Final challenge of NYCMidnight’s Creative Writing Championship. Now down to 40 writers left, all with the same restrictions: “Genre: Fantasy, Location: car wash, Object: kitten.” Stupidly I thought I’d pop in and watch the Emmys just long enough to see Dr. Horrible, ended up watching all of them and having only an hour left to polish my first draft. Damn you, maddeningly entertaining Neil Patrick Harris! Here’s what I submitted.
The Kitten, the Flame Demon, and the Car Wash
by C. A. Bridges (1,000 words)
Jess watched from the car wash lobby as the screaming flame demon roamed the streets. It wasn’t charging yet, but it was definitely rampaging in their general direction.
“The heat is on, ladies,” she said. “Maybe this can happen faster?”
“Gimme a second, OK?” Amanda said, before turning back to kneel in front of the weary young girl they’d rescued the day before. She was maybe 7 years old, but her eyes now belonged to a very old, very tired woman.
They had found her in an abandoned mall surrounded by roaring flames and smoldering bodies. She didn’t respond to them, wouldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. She’d been utterly silent and listless since they brought her back, as if she knew she was already dead and was vaguely wondering when she would fall over. “Honey?” Amanda asked her gently. “I need you to listen to me.”
There was an explosion. “Just torched the McDonalds,” Jess called.
“That thing, that fire thing that attacked your… that you saw? It’s coming this way. No, no, hold on,” she said soothingly as the girl stiffened. “We can stop it, but we need your help. Do you know where those horrible things came from?”
A pause, and then the girl shook her head.
“Do you know what magic is? Casting spells?”
“Well, some very foolish people thought they could teach a computer to do magic. They thought they could program it with all the spells, the knowledge and the rituals of thousands of years, and then push a button. Do you think that was a good idea?”
The girl looked out at the angry towers of smoke rising from all around the city and shook her head violently.
“That’s right. They learned how to do magic, but didn’t understand that power without wisdom is dangerous. Last year they accidentally called up a host of demons, and we’ve been fighting them ever since.”
“The boutique’s gone now,” Jess yelled. “If we’re gonna do this, we need to do it now!”
“And we have help,” Amanda said quickly. “There’s a race of very intelligent, very powerful beings already on the earth, here to protect us, hiding their abilities until now.” She stood up, opened the door to the office, and pulled out a cardboard box, which mewed. The girl’s eyebrows rose. “You might have met some of them already.”
A kitten’s head appeared, looked around wildly, and then focused on the little girl. “Blert!” it told her. Her expression never changed, but Amanda saw her relax ever so slightly.
“Cats can do magic,” Amanda told her, “every one of them, and their real job is to guard the doorways into the demon worlds. Those doorways are everywhere; under bridges, in the backs of closets… It’s a very important job, and they’ve kept us safe for a very long time.”
“Getting closer!” Jess yelled.
Sweating now, Amanda scooped up the kitten. “OK, short version. Jezzalyle here can fight the flame demon. Don’t underestimate her, she’s like 85 years old and a battlecat warrior. But we need your help. They don’t understand English but they can read our thoughts, and children are better at talking to cats than adults are. Adults never pay enough attention.” The girl nodded at that and even smiled a bit. “Could you ask her to help us? Please? Quickly?”
Jess started backing away from the glass. “It’s almost here!”
The girl took Jezzalyle from Amanda’s hands and held the kitten up to her face. The kitten looked her directly in the eyes with a disturbingly level expression.
Time seemed to stop as the girl visibly concentrated as hard as she could, and for the first time she spoke aloud. “Hello, Jezzalyle. I’m Laurie. Would you fight the demon for us? Would you save our lives?”
After an agonizingly long moment, Jezzalyle leaned forward and head-bumped Laurie’s face. The girl actually giggled a little hysterically at that. Amanda grabbed the kitten carefully. “Works for me. OK, you guys get in the office. I’ll get her positioned. Ready?”
She left and returned almost immediately, without Jezzalyle. They all heard a tiny snarling noise.
“What’s happening?” Laurie asked.
“Stay down, hon,” Jess said. “She’s challenging it. We can’t look directly at her when she–”
The demon began lumbering toward the car wash, beelining toward the tunnel and the hissing creature that was confronting it. A wave of heat washed over the women, who ducked out of the way.
“Down!” Amanda yelled and pushed Laurie’s head below the counter.
There was a loud clang. There was a series of roars like crashing waves, and a furious hissing noise that went on and on. Then there was silence.
The demon was gone. Steam billowed through the tunnel and out into the street. Laurie started to scramble over the counter.
“Where’s Jezzalyle?” she asked frantically.
Amanda pulled her back and hugged her. “She pulled the demon back through the doorway!” she said happily. “She’s going to banish it forever. Another cat will watch us till she gets back.”
Laurie took a deep breath and smiled. “She’s amazing.”
“Yes, she is,” Amanda said. “Now you go clean up, and we’ll see about some food.” Laurie hugged her back and left.
Jess took her hands off the car wash controls she’d been operating and they both watched the hoses retract and water swirl into the drains, along with what looked like a tiny bit of charred fur. “I think it’s adding the premium wax job at the end that finishes them off.”
“Seriously, ‘Jezzalyle’? ‘Battlecat warrior’?”
“Didn’t hear any better ideas.”
“She won’t thank you when she finds out flame demons actually snarf cats like popcorn.”
“Yeah, but she’ll be alive to hate me, and that’s good enough.”
Jess sighed. “We’re going to go to hell for this, you know.”
“How will we tell the difference? Get ready, you’re going back out.”
“No,” Amanda said, watching the girl skip away. “We’re gonna need more cats.”