A ring of light, soft and growing brighter, appears in the middle of the yard. Energy crackles in the air, static fuzzing across the front lawn, creeping close to the family home. The source location is unknown, but the race of power, the power’s route… well… the route appears akin to something like that of a wormhole—bringing magick from elsewhere in New Orleans right to the family’s front door.
My ears perk and my head torques. I lift from my casual lounging spot upon the porch to a full stand.
Whatever comes our way, I am ready.
A bike and bodies drop out of nowhere, topple into the grass. Two girls—one I recognize and one I do not.
Miri’s sister Belle is the one with which I am familiar. She jolts to a sit on the front lawn. A dull, dark haze, small but concerning, clouds her aura. She blinks wide and takes in her surroundings.
Beside her, another girl rubs her head. Belle’s friend, I presume. Her aura appears normal and uninfected.
I stretch the knots from my muscles, study the energy surrounding the girls—Belle especially—and contemplate my next step.
First, I must gather more information.
“How did you do that… and where are we?” Belle’s friend asks.
Belle clearly brought them here with the use of magick. Is the friend unaware?
But why the instant arrival? Were they running from something?
I descend the porch steps and approach. Rub my head against Belle, both in a form of comfort, and in an attempt to assess her condition and tap into her thoughts. Only, her every thought is about the other girl, Luna. Belle is preoccupied with the girl’s safety.
Not helpful in detecting the source of Belle’s infection.
Ruth steps out the front door, onto the porch. “That looked like a hard landing. Are you girls alright?”
Belle doesn’t reply. Her blurred gaze is fixed forward, as if staring through Ruth, her grandmother. Belle’s stomach gurgles, and she lurches sideways, vomits on the lawn.
My nose twitches, my senses detecting a foreign element in the upchuck that doesn’t belong in a human’s system. What is in Belle’s body, and how did it get there?
All her thoughts tell me is that she feels less than ideal and is determined to protect Luna from the men.
“Oh dear. Oh goodness.” Ruth rushes toward Belle and slips her arms around her, helps lift her to a stand. “Let’s get you inside.”
I agree. Better to assess the situation within the magickal protections of the home. The home’s wards might work to push the contagion from Belle’s body and energy.
Ruth and Belle head toward the house, but Belle’s friend Luna lingers on the front lawn. Never having been to the house of magick and family of witches, no doubt she is uncertain, possibly leery. Aware or not of the truth, even the average human senses have to pick up on the intense matrix of power. Something inside of her has to be tickling. She shifts her weight and sways in place.
“Come on, child.” Ruth motions for Luna to follow. “I’m not going to bite you. I’m Belle’s grandma. I just want to see that you are both properly cared for.”
I circle Luna’s feet, press and rub my head against her legs. Unlike Belle, Luna’s thoughts contain a tad more information. They are spinning in a continuous cycle, analyzing the events leading to the girls’ arrival on the lawn. The men Belle is concerned about, are in many of the images I gleam. The bokor’s henchmen. I am familiar.
I call out to Luna, asking for her attention, hoping to gather more information from her touch. She bends down and runs her fingers through my hair. Her thoughts wash over me.
A chase through the Quarter—two men following the girls. Clearly, they are after Luna, not Belle.
A short stop at Cafe Du Monde. Unexpected beignets delivered to the table and Luna’s shock at Belle enjoying the pastries without question.
The girls’ suspicions are roused, and they return to running… or riding the bike at super speed. The bokor’s men are once more in pursuit. The girls are riding down the street and suddenly take flight through a whirlwind of energy that drops them here, in front of the house.
I raise my gaze and study Luna. Why does the bokor want this girl? Surely, he has enough magick at his command without the sleepy, untrained ability I perceive dwelling within her.
Belle opened a transportation gateway. Wonder if she knew what she was doing. I turn my gaze upon Ruth and Belle, standing at the edge of the porch steps. Doubtful.
My face presses into feline pride. This little witch family of mine is blooming beautifully.
Luna shifts away from me and reaches for the bike.
“Leave it,” Ruth says. “We’ll get that later.”
Luna glances between the bike and my family, then follows them to the house. No sooner are we all inside the front door than Belle rushes for the bathroom and slams the door shut. From the sounds that follow, she is clearly relieving her body of more of the vile infection.
I position myself beside the door and catalog the various scents and energies at work in the room beyond. They pull me closer until my body is pressed against the wood.
