As a rule I’m a very hospitable sort of cat, but when the storm of a century descended upon Hampton Cove and animals from all around started flocking to our home in search of shelter from the elements, it took some adjustment on my part. And then of course there was the string of murders that suddenly shook our neighborhood, with a serial killer using the storm to cover his tracks. So it wasn’t long before it was all paws on deck and we were battening down the hatches to save women and children first. Though I could be mixing my metaphors.
Terrence Dallas had traveled over a hundred miles and still hadn’t arrived at his destination. So he checked the GPS on his phone again and wondered if he had taken a wrong turn somewhere. His internet connection was spotty, so it wouldn’t surprise him if the mellifluous voice was leading him astray—deep into the hinterland of whatever town he was passing.
The rain was coming down hard now and preventing him from seeing more than a couple of yards in front of him, his wipers working overtime and still having a difficult time dispensing with the relentless downpour. All of a sudden, lightning flashed on a sign located by the side of the road that announced that he was entering Hampton Cove. Finally. He knew he’d get there eventually. And he had traveled another mile or so when something hard and heavy hit his car from the passenger side and bounced off.
Immediately he stomped on the brakes, and the car skidded to a full stop. For a moment he just sat there, darkness all around and no sound but the steady drum of the heavy rain on the roof of the vehicle. He then glanced over to the right side, hoping to see what he might have hit—or, to be more exact: what had hit him. But it was like looking into a dark pit.
For a moment he wavered. Getting out in this deluge seemed inadvisable, to say the least. But he couldn’t just continue driving as if nothing had happened. At the very least, he could be guilty of fleeing the scene of an accident, and possibly whatever had hit him—possibly a deer or some other animal crossing the road—was ailing and in urgent need of help.
And so he made a swift decision and opened the car door. Covering his head with his arm and squinting against the rain that was already soaking him to the skin, he hurried around the back of the car to see what he might find. It was as he had expected: a deer had crossed the road at the wrong time, and their destinies had collided, with potentially devastating consequences for the deer.
It was a small specimen, and it was still alive, though even in the faint glow of his brake light, he could see that things didn’t look good for the poor creature. And so he did what any person with a heart for the animal kingdom would do: he opened the trunk of his car and carefully placed the wounded deer in there, covering it with a blanket as he did.
Then he got back into his car and entered the word ‘vet’ into his GPS app. After a few tense moments, the address popped up, and as he put the car in gear, he hoped the vet would be able to save the creature. With a conscience like his, already burdened with numerous transgressions, the last thing he needed was to have the death of Bambi added to the long list.
It didn’t take him more than ten minutes to find the place he was looking for, and as he pulled the car to a stop, he saw that the vet lived in a regular house that didn’t look like a vet’s practice at all. Then again, possibly she worked from home, as a lot of small business owners did. And so he got out, lifted the poor deer from the trunk of his car, and carried it over to the house in question.
For a moment, he wavered. Should he ring the bell or not? Should he risk exposing himself and his business to this person or not? Finally, he decided against it. And so he simply placed the deer on the doorstep, pressed the bell once, and hurried away again.
From the safety of his car, he saw that the door was being opened, and an old lady appeared. This must be the vet, he thought. Along with her, a tall man also joined, and a second, younger woman. The trio stood there for a few moments, looking down at the wounded deer, then glanced up and down the street. But when they failed to locate the person who had delivered the animal to their home, they took the deer inside and closed the door again.
With a smile of satisfaction, Terrence started up the car again and continued his journey. Even if what he was about to do condemned his soul to hell, at least he had done one good thing in his cursed life.
Dooley had been playing with a ball of wool on the carpet, with Grace cheering him on. For some reason, they both derived a great deal of enjoyment from the procedure. Dooley hit the ball of wool with his paw. It then rolled underneath the couch, from where he retrieved it before recommencing the entire procedure from the beginning.
I watched it all from the safety of the couch, my eyelids growing quite heavy. And after I had watched the scene about half a dozen times, it proved the perfect soporific, and I dozed off. And so it was with some reluctance that I returned to the land of the wakeful when there was an urgent tap on the sliding glass door.
Odelia and Chase, who had been sitting on the couch next to me, watching something on television that proved riveting to them but not so much to me, looked up in alarm.
Standing at the sliding glass door was Odelia’s dad, who was waving now and shouting something I couldn’t quite comprehend.
And so Odelia got up and opened the door for him.
“A deer,” he said once he had stepped inside and shook the moisture from his person.
It was raining hard, the water really coming down in vertical sheets.
“A dear what?” asked Odelia, giving her father a look of concern.
