*This story will be available to read until December 31st.
excerpt from CAT NOEL
Christmas. The happiest time of the year.
The time when we come together with friends and family in one big giving, loving celebration.
The time we put our differences aside to enjoy the season.
The time we are extra specially good to one another. Peace on Earth and all that.
So why, this Christmas, was I feeling like a cat in a thunder storm?
In spite of all outward appearances, I couldn’t help but sense something was amiss. The holiday lights flickered like horror show fluorescents just before the monster comes; the Christmas trees were crooked; the scent of gingerbread carried a trace of decay. It’s a Wonderful Life was full of commercials. Someone stabbed the snowman with a candy cane. The world was running amok.
Was it just me?
Turns out it wasn’t.
If you’re looking for a happy, feel-good Christmas story, this isn’t it. Not to say it doesn’t have its merry moments—it does. And at least no one gets murdered. That’s a relief, right?
It was a learning experience, and in the end... well, you’ll just have to read it for yourself.
It began one week before Christmas...
“...Sleigh bells ring. Are you listening?
“On the street, snow is glistening.
“La da-de-da-da, da-de-da-da...”
Rats, I thought to myself, now I’ll have that song stuck in my head all day long.
It’s not that I have anything against Christmas, not really. Aside from the commercialism, stress, expense, the social pressure... but I digress. It’s just a song. A good old song. Maybe if I changed the words to something more cat-centric, I might be better able to relate:
Time to eat... Are you listening?
In the bowl, food is glistening.
Pet me pet me, pet me pet me,
Now I’m going to bite your hand…
My name is Lynley Cannon, and as you may have guessed, I am a cat person. From an early age, I was captivated by their mystical eyes, their soft fur, and their indomitable feline presence. I believe cats have a lot to add to human society; they have things to teach us if we would just curl up and listen. Now in my sixties, I happily devote much of my time to cats, volunteering at the local shelter, fostering the sick ones, and catering to the whims of my own clowder. Some think it’s an obsession, but I find it more of a calling.
Today was to be dedicated to cats. I’d signed up for a morning shift at Friends of Felines, and in the afternoon, I planned to do some Christmas shopping for my kitties. With only seven days until Christmas, I’d better get on it before it was too late.
Arriving at the shelter, I came through the big main doors to admire the pandemonium of decorations in the lobby. The large, spacious room had been transformed into a feline fairyland with twinkling lights and sparkly red and green streamers cascading from the mezzanine. A huge living fir tree stood tall beside the admittance desk, its fragrant limbs decked with photos of the shelter cats, their Cat-mas wish lists printed on the back. Under the tree lay cases of cans, bags of kibble, boxes of litter, beds, and toys galore. It made me smile to see how big-hearted people could be during the holidays. Hopefully they would remember to carry their generosity into the year ahead.
Front and center was a poster advertising the upcoming holiday fundraiser gala, the Starry Nights Fête. The artist had done a superb job of conveying the enchantment of the season with a pair of stylized kitties ballroom dancing across a field of silver-speckled indigo. As head of the fête committee, I had commissioned the poster myself and was more than happy with the results.
I spent a few minutes enjoying the friendly ambiance, then headed for the cattery. The fresh, airy space was quiet, with only a single volunteer helping an adopter choose a cat and a staff member munching a white-iced cookie at her desk in the office. After a brief hello, I set to work cleaning litter boxes for the forty-some feline residents. The rhythm of scoop, dump, scoop was almost hypnotic as I went from kennel to kennel. I even began humming a little tune.
“...Sleigh bells ring...”
Rats! I was doing it again. I sang a few bars of Monty Python’s “Always look on the bright side of life, Da dum ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum...” to offset the Christmas jingle.
Just as I’d disposed of the last bit of refuse and was about to take the dirty pans to be sanitized, I heard a commotion behind me. I turned to see Special Agent Connie Lee blast into the room, a frantic look on her face. She stared around, then raced to one of the unused computer stations and began to type like a squirrel.
Special Agent Lee was one of three humane investigators who worked out of Northwest Humane Society. Known to the community as animal cops, they educated the public on proper pet care and handled cases of abuse and neglect—over a thousand call-ins a year! Thankfully many of the calls came to nothing—an overly-concerned neighbor of a barking dog or a lady with what someone considered to be too many cats. But when it was the real thing, the special agents could, and did, enforce Oregon’s animal cruelty laws to their fullest extent.
I’d brushed elbows with the substantial woman on several occasions, but aside from being vegan, Wiccan, and kind-natured, she was mostly an unknown to me. She had always struck me as someone who held her feelings close to the vest, yet here she was, gasping and swearing under her breath. This wasn’t like her at all.
“What’s up?” I asked but she ignored me, her attention riveted to the screen.
