Jenkins didn’t often have accidents while working in his lab, but when he did they were doozies, and this accident was destined to go down in the historical annals of the Library as one of his dooziest. And he had only himself to blame for it.
He’d been studying an incredibly rare find: An intact, sealed jar of ancient Egyptian wine, still full of the liquor. Inked around the neck of the jar in hieratic script were the words, “Year 3. Sweet wine of the House-of-Nebamun – Life, Prosperity, Health!—of the Western River. Dedicated to Bastet, Daughter of Ra and Lady of the Sistrum. Chief Vintner Khaa”. A handful of words, hastily scribbled millennia ago, identified the jar of once fine wine as being dedicated to the goddess Bastet for use at her annual festival, a raucous affair that centered on drinking, singing, dancing and “physical pleasure”, as Jenkins delicately described it. “Mardi Gras on steroids”, as Mr. Stone described it.
Jenkins had begun his study of the artifact in the workroom, but the three young Librarians were so distracting with their incessant chatter and laughter that he’d had to move to his lab in order to get any work done. Well, truth be told, he was mostly distracted by one Librarian in particular, a certain pretty redhead that he just couldn’t seem to keep his mind off of, no matter how hard he tried. When he caught himself imagining what she would look like in something sheer and silky and ruby red, he knew it was time to put some distance between him and temptation.
He was still halfway daydreaming about Miss Cillian when he picked up the large stone jar in order to examine it under better lighting with his magnifying glass. He wasn’t as good with hieratic script as Mr. Stone, but he was able to make out a final line of writing that had degraded almost to illegibility.
“Bastet, Eye of Ra, Beautiful Lady of Mirth, gracious fulfiller of the desires of man!”
Knitting his brow in concentration, Jenkins set the jar down on his workbench and carefully broke the clay that sealed the stopper into place. He leaned over and very carefully sniffed the air around the open neck of the jar, and caught the slightly musty, acrid scent of grapes and exotic spices. To his amazement, the wine was still liquid! Excitedly, he leaned further over the table to grab a small eye dropper bottle so he could get a sample of the wine. The bottle was just out of easy reach for him, so he leaned over even further, his fingertips tantalizingly brushing to cool, amber glass. He made one more effort to reach the bottle, and that’s when disaster struck.
He accidentally bumped the wine jar with is chest, almost knocking it over and spilling its precious contents. Reacting instinctively, with a loud yelp Jenkins instantly straightened up and grabbed at the jar with both hands to catch and steady it. A small amount of wine sloshed out of the jar and onto his right hand and the tabletop, but he was tremendously thankful to have kept the jar from completely tipping over. He took a deep breath and waited for the wine to settle back into the jar, then released it as he stepped back, exhaling with relief. Without thinking, he stuck his fingers into his mouth to suck the spilled wine off of them.
Too late, he realized his careless mistake. Suddenly, every inch of his body tingled as though an electrical current was shooting through it. Holding his hands out, he saw threads of silvery, glittering strands of light enveloping his arms and hands like vines. He began to feel lightheaded and he felt his knees buckle beneath him as his vision went black.
Jenkins slowly opened his eyes. It was dark and hot; it felt like he was completely covered with a heavy blanket. The Librarians must have found him in the lab and put him to bed. How long had he been unconscious?
He flailed about trying to dislodge the blanket, but it wouldn’t move. He woozily rolled over and got up on all fours so that he could crawl out from beneath it. When he emerged into the cool open air, he was puzzled to discover that he was still on the floor of his lab. He looked around, his head pounding as if from a hangover, and realized that everything looked very…tall. He reached out with one hand to steady himself against the leg of the table he’d been working at. He was shocked to see not his hand, but a large, white, fur-covered paw.
Jenkins looked down and saw that his body was totally covered in short, thick, grayish-white fur. He looked behind him and saw that he had just emerged from beneath the suit of clothes and the lab coat he’d been wearing. He tried to hurry over to the glass door on a nearby cabinet, realized that he now walked—clumsily—on four legs rather than two. Peering into the glass, he saw the reflection of a very large white cat with wide dark eyes staring back at him.
“OOOH, dear!” he tried to say, but all that came out was a loud, low ‘meow’.
Working hard to keep his mounting panic in check, Jenkins turned to run back to the Annex workroom for help. He kept stumbling and falling, not used to running on four feet or to the power of his new hind legs. He stopped trying to run, tried instead to walk quickly and had more success with that.
As he hurried through to lab door, he noticed with dismay that his eyesight was very different now—objects more than fifteen or twenty feet away were slightly blurry; colors were dull and washed-out; his peripheral vision was non-existent. But sounds were much louder and sharper, almost overwhelmingly so. And the scents! He was engulfed by a legion of odors, some familiar, others that he couldn’t even begin to identify. The skin of his face was suddenly tingly and hyper-sensitive, too, maddeningly so. As he passed close by the doorframe on his way out into the corridor, it felt as though someone touched the right side of his mouth. He flinched and halted in his tracks, alarmed by the sensation. He turned his head slightly and felt the sensation again, and realized it was only the long white whiskers he now possessed, brushing against the doorframe.
After several grueling, ungainly minutes, Jenkins finally made it to the workroom and tried calling out, but again all he could produce were loud, urgent meows. He drifted carefully around the gigantic room, trying desperately to get someone’s attention.
“Awww! Look! A kitty!” Cassandra squealed in excitement when she heard the familiar and much-loved sound of a meowing cat and turned to see what it was. She immediately jumped up from her desk, got down on her hands and knees, and slowly approached the cat with her hand outstretched.
