived across town, she didn’t expect for several days.  As fate would have it, however, she would bag Sheldon too.  Tanya, with the excuse that Sheldon shouldn’t drink and drive, invited him to stay with her that night to sleep it off.  Sheldon, of course, hadn’t drunk as heavily as Tanya and could have safely driven home.  He understood Tanya’s true motive: she wanted him to sleep with her after the party.  Ironically, sleep is exactly what his drunken fiancÚ and he had been doing for the past several hours.  If he had gone home after the party as he planned to, he would be in his own bed right now instead of confronting their deranged friend.  It would be only Tanya who was suffering India’s curse.

For everyone within earshot, at which the spell was aimed, there was no escape.  Although it had been executed differently each time, the result was the same.  Aware or not, awake or asleep, they each became members of the species felis catus (the common house cat).  Depending upon what they looked like as mortal men and women, they resembled their human selves, whether as pedigree, tabby, or a mixture of different breeds.

She had toyed with Irma and Sam, allowing them to say their prayers and wait for “the end”, while wasting no time with the five drunken young men.  For Wanda and Neva, she added a short introduction to her spell that delayed its effects, so that the process wouldn’t take effect until dawn.  As they slept, without even suspecting, the two women would change from humans into felines the very moment sunlight entered their rooms.

Not so for Tanya Vetter, her backstabbing, two faced, non-supportive friend.  This time she would catch one of her victims before she got away.  She had brought with her a laundry sack to put her in and a spool of twine to tie the sack.  What she didn’t expect, as she rang the doorbell, was the sound of Sheldon’s voice on the other side of the door.  Awakened by the incessant ringing, he snapped on the nightstand lamp, stumbled out of bed, and padded hesitantly down the hall.  Within seconds, his fiancÚ was also on her feet, struggling apprehensively into her robe.

“Who is it?” she asked, her eyes wide with alarm.

“I’m not sure yet,” he replied, rotating the peephole in the door. “It’s a woman…. She’s wearing black.”

“If she doesn’t go away,” Tanya cried, “call the police!”

“It’s her,” Sheldon gasped, focusing squarely upon her snarling face, “India Crowley, still dressed like a witch!       

After discovering India outside Tanya’s door, he assumed it was an emergency and quickly let her in.  India moved from the porch light into the shadowy living room.  Her rumpled black dress and peaked hat, bent rakishly at an angle, appeared comical on her adolescent frame.  Her dark hair was now matted by sweat on her forehead, and her face, totally devoid of makeup and color, was ghastly pale, her bloodshot green eyes seeming to bulge out crazily in her narrow head.

Ignoring Sheldon’s scrutiny, India rubbed her bony hands expectantly and cackled with glee.  “This is indeed a bonus,” she said under her breath. “I’m going to bag you both!

When Tanya joined him by the door, India wasted no time casting her spell.  Sheldon laughed heartily.  Tanya, who was thoroughly disgusted with India Crowley’s behavior, demanded she leave.  Within the blink of Tanya’s long eyelashes, however, as soon as India added her sign, they both experienced the metamorphosis that had claimed Tanya’s neighbors at Shadowbrook Arms.  Soon, too quickly to even protest, Tanya and Sheldon found themselves tangled up in their clothes, and a pair of gloved hands fishing around to retrieve them before they could escape.

“I’ve got you my pretties.” India cackled, lifting them out one by one and dropping them into her sack.  “Don’t try to escape!” she added, as they wiggled frantically inside.

After tying the sack shut, she gave them a few playful kicks to show them that she meant business, slung the sack over her shoulder, and was on her way.

 

                                                                       ******

          Almost as after thought now, India made the fateful decision to add Penny Gruber to her list.  As the young spinster was peeking out her window that hour, India saw her shadow against the light.  Although Penny pulled back cautiously as India approached, she did so slowly, her silhouette cast on the blinds long enough for India to see.  Instead of simply calling out her spell as she had done to Wanda and Neva, she decided to add her to her sack.

          This was India’s first mistake.  Unlike the other victims who had suspected her too late, Penny had heard and seen strange things this morning.  She was determined not to be added to India’s list.  She would not be turned into a cat and become her sacrificial offering or hapless pet. 

          “Penny, my dearest, it is I your next door neighbor.” India tapped lightly on her door.

          After hearing, as had the other frightened tenants, the sounds of spells and incantations shouted at the top of India’s lungs, Penny had hoped that the police would finally arrive.  Now, due to their tardiness, she must take matters into her own hands.  The illegal thirty-eight special she had purchased from a co-worker this week was aimed shakily at the door.  A look of hysterical resolve now settled upon her face.

          “Penny honey, let me in, I have a present for you!” India said more sharply now.

