This is the last short story I wrote for October and Halloween this year. Lux has her hands full when she rescues a black cat:
Where did the keys to my yellow Bentley get to? Probably in the bottom of my purse. I was digging for them on my way out of the office supply store when I heard a cat yowl behind the building. A loud, panicked screech. It made the hairs on my arms rise. And then silence. Something must have scared it.
I tossed my paper and ink cartridges on the passenger seat when the yowl shrieked again. Nuts! That cat sounded like it was in trouble. I went to see what was happening.
As I rounded the corner of the building, I spotted a teenage boy with a sharp stick poking a black cat. He’d tied its back paw to a dumpster. What a little sicko. “Hey! What are you doing?”
The kid whirled to look at me. With a smirk, he jerked his thumb toward the front parking lot. “Nothin’ to do with you. Keep moving unless you want poked, too.”
A real charmer. I raised an eyebrow and pulled my cellphone out of my purse. “You know there’s a large fine for hurting animals, don’t you?”
“If you get to make the call.” He stared at me. A challenge.
This kid had pushed his luck. I put my purse on the cement and took the stance I used for martial arts when I sparred with Keon. “Do you think that little stick’s going to help you? Let’s see who walks away from this.”
His eyes widened in surprise, then he tossed his stick down. “I can find other strays. He’s yours, lady.” And he sprinted away.
I shivered. I didn’t want to think about the kid roaming the streets, looking for something else to torture, but what was I going to do? Try to follow him to turn him in? He’d be way faster than I am. I’d lose him in no time.
I turned to the cat. It stared at me with unblinking green eyes. If I tried to untie it, would it claw my hand to shreds? I talked to it in a soothing voice as I slowly approached, hand out, palm down, for it to sniff. It flinched when I stroked its head but didn’t fight me. I petted it for a while before trying to untie the string that held it. No luck there. I dug in my purse for my nail clippers and worked more to cut through the string. Then I picked up the cat and held it close to me.
Its shivers stopped, and purrs started deep in its throat. The poor thing had been scared to death. I would have been, too.
“Do you have a home? You don’t look like a stray. You’re too healthy. What if we go to my house, and I try to find who you belong to?”
It had good manners. When I moved my stuff off the passenger seat, it curled there as I drove away.
Once we were home, I hunted for the lost pets section of the paper. Nothing about a black cat. I called the Humane shelter and SPCA. No hits there either. I didn’t have anything for a cat, but I found a low, heavy cardboard box in the garage and filled it with a plastic liner and lots of paper to use as a litter box, then I opened a can of tuna to feed it. If I couldn’t find an owner, I’d have to go to a pet store.
The cat went to the French doors that led to our patio, meowing, and I figured it wanted out to go home. I went to pet it and firmly said, “No. I’m sorry. I know you want to find your owner. So do I, but I don’t want you to get lost or hurt again. You’ll have to stay here until I figure out where you belong.”
The cat never took its gaze off me as I talked, then curled on the floor, satisfied. It was almost as though it had understood me. But that’s silly, right?
When Keon came home from his restaurant that night, he stopped and stared when a cat padded to greet him. “You’re full of surprises, Lux. Did you decide we needed a black cat for Halloween?”
It was nearing the end of October, but I shook my head and told him what had happened. He stooped to scoop the cat into his arms and stroked his fur. “You’ve had a rough time, fella. I’ll get you a litter box tomorrow and some food. Enjoy your stay here until we find your owner. Someone’s missing you right now. Probably worrying about you. You’re such a nice boy, you’ve had lots of love.”
He grabbed a beer, and I poured myself a glass of wine, and we went to the living room to relax. The cat curled on Keon’s lap when he stretched out his long legs. “If no one advertises in the paper, what are you going to do?”
Good question. I pulled my legs under me on the couch and gave a frustrated sigh. I’d been wondering that myself. “Maybe I’ll take the cat and drive around town, hoping someone stapled up posters for a missing cat.”
His chocolate brown eyes sparkled. Glad I could amuse him. “You’re going to a lot of bother. You must like this guy.”
“No animal should be mistreated. That kid’s lucky I couldn’t catch him. He’s the one who should be kept in a cage.”
Keon scratched behind the cat’s ears. “Well this fella’s safe, and that’s all you can do for now.”
