The Quest, a short story by Susan Moisan at

The Quest

The Quest

written by: Susan Moisan


One night, Lucy was followed home by a very large, very insistent and very ginger cat.

He ran across the quiet suburban road and stopped in her path. Being rather fond of cats, she stopped to stroke his thick fur and then carried on her way. The cat tangled himself in her feet.

“Naughty pussycat” she said fondly, scratched his ears, and continued.

The cat refused to leave and when she finally reached her house, he sat on the step and stared at her.

“You can’t come in, you don’t live here.” She gave him a gentle nudge with her foot and slipped inside the house.

Lucy had never met such a forceful cat before and could not help but wonder if he was in fact, the handsome prince transformed by an evil witch that so many of the books she had read as a child had promised her – although that was fairly unlikely in this day and age.

And anyway, he would have to be a ginger prince. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

The cat sat on the mat. He was fed up. Princesses just weren’t what they used to be. Not like in the good old days. Back then they could be relied upon to have romantic flights of fancy. They didn’t have careers then. They sat dreaming and making embroideries, waiting for their Prince to come and sweep them off their feet. Even if a Prince was unlucky and ran up against someone who could turn them into a frog or a magic rose bush, it just meant they had to work a bit harder. This wasn’t a bad thing because the Princess usually grew to love them in their less attractive state and those marriages generally lasted a whole lot longer.

Henry thought that when he was turned into a cat that things had gone pretty well, considering.

The witch who lived in the grounds of his parents’ castle had gone fairly easy on him when she caught him digging a large hole in her herb garden. Henry was attempting to bury the evidence of having accidentally trampled his mother’s favourite cat whilst out for his morning ride.

To be fair he didn’t know it was the witch’s herb patch because being a witch she had caused it to be invisible to humans. To Henry, it was just weeds. The witch was furious to discover all of her very special and expensive herbs ruined. She could appreciate, however, that Henry would likely be in far greater trouble when his mother found Mr Tickles Meowington with hoof marks across his back.

So, she turned Henry into Mr Tickles Meowington instead.

‘Could be worse,’ thought Henry. ‘Girls love cats – all that soft cuddly fur and big green eyes.’ It surely couldn’t take that long for him to work his magic and for a beautiful princess to take him to her heart and deliver the required True Love’s Kiss.

What he hadn’t bargained on was his mother, the Grand Princess Constanza being so overwhelmed at the disappearance of her son that she kept Mr Tickles Meowington at her side constantly, on the other end of a very beautiful and very sturdy diamond-encrusted leash, grabbing him by his tail whenever he tried to make a break.

Henry’s attempts to charm any female visitors to the castle usually resulted in a jealous outburst from his mother. Henry became her replacement Henry and woe betide anyone who thought they could lure him away.

Matters came to a rather unpleasant head when after several months of this relative imprisonment, not to mention the highly degrading spectacle of having to use a litter tray, Henry bit his mother.

The look of pain, shock and hurt on the Grand Princess’s face would ordinarily have been enough to fill him with remorse, but Henry was a cat on the edge. He had to be free. He had to find a Princess and he had to be his own man again.

He bolted through the castle, out into the grounds racing along on four strong little legs until he skidded to a halt at the gates. They were shut. Henry headed in the direction of the moat. He was a strong and athletic swimmer and would be home free in no time. But as he ran up the bank to the water’s edge his body was suddenly paralysed with fear. Every muscle clenched and tightened, and he hissed involuntarily at the water.

‘Ah,’ thought Henry.

He sat down, breathed deeply, and shut his eyes.

“Right,” he whispered to himself. “You can do this Henry. It’s just w-w-water. You’re not a cat for God’s sake. You are a man. You are a Prince. You can do it. You are the man. You are the man… You are THE MAN!!!” And he took an almighty spring from his powerful back legs and landed with an ungainly belly flop in the moat.

Struggling, puffing, and wheezing, he paddled to the other side and heaved his way onto dry land. Choking, he looked back at the castle. He was free.

‘It’s all very well being free,’ thought Henry as he sat on Lucy’s doorstep attending to a particularly irritating flea that was accosting his right ear, ‘but this is getting ridiculous.’

