The St. Augustine Library stood tall and proud under the clear blue Autumn sky. The crisp, cool air clung to the librarian's clothing and hair as she clipped her way up the concrete steps in her sensible black pumps. Flipping her coat collar up to her cover her neck, she still couldn't seem to keep the chill out. Cheeks bright pink from the cold, she fumbled for the keys to open the enormous front doors. "Today is going to be a good day, today is going to be a good day", she chanted her morning mantra over and over as she began to prepare the library for opening hours. Smiling and whistling, she attacked her chores with gusto. After 15 years as head librarian, she could practically perform these tasks with her eyes closed. If she finished quickly, she usually had time to sit and read her latest find. On this particular day she was eager to read the latest Pam Munoz Ryan novel, Echo. Although Miss Sherrie, as the libraries’ youngest patrons liked to call her, would be 40 years old next week, YA fiction was her guilty little pleasure.
Having finished the morning’s tasks,she had finally settled into her favorite chair behind the large wraparound desk in the center of the library. Having just picked up the novel and opened to the Epilogue, she started as she saw a figure standing at the threshold to the entrance. Where had he come from? She didn’t think she had heard the front door chime. Sherrie glanced at the clock on the west wall and quickly noted it was only 9:05. The library was usually empty until10:30 when the children's programs began. She promptly shut the book and placed it behind the desk, ready to assist the gentleman who had just walked in the door. He was very tall and clothed from head to toe, all in black, from the black fedora on his head down to his shiny black oxfords. Even his socks were black, she noticed as he took a step forward. He gave her a cursory glance as he turned to head towards Classic Literature and she called out, “Can I help you sir?" He merely grunted, shrugged his shoulders, and pointed to the section he was headed to. “Strange”, she thought, but she let him be, still primed to shoot out of her chair if she were to be needed.
Seeing as it would be inappropriate to pick up the book to try to start again while there was someone else in the library, she decided to check through the budget to see if the library could afford to purchase any new books that week. She had just begun to wonder what happened to the man in black when he suddenly appeared in front of her at the desk. “Hm”, she thought, “I didn't even hear him approach. It was as if he'd appeared from nowhere. Laying a book atop the counter, he cleared his throat and nodded at the book. Still, not a word emanated from his mouth. Sherrie thought that this was beginning to get creepy, but she went ahead and picked up the book, The Great Keinplatz Experiment, and Other Tales of the Twilight and Unseen by Sir (Doyle, 1885)…1st Edition. First Edition?! Since when did the public library start carrying 1st editions of anything? The book was beautifully bound with Morocco leather. “Interesting”, she thought, “I wonder what it's about?” Then, “Oh my, should I really let a patron check out a book as rare as this one?” It was as if he could read her mind, for just as she reached to hand it back to him, he stopped her with his palm, pointed at her and in a heavily laden German accent, said only two words: “for you.” Then he turned and walked out the door.
Sherrie just stood there with her mouth agape. She had never met such a strange human being in her life. She also had a chill running down her back, but at the same time was quite intrigued by the book the man had so obviously wanted her to read. Curiosity won out and she decided to look up the book’s summary.
A professor by the name of Alexis von Baumgarten uses his varied knowledge of science to venture into the world of “mesmerism” in an attempt to legitimize the study of souls and hocus pocus.
“Now wait just a second”, she thought, “wasn't Baumgarten the name of the man who had just brought her the book?” Miss Sherry quickly checked the computer and sure enough, an Alex V. Baumgarten had checked out the book! It had to be a coincidence, right?
The day had been too busy to read, but now, closing up at 5pm, Sherrie thought it might be nice to sit in one the libraries papasan chairs and nibble at some of her lunch leftovers while starting this book. Being in no hurry, as she had no one at home, except her sweet Tabby cat Pooka, she sunk down in the chair and began… “Of all the sciences which have puzzled the sons of men, none had such an attraction for the learned Professor Von Baumgarten as those which relate to psychology and the ill-defined relations between mind and matter.” As when reading any opening lines, she was swept into the story and neither the noises of the cars in the street or children yelling in the park could rouse her. She had come well along in the book when she finally got to the experiment. The Professor was proposing his hypothesis to the crowd: “I hold that when a person is under the influence of mesmerism, his spirit is for the time released from his body…I therefore hope that upon mesmerizing my young friend here, and then putting myself into a trance, our spirits may be able to commune together."