The human odors are laced with black magick. Belle has been poisoned. My ears flatten back against my head. Poisoned, likely, by the bokor men, in an attempt to get her out of the way, so that they could grab Luna without any Roussard family magick interfering.
But again, why? Why does the bokor want this girl? What is it about Luna?
The sounds of Belle’s illness are sharp at my ear, but I am also picking up on something else. A static or displacement in the nearby space.
I tilt my head, swiveling around to examine everything within my sight.
Ruth is pouring a drink. Luna is using the phone. And…
A dark, blistering cloud froths and bubbles along the crown molding. Lilac and wild berry tickle my nose. The perfume of a witch I once knew. The one who built this home and set its protections in place. The matriarch of my human family. Eleanora.
I hiss, my head pulling back and my hairs standing on end.
“Don’t get your feline feelers all furrowed.” Eleanora’s voice sweeps over me. “This girl is of no interest to me, outside of the intoxicating scent of dark magick invading her body.”
“Leave her be and go slither into a dark hole somewhere,” I reply and take a step back from the closed bathroom door.
“Who you talking to, big guy?” Ruth bends over and brushes the fur across my back. “Do we have a visitor?” She glances to the spot where Eleanora’s dark form slithers across the ceiling, only she doesn’t appear to see what I see. “You know such visitors aren’t allowed inside these walls.”
True, outside spirit visitors or individuals tainted with darkness cannot enter the Roussard home, but the member of the family who set the original protection in place is an exception. She knows all the loopholes. She is able to come and go through her connection to her places of burial and her blood connection with the family.
My eyes narrow and I allow a seething hiss to slowly release from between my clenched teeth.
Eleanora laughs and only I am privy to the muscle-tightening tone. A quick glance at the other two in the room verifies that truth.
Ruth sets the drink on the table in front of Luna, who is seated and gazing out the window. Neither of them reacts to Eleanora’s cackle.
Ruth spins around and reaches over me, taps lightly on the door. “How are you doing in there, sweetie?” Ruth calls through the door.
“I’m going to live.” Belle’s response is similar to a moan.
“I would sure hope so.”
“Maybe she will and maybe she won’t,” Eleanora remarks.
My head snaps up, and I pin her with a tight glare.
“Oh, I know. My ability to be here, in this house, gets your hairs all on end,” Eleanora says. “But in this situation, you should be thankful. I can foresee what this black magick will do to the girl, and if you don’t find a quick solution, if she doesn’t die, then she will spend the rest of her days in a fevered coma.”
A coma or death? I jolt to a stand, then turn and run for the door, leaving Eleanora laughing in my wake.
I bolt straight for the front door and meow. Scratch upon its surface.
If only the family would allow me easy access in and out… a special door just for me.
“What’s the hurry?” Ruth says, answering my call. She opens the door.
I take a step toward the outdoors, then pause, glance back at her.
If I can manage to press upon her the seriousness of Belle’s situation, she may be able to help. So far, Ruth has been the only member of the family who has ever been able to pick up on what I try to communicate. Belle’s older sister Miri once showed promise, but for now, she chooses to block her affinity.
I spin back and rub against Ruth’s legs, press my head to her calf, and wish her to know. I concentrate on Belle, the poison, the bokor.
Ruth gasps and her hand flies to her lips, her eyes growing ever wide.
“No time to waste,” she whispers… and I race out the door.
I move without pause out of the Garden District and make way to one of the shadier sections of the city. There I will find the location most commonly used by the bokor.
I may not dabble in their magick, but I have always been wise to all the other factions and where they operate.
Plus, I have connections.
If only one of those connections would show up now and whisk me to my location, saving me the long walk. But, of course, they don’t, and so I stay on task, making haste to the bokor’s den.
When I finally arrive at the bokor’s usual hangout, the place is buttoned up tight. One man stands at the front door in a guard-type capacity, and a couple people wait nearby, as if awaiting their appointment and entrance.
I circle the perimeter in search of any open window or door and discover none.
I suspect they won’t bother to let me in if I simply knock… or scratch, as a cat does.
My attention snaps toward the sound of scraping metal.
Several feet away, a high window has been thrust open a smidgen. The space is tight, but I will fit. I’ll make myself fit. The window is set somewhere around five feet above the ground, but the trash cans are conveniently located directly below the entrance. They will be my stepping stool.
Not that I need one.
