She always said that, but it always was that difficult, every time. After all, witches may be witches, but cats are cats so naturally they have the advantage. Our cat Midnight always knew, no matter what we did, or how many times we tried to hide the flea treatment. One month it was in the kitchen cupboard with the crisps and cereal and baked beans. The next month, it was behind a bottle of newts’ eyes. Once Mother hid it in her sock drawer. This time, it was in amongst all the mouse tails.
‘Look what you brought us,’ Mother said, fishing around in the tails and making cutesy noises at Midnight, who was blinking up at her with huge, bored, knowing, evil yellow eyes.
‘Clever, clever boy!’ Mother told him. Then suddenly she said, ‘NOW!’
Now? I thought. Why should now be any different? But I did it anyway, so I could at least say I tried. I jumped on Midnight, who seemed to be bigger than I was at the time. He probably wasn’t really. I was eight. He was four, and he was enormous. If he wasn’t bigger than I was, then he was definitely stronger. He didn’t even have to bother scratching me. He threw me off his back, and then he went invisible.
‘You stupid girl!’ said Mother.
‘He’s twice the size of me!’ I said. ‘Why didn’t you jump on him?’
Mother didn’t have an answer to that. She must have realised that it was, in fact, what we should have done. Still, I can’t be too hard on her, because I didn’t think of it either until it was too late.
‘All right,’ said Mother, sprinkling magic powder all round the place, hoping it might make Midnight visible and knowing that he would be miles away. ‘Remind me, darling. How did we manage it last month?’
‘It’s no good thinking about last month,’ I said. ‘He never falls for the same trick twice.’
I was right about that, mostly. When Midnight was little, he didn’t notice when we put flea stuff in his food, so he fell for that one more than once. Then one day he noticed, and until we gave it up, he would only eat things he’d caught himself. So then we had to get the little squirting sachets.
The first time, we got him while he was asleep. He woke up, yowled (he had, and still has, the most horrendous yowl) and scratched us both to pieces. The second time, Mother did it while he was letting me stroke him. One moment he was purring like a pneumatic drill, and the next he was trying to claw my eyes out. Mine! It was Mother who squirted him! She had to cast an immobilising spell on him, and I had to have stitches in four different parts of my face. Then the next month, at flea treatment time, Mother tried the immobilising spell again. Midnight saw it coming, went invisible and disappeared for five days.
I forget how we got the treatment onto him when he came back. It might have been the time we put a sleeping potion in his milk, or it might have been the time Mother hypnotised him with a dangly mouse toy and I sneaked up behind him. I got scratched open again, but at least I got the stuff on him. We’d even tried going invisible ourselves, and sneaking up on him that way, but of course that one didn’t work very well at all because a cat’s sight is not his best sense. (It’s a very good sense for him, mind you, which tells you how astonishing the others must be.)
What else was there? A lethargy spell; three big men my father happened to know coming to hold him down; a borrowed tabby queen in season… and every time we hid the sachet in a different place, because we thought maybe he wouldn’t know what we were planning. But Midnight always knew, and just recently he had somehow made himself immune not only to the spells we’d tried before, but to absolutely all our magic. That was why, after all those much cleverer tricks, Mother had her eight year old pouncing on him from behind. It sounds ridiculous, and it was, but it was all we had. He must have known I was there. He just let me land on him to tease us before he threw me off.
‘We are out of tricks!’ said Mother. ‘Infuriating animal! It would serve him right if we just let him get fleas!’
Then it hit me. It was so obvious. We should have thought of it before.
‘Why don’t we?’ I asked.
Mother stared at me, goggle-eyed, mouth agape, like I’d gone completely mad. Then she said, ‘What?’
‘If we let Midnight get fleas,’ I said, ‘he’d be the first to complain.’
‘No he wouldn’t!’ said Mother. ‘I would! They’d get on our clothes! They’d bite us raw! They’d interfere with our magic!’
‘Would they interfere with Midnight’s magic too?’ I asked.