“Hi, there, kitty! Good kitty! Where did you come from?” she cooed quietly, so as not to frighten the newcomer. Cassandra loved cats. She’d desperately wanted a kitten when she was a little girl, but her parents refused let her have a pet. They felt it was too much responsibility for her and too distracting from her studies.
Jenkins easily recognized Cassandra by sight, but for some reason he still felt compelled to gingerly sniff her hand in order to confirm her identity. It certainly smelled like Miss Cillian; she always smelled of lavender and allspice. Now, in addition to the enhanced lavender and spice scents, she smelled of something else he couldn’t identify, but which smelled very attractive to him. Instinctively, he rubbed his head against her hand, and she began to scratch him behind his ears. Before he knew what was happening, Jenkins was smiling like an idiot, and producing a loud rumbling sound from deep within his chest as he suddenly felt awash in contentment.
“Oh, listen, guys—it’s purring!” Cassandra crooned with delight. Jake and Ezekiel were kneeling next to her by then and examining the unusually large feline. The animal was nearly the size of a beagle.
“Wow, that’s a big-ass cat!” Jake said as he reached his hand out to pet it. “Must have some Maine Coon in him.”
Jenkins compulsively sniffed Stone’s hand, detecting the odor of books, old paper, the outdoors, and....something. The only word that would come to mind to describe the strange scent was “male”.
“It must belong to somebody, doesn’t look like it’s missed any meals lately,” offered Ezekiel.
Jenkins noted that Jones smelled like—electricity, pepperoni, adrenaline and male.
Cassandra was now scratching Jenkins underneath his chin, and it felt divine. He closed his eyes and stretched his head as far up and back as it could go. Cassandra began scratching his throat and chest as well, and Jenkins purred even louder with pleasure.
“So, are you a boy kitty or a girl kitty?” she asked the cat, who was now head-butting her thigh as she sat cross-legged on the floor and stroked his soft, thick fur.
Jake seized the distracted cat by the scruff of its neck, scooped it up and flipped it over onto its back in one smooth, practiced movement.
“Only one way to find out,” he growled matter-of-factly. “Whoa!” Stone’s eyes widened, impressed, as he checked between the huge cat’s back legs. “He’s definitely a boy, Cassie!”
Jones’s eyes, too, widened in surprise. As he dramatically saluted the cat, Cassandra shrilly squeaked her own amazement. Jenkins’s ears went back in irritation at their appraisal of his ‘assets’, and with a loud huff he began to squirm out of Jake’s grasp.
Stone put the fidgeting cat back onto the floor, and he immediately went back to Cassandra; she began to scratch his ears again to soothe him, cooing words of reassurance. The cat immediately resumed purring.
“Ezekiel’s right, he must belong to somebody. And how did he get into the Library in the first place?” she mused, a little sadly. She was already hoping to keep the cat for herself. “Do you think he belongs to Mr. Jenkins?”
Jones snorted derisively. “Jenkins?! That cranky old knocker, own a pet? Seriously?”
Immediately, Jenkins’s ears went flat again and he growled deep in his throat as he glared unblinkingly at the young thief.
Jacob laughed at the sour expression on the cat’s face. “I don’t think he likes you, Jones! At least he’s a good judge of character, huh?”
“Aw, shut up, Stone!” Ezekiel shot back, punching Jacob’s arm. Cassandra cut off the horseplay before it could get out of hand.
“So what should we do with him?” she asked anxiously. “He’s not wearing a collar or anything, so maybe he’s a stray? I don’t want to just dump him at the pound or anything like that.” The cat began meowing again very loudly, and reaching out with one paw, lightly touched Cassandra’s leg.
“And it looks like he doesn’t like the pound idea, either,” she said. Her face brightened as she made a decision. “Let’s adopt him! He can stay here in the Annex! Wouldn’t it be fun to have a cat around? I’m sure Mr. Jenkins wouldn’t mind too much. Once he got used to the idea, I mean.” She continued stroking the large cat’s head.
“Yeah, well, if you keep him you’re gonna have to get him fixed, ya know,” said Jake. “That thing starts goin’ around sprayin’ everything, markin’ his territory, Jenkins’ll have your head on a stick!”
The huge white cat suddenly spun around to face the historian, his body crouched low to the floor, ears back and tail lashing violently back and forth as he stared daggers at Jacob. He hissed loudly and growled as he inched backwards until he was up against Cassandra’s leg.
Jake shuddered involuntarily at the angry look in the cat’s eyes. He felt certain that he’d gotten that same death-ray look before from somewhere else.
Cassandra scrambled to her feet and, with a soft grunt, picked up the heavy animal to cuddle him in her arms and cooing to him with baby talk. “Poor wittle Snowball! Don’t you wisten to that mean ol’ Jake!”
“Snowball?” Stone and Jones echoed together.
“Snowball!” Cassandra repeated firmly as she nuzzled the cat’s fur with her cheek. “I’m naming him Snowball.”
“Geez, Cassie, why don’t you just call him ‘Princess’ and get it over with?” said Jake sarcastically. Ezekiel hit Jake on the arm suddenly to get his attention.
“Princess Snowball!” the thief crowed. “His full name is Princess Snowball! ‘Pretty Princess Snowball’!” Jones and Stone both burst into laughter.
