I am only a cat. So they say.
But my mother was a witch. And so am I.
You see, I was born to the street with my eyes shut. Full fangs on display. Screaming. Infant claws stuck out.
Mother recited spells when my siblings and I nursed. She wanted a better life for us.
Though I was grateful for what I was given. The plastic shelter of the dumpster above us. A warm spot against Mother’s belly. Curious mice that tried to sneak by us.
But I must admit I begged for a real home. Endlessly. Used my powers selfishly.
For one night, heels clicked down the alleyway. And that woman stumbled upon a lovely black stray.
I always wondered whether I used my powers for good or evil. But now I must know.
This all has a purpose I cannot yet admit.
But let me tell you a story about how Joey died.
And from there may you decide.
Picture it, the evening of a full moon. Me, laying on the cool leather sofa sprinkled with cat hair. My dinner floating like a cloud in my stomach. Pretty, delectable birds fly from tree to tree. My pink toes trace their flights on the window before me.
At sunset, a knock comes at the front door. I jump from the couch as Alice moves to answer it.
Except this time something is different.
Alice hugs Paige and Gracie and invites them inside. Each of them has a cat carrier in hand. My heart beats faster.
“We have a surprise for Salem,” Gracie says, with a black lipstick covered smile.
“You hear that, Mister?” Alice says as she looks down to me.
They move to open the carriers and I bolt to the bedroom. Their laughs quickly approach me so I duck under the bed.
“Salem, I promise we aren’t going to the vet.”
I don’t believe her; she says this all the time.
“Paige and Gracie have something special for you.”
Alice’s eyes meet mine as she looks under the bed. Her long black hair touches the wooden floor, stained with incense burns and candle wax. She reaches a hand out, black fingernails gracing the top of my fur, to gently pull me into her arms.
When we get back to the living room, the carriers are open on the coffee table. Two cats lay on the rug. My rug! Alice sets me down.
I raise my back in a hunch and hiss. The girls chuckle and the cats watch me. Their pupils dilate. Both cats are black, like me, but they have a touch of gray to their faces and whiskers. One of them is chubby, the other skinny. I relax my posture.
“Excuse my manners,” I say, sitting on the rug.
“No offense taken,” the skinny one says. “You have a lovely home.”
“I’m Salem,” I say.
I move closer.
They introduce themselves as Fred, the skinny one, and Goose, the plump one. I show them around the small house that became my home many years ago. The girls light candles and read spells. Enchanting music plays from the stereo. I lead the cats back to the living room before we miss too much.
The girls sit in a circle, legs crossed. Candles blow around them like a ring of fire. They wait for me to lay in Alice’s lap before holding hands. They recite another line of spells.
“And with that—we ask of you to give us what we desire!” Alice says, her voice vibrating through her lap and into my bones. “I want Joey to love me.”
Gracie opens her eyes and looks at me as she says her wish.
“I want the editor job at the newspaper.”
I flick my tail up and down.
“I want first place at the pageant,” Paige says.
“And I wish the best for everyone, especially my new friends,” I say, though my words come out as meows to the girls.
Fred and Goose watch me with wide eyes. I ask them to join us. The girls sit in silence.
“What the hell is this?” Goose says.
“It’s the full moon,” I say, “we get to ask what we want of the higher power.”
“Oh! But we do not worship the devil, young one,” Fred says.
The girls turn to face Fred and Goose, standing ten feet away from the circle. They make kissy noises toward the cats but they don’t move.
“Salem, why don’t you show your new friends what you can do,” Alice says.
I strut to the center of the circle. I sit and shut my eyes, concentrating on the levitation chant. The girls join me. Our voices merge together before a certain kind of energy fills the air around us.
I slowly rise into the air. I get to the ceiling and hover like a bird of prey. I look down to Fred and Goose and a smirk comes to my cheeks. I let myself float down to the ground. The cats turn away from me.
