It should have been just another day. Get up, get dressed, have breakfast and go to school. Malkina ran into the first snag as soon as she tried to pull on her underwear. Reaching behind herself, she felt the furry protuberance. Mystified, she moved to the mirror--a full-length mirror her mother insisted she have in her room, but which Malkina mostly ignored. Why should she even look, when she was so hopelessly ordinary? The most ordinary girl in the fifth grade.
Kicking aside a modest pile of books and dirty laundry so she could stand in front of the mirror, Malkina twisted and turned until she saw herself. Saw the long, striped, furry tail she held with her left hand. The tip of the tail twitched and she dropped it, jumping away from the mirror.
“I think I’d better wear a skirt today,” she muttered, turning back to the closet.
The next shock came when she began to brush her hair.
“Ouch!” The brush had hit something awfully sensitive. Again she explored with her fingers first, afraid to look. High up on the left side of her head, a furry wedge emerged from the tangled hair. She didn’t even have to look in the mirror to know there was a match for it on the other side.
Ears. Cat ears, and a cat’s tail. Suddenly panicked, Malkina shook off a slipper and checked her foot. Still reassuringly human. Dashing across the room, brush forgotten in her hand, she inspected every inch of herself in the suddenly-useful full-length mirror.
Everything seemed to be, well, ordinary. Everything except that tail, and the furry little ears. Watching carefully in the mirror, Malkina finished brushing her hair, mounding it over the ears and holding a big wave in place with hair gel.
At the breakfast table, Mom didn’t notice anything. She never did. Half asleep, interested mostly in her coffee and getting everyone fed and out the door to the bus, Mom never really fully opened her eyes until mid-morning.
Malkina’s older brother noticed, though.
“Whew!” He whistled. “Got a hot date or something? Can’t remember the last time I saw you in a skirt.”
Bob could be so annoying. For one thing, he’d gotten a nice, normal name, not like Malkina. For another, he couldn’t seem to stop teasing her. He still thought she was a little girl, and that comments like that were funny.
“Just thought I needed a. . . change,” Malkina said. “In a rut, you know. Always the same.”
Walking to the bus stop Malkina found that the tail caused some trouble. She’d had to pick a fairly long skirt to cover it, but the tail, unable to wave the way a cat’s tail should properly wave, twisted around her legs and threatened to trip her.
When she got to school, things got both better and worse. Better, because her best friend was waiting just inside and grabbed her in a hug. Worse, because she was dressed much like Malkina. She whispered,
Adrianna nodded, looking scared and excited at the same time. “It worked! Our incantation worked!”
“ But that was just a joke! Magic doesn’t really work,” Malkina objected, evidence to the contrary twitching beneath her skirt.
Adrianna shrugged. “Guess maybe it does.”
“But what are we going to do?”
“Have the best Halloween costumes ever, for one thing!”
“But I can’t even sit right! The tail’s in the way, and when I brushed my hair, it hurt my ears.”
“We’ll work it out.”
During the math test that followed morning recess, Malkina began to find the advantages of being part cat. She always panicked a bit on a test, but when she put her hand up to her head, her fingers found an ear. She scratched lightly behind it, the way she did with the neighbor’s cat, and felt calmer at once. A twitch or two of her tail made her happy again when she got her Social Studies paper back with a lot of red marks. Maybe this wasn’t so bad.
It wasn’t until they were out trick-or-treating, dressed in black leotards with real tails and ears protruding, that the two remembered they’d worked more than one incantation.
They were three streets over from Malkina’s house, trying to decide if they’d knock on the Burdocks’ door or skip it. They usually had good treats, but Max Burdock was the biggest pain in their class. Such a big pain that. . .
“Uh-oh,” Adrianna muttered. “Do you suppose. . . ?”
Malkina felt her tail expand as the fur stood on end. They had followed up the incantation that gave them cat features with one to turn the annoying Max into a pig. And he hadn’t been at school today. Was that because he had a curly tail and a snout? Would his parents guess who’d done it and get them into trouble?
Caution came too late. They were at the gate, and from behind it they heard a dreadful snorting and snuffling. Malkina remembered that they had called Max a big pig, when a huge boar, with tusks as long as her arm, burst from the yard. She had time to remember a few of the other things they’d included, giggling, in their incantation, as they girls turned to run from the giant, red-eyed, fire-breathing demon they had turned loose on the neighborhood.
This can’t end well! Malkina thought, despairing.