A New Beginning
At the very moment that India’s spirit left her, a transformation took place among the twelve cats. At a signal from the Gate Keeper, India Crowley, the onetime witch, detoured to Purgatory to do several centuries of penance for the mischief she had wrought. India, who had once been a member of the Roman Catholic Church, understood the levels of torment she must pass through before her period was up. She was thankful that she hadn’t been sent directly to hell where Nebo had returned.
The reversal first came to the twelve the cats in a collective dream in which they had been at the Halloween party again and seen a woman in a radiant white robe and flowing white hair confront the Shadowbrook Witch. Now, during this apparent nightmare, however, India fell dead on the ground and the woman, who they thought was an angel, told them that it was over, the spell was broken and they could wake up. Though the dream had been different from the actual event, a dizziness and feeling of weightlessness struck all of the cats as they fell from slumber to wakefulness and transformed back into human form. They could feel their arms and legs grow swiftly, their faces tingle with change, and they experienced a sudden inexplicable chill as the hairs vanished from their bodies and left them shivering naked on the bed.
The bed groaned under their collective weight, collapsing finally as eleven naked men and women returned back to their previous forms. Jim, who had been sleeping on a cushion on the carpet below, was the only young adult who had not crashed to the floor.
He stood there with the cushion in front of his private parts, staring in disbelief at this scene. At first, as they found themselves in a tangled mass on the mattress, the dazed mortals did not know what to make of their predicament. Sam was lying next to Irma with his chin between her small breasts. Wanda had managed to fall directly onto Buck, who thought he was in heaven now. The remaining cats found themselves in similarly controversial positions: Sheldon pinned between Tanya and Penny and poor Neva pinned between Ed and Drew. Tom, who had been lying on Wanda’s rear, was the first to jump up onto his shaky legs. It was Jim, however, who made the announcement, “The spell is broken!” before the young adults began scrambling with embarrassment to various sectors of the room.
“Oh my God,” cried Neva, pulling a sheet up to her breasts.
“Oh yuck, Buck!” Wanda shivered with disgust as the tall blond-haired youth stood there gaping at her frame.
Sheldon, Tanya, and Penny likewise disentangled themselves and, with grunts, groans and squeals, found a respective pillow, blanket and bedspread to cover themselves. Tom and Ed simply ran out of the room, while Sam broke away from the startled Irma, racing toward his closet where his clothes hung.
Embarrassed but happy to be back, Sam began rummaging around for clothing his friends could wear. After slipping quickly into a pare of jogging shorts, he began tossing them pants, sweaters, shirts, and anything else he could grab quickly and toss into their outstretched hands.
Neva’s beautiful chocolate body was soon clad in an oversized white sweatshirt with a university logo on the front, while the blond, exquisitely proportioned Wanda was tossed a red sweater she pulled down to her knees. Buck was able to squeeze into a pair of Levi’s, though he could not button the front, while Drew had the opposite problem as he scrambled into a pare of green corduroy pants. Irma’s spare frame fit nicely into one of Sam’s dress shirts, which draped satisfactorily around her hips and thighs. For the time being, Tanya and Penny settled for stretchable black sweat pants that they yanked up over their breasts and tied up with a string.
When Tom and Ed returned to the room, they both exchanged the sofa cushions they sported for the short sleeve white shirts and dress pants offered by Sam. With their modesty in tact, the remaining men also attempted to complete their wardrobes with more of Sam’s clothes, while Irma, Neva, and Wanda seemed satisfied with what they now wore.
Tanya and Penny, whose bizarre attire generated snickers, found two clean tee shirts to slip over their torsos, slid their baggy sweats down a ways and retied them at their waists. Buck went into the restroom to change from the tight fitting levis into a pare of sweats Sam pulled out of the dirty clothes hamper and a faded yellow sweatshirt Sam had set aside for the Goodwill. Drew pulled a tee shirt over his hairless bare chest, while Jim, who had stood in the background ogling at the women, found himself draped in a bed sheet, since nothing else would fit around his corpulent frame.
The cast on Jim’s leg had, of course been shed with the return of his great mass, but the injury he had suffered remained. He began limping into the living room with the other humans, support being offered by several helpful hands.
“Put it on, it stretches really wide.” Sam placed a pair of shorts in Jim’s hand.
