Dawn exploded in the horizon, spilling over the rooftops to ignite the day. Because Wanda Craven’s apartment faced east, it was as if a nuclear explosion had erupted outside her room. As the sunlight flooded through the open curtains, its warmth struck her face as it protruded from her blanket, gradually awakening her from a dream. The memory of what seemed to be a nightmare lingered in her mind. The nonsensical imagery playing in her brain had been interrupted by the dark intangible silhouette of the Shadowbrook Witch. Standing outside their apartment in her costume, she had promised them that dawn’s light would be the beginning of their new lives. Unable to confront Wanda or Neva directly, she had thrown out her spell. At first Wanda could piece together very little of the spell inside her fuzzy head, knowing only that India Crowley had stood ranting and raving outside her door. Although Neva had been too groggy to comprehend, Wanda remembered this frightening experience clearly. The memory of India’s horrible behavior last night surfaced darkly in her mind. In spite of her condition after the party, she had paused while calling the police and craned her ear in time to catch the gist of the spell: “... rats you once were and cats you will be!”
Though Wanda had felt threatened by the woman, she could not take India’s witchcraft seriously. When India had finished her business and walked away, she hung up the phone, heaved a sigh and ambled off to bed. Now, on the threshold of awakening, it appeared as if she was having another dream. It seemed as if she was covered with fur. It was terribly hot inside her blanket now, so she struggled out of the fabric, shook herself vigorously, and then jumped onto the carpet below. She wondered fleetingly now how it was possible for a woman nearly six feet tall to vault so lithely out of bed.
She stood there on all fours, looking up at the monstrous bed, and found herself thinking about this funny dream. What came out of her mouth now was not laughter but a mewing sound. When she called out Neva’s name, in fact, it was a very distinct meow. Looking down finally at her feet, she was surprised to discover that they were covered with long white hairs. After looking behind her, she also discovered that she had a long fluffy white tail that she could wag to and fro. This, of all her supposed dream imagery, pleased her most of all.
Reacting naturally to her new self, Wanda scampered excitedly around the floor looking for a mirror, until she realized she should be looking up, not straight ahead. With incredible agility, after scooting down the hall, she vaulted up onto the bathroom sink and looked pertly into the glass. Staring back at her now was the most beautiful white Persian cat she had ever seen. She had, in fact, long fluffy fur on her short square body, a wide flat face and large round blue eyes. As her wondrous tail swished to and fro, she studied this dream image, wondering how it was possible that she was still asleep. Not only was she controlling this dream, she was looking at herself in a mirror. The image did not waver. Her senses were more expanded than they had ever been. Placing a paw on the glass, then licking her image several times and performing other tests, she sat there staring into the mirror.
She remembered reading something about dreams that caused her ears to perk up and tail to rise in the air.
“This is impossible!” she tried to say. “I know I’m dreaming and can control it, which makes this a lucid dream. You can’t look at your reflection in a lucid dream without waking up! That means I can’t possibly be asleep! I’m awake! I’m not dreaming at all! . . India turned me into a cat!” But what came out of Wanda’s mouth, as these thoughts raced through her brain, was the same mewing sound she had heard before.
For Neva Bravnic, the same realization naturally came more slowly. She had drunk more heavily last night than her roommate. She was a much heavier sleeper than her friend. Lastly, and most importantly, Neva’s face was covered by her blanket, which shielded her from the dawn. Though its heat crept into her cocoon, she remained in a twilight sleep, the fragments of the troubling dream she shared with Wanda about the party, filtering into her mind, as her conscious mind took control.
“Meow! Meow! Meow!” she heard her roommate call. When this didn’t work, Wanda burrowed her little snout into the blanket and searched frantically for her friend. “Neva! Neva! Neeeva!” the words continued to echo in her mind, but what stirred Neva into wakefulness was the commotion on her bed.
Jerking awake finally, she lie there inside her cocoon as Wanda cried, “Wake up Neva! She’s turned us into cats! This is not a dream!”