Again, Mother stared at me with those big, boggling, red-veiny eyes. She was (and is) a scary witch, I don’t mind telling you. Then she said, ‘I suppose it would. But we’d better hope it works, darling. He’s due at the vet’s in the three months, and I couldn’t stand that awful mortal woman’s reaction if Midnight was covered with fleas!’
‘We can always think up another trick if we have to,’ I said. ‘Next month.’
‘Ah yes,’ said Mother. ‘Sensible girl.’
They say that you can’t teach a cat how to behave, and for the most part, they’re right. Now, let me make this clear. Cats are perfectly capable of learning good behaviour, but they won’t, because when it comes right down to it they are (let’s face it) evil; and Midnight, I am sorry (and Mother is delighted) to say, always seemed to be a little eviler than most. He certainly proved that you can teach a cat to avoid his flea treatment, no matter how hard you try not to teach him any such thing. But if we were to teach him to take it, he would have to learn by example.
Well, the long and the short of it is that Midnight got fleas, probably from one of his feral girlfriends. It wouldn’t have been a rival tom, because they weren’t really rivals at all; they were too scared to go near him. Some of his domesticated girlfriends got fleas as well, which showed that their owners weren’t looking after them properly.
‘Disgraceful mortals!’ said Mother. ‘I shall have to curse them.’
‘What,’ I said, ‘all of them?’
‘Well, why not?’
‘Perhaps we should just concentrate on Midnight for now. I think he might be starting to weaken.’
Of course Midnight first tried to dispel his fleas by magic, and possibly it worked, but if it did then more fleas soon came. He tried walking through the wall and hoped that the fleas would stay in the house, but they went with him. There was nothing he could do to get rid of them while they gorged themselves on his magical blood. As he lost his powers of invisibility, intangibility, telepathy and whatever other powers he possessed (you never can tell with his kind), Mother began to worry.
‘Are these fleas going to get magical powers?’ she asked, scratching herself raw.
‘I think they already had them, a bit,’ I said, scratching as well, ‘or Midnight would have seen them off. All witches’ cats would, wouldn’t they?’
‘If fleas have magical powers, then why does that squirty stuff from the vet keep them away?’
‘I suppose even mortals can make wonderful discoveries by accident.’
‘Yes, well,’ Mother said, ‘I suppose the important thing is that it works. How will we know when he’s ready to give in?’
‘He’ll tell us, of course,’ I said, and I was right.
I was reading in am armchair one day, covered in little red bites and big red scratch marks, when Midnight came and flopped onto my lap. He was red raw too. I could tell, because clumps of his fur were missing. It was quite a sight. He had always been so sleek, smooth and beautiful. Well, not anymore. He glared up at me with his ears laid down flat, never blinking. I called Mother.
‘Can’t you come and find me, you lazy child?’ she said, stumbling in with a dripping ladle in one hand and a spell book in the other, and green powder smeared on her face and apron.
‘I’m stuck under Midnight,’ I said. ‘I think he’s ready for his treatment.’
When she heard this, Mother very nearly smiled, but just managed not to. She dropped her book and ladle, ran into the kitchen, came back with the sachet (which I think had been still with the mouse tails) and squirted it onto a patch of exposed skin between Midnight’s shoulder blades.
He shuddered. He yowled. He shook his head, and his ears flapped like a dog’s. His hair rose up in spikes all along his back. He looked at me and growled. Then he ran off. He did not resist, and he did not scratch. That was a relief. If I had suffered one more scratch, either his or my own, I think I would have flaked away.
Of course, we weren’t allowed to have it all our own way. From then on, Midnight always decided when he was going to have his flea treatment. On the night of every full moon, he would climb onto my lap (if I was standing, and had no lap, he’d push me down onto the floor to make one), and he’d lie with his ears as flat as paving slabs, waiting for Mother and the sachet. After a few months, we started getting the sachet out on the evening of the full moon, but then he wouldn’t have it. He’d wait until we put the sachet away, and were clearly both very busy indeed, and then he’d knock me over and sit on me and flatten his ears.