“Hey! We can dress him up in pretty, frilly little princess-dresses and have frilly little princess tea parties!” continued Ezekiel. He bent down to look at the cat and spoke to it in a falsetto voice, badly mimicking a member of the upper classes. “Oi! Would you like a cream cake, Princess Snowball? They’re ever so lovely!” The cat huffed loudly and stared at Ezekiel as though it could strangle the human with its bare paws.
“Yeah, and we can get him one of those big fancy collars that looks like it’s made outta diamonds to wear!” added Jake. “Maybe get a baby stroller for him, too, so Cass can wheel ‘im around, save his delicate little princess paws from touchin’ this nasty old floor!”
Cassandra rolled her eyes in exasperation. “And on that note—It’s late, and I’m going home. Come on, Snowball, I don’t trust these two clowns with you!” She turned and marched over to the mechanism for the Back Door, set the coordinates for her apartment, and activated it. The double-doors swung open, framed by bright white lighting.
“See you guys tomorrow!” Cassandra called out as she grabbed her backpack from her desk with her free hand. A moment later she stepped through the portal, holding Jenkins against her chest so that he was looking backwards over her shoulder. He glared balefully at the two young men through narrowed, glittering eyes, ears half-flattened in displeasure.
Stone made a mocking ‘angry stare face’ back at the retreating cat before it and Cassandra disappeared through the portal. He turned to look at Ezekiel.
“Man, I think that cat hates us. See that pissy look that thing just gave us? I’d swear I’ve seen that look someplace before. Somethin’ weird about its eyes, too. I’ve never seen a cat with eyes that shade of brown before.”
“Yeah, it gives the same kind of stink eye as Jenkins does,” Jones answered. “I’d know that glare anywhere!”
Jacob hit the younger man in the arm. “That’s it!” he hollered.
“OW!” Jones yelped, rubbing his arm. “What’d you do that for, mate?”
“Don’t you get it, Jones? JENKINS has those same color eyes! JENKINS glares like that when he’s pissed off at us about somethin’!”
“Oh, come on!” Ezekiel protested, waving his hands in front of himself. “You’re trying to tell me that that cat is Jenkins?!”
“That’s EXACTLY what I’m sayin’, man!” Jacob said through clenched teeth, jabbing his finger in Ezekiel’s direction for emphasis.
Jones paused for moment, considering, then shook his head vehemently. “NAAAH!” he said dismissively in the end. “You’re crazy! We saw him just a little while ago heading for the lab; how does Jenkins just turn into a cat inside of an hour?”
Jacob gave him an annoyed look just before he smacked the back of the thief’s head. “Seriously, dude? Have you forgotten where you work now?”
“Oh. Yeah. Right, sorry,” Jones conceded with a shrug. “I guess now we have to look for Jenkins?”
“Yeah, and hope we find him, cuz if we CAN’T…” He let the sentence trail off as the pair of Librarians raced off in search of the Caretaker.
Cassandra stumbled through the magic door and directly into her apartment, holding firmly onto Snowball so as not to drop him. As soon as she was through the door, she tossed her backpack onto the tiny dining table, then set the heavy cat gently on the floor. She gave him a quick tickle under his chin.
“Are you hungry, Snowball? Let’s see what I have in the fridge.” She went to the small kitchen and opened the refrigerator, frowning as she rummaged through the various containers of leftover food. “Hmmm. The pantry looks a little bare—OH!” She reached into the back of the refrigerator and pulled out a Chinese take-out carton.
“How about some moo goo pai pan? How does that sound?” She pulled a saucer from the cabinet and put four large slices of chicken onto it, then popped it into the microwave to heat it up a little bit.
Jenkins watched her every move with wide, fascinated eyes. His sensitive nose caught the scent of food, and his stomach growled in anticipation. He walked over to stand directly beside her feet and stared expectantly up at her as the food warmed up.
When it was ready, she set the saucer onto the floor and stood back. Jenkins hurried over and sniffed the chicken. He immediately seized a piece and ragged it onto the tile floor, then hunched over it protectively as he began to gnaw on it greedily. He devoured the first piece of chicken and began on the second while Cassandra reheated some of the leftovers for herself. When it was ready, she sat on the sofa and began to eat.
Jenkins devoured his dinner and, licking his chops, followed her and jumped up onto the sofa next to her. He could smell the Chinese food, and even though he wasn’t hungry now, he inexplicably wanted more. He climbed into her lap and tried to steal a slice of chicken from her fork.
“Hey!” chided Cassandra, laughing as she pushed him away. “You had yours, greedy!” Jenkins merely ignored her rebuff and tried again to reach the chicken. Cassandra quickly shoved large forkfuls of food into her mouth, all the time giggling and batting the persistent cat away. When she was finished, she set the carton down, got up and headed for the bedroom. Jenkins followed close on her heels. Once inside, Cassandra picked up Jenkins and set him on the bed.
“You wait there, Snowball; I think I might have a little treat for you!”
As the Librarian dug around in her closet, Jenkins drew his haunches beneath himself to sit on the bed, his long, thick tail automatically curling around his feet. Before he even realized what he was doing, he began to lick one paw and wash his face. When he realized what he was doing, he stopped instantly, his ears turning halfway back anxiously. This unconscious feline behavior was unsettling to him; he hoped it wasn’t something that would progress and eventually overwhelm all capacity for human reasoning. Or worse yet, become something permanent.
How on earth could he make Cassandra understand what had happened to him? Suddenly he remembered his lab, and his empty suit of clothes lying in a heap on the floor. If he could only get her to go back to the Annex and follow him to the lab, he felt certain that she would be able to piece things together from there and, with the help of the other Librarians, find a way to reverse his condition. But how could he entice her to go back to the Annex now?
