What it means to love…
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Neil Gaiman and LAIKA Company.
“Child, it is the time to go to bed,” a big black cat purred as sternly as it could, knowing very well that the daughter of his owners could be as willful and disobedient as himself.
“Fine,” the girl, whose named was Caroline, unexpectedly agreed as she peeped at the cat from beneath the blankets. “But on conditions.”
“Now what conditions, you little monster?”
“First, don’t call me a monster! It may do poorly on my self-esteem.”
Cats cannot snort in mockery, but this one certainly did its’ best to try.
“Hey, grandma told me that everyone has a personality, no matter how young they are! And secondly, I want a story to put me to bed!”
“Say what now? I promised your mother to only ensure that you go to bed on time!”
“Yeah? Well, my other mother told me that I’ll get my bedtime story – you should have talked with her! Now I want my story – please!”
The cat sighed and rolled his tail around the paws. Nowadays Coraline had a family of her own, with a loving spouse and a child, and the cat himself had more than half of his nine lives left in him, but every once in a while Coraline’s precocious child was almost too much for anyone.
“Very well,” the cat agreed to, reluctantly. “Are you ready to go to sleep, you little pun-ishment?”
“I’m neither a punishment, nor am I little!” the girl shook her head. “My other mother tells me that I’ll have a growth spurt soon, and be almost as tall as her!”
“Mmm… perhaps,” the cat agreed, as he cast a thoughtful look over Caroline’s lanky fea-tures. “Coraline will hate it when she’s the shortest member of your family again.”
“Don’t talk like that! Mother Coraline is really brave and smart! She’s the best!”
“Each of your parents is the best whenever you feel like someone’s insulting them,” the cat muttered wryly, decidedly unimpressed.
“Come on, stop talking about my parents and tell me a story!” the girl asked again, her eyes big and begging.
“Fine, I will, little miss,” the cat purred, indicating that he meant business. “I’ll tell you your story and you will immediately fall asleep – deal?”
“Deal,” the little girl nodded in full seriousness. “Can you tell me an interesting story, about adventures – and no yucky boys!”
“Oh yes, you’re a chip off the old block indeed,” the cat nodded, pretending to be thoughtful. “Now then, once upon a time there was a witch…”
“My other mother told me a story about a witch yesternight,” Caroline piped-up. “Boy was mother Coraline angry at her! Can you try again?”
“Very well. Once upon a time there was a little princess…”
“I don’t like princesses either. My other mother claims that they are all fools and co-quets!”
“What, every one of them?”
“No, just every other one. Can you tell me a story not about a princess, please?”
“Girl, if you will continue to criticize me, you will hurt my feelings,” the cat purred sternly.
“Okay-okay, I’ll zip it!” the girl made according notions and hid under her blanket.
“That’s better,” the cat meowed and stretched-out. “Now then, once upon a time there lived a girl, a perfectly ordinary one, except for her supernatural-“
“-bravery,” the girl finished.
“Very so,” the cat agreed.
“Oh, without a doubt. She knew when it was time to ask a cat for advice after all, didn’t she? But then again, to whom else could she turn? Her parents, of course, were lovely people, but just a touch too introvert and stable – they couldn’t tell the girl how she was supposed to find excitement and adventure that she craved. And then she found a path into a magical land, and all that adventure and excitement found her instead.”
“Did she love it there?”
“Well, kid, the girl first met a witch, who thought of herself as a villain, lived in a ginger-bread house and captured children. But there was a shard of decency and honesty deep within her heart, and when the girl figured out the witch’s plan, she was able to use that decency to outwit her.”
“And from that day on, it was love-hate at the first sight!” Caroline giggled.
“Well, yes, and it was the wrong kind of love as well, to make things worse,” the cat agreed solemnly.
“Really? Well, how many kinds of love are there to begin with?”
“Oh several – when you’re a human or at least try to be like one. Now for us cats, love-“ the cat paused. “Right then, back to our story.”
“Aw, come on, I want to hear more about love among cats,” the girl protested, sensing something good in the air.
“Sorry kid, but if I begin to explain to you the birds and the bees of the cat version, your folks will have me neutered – and be absolutely within their rights. Let’s get back to the story instead.”
“Humph! Fine! So, the girl outsmarted the witch, and-“
Downstairs, the front door of the apartment’s building creaked open.
“Oh look, your parents are home,” the cat purred. “Guess you’ll have to go to sleep on your own now.”
“Oh please, just tell it real quick! I’ll be asleep before you know it!”
“Oh fine. Now, where were we?”
“We were talking about the girl and the witch.”
“Why, so we were.”
The cat paused, and then continued. “Now, once the girl defeated the witch, she didn’t want to go back to the magic land anytime soon. And the witch, meanwhile, grew very sad, because she knew that despite her bad sportsmanship, the girl beat her fair and square, and that the witch’s neighbors, a swarm of extra bad rats won’t let her forget her that in a hurry!”
“And the girl?”
“The girl for a while tried to be happy back home, not knowing that the rats wanted to have her revenge on her ever-so-graceful feline friend. Knowing full well that no rat could ever bear a cat in a fair fight, they found a monster to do their dirty job for them.”
“It was a spider, right? A really giant, monstrous spider!”
“Sure, kid. It was a monstrous spider.”
