With the shift of the weather strange things creep in the darkness, creatures that hold the power to bespell us. The most dangerous monsters are not those shrouded in gore … they are insidious little beasts sidling up beside us with a smile.
Too late we learn to beware the cute and fluffy!
This All Hallows Eve curl up with my twisted tale that took second place in a Time Alone Press contest …
Once Beatin’, Twice Die
By Jennie Brass
I clutched my pumpkin to my chest. Every jostle of the cardboard box I rode in threatened to dislodge my precious prize.
My pumpkin. No one could take it from me. I flexed my claws into the fleshy rind. The juice wicked into my fur. I purred.
The floor of my box dropped. I landed hard and rolled to the side with a hiss. A moment later her face appeared over the edge of the box. A face that looked like a frog had mated with a gourd. Madame Euphrasia.
I spat at her and flexed my claws into the pumpkin.
“Pooky, are you sure you want to go through with this?” She offered me a tight-lipped smile. “Come on now, it was a terribly long walk down here, to the Pumpkin Parlor. But I promise to forgive you.”
I hugged my pumpkin tighter.
Madame Euphrasia reached up and adjusted her pointy hat. “Have it your way you little—”
My hackles rose. I fixed her with a glare.
“—darling.” She softened her expression.
My pumpkin. So soft and squelchy in my claws. Mmm.
The box rocked to the side and I tumbled onto the rust-tinted counter of the Pumpkin Parlor. Jack-o’-lanterns hung from the ceiling and cast a warm glow over the spirits floating to the tables delivering alcohol. The entire room glowed in shades of unbroken orange. Well, all save the patrons. The collective monstrosities seated all around were exempt from the color code. A pack of werewolves dressed in black leather perched on stools further down the counter devouring a rack of lamb. In the corner booth a stitched man resembling a burly rag doll slouched with a daisy in his hand. A cappuccino steamed before him.
Even though I had not been here long, I remembered this place. I craned my head to see if I could find that comfy wooden box I had once slept in.
A hand slammed the counter. Madame Euphrasia leaned over and glared at the swinging door. “Momordica! Momordica, you mountebank. This is your damn place. I know you are back there. Get your wiley ass out here right now!”
I scaled my pumpkin and curled around the coiled stem. The little curly twigs sproinged when I bat them with a paw. I liked that.
“Momordica. Come out before I go back there and drag you out. We need to talk about that sh—“
I hissed and skewered the pumpkin with all ten claws.
She gulped. “—sweet transaction we had the other day.”
Why did that crazy old coot have to raise her voice so much? Never, in all my nine-lives had I known such an unappreciative human.
The door squealed open and Momordica sauntered in, bedecked in shades of ochre. Even his top hat was a rich shade as he flicked it off his head with a bow. “Madame Euphrasia. Pleasant to see you this eve. How may I assist one of my finest patrons?”
Several of the customers narrowed their eyes before returning to their meals.
I resumed playing with the curlicues. Twang. Twang. The hollow gourd responded with a thump. Thump. Thump.
“There is a problem with Pooky. It must be remedied immediately and with great care.”
Momordica glanced down at me and widened his golden eyes. “The darling kitten I sold you just a fortnight ago? He looks perfectly healthy. And I assure you that black cats are all the rage as witch’s familiars. Give him a bit more time. He’ll grow on you.”
She balled her fists and gave me a sideways glance. A bead of sweat rolled down her knobby brow. “I am running out of time. The little bea—creature won’t obey. This is serious, Momordica.”
Obey, schmobey. It’s not like she’d asked nicely. I rubbed my cheek against the stem of the pumpkin and purred. The hollow reverberated, thump, thump, thump. I wanted to open it. But it was too soon. Too soon to look see.
“Madame Euphrasia, Pooky is just a sweet little kitten. What harm could he manage aside from stealing a ball of yarn?”
“You see that pumpkin?” She smiled like someone pulled her lips apart with fish hooks. “He won’t give it back.”
“A pumpkin?” He burst into laughter. “A pumpkin? I have a whole field of pumpkins. What kind do you wish? Let Pooky keep that one.”
“You don’t understand.”
Light flickered through a glass of whiskey on the counter. Pretty. Must become mine. I slid down the side of the pumpkin and kept my tail brushing against it. With a paw I ticked the side of the glass.
It vanished. But the liquid remained. An amber puddle spread over the wood and dampened Momordica’s gloved fingers.
Where the glass was now … was it half empty? Was it half full? Was there even a glass in the first place? If I looked I would know and that would spoil everything. Ohh, my tail is moving. Must get the tail.
He leaned back. “Remarkable!”
“You see? This is no normal cat.”
“Well, of course he isn’t. He’s a witch’s familiar now.”
“But I didn’t teach him that damn trick. You need to understand what he’s stolen.”
I leapt back onto the pumpkin and licked my paws taking care to get between each claw. She flinched as I eyed her.
Momordica leaned forward.
“He’s stolen my heart.”
He laughed so hard he ceased to breath for a moment. “Aww, now that’s so sweet. He’s not a bad kitty. He’s a miracle worker. Who would’ve known you even had a heart?”
“It’s not funny!” She tore open the first few buttons on her dress collar to reveal my claw marks on her flesh. “I mean he literally stole the damn organ!”
I arched my back and rowled deep in my throat.
“The sweet, darling animal! I mean, he cares so much … but … but … I need it back. Momordica, I think he has it in the pumpkin. I have no idea how he did it. Where did you find him?” Her face grew pale as a saucer of milk.
He took a few steps back eyeing me. I sunk my claws into the flesh of the pumpkin. My pumpkin. Thump thump, thump thump.
“I found him in a box in the graveyard. Poor thing was half alive, half dead. I carried him here not having any idea if when I opened the box he’d still be here.”
Thump thump. The beat in the pumpkin stuttered. Oh dear. Thump thump … thump … THUD.
She dropped to the floor.
I sighed and abandoned the pumpkin on the counter. No point in looking now. I already knew the answer.
Momordica grabbed it and smashed it open with his fist. Crimson mingled with orange pulp, the witch’s heart cradled in the core. Apparently my touch can only sustain an organ for so long. Who knew.
He looked at me. I glared back before raising a paw to groom off the pumpkin pulp.
“Who would’ve known! Tell me, Pooky, why did you do that?”
Curiosity. I leapt back into the box and pulled the flaps closed. Memories of a past half-life tumbled back to me. The inside of a box, and the musings of a human named Schrodinger.