Jenkins heard a muffled “Aha!” Cassandra reappeared with a small plastic food container.
“Oh, Snowball!” she sang happily. “Look what I found!” She poured some of the contents of the little container onto the bedspread. Jenkins immediately caught a whiff of the most intoxicating scent, coming directly from the dried, gray-green leaves Cassandra had placed near him.
“Catnip!” chirped Cassandra.
Jenkins blinked in confusion for a moment. Unable to resist the alluring scent, Jenkins got up and went over to warily sniff the catnip. He instantly felt---tranquil. The immortal flopped over onto the pile of catnip and he began to roll around in the leaves, taking deep breaths and luxuriating in the blissful smell of the herb as more of its oils were released into the air around him. He felt delightfully fizzy-headed and light, like he was floating on air. He instinctively started to chew on one of the larger leaves and the feeling of euphoria increased exponentially.
He felt a dopey smile pulling at the corners of his mouth, and he gave in to it wholeheartedly. He was vaguely aware that he really didn’t have time for this nonsense, that there was something that he really needed to do right away, but the concern was soon lost in the catnip haze. As he lay sprawled on his back, he didn’t care about anything else in the world except how fucking awesome it was to be him right now. In the distance, he could hear Cassandra chattering about stray cats in her neighborhood, and how she usually kept things like catnip and extra cans of cat food on hand for them, though right now she was out of food. He felt a tiny stab of jealousy at the thought that there were other cats in his Cassandra’s life.
Jenkins stretched all four limbs out as far as he could and lazily turned his head to see what she was doing. Cassandra. Beautiful Cassandra, he thought dreamily. He wished that she would scratch his ears again. And he wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a nice belly scratching, either. He had very much enjoyed her carrying him to her apartment, his belly all snuggled up against her nice plump breasts. Cassandra! What a strange-sounding name that is, Jenkins thought to himself. Casssssaaaannndraaaaaa. He tried to say the name aloud, but all that came out was a scratchy, half-formed mewling sound.
Cassandra heard him and came over to stretch out on the bed next to the cat, resting on her side with her head propped up on one hand. She laughed at the goofy expression on the furry white face.
“You’re so stoned, you silly thing!” she laughed, reaching out to stroke his stomach. Jenkins stretched again in response, in complete bliss at her touch, and a warmth from deep inside his chest spread throughout his body. He began purring again, so loudly and vigorously that he started to drool, and Cassandra laughed again. He turned his head and looked at her adoringly with huge, dilated eyes. Jenkins decided that he would happily remain a cat for the rest of his life if it meant that he could listen to her musical laughter every day.
Cassandra gave him a couple of light pats and a peck on his forehead, then rolled off of the bed. Jenkins trailed her with his eyes. They quickly widened with shock when she began stripping off her clothes. If he’d thought she was beautiful before, he now thought her absolutely divine! He immediately scolded himself for not looking away, but he was far too enraptured by the beauty of her naked body as she moved around the room getting ready for bed. She disappeared into another room, and for Jenkins it was as if the sun had disappeared behind a cloud. Where did she go!? he thought with alarm. Is she coming back!? Is she all right? I’d better go and see where she is…
He rolled over onto his stomach and climbed unsteadily to his feet, then started towards the edge of the bed to jump down and go in search of the Librarian. Just as he reached the edge of the mattress, however, she suddenly reappeared, much to Jenkins’s delight. He was even more delighted to see that Cassandra was now wearing a tiny, sheer pair of lacy red panties and a matching, snugly fitting camisole that left nothing to the imagination. The outfit revealed all of her luscious curves in a most tantalizing manner, for which Jenkins was most appreciative. All of her movements were fluid and graceful, and Jenkins sighed loudly, unable to keep his large dark eyes off of her. If only she had a tail…
Cassandra pulled down the blankets and climbed into bed. Jenkins felt the strange sensation of his own tail go up in the air in anticipation, the tip curling over to form a question mark, and he raised his head high hoping for another ear-scratching. Instead, the Librarian picked him up and set him down next her pillow. She turned off the light and settled in beneath the covers, then pulled Jenkins close so she could snuggle with him. He was more than happy to oblige. As he nuzzled up against her warm, soft body, her pleasant, comforting scent filled his nose. Between that and his catnip buzz, Jenkins felt himself drifting contentedly off to sleep. A small thought kept niggling at the back of his mind, something about how terribly improper all of this was, but he ignored it. He’d been wondering for some time what it would feel like to snuggle with Cassandra, holding her in his arms. He would never dare to do such a thing as a human, of course, but as a cat? He might as well enjoy it while he can!
Before he knew it, he was asleep, snoring happily and drooling onto the bedding.
Jenkins’s eyes fluttered open, and for a moment he was completely disoriented, vaguely aware that his face was lying in a large wet spot on his pillow. Blinking the sleep out of his eyes, he looked around the strange surroundings. This isn’t my room, he thought, puzzled. He started to raise his head, but stopped suddenly as a terrible pain shot through his skull, causing him to suck in a sharp breath through his teeth.
As the pain eased, he looked around the room, and in the dim light of a streetlamp coming in through the window he could just make out furniture and doorways, but not the ones in his quarters. He caught sight of a small alarm clock on a nightstand; it informed him that it was four thirty-seven in the morning.
