As Sam led his troupe into his apartment, the camaraderie in each of their heads was tempered by the realization that they were running out of time.
“Let’s eat!” the others cried.
“The first thing I’m going to do,” Sam vowed mentally, as he waited for Wanda and Neva to enter the hole in the screen, “is e-mail Alice. I sure can’t use the phone!”
“I’m going to get something to eat,” Drew replied with a meow, leaping up onto the ledge ahead of Sam.
When they had all passed through the screen and congregated in the living room, Sam said a prayer of thanksgiving, while the other cats bowed their heads. Wanda, Neva, and Drew had accepted Sam as their leader now. Wanda, in fact, had grown fond of the once self-righteous apartment manager. She continued to rub up against him every chance she had, bringing forth the response “Please Wanda, I’m engaged to Alice. Let’s just be friends!”
Drew had no such inhibitions when the beautiful black fluffy Neva rubbed up against him. Her purring and bubbling form continued to tease and tempt the tan cat, until finally, as they all congregated for their meal, Sam took time to warn his newfound friends. After pulling a portion of last night’s roast from the refrigerator, he dangled it thoughtfully in his muzzle, and then dropped it unceremoniously onto the floor in front of the group.
“All right, let’s not stand on formality,“ he transmitted as they devoured their meal.
“I love roast,” exclaimed Neva. “All we need is the right wine!”
“I could use a beer,” Drew replied, giving her a bump.
Sam poked his head into the circle to get his share. Wanda, inspired by her friend’s spirit, nudged Sam playfully with her nose. When this failed to elicit a response, she followed Drew’s example and bumped Sam several times with her rear.
“Listen Drew.” Sam backed away from the group. “You cats be careful. Neva might not be human, but she’s a still female.”
“Well, duh.” Drew chortled, giving Neva a wink.
“I’m a feeee-male, but I used to be a woman,” she purred brazenly.
“Sammy, you’re such a prude,” Wanda pretended to pout.
“Hold on, let me finish!” Sam barked into their heads. “As a female—this goes for you, too, Wanda—she can get pregnant, just like humans. I’ve seen cats mate when the female’s in heat!”
“I wish you wouldn’t talk about me in the third person,” Neva complained, licking gravy off her paw.
“And I’m not a prude,” he directed his thought to Wanda this time. “I’m just trying to use my God-given brain!”
“Oh God, doesn’t care about us anymore,” said Neva carelessly, swishing her fluffy tail.
Sam could not believe his feline ears. He was even more distressed than when Drew made that similar comment last night. “We’re just animals now,” he had communicated. “ We don’t have souls!” Sam then watched Neva and Wanda preen themselves, as would two ordinary cats and detected telepathically Drew’s urge to curl up and take a nap. It was clear to him that they were sinking into felinity fast.
“First of all, “ he frowned at Drew, “all animals and plants are part of God’s creation, not merely humans. No, don’t wiggle your whiskers at me, Neva. I’ve given this a lot of thought…. This is not our fault. Buck, Tom, and the rest of us didn’t deserve India’s wrath. The Lord must still consider our souls in spite of her evil act. Perhaps, even so, all living things have souls. When I was a child I wanted all my pets up there with me. Now, I’m almost certain they will!”
“But it’s not in the Bible,” Drew teased. “What would your Bible-thumping Alice think?”
If Sam had not detected humor in Drew’s voice, he would have taken issue with his new friend, but he half believed what Drew said, himself. Rising up and stretching, he trotted into his study without a word.
“Where’s he going?” Wanda paused in her preening to ask.
“Let’s go see,” Neva, yawned expansively.
“Hey Sam, I was just kidding,” Drew scampered ahead of the others now. “It all just seems like such a joke!”
The cats were all sleepy now. Sam sat in front of his laptop, which he managed to pry open, and looked down at them from his desk, the screen’s eerie light making him that much more attractive to Wanda below.
“What’re you doing, Sammy?” She asked pertly, a portrait of feline beauty registering in his mind.
Sam feared for his humanity more than ever this hour. He was beginning to feel attracted to the beautiful white Persian cat now that he was a cat, and he almost felt disloyal to Alice for the thoughts racing in his head.
“I’m trying to use the keyboard,” he answered simply, making another feeble attempt.
