Lucifer’s Unwanted Guest

The clatter of baking sheets hitting cold burners pulls him from his afternoon nap. The aroma of blueberry, butter, flour, and sugar float from the kitchen reaching his cat bed. The oven door creaks open and the smell of scones hugs him like a cozy blanket.

His witch maneuvers around the kitchen with a sprightly energy unseen for a woman her age. The racket of metallic utensils bouncing off each other made his skin crawl. It stabs his ears and makes his claws retract further in his toes.

Despite the noise (and rude awakening), he tolerates the hubbub. Because it all leads to her famous blueberry scones. The triangular sections fell in line as she slides the pan into the hot oven. Each rests side by side like delicious soldiers heading to battle. Be brave, my tasty troopers. He yawns glancing at the cat shaped clock on the wall above her chair. Only an hour left before the enemy storms the beaches.

Lucifer sniffs the air, allowing the aroma to guide him. Climbing from his bed, he slinks under the footrest, the recliner and around her floor lamp. Reaching the kitchen unnoticed. There he slips around the kitchen chair. Between the walnut legs he finds his prize; a bounty of broken, crispy, and burnt pieces lay before his feet. Drops of batter, rebellious berries all prepared in his honor. It was the only time he enjoyed a messy roommate.

“Lucifer, is that you?” She peers under the table, ” you naughty kitty.” Then she smiles a smile that met the creases near her eyes, “I guess my scones are kitty approved.”

The sound of a metal scraping a cookie sheet coaxed him from the shadows, bringing him face to face with the chaos. Batter drips from the edges of candy colored bowls. Every surface dusted with flour; the basket of berries poised dangerously close to the counter’s edge.

In her withered hand, she held the baking equivalent to the holy grail. A Lucifer size scone with berries oozing from the oven’s heat. She guides him to his bowl, like an aging saint to the altar, where she places it on the small porcelain cat faced plate.

“There you go love, might as well have one before the ladies eat them all.” She strokes his head before setting back to her task.

The ladies. Never has the term invoked such displeasure in someone’s ears. It’s the last Friday of the month, which means another night of the Sorceresses Salves and Spells meet up. He hated strangers in his home, they smelled weird and ignored his rules. They sat in his chair, they were loud, and in the case of the S.S.S they out stayed their welcome.

How can he sleep with their cackling, their gabbing, and games? Every other night, when he decided it was bedtime, it was bedtime. Now they’ll be up half the night eating, drinking their fizzy drinks, and laughing. Inconsiderate. The house mouse renting the pantry had more manners.

Now there’s an idea. He muses chewing the soft biscuit. He eyes the pantry, recalling the tiny door tucked behind the potatoes. The first time he discovered it, he travelled to another world and fought a dragon with a young adventurer. His door led to countless possibilities. Perhaps, there was a door with another cottage. One with a Beatrice that doesn’t host the S.S.S parties.

The warm biscuit melts in his mouth. The perfect mix of sweet and tart sloshes over his tongue. Finally, the satisfying crunch of the edge made the snack worth leaving the cat bed for. Taking a drink from his bowl he set to work. The fates smile on him; she left the door opened.

Pausing, he glances at his witch, noting her furrowed brow as she forces the dough in the desired shape. He commits her pudgy crooked form to memory, hoping to see her again on the other side.  He hopes the next Beatrice hums his favorite song as she knits.

The scent of garlic and basil hangs in the pantry air. Narrow shelves towers above him, his favourite kitten playground. But the spires of plastic containers and preserves must wait. He pushes himself behind the frumpy bag of potatoes to the small door in the wall.

His whiskers graze the edges of the tunnel and he follows the compact dirt until it becomes smooth stone. It’s cramp and damp space made him wonder if any creature could live there. The darkness stretches onward until he spies a flickering light at the exit.

A sweet metallic smell tickles his nose as he steps into the space of endless archways floating amongst colourful galaxies. Each door connects to a twisting stone staircase. Thousands of possibilities stretch over miles, all at his paws. He wanders over the steps, peeking at the destinations.