As Neva crawled out of her blanket, Wanda was amazed to find her feline counterpart as strikingly beautiful as herself. She was, Wanda marveled, almost a photo negative of herself: a solid black Persian with a white patch between her luminous yellow eyes. They were, as they had been as humans, perfect counterparts to each other. While Wanda had been a tall, blond woman with an hourglass shape, Neva had been a stunning black women with a streak of gray running through her dark hair.
Because Neva believed, as had Wanda earlier, that this was simply a dream, she sat there a moment watching her roommate go berserk, curious, as cats often are, but totally aloof. Although she could not understand her yet, she followed her hesitantly into the bathroom and up to its large mirror. Unlike Wanda, she had never read the article in Reader’s Digest about dreams. She couldn’t comprehend that such a feat should wake her up. She was, she told herself, asleep and having a silly dream. She had no idea who that other cat was, but found its actions amusing. She promised to tell Wanda about this dream imagery when she woke up.
And then something incredible occurred to her. It was the same phenomena experienced first by Sam and Drew: Neva read Wanda’s mind. The words, however, were sluggish at first, fading in and out as a radio channel going out of range. Gradually, she was able to piece together what Wanda said into one distinct sentence: “Neva, she did it, just like she said she would: she turned us into cats!” And Neva knew, that very moment, both intuitively and empirically, that the fluffy white cat talking to her now was Wanda Craven, her roommate and long time friend.
As they stood there side by side looking into the mirror, they remained in shock for several moments, until they heard a knocking on their door. It was Neva, the brightest of the two, who made the first move.
“Hurry Wanda,” her crinkly voice rang inside Wanda’s skull, “we must escape the Shadowbrook Witch!”
“Where?” Wanda began to panic. “There’s nowhere to go but out a bedroom window.”
“Then a bedroom window it is.” Neva replied flatly. “Either that or wind up becoming India’s pets”
The very thought of being placed in a cage or tortured to death by India, caused Wanda to jump off the sink after Neva and scamper down the hall. When they had reached Wanda’s room, pushed the window open, and tore a gaping hole in the screen, Neva explained to her hysterical friend that they must drop onto the grass and not on the sidewalk below. After stepping lightly off the narrow ledge, Neva, who as a mortal woman would have broken both her legs, demonstrated the tremendous advantage India had bestowed. Not only did she land lightly on her little paws but she hit the ground running. Taking the cue, but at a slower pace, Wanda felt badly shaken by the fall, and yet found herself catching up, as Neva ran down the sidewalk and away from Shadowbrook Arms.
By now an ambulance as well as the police had arrived on the scene. While two police officers began gathering information, the attendants checked the stricken woman’s vital signs before strapping her onto the gurney. Her wounds were given emergency dressings and an I.V. was stuck into her skinny arm. Both men had snickered a moment about her witches costume, but their smiles faded when they realized how badly injured she was.
“This one looks like a flat-liner, Harry,” a squat, chubby attendant announced, shaking his balding head.
“Wait a minute, Ted,” his tall black partner exclaimed with surprise, “I got me a pulse. Looky there, it’s not much, but it’s a pumpin’.” “Come-on Broomhelda,” he re-checked her vitals, “you know you going to hell; you don’t wanna burn!”
“No question about it Harry, you got the gift,” Ted crowed, as the two men raised the gurney up to spirit her away.
“Saved that woman’s soul, I did,” Harry declared lightheartedly, as the older man huffed and puffed with the load.
The attendants shoved India’s gurney into the ambulance expeditiously now. As Ted pulled out of the parking lot and turned on the siren, he and Harry conversed, in loud voices, about last night’s football game. Harry didn’t agree with the referee’s call during sudden death “It had spoiled everything!” he complained, while Ted, who had won a hundred dollars in the hospital pool, was jubilant now.