The stubby appendages of his paw made it difficult to use the computer. For a brief moment the hourglass hung suspended after the Windows screen appeared, taunting him with the reminder that time was running out. By trial and error, he was able to bring up Microsoft Outlook and enter his e-mail box. As he attempted to compose a message for Alice, however, it was much more difficult for him. He drew back, cocked his head reflectively, and tried again. Seeing a crafty look on Wanda’s face, he cautioned her again “Please behave yourself!” as she hopped onto the desk. But Wanda had no intentions of not seducing him and feigned interest in the screen.
“What’s that?” She pointed her little white paw.
“It’s an e-mail screen,” he thought warily, as she edged closer. “Surely you’ve seen that before!”
Embarrassed at his ineffectiveness, he offered no more explanation. Soon Drew and Neva were also crowded around his laptop with expectant looks on their faces. Wanda now rubbed her rump against Sam’s leg. Neva did the same to Drew. Sam was now certain that, responding to feral urges, the girls were in heat. Drew and himself, for that matter, were reacting, as would two normal male unneutered cats.
“Stop it Wanda, I’m trying to think!” He hissed, humping up his back.
“Yeah, stop it again and move away closer!” drawled Drew, nestling beside Neva and licking her ear.
“As I was going to explain to Wanda,” Sam communicated to the group, “it’s hard to use the keyboard with these stubby paws.” “You see what I mean?” he asked, trying to hit a few key.
Sa;lioxcweasfgnmaslk.,cviomn! appeared on the screen.
“Oh, dear me,” mewed Wanda.
“Looks like gibberish,” observed Neva.
“I’m lucky I got this far,” Sam confessed, trying one more time.
A similar mish-mash of letters was now displayed in the e-mail address box.
“Try using just one,” Drew held up a nail.
“I already tried it,” whined Sam. “You’ve got skinny claws, Drew. Mine are stubby, fat little appendages. How do you expect me to type with these?”
“Oh, I used to play the piano,” Drew explained, typing a message in the hunt-peck-style in the message portion of the screen.
In capital letters, the message read playfully SAM HAS FAT PAWS! HA! HA! HA!
“I like his fat little paws,” Wanda purred loudly now.
“All right, Drew,” Sam announced solemnly, “you’re going to be our inputter.”
“That sounds sexy,” cooed Neva.
“Now listen to what I tell you to type.” Sam nudged her aside.
Drew’s held his paws over the keyboard. “Okay.” He looked at Sam anxiously. “Let’s get started.”
That moment, as Sam began to dictate, the landline rang. After a series of jarring rings, it switched to the message machine, followed by a beep, then the voice of the caller: “This is Dolores Jeffries, in apartment 1g. Where are you Sam? Why don’t you answer your phone? The police were here; must’ve been a dozen of them. Did you know that? Are you even home? You should’ve talked to those men, not Frank and me. You’re the manager of this complex. That’s part of your job. And what was all that racket early this morning. You should’ve called the police Sam—”
Dolores continued to list his failings as an apartment manager, which included his inability to maintain order in Shadowbrook Arms. Pouncing on the machine, Sam cried, “Enough! We don’t have vocal chords. I’m turning this infernal thing off!”
The girls laughed as he fumbled with the machine. Drew trotted over calmly to lend him a ‘hand.’ The girls hopped up onto the desk to offer moral support.
“My paws are useless,” Sam groaned, pawing frantically. “Why did they make such a tiny switch.”
“Remember,” Drew counseled, “one toe and one nail.” “Here.” He bumped Sam gently aside. “I’ll shut that bitch up.”
“—and further more,” droned Dolores, “I think India Crowley is insane. I heard she claimed to be a witch—Bleep!”
Stopped in mid-sentence, Dolores last words reminded them of the dilemma they were in. They were cats under a witches spell. When the cell phone Sam had left by his easy chair began to ring, the group ignored it. It was probably Dolores, guessed Sam. The old woman would probably send him a text message too, but it didn’t matter. Without voices, they couldn’t answer the cell phone or landline. The keys were much too small on the cell phone, even for Drew. What they could do, Sam reminded them cheerily, was send a message from his laptop.
“Let’s pull up Alice’s e-mail,” Sam directed as the four cats stared at the screen. “Type the first letters of her name, Drew. It’ll pop up automatically.”
“Wow,” Wanda purred, you’re computer’s smart!”
Certain she was teasing, Sam explained tongue in cheek. “It’s in my contact list. All Drew has to do after we compose the message is hit Send, and everything is sent to the recipient, just like a letter.”
“Huh?” She gave him a blank look. “What about your return address?”
“That’s automatically provided.” Sam pointed a paw. “Right there above To:, next to From:—’SamBurns112@hotmail.com.’”
