The Halloween Pumpkin
Ginger was a very unhappy kitten. Kittens are rarely unhappy for very long, but Ginger felt sad most of the time, because he knew nobody would ever want him in a forever home.
Ginger had been born into a litter in the Puissant Pedigree Pussy Parlour [established 1202], an establishment famed for its quality witches’ cats, bred for their magical ability and witchy looks. This is to say, all the cats were black.
Ginger did not know why he was not black. Velvet, his mother, was black, and had produced a litter of exactly six kittens every other year – the regulations on how often the Queens could have kittens were strict, to keep them healthy – and his sire, long haired Cauldron Jake, was pure black as well, without a single white hair.
Velvet had a tiny tuft of white hair on her tummy, but only visible if you were the kitten made to drink milk as far away from her face as possible. Ginger reminded himself that she had no right to be cross with him, as she was not perfectly black either. All his sisters, however, were as black as soot, and they jeered at him, as soon as the kittens were old enough to understand that being black was not merely desirable, but necessary.
“Well,” said Agatha Broomhandle, the proprietor of the Pussy Parlour, “perhaps he’ll grow up to be a good mouser, and we can give him a home here.”
Agatha was a kindly witch, fat and jolly, and she spent a lot of time grooming the cats and cuddling them. Ginger would not mind staying with her, but it would be because he was a failure, and it wasn’t his fault! But he would be taunted by all the kittens of the future, and he did not want that.
Agatha could see how depressed poor Ginger was, and gave him extra petting, but sighed. She knew as well as he did that he would be bullied by the others for being different. Well, Halloween was approaching, and the newest young witches who had shown magic would be given Halloween gifts of cats of their own, as well as broomsticks to fly on, and the kittens were ready to display.
“Oh Ginger,” said Agatha, “I wish I knew whether to display you and hope, or whether to hide you, in case any of the little girls say anything hurtful. If only you were old enough to have learned to talk!”
“I can talk,” said Ginger, stopping purring long enough to do so. Being cuddled by kind Agatha made even sad Ginger purr.
Agatha almost dropped him.
“Remarkable!” she cried. “Most kittens don’t learn to talk properly until they are at least six months old!”
“I know the broom-balancing spell too, and I can do it when my sisters don’t push me off,” said Ginger, a little resentfully. Not all of his sisters had learned it properly yet.
“My goodness, Ginger, you are talented!” said Agatha. “Well, well! Would you like to be displayed with the others?”
Ginger thought about it.
“Yes,” he said. “I won’t hide!”
“Brave boy!” said Agatha, kissing him on the head.
Ginger endured it. Kittens had to endure being kissed by humans.
The kittens were all groomed and put in the big playroom where the little girls could come and meet them.
“You won’t be chosen, so I don’t know why you don’t go and hide your stupid orange fur in the tunnel,” mewed Sootella, one of Ginger’s sisters.
“I’ll be chosen for sure,” said Fluff, another sister, who had inherited longer hair, as Ginger had, from Cauldron Jake.
“And so will I,” said Silky Sukey, a smooth, shorthaired sister.
“You can’t stay on a broom, Sukey, they won’t choose stupid kittens.”
Silky Sukey hissed at him, and Agatha, watching over them, cleared her throat pointedly. For a human she was fairly adept at understanding a lot of what cats said in their own language.
All the little girls who had shown that they could do magic were let in. The youngest was about seven, a little girl with a gap where a new tooth was growing; the oldest was a red haired girl of almost eleven, and delighted to have found her magic at last. They had already been to Brimstone and Stirr’s shop for their first proper training cauldron, and to Twigg and Sweeppe’s broomstick shop for their brooms, and they had brought their brooms with them, to see how well the kittens could balance.
Most of the little girls tittered to see a ginger kitten in with the black ones, which upset Ginger a little bit again. All the black kittens rushed forward, mewing hopefully. Ginger hung back.
The biggest little girl came over to him.
“Oh, you poor baby, I expect they’ve been rotten to you, like the other girls were rotten to me for being a slow starter,” she said.
“Yes, they have been,” said Ginger.
The young witch’s eyes widened.
“I thought you couldn’t speak yet?” she whispered.
“Well, I listened and learned, and I can do the broom-balancing spell, and I think I can do the fly-faster spell on a broom too,” said Ginger.
“Oh! Well we gingers ought to stick together,” said the little girl. “What is your name?”
“Ginger, but it’s a bit … ordinary,” said Ginger. “What’s yours?”
“Faustina Kettle,” said Faustina. “Well, if you would like a name change, I know exactly what to call you; you shall be my Halloween Pumpkin!”
Pumpkin jumped straight into Faustina’s arms and purred and purred.