A Gathering of Cats
At about the same time that Sheldon, Tanya, and Penny began the last city block of their journey south, Mimjet, Francine, the twins, and Cromwell’s four magical cats arrived in the visitor’s parking lot of Shadowbrook Arms. It was now early afternoon; it had been a long, morning for Buck and his gang. Mimjet, who didn’t want to overwhelm the unsuspecting cats in Sam’s apartment, walked up to his door quietly with Buck and the other cats, while Francine, Indira, and Maj remained momentarily in the car.
As he cradled Jim in his arms, Mimjet stood at the door, as the other three cats climbed through the screen, calling out in his most gentle voice: “Hello kitties, my name’s Mimjet Zohar. I have one of your little fellows in my arms.”
“Jim,” the portly cat reminded him.
“Oh yes, his name is Jim. He’s injured,” Mimjet said, tapping the door with his free hand.
“They’re cats,” Jim wanted to tell him, “they can’t open the door. You’ll have to hand me to them through the screen!”
Inside the apartment, a reunion was in progress that had the appearance of a silent pantomime. The fact was the group could barely hear Mimjet’s polite voice. The sound inside all their heads was actually quite noisy. Eight cats were attempting to communicate verbally as they had as humans, nudging, bumping, and licking each other profusely, their collective consciousness loud, as all crowd scenes, with eight jubilant voices—all greeting each other at once.
“Wait, wait!” Sam screamed over the buzz. “This is the problem with telepathy. Drew just asked an important question: where’s Jim? He was with Buck’s group.”
“Listen!” Irma said, perking up her ears.
“I say, you kitty cats inside,” Mimjet called politely through the door, “I have one of your buddies in my arms!”
“Jim!” they cried happily.
Tempted, himself, to break into the house through the hole in the screen, Mimjet stood there wondering what he would do if they did not respond. Finally, Sam poked his little head through the hole and meowed pertly at the strange looking man. A second head and then a third followed, as Buck and then Drew tried to communicate with the human outside their door.
“This guy’s dense,” Drew told Sam.
“No, I recognize that voice,” piped Ed, hopping up onto the chair by the window and peeking out, “it’s our friend Mimjet. We gotta let him in!”
“Will he hurt us?” Wanda asked, moving behind Buck.
Inexplicably, for several moments, Buck could think of nothing but the stunning white cat behind him, not even the voice of Mimjet outside the door. It was Ed who, with his furry brown head poked through the screen, began gesturing with his canine muzzle and paw in an effort to “talk” Mimjet into handing the portly cat to them through the hole. Mimjet, however, was afraid this would injure Jim.
“Come on Bozo,” thought Ed, beckoning with his paw, “ease him in. We’ll take it from there.”
“Oh, I get it,” Mimjet laughed nervously, looking self-consciously around the complex, “you want me to push him through the hole to you cats on the other side. But the little fellow is injured. Do you not remember his injured leg?”
Hopping down from the chair, Ed ran over to Buck.
“We gotta open the door,” he motioned with his head, “or get that numbskull to hand him through the hole.”
“He’s too cautious,” thought Buck.
“He’s too stupid,” thought Drew.
“I know how he can do it.” Sam cried, scampering into his study. “I just remembered: I have another key!”
As Mimjet stood cursing in Bengali under his breath, Sam attempted to open the middle drawer in his desk. Luckily, he had left it ajar from the last time he had rummaged through it, and it was not difficult to pry it open with his paw. Amongst the pencils, pens, paper clips and general junk in his drawer, he found, after moving his paws and snout around, an extra key that had been cut when Alice’s spare key was made.
“You da man Sammy,” Ed called up brightly then.
“All we have to do is drop it out the window to him,” suggested Drew picking it daintily up in his mouth after Sam had scooted it off the desk.
The three cats scampered into the living room. When Mimjet saw Drew’s little pink snout poke through the hole in the screen with the small gold colored key in his mouth, he laughed with delight, gently retrieved it, and quickly stuck it into the lock while holding Jim awkwardly in his arms. Jim continued to complain until they heard the tumblers fall into place inside the lock.