He braced his arm to push himself upright, when suddenly he heard a light snoring sound behind him and he froze. He became aware of the light weight of one slim arm draped over his body. He slowly twisted around towards the source of the sound, and his eyes flew open in shock as he recognized Cassandra Cillian lying in the bed next to him, her blankets kicked away sometime during the night. His jaw dropped as he saw the scandalously skimpy sleeping ensemble; he quickly turned his eyes away to preserve her modesty. He then realized with horrified mortification that he was absolutely naked—with a massive morning erection.
Jenkins was so stunned by his situation that he simply could not think for several seconds. Then the questions bubbled up in is brain like newly-struck crude oil: What the hell happened!? How did I end up here!? How did I end up here, NAKED!? Did we---?! But….?! How…?!
He tried desperately to make his fuzzy memory focus and give him answers. He seemed to remember a vase? No, a jar. A stone jar….and wine! Yes! Egyptian wine. For the goddess…Bastet. Yes, the Festival of Bastet, something about….happiness? No, desire.
Suddenly it began clicking back into place with terrible clarity. The jar of wine, the inscription, the accident, the sharp, acrid taste of the soured wine on his tongue—though the wine must have been more than a regular vintage; it must have been a magical potion of some sort, or under an enchantment at the very least. When he tasted it, he turned into….a cat? Or had that merely been a dream? He then remembered the reflection of the large white cat he had seen in the cabinet glass—HIS reflection, and he understood it had been no dream. He had accidentally turned himself into a cat, the animal symbol of the goddess herself—spoiled, pampered and coddled.
He groaned at his stupidity, but then caught himself. He mustn’t wake Miss Cillian; if she were to wake up now and see him like this…find him in her bed like this…naked…!
He had to get out of here, now, before she woke up! Very carefully, Jenkins removed her arm from his waist and eased his large frame out of the small bed. He looked wildly around for his clothes, then remembered with dismay that his clothes were still in the Annex. He glanced around the bedroom for something—anything—to cover himself with without having to move around too much and possibly make enough noise to awaken Miss Cillian. He grabbed the closest thing he could find—a tangerine-colored angora sweater draped over a nearby chair. It wasn’t ideal, but it would at least cover his shame.
The tall man started to tip-toe to what looked like the bedroom door as fast as he could while holding the fuzzy orange sweater over his crotch. As he hurried across the dark room, he stepped on an earring that Cassandra had lost a few days earlier and hadn’t been able to find, buried in the pile of the carpeting.
Jenkins yelped loudly in pain and dropped the sweater as he reached down to grab his injured foot with both hands. The sound woke Cassandra and she rolled over, groaning, then sat up drowsily in her bed.
Jenkins heard her and panicked. He spun around quickly and hobbled for the closest door he could make out in the dim lighting. He shoved the flimsy door open, threw himself inside and slammed it shut again, his mind racing and his foot throbbing as he leaned back against the door and caught his breath.
Cassandra saw only movement and then heard the door to her bathroom slam closed. She stared at it in terror, frozen. There was an intruder in her apartment!
The Librarian scrambled out of the bed and dropped to the floor. She reached under the bed and grabbed the only weapon she had—an obscenely pink Hello Kitty umbrella. She held it up like a baseball bat, gripping it tightly as she stood up and faced the door. She began to edge toward the bedroom door and freedom, her scared blue eyes never leaving the bathroom door.
“I know you’re in there!” she screeched, trying to sound brave. “I’ve called the cops! They’re on their way right now!”
“NO!” a loud, terrified voice shouted from the other side of the closed door. “Miss Cillian! Don’t! Please! It’s… It’s me! It’s Jenkins!”
The young woman froze and stared at the door for a few stunned seconds.
“Jenkins?!” she echoed. She must have misheard, or this was some kind of a trick. “Mr. Jenkins?!” She heard faint stirring behind the door, then it opened, just a crack.
“Yes! Yes! It’s me!” he called out to her frantically. “Please—don’t call the police!” Cassandra dropped the umbrella and hurried over to turn on the lights.
“Mr. Jenkins, what are you doing here?” she asked in bewilderment, then a thought came to her. “Omigod! Is something wrong at the Library? Is everybody okay?!”
“Everyone’s fine! The Library is fine!” he rushed to answer, his voice far more high-pitched than was normal for him. “It’s just that…I seem to have experienced…a bit of a mishap!”
Cassandra threw the umbrella onto the bed as she ran across the room towards the bathroom.
“Omigosh, Mr. Jenkins, are you hurt?!” she called out, imagining worst as soon as she heard the word ‘mishap’. “Should I call 9-1-1?”
“NO!” he bellowed again, and slammed the door shut. Cassandra halted right in front of it, completely bewildered.
“Mr. Jenkins, what’re you doing? Let me in! If you’re hurt, we need to get you to a hospital…!” she began, and started knocking on the door. He cut her off.
“I’m not hurt!” he said. She stopped pounding on the door and stepped back a couple of paces.
“If you’re not hurt, then why are you…?” she asked, baffled by the Caretaker’s behavior. She heard a loud sigh.
“I’m… I’m naked!” he answered, whispering loudly, as if he might be overheard. Cassandra’s eyes popped open and her jaw dropped in astonishment.
“You’re…what?” she squeaked. She took a few more steps away from the door.
“I’m naked!” he repeated, whispering hoarsely. Cassandra cocked her head, her eyes never leaving the door.
“Just so we’re clear—do you mean ‘naked’ as in…’naked’? Or ‘naked’ as in…some…sort of…existential-type metaphor…?” she started to ask.
