Mimjet and Francine
It proved to be virtually impossible to give directions to the kindly British lady. She appeared to be slightly mad. Buck tried to aim her in the right direction by rising up on his haunches, pointing a paw straight ahead to indicate due south and meowing vigorously to press the point home. She laughed with delight and nodded her head with approval at his antics, but then she promptly turned left at the next signal and began heading due west across town instead of south to Shadowbrook Arms. All the while she hummed and muttered happily to herself but otherwise paid him no heed.
“Oh, I wish you could understand me,” Buck groaned. “We need a GPS. You’re going the wrong way!”
By now, the other cats had become significantly agitated, themselves, after Buck’s antics. Tom and Ed watched in dismay as the big tabby jumped directly onto the dash and then slid down onto the floorboard when he lost his grip. The woman admonished him mutely by wagging her finger at him and giving him a little swat. To move out of harm’s way, Ed left the crowded front seat and joined Jim in back. With a hiss, Tom shifted quickly to the right as Buck scrambled from the floorboard back onto the seat.
Buck realized how foolish he had been to assume he could communicate with this woman. He was a cat. He could not talk nor gesture adequately with his stubby paws. The more he meowed and carried on, the more agitated the other cats became. The woman found his movements distracting and even frightening when he rose up on his haunches again, came right up to her face, and meowed directly into her ear, trying desperately to say, “You’re going the wrong way, you dumb shit!”
“Scoot, skidattle! Bad cat!” She scolded, gently slapping his rump. “Sit down before I have a wreck!”
“All right Einstein,” Jim drawled as Buck hissed and humped his back, “what do we do now?”
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Buck transmitted forlornly, stretching up onto the dash, his tail swishing below her chin. “I assumed she would take us home. But this woman’s dense. She won’t be able to understand us until we find a computer or something to type a message on.”
“What if she doesn’t have a computer?” Tom gave him a dubious look.
“What if she lives in the next county and drives us fifty miles out of our way?” asked Ed, while toying with the buttons of a sweater lying on the seat.
“What if, what if!” Buck became defensive. “What do you guys expect after we climb into a stranger’s car? We’re safe and sound for now, aren’t we? She’ll probably feed us when she gets us home.”
“Yeah sure,” responded Jim glumly, looking down at his injured leg. “How do you know she won’t eat us instead?”
“She’s an English lady,” Tom said, shaking his head. “My grandmother was English. She never ate cats!”
“Listen, Tommy,” Jim continued to wince with pain, “there ain’t no people more civilized than Koreans, and them folks eat dogs!”
Ed had been absorbed in his destruction of the woman’s sweater but perked his ears up now.
“Jim,” he said wryly, “that’s the third time since we began this caper that you’ve made a racist remark!”
Buck and Tom looked back at Ed.
“I’m saying he’s prejudice,” Ed reiterated, having torn almost all of the buttons off the woman’s sweater now. “He’s a big fat racist pig!”
Buck and Tom understood Ed’s mood. As a human, Jim had never shown much prejudice, but Ed was toying with the big portly feline again as he had done so many times before. Fortunately for the smaller feline, Jim was disabled or there might be trouble in the car.
“Some people eat cats when they’re hungry,” Ed thought off-handedly to himself. “What’s the big deal? You eat chickens, cows, and pigs, don’t you? You do what you gotta do.”
“Shut your disgusting mouth!” Jim tried to rise up again but then laid back down with a groan. “So help me, if I wasn’t laid up like this, I’d kick your wetback ass!”
Jim’s bigoted adjective made Buck and Tom cringe. Ed stuck out his little pink tongue and called Jim a big fat racist pig again.
“That’s enough Ed!” snapped Buck, as he jumped up on top of the seat.
Though he was in a more tranquil mood, Buck’s impulsive leap caused the other cats to spook. He sat there precariously next to the headrest, as if it was his stump now, surveying the road ahead as if he didn’t have a care in the world. The woman swatted his tail out of her face and smiled tolerantly at him, but she was growing impatient with his behavior in the car. She could not possibly have suspected the commotion going on inside the cats’ heads or their concern about her behavior now.
“We either allow this woman to take us home,” Buck announced, looking down at Jim and Ed, “or we continue to make a fuss like we’re doing and get tossed out of her car.”