“You are one wiggly cat,” said Mimjet as he opened the door. “My-my, how many magical cats are there?” he mumbled excitedly afterwards, looking around the room.
Upon entering the living room, the tall Indian was greeted by eight more cats (nine including the portly Jim whom he sat gently on the couch). Each one had the same intelligent look he had noticed in Buck’s group. They bobbed and cocked their little heads as if they were communicating with each other and, of course, purred as normal cats do. In Mimjet’s Far Eastern and Hindu frame of mind, the conflict that plagued the Judeo-Christian thinking of Elijah Gray, Alice Wagnall, and Sheila Cromwell simply didn’t exist. He saw no conflict whatsoever between nine bewitched cats and what he believed: a miracle that defied the logic of reincarnation but not the will of the gods. His life had meaning again, if for no other reason than he had helped four magical cats. Now, he marveled, he had discovered five more magical cats. It suddenly occurred to him, however, as he made the rounds petting and scratching each wondrous feline, that he had forgotten that Francine and his nieces Indira and Maj were still sitting in the car. Though the twins rarely showed much emotion, the English woman was probably very agitated right now. In what would prove to be an unwitting blunder for the Indian today, he exited the apartment, after a brief explanation and promised to return and fix them some authentic Indian cuisine, only to run into Dolores Jeffries, one of the two tenants questioned yesterday by the police.
Dolores, who was in her seventies, was, in spite of the casualness of her robe and slippers, a most dignified looking black woman, with large, piercing dark eyes and an explosion of sparkling white hair. Mimjet was in such a buoyant mood that he was caught totally off guard by this imposing woman, answering her in a most lighthearted and cavalier way.
“Excuse me fellah,” she called to him, clutching her robe to her chest, “are you a friend of Sam Burns?”
“Well,” he said truthfully, “I never had the opportunity to meet Sam Burns the human, but if this is his apartment, I had the pleasure of meeting Sam Burns, the cat.”
“Huh?” She looked at him quizzically. “What’s that about a cat?”
Dolores had been on the verge of merely asking the stranger if he knew where Sam, the apartment manager, was. As she had said to Frank Harper, her next-door neighbor, she hoped Sam didn’t show up at all. Alicia, her daughter, she explained to Frank, had borrowed her rent money to pay the deductible on her hospital visit and she would be short this month. Now, thanks to Mimjet’s bubbly frame of mind, she was left wondering what the strange looking man was up to. She didn’t like the way he looked, talked or acted (‘kind of spooky-like,’ she would later tell Frank).
“What you doing in that boy’s apartment,” she demanded to know. “He don’t mix much with anyone but that blond lady Alice. You break into his place?”
“Break?… No, they gave me a key,” he tried to explain, but this only made it worse.
“They? Whose they?” Her fierce eyebrows shot up and she looked passed him through the open door.
With a guilty look on his face, Mimjet added more fuel to her suspicion by hastily shutting the door. Dolores did a double take when she heard the cats meowing inside the apartment. To make matters worse for him at that point, Francine, Indira, and Maj, after wondering through the complex in search of the tardy Indian, appeared suddenly on the scene.
“Where in the bloody blazes have you been?” Francine asked, her normally pale face flushed with rage. “We’ve been down there for over a half an hour. I have to use the ladies room! You still haven’t told us yet where we’re going!”
Fear and confusion registered on Dolores Jeffries face. “Humph,” she murmured to herself, as she shuffled back down the hall, “something ain’t right…. Something ain’t right here at all!”
Mimjet sensed immediately that the police would be arriving soon on the scene. Dolores sudden exit indicated that she was alarmed by the fact he had been in Sam’s apartment. She had grown even more suspicious with the arrival of his friends. In light of his hasty retreat from the Reginald Cromwell’s estate with three members of his staff, it seemed prudent to make his getaway soon. He would have just enough time, in fact, to say goodbye to the cats before risking being questioned by the police. Francine ran in quickly to relieve herself, followed by Indira and Maj. Mimjet stood in the living room a moment as they took turns using the restroom, looking down at the wondrous cats. His faith in the gods had been revitalized by this experience. All around him Buck and his friends and the other five cats, who he had not yet been formally introduced to, peered up to him with expectant faces. Tears welled up in his dark eyes as looked down at them now.
