First Chapter Friday - there's a new cat on the block!

K.E. O'Connor

Something magical is here...

A talking cat. A special cat with magic. A cat who is not what she seems. She is so much more than a witch's talking familiar.

Juno has a secret she's hiding under fluffy paws. A life-changing secret for her and the witch she's bonded with.

To reveal that secret, she must teach her witch, Zandra Crypt, how to believe in magic, trust her strengths, and work with others to ensure the magical community of Crimson Cover remains safe.

But where there is power, there is danger, murders, and puzzles to solve.

Can this plucky cat help her witch and solve the problem that's been keeping her trapped for decades? The Magical Misfits Mysteries will answer this twisty problem for you.

Murder most ghoulish...

Feisty enchanted hedgehogs with eye-watering gas issues, a half-dragon with an attitude, and a headless corpse aren't the best things to start the day with!

But that's what we encounter in our first week working for animal control in Crimson Cove. We'd only come here to find a missing person and got more than we bargained for. As an enchanted cat, few things phase me, but even I winced when my wonderful witch, Zandra Crypt, found the body missing its head.

Much like my witch, I have a strong sense for justice and when the angels are stumped over the killer, we poke around. We also find a worrying connection to the body, a dangerous gang of magical criminals, and what happened to Zandra's missing parent.

Can a plucky witch and a strikingly beautiful white cat (that's me) with power beat the gang, find the killer, and locate the missing person, or will the bad guys win?

Magical Misfits Mysteries cozy witch mystery First Chapter Friday - there's a new cat on the block!

A fiery encounter and a prickly problem

“These prickled hogs are a pain in my behind.” Zandra Crypt skulked beside me in the late evening gloom. The stars were out, and we should have finished work three hours ago, but these magically enchanted hedgehogs we tracked had a different idea. They weren’t giving up their freedom without a fight.

“We’re close. I can smell them.” I lifted my perfect pink-tipped nose and breathed in the chilly evening air. It was tinged with eau-du-hog. Spicy with a bit of musky sweat. The faint sparkles in the air from the noxious gas they emitted when startled also helped with the tracking.

“They definitely came this way.” Zandra slowed to inspect small tracks in the dirt on the path we followed through Crimson Cove woods. “These are the right sized prints for hogs.”

I sniffed the tracks and nodded. My cute little booping snooter was excellent at picking up smells. “The scent is fresh. They must have been here less than five minutes ago.”

Zandra looked around and sighed. “I’m sure we’ve come this way before, though. These critters are sneaky. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’re leading us in circles just for fun. Twisted little spiky monsters.”

There was a scuttle of tiny feet up ahead, and we froze. My hackles lifted, and Zandra clenched her hands.

“Juno, did you see where that came from?” Zandra was crouched as if ready to pounce, but I’d warned her several times about not grabbing our prickled challengers. These magically enchanted hedgehogs had poisoned prickles that would shoot out. Get those stuck in you, and you were in a world of hurt.

“No sign of them yet.” I didn’t feel the cold, thanks to my magnificent white fur, but Zandra was shivering, and her breath plumed out of her. The last thing I wanted was for my witch to get a cold. She was a grump when sick.

“Let’s keep moving. They must tire soon.” She rubbed her hands together and blew on them.

I didn’t like to point out we’d had four nights of endless tracking and hog hunting, and we’d yet to capture these critters. Who knew magically enchanted hedgehogs would be so difficult to detain? They were small, noisy, and indiscreet. This should have been an easy win.

But I was still deliriously proud of my witch, since this was the only assignment we’d failed to complete. Four days on the job in animal control, and everything was ticked off our list.

Our new boss, Barney Hoffman, had been giving us other tasks during the day, since these hedgehogs were nocturnal. We’d mainly checked households to ensure the families followed the familiar care rules and provided suitable enrichment for any tame magic creatures they kept. Animal control was particular about how magical critters were looked after, and sometimes, people got sloppy.

Other than the checks and reminders issued, Zandra had been learning the ropes of her job as an assistant animal control warden, and I was alongside her as her trusty familiar to make sure everything went smoothly. Apart from these pesky hedgehogs, it had been a perfect start to our new careers.

Zandra shivered again and rubbed her arms briskly.

“We could always try again tomorrow,” I said.

“No way! These hogs are going down tonight. If I don’t catch them, Barney will figure out we lied to get this job.”

“We didn’t exactly lie. We showed how excellent you’d be in this role.”

“You pretended you were a crazed, possessed magical being, and I fake captured you. That’s not at all lying.”

“You’d have been able to do that with any magically crazed being. There just weren’t any around when their services were required. I stepped up. Besides, Barney likes you. He won’t fire you for one tiny fabrication.”

Zandra ducked, shoving her dark hair tighter under her hat. “That bush moved! It must be the hogs.”

