Myth Monday: How the Sacred Birman Cat Was Created (Burmese Legend)

Myth Monday: How the Sacred Birman Cat Was Created (Burmese Legend)

By Kara Newcastle

Birman2 by Berk wikimedia commons

In Khmer, animals were precious. Some outside the empire would look at an animal and just see an animal, but the Khmer people knew that human souls could be reincarnated into animals, where they would await their final departure into the afterlife. Each human had an animal scared to their station, and cats had the special honor of carrying the souls of priests and kings.

Sorrowfully, the Khmer empire was not always at peace. Strife from without and within could ravage the land at any time, and it was during one of these wars that the priests found themselves fleeing deep into the mountains of northern Burma. Once they were sure they were safe, the priests constructed an astonishing temple Lao-Tsun, dedicated to their gods Song Ho and his wife, the blue-eyed goddess Tsun Kyankse. There, the priests were able to worship and study in peace, caring for the one hundred temple cats and any creature or person they found in need.

Bagan,_Myanmar,_Htilominlo_Temple_2 by Vyacheslav Argenberg wikimedia commons

The chief priest was Mun-Ha, and none could compare to him in his piety, and in his devotion to Tsun Kyankse, who oversaw the reincarnation of souls. He was such a generous and kind man that the goddess blessed him with a beard of gold, so all who saw him would see how good and pure he was. Always at his side was Sinh, the cat. Sinh had eyes as yellow as the chief priest’s golden beard, and his body was covered in long, soft fur the color of earth. Sinh devotedly followed Mu-Ha everywhere he went, purring and chirping to him and no one else.

The priests and their cats lived in peace for only a short while; the horrible night came when their enemies discovered the new temple hidden in the mountains and attacked it with the rage of a thousand demons. In the chaos of the massacre, Mun-Ha was found slumped on the floor, dead. Wide-eyed Sinh was huddled beside him, at times laying back his ears and hissing at the murderers when they came too close.

Upon seeing the body of their cherished abbot, the other priests despaired; how could this have happened? They worked so hard to stay hidden, they dedicated every moment of their lives to worshipping the gods and caring for weak, doing all that was required of them, and now they were all to die? Not even the virtuous Mun-Ha had been spared!

As if sensing the priests’ anguish, Sinh suddenly stood. Looking down at his fallen master, Sinh lifted one front paw, then the other, placing each of his four feet gently down on the dead Mun-Ha’s forehead.

As the confused priests watched, a golden light seemed to burn from deep within Sinh’s chest. It flared out like a roar of flame, swirling around the cat’s body. As the light passed over him, Sinh’s fur changed from earthen brown to glowing gold. His eyes, once a burning yellow, shown with the same blue shade of the goddess Tsun Kyankse. Each of Sinh’s paws turned snow white.

Blinking his incredible blue eyes once, Sinh turned and gazed at the temple entrance.

All the priests understood immediately; they had witnessed a miracle. Mun-Ha’s soul had passed into Sinh’s body, and the goddess Tsun Kyankse was now watching over them. Knowing that they had not been forsaken, the priests rallied and fought back, driving their stunned attackers back and barricading the doors. Unable to breach the temple a second time, their enemies gave up and returned home.

For six days Sinh did not eat nor drink. He only sat before the statue of the goddess, staring at her. On the morning of the seventh day, the beautifully transformed Sinh quietly passed away, and the priests knew that Mun-Ha had passed on into paradise.

With Mun-Ha gone, the priests knew they need to select a new leader. After seven days of discussion, they came together to make the final decision. Before anyone could suggest a candidate, a pattering of hundreds of paws filled the air. The priests looked down in amazement as the 99 remaining temple cats flooded the room—and each and every one had been transformed the way Sinh had, with golden fur, blue eyes, and white paws. Seeing this as a sign from Tsun Kyankse, the priests bowed to the cats and waited quietly as the felines all trotted up to one young priest named Legoa, forming a circle around him. Thus, the new chief priest was chosen.

It was from these cats that the Sacred Cat of Burma—known as the Birman to world—was created.

Sacré_de_Birmanie_240808 by Grez wikimedia commons

Myth Monday: The Cat and The Cradle (Dutch Folklore)

Myth Monday: The Cat and The Cradle (Dutch Folklore)

By Kara Newcastle

You know the Netherlands—you’ve seen the pictures of the bright tulips, the churning windmills, the sharply peaked and tightly nestled houses along the canals. This is a bright and cheery country.

It wasn’t always that way.

There was a time when the Netherlands was pagan and wild. This was long before people tamed the land with the canals and dykes, so nature struck whenever it pleased, frequently flooding the farms and forests, drowning cattle and annihilating crops and orchards. It was one such flood that carried off a baby girl named Honig-je (Little Honey), and the cat that saved her.

Whenever her parents were away, Honig-je was kept company by a beautiful cat with luxurious long, thick fur. This cat raised her kittens alongside Honig-je, and when those kittens grew and moved on, the mother cat would dote on Honig-je like she was one of her own babies. The cat was so affectionate to the little girl that people began to call the cat Dub-belt-je, or Little Double, because she was showered twice as much love on Honig-je as she did on anyone else.

One day while the men were out hunting and the women were gathering crops, Honig-je slept soundly in her cradle with Dub-belt-je snuggled on top of her like the warmest, fluffiest blanket. For days storms had raged, swelling the rivers with rainfall until the waters swamped the banks. A horrific flood roared through the village, tearing through the longhouses there—and sweeping away the cat and the baby in the cradle.

As waves crashed over the cradle, rocking it violently from side to side, Dub-belt-je scrambled out of the sobbing Honig-je’s hands and leapt onto the roof of the cradle. Every time the cradle teetered one way and tipped another, Dub-belt-je ran in the opposite direction, using her weight to balance the floating cradle, keeping it from being overwhelmed and sunk. She continued this, keeping Honig-je safe, until the floodwaters pushed the cradle into the river, and they were swept downstream.

Some time passed before the waters calmed enough for Dub-belt-je to settle. Peeking down into the cradle to check on her beloved human baby, Dub-belt-je would then scan the shoreline, knowing that she had to get Honig-je to safety, and knowing that she couldn’t do that alone. She needed people to help.

The river carried them for miles, passing by fields and forests.  Night fell dark and heavy, the moon and stars smothered by the rainclouds, but Dub-belt-je was a cat, and she could see perfectly fine in the dark. With her incredible glowing eyes, Dub-belt-je began to notice that the land on either side of the river was becoming more developed. There were roads, and bridges and—ahead! She could see a tall, pointed thing … she knew what that was! A church steeple!

Digging her claws into the cradle, Dub-belt-je threw back her head and screamed for all she was worth. She howled and yowled and screeched as the cradle floated down the river, passing the church, houses, shops—all dark, all shuttered. All the humans were asleep!

Taking a deep breath, Dub-belt-je shrieked again, dredging up the most awful noise she could pull out of herself. As she screamed, Dub-belt-je started noticing little points of glittering lights appearing in pairs along the edge of the river, over the bridges, on the rooftops—cats! They were cats!

Nederlands: Gevelsteen op het Huis te Kinderdijk van het katje op de wieg. By RubenKoman 2010 wikimedia commons

Dub-belt-je wailed to her feline cousins, and, realizing her plight, every cat in the town began to caterwaul at the top of their lungs. The cacophony of their raspy voices rattled through every building until, at long last, a light glowed behind a shuttered window. The shutter banged open, and a young boy leaned out, scowling, rubbing his eyes as he extended a candle out into the darkness.

“What’s gotten into all of you?” he fumed. “Don’t you know that we’re trying to …”

Looking up at him, Dub-belt-je gave her most piteous cry. She felt her voice breaking, going out. She couldn’t keep this up any longer. If he didn’t see them now …

Hearing the saddest meow out of all the noise around him, the boy blinked, then squinted down into the dark river. “What is that?”

All at once, the boy’s eyes focused and he gasped in horror. Jerking his head back into his house, the boy yelled for his mother as he ran out the door. Sliding down the bank, the boy splashed into the river, wading in up to his chest, reaching out and grabbing the edge of the cradle. As he towed the cradle back to shore, Dub-belt-je sank down into a relieved heap.

By then the boy’s mother had reached the edge of the river, and she cried out in shock at the sight of the waterlogged cradle and bedraggled cat. The woman and the boy looked inside, saw the beautiful tiny Honig-je, and swiftly brought both her and her feline savior into their home. It was here that Honig-je grew into a lovely young woman, with Dub-belt-je faithfully at her side. Honig-je married the boy who saved her, named Dirck, and their son became a great healer and banisher of evil fairies. The village where Honig-je was rescued is now called Kinderdijk (the children’s dyke), and a statue of Dub-belt-je stands guard over Honig-je’s tomb in the church. Every year on December sixth, Sinter Klaas Day, Dutch children would place a new collar on the statue of the heroic cat.


Myth Monday: The Colony of Cats (Italian Fairy Tale)

Myth Monday: The Colony of Cats (Italian Fairy Tale)

By Kara Newcastle

Once upon a time, animals could talk. Not just meow or bark or oink, they could actually speak real words. Back in those days the rodents absolutely ran amok, eating every piece of food they could get their nasty little teeth on, so the townsfolk were quite willing to pay someone—human or animal—to deal with the plague. In Sicily, a colony of cats hired themselves out as effective rat catchers, were paid handsomely, and used that money to buy their own villa.

Since they weren’t exactly capable of maintaining a house, the cats employed a human servant to cook and clean for them. When a lady in town found herself in need of a job, she would announce to the world, “I will go and live with the cats,” and then head to their villa to apply for work. The cats would hire her, but the maids who worked there usually became lonely for human company—or exasperated by the cats’ exacting demands—and would not stay long. Therefore, a position was usually available.

