Happy National Pumpkin Day! As we draw closer and closer to Halloween, I can't help getting caught up in the season. I thought about the leaves, the pumpkins, and of course, the cats. You could say the season inspired this story, and you’d be right!
The more I started thinking about different cat stories, the more I realized that most witches are portrayed as having black cats (if they have any at all), and I realized, that really isn’t fair. What about cats that aren’t born with a beautiful black coat? Would they never become a witches’ cat? That’s the question that led to the creation of Pumpkin.
If cats, witches, and pumpkins aren’t your thing, stop in next week for something different. I often switch between short stories, Dungeon & Dragons tales of misadventure and success, and writing related tips.
Photo from Pixabay
“You will never make a witch’s cat,” his mother told him as he pestered her again about the matter. Her tail swished dismissively, but he stood his ground.
Before he could ask why, his mother promptly began bathing herself. Normally he would have left her be, but he desperately wanted to be a witch’s cat. As it was rude to interrupt another cat while they bathed, he waited patiently by her side. His mother did two full body cleanings and looked ready to start a third when she uncoiled irritably. To emphasize her displeasure with him, she looked him in the eyes.
“Not all cats become a witch’s familiar,” she said with a hint of a growl. “It’s a shame, but it seems not all of my children are destined for greatness.” With that, she walked stiff-legged past him.
He knew better than to chase after her. She was in a foul mood again. It seemed she was always in a foul mood with him. In two days, he would be cast from her side, an outcast. Ordinary cats and witch’s cats did not mingle, at least not without a specific cause.
“She does care,” came the soft velvety voice of Vicara, the second youngest in their litter. Of all his siblings, he liked her the most. He was surprised to see her still in the city. Since she had already bonded with a witch, he thought the two would have left for the witch’s hometown. Regardless, he was glad to see her.
“Then why does she dismiss me? I could make a witch’s cat if I were given the chance. I just need one to name me and to finish a quest-”
“It isn’t that easy,” his sister interrupted. She gave a lazy stretch before sitting down. Her silky black tail wrapped around her feet delicately. “I’ve asked my witch for advice, and she said it is the color of your fur that hinders you so.”
It was customary for a cat to think while cleaning, so he began licking his back as he absorbed his sister’s advice. Vicara had been the first to be named, succeed in her quest, and to become a witch’s familiar, so he took her words to heart. As he washed, he looked at his fur. He stopped cleaning his immaculate coat as he began to understand Vicara’s message.
“My fur,” he said with an uneasy swish of his tail.
Vicara blinked sympathetically. “I have shared my witch’s wisdom,” she said as she stood. Then she too walked away.
Written by Sarah Maree. Everything began making sense to him as he watched the rhythmic swishing of his orange tail. He wondered why he hadn’t noticed it before. Of his six siblings, four had coats as black as night, one had a coat as white as snow, and he had the coat as orange as the sun. Black cats had a reputation for being picked by, or for picking, witches that followed the Teachings of the Night, while white cats had a reputation for being picked by, or for picking, witches that followed the Teachings of the Moon. He knew that regardless of the teaching they followed, witches could be good, evil, or in-between.
Since he was orange, did that mean there would be a witch that followed the Teachings of the Sun? He’d never heard of such a thing. Perhaps if he searched for and found such a thing, he would come across a witch of that teaching. They could then name him, and he could begin his quest that would lead him to his witch.
The joy of his discovery made him itch all over with excitement. To keep from doing anything embarrassing, he quickly washed himself all over until he felt the itch disappear. Calmer than before, he felt his excitement dwindle away as a new thought crept in. His mother had been certain he wouldn’t make a witch’s cat. Did that mean the Teaching of the Sun didn’t exist? If it did, then surely the witches, and thus their cats, would have known about it. Wouldn’t it also stand to reason that an orange cat would then make a witch’s familiar of that order?
Vicara had helped him once, perhaps she would be willing to help him again. He wouldn’t go to her with empty paws this time. He immediately set off for the pumpkin patch, his favorite hunting ground. In less than two shakes of an autumn leaf, he had three mice to present as payment to Vicara.
“I accept the payment,” Vicara said pleasantly as he presented her the three mice. “What do you request of me?” she asked, following the standard procedure for such things.