I calculate the distance and trajectory, and leap, thrusting off the trash cans midway. My paws land on the windowsill in a solid stance, and I pull myself forward.
Wowa! The odor is burning the hair from my flesh.
My nose wrinkles and my eyes squint shut. I do believe they are watering. I consider turning around, escaping this wretched human byproduct, only the need to help Belle is too strong and held firmly in my gut.
I hold my breath and drop from the window to the top of the toilet’s tank, then slip to the floor and hurry to the door.
The door is closed.
My heart thrums at sonic speed and panic jolts through my body like a bolt of electricity. The door is closed!
Of course the door is closed. Anyone who would leave such a stink behind would try to hide the smell from his fellow humans for as long as possible. That explains the open window.
The window exit is still an option.
I glance back and forth between the door and the window, returning my attention to the door once more.
I cannot abandon the mission.
I must save Belle, and therefore, I must proceed forward.
I’m locked in a tiny room with a rancid odor, burning my nostrils, my eyes, the tips of my whiskers.
Okay. Okay. Okay.
I pace back and forth in front of the door.
I’ll have to announce my presence in order to get out of this confinement. That means, I’ll have to be quick once the bokor and his men know I’m here.
I break into notice-me mode. I yowl at the top of my lungs again and again, taking a short break to thrash around the small room in a riotous manner.
Within minutes, the doorknob turns. Someone has come to investigate the commotion.
I am ready. My muscles are prepared to spring the moment the door opens wide enough to grant me access to the beyond.
The door swings forward and I bolt, the doorframe scraping my side in passing. I’m out of the bathroom, slipping between the human’s legs, and racing deeper into the building before the man can react.
“Woow,” he says, scuffling to maintain his balance. “Damn crazy cat. Hey,” he calls out to somewhere down the hall. “There’s a cat in the building.”
And now, anyone in earshot is aware of my presence. Let’s hope they don’t think much of the manner, considering I’m a cat.
I race down the hall and screech to a halt beside the open entry to the next room. Standing, crouched in the doorway, is one of the bokor’s henchmen.
“Here kitty, kitty,” he says, rubbing his fingers together as if he believes such an action would truly entice me into his arms.
I think not.
The man I zipped past to get free of the bathroom approaches me from behind.
“Now, come on, cat. This ain’t your digs. You be lost. Let me show you the door.” He bends forward, his hands outstretched, preparing to grab me.
I hiss and my hairs stand on end. My gaze swings in a tight bounce between the two men. They think they have me cornered, but they do not. I won’t be outwitted by these humans.
I bolt sideways, past the man blocking my path, and dash into the open room beyond.
At the far end of the room, a man kneels before another in skeleton makeup sitting in a large throne-style chair. I get the impression he considers himself king. I know the truth, though. The man in the chair is not New Orleans’ voodoo king. He is the bokor. Still, a powerful adversary.
He makes no move to try and catch me. I suppose he leaves such tasks to his men. Plus, such action might lower his perceived status in the eyes of the individual seeking the bokor’s magical intervention. Nevertheless, the bokor appears somewhat amused watching his men chase a cat. Chase me.
The bokor’s features are relaxed, unmoved into action. His hand is in a constant rhythm. Stroking, stroking, stroking…
My eyes widen. My muscles petrify and I skid across the cold, tile floor.
In the bokor’s lap lounges a long-haired white beauty. She blinks her gold and blue eyes at me. Yes, one gold and one blue. I cannot recall ever setting my sights on such a beauty. Her exquisite elegance has popped an air bubble in my brain. Frozen my breath in my lungs.
Our gazes lock, forever trapping the moment in time.
She straightens and traces my glide across the room.
A slight clank sounds behind me.
I tear my gaze from the snowy goddess, turn toward the disruption of silence, my attention yanked to the large metal object swinging through the air and falling upon me.
The pain is sharp and short, instantly followed by darkness.
I don’t know how long the darkness lasts; it’s different every time, but the one thing it almost always signifies is my death. The bokor’s men killed me. Likely think they are rid of me. But I never stay dead. Blessing or a curse, I have Eleanora to thank for the fine resurrection ability.
I come to my senses in a dark hole of filth.
At least it doesn’t smell as bad as the bathroom did.
My family isn’t going to be pleased when I track this lovely mix of aromas home—trash, death, and bowel movements.
I clench and stretch my newly restored muscles. They feel slightly different than usual. The restoration process is taking a tad longer than usual. The damage must have been extensive.