          “Is it the same present you gave to Sam and the others?” Penny snarled, determination lighting her turquoise eyes. “I’ve got ears India!  I know what you did!  Everyone at Shadowbrook Arms must know by now!”

          “Penny, that’s nonsense, open the goddamn door!” India began pounding with both fists.

          Penny could hear the sound of mewing from inside the sack.  She knew what had happened to them: India had turned them into cats.  India was turning everyone into cats!  After hearing the spell earlier and those terrified meows, she knew her own life was in peril.  A great dread filled her when she heard India’s threat: “If you don’t open the door Penny, I’ll set your apartment on fire!  I can do it woman; I have the power!  Now open your goddamn door!

          “All right,” Penny replied calmly “but stay exactly where you are!”

          “Yes, of course my pretty!” India clasped her hands.

          “Stand directly in the porch’s light,” she added, raising her pistol and taking aim.

          “Behold I stand in the light!” India was saying as Penny swung open the door.

          Before she could even open her mouth, Penny had squeezed off several rounds.  Hearing the shots outside, Sheldon and Tanya froze at the bottom of the sack.  India imagined great bolts of fire tearing into her chest, but Penny had fired her first volley over her head.  As she stared in disbelief at her intended victim, she saw the smoking gun crack off another round, this time shooting off her hat, and she immediately wet her pants.  A look of horror was frozen on India Crowley’s face as her life flashed before her eyes.

          “P-p-pen-pen, P-p-penny p-please!” She found her vocal chords becoming paralyzed, her eyes filling with tears, a puddle forming below her skirt.  “Ohhh s-spirit h-helper s-save m-me, don’t let me die!” her voice gurgled out her throat.

          “You save them first!” Penny pointed the gun at the sack near India’s skirt.  “Then you can turn the others back into humans, and maybe I’ll let you live!

          India began acting even more strangely then.  Her eyes rolled back into her head.  She began shaking all over, as if she was having a seizure, and Penny heard someone else’s voice coming out of her mouth.

          “Kill her!  Kill her!” Sheldon and Tanya chanted inside the sack, which to Penny’s ears was merely a couple of frantic meows.

          “You-u-u must na-aat kil-ll me-ee!  Only I can-nn lift the cur-rrse!” the spirit whispered from her trembling lips.

          After reaching out further to Penny in what seemed a menacing gesture, India finally felt the bullets from Penny’s gun and began falling backwards over the balcony, her black cape and dress bellowing in the breeze.  Believing now that she had rid the world of the Shadowbrook Witch, Penny was unprepared for the sight she was about to see.  By now Sheldon and Tanya had torn the sack, squeezed out, and emerged just in time to witness the next scene.  There below Penny seemingly dead on the concrete below was the one woman she dreaded most in the world.  To accentuate her fears was a strange orange light emanating from India’s skin.  A miasma was oozing from her body, rising as would swamp gas toward the sky, stopping in front of her stunned face, and then hovering there as she watched it take shape.

          Transforming into a biped, without a mouth, nose, or eyes, it remained translucent, radiating a pulsing orange light.  In the time it took Penny to open her mouth and scream, the demon could have entered her and taken control.  But then suddenly, as the scream tore from Penny’s throat, it receded back toward India, filtering back into her gaping mouth.  Penny stood there with the two frightened cats by her feet, ready to pull the trigger again, but remembering what the witch had said: only she could lift the curse.

          “What have I done?” she lifted Sheldon up with her free hand. “I’ve sealed your fates forever if she dies!”

          “Nonsense!” Sheldon tried to communicate. “Finish her off!  Who knows what she has in mind next for us!”

          “Yes,” Tanya cried from below, “kill her before it’s too late!”

          But Penny could not fire another round.  It was one thing to stop the Shadowbrook Witch; it was quite another to fill her full of lead.  She felt drained of courage.  She believed she had already done irreparable harm.  While India lie like a broken doll on the ground, Sheldon and Tanya tried using their telepathy without success.  Penny was still human.  She would never understand unless she was one of them.  As a mortal woman, she couldn’t kill a stricken animal in cold blood, even India Crowley, the Shadowbrook Witch.  So she stood there torn between wanting India to die and hoping she would live to lift her curse.  After seeing the familiar orange glow momentarily light India’s face, then disappear into her green eyes, she saw movement in the witch.  Her hand twitched.  Her leg jerked.  Her right arm raised slowly from her side.  Unknown to Penny, India was trying to speak, and the two cats were trying one more time to sway her mind.  As Sam and Drew, they had, as they egged her on, ‘spoken.’  Though quick to grasp this skill, the realization registered slowly for them.  In their attempt at communicating, they spit, hissed, and growled at Penny, scarcely aware they were reading each other’s minds.    

