Authors: Stephen Tremp
Annie sped her hands even faster. Adam was shaking, clawing and digging at the side of his face. “In the name of God, I beg you. Stop. I—”
Annie laughed as he screamed, his eyes bulging out of their sockets as he fell off his mount. The hideous cry caused the mob outside to pause. Silence replaced their mad shouting. The doors were still.
Emily looked back at the other women. They crowded around Scarlett, who was pulling a tarp off four wooden crates.
“How’s it going back there? Are we ready to go?”
Scarlett shouted back. “Um, I don’t know what to say. But the first crate is empty.”
Emily couldn’t believe it. “Impossible. We fed the critters this morning.”
“Well, I guess I didn’t put the top on tight.”
“What about the other three crates?”
“I can hear meowing. We’ll be okay. We have more than enough cats to go around.”
Emily stared down Thomas Fitzgerald, a sadistic son-of-a-bitch if there ever was one. He’d pull her hair when they were kids to get a laugh out of anyone watching.
Emily stepped into him as he tried to shield his face.
“Mercy. Please. I beg of you. Have mercy on me.”
“You showed me no mercy. Your father helped kill my mother. And you took great pleasure in shaming me from a youth even until this past week.”
“What a pathetic display of cowardice.” Emily sniffed the air. “Oh my, it seems you have relieved yourself in your pants. But yes, I will show you a measure of mercy and not end your pitiable life.”
Thomas Kennedy removed his hands from his face. Tears streamed down his cheeks. “Thank you. Oh, thank you,” he groveled in his saddle, bending forward with folded hands.
“But I assure you, you would much rather be dead than what I have in store for you. From this day forward, you shall live the rest of your life as a madman. Bugs in the dirt you will forever eat. Never again will you speak anything coherent. Running through the streets naked will you do, while the rest of the townsfolk laugh and mock you. Much as you made them laugh at me.”
Thomas Fitzgerald was a broken man, slumped in his saddle and crying aloud. Emily raised a palm in the air.
“Wait. I’m not finished. Not by the length of an arrow shot. Your wife and children, they will forever be ashamed to bear your last name.”
Emily threw both her arms up then whisked them down. Thomas Fitzgerald fell off his horse. He stumbled to his feet and tore off his clothes, then began babbling to his horse as if they were close friends who hadn’t seen each other in years.
Emily turned her attention back to Scarlett. A small panic ensued as the girls began fighting over the second crate. Someone toppled the box. Another tore off the top. The rest screamed and shouted. It was all so loud and confusing.
The young cats scurried out in different directions. Some ran up an incline that led to the loft. The rest disappeared, seeking safety in other areas of the barn.
“Scarlett,” Emily shouted through cupped hands. “You need to get control over there. Only two crates of cats are left.”
“Look,” Rebecca said, pointing up.
Lit torches soared through the open upper windows. Four in all. They missed the hay stacks and landed harmlessly on the floor.
Emily had to laugh. “If they want a fire, then a fire they shall surely see.”
Rebecca ran in a circle, ever-tightening the radius, and a small flame appeared in the middle. She stopped and raised her hands. Four plumes of fire rose together, then spread out to the corners of the barn.
The villagers were again ramming the doors. The sense of urgency returned. Many of her followers died a violent and gruesome death tonight. The others were frantic for a cat. A mass panic would doom them all. Time for Emily to regain control.
“Rebecca, Annie,” Emily beckoned. “To the cats. Make haste.”
Emily took a deep breath and accepted the inevitable. This had been their emergency exit plan, a last ditch effort when all else failed. To escape certain death, they would forever leave their physical human bodies. Their souls would live on in a new body, inhabiting the young cats in their first of their nine lives.
There would be no magic that would allow them to undo what happened next.
Scarlett pulled the blanket off the remaining boxes. “We still have two crates.”
The rest of the women closed in, fighting for position. They elbowed each other. Some pushed and shoved. A few punches were thrown. More yelling erupted. Angel and Esther tried to keep them back so Scarlett could bring the cats out.
“Quiet,” Emily said as she plowed her way to the front and stood next to Scarlett. “We can’t have these last cats run off.”
Scarlett took the lids off and gently tipped the boxes over. Emily helped her coax the terrified six-month old felines out. A huddled group of young cats sat looking up, meowing.
Rebecca nudged her way between Emily and Annie and counted the women, then the cats. “There are twenty-three of us and only seventeen
cats,” she said stoically. “There’s not enough to go around.”
Emily knew would happen next. There was a brief moment of silence as her group assessed their situation, then they turned on each other. The competition to inhabit a cat would be fierce.
The barn was ablaze. The horses and cows were panicked. The villagers continued shouting and cursing. The doors burst open and the mob poured in, stumbling over and piling on top of each other.
Emily had prepared for this feat. It was tricky, and deadly if one got it wrong. She closed her eyes, exhaled the air in her lungs, and left her body. Her five foot three inch mass of flesh and bones thumped to the floor. She was half way into a cat when two icy grips pulled her back.
“I’m wise to you, deceiver. I’m not easily distracted like the rest,” said one of her followers who had also left her body.
Mary Davenport. The only thing she had in common with this rival, outside of their extraordinary abilities, was they abhorred each other. Emily despised the woman who continually undermined and tried to usurp her authority as leader.
A brief fight ensued. Emily was prepared for an eventual attack from Mary, and cast a jinx that covered her eyes with scales. Then she spun loose as her attacker tried to tear off the crusty covering. Emily took advantage of the confusion in the barn and entered the first kitten’s body she saw.
