(One Year Later)
For the courageous Sheldon, who led two female cats through one of the worst ordeals of the twelve, becoming a human again had reinforced his relationship with Tanya. Tanya, after experiencing Sheldon’s nurturing care toward Penny and herself, had learned humility and patience as a cat. Although Tanya planned to marry Sheldon someday, Penny, whom she had treated insufferably in the beginning, was like a sister to her now.
Penny, of all people, struck up a lasting friendship with Tom Wellitz at Shadowbrook Arms. Because each of them had journeyed on separate odysseys as cats, they found much to talk about at the reunion. It turned out, to Penny’s delight, that she and Tom had much in common as humans. Both of them were Jewish, and they both loved swing music and jazz. Of all the human changes Irma had hoped would come about, in fact, the beguiling Abyssinian, who paired up with the Maine coon, pleased her the most.
For Buck and Wanda’s friendship, time would, of course, tell, but the big yellow tabby and Persian were both attending college together in earnest now. Being cats had given them a focus on life. Buck, who had tried to hard to be top dog as a human had proven to be more than top cat to his friends. He could not believe that the fabulous Neva was dating Drew, but, unlike the old Buck, who would have made fun of this match, the new Buck was actually proud of the awkward and sparsely built youth.
Buck’s friend Ed, whose drift toward feral cathood had worried them all very much, had been greatly moved by his experience as a cat, so much so, in fact, he decided to serve the church. His family had tried to talk him out of it, but Ed could not be swayed, even by his friend Buck now that he had decided to become a priest.
Jim, being a fat kid, a fat adult and then a fat cat, was on a diet now. Buck, Drew and Tom gave Jim a great deal of moral support during this period of time. After only a year’s work, Jim has lost eighty pounds and had also, as all the other members of Buck’s gang, gone back to school.
Perhaps, viewed by Irma, herself, the most unexpected change had come for Elijah Gray and herself. In this matter, she would later write, her instincts had been dead wrong. She had grown to love him as a father figure when she had been rescued by him on the street. The crush she had on Sam, which had no foundation in hope or logic, had seemed to make her meeting with the preacher a bittersweet affair. Elijah had loved Irma, the cat. The preacher had, in fact, gone out and bought a little black cat just like Irma and called her Lilith, which seemed to prove his affection for her as his pet. But, now as a mortal woman, she looked at the frisky little cat one day and realized that Lilith was a living tribute of Elijah’s love toward her that defied his own faith. How could she not help but to love him in return?
The greatest changes if not the most wondrous transformations, however, did not come from the miracle surrounding the cats.
The first of these miraculous changes, at least in Mortimer Hildebrand’s thinking, was what had happened to Blaze O’Dare, the make-believe sorcerer, who had led them to Madelyn, the Witch. For several years of his adult life Blaze had detoured from the mother church in a search for the mysteries of life. His journey into what he believed was white magic had brought him close to the brink of spiritual darkness. But now, after seeing, with his own eyes the miracle of the cats and the spell-reversal by Madelyn that led to her own return to the church, the sorcerer was back. What it meant that he was blessed by a heretic priest, no longer mattered, since he knew that white magic did, in fact, exist, and God was the greatest magician of them all.
Even greater than the change that came over Blaze was the change that Mortimer Hildebrand reported for Madelyn Fontaine.
“I could not believe my eyes,” he told Irma one night, as he sat at the dinner table with Elijah, Irma and Blaze. “…. The old woman, not only recovered from her dreadful injuries, she seemed to go through a metamorphoses. The doctors replaced her sightless eye with a right fine glass one. Her matted hair, which had not one gray hair showing as a witch turned snow white after her experience, but the wrinkles on her skin have even been smoothed out somehow.”
“…. She’s a dignified looking old lady now,” he groped for clarification. “…. I’m not saying that she’s attractive mind you, for that woman is still the ugliest woman I have ever known,… but there is another beauty—”
“Ah, yes,” interrupted Elijah, squeezing Irma’s hand, “the soul.”
“Yes,” the priest nodded his head gently, “… the soul,” “and, of course,” he added after a pause, “the workings of the mind. Unfortunately, as you both have come to realize, they are not the same. For the mind tempts us, and the soul, which is a child, as the beasts of the field, accepts unconditionally. Madelyn learned this when she confronted her greatest challenge and almost lost her soul…. Now she is a child again, having returned to the church as a nun.”
“Returned?” Blaze marveled at the thought. “How did she escape excommunication?”
“A nun indeed,” Irma giggled to herself.
“Madelyn had been a novitiate when she quit the convent during the grace period in the Catholic Church,” Mortimer explained, “yet she could not forgive herself for failing in her vows. Her entire odyssey of searching began back then. With the great knowledge of the occult, which she offers church doctors today, the Roman Catholic Church will better understand its enemy Satan. As a gatherer of mysteries she returns, but this time to help the Sacred College in its quest for knowledge.”
“India’s death bed repentance was a miracle too,” Irma said wistfully, trying to remember the India she once knew.
“A miracle?… I don’t think so,” replied Blaze, stroking his beard, “that woman was barely alive. All she did was move her little finger when Madelyn asked her a question. I’d hardly call that repentance. She didn’t even open her eyes!”
“In the Roman Catholic Church,” Mortimer explained thoughtfully, “it’s not necessary to even be awake during the Last Rites. But Madelyn didn’t really give her such rites; she improvised too much for that. She was trying to save her soul, what was left of it anyhow.” “In our faith,” he said, nodding affectionately to his hosts, “it’s customary for death bed repenters like India to spend time in Purgatory. I don’t know if she’ll be going there now…. I’m not so sure about myself.”
“Mortimer,” Elijah said, raising a glass of water up as a toast, “I don’t believe in Purgatory nor the efficacy of prayers to the Saints practiced in your church, but I’ve always believed in friendship. I’ve learned, against my own nature, that God does, in fact, work in mysterious ways. You, gentleman, are proof of it. Madelyn is certainly proof of it too, and this dear child I once carried in my coat is the greatest proof of it all.”
“I shall toast to you both,” Irma said, raising her glass.
“Here, here,” nodded Blaze, joining the toast, “and to Madelyn and Lilith too!”