Few, perhaps, would call Stonehenge a magnificent monument. Impressive and worthy of preservation? Indeed—but a wonder of the ancient world?
Dear reader, can you be induced to believe that in the far-flung year of 3001 (far-flung, of course, from decency), of all our contemporary Seven Wonders, none but the Pyramids of Giza were preserved? That the others rotted in relative unknownity, noncarity? O frivolous age!
Thereby was Stonehenge upgraded to a world wonder, being one of the few surviving ancient works of any caliber. But tourists rarely came. All who saw Stonehenge left saying, “So this is the best they could do? Stacked rocks? Wow, cavemen really are stupid.” They also said, “Wonder of the world? More like wonder who in the world thought this was a good idea.” Then they also said, “More like blunder of the world.”
So the humble minor wonder was disgraced, as were all the ‘stupid’ ancient cavepeople. Irreverent towns lurched closer and closer, and Stonehenge, like an earthworm without even the strength to wriggle, cowered. Soon those towns would be cities—and the ‘Henge on Earth would be as a worm on the sidewalk!
Tonight, at least, the cities, in their gloom procession, had not yet mussed the stones. Standing by the monument, one could indeed see towns on the periphery peeking above woodland trees, the buffer of plains barely holding. But at least they still were humble towns, their people recently (only fifty years back) “compelled,” by force of law, to werewolfinize.
These people, relative rustics as they were, did not even notice when Bistritz landed in the clearing, his head touching the base of Stonehenge, his tail, nubby, poking the trees. He dozed.
“I see around me a set of monolithic stones,” monologued Adam, with snakelike path weaving through said stones. “Some stand straight up, others appear to have fallen. Still others stand atop two more, making rudimentary stone arches, henge-like in shape.” He laid a hand on one and stood transfixed. “Such a curious structure,” he mused. “Whatever could it be?”
Dracula and Robert stood together nearby, under an arch of rock. “They call it Stonehenge,” explained Dracula.
Robert said airily, “Ah, me, remember, when, they, build, this.”
“Really? What was it for?”
Robert’s focus lapsed; he tumbled eyelong into the glittering sky, and the desecrated moon. One of its satellite sub-moons, a larger fragment, happened to explode with dynamite at just that moment! “Oh, such, shame,” whimpered Robert. “What, happen, you, only, thing, I, always, known…” Then spilled forth tears as salty as the ocean.
“I know, don’t it just bring an old tear to your eye?”
What the heck? Who said that?
The men looked left. The men looked right. Then they looked down. It was a black cat!
“Eeeh, who were you expectin’, the Easter Bunny?” she mewled. She commenced pretend-carrot-eating sounds.
Adam joined them in wonderment, though of a somewhat different character. “What be this?” he said with a swallow. “Witchcraft and wizardry?”
She continued to make pretend-carrot-eating sounds.
“Don’t be superstitious…pardon me, actually you are correct,” Dracula self-checked. “My female feline friend, the name is Count Dracu-”
“Garlic Farlic Babarlic!” chanted the cat, and as if by magic, an orange cloud of garlic essence exploded into Dracula’s face, by actual magic!
“Bleh! Bleh, bleh!” he retched! “My special eyes!” He fell backward into the arms of his friends, swatting furiously at his face.
Adam gasped, “Dracula, my compatriot, what has happened?”
“Urgh! It seems I was careless in my survey of the next person of interest,” he coughed. “Do not worry about my health—garlic is no vampire bane, merely incredibly irritating! Rather, set me down! Allow me to recover! And look ahead!” He pointed at the amazing cat—who ran away with fleeting feet!
Adam yelled dramatically, “Oops!”
He and Robert laid the Count down. A rock was his pillow! “Quick!” cried the fishman. “Catch! That! Cat!”
And they were off, the twosome scrambling to their feet, the onesome feline perched on an arch, looking down persnickety.
“I bet you can’t keep up with me, fish-breath,” she joked in the voice and manner of a washed-up comedian off the Las Vegas strip.