Beyond the walls of my current confines, a sad, whiney feline melody.
Garbage below my paws, walls and a ceiling of plastic. They tossed me in the trash like yesterday’s takeout.
I may be a cat, but seriously… show the deceased a little respect.
I stretch up to the top edge of the trashcan and press upon the underside of the lid. I press, and push, and thump.
The cat ballad falls silent, and yet they make no motion to departure.
Someone waits for me on the outside. Will they be a friend or a foe?
I thrust upward, knocking the can’s lid clear. In one unsteady leap, I jump free of the filth and land with solid footing on the ground below. At my side are the trashcans beneath the now closed bathroom window.
Sitting on the backsteps to the building I recently visited are two rather untidy cats. The cats, I presume, who were howling up the sad tune. One a dull grey and the other a darker tiger stripe. Their hair is greasy, mangy, and their auras less than healthy. Most likely strays.
Although… I note the can of leftover tuna set upon the ground beside them. That wasn’t there before. Strays or not, someone appears to be taking care of them, if only occasionally.
“You were dead,” the grey cat says. “We saw the human dispose of your…” He hesitates. “Pieces.”
Pieces. Of course. That would have slowed the restoration process. At least, that means I left them a mess to clean up. That’s something.
“We were singing you a proper farewell,” he adds.
“That’s not the same dude,” the tiger says. “Can’t you tell?” He glances at the grey sitting at his side. “This one is younger.”
“Am I?” I reply, and glance over my shoulder, attempting to see my full length and girth. “Sometimes that happens. Give it a few hours and my apparent age will catch up.”
Both the cats’ heads drop and jolt forward.
“But. But. How?” the tiger cat asks. The grey one merely remains still as stone, his eyes wide and his mouth dropped slightly open.
“I still have a few of my nine lives left,” I reply and begin studying the side of the building for a new entrance.
“Is that for real?” The tiger straightens his neck, his gaze shifting from me to his own form, and then back again. “I’m still on my first life. If I die, will I come back like you did?”
My nose wrinkles, my face wincing ever slight. “Try to stay alive as long as you can,” I say, by way of a warning. I turn and start to walk away.
“Where ya going?” the grey cat calls after me.
“I need to find a way back into the building.” I keep moving away, not a hint of hesitation in my steps.
“Why you want to do that?” he replies. “They just killed you.”
“Bet it was the squirrelly inked one,” the tiger adds, regarding the bokor’s men. “He’s always so jumpy and quick to attack.”
“It won’t happen again.” I hope. “I got distracted by a white cat. I won’t get distracted a second time.”
“You saw her?” the chime in unison.
“Luckyyy,” the tiger says in a slow, drawn out process. “She is a drug for my perceptions.”
I turn back and narrow my gaze, study the two in more depth. “They let her out?” The question is intended to determine if a window of entrance may become available.
“Oh, hell no. They treat her like the queen that she is, but sometimes, I climb through one of the higher windows just so that I may gaze upon her beauty for an hour or two.” The tiger cat tilts his head, a goofy expression taking hold of his features.
“She is easy on the eyes,” the grey cat remarks.
“Higher windows?” I take a step back in their direction. “Could you show me where these windows are?”
The two cats jerk straight and glance at each other, then grin at me.
“Of course. We can do that. Follow me.” The tiger cat turns and races toward the back of the building. I follow and the grey cat jogs at my side.
“Why you want to get inside the building so bad?” he asks.
“The men inside have hurt one of my humans. I need to find a cure to the dark magick before it’s too late,” I say, deciding to trust the new acquaintance.
“They often hurt people,” he replies. “Does this human of yours provide you with food and shelter?”
“My family takes good care of me,” I say. It may not be Belle, specifically, who currently sees to my dietary needs, but she might, some day in the future.
“Then I shall help you,” the grey cat says. “It is good to have shelter and food. It would be sad to lose such things over these pointless human matters.”
Pointless? I wonder.
“You appear to disapprove of their behavior,” I say and he replies with a simple nod. “Then why do you hang near the place?”
“It’s not the only place we frequent, but Bo here…” He motions to the tiger cat in front of us. “He’s taken with the lady, and the humans toss us enough scraps every now and then that our bellies don’t complain so much.”
I can appreciate their reasoning.