Lofty mountain heights with snowy caps shimmer through one. A beach with golden sand stretching over the horizon. Forests of all shapes, cities, towns, even the fox den appeared comfy. But he desired his own paradise. Exactly what he left, but without the annoying guests. When his thought his paws would fall off, he found it.  A cottage, the same as his, but with lush cedar trees instead of maples. Perfect.

His body contorts, stretching and twisting as if his bones are rubber. A force yanks him through the endless space until an elastic film tears before his nose. He squeezes through the gap, before rolling over soft leafy earth. An ear-piercing screech cuts through the air. A giant menacing shadow swoops overhead dropping dusty feathers with white tips. The eagle’s peal swirls above, originating from a monstrous bird with glistening talons.

It swoops again, missing him, and he ducks under a bush. Crouching low, careful not to move, he watches between the leafy branches. He notices the remnants of the ripped portal which splits the ancient cedar tree in half.  It twists, emitting a warbled tone, before shrinking and vanishing altogether. So much for that idea.

From his hiding place he waits for the eagle to grow tired. It abandons the hunt and retreats to its nest at the top of the cedar tree. Once the sky is clear he slips from the cover and wanders the nearest path in search of the cottage. It’s around here somewhere. His welcome party isn’t exactly what he planned, and he isn’t looking forward to having such an angry neighbor. Perhaps the cottage will be more pleasant.

The cottage peaks from the hearty trees surrounding the brick structure. Billowing smoke dances from the chimney taking flight into the clear spring sky. The sloping roof needs repairs but the small knee-high wall remains. It’s all there, the weeds sprouting from the unkept lawn, the lopsided rose bush she almost smothered to death. Even the flower bed hanging from the window ledge. It’s to early to plant her tomatoes but in a few weeks they both would be up to their elbows in soil and seeds.

It was as if he never left. His nimble feet prances over the flat stones leading to the doorway. Thoughts of desserts, scritches by a warm fire, and a long nap dance in his thoughts. A peaceful afternoon free of distraction and noise. He pushes himself through the small cat-sized door flap.

“And who are you?” came a sharp female voice, “we are not expecting visitors.” From atop a blue recliner sat a small sandy colored kitten. She’s fluffy, with what appeared to be soot on her feet and face. But her ice blue eyes studied him; curiosity mixed with contempt.

“Begone small fry, take me to the witch of the house. I wish to offer my services as a first-class witch’s familiar.” He surveys his new home. Taking inventory of the welcoming hearth and comfortable furniture (an upgrade from the ugly floral pattern). And a new addition of a row of framed pictures across the mantle. All depicting a man with a crooked nose and a sandy coloured kitten…

“That role is filled. Permanently. Now excuse you, please leave the residence.”

“A pip squeak like you is a familiar? Can you even reach the bottom step of the stair?”

“You’re a big talker for a cat burglar.” She smirks as she climbs to the plushy armrest.

“You mean house burglar. But then again is it breaking in when the cat door is open?” He walks across the plush carpet separating the living space from the kitchen. Of course, parallel Beatrice has a parallel cat. “It’s a nice place you have here, unfortunately you left it open for intruders.”

“What do you want?”

“If you must know, I am in search of a new witch. I liked the look of your cottage and I decided this is perfect.”

“You can’t do that. Bert already has a familiar.”

“You?” he smirks investigating the kitchen. “You barely reach the milk bowl.”

“Get out of there!” she leaps from her throne, “you can’t leave the carpet! Or….”

“Or what?”

“He’ll get you and pull your whiskers out.”

“Who? This Bert fellow?”

“No.” She inches to the carpet’s edge. She crouches low; dragging her soft belly over the floor. But a scent of rotten food and seeds drift past his nose. He steps towards the pantry—still in its original spot as she meows. A soft terrified sound; like vulnerability incarnated. “Get back here and I’ll tell you. Please, just return to the carpet.”

“Alright, alright, if it bothers you so much.”

