It’s been a while since I’ve done one of Wendig’s challenges, so I thought this would be a good time to get back into the game. This week’s challenge is to choose one thing each from two given lists, writing a story that incorporates both things. I chose 1). a talking cat, and 2). an escaped prisoner. Here is ‘Cat vs Con,’ at exactly 1500 words. I hope you enjoy!
Stanley pulled his hat low as a man and woman passed his seat, their fine clothes rubbing against his own ragged ones. Holding a shaky breath, he wondered why train aisles had to be so narrow. Once the couple had taken the seats two rows behind him, he let out his breath slowly and pushed his hat up a bit. On the seat next to him was a small satchel filled with his scant belongings. A man on the run had little need of possessions. It was the freedom he craved, and the fresh air his lungs basked in. Everything he had with him was stolen, even the toothbrush and half smoked cigar he had stuffed in the satchel. His light fingers felt rusty, but he was pleasantly surprised at how easily he made off with the news boy’s hat. Stanley was a small man, and luckily the boy’s hat fit perfectly. The fishmonger’s coat, on the other hand, dwarfed his small body, and let off a faint odor. Four days of constant wear hadn’t lessened the scent any, nor had Stanley gotten used to it in that time. Now, as he waited for the other passengers to board, he prayed that the smell would keep the seats nearest him empty.
Outside, Stanley watched as the conductor walked the platform and assisted passengers onto the train. Finally, in a loud booming voice, he announced “All Aboard!” Stanley tapped his foot nervously, anxiously waiting for the train to get on its way. The number of people boarding the train slowly diminished, and Stanley heaved a quiet sigh of relief. A moment later, the train jolted forward and began to pull away from the platform. Stanley quickly scanned the seats around him and found them empty. After almost four years in chains and five days on the run, it was beginning to look like Stanley’s luck was changing. Leaning his head back against the seat, he closed his eyes and smiled.
A loud banging from the front of the car woke Stanley from his happy thoughts. His eyes shot open and immediately sought shelter beneath the brim of his hat. At the front of the car, an old man squeezed his way down the aisle, no doubt looking for an open seat. Stanley froze as the old man, wearing layers of tattered cloth covered in trinkets and medallions and a ridiculous short, pointy hat, advanced through the car, finally turning into the open row across from him. The clatter made by the man was astonishing, and Stanley found himself sighing in relief once the old man had finally settled himself and stopped moving his various cases around.
When the car once again got quiet, Stanley stole a glance across from him. The old man sat in the seat closest to the window. On the seat next to him, he had stacked a number of small cases. On the floor sat the largest case, one with holes along the sides, and a wire door on the front. Inside lay a black cat, its blue eyes staring lazily back at Stanley. The old man slumped against the window and muttered quietly to himself, his breath creating a patch of condensation on the glass. Stanley sat almost motionless in his seat across the aisle, not able to relax with someone so near. Every few minutes he glanced at the old man and listened to his muttered ramblings until, about twenty minutes later, the old man fell asleep.
Once Stanley heard the man’s snores, he pushed his hat away from his eyes and scanned the pile of boxes across from him. They were all old, each one showing various signs of abuse. The box on the bottom was missing an entire corner, and Stanley thought he could see cloth stuffed inside. He guessed the case contained clothes and moved to the middle case. This one had a few small punctures, with a few patches here and there, but the latches had locks, and Stanley decided that it would most likely be more trouble than it was worth. He moved to inspecting the top case and immediately smiled. It had a large gash on the side, and one of the two latches was held together with string, with the second latch missing entirely. This would be an easy target.
Stanley heard a low chuckle and immediately looked away and pulled his hat down. Another laugh, this one louder, and then silence. Stanley shot a quick glance at the old man, but he was still sleeping against the window, his mouth hanging open slightly. Stanley shook his head and took a calming breath before deciding that the laughing must have come from the couple a few rows back. Slowly, he returned to his perusal of the top case, even leaning into the aisle to get a better look.
“Don’t do it.” The calm voice startled Stanley, making him jump and sending his hat slightly askew. He looked around for the source of the voice, but the man still snored against the window, and no one else was in easy speaking range. Stanley held his breath as he tried to curb his confusion, but the voice returned before he could decide on an explanation. “It’s not worth it.”
Stanley gasped and looked around again, this time frantically, but still he could find no source of the voice. He heard a low sigh. “Down here,” the voice said. Slowly, Stanley lowered his eyes until they settled on the case housing the cat. Blue eyes met his and he frowned. The cat’s teeth appeared as its lips pulled back in what could only be described as a smile. Stanley’s eyes widened in shock and a gasp caught in his throat until finally erupting in a faint squeak. The old man shifted against the window and muttered before settling back into his slumber.
“Did you say something?” Stanley whispered the question, hardly believing he was talking to a cat. The cat rolled his eyes in a very human fashion.
“I know what you’re thinking, an I’m telling you that you’ll regret it.” The cat gestured toward the top case.
“I’m not thinking about anything!” Stanley stammered, shaking his head.
The cat laughed. “Right now you’re thinking that you’ve lost your mind. After all, you are talking to a cat.” It smiled again. “No one would believe you, not even him.” It glanced in the direction of its sleeping owner. “He doesn’t even know his spell worked.”
“Spell?” Stanley’s eyes narrowed in confusion.
“He may be old and senile, but he is proficient in the magical arts. In a very memorable manic episode, he decided that his feline companion should be able to speak, so he discovered a spell that gave me the gift of speech.”
“But,” Stanley asked, still disbelievingly, “I thought you said he wouldn’t believe me if I told him you could talk?”
“Just because I can talk doesn’t mean I want to talk to him. I mean, look at him!” the cat laughed and glanced over his shoulder again, “Does he look like he’s fun to talk to?” The cat rolled his eyes again. “Always going on about this and that, the fool wouldn’t let me get a word in even if I wanted to!” Stanley blinked in response. Loud squeaking reverberated through the car as the engineer applied the brakes and began slowing the train down.
“That being said,” the cat continued, “even though the old wizard is a fool, he is still a wizard. Getting into that case of his is the easy part; recovering from whatever vile hex he sends your way would obviously be the hard part.” Stanley glanced at the sleeping man before meeting the cat’s stare again. “Have you ever seen a man turned into a newt? I have,” the cat raised a paw and gestured to itself, “and it’s not a pleasant memory!” It squeezed its eyes shut and shook its head, clearly remembering the sight. It sighed. “Look, I can tell that you are a man who enjoys taking things without permission, so I will give you this one piece of advice and spare you the task of asking beforehand.” Stanley’s eyes widened, but the cat ignored him. “Get of this train right now, while you still have two legs! Forget about the half crazed wizard you sat by on the train, and for God’s sake, forget about his talking cat! Look,” it said, pointing a black paw toward Stanley’s window, “the train is stopping, so now is your chance.”
Stanley hesitated, but looked out the window anyway. Two policemen stood on the platform only feet from where he sat. He took a deep breath and looked back at the cat. A short nod from the blue-eyed feline was all he needed. Stanley grabbed his satchel and hurried down the narrow aisle before jumping down onto the platform. Glancing at the policemen, Stanley lowered his hat and blended into the crowd.