“Ted, don’t you give me that jive!” Harry spat, thumping the dashboard with his palm. “You might’ve won money on it, but you know that was a bad call!”
“Just like the last election, eh Harry,” Ted replied smugly, as the ambulance hurtled through town. “You were wrong about that too!”
The fearful wine of the ambulance faded in the distance as the morning quiet returned. Anyone not yet roused by the night’s horrors at Shadowbrook Arms must have been awakened by this familiar sound. An eerie silence now greeted the two patrolmen when they surveyed the complex. Not one onlooker was found ogling the victim at the scene. After dividing the upper level and the lower level between themselves, they could find few tenants to even answer their doors.
Just when Wanda and Neva were in the process of escaping, in fact, one of the policemen had, after unsuccessfully rousing the tenant next door, stood on the balcony waiting for one of them to respond to his knock. With the stony expression displayed by all patrolmen, he showed no emotion, though a crooked smile played on his swarthy face. Afterwards, upon moving to the apartment were Tanya Vetter lived, he got the same response. Down the line he strolled receiving the same reaction again and again, undaunted in his work. After repeatedly knocking on Buck Logan’s door and ringing its doorbell, however, it occurred to him, with the same deadpan look he had before, that this tenant, as all the others, was probably not home.
A paper skeleton was taped to the door, a reminder that last night had been Halloween. At that point, a faint frown broke his stony expression, and yet he sang to himself abstractedly as he tapped his foot, “Them bones, them bones, them dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!”
“Well, that’s the last one.” he concluded, checking it off on his list.
A faint shrug preceded his expansive yawn. He was, in spite of his stoic nature, irritated with the reception he had received. Bending slightly over the guardrail, he spat contemptuously onto the walkway below. After waiting several moments for his partner to emerge from the morning shadows, he called down in an uncaring voice, “Hey, Al, you having any luck?”
“Yeah, Tony, but only two: Dolores Jeffries and Frank Harper—both senior citizens,” his partner replied, shielding his eyes from the sun. “How is it going up there?”
“Persona non grata,” Tony declared wryly, shaking his head. “I’ve covered all tenants on level two. No one’s home up here or maybe, like Brer Rabbit, they’re just laying low.”
“Not everyone,” Al declared, waving his notepad. “That old fellow next door in 1h said he heard the victim yelling and carrying on up and down the corridors between two and three AM last night. He also heard the shots. His next door neighbor claimed she heard it too. Unfortunately neither one of them thought to look out their windows to see who it was.”
“How very strange,” Tony looked down at him with incredulity, “our report lists several tenants reporting wild behavior last night, and only two people answered their doors!”
“That’s right,” Al snorted, glancing at his list. “It was those same two who reported gunshots this morning on level two!”
“But they didn’t see anything?” Tony shook his head with disgust.
“Nope,” sighed Al, “not a thing!”
“I suppose they didn’t know who was making the commotion either,” Tony rolled his eyes in disbelief.
“No, it’s just like the three monkeys:” Al quipped, heaving a sigh, “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.”
“Yeah,” Tony chuckled, searching his memory, “…and Sergeant Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes. Remember what he was always saying to Colonel Klink? I kno-ow nawthing!”
Al, who was much younger than Tony, had never heard of Sergeant Schultz, Colonel Klink or Hogan’s heroes but found this uncharacteristic attempt at humor by the senior patrolmen amusing.
“Yes, it’s just plan stupid,” he chortled, looking in the direction of apartment 1h. “The old gent lived right below where the victim was shot but didn’t think to look through his peephole to see what landed a few feet from his front door. Both he and the lady claimed they mind their own business and don’t know anyone here at Shadowbrook Arms. Where have I heard that before?”
“Okay, I give up Al ... Where’s are all the people who attended the party last night?” asked Tony, scratching his head.