          “Kill the witch!” Sheldon’s words echoed in Tanya’s brain. “She would’ve killed you!  She was going to set your apartment on fire!”

          “Yes Penny,” Tanya wailed, “kill the witch while you still can!

          “… By the…power within… and the power that be,” Penny saw India’s lips move but didn’t understand. “I have to kill her!” she was saying to herself. “I have to destroy her…. But if I kill her what will happen to those bewitched cats?”

          In her effort to stop the evil filling her brain, she lifted the revolver to her forehead in preparation to pull the trigger, and then dropped it limply to her side when a sudden dizziness overtook her mind.  Sheldon attempted to wriggle free but found her arm clamped tightly around his feline body.  Her entire frame, from head to toe, tingled as if electrically charged.  Not having the strength to hold her weapon because of her shrinking bones, she gripped it in both hands.  As a result, Sheldon was dropped immediately to the ground.  The spell that was claiming her, as it had the others, had come weakly from India’s lips.  India had rewarded her mercy with a final act of wrath.

          “I…must… kill… the… Shadowbrook Witch!” she uttered thinly, before the gun tumbled finally onto the ground.

          Now, almost in slow motion compared to the others, Penny suffered the same fate.  Her body continued shrinking, as would a deflating balloon, reeling and plunging into her pajamas and robe, landing on four paws onto her slippers below.  By now, Sheldon and Tanya uttered curses of their own but had the presence of mind to usher Penny away.

          “She should’ve killed her!” Tanya cried.

          “But she didn’t!” Sheldon spat. “She stood there and let India turn her into a cat!  I’ve read about these matters.  You have to kill the witch to break the spell!”  “Why didn’t you kill her while you had the chance?” he continued pushing Penny along. “We’ll be stuck this way the rest of our lives!”

          At this point it dawned on the three cats: they had telepathic powers.  Even without meowing and moving their mouths, they could ‘hear’ each other’s thoughts.

          “This is really annoying.” Tanya shuddered.

          “It’s incredible,” marveled Sheldon. “It’s called mental telepathy.  I’ve head about the sixth sense, but I never believed it.  You’re talking inside my head—both of you.  You’re angry at Penny and she’s filled with regrets.” 

“I should’ve killed her outright.” Penny lamented.  “If only I could’ve read your minds before India cast her spell.  I never liked cats much.  Now I am one.  Oh, this is dreadful—just awful.  Why didn’t I finish her off?”  

          “It’s too late for regrets,” spat Tanya. “If I could hold that gun in my paws, I’d kill that bitch!”

          “Well, it’s impossible now.” Sheldon sighed. “We can’t stay here at Shadowbrook Arms. That woman’s still alive.”

As sirens erupted in the distance, the trio looked down once more at the Shadowbrook Witch.  In the dim light of dawn, without her pointed hat, with her long stringy dark hair spread on the ground, India Crowley looked permanently damaged.  She was, they realized, at least out of commission until they could figure out what to do, but she was, as Sheldon pointed out, still alive, and she might come after them when she got on her feet.  The sight of India lying below as a broken marionette belied the threat she posed.  Even in this condition, she had cast a spell on Penny, and was, as far as they were concerned, still dangerous.  While the other cats felt their adrenaline rising, Penny was stricken with conscience for what she failed to do.  For a moment she seemed frozen in shock.  Then, after being nudged by Sheldon and Tanya, she followed the instincts of her feline body, scampering with her newfound friends down the hall.

 

                                                                       ******

          Taking the same path on which Irma Fresco fled, they ran down the staircase, across the lawn, and into the shadows beyond.  Low down to the ground they traveled, below soaring buildings and colossal plants, through an awakening world of traffic, pedestrians, and stray dogs, with everything several times larger, and, because of their acute senses, louder and brighter and smellier—into an alien, hostile world, that was no longer their home.  Through darkened alleys and patches of street where sunlight never touched, they fled, driven by India’s menacing face, until finally, without knowing it, they found themselves in the same part of town as Irma Fresco, before deciding to stop.

          “Now we’re lost,” Tanya complained.

          “We were already lost,” Sheldon nuzzled her neck. “We must find somewhere to stay and sort things out.”

          “What about her?” Tanya gesture with her nose.

          “She’s our responsibility,” he transmitted flatly. “She’s got nowhere else to go.”

          Penny’s mind was so shaken they could barely read her thoughts.

          As sunlight filled the hollows of the city, the little trio wandered aimlessly on the outskirts of town, not realizing how dangerously close they were to skid row.  Due to the forces that be, they were, as the previous seven victims, diverse pedigrees.  As if the Good Lord had some hand in Sheldon’s bewitching, He allowed the young man to be transformed into the most hardy breed of cat, a Norwegian forest cat, which was good because he would need this hardiness in the trials and tribulations he and his two female companions had to endure.  Sheldon looked very much like Tom, the Maine coon, but had a more husky build, a triangular face and lower set wildcat ears.  Unlike the American breed, the Norwegian forest cat accompanied the Vikings on their voyages at sea.  Sheldon had stunning yellow eyes, which would give him a fierce appearance to feral cats on the street.