“I mean ‘naked’ as in, I’m not wearing a single bloody stitch of clothing!” he yelled, frustrated and embarrassed. Cassandra flinched. A disturbing thought suddenly came to her and she quickly recovered. She ran over to the door.
“What do you mean you’re naked?!” she demanded, her voice now shrill and angry. “Why’re you sneaking into my apartment and being naked?! Are you some kind of a pervert…creep…peeping…stalker?!” She started to pound on the door again in her fury.
“You sick wierdo!” she yelled, her voice cracking as tears of disappointment crept in. “And all this time I thought you were a really wonderful, nice, sweet man, but you’re really just a…a…SICK WIERDO!” She backed away from the door and turned to run from the room.
“I don’t care if you do work for the Library, I’m calling the police!” she shouted behind her.
Inside the bathroom, Jenkins’s heart began to pound again at her threat to call the authorities. He turned on the bathroom lights and looked wildly around for a bath towel, but could find nothing to cover himself with, except for the bathmat next to the shower. He snatched it up and held it up in front of him, then opened the door as he tried to catch Cassandra before she could call the police.
“Miss Cillian! Wait!” he called, pleading. “It’s not like that, not at all! Please! Let me explain!” He ran into the living room just in time to see her pick up her cell phone and start dialing.
“Miss Cillian, please! I beg of you, let me explain!”
Cassandra turned to him. She saw just enough of him for it to register than there was a large naked man in her living room. She shrieked and dropped her phone, quickly grabbed the first thing at hand—an antique Chinese cloisonné vase—and held it over her head with both hands as she turned her head away from the sight of the immortal.
“Don’t you dare come one step closer to me or I’ll brain you!” she ordered, her eyes shut tight. Jenkins stood still and took a deep breath.
“Absolutely!” he immediately agreed, holding up one hand placatingly while he kept his own eyes turned away from the scantily-clad woman. “Just let me explain…”
“You have five seconds!” Cassandra snapped, still keeping her eyes shut. “Then I’m calling the cops!”
“The cat that you brought here last night—that was me!” he blurted. “I accidentally drank enchanted wine and it transformed me into the cat that you found in the Annex last night!”
Surprised, Cassandra turned to face him and opened her eyes. The vase, forgotten, remained suspended in the air. As soon as she saw him, hunched over and clutching the too-small bathmat over his manhood, she squealed loudly and shut them again, scrunching her eyelids so tightly that it was painful.
“You… You’re Snowball??” she gasped. Jenkins exhaled and nodded, then remembered the Librarian still had her eyes closed.
“Yes,” he said, his voice finally returning to something close to normal, though it still sounded strained. “I had an accident in the lab last night. I was studying the inscription on a jar of ancient Egyptian wine, dedicated to Bastet, the patroness of cats in that culture. I almost spilled it, some of the wine ended up on my fingers and I, like a complete fool, licked it off without thinking. The next thing I know, I’ve been transformed into a cat. I managed to make my way into the workroom, where you found me, but I had no way to communicate to you what had happened.”
Cassandra lowered the vase, opened her eyes. They darted around the room as she realized that she hadn’t seen or heard anything from Snowball yet, despite all of the activity over the last few minutes. She turned back to Jenkins, keeping her eyes studiously glued to the floor.
“And then I gave you all of that catnip!” she breathed, dismayed. Tears sprang to her eyes. “And then you were too stoned to be able to try and tell me anything! Oh, my gosh! Mr. Jenkins! I am so sorry!” she cried, setting the vase back onto its table. “I had no idea it was you!” She wrung her hands helplessly as she spoke, eyes still averted.
“No, no, it’s all right!” assured Jenkins, keeping his eyes averted as well. “You had no way of knowing, and no real harm has been done. I just…I just need some damn clothes!”
“OH!” shrieked Cassandra as she realized she was only barely clothed herself. She ducked behind the sofa. “I’ll…I’ll get dressed and go to the Annex and find your clothes! You can stay here until I get back; there’s a quilt in the closet next to the front door if you want to use that until then.”
“Thank you, Miss Cillian!” he said, sighing heavily with relief. She heard him open the closet and snap on the light, then dig around inside for a few seconds.
“All right, you can come out now!” he said, heaving a relieved sigh. “My eyes are closed!”
Cassandra peeped over the back of the sofa. Jenkins had the brightly colored quilt securely wrapped around his shoulders, completely covering his body, his eyes screwed shut. She jumped up and ran to her bedroom, emitting a high-pitched squeal of distress as she went, and slammed the bedroom door behind her the moment she was inside.
“Okay, you can open your eyes!” she called, her voice muted by the door. Jenkins turned on a lamp and dropped onto the sofa, making sure that the quilt covered him. He heard her moving around in the bedroom for the next several minutes. Soon the door cracked open.
“Okay, I’m coming out,” she warned him. Grateful for her consideration, Jenkins stood and adjusted the quilt again until he was satisfied with its coverage.
“All right,” he answered when he was ready. Cassandra, fully dressed now, slipped into the room, clasping her hands in front of her, barely able to look the immortal in the eye before she fixed her gaze onto the floor again.
“Um, Mr. Jenkins?” she asked timidly. “How much, exactly, do you remember about last night?” Jenkins frowned.