“The Rat King,” she listens for his tiny feet tapping over the floor. “If you leave the carpet, he gets you.” He survey’s the area, there isn’t any sign of life other than them. Then he notices the cat bed by the fireplace, and the food bowls, and the rainbow cat laying over the rug.

She hangs her head, her tail flicking behind her less enthusiastically than before. Exploring the cottage, making it his domain, was his greatest pride. But this kitten, she never discovered the sunny spot in Beatrice’s study. Or the view from the master bedroom? The sparrows built their nests in the oak tree on the west side. He watched those eggs hatch every year. In addition, it isn’t a secret that the best sun patch on the first level is under the kitchen table. But her life, so new and fresh, only knew of the carpet.

“My name is Lucy,”

“Peasants call me Lucifer.”

“You think highly of yourself, don’t you?”

“Sweet Lucy, we are familiars, we come from a long line of noble creatures. We are the first line of defense between our witch and the meddling spirits or trickster daemons. When they push their soft bodies too hard, creating spells and potions, who do you think interrupts them so they get their rest? My great-great-great grandfather scoured the lands, returning with feathers for his witch to make writing quills. My great grandfather was an avid hunter. He brought bat wings, frogs, toads, rat tails, whatever his witch needed for the next potion. We are nobility and will not let anyone tell us otherwise.”

“Wow, I didn’t know we could do all that.”

“That and more, and for your first lesson; protect the home. This is your witch’s sanctuary, a temple to their magic. We protect it. Now if I’m not mistaken you have an uninvited guest.”

A rusty creak screeched across the quiet kitchen. It was a sound always followed by Beatrice rewarding him with a treat or her sneaking a biscuit. Even in this world the cottage still had a creaky pantry door. But Lucy cowers, ducking under the skirt of the recliner. Padded feet scurries over the linoleum floor then switches to a tippy tap cadence.

Tall, plump and on two feet, his majesty himself waddles into view. His cinnamon fur shimmers in the patches of sun; no doubt a steady diet of the pantry buffet kept him happy. The Rat King’s bent tail froze when he spied Lucifer.  They regard the other for a moment or two, contemplating the proper course.

“Who are you? I didn’t tell that runt she could have visitors today.”

“So, you give the orders around here?” He ensures to show his glistening claws as he licks his arm.

“That’s right, I’m in charge. And I don’t like your tone. What’s your name bozo?”

“Watch your tongue,”

“Or what, pussy cat? I’m the head honcho ‘round here. You take orders from me!”

“Unlikely,” Lucifer pounces, bounding towards the Rat King. The creature drops to all fours racing around the kitchen; zigzagging between the chair legs. He tumbles into the broom leaning against the counter. Lucifer dodges the wooden handle as it crashes to the floor. The green dustpan flies into the air and smacks the ground behind him. He chases him into the pantry but the rat squeezes behind the clutter. Carefully he sneaks around bags of onions, a water can, and a bag of kitty litter but the rat vanishes.

A chittering high pitch laughter float from above. The wheezing from tiny lungs draws his attention to the third shelf. Claws tap over plastic and he hears something twist open. A soft whoomph hangs in the air; the powder sticks to everything dusting the pantry in a white dust. The plastic baking powder bottle topples from the shelf scaring him from the pantry. 

“And stay out!” The Rat King laughs. He returns to Lucy, with his head hanging in defeat. But she doesn’t tease him, only craning her head to catch a glimpse of the footprints across the clean floor.

“He sure doesn’t like you.”

“Insolence” he mutters. “The fiend must go.” 

“We’ve tried. That’s why Bert got me, but he didn’t know I was such a useless cat when he brought me home.”

“You are a familiar and far from useless. What we need is a plan.”

The house falls quiet. There’s no whimpering mews or twinkling bells from the toys. The Rat King pokes his head from the pantry door. Two cats in the cottage should create more noise. First his twitching nose appears, then his furry shoulders, as his front legs creep into sight a soft whack interrupts his plan.