“That’s a good question,” Al drawled, placing a thumb in his belt. “According to both the tenants I talked to, there are dozen of young adults and several middle age folks living in these apartments, and yet they’re the only two who even answered their doors. No one around here wants to talk. You’d think there was no witnesses to this crime. They’re hiding out like scared rabbits. Even those two I questioned didn’t see what happened. My guess is that the rest of them are probably drunk on their asses inside their apartments or just too afraid to respond.”
“You can’t blame them,” remarked Tony thoughtfully, walking down the staircase toward Al. “…. It’s like those drive-by shootings we respond to in town. No one knows anything, and even the people who heard gun shots aren’t stupid enough to find out.”
“If they’re even home,” Al qualified, watching him amble down the steps. “I’m getting
déjà vu now Tony. This has all happened to us before.”
“Déjà vu?” Tony made a face. “That’s a fancy name for repetition, isn’t it Al?”
“I think they’re going to need search warrants to investigate this place,” Al declared, making a sweeping motion with his hands. “All this might just turn out to be some sort of mass murder. You know, maybe one of those cult things we see once in awhile. I got a bad feeling about this, Tony, I really do!”
Touched by the enthusiasm of the rookie patrolman, Tony broke into wry laughter. Al was writing his thoughts down in his notepad as they walked. The two policeman now headed toward the squad car together to make their preliminary report which, they were certain, would lead to a full fledged investigation today. Al, of course, believed swat teams would be needed, while Tony saw this as more or less routine.
Officer Al Roberts, as his nametag proclaimed, was a much taller man than his partner. Removing his hat to expose unnaturally blond hair, he sat it down on the dashboard as he called in to the station. Tony took the opportunity to call his wife on his cell phone and chat with her a spell. Afterwards, as the two patrolmen waited for a team of detectives to arrive, they chatted about the strange events reported at Shadowbrook Arms. Tony also took the opportunity to read Al’s notes, marveling at how verbose the young man was. In Al’s thinking, it was similar to the frat house mass murder at the university, but Officer Tony Vega saw no similarities between the two. As far as the practical-minded Tony was concerned, the young rookie was exaggerating again. He had, he reflected, in Shakespeare’s words, made “much ado about nothing.”
“You’ve got this on too grand a scale,” he decided, scratching his bristly chin. “This lady, Indira Kruger (is that what you wrote?), was wearing a witches costume. She was a nut case, who must’ve shook these people up good last night. One of them at the party got mad at her and put out her lights. It was a crime of passion, Al, and too much booze.”
Al looked at Tony in disbelief. “Passion? Come on Tony, you don’t have passion when you’re drunk on your ass. This is a hate crime. Whoever blasted that lady was not filled with liquor or passion…. This place is just too quiet Tony. I bet he went on a murderous rampage afterwards and killed them all.”
“Hate is passion,” replied Tony, shaking his head in disagreement. “Liquor doesn’t require hate. These people were drunk and raising hell when that woman was killed. Some drunken bastard lost his temper last night and blew her away!” “I don’t know why no one wants to answer their door,” he added quickly with a shrug, “maybe they’re frightened, maybe they’re asleep, or maybe they’re not home. But they’re not dead, Al; that just doesn’t add up!”
“Hate, passion, booze” quipped Al, “fear, death, or sleep….Whatever you call it, Tony, they had one helluva party here last night!”
Not noticing the police car parked in front of Shadowbrook Arms, the two bewitched women had continued running down the sidewalk, detouring through the same maze of giant buildings and parking lots that Buck had taken after rescuing Sam. Now, a city block away from the complex, unsure which way to go, they met the pack coming the opposite way. A great excitement arose in Buck, Tom, Jim, and Ed for the female cats headed their way. Sam and Drew held back, as if they were no longer part of this group.
Not realizing who their admirers were, the girls grew terrified as the big yellow tabby and his friends began sniffing their behinds and rubbing against their sides.
“Oh sweet mama!” Buck licked Wanda’s snout.
“These be fine pussycats,” concluded Jim singling Neva out.
