Cats and Fairies
by Stuart Sharp
I always wanted a cat. I didn't have one as a girl, because we had big soppy dogs that my mother loved, and I couldn't have one in London, because my landlords always insisted on no pets. I managed to sneak a couple of fish for a while, but it wasn't the same.
So you'd have thought that when I gave up my job in the City in search of a quieter life in my little cottage in Devon, one of the first things I'd do would be to go down to my local cat rescue centre. Somehow I managed to put it off every time I thought about it. I didn't have time, I told myself. I didn't know how to care for a cat.
And then, about six months after I arrived, one showed up. Just out of the blue. I came home from the gallery where I worked part time and it sat, small and grey and purring, on my doorstep. I tried to shoo it off, because I figured it was someone else's cat, but it wouldn't go. It pawed around the front door most of the evening, until I finally gave in and let it inside. It had started to rain and I didn't have the heart to watch it get soaked. I could always find out where it lived in the morning.
Since it was Friday, I had the next day free to wander round to my neighbours to see if any of them was missing a cat. I didn't think they were, but since my cottage was about half a mile from the rest of the village of Tadmurton, I couldn't be sure. I got to meet a few neighbours I didn't know before, but it didn't help me find the cat's owner. I put a poster in the local shop, but when after a fortnight no one had answered it I figured I'd gained a cat.
The cat had decided she was staying long before that, of course. She'd taken over my favourite chair, cajoled me into letting her in and out as she wished, and made it clear that she wasn't going to eat anything out of a tin. Instead, she scrounged for scraps of whatever I was eating. Well, not exactly scrounged; she just sat there patiently staring at me until I got embarrassed and shared. I knew she was female because I took her to the nearest vet, a smiling, balding man who pronounced her perfectly healthy. I asked if she'd been neutered and, just for a second, the oddest look came over him before he answered yes.
That was the first of the slightly odd things that happened around my cat. There was naming her, for example. I'd been thinking about all the usual sort of cat names; Silver, Snowflake, that sort of thing; when I glanced down at the crossword I was trying to do at the same time. It didn't fit any of the clues, but I'd written Nadia in big letters down the side. As an experiment, I tried calling her that, and she ran up and brushed against my legs, purring.
There were other things. Once, I swore I heard people talking as I went to take out the rubbish, but when I turned around there was no one there. Or the time when Nadia, who normally ignored birds and mice, came back with a big black raven in her mouth, having to walk on tiptoes to drag it. I took it off her despite mewled protests, and found a silver ring on one leg. Not just a tag, but a real ring; a signet ring with a family crest on it.
Then I was burgled. I'd gone to a charity night for repairs to the village hall, because all my neighbours were going, and when I got back someone had kicked in my door. They didn't take anything that I could see, but I found Nadia huddled in the cottage's tiny pantry, refusing to come out from behind a large sack of potatoes. Someone had knocked over a tin of salt, until the pantry floor was thick with it.
There were moments of good luck too. Marjorie, the gallery owner, came round to my place for coffee one morning, saw a watercolour I'd done of the place, and insisted on selling some of my work in the gallery. Joy, the nearest of my neighbours, turned out to have a gorgeous brother named Peter, who asked me out to dinner almost as soon as we met.
Nadia settled into a comfortable routine with me. She'd wander off into the surrounding fields in the mornings as I left for work, and be back outside the front door when I came home. Usually, she'd follow me round the house after that, and share some of my meal before curling up on me if I settled in front of the TV. When I went to sleep, I invariably felt the soft thump of her landing on the bed shortly afterwards, followed by the warmth of her curling around my feet.
It was three months later that the book arrived, tied up in paper and string like a parcel, but with no address on it. Besides, I'd have heard the postman. Instead, there was just a knock that forced me to answer it in a dressing gown and a package waiting when I opened the door.
I opened it and found the book inside, a linen bookmark sticking out like some dainty tongue. It looked old, and didn't have a title. It looked more like an old journal than anything, the pages filled with handwriting rather than print. There were pictures too, of things like flowers and herbs, and diagrams of geometric designs and patterns. I opened the page to the bookmark and read.
'The reversal of transfigurations' it was headed. I read through it and I quickly found myself laughing. Someone had decided to send me a spell book. I tried to think of who would send me such a thing. Maybe Marjorie, as a joke. Yes, that was probably it. Me living in an isolated little cottage with my cat probably painted too clear a picture for her to resist, so she'd sent me this to complete the image of a witch I presented.
