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The House with Kaleidoscope Doors

September 18, 2019 12:57AM
Blurb: Miss Hattie, Granny Bonnet, Mistress Morl, Madam Tiln. Catherine Morland's life is changing fast. Wizards and demons aren't too much to handle if one has a good cuppa. If NA and Howl's Moving Castle met.

Notes:
Have I ever mentioned that Catherine and Henry are my faves?
I also love Howl’s Moving Castle. As any remarkably sane and level-headed person does.
After watching the movie a few times, I read the book. Then I read a few more books by the same author (Diana Wynne Jones).
Fanfiction is, by its very nature, not exactly original.
This was obviously started well before Marci posted her inspiration for September, but there are parts to this story that tie in very nicely to it. And I take full credit for that because I can.

The House with Kaleidoscope Doors


Chapter 1: Hat Thief



It was just the way that life worked that the eldest inherited the family business and the younger children had to shift for themselves. The eldest daughter of a seamstress took over her mother's needle and thread. The eldest son of a preacher mounted the steps of his father's pulpit. Other children fell in line. The second child of a butcher might marry a farmer who supplied livestock; the third child might apprentice to the baker in the town; the fourth might enlist in the army. By the time the sixth or seventh child chose a career, they could do nearly anything they wanted, so long as it did not displace their older siblings.

So it was that Catherine Morland ended up sitting day after day in her mother's hat shop on a prosperous street in Market Chipping, learning the craft, the business, the fashion and seasons, while her younger brothers and sisters grew up and went elsewhere. She wanted to join them, but there was always too much to learn. Instead, she would sip her tea and read at night after setting aside her latest creation. The stories were always wild and incredible, far-flung adventures with plucky heroines and dashing heroes, tricky demons, cruels wizards, epic quests, and always -- always! -- true love won in the end. It satisfied her to have that mental getaway while everyone else had a physical escape.

In keeping with tradition, people began to call her Hattie at an early age. Catherine doubted that half the people working in the hat shop even realized that Hattie was not her real name.

The worst part of it was that her sister, Sally, was a whiz at running the shop. Her big eyes took in every detail, and her memory recalled it with perfect timing. Did Mrs. Simmons buy a new dress recently? This bonnet will complement it well. Was Miss Elizabeth's favorite beau seen walking with the tailor's daughter? This arresting floral confection will cure his wandering eyes. Did Mrs. Leary have two grandsons in the army? This military-themed chapeau will demonstrate her patriotism.

Sally had apprenticed for over a year with a local dressmaker, but the woman eventually tore up the contract and sent her home. As much as Sally understood fashion -- both hats and clothes -- she could not make it, not quickly. Rather than try to keep working to improve her skills, the mistress had stopped trying. There were other girls in her shop, she explained, and Mistress Bella couldn't neglect her other charges for a wasteful hope.

So Sally joined Catherine at the shop in Market Chipping, minding the shop floor while Catherine ran the workroom. And it was there that Sally bloomed. She was aces at selling everything except the hats that Catherine made, but that was primarily because most of those were specifically commissioned and not meant for the shop floor. Buyers were always extremely pleased with “Miss Hattie's” hats, claiming that Catherine had captured exactly what they had wanted. But it was a sore spot between the sisters that they could not discuss.

.o8o.

It had been Catherine's hope when she was a little girl to marry the younger son of a florist who had a shop down the street. She loved flowers, loved everything about them from their colors to their scents, to the softness of their petals to the shapes of their leaves. As she grew older, she realized that she didn't love the boy however, at least not like that. And even if she did, the florist shop was promised to his eldest sister. So, over time, Catherine thought of him like a brother.

She had been sad when he had been apprenticed to the biggest bakery in town. He had moved out of the home above the florist shop and began sharing a room with another apprentice in the living quarters above the bakery. The location made the early mornings tolerable, and in winter the ovens kept him warm. But this meant that Catherine couldn't see him every day like when they were children. And as he was originally one of the most junior apprentices, his free time was rare and spent chatting with others in front of the ovens. So it was left to Catherine to visit him. As the heir to the hat shop, she could decide to visit old friends whenever she chose, either leaving the shop to the care of someone else, like Sally, or closing early.

. o8o.

Catherine strode the streets on the way to the grand pastry shop. She wore her favorite hat, a wide, straw brim with a rounded crown that she had worn for years, decorating it to suit her fancy then stripping it bare to redecorate it when another idea caught her imagination. Currently, she had wrapped a band of springy green colored silk around the crown and had adorned the front with a sprig of Peeking Ginny and a few feathers she had found in the hat shop's back courtyard. The little flowers had an outer layer of petals nearly the same shade as the silk with a dark purple heart at the center. Peeking Ginny had always struck her as a shy flower, reluctant to claim notice and hiding its glory, and that was close to how Catherine felt now. Two warships were in the harbor which meant that the streets were crowded with sailors. She admired their sacrifice as much as anyone, but at least one worker complained every day about the flirtation and harassment she had to endure walking home from the shop. That was the sort of attention that Catherine wished to avoid!