On the other side of the town lived a widow and her two daughters. The eldest, Peppina, was pretty, but she was also arrogant and snide. Her younger sister, Lizina, was even fairer and possessed a much more pleasant personality, but she was all too frequently at the receiving end of her mother’s bad temper and her sister’s cruel remarks. Their mother resented Lizina, seeing her as a burden when they had so little money to support themselves. Peppina, jealous of Lizina since the day she was born, did everything she could to humiliate and torture her little sister. If Lizina did anything to defend herself, she was beaten, and her food was taken away and given to Peppina.

Finally, Lizina couldn’t stand another moment of torment and she shouted at her family, “I don’t know why you hate me so much, but if you want me to go, fine! I’ll go live with the cats!”

“Then get going!” her mother howled, raising the broomstick she used to beat her child and chasing the poor girl out of the house. Lizina wasted no time in running away, leaving with only the ragged clothes on her back. Bitter but resolute, the girl traversed through town and over the countryside, hardly pausing for even a moment, until she reached the cats’ home.

Just as Lizina was walking up to the gate, the front door to the villa flew open and an older woman stormed out, angrily knotting her shawl over her head and muttering a thousand curses under her breath. As she stomped by, Lizina could see a dozen bright red scratch marks up and down the woman’s face.

“Mouse cacciatore! Rat stigghiola! Lizard ravioli!” the woman screeched. “Disgusting! I’ll never cook for those cats ever again!”

Watching the woman stomp away, Lizina hesitated for a moment. Mouse cacciatore …? That didn’t sound very appetizing. And those scratches—did the cats do that?

Wondering if she had made a mistake in leaving her mother, Lizina turned to look at the house again—and jumped in surprise. At her feet sat a very pretty little gray striped cat, gazing p at Lizina curiously. Behind the cat were five more, all of different sizes and colors, each spaced out along the walkway with the last one seated just inside the door.

The little gray cat at her feet cocked its head at her. “Hello,” it said. “How can I help you?”

Remember, this was a time when animals and humans could speak to one another, so Lizina was not at all surprised by a talking cat. The girl smiled politely down at the little cat. “Hello. My name is Lizina. I came looking for work?”

The little cat’s tongue flicked out and ran over its lips. “Well! As luck would have it, Papa Gatto just fired our last cook.”

Hearing that, Lizina nervously glanced down the road at the shrinking form of the angry, clawed-up woman. “Did he …?”

“Oh, the scratches?” Chuckling, the little cat quickly licked the tip of one forepaw. “That’s only because she tried to take a broom to him when he told her to leave. You seem like a much nicer human—I don’t think you have to worry at all. Please, follow us.”

Standing up, the gray cat trotted away from Lizina, its tail high in the air. The five other cats all meowed eagerly, falling in step behind the gray cat, trailing it back into the house. Feeling a little more assured, Lizina followed the cats into the villa.

Stepping inside the grand old house, Lizina stopped short and her jaw dropped open. Everywhere inside the house—all over the floor, on the tables and chairs, running up and down the stairs, strutting along the rafters … were cats! Hundreds of cats and kittens, cats that were big and small and skinny and fat, fluffy and slender, some with smushed-in faces, some with bobbed tails or crinkly little ears. They greeted Lizina with a cacophony of meows, many of them rushing to rub their bodies across her legs, some barely acknowledging her from where they lounged, a few bolting away in fear. Looking at them all, Lizina couldn’t help but smile in delight.

Sitting up on its haunches, the little gray cat waved both of its forepaws at Lizina to get her attention. “Follow me!” it shouted over the meowing. Nodding, Lizina shuffled onward, giggling as the cats wound in and out of her legs.

Lizina followed the gray cat into the kitchen, where the first thing she noticed was a large pile of brown wool laid lumped upon a table. Lizina was just started to think about how she could spin the wool into yarn when the pile suddenly yawned enormously, showing off huge white fangs.

The little gray cat sprang up onto the table. “Papa Gatto, look at this! As soon as you told off that rotten old lady, this new girl shows up!”

“Hm?” Lifting his head, the brown cat regarded Lizina through half-lidded eyes. He yawned again, then eased himself up onto all four paws, arching his back in the mightiest stretch he could manage. Lizina couldn’t stop herself from staring at the fluffy brown tabby in shock; all the other cats were relatively cat-sized, but this one, the one they called Father Cat, he was as big as a dog!

Sitting himself down on the corner of the table, Papa Gatto swiped at his incredibly long whiskers with one paw. “Fate works in mysterious ways, I suppose. What is your name, child?”

“L-Lizina, sir.”

“Very polite. Moreso than our previous employee.” Papa Gatto scanned Lizina up and down with calculating yellow eyes. “You’re come seeking work with us, hm? You understand that while we do need a maid, we are cats, and we will be making requests that would seem unusual for a human.”

“I understand, sir.”

Papa Gatto swished his tail as he studied her. His eyes narrowed briefly as he took in her thin body, the dark bruises on her arms. “Hmmm … My dear, as part of your pay, you are welcome to live with us here. I sense that would be best for you.”

Incredible relief washed through Lizina, and she nodded eagerly. “Yes, yes please … I’d like to stay here. I’ll do anything you need me to, and I won’t complain. I’ll work hard. Just let me stay.”

“Very good.” Leaping down from the table and landing with an impressive thump!, Papa Gatto sauntered towards the open back door. “I’m going back to the barn. My family will instruct you on what we need.”

And instruct the cats did, and straightaway. Lizina found her work cut out for her at first, and she discovered that some of the cats were very particular about how things should be done around the house. Other cats insisted on following her everywhere she went, sitting close by and scrutinizing the way Lizina prepared the food, swept the floors, tended the garden, made the beds. Some of the cats were extremely playful and loved to get under Lizina’s feet, scrambling around under the sheets as she made the bed, zipping through doors as she tried to close them, attacking her ankles as she walked by with loads of laundry. Even when Lizina needed a moment to refresh herself, she would hear a chorus of pathetic meowings and see little paws groping under the door. When she went to bed, at least a dozen cats insisted on cuddling with her, though a few couldn’t resist pouncing on her feet every time she rolled over.

As difficult as it was, Lizina didn’t complain, and she didn’t scold. The dread of returning to her mother’s house kept Lizina from losing her temper, but soon she found that she actually enjoyed working with the colony. Lizina began to learn things about the cats, that their purring meant they were happy, that the way they held their tails or moved their ears showed Lizina what they were thinking. She broke up spats and rescued kittens who had gotten caught or climbed too high, and took care of the sick, and of an old tomcat with a bad paw. Once she overcame her squeamishness, Lizina made all the wonderful foods the cats loved—fish and chicken and sparrows and rabbit and lizards and mice and rats—and the cats adored her. Every now and again Papa Gatto would come down from his barn and ask the colony of cats, “Are you happy with this nice girl?” and the cats would happily yowl, “Yes, Papa Gatto, she’s the best servant we ever had!”

Lizina continued to work hard and loved every one of the cats there in the villa, but as time went on, she became lonely. She thought about her mother and sister, and, despite the way they had mistreated her, she still missed them, as they were the only human family she had. She was thinking these thoughts one day and growing tearful when Papa Gatto came down for a visit.

Seeing Lizina crying in the corner of the kitchen, Papa Gatto rushed to her side, alarmed. “What is the matter, my sweet child? Was someone here cruel to you?”

Quickly wiping her face with her apron, Lizina shook her head. “Oh, no, not at all, Papa Gatto. The cats here are so wonderful to me, but I do miss my mother and sister.”

Papa Gatto nodded sagely. “Ah, I understand. This is a problem that has afflicted many of our servants. Lizina, you shall go home to visit your family, and come back whenever you are ready to. But, before you go, I would like to give you a reward for all of your loving services to me and my family. Please, follow me down to the cellar.”

Lizina was surprised by the request; she had never gone down into the cellars before, because Papa Gatto always kept the door locked. She followed Papa Gatto to the door, waiting patiently as he produced a key from somewhere in his luxurious fur and unlocked it. Papa Gatto led her down a short flight of stairs, bringing her up to two enormous earthenware pots. At Papa Gatto’s instruction, Lizina looked into each. One was filled with oil. The other was filled with gold.

Papa Gatto smiled at Lizina. “Child, which pot shall I bathe you in?”

“Bathe? Me?” Lizina looked back at the pots, then shyly back at Papa Gatto. She was too timid to ask for the gold. “W-well … the oil jar.”

Papa Gatto chortled, expecting that answer. “No, no. You deserve better than that.” Picking the startled Lizina up in his massive paws, Papa Gatto quickly dunked the girl into the pot of gold. When Papa Gatto pulled her out and set her upon her feet, Lizina looked down at herself in astonishment; her skin glowed like the sun! She looked like a statue of pure gold.

Pleased, Papa Gatto nodded towards the cellar door. “You may go now,” he purred. “But Lizina, take care—if you hear a cock crow, you must turn towards it. If a donkey brays, you must turn away.”

Overcome with delight, Lizina kissed the happy Papa Gatto and rushed on her way home. As she approached her human family’s shack, Lizina heard a rooster crowing off to her side. Remembering Papa Gatto’s warning, Lizina turned towards it, and immediately a golden star alighted itself in her black hair. A moment later, a donkey brayed, but Lizina resolutely turned her back toward it, and continued home.

As it so happened, Lizina’s mother and sister Peppina were outside their hovel, and when they saw Lizina they both shrieked in disbelief at her appearance. They rushed to her, grabbing at her golden arms, her golden clothing, gasping in astonishment. Lizina, even though she remembered how they had treated her, was overcome with happiness and her eyes filled with tears. As she drew a handkerchief out of her apron pocket, a dozen gold coins spilled out with it. In fact, every time Lizina reached into her pocket for something, more gold coins would miraculously pour out.

With all this good fortune and new money, Lizina’s mother was more than happy to have her youngest daughter back. Peppina was happy too—really, more for the magic money Lizina spilled than for Lizina’s return. As their mother fussed over Lizina, Peppina tried to pull the gold clothes and the golden star off the girl, but they would not budge.