“Not a great deal, I’m afraid,” he said. “Vague impressions, mostly. I remember finding you and the boys in the workroom just after the accident, I remember you bringing me here to your apartment. The catnip. And then you—“ His brown eyes widened and his cheeks turned pink as he suddenly remembered having watched her undress, how he had ogled her lovely full breasts, her alluring figure. He shook his head to dispel the images. He couldn’t let Miss Cillian know what he’d seen; she’d be absolutely humiliated!
“Oh! I…I…actually…don’t remember anything…specific,” he back-pedaled awkwardly. “I really only remember that you got ready for bed at some point, but nothing more!” He ducked his head and clutched the quilt even more tightly in front of himself. “And I swear to you on my honor as a knight, Miss Cillian, that I will never breathe a word of this to anyone, for as long as I live!” To his surprise, he heard her giggle softly, and he looked up.
“You sure don’t look very knightly right at the moment!” she explained teasingly, and Jenkins smiled.
“No, I suppose I don’t at that,” he agreed, then chuckled, able now to see some of the humor in the situation. “I admit I have found myself in some fairly ‘delicate’ situations before, but this one…”
“I want to hear all about them!” Cassandra said sincerely. “But for right now, why don’t you make some tea and just relax for a little bit while I go to the Annex and get your clothes? Everything’s in the cupboard next to the stove. I’ll try to be as quick as I can, okay?”
“That sounds like a very good plan,” the Caretaker replied, hoping that the Librarian didn’t suspect that he had seen her ‘in a state of nature’. Cassandra grabbed her backpack and started for the front door, then stopped and ran back to Jenkins. She stood on her toes and gave him a quick kiss on his cheek. He blinked, startled, and looked down at her.
“What was that for?” he asked. Cassandra smiled.
“That’s for being a gentleman,” she murmured, bashfully dropping her eyes briefly before looking up at him knowingly. “A very discreet gentleman.” Jenkins blushed as he returned her smile.
“Forgive me if I’m being inappropriate, Miss Cillian, but I do remember thinking that what I saw was…was very beautiful,” he confessed bashfully, his cheeks going from pink to red. Far from being offended, Cassandra smiled and hugged him tightly one last time before calling a cab to take her to the Annex.
Unable to access the Back Door from her apartment, Cassandra had to take a cab to the footing of St. John’s Bridge that housed the Annex. With luck she could simply sneak in through the seldom-used front door of the Annex, make her way quickly to the lab, pick up the clothes that Jenkins had left on the floor, then use the Back Door to return to her apartment. It wasn’t even six o’clock yet; none of the others would even know she’d been there.
As soon as the cab drove off, Cassandra hurried up to the steel door and inserted her key. She pushed the door open and shut it quickly behind her, then ran down the long, featureless corridor that led to the workroom on her way to the lab. As she burst into the large, airy space, she yelped in surprise and skidded to a halt, her blue eyes wide.
“Eve!” she barked. She glanced around quickly for the others, but no one else was there. Eve Baird was sitting at the long table in the middle of the room, reading a “People” magazine. On the table next to her, a neatly folded man’s suit and a pair of size 13 dark brown oxford shoes. She looked up calmly up at the sound of her name and smiled.
“Cassandra!” she greeted, her tone brisk and unsurprised. “You’re here early; everything okay?” Cassandra sighed and her shoulders slumped.
“I guess you already know what happened last night, huh?” she asked. Baird nodded as she threw the magazine onto the table and stood up.
“Yep. The boys called me late last night, told me that Jenkins might’ve had a little accident in the lab,” she said as she walked over to the Librarian. “They tried to tell me that he somehow managed to turn himself into a big white pissed-off cat.” She shook her head at how little a sentence like that disturbed her nowadays. “I rushed over and they took me to the lab, showed me the jar of wine and the clothes on the floor. Jake explained what the wine was for and what he thought happened.”
Cassandra gave the tall woman a questioning look.
“And you didn’t come charging over to my apartment after they told you all of that?” she asked, her brow furrowed in confusion. Eve shrugged her shoulders.
“Since becoming involved with the Library, I’ve learned to choose my ‘freak out’ moments carefully, just to save my own sanity,” she replied. “I figured that Jenkins would be as safe with you as he would be here. I did call your phone last night, though, and left a message explaining what had happened and who that cat really was; I trusted you to call if you had any problems.” Cassandra sucked in a short breath and her eyes widened again.
“Omigosh! I haven’t even looked at my phone messages yet!” she exclaimed, and clapped her hand to her forehead. “In fact, it’s still back in my apartment with Jenkins!” Eve frowned.
“You didn’t bring Jenkins back to the Annex with you?” she asked, instantly concerned. “He is all right, isn’t he? I mean, as much as a person who’s been turned into an overgrown housecat can be...?”
“Yeah, he’s fine,” answered Cassandra quickly. “In fact, he’s not even a cat anymore. The spell’s effect was temporary. He changed back sometime during the night while we were in bed...” Realizing what she’d just said, Cassandra clapped both hands over her mouth and stared guiltily at the Guardian, her eyes popping wide.
“Excuse me?!” squawked Baird. “Did you just say ‘while we were in bed’?!”
“Oh, my God, Eve! No! I didn’t mean that! I mean, yes, we were in bed together, but we weren’t in bed together!” the Librarian squeaked, her cheeks turning a dark shade of crimson. She hurried to explain what had happened the night before after she and Jenkins arrived at her apartment, the words tumbling from her mouth so fast that Eve had trouble keeping up. As she listened to the story, the Guardian found herself pressing her lips tightly together to keep from bursting into laughter at the mental image of Jenkins—very proper, very staid, very no-nonsense Jenkins—waking up and finding himself naked and in bed with one of his Librarians—especially the one that Eve suspected he had a crush on.
