First impressions can be important and being naturally cute can help ensure that you make a good one. I don’t have that advantage, but September did and it certainly helped.
The moment he spoke, a shiver of alarm burst through me. My instinct was to hurl him as far away as I could except I saw the hopeful, pleading look in his eyes and my terrified heart just melted for him.
“I don’t eat much,” he said. “And I can clean up after myself.”
“And you talk,” I said. I felt like I should pinch myself to see if I was dreaming but the chill in the air and the crisp smells of dinners cooking were too real for me to be asleep.
“I can be very quiet if you need,” September said.
“I, I don’t…”, I couldn’t form even a single coherent thought about what I needed. I felt September trembling in my arms though and asked, “Are you ok? Did they hurt you?”
“Yes,” he said and tried to nuzzle closer into my arms.
“I won’t let them get you,” I said. That was easy enough to decide. Whether he really was a talking cat or something else entirely, those girls had no right to torment him like they were doing. Even if the knife was a joke (and I wasn’t at all sure it was), they were out of line with everything else they said.
“Thank you,” September said. He was still trembling, which worried me, but it didn’t feel like he was bleeding or badly injured. From my studies to be a veterinarian, I knew that animals didn’t always show when they were hurt though. I also knew that animals didn’t talk, so the books I read didn’t seem like they were super helpful under the circumstances.
“I’m afraid I’m a little lost,” I said. “But I’ll start heading back the direction I came if that’s ok?”
“I’ll go everywhere you go,” September said.
“Good,” I said without really thinking about it. “That should be away from those girls at least.”
I started walking, and cast a glance over my shoulder as I retraced my route. I couldn’t see anyone there but the hair on the back of my neck was tingling like someone was watching me.
“How do you talk?” I asked September, still unable to believe that he could.
“I just say the words,” he said.
“But you’re a cat. Cat’s don’t talk.”
“All the ones I know do,” he said.
“Shouldn’t people know that then? Do you just never talk when humans can hear you?” I asked.
“I’m stay away from people,” September said. “They’re loud and they scare me.”
“But what about other cats?”
“I stay away from them too.”
“No, I mean, do people ever hear them talking?”
“I think so. They talk to humans all the time,” he said.
“And the humans talk back? I mean really converse with them.”
“Well, the witches do,” he said.
“Witches are real too?”
That should have been less surprising given that I was holding a talking cat in my arms, but swallowing another bit of make-believe was harder than I could explain.
“Haven’t you ever met one?” September asked.
He watched me and I wasn’t sure which of us was the one who’d gone crazy, since we seemed like we were talking about two different worlds.
“No,” I said. “And I’m starting to think I’m more lost than I knew.”
The two worlds idea made a terrible kind of sense, and as I looked around all sorts of little details seemed to confirm it. I’d never heard of a ‘Lavender Lane’ near my house and the houses around me were all older than the ones I was familiar with. There weren’t any cars parked in the driveways either and there weren’t any kids playing outside.
I started shivering and September turned to look up at me.
“I know one witch who’s nice,” he said. “Maybe she can help us get to your home?”
“That’s sounds good.” I said and fought to bring my shivering under control. I couldn’t be in that bad of a situation, I reasoned. I had walked to wherever I was. It had to be possible to walk back.
Despite my certainty of that, I started to jog a bit as September gave me directions to the house of the nice witch that he knew. It wasn’t late yet but I was worried about getting back on time anyways. Or, really, I was worried about getting back at all, so the sooner that happened the better.
“I’m sorry,” September said as I trotted down a small road called ‘Ivy Corners’. “I shouldn’t have gotten you into this I guess.”
“Gotten me into what?” I asked.
“If I’d hidden better, you might not have seen me and then you wouldn’t be lost,” he said.
“That’s not your fault,” I said. “I think I got lost before somewhere well before that. And its not your fault those girls were picking on you. You shouldn’t have to hide from them.”
“They were just doing what they do,” he said. “It’s what comes natural to them.”
“No one’s naturally that horrible,” I said.
“Boggins are,” he said.
“What’s a ‘Boggin’?” I asked.
“What those girls were,” he said. “Oh, we’re here!”
He pointed with a paw towards a house that was set far back from the road on a wooded lot. The yard rose upwards to the base of a small cliff that the house sat atop. It was still light out but I could see candles burning in the windows and smoke wafted up from the chimney carrying the scent of bread baking.
“Can we go up there?” I asked September.
“Only if you want to see Grandma Apples.”
I spun around to see who had spoken and found a tiny old lady behind me carrying a pair of overstuffed grocery bags.
Her hair was fluffy and white where it peeked out of the shawl that covered her head. Below that, her face was wrinkled and weathered and somehow kindly looking. Even the wart on the end of her big bulbous nose looked like a very odd beauty mark on someone her age.
Then I noticed the broom that was hovering behind her and carrying another pair of grocery bags. If I had any doubts about witches being real, that pretty much silenced them forever.
“Come along,” Grandma Apples said. “From the look of you, I’ve got a lot of questions to answer and I want to get the ice cream packed away before it melts.”
And like that I met my first real witch.