“One. I want to know if there is a Teaching of the Sun.” He sat as still as death, waiting for Vicara’s reply. The gold in her eyes turned black as her pupils dilated. She shivered as her mind connected with her witch’s. The movement, or perhaps the magic, made her appear translucent as her fur rippled. The shiver lasted for such a fleeting second, that he wasn’t sure he’d seen it at all.
“There is not.” Vicara who was also not Vicara spoke, her voice sounding hollow yet sharp at the same time.
He still had two questions remaining. He had thought to ask where to find a witch of that teaching, but since it did not exist, such a question would have been a waste. Vicara’s pure black eyes blazed, though whether that was from impatience or from the magical connection, he wasn’t sure. Regardless, he had his next question.
“Two. Could the Teaching of the Sun be created?” He waited much longer for a reply to this question, but it was well worth the wait.
“What would be needed for there to be a Teaching of the Sun?”
“A flower,” Vicara said in that same hollow yet sharp voice, “rare as the flower of the night, elusive as the flower of the moon, and as bold as the sun. For it is a flower that a witch first takes her powers from.”
Vicara’s pupils retracted and her eyes shone with their usual golden brilliance. Where before she had looked at him calmly, now her eyes burned with a primal hunger. In one swift flash, she gobbled the three mice whole. Then something odd happened, her paws fumbled, and her legs went limp. She fell on her side and her eyes lost their luster.
“More,” she croaked. “Please,” she mewed so piteously that he wasted no time in running to the pumpkin patch for more mice.
He brought back the first mouse he caught. He might’ve stayed longer to catch more, but he worried about Vicara’s health. He needn’t have worried. His sibling was up and cleaning herself by the time he came back. Despite that, she did eat his offering.
“I did not know that would drain me so,” she said by way of apology.
“You have helped more than you can possibly know,” he said with a grateful purr.
She looked up at the sky, and her eyes glowed with the light of a full moon. Then she turned away, gave a wave of her tail, and left him to his thoughts. He sensed that he would never see her again, but the thought brought him little sorrow. It wasn’t unusual, particularly for witch’s cats, to go without seeing their siblings again. Besides, there were ways for witches’ cats to stay in touch, if they so desired, and he fully intended to become a witch’s cat.
He set off at once for the pumpkin patch. While his darker siblings could hide in any shadow, and his eldest brother could hide in any patch of moonlight, he hid best beside the pumpkins. Since no one would see him there, he could do his thinking in peace. First though, he’d snatch a quick meal.
When he arrived at the pumpkin patch, he found his refuge being destroyed by an irate girl. She was crying and flinging pumpkins, the smaller, less formed ones, at a crow. Even from a distance, he could hear the crows taunting caws of, “You’ll never be a witch, ca-caw!”
The crow’s cries sent a shiver of dread down his spine. It was the same crow that had cawed on his birth, “You’ll never be a witch’s cat, ca-caw!” His fur stood on end. He blamed the bird for the destruction of his private pumpkin patch. On top of that slight, it was taunting another being for a fate out of its control.
He held his breath and puffed up his chest just as he’d seen his mother do. He grew three times his normal size as his fur stood on end. Then, as the crow darted near, he released the air inside his body in the most blood curdling cry.
The crow, which had been more intent on the girl flinging pumpkins, failed to see the orange cat among the pumpkins. The terrible shriek, so out of character for a pumpkin, gave the crow such a fright that it failed to watch where it was flying. A moment later, its world went dark as it flew straight into a tree and snapped its neck.
The orange cat wasted no time in gobbling the trickster up, much to the girl’s delight.
“Well, serves him right,” she said with hands on her hips. Her bluster faded shortly thereafter. With a pitiful moan, she crumpled to the ground with a loud thump. After a moment of sitting upright, she fell backward and lay staring up at the moonlit night.
Not really sure what else to do, he promptly began washing his back. All the while, he kept a keen eye on the girl. In a short while, she began crying. While he couldn’t understand her, he had understood the crows taunting cry. It seemed they were both deemed unfit to be the one thing they desired most.