“Why, you felon!” roared Adam. He stopped to raise his right arm, commanding a mummy wrap to extend and reach for the cat.
“Double Gubble Bubble!” she spelled. A thick, soap-bubbuline barrier surrounded her. The wrap ricocheted off, merely popping the shield. “Ha! I bet you really want your mummy!”
“Wouldn’t, be, so, irate, if, jokes, not, so, lame,” growled Robert, who, despite his fatherly charm, had never loved wordplay.
“Too, bad, can’t, you, make, stop, me,” she puffed.
He swore and rattled his fist! “Me, don’t, rearrange, words!”
She retorted in her stupid-guy voice, “Huh huh, then try to catch me, ook ook caveman talk!” Then, rather humorously, she cat-apulted herself from the arch! Then she ran into the woods.
Robert took off with even hastier feet than before and cried, “Cavemen, were, respectable, peopleeeeeeee!”
“Hrm,” said Adam, tottering on behind. “This doth become increasingly awkward.”
That dastardly cat bolted into the woods, disappearing in twigs and trees, but Robert and the dry guy were not so easily deterred. Ducking under branches, stomping over logs…compared to the cat, these two were graceless and far too heightful. Adam surged ahead, but despite all his speed, he could not keep his eyes on her; he saw legs one moment, a tail the next, and at last only a formless shadow.
With a wrestling of leaves, Adam broke through the forest. His first concern: the black cat was missing. Impossible…surely they had followed her path immaculately!
His second concern: before him was the village, a cobblestone street lined with houses, mailboxes, swan’s-neck streetlights. Fear struck him, stilled him. There were no people about. It hardly mattered; there was a threat of people. If none were hunters, that mattered not either; he feared the normal person most of all.
He turned to see Robert rolling and stumbling to join him. Mr. Fishman began to shout, but then, with a compassionate look into Adam’s eyes, stopped himself. “You, turn, back,” he whispered.
“Now, when I have gone this far? When it is these werewolves that I have sworn to confront?”
“Well…if, you, ready.” Robert got down to business, as was symbolically communicated by him rubbing his hands together. “Where, would, cat, go, in, city?”
A catty shriek from the east answered his question. Looking down the stony road and clumps of houses, Adam cupped a hand around one ear; now that he focused, he could hear a whole jumble of voices coming from that-a-way, some human, one feline, many from across the animal kingdom. What rabid zoo…?
“There be my test,” said Adam. The duo ran east, keeping to the edge of the forest so its kind leaves might conceal them.
Soon they came to a park with a great loud gathering. So this explained the absent streets; it would be no surprise to learn the entire town had congregated here, their mini-moons so close to one another that they nearly scraped.
Nor was it inconceivable that the entire contents of their woodlands and farmlands was here, for in the hands of every werewolf was a struggling animal! Not all of this tumult could be seen from the trees, but Adam could see enough: two wolves pushing a grunting cow; hissing squirrels grabbed by their tails, as if they were a banana bunch; beetles by the handful!
Had the townsfolk come to show their livestock a local monument, the ancient tree trunk labelled “Old Stakey?” No, for they had a new idol: a metal box thirty feet tall and thirty wide, and thirty in the other dimension. People thronged at both open ends; what marvel they were seeing within, neither Adam nor Robert could tell, for they remained on the edge, in the shade, peering through.
Then the crowd broke to let a fellow werewolf stride in, one who was dripping wet and holding a sack that thrashed. The fish and mummy could see it now: what stretched through the box was a conveyor belt, onto which the bag was emptied. Floppy fish streamed on, though some waggled off into the grass. The others were conveyed beltly into darkness.
Robert looked away. “Heard, of, this,” he whispered.
Then the metal box whirred, rattled, briefly thundered! And a message arrived on the black screen it bore, and the message was repeated by a stilted, electronic voice from within: “BROWN…HAIR…with…POINTED…EARS.”
Soft plops came from the box’s exit, and a deafening siren blared. A bright red X adorned the screen. One person began to clap, but most seemed disappointed, hanging their heads. Adam distinctly heard one townsperson say, “Aw, shoot. Guess we can’t have those anymore.”
