Salem was hiding in the laundry hamper again.
These days Harvey and Sabrina were always so busy cuddling with each other (and kicking him out of the bedroom), that making a nest of dirty clothes was about as close to Sabrina snuggles as he ever got. It was actually oddly comforting. Apart from gym clothes, it even smelled kind of nice, since Sabrina had gotten a bottle of Eau de Witch as a wedding gift from one of the many Spellman cousins. Eau de Witch smelled different to everyone, and even changed to suit the sniffer's moods. Salem burrowed into a dress that smelled like gingerbread and sighed.
Christmas was tomorrow, and unlike the time it had almost gone the way of Bobunk, this year Sabrina was all about the holly jolly. Unfortunately none of that seemed to involve hanging out with her old pal Salem. He hadn't felt this neglected at Christmas since the year when she'd left him in a cold alley and let him be kidnapped by a tyrannical kid with a lisp. At least that year she'd gone looking for him. This year he was pretty sure if he vanished, no one would care. He had been a world leader! Or, well, at least a potential world leader with a small, but loyal revolutionary following. He'd had respect, and attractive women who found him attractive! He'd been somebody once. Now he was an unloved house pet. Could his life get any more pathetic?
He perked up at the sound of Harvey's heavy tread on the stairs. He was talking on his cell phone, and Salem wasn't quite so depressed that he'd lost interest in eavesdropping.
"Yeah," Harvey said. "If you can pick up the stuff for Marigold and Ally, I'll get the gift certificate for Amanda and meet you there. And what was that thing you said Salem would like? Cat Fancy? Okay, I'll take care of that, too."
And just like that all of Salem's renewed enthusiasm for life evaporated. They were getting him a cat magazine? They officially no longer saw him as a person. Maybe he would just stay in the laundry hamper forever. No, that was no good. Sabrina would just find him and get annoyed whenever she next tried to do laundry. Maybe he'd run away. Except that hadn't worked out so well before. If he tried that again, he'd need a job, and a place to live. He hopped out of the hamper and ran across the hall into Sabrina's old room.
Now that Hilda and Zelda were gone, the lovebirds had moved into the master suite. Sabrina's teenage bedroom looked exactly as it always had with all her teenage things. The heavy wooden bed still had a little pink bench at then end of it, and there was still a collection of silly knickknacks from Valerie and Jenny (and even one from Morgan) around the cauldron on the desk.
Salem jumped into the oversized armchair next to his iPad and got online. This was a time for serious internet research. He pawed in his password and ran a search for "Talking Cat Jobs". All the devices in the Spellman house were connected to the Witchnet, so this wasn't a totally futile search, but it also wasn't very promising.
The Halloween Mystery Train was still open for conductors, which... no. Imagine the hordes of customers. If their snotty attitudes didn't crush him, their bags certainly would. He couldn't even magic them up to the overhead racks. Plus, every Mystery Train ride involved a murder, and Salem was not interested in losing any more of his lives.
Harvey ran back down the stairs and out the front door, not even bothering to call goodbye. Well, that was nothing new. Salem squared his shoulders, and gave his front left paw a carefree lick just for good measure. If they didn't need him, then he didn't need them, he resolved. Then he dug back into the search.
Helicopter Pilot... no, not qualified.
Coal Miner... no, he was really not into being underground unless he was in a luxurious lair. Which made him remember his luxurious lair, one of the many things he'd lost when his scheme for world domination had fallen apart.
Children's Birthday Party Entertainer... now that had possibilities. Salem thought of the time Sabrina had hosted a Halloween party and all the kids hadn't realized he was real. He'd made them happy. They'd loved him. He could do the same thing for money. He could grow a whole new generation of
subjects admirers. He could be wanted again!
Visions of happy children swirled in Salem's head as he hit the reply button.
Party hats and confetti streamers danced to the tune of "Happy Birthday To You" on the screen for a minute before a professional party planner from Other Realm Celebrations appeared. She looked almost exactly like Martha Stewart, except her hair was dark brown instead of blonde.
"Thank you for your interest in providing birthday party entertainment," she said. "What are your qualifications?"
"I'm great at parties," Salem said. "A real party animal."
"Enthusiasm and a sense of humor," the party planner said, smiling. "Those are good, even if the humor is horrible. Experience?"
"Nothing formal, but I did entertain about a hundred mortal teenagers once. If I can do that, surely I can make little kids laugh."
"Hmm, what about situations in which the kids aren't having fun?" The party planner's face disappeared, replaced by a montage of kids crying, screaming, and in one especially horrible clip, vomiting up their birthday cake.
"I'd make them have fun anyway," said Salem. "I'm very persuasive."
The party planner raised an eyebrow. "Okay, tell me about a challenging time you've had with a child in the past, and how you turned that around."
Salem thought. And thought. He thought of Rex, the lispy kidnapper. Dropping a net on someone probably wasn't what the event planner had in mind. What other kids had he ever been around? "Oh," he said.
"Yes?" The party planner smiled, obviously waiting for Salem's response.
Salem could only shake his head in horror as memories of Amanda and Ally flooded his mind. Being catapulted across the living room by a plastic see-saw, being stuck in a jar, or turned into a toy. What had he been thinking? Children were monsters.