“All right,” Ed shrugged, “let’s don’t piss her off.”
“Have you forgotten?” Jim looked up at him with dismay. “I can’t walk.”
“Very well,” Buck peered down challengingly at him, “then why are you worried about winding up on this woman’s plate?”
“I-I dunno,” Jim tried explaining. “I’ve had a lot of nightmares since Halloween. Awful ones, much worse than before. It starts with India chasing us down the hall…”
“You forget,” Buck reminded Jim, “we shared the same nightmare. We still share it.” “It’s like,” he searched for the right words, “… we have the same brain.”
“Buck,” Jim looked up at his friend, “I have a bad feeling about that woman. I think she’s nuts!”
Buck, who had been looking down at the woman’s cleavage, was silent a moment. He had thought the same thing himself. Ed sat there on the shredded sweater across from Jim thinking about what Jim had said too. It was true, they collectively agreed, the woman grinned a lot, muttered to herself and was in a big hurry to get home. Buck was growing sleepy from the motion of the car, however, and was remembering when he was a human being…. He was driving Mary Lou Bailey, South High’s cheerleading queen, to the prom…. He had been a big wheel on campus then, but College had proved to be a disaster…. His short life had proven, in fact, to be one, long pointless effort to recapture those golden moments at South High. Knowing now, that his friends shared his thoughts, as they drifted off to sleep, he shared with them his fantasy about the English lady, whose breasts called out to him from her dress. For several moments, until sleep stole their consciousness, they took turns trifling with the woman, but as humans with fingers able to squeeze, what Buck nostalgically called, the ‘melons’ on her chest.
Jim was feeling poorly now. Even the mischievous Ed, who loved to needle him, felt concern for the portly cat. Because of his large girth, he needed almost half of the back seat to lie comfortably. Ed moved further away, at Buck’s signal, to give him more room. Soon, to Buck’s satisfaction, both Jim and Ed began falling asleep. For a moment, as Tom joined Buck on the other side of the head rest, their tales swishing to and fro, the woman grew irritable again at this distraction and shooed Buck, the closest of the two, down from his perch. Tom remained aloft a few moments while Buck hopped down obediently to sit beside the woman, purring loudly with contentment as she stroked his head.
The woman alternately petted Buck and reached up to stroke the furry Maine coon, who dropped down to curl up next to the big tabby on the seat. Jim was snoring peacefully in the backseat of the car. Displaying typical feline caprice, Ed had forgotten his feud with Jim and used the calico as a pillow as he fell slowly asleep.
Not so long afterwards in their journey, as the cats fell in and out of slumber, the automobile began pulling into a long, windy private road that led up to a large white house on a hill. Almost immediately, the cats felt a rise in elevation and noticed a sudden drop in noise after leaving the busy street. Buck, Tom, and Ed were able to stretch up on their legs and peek out through the window glass in order to marvel at the mansion, while poor Jim could only lay there and ask them what they saw. Buck and Tom described, for Jim’s benefit, a huge, green lawn onto which sprinklers were showering, tall majestic elms and sycamores casting shadows on the ground, a circular driveway with a sculptured but inactive fountain in the middle, and a spooky nineteenth century mansion on top of the hill.
“Oh, this lady’s rich!” Ed crowed. “She must have been a visitor or patient in that hospital. She doesn’t have to work!”
“I don’t like this,” thought Jim with a shudder, “it’s too isolated. It’s much too quiet. It reminds me of Norman Bates’ house: the one in Psycho where he keeps his dead mother mummified in an upstairs room.”
“The only psycho around here,” Ed snickered, “is you!”
Watching the woman stop her car and beam quizzically down at him, Buck thought about what Jim had just said, wondering if it was possible that the young English woman was really insane.
A tall, dark skinned man appeared suddenly by the car, opened the door, and stood there like a statue as she scooted out. The woman exited slowly, her movements stately as if she might be playing a designated role. As the three cats filed out of the car, Jim hobbled down to them and was immediately cradled in the tall, dark man’s arms.
“They’re going to eat me, I just know it!” He cried.
“Calm down Jimbo,” Buck called up to him. “This guy’s her servant. He looks like one of them Hindu towel heads. They don’t eat cats, only oriental food and cows.”