“Robert,” he whispered, “though I watch as intently as I dare, I still do not understand.”
“Those, fish, rejected. Failed, werewolf, test.”
“I…” Adam gulped tremendously. “I dare not ask what becomes of them now.”
But his words floundered under a sudden torrent of noise. Now the people sent creatures through the box at rapid speed! Rushing to the belt of conveyance, they tossed in their squirrels, rolled on their goats; one even placed, as gingerly as could be done, an ant-mound dribbling with dirt! The great box gave them X after X after X, all while the rejects piled up at the other end. This pile rose higher and higher, clear above the heads of werewolves and haunches of bulls; Adam watched as one pig too many rocketed off the belt and into the center of the animal mound, causing the whole collective to fall with a squelch and a solid echo, like bowling pins!
The werewolves scattered and howled, rightly fearing the avalanche, and in that fear the hubbub around the box paused. The fallen hill lay where it was, sulky (despite the fact that most species do not have tear ducts, and thus do not sulk). What animals remained untested puffed and squirmed.
Then someone cried, “I got that cat.”
Someone else cheered, “Woo!”
A stony-faced werewolf marched up to the box, holding a sack that writhed, meowled and yeowled. Applause followed, gentle but rising. The wolf grabbed a black cat out by her scruff and, ignoring her swats and hisses, tossed her onto the conveyor.
A sickening lump rose in Adam’s gullet. That familiar cat, too slow now, squirming and scrabbling to her feet even as the conveyor moved, could not escape the decision—rejection!—of the great judge Box…but when she fell, Adam would have to charge into the crowd and catch her. He crouched like a runner on his mark.
The machine echoed, “BROWN…HAIR…with…POINTED…EARS.”
But no plips or plops emerged from the box, nor did the red X sound; just a dull douf noise, the background snorts of animals, and the grumbling of werewolves denied their show. Anger rippled through the crowd, and grumbles became mad barks. One wolf kicked the box—but another held him back and cried, “Settle down! It’s not the box; that pesky cat just got the better of us, as if by magic!”
“Aw, not again!”
The barks lowered again. Adam blinked, processed the scene, and finally relaxed, wiping his brow with relief. The miraculous cat had saved herself.
“I’d have to be purretty stupid to let myself be caught that easily.”
Adam and Robert whirled around. When had that cat, with her green-gold eyes, gotten herself on that rock behind them?
They paused, as though this meeting were a stand-off. Then the two men dived—and she disappeared, went up in smoke. Old cat, old trick…and two stooges earnest enough to fall for it.
Dracula’s friends had been strung along from the very beginning! When that black cat first entered the forest, she rattled off a spell which created one, two doubles! (The spell for this was not Bubble Gubble Double, but the less-intuitive Fake-Me Lake-Me Crake-Me).
Eventually, slumped in defeat, Adam and Robert would rejoin Dracula at Stonehenge. In the meantime, the chief vampire laid on his back, watching the skies through irritated eyes. He said, “Ho hum.”
The majority of stars weren’t stars at all. They were aircraft, or spaceships, and their patterns were erratic, fast or slow. The more Dracula tried to focus, the less he could see. He did notice several spaceships constantly pausing to back up, over and over, which was excruciating because when you’re flying you can just steer back into place. It’s not like you’re parking, man. You’re in outer space.
But rather than cry over the disruption of the constellations, Dracula chose to accept it. Progress cannot be taken back, after all.
“Looks like warmed-over kitty litter, doesn’t it?” said a newly familiar voice.
“That is one way to describe it.”
The cat was back, without her hunters. She sat down right on Dracula’s chest and stared into his face. “So,” she said, “what brings ya to Stonehenge, Drac?”
“Even the felines have heard of the vampire!”
“Well, what, didja think I throw garlic into the faces of everyone I meet? Yeah wrong. I just purrfur to have conversations one-on-one. Rather than one-on-some.”
“I understand the feeling at times. Listen…I have heard of a cat with a storied past living in these parts and just had to beg your assistance.”