The girl stopped crying as the orange cat rubbed its soft head against her arm. She desperately needed a friend just then, so she scooped him up and set him in her lap.
“I don’t know if you can understand me,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes, “but I don’t care.” Her attention was rewarded with a soft purr and another headbutt. “Tonight’s the final night,” she said while gazing forlornly at the full moon. “My twin sisters are already witches. Niralla became a white witch and Regalla became a black witch. There’s no way I’ll find a night flower or a moon flower in time.”
She sat quiet after that and idly pet the strange orange cat. After a while, his purring stopped and he looked at her, his eyes reflecting the light of the moon. She sighed as the sight reminded her of the time she had left.
“We’re an odd pair,” she said as she took note of his fine coat of orange fur. “A girl who’ll never be a witch, and a cat who’ll never be a witch’s familiar. I bet we would still make a fine pair,” she said, stroking the underside of his chin. “My sisters used to taunt me, calling me Sapalla the scarecrow. Well, if I’m to be a scarecrow, then you can be a pumpkin that eats the crows up when they don’t fly away.”
He seemed to like that, she noticed. His purr grew louder, and his paws began kneading soft rhythmic circles on her legs. “If you’re going to be my cat, I think I’ll call you…Pumpkin,” she decided.
Pumpkin’s purring stopped. He turned his face up to the girl and meowed, but she didn’t understand what he’d said. He could tell by the look in her eyes. Even so, he understood her. The second she’d called him by his familiar name, power and knowledge had flowed through him. He sprang from her lap, causing her to cry out as he’d been a bit rough with his departure.
She tried calling him back, apologizing for whatever she’d said or done that had upset him, but he continued running. There was a fire in him, an urgency that drove him forward. He could feel the time slipping away on their chances at becoming what they so desperately wished to be. He had to find her a sun flower, the flower that would make her a witch.
Pumpkin dashed around the pumpkin patch. He didn’t know if the flower would be there, but that other sense drove him this way and that as it guided him through the rows of pumpkins. One of the lessons his mother had taught him and his siblings rushed through his mind. He hadn’t understood it then, but he understood it now. The moment a witch spoke a cat’s name, their quest became apparent to them. Finding that flower was his quest, his first quest as a familiar.
His mind kept up with his rapid pace through the pumpkin patch. A cat had to learn his or her name from a witch first, then they would receive their quest to become a familiar, and only then would their witch be known to them. Somehow, he’d received his name from a non-witch, he’d become her familiar (in part), and was now doing his quest to make her a witch. He’d do it too, he decided with such conviction that for a moment he forgot how to place his feet properly.
Pumpkin’s head became stuck inside a rotting pumpkin.
“Oh, dear,” the girl said from somewhere nearby. “That’s what you get for running around like that.”
Pumpkin howled with shame. Their time was slipping away. If he didn’t find her flower, they really would be as useless as a scarecrow and a pumpkin.
The girl put her hands around his belly and began pulling. She nearly had him out when she suddenly released him. Pumpkin held still and sniffed the air. The smell of rotting pumpkin made his nose itch, and he fought to keep from sneezing.
“What’s this?” she said.
Unable to hold it in any longer, Pumpkin sneezed. The act freed him from the pumpkin prison just in time to see the girl pluck a flower from a pumpkin vine. Its five petals glowed golden in the moonlight. Instinctively, the girl ate the glowing blossom.
Pumpkin sat proudly as he felt, rather than saw, the moment she became a witch.
“Hello, Sapalla the witch,” he greeted her properly.
“How?” she asked him in delighted bewilderment.
“I owe my sister more mice,” Pumpkin said mysteriously.
“How did she help you?” Sapalla asked. If Pumpkin, and she knew that to be the true name of her familiar, had been helped then it was possible she owed his sibling a few mice as well.
“She told me how to find a witch of the Teaching of the Sun,” he said before turning to the task of cleaning himself.
“A witch of the Teaching of the Sun,” Sapalla said, mystified.
“The first witch,” Pumpkin said, mid lick.
“And you,” she said with a delighted giggle, “are the first orange cat to be a witch’s familiar.”
Pumpkin purred as he cleaned his fur. He couldn’t have been more proud, and his witch couldn’t have been happier.