Canto Ten – Cat Magic, and It Isn’t Even a Black Cat
Valerie and Danny walked back towards Main Street unsure of what to do next in spying on Billy’s weird family. How do you find out if someone is being hurt or tortured by their own family? And what was old Witch Haire talking about? Didn’t she know how scary she was? And couldn’t she just come out and tell them what she knew? Did she have to make kids discover stuff for themselves?
“Are you gonna try to do what she said?” asked Danny, kicking a stone down the street ahead of them.
“Do you even understand what she wants me to do?”
“Do I understand what a witch wants?”
“I have no frapping idea.”
“Hey, I have to go home and face Mom later. She’ll know.”
Val grinned at him. “Yeah, I suppose she would.”
“Look there, Val, it’s that damned cat she was talking about.”
It was indeed the cat the witch had mentioned. It was a whitish color, about the color of muddied milk. It had an ugly, misshapen head that was as flat as the flight deck of an aircraft carrier on top. Valerie imagined little flying flea squadrons taking off from it in formation. Its cat’s eyes were unusually large, expressive, and somewhat scary. It had one light blue eye and one sickly green-colored eye. And scariest of all, it was looking back at her like it was waiting for her to say something. It just sat there in the alley behind the fire station, looking at her as if it wanted her to speak.
“Gawd, you are one ugly cat,” she finally said. It blinked.
“You are pretty for a human. But aren’t you supposed to talk to me about something else?”
Val was startled. “Danny, did you hear that cat say something just now? Without moving its lips, I mean?”
“Um, well, no… Why?”
“What makes you think the stupid tail-yanker could hear me? Did you know he once tied firecrackers to a cat’s tail and it wasn’t even the Fourth of July?”
“Danny? That cat is talking to me.” The cat seemed to be frowning, not something Val had ever considered a cat to be doing before.
“Val? Are you feeling all right?”
“My name is Scraggles. I don’t know if Mistress Haire told you that.”
“No, she didn’t,” Valerie said to the cat.
“Who didn’t what?” asked Danny, confused completely.
“Mazie Haire didn’t tell me that cat’s name, did she?”
“Sure she did. She said it was called Scraggles.”
“If you are capable of learning the knowing, girl,” the cat hissed, “you’re gonna have ta pay a lot better attention than that.”
“Scraggles,” was all that Valerie said.
“You need to follow me down this alley,” said Scraggles in his spooky cat-voice.
“Okay,” Val answered.
The cat leisurely stood up and turned about, showing his somewhat scuffed-up hindquarters to Valerie and Danny. It sauntered in an unhurried manner down the alley. It passed between the fire station and the water tower. Then it went behind the Post Office. When they got to the garbage barrels in the alley behind Martin’s Bar and Grill, it sat down in the middle of the alley.
Valerie and Danny both nearly jumped out of their skins. It was Barky Bill, the dog the Martin family kept to keep the rats away from the trash barrels. It shot out towards the cat who continued to sit with total unconcern. Then, reaching the end of its chain, the dog nearly strangled itself and flipped on its back in a cloud of gravel, inches from the cat.
“I think the stupid dog knows he can’t get me,” said the cat, licking its right front paw disdainfully. “It always nearly pulls it own head off to get me. It is a beast with very little wit. You’ll never hear any talking from him, no matter how much knowing you actually learn.”
“I think it’s cruel of you to torture the poor dog like that,” Valerie said.
“Are you talking to me or to the damned cat?” asked Danny.
“To the cat.”
“Don’t you have some important questions to ask me?” the cat said.
“Yeah. How does a cat talk like this? You don’t seem to be moving your mouth. Is it telepathy? Mind to mind?”
“You are using the knowing. You see what I do. You look at the movements I make and the expressions I have on my face, and knowing what you know about cat behavior, you can actually infer what I have to say to you. It is a matter of your brain figuring out what your eyes are actually seeing.”
“Why can’t Danny hear you?”
Scraggles looked at Danny, making Val turn towards him too. She noticed the confused look of stupefaction on Danny’s face.
“He’s a boy. Not even a very smart example of the species.”
“Hmm,” said Valerie. She didn’t like the way this was going.
“So what…?” Valerie stopped mid-thought. What was the misty purple smoke that was suddenly filling the alley? “What else am I supposed to learn from you?”
“Follow me.” The cat continued down the alley, behind the Hardware Store and into the smoke.
Valerie followed. Danny followed her.
Lurking at the far end of the alley was a dark, cloaked figure that seemed to be wearing a yachting cap, or a cap like the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island wore… a white one.
“Who’s there?” Val asked.
“I see him too,” Danny remarked.
In that instant someone seemed to whip off the cloak and cap… and then no one was there. The alley was empty, except for a small wooden man carved from a block of wood and wearing only a skirt of grass and a super-ugly mask.
“Good Gawd!” gasped Danny. “Did the cat do that?”