In deed, Mimjet, as she called him, wore a white turban on his head and a stunning white suite that was buttoned at the collar. A dark purple sash was tied around his waist.
“Miss Francine has brought visitors for the Cromwell family again,” he acknowledged as he held Jim gently in his arms.
“They’re magical cats, Mimjet!” she looked down at the remaining cats, clasping her small hands.
“Yes of course, magical in deed.” Mimjet looked at her indulgently now.
“Jim’s right, this place is spooky,” thought Ed, keeping pace with Buck.
Tom was tempted to run for it now, but there was, he realized quickly, nowhere to go.
“Come on kitties,” she beckoned, opening the front door and following Mimjet in.
Darkness gobbled them up as they entered the inner sanctum, until at last, when they had reached the center of what appeared in the dim light to be a large spacious living room, an inexplicable a shaft of light from a ceiling window engulfed the group. The suddenness and eeriness of the setting caused the cats to hiss and spook. For a moment, it seemed as if Jim’s fears had been justified. Gradually, however, as if an old-fashioned gas lantern was slowly being turned up in the room, there was enough light to see French provincial furniture and fine Persian rugs. Portrait and landscape paintings on the walls and a large crystal chandelier hanging from the windowed ceiling completed this picture of late Victorian opulence, until, finally, the lights were turned up fully and the cats could see clearly the outer perimeter of the room.
A carved wooden staircase wound down from the second floor to the living room. Two scantily clad wood nymphs had been carved at the end of each rail. Through a large doorway on the other side of the room they could see the hall and front doors through which they entered this eerie mansion, and at the other end of the room a large expanse of gabled windows beyond which a garden house bloomed.
Observing Jim’s infirmity now, Mimjet immediately laid him on a ruby red cushion, and then four bowels of food were brought out immediately by two twin adolescent Indian servants, who wore exquisite yellow shifts and sported gold dots on their foreheads and jingling bracelets on their slender wrists.
“I don’t like this at all,” came Jim’s refrain.
This time Jim spoke for all of them, and yet the famished cats were drawn magnetically to their bowels. Expecting mere cat food, they found instead a tasty porridge of meat and lentils. When they were done, Jim and Buck each let out a proper belch. With Francine and Mimjet’s backs turned, Ed marked a spot on the rug. Tom, the most cerebral of the four, could not help marveling at the paintings on the wall. While the other three cats huddled apprehensively together on the floor, the twins reappeared with first aid items to treat Jim’s injury. Quickly but gently, Mimjet applied a dressing and a very professional looking splint to Jim’s injured leg, which he said was not broken but merely sprained with a small cut near the paw.
“Well children,” Francine now rubbed her porcelain hands together, “let’s see what you cats can do.”
“Oh, we’re cats now, not kitties,” sneered Ed. “The bitch wants us to perform!”
“Don’t piss her off Ed,” cautioned Buck, noticing the wet spot on the Persian rug.
“Well,” observed Tom, “at least she hasn’t put us in a cage. We’ll just do a few tricks and, presto, be on our way!”
“Listen Tommy,” Buck looked into the Maine coon’s emerald eyes, “we don’t know where we’re at now. We’re clear across town. More importantly, Jim’s injured and can’t travel. She’s gonna have to take us home. We can’t be on our way!”
“We need a plan,” Jim joined the mental conversation.
“Yeah,” Ed seemed to sneer, “like the one Buck had in the hospital. Some plan!”
A miniature playground slide and a host of other pint-size gymnastic equipment was brought out now by the twins, whom Mimjet called Indira and Maj. Francine and Mimjet stood back in anticipation of the show ahead. What was the most frightening experience the cats had experienced so far in this house now materialized on the staircase. Four small children—two boys and two girls, between the ages of four and eight, ran down the steps, followed by a man and woman walking arm-in-arm. The family looked like it stepped right out of a Charles Dickens classic, Tom commented to his friends.
“Nanny, nanny, what did you bring for us?” a golden haired little boy squealed.
“Mister and misses Cromwell,” Francine motioned proudly, “I’ve brought the children magical cats this time. They’re so very smart. I found them in the hospital after I visited Papa.”
“Jesus Christ,” spat Buck, “she’s a nanny! She brought us home to entertain these brats!”
“I’m out of here!” Ed prepared for a hasty retreat.