“But couldn’t the cat just kill the spider fair and square?”
“Unfortunately,” the cat sighed, “that spider had some pretty impressive qualifications – it was created from a daemon’s tooth, you know. And not just any daemon – the daemon of destruction, and so it differed from an average spider even more so than the cat dif-fered from an ordinary cat.”
“But the cat defeated the monster, right?”
“Oh, he did, he did – after a great, great battle, too! But during the battle, the girl got hurt by accident – spiders don’t care whom they hurt and demonic spiders especially, and so they had to go back to the magic land to get a cure before it was too late.”
“And that’s where the witch came back, right?”
“Well, the witch never really left, because she was never the most adventuresome sort of witch – witches rarely are,” the cat pointed out.
“But she helped the girl, right?”
“She actually saved the girl, because there was a decent character deep beneath the lies,” the cat nodded.
“And the girl decided to pay the witch back by giving her the lost hand?”
“Yes – hey! When we were talking about lost hands?”
The girl just looked mischievously at the cat, which sighed, and listened for approaching footsteps back in the corridor.
“Oh fine,” he gave in after not hearing any. “The girl, who was naturally nice, decided to bring back the witch’s hand as the price for the witch saving her from the spider’s poi-son.”
“And that meant plenty more adventures, didn’t it?” the girl insisted.
“Oh yes it did.”
“And the good girl triumphed?”
“Oh yes she did. And then what happened?”
“She had plenty more adventures… Hey? Who’s telling the story?”
“You, apparently,” the cat purred, as he finally heard footsteps outsider the corridor. “Therefore, you’d better get to the end and go to sleep soon.”
“Oh, but I didn’t mean to-“
“You never do, do you?” the cat purred. “Anyways, since that time the girl had plenty more adventures in the realm of magic, meeting friend and foe alive. Her worst foe ever was the terrible black bird with the beak and talons of red steel, determined to eat the girl alive.”
“And the witch?”
“The witch for a while was at a loss, especially after having shown the limit of her pow-ers so clearly.”
“What do you mean?”
“Child,” and here the cat looked very solemn. “All magic comes from the heart, whether good or evil. Without a heart all magic is just smoke and mirrors. And the witch, inciden-tally, had a heart; she just had it hidden from herself – de-activated, so to speak. But the girl gave that heart a good whack and it began to work once again.”
The cat paused.
The girl too grew quiet, as she understood that her babysitter was now talking about seri-ous things.
“Anyways,” the cat continued , “the witch’s heart began to work again, and the witch her-self understood that whatever she wanted – or had to – do she needed to do it soon. For the clock was ticking for the girl: soon she wouldn’t be able to come to the other world anymore: her own world was re-asserting a claim on her, and if that happened, then the world of magic and all of the girl’s friends would be lost to her. And so the witch decided to sacrifice herself to ensure that the girl’s double-life wouldn’t be lost.”
“Sacrifice?” now the girl’s eyes were bulging from fear.
“Well, essentially the witch was going to give up being a witch and a lot of other things besides in order to have her younger friend – that’s the girl who was somewhat older by then – in the magical world. Not the best plan, but the witch had always had problems with originality.”
“She should have spoken with the cat, then,” the girl said with certainty.
“Yes, well, you must understand that the witch was once a human herself, before she be-came a witch. Sometimes that happens, but now that former humanity was trying to re-assert itself with a vengeance. And so, the witch’s idea of self-sacrifice was actually quite human.”
“Did it work?”
“Yes, to a point. The witch became fully – or almost fully – human and went to live in the human world. Still, the girl kind-of missed the witch, and when she found-out that the witch wasn’t as dead as everyone thought-“
“She was happy?”
“So happy, that the two of them fought almost as violently as the first time they met, long ago. Only it was mostly with words, and-“
There was the sound of an unlocking door. The girl quickly climbed under the blanket and closed her eyes. The cat went nonchalantly out of the room, and purred at the girl’s parents with demand.
“Oh look, Coraline, our youngster wore down our babysitter,” one of the two said, as the cat with picked up into the air and observed intently. “I daresay this calls for a dish of cream.”
Still maintaining his dignity only as a cat can, the latter bit the speaker gently on her nose. This bite emitted no blood, but only giggles from Coraline.
“Look Bell, I think he wants some fish of ours as well.”
“Yes, Coraline,” the girl’s second – or other – mother, rather taller and more somber n clothing than Coraline was, agreed. “And do you want anything else as well now that your parents are finally gone?”
“Oh gee, I don’t know,” the sparkle in the younger woman’s eyes mirrored the one in the eyes of the older female. “I’m so tired that I just might go to bed. Care to join?”
A small smile grazed the older woman’s lips. “Does this mean that I am forgiven?”
“Well, if you promise to cease and desist the whole ‘Bellatrix Black’ routine with our kid, then yes.”
“Fine, but you got to permit me to put your parents into a snow globe or something the next time they come to visit.”
“Bell! You and dad get along just fine, especially when he starts to talk about comic books!”
The taller and older woman just groaned. “We’ll talk about that tomorrow, my dear Cor-aline.”
“As you wish, my darling Cristobel. Now let us feed the cat and get to bed.”
As warm and friendly feminine laughter – and intense cat purring – reached little Caro-line’s ears, she smiled. All was well in the family once again.