Jim nodded obligingly but had begun feeling the pain acutely in his leg. Looking around for a place to sit down, he looked pathetic draped in his sheet and holding the shorts limply in his hand. Plopping down in an easy chair, his chubby bare legs protruding beneath, the once portly cat caused laughter in the group. Irma had the presence of mind to find a bottle of aspirins and a glass of water for him as she chattered happily with members of the twelve. Not caring what they were going to do or where they might go from this point, the young adults were elated and exalted by their transformation. The sound of their own voices and the ability to walk on two legs was a wondrous experience for them all. After the twelve humans had congregated in the living room, Sam led them all in a prayer of thanksgiving. This time there was no mockery in Drew or Wanda’s voices. There were, in fact, tears in everyone’s eyes as the apartment manager gave all the credit to God:
“Lord, we thank you for giving us our bodies back. We know now that there are secrets that even the prophets and saints didn’t know. The nightmare inflicted upon us by India Crowley tested us as cats and, as we adjust to our human forms, has given us all a new lease on life. Please let our incredible experiences make us better humans now that we have lived these days as cats. Do not let us ever forget your special creatures, for they are specially blessed!”
“God bless the cats.” Irma murmured, and they all followed with a heartfelt “Amen!”
Except for their bare feet, Tom and Ed, whose measurements were close to Sam’s, looked rather sporty in their dress shirts and slacks, but the smaller and thinner Drew looked like an adolescent wearing his older brother’s clothes. All of the girls had to be satisfied with sweatshirts, sweaters, and shirts. But no one seemed to care what they looked like at this point. Without being asked, the women held up a sheet while Sam, Buck and Drew helped Jim into the shorts Sam salvaged from the Goodwill bag. In the end, the portly youth added the sheet, itself, over the garment but as a flowing cape that he fastened crudely at the neck.
They were back. The spell had been broken. They would, they agreed, forever be family and friends. For that hour before the Spell Reversal Team returned, the twelve young adults continued to marvel at their restored bodies, sharing the experience in excited spurts of emotion as would sleepers awakening from a long, incredible dream.
Alice, who had more at stake than the others, had coaxed Elijah to leave the hospital as the priest followed Madelyn’s gurney from the room. It seemed ludicrous to give the Last Rites to someone who had invoked Lilith, the mother of witches, to undo a spell, and yet Blaze wanted to believe that Madelyn could be saved, for it meant he could be saved too. Mortimer had no such doubts. The priest could do no more than raise his hand up in a blessing and mumble a few words before Madelyn was rushed into the trauma room down the hall, but he sensed, as had Blaze, that Madelyn Fontaine, after a long, controversial life, was at peace with God.
“Father, bless me, for I have sinned grievously,” Blaze said to Mortimer as they settled in the back seat of the car.
Mortimer, who had been fastening his seat belt, did a double take now. “I beg your pardon,” he uttered in disbelief.
“I’m not an ordained minister,” Elijah interrupted, as he turned the key, “but all you have to do is ask God to forgive you, Blaze. You don’t need to confess your sins.”
“Yes, Mister O’Dare,” piped Alice, “pray to Jesus; that’s all you have to do!”
As the gravity of the sorcerer’s request filled his mind, Mortimer, the wizard priest, almost laughed aloud until he saw in Blaze’s dark eyes something he had not seen before.
“Listen my son,” Mortimer said wearily, patting the sorcerer’s knee, “I may only be a heretic priest, but you’re still a Catholic, a member of my church.” “Excommunication can be reversed. If you wish to confess your sins,” he whispered conspiratorially to him, “we’ll conduct this in private, so these non-believers won’t hear.”
Stricken with the absurdity of it all, the overwrought Alice began to laugh hysterically then. The long, dreadful ordeal leading up to India’s death and the overwhelming concern that Sam might still be a cat seemed to catch up to her all at once as her laughter grew imbecilic and then turned to tears.
“Alice, Alice, stop it!” Elijah patted her leg gently, glancing at the two men in his rearview mirror.
“Non-believers,… he calls us non-believers,” her voice began to constrict, “a heretic priest says this to a blasphemer, who mocks the Lord. ” “…. This has been one, long, frightful obscene joke on reality, hasn’t it Elijah?” She shook her head. “My fiancé wanted me to pet him and stroke his fur, but I couldn’t help it, I still hated cats. They made my skin crawl. What does that make me, Elijah? God forgive me for not reaching out with my heart to those poor furry little beasts!”
“There-there, Miss Wagnall,” Mortimer consoled, tapping her seat, “you did everything you could for them. It’s how you’re raised. My mother loved cats when I was a child, and so I grew up loving them too.”
“I had one cat that looked a lot like Neva,” Blaze said wistfully, closing his eyes. “Sometimes I think she was the best friend I ever had.”
“When this is all over,” the priest suggested earnestly, “we should all go straight to the animal shelter and adopt three or four. They’re hardly any trouble. All they need is a little food, a kitty litter, and a warm lap to lie on once in awhile.”
“You’re right, Mortimer,” Elijah nodded thoughtfully, glancing at Alice with concern,
“I don’t think I’ll ever look at cats the same way again!”
