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It was a breezy morning as Hanna pushed her wooden cart up the steep track. Her blue cloak flew out behind her, and she’d pulled the hood up over her thick black hair. The cart was heavy, filled with fish ready to be sold, but her long journey would be worth it when she reached Cat Town. Perched up in the hills, the small town was famous for the hundreds of cats who filled every square, covered every roof, and patrolled each street and back alley. The residents of Cat Town loved the animals and believed that they brought good luck, and left offerings of food out for them every day. Once the townsfolk saw Hanna’s juicy fish they were sure to give her lots of gold to keep their precious cats happy.
Finally she reached the end of her climb and came up over the edge of the hill. Straight away she could see that something was wrong; the small fields beside the track were nothing but stones and dirt, with only a few broken stalks of corn littering the ground. Before her stretched the buildings of the town, but they all looked grey and sad. Someone had added big angry letters to the town sign, so it now read:
Welcome to NO Cat Town
Hanna wheeled the cart through the empty streets. She felt as though she were being watched but didn’t see any people, or any cats either. Passing one alley she spotted a flash of movement, but the tail was all wrong. A rat, she realised.
Only once she’d reached the main square did Hanna see anyone. An old woman was sitting at the base of the large, bronze cat statue which stood in the centre of the square. She smiled toothlessly at Hanna as the girl pushed her cart over the cobbles.
“Oh no, you won’t find any takers for your fish here, my dear. Not since The Catnapping.” Seeing Hanna’s confused expression, she continued, “oh you hadn’t heard! Our beautiful cats were taken from us five, long years ago.”
“Taken? How could someone steal so many cats?”
“It was a dark and powerful wizard, driven mad with jealousy over our beautiful town. He came in the night and he lead all the cats away, high up into the mountains and away from us forever,” the woman sighed. “Without cats, Cat Town just isn’t the same. Cats are all we know! Not to mention the horrible trouble we have with mice now.”
Hanna turned and saw that a few more people had come into the square. Some of them looked at her curiously, but most just looked sad. All were dishevelled and seemed lost, without any purpose.
“Well, I’m not scared of wizards,” Hanna said with a grin, “My uncle was a wizard and he was grumpy but mostly harmless. I’ll find him and bring your cats back, and then you can buy some fish.”
She left the cart with the old woman, taking only a few fish with her in a small bag. She began to go uphill, through the cobbled streets at first and then onto a rough stone path as the town shrank behind her. Eventually she came to the entrance of a dark and forbidding cave. If this wizard was anything like her uncle he’d definitely have chosen something so ridiculous, and so Hanna went inside.
The tunnel was littered with small animal skeletons which crunched under her feet. Large eyes glittered at her from the dark, and she heard a faint hissing. At last she saw firelight ahead, and then emerged into a wider cavern. As her eyes adjusted to the light she could make out a crumpled figure on a stone throne surrounded by cats, all staring at her angrily with their fur raised.
At the sound of Hanna’s footsteps the man sat up. He had a long orange and grey beard, and was clutching a tall staff topped with a shining ball.
“What are you doing here?” he bellowed.
“You stole these cats, you’ve ruined Cat Town,” Hanna shouted back, “And now they won’t buy my fish!”
“Well I’m not giving them back,” the wizard pouted, crossing his arms. The cats all growled angrily at her.
“If you were so jealous you could’ve just got your own cats you know,” Hanna responded. Wizards really were even sillier than she’d thought.
“Ha! I wasn’t jealous, I don’t even like cats. I just wanted to teach those nasty Cat Towners a lesson. If they hadn’t been so mean to me none of this would have happened.”
He told Hanna how, bored with wizard duties, he’d decided to give stand up comedy a go. “I prepared a great set of cat jokes, but when I performed them in the square no one laughed. They all booed and hissed and said that my jokes weren’t funny.”
“Can I hear your jokes?” asked Hanna, getting an idea.
“Hmm, fine, but if you don’t laugh I’ll have my cat army tear you to shreds,” The wizard sat up straight, beginning to chuckle before he’d even started his first joke. “Why were the kittens so bored by the cat storyteller? Because his tale was too long!”
Hanna laughed politely as the wizard continued. “Why did the cat author dislike the cat editor? Because he hated having his clause trimmed!” He was so amused by his own jokes that he could barely speak, and began to cry with laughter. “Why was the cat chef famous for his fluffy cakes? Because he had such great whiskers! Haha!”
While the wizard was distracted, Hanna slipped the fish out of her bag. Wizard spells are powerful, but not nearly as powerful as the smell of freshly caught fish to a hungry cat. With a hundred pairs of eyes fixed on her greedily, she flung the fish to the far corner of the cave. When the cats all raced to eat it, Hanna darted to the hysterical wizard’s side and grabbed his magical staff. Immediately he stopped laughing, and tried to snatch it back.
“What do you think you’re doing? You can’t possibly use it, my staff is far too powerful for you!”
“Oh, I know,” said Hanna smartly, and snapped the staff over her leg. She could have used it to change the wizard into a mouse, and taught him a lesson, but she didn’t want to get mixed up with all that magic business.
Meanwhile the cats had polished off the fish, and had just turned to her menacingly when the spell was broken. Immediately their growls turned to soft meows as they brushed against her legs and begged for more fish. “We’ll be on our way,” she told the wailing wizard, and turned to lead the cats down the steep path back to the town.