The girls pour glasses of wine and turn on a scary movie. I wander into the kitchen to scavenge for fallen crumbs. I hear the soft patter of paws as Fred and Goose join me.
“Where we come from, witches are burned at the stake,” Goose says.
“They hurt our kind,” Fred says. “Especially us black cats. We are not safe around them.”
“That’s a myth,” I say. “I will not tolerate this kind of disrespect in my house.”
“We’re so out of here anyway,” Goose says.
“It was nice to meet you, Salem,” Fred says. “But I hope we will not cross paths again.”
I lead them out the back door. They wander into the night, under the full moon.
At midnight, Paige and Gracie call for Fred and Goose. I watch them search the house. They cry when they realize the back door was left open.
The next evening, as I’m eating dinner, a harsh knock comes from the front door. I’m expecting a delivery of catnip toys, so I join Alice as she opens it.
A six-foot tall man with platinum blonde hair and bright, blue eyes stands on the other side. He smiles and holds out a flower bouquet for Alice.
“Joey. What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry to just drop by. But I can’t stop thinking about you, Alice. I don’t know what it is. I woke up this morning and needed to see you.”
“Thank you for these,” Alice says as she takes the flowers. “Would you like to come in?”
Joey steps inside and follows Alice to the kitchen. I return to my dinner.
“You let him eat in the kitchen?”
“Yeah,” Alice laughs. “Where else?”
“I don’t know. Somewhere away from where you eat.”
“C’mon. He’s only a cat.”
I lick my bowl clean, feeling his stark blue eyes boring into the back of my head. I turn and see his hand reaching down to pet me. I cringe at the contact of his large hand, rough against my back. But I allow a few pets.
“See, he likes you,” Alice says.
I raise my paw, claws out, and swat at his hand. It’s a quick swipe, nothing deep.
“Salem! I’m sorry. He’s never done that before.”
“That’s why I hate cats.”
I run to the bedroom. Their voices waft down the hall. They talk about work, sports, I don’t even know what else.
Hours later, I awake to them walking into the room. Their arms are wrapped around each other, lips locked together. Alice turns around, breaking away from Joey, to shoo me off the bed.
The door slams shut behind me.
Joey’s visits quickly become regular. A lot more often than I prefer. But he buys me new toys and treats. My new favorite toy is a red octopus on a stick that chirps like a bird when it bounces.
And Alice really seems to like him. That’s why I tolerate him showing up with a bunch of moving boxes one day.
After Joey moves in, I never see the witches. They call, leave messages. They ask if we’ve seen Fred or Goose. They update us on their spells, Gracie got the editor job; Paige won the pageant. Alice never calls them back.
Weeks pass. Then months. We miss several full moons. I try to make my own tradition, a nightly walk under each one. Then I sit under an elm tree and recite spells. But none of them seem to work when I’m alone.
Some of those nights, I cry out to my mother.
On others, I wish, and cast spells, for Joey to disappear.
Because he yells. Deletes her phone messages. Stops her from seeing friends. He complains she doesn’t cook dinner or pack his lunch. There’s not enough groceries in the fridge. She leaves her slippers around the house. Her cat meows all night and keeps him up. There’s cat hair on his clothes. Litter all over the bathroom floor and embedded into the fibers of the carpet.
Alice can’t do anything right.
One night the fight is worse than all the rest. Alice’s sobs muffle through the bedroom door. I lay on the other side, pressing my nose up against the wood.
“It was one time, Alice. ONE TIME!”
“No. I want you out of here. GO!”
“You won’t make it without me.”
“Me and Salem were getting by just fine without you.”
“You and that fucking cat.”
“Please. You don’t even try to like him.”
“He hates me!”
“You push him off the couch. You make him eat and sleep alone. No wonder he hates you! Sometimes I do too.”
A mirror shatters. Crystals fly against the wall; they shatter and fall to the ground.
I paw at the door.
“Now that stupid cat is scratching at the door!”
