bedtime story, cats, children's books, cockroaches, Ding Dong Dell, Ezra, fairy tale, Felix, Freddie, Jay BR Wokky, lost in the woods, magic, Nelsonia, Old Bob, Once upon a Time, Prince Ezra, Princess Janine, Pussy's in the well, queen of hearts, Saltonia, strawberries, strawberry jam, The Queen of Hearts, The True Adventures of Jay BR Wokky, to read aloud, Tulgey Woods, Wonderland
Janine knew enough to stay off the main roads, avoid people, and go towards the mountains in the distance – when she could see them. She spent most of her time struggling through the thick, dark woods. She had no idea where she was, or even if she was going in the right direction. Felix seemed to delight in taking her on the hardest ways possible.
She sat down on a fallen tree trunk. From her knapsack she took the last of her bread and cheese, along with a small jar of strawberry jam that she’d been saving, and made a sandwich.
Felix appeared at her feet. “Is that strawberry jam? I haven’t had strawberry anything since… well, for ages. Please may I have some? Please, please, please?” He sniffed the air and licked his lips as he paced back and forth in front of her.
“Sure. I was going to share.” Janine tore the sandwich in thirds and gave a portion to Freddie and one to Felix.
The cat pounced on the food and gulped it down. “Oh, my. That was sooo good. Could I have some more? No, no, forget the bread. Just give me the jar.”
Felix seized the jar and held it between his paws as he proceeded to lick every scrap of jam from the jar. “Mmmm. Mmmm. So good. Mmmm.”
Janine watched in amazement. When Felix was finished, he rolled over on his back and sighed. “That was absolutely the most delicious thing I’ve eaten in a very long time.” He closed his eyes and began to purr.
Janine didn’t know what to think. Felix had never acted like this before. Since he was in a good mood, she decided to try to get some information out of him. “I didn’t know you belonged to Old Bob.”
“Ha. I don’t belong to anyone.”
She was puzzled. “But he commands you, and you obey.”
Felix sniffed. “I do him favors. There’s a big difference.”
“Why are you with him?”
He opened his eyes. “I owe you, so I’ll tell you the truth. When I was just a young fey, I was turned into a cockroach – just because I sampled the Queen’s tarts.”
“Oh, very well. I stole the whole tray and ate them all. I never could resist strawberries.”
Janine stopped eating. Usually the cat was so cryptic. It was nice to have him actually conversing with her. “What happened then?”
“I led a miserable life. I had to eat nasty things, and people tried to poison me and step on me. At least I was able to stay hidden most of the time. I wandered over the mountains into Nelsonia. Then, ten years ago, a human boy turned me into a cat.”
“How did he do that?”
“I don’t know. Humans don’t usually have that kind of power. Now I’m in his debt.” The cat put his ears back.
“I was chased by dogs, shot at by men, and almost lost my life when one of the royal brats tried to drown me in the well – Bernie, I think his name was — and all his friends cheered him on. One of the princes – Ezra — rescued me. Old Bob found me and took me away out of Nelsonia. He sheltered me and taught me until I was grown.”
“But he didn’t change you back into a boy. Or a man.”
“I have discovered that I prefer to be a cat.” Felix sat up and began to wash his face.
Janine thought about all that he had said. “I was supposed to marry Prince Ezra. I guess that won’t be an option now. He’ll probably be relieved.”
Felix glanced at her face. “Hmm. You humans put way too much emphasis on outer appearance.”
They began walking again, and the cat resumed his usual behavior. Janine wished she had more strawberry jam.
After three days, they reached a stone pillar. Ivy had begun to grow up its crumbling gray surface.
“Well, Princess, you’re on your own now.”
“What do you mean?” Janine brushed the dirt from her hands. She’d fallen — again.
“You’ve just crossed the border between Saltonia and Nelsonia. Good luck. Watch out for the bandersnatches.”
The cat faded away, leaving only his sharp-toothed smile.
“Thanks for your help.” Janine scowled. “Thanks for nothing.” Old Bob had told her that all magical folk would help her, but the cat’s sarcastic comments and ever changing directions made it clear that he had enjoyed playing with her.
The cat reappeared and hissed. “I beg your pardon. I led you away from a den of wolves and a nest of bandersnatches. Twice you would have met Paul, the axman. I kept you away from giant spiders, a hungry snake, and a band of thieves. And this is the thanks I get? Hmmph.”
Janine swallowed hard. “Thank you, Felix.”
“That’s more like it.” The cat grinned and vanished.
Janine looked around her at the enormous trees. She was cold, dirty, tired, and hungry. Her feet hurt. There were blisters on her heels. Poor Freddie was limping. He had spines in his nose from an encounter with a porcupine. His tail drooped, and his ribs stuck out. Janine had never felt so alone.
She began to walk again.