Speaking of avoiding people… Catherine glanced about and noticed that John Thorpe was walking down the same thoroughfare although on the opposite sidewalk. She surreptitiously tugged the brim down to hide her face and resolutely faced forward. He had recently begun appearing in the shop after coming once with his mother. He was full of compliments -- for her and himself! And his interest had sparked some whispered gossip among the girls that he would soon ask to formally court Miss Morland. Catherine didn't want to hurt his feelings but she'd rather do that than agree to any courtship with that vainglorious muttonhead.

Thorpe was headed in the same direction as Catherine so she began to slow her steps until he could move far enough ahead of her that she didn't need to fear that he would catch sight of her in his periphery. Just as she felt safe from detection, a bird swooped down through the air in front of her, forcing her to shriek and throw up her hands in response.

In the commotion, she knocked her hat from her head. She bent down to retrieve it as pedestrians ebbed around her. When she stood up, the troublesome bird was long gone, but John Thorpe was looking right at her.

Rather than waving half-heartedly or acknowledging him in any way, Catherine clutched her hat to her chest and ducked into an alley.

The alley was used by the adjacent businesses to store their trash and to receive deliveries. It was not the most reputable place for a young lady to be walking alone.

She crammed her hat onto her head and kept walking. Having started down this path, there was nothing to do but follow it until it joined a more public boulevard and hope that Thorpe had not bothered to follow her.

Ten yards in and she could hear someone behind her. The unknown person was still a way off but Catherine was too scared to check. She merely increased her pace and didn't look back.

“Miss Morland!” called out John Thorpe.

It was him. Catherine could not pretend otherwise. She had been hoping to avoid him in her store, but it felt squirmy and worse to be caught by him in this secluded spot. He was sure to say something stupid and fulsome, pausing only to glare at Catherine until she gratefully cooed back at him. And she really didn't want to deal with it right now, not him, not sending him away. She just wanted --

“Oh!” she exclaimed, having walked into something hard enough to bounce away from it in ricochet.

It was all the advantage that Thorpe needed. “Miss Morland! Fancy meeting you so far from your shop. It must be fate for me to see you today. What are you doing here?”

Catherine's mouth hung open but she had no excuse, no escape. “Umm…”

“Miss Morland is here with me,” came an unexpected voice behind her. She spun at the sound and saw a handsome, well-dressed stranger standing ridiculously close to her.

Instantly she realized that she must have bounced off of him. Oh no, she thought. One John Thorpe was bad, but two was worse.

“Miss Morland, do you know this man?” Thorpe asked.

“Uh.” It was kind of him to inquire but she felt like she was being forced to choose between the frying pan and the fire.

“I could ask the same question of you,” challenged the strange, stepping forward until he was almost touching Catherine's back.

“Miss Morland and I are good friends,” declared Thorpe, taking a few steps forward as well. “Very good. Quite cozy. She has never mentioned someone like you. And I am certain that I know everyone of consequence to her.”

“I can explain quite succinctly why she has not mentioned me before to the likes of you,” the stranger said then snapped his fingers.

John Thorpe suddenly stood rigidly straight. Catherine watched as the stranger flicked his wrist imperiously and waved away the other man who turned abruptly and began to march away with exaggerated steps.

Catherine could only think that she was in the presence of a wizard. How exciting! How terrifying!!

John Thorpe was not done, however. The wizard may have taken control over his body, but he was still free to run his mouth. He called out various challenges to which the wizard turned a deaf ear. He shouted that his great aunt was a witch, and she would hear of this and would not rest until their combined family honor was avenged. He yelled for Miss Morland to run away before anyone (such as himself) could accuse her of consorting with magicians.

That was the final straw, it seemed. The wizard tightened his fingers into a fist and Thorpe's tirade was cut off mid-syllable. The poor man kept marching until he blended into the crowd of the large avenue and kept going.

“I see why you were avoiding him,” the wizard said quietly now that it was just the two of them.

“You noticed that?” Catherine asked guiltily. She cast a discreet glance at the man beside her. He was still quite handsome, she found, even with his mouth set in disapproval at Thorpe's retreating back, and despite being a wizard. The books had always made wizards seem ugly, their physical appearances always marred to mirror their foul intentions. This man was also far younger than any wizard she had read about so maybe his looks would eventually age to reflect his villainy.

“On occasion I can see things that others may not," he said, catching her staring at him.

Catherine blushed and felt rather foolish. And vulnerable. There were tons of stories of witches and wizards who would steal unsuspecting people and eat their hearts. Of course, the people in those stories were always exceedingly attractive and, while Catherine didn't think she was ugly, she knew she was no more than average in looks. That plainness should insulate her from all but the most ravenous magician.

But then again, they were the only people in the alley now. There was no one else whose beauty could act as a distraction while Catherine fled to safety. And he was standing rather close.

With dread curiosity, she again peeked from under her brim at the stranger to find that he was staring intently at her. “If you'll excuse me,” she said, inching away from him. As young and handsome as he was, she should probably get away from him now.

“That's a very unique hat you have, Miss Morland. I've never seen one quite like it,” he told her, his eyes covetous. “Do you mind my asking where you got it?”