A glass spice jar spins through the air, making impact with the onions beside him. Next came the oregano, then the garlic powder. He scurries from his hiding place, barely dodging the cumin. His feet claw across the linoleum, the smooth surface pushes his momentum forward. Lucifer continues to swat at the spice jars flinging them at his target.

He watches with glee as the fat rat trips over his own paws; falling headfirst into the cat door. Lucy, in her smallness, hisses and chases the rat through the wobbling flap. Lucifer joins her side as she forces the rat into the forest.

Once he reaches the tree line, a screeching from above announces the presence of the giant eagle, who’s talons waste no time in snatching the rodent. Squeaks and caws erupt as feathers rain from above. He almost collides with the kitten who stares spell bound at the flying creature.

“I’ve heard her screech from the window ledge, but I never knew she was so big!”

“Come little one, before your dessert.” He plucks her by the neck and carries her back to the safety of the doorstep. She mews, jumping from the smooth stones littering the walkway. No longer confined to the carpet she celebrates her new freedom by sniffing and rolling in the dirt.

“Do you know how long I’ve wanted to do this!” Tiny flecks of debris cling to her fur.

“Lucy, baby girl!” A man waves, the vegetables in his bike basket sway as he rides over the gravel road. He stops in front of the brick wall and pulls the bags of groceries from the basket. “Look at you kido, you’re outside!” She runs to his side where she receives a multitude of pats for her bravery. “And you made a friend!”

The tender scene reminds him of his own witch, the one in her own cottage where she is more than likely cooking a feast for her friends. Bert in many ways resembles Beatrice. He taller and slimmer, but kind and warm. He adjusts his crooked glasses as Lucy follows him into the cottage. But Lucifer remains on the stoop.

“Aren’t you coming?” she asks. “Bert’s a bit of a dork, but he’s a nice guy. I think you’ll like it here.”

“It’s exactly like my cottage, and even Bert reminds me of Beatrice. But… he’s your witch, and this is your home. I need to return to mine.”

“But how?”

“I went through a portal in my pantry, but it closed when I arrived. I was foolish to run away, and now I’m stuck here. No offense.”

“Well, if this is identical to your cottage, does that mean there’s a portal in our pantry?”

“Lucy you’re a genius!” He races into the house, bounding to the mess of spices Bert is sweeping. Together they push aside the bag of onions. Between the dust and onion skins is a small door.

“Whoa!” Lucy exclaims, “does this lead to your world?”

“It leads everywhere. However, I wouldn’t recommend the portal room until you have more…experiences under your belt.”

“Okay, I won’t, but you better come back and visit. I will… I mean Bert will miss you.”

“You did okay kid. Remember what I taught you and take care of your witch. Everything else is extra.” His heart races as he slips through the portal, soon he’ll be back in his own cat bed. His weariness lifts when he smells smoky sulfur. Millions of floating portals and archways greets him. But his stomach sinks to his feet. It’ll take forever to find it.

“Lucifer? Kitty cat, where are you?”

Beatrice!

He follows her sing song voice over the maze of steps and landings. She calls his name through the galaxies of stars. His heart breaks as he listens to the worry in her voice. How some words catch in her throat. Hurting her is the last thing he wanted to do. He follows her voice over the stairs until he finds his home. Leaping through the wobbly film he lands on the other side, emerging at the foot of the living room stairs.

It’s exactly how he left it. Her ugly floral couch. Even the cat shaped clock over the recliner. His food bowl is filled, much higher than usual. Additional treats litter the carpet. Has she tried to lure him out? Piles of scones and drinks lay half eaten on the table.

“Lucifer!” she calls from the top of the stairs. She scrambles over the steps and scoops him in her arms. “Where were you?” she snuggles into his fur. Her scent washes over him and he knows he’s home. “I thought you were hiding from the ladies, but once you missed dinner, I got worried. Even the girls looked for you. I’m so happy you’re safe.”

He can’t help but purr as she holds him. Here is where he belongs, with his witch, in their home.