At the back of the building we climb, leap, scale a plethora of cars, campers, railings, windowsills, rain gutters, and the like until we are standing on the roof. A row of windows rises from the center of the roof to a smaller, extended covering. The windows are clearly intended to let light in. They are too high to serve any other purpose. Several are open a crack, allowing enough space for a slender cat to squeeze through the opening. The three of us are slender.
“Great. Thanks,” I say and walk to the nearest open window.
“I’m coming with you,” the grey cat says. “I want to help.”
“Me too,” Tiger says, glee in his tone. “I need to make sure whatever you are up to doesn’t cause my lady any discomfort.”
I toss him a sideways frown, then slip through the open window.
Upon the window’s edge, I stand roughly two floors above the bokor’s makeshift throne. The space is open, with a gridwork of metal walkways supported a level above the ground floor. At the back corner of the large room, a metal staircase connects the two levels.
Below, thick incense burns, filling the room with smoke and a pungent odor.
The upper pathway is a decent leap from the window. Miss, and the fall would be deadly for any cat not me.
“This is where I usually hang out.” The tiger cat slips onto the window ledge beside me. The space is wider than most windows—a decent cat lounge—but not an acceptable stopping point for me.
The grey cat squeezes through the open window and joins us on the ledge.
“What now?” he asks.
“I’m going down there.” Without further ado, I spring into a long jump. Land square in the center of the metal walkway. I glance back at the two cats sitting in the window. Their eyes are as wide as crescent moons. “Thank you.” I nod, then turn and head for the metal stairs.
“Are you crazy?” the tiger cat says. I don’t reply. My attention is focused on the bokor. The white cat in his lap watches my approach, but makes no move to alert her human, the bokor.
A faint clang sounds at my back. With a frown pulling at the sides of my lips, I turn around.
The grey cat stands on the metal walkway and the tiger cat dangles half on and half off.
The fools followed me.
They could have died.
The grey cat bites at the back of the tiger’s neck, attempts to pull him to safety.
I dash back and help. Together, the grey and I managed to pull the tiger cat onto the path.
“Damn. Really got the adrenaline going,” he says.
“You two shouldn’t have come.” My eyes narrow and my ears swivel back.
“Well,” the grey cat says. “We’re here now, so what can we do to help?”
“I don’t know yet,” I reply. “Just stay quiet and don’t draw any attention to yourselves.”
“Got it,” they both say with sharp nods.
With the two strays in tow, I return my attention to the stairs. Creep forward, coming to a pause at the top step.
Below, the room is relatively empty. The bokor sits in his oversized chair. A couple of men stand at the entrances, and another man, standing before the bokor, bows and then exits the space.
None of them speak until the potential client is out of earshot. The front door creaks and then bangs shut, slicing away a sense of pretense from the room.
The bokor slouches in his seat, causing the white cat to readjust her position. A hint of irritation flashes over her features.
“Boss.” One of the bokor’s men enters from the hallway. The bokor acknowledges him with a slight lift of an eyebrow. “The girl eluded us and is now home with her family.” He lifts something high in his hand for the bokor to see. Whatever it is the man holds, its identity is hidden beneath a wrap of brown paper. “This was not needed.”
“Are you certain?” The bokor leans forward. “You know for a fact she didn’t ingest any of the toxin?”
“None.” The man shakes his head. “Only the other girl, the Roussard kid, got any.”
They’re talking about the poison. They have to be.
My ears perk and I take a tentative step forward, my attention fixed upon the wrapped item held in the man’s hand.
That must be the antidote I need for Belle.
The bokor waves the information away with a slight flip of his hand… and I press tight against the edge of the steps, ready to race down at the slightest change.
“If the girl ingested none, then she will have no need for that.” The bokor flicks his finger, indicating the item in question. “Put it back where it belongs.” His casual point sways to the cupboard pressed against the side wall. The long sideboard is stockpiled with supplies. If the item I need is placed inside with all the other spells and ingredients, finding Belle’s antidote could potentially take me yet another cat-life.
I drop down to the first step, preparing to make my move.
The white cat’s gaze shifts up to me and the strays at my back. Her head tilts, her focus swiveling between me and the object of my attention.
She slips free from the bokor’s lap and stretches, long and slow, then meanders after the man with the antidote. She follows him to the sideboard and rubs against his legs.
“Just a minute. Let me…” he says.
She meows loud. So loud, I startle.
“Okay, okay. I gotcha girl,” the man says, setting the antidote down on the shelf and bending over to grant the white cat adoration. She meows and meows.
