The Musician's Cat
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There was once a poor Musician who lived in a rundown house at the edge of town. He played the violin and the viol, the trumpet and the cornet, the piano and the xylophone. And though indeed he was talented and with a thousand hands and throaths could have been an orchestra on his own, still he was poor, for his music sheets were moth-eaten, his instruments drowned by dust and nibbled by mice, and no heavenly music could he produce with such poor tools.

"This cannot be," the Musician said as his stomach growled and his wine ran dry. "To starve before the world knows my craft! Hark! I'll clean it all, and buy a cat to hunt the mice."

And so the Musician dusted and greased his brass and cleaned his house, and went into town to buy a cat.

"Excuse me, good sir," he asked a passing Merchant. "Where can I find a man who will sell me a cat?"

But the Merchant scowled at his patchy clothes and his empty pockets, and refused him without a word.

"Excuse me, Your Holiness," the Musician then asked a Priest calling people to mass. "Where can I find a man who will sell me a cat?"

But the Priest did not wish to know about cats, who at night meowed and chirruped on the church's ceiling and never let him sleep, and instead invited the Musician to join his flock in prayer. The Musician crossed himself, and left.

At last, the Musician approached a Lawman, who campaigned in a square for the mayoral race.

"Excuse me, good sir," he asked. "Where can I find a man who will sell me a cat?"

The Lawman looked at the Musician, and thought it good for his cause to help a poor man before a multitude.

"Go to Old Man Sal's, up the street, my friend," he said candidly, placing his hand on the Musician's back. "He sells every kind of curious animal around these parts. He will have a cat for you."

And he gave the Musician a coin with which to pay, and went back to smiling at the cheering crowd.

The Musician went up the street and found Old Man Sal at his store's front desk. His gaze was somber, his mandible clenched, and every time a meow came from the back of his store, he sweated and cursed.

"I need a cat to rid me of mice," the Musician said, placing his coin before the shopkeeper. "I am tired of them nibbling my instruments and ruining my craft."

Old Man Sal's eyes lit up at this request; off he went to the back of the store, where he kept animals in pens, and brought back a most beautiful cat, its fur the deepest black, its eyes green as emeralds.

"This cat is yours, if you so want it, and for it I will charge you not," the Old Man said slyly. "But fair warning to you, good sir: sometimes the remedy is worse than the ill."

The Musician paid no heed to Old Man Sal's warning, content with keeping both cat and coin. With it he bought a good meal for the night, and set the cat loose to hunt down the mice. Satisfied, he went to sleep, thinking of the beautiful music he'd play with no mice to eat his chords and soil his brass.

The following morning, the man awoke with a weight in his chest, and recoiled with horror and disgust as he felt a multitude of tiny, furry bodies limply falling on his lap: a dozen mice lied torn and gutted on his bedsheets, the cat standing close by.

"God! What have you done?" he said, trying to rid himself of the corpses.

"What I was brought here to do, Master," the cat replied, licking its paws. "You brought me here to hunt mice, and mice I have hunted."

"It— you speak!" the Musician said aghast, for never had he heard of a cat who talked.

"Indeed, Master, though I beg you not to dwell to much on the how and why," the cat replied. "I am The-Cat-Who-Talks, and you have brought me here of your own free will. Thank you. I like your house more than the tiny pen in which I lived at Old Man Sal's."

"Then… you have rid me of all the mice!"

"That, I have, from the fattest patriarch to the tiniest of newborns. No more will they nibble at your viol, no more will they deface your tuba with their waste. Now you are free to play your music as you wish it, and make a name for yourself with your craft."

The Musician jumped forward and kissed and hugged The-Cat-Who-Talks, and gave him a large bowl of food to thank him. And off he went to hug and clean and play his instruments, his flute and his guitar, his cello and his accordion. And all the while, the cat's green eyes watched from the corner of the room.

Without the mice to ruin his instruments, the Musician's skill and fame grew, as he went from playing on a corner for a few pigeons and vagrants to gathering entire crowds at the market square. Every day he went out his home and into town, people's faces lighting up with joy as they saw him prepare his violin's chords and grease his great trombone.

And all the while, the cat's green eyes watched him come and go.

As the Musician's fame grew, so did his pockets fill, for everyone from the humblest peasant to the richest shopkeeper wished to listen to his music, to pay coin to hire his talents for a night.

"Come play music at my mansion," said the Merchant, who was now ten times as rich, and sought to procure the finest artists for his pleasure.