“There’s one hundred and twelve other Sam Burns out there?” Wanda muttered in amazement to Neva. “I wonder how many Neva Bravnics there are.”
“All right Drew,” Sam forged ahead. “In the Subject Box, simply type ‘please respond quickly,’ with several exclamation points.”
“Gotcha,” the tan cat flexed his paws. “Let’s see,” he said, his whiskers bristling on his mouth. “Voices in the head are one thing, words are quite another.”
“No-no,” Sam sighed wearily, “that’s a B, Drew. We need a P. P-l-e-a-s-e.”
Wanda’s behavior worried Sam the most. How could anyone in the twenty-first century be that computer illiterate? Had she just been teasing? Playing a dumb blond was something she had done very well as a human. His newfound friends were behaving less and less like humans and more like cats. In spite of Drew’s boasts, it took him awhile, by trial and error, to find the right keys, correct his errors by backspacing, and achieve a semblance of what he wanted. To Sam’s annoyance and dismay, Wanda and Neva began acting very much like distracted felines as Drew struggled with the words. Wanda was again preening herself and purring loudly as Neva batted a paper clip around on his desk. And Drew, though probably the smartest of all the cats, had forgotten how to spell.
“Okay.” Sam gave him a nudge. ‘Pleex Comt Quik’ is good enough. Alice will know for sure there’s something wrong.” “Now go to the composition box,” he instructed wearily, “and type the message.”
Drew cocked his head in a thoughtful feline pose. “That sounds easy enough. What do you want to say?”
“First off, type Alice at the top of the page.”
“All right.” He flexed his paws again. “Spell it for me.”
Inexplicably, Drew turned away from the keyboard. For a moment the male cat had forgotten his attraction to Neva and hissed at the black Persian as she played with his tale. To make matters worse, Wanda now rubbed against Sam, her whiskers brushing the side of his face.
“Stop it you dumb bitch!” growled Drew.
“You have lovely brown fur,” Wanda purred loudly in his mind.
“Drew,” Sam shrilled into their heads, “get back to work. Wanda, Neva get off the desk. Go take a nap if you can’t behave!”
Along with all their other cat-like traits, Sam was very worried about the cat’s attention spans now. They could not seem to focus at all, even Drew. Wanda was the worst. Was this, too, a sign they were becoming more feral? How much time did they all have left before they were one hundred percent cats?
“In that large area below,” he motioned testily to Drew, “type: Please drop everything and get here as fast as you can. Don’t worry about India. She’s been shot and is in the hospital, but don’t call the police; they won’t believe what has happened. We’ll just wind up in the city animal shelter. . . . Signed Sam, Wanda, Neva, and Drew.”
“I think you better remove the last three names,” Drew suggested wryly, drawing back his paw. “She won’t understand us being here, Sam. She’ll think we corrupted you last night.”
“You’re right,” Sam sighed, discouraged by the way the girls were acting now. “She doesn’t like Wanda and Neva very much, and she probably doesn’t like you. Leave off yours and the girl’s names, but add I Love You before my name and a dozen exclamation points behind.”
It took several moments for Drew to type Sam’s message. The spelling was atrocious and Drew left out articles of speech, which made it sound primitive and ill thought, but they were running out of time. Alice knew Sam was an excellent writer. When she read this gibberish, he reminded himself, she would know there was something wrong.
“Now hit Send at the top of the screen,” he concluded after inspecting the e-mail, “and let’s hope Alice checks her e-mail.”
“Wow, that was fast!” cried Wanda.
“No, Wanda, it wasn’t fast,” Sam looked at her in disbelief. “If Drew had his human appendages and faculties, that message would be long gone,” “but he doesn’t,” he added shaking his head, “because Drew’s a cat. Like you and me, Neva, he’s beginning to act and think like a cat. I fear for Buck and the others. The question is ‘how long do we have?’”
Only Drew registered alarm at this thought and he was, as they sat there waiting for a response from Alice, quickly distracted by Neva’s presence. As the females continued purring and occasionally emitting a yawn, and Drew began licking Neva’s head, a thought came into Sam’s overwrought mind.
“Drew,” he commanded gently, “type in the Google Search menu Witchcraft.”
“Where’s that?” Drew squinted at the screen.
“Hit the backspace arrow at the top. Right there!” Sam pointed testily. “That’s it. It’s right in the middle of the screen.”