Upon reaching Shadowbrook Arms, the group grew silent as they imagined what they might find. Would it be humans, they wondered, or would it be cats? With bated breath, they climbed out of the station wagon and walked as quickly as their trembling legs would carry them to apartment 1A. When they arrived at Sam’s apartment, it was, of course, Alice who began hammering on the wood with both fists calling out impatiently for them to open the door.
“Sam, Sam, all of you, we’re back. Please let us in if you can! For God’s sake, open the Goddamn door!”
Wincing at this blasphemy, Elijah tried to comfort her but his own heart was hammering too loudly for him to speak. Irma, he thought reflectively, I almost wish you would remain a cat!
When the door opened, it seemed to do so on its own accord, swinging wide to expose a dark cavern inside.
“Surprise!” the twelve adults shouted.
The last rays of sundown flooded into the living room as the Spell-Reversal Team stood silhouetted against the glow. In youthful exuberance the twelve young adults had treated this event as a reunion in which honored guests had just arrived, but it was too much for poor Alice. As she had done after discovering the bewitched cats, Sam’s fiancée fainted abruptly onto the floor.
“There she goes again!” cried Wanda.
“She must be anemic,” Drew whispered to Ed.
“Someone get a glass of water,” Sam directed, bending down to cradle her blond head in his arms.
For a moment Irma looked with understanding at this poignant scene. The bitter-sweetness of her experience as a cat and Sam’s companion had ended with the breaking of the spell. This scene seemed to make it a reality. Looking around the room at her newfound friends, she wondered if it might also be the same for them now that they were back in human form. Neva and Drew had been inseparable as cats, but now the tall, beautiful black woman looked with embarrassment at the sparsely built Drew. Wanda, for that matter, would still need to be drunk to have a fling with Buck. Sheldon, it appeared, was still engaged to the sassy Tanya. Penny, who sat quietly in a distant chair, had seemed to withdraw back into her old introverted self, in spite of all she had been through with that pair. For Tom and Ed, who had not paired off with anyone in the group, it was not so easy to tell, but Irma was certain that they would go back to their old selves too.
As she found herself watching the resuscitation of this frail woman, wishing that she could have remained a cat and feeling guilt because she hoped Alice would not be resuscitated at all, a notion forced itself into her thoughts contradicting her present mood.
“It is possible,” she whispered, delighted at the sound of her crinkly voice, “after all we’ve gone through, that we’ve actually changed? This experience has certainly changed me!”
She, Irma Fresco, would use every ounce of her energies for the rest of her life, to make it so. When she looked up again, she noticed a certain look in Penny’s silent gaze, a quiet strength and nobility, and there was, though fleetingly, a fond fair glance exchanged between Neva and Drew. A voice broke into her reverie then “…. Irma,… Irma Fresco,… Irma, is that you?”
Elijah had looked at the slightly built little woman with short black hair and almond-shaped blue eyes and recognized her immediately.
“Hello, Elijah,” she extended a small, trembling hand, “would you like me to introduce you and the others to our group!”
“I’d love it!” he said, taking her proffered hand.
By now, Alice had come to, rose up with Sam and Mortimer’s help and been directed groggily to the couch. Blaze looked up Neva to tell her about his own black Persian cat, as the young adults mulled festively in the room. Irma gathered together all three men and asked them to sit next to Alice on the couch.
“May I have your attention!” Irma called out in a jubilant voice. “These wonderful people, Elijah, Mortimer, Blaze, and Alice, whom most of you have met, would like to meet you all once again in your human forms.”
“I’m Irma Fresco,” she began to introduce the twelve with a polite bow. “The young man, nursing Alice, is her fiancé Sam, the sable-colored Burmese you saw scampering around the house. That big blond haired fellow was the big yellow tabby Buck…. This fellow, Buck’s best friend, is Tom, the Maine coon everyone liked to pet, and here is that naughty Havana cat, Ed, and the sleek tan feline Drew, who is Buck’s and our dearest friend.” “These women,” she pulled them both forward by their wrists, “are, of course, the wonderful Persians you liked to cuddle, Neva and Wanda—black and white negatives of themselves. And let’s not forget our brave Sheldon, who had been a Norwegian forest cat, his girl friend Tanya, a Siamese, I believe, and,” “come on, don’t be shy,” she motioned, looking across the room, “… Penny, a beautiful Abyssinian I wished you folks had seen.” “Last but not least,” Irma directed the spell-changer’s attention to the big, portly young man, whose toga-clad body was reminiscent of Emperor Nero as he lounged in the chair, “I want to introduce you to that entertaining fat little calico everyone loved: Jim Courtney.” “How are you feeling, Jim?” she smiled sweetly down at him now.