“Oh I wish I could have know you too,” he looked down at the others, whom he hadn’t met.
In response, though they knew he couldn’t hear them, the remaining five cats replied “My name’s Irma…. My name’s Sam…. My name’s Wanda…. My name’s Neva…. My name’s Drew.” As he looked at the other cats, he noticed that Buck, Tom, Ed, and Jim, though weary after their ordeal, were attempting to communicate too.
By their feline stares, tilt of their fuzzy heads, and chirrup made with their little tongues, they were trying to give him their names. He knew that he would never see them again, at least not in their feline forms. Francine and the twins scurried passed him on their way toward the car, but then they returned quickly when they realized he was still making his goodbyes.
“In the great wheel of life I hope we meet again,” he was saying to them solemnly.
“My uncle!” Maj tapped his arm.
“I will pray to Vishnu for you,” he spoke earnestly, raising his arms. “If it’s possible, I will return to see if you’re all right, but I hope by then that your benefactors will have broken the spell,” “for by then,” he added sadly, “you will be mere humans again.”
“Please, uncle Mimjet,” Indira pulled his sleeve anxiously, “I am thinking that we are trespassers here. That black lady is most certainly calling the police!”
“Yes, Mimjet,” Francine insisted, stomping her foot. “How’re we going to explain this to the police?”
“Goodbye, Mimjet,” Buck cried, running up to rub his leg.
“We’ll miss you.” Tom joined Buck, purring deeply as the Indian lifted him up and kissed his head.
The other cats, who had called out their names collectively, said goodbye to this strange man. Jim, who lie immobile on the couch, also wanted to bid him goodbye and Ed, who rubbed his other leg, meowed furiously in an effort to talk. Of all the cats, however, Mimjet was the most fond of Tom, whose reference to Shadowbrook Arms on the keyboard, led him to more bewitched cats.
“I will miss you especially,” he whispered to the Maine coon. “You remind me of Nira, my own cat, when I was a child. Nira has since been recycled to a higher form of life. I expect that she also will come back as a human too.”
“Mimjet, come on!” Francine barked impatiently, as Tom began to squirm.
“Go along kitty, I pray for your deliverance,” he said, placing him back on the floor.
After shutting the door gently, Mimjet and the three women scurried across the hall, out of the complex, and into the parking lot, running frantically to the car in time to see a patrol car pulling into the lot. When the policemen emerged from their car, they ignored them entirely as they proceeded into the apartments. Not believing his good fortune, Mimjet motioned frantically for Francine to proceed, mumbled what she thought was another heathen prayer, and sat back in both mental and physical exhaustion as Francine drove them quickly away from Shadowbrook Arms.
“It’s a jolly good mess you’ve made of things Mimjet,” said Francine, looking self-consciously into her rear view mirror. “You’ve as good as made us fugitives in this state. There’s no telling what Reginald might do.”
“Yes, uncle,” chimed Indira. “Where do we go now? We have no jobs. We have no homes.”
Mimjet pulled a map from his coat and examined it myopically a moment. “Oh I wish you had a GPS,” he mumbled to himself. Francine yawned expansively and squinted at the road ahead as the twins, peeking over each side of his turbaned head, watched him map out their fates.
“We will go see my Uncle Agabi,” he announced flatly, spreading the map out on this lap. “He will find us jobs in his restaurant chain. We shall do some sight-seeing first.” “But firstly you shall pull into that MacDonald’s on the corner,” he ordered Francine politely. “I have been thinking, ever since we began working for that Englishman, how good a Big Mac would taste. I am sick of all that international food served up at the Cromwells’ estate. From now on Francine and my nieces, we shall endeavor to enjoy the bounty of this land. I will buy a digital camera. I will visit Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, and a California beach…. No offense, Francine, but I hope I never see another one of your countrymen again!”