“Mrrrowr,” she meowed in lieu of “hmm.”
“As king of the night, I seek an audience with the man who did this to the night sky. But to fulfill such an impossible task, I need people with special talents.”
The cat gasped with excitement, and her eyes grew as if she had seen a sheep-sized rat. “Are you going to make him fix it?”
“I plan to stop him from doing the same to another moon and another planet.”
“What are you, kitten me?” she barked. “Why should I go out of my cat schedule to help some bat save some aliens? What have aliens ever done for me?”
“I understand that this may be much to ask for,” said Dracula, staring into the cat’s eyes, his heart genuine. “In your lifetime, you have faced far too many trials. You healed with witchcraft in the sixteenth century, and for thus intervening in the lives of countless humans, pets, and woodland creatures, you were burned at the stake. But you managed, by the skin of your teeth, to send your spirit into a cat. Townspeople grow old, but you live on, returning to this circle to renew the magic vows.
“You may try to live apart from humanity, to encounter them only as you please, but look—the forest is peeled back further and further into nothing. This ancient stone circle will not hold for long.
“Now, if you were to ask why you should help me, subjecting yourself again to the world of humans, I could not give you a proper answer…”
“There’s a ‘but’ coming, isn’t there,” she said.
“Correct. If you can bother with my silly whim and my coup is successful, I still do not believe I can give you back the sky of your youth, but…”
“I do happen to enjoy the flying stars, mind you,” said the cat as she lightly leaped from Dracula’s body. “Their colors are nothing like the white stars. A little closer to the Christmastime lights I see when I travel into town. They’re gorgeous.”
Dracula pondered this, nodded, and said, “Then I supposed it is no great loss to keep those where they are. Ah—look, you may like this.”
He pointed to the sky, and the cat turned to see. A satellite, due to a server malfunction, had just caught fire and was hurtling down through the Earth’s exosphere, due to splash and simmer in the ocean. From here it looked like any star or ship, only it was a jot brighter, glinting warmly. The cat reared up and swatted at it, and swatted at it again, and then a third time; she would never swat it.
To regain the diminutive dame’s attention, Dracula pushed himself into a proper sitting position, faced her, and, insofar as he could, bowed to her. “But I can give you the moon.”
She settled, and chuckled. “Really, meow.”
“On my pride as an immortal vampire I do swear it. I will do my best to fulfill this vow before your nine lives are up, my cat friend.”
“I’ve had longer than nine lives’ worth already,” she snarked, “but for what it’s worth, I’m Trials, Trials the witch cat. I’d say it’s a pleasure, if it was.”
“Likewise,” the vampire agreed. Then the two shook a hand and a paw, because they were a man shaking hands with an animal. This made a band of four. “Now, what of my two acquaintances?”
“Go in the woods and find out, Drac.”
It was not long, however—two seconds, in fact—before the silhouettes of Robert and Adam burgeoned on the horizon. When they spotted Dracula, they began to run; when they were close enough to spot Trials at his feet, they seemed caught between joy and frustration.
“My fellows, this is Trials,” said Dracula, “a specialist of the spelling sort.”
“Oh, they know,” she said with a wink.
Robert meant it when he said, “You, really, here? That, wonderful!” So too, though, did he mourn his aching calves as he realized that the chase through the forest had been for nothing. It was all the cat’s own caprice…unless playing along was her own cat-price—!
Adam kneeled to the cat’s level and cautiously held out a fist for her to sniff. He said, half to himself, “You wanted to show us humanity’s wrath. To teach us, perhaps? To demonstrate why you fear even us, the monsters in human shape?”
Trials yawned and said, “The whole rejecting-non-werewolf-animals thing was more of a welcome coincidence. You buffoons aren’t scary. I cough up worse things than you.”
Dracula, well satisfied by this reunion, clapped his hands to hurry them on. “Now, then! Our time is only getting shorter. May I escort you all to the bat?”
Trials piped up, “I don’t know, may you?”
“Ah ha! I do believe I am going to like this.”
Adam and Robert exchanged furtive eyerolls.