Lizina stayed with her mother and sister for several days, using her magic money to fix their house, and buy them food and clothes. When she had a little time to herself, Lizina would sit in the front window and do some little chore. It was one of these times that Prince Cristoforo was passing by, and his eye was caught by Lizina’s glittering gold skin. The prince was so amazed by the sight, that he went straight up to the house and insisted that he meet the golden girl. Lizina’s sweet nature delighted Prince Cristoforo even more than her golden skin and magic coins, and, after visiting her two more times, he asked her to marry him, and Lizina agreed.

Now, this was just too much for Peppina to take. Deciding that Lizina’s good luck had come from working for the colony of cats, Peppina rose early one morning and marched over to the villa. Without bothering to knock, Peppina burst straight through the front door, sending twenty terrified felines scattering in every direction.

“My name is Peppina,” the older sister announced as she let herself in, stepping on two fluff tails, causing their owners to yowl in pain. “My sister is Lizina. She worked for you before, and I want to work for you now.”

Hearing that she was Lizina’s sister sent elation through the colony of cats, as they all missed Lizina terribly. But as Peppina stood there boldly before the slit-eyed Papa Gatto, the kittens looked at one another and whispered, “She doesn’t seem anything like Lizina.”

The older cats hushed the kittens. “Let’s give her a chance and see.”

Well, the cats didn’t have to wait long; Peppina was the absolute worst servant they ever had, the utter opposite of Lizina. Peppina refused to clean anything, wouldn’t make the cats’ favorite meals, chased the inspecting cats out of the kitchen, and even whacked one young tomcat with a rolling pin as he tried to jump in through the window!

The moment Papa Gatto returned to check on his household, the colony of cats swarmed him, all crying out in fury and horror. They told him how Peppina had hurt them, shouted insults and abuse and threats, how their home was filthy and the kittens were starving.

“Please get rid of her, Papa Gatto!” the cats begged.

His fur standing on end, Papa Gatto stalked into the kitchen where he found Peppina lounging in a chair, filing her nails. She barely spared him a glance.

“Get up,” Papa Gatto snarled, “and follow me to the cellar.”

Ecstatic, Peppina leapt to her feet and hurried after the huge cat. The cellar! Lizina had told the about how the big cat had brought her down to the cellar and gave her those wonderful gifts. Now Peppina would get them too!

Leading Peppina up to the earthenware jars, Papa Gatto growled deep in his throat, swishing his tail and laying his ears back. “In which jar should I dip yo—?”

Peppina immediately pointed to the jar of gold. “That one.”

Outraged, Papa Gatto bared all his teeth. “You don’t deserve it!” he roared. Latching his claws into Peppina’s backside, he lifted her up and dunked her repeatedly into the jar of oil. When Peppina was well soaked and sputtering, Papa Gatto threw her into the ash heap, batting her around until she was thoroughly filthy from head to toe. He then chased her out of the villa, shouting, “Begone from my sight! And when you hear a donkey bray, be sure to look in its direction!”

Beside herself with fury, Peppina staggered home, screeching curses at the cats the entire way. Just as she came into sight of her mother’s house, Peppina heard their donkey braying out in the field. Remembering what the huge tomcat had told her, Peppina turned to face the donkey and—poof!—instead of a golden star upon her brow, a donkey’s tail sprouted from the middle of her forehead!

Peppina ran the rest of the way home in hysterics, and it took Lizina two hours with two cakes of soap and extremely hot water to scrub her sister clean. When they couldn’t pull the donkey tail off of Peppina’s head, their mother went insane with rage. Picking up the old broomstick, the old woman beat Lizina within an inch of her life, then picked up the poor girl and threw her down an old well.

The next morning, Prince Cristoforo arrived to take Lizina away to be wed. He barely approached the door when it flew open, and Lizina’s mother pushed a girl, well wrapped in white veils, out to the prince.

“Here is your beautiful bride, Lizina!” the old woman said breathlessly. “Yes, this is Lizina, the girl you want to marry, this is her, this is Lizina.”

Eager to see his bride’s face, Prince Cristoforo reached for the edge of the veil. The old mother squawked and rushed out, swatting the prince’s hands away. “No! What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know it’s bad luck to see the bride before you’re married?”

Not knowing how to answer that, Prince Cristoforo agreed to wait, then helped the bride and her mother into his carriage, and away they went to be married.

Regrettably for the “bride,” the carriage’s path to the cathedral brought them straight past the colony of cats. Having heard the news that Lizina would marry the prince, every single cat gathered outside on the walls, in the yard, in the trees and on the roof, to see her pass and cheer for her. One whiff of the air told the cats everything, and all together they all burst out,

“Mew, mew, mew!

Prince, look back behind you!

In the well is fair Lizina,

And you’ve got nothing but Peppina!”

Startled, the prince rounded on the cringing bride, and before the mother could do anything about it, Prince Cristoforo ripped the veil off the girl—and screeched at the sight of a donkey tail flapping around Peppina’s face.

Enraged at the deception and fearful for Lizina’s safety, Prince Cristoforo ordered the carriage to be turned around. Reaching the hovel, Prince Cristoforo shoved Peppina and her mother out of the carriage and drew his sword, threatening them with horrible fates if they didn’t bring Lizina out that instant. Lizina’s mother was so terrified of the prince’s anger that she ran to the well and pulled Lizina out.

With Lizina freed and safe, the prince took her home to his father’s palace. The next morning they were wed, and every member of the colony of cats was in attendance.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Myth Monday: Why the Cheetah is So Fast (African Bushman Mythology)

Myth Monday: Why the Cheetah is So Fast (African Bushman Mythology)

By Kara Newcastle

Cheetah Running by Malene Thyssen (

Happy International Cat Day!!

This happened a long time ago. Almost at the beginning of time, but not quite. At the beginning of time, the Creator had made the land and the sky and the water and all the animals that live in those places, so it was a little bit after all that when this happened. It’s when the Creator was figuring out what each animal is best at.

One morning, the Creator was looking at all the animals, and he began to wonder which animal was the fastest of them all; should it be Tsessebe the Antelope, or Cheetah the Big Cat? Both could run very, very fast … but which one was the fastest?


After pondering this for a while, the Creator decided that there was only one way to be absolutely sure: Cheetah and Tsessebe would run a race. They would start at the base of the great baobab tree and run across a huge plain, with the finish line being the big hill far on the other side. The Creator presented this to Tesessebe and Cheetah, and both animals quickly agreed, for they both enjoyed a challenge.

The race was set for the next morning, but as the day wore on, Cheetah began to doubt himself; he knew he was fast, but the plain the Creator had chosen was so big, and riddled with thorn bushes. As he walked through the savannah with his friend, Wild Dog, Cheetah looked down at his own paws.

“I don’t know, Wild Dog,” Cheetah sighed. “My paws aren’t tough enough to run that far. Tsessebe has those sharp hooves that can dig into the dirt. I don’t think I can compete.”

Wild Dog yipped. “No worries, bud. I have a pair of paws I can lend you, if you want. The pads are tough and the claws stick out all the time, so it’ll give you better traction on the dirt.”

Cheetah’s round ears perked up. “Really? You’d lend me your paws, Wild Dog?”

“Heck yeah! Come on over to my house and we’ll set you up.”

Wild Dog

“But … would I be cheating if I did that?”

“Cheating? Pfft. It’s more like evening the playing field. Come on over.”

Cheetah went over to Wild Dog’s hut, and, just as promised, Wild Dog lent him a set of tough padded, bare-clawed paws. After trying them on and testing them out, Cheetah thanked Wild Dog and happily trotted off back home to rest before the big race.

At sunup the next morning, both Cheetah and Tsessebe arrived promptly at the baobab tree where the Creator waited. The Creator welcomed the two competitors with a grin, and reminded them of the rules: they were each to run their fastest across the field, starting from the baobab tree and ending at the big hill. Whoever reached the hill first would be deemed the fastest of all animals.

“Remember,” the Creator said as Tsessebe and Cheetah took their places, “no cheating. I want an honest race. I expect the best out of each of you.”

“The best?” Arching an eyebrow, Tsessebe swiveled his head round to glare at Cheetah’s new paws. “What about Cheetah? Those don’t look like his normal feet. Those look like Wild Dog’s feet. Isn’t that cheating?”

Ferdinand Reuss, wikimedia commons

Cheetah winced at the Creator’s questioning gaze. “I didn’t mean it like that. I just wanted the best chance. Tsessebe has those sharp hooves and can run over anything. My old paws were too soft.”

“Hmmm …” The Creator tapped his chin as he considered Cheetah’s reasons. Glancing back at the raceway ahead of them, the Creator paused, then nodded. “Cheetah has a fair point, Tsessebe—if he were to catch a thorn in one of his real paws, he could be badly hurt and it would ruin the race. You have hard hooves that won’t feel a thing. Since I want to see your best efforts, I’ll allow it, but he’ll have to return the paws to Wild Dog afterward.”

Smiling, Tsessebe proudly shook his antlers. “No worries, sir.”

Working his new paws into the dirt, Cheetah nodded. “Thank you, sir.”

“Great.” Rubbing his palms together excitedly, the Creator took his place before the two animals. He held out his arms above his head. “Ready …?”

Drawing in a breath, Cheetah set his stance. Tsessebe snorted and pawed the earth.

The Creator snapped both his arms down. “Go!”

Tsessebe shot ahead, flying like lightning over the tall grasses. Cheetah was a heartbeat behind the antelope, his new claws digging into the earth and propelling him forward. Tsessebe was already far ahead, but Cheetah paced himself, focused on his breathing, letting himself build up speed.

Within seconds they were halfway across the plain and Cheetah was catching up to Tsessebe’s heels. The other animals who had gathered to watch cheered as Cheetah and Tsessebe reached the first of the thorn bushes, shouting warnings and encouragement.