“Me too,” Tom seconded Ed. “These folks are going to make us personal pets for those kids. We’ll become prisoners in this house!”
“I remember seeing this place in a horror movie,” Jim was rambling fearfully again, “…. yes, it was about a haunted house. The pictures had faces like those on the wall…. The banister came alive like a big giant snake.”
Francine lifted up Tom, whom she considered to be the cutest of the four, and placed him on the ramp on the slide. As she bent down, the other three cats once again noted her cleavage. Francine, they also mentally agreed, had nice looking legs.
“You dear little pussy,” she said in a singsong voice, “show us what you can do!”
“Tom’s a little pussy!” Ed taunted.
“I’ll take her pussy,” blurted Buck. “That woman’s a babe!”
“What am I suppose to do?” Tom asked, looking down helplessly now at Buck.
“Piss on it,” Ed suggested.
“No, shit on it,” recommended Jim.
“Don’t you dare!” Buck cried. “Come on Tom, you’re smarter than the rest of us. Use your head. Do a dance for them after you go down the slide, and make funny sounds.”
Almost in rote, the frightened Tom climbed up the ladder of the slide, holding the rails shakily with his paws. Meowing musically as he prepared to slide, he then slid down on this back, landing with a thud on the floor. The boys and girls and their parents clapped enthusiastically. Tom hissed angrily at them before running over to his friends. Mimjet and Francine exchanged worried looks as they watched the children run to the cats. Dreading his own debut, Ed hissed and humped his back, while Jim could only groan.
The next to perform, thanks to little Margaret, who placed him rudely on the slide, was Buck Logan, who almost bit her as she lugged him up the steps. After slipping awkwardly down the slide on his paws, Buck landed upright, did an imitation of a bucking bronco, rolled over several times and then, remembering what his Siberian husky had done while guarding the house, played dead. This brought on even greater applause, but Misses Cromwell’s face had begun to show alarm, while there seemed to be a crafty look on Mister Cromwell’s face.
Jim was injured and could not perform, Mimjet explained testily, as Margaret tried to pick him up. Ed balked at the idea, protesting “I’m not a trained monkey,” until being coaxed by Buck onto the slide.
The little Havana now did an obscene parody of a female cat in heat when he reached the top of the slide. Then, after drawing his little canine muzzle into a snarl, he went down sideways on the slide to avoid crash-landing and attempted to walk on his hind legs a moment after rising to his feet.
It was, Mimjet convinced Mister Cromwell, physically impossible for the cats to perform on the miniature seesaw, trampoline or swing. All in all, as circus acts go, the cats agreed that it was an unspectacular performance, something any circus animal could do.
“Let’s give them a real show,” Buck called out mentally to his gang. “When they find out what we really are, maybe they’ll let us go!”
“Or put us in a cage,” Tom warned him. “Then we’d be too valuable to release.”
Ed and Jim nodded in agreement with Tom. As the four cats argued about the merits of being too smart, they bobbed, shook or cocked their heads, looking very much like deaf mutes gesturing to each other, with the exception that, unknown to the humans, the cats were also talking inside their heads. The impression, thought humorous by the children, received a mixed reaction from the parents. The father was delighted while his wife was horrified at this unnatural scene.
Clapping their hands with delight as the felines regrouped, the four golden-haired children raced out to grab up one of the cats. Mimjet ran ahead of them frantically waving his hands. In the background the parents continued to look on with frowns on their faces, murmuring heatedly to each other a moment. It was becoming obvious to the cats that they were not happy about something. The woman was especially agitated and seemed to point accusingly at them now.
“No, no, little children,” begged Mimjet, “leave the kitties alone.”
“I don’t like this!” Jim’s catchphrase filled their heads.
“Yeah,” Ed’s eyes narrowed with thought, “I’m getting a bad feeling too.”
Quite instinctively now, in the most dramatic reminder that they were felines, Buck, Ed and Tom spooked and Jim let out the most horrible hiss during the commotion. All four cats bared their fangs and huddled together in a tight knot, as Mimjet tried to shield them from the children’s hands.
“Mummy! Mummy! Papa! Papa!” the children ran screaming back to their parents.
“What is the meaning of this Francine?” The father asked, looking menacingly down at the cats. “Sheila feels that these cats are acting very strangely. Are they drugged or are the little beasts mad?”