"Come play music at my church," said the Priest, who was now a Bishop, and wished to honor God with music to match Heaven's.

"Come play music at my inauguration," said the Lawman, who had been elected Mayor, and wished for all to know that such beautiful music could not have graced the world without his generosity.

The Musician obliged, and was showered with coin and wine, with great banquets and fine silk clothes. And eventually, the Musician had enough money to restore his dilapidated house, to turn it into a private hall where he would play and listen to the first notes of his new creations, his new compositions to join the pantheon of the great musicians of old. Only he would be witness to their birth, to the new magic that came from his hands and his lungs; him, and him alone…

But the cat's green eyes still watched, and its ears still listened.

One night, as the Musician began rehearsing the first notes of a new composition, he heard a sound so crude, so hideous, that he almost snapped his violin's bow as his whole form cringed. It was a sound like nails dragged across a chalkboard, like ten men dying as they gargled glass. Dazed and worried, he looked around, and saw the cat opening its mouth.

"What terrible noise is that," the Musician bellowed, "that you must utter it in this house? Are you ill, dying? Speak, cat, or else be silent!"

"Oh, no, Master," the Cat-Who-Talks answered, gazing at him. "It is not illness that afflicts me, or hunger for that matter. It is simply I detest that which you call music, and thought to share with you my plight."

"How dare you!" the Musician became irate. "I have fed you, housed you, even if there are no mice left to hunt! What do you craft that gives you right to judge my art, that uplifts you from the realm of common beasts?"

"I talk, and I listen," the Cat-Who-Talks licked its whiskers. "I have listened to you since the first day I arrived here, and found your art lacking all the same. It is boorish and bore at best, and earsplitting at worst. I let you pursue it, nevertheless, so much you deserved then; you released me from my tiny pen, and thus a debt I owed. But now that you're rich and famous, that debt's been paid, and no more must I hold back my opinion thereof."

"Leave! Leave this instant, cat!" the Musician screamed, indignant. "No more are you welcome here! Take your leave of this, my home, or else hold back your perfidious tongue!"

The Cat-Who-Talks stood and walked away, but it did not go out the door. Instead it climbed upon a bookshelf and exited throught the window, its form dilluting with the starless night. The Musician went back to his work and, trying to rid himself of his indignation, set himself once again to play his instrument. But as the violin's bow tensed its chords, the sound, louder this time, echoed through the house like an angry spirit moaning in the dead of night.

That bloody cat again!, the Musician thought, and he raced outside, but the Cat-Who-Talks was nowhere to be found. The Musician searched and screamed and howled in fury as the night went on and the cat's earsplitting cries continued, as he futilely tried to find and extinguish the source of his torment. But the cat remained unseen, and the screaming and meowing continued well into the morning, when the defeated master finally went back inside the house.

Lo and behold, there was the Cat-Who-Talks, lying placidly on the Musician's stool.

"Good morning, Master," he purred. "I hope your night was as pleasant as mine."

"Out! Out with you!" the Musician would have thrown his violin at the cat were it not for fear of breaking it. "You've robbed me of my night, hidden in the darkness! A night wasted, when it could have been spent creating music to rival Heaven's!"

"But Master, that is precisely why I have imposed this grievance upon you," the Cat-Who-Talks responded. "You aim to create more of your lacking art, and I cannot stand to listen to it. Old Man Sal was the same: a would-be-businessman who knew little of how to run his shop, so I made his life as hard as he made mine, and when he locked me in away, still my voice I made known to him."

"If you hate my work so much, why do you not leave?" the Musician screamed. "You are free to go, more I could not ask of you. But instead you stick around, and make your hideous noises!"

"Did the old man not tell you, Master? Wherever you go, I will follow. Thus it has been, thus it shall continue. I cannot leave or be kicked out; another must take me in of their own free will, only then will you rid yourself of my presence. But I fear that will never happen. I quite like your house, your food, your riches. No matter who you bring to take me in, they will all refuse me, refuse you. This, I promise you."

The Musician protested and flared and cursed. How dare this creature, this animal, this fiend impose such curse on him to be forced to listen to its horrid screeches as he tried to compose, to play? He could not kick the cat out, and neither could it leave him. He was trapped, and for that, he screamed.

And so it went on, night after night, day after day, the Musician trying and failing to play his music, the cat following him idly, belching out its infernal screeching. No matter where he went, the screams followed, the beast's infuriating critique of his craft. Be it church, square or market, the Cat-Who-Talks loomed like an omen, its grueling protestation interrupting its Master's every attempt at playing.