Snorting, Tsessebe narrowly dodged the thorns, his flanks slicing to ribbons on the sharp spines. Seeing the bushes, Cheetah ducked and wove around them, his tough paw pads barely noticing the smaller, fallen thorns, but his caution cost him speed. He began to fall back more and more as the bushes grew more densely together. His heart began to fall. He was going to lose!

Seeing the hill in the distance, Tsessebe put on the speed, his long legs thundering through the brush. Panting, he swung his head around, looking for the Cheetah, finding the lithe cat fading into the dust behind him. Thrilled, Tsessebe plunged forward—

Pain flew up his leg as Tsessebe’s dainty cloven hoof came down on top of a rock hidden in the thorns and grasses. Skidding out, Tsessebe’s leg twisted gruesomely beneath him and he slammed into the earth, rolling head over tail, crying out in agony.

“Oh!” Horrified, Cheetah jammed his new paws into the dirt, sliding a distance over the grass past the fallen, wailing Tsessebe. Whipping around, Cheetah ran as fast as he could back to his rival. “Tsessebe! What happened? Are you hurt?”

“My leg!” Tsessebe gasped. “I twisted it—I think it’s broken!”

Urging the antelope to lay still, Cheetah sat beside him and comforted him until the Creator, having seen the crash, rushed to their sides. Cheetah explained what he had witnessed as the Creator examined Tsessebe’s broken leg.

As he used his powers to heal Tsessebe, the Creator looked at Cheetah curiously. “Cheetah, you could have kept running and won the race. Why did you stop?”

“Why? But, how could I keep going?” Cheetah glanced down at Tsessebe as the antelope flexed his repaired leg. “Tsessebe was hurt. I wanted to make sure he was all right.”

“You were concerned for him?”

“Yes sir.”

“And you never thought about finishing the race?”

“That wouldn’t have been fair if I did.”

Delighted, the Creator laughed and reached over, ruffling the fluff of Cheetah’s neck. “Cheetah, you are very considerate and honorable. Because of that, I’m going to award you the title of Fastest of All Animals—and I’ll let you keep Wild Dog’s feet so you always stay the fastest.”

And that’s why the Cheetah is so fast.

Mark Durmont wikimedia commons

Myth Monday: The Boy Who Could Not Shiver (German Fairy Tale)

The Boy Who Could Not Shiver (German Fairy Tale)

By Kara Newcastle

Note: Just so everybody knows, when I first wrote this it was A LOT longer, so I edited out a few parts to make it a somewhat quicker read. I’ll post the full version later on either here or Wattpad.

Naab_-_Kallmünz_in_2014 by David Schiersner wikimedia commons

Once upon a time, there was a village man who had two teenaged sons. The elder boy, Jack, was smart and could do anything you asked him to do. His younger brother Hans … well, he had some trouble learning. You could tell him to do something, he’d just get a faraway look in his eyes. People in town used to mutter behind his back, “That boy is so stupid. He must be a real burden for his father.”

However, when it came to courage, Hans had it in spades, while his older brother was a horrible scaredy-cat. One night they had guests over, and one of the men began to tell a spooky story. Just as the man neared the middle of the story, Jack squeaked out, “Please stop! This is too scary—it’s making me shiver all over.”

Hans cocked his head at his brother. “What do you mean, ‘shiver all over?’”

Jack scowled at him. “I mean, the story’s so scary that it’s making me shake.”

“A scary story can make you shake?” Bemused, Hans shook his head. “I’ve never had that happen to me.”

“That’s because you’re too dumb to be afraid,” Jack retorted, causing their father to roll his eyes and all the other guests nod in agreement.

Hans frowned. “That’s not fair. I want to know what’s like to shiver.”

Dejected, Hans began to walk through the town by himself. He spent the day thinking about his bad luck, his stupidity, how everyone hated him, and all he wanted was to know how to be afraid. Finally, in frustration, Hans yelled out, “What is it like to shiver?”

“What’s that?”

Surprised by the voice, Hans turned around and found a man leading a team of horses and a wagon coming up behind him. The waggoner looked at him questioningly. “Did you say that you want to know what it’s like to shiver?”

Hans cringed. “Yes, I did. But I don’t know how to do it.”

The waggoner shrugged. “Well, I don’t know how to teach you that, but you look like you need a hand. Come with me—there’s an inn I visit a ways up the street. I’ll buy you something to eat.”

Grateful, Hans walked with the waggoner up to the inn. As they walked through the door, Hans was explaining to the waggoner that he didn’t know how to be afraid, that he had no idea what it was like to shiver. The inn’s owner overheard the pair talking and waved Hans over.

“Couldn’t help but hear you guys,” the big man said as Hans approached. “You’re looking to be scared?”

Hans nodded. “Yes sir, I am.”

“Have you heard about the haunted castle?”

Hearing him speak, the innkeeper’s wife rushed out of the kitchen. “Don’t tell him that!” she hissed. “Too many people died of fright there already.”

That perked Hans’s interest. “‘Died of fright’ you say?”

The innkeeper nodded smartly. “Yup. It’s full of ghosts and demons. But get this—the king himself has said that if anyone can survive three nights alone in that castle and bring back the treasure inside, then he can marry the princess.”

“Hmm.” Considering all the information before him, Hans shrugged. “Well, marrying a princess is great and all, I guess, but what I really want to do is learn to shiver. I’ll give it a shot.”

The very next morning, Hans went to the king and proposed that he spend three nights in the haunted castle. The king was impressed—mistaking Hans’s dimwittedness for courage—and allowed him to go. “You must not bring another living thing with you,” the king told Hans. “But I will grant you any tools that you may need. What would you like?”

“Just a fire, a cutting board, a turning lathe, and a knife,” Hans answered.

Castillos_Hohenfreyberg_y_Eisenberg,_Eisenberg,_Alemania,_2015-02-15, by Diego Delso wikimedia commons

These items were granted, and Hans went to the castle by himself. The castle was a crumbling wreck, and as it loomed over Hans its windows looked like soulless black eyes boring down on him. But, Hans being Hans, didn’t notice any of this, and he let himself into the castle without hesitation. After exploring the ruins a bit, he found a room that didn’t have any holes in the walls or roof and decided that this would be where he rested. He built up a fire with the torch the king had given him, then set the cutting board, knife, and lathe to the side, and made himself comfortable.

At midnight, just as Hans was beginning to sulk that nothing frightening had happened yet, he rose to his feet to stir the fire. As he plunged the rusted old poker into the embers, he heard a sound from a dark corner of the room.

“Meow! Meow!” the voice whimpered. “How cold it is!”

A strange voice coming out of an empty corner would have been enough to frighten anyone, but Hans only scowled in its direction and said, “Well, don’t be stupid—come closer to the fire so you can warm up.”

Black_cat_with_glowing_eyes by Laveol wikimedia commons

No sooner did Hans say these words when two huge black cats, each the size of a mastiff dog, leaped out of the tiny corner and settled beside the fire. As they warmed themselves, the cats turned their blazing red eyes to Hans and said, “Would you like to play a game of cards with us?”

“I’d like to very much,” said Hans, “but would you please do me a favor and let me see your feet?”

Obligingly, both of the cats held out their paws for Hans to examine, stretching out their wicked claws, each the size of scythes. Studying the claws, Hans said, “Ugh! Now that I’ve seen those things, I’d rather not play a game, thank you.”

And with that, Hans killed both of the demon cats and tossed their bodies out of the window and into the moat.

No sooner did the dead demon cats hit the moat water when suddenly a hoard of black cats and black dogs of every size lunged out of the same dark corner and flooded the room. They rushed around Hans and charged through his fire, scattering the embers as though they wanted to put out the light.

For a moment, Hans just watched all of this in mild confusion, but when he saw the mess they made of his fire, he grabbed his cutting board and knife and shouted, “Get out of here, you horrible things!” A few of the demons managed to escape, but Hans killed most of them with the board and knife and deposited their bodies in the moat.

By now it was quite early in the morning and Hans was exhausted. Taking a moment to build up the fire again, Hans then trudged over to the moldy old canopy bed in the room and collapsed into it. No sooner did he lie down than the bed began to quake. Before Hans knew what was happening, the bed reared up like a horse, then went galloping through the castle on its four wooden legs. Hans, unalarmed, just hung on to the bed until it crashed headlong into the castle’s front gates, splintering to pieces and flipping him end over end onto the ground.

Kicking off the mildewed blankets and pillows, Hans dusted himself off, muttered, “How can anybody sleep in a bed that does that?”, went back up to his room and fell asleep by the fire.

At daybreak, the king came to the castle to check on Hans. Finding him asleep by the fire, the king was at first heartbroken, thinking that the boy had died of fright. As the king mourned, Hans woke up, assured the king that he was well, and told him, “Actually, the night was kind of nice.” Later, when Hans went back to the inn for breakfast, the astonished innkeeper told him he was certain Hans would have died. When asked if he had learned to shiver yet, Hans snorted and replied, “Not at all. I’m starting to think I’ll never learn.”

As per the bargain, Hans went back to the castle for the second night. As he sat there by the fire, he heard a man scream. Glancing up, Hans blinked in surprise as the upper half of a man’s severed body flopped down through the chimney.

Hans arched an eyebrow. “A whole lot of noise for only half a man. Where’s the other half?”

Promptly, there was another unearthly shriek and the man’s lower half crashed down the chimney.

“That’s better,” Hans said, rising to his feet. “Put yourself together while I build up the fire again.”

No sooner did Hans build up the fire than was there another chorus of wails, and nine more severed men thudded down through the chimney. After putting themselves back together, they all stood. Nine of them carried human thighbones and set each one up on their ends. The first corpse who had appeared produced two human skulls from his rotting pockets. Standing, the first wraith rolled the skulls like balls and knocked down the thighbones.