Joey throws the door open and grabs me by the scruff of my neck. He walks me to the front door. I squirm under his grasp, but my claws can’t reach his arm.
“You little shit,” he says.
He opens the door and throws me onto the porch step like a sack of garbage. I land on my feet, of course. I cower and pull my ears back as I look up at him.
“All you ever do is get in the way. Don’t come back.”
Joey slams the door and locks it.
I walk around outside, pass under the elm tree, and sit by the trunk. A full moon shines above me and I’m surprised I forgot. If only I could summon the higher power on my own to protect Alice from that monster. I lay in a ball and tuck my head under my tail. I say my protection spells over and over.
Leaves rustle. Twigs snap. I perk up, hoping it’s Alice.
Instead, I see two black cats, one thin and the other even thinner, walking toward me.
“You’re not welcome here,” I say as they near me.
“We heard what that man said,” Goose says. “Wowza.”
I curl back up into a ball and use my paw to cover my eyes.
“He kick you out, boy?” Fred says.
“Just leave me alone.”
Fred and Goose clear their throats.
“Any way we could help?” Fred says.
I sit up. Goose thinned out. And Fred is nearly skin and bones.
“I thought you wanted to burn me at the stake.”
“We’ve had a change of heart,” Fred says. “Life on the street isn’t what we remembered.”
“What do you want?”
“Those nice girls we ran from? We’d like to go back.”
“Well, I don’t know.” I pace back and forth in front of them. I stop, make eye contact with them, and lick the top of my paw. “That’s gonna cost you.”
“We’ll do anything,” Goose says, nodding his head rapidly.
“Yes, anything young one,” Fred says.
“I need that monster gone. And the only way I can do that is by casting a spell. But I need more manpower. I need you two to join me.”
“Oh no, my boy,” Fred says. “We won’t perform witchcraft. That’s absurd!”
I turn and pretend to walk away from them, flicking my tail. I get a few paces away before they eagerly agree. I send them after a few props, some twigs, berries, whatever they can find for a makeshift circle. We spend an hour forming it under the moonlight.
I look to the house every few minutes. The bedroom light shines brighter than the moon. Voices muffle through the walls. My heart races. I think of my mother, how she wanted a better life for me. And how desperately I want a better life for Alice.
“We need to do this now,” I say. “There’s no more time.”
Our three bodies form the circle. We shut our eyes and I recite the spell.
“And with that—we ask of you to give us what we desire!” I say. “I want Joey to disappear from Alice and I’s lives.”
“Joey needs to go bye-bye,” Goose says.
“I wish for Joey to go away, far away, and never come back,” Fred says.
The energy we drew hangs above us. We let it rest for a moment before releasing our concentration. I take a deep breath.
“Well, now what?” Goose says.
“What about our homes?” Fred says.
“After the monster’s gone, hopefully soon, I’ll find a way to let you inside. Stick around.”
We lay together under my elm tree and fall asleep. When I wake, the sun is up and I panic. I run to the front door.
“Oh, Salem,” Alice says as she swings the door open. “There you are. I was so worried.”
Alice bends down and scoops me into her arms. I nestle my head into her warm chest and purr. She sets me down by my bowl in the living room, filled with a can of food. Her long fingernails gently scratch through my black hair and I purr. She sniffles.
“I’m sorry, Salem,” she says in a whisper. “I know he threw you out last night. He’s gone now. And he’s not coming back.”
I finish my food as Alice paces around the house. She whispers to herself. She carries empty boxes in from the garage and starts throwing things around in the bedroom. She shoves clothes and other items into the boxes.
Alice carries the boxes to the curb. When she’s done, her face is covered with sweat instead of tears. She sits beside me on the couch and pets me.
“When he gets home, I’m going to tell him he has to leave. It will all be over soon.”
I look into her eyes and meow.
“I’m going to let you outside. Just in case. That way you’ll be safe.”
When I get outside, I join Fred and Goose under my elm tree. I snuggle beside them. I’m glad to not be alone. I take a long nap, only waking to the sound of Joey’s car pulling into the driveway.
