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Copyright Â© 2006 by Avi
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The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Strange happenings: five tales of transformation/Avi.
Summary: Five original stories where strange changes occur, from a boy and a cat changing places and a young man learning the price of selfishness to an invisible princess finding herself. 1. Children's stories, American. 2. MetamorphosisâJuvenile fiction. [1. MetamorphosisâFiction. 2. Short stories.] I. Title.
For Carolyn Shute
T THE AGE OF TWELVE
, Thomas Osborn Pitzhughâbetter known as Tomâhad few interests, little desire, and almost no energy. This was so despite a familyâmother, father, older brother, and sisterâthat loved him. As for school, his teachers treated him fairly; he did what he was supposed to do and received passable grades. But if you were to ask Tom what the future held for him, he would have replied that, other than getting older, and hopefully taller, he expected no change. In short, Thomas Osborn Pitzhughâbetter known as Tomâfound life
One day Tom was sitting on the front steps of his city house doing what he usually did: nothing. As he sat there a short-haired, black-and-gray cat with gray eyes approached and sat down in front of him. For a while the twoâboy and catâstared at each other.
The cat spoke first. "What's happening?" he asked.
"Not much," Tom replied.
"Doing anything?" the cat asked.
"Just hanging out?"
"That something you do often?"
"How come?" the cat inquired.
The cat considered this remark and then said, "You look like my kind of friend. How about adopting me?"
"Why should I?"
"Got anything better to do?"
"I don't know."
Tom asked, "What's your name?"
It was not long before Charley the cat became part of Tom's household. So familiar did he become that when Tom went to sleep, Charley slept next to his head on an extra pillow.
For a brief time, Tomâhaving a new friendâwas almost not bored. After a while, however, his life settled back into its old, boring routine.
"Hey, man," Tom said to Charley one afternoon two months after the cat had moved in. "It's not fair! You get to sleep all day, but I have to go to school." Disgusted, he flung his schoolbooks onto his bed.
It was the statement more than the
books that awoke Charley from a sound nap. He studied Tom, and then stretched his back to curve like a McDonald's arch. "I am a cat," he said. "You are a boy. Some would say you had it better."
Tom sighed. "If you had to go to school every day like I do, you wouldn't say that."
"Don't you like school?" Charley asked.
"Oh, I like it all right," Tom replied. "The kids are okay. The teachers are all right. Once in a while it almost gets interesting. Mostly, though, it's just boring. I'd rather do nothing. Like you."
"What about after school?"
" Tom insisted.
Tom considered the question. "Television," he said at last. "On TV there's something happening. It's my life that's dull."
"A cat's life," said Charley, "can be dull, too."
"Your life is supposed to be dull," Tom said. "See, people are
telling me that I should get up and
something. Boy, wish I had permission to sleep all day the way you do."
To which Charley said, "How about you becoming me, a cat, while I become you, a boy?"
Tom sighed with regret. "Not possible," he said.
"Don't be so sure," said Charley. "Most people wouldn't believe that you and I could hold a conversation, but here we are doing just that."
"Actually," said Tom, "it's not that interesting a conversation."
"Whatever you say," Charley replied as he curled himself into a ball, closed his eyes, and went back to sleep. Tom did pretty much the same: He watched television.
The next day Tom, as usual, went to school. In most ways school was ordinary. Although Mr. Oliver called upon him once and Tom gave a reasonable response, he never raised his hand. Most of the time he doodled, stared out the window, or daydreamed, but about what he could not have said.
At the end of that day, Mr. Oliver announced a special homework assignment. He asked each student to write an essay titled "The Most Exciting Thing That Ever Happened to Me." It was due in one week's time.
Tom was worried. He could not think of anything in his life that had been exciting. He did remember a family trip when they'd had a flat tire on the highway. That was not so much exciting as it was nerve-racking.
Then there was the time he was taken to a baseball game, but no one even got a hit until the bottom of the ninth inning.
Tom also recalled the time his mother had thought she might lose her job. That was scary, not exciting.
"You ever do anything exciting in your life?" Tom asked Charley when he got home.
Charley, who, as usual, had been sleeping on Tom's bed, stretched, yawned, and said, "As a cat?"
"Of course as a cat."
Charley said, "I caught a mouse once."
"Was that exciting?"
"It was just a small mouse. My first ever."
"What did you do with it?"
"Let it go."
"Since I've moved in here, I've caught a whiff of another cat passing through your backyard. I believe it's a cat of my acquaintanceâher name is Maggie. She's in search of a home of her own."
"For a cat it can be hard," said Charley. "Why all these questions?"
Tom told Charley about the essay he had to write. "But," he complained, "nothing exciting has
happened to me."
Charley thought for a while. "Tom," he said after a while, "do you remember what I told youâthat you could become me and I could become you?"
"You might find
Tom smiled. "Sleeping all day with no one objecting sounds cool to me. Could it be done?"