Hans lit up at the sight. “Ooh, that looks like fun. Can I play?”

The first corpse that had fallen down the chimney looked at him and said, “Yes … but only if you have any money.”

“Lots,” Hans answered. “But those balls are uneven. Let me smooth them out.”

Taking the skulls, Hans ground them down on his lathe until they were perfectly smooth. Hopping to his feet, Hans and the revenants bowled all night long and had a great time until daybreak, when the creatures vanished and Hans went to sleep. The king visited again to check on him, and Hans told him about the great bowling party he had with the ten dead men.

We made bets, and I lost some and won some. But I still haven’t learned to shiver!” the boy moaned.

That third night, Hans again sat himself down by the fire. Just as he began to dread that he would never know what it would be like the shiver and be afraid, six men marched somberly into the room, bearing a coffin on their shoulders. Recognizing the coffin, Hans sprang to his feet and said, “Wait a minute! I know who that is—that’s my dead cousin! Here, put him down on the floor here.”

Wordlessly, the six men did as they were asked. Hans pried the coffin lid off and, looking down, did indeed see the face of his dead cousin. Touching the dead man’s face, Hans said, “You’re as cold as ice!” Scooping the corpse up, Hans carried it to the fire and proceeded to rub its back and chest. The body did not warm, so Hans then carried it to a bed and tucked the body in snugly, and laid down next to it.

In time, the body began to warm, then move. As the corpse opened its eyes, Hans grinned and said, “Aha! See? That’s all you need to come back to life—just some warmth.”

“Yes,” the dead cousin said, slowly sitting up. “And now that I am alive … I will strangle you!”

Horrified, Hans jerked back. “What?! That’s the thanks I get for bringing you back to life? In that case, you’re better off dead!” Grabbing his dead cousin by the collar, Hans yanked the body out the bed, flipped him back into the coffin, and slammed the lid shut. He stood there glaring as the six men quickly picked up the coffin and hurried out of the room.

Disgusted, Hans threw his hands up. “I give up. Nothing’s going to make me shiver!”

The words were barely out of Hans’s mouth when a figure stomped into the room. It was a man, an enormous man, four times as tall as Hans with a white beard that reached the floor. The giant towered over the youth and roared, “You wretched boy! You want to shiver and shake? You’re going to feel it now, for you die tonight!”

The words were barely out of Hans’s mouth when a figure stomped into the room. It was a man, an enormous man, four times as tall as Hans with a white beard that reached the floor. The giant towered over the youth and roared, “You wretched boy! You want to shiver and shake? You’re going to feel it now, for you die tonight!”

The words were barely out of Hans’s mouth when a figure stomped into the room. It was a man, an enormous man, four times as tall as Hans with a white beard that reached the floor. The giant towered over the youth and roared, “You wretched boy! You want to shiver and shake? You’re going to feel it now, for you die tonight!”

Hans scowled up at the giant. “Hey—you can’t kill me without my consent.”

“Watch me!”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, old man. You might be strong, but I’m far stronger than you.”

Nearly turning inside out with rage, the giant howled, “Fine! Prove it to me then—if you can beat me, I’ll let you go. Follow me.”

Not the least bit worried, Hans followed the giant through the twists and turns of the old castle until they reached the smithy. By the forge stood a huge anvil. Picking up an axe, the giant walked up to the anvil and swung the axe down, cleaving the anvil in half as though it had been no more than a lump of butter.

“Pfft,” Hans huffed. “I can do better than that.”

Stunned by Hans’s boast, the giant trailed closely behind Hans, watching every move he made. Hans picked up the giant’s axe and walked over to another anvil. Motioning for the giant to stand on the other side of the anvil, Hans pointed to the surface. “See that?”

Confused, the giant leaned forward. As he did, his immense beard draped over the anvil. “See what?”

With barely a grunt of effort, Hans swung the axe down onto the anvil, pinning the giant’s beard down between the top of the anvil and the axe’s blade. As the startled giant squirmed and yanked on his beard, Hans picked up an iron bar and snarled, “Now I’ve got you, you old crank. Prepare to die!”

Hans beat the giant all over the head and body until the creature begged for mercy, promising that he would let Hans live and even give him all his treasure if Hans would just set him free. Hans decided that the giant was telling the truth, but even after he pulled the axe free, he kept it close to him as the limping giant led him into the depths of the castle. Opening a door, the giant pointed to three massive chests of gold.

“The first one is to be given to the poor,” the giant said, “the second one is for the king, and the third one is for you.”

Impressed, Hans began to thank the giant, but in the distance a cock crowed and the giant vanished. Shrugging to himself, Hans groped his way out of the depths and returned to his room, sleeping there until the king arrived.

Now that the treasure had been retrieved and distributed and the haunted castle conquered, the king was more than happy to uphold his end of the bargain. Making Hans a prince, the king married him to the princess and threw a magnificent wedding feast. As happy as he was to marry the princess, Hans was sullen during most of the feast, for he had not learned to shiver.

This bothered the princess greatly, and she discussed it with one of her ladies in waiting. The maiden, concluding that Prince Hans might never know fear but could still learn to shiver, came up with a clever plan. Taking a pail, she went out into the palace garden and scooped cold water from the little brook there, being careful to catch as many gudgeon fish as she could. She gave the pail to the princess, who hid it in their room.

That night, as Prince Hans fell asleep, the princess snuck out of bed and retrieved the pail of water and fish. Tip-toeing over to the snoring Hans, the princess upended the bucket all over him.

“Blaaaaaarrrggghhhhh!” Horrified, Hans snapped awake and jumped out of bed, dancing around their room as he frantically shook out his soaked nightgown, freeing the squirming fish from his collar and sleeves. “What’s going on? Why am I shaking like this?!”

The princess laughed. “Darling—you’re shivering!”

Astonished, Hans looked down at himself, at the flopping fish around his feet. “Oh … this is what shivering is like? Thank you! Thank you darling, I finally know how to shiver … although I didn’t realize it would make such a mess.”

Myth Monday: Why is a Black Cat Crossing Your Path Bad Luck? (Superstitions)

Myth Monday: Why is a Black Cat Crossing Your Path Bad Luck? (Superstitions)

By Kara Newcastle

“A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”

-Groucho Marx

Black cat by Frostdragon wikimedia commons

Imagine you’re taking a nice leisurely stroll on a bright sunny day. You’re in a great mood. Everything is right in the world, you have no worries, no problems …

And then without warning, a black cat darts across the sidewalk in front of you. It doesn’t even spare you a glance as it trots by and vanishes under a shrub, but now you find yourself frozen in place. Your jaw drops and a chill riddles its way down your spine as you struggle to wrap your mind around what just happened.

A black cat crossed your path—now you’ve been cursed with bad luck!

Okay … but why? It’s just a black kitty cat that happened to walk past you. If it means bad luck, it should only be for whatever rodent it chances upon, not you.

So why are you so freaked out?

Cats in general and black cats in particular have a hand a long and complicated relationship with humans. In Ancient Egypt, cats were sacred, believed to be protectors of the home and the people within. The sun god Ra turned into a cat every night to fight the apocalypse snake Apophis, and the goddess of happiness was the extremely popular, cat-headed woman Bastet (see my blog on her here!) The Egyptians loved their cats so much that if someone killed a cat they would be condemned to death, and it was said that the Egyptians were conquered by the Persian king Cambyses II after he ordered his soldiers to paint cats on their shields and carry live cats into battle with them. The Egyptians were so afraid of harming the cats that they surrendered.

Lately, I’ve found many online blogs and articles that claim that black cats were especially holy in Ancient Egypt because Bastet herself was a black cat. I find that claim iffy mythologically speaking, since I’ve never found any myth mentioning that specifically. However, there are many statues of Bastet in cat-form that were carved out of black basalt, so that might be where that connection comes from.

The worship of Bastet had spread into Rome, and was a popular religion for hundreds of years, eventually going head-to-head with early Christian sects. At first the Christians were fairly unconcerned with Bastet, but as their own popularity grew and members became fanatical, many primitive church leaders began to claim that worshiping deities like Bastet was evil, that she was a servant of Satan and had to be destroyed. That attitude extended to the hundreds of cats that lived pampered lives in the temples, and when the cult of Bastet died (and it died hard), it became open season on cats. Black cats were probably especially targeted since so many of Bastet’s statues were of a black cat.

Gradually memory of Bastet died out and people became mostly disinterested in cats, regarding them as at best a farm animal and at worst little better than the rats they hunted. It was not uncommon to see dozens milling around a farmstead in the country, picking off the abundance of rodents that would chew their way through a family’s food stores. Since most men worked in the field and most women stayed to care for the home, cats became more accustomed to women.

Unfortunately, this spelled disaster for both women and cats; from the mid-1400s until the late 18th century, a combination of civil unrest, economic failure, epidemic, famine and religious fanaticism gave birth to the horrifying witch hunts. Fearful and uneducated people looked for scapegoats to pin their troubles on, and all too frequently blame fell on women. The women were targeted for any number of reasons—being too opinionated, outliving too many husbands, living long past the age when most people would have died, having knowledge of medicinal herbs, living alone, being disfigured—and the accusations of witchcraft spread to their cats.

According to the witch hunters, a witch was a person who sold their soul to the Devil. In return, the fiend granted his new servants magical powers, and a monstrous assistant known as a familiar. A familiar was a demon, but it had the power to transform itself to look like an ordinary animal and then go out to help the witch commit crimes against her neighbors. With all the cats on a woman’s farm, it was easy to assume that they could be demons in disguise. Witches were also thought to be able to transform themselves into animals, and more often than not that animal was a black cat.