“I don’t know Reginald, they were so cute at the hospital and in the car,” Francine’s voice fluttered. “I think these little beasties might just be nervous. I know there not drugged, and I’m certain they’re not mad.”
“I think that these little fellows are marked out by the gods,” Mimjet announced boldly with a slight bow. “We must treat them with respect for what they are.”
“Mimjet, I’ll have no more of your heathen talk in my house!” The wife shrilled. “Reginald,” she complained, turning to her husband, “it’s bad enough that your father’s firm sends us to this wretched land. He had to send his own personal secretary to corrupt my home.”
“Now, now Sheila,” Reginald patted her wrist, “you mustn’t get your heart in a dither. This couldn’t be as bad as those iguanas Mimjet brought into the house.”
“Iguanas?” Ed turned to Buck. “My grandparents had a couple of those running around their house down in Mexico. I hated those ugly lizards. Jim was right to be scared. These people are nuts!”
“Not all of them,” Jim shook his fuzzy head. “Mimjet’s our friend. He patched me up pretty good.”
“Yeah,” Tom nodded thoughtfully, “Mimjet is our protector. I’m glad he’s on our side.”
While the cats discussed how they were going to communicate with the humans, they again seemed to be in a mute discussion. Reginald and Sheila Cromwell and their children withdrew from Mimjet, Francine, and the cats to an upstairs room. In spite of their performance, the humans seemed to be very upset about the cats. Had it not been for the incapacitated Jim, the cats would have fled. A heated discussion followed, as Mimjet seemed to stand guard over the beleaguered cats.
“Oh Vishnu, I will not let your children be harmed by those limeys,” he promised, looking protectively down at the four. “Sir Sidney Cromwell understood my gifts, but his son has been influenced by that religious fanatic of a wife. Please give me wisdom and protect your children from their whims.”
Encouraged greatly by Mimjet’s support, Buck attempted to communicate one more time directly with Mimjet and Francine. Running over to where a telephone sat on a tiny Victorian cherry root table, he attempted to hop up on the table and only succeeded in knocking over the vintage piece of furniture and cause Francine to gasp. Next, as Mimjet looked on in awe, he ran to a portrait of an ugly crone-like woman whom he thought looked like a witch, and let out a loud meow in an effort to make his point. Rising up on his haunches, he pointed to the painting and then, when this drew blank looks on the pair, ran over and pointed at the buttons on the phone. “We were bewitched,” he tried to tell them. “I need a computer to a type a message on, so you can understand me!”
When this didn’t bring on the correct response for Buck, he hissed at them and ran around in circles a moment forgetting completely he was not a cat. Francine, who grew faint at this sight, wrung her hands in despair.
“Oh, Mimjet,” she cried, “stop the little beastie before he damages something in this house!”
“Miss Francine,” he shook his head, “you are one dumb English woman. That cat is trying to communicate with us. He’s throwing a tantrum now because we’ve been so dense!”
“I know they’re special Mimjet,” she said, reaching out in wonder at the cats, “but Sheila Cromwell is old fashion in her religion. She thinks they’re possessed. What have I brought into this house?”
“Possessed?” Mimjet looked at her in disbelief. “…. You mean by the Devil?... This concept is so silly, Francine. In my religion, which is so sensible, your Lucifer would merely be another god.”
“I’m sorry Mimjet, it’s true. That’s how many Christians think,” she said, walking over to calm the cats. “There-there my children, don’t be afraid…. I won’t let them put you in cages and take you away.”
“Is that what the Cromwells are planning on doing?” Tom asked Buck.
“I don’t know, but I need a computer!” Buck declared, looking anxiously around the room.
“I think we’re goners. They’re probably going to call the animal shelter. We’re gonna get gassed!” Jim laid back in despair.
“I think you watch too many movies,” Ed decided to be brave. “Mimjet won’t let us be gassed.”
Buck and Tom nodded in agreement, but all four cats were frightened now. Mimjet looked at the cats protectively and placed his finger in front of his lips to signal silence as footsteps sounded from the staircase across the room. To greatly increase their fears was the sudden appearance of Reginald Cromwell again, who appeared to storm up to Mimjet with the most menacing look, but then suddenly, looking back to make sure Sheila couldn’t hear, whispered something confidentially into the Indian’s ear.
