Work Header

The Midnight Cat

Work Text:

Having gone to sleep inside a small cabinet in the corner of a large temple, Tōyō is awoken by the sound of a terrible fight taking place in the temple's main room. Not daring to move, he waits until the sounds die down and dawn breaks. Climbing out of the cabinet, he discovers a goblin-rat lying dead in the middle of the temple floor—and that the mouths of the cats he drew the previous evening are now bloody.

The morning sun was shining on the cats Tōyō had drawn, and on the fresh red blood on their mouths. Already, the blood was starting to dry and darken, though it still glistened in wet pools around the dead goblin-rat lying in the middle of the temple floor. Casting a glance over his shoulder at the small cabinet where he had passed his night of terror, Tōyō carefully walked around the temple, avoiding the patches of blood, and lightly stroked each of the cats in turn and whispered a thank you to them. After that, he sat down in a corner away from the blood to await the priests, who must surely soon arrive.

When the sun had climbed much further in the sky, and he was really very hungry, and the sounds coming from the main street told him the villagers were going here and there about the business of the day, and a priest had still not arrived, he got up and pushed open the door of the temple and stepped outside.

A man was passing in the street in front of the temple, carrying a bundle of firewood. "Excuse me?" Tōyō called. When the man glanced in every direction but at the temple, Tōyō called again, more loudly, "Excuse me, sir?"

The man stopped and slowly turned and stared at Tōyō as if he had never before seen a boy.

"Excuse me," Tōyō said for a third time, "but can you tell me where I can find the priest?" He had decided that, although the temple was quite large, there must be only one priest, and he must be away visiting someone in need of assistance, which was why he had not yet arrived.

The man sniffed. "What priest? They all ran away when the goblin-rat came. Nobody stays there now."

"Oh, the goblin-rat's dead," Tōyō remarked absently. A sudden gust of wind had carried the smell of delicious food from a nearby kitchen and for a moment, all he could think of was how very hungry he was.

"Don't be daft, boy," the man said. "Of course it isn't—." Then he stopped and stared at Tōyō for several seconds, before he put down his bundle of firewood and, hurrying up to the temple doors, cautiously peered inside. He breathed in sharply when he saw the goblin-rat lying dead on the floor. "Did you do that, boy?"

"Oh no," Tōyō answered, drawing in another deep sniff of the delicious smell of the food, while his mouth watered. He waved a hand in the direction of his drawings. "It was my cats."

"Stay here," the man ordered, and then he hurried away down the main street.

He must be going to find the priest, Tōyō decided. And when the priest comes, he will give me something to eat. Tōyō had entirely forgotten about asking the priest if he could become an acolyte to help keep the temple clean. All he could think about was how hungry he was.

The man was soon back—not with a priest, but with a gaggle of other men whose numbers grew and grew as they came down the street towards Tōyō, each of them calling their friends to come out and see that the goblin-rat was dead. They swarmed around Tōyō, pressing forward to peer into the temple, and jostled him and crowded him, until he could scarcely breathe. Suddenly, everything went black.

He had fallen down in a dead faint.


When Tōyō woke, it was much later in the day. He was lying on a sleeping mat in a small room, and an old priest he didn't know was sitting next to him. When the priest saw that Tōyō was awake, he offered him first something to drink and then some food.

"Do you remember what happened?" the priest asked. "In the temple?"

Tōyō shrugged and said around a mouth of—delicious!—food, "The goblin-rat came, and my cats killed it."

"The cats you drew on the walls of the temple?" the priest asked. When Tōyō, still eating, nodded, the priest asked, "Did you see it happen?"

Tōyō shook his head. "I hid," he explained. "Then a noise woke me and I heard—." He didn't think he'd ever forget the dreadful sounds he'd heard.

"Your drawings are very skillful," the priest remarked, dipping his head in admiration. "You must have drawn them many times. Have your cats ever done anything like this before?"

Tōyō shook his head. "The priest I served before said I must not draw them any more. He was angry and he sent me away. But I can't help myself. I have to draw them!"

"I see." The old priest gestured toward some paper and a writing-box that had been laid out nearby. "Would you show me?"

Tōyō laid aside the bowl of food, even though there was still some left and he was still a little hungry. He couldn't help himself: paper and ink—and someone asking him to draw cats? How could he not? Quickly, he ground the ink and began to paint: three cats; four cats; all his favourite cats; all in their own colours and markings and particular poses. Soon he had used up all the space on the two sheets of paper.

He stopped and looked up at the old priest, who smiled at him. "Very good," the priest said. He took the drawings and laid them in front of him, staring at them intently while around them the light grew dim and the sun set. Tōyō supposed the priest was waiting for the drawings to come to life, just as the ones in the temple had done.

All unobserved, Tōyō drew another picture on the screen next to his sleeping mat. It was a very small picture of his favourite cat, the one he liked to draw most often. Yori, for that was the name Tōyō had given him, had a half-dark face, and dark points at the very tips of his tail and feet.

At last, when the room had grown quite dark, and the priest had made a light, and gone on staring at Tōyō's drawings for a while longer, he sighed and got up. Telling Tōyō he could spend the night in the little room, the priest gathered the papers with the drawings and left.

Tōyō finished the rest of the food and lay down to sleep. He thought about what had happened the night before—that his cats must have killed the goblin-rat—but he understood it no more than the priest.

Quite suddenly, he fell asleep.


This time, Tōyō woke to the feel of something soft nudging his cheek, gently but quite insistently. He carefully opened his eyes. Through the faint light slanting in from the setting moon outside, he saw a tiny cat, no bigger than the palm of his hand, pawing restlessly at the sleeping mat next to his head.

"At last!" the cat said.

Though the noise the cat made was clearly a miaow, Tōyō could also understand him perfectly. He saw, too, that the cat had a half-dark face, and dark points at the very tips of its tail and feet. He sat up slowly. "Yori?"

"Of course!" The cat sat down and scratched behind his ear with his hind leg. "I thought you were never going to wake up!"

"But—" Tōyō turned and looked at the screen next to his sleeping mat and saw that it was bare, apart from a fleck of paint that had splashed from his pen as he was drawing the picture of Yori. He turned back to stare at Yori again. "—you're real!"

"Yes." Yori gave him a disdainful look and added peevishly, "You could have drawn me a little larger. This is... most inconvenient." He twitched his tail irritably.

"Sorry," Tōyō whispered back. "I didn't want the old priest to notice. But why have I never seen you like this before?"

Yori twitched an ear. "Because we can only come out at night, and when you're nearby, and alone and asleep. At the other temple, the priest always took all your drawings away from you, after he scolded you."

Tōyō nodded. "Yes, of course." He thought for a moment. "Will you go away again when the sun rises?"

"Yes." Yori got up and paced around restlessly. "And I think that, in the morning, the old priest will return and take you away to another temple. But I will always come when you draw me on the screen beside where you sleep. And if the priests ask you to show again how you defeated the goblin-rat, I will come—I and my brothers and sisters. But, for the heaven's sake, and for my sake, draw me a little larger next time!"

"I will," Tōyō promised.

After that, Yori told Tōyō many things, and they became fast friends, until the sun was near to rising. Then, following Yori's instructions, Tōyō lay down and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, his drawing of Yori was once more on the screen next to his sleeping mat—though not quite as Tōyō had first drawn him: Yori's tail was twitched up jauntily, and one ear was tilted in Tōyō's direction.

In after years, Tōyō and Yori went about together from one place to another and, with the help of Yori's brothers and sisters, drove out and killed all the goblin-rats they could find. And that is why there are no more goblins in the land these days.