Bertrand Aurelier had been walking home along the moonlit country road when something in his bleary-eyed vision caused him to freeze in place. Swaying from the strong effects of drinking a little bit too much local wine at a Halloween party, he looked oddly out of place dressed as a skeleton amongst the hedgerows of the French countryside.
“I said, Shoo! Allez Maitenant!”
A curious black cat had unexpectedly appeared in response to Bertrand’s wailing, off-key singing. Positioning itself dead centre of the rural lane, it sat with tail curled around its rump, slightly twitching from a rush of combined excitement and unsurety of what to make of the drunken stack of bones.
“It is not good luck for me that you cross my path,” the All Hallows Eve reveller tried to explain. “I would like you to move votre petit derrière off the road, so I may pass.”
The cat – as cats like to do – just stared intently at Bertrand, like it was waiting for something to happen, or was merely just unimpressed by Bertrand’s animated protestation. Reacting, the cat stood and let out a small, friendly “Meow,” then alarmingly, began to approach Bertrand.
“Non non non… non! Stay! Do not come any closer,” Bertrand commanded as he stamped a foot crisply on the ground. It did the trick. The cat sat again, twitching his tail – a little more curious than before. Taking a step backwards to regain some personal space, Bertrand was alarmed by the cat rudely hissing at him.
“Nice kitty. Friendly kitty. It’s okay. I just want to pass, si vous plait. I mean you no harm.”
Bertrand relaxed a little as he heard a purring sound, followed by another “Meow” escaping into the crisp, quiet night air.
“Are you hungry, mon ami? I have some food here somewhere.”
Patting down his body in a futile attempt to find some food to give to the cat, produced a moment of confusion with Bertrand, as the hors d’oeuvres he thought he had packed into his pockets before leaving the party, could not be found. Even more frustrating was that Bertrand couldn’t find any pockets in his bony costume.
“Merde,” Bertrand cussed. “You drunken fool. Where did the food go…”
As he continued to search his person, he noticed the shadow he cast over the cat in the full moon evening was unusually long; however, his dismissive reasoning determined it was due to the time of year, or perhaps the position of the moon in the night sky. Checking his watch, he let out an exasperated complaint while animatedly smacking his forehead – an attention-seeking action and sound that was lost on the peopleless road... and evidently, the cat; who oblivious to Bertrand’s frustrated haste, became bored with the uninteresting movements of the strange traveller – and sat again, noisily licking its paw.
“It’s almost midnight, Mr. Pussycat. I am tired and I’m looking forward to getting home to my nice warm bed, laying my head on my nice soft pillow, and getting some much-needed rest… Why won’t you let me pass?”
The cat responded by quickly twisting its head to bite at an invisible flea nibbling at his shoulder. To Bertrand, it was pointless talking to the cat because it understood nothing of what was said.
“If you were a dog,” he pointed out. “At least you would understand me more.” However, that didn’t detract him from trying again. “If you do not let me pass, I will attack you.”
Lifting his arms high with wrists bent to make his hands look like claws, Bertrand let out a loud growl that only succeeded in forcing a hacking cough from the back of his throat, to materialise in the damp evening. Clearing his congested vocal cords, he stamped his feet twice while clapping his hands together in a vain attempt to scare the cat away. But his efforts were lost in translation. The cat misunderstood it as a beckoning sign and took two steps toward Bertrand.
“Non!” Bertrand yelled with both of his palms outstretched, facing the cat, like he was trying to stop it from advancing by using telekinesis.
“A black cat must never cross your path,” he pointlessly recited. “It’s a stupid superstition, I know. But I’ve never encountered this situation before. You must remain in place, Monsieur Pussycat. Do you understand? I do not want to tempt fate. I implore you to leave this road and go chase a field mouse or something… Begone!”
At three cat lengths away, the cat suddenly halted and stood very still, fur raised, its eyes looking up at the stunned Bertrand, who – upon seeing the instant stillness of the feline - drunkenly believed his mind control attempt had succeeded.
“Incroyable,” he exclaimed. “It worked! I’ve always believed in this… I mean… I’ve seen it in films and read about it in books, but I never thought it was real… until now…! Stay there, kitty,” he ordered before continuing in a slow and deliberate command, “…Do… not… move…”
Taking advantage of the moment, Bertrand attempted to side-step the seemingly spellbound cat, by gingerly moving to his right, only to be thwarted by the cat - who strangely seemed to be mirroring Bertrand’s every move…
“Qu'est-ce que c’est? Why are you mimicking my moves, you silly cat? I told you to not move… obey me, you… disobedient furry ball of… fur.”