Any attraction was forgotten at his words and Catherine's fear shifted from her heart to her hat. She had no desire to lose either, if it was possible. She gripped the hat tightly and took another step away from him. “I never gave you leave to call me Miss Morland,” she said with another step. “And I have some errands to run.”

“Allow me to escort you,” he said. With one long stride, he closed the distance between them. “There are dangerous men about. And, if not Miss Morland, what would you like me to call you?”

“Ca--” Catherine began before she could stop herself. She pinched her mouth shut before she could put herself more in his power.

“Ca?” he smirked. “Cat? You look more like a mouse.” With that he took her hand and wrapped it around one of his arms and pulled her along.

“You don't know where I'm going?” she said, tugging on her hand.

“I have a way of getting to where I need to be,” he confided. She was not certain which of them had a better understanding of where she would end up.

Catherine's feet moved despite her best intentions.

After a block of the back doors of various shops, the wizard broke the silence. “I can see why you are not fond of him, little mouse. You are welcome for the rescue, by the way.”

Catherine frowned but didn't reply. Expressing gratitude or indebtedness to magicians was typically a fatal mistake.

“So, that charming hat you have, little mouse,” he said casually. “Where did you get it?”

Would he quit fixating on her hat? As she turned to glare at him, she spied something out of the corner of her eye, something trailing behind them in a dark and sinister fashion. She tightened her grip in worry.

The wizard noticed and followed her gaze. She felt him stiffen briefly and then relax again. His pace increased gradually and Catherine stayed at his side.

“Who, who is following us?” she squeaked. They were moving very quickly now and the air brushed against her cheeks but her legs didn't feel like she was going fast at all. Despite that, the figures were gaining on them

“Shadow demons, and they are following me. They are no one I would like you to meet.” He sounded distracted, like he was thinking up a plan to get them out of the alley in one piece. He adjusted his grip from her arm to her waist. “Get ready, little mouse.”

“Ready for what?” But he gave her no further warning.

The figures were right behind her, she felt one swipe the air above her head. She screamed but the noise came out all wrong. She shrank; she could feel the world getting bigger in comparison. The wizard's hand at her side dug in firmly as his magic transformed them both and suddenly she was indeed a little mouse squeaking while he was a hawk carrying her away from the lackeys that had been sent to capture him.

With a few strong flaps of his wings, they were well above the rooftops with sunlight beaming directly on their feathers and fur. Then, rather than being satisfied with having evaded his pursuers, he picked up his pace, dashing away as buildings, boulevards, and crowds cycled below him. It might have been exhilarating to travel through the air at great speed while clutched in the talons of a hawk had she been prepared for it, but Catherine's thoughts were nothing more than inchoate screaming.

Unexpectedly, they plummeted into another alley behind a building with familiar and distinctly colored brick. Catherine squirmed against the hawk's grasp and, rather than digging his talons into her hide, he relaxed his grip and she slipped free.

She fell and squeezed her eyes shut in fear. Another wave of magical transformation shuddered through her and her body changed again. Her four paws landed lightly on the cobbles.

Catherine tried to figure out what kind of animal she was now; it was better than wondering if the wizard would ever let her be human again. A glance at her fluffy gray tail made it clear to her: she had been turned into a cat!

“Look at you!” cried the wizard, obviously pleased with his handiwork and back in human form. He bent down to pet her back. “You are gorgeous, a magnificent little beast! And your fur is so soft!”

He rubbed under her chin and Catherine batted his hand away with a hiss. In an instant she was sitting like a normal girl on the dirty cobbles, her hat lying on the ground nearby and the hem of her skirt soaking up the contents of a puddle.

The wizard stared at her with wide eyes. “Well, that was interesting.” Apparently people normally had too much self-preservation to scratch him after he transformed them in animals.

Catherine wanted to say something scathing but worried she would only squeak or hiss. Instead, she glared back at him accusingly.

His mouth slowly quirked into a smile and his eyes darted to the cobbles by her hand.

She didn't know what game he was playing but she had had enough for one day. To that end, she kept her gaze fixed on him, refusing to budge, refusing to speak. He was a wizard. Surely his time was more valuable than hers, surely he would move first.

A loud bang from behind startled her as a door was thrown open and swung into the wall.

“Hattie, is that you?” came a breathless voice.

Catherine turned to the speaker, just glanced at him over her shoulder, and the wizard made his move. In a flash of feathers, he darted past her hand, snatched up her hat in his talons, and flew away. He screeched his thanks but it sounded like crowing to Catherine.

She shot to her feet. “Come back here!” she yelled, shaking her fist in indignation. “Give me back my hat, you thief!”

But the hawk had already disappeared past shingles and chimneys, her hat safe in his grasp.
SubjectAuthorPosted

The House with Kaleidoscope Doors

NN SSeptember 18, 2019 12:57AM

Re: The House with Kaleidoscope Doors

Maria VSeptember 23, 2019 08:35PM

Re: The House with Kaleidoscope Doors

Lucy J.September 18, 2019 10:37PM

Re: The House with Kaleidoscope Doors

MarciSeptember 18, 2019 04:50PM

Re: The House with Kaleidoscope Doors

EmelynSeptember 18, 2019 02:20AM



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