That was later, mind you, after he’d been to that vet’s appointment I mentioned (via Mother). When the dreaded day came, the bite marks hadn’t healed, but that was no problem. Mother just vanished them away. Midnight didn’t like it much, and Mother got very scratched, but at least she had a smooth cat to show to the vet.
‘What a patronising mortal that veterinarian is,’ Mother said, when she brought Midnight home in his escape-proof cat carrier. ‘I should like to curse her, but I suppose we must keep Midnight healthy. I mustn’t complain, must I? At least he goes without too much fuss. It’s a wonder he doesn’t try to get out of it. Well, I don’t suppose he remembers the vet’s from one year to the next. Awful woman.’
Exactly twelve flea treatments later, Midnight disappeared from his escape-proof carrier on the way to the vet’s. Mother came home fuming. He was lying by the fireplace, purring and letting me stroke him. In fact it was a tummy-rub, and I can tell you that Midnight was (and is) rarely as happy as that.
‘I have never been so embarrassed!’ said Mother. ‘She thinks I’m the worst cat owner in the world!’
‘How are we going to solve this one?’ I asked, and there my story must end, because we are trying to solve that one still.
A word too far.
A Little Joke
That was the quick explanation. Now here's a little more, for those that care. I simply had to do something with a witch's cat. Witches and their cats are a great favourite of mine, and I know all about owning a cat (though I've never had one quite as difficult as Midnight, even if you discount the magical powers). It couldn't think of anything you particularly have to do more than every month, bar feeding them, but I can't see that being a problem with Midnight; and perhaps litter tray duty, but Midnight is most definitely an outdoor cat who likes his privacy. As for the character, he's appeared before, along with the narrator (whose name you can learn) in Midnight Encounter (to clarify, though, this is totally stand-alone, and actually set before the original).
Now here's even a little more. I really liked 'Midnight Encounter' when I wrote it, and once or twice I've idly thought of expanding it. This contest has not only made me do that once, but it's also made me think of some ideas for expanding the story, so perhaps I'll do that. So, whatever the outcome, I'd call the contest a success (unless everybody hates this story!).
Word count: 1,939
I found this to be a unique look at life as a witch. I had never considered the details of taking care of magical animals, and what difficulties one would have to overcome to do so properly. I also liked the general indications of the characters' personalities and viewpoints: the cat is fickle and shortsighted, yet immensely clever; the author is inexperienced yet wise beyond her years; and the mother is experienced and well-meaning, with the exception of us "mortals," yet stuck in her ways. This brings a certain humanity to the main characters that makes you truly care about the outcome -- up to and including the cat! The author even manages to imply the natures of the mother and daughter. Where the mother sees mortals as beasts of burden -- inconveniences tolerated for their utilitarian value -- the daughter clearly recognizes us as equals, and repeatedly expressing uncertainty and discomfort regarding her mother's willingness to curse us (though wisely never out loud).
The only criticism I could offer is that the length of the story means that the same jokes/bits appear a little too close together, such as the mother's casting curses on humans, or the storyteller getting scratched. While they don't ruin the story, some greater variety in execution, and some more space between them would have been appreciated.
All-in-all, a fun read <img src="e.deviantart.net/emoticons/b/b…" width="15" height="15" alt="" data-embed-type="emoticon" data-embed-id="366" title=" (Big Grin)"/>
I could be reading this wrong, so forgive me if I am, but this line read a little strange to me--->As he lost of powers of invisibility, intangibility, telepathy and whatever other powers he possessed (you never can tell with his kind), Mother began to worry.<---I want to say that first "of" is throwing me off.
Is the cat’s usefulness proportional to how vicious it is? If not, those are some awfully patient people.
Reminds me of my black cat Shadow. While most cats I’ve medicated for fleas don’t care, she likes to flip out when she feels the wetness on her neck. I’ve discovered that cornering her in the bathroom and dealing with it myself is easier than getting other people involved and scratched.