Tex, who was slightly panting, even though the distance from his place to ours is only about ten meters or so, tried again. “Someone dropped off a deer!”
“A dear what, Dad?” Odelia asked, directing a worried look at her husband, who had also joined them. “A dear… patient? A dear… friend? What?”
“A deer!” said Tex, gesticulating a little wildly now. “And it’s wounded, and I don’t know the first thing about…” He caught himself. “That’s not entirely true. I do know a thing or two about veterinary science, but not enough to know what’s wrong with the animal. As far as I can tell, it was hit by a car, but we need an actual vet to determine the injuries it has sustained.” He took another breath and wiped the rain from his face. “Could you drive us, Chase? My car is in the garage, and Marge’s Peugeot isn’t big enough to accommodate an animal this size.”
Finally, understanding seemed to dawn on both Odelia and Chase. “You mean someone dropped off an actual deer?” asked Chase.
Tex stared at him. “That’s what I said. A deer. So could I borrow your truck? Or maybe you could drive? It’s just that—I’ve tried calling Vena, and she’s not picking up, so I figured we might as well drive over there. Maybe she went to bed early.”
“Or maybe she’s not home,” Odelia suggested.
“Vena is always home,” I said. “She doesn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to torture more pets.”
My words were lost in the general flow of conversation, and so it was decided that Chase would drive, and Tex would accompany him to the vet with the deer. And since I think we were all curious to see this deer with our own eyes, before long we followed the good doctor into the backyard, through the opening in the hedge, and then inside where it was nice and cozy and comfy, and where we found Marge and Gran standing next to the deer in question.
It was as Tex had indicated: it looked pretty beat up, the poor creature. And so when I asked what happened, at first it didn’t even have the strength to respond. Finally, it opened one eye and gave me a searching look. Then it said, “Tell me where I am, please, cat.”
“You’re in Hampton Cove,” I said, “at the home of Marge and Tex Poole, where you were delivered by a person or persons unknown, possibly after you were hit by a car.”
“Oh, I was hit by a car, all right,” said the deer as it grimaced. “Not a pleasant experience, I can tell you that. My head hurts,” it added after a pause. “Ouch.”
“We’re going to take you to the vet,” I explained. “So hang in there, all right? What’s your name, by the way? I’m Max.”
“Coco,” said the deer, quite to my surprise, I won’t conceal.
“Okay, Coco, that big man over there is going to lift you up and carry you to his car, and then we’re on our way to see the doctor, all right?”
“Fine with me,” said Coco. She then gave me a weak smile. “You’re coming, too?”
“Well, I guess I could come,” I said. I hadn’t really thought about it, but when I directed a look at Odelia, she nodded. “Good idea, Max. You can talk to him—or her—so you can make sure it understands what’s going on and keep it relaxed.”
“It’s a her,” I said. “And her name is Coco.”
“That’s what she said.”
And so it was decided: Chase would drive the truck, with Tex to make sure the medical element was covered until we could put Coco in the safe hands of an actual veterinarian, and I would tag along to provide translation services.
“Careful now,” said Marge as Chase lifted the deer into his arms. It was a smallish animal, so still very young, I would have guessed, otherwise he probably wouldn’t have been able to lift her—some of these deer do grow up to be very big.
Before long, we were riding in the car, with the deer in the bed of the truck, covered with a tarp against the pouring rain, and I wondered how I had managed to get roped into paying a visit to Vena when I could have home taking a nap.
She is, after all, possibly my least favorite person in the whole wide world, and if I can avoid being anywhere near her, I will. But this was bigger than my personal safety. There was a life at stake here—and so I put my qualms aside and hoped we’d be able to save poor Coco’s life.
Dooley had been playing with a ball of wool when he suddenly noticed that everyone seemed to have left. He wasn’t all that big on playing with balls of wool, but Grace seemed to enjoy it, so he did it as a way of entertaining the little girl.
“Go, Dooley, go!” she said as he gave that ball a nice big thump with his paw that made it skip and hop across the floor until it bumped against the far wall.
And so he ran after it, sliding on the floor as he did until he was the one bumping into the wall.
Grace clapped her hands with glee, which made him feel like a circus performer who has just pulled off the greatest and most difficult stunt. He looked up to see if Max had seen him, which is when he noticed for the first time that of his friend there was no trace. And as he returned to Grace, he saw that of Odelia and Chase there was not a single trace either!
“Where have they all gone?” he asked.
“Beats me,” said Grace, holding up her hands in a cute gesture. “Maybe they had something very important to do?”
“But what could be more important than to spend the evening together watching television and being together as a family?” he said.