How Fascinating! Sherrie had always wanted to experience what it would be like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Someone who lived life to its fullest, had may friends, and who went on lots of adventures. Sure, she sometimes longed for these things, but she could never really do those things. Not her, she was too scared.
Suddenly, she felt a shaking under her feet. Was it an earthquake? Here in Florida? Then, a sudden and ear-splitting crash erupted from behind the front desk. She darted out of her chair and raced to see what had happened, but upon arriving at the desk entrance, she could see nothing amiss. Now Sherrie was truly freaked out. It was past time to get out of there. Locking the libraries’ doors behind her, fumbling again with the old keys, she never even the figure standing at the corner lamppost, watching her go.
Safely back at home, she sank into her aged, yet comfortable armchair, which she had aptly named, Old Betsy. Pooka, her just as aged cat, came to keep her company. She sighed in relief while stroking the cat lovingly on the head. After the day’s events, she was now relaxed and content, even though still a bit frazzled.
She talked out loud to Pooka about all the strange events that had occurred, pondering. In a tiny corner of her mind, she thought the man might be tied to the events, but she pushed that away to a deeper recess and instead decided to pick up the book again. She just had to know if the experiment had worked.
She read about how the Professor hypnotized his young apprentice and then himself and then looked down at Pooka. She had suddenly gone very still. She appeared to be passed out. Sure, Pooka slept all the time, but as she shook her, at first gently, then a little more forcefully, she didn’t appear to awaken. Next thing she knew, the lights were fizzing in and out, then she heard a loud POP!
Bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, booong, The grandfather clock in the living room chiming 8 am, the last bong sounding out longer than the rest, made Sherrie jump to her feet. Last night’s crazy events had made her oversleep and being in the recliner hadn’t helped matters as she’d had no alarm to wake her. Oh my, oh my, she thought, I’ll be late to open the library. But, wait, something’s wrong. Looking up behind her at the chair she had just jumped out of, things suddenly seemed out of place. The chair was there, but it appeared to be much taller than she remembered, and hold up, why couldn’t she reach her handbag on the table beside the recliner? She tried, she toppled over, only standing on three feet at this point…three feet??!! Confusion wrapped itself around her like a thick cumulus cloud about to burst forth rain. “Now what exactly was going on here?” Sherrie wondered as she put her hand in her hips, or rather, it seemed, her paws on her tummy…her paws?! Looking up again, Sherrie saw the most unusual sight; there was her body standing behind the curtains, licking her hands. She was almost too scared to look down, but as she did, she saw what she was afraid she’d see; an orange, furry body with four paws and, the icing on the cake, the swishing tail on her behind.
Sherrie was dumbfounded. This couldn’t be real; she couldn’t really be a cat, could she? She wasn’t just any cat, she was Pooka, her loyal tabby cat who had kept her company for the last 10 years. Suddenly, her stomach rumbled, and she found she was quite hungry. Having run home in a panic the previous night and collapsing in her chair, she realized hadn’t done her usual pre-bedtime activities, including filling Pooka’s bowls with food and water. <Sigh> Not that she wanted to eat cat food anyways. Or wait…did she? Suddenly, she was craving a big bowl of milk. Milk? When was the last time she’d had milk? She didn’t even use milk in her coffee due to her lactose intolerance. But intolerance or not, that’s exactly what she wanted. She shook her head, focusing instead on finding a way to get to the food, any food. Next thing she knew, she was on the kitchen counter. It felt like she had just had the thought and the very next second she was there, but then she realized that her four little legs had sprung her off the floor quite gracefully. First, to the dining room chair, then up to the counter in one fell swoop. That felt pretty amazing, she tried to say out loud to herself, or rather to her body on the other side of the room. It only came out as a scratchy, meow. OK, so communication is out of the question apparently. Back to the task at hand. She backed up on her haunches stretching her feline torso as far as it would go and swatted at the cupboards above, but she couldn’t quite reach the handle. Even if she could, she realized she had no fingers or thumbs. There was no way she was opening any of those cupboards, and definitely not the refrigerator. A new understanding dawned on her at that moment.