It was exactly a year ago that he had made his heroic leap into the moat. Henry the Prince had been an athlete, rider, swimmer, and fencer. He had found it exhausting dragging Mr Tickles Meowington’s pampered body, more accustomed to chocolates than hard labour, across miles of open countryside. He sheltered where he could, drank from streams and, as in the best traditions, threw himself on the mercy of kindly strangers.

But even the kindliest strangers with the prettiest daughters seldom yielded better results than a few scraps in a bowl and maybe a saucer of milk.

Had he caught himself in a mirror he would have realized that the filthy ball of matted fur and debris he had become was unlikely to balance out what Henry considered to be his best weapon. The Look.

The Look had worked for years on plenty of girls the length and breadth of the kingdom. Whatever Henry wanted, The Look would get him: from extended credit with his tailor to a parlour maid’s phone number, that ability to look deep into her eyes and with a self-deprecating half smile that said, “I can’t help myself. I am just a man and you are a goddess” worked like a charm.

Unfortunately, The Look transposed onto the face of a large muddy ginger tom didn’t have quite the same clout. Henry felt like a superhero with all his powers stripped from him. No longer could he charm and wheedle and flirt. Even the cute and fluffy card wasn’t working.

One night when Henry fell exhausted, helpless, and hopeless into a heap underneath a drinking trough, a bundle of mud, twigs and doom, he had looked out at the stars and swore that if he was spared, he would be brave. He would be a Prince and never give up. Somehow.

Musing on these events on Lucy’s doormat a year later, Henry realized that he had survived. He’d even had a bath.

That was down to the old man on that farm and his gaggle of children. Seven of the little bleeders. The youngest boy had found him under that drinking trough and when Henry awoke it was to the warmth of an open fire and the smell of bacon. He thought his prayers had been answered until he was unceremoniously picked up by his tail by a harried-looking young woman who looked at him in disgust and deposited him in a bucket of water. The younger children were delighted with him and after twenty minutes of squirming and trembling, they lifted him out and dried him: clean and reborn.

They fed him, teased him, cuddled, and played with him. Quelling every urge to bite, Henry decided it was prudent to submit. Fourteen small hands could do some damage if resisted.

The harried-looking young woman turned out to be the eldest of the old man’s offspring. Tasked with the upbringing of her brothers and sisters and not a lover of the assortment of wildlife they habitually brought home, she eyed Henry with suspicion. Henry eyed her back with equal distrust. The woman quite obviously had no taste. From the way she dressed – with no regard whatsoever for her figure which wasn’t too bad at all – to the complete lack of interest she displayed in him. This was foreign territory to Henry; he was used to admiration. He was a damn fine-looking young man after all.

Henry found himself watching her over the subsequent days. Trying to read her tired grey eyes and furrowed brow. She was a hard worker, he gave her that. Seven siblings and an elderly father was quite a job for a young woman. She couldn’t be more than twenty but her shoulders stooped like a woman twice her age.

Occasionally she would spot Henry watching her and frown. “Bloody cat,” she would mutter. “If you’re going to sit there you could make yourself useful.”

So, Henry decided he would. ‘Okay,’ he thought. ‘What is it cats actually do?’

The following morning, he strutted proudly into the kitchen with his tail high and a large rat between his teeth and placed it at her feet.

By the time the girl stopped screaming and got down from the chair, her father had joined her. “Well, well, looks like we got ourselves a good ratter ‘ere. Anythin’ else you can do, lad?”

Henry made it his policy to bring the old man rats every day. He played with the children and kept them out of her way. And in the hushed evenings, he would sit by her feet while she sewed and tried his hardest not to stare at her.

She was an unusual woman. She was hard-working, tough, and completely without regard for herself. She didn’t think about her looks or even the world outside and cared even less.

And yet, Henry had noticed her unguarded moments. As a cat he often went unseen, people would assume they were alone. He had seen her out in the sunshine, chasing her young sisters around the garden, a look of joyful abandon on her face, her youth shining through her eyes. Sometimes she even looked pretty and he almost didn’t notice the poor state of her attire.