Nadia jumped onto my lap and started pawing at the book. I shooed her off, but she just jumped back. Deciding that she was probably hungry, I went to shut the book, and pain shot through my hand as Nadia bit me.
"Ow!" I shook my hand. "Bad cat!"
She sat there looking up at me, then strolled over to where I'd dropped the book and started pawing at it again. I went to pick it up, but a knock at the door interrupted me.
Four people stood there when I opened it. A woman was at the head of them. She was tall and graceful, dressed in a black dress that seemed to swirl like smoke when she moved. Her hair was almost as dark and hung loose to her waist. Behind her stood two men who were even taller. Both were handsome and muscular, with hair down to their shoulders, one blond, one dark. The final member of their party was a shorter blonde woman, as slender and good looking as the rest, except that she had an ugly bruise on one cheek. I noticed with something close to shock that her ears came to delicate points.
"Let us in," the lead woman said, and it didn't occur to me not to. She led me through to my own kitchen and told me to sit at the kitchen table.
I did that too. I sat there with the salt, pepper and cutlery laid out before me as though I was about to have breakfast.
The blonde woman started to say something, but the other woman cut her off.
"You've done enough, Olivia," she snapped, "now be quiet. You two, find the cat."
The two men moved off, searching as they went. The dark haired woman sat down opposite me. I noticed she wore a ring like the one around the raven's leg.
"I'm Elwen," she said, and her voice was the most beautiful thing I'd heard, "but you can call me 'my lady', you understand?"
"Yes, my lady." The words came out without me having to think. It just seemed natural to do as she asked.
Elwen smiled. "Good girl. Now, my niece," she jerked her head to where Olivia still stood, "sent you a book. Where is it?"
I fetched it and put it before me on the table.
Elwen took it, then threw it at Olivia.
"How dare you send this?" she demanded. "I could have left her here if you hadn't. Now, you leave me with no choice."
There was the sound of a scuffle from the living room. A cat hissed and yelped, and a few seconds later one of the men hauled Nadia into the kitchen, dropping her unceremoniously onto the kitchen table. She glared up at Elwen and hissed.
"I see you've adapted to your predicament," Elwen mused, "but you haven't learned respect. Maybe I'll have to teach you that before you die, daughter."
I laughed, I couldn't help it. The thought of this woman sitting there threatening my cat and calling it her daughter was simply too much.
Elwen regarded me with cool eyes. "And I have a way to do it too. You've been here a while now dear, and I know you. You'll be attached to this little human by now."
She nodded to one of the men, who rummaged through my kitchen drawers until he found where I kept my knives.
He came back with a carving knife and placed it on the table in front of me.
"Pick it up," Elwen instructed, and I did. "Now cut yourself. Not too deep."
I did as she asked with a smile, despite the pain I felt. I couldn't stop myself.
She told me to do it again, and I did, then again. Elwen smiled viciously.
"Now cut your wrists."
I tried to fight that thought, but who was I to disobey? I wanted to do as I was told, didn't I?
Nadia knocked over the salt pot.
Salt went flying, over the cat, over Elwen, and over me. As it touched me, I stopped, knife poised above my wrist as I shook my head, trying to clear it. Elwen reached out towards me, another instruction on her lips.
I stabbed her and she fell back, eyes already glazing.
"Murderer!" One of the men started forward, but Olivia stepped between us.
"Stop," she commanded, "who is Queen here?"
He started to point to where Elwen lay and stopped himself, then turned to where Nadia sat cleaning salt off her fur.
"Exactly. And do you think our Queen will want her friend killed?"
Nadia looked up at that, then jumped onto my knee and started to purr.
A lot happened very quickly after that. Olivia did something that made the cuts on my arm close, then did something else once the shock wore off and I realised I'd just killed someone. I fell asleep in the chair. When I woke, another woman was standing before me. She looked a lot like Elwen, except that her hair was silvery grey.
She nodded. "I wanted to thank you for looking after me all this time. And to make sure you're all right." She leaned forward and kissed my cheek. "I have to go."
She came back though. Every so often I'd see cat's eyes shining in the night, and I'd know to put the kettle on, because soon a worn out fairie Queen would be looking for a place to hide for a while. At least this time, she didn't have to drink the milk out of a saucer.
© 2008 Stuart Sharp
Bio: Stuart Sharp is a writer and postgraduate history student currently living in East Yorkshire. Some of his poems have appeared in Aphelion, most recently Mary's Little Alien, October 2008.
E-mail: Stuart Sharp
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