She stalked forward before I could stop her, so I sprinted to keep up. “Ten more minutes, then we’re calling it a night. Barney doesn’t have the budget for overtime. He’s always telling you that.”

“There won’t be any regular time if we don’t pull this off.” She pressed a finger to her lips. “They’re so close, even I can smell them.”

“It isn’t hard with all that stinky, sparkling gas they keep parping out of their tiny behinds.”

A small black blur shot out of the hedge and whacked the side of Zandra’s head.

I launched into the air, my claws exposed and a murderous growl shooting out of me, but I was a second too late. The hedgehog pinged off Zandra’s cheek, leaving behind several poisoned quills.

She went to touch her face, but I sprung up and knocked her hand out of the way. “Get on the ground. I’ll extract the quills before the poison spreads.”

“But… the hedgehog! It’s getting away. This is as close as we’ve ever gotten.”

“Down! Now! If that poison gets into your system, you’re toast.”

Zandra dropped to her knees, and I hopped my front paws onto her shoulder and grabbed each quill between my teeth, yanked it out, and spat it on the ground. It must have hurt, but my brave witch didn’t protest.

She grimaced as the last one popped free. “You done?”

“One more thing. Think sparkly, happy thoughts.” I latched onto the side of her face and sucked the poison from each hole.

Zandra shrieked, since there was nothing I could do about my fangs, so she got a few extra holes in her face. But poison bested cat fangs, so she’d have to endure the pain.

Only when I was certain the foul taste of rotten eggs was no longer present on her skin did I stop sucking.

Zandra gingerly touched her swollen cheek. “I know I should thank you, but that burned like dragon’s breath after a spicy curry.”

I licked her cheek, then trotted off and lapped from a slushy puddle to clear the foul taste of poison from my mouth. By the time I was done, Zandra was pulsing a healing spell over her cheek. It took a few minutes, but the swelling faded and the holes closed.

“I see now why Barney doesn’t want to deal with these hedgehogs himself.” Zandra got to her feet and brushed dirt off her knees. “Or maybe this is hazing. All the new recruits get the lousy jobs to see if they can handle the pressure.”

“Barney wouldn’t do that to you. He’s a gentleman.”

“The others might.”

Zandra often reacted like a startled, magically enchanted hedgehog in circumstances she found uncomfortable. She’d fling out prickles and verbal barbs when trapped in an awkward situation. And when she’d met the rest of the team in animal control, things had been a little strained.

“They’ll come around once they get to know you.” I wound around her legs several times until she let out a sigh and petted me. “And although I’d rather these hogs were in their cages safely under lock and key, I admire their spirit. They’ve beaten us for days.” I walked along beside Zandra, sniffing the ground and hoping to find a fresh hedgehog trail.

Zandra scooped me up and settled me on her shoulder. “I sort of agree. We need a new approach, though. This stealth tracking isn’t working. The hogs must be able to hear us approaching. Even your delicate paws cause a vibration.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Automatic traps. The hogs come in different sizes and have different food preferences, so we’ll need a variety of traps and treats. We’ll place the traps around the woods, since this is their favorite spot, and wait for them to fire.”

I booped my nose against Zandra’s healed cheek in approval. “You’re sure you don’t want a break? There are snacks in the van and a thermos of coffee. We can get everything we need and come back tomorrow evening.”

“Snacks and rest later. That’ll be our reward once we’ve caught the hogs.”

It took an hour and a trip to the local store to grab food the hedgehogs would eat, but four traps were finally planted around the woodland, complete with tempting treats to entice our spiky nemeses.

We hunkered down in the van at the edge of the woods and waited. Zandra had set up a four-way receiving camera linked to the mobile snow globe network to remote monitor the cages. She had her mobile globe open and was flicking between the images.

“Come on, hoggies. You must be hungry. All that running from me and Juno has burned up calories,” Zandra muttered.

My nose was distracted by the meaty cat treats in the glove box. “Give them time. They’ll be nervous of the traps.”

“Not that nervous. I’ve got movement on one camera.” Zandra grinned at me.

I gave her the cat version of a smile, which was more of a whisker twitch with a tail flick. If I tried to smile like her with my teeth, I looked like I was about to attack. When I’d been turned into a cat, it took me a while to unlearn how to smile and a good year to learn the fine art of cat body language. Use the wrong ear twitch at the wrong moment, and I could have all-out war on my furry paws.

“Look! A hedgehog is going to the smallest cage.” She tilted her mobile snow globe so I could see what was going on.

I forced myself not to keep sniffing for treats and focused on the image. Sure enough, the smallest hog we’d been tracking was creeping toward the cage. It sniffed for a good five minutes before slinking inside.

“Is that a hat on its head?” I said.

“Not sure. It’s got something on its head. Maybe it’s a leaf? Any second now,” Zandra whispered. “That baby is ours.”