“Good idea Sammy,” Wanda came close again, her feline breath blowing warmly into Sam’s ears. “Can I help?”
“This time, Drew, try to spell it exactly as I dictate.”
For a moment, Sam struggled with the word, realizing that he, too, was having trouble with abstract symbols in his head. When, after a series of hunting, pecking and backspacing, Drew managed to type Witchcraft exactly in the Google Search box, the web provided him with countless entries for this theme.
“Smart thinking,” Drew nodded, cocking his head. “Go to the source!”
“I’m looking for information that might explain this spell,” he informed the group. “Good Lord, there must be a thousand entries for this. Let’s see if we can find one for—what should we call it—oh yes, shape-changing spells.”
For several moments the four cats hovered around the screen, as Drew began scrolling with the mouse, a much easier task than typing keys. As their eyes went down the list searching for something that might help, each one called out mentally when they saw something significant, but in the end, after a dozen failed attempts, and after a long night and morning with little rest, they had simply worn themselves out.
“I’m going to take a nap,” Neva thought, hopping down onto the floor.
“I’m going to help her take a nap,” Drew responded in quick pursuit.
“Remember this one word:” Sam called after them now “litter! If Neva gets pregnant, she won’t just be carrying a baby, she’ll have a litter, not the roadside kind but kittens—several of them, capiche?”
Neva flashed Drew a terrified look. With these thoughts in mind, the couple found a corner, curled up together, and were soon fast asleep. Sam and Wanda, who were also ready for catnaps, leaped off the desk and found themselves a nest too, but the apartment manager lie there with an ear cocked for the sound of Alice’s key rattling in the door.
As Sam slept, he dreamed that he was on the broom of the Witch India Crowley and they were flying over the rooftops of Shadowbrook Arms. Below him he could see lighted windows with empty rooms. The implications seemed plain to him, for Alice walked through the complex with a lantern, as Diogenes carrying his lamp, searching for the lost cats. At that point in his dream, he realized that he was India’s pet. He recalled a portion of the poem he had written in college:
Castaway and vagabond,
true child of the night.
In his secret twilight kingdom
he shuns dawn’s lonely light.
Alice Wagnall felt both physically and mentally exhausted after a sleepless night and hectic day at the office. Sunday had proved to be an ordeal for her. It had been almost impossible to focus on her work and keep pace with the busy real estate firm. Her boss expected her to work extra hours on weekends when needed, even on Sunday, which was the Christian Sabbath, but she had honestly not been up to it this time. She and Sam’s confrontation with India Crowley last night had left an impact on her mind. After a brief nightmare in which she found herself running from India Crowley’s wrath, she lie awake most of the night worrying about what India might do. The curse India leveled against everyone at Shadowbrook Arms had seemed so ridiculous at the time, but then, as Alice thought about it more and more, the argument that Sam tried to use on her about India finally losing her sanity didn’t ring true.
“India’s not merely crazy, Sam,” she had argued last night, “she’s evil. I saw the Devil in her eyes!”
Now, after several excruciating hours at the office, Alice felt weak and emotionally drained. All day long she had worried that, when she contacted Sam again, something dreadful would have happened to him and the others at Shadowbrook Arms. He had tried to allay her fears Halloween night and, when they parted, promised to call her the next day. But he hadn’t called her or send a text message to her today and she could not reach him on the phone. What did his silence mean? Was Sam merely being inconsiderate again, or had something happened to him last night? Unfortunately, Alice hadn’t brought her laptop with her this morning or she would already know there was a problem.
After frantically unlocking her apartment door, charging through the living room, and pouncing on the laptop on her desk, she hastily brought up her email, and spotted the cryptic title in her inbox.
“Pleez Comt Quik?” she read aloud. “What does that mean?”
Quickly entering the message box, she stared with incredulity at the screen:
Plese drop everthing git here fast you can don’t worry about Ind she been shot an in hospital don’t call polce they won’t bleeve what happen we wind up in anmal shlter.
I lov u Sam !!!!!!!!!!!!
“The city’s animal shelter?” Alice mumbled numbly to herself. “Now why would he say something silly like that? Has Sam forgotten how to spell?” And then India’s curse thundered into her head. Suddenly Alice’s nearly photographic memory captured almost the entire imprecation: “…You,” India had cried out to the Buck, Tom, Jim, Ed, and Drew, “shall regret your beastly behavior, because you’re going to become exactly how you’ve behaved!” “And you two, my pets,” she had promised Sam and herself. “I have the same end planned for you!”
