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Genre: Humor / Fantasy
“What do you mean, ‘because of magic’?”
“You can’t imagine my shock when you showed up—on Leap Day. It’s a sign.” Maggie paused to pour a drink, but changed her mind hands aflutter. Where was I?”
“What did Zero mean about Nelda?” Lisa massaged Mozart’s ear. Euphoric, he leaned into her caress, eyes pinched shut, weaving on her lap drunk with pleasure, his purr lowering by decibels.
Rubbing her chin, Maggie paced two steps forward and back again. “How did the cat find you? I see the special bond between you—maybe that’s it.”
“Are you avoiding the question? Again?” Lisa stood, the feline deposited on the sofa. “Are you listening?” Hands on hips she stamped a foot.
Palm open to shush her, the woman in black continued. “Wait—the hair on your shirt. He must have followed it. Yes. That’s it.” She tapped a closed fist to her forehead, then hesitated, appearing to listen to something only she heard.
“Sit down, Lisa. I’ll start at the beginning. At first, when the Zika virus arrived families dwindled, I wanted to help Zero and his sister. They were unsure whether to go or stay. Of course, I wanted Zero to stay.” She looked up to underscore her point.
“Oh.” Lisa supressed a yawn.
“I was in a corner. Most of his family gone, and though Nelda decided to hang in, Zero kept dithering. You’ve seen the rare books I collect, some are two and three hundred years old. I came across a book of spells and of course had to try them. The arrival of this book turned me around.
I made mistakes, but they didn’t hurt anyone. Until Nelda.” Fingers entwined, she worked them back and forth, lost in a world of her own. Shaking herself back, she continued. “My life’s been a roller coaster ride—of Leviathan proportions—since 2016 when Nealy slipped through my fingers. Exactly four years ago.”
“I don’t understand. What? A levia—“
“Sorry, like my dad I make weird associations. It a humungous roller coaster in Canada’s Wonderland. My life exactly, whoosh up one way and down another at breakneck speed. It a wonder I haven’t suffered heart failure since she vanished.” Fingers splayed, she patted her chest.
“I still don’t get it.” Coiled on the couch in sleep, Mozart yawned, and opened an eye at the long-winded explanation. Lisa smiled.
“Nelda understood I wanted her brother to stay and was willing help, even if we had to use magic. The magic excited her. I was merely desperate.
“We needed a black cat. I had Viper, but he refused to cooperate. Nelda held him down though he squirmed. Useless cat. He broke free and flew out the cat door as I finished the spell. When I turned back to her, Nelda was gone. Poof. I’ve tried and tried to get her back without success.”
“What does this have to do with me? Why am I here?” Lisa’s fingers reached for the cat’s ear. He sighed. She cleared her throat. “What about me?”
Viper sailed into the sitting room sliding across the wood floor until the area rug stopped him. Mozart snarled. Viper hissed. One black, one white, they eyed each other, fur raised, ears lowered. Mozart said something and licked a paw. Viper cocked his head. The women held their breath. Nothing happened.
“I have an idea. What time is it? Seven hours till midnight. I’ll get the book. Maybe this is my lucky day after all.”
Lisa shot to her feet. “No. Wait.” Maggie vanished through the curtained doorway. An eruption of heavy books thumping to the floor thudded from the bookstore.
Within minutes, she rushed back, stopped dead by the sight of the cats’ peering up at her. No hissing, nor fighting as if by agreement. Or magic. Glancing from the toms to Lisa biting her lip, Maggie nodded to herself. Hugging a thick, tattered volume to her chest, her eyes glistened. “I don’t know what happened here, but I like it. Viper is super territorial or was. Strange.” She grabbed Lisa’s hand. “Come help me.”
The girl shrank back. “What are you doing?” She flashed a glimpse at her cat, whose ears pointed slightly to the sides and forward. He stared back, unblinking and appeared to approve.
“I was right. There is something about your cat. He’s going to help me get Nelda back.”
“Oh, no you don’t. What about Viper? He’s sitting still. Seems logical to give him another try.” Lisa scooped her white bundle of joy. He nipped her finger. “Ouch. Sorry.”
Maggie flipped pages back and forth. “Come on. Come on. Where is it?” Except for the rustle of fine paper dancing back and forth between the leather covers, no other sound broke the silence. A film of perspiration glistened on her forehead. Mouth dry, she licked her lips. “I’ve tried so many spells, I can’t decide. I thought I’d put the book away for good after this morning’s attempt. I know not to waste time on that one.”
Lisa and Mozart’s eyes met. Hers widened and bulged. “What did you say about this morning? You mean your spell plopped me here?”
“Here it is—I think.” Maggie sat on the floor, book open on the coffee table. Viper, ever watchful, had not moved since Mozart had words with him. Head tilted, he was the picture of a sleek black panther in miniature.
Lisa sank to the farthest reaches of the sofa cushions. She listened to words, most she did not understand except one. “Wait, you said purgurtory. Shouldn’t it be purgatory?”
Maggie blinked. “What?” She began again. Viper stared at a spot on the wall.
Lisa caught the flash of a green dress. The woman looked familiar. A jackhammer clattered in her head.
* * *
Lis-s-aaa. Where are yo-uu?