 It wasn’t long before the hunters’ half-assed, biased research found tales of black Bastet. Additionally, the Greek goddess Artemis her Roman counterpart Diana, both associated with witchcraft, could turn themselves into black cats (this is probably where the idea that human witches could turn themselves into cats came from.) The Greek goddess of magic Hecate was said to keep black cats, and the Viking goddess Freya was not only a goddess of love, but also of war and magic, and rode in a chariot pulled by cats (it’s interesting to note that the Vikings loved their fluffy skogskatt, but a few hundred years later their descendants were murdering them in droves.) Furthermore, both the Scots and the Irish had legends of the malicious fairy cat Cat Sith (read the blog here and its most famous story here!) that was almost entirely black. The Scots also believed that one could summon a demon in the form of a huge black cat.

This did not help cats at all.

Which brings us back to the topic at hand: why is it bad luck for a black cat to cross your path? Because the black cat might be a witch or a witch’s familiar, of course. Fear of black cats and witches became so bad that many people would have panic attacks at the mere sight of a black cat, thinking that it had come to do them harm. That cat crossed your path, cutting you off short … it might have just cut off the rest of your life right there.

It’s very symbolic and very full of crap.

By the time the plagues ended, cats were welcomed back into cities and town, albeit somewhat cautiously—though science was fast replacing superstition, many people had grown up with fears of witches and their feline sidekicks, and the superstitions remained. Not only did they remain, but they also traveled; the Puritans brought their distrust of black cats to the New World, and in the Salem witch trials, the afflicted claimed that they could see spectral cats, and the accused trying to escape death made up stories of devilish felines.

A_Black_Cat by Nino Barbieri wikimedia commons

Now, some of you might be wondering that if a black cat crosses your path and it means bad luck, would a white cat crossing your path mean good luck? Yes—depending on where you live. For reasons I’ve yet to find out, in America it’s believed by some that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck and a white cat crossing your path is good. In England the opposite is true: the white cat is bad and the black cat is good. An Irish belief states that it’s bad luck for a black cat for a black cat to cross your path in the moonlight—this means you will die in an epidemic (Ireland? Any recent reports on this?) And the Germans like to complicate it further by stating if a black cat crosses your path from left to right it’s good luck, but right to left is bad luck.

And other cultures say that if the cat is walking ­to you, then it’s bringing you good luck. If it walks away from you, then it’s taking the good with it.

Naturally, this is all a load of dirty litter. Me myself, I’m happy to see a black cat cross my path. About four years ago, I was on vacation on Cape Cod, walking along a sidewalk in Hyannis when a black cat suddenly sauntered across my path. I stopped and screamed, “KITTY!!!!” in delight. The cat took one look at me and ran off in terror.

It made me wonder if cats have a similar superstition about us?

Myth Monday: The Cat Who Loved a Man (Aesop’s Fable)

Myth Monday: The Cat Who Loved a Man (Aesop’s Fable)

By Kara Newcastle

Centuries ago on the island of Cyprus lived a young man named Stamitos. He was extremely handsome and every girl and woman he passed would pause and gaze at him longingly, but not one of them caught his interest. Stamitos, in addition to being so handsome, was also incredibly picky, and he found something wrong with every woman he met. He roamed the length and width of the island, but he could not find a woman that met his exacting standards.

Indeed, the only female Stamitos had any affection for was his pretty little cat, Euphrasia. She was perfect to him in every way, from the way she placed each of her little round paws on the ground, to the way she sat on the windowsill. Stamitos loved playing with Euphrasia, cradling her in his arms, bringing home pretty little things to entertain her with. Not once did she scratch him, treated him indifferently, or watched him judging eyes. More than once Stamitos would sigh wistfully, run his hand along her arching back and say, “You are so beautiful and so perfect. You understand me so well, and you never hide your feelings from me. If you were a human woman, I would marry you.”

Little did Stamitos know but Euphrasia understood what he said, and for a moment, her heart soared, because she loved him as well. When Stamitos would say aloud that he would marry her if he could, Euphrasia wanted nothing more than to be human.

Now, it so happens that the island of Cyprus was sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, and having Stamitos living there particularly frustrated her; no matter what she did, what beautiful, graceful, talented girl she moved into his way, Aphrodite could not cause Stamitos to fall in love. Hearing Stamitos say that he would marry his cat if he could, Aphrodite was at first outraged … but at the same time, she couldn’t help but pity Euphrasia the cat, who was so in love with the man that she prayed to become human for him.

Considering it briefly, Aphrodite decided that she would like to see what would happen, and answered the youth and his cat’s prayers.

Waiting for the moment Stamitos sighed those words again, Aphrodite extended her delicate hand and granted the wish. Before Stamitos’s astonished eyes, the sleek form of Euphrasia the cat vanished before him, and in her place stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. It took a moment for each to come to their senses, but when they realized what had happened, Euphrasia joyously threw herself into Stamitos’s open arms. Within days they were married.

Aphrodite watched all of this with a mixture of amusement and satisfaction at having conquered the arrogant youth, but in time she began to wonder exactly how much had Euphrasia changed. Her body was different now, but what of her mind?

Desperate to know the truth, the goddess waited until the couple had climbed into bed together one night. As Euphrasia and Stamitos wrapped their arms around one another, Aphrodite chose that moment to release a mouse into their room.

Hearing the scurrying sounds across the wood flood, Euphrasia’s ears perked up. Rolling over in the bed, she saw the mouse rushing across the floor, and without a second thought, she lunged out of bed, pouncing upon the mouse with her hands and feet. Ducking her head down, Euphrasia bit the mouse through the neck, killing it.

Disgusted by what she had just witnessed, Aphrodite turned the woman back into a cat, knowing now that no matter how much a creature can change its outward appearance, its true nature would always shine through.

Myth Monday: The Three White Cats and the Spinning Wheel (French Fairy Tale)

Myth Monday: The Three White Cats and the Spinning Wheel (French Fairy Tale)

By Kara Newcastle

Once upon a time in Brittany, there was a king and queen who loved each other more than words could possibly describe, but they were saddened for they did not have any children. Wanting nothing more than a baby of their own, the royal couple became desperate and approached a powerful and wise sorceress who lived in the mountains. The sorceress listened intently to their plight and nodded slowly, gazing off into the distance.

“I do see a child in your future,” she told the elated monarchs. “It will be a beautiful baby girl, and she will be born to you before the year’s end.”

As the king and queen joyously embraced, the conjurer’s face grew dark. She reached out and caught the queen’s sleeve in her fingers, stopping her from leaving the fortress. “Take heed,” the sorceress warned. “If your daughter should ever marry a prince, she will fall down dead.”

At those words, the queen was overcome with horror and the king began to rage at the sorceress, accusing the enchantress of cursing his unborn daughter. The sorceress snapped her hand up, stopping the king in his murderous tracks.

“You do insult me,” the witch hissed, “but be assured that I have not placed a curse upon your daughter—I have no reason to do so. In fact, because I see how distraught the queen is, allow me to offer you a way to guard the princess’s health; find three white kittens—purest white, without a hair of any other color upon their bodies—and raise them with your daughter. Give the kittens three balls of linen thread, and three balls of gold. Should the kittens play with the linen thread, the princess will face no harm.

“But … should the kittens ever play with the three golden balls …” The sorceress’s face softened. “Be prepared for the worst.”

The king was not comforted by the sorceress’s advice, but the queen took the recommendation to heart. As soon as their daughter, Princess Mireille was born, the queen ordered her courtiers to comb the countryside and find three perfectly white kittens. The vassals searched diligently, and soon three kittens—perfectly white, without a single hair of different color upon them—were brought back to the castle. When she became old enough to speak, Princess Mireille named her kittens Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle, and all four loved each other very dearly. Mireille adored her cats, and the trio played happily at her feet, batting their linen balls back and forth to her and each other. They never once paid any notice to the three golden balls.

Princess Mireille grew into a beautiful, clever, intelligent young woman, and Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle spent every waking moment in her company. They were just as bright and curious as Mireille was, and when the princess learned how to spin thread, the cats sat and watched, enraptured by the furiously spinning wheel and the long strands of thread she pulled free. They would often try to help in their own way, grabbing the linen thread in their teeth and pulling, batting at the blurring spokes of the spinning wheel, gingerly placing their small paws upon the pedal.

All too soon, Mireille turned sixteen, and all the princes of the neighboring lands came to court her, as her parents had refused to betroth her at birth, for fear of the curse coming to pass. Fortunately for all, Mireille was amused by the attention, but was not interested in any of the princes that came to visit; they were too dull and haughty, and, worst of all, they did not like her cats. Mireille dismissed them all.

One morning, a prince named Taillefer came to call upon Princess Mireille. He was a handsome as many of the other princes and gave Mireille wonderful presents, but he was different from the others; he was kind and intelligent, he was polite and listened to Mireille when she spoke.

Best of all, Taillefer loved to play with Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle.

Mireille plunged headlong into love, and waited anxiously for the days when Taillefer would visit, and dread when he would leave. They spent so much time together—with the three white cats always close by, of course—that Mireille was sure that he loved her as well, but she worried that he would not say so out loud. One night as Taillefer prepared to depart, Mireille, hardly aware of what she was doing, grabbed both of Taillefer’s hands and pulled him close to her.

“I don’t want you to leave,” Mireille whispered. “Not now, not ever. I love you Taillefer! Please say the same. Please say you would be my husband?”

Taillefer’s eyes widened at Mireille’s words, and just as the princess feared that she had made a fool of herself, Taillefer smiled and swooped down, wrapping her in his arms. “I love you, Mireille. I will be your husband.”

At that moment, Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle, who had been lounging quietly nearby, all turned their attention to the three golden balls, left to collect dust in the corner.

Horror tore through the castle when Mireille’s beloved cats were seen chasing the golden balls up and down the corridors. Mireille’s parents nearly swooned with terror, but, strangely, miraculously, Mireille did not fall down dead as predicted.