Finding himself at a loss of insulting adjectives to throw at the cat, Bertrand instead, blew a frustrated puff of air in the cat’s direction, before taking a cautious step to his left. Once again, the cat copied Bertrand’s every movement, intentionally blocking his progress. In a protracted effort to assess the cat’s bizarre behaviour, Bertrand began a slow series of movements starting firstly by lifting his right leg, to which – once again, the cat imitated him by lifting his left leg. Bemused by such strange behaviour, Bertrand continued to posture by putting both feet together like a soldier would do standing to attention, then quickly lifting his left leg and holding it aloft and perfectly still. To his utter disbelief, the cat copied his exact movements, ending with his rear right leg unnaturally contorted pointing upwards while balancing on its other three legs.
“Perhaps, I have hypnotised it,” Bertrand deduced. “I must have inexplicably inherited a type of mind control over it.”
Excited by the thought of having some form of superpower, Bertrand danced in a joyful expression of super-glee proportions, tickled pink at the thought of controlling another living being.
“What if I could do this to humans?” He deviously thought. “I could control the world, like a puppet master. I would be Super-Marionette-Man…! A baddie, of course.”
Calming himself to concentrate on the task at hand – to get past the cat, he giggled like a schoolboy at the prospect of things to come. The cat patiently waited for Bertrand to calm down, then when silence filled the air, immediately launched into a copycat performance of Bertrand’s previous celebratory movements, accompanied by a type of cat giggling – the sound a cat would make when staring at a bird that excited it. An almost salivating kind of sound.
“That’s it, mock me,” Bertrand berated. “Dance like I did. Be happy and carefree in your attempt to prevent my progress along this country road. Express your voluntary movements, your final freedom of choice. Then, be away with you, before my mind controls you to the extent that you will no longer be in command of your movements, because it will be me pulling your…”
As Bertrand raised his arm to shoo the cat away, he felt a resistance tugging at his sleeve followed by an involuntary movement of his left leg rising, forcing him to balance on one leg. Then, his head bobbed as if his neck muscles were struggling to keep it upright. Ignorantly, he surmised it was merely a side effect of his new superpowers needing to be adjusted to. Something shimmering in the moonlight caught his attention. It looked long and thin like silky lengths of…
“…Strings,” Bertrand blurted out. “…How did they get attached to me? Hey, they’re stuck to my feet and knees as well. Sacré bleu! What is happening?”
It was then that Bertrand noticed his shadow again. Taller, this time, and wider – blocking out any light from the full moon. Feeling a tug at his head, he reacted by looking up at the sky and silently screamed at the silhouette of a large wooden crossbar in the shape of the letter X, jerking and vibrating by an unusually large hand holding it. The aurora from the moon’s reflection of the sun created a light ring slowly illuminating the crown of someone’s head, revealing a man of gigantic proportions, bigger than anyone Bertrand had seen before. Oversized hands moved in a dance-like rhythm, as the sound of humming filled the air.
“Un tout petit pantin,” Bertrand’s recollection of catchy tunes, identified the song to himself. It was the French version of Sandie Shaw’s 1967 hit song, ‘Puppet on a string.’
“Zut alors!” Bertrand whispered - in a reactive awareness to his plight, moments before the total loss of feeling in his hands, coupled with an absence of controlled muscle movement caused him to flop like a rag doll. His jaw opened and shut like a ventriloquist’s dummy, but he was unable to speak or make any sound at all. However, a momentary relief to his limp, unresponsive state alerted him to the fact that at least one of his senses remained intact – his hearing. Straining to listen to the giant speak, Bertrand’s drunken fantasy came to a terrifying halt with the sobering realisation of his grave situation.
“Very good, Thomas.” The giant addressed the cat in a deep, gentle voice. “We are ready for our next performance. You have been most entertaining. What a good little kitty you are for accepting Bertrand into our small but friendly troupe. He will be a great addition to the family.”
The cat sat twitching his tail, then emitted a satisfied, muffled meow sound that interrupted the precursory silence filling its playful state of anticipation.
“Joyeux A-lo ween, Thomas. The show must go on… Come Bertrand, on to the next village. The children are staying up late awaiting your introduction. Tonight, may be for all hallowed souls, but tomorrow is for the living… La Toussaint… and I’m looking forward to getting home to my nice warm bed, laying my head on my nice soft pillow, and getting some much-needed rest...”