At almost the same moment Francine’s automobile pulled into the MacDonald restaurant parking lot, Sheldon, Tanya, and Penny, footsore and weary, were limping up to Shadowbrook Arms. Without knowing it, Mimjet and the three women had just passed three more magical cats on the street. It had been the longest journey of the three cats’ short lives and they were, in spite of a fine meal this morning, ready to drop in their tracks. A great feeling of accomplishment, as if they had defied not only death but destiny, itself, filled them just the same. Not realizing that, of all the cats, they hadn’t been rescued by humans and had saved themselves, they felt this feat on a personal level that didn’t need words. It took almost all of their remaining energies to walk up to the looming complex where the witch had transformed their lives. Unlike Sam, Buck, and the others, when they first returned to the apartments on foot, they had seen India shot point blank by Penny, so they had no fear as they approached the buildings now.
As they approached the manager’s apartment on their way to Tanya and Penny’s apartment above, they noted with typical feline curiosity the hole the cats had made in the screen and, as they had in the alley in town, heard their feline counterparts’ telepathy grow louder as they came closer to the source. Not long after this discovery they also heard the telltale meows from inside the room. After standing there shakily on his worn paws, Sheldon, though more exhausted than he had ever been before in his life, set the example by hopping up and leaping through the hole. Tanya and Penny followed stoutheartedly, plunking down not far from where Sheldon had dropped.
Meowing in greeting, the other cats ran to them, and there was a reunion as great as the one for Buck and his gang. Sheldon and his companions’ first instinct had been to spook and hump their backs, since it seemed so bizarre to them that all the other young adults had been turned into cats. When Sheldon, Tanya, and Penny had accepted the fact that this entire room was filled with bewitched humans, they were overwhelmed with emotion and the chatter of voices in their heads.
“Irma, Sam, Buck, Drew, Wanda, Neva, Jim, Ed, and Tom!” Sheldon called out in a roll call of his newfound friends.
“It’s Sheldon, Tanya, and Penny!” Irma cried out, nudging, bumping, and licking these newest members to the group.
“We have much to talk about.” Sam came up to Sheldon in greeting and rubbed his nose. “Buck and his friends arrived just a little while ago, themselves. I bet you three are starving too!”
“I know I am.” Jim groaned, looking down from the couch.
“You’re always hungry,” teased Ed.
“Thank you…. It’s good to be here, but we just ate,” the three travelers replied collectively to everyone, as they were mobbed by the cats.
“Come on Wanda and Neva,” Irma called, “let’s find something for Buck and his gang to eat!”
After eating a hearty meal of meat scraps, fried bacon strips, and stew from the containers placed in the refrigerator by Alice before she left, the cats congregated one-by-one, after they finished gorging themselves and using the kitty litters, onto Sam’s bed—as long lost friends reuniting with many stories to share.
“Well, Irma,” piped Sam, surveying the new additions, “you were right; she bewitched Tanya and Penny, but I’m surprised that she got Sheldon too!”
“Yeah,” Sheldon sighed, looking around at the group, “it’s been hell out there!”
“What happened?” asked Drew, bumping his side.
“Yes, tell us,” Neva cuddled between them, “for we have stories too.
After relating in a tired mental drone how he and the girls ran into the city, got lost, and eventually wound up as a demented woman’s pets, he paused to allow Tanya to explain how they escaped her clutches by playing dead and springing free when the old woman opened the cage. Penny’s story, however, which should have come first, was the most incredible of all.
“You shot the Shadowbrook Witch?” Neva asked in disbelief.
“You idiot,” cried Drew. “How will they ever undo her spell?”
“Nonsense,” Sheldon bristled at the pair. “It was self-defense for Penny. She could have finished India off, but instead she let her live. Tanya and I wanted her to kill her, but Penny was afraid that this might seal our fates.” “I’ve given this a lot of thought,” he declared resolutely, “and I can’t blame Penny at all.”
“Neither can I,” Sam gave her a lick.
“Me too,” Irma and Wanda agreed joining in the gesture, as Penny, Sheldon, and Tanya cuddled next to them on the bed.
Neva and Drew sat pondering what Sheldon said but were soon making friends with Penny too. By now, Tom and Ed and the injured Jim, who hobbled in with his friend’s assistance, approached the congregation, wondering if there was enough room for them on the bed. The sounds of purring and licking from all of the other cats was interrupted by Jim’s meow, as he looked fondly up at the group.