“Say, what’s that bastard up to?” Jim was the first to ask.
“I wish we could read their minds,” complained Tom.
“Yeah,” Ed nodded, “I don’t trust that dude.”
“He’s coming toward us,” warned Buck, moving protectively in front of his gang, “the son-of-a-bitch’s got a smile on his face!”
“So you little fellows want to communicate,” Reginald rubbed his greedy hands together. “Do you have any idea how valuable you are?”
“I told you,” cried Tom in their collective minds, “we’re too valuable to let go!”
Buck hissed at the man in a crouched profile as he reached down. Ed joined him with a humped back. Tom sat beside an equally timid Jim, a growl coming deep from within his throat.
“Listen,” Reginald beckoned, backing up a pace, “if you can really understand me, then follow me to my study. There’s a computer there, for which we can prove what you are.”
“And who do you think they are?” Mimjet asked with suspicion. “They don’t trust you sir. I think they believe you will put them into a cage.”
“I had to act outraged in front of Sheila,” Reginald explained, bending down, snapping his fingers and whistling at the cats.
“Damn, I like this man!” Buck scampered over to Mimjet and rubbed his leg. “He’s not going to let Reginald hurt us, because he thinks we’re gods.”
“I ain’t no god,” Ed snorted, moving cautiously up alongside Buck.
“What about me?” Jim called after them, as Reginald picked Tom up in his arms.
Once again the cuddly looking Maine coon had been favored among the cats. At that point, as if he had, in fact, read Jim’s mind, Mimjet walked over and picked the calico and his cushion up delicately in his arms. Reginald, who began talking baby-talk to Tom, led them all up the stairs passed a glowering Sheila to his study in a far corner of the house. Francine, who had been taken back by this turn of events, had demonstrated to the cats how unstable she was by retreating from the scene. But now, as Mimjet, Reginald and the cats departed for Mister Cromwell’s study, she materialized in the hall upstairs, wringing her hands and casting a frightened look at the distraught Sheila as she passed by.
“What have you brought into our house, Francine?” Sheila tried to shout, but found herself gasping for breath.
“These cats are not evil, Sheila,” Francine spoke pleadingly. “Please open your mind to what this means!”
Sheila Cromwell’s asthma was now acting up. The breathlessness of her response belied her own words. In spite of her staunch religious upbringing in which her American mother instilled a black and white, demon-ridden view of the world, she was deeply thrilled by the prospect of having such miraculous cats. Her guilt at having this temptation grew after Francine followed the group in, the door shut, and she found herself tip-toeing to her husband’s study and listening at the door.
“Calm down, Francine,” Reginald said, patting the nanny’s arm, “Sheila’s mad at you, but I’m not! We—Mimjet and I—know what you brought into this house.”
“Magical cats!” Mimjet beamed.
“But why are these cats in your study, Reginald?” Francine asked in a constricted voice. “You don’t let anyone into your study, not even Misses Cromwell!” “Why is Mimjet turning on your laptop?… What are you going to do?”
“You’ve done jolly good this time!” He said, patting her head.
Mimjet sat at the desk, turned on the laptop, and, after while waiting patiently for the Windows desktop to appear, watched the hourglass as the system booted up.
“Hmmm,” he muttered abstractedly to himself, “Your system is slow sir. By golly, I should be using my computer. I put a new CPU unit into my laptop, and I’m in like that!” He snapped his fingers. “You need high speed cable, not this outdated DSL hookup. Everyone I know uses high-speed cable. Aboriginals in Australia have high-speed cable…. Even my uncle Raji, who believes the world sits on a giant tortoise, has high-speed cable.”
“Dash it, Mimjet, get on with it!” Reginald cried, setting Tom down rudely in front of the screen.
Tom’s attractive feline form had become a curse. Francine sat down heavily on the other side of the room, as the Maine coon looked back at his gang. The hourglass finally disappeared. Mimjet, who had found an outdated version of Microsoft Word on Reginald’s system, now brought it up on the screen. As Tom prepared his little paws for the task, Buck told him exactly what to type. Tom discovered, as had Drew, that he could use one digit, but the effort was very great, because it required continually flexing the one toe each time he wrote a letter or two.
