The Wicked Cat
The black cat was waiting for them on the path.
They weren’t far outside of town when they bumped into it. Lately, because they’d been running into so much trouble in the woods and hills surrounding Spooksville, they had stayed closer to town. Actually, a lot of days they never even left the city. The whole summer they’d had adventure after adventure, and even though they’d enjoyed most of them—after they were over—they felt that each adventure was making them old before their time. Watch especially had gotten tired of risking his life, and said he had a new goal—to live long enough to get his driver’s license.
“They’ll never give you a driver’s license,” Sally Wilcox said as they walked on a path just east of the cemetery, which wasn’t a bad spot if you liked glorious views of a witch’s castle and tons of tombstones. Spooksville had a much higher death rate than birth rate. Sally brushed aside her dark bangs and continued, “You can’t see well enough to pass the eye test.”
“I’ve thought of that,” Watch, who seemed to have been born without a last name, said. He always wore four watches—two on an arm, each set for a different time zone in the country. “But I plan to memorize the chart beforehand.”
“That would be cheating,” Cindy Makey, always one to be worried about what was right and proper, said. She had long blond hair and was very pretty.
“The end justifies the means,” Watch said.
“But you might still have trouble driving,” Adam Freeman reminded him gently. Adam, who usually led the group, was short, with dark hair. He worried about his height and doing the right thing. “If you can’t see the road and all.”
“Yeah, you might run over little kids like old Harry Hit and Run,” Sally said.
“I won’t be like him,” Watch said.
“Why? What did he do?” Cindy asked.
“His name sort of explains it all, don’t you think?” Sally replied, always trying to put Cindy down.
“He was an old guy who used to drive around in a boat-size black Cadillac and tried to run kids over,” Watch said. “If you saw him coming, you had to get out of his way. He didn’t care if you were on the sidewalk or not, he’d speed up and try to hit you.”
“Did he ever kill anyone?” Adam asked, horrified.
“Dozens,” Sally answered solemnly.
“I can’t remember anyone specific,” Watch corrected. “But he sure tried his best all the time. One day his nastiness got the best of him. He ran into a telephone pole and when it fell down on him, he was electrocuted.”
“The kids in town didn’t want him buried,” Sally said. “We all signed a petition to hang him on the town Christmas tree that year. He glowed in the dark and actually looked better dead than alive.”
Cindy shook her head. “I can’t believe you hung a corpse on a Christmas tree.”
“Wait till you see some of the Christmas presents people give each other in this town,” Sally said wisely. “Then you’ll see that a corpse is nothing.”
“What happened to Harry’s Cadillac?” Adam asked.
“It seems Harry had possessed it,” Watch said. “It drove down to Hollywood and tried to get bit parts in horror films. I’ve seen it in a few movies that went straight to video. It got itself a new paint job and is now bright red.”
“A car can’t be possessed,” Cindy said, annoyed.
“If kids with good grades can be possessed,” Sally said, “a car can be.”
It was just then that they noticed the cat sitting on the path in front of them.
What impressed Adam most about it was how shiny its black fur was. The cat looked groomed by a professional. Also, it had intense green eyes that glowed as bright as any Christmas light. As it stared at them, Adam felt as if he were being examined from the inside out. To be quite honest, he took an immediate dislike to the cat. But he didn’t say that to the others because it sounded stupid to take a personal dislike to an animal. Especially when Sally seemed so taken with it.
“Wow,” Sally said, stopping them. “Look at that cat. It looks like a princess or something the way it’s sitting there.”
“But it’s a black cat,” Cindy said. “Isn’t it supposed to be unlucky to have a black cat cross your path?”
“That’s just superstition,” Adam answered her.
“But since every other superstition in the book seems to be true in Spooksville we might want to watch it,” Watch said.
“Nonsense,” Sally replied. “It’s a beautiful cat. Look at the way it’s watching us. And it doesn’t have a collar. Maybe it’s a stray and doesn’t belong to anyone.”
“You know you don’t have a good history with the things you find to take home,” Watch said, referring to the Wishing Stone, which had almost got all of them stranded on a slave planet for the rest of their miserable lives.
“A cat can’t be dangerous,” Sally said. “Look, I think she likes me.”
“You suffer from a strange belief that everyone likes you,” Cindy muttered.
Sally took a step forward. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Come to Sally.”
It seemed Sally was right. The cat immediately walked over and licked Sally’s hands as she knelt to greet it. Watch leaned over and spoke to Adam.
“I think it must be a very tolerant cat,” he said.
“I heard that,” Sally muttered. “Any of you guys got any food on you?”
“Like I always carry a can of tuna in my back pocket,” Cindy said.