The bokor laughs. “I think our girl wants more than your affection.” His gaze shifts to the other side of his throne to a fancy cat bed and dining setup.
“Right.” The guy picks up the cat and carries her over to her dish. Opens a can of wet foot and dumps it into the bowl.
Using my cat stealth skills, I descend the steps in silence.
That is, until…
A stomach growl and sloshing of a long lick—tongue against lips.
The two strays zip past me and race for the white cat and her bowl of fresh eats. Their feet scrape, click, and clatter against the steps. I slip through the railing posts and leap to the ground level, slink behind one of the posts, concealing my presence from the humans.
“What in the…” The bokor says, jolting from his seat. “Get them.”
A couple of the bokor’s men rush into the room from the hallway and the man tending to the white cat spins toward the incoming strays. The cats dart left and right, evading capture… if just barely.
“Catch them or kill them. I don’t care.” He strikes a pointed finger through the air.
Men dash after cats, stumbling to avoid moving felines and tripping over their own feet.
In the confusion, I pin my sights on the antidote and race for the sideboard.
My stride is long, quick, and within four breaths, takes me within reach of my goal.
Cats yowl and men yell. Mayhem continues to roil in the room.
The bokor turns toward me, as if sensing my energy moving through his dwelling.
“You. You live,” he says, and lunges for the cane leaning against the throne.
I jump onto the cupboard counter and snatch the wrapped antidote into my toothy hold. Allowing my teeth to sink through the wrappings, I taste the goods, allow the flavors and elements of the pill tingle through my system and into my blood.
This should do the trick. Heal Belle.
The bokor mumbles words, a spell, and levels the cane, directing its aim straight at me.
The white cat bounds forward and jumps onto the sideboard, landing beside me.
“Go with it,” she says and then growls.
The bokor jerks, sending his spell reeling in the wrong direction, missing me by several feet.
Not wanting to wait around and give him a second chance to do me in, I jump to the ground and start running. The white cat takes chase.
“Is that what you intended to have happen?” I ask and keep my pace at a steady vanish-quick.
“For the most part,” she replies. “I knew he wouldn’t want to hurt me.”
“Well, thanks.” I head for the stairs, failing to have another plan of action. I spare the strays a quick glance. “Let’s go,” I call after them.
They pivot and sprint our direction. The four of us race to the second level.
“Get them,” the bokor yells. “I want that black cat.”
He can want me, but he won’t get me. Not if I can help it. I round the corner at the top of the stairs. The white cat stays close on our heels.
“You coming with us, pretty lady?” the tiger cat asks.
“No. I belong here. I’m just making the act look believable.” She yowls, yowls in fake aggression.
“Too bad,” the tiger stray mumbles.
I adjust my trajectory, head for the window through which we entered.
“I don’t know about this,” the grey stray says, a slight whine in his inflection. “We were lucky to survive the jump the last time.”
“Keep going, straight to the end,” the white cat says. “Trust me.”
Do I have a choice?
I pack on speed and dash straight ahead. Circle the pathway. At the end of the metal track is a small room enclosed with metal sheaths and large louvered windows. The front windows are swung forward, leaving a opening more than ample enough for each of us to leap through.
And I do… leap.
The strays and white cat follow.
I land on what appears to be some sort of control panel. Buttons beneath my paws press and outside the small room, lights blink on bright. The other cats hit different buttons, and more effects kick to life in the large room beyond. Noisy cracks and an explosion of smog.
“What is this?” I ask and jump to the floor.
“Exactly what it looks like,” the white cat says, jumping back and forth across the room, knocking things over and creating several booms and crashes. “Sometimes, the big man likes to add a touch of theatrics to his magical displays.”
“He’s not the real deal?” the grey cat asks.
“Oh, no. He’s the real deal,” the white cat says, slowing her motions and adding a howl. “The extra is all for show.”
Footsteps clang on the stairs and the far end of the upper pathway. The humans are coming. We need to go.
“Doesn’t matter,” I interject. “Let’s just get out of this place.” I examine the space for any possible exit. A door is set in the backwall with a handle I can work with. A lever instead of a knob.
“They’re coming,” the tiger tabby yells.
“I’ll slow them down,” the white cat says, presses buttons on the control board, setting off effects outside the room. On both sides of the metal walkway, explosions of bright lights, loud booms, smog bombs, and crackling lightning optics.