As Tom nuzzled his head against Neva’s neck, Jim mentally cried, “No, no, I get the brunette kitty first. You wait your turn!”
Tom and Ed, who were no match for Buck and Jim, backed up forlornly, as Sam and Drew looked on.
“At least they’re communicating,” Drew thought to his friend.
“Yes,” sighed Sam, cowering back with Drew, “but they seem to be regressing now— reverting to their old selves.”
“Hello, ladies,” he called, boldly scampering over to them now.
As soon as he got within distance, he could hear their pleas.
“Help us!” their voices cried out in his mind. “Sam, Drew, we know you’re there!”
“It’s Wanda Craven and Neva Bravnic!” Sam exclaimed. “I had a hunch India wouldn’t stop with us. “Buck, I know you heard that,” he shoved himself in front of the girls. “Buck, you’re not a beast, you gotta keep telling yourself that…. Come on Jim, your about to commit rape!”
“Huh?… Rape?” Buck and Jim transmitted back and forth dully, exchanging dubious looks.
“Yes, that’s right gentlemen. Wanda and Neva are your friends,” Sam continued to reason with them. “You’re terrifying them. Can’t you see that?”
“They weren’t terrified last night!” Jim protested, growling deep in his throat.
“Phew! They’re right, Jim,” Buck settled back on his haunches, a dumbfounded look falling over his face. “I-I can’t believe what I was gonna do! I really lost it, didn’t I?”
“Yes, Buck, and we’re running out of time,” Sam rubbed up against the shaken tabby. “You remember what we were talking about this morning?”
“Oh yeah,” nodded Buck, “you’re gonna e-mail your fiancé for her help. But I don’t agree. I think we should kill the bitch!”
“Not this again, Buck,” Sam could not help showing irritation, “we talked about this too. Drew is right, how are you going to kill her without not being killed yourselves?”
“Yeah, right,” Buck hung his head in dismay. “This doesn’t look good Sammy, not good at all!”
Sam turned to the two females, who, gushing with thanksgiving, saw Sam as their protector now. Drew, who had his eye on Neva, himself, was at that moment counseling Jim and Tom about their behavior, while Ed was batting something on the ground.
“All right gang,” Buck took command, “let’s get going! Ed, you stop playing with that bug!”
The eight cats, looking even more like a pack than before, chatted excitedly with one another on their way back to Shadowbrook Arms. Sam explained, as Wanda rubbed up against him repeatedly, that he was engaged to Alice Wagnall, the very person who was going to help them now. But this made no difference to Wanda. Sam, her hero, cut a fine figure as a cat. Drew trotted alongside of Neva now, while Buck scampered ahead with the remainder of his pack, listening to Jim complain about his hunger and also hearing Tom and Ed’s fears. No one would have guessed that this troop of felines were sending telepathic messages back and forth to each other now.
When they reached the outskirts of Shadowbrook Arms, the group slowed down. There were police cars surrounding the complex. A whole team of detectives were roaming around the apartments now. Buck offered magnanimously to scout ahead, but Sam insisted that they all forge onward cautiously, since Buck couldn’t stop the witch by himself. It was an encouraging sign that detectives had arrived. Perhaps India would be arrested was their collective hope, but they must, Sam counseled, keep a low profile. If they were spotted, someone might call animal control. Thanks to the Shadowbrook Witch, they were cats now, and they would be seen as a pack of homeless strays.
As they arrived at the walkway leading into the complex, they recognized Pedro Garza, one of the gardeners, bending over his mower. It was landscaping day, they recalled. In spite of the investigation underway, a team of workers moved around the complex, trimming bushes and mowing lawns. A second gardener, Jaime Ortiz, was suddenly hailed by the landscape supervisor Manuel Rodriquez, who spoke gravely to the younger man. The men spoke Spanish and gestured vigorously back and forth. Buck turned to Ed then and asked him to translate what they were saying. Reluctantly, Ed trotted closer and perked up his ears.
