The old woman stroked the cat, and his yellow eyes blinked with content. She drank a bit of potion – or tonic, as she called it in the market – and smacked her lips. “Excellent work, my boy.”
The apprentice to the witch, a boy of 17, nodded in thanks. Years spent under the witch’s tutelage had led him to be a formidable witch in his own right, and fewer seemed to suspect him of wrongdoing than the old witch. He found this unfair but decided to use the advantage.
“I think you are ready for a familiar,” the witch said.
His eyes glittered. “Really?” He sat back down, trying to calm himself and not seem so interested. “I mean, sure. I think I’m ready.”
The witch simply smiled, pet the cat – Sam, her familiar – on her lap. “Then I will help you. The first step, of course, is to use the beast-speech potion to find an animal whose personality works well with yours. Heed me, my dear: do not choose an animal who is unwilling. The familiar will last for the rest of your life, and its death will take a piece of your soul with it.”
The apprentice nodded. “I know. I understand.”
“Then take your time. When you find such a creature, bring it here, and we’ll request its service.”
A month later, the apprentice drank the potion once more. He’d spoken to every animal in the county, perhaps even the territory considering how many animals traversed through the area while seeking somewhere else, and no reasonable creature had wanted to help him.
And those who might have agreed were bugs or spiders or other creatures too stupid to understand what he asked.
A black cat belonging to a family in town licked its paws while it sat on a railing. The apprentice walked up to it, and he asked, “What’s your name?”
It stopped licking. “Fuck off, mate.”
The apprentice furrowed his brows and stepped back. “I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me. Fuck off, go away. I’m happy here and don’t want to serve the likes of you.” It continued licking its paw. “Everyone knows what you’ve been up to for the last month, so don’t even pretend like this wasn’t some sort of interview.”
“Well, excuse me for living!” the apprentice growled back.
He removed himself from the foul animal’s presence and headed back to the witch’s little house in the woods.
He found the witch stirring a brew, this one likely a beer rather than a potion. She looked up from her work to see the young man’s dejected entry. “Is something wrong, dear?”
He sat down on the chair. “I just can’t find a familiar. I’ve tried everything, but every animal says no.” He placed his elbows on the table and leaned his chin into his palms. “Should I go farther? Perhaps head to New Orleans and see what I can find there?”
“Perhaps,” the witch answered. “But perhaps there’s another solution to your problem.”
“What?” the apprentice asked.
“You’ve only been at this for a month, and if you’ve gone through every option, that means you’ve not built any relationships. You’ve just asked them to join you, and of course they said no because they thought you an abusive witch.” She put the pot atop her brew and pat the lid. “Whether you go to New Orleans or you stay here, it’s best to find a friend before you even think about asking for a permanent relationship.”
“You sound like someone giving dating advice.”
She chuckled. “I suppose it could be similar.”
This was written for Alexander Eliot’s photo prompt, “Cats’ Eye.” This photo, provided by Mr. Eliot, was such a crisp and clean photo of a cat named Sam. I decided to use this opportunity to continue the story from earlier, wherein my younger apprentice learned to appreciate many forms of life and find satisfaction with his trainer.