The cat hacked out a fur ball in which its own soul was forced out. Emily shoved her head into the feline’s skull and thrust her arms and legs into the furry limbs. She inhaled and, with a four limbed yank and mighty exhalation, thrust her torso in. She was now fully in charge of the cat’s body.
The transition, aside from the altercation with Mary, was smooth and took less than fifteen seconds. Emily wiggled her four paws to make sure her arms and legs were properly fitted and squeezed her eyelids shut a few times, then peered out through the cat’s eyes as her focus became clear.
There was a mad scramble as the witches left their physical bodies and competed for a feline host. Their bodies dropped to the floor one after the other, mouths wide open, the only openings for their soul to leave. Standing at the barn doors the villagers stood silent, staring at the macabre sight.
Fire and smoke from the four corners of the barn spread across roof. The women fought against each other to enter a host. Rebecca Smyth battled Samantha Coleman, an arrogant witch who, like Mary Davenport, challenged Emily’s leadership. Emily was overjoyed to see her best friend triumph and find a cat to call her new home.
Trapped between the blazing fires from above and the townspeople blocking the doors, she saw three of her closest friends still standing. They had failed to separate from their bodies. Emily cried out with a mental warning to try again, but her voice was drowned in the mob’s shouts. She was powerless to help. The townspeople cut them down within seconds.
Emily looked back and forth across the barn. In front of her, so many things were happening at the same time. Panic erupted among her sisters as they adjusted to their new feline bodies. Many stumbled over each other as they tried their new legs. Villagers were shouting. Up above, the four smaller fires Rebecca started had united into one major inferno.
Three women who did perform the arduous separation were not able to possess a cat. The seventeen feline hosts were quickly filled. Emily could only watch as the lost souls, including Mary and Samantha, floated aimlessly into the dark cold of the Netherworld. They screamed and cursed all those who had made the successful transition. But their main focus was aimed at her.
“Emily Livingston, I declare you will never find peace,” Mary Davenport shouted. “I witnessed your sister Sarah cut down like a mangy dog as she saved your worthless life. May her death haunt your sleep for eternity.”
The cats huddled, scared and confused.
“We can’t escape,” Scarlett shouted. “The village idiots are blocking the door.”
Another cried out. “We’re going to die in this horrible fire. Thanks, Rebecca. And yes, I’m mocking you.”
Emily needed to lead her surviving flock to safety. Time to create a distraction. She had to move the rabble from blocking their only exit. Behind her the horses and cows trapped in their stalls were desperate to escape.
The livestock could forge a path through the riotous mob.
“Everyone, be ready to make a run for it. Wait for my command.”
Emily focused on the stall doors. With a simple wave of her paw the gates swung open, and the beasts of burden rushed out. They cleared a swath through the bewildered and frightened horde, now scattering. Some of the villagers were too slow and were trampled in the frenzied rush. Thomas Fitzgerald followed naked and still rambling indiscernible nonsense.
Emily gave the order. “Get out now. Be quick. Let your flight of feet carry you.”
Emily and sixteen cats with their human hosts, along with rats and other vermin of the barn, followed the stampeding livestock.
One of the townsfolk shouted out. “The witches, they are not dead. This is truly a trick. They must be in the cats. Kill them.”
Her sisters sprinted forward, dodging pitchforks, clubs, and stomping feet. Emily’s duty was to make sure the rest of her followers had a chance of escape. Frustrated and terrified, she could only watch while four cats were cut down before she had a chance to do anything more to help. Her sisters’ souls were forced out and joined Mary and Samantha, screaming and floating off into the Netherworld wasteland.
Emily was the last to leave the barn. Once again, she pumped her legs hard, her lungs pushing out the cold night air faster than she could suck it in. She was amazed to see the trees straight ahead, thinking it was a miracle she escaped. Less than twenty yards ahead, twelve cats disappeared into the bushes forming the border of the surrounding forest.
Emily felt a great sense of relief as the trees added welcomed protection from the incoming hatchets and full-caliber balls fired from muskets. The villagers were in pursuit, but fell back as the cats maneuvered through the thick timberland and climbed the sloping hillside. They ran through the underbrush and moved forward with ease, while their pursuers lagged behind, failing to make efficient progress through the dense forest and foliage.
Once in the safety of the woods, Emily stopped halfway up the ridge. In front of her lay a tangled mass of fallen trees and branches. This would give cover and protection until they could find better, more permanent shelter.
Behind her, Emily could hear the faint cries of the villagers. She looked through the barren, autumn trees onto the valley below. The barn, now fully ablaze, lit up the eastern horizon. She estimated they were a half mile from the madness below.
Emily spied a gathering place in the middle of the clustered fallen timbers and branches—a small clearing not observable from down the slope. She called out, “Everyone,” and motioned with her head. “Over here. Let’s come together and take an assessment of who’s who and what to do next.”
Emily gasped for air as she looked at what remained of her sisters. Twelve cats sat together; wide eyed, catching their breath, and terrified. Her following studied themselves and each other, exploring their new bodies.
Emily didn’t know who had escaped from the barn and who died. There was such a confused frenzy to find a host she wasn’t sure who ended up in which feline body. Time to find out who sat in front of her and the gifting they possessed.
The one ability the witches all shared was they could communicate by a mental clairvoyance, but only with each other. This is how Emily identified and recruited those to her secret close-knit group. If any were found out by the villagers and townspeople, they were persecuted and hung or burned. Just like their mothers at the Salem Witch Trials and untold clandestine trials throughout the countryside villages.
Emily stood in front of her frightened sisters
The felines, all six months old of differing colors and patterns, huddled together. They were shaking, not only from the bitter cold, but from the trauma of what just happened. All their hopes and dreams were left behind. They were now outcasts, alone in new bodies, with nowhere to go and no one to help them.