Outside the study, Sheila listened intently to the discussion, very much tempted to enter the room. As she eavesdropped upon this family history-making event, her four children appeared suddenly behind her startling her half out of her wits. The other half, however, managed to pick up the remaining conversation inside.
“Mummy, mummy, what is Papa doing to our cats?” Little Roger whispered discreetly to her, tears streaming from his powder blue eyes.
“Yes, mummy, why are you mad at the cats?” asked puffy-eyed Ruth, still simpering under her breath.
The remaining two children asked similar questions. All four children had been weeping copiously. Misses Cromwell felt even guiltier now for the heresy filling her mind. What wonderful pets they would make for the family! She dared tell herself as she ushered her children to their rooms.
“Shush, children.” She pushed them impatiently. “Papa is studying the cats. Now get back in your rooms!”
In contrast to her own thoughts, however, Sheila reminded them of what she told them before about the Devil appearing in many different forms, and that what they had seen downstairs was not natural in God’s eyes. As she said it, she almost bit her tongue. The purest form of hypocrisy and a crisis of faith similar to the one Alice Wagnall was feeling right now rose up in her mind: half of her rejected the notion outright, while the other half was excited at the prospects ahead.
In the study, Tom had managed to type, after entering gibberish at first, a simple salutation at first that included all their first names. This first demonstration caused Francine to weep with joy and the other cats to cheer him mentally. The very first word typed on the Microsoft Word screen caused Reginald to literally jump for joy, himself, the tall Englishman nearly bumping the ceiling with his head. Mimjet, however, took an attitude of prayer and knelt down piously a moment to give thanks to both Vishnu and the goddess of cats. With Sheila not in the room to appease, this pagan gesture mattered little to Reginald, who bent down and jubilantly read the misspelled message Tom had typed: We r humans who been turnd by shadowbrk wich nto cats.
After this declaration, which took much effort by the jittery Tom, the Maine coon added a note for Sheila’s sake: We r Chrstians tu !!!!
“This is marvelous!” Francine bolted uncharacteristically from her chair.
Having heard her husband utter each message aloud, Sheila now gave in to her impulse and barged into the room. Not far behind her were her naughty children who, having snuck back out of their rooms, heard Papa’s declaration too.
“How can this be?” Sheila grabbed her forehead in disbelief. “My grandmother told me there were witches, but I never believed it. I always thought such people were possessed by demons or merely delusional, like my Uncle Robert, who thought he was a Leprechaun. But Uncle Robert was mad, grandmother was mad…. I wonder now if I am going mad too!”
“We’re all a little mad, Misses Cromwell,” Francine’s voice fluttered again. “We live in a mad, mad world!”
As Sheila muttered to herself, Francine stood in the background dazed by what was happening in the Cromwell house. Reginald began instructing Tom to do a mathematical problem using the Windows calculator this time. Buck hopped up and attempted unsuccessfully to use his much fatter paw. Tom then performed a simple set of multiplication, division, and subtraction problems as directed. Mimjet suggested afterwards that Tom give them some details of the bewitching, which would be recorded in a special file. Tom, though his digit was growing weary at the effort, was egged on by his friends.
“Come on Tommy, you can do it. I know you’re tired,” Buck bumped up against him affectionately now.
“You da’ man, Tom!” Ed crowed from below. “You da’ man!”
In what Tom would later claim was the most important document written in his life, the Maine coon wrote, with help from his friends:
hallown nite India croly cas spell on yung peeple at shadowbrk arms. she turn us into cats. she sed we wll ireversbly remain cats. we bleev when she die, we be humns again, but she not dead, she in coma at county hosptl close to dead. we cud not kill hr. please take us home to sam the partment manager at shadowbr arms, so we be with our frnds--sam wanda neva n drew hu also r turned into cats.
Tom hadn’t known that Sheldon, Tanya, Penny, and India’s best friend Irma had been turned into cats too or Mimjet and the Cromwell family would have been even more amazed than they were. Reaching over the cat, Reginald saved the file as “Miracle Cats” and then rudely set Tom next to Buck on the floor. Jim still sat on his cushion dumfounded by it all. Ed had just marked yet another spot on the carpet as the Indian studied the message on the screen.
“We must honor his request!” Mimjet announced, hovering protectively around the cats.