"I'm sorry. I've made a mistake," he said. Then he turned off the iPad, and slumped.
He really had hit bottom this time. Harvey and Sabrina were going to Christmas Eve dinner at Marigold's, which meant they wouldn't be back for ages. And when they did come back, all he could look forward to was a magazine subscription carefully calculated to remind him of how far he had fallen.
"I guess I'll just spend Christmas Eve alone. Slee-hee-hee-ping." The last word came out as a sob.
"Salem, we're home!"
"Sabrina?" Salem woke with a start. "She's back!"
He stood up, stretched, and jumped off the armchair. He was halfway to the door when he remembered that she didn't actually care about him anymore. Instead of running downstairs he turned around and slunk under the bed.
"Salem?" Sabrina called again. "Dinner time!"
A minute passed as Salem curled up into a tight ball. Let them call all they want, he thought. Show them just how much I don't care that they don't care about me.
"That's odd." It was Harvey's voice this time. "He usually comes right away, especially if there's food involved."
Food? Salem's tummy rumbled. "No, stay strong," he told it.
"We have leftovers," Sabrina called.
"Yeah, turkey and gravy," Harvey added.
"Did someone say gravy?" Salem asked. "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. And Hu-hu-hu-ngry!" He shot out from under the bed and ran down to the kitchen at top speed.
When he got there, though, he skidded to a startled halt. "Hilda? Zelda? What are you doing here?"
"Surprise!" called a chorus of voices.
"Sabrina and Harvey said you'd been a little down lately, so we thought we'd come cheer you up," said Zelda.
"And what's more cheery than a Christmas wreath hood with lots of bright lights?" Hilda turned on her headgear and flashed him a smile. "Still think this is a stupid fashion choice?"
"Let me think," said Salem. "Yep." But he rubbed his head against her arm as he said it. "Man it's good to see you. ... So where's my turkey?"
"We'll get to that in a second," said Sabrina. "First, why don't you open your present?"
Salem gave a little sniff of disgust and turned his back on Sabrina. "No thanks."
"No? You're turning down a present?" Sabrina looked at her aunts. "See, I told you something was seriously wrong."
"Come on, Salem. You love presents," Zelda said. "You always try to steal mine."
"I hate to break it to you, but I'm not that into Christmas. And I heard you on the phone earlier, Harvey. I'm not really interested in magazines about cats. So, can I have the turkey now?"
"Wait," said Sabrina. "Magazines about cats?"
"Like, say, Cat Fancy?" Sabrina asked.
"Really ready for that turkey now."
Harvey placed a silver envelope on the table. "I think you'd better open this."
Salem sighed. "Fine." He pushed the flap up with one front paw and edged the card out of the envelope with the other. "This certificate entitles the bearer to one week at Fancy Cat Luxury Spa... wait, what?"
"We know the transition to living with us as a married couple has been stressful," said Sabrina.
"Yeah," said Harvey. "We figured you could use a break."
"But... what is this?" Salem asked.
"Only the fanciest, most exclusive cat and witch spa in the Other Realm," said Hilda.
"Read the brochure," said Zelda.
"Catering only to talking cats and the witches who love them," Salem read.
"Go on, read more," Hilda urged.
"Guests come to the spa to enjoy delicious gourmet meals, singles meet and greet mixers, unlimited therapeutic massage, and board games." Salem looked up. "Board games?"
"You do love playing Risk," said Harvey.
"Hmm, fair enough," said Salem.
"Better than a cat magazine?" Sabrina asked.
"Yes." Sabrina kept looking at him expectantly until he added in a very small voice, "I was wrong."
"Man I wish I had a recording of that," said Sabrina.
"So about that turkey..."
"Oh yeah," said Harvey. "About that... Do you want to tell him, or should I?"
"Tell me what?"
Hilda bounced up and down, which made her look a little like a laser show with all those lights on her head. "We didn't eat with Marigold because we wanted to surprise you with a full dinner right in there!" She pointed her finger toward the dining room, and the telltale zap of magic flashed out of it.
"I'm in Heaven," Salem said. "And it smells like Boston Market!"
Late that night after Hilda and Zelda had gone back to the Other Realm, Sabrina sat down on the couch, preparing to watch a festive movie. Harvey was in the kitchen making popcorn the mortal way with his new air popper, and Salem lazed in a pile of wrapping paper under the tree.
"So, how do you like Christmas now?" Sabrina asked.
"Better," said Salem.
"Did you get everything you wanted?"
It had been a really thoughtful gift, and Salem was looking forward to his week of pampering, but the truth was he did still feel like a third wheel. "Well, almost."
"Almost?" Sabrina asked, outraged. "What more could you possibly want? And don't say world domination because you know that's not an option."
"I ... no, I can't say it."
"I..." Salem gulped. "I miss cuddling with you."
"Is that all?" Sabrina asked. "Well get up here, you big doof. You can sit next to me while we watch the movie."
Salem jumped up and headbutted Sabrina, purring. "Say, what are we watching?" he asked.
"It's a Wonderful Life," said Sabrina.
"Yeah," said Salem. "It really is."