San Francisco, CA -- From country homes to urban server farms, faery cats are taking America by storm as the hottest trend in pets.
16-year-old Melissa Eager's bedroom is decorated entirely with paintings and statuettes of winged cats, which she has acquired at science fiction conventions around the country.
"I love love love faery cats," says Eager. "And I had no idea they were for real until I saw one at a shop in Mill Valley. It was all black, and it had long, shiny wings like a raven. So pretty! I was all like, 'Mom, I will totally die if you don't get me that!'"
The purchase of the cat--a Balinese Sylphstalker named "Skynight"--was not an easy decision for Eager's mother, Victoria Knott.
"The shopkeeper wanted $2,500 for it. I could see paying that for a good handbag, but for a cat? I just wasn't sure.
"But Missy kept pestering me. And it occurred to me that if I bought her the cat, maybe she would stop spending so much time and money at those silly sci-fi conventions. I keep arranging dates with perfectly nice young men with good prospects, and then she goes to a convention and brings home these boys who spend all their time reading novels and playing games!
"So, I got Missy to agree that, if I got her the cat, no more conventions for her until she gets her business degree. At Harvard. If it keeps her on the proper path to success, then the cat has been a good investment," Knott says.
Exotic cat breeder Kyle Salinas says, "Faery cats have become extremely popular ever since the Shimmer Incident. Now that people can actually see the cats, they practically sell themselves."
Salinas says that faery cats--scientifically classified in the genus Felis fae--were created in Europe and Asia around 300 B.C. The cats thrived in Europe until the Dark Ages.
"Considering that plain old alley cats were hung for being minions of the Devil, you can imagine how superstitious folk reacted to faery cats, which in rare instances were the pets of various demons," says Salinas.
Most witches and wizards put an invisibility charm on their flying familiars to keep them safe. However, after the angry mobs caught the cats' masters, the spells remained unbroken and the familiars stayed invisible, as did their kittens.
Salinas says that, because of their invisibility, faery cats were left out of bestiaries and were often mistaken for other entities such as banshees, poltergeists, and boggarts.
"A faery cat in heat does sound very much like a banshee," he says. "And if an invisible kitten gets into a house at night and finds a stash of catnip or valerian root, most residents would be convinced they need an exorcist."
The faery cats might have remained invisible to this day if it had not been for Angus Shimmer.
"It was totally an accident," says Shimmer, now Associate Professor of Thaumaturgy at Miskatonic State. "I was in undergrad, and my quadmates were playing a practical joke on me. They'd stolen every last one of my spellbooks, turned them invisible, and had stashed them in trees around the dorms."
"Man, I was angry," says Shimmer. "And there was a storm coming--I was sure my books would all be ruined before I found them."
Shimmer says that he climbed the bell tower in order to cast a broad-range revisibility spell on the campus. Just as he was finishing his incantation, lightning struck the tower.
"We still aren't 100% sure what happened," Shimmer admits. "Maybe it was the copper in the bell tower combined with the moon phase and the power of the lightning strike and the hemiphasic alignment of Venus and Saturn--nobody knows. But at that moment, every invisible thing on the face of the planet became visible again."
In addition to surprises like the discovery of The Dunwich Horror in the back of a Waffle House in Tewksbury, MA, people across the world were shocked to discover faery cats living in their sheds and gardens.
"I had no clue these things were real," says artist Jim Beemer. "I mean, I don't even like cats, but I got tired of going to art shows and not selling a single piece while cutesy crayon drawings of crap-with-wings sold like hotcakes at the sci-fi conventions around the corner. So, yeah, I sold out. I'm not proud. I gotta pay off my art school loans somehow, right?
"But then I wake up one morning and there's this freaking cat with wings on my patio. And it's munching on a freaking leprechaun. I check myself into the nuthouse that very afternoon but oh, no, they won't keep me, because I'm not hallucinating," says Beemer.
"Now even the top collectors want pictures of crap-with-wings. Nobody cares about my still-lifes or landscapes," he says. "That cat is out there every day, taunting me with his cutesy wings and his dead leprechauns. Haunting me. I'm haunted by a cat. God. The whole world's gone insane. I need a drink ... where's my bourbon?"
Scottish faery fancier Edwina Cotton was also surprised by the flying felines.
"I kept finding the wee corpses o' pixies and brownies in me flowerbeds," she says. "I always thought it was me young nephew up to mischief with his slingshot, but it turned out I had a lovely fluttery tortie kitten living in me greenhouse."
"I brought the kit inside to keep her from slaughterin' the rest of me faeries," Cotton says, "but she's been quite a handful compared to me other cats!"
Salinas agrees that faery cats are much more challenging pets than regular housecats.
"Faery cats need space, high ceilings and places to roost. If you live in a small home, an outdoor aviary will do. But you can't just lock a faery cat in a parrot cage and expect it to do well," he says. "Most breeds will howl or refuse to eat under cramped conditions, but some from European lines can teleport short distances and will do so if they feel trapped. You can kiss your drapes goodbye if that happens."
He adds that not all pet owners realize that faery cats were bred for a specific purpose.
"These creatures are beautiful and magical, sure. But their job is killing faeries. And if they can't do that job, they get frustrated and bored."
Cryptoveterinary researcher Rudy Briggs has spent several years tracking the origins of the faery cat. "We've managed to trace the European breeds to a Germanic witch named Scharlatte who had a serious problem with disgruntled pillywiggins tearing up her garden."
According to local legends, when the young cat she kept for mousing was able to catch a pillywiggin, Scharlatte hit upon the notion of crossing the cat and her pet crow to create an airborne hunter that could better catch the flittering faeries. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the cat gave birth to a litter of winged kittens that soon sent the pillywiggins packing.
"The crow-cat legend is similar to the legend of the Mandarin wizard Ming Mei, whose house was plagued by angry sylphs," says Briggs.
Ming Mei crossed his favorite cat--presumably a Siamese, according to Briggs--with a falcon. The winged kittens were fierce, quick hunters, and while they could not kill the sylphs, they drove the air spirits away.
"Many modern animal lovers are horrified that their kitties are bred to be merciless killing machines, but that's the breaks," says Briggs.
Faery cats have been increasingly finding homes as night guards in computer companies that have deployed cyberspiritual networks.
"The faery cats have been great for us," says Amanda O'Brien, a systems specialist at Monkeybrain Computing in San Francisco. "We've been running Aetherweb for a while now, and the spiritual aura the network cables give off attract all sorts of supernatural entities. What the warding spells don't keep out, the cats take care of."
O'Brien says that her company's three faery cats--all Scotch Boggartharriers--have free run of the building.
"Yes, they shed just like regular cats, so we provide free antihistamines for people with allergies. Sometimes the cats will hork featherballs on people, but we've turned it into a positive thing for the staff. You get splatted with a featherball, you get the rest of the day off. So far--knock on wood--there haven't been any airborne litterbox accidents," she says.
O'Brien says that the staff reaction to the cats has mostly been positive. "A lot of geeks are cat lovers anyway, and our little bogie-slayers are real beauties. Pretty much anyone who would have had major issues with cats flying around resigned when we deployed the Aetherweb last year.
"Because, let's face it, if you can't deal with a cat sleeping on your monitor, you're going to be way less okay with finding a pillywiggin digging through your trash."