“Please, Eve, promise me you won’t tell the guys about this, not even Flynn!” Cassandra begged after finishing her story. “Jake and Ezekiel will tease him enough as it is; if they ever find out about everything else, they’ll just be merciless! You know how they are! Jenkins’ll be humiliated! Please don’t tell them!” Cassandra was near to tears. Eve reached out to put her hands on the distraught Librarian’s shoulders. The young woman was right—Stone and Jones took every opportunity they could to tease the stodgy old Caretaker. Usually it was harmless fun, but sometimes they didn’t know when to stop.
“Don’t worry, Cassandra,” she said. “I won’t breathe a word of this to anyone, not even Flynn.” Cassandra looked her in the eyes, her lower lip quivering.
“Promise?” she asked. Eve nodded.
“Promise! Guardian’s honor!” Cassandra heaved a ragged sigh of relief and gave Baird a tight hug.
“Oh, thank you, Eve! Thank you!” she said, relief flooding her. Baird gave her a quick squeeze back.
“That’s okay, Red. No problem,” she replied warmly. They let go of each other and Cassandra gathered up Jenkins’s clothes and shoes from the table. As she hurried over the globe to activate the Back Door, Eve called out to her in a teasing tone.
“So I guess you’re gonna miss ‘cat Jenkins’, huh?” Cassandra stopped and turned back, her expression puzzled.
“What do you mean?” she asked. Eve waved her hand in the air.
“Oh, you know—I’m guessing that the cat version of Jenkins was a lot more inclined to cuddle with you than the human version...” she prompted, her voice trailing off suggestively. Cassandra dropped her gaze and her cheeks turned pink again.
I...I don’t know what you mean!” she protested weakly. Eve grinned.
“I think you do,” she countered gently, her blue eyes looking at her meaningfully. “I’m a trained observer, Cassandra, I see a lot more around here than people think. Or are you actually gonna stand there and tell me that there’s not just a little bit of chemistry there…?” Cassandra raised her eyes and smiled shyly.
“I’m going to plead the Fifth on that one!” she said, then activated the Back Door and rushed through it before Eve could say anything further.
One morning several days later, after all of the excitement had worn off and things around the Annex had settled back into its regular routine—aside from the constant teasing and cat jokes a certain immortal was forced to endure from a certain pair of Librarians—Jenkins entered the workroom, bidding the Librarians and their Guardian a curt good morning as he sauntered to his desk. He seated himself on the high stool, pulled open a drawer to retrieve some notepaper, and he froze. Instead of his stationary, the drawer was now stuffed full of cat toys.
Careful to keep his face expressionless, Jenkins slowly closed the drawer and pulled open another. This one contained a large plastic bag of dried catnip. A quiet search of the other drawers revealed a whole collection of cat-care items: Hairball medicine, deworming capsules, a business card from a local veterinarian with an appointment for neutering written on the back, cat litter, and—the pièce de résistance—a wide, gaudy, rhinestone-studded collar with a nametag that read “Princess Snowball”.
Jenkins, without moving his head, raised his hard, dark eyes and swept them around the room, glaring at the young people scattered about. No one showed any signs of being the so-called jokesters, all were seemingly absorbed in their researches. He silently closed the last drawer and stood up. He took a deep, quiet lungful of air and exhaled it slowly, loudly enough to be heard. Cassandra raised her head and took in the sour expression.
“Mr. Jenkins? Is something wrong?” she asked. She got up from her desk and hurried over to his. When she was close enough, the Caretaker silently opened one of the drawers to show her what was irritating him. By then, Eve, Jake and Ezekiel were watching as well.
“Oh, no!” gasped Cassandra when she saw the cat toys. She turned to look angrily at Jake and Ezekiel.
“I suppose you think that you two think you’re being very humorous?” Jenkins accused, his voice a low growl. The two men, seated at the historian’s desk, looked briefly at each other, confused expressions on their faces, then back at Jenkins and Cassandra.
“How could you?!” she demanded, stomping one foot for emphasis. “Hasn’t poor Mr. Jenkins been through enough already? Do you guys have to keep tormenting him like this? Enough is enough! You need to stop it, right now!”
“What?” asked Jake, his face blank. “What’re you talkin’ about? We haven’t done anything!” Jenkins strode quickly across the room and leaned over Jake’s desk to stare them both in the eyes like an angry cobra about to strike. His voice was calm, dripping with menace.
“I will remember this, Mr. Stone, Mr. Jones.” Without another word, the Caretaker then turned and lumbered from the room toward the kitchen.
“If anyone needs me I’ll be making tea!” he snapped churlishly behind him. Jake and Ezekiel looked at each other, baffled—and alarmed.
“What’d you do to him, now, man?!” demanded Jake, punching his friend in the shoulder. Ezekiel threw his hands into the air and shook his head in denial.
“I was just about to ask you the same thing, mate!” countered the Australian.
“Well, I sure as hell haven’t done anything to him, so it must’ve been you!”
While the two men bickered, Eve and Cassandra smiled as they exchanged conspiratorial glances. Cassandra then hurried after the irritated Caretaker.
“Mr. Jenkins! Wait! I’ll help you!” she called, studied notes of sympathy and righteous indignation in her voice.
That’ll teach those two smartasses to be nicer to Mr. Jenkins! she thought, satisfied with her handiwork. ‘Princess’ Snowball, indeed!