“It’s good to be back.” Jim reached out and gently squeezed Irma’s hand.
As if this was the proper thing to do now, the four members of the Spell Reversal Team rose up from the couch and mingled with the twelve young adults. Alice paired off with Sam, but the apartment manager would glance frequently at Irma, marveling at how much she had changed.
The stories told and retold from their smiling faces would one day be written down by Irma Fresco in a book. She had learned so much as a cat. Once in the shadow of her friend India Crowley, she had struck her neighbors and friends as mousy and unattractive by virtue of her attitude and drab apparel, but everything had changed now…. And something else, she suddenly realized after experiencing this same marvel as a cat…. She no longer needed her glasses! This realization, though astounding, seemed somehow irrelevant after the ordeal she had gone through, and yet she wanted to share it with someone special now.
Looking around at all her chattering friends, then focusing a last moment on Sam, she turned suddenly and found Elijah standing next to her again in the room. Remembering the warm little black cat in his coat, Elijah’s voice constricted with emotion as he tried to tell her what was in his mind, but his heart was hammering too loudly again for him to speak.
“Guess what Elijah,” she said, clasping his shaking hands, “my eyes are twenty-twenty now. I was so nearsighted before I couldn’t go anywhere without glasses. How do you account for that?”
“I-I can’t Irma,” he stumbled with the words, “perhaps all of you will retain something from your feline bodies…. I can’t speak for the others who were cats…. The only cat I grew to know and love is now a young woman again. I feel like I lost my favorite pet!”
“You haven’t lost me, Elijah,” she promised, her blue eyes flashing with tears. “How can I ever forget the warm haven you gave to me? How can I not love you in return?”
Not daring to misconstrue her meaning and spoil the mood, Elijah very wisely, smiled, but turned the subject his way.
“Perhaps,” he began clumsily again, “… I mean I am several years older than you, but, but—“
“Yes, of course,” she nodded pertly, a lock of black hair falling over her brow.
“I was going to ask you on date.” Elijah began to relax. “…. I’m sort of out of practice, but perhaps we could have dinner and go the theatre or something.”
“I’ve got a great idea,” Irma emitted a girlish squeal, “why don’t we have a party!”
“That’s a capital idea!” cried Mortimer now.
“Yeah, it will be our first reunion as humans!” piped Sam.
“I don’t know,” quipped Neva, looking across the room at Drew, “the last time we had a party like that we were turned into cats.”
Drew boldly walked across the room toward Neva, while Buck, who had finally inched up next to Wanda Craven, felt himself drowning in her gaze. Sam, Alice, Mortimer, Blaze, Tom, Sheldon, Tanya, Penny, and Ed joined this foursome to plan the reunion ahead, as Irma, the very person who had initiated the idea, withdrew with Elijah into another room.
As they looked down at the collapsed bed, Elijah could not help laughing when he realized what this meant.
“Ho-ho! That’s where you cats were lying when the spell was broken!” he declared, moisture willing up into his eyes.”
“Yes,” nodded Irma, “we ruined poor Sam’s bed.”
“So, tell me,” Elijah pressed forward awkwardly once more, “would you consider, I mean, a real date, not just the reunion?”
“Yes, my dear Elijah,” answered Irma, bending forward and kissing his check, “I would be honored. One would think it was you who needed glasses now!”
“I think you’re a beautiful woman Irma,” Elijah tried to explain, “but not in a way that some of those fellows out there would understand.” “…. You have,” he searched for the words, “a beautiful mind and soul…. You have the most expressive eyes I’ve ever known…. You’re generous, sweet, and unpretentious. You were, as a cat, Irma, the most precious miracle to grace my sore eyes…”
Elijah’s voice trailed of in reflection. Irma thought about what he had said and shook her head. Irma, the human being, was, for the preacher, beyond mortal words. He remembered how she had studied her reflection, as she did now, in a toaster in Blaze O’Dare’s kitchen. Now she stared with the same wonderment into a mirror on the bedroom door. The long sleeved men’s dress shirt that covered her little body could not have been more becoming in Elijah’s eyes.
“You are describing Irma, the cat,” she said, looking in wonderment at herself. “Irma, the human, was an eccentric, who dabbled in the occult and, when she was India Crowley’s friend, had wanted to be a witch.”
“Your mind and soul are beautiful,” Elijah insisted, studying her pixie frame. “…. Those are constants, Irma, that make all the difference in the world. You have found your way back to God after being bewitched by India Crowley. You have taken the best parts of Irma, the cat, with you. I’m thankful now that I was a part of this miracle. So much of that small, black purring cat is left in the Irma Fresco looking into the mirror.” “Don’t you see?” his voice constricted again, “… it is I who am bewitched now!”