“Well,” transmitted Jim impatiently, “what are they saying?”
“Manual’s telling Jaime what happened last night.”
“Did they arrest India Crowley?” asked Sam, hope rising in his mind.
“No,” Ed wrinkled his doglike muzzle, “they’re investigating a shooting. Manuel overheard the detectives talking to police officers, who arrived first on the scene.”
“What? Who was it? Who got shot?” The questions asked by all the cats resounded telepathically in Ed’s head.
As the little Havana perked up his ears again, the group crowded around him, trying to decipher what was in his mind. Normally, his breed had sensitive hearing that should have been able to pick up the murmurs of the speakers as if they were but a few feet away. Unfortunately, because he was bombarded by so many voices, it was difficult for him to concentrate. To make it that much more confusing, was the fact that the words he received audibly had to be translated from Spanish into English inside his head before being passed telepathically to the other cats. It was like trying to discern one voice in a crowd of speakers, who were speaking a different language, with everyone talking at the same time.
“Well, tell us already,” prodded Jim. “Is India dead?”
“Yes, Ed, did India get shot?” Sam’s feline heart pounded heavily in his chest.
Ed, with great difficulty, had decoded what Manuel said. By now the gardeners had walked away to finish their chores.
“Yes, I think it was her,” his answer came slowly. “…. There was, according to Manuel, no identification on her, but the woman taken by the ambulance was wearing a witches costume. They took her to the county hospital as a Jane Doe.”
“Poetic justice,” Drew thought grimly.
“Perhaps, but she’s alive,” declared Sam, charging ahead, “and we’ve got time to break the spell! Come on cats, we’ve got to contact Alice, before its too late!”
“How much time do we have Sammy?” Wanda asked scampering by his side.
“I don’t know,” he looked back at the others, “but I have a feeling it’s better for us if India lives. The cure would remain locked up in her head if she dies!”
Reluctantly, Buck and his gang followed Sam, Wanda, Neva, and Drew. The group was hungry and needed a place to hide. Buck didn’t agree with Sam now. It all seemed to good to be true that India was close to death.
“Now’s our chance to kill her!” he transmitted to his gang. “Let’s find that hospital she’s in and pull out all of her plugs!”
“Yeah,” cried Jim, “just like in the Wizard of Oz!”
“You promised Sam,” Tom reminded him as they followed the other foursome down the hall.
Sam, still within telepathic range, now looked back with disappointment a Buck.
By the time they had reached Sam’s apartment, they had passed one of the detectives and two policemen in the corridor walking in the opposite direction. The detective did a double take when he saw the eight cats but was too preoccupied with his investigation to care. The two policemen, Al and Tony, stopped a moment, marveled at the procession, but, after coaxing from the detective, continued on their way. It was not quite the mass murder Officer Al Roberts had imagined. The appearance of the feline troop was merely an oddity to them this morning. Since it was not even twenty-four hours since the commission of the crime, the fact that twelve of the tenants were not home meant nothing to the detective, though it kept alive Al’s theory of a mass murder here last night. Those missing were reportedly young people—some of the very people who probably knew India Crowley. The police had checked all of their apartments and found them empty, which didn’t seem significant to Detective Randolph or Officer Vega. After all, it had been Halloween and the weekend, a time for partying for spirited youth. For all they knew they had all taken their merrymaking to the beach.
It took several moments for Buck and Sam to tear a hole in the living room’s side window screen. While they stood there a moment deciding who would go first, Buck informed Sam that Jim, Tom, and he were going to his place first. There was a lot of food there, he explained with perfect logic, and it might be too crowded in Sam’s place for all of them to be there at the same time. Sam made him promise to return after they had eaten, so they would be in his apartment when Alice arrived. It seemed so reasonable that the other cats would want to be on familiar ground, that Sam didn’t protest very much. But he was filled with misgivings about Buck taking his friends to his own place. In a feral sense at least, the big tabby seemed more clever than he appeared.