“Are you insane Mimjet?” Reginald cried, rushing over to lock his door. “These cats are worth a fortune. We’ll do no such thing!”
“What are you up to Reggie?” Sheila asked with astonishment. “I thought your business was printing equipment. How can you make money off these cats?”
“How indeed, dear Sheila,” Reginald looked back with contempt. “You know my father’s business is crumbling. Why do you think I wanted to come to America? I’ve always told you this is where the money is. Until that numbskull was elected, it had a strong economy. How’d I know it would go belly-up? Now, by Jove, we’ve got four magical cats!”
“No, no, you can’t keep them against their will!” Mimjet gave a wounded cry.
“I can, and, by Jove, I will!” Reginald said, grabbing up the phone and barking orders to members of his staff.
“Clyde,” he began, “I want you and Earl to bring me that big metal cage I used for Dodger before he ran away. Yes, that’s right, clean it up a bit. Now put Bridges on.” “Bridges,” he took on a sterner tone, “I want you to stand guard inside my study and have Turner, my chauffer, guard the door. Don’t argue with me Bridges, hop to it! Tell Veronica, our chief maid, to go fetch a month’s supply of cat food and kitty litter—about ten bags.”
“Oh, Papa, are we going to keep them?” Little Malcolm spoke for the rest.
“Yes,” he answered slyly, scuffing Malcolm’s locks.
“You bastard! You rotten son-of-a-bitch!” Ed and Jim cried.
“Wait, calm down lads,” Buck called out in their heads. “We’ve got Mimjet on our side. Things could have been much worse. They could have sent us to the pound!”
“I told you this would happen!” Tom spat accusingly at Buck. “It’ll be just our luck if India lives just long enough for the spell to become irreversible while we’re here. We’ll remain cats for the rest of our lives, Buck! We’re too valuable to release. They’ll never let us go!”
Against the protests of Mimjet, his twin nieces Indira and Maj, and the unheard protests of the cats, Reginald and his servants placed all four cats into Dodger’s cage. An improvised kitty litter was provided by Veronica, which was nothing more than a small sand box the children played with in the yard. When it became apparent, however, that the kitty litter would not fit in the cage with the cats, it was decided by Reginald that the cats would be allowed to roam freely in the study behind the locked and guarded door. Reginald suspected the cats would trash his study but was buoyed by the financial prospects ahead. When he departed for dinner with his deeply disturbed wife and deliriously happy children, he made sure Turner, his hefty chauffeur, was stationed at his study entrance. He also left Bridges, a retired boxer, instead of Mimjet (whom he no longer trusted), to guard the cats. Had it not been for his standing with Sir Sidney Cromwell, Reginald’s father, Mimjet knew he would have probably been fired earlier in the hour, but he now found himself responsible for Reginald’s financial scheme.
Francine was allowed to stay in the study also, which implied that she was still employed too. But Reginald ordered his wife to keep the children away from the cats, until they had grown accustomed to their captivity. They were far more than pets, he assured Sheila; they were the family’s future!
As the burly Bridges exited for several moments to relieve himself, Turner remained stationed at the entrance but Mimjet was now free to talk to the four betrayed cats.
“Listen my children,” he whispered to them, as he looked back guardedly at the nanny across the room, “… I don’t know how yet, but I’m getting you out of here. We can’t do much this evening, but, by golly, I’m taking you home! It will mean that I will be unemployed, but I have a cousin here in America, who owns a restaurant, so I shall do just fine.”
“What about me?” Francine asked, rising anxiously from her chair. “I don’t want to be fired. I shall tell the mister and misses what you’re up to. They won’t let you take them out the house!”
“And I will tell the mister and misses that you have been spending shopping money on yourself and stealing food from their shelves,” Mimjet declared dryly, looking at his nails.
“Th-That’s a lie!” she cried out in a broken voice. “I’ve done no such things!”
“I will make them believe it, dear nanny,” Mimjet promised, reaching down and petting the most sullen of the cats. “You will, in fact, help me spring these poor beasties. We’re going to take them home!”
Ed, who had been tempted to bite his dark, weathered hand, found, as the other cats, a mesmerizing warmth in this man’s voice and eyes. For the first time since his bewitching, Ed, the most feral of the cats, rubbed up against a human’s leg, a low contented rumble flowing out of his throat.