Adam stepped to Sally’s side. “It looks like it’s well fed,” he said, “so it must belong to someone.”
“Then how come it doesn’t have a collar on?” Sally asked.
“You don’t wear a collar and you belong to someone,” Watch said.
“I’m trying to help out a stray animal here,” Sally said. “Why are you guys giving me such a hard time?”
“We’re just jealous that the cat likes you and doesn’t like us,” Cindy said sarcastically.
The cat stared at her with its bright green eyes and Sally smiled.
“Animals can see the inner person,” Sally said. “They don’t judge people by exterior traits.”
“This cat must be as blind as me,” Watch said.
“If you take it home with you and feed it,” Adam warned Sally, “you might have trouble getting rid of it.”
Sally stood with the cat snuggled in her arms. Actually, it was sort of a big cat to carry. Adam couldn’t help noticing how sharp its claws were. He was more of a dog person himself. He’d had to leave his dog in Kansas City when they moved from there to Spooksville. He still missed Lucky, who had been a sweet old mutt.
“Why should I want to get rid of it?” Sally asked.
“Your parents might not want it,” Cindy said.
“But if I scream just right and throw a fit they’ll warm to it,” Sally said.
“I’m still worried it might belong to someone else,” Adam said. “The owner could be hiking somewhere out here, not far from us. Why don’t you put the cat down and see if it decides to follow us?”
Sally hesitated. “That won’t prove anything.”
“I know,” Adam said, “but at least that way you’ll get an idea if it has another master.”
Sally reluctantly set the cat down. “All right. But if a big wolf comes along and eats it after we leave here I will hold you personally responsible, Adam.”
“There are no wolves in Spooksville,” Cindy said.
“Wait till the next full moon,” Watch said. “Hike deep enough into the forest and you’ll see a few of those nonexistent wolves turn into people.”
“Let’s get back,” Adam said. “I need some ice cream.”
They started back down the path. The cat took no time making its intentions clear. It followed them and Sally was delighted.
At least none of them had to carry it, Adam thought. He was worried about picking up any stray animal. It could have rabies, or worse.
Back in town they went to the Frozen Cow, the only ice-cream place in town, where only vanilla was served. Lately, though, they’d convinced the owner to put chocolate syrup on their ice cream so they could haw a little variety. Each of them ordered a dish with two scoops and plenty of syrup. They had just sat down to eat when the cat jumped up on the table and tried to lick Cindy’s dish. Before the animal could get to it, though, Cindy shoved It off the table.
“Hey!” Sally said. “Don’t be so rough.”
“An animal shouldn’t be up on a table,” Cindy said.
The cat didn’t seem to agree.
Right then Cindy let out a howl of pain.
The cat had scratched Cindy’s lower leg. Scratched it bad, Adam noticed. Cindy was already bleeding from four distinct lines. Cindy started to kick the cat away when Sally jumped up to stop her.
“You started it,” Sally said. “You hurt it first.”
“I didn’t hurt it,” Cindy protested. “I just pushed it out of the way.”
“That’s exactly what Hitler said about Poland at the start of World War Two,” Watch remarked.
“I’m bleeding,” Cindy went on. “And that cat is responsible. Get it out of here.”
Sally reached down and picked up the cat. But not to get rid of it. “No,” she said “Animals have rights, too. I think you should apologize to the cat, Cindy.”
Cindy snorted and picked up a white napkin to wipe her leg. “Like it would understand me,” she snapped.
Sally scratched the top of the cat’s head. “Cats
are some of the smartest animals there are. They are descended from lions.”
“And we all know how popular those are in Disney films,” Watch remarked under his breath.
They returned to eating their ice cream, while Cindy simmered and Sally spoon-fed the cat half her dish. The cat enjoyed the vanilla ice cream, but not the chocolate syrup. When they were finished Cindy angrily left to go home for a bandage. Watch and Adam followed Sally home. The cat was sticking close to Sally now, never moving more than a foot from her legs. Sally seemed to enjoy the attention.
“Can you believe that Cindy?” Sally said. “She is so insensitive. She could have broken the cat’s neck shoving it like that.”
“I suspect this cat could jump off a three-story building and not get hurt,” Watch said.
“Cindy got a pretty nasty scratch,” Adam said. “Cuts like that can be dangerous. I don’t think you can blame Cindy for getting upset.”
Sally was annoyed. “Why do you always take her side?”
“Maybe he does so because your side usually
lands us in a situation where we almost get killed,” Watch said.
“I don’t always take her side,” Adam replied. “I just think you act rashly sometimes, is all.”
Sally snorted. “I am spontaneous, not rash. There’s a difference.”