“Grandpa Tex was here,” Grace said. “And he said something about a dear… something. And then they suddenly all got up and hurried out, so this dear whatever must be very important.”
Dooley’s heart sank. A dear whatever had shown up, and they had suddenly all forgotten about him—even Max hadn’t bothered telling him he was stepping out for a moment.
“Well, looks like it’s just you and me, kid,” said Grace, taking it all in stride. “So what are we going to do, huh? Now that we’ve got the whole house to ourselves? We could have a party, invite some of my friends—or your friends—and really make it count.”
“On a night like this?” he said, gesturing to the window where the rain was still coming down in rivulets.
“What better way to dispel the gloom from a rainy evening than by having a party?” Grace argued. “Put on some great music, bring out the popcorn and the fizzy drinks, and tread the measure on the dance floor. So let’s go, daddyo!”
Dooley had no idea what the toddler was talking about, but he couldn’t deny that her enthusiasm was infectious, so he figured he might as well go with the flow. “So who do you want to invite to your party?”
“Well, we could invite all of my friends from the daycare, for one thing.”
“Do you have their number?” asked Dooley, who had learned from Max that it’s important always to be practical about these things.
Grace’s face fell. “I don’t even own a phone, Dooley, so how do you expect me to have their number?”
“Without their number, you can’t call and invite them,” he pointed out.
She thought about this for a moment, but if he thought that the lack of a phone would have put a damper on her plans to have a party, he was very much mistaken. “So let’s go and invite them personally,” she suggested. “I know where they live. Well, at least some of them, since Mom sometimes drops them off at home.”
“I really would rather not go out in this storm,” he said. He hated getting wet, and he had a feeling that if he stepped outside of their warm and cozy home, he would get very wet very quickly.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” sighed Grace, who had crawled down from the couch and toddled over to the window. “It is very wet outside, isn’t it? And also, I’m not sure my friends will be allowed to go out after dark. Their parents are probably a lot stricter than mine.” But then her face lit up with a smile. “Ooh, I know what we can do. We can invite all of your friends to drop by. You have a lot of friends, don’t you?”
That was true enough. In fact, he had so many friends he didn’t even remember all of their names. That’s what you got when you were a member of the hottest social group in town. Cat choir might have started as a way to practice their musical skills, but over time it had turned into a social gathering, with music as an excuse to shoot the breeze and hang out. Though in this weather, he would be very much surprised if even a single cat showed up. Like him, most of his friends hated getting wet, and they’d probably all be home right now, making sure to stay warm and dry and, most importantly, safe.
He explained all this to Grace, and as he had expected, the information did not go over well.
“But then who are we going to invite to our party!” she demanded.
“Well, we could invite Harriet and Brutus,” he suggested, knowing they were only a hop and a skip away, probably lying on the couch with Gran and Marge and Tex next door. “Or we could invite Fifi or Rufus,” he added, referring to their neighboring dogs. “Or if you really wanted to, we could invite Molly and Rupert. I know they live in Blake’s field, and they’d be more than happy to join our party.”
“Sounds great,” said Grace. “Invite them, and let’s get this party started!”
And so, despite Dooley’s misgivings about venturing out in that terrible downpour, he decided that maybe she was right and that a nice party would lift their spirits and alleviate that sense of ennui that occasionally seemed to come over the kid, and he stuck his head through the pet flap.
For a moment, he stayed on the safe confines of the back terrace, where he was still protected from the worst of the storm by the roof eaves. But then he took a deep breath and streaked across the back lawn until he reached the rose bushes where Harriet and Brutus liked to spend most of their time. He then jumped the fence and down again on the other side. Before long, he was traversing the field, which was almost like a jungle after years of neglect, and called out, “Molly! Rupert! Where are you guys!”
But if he thought that his calls would magically bring out the mice, he was very much mistaken. It actually took him a little while to get any response from anyone at all. In fact, until he had reached the one structure that was still standing in that large field: a derelict old ramshackle shed, where he found shelter from the storm. He shook off the water drops that had settled on his fur and looked around. It certainly was a little spooky, he thought, with lots of strange sounds and smells that he did not like one bit. As he took another sniff, he determined that the shed had probably been used in recent times as accommodation for a person of the human species. He saw a makeshift cot in the corner of the shack, covered with an old blanket, and he also saw a portable gas burner with a pot placed on top that contained some kind of meal consisting of white beans and tomato sauce, a can lying next to it that had provided this gourmet meal.
And as he sniffed around further, wondering if this could be where Molly and Rupert and their offspring could be hiding, suddenly he was grabbed by a powerful hand, and as he uttered a squeak of surprise, the world suddenly went dark.