In the evenings she would doze and the hard line of her mouth would soften. Henry would wonder what she dreamt about. He wished he could find out what went on behind those eyes, which were at one moment soft and open and the next shadowed with work and worry. She became the focus of his day, and once she realized she couldn’t shake him off, she got used to his reassuring presence constantly at her side.

‘When I am a Prince again, I will find her,’ Henry decided. ‘I’ll take her to the Palace. I couldn’t marry her of course. God, imagine what Mother would say! But she might be useful, a companion of sorts, to talk to.’

Then came a day that Henry could never have anticipated: the girl got married. Little fuss had been made, there were minimal preparations. A man came to the house, there was a small ceremony, the family in starched uncomfortable Sunday best sat in the parlour drinking tea and eating little cakes and then they both left. Just like that. Henry tried to follow her out of the house but one of the younger boys scooped him up and took him back.

The days following her departure were dark ones for Henry. He was tired of catching rats. The children’s ministrations irritated him and he went off his food. The house was empty without her voice and her constant grumpy presence.

The old man brought the vet over to look at him. The vet said it looked as though the “old boy’s pining for someone” but he would give him the once-over.

When the vet produced a thermometer, Henry ran.

And he had been running ever since. Henry had wandered far and wide in search of a Princess who could help him be a man again. But in his heart of hearts, any woman who could fill up the hole that the old man’s daughter had left inside him.

He met many, many girls in his travels – country girls on farms, elegant ladies in big houses, city girls in the towns. Girls petted and fussed over him; other girls booted him out of their kitchens. Every time, however, that he got even close enough to a girl to begin to weave his special brand of magic around her, something in his brain clicked and he just kept running.

‘You are insane’, thought Henry. ‘You’re running around the world accosting strange women, for what?’ He slumped down onto his side in despair.

‘I never knew there were so many women,’ he ruminated as he lay there letting the roughness of Lucy’s doormat scratch him in masochistic punishment. ‘My God… If I were myself, I could have had a ball! So many beauties, all those smiles and soft curves. If they only knew who I was…’

He laughed to himself. ‘What the hell is wrong with me?’

Henry caught some movement out of the corner of his eye. Hobbling along just past the front gate was a large fat and scruffy pigeon. It had met with some accident during its high-octane life that had cost it its left foot and instead there was a red, angry-looking stump which gave it a lopsided drunken gait. Henry felt the hackles on the back of his neck rise and his claws involuntarily protrude. The pigeon remained unaware of his silent presence in the darkness and started pecking away at an old cigarette end. Henry kept very, very still…

The now familiar overwhelming urge to pounce filled him. Crouching low, his skin prickled in excitement and his shoulder blades rose in anticipation of the powerful spring he would give just seconds before he clamped the old bird between his paws.

He watched as the cigarette butt flew through the air and landed in the gutter prompting the pigeon to chase after it and suddenly topple off the kerb in a flurry of feathers.

‘Perfect,’ thought Henry. ‘Come to Daddy…’

Suddenly he stopped. He watched the bird fight to regain its balance. He sat up straight and watched as it limped off down the street.

The next thing he knew, he was awoken by the door behind him opening. Lucy in a bathrobe reached down to grab the bottle of milk from next to him and almost poked him in the face.

“Oh my God! You’re still here?? Oh, your poor little thing, do you really have nowhere to go?”

He looked up in bleary-eyed surprise. Lucy knelt and gently tickled his chin.

“Come on then you, I give in.”

And then came the day. Eighteen months after Henry had dug his hole in the witch’s garden and been transformed into the chubby pampered Mr Tickles Meowington, it happened.

Henry had risen to the position of adored pet. He had his own basket, quality home-cooked food, none of that tinned rubbish for her Pussycat, oh no.

And through a succession of bad dates and bad boyfriends, Henry was always by Lucy’s side – purring, consoling, and comforting her with the unconditional love that only a dumb animal can give.

The night it happened, Lucy was sitting on her couch weeping into a tub of ice cream, a glass of wine by her side, and an action movie on the television.

It had been a bad couple of days. She had honestly thought this one was different. But at least she had Pusscat. He would never let her down, even if he was a boy. He hopped lightly up onto the couch next to her and stared deeply into her eyes.

“Oh Pusscat. I love you.” And she pulled him over to her lap and planted a big kiss on the top of his head.