"We can give it a shot," said Charley. "A few blocks from here there's a neighborhood wizard-cat. It's that Maggie I just mentioned. We could ask her."
"Just remember," Tom warned, "if we make the change, you'll have to write that essay. It's due next week."
"I know. And you'll get to sleep all day."
"Sounds good to me," Tom said. "Anyway, we could do it just long enough for you to write my essay."
remark, said, "Let's make the change now."
" said Tom. He was not given to making quick decisions.
"Any reason not to?"
"Maybe my parentsâ"
"I'll handle them."
With Charlie leading the way, they left immediately.
It was dusk. A thin haze filled the air. Streetlamps began to flicker on. As it grew darker, people hurried to get home. Soon the streets were quite deserted. Tom was glad Charley knew the way.
They went two blocks to the right, one to the left, and then walked through a back alley Tom had never wanted to walk through. Finally they cut through a weed-and-bedspring-infested yard and approached what looked to Tom to be an abandoned building. Its windows were boarded. Tom hoped they would not be going there. But Charley, without a pause, padded into the building's basement and down a long empty corridor.
Tom, feeling nervous, said, "Do we have far to go?"
"Not too long," said Charley as he headed up a rickety flight of steps.
They reached the first floor. When Tom's eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, he realized that the building was full of cats. Some were sleeping. Others sat with tails curled about their feet, staring into the distance. A few prowled restlessly. Charley noddedâas if they were acquaintances.
With Charley leading the way, Tom entered a long, dimly lit hallway. Green paint peeled from the walls. The ceiling looked like it might collapse any moment. There were more cats. Some glanced at Tom, but most paid no attention.
At the end of the hallway was a door. In front of this door sat a large cat, the largest cat Tom had ever seen. He looked like a miniature tiger.
Charley approached this large cat with great respect. For a few moments the two cats stared at each other, their tails moving restlessly.
"What can we do for you?" said the large cat.
"A transformation," Charley said.
Tom saw the large cat's eyes shift to him, then turn back to Charley. "What's the reason?" the large cat asked.
"He's bored," Charley said. "And he has to write a school essay, 'The Most Exciting Thing That Ever Happened to Me.'"
"Ah! One of
" the large cat said as if he had heard it before. "You can enter."
"Watch your head," Charley cautioned Tom.
Tom was just about to ask Charley if this kind of transformation was common, when they stepped into a small, dim room. The floor was so carpeted with cats, it was hard to move about. Some cats were big, others small. Some were perched on ledges. Others sat on shelves like books in a library. The whole room throbbed with such a steady purring, it was as if one low note on a bass guitar were being continually thrummed.
No matter where the cats sat or lay, all eyes were fixed upon a raised platform at the far end of the room. The platform was dimly lit by dusty light that drifted through a broken piece of window boarding.
On the platform, on a purple pillow, a gray cat lay stretched out, one cheek resting on an extended front paw. Her long fur made it appear as if she were dressed in silk lounging pajamas. Her eyes were closed to narrow slits. Now and again the tip of her tail shivered delicately.
"Who's that?" Tom asked Charley.
"Maggie," Charley whispered. "The local wizard-cat. Most neighborhoods have them. On the street she leads a normal life. Here, she's a wizard. Stay close and don't say anything unless you're asked a direct question."
Charley padded his way to the platform. Once there he lay down and tucked his front paws under his chest. "Kneel," he whispered.
"Now, be patient."
Tom, curious how a cat could have become a wizard, gazed at Maggie.
The gray cat finally looked up. "What's happening?" she asked. Her voice was small, delicate.
"Maggie," said Charley, "we're requesting a transformation. This boyâhis name is Tomâand myself."
"Wants to be a regular
cat, I suppose," Maggie said. Her silky sides heaved slightly as she enjoyed her joke.
"Actually," Charley explained, "he's bored. Wants to sleep all day, the way I do."
"Lucky you," Maggie murmured to Charley. With a sidelong glance at Tom, she asked, "
you really want to sleep all day?"
It took a moment for Tom to realize he had been asked a question. "Absolutely," he replied. "I love to sleep."
Maggie sighed. "I'd settle for a decent home off the streets."
"I've got that," Tom said.
"Whatever," Maggie mumbled. Then she said, "Bow down. You need to have your heads close together."
Tom and Charley put their heads side by side.
Tom was not sure what happened next. He sensed that Maggie's tail curled around and batted him on the forehead. He supposed the same thing had happened to Charley.
The next moment he heard Maggie say, "Charley, enjoy that home of yours."
"Let's go," said Charley. Tom turned and sensed the room had grown much larger. What's more, he was staringânose to noseâinto the face of a large calico cat with curled whiskers. "Beg pardon," said Tom, as he sidestepped the cat.
He turned to see if Charley was there. What he saw was the leg of the largest human he had ever seen, a boy who towered so high into the room, Tom could not see his head.
Confused, Tom called, "Charley?"