          Of all the young people bewitched by India Crowley, there could not have been a greater contrast than between the big ‘Wedgie,’ as cat fanciers would call him, and his two companions.  Though Tanya and Penny could have cared less about such facts, Sheldon, whose parents were cat fanciers, themselves, and had entered their three cats in various shows, marveled at his luck.  Tanya, a pale, fawn colored seal-point Siamese with sapphire blue eyes, belonged, Sheldon recalled, in the oldest breed of cat that had once been treasured by the royalty in Thailand.  Penny, the most beautiful of the bewitched cats and certainly the strangest, had, in spite of her name, been turned into a lithe and mysterious, jade-eyed Abyssinian.  True to this old English breed, she had a mountain lion’s coloring: a ruddy shade that also looked like wild rabbit fur. 

          Sheldon, who had a great knowledge of cats, began thinking like a feline, himself, at this point.  He was aware of the large, muscular, thick gray-furred body that matched his human frame and felt honored and even stirred to be the guardian of these beauties.

 

                                                                       ******       

          When the trio saw other cats coming in and out of alleys, they agreed, after Sheldon’s suggestion, that this might be a safe place to stay.  They had not seen any dogs going in.  There were no monstrous automobiles inside to run them down.  After picking a likely corridor that had only a few derelicts idling inside, they found an abandoned crate and settled uneasily inside. 

          “Well,” Sheldon looked over at Penny, “at least I’ve got female companionship.  I’m bedded down with two babes!”

          Tanya, in spite of her exhaustion, flashed him a jealous look.  Penny, the dowdy spinster, who, as a human, had dull red hair and an unspectacular frame had been transformed into a lithe and lovely cat.  Now, to add to her charm, there was a mysterious, far off quality about her, as she stared, with her bluish green eyes, into space.

          Sheldon, who sat between the two females, gave them both a lick.  Tanya tried to frown at this feral act, but Penny remained frozen in a statuesque pose.  The feline half of Sheldon Griffith was at odds with his human nature, as the emotions of passion and pity reeled in his mind.

          “Penny.”  He purred gently. “It’s all right.  You couldn’t kill her, but that’s okay.  I might not have been able to do it myself!”

          “I would’ve!” Tanya hissed bitterly. “Because of her, we might as well be dead!

          “Tanya.” Sheldon gave her nudge. “That’s enough!  She believed she was saving us by not finishing her off.  Who knows?  By now, thanks to Penny, India might be dead.  Life, even as a cat, is precious.  Think of it, Tanya; try wrapping your mind around it.  She could’ve turned us into toads or frogs, but we’re cats, with telepathic powers, who escaped a wicked witch!”  “Our lives aren’t through,” he added, giving her more licks, “just different.  We still have our minds.  We’ll figure this out.  Who knows?  This might just be a bad dream. We’re good people, Tanya.  What’s that old saying about good triumphing?  I have to believe it.  If India dies, zap!—we’re back in human form.  If not, there has to be a counter spell.  Good will triumph in the end!”       

Sheldon’s pep talk failed to elicit a response.  Once more, she shuddered at the action of his tongue.  It was something cats did affectionately while grooming each other, not at all like human foreplay.  Despite her repulsion, however, Tanya accepted Sheldon as their protector.  His pep talk was typical of his optimism.  A strange, calm fell over her as she listened to him purr and share his thoughts.  She wanted to believe him.  For the duration of their bewitchment, however long that might be, she would have to trust his judgment.  Out there, in a world that loomed so much larger, there were unimaginable dangers.  Inside the crate, their makeshift refuge, she at least felt temporarily safe.      

His voice murmured inside her head: “…. Our minds are still human, and our feelings are human.  All that’s changed is our bodies.  Hopefully, by this afternoon the witch will be dead, and—poof!—the spell will be broken.” 

Tanya nodded faintly at his words.  This seemed like their only hope.  Turning his attention to Penny, Sheldon nuzzled her affectionately.  Her whiskers bristled his mouth, yet she remained frozen in silence, her mind difficult to read.

“I’m worried about her.” He looked back at Tanya. “She has the look of the Sphinx.  She’s in deep shock and seems to be in another world.”

          “We’re all in another world,” Tanya replied wistfully, laying her chin on her paw, “… a world of giants, shadows, and cats.”


 

 

Go to Next Chapter -- Return to Contents//Writer's Den