“Okay, Minerva.” Jupiter sprawled out on her stomach, legs in the air, dress bunched around her bottom. If her aunt saw her, Jupiter was sure to be scolded about how “unladylike” her position was and how she was showing her underwear to all of Cocatrali Island—but why everyone on the island would bother looking at her underwear, Jupiter couldn’t say.
Minerva—who’d recently celebrated her fourth birthday—looked at her sister with serious eyes as well. “Jupey!”
“Today’s the day. Today’s the day I’m really going to give you that floating cat I promised!” Jupiter swung her legs back and forth as her ankles clacked together.
A summer breeze blew in through the open window, carrying the scent of saltwater and sunshine. Jupiter smiled. She could even hear the island music that she’d grown up with: the shaking of the palm trees, the swoosh of the waves, the song of the gulls.
“Can I f’oat, Jupey? Like a weal witchy too?” Minerva rocked back and forth.
She had suddenly become all gangly arms and legs, with long, red hair that rivaled Jupiter’s own. It was done up in two twirly pigtails, although one had fallen to half-mast during the day.
“Soon. We better practice on the cat first, though. I’ll get in a lot less trouble if I lose the cat than if I lose you.”
Minerva squealed and raced off through their house. She reappeared in a few seconds, dragging their beloved—and rather bedraggled—looking pet cat into the room. Its gray hair stuck out like it had been electrocuted, its eyes wide as Minerva carried it underneath its chin in a headlock. Nero probably would have yowled if he had any air left in his lungs.
As soon as Minerva dropped their pet, he tried to scuttle off, but Jupiter dove for him. She caught him by his scruff and hoisted him into her arms like a baby. He pawed and hissed at her, but she paid him no mind. She dealt with grumpy cats in the same way she dealt with grumpy people: showered them with more hugs and affection. Nero scratched at her and tried to bite her for her first attempt, but he soon calmed down.
He was probably plotting murder in his head, but that was okay. She was a witch and he was a cat. He couldn’t do much damage.
“Okay. This is your first witch lesson, Minnie.” Jupiter knelt so she could be eye-level with her sister, who was a good decade her junior. “I’ve learned lots of good lessons at my magic school. Like, how not to accidentally unleash magical snowstorms that threaten to plunge the world into eternal winter.” Jupiter hummed to herself. “But that was a long time ago.” A solid six months, at least. “I’m doing a lot better now.”
Minerva looked highly unenthused with her sister’s report. She put her hands on her bony hips. “I want a f’oatin’ cat, Jupey.”
Jupiter nodded, her own hair bouncing with her enthusiasm. “I know! Now. Watch this. Hold out your hands…” Minerva dutifully followed the instructions. “And say, ‘praevolo’!”
“A-volo!” Minerva shouted with a shriek. She threw her hands up in the air with such force that she spun around in a little pirouette. “A-volo! A-volo!”
Nero meowed. Jupiter held him tighter and received a scratch across her arms. “No—not quite. Almost. Like this.”
She patted the cat in her arms. “Praevolo!”
Nero took this moment to attack her. Claws extended, he swiped at Jupiter’s face and caught the underside of her chin. Jupiter shrieked and flung the beast away from her with a squeal of, “I think he drew blood!”
Nero, for his part, seemed very proud of himself—until he must have noticed that he was no longer on the ground.
Instead, he drifted upwards, his fluffy tail pointing straight up into the air, his front paws reaching out for Jupiter—maybe for another attack, or maybe he just wanted to be rescued this time.
Whichever it was, he didn’t get what he wanted. Instead, he floated towards the window. Every writhe and howl just sent him closer towards his impending doom. Jupiter had flashes of his fate: he’d float up and up towards the sun, like Icarus of old, and then burn up into a pile of fur and whiskers.
She shrieked again. “No!”
She bounced up on their couch and lunged for him, but poor Nero was already out the window and floating towards the first palm tree outside. Minerva, oblivious to the fiery fate that awaited their feline, squealed and clapped her hands.