I bound for the handle, slam hard against the level. The door unlatches with a soft pop. With a drop to the ground, I shove my body into the slim space between the door and doorframe, force the opening wider.
“Go, go, go,” I yell at the others.
All three cats race through the opening, and I am quick to follow. The door clicks shut at my back.
We’re in a small outdoor space. The only available path is up five steps. We cover them in a three count, emerge on the roof.
“This is as far as I go.” The white cat skids to a stop. “You know how to get down from here, don’t you?”
“Yes, thank you. Thank you for everything,” I reply and readjust my hold upon the antidote.
“It was completely my pleasure.” Her nose wiggles and eyes sparkle. “I was overdue for a little cat fun.”
“You’re not coming with us?” the grey cat asks.
“I have a pretty sweet deal here.” Her tail swishes back and forth. “But feel free to drop by again and rile things up. I do enjoy a change of pace.” She glances over her shoulder to the door. “Now you better vanish before the humans bust through the door. I need to properly play my role as the loser in our little chase.”
“You don’t need to tell me twice.” The grey cat returns at a run to the path we originally used to climb to the roof.
“Later, pretty lady,” the tiger stray says and follows at a dash.
The roof door crashes open.
“That’s my queue. I don’t plan on coming back,” I say. “Not if I can help it.” I turn and race after the already descending strays.
The white cat runs after me.
I glance back at her but don’t slow my pace.
“Making it look convincing,” she says, answering the question I didn’t ask.
I jump from the roof to the obstacle course of options that will carry me to the ground—rain gutters, windowsills, awnings, railings, a van rooftop, etc.
The white cat skids to a halt at the edge of the roof, watches me drop to the ground and sprint down the street, putting the bokor’s building in my past.
I thank the stray cats, bid them farewell, and head home to help Belle, the antidote safe in my clenched teeth.
I get the sense that the journey home takes longer than the travel time the opposite direction, although, I’m fairly certain they are the same.
When I arrive at the Roussard home, Ruth opens the front door and invites me in before I can scratch to announce my return.
She swings the door wide and steps to the side. “You look oddly younger,” she says. “And smell less than pleasing. Did you encounter a serious mishap?”
My ears twitch back, then forward, but I decide not to grant an answer to her question. Although, I do regret smelling like a trash bin.
She accepts my silence with a soft sigh. “Did you get what we need?” she asks.
I walk into the front den and drop the antidote on the floor.
“What is that?”
My head snaps in the direction of the question. Miri sits in the living room’s closest chair.
“That, I assume, is what we will use to clear Belle’s condition.” Ruth closes the front door. The lock engages with a click.
Entrusting Ruth with my collected prize, I walk into the next room, round the sofa, and study Belle.
She’s on the sofa where I last saw her, although, much more restless now. She’s curled into a ball with a disheveled blanket partially covering her midsection and half draping onto the floor. Her body quakes and shivers, and beads of sweat dapple her forehead.
She requires hydration, yet the water glass on the sofa-side table appears untouched.
Placing my front paws on the edge of the sofa cushion, I stretch to better evaluate her state. Her color, her aura, her scent.
I call Ruth… and Miri if she intends to help… into action.
Ruth appears at my side, antidote in hand. She lays her palm upon my head and I press back, pushing my thoughts and intention forward for her psyche to snag and decode.
“Understand,” she says with a nod. “Watch over Belle while I prepare?” She motions to Miri, and the two leave the room. I take a seat upon one of the living room chairs and examine Belle from afar, listen to Ruth and Miri move throughout the home. They gather supplies from upstairs and then step outside into the moonlight, I suspect requesting guidance and blessings from the moon goddess.
Belle’s aura is murkier than before, the poison no doubt having progressed through her system. On the ceiling above her resting body, Eleanora’s metaphysical cloud billows and contracts and stretches wide.
She waits, as do I, for the outcome. Will my efforts be victorious or in vain?
Ruth and Miri return, each with a box in hand. From the boxes, they pull candles free and set them in a wide circle around the sofa, light the wicks. Belle moves restlessly within the circle of flames.
Ruth sets a picture of Belle on the coffee table beside the sofa, and on top of the picture, she places a white, female-shaped candle. Upon the candle, Miri sprinkles three drops of mint oil.
Ruth and Miri clasp hands, and I stand at their side.
“In the divine name of the Goddess, the mother who breathes life into us all…” Ruth and Miri speak in unison. “We consecrate and charge this candle as a magick tool for Belle’s healing.”
