© Copyright 2004 by Seth Chambers
“Por favor, señor, do not be angry. He only takes a little blood,” Yolanda said at breakfast. “A mere sip he drinks, only what he needs. And, in return, he leaves behind something… Something good in your blood.”
I had to admit: Besides a touch of neck pain and a ravenous appetite, I felt quite fit. At least physically. But still…
“You could have told me before.”
Yolanda took a sip of her coffee. A look passed between her and Juan. “To tell you the truth, we didn’t think he’d drink from you. It usually takes awhile for him to accept someone like that. It’s actually quite an honor. Oh, and speak of the devil…”
Suddenly Petardo was at my feet, then bounding into my lap where he promptly curled up and started to purr. He was a big, heavy cat with soft, pewter hair. I scratched him between the ears and his purrs took on a musical lilt while his tail whipped about.
Juan and Yolanda both gaped at their pet.
“Oh, look at him, Juan! His eyes are clearer than they’ve been in so long!”
“And his fur has grown back,” said her husband. Then, to me: “You must have good blood, señor.”
I admitted to having the rarest type of all.
“Well, it certainly seems to agree with our little gato de la corazón. He’s been sick for such a long time but now… Now he looks much better.”
“Cat of the heart?”
Yolanda’s eyes welled with tears as she smiled down at Petardo. “Yes. Once this little ball of fur drinks of your blood, he has your heart.”
I looked over at Juan. He stoically forbade his tears but… Well, I could tell he felt the same about their pet vamcat.
“We thought we were going to lose him. But your blood has restored him. We thank you.”
Petardo seemed the picture of contentment and didn’t object in the least when I pulled back his upper lip to examine the long, pointed incisors. I reached up to my neck to feel for the incisions.
“The marks all but disappear by morning,” Juan assured me.
“I didn’t even wake up.”
“Petardo makes sure of that. He waves his paw over your face first, sort of like how a magician moves his hand over a hat before pulling out a rabbit. He puts you to sleep, but just to make sure he doesn’t hurt you. I hope you’re not mad.”
“Petardo would never hurt you,” added Yolanda. “Never.”
Actually, I felt too good, too alive, to be mad. Was that due to that “something good” that Petardo had deposited in my blood? Or to being out of the hospital and in the mountains of Mexico? Probably both, but it didn’t matter. I told my hosts that all was well and I was excited about getting started on the day.
“We’ll take you to the caves where the vamcats come from. It’s a good hike, though.”
“I’m up to it.”
“Ah, Petardo isn’t the only one feeling better today.”
We set right out into the mountains but didn’t reach the caves until late afternoon. We went inside but saw no sign of the vamcats. That was quite all right, the hike and the company were plenty.
Before the fire and my subsequent hospital stay, I had been fit and strong. But all that had sapped my body and spirit, leaving me about as strong as a scarecrow. Nevertheless, I went right from hospital bed to the mountains of Mexico, against all my doctors’ orders. After three days of backpacking, I was a wreck. I stopped at a village for supplies. Juan, seeing me slumped against a bench, asked if I needed a ride anywhere.
I said thanks but no, there was no place I really had to be.
“What brings you to Mexico, señor?” Yolanda asked.
My Spanish is fair, and their English is better than my Spanish, so we communicated pretty well. “Trying to forget,” I told her. Then next thing I knew I was showing them the burn scars on my arms and legs, and after that telling them, in mangled Spanish, about how my home had burned down, taking with it my wife and son. “I lost them both. Gwen and David. Now I guess I’m just trying to lose myself for a while, too. There’s nothing to go back to.”
I wasn’t looking for sympathy. I just needed to tell somebody. That had been the first time in quite awhile I had even spoken the names of my wife and son aloud. Yolanda gave me a hug, then Juan insisted I stay at their place. I was too weak and tired to argue. At their casa, Yolanda ushered me right to the guest room. “Rest!” she ordered. “You need it!” Then a large, gray cat came limping, almost crawling, into the room. “Ah, you like gatos? Perhaps Petardo here will keep you company. Buenas noches!”
After she left me alone, I flipped open my tattered Spanish dictionary to look up “petardo.” It meant “firecracker,” but Petardo didn’t seem to have much powder left in him. The poor cat must have burned out, I mused. “Ah, well, you and me both, pal,” I sighed.