I gravitated to the counter across from her. I was hesitant to bother her yet equally as reluctant to go away and leave her in such a state. Besides, I was curious. You’d think, after all the trouble my cat-like curiosity had brought me, I’d know better. But I didn’t.
Finally Connie ceased her frenzied typing and ran a hand through her short-cropped hair. She looked up, gray eyes focusing on me as if she had just then realized I was there.
“Well, this is a sad state of affairs,” she announced gloomily.
“Is everything okay?”
“Not okay,” she declared, her voice low and gravely. “Definitely not okay. My friend’s cat is missing.”
“Oh, no! Is it microchipped?”
“Yeah. I was just looking through the lost and found database, but she hasn’t been recovered. Her name is Isis—like the goddess, not the terrorist group.”
“How long has she been gone?” I asked, trying to call up all the helpful information one was supposed to offer on such a dreadful occasion.
“I’m not sure. A while now. I just found out about it,” Connie grumbled, adding sarcastically, “My friend thought it best not to tell me, a trained humane investigator.” She gave a big sigh and hung her head. “Maybe she was right. For all my training, I’m coming up with an absolute zero. Isis is still missing and I’m panicking like a newbie.” Resigned, she sat back in the office chair. “I don’t know what to do.”
I came around and put a hand on her broad shoulder. “I’m sure you’re doing everything you can, Connie. It isn’t easy. Isis is probably frightened to death and hiding. When cats don’t want to be found, it’s really hard to find them.”
“I know. I’m just scared for her. It’s been raining, and now they say it’s going to freeze. Isis is an indoor cat. The city’s so dangerous. And besides...”
I waited for Connie to finish, but instead, she bent forward and began another rampage on the keyboard. Adjusting my glasses, I watched as screen after screen of stray cats popped up. Finally the photo of a chocolate-point Siamese filled the monitor. The banner across the bottom read: Isis, Siamese 13 yr. 9#, Dominant color: tan, Other color: brown, Distinctive markings: face mask shaped like a heart, Lost December 10, Owner: Catherine Bremerton-Black.
“She’s beautiful,” I remarked. I said the same of all cats and truly meant it, but this one was really unique. The picture had been taken in a relaxed atmosphere. The blue eyes were soft and trust-filled; the ears were straight. She had tilted her face lovingly for the camera and curved her lips in a smile. Something about Isis called to my heart, the thought of her out on her own, breaking it.
“Poor sweetie” I whispered. “But this says she’s been missing for three days.”
“Yeah,” Connie snorted. “As I was saying, my friend neglected to tell me until today.”
“Do you think something’s happened to her? I mean, beyond the usual got-out-got-lost scenario?”
Connie wavered, then a look cold as steel fell across her face. “Yeah, I do.”
“She is gorgeous. If someone saw her and thought she was valuable...”
“She’s pretty, for sure, but there’s more.” Connie eyed me, as if assessing whether she could trust me with a secret. I guess she decided she could, because the next words out of her mouth were nothing I expected to hear.
“Lynley,” she said carefully, lowering her voice to a whisper. “Isis is special. She’s a familiar.”
I knew Connie Lee was Wiccan but only because she’d mentioned it once or twice. I assumed she practiced some sort of get-together-with-the-goddess white magic thing, planting seeds and singing to the moon. Really I knew nothing about it except that Connie herself was one of the kindest, most compassionate, most intensely moral people I knew. Whatever her witchery might be, I never doubted it was securely on the side of the light.
I’d heard stories of witches keeping animals or birds—after all, who hasn’t read Harry Potter?—but as far as real life Wiccans... “A what? You mean like magic?”
“Something like that.” Connie gave a laugh but her face quickly sobered. “It’s a thing, Lynley. Wiccans bond with their familiars in a very profound way. If my friend doesn’t get Isis back before Winter Solstice Eve, the consequences will be dire.”
“Dire? I don’t understand. What happens on the solstice besides it being the longest night...?”
An explosion of static burst from Connie’s radio, drowning out my question. In a microsecond, she had the instrument off her duty belt and up to her ear. “Lee here.”
I couldn’t make out the chatter on the other end, but in another few seconds, Connie clipped, “Copy that. On my way.”
Jumping to her feet, she replaced the radio and hooked her thumbs in her belt. “Sorry, Lynley, gotta go. Hey, could you ask your cat people network to keep an eye out for Isis? Every little bit helps.”
“Sure Connie, but...”
Special Agent Lee was already on her way out the door. I never got to learn about the bond between a Wiccan and her familiar, nor did I find out what part Isis was to play in the coming solstice. And as to the dire consequences that would occur if Isis wasn’t returned in time, I was left to wander my own dark imagination.
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