“Beasts?…. Turned into beasts?” She backed away, as if stricken by the screen. “No, no, I don’t believe this! I’ve got to get over there! Oh sweet Jesus, is this what Sam meant?”
Without even shutting down her laptop or locking the front door after herself, Alice dashed back to her car, her mind racing with terrible imagery, her throat constricted with fear as she attempted to pray. This time it was more difficult to talk to God. As she considered the implications of the e-mail Sam had sent and remembered India’s bizarre behavior last night, she tried to tell herself that this was all just too ridiculous to be true.
“India is a make-believe witch,” she told herself, racing across town, “she can’t harm us! This is just a cruel joke! Oh, Sam you’ve got a lot of explaining to do!”
When Alice reached Shadowbrook Arms, she shuddered as she passed through the entrance to the complex. Her first impression as she turned left from the breezeway and stopped in front of apartment number 1a was that the complex was unusually quiet. Only last night this apartment complex was alive with merriment. She might not have approved of the drinking behavior and attitude of some of its young residents, but they had not deserved the malediction thrown at them by India last night. What a dreadful thing to say to them! She thought giddily, as she pulled her key out to unlock Sam’s door.
Somewhere, she could imagine, India standing over a cauldron and stirring its contents with a big spoon. Now, as she entered the dimly lit apartment, she noticed two cats hopping off the couch as if in greeting. Almost immediately afterwards, two more cats joined the first pair, purring and meowing loudly as if they were glad to see her too. The first questions to come into her head then were Why would Sam have all these cats in his house? Is he cat-sitting for someone? He knows I hate cats! Then, staggered by the implications growing in her mind, she found herself collapsing into a nearby chair.
At that point, a sable brown cat jumped up into her lap, purring so loudly she could not help but to feel moved in spite of her state of mind.
“Nice kitty,” she replied, her heart pounding loudly in her chest. “…. You seem to be a nice cat!”
“It’s me, honey,” Sam looked squarely into her face. “You gotta get over your dislike of cats!”
Hopping off her lap, he motioned to her with his snout, meowing vigorously, then led her trembling frame from the living room to his study. All the while the other cats also meowed excitedly, purring loudly now that their rescuer had arrived.
“Now what’s this nonsense about an animal shelter,” she muttered, positioning herself expertly in front of the computer. “…. Oh, someone’s been reading about witchcraft…. My-my, how interesting… how very quaint! The stereotype card-carrying witch!”
“She’s in denial,” Sam observed, looking back at the others on the floor.
“I think she’s in shock,” thought Drew, appearing suddenly on the desk.
“I can’t believe it,” transmitted Wanda. “She doesn’t like cats!”
“Yes, Wanda” Sam said, rubbing Alice’s cheek with his snout, “she doesn’t like cats, but we’re very special cats. She’ll like us!”
Alice cringed at the sensation, her natural aversion to felines warring with the realization growing in her mind. Wanda took an immediate dislike to her, but Drew, Neva, and Sam looked desperately to Alice for help.
“She’s looking at the witch on the screen hovering over a cauldron,” Sam acted as narrator. “…. There’s a black cat nearby in the picture sitting by a broom…. Come on Alice, wake up and smell the coffee!”
After coaxing her in the background, as would fans at a sports event, the four cats came right up to her face and studied her slack-jawed expression. Again she cringed, but this time she fought so hard against her dislike of cats a hysterical smile broke her face. All of the cats purred loudly, occasionally meowing with encouragement for Alice’s help. Surely there was something this human woman could do…. And then it happened: Alice Wagnall collapsed onto the keyboard, her blond hair covering it like a mantle, her hands dangling over the floor.
“What’s wrong with her now?” asked Wanda, nudging her with her nose.
“It’s obvious,” cried Sam, hovering frantically around her head, “Alice has fainted. We gotta bring her around.”
Barking orders to his group, Sam’s first concern was Alice’s pulse, which he couldn’t take. While Wanda and Neva went to fetch a wet rag, Drew tried his paw at checking her pulse, while Sam stuck his snout under her hair to make sure she was breathing. Suddenly, as he began licking her furiously with his tongue, she awakened from her faint, protesting groggily as the rough little muscle worked on her check.
Rising up with blurry eyes and a light head, Alice stared vacantly at the telltale screen and rotated her head slowly his way.
“Sam?” She murmured breathlessly. “…. Is that really you?”
“It’s true,” nodded Sam, wishing she could read his mind, “India has turned us all into cats!”