Three cats -- Rumkin, Mist, and Flop Ear -- followed Jenny along the rocky shore, dancing away from the incoming tide.
"This will make a good soup," said Jenny, dropping a glistening clump of sea moss into her pail. "Just need to add a few winkles or clams to go with our potatoes."
She glanced at her furred companions and nodded, as if hearing their agreement.
"Yes, a grand supper," Jenny said and pulled her ragged shawl tight against the wind.
Mist, as thin and gray as the fogs that rolled in from the sea, paused beside a tide pool and arched her back. Rumkin joined her, darting out an orange paw. Flop Ear sat and watched, all three cats staring at the water.
Jenny set her pail on the rocks and knelt down. A flash of silver glinted in the afternoon light. The outgoing tide must have stranded the fish now circling the pool.
"You clever cats!" exclaimed Jenny. "You've found a fish for our supper."
"To eat me is to waste me," bubbled a faint voice from beneath the water.
Jenny jerked back.
"Did you hear something?" she asked her cats.
"To Eat Me Is to Waste Me!" the voice gurgled more loudly.
A fish poked up its small silver head. Rumpkin hissed, and Mist puffed to twice her thin size.
"I am a Wishing Fish. Return me to the sea, and I will grant three wishes."
"You...you can talk?" whispered Jenny.
"Obviously," replied the fish with disdain. "I am a Wishing Fish," it repeated, as though that explained all.
"I can wish for anything?" asked Jenny, bending closer.
"Anything at all," answered the fish. "But not you!"
The small head turned a cold eye on Mist, Flop Ear, and Rumkin.
"Wishes are granted to the ones who found me," said the fish, nodding at the three cats. "There are rules, you know."
"One wish each, and you return me to the sea. Name them!"
The cats stared, but made no sound.
"How will you know what they want?" asked Jenny.
"I grant them words for the telling," the fish replied. "Now speak!"
Mist and Rumkin continued staring while Flop Ear licked an itch.
"A wish is too important to rush," mused Jenny.
Picking up her pail, she continued briskly, "Rumpkin will tell you his wish tomorrow morning; Mist, the day after; and Flop Ear has until the third day to make his wish."
"Agreed!" said the fish. "Now, to the sea return me."
"I think we'll keep you close for now," declared Jenny, and with a quick dip of her pail, scooped the Wishing Fish from the tide pool.
It bobbed up and down beside the sea moss, gurgling angry words all the way back to the cottage.
That evening, Jenny wrapped Rumkin in her shawl and hugged his ginger stripes close.
"If only we could build a bigger fire," said Jenny with a shiver.
"More wood is wanted?" asked the fish from the pail in the corner.
"Hush," Jenny told it. "Rumkin makes his wish tomorrow."
As soon as Jenny opened the shutters the next morning, a voice commanded Rumkin, "Name your wish!"
Jenny lifted Rumkin to her lap.
He meowed, and his cry stretched like warm taffy into words, "Iii wiiish that every stone from our garden wall to this cottage floor will forever be as warm as on the brightest summer's day."
"Done!" splashed the Wishing Fish.
Jenny's toes tingled as heat spread from the flagstones through her threadbare slippers.
Rumkin jumped down to the floor. He lifted one paw, and then another, and finally, with a contented purr, stretched flat on the warm stone. Mist and Flop Ear laid down beside him.
"You won't need my lap to stay warm anymore," said Jenny with a wistful sigh.
"That was One," said the fish.
At supper that night, Jenny ladled an extra bit of potato into Mist's small food bowl.
"You're so thin. If only I had more to feed you," said Jenny, stroking the cat's soft fur.
"The pot needs filling?" asked the fish.
"Mist, your wish is your own," warned Jenny, nudging the pail with her bare foot, well- warmed from the toasty cottage floor.
After breakfast, Jenny carried the pail to the shore to add fresh seawater.
"Your wish!" the fish commanded Mist.
"I wishhhhhhhh," Mist purred, "that we cats will become seals whenever our paws touch the ocean so we can catch all the herring and mackerel we want."
"Done!" splashed the Wishing Fish.
Jenny's eyes widened when Mist, a cat who normally hated getting wet, stepped cautiously into the frigid sea. Instantly, the cat's thin body grew longer and more rounded. Her ears folded against her head, and her legs flattened into flippers.
With a bark, Mist slid on her belly across the sand and dove beneath the waves.
Jenny, Rumkin and Flop Ear soon lost sight of her. They huddled together on the shore, peering out to sea.
"Look!" shouted Jenny several minutes later. The head of a seal was rocketing though the water straight towards the shore. The sleek gray form torpedoed onto the beach and opened its jaws, dropping a mackerel at Jenny's feet
Blubber shrank into fur, and Jenny rubbed Mist dry with her shawl.
"Oh Mist, you'll never be hungry again!" said Jenny. "No more seaweed soup for you."
"Two," said the fish.
That night, their last with the Wishing Fish, the three cats sprawled across the heated flagstones, their bellies full from fish stew.
"You'll always be warm and you'll never be hungry," said Jenny, but she glanced at her empty lap and sighed.
"What will you wish for, Flop Ear?" she murmured to herself. "A new family with a finer home than I can give you?"
Jenny wiped away a tear.
At the first gurgle from the pail, Jenny dropped a cloth over the top. "Not a word from you tonight!" she said.
Jenny carried the pail to the water's edge on the third morning, the three cats walking beside her.
"Time to end this," said the fish. "What is your wish?"
Everyone looked at Flop Ear, whose right ear drooped while the left stood tall.
"Sooo thaaat," stretched his first words, "we can do everything together forever, I wish Jenny could be a cat just like us."
"But only if she wants to be," Flop Ear quickly added.
No one but the gulls made a sound, their screeches tossed by the wind as the birds dipped and soared.
"Well," burbled the fish, breaking the silence, "will a cat you be, our Jenny?"
Jenny fingered her shabby skirt and watched seals bob among the whitecaps. She rubbed her rough, work-worn hands and looked down at the cats -- her family -- gazing up at her.
"Yes!" said Jenny. "Oh, yes!"
"Done!" splashed the Wishing Fish, and Jenny hurled the entire pail into the sea.
"That's Threeeeeeeee," said the fish, arcing bright in the sunlight before falling into the waves.
And four cats -- Rumkin, Mist, Flop Ear, and Jenny -- watched until the last flash of silver vanished before walking home together.