I add my words at the end with a meow.
Ruth lights the female-shaped candle. The burning of the candle symbolizes the burning away of all infection within Belle’s body.
Ruth pulls the antidote from her pocket and half smiles, half frowns at Miri. “You ready for this?” she asks.
“Let’s do it,” Mir says with a nod.
“Very well.” Ruth’s lips pull tight, and her gaze fixes on Belle. The girl twists on her side, curls her knees into her lap, then flops out flat.
“Magick mend and candle burn,” Ruth says.
“Sickness end… good health return,” Miri adds.
Ruth presses her fingers to the sides of Belle’s jaw and forces her lips open, then pushes the antidote into the girl’s mouth. Upon making contact with her tongue, the magick begins to dissolve and slide down her throat.
“With this pill, repeal the dark and free our Belle from evil’s cinch.”
Belle starts to convulse and cough, in dark magick’s struggle to maintain its hold. Miri holds Belle’s arms down and Ruth keeps the girl’s mouth clamped shut until the antidote pill has completely dissolved.
Belle jolts to a sit, a scream expelling full force from her lips. In the abrupt motion, Belle headbutts Ruth, and Ruth stumbles back a step, rubs her forehead.
Belle falls back to the sofa, limp and lifeless… aside from the slight rise and fall of breath in her chest.
Black dust, darker than ether, swirls free from her mouth and rises into the open air. Bits and pieces of the filth attract to the white candle, morphing the wax to a grey. But too much grit flies free from her form, and our candle isn’t large enough to trap it all.
Ruth and Miri continue to chant. “Magick mend and candle burn. Sickness end, good health return. Pill repel… free our Belle…”
The words are energy, heavy magick, dragging our physical forms to the ground. Through the ground. Like tar tugging and pulling at our limbs.
Ruth’s legs wobble and she wipes the sweat from her brow with a shaky hand. Miri groans and drops to her knees, raises her hands toward the darkness. “Come to me,” she whispers, calling the infection from Belle to herself.
I can’t allow that to happen. I can’t allow the poisoning of Miri for the sake of cleansing Belle.
I am strong. And I can be strong enough for all of them.
I jump onto Belle’s chest, yowl and inhale. Inhale with all that I have and all that I am. My inherent gift calls to the poison, the infection… the darkness that doesn’t belong and the black specks of dust kick into a windstorm. They spin around the room, around my head.
“To me,” I call.
The darkness gives no fight. No resistance. And the space around me becomes a vacuum. Every hint of that which does not belong finds its way to me, moving with the force and speed of a gale.
The white candle burns to nothing more than a puddle upon the table, and the flames of candle circle flicker out. The room falls flat into pitch black. My body grows heavy, and the air, the energy, lite.
Belle’s aura is clear, which means her body is clean.
Ruth coughs. Once, twice, breaks into a fit of coughs.
“I’m sorry,” she says to Miri, possibly me, as well. “Would you excuse me?” Ruth leaves the room before either Miri or I respond.
I peek out of the room, visually follow Ruth’s departure. She heads straight for the bathroom.
My jaw presses into my lip line, curving my mouth into a frown.
Could the magick have been too much for her system to handle?
I hope I haven’t traded the health of one for the health of another.
My gaze shifts for the view of the bathroom door, to the sofa that holds Belle, then back to the door. Back to the sofa.
“I see you haven’t lost your touch, monsieur Bastian.” Eleanora’s voice slips over me from her ceiling-clinging, noncorporeal haze. “Still a proficient healer, you are. Too bad you couldn’t perform the spell yourself, rather than leave the energy work to that poor, tired, old woman. Recovery for her will be difficult.”
My tail twitches and my narrowed gaze seeks Ruth’s exiting path.
“You leave the family be,” I say to Eleanora. “I’ll be here, I expect indefinitely, to keep an eye on all of them. I’ll watch over Ruth, heal her if need be, and I’ll see that Belle returns to full form, as well.”
“Hahaha.” Eleanora’s cackle causes my hairs to raise across my backside.
I climb into the chair beside Miri and press my head against her thigh. She rewards me with a soft stroke across my crown. Together, Miri and I sit in silence, keeping watch over Belle. I study the girl’s energy, catching every detail. Her body is healing, and her consciousness is traveling the recovery road back home to us.
She is my family, now and always, and I shall keep her safe. I shall keep them all safe, forevermore.