“A f’oatin’ cat! A f’oatin’ cat, Jupey! We did weal magic!” Minerva galloped in a circle on the floor while Jupiter had her head halfway out the window, her socked feet still lodged on the couch.
“Minnie!” Jupiter whirled around, her eyes wide. “Do you want to do more real magic?”
Minerva stopped, her mouth dropping open. It was wide enough that Nero could probably fly into it—that is, if he wasn’t currently flying towards a big, deadly ball of gas.
“Oh, yes, Jupey!” Minerva squeaked.
“Great! You’re on Nero watching duty. Watch the cat and don’t let him get away!” Jupiter opened the door and sent her little sister out. “Don’t lose him!” She promptly let the door slam behind her as she ran slapdash through the house. “Daddy! Daddy, I need some rope!”
It only took Jupiter a few minutes to track down a long strand of rope in her father’s workshop. It would have taken her a shorter amount of time if Daddy hadn’t wanted to know exactly what she planned to do with it. She managed to fudge some of the details—she said she only wanted to play with Nero, not save him from burning up into a million pieces—but Daddy surrendered the rope rather easily after that.
Finding Minerva and Nero was rather easy as well; there was currently only one floating cat in all of Cocatrali.
Unfortunately, where she found him was quite the issue.
It must have been that sometime during his flight, Nero had managed to master the basics of flying. Jupiter almost could have been offended, considering she still had trouble flying and often ended up spinning in circles while she screamed. But, no—her kitty had landed on his metaphorical feet, even while he was in the air, and had managed to make it all the way to their neighbor’s house.
Their neighbor who did not know that any of the women next door were witches, and were wont to burn the girls next door at a stake for crimes far less severe than magic.
And who also now had a floating cat clinging to their thatch roof.
Jupiter peered into the windows for a moment. The nearest lights were all off, so she dropped to her knees beside Minerva and began to wind the rope around her sister’s skinny stomach. “I’ve got a very important job for you, Minnie. Do you think you can do it?”
Minnie’s head bobbed up and down, to the point that her drooping pigtail slipped even further down. “Oh, yes! I’m a big gi’l now, Jupey. I’m fo-wah and I can wead books like Mama taught me.” Minnie bounced up and down on her toes. “‘Bob has a map. The map is on his hat. Oh, no! The w-rat is in Bob’s hat!’”
“Very impressive recitation,” Jupiter agreed. She cinched the rope as tight as she could get it against and knotted it for the third time. “Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to send you up to get the cat. You said that you wanted to fly, right?”
Minerva bobbed her head and squealed.
“Great! This is your chance. It’s—it’s like you’re a kite, Minerva! A sister kite!”
Jupiter just hoped that their parents would never find out about her sister’s short-lived tenure as said kite.
“Praevolo!” Jupiter whispered as she cast the spell upon her sister.
Just like Nero before her, Minerva began to float. Her hair seemed to defy gravity first before her tiny feet left the ground. She made a tiny squeaking noise and pumped her legs wildly.
“Wook! Wook! Jupey!” Minerva shrieked. “I’m—”
“Shh!” Jupter held up her finger to her mouth. “We have to pretend, Minnie! We can’t get in trouble—so let’s pretend that we’re...we’re...a little tiny pixie flying through the air, only the big bad troll queen stole our mouth and now we can’t talk! And if we do talk, then she’ll be able to come back and snatch us away to the troll court where we’ll have to be locked up inside a cage for the rest of our very short lives!”
Come to think of it, that actually seemed like a fun story to play pretend. They could recruit their other sisters, Proserpina and Aileen—Venus, the baby, was still too young to play, although she might make a good baby troll princess, should Jupiter be able to snatch her away from Mama—to join them as well. Proserpina would make an excellent troll queen—she had that “imperious look” mastered. Aileen could be her loyal snatcher-person, and Jupiter the daring hero that would rescue the pixie—Minerva—from her cruel fate…
Oh, wait. That’s right. They had to rescue Nero from his cruel fate first.