I peer around the tree, watching his face turn confused when he notices his belongings on the curb. He marches up to the house. My heart pounds in my chest in the same rhythm as his fist rapping on the door.
Muffled voices quickly turn into shouting. The front door slams. Alice screams. She walks toward him, slapping him in the chest and yelling in his face as he walks toward the curb.
“You’re leaving or I’m calling the police.”
“You need me!”
“I never needed you.”
“Alice, please. Let’s just talk this through.”
A loud, thundering engine noise comes from the end of the street. It grows louder. They don’t notice.
“Just give me one more chance, Alice. One more.”
“I’ve given you a hundred chances!”
“I’ll be better. I promise, Alice. I love you.”
“You’ve never loved me. I—I, never wanted it to be like this.”
“What do you mean?”
The engine noise becomes so loud I have to cover my ears with my paws. It only makes them shout louder.
“I put a spell on you!” Alice says. “And it was the biggest—,” she pushes him a little closer to the curb. His heels meet his cardboard belongings. “Mistake—,” Joey’s foot catches on a box. The engine grows louder. I can see a sports car now. Just a block away. It’s coming at full force. “Of my life—,” Alice gives Joey one last shove and his body topples over the boxes, falling onto the road.
Before either of them could acknowledge the car coming toward him, it plows over his rigid body. The wheels skid and sputter as they crawl over him. The frame of the car smacks back down onto the pavement, like it simply went over a speed bump. The tires smear what’s left of Joey across Sunshine Ave, like a butterknife spreading strawberry jam over toast. Pieces of him trail behind the car as it continues its wild chase through the suburb.
Alice screams. She drops to her knees and covers her mouth. Tears fall from her eyes and she steps out into the street, toward his smeared body. She tries to scoop it back together. I turn away at the sight.
After that, people from all over town bring over casseroles and trays of dessert for Alice. Some even bring me treats and toys. They always have something profound to say about the accident and give Alice a hug. Everyone pretends like it was some huge loss. But I could see a little gleam in Alice’s eye. Something that assures me I did the right thing.
At the next full moon, the first circle in over six months takes place in the living room.
I sneak Fred and Goose inside and they wait for the right moment to rejoin Paige and Gracie.
“We need to be more careful with what we do,” Alice says.
“Which spell do you think caused it?” Paige asks, reaching an arm out to rest on Alice’s.
“I wanted him to love me. Remember? But look what happened. I killed him. It’s terrible.”
“So was the way he treated you.”
“And Salem. That should’ve been my first warning.”
“You can never trust a man who doesn’t like cats,” Gracie says. “That’s one of the biggest red flags. I wrote about it for the paper.”
“Salem,” Alice says. “He saved me. Again.”
They all turn to look at me.
“The night I first brought him home, I knew he was special. It was like he was waiting for me. Weren’t you?”
I walk over to Alice and lay in her lap. I meow again, my signal to Fred and Goose to come out. The girls gasp and scoop the cats into their arms. They cry. I almost do.
Alice brings me into her arms. She buries her nose in my fur and takes in a deep breath.
“Thank you,” she says.
And so was the beginning of the rest of our lives.
Have you come to a decision?
You see, I am about to leave this world the same way I came to it.
I have already parted with my dear friends. Sometimes they come fast, those ends.
So I must know whether I have been good or evil.
Have I abused my powers, through these small hours?
Or if my practice was holy, perhaps, could I die slowly?
Spend my last minutes with my Alice.
Maybe one night, see my mother again.
Know the real answer. But not to cry.
For I am only a cat.
As they say.
Amanda Eiden is a writer and artist from rural Minnesota. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Concordia University, St. Paul. Her work has appeared in Mystery Tribune and Five on the Fifth, and is forthcoming in White Wall Review. When she’s not writing or drawing, she loves to spend time outdoors watching birds and playing with her dog and cats.