The hedgehog hesitated, then darted forward, mouth open, revealing sharp teeth. The second it got to the food, the trapdoor triggered, and it snapped shut.

The hog twirled around and charged at the door, but it was too late to get out. The critter hit the door several times, quills shooting out in self-defense and pinging harmlessly through the bars, but there was nothing the little prickled spud could do to escape.

“Woo-hoo! It’s our lucky night,” Zandra said. “Two more hedgehogs are going after the other cages.”

“That still leaves three out there,” I said. “The family unit. The mamma and her two babies.”

“They’ll go for the largest cage,” Zandra said, surety in her voice. “I reckon the rest are males. We’ve got the boys, but of course, mamma hog will be cautious and smart. She won’t lead her babies into danger.”

“If only we could make them believe they weren’t in danger from us, but they won’t listen to reason.”

Zandra petted my head. “You tried talking to them, but they told you to get lost.”

“Their language was coarser than that. It involved sticking their prickles where the sun doesn’t shine. Repeatedly. And sideways.”

She grinned. “You did your best. Some critters just won’t listen to reason. They think animal control is all about capture and destroy.”

“Once we have them, they’ll have a safe place to sleep and all the hedgehog food they can handle, and no one will report them as a nuisance once they’re in a sanctuary.” I leaned in for more pets. “Like many of the animals we’ve dealt with since starting this job, they don’t trust us.”

“Animal control hasn’t got the best reputation. Someone needs to do a positive PR spin. It would make our lives easier.”

I nodded as I watched the action via the camera. We’d been in this job for less than a week, yet had heard alarming prejudice about animal control. Sure, there was a misguided assumption that all we did was hunt innocent magical creatures and put them to sleep, but Barney was a decent boss and as animal crazy as Zandra. He advocated kindness first. The animals got compassion and understanding. Even the hedgehogs who poisoned Zandra got a second chance, and I was always unforgiving when anyone hurt my bonded witch.

We watched for another ten minutes before all but one of the traps was filled. The hedgehogs were raging mad about being captured, shooting out quills and parping sparkly gas, but eventually, they settled in and ate the food. And why not? Why fight something when you know you’ve been defeated?

Zandra bounced in her seat. “It’s the family! They’re approaching the largest cage. Any minute now, we’ll have a full house of hedgehogs.”

“Are they wearing hats, too?” The feed from the camera wasn’t clear thanks to the magical distortion–magic and electronics did not play nicely together–but I was certain the family of hogs were wearing tiny pointed hats.

“Yeah, they are. Where are they getting those from?” Zandra tried to unblur the image, but it wouldn’t get any sharper.

We watched in silence as mamma hedgehog tentatively approached the large cage and sniffed around. The two smaller hogs were eager to go inside, but she kept nudging them back with her nose and nipping them if they disobeyed and tried to dodge past and grab the food.

The view from the camera wavered for a second, then it blacked out before coming back online.

“What’s wrong with this thing?” Zandra said. “Don’t fail me now. I need to see when the hedgehogs are trapped. If we move too soon, they’ll run again.”

“It could be magical atmospherics.” Barney had come up with a range of clever inventions to ensure most of the vehicles and equipment worked with minimal disruption, but they still weren’t perfect.

“This feed runs through the snow globe network. There shouldn’t be any interference.” Zandra jiggled her mobile snow globe.

The camera image wobbled again and went blank, but not before I spotted a large shadow looming over the hedgehog cage.

Zandra jerked in her seat. “You saw that, right? Someone had better not be messing with my equipment or my hogs.” She jumped out of the van and raced toward the largest cage, and I was hot on her heels.

We made it halfway to the capture site, when there was a roar, and a bright light lit the gloomy trees.

Zandra’s eyes widened, but she kept running. We entered the clearing, where the large cage was located, and stopped.

Inside the cage was not only the three hat wearing hedgehogs cowering in one corner, but a magic user who looked to be part dragon. His red arm scales flared brightly, and flames flickered from his mouth.

His yellow eyes darted our way, and he roared again before emitting a jet of flames that burned through the cage bars.

“Hey! Stop that!” Zandra yelled above the roar of the flames. “That’s the property of animal control.”

“I don’t think he cares about who owns the cage,” I said.

Zandra didn’t appear to have heard me. She stalked toward the cage, magic sparking on her fingers.

The part dragon looked at the three hedgehogs. He grabbed each one and swallowed them without chewing.

“Oh, no, you didn’t. You did not just eat my catch and ruin my cage.” Zandra ran at the melting cage, magic flaring around her in bright red, dazzling swirls.

I gathered my own ancient magic. Although my power was dull and reluctant to perform, I’d force it to life to protect Zandra.

Panic seized my silken tail and tugged it. Nothing happened. My magic refused to function.

My witch was about to go head-to-head with a smoldering, hog eating dragon, and I couldn’t help her.

To find out more about the mysteries, explore the series page

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