She was quite helpless without her human body. The only thing she could think of was to try to leave the apartment, so she hopped back down from the counter and headed to the front door. Luckily, she had been in such a shamble the previous night that she had left the door slightly ajar. Looking back at her body one last time, she saw that she/it/Pooka (she had no idea how to think of her own body while she was unattached from it) was trying to squat in the litter box. Unable to look any longer, she swiped her paw at the door so it would close behind her and her body would not escape the apartment. Then she headed out the door.
She found her way to the street in front of her building, Lancaster Avenue. It looked the way it always had, taxis mingled with buses, SUV’s and mini vans, all in a hurry to get somewhere. Sherrie had never had a vehicle, only a bicycle that she used to get to and from work every day, since it was only 20 blocks from her apartment complex and the shopping complex was right around the corner. Even so, in her new, squat little body there was no way she could sit on and pedal a bike. It looked like she’d be footing it. At first, this was a daunting thought for she had no idea how far she needed to go to find food.
She found, though, that she was sailing down each block. Running on her toes, she felt like she was flying. She stopped when she got to the Publix where she did her weekly shopping. Great, a grocery store, but she realized she couldn’t talk to anyone, so how was she to get any food? She’d never seen a cat in a grocery store before after all. As she was contemplating this, an object in the corner of her eye caught her attention. She revolved on her hind legs, swiveling so quickly that she surprised herself. The next thing she knew she was pouncing on a squirrel that was eating the fresh new bulbs that had just begun to bud in the library’s beautifully manicured flower bed. Apparently, she had surprised the squirrel even more than she had surprised herself. Right before she was about to dig her claws into the little guy’s flesh, she caught herself. Shaking her head from side to side to clear her head, she let the little guy go free. It’s your lucky day pal.
Sherrie sat back on her haunches wanting to cry. Not only was she frustrated, but she was still hungry, and she had almost killed an innocent animal. Had she been about to eat it? But try as she might, tears just wouldn’t come, they couldn’t come…because she was a CAT!!!
Sherrie realized she had come all this way for nothing but decided she could at least look for food. She turned a corner and saw a tom cat with his head in the dumpster behind the grocery store. She shuddered. Ugh! Was this really how she was to have to get her food? Cringing, she decided she’d stay hungry a little longer. Walking a little further, she spied a little corner bakery. She remembered getting her morning croissants at one time in this place. If she recalled correctly, it was owned by the Rodriguez family. As she was contemplating how to get some bread or pastry, she felt arms wrap around her from behind. She was being carried into the bakery. The hands walked her into the shop, calling out, “Look Papa, I found a cat. Can I give it some milk and bread?” A short, stocky man came lumbering out of a back room. He was wearing a white tank top and wiping his hands on a towel wrapped around his quite hefty waist. The man shook his head at his son, saying, “Rodrigo, not another stray.” Rodrigo answered, “But Papa, this cat looks well cared for and is wearing a bell. I think she has a home and is just lost.” “Ok, Rodrigo”, Papa said. “Just this one last time, ok? Promise me.” Rodrigo eagerly agreed and promptly put me down on the ceramic floor, turning to move behind a large counter. I saw him grab an old-fashioned glass bottle full of milk. He placed a bowl in front of me and poured a large helping of nice cold milk. Ahh, just what I needed.
Sated, she went to the boy and curled herself around his legs. He reached down to pet her, she purred. What a nice feeling, but it was time to go. She needed to get back to her apartment and figure out how to get back into her body. Racing back home and up the stairs to her 4th floor apartment, she got to the door, the closed door. Remembering how she had nudged it close earlier this morning, she froze. “Well,” she thought, “it’s time to think like a cat.”
Many times, she had seen Pooka climb out the window and make her way down the fire escape. “Well”, she thought, “if Pooka could do it, then she could do it in Pooka’s body.” Her only hope was that her window was open. Slinking behind the apartment complex, she made her way to the fire escape and up to the fourth-floor window. Closed! She saw her body jumping around the room. Pooka must really be freaked out, unable to figure out what to do in a human body. Sherrie tapped on the window trying to get Pooka’s attention. Pooka came over and looked at her, but of course, she had no idea how to use her hands to open the window. Sherrie had always craved adventure, but this was enough already. She was ready to go back to her mundane life. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a hand grab the book and stealthily step out the front door. A sinking feeling stirred deep in her gut, letting her know this was not going to end well. She turned to look straight into Pooka’s eyes, or rather, her own stunning green eyes, and there was a knowing there as well.