Before the royal family had a chance to wonder if the curse had been wrong, a messenger arrived from Taillefer’s castle with horrifying news: Prince Taillefer had fallen ill with a strange disease the doctors couldn’t identify. They fear that he would not live much longer.

Fearful for her true love, Mireille wrapped herself in a cloak, slipped out of her castle and rode by herself into the mountains, up to the palace of the sorceress her parents had consulted before her birth. The princess barely had a chance to dismount her mare before the fortress’s gates swung open, and the sorceress strode out.

“Princess Mireille,” the sorceress said, waving Mireille’s trembling bow away. “I have been waiting for you. I learned about your betrothed, Prince Taillefer. I am deeply saddened for you.”

“I don’t understand,” Mireille blurted out. “How is it that Taillefer has taken so ill? IS there anything that can be done? How can I help him? The curse—my cats were playing with the golden balls—you said—”

The sorceress sighed. “One question at a time, Your Grace. I’m sorry to tell you that one of the princes you turned away became envious of Taillefer, and used a witch to curse him into sickness.”

“How do I break the spell?”

“There is a way …” The sorceress gazed steadily at Princess Mireille. “It will not benefit you.”

Mireille spread her hands. “Anything! I’ll do anything to save him!”

“I know. Listen—to break the evil spell, you must spin ten thousand skeins of wool thread before Christmas Eve.”

The color drained from Mireille’s face. “Ten thousand …? But … Christmas is twenty-seven days away. How can I …?”

The sorceress shook her head. “It must be done. If ten thousand skeins are not spun on your spinning wheel by that time, Taillefer will die Christmas Eve at midnight. If you do not complete this task, you will die of heartbreak.”

The enormity of the task weighed down on Mireille’s quaking shoulders, but she shook her head hard. “No. No, I can do it … I won’t sleep, I won’t eat. I’ll keep spinning—”

“And you’ll work yourself to death.” The sorceress looked at Princess Mireille sadly. “Succeed or fail, you will die, Princess. That is the curse I saw upon you. I am truly, truly sorry. There is nothing that can be done.”

Tears flooding her eyes, Mireille spun away from the sorceress, leapt back atop her mare and raced for home. Barging inside, Mireille didn’t even bother to remover her cloak. She sat down at her spinning wheel and set to work, spinning until daybreak, with her three worried white cats watching her every moment.

Morning brought new tears to Mireille; though she had worked all night long, she had barely produced two skeins of thread. She sat beside her spinning wheel with her face in her hands and sobbed. She felt Leonce and Leonelle pawing at her knees and Lyonette rubbing against her ankles, all three meowing anxiously and gazing at her with large, concerned eyes.

For a moment, their love drew Mireille out of her weeping. She looked at each of them and whispered, “If only you understood what was happening. I wish you could help.”

Leonce perked up. “We do understand,” he said

“And we can help,” Lyonette added.

“We know how to spin,” said Leonelle, nodding towards the spinning wheel. “We’ve watched you do it.”

Lyonette licked her lips eagerly. “If you can get us two more spinning wheels and wool, we can help make thread.”

“But we’ll have to move fast,” Leonce declared. “Even with all of us working, there isn’t a lot of time left.”

Mireille was astonished, to say the least, but her three white cats reminded her of what was at stake—the life of the prince, and hers as well—and the princess immediately leapt into action. She retrieved two more spinning wheels and ordered as much wool as each servant could carry to be brought up to the spinning room in the tower. Once the pile wool reached the ceiling, Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle ushered Princess Mireille out, urging her to rest while they went to work.

All day and well into the night the cats worked the spinning wheels, producing yard after yard of thread so fine that one was sure only a princess could have made something so wonderful. At night when the humming of the spinning wheels fell quiet, Mireille would creep into the tower to check on her devoted pets. She would find the three of them curled together, fast asleep, with an ever-growing mound of skeins stacked in a corner.

With every skein of the thread the cats completed, Prince Taillefer’s health began to improve. By Christmas Day, all ten thousand skeins of thread were finished, and the prince was well enough to get out of bed. Upon hearing of the magnificent feat, the sorceress herself visited Mireille and her three white cats and praised them all, encouraging the princess to give each cat a reward. Mireille was more than happy to do so, and at her wedding she gave Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle each a seat of prominence at the banquet table, perched upon velvet cushions and draped in her finest jewelry, which each of them had always admired.

The cats were overjoyed at accomplishing their feat, and Mireille loved them more than ever. As the princess and her new husband cradled their cats at the wedding feast, they began to notice a strange, throbbing hum—much like the whir of a spinning wheel—coming from Lyonette, Leonce, and Leonelle. At first Mireille was alarmed, but her three white cats told her it was nothing to worry; they had absorbed the sound of the spinning wheels, and now that they were happy, they hummed the sound in remembrance.

And that’s why cats purr.

Myth Monday: How the Cat Arrived on Noah’s Ark (Hebrew Legend)

Myth Monday: How the Cat Arrived on Noah’s Ark (Hebrew Legend)

Hunting cat by Olivier62 wikimedia commons

By Kara Newcastle

Interestingly, neither the Torah nor the Bible makes mention of the domestic cat. It’s not sure why, as the cat would have been known in ancient Israel at the time, but it’s likely that since the cat was regarded as a deity in the Egyptian pantheon, it came with some negative connotations for the Hebrews, which was summarily passed on to the Christians.

However, somebody had to explain where cats came from. Fortunately, we have legends and folklore to provide those answers … even if there are several versions and each one gets a little weirder than the last.

And they all take place on Noah’s ark.

Version 1:

Days into the voyage, as the rain continued to fall in sheets so dense that he could not see even the prow of his great boat, Noah made his rounds of all the animals he had collected. As he reached the lower levels, Noah was horrified to see two of the mice he collected speedily gnawing away at the ark’s walls and joists. The mice’s relentless chewing was weakening the supports, threatening to cause the ark to spring leaks that would rapidly sink the great boat.

Noah’s first thought was to smash the traitorous vermin with a hammer, but he dared not; he was expressly forbidden by the Lord God from harming any of the creatures aboard the ark … but he couldn’t stand by and do nothing at all. In rage and desperation, Noah ripped off one of his leather gloves and threw it at the mice with all his might.

As his glove arched through the air, it twisted over, the four fingers pointing downward, the thumb lifting up. As Noah watched in amazement, the glove shifted, lengthening, the fingers stretching, the thumb growing longer. A small round head pushed out of the top of the glove, sprouting pointed ears and whiskers.

Hitting the floor of the ark lightly on four rounded paws, the animal the world would know as the cat blinked, looked back at the astounded Noah briefly, then turned its attention to the mice gnawing away at the woodwork. The mice, sensing that this creature was not their friend, squeaked in alarm and fled into the bowels of the ark, the cat bounding after them with all speed.

That is how the cat was created, and how the cat saved the ark from sinking.

Version 2:

As Noah made his rounds of all the animals aboard the ark, he was outraged to discover that the mice, ignoring God’s orders, had multiplied wildly and were hard at work not only eating all of the ark’s food stores but also chewing the boat apart, putting the ark in danger of sinking. Knowing that he was not allowed to kill any of the animals aboard the ship, Noah pleaded to God for help. Hearing him, God directed Noah to approach the lioness and waved his hand in a circle three times above her head. Obeying, Noah went to the lioness and waved his hand three times around her head.

Once Noah was finished, the lioness snorted, then lowered her head to the floor of the ark.

“Blargh!” she growled, and spat out a cat.

(Another version has the lion spitting out a male cat and the lioness spitting out a female cat.)

Version 3:

Not wanting any of God’s creatures to survive the Great Flood, the Devil went to the mice aboard the ark and convinced them to chew through the wood, in hopes that they would eat straight through and cause the ark to sink. Discovering the plot, but knowing that he was not allowed to kill any animal aboard the ark, Noah asked God what he should do.

In response, a lion nearby shook his mane, snuffled, then wrinkled his nose.

“RA-CHOO!” it sneezed, and out of its nostrils, two cats came tumbling out: a male from its right nostril, and a female from its left.

(And yet another version has the lion sneezing out a male cat, while the lioness sneezes out a female cat at the same time.)

Version 4:

While aboard the ark during the height of the falling rain, a lecherous monkey decided he would put the moves on the lioness, wooing her away from under her oblivious husband’s snout. The lioness was apparently unsatisfied with her mate enough that she didn’t think twice about getting together with a monkey, and, as a result, cats were born.

Bonus Story!:

This is a story that comes much later, specifically from the Isle of Man. Aside from being a tiny island in the middle of the fearsome Irish Sea with one of the weirdest national flags you might come across, the Isle of Man is especially famous for its Manx cats. These cats are born either with stubby little tails or no tails at all. And the people there have their own explanation as to why their kitties look this way:

As God began to deluge the earth with forty days and nights of ceaseless rain, Noah and his family were making the final preparations for their ark. They had secured all their supplies and obtained two of every animal … except for the cats. For whatever reason, one of the cats just wasn’t willing to get on the ark. Noah and his family tried to grab it, corral it, herd it onto the ark, lure it with food, waved its mate around to get its attention, but it just would not get on.

Seeing the waters rapidly beginning to rise, Noah knew they couldn’t wait any longer. He and his sons climbed into the ark, pulled up the ramp, began pushing the heavy door shut—

And that’s when the cat decided to run inside.

Fortunately for Noah, that cat made it inside just in time, escaping the floodwaters and enabling Noah to keep his promise to God to protect his creations …

Unfortunately for the cat, it didn’t quite clear the door entirely, and its tail was snipped off. Once the floodwaters receded, the tailless cat made its home on what would become the Isle of Man.

And that’s why Manx cats don’t have tails.