As her lips touched his head, Henry felt a powerful jolt of energy shoot through his body. He leapt from her lap to the floor just as the thick fur of Mr Tickles Meowington started to fall from his body and evaporate into the white glow that was now surrounding him. He felt life and vitality surging through him, his limbs growing, his muscles stretching and developing. His body filled the space around him and his heart sang with joy.

When he knew he was complete – and double-checked to make sure he was clothed – he took a deep breath, picked his hand up to look at the human flesh and blood that made it, and ran it through his hair. Then he turned to look at Lucy, his face already forming itself into The Look…

Lucy sat frozen, with a look of utter terror on her face.

“Wh-wh-who the hell are you??” Lucy stuttered at the tall handsome man in her living room.

“I’m your cat” replied Henry with an apologetic half-smile and a light flick of his perfect hair. “I know at first glance this is a bit, well…odd. But I used to be a Prince. I got in some bother and I was turned into a cat. And you turned me back again! I cannot even find the words to thank you for saving me!” Henry threw himself gracefully down onto one knee and kissed Lucy’s hand. “My name is Henry.”

“Henry. Prince. An actual Prince.” Lucy kept shaking her head in disbelief. This was bonkers. Things like that didn’t really happen, not really, in real life. Where real people lived. Her Prince! This was….

“Hang on a minute.” A thought struck her. “You’re a man, right?”

“Yes!” cried Henry joyfully.

“You’ve been a man all this time?”

“Yes, waiting for someone to release me.”

“And you’ve been in my house. In my room, in my BED. Watching me at…private times. All this time, pretending to be a cat?”

“Not pretending as such….”

“Another sodding MAN?!!”

“Er… yes.” Henry could practically see the bubble bursting.

“And exactly how did I manage to rescue you?”

“Well, what normally is required to reverse a magic spell, such as frogs, deep sleep etc., is a single True Love’s Kiss – that you gave me!”

“So let me get this straight… I rescued you with a kiss. A True Love’s Kiss. Me. A lonely thirty-four-year-old spinster gave a True Love’s Kiss to my CAT?”

Lucy was at least kind enough to furnish Henry with a small amount of money and some food before she ordered him from her home, vowing never again to own a pet or to date another man without a rigorous interview process.

Henry’s return home was greeted with great celebration and banqueting such as the kingdom had never seen before.

Amid these celebrations a visitor was announced to the noble family and a young woman was ushered into the great hall.

Henry in his finest regalia, a shimmering vision of manhood, rose to greet her. The young woman was simply dressed, clean, and well-presented and she looked nervously around her, unused to anything like this splendour.

“You wished to see me, Your Highness.” Her eyes were cast to the floor.

“Madam, you are welcome and among friends here.” Henry breathed deeply and fought the overwhelming urge to take her in his arms and declare his identity. He had sent out messengers to find the old man’s house and the location of his eldest daughter and to summon her to his presence.

“I understand that some time ago you took in a large ginger stray cat and cared for it.”

The girl, though still unable to meet his eye, looked puzzled. “Er… yes sir, I did. Or rather my brothers and sisters did. They were very attached to him. We all were.”

“What happened to the cat?”

“I’m told he ran away, sir. Not long after I was married. My family missed him terribly.” Henry’s heart skipped a beat as he saw her eyes begin to mist, “He was a lovely old boy really. Good ratter.”

“Yes, he is.” said Henry. The girl looked up at him for the first time, surprised at this and he smiled at her. “He was my cat. I er… lost him and I heard that you had been kind and loving towards him.”

“Oh yes, sir. We didn’t see eye to eye at first, but I grew to love him. He was good company.” She said, smiling at the remembrance.

“Well, I’m afraid he is still missing but I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kindness. I know that if he ends up back with you, he will be alright. Would your… husband mind him?”

“Oh no, he rarely pays attention to anything…or anyone in the house. It would be nice to have someone to talk to again.”

Later that night after the feasting was over Henry called his manservant to him.

“Hobbs, you don’t happen to know if the old woman that used to haunt the wild pasture is still around, do you?”

“I believe so, sir.” Hobbs replied.

“Good, good. I may pop out and pay her a visit. Don’t wait up for me. There’s a good chap.”

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