Little by little, the Musician's luck ran dry. Multitudes that had once flocked to listen to the Musician's heavenly sounds now fled his presence, lest he sound his trumpet or his flute and bring about the strident, hellish cries of the beast that watched and waited on every rooftop and corner. Patrons who might have once wished to hire his talents for their feasts and evenings now shunned him, recoiling at the thought of letting a man followed by such sounds into their homes and places of business. And so, the poor man walked the streets a pariah, only to find the Cat-Who-Talks waiting for him when he returned home.

The Musician grew desperate, his patrons abandoning him, his income fading, his fame tarnished by the obnoxious vermin he had the misfortune of letting into his home, into his life. He could not play, he could not compose, and all the while, the Cat-Who-Talks trailed behind. He cried out in sorrow, for not even the mice's nibbling had brought such misery into his life.

A solution must be found, and quickly.

The Musician resolved to give the cat away by any means necessary, and thus he summoned those who had once praised him, but now looked on him with pity.

First came the Merchant, whose wealth had grown a hundredth-fold and now had a dozen servants to carry him around.

"Merchant, Merchant!" the Musician said. "Won't you take this talking cat from me, that you might relieve me of my burden? Your fortune is great, but this freak of nature might bring you even more riches. Do this for me, and I will play for you free of charge every time you ask me to!"

The Merchant smiled at the idea of having free music at his every whim, but smiled even more at the prospect of exhibiting the talking cat like a rare animal, charging anything he whished for others to come see it. But the Cat-Who-Talks stood next to him and spoke the following words:

"There is gossip going amongst the stray cats of your market, good sir, that you are cheating on your wife with your neighbor's daughter. They've seen the gifts you give her, the fresh flowers that line her bedroom. Take me in, and all who come to see me will hear it."

The horrified Merchant left in a hurry, taking his servants with him.

Next came the Bishop, whose congregation was now so large they fit not in his cathedral.

"Bishop, Bishop!" begged the Musician, clinging at his robes. "Won't you take this talking cat from me, that you might relieve me of my burden? His is an unnatural ability, worthy of being studied by a man of faith and science. Take him from me, and I will donate what money I have left to your holiest of institutions!"

The Bishop looked compassionately on the Musician, and with fury at the Fiend-Who-Talks. He thought of what good service he'd do to church and man to take this unholy beast and exorcize it before his clamoring flock, but the cat again stepped forward and said:

"There are rumors, Your Holiness, amongst the stray cats of your rooftop, that you have used the Lord's name in vain, and gravely sinned on your own church's grounds. The sin I will not speak of now, but we both know its true nature. Take me in, and all your flock shall learn of your transgressions."

The Bishop hurried back into the night, praying and crying in shame at his own failings.

At last came the Mayor, whose reelection neared as his rivals worked to undermine him.

"Mayor, Mayor!" implored the Musician, tears running down his face. "Won't you take this talking cat from me, that you might relieve me of my burden? Take him from me, I beg you, and I will do anything you ask! I'll preach your generosity, harangue your enemies, play every piece you request, but please release me from this curse!"

But before the Mayor could even begin thinking about what stunts he could pull off with the Musician's favor, the Cat-Who-Talks climbed a shelf and purred into his ear:

"There are whispers, Mayor…"

The Mayor raced out of the Musician's home without letting the cat finish his threat.

"There's no use in it, Master," the Cat-Who-Talks said smoothly. "I've seen this whole town thanks to you, and heard every little word and rumor. My promise will be fulfilled: none will take me from you, all will refuse your pleads."

The Musician's screams echoed through the night.

At last, the despairing Musician went out into the fields, cursing his luck and pulling at his hair, until he came across the Devil, who at night roamed the roads looking for souls to entice.

"Devil, Devil!" the Musician called with anguish. "Won't you take this talking cat from me, that you might relieve me of my burden? Your sins the four winds know, and no shame could he bring into your home. Take my soul if it will please you, but rid me of his fiendish tongue!"

"My son, fear not," the Devil laughed. "I crave not for your soul; it was forfeited to me long ago. Gladly I would take this cat, but it is not for the Devil to bring a soul into his own grasp. Play for me your instrument of sharpest voice, and that which torments you shall be no more."

And so, the Musician went back home, and picked his instrument of sharpest voice. And remembering then the Devil's advice, he lunged forward with it… and gutted the cat.

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