With their tummies full and bladders emptied, Tom and Ed joined the congregation. Buck, who had taken his time eating his dinner, nudged a pillow from the living room into Sam’s bedroom and motioned for Jim to lie on it, since it was impossible for the calico to jump up on the bed. He wasn’t happy with what Penny had just related to the group. It had been the big tabby’s belief all along that to break the spell India had to be dead. His thoughts were naturally heard by everyone and he was surprised that all of them, even Tom, agreed with what Penny had done.
“It would be like murder,” Tom thought, looking down at his friend.
“Hah!” Buck snorted looking up at Sam. “What was all that ‘ye shall not suffer a witch’ bullshit you were spouting Halloween night?”
Although Sam’s fiancée Alice had also uttered this quote, it had been his idea to confront the Shadowbrook Witch. He now shared in the blame for India’s spell. Perhaps if he hadn’t been so intolerant, they might have been spared her wrath.
“I’ve learned a lot in the past few days,” he looked down reflectively at Buck. “One of the things I learned very quickly was I don’t know very much! I’m really a very stupid man!” “But I’ve also learned what true friendship is.” He now scanned the group. “I don’t care what you all believe; I love you just as you are!” “As Saint Paul once said:” he grew misty-eyed, “‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, I am as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.’”
“Good grief!” Buck shook his head.
Soon, as if the bed was not crowded enough, the big yellow tabby was suddenly bouncing upon the mattress too. Embarrassed but moved by Sam’s burst of emotion, he gave him a big lick and gave Irma one too. He found himself pressed up against the precocious Wanda on the crowded bed, and he was again torn between his human feelings toward Francine and his feral instincts for Wanda, the cat.
“Hello, Wanda,” he said sheepishly. “You’re looking fit today.”
“What’s wrong with Jim?” She asked, looking down at the portly cat.
“Someone kicked him in the hospital after we tried killing the witch,” Buck said casually, as if it was but a trifle matter to explain.
Buck’s feline heart was beating heavily as he remembered Wanda, the human in a bikini in the Jacuzzi Halloween night. After that point at the party until his bewitching, everything was a blur for him. Wanda, who could, of course, read his thoughts telepathically, blushed but didn’t take offense.
“Is Jim’s injury serious?” Irma asked him with concern. “I studied nursing for a couple of months in college before changing schools.”
Buck shook his head drowsily. “According to Mimjet, who patched him up, he didn’t break anything; he just bruised a muscle. He’s damn lucky he’s alive!”
Sam and his group realized that Sheldon, Tanya, and Penny were exhausted, having gone through a nightmarish experience by themselves on the street, so Buck was coaxed by Wanda and Neva to tell his story before he, too, fell asleep. At times, Tom, Ed, and Jim would add something to the tale. The strangest part of Buck’s story was when the cats arrived at the Cromwell estate and were held captive by Reginald, who wanted to exploit their miracle for himself. The group cheered when they heard how Mimjet saved Buck and his friends. Sam, Irma, and Drew perked up with attention as Tom explained how he typed out the message that led Mimjet to Shadowbrook Arms.
“That’s how I communicated with Mortimer Hildebrand.” Irma nodded.
“It wasn’t easy,” Tom reflected. “The traditional method didn’t work—not with these little paws. It was hunt and peck—like when you first learn to type, but it convinced Reginald Cromwell that we were ‘miracle cats.’ I’m just thankful Mimjet and Francine rescued us.” “I gather you used the same method.” He glanced over at Irma and Sam.
“Yes.” Sam looked at Drew. “We left an e-mail for Alice that brought her here.”
“That poor woman,” thought Wanda. “We drove her nuts.”
“What a menagerie,” Drew enumerated wistfully “a preacher, sorcerer, priest, Hindu, identical Indian twins, and two blond babes!”
“I liked Mimjet,” thought Ed. “I’m gonna miss him a lot!”
“Mimjet believes we’re gods,” commented Buck, as he drifted off to sleep. “…. That Francine was all right too…. She had a nice body,… but she wasn’t too bright…. Mimjet had to blackmail her before she’d help.”