Minerva had listened to Jupiter’s speech with wide eyes and a slack jaw. But she dutifully clamped it shut once the threat of the troll court was invoked.
“Where was I? Oh! Oh, yes. Pump your legs, Minnie! It’s just like swimming. Like swimming in air with nothing below you.” Jupiter felt a tad bit sick just thinking about it, but Minerva didn’t seem to hold any of her sister’s reservations.
She cackled gleefully and pumped her wiry legs in Nero’s directions.
Nero—that ungrateful beast—didn’t appreciate their rescue attempts, for reasons beyond Jupiter’s comprehension. He clung to the roof with the claws on one paw while he groomed the other one, but when Minerva approached, he shrieked and let go of the roof so he could attack her with both hands. This backfired on him as suddenly he was slipping further into the atmosphere. He yowled and pumped his furry legs in mid-air, which would have been quite comical if the situation itself wasn’t so dire.
Minerva, for her part, was doing a grand job of “swimming” up to their cat. She stretched out her arms and almost managed to snag him by the whiskers—but Nero snapped his teeth at her. Minerva had grown quite adept at dodging his strikes and jerked her finger back before he chomped off any body parts, but Nero took the moment to scamper over the roof.
“Go, Minnie! Go!” Jupiter yelled.
She slackened the rope so that her sister could fly over the house and ran around to the other side. Or, more appropriately, she tried to, but the rope got snagged one of the overhangs. Thanks to her momentum, Jupiter sprawled backwards and landed in the flowerbed with begonias in places that begonias should not be. In the kerfuffle, the rope slipped from her hand as well, and Jupiter was too busy liberating her dress from the clutches of the bush.
It took Jupiter at least three seconds to register that she’d loosened her grip.
“Oh, no! I can’t lose my sister and the cat!” Mama might be able to forgive the latter, but she’d never get over the former.
Then again, she did have four other kids to occupy herself with. Maybe she’d just lose track of Minerva for a little while?
Jupiter could already imagine what horrors she might find on the other side of the roof. In her mind, she saw Minerva, clutching the wailing Nero in her arms as they both drifted off to the sun, only to combust and fizzle out into little ashy flakes, which sprinkled over Jupiter like snow. Poor Minerva wouldn’t even have time to scream. It would be instantaneous. Not even time to say her big sister’s name one last time—
Oh, thank goodness—the rope was still on the ground.
And, somehow, Minerva had managed to snag Nero by the tail. The cat howled and clawed at the clouds, but Minerva clung fast to her bushy prize.
“Oh—” Jupiter almost had tears in her eyes. “Great job, Minnie! You’re positively the best little witch I know!”
Minerva giggled as Jupiter hauled them back down. Once she was finally situated, Jupiter finally felt that she could cast the reversal spell without her sister falling to her doom. “Desino.”
Gravity returned in full force, and Minerva’s pigtails dropped down. She gave a tiny “oof” as she landed, her smile wide. Nero hung from his tail in mid-air and hissed and clawed at her feet. He finally gave up with a final growl when Jupiter scooped him up and held him like a baby in one arm while she snuggled her sister in the other.
“I f’ew!” Minerva chirped. She clutched Jupiter’s dress in her tiny fingers and squeezed. “That was the best thing e-vah, Jupey! It was wike the pixie in the story!”
She broke free from her sister’s embrace and began to flap her arms wildly as she ran around the neighbor’s front yard. Jupiter let out a long breath and stared at Nero. He glared back at her, as if to say that their war was not over, merely postponed. Soon, he would have the entire household under his furry paw, and they would cower at his clutches—
Another gust of wind blew, the palm trees rattled, and Minerva’s happy cries joined in with those of the seagulls.
And to Jupiter’s right, one elderly woman opened the door and gasped. “Laws! Who smashed my begonias?”