Petardo hoisted himself to my chest and waved one paw over my face in a circle. Then I was out cold.
We didn’t get back from the caves until well past dark. After a hasty supper I fell right to bed. Petardo jumped up and nudged my hand until I petted him. The last thing I saw before falling asleep, just like the night before, was his paw circling in front of my face.
Again, I was ravenous at breakfast. I scarfed down eggs, toast, pancakes and whatever else was in reach. I felt great, and not the least bit sore from all the hiking. Petardo was merrily chasing a lizard from the kitchen to the living room and back to the kitchen.
“Look at him go!” Yolanda squealed. “Our little Petardo has come back to life since you came here. And he seems to have really taken a liking to you, too!”
“I’m starting to come back to life, too.”
“That’s because of Petardo,” said Yolanda. “Vamcats are very good for humans.” “Are there any bad side effects of vamcat bite?”
“No, it’s all good,” Juan told me. “Here, have some more pancakes.”
I dug into a fresh stack without objection.
“Why’s it all good?”
“The better it is for you, the better for the vamcat,” said Yolanda.
So it was a symbiotic relationship. The longer the vamcat’s host was alive and well, the longer the vamcat got sustenance. In return the vamcat’s host enjoy renewed vigor.
I attacked several sausages and dug into a plate of hash browns. I felt starved but also strong. My legs were like race horses at the starting gate. I had too much energy to sit around the table jawing. Juan and Yolanda both had to work so I was on my own this day.
“Don’t get lost out there now,” Yolanda told me.
I could hardly imagine getting lost. I have always had a poor sense of direction, but now could clearly visualize every trail and every turn of yesterday’s jaunt. Another effect of vamcat bite perhaps? It made sense, in a way. If I got lost in the mountains, there would be one less food source for Petardo. And I seemed to be a particularly healthy source for him, at that. Therefore, it would be advantageous that the chemical or enzyme or whatever it was he deposited in my blood sharpen my memory and my sense of direction.
Hiking into the mountains that day, I thought about how medical science could benefit by synthesizing this vampire cat enzyme. I dashed and bounded along the trails feeling strong, fast, agile. And to think I had been out of the hospital a mere week!
I stopped to enjoy a panoramic view. I imagined Gwen and David there with me and was happier than I had been in a long time. Then I happened to look at my right arm and something seemed wrong with it. It took me a moment to realize that what was “wrong” was that the burn scars had all but disappeared!
After a week and two days I told my hosts I’d be leaving. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, Petardo jumped up and yowled. We all gaped at him and Yolanda said, “I don’t think he wants you to leave.”
“And neither do we,” Juan added.
I told them that as much as I appreciated their hospitality, it was time for me to return home and rebuild my life. Petardo yowled again.
“But what will become of our Petardo?” Yolanda demanded. “It’s your blood that he needs. Por favor! He was so sick before you came!”
I didn’t know what to tell her. I’d have offered to take Petardo with me, but there’s no way to smuggle a vamcat into the U.S.
Petardo yowled yet again, then Yolanda yowled, cursed at me, and ran off. I told Juan that maybe it would be best if I just got my pack and left that night.
“No. Just stay tonight. Please. One more night.”
I stayed. As usual, Petardo’s paw circling over my face was the last thing I saw before slipping into sleep.
Setting out with my pack on, I flew along the trails. Each stride lengthened until I was bounding ten, fifteen, twenty feet and more at a time. I sailed over a ridge without fear, landing cat-like far below. I came to the vamcat caves and dashed inside. I called out, “Hello?” An echo came back, but it was not my voice. Not my voice at all.
“David?” I called out.
“Here, Daddy!” came my son’s voice.
Then another voice called to me and I followed, exultant. “Gwen? Is it really you?”
Again, Gwen called out my name. My heart sang.
“We were never away from you!” came her voice. “We’re always with you! No fire could ever separate us!”
Suddenly, I wasn’t crouching in a cave but flat on my back in Juan and Yolanda’s guest room. I could hear Juan and Yolanda arguing in the family room. “It’s not right!” he kept saying.
“He’s with the people he loves now,” said Yolanda. “And we have our Petardo back!”
“But still…” I started to stir and suddenly Petardo was by my side.
“Send me back, mi amigo” I whispered.
Petardo meowed softly jumped onto my chest. He waved one paw in front of my face and I was back in the caves with Gwen and David.
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