Sam felt great affection for his newfound friends. They had forgiven Alice for being a cat-hater and accepted the eccentricities of the three men. Noting Irma’s unblinking blue eyes, he realized that she was the only cat not dosing off this hour.
“What about you?” He nudged her warmly. “You should tell our new guests your story too. You have the strangest tale of them all!”
At first it seemed to be an exercise in futility. One-by-one, the twelve cats were falling asleep. Though growing drowsy herself, Irma related how Elijah had found her on the street and how the preacher and the sorcerer took her home after discovering that she was a bewitched cat. When she told them about how the make-believe sorcerer, Blaze, had introduced Elijah to a wizard priest, it didn’t seem so extraordinary considering what they had all gone through. But when Irma told them how the Spell Reversal Team, as they called themselves, had begun looking for a practitioner whom Irma referred to as a white witch (instead of the more ominous title ‘super witch’ as Blaze called her), Buck jerked awake. His response, though calm, was loud in their collective consciousness. Virtually all of them were also shaken awake.
“I’m sorry, I know we’ve discussed this before,” he looked into Sam’s golden eyes, “but I don’t understand this. I thought you and Alice didn’t suffer witches. Aren’t all witches bad?”
“I guess not,” Sam sighed with resignation, “at least not white witches.”
“I don’t get it,” Neva shook her head. “As a human, I’m a black woman. You, Ed, are brown. What would they call a good witch who was black or brown?”
“It’s a moralistic term,” Drew frowned at Neva, “like dark and light and good and bad!”
“So you’re saying white is good and black is bad,” Neva moved angrily away from him.
Drew sat up and looked at her in disbelief. “That’s not the point, Neva. We’re talking about a witch—”
“The point is, honky,” she spat, letting out a hiss, “white witch and black witch are white man’s terms!”
“Yeah,” Ed looked down at Jim, “I smell racism again.”
“You wetback,” said Jim with a yawn, “you smell racism everywhere!”
The subject had drastically changed. At that point, Buck sat up and looked with utter amazement at Neva and Ed.
“Hello!” he cried out sarcastically. “Do either of you cats understand what’s going on here? They’re getting a card-carrying witch to undo India’s work!”
“Yeah, who gives a shit if she’s actually white or black,” Drew murmured in frustration.
“I can’t believe it!” Tanya cried.
“This doesn’t make sense!” said Penny, rising groggily up on her feet.
“I just drifted off,” Sheldon murmured with a yawn. “Was I dreaming when I heard that? Tell me that’s not true, Irma!”
“It’s true Sheldon,” Irma piped, looking around sympathetically at the three. “I didn’t like it myself, but the fact is we’re waiting right now for them to find her so she can undo the spell.”
“All right,” Buck nodded, looking over at Sam, “you’re the expert on this sort of thing. Do you think this is gonna work?
“Don’t ask me,” Sam sighed again, “I’m just a cat.”
“We’re all cats.” Tanya wrinkled her pink little nose.
Jim, Tom, and Drew were yawning vigorously now. Penny laid her little head back on her paws and fell asleep. Sheldon and Tanya fought slumber but finally lost, their collective thoughts leading them into an enchanting dream.
“I can hardly believe,” Buck thought looking around at the sleeping cats, “India Crowley bewitched us all! She even got Sheldon, who doesn’t live here. You’re lucky Sam that Alice didn’t get zapped too!”
“Yes,” Sam murmured wistfully, “Alice is one of our protectors now. She’s part of the Spell Reversal Team.”
“They have to find a witch who’ll reverse the spell,” Irma reminded Buck earnestly. “It’s the only chance we have!”
Within a few moments after Irma’s declaration, all twelve cats were sound asleep in a collective consciousness no human could possibly understand. In their telepathic minds, in which dreams were also shared, they were all young men and women again sharing in the merriment of Halloween night, but this time, as the wicked witch appeared, another specter materialized intangibly at first: a woman in a white robe with marbled white skin, blazing azure eyes and bellowing white hair, a spectral image they would never meet in this life but who would soon change the course of their lives.