True, but in the morning, I was going to load the cat in my Bentley, and we were going to search the city for posters with his picture on them.
The freaking cat was smart. When I talked to him, he listened, and I swear he understood. I waited until Keon left for his restaurant after lunch, then the cat and I took off to drive up and down streets, looking for his home. I was going to turn east when I left our subdivision, but the cat meowed and shook its head.
I stared. “Not this direction?”
It turned its head toward the west. We drove toward the highway. When we reached it, I was going to turn right. The cat meowed and looked straight ahead. I drove straight. I did as the cat said until we reached a little town twenty minutes from Summit City. There was a smattering of houses, a church, a school, and a bar. All the important things. The most important thing, though, were papers tacked on trees, with the words LOST CAT on them. No description. No address. No phone number. How was I supposed to find who posted them?
The cat jumped up to press its paws against the side window and meowed for me to go that way. I did, and after I drove another five minutes, the cat meowed again, clawing at the glass. I turned into a gravel lane and bumped my way to a ramshackle house with a crooked front porch and chickens running in the yard. Was this where the cat lived? It looked like the kind of place someone with a shotgun would step out of, hopefully only to warn me away.
Goosebumps covered my arms, but I parked my car, got out, and opened the door on the passenger’s side for the cat. He ran toward the house. Before he reached it, the door flew open and a thin, middle-aged woman dressed all in black ran onto the porch to meet him. The cat leapt into her arms, and she hugged him close.
A lanky young boy followed the woman outside. His face and hands were covered in red blotches, and he couldn’t stop scratching them. His voice desperate, he said, “Cinder’s home again. I’m sorry I played a mean trick on him, but he scratched me. Will you remove my curse now?”
The woman gave him a withering glance, snapped her fingers, and the blotches disappeared. The boy let out a sigh of relief, then ran as if chased by hounds. I swallowed hard and was turning back to my car, anxious to get out of there, when the woman turned to me.
“My cat found you?”
I shook my head and told her how I’d rescued him. “I live on the south side of Summit City. How did he wander so far?”
She stepped closer, and I got a good look at her. Nothing like I’d expected. Downright pretty with luxuriant sable hair, sparkling green eyes–an exact match to the cat’s–and a creamy complexion. Her brows dipped in vexation. “Cinder never wanders. That silly boy lured him into his car with a treat, then drove to town and dumped him.”
“What is it with teenage boys?”
She pressed her face to her cat’s, nuzzling him. “He’s a nice kid, but he and Cinder had a disagreement. He wanted to teach the cat a lesson.”
“He went too far.” And she’d made blotches appear on his skin. But no one could do that, right? Except…I’d just seen her make them disappear.
She smiled. “I never cause real harm, but I wanted him to learn his lesson. I like that boy.”
Did that mean she had caused the blotches? How? I felt tongue-tied but stammered, “Are you a witch?” Then I cringed. How stupid did that sound?
She shook her head, her eyes sparkling with amusement. “There’s no such thing as witches. You and I both know that, but if there were, I’d send you home with a blessing for rescuing my familiar.”
Familiar? Was she messing with me? I gave a shaky laugh. “I’m just glad I could help. No need for blessings, but I’m glad Cinder’s back with you. He’s a wonderful cat.” And I turned to make a beeline for my car.
“Thanks again,” she called after me as I started the engine. “And I hope this Halloween is your best one yet.”
I didn’t see how that could happen. My life was pretty good, as was. Keon had moved in with me. His family was all here. The only person I missed from growing up in Chicago was Cook, and after my parents had died, they’d left her enough money to get a place of her own and happily retire.
Imagine my shock, then, when on Halloween day, Cook called to tell me that she was bringing her sister with her to move to Summit City, and she wanted to find a condo close enough to where I lived that we could visit often. I disconnected the call and looked at Keon, rubbing my arms.
When I told him the news, he shook his head. “You think it’s the witch’s blessing, don’t you?”
“What else could it be?”
He started to answer, then shrugged in defeat. “I never thought I’d say this, but I’m glad you met a good witch instead of a bad one. And from now on, when I see a black cat, I’m going to be especially nice to it.”
Me, too. All cats, for that matter. We lifted our glasses to toast each other. “Happy Halloween.”