From Chapter 2 of Secret Lives:
“Aha, my pretty one,” cackled the hag in the pointed hat. “I’ve got you now! You’re in my power. You’re mine, mine, mine!” Still cackling, she held her squirming captive up close and peered at it until she was satisfied with what she saw. Then she smiled fiercely and set the animal back on the counter, keeping one gnarled hand on its back.
A youngish man in faded chinos and a washed-out University Accounting Team sweatshirt approached. “Oh, Aunt Bertha, here you are,” he said mildly, looking around the pet shop. Three or four suburban mothers had backed away, pulling their toddlers with them. “Stop cackling,” he added. “You’ll scare the children.”
“Phooey,” Bertha replied. “Wendell, you know kids don’t get scared. Their mothers get a little spooked, though.” She whirled to face one such mother, an anorectic young thing standing near the firmly-lidded piranha tank. The mother pulled her Ralph Lauren skirt and sweater set closer to her body. As the old woman gave her a cheek-splitting grin, she inched around the tank, then reached back to yank her four-year-old son after her. “Stanley,” she said, trying to interest him in a school of guppies cavorting in formation in another tank, “look at all these pretty fishies.” Stanley pulled back toward the piranhas.
“Boo!” The witch clapped her hands and there was a minor tsunami in the guppy tank.
Wendell had a sudden coughing fit, the mother fled to the safety of the next aisle, and young Stanley squatted under the piranha tank like a miniature granite idol. What would this weird old lady with the purple hair do next?
“You really shouldn’t act out,” Wendell said after he’d stopped coughing. “And you coulda got arrested for taking that hat from the costume shop. Luckily, I was able to convince the manager that you’re merely senile. He let me pay for it.”
“It is fetching, though. Goes with the cackle. Is this another Margaret Hamilton period coming on? Do we get green skin again?”
Bertha smiled demurely. “No, I’m just having a little fun while I run this errand for the girls. Wendell,” she added seriously, “you’re a whole lot smarter than your father gives you credit for. Smarter than that piss-pocket brother of yours, too.” She cackled again and held up the cat. “See, we’ve found her. How do you like our feline friend?”
The friend was a calico cat. Most of its face and left side were black, tipped spottily with gray and orange. Its ears and much of its right side were fiery red-orange, and its forehead, cheeks, belly, and paws were gutter-snow white. The texture of its fur approximated indoor-outdoor shag carpeting left outdoors maybe three thunderstorms too long, and its tail looked like a bottle-brush that had cleaned entirely too many bottles. Its eyes were dark orange, and you could tell from the cunning expression on its face and the impudent thrust of its tail that this was a feline that would never, ever acknowledge even the possibility of having a human “owner.”
Find out who this cat was in its last life. (Hint: a famous occultist.)
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