Myth Monday: The Boy Who Drew Cats (Japanese Folktale)

Myth Monday: The Boy Who Drew Cats (Japanese Folktale)

By Kara Newcastle

Hundreds of years ago in Japan, there was a small village that was home to a big family. That family was headed by a hardworking farmer and his equally hardworking wife, and they had several hardworking children—except for the youngest one. His name was Akio, and he was a good boy, but he wasn’t born strong, and he couldn’t keep up with all that needed to be done on the farm. He was quite smart, and was especially talented at drawing, which is what he was often doing instead of hoeing the garden or carrying water. Akio’s favorite thing to draw were cats, and whenever he saw one, Akio dropped what he was doing and drew the cat. He drew cats in the dirt, on the walls of their house and barn, on their screens, anything that was nearby at the time.

Akio’s parents loved him as much as they loved their other children, but in time they came to realize that they no longer had the money to support their large family, and Akio was too weak to really contribute to the farm. His parents didn’t want to send Akio away, but it was his mother who suggested that they bring Akio to the temple nearby to become an acolyte. She reasoned that Akio was very smart and would learn things quickly, and the temple would provide him with a place to sleep, clothes and food. He wouldn’t be very far away, and he would be well taken care of.

Akio’s parents were saddened by the decision, but they thought it was best, and after telling their son about it, Akio agreed. The next day Akio and his parents went to the temple, where the head abbot welcomed Akio into their order. They shaved Akio’s head and gave him new clothes and food. Akio’s parents were relieved that their youngest child would want for nothing now.

Unfortunately, neither Akio’s mother nor father took into consideration just how much Akio loved to draw cats. Akio was an obedient student for the most part, but when he became bored, he drew cats. Whenever one of the temple cats sauntered past him, Akio would stop his studying or his prayers and draw the cat. He drew them all over the temple walls, in the abbot’s books, on the screens and pillars. The flustered abbot told Akio to stop drawing cats—he was at the temple to become a monk, not an artist! Akio genuinely tried to resist, but he just couldn’t help himself. He kept drawing cats.

One day the abbot set Akio to studying and left the boy at his books for a time. When the old abbot came back to see if Akio had any questions, he stopped short, horrified to see that Akio had pushed aside his texts and had spent the entire hour drawing a cat mural across one of the temple screens.

“That does it!” the abbot thundered, nearly startling the oblivious Akio right out of his skin. “I’ve asked, I’ve warned, I’ve scolded, I’ve all but begged you to stop drawing those cats, but you still do it. You have defied me for the last time! You must leave this temple—you’ll never be a good priest!”

Shaken by the rage in the old man’s voice, Akio dropped his paintbrush, ducking his head down so the abbot couldn’t see his tears. “I—I wasn’t trying to … I’m not doing it to be disobedient. I just …” He swallowed hard, his voice barely a whisper past the lump in his throat. “I just really like drawing cats.”

Grinding his teeth, the abbot glared down at the boy. The old man looked up at the screen Akio had ruined and opened his mouth to retort … but as he took in the images before him, the abbot’s anger faded. He studied each cat that Akio had painted, noting how graceful they appeared, how lifelike in their poses.

Akio might not have been an attentive student, but the abbot could clearly see how talented the boy was.

Sighing, the abbot shook his head. “Even so, it’s clear that this is not the place for you, son. You’d rather paint than study, so perhaps you should go and become a painter. But you can’t do that here.”

Akio was saddened, but he did what he was told and gathered what little he had, taking special care the pack his ink and paint brushes. The abbot was kind enough to walk Akio to the gate, and as he guided Akio through, the old monk said, “I’m sorry it has come to this, but please be safe. Remember—avoid large places and stick to small.”

With that, the abbot turned around and walked back to the temple. Shouldering his bag, Akio stood in the road, looking first to the monastery, then back I the direction of his family farm. His first thought was to return home, but he was sure his father would be furious at him for being disrespectful to the abbot, so Akio quickly decided against it. He turned in the opposite direction, towards the neighboring village. There was a temple there too … maybe he could go there and become an acolyte. This temple or that, it didn’t matter so long as his father didn’t find out.

Making up his mind, Akio started walking the twelve miles to the next village.

Now, the neighboring village did have a temple there, but what Akio didn’t know was that it had been abandoned for a long while. A disgusting rat monster had attacked the monks there and taken over the temple. A dozen different samurai had gone in to slay the yokai, but every single one of them met with a gruesome death at the rat demon’s kama-like teeth. The monster would often leave a lantern burning in the temple to attract unwitting travelers to come inside, where they would be devoured. Because there was no way to defeat the rat monster, the temple was abandoned. By the time Akio arrived in town, it was late at night, and everyone was asleep; no one was there to warn the boy.

Akio saw the silhouette of the temple in the distance, barely illuminated by the glow of a single lamp in the window. Relieved to see that at least one priest was awake, Akio hurried to the temple and pushed through the door. Inside, he found the lone lamp in the center of the temple, but no monk or abbot attending the flame.

Dropping his bag on the ground, Akio glanced around; ugh, the place was filthy! There were cobwebs hanging like sheets from the rafters, a carpet of dust all over the floor … obviously, these monks were too busy with their duties to clean. They must have been in desperate need of an acolyte. They’d take him in for certain.

Pleased with what he saw, Akio helped himself to a seat down by the lantern and waited, sure that somebody would be a long shortly. He sat and waited, and waited, and waited … and waited … but no one came. At length Akio began to grow bored. He fidgeted, looked around … and saw an immaculate white paper screen set up in a corner.

Akio just couldn’t help himself. Grabbing his writing box from his bag, Akio ground up his inks, added a bit of water, dipped his brushes, and set to work. Tired though he was, Akio was seized by creativity and drew over a dozen different kinds of cats: cats, kittens, old cats, jumping cats, fluffy cats, cats with short tails, cats sitting, cats colored like koi fish, cats licking their paws, skinny cats, fat cats, napping cats, hunting cats … cats and cats and cats!

As Akio put the finishing touches on his last cat, he felt his eyelids droop. He yawned and stretched, realizing groggily it must have been quite late now, and he still hadn’t seen anyone in the temple.

Grabbing his bag, Akio began to lie down in front of his masterpiece to go to sleep. His head was barely an eyelash-length above his bag when suddenly, inexplicably, the words of his old abbot raced through Akio’s head.

“Remember—avoid large places and stick to small.”

Blinking, Akio sat up. He hadn’t really thought about what the abbot had said until now. What did it mean?

Peering in the dusty darkness of the temple, Akio felt an odd shudder rippled through him. “Well,” he said to himself, aware of how his voice shook. “This place is so big … I’ll feel better in a small spot anyway.”

Picking up his bag, Akio stood and groped through the shadowy edges of the room until he found a cabinet with a sliding door. Pushing the door back, Akio crawled inside, and found that he fit perfectly.

“That’s better,” he said. Laying down, Akio slid the door shut. There was a small split in the door’s panel, allowing a bit of the lantern light to seep in, so Akio turned his back on it and went to sleep.

Akio didn’t know how long he had been asleep before the shrieking woke him up. It was the worst sound Akio had ever heard, cutting straight through his dreams, and shocking him awake. Terrified, Akio twisted around in the cabinet, struggling to remember where he was. The cabinet, that’s right … but he couldn’t see anything. The lantern in the center of the temple had gone out.

A second shriek ripped through the night, and now a chorus of hideous growls and hisses answered it. Something big thumped outside, and Akio felt the whole temple shake. His heart in his throat, he pressed his eye to the crack in the wood. He thought he saw two small red lights side by side each other, darting from a corner. Before Akio could register what it was, something huge rushed past the cabinet, thundering by on four feet.

Three more pairs of lights appeared at the edges of the room—yellow-green this time—and Akio shrank back from the door, choking back a gasp. He clapped his ink-stained hands over his mouth as the creatures screamed again, as another beast roared, as something slammed to the ground, as massive animals tore back and forth, making the temple shake down to its foundations. The screams and roars grew worse, louder, and faster until only one of the things was screeching, squealing, gagging …

Then it was over. All the growls and hisses stopped. Akio couldn’t hear any movement outside his cabinet, but he didn’t dare look through the crack to be sure. He sat there, trembling, rocking himself, barely able to breath for fear that the monsters would hear him. Akio stayed like that until he saw the rays of sunlight shining brightly through the chink in the door.

Slowly, Akio inched the door open, pausing to listen. Hearing nothing but the birds singing outside, Akio drew in a breath, then opened the door wider.

The first thing Akio saw was the blood. Buckets of it strewn across the floor, over the walls, up the pillars. Next, he saw that much of the temple furniture and decoration had been smashed, windows broken, walls buckled out. A fight had happened here, but between who?

Pausing, Akio looked back at his cabinet, then ahead of him, where his painted screen stood facing out. Everything had been obliterated except for that screen and his cabinet. It was like whoever was fighting was trying to stay away from where he was hiding.

Wanting nothing more than to get out of this cursed building, Akio circled around the screen—and stopped dead, a revolted, horrified scream catching in his chest.

Laying on the floor in the center of the temple was a mammoth rat, the size of his mother’s cow!

The thing was hideously ugly, made worse by the gaping, bloody wound in its throat. Akio stared at the dead monster in disbelief, scanning it from the tip of its ragged nose down to its snake-like tail …

Jolting, Akio shook his head, rubbed his eyes, then looked again, squinting at the blood around the rat’s foul body. Circling all around it were paw prints—cat’s paws! There looked to be hundreds of cat prints all around the body, trailing away and back to the …

Astounded, Akio didn’t even feel his jaw drop open as he stared at the screen he had painted the night before. All his cats were there as he had drawn them … but now every single one of them had blood smeared on their mouths. And they all seemed to have that satisfied, smug look cats would have after a successful hunt.

Akio’s cats … they had come to life that night. They had sprung down from the screen and saved him from the rat demon that was hiding in the temple!

When Akio recovered his senses, he raced down to the village to tell everyone what had happened. The villagers hailed Akio as a hero, and the temple was reclaimed and sanctified. Akio joined the temple as an acolyte …

But he never stopped drawing cats.