As they pulled into the parking lot of the Animal Care Clinic, Zak was dismayed at the long line of cars, then realized that since it was a little after five, everyone must be picking up their pets. Calida pointed out the two white-coated technicians standing beside the clinic building with a stainless steel table on wheels between them. They were waiting for Angus.
The young woman drove to within a few feet of the table, and one of the technicians helped Zak move Angus's still motionless body to the dolly while the other technician held the door. As they wheeled Angus into the clinic, Zak noticed the name tag on the technician's coat said her name was Allison George, but clearly she was too young to be the vet. Still, she appeared to know what she was doing so he briefly told her what had happened. She nodded, then assured him they would do everything possible to save his dog.
Calida, who had remained behind with the woman in the car for a moment, rushed into the treatment room. A few moments later a tall woman with gray-streaked hair wearing a light blue lab coat strolled briskly into the room. She looked first at Angus, then at Calida and Zak.
“Hi, I'm Dr. George. I'll be with you in just a moment,” she said, and for an instant Zak was afraid she was going to leave and wait on someone else. But instead, she turned to Angus, listening to his chest with a stethoscope. As she did so, Zak repeated Angus's vital signs. She nodded, glancing up long enough to give Zak a reassuring smile.
“You've done a good job helping your friend,” she said, then turned her attention back to Angus.
“Zak, why don't you come with me to the waiting room?” Calida asked. “I need to call your father. Dr. George will take good care of Angus.”
Zak shook his head firmly and was about to answer but Dr. George beat him to it. “It's okay for him to stay. He can give us the other information we need to know about Angus. You go make your call. Cindy, show Mrs…”
“Calida, Calida Bates,” she finished for her. She glanced at Zak and tried to smile. “I'll be back in a few minutes.” She turned and followed the technician out.
Zak watched as Dr. George and Allison placed an I.V. catheter in Angus's front leg and started a rapid drip of fluids. Seeing the two working so close together it became clear to Zak that they must be related — probably mother and daughter. The young girl had the same color hair, minus the gray streaks, and her small, slightly upturned nose could have been a photocopy of Dr. George's.
After making sure the fluids were flowing at a steady rate, they slid a light green vinyl pad under the bright orange blanket. She's probably about my age, Zak thought as she watched the technician's expert hands gently lift Angus. Pretty young to be working in a veterinary clinic, but then again, having a vet as a mom had its perks. Anyway, she certainly seemed to know what she was doing, and that's what really mattered.
“This is a heating pad,” Dr. George explained to Zak as she adjusted the pad under Angus. “Angus's temperature is low, but not as low as it would have been if you hadn't thought to use the blanket. You've really helped your little friend out by acting so quickly.”
Zak continued to watch with interest, being careful to stay out of the way as the two of them worked on Angus. Dr. George periodically checked Angus's temperature, heart rate and gum colors. Zak glanced at the wall clock across the room. They'd been working on Angus for about thirty minutes when Dr. George looked over at him. She smiled at him, but Zak could still see the concern hidden behind it.
“I'm afraid Angus is slow to respond to the fluids and heat, Zak. His temperature has stabilized but the color of his gums is still poor as is his heart rate. He is also having difficulty breathing.” Zak had noticed Angus's respiration had become more labored but had hoped it meant he was waking up.
“I'm going to move him into intensive care where we can continue the fluids and place him in an oxygen cage at the same time to make it easier for him to breathe. You can stay with him if you like.”
Zak nodded, his throat too tight to say anything. He continued the short prayer that he'd been reciting ever since the accident. He watched as they wheeled Angus into the next room, then followed behind them. The intensive care ward was a smaller room with a bank of four cages along one wall. On the opposite wall was a large window that looked into a room Zak guessed must be for surgery. Dr. George has a nice clinic, he thought. That must make her a good vet. Surely, she could save Angus if anyone could.
They gently moved Angus with his blanket and heating pad into one of the cages on the second row. Unlike the other cages, this one had a clear Plexiglas door with rubber around the edges.
“We can pump pure oxygen into the cage that will make it easier for Angus to breathe,” Dr. George explained as she closed the door. “Once he is stabilized I'll want to take some x-rays, but we've got to get him out of shock first.”
As the door clanked shut, a flick of a black tail above the cage caught Zak's attention. For the first time he noticed the large black cat lounging in the far corner. Dr. George followed Zak's gaze.
“We call her Tip,” she explained. “She's an old stray that took up with us a couple of days ago. I didn't realize she was in here. If you like I'll have Allison put her in the cat ward.”
“No, that's okay. She won't bother me, and Angus isn't like most dogs. He likes cats.” He didn't bother to tell her what Angus liked most about cats was chasing them up trees.
“Allison will stay with you and Angus. She's fully trained in monitoring the pets. I need to see a few more clients, then I'll be back.” She hesitated for a moment as though looking for something else to say. She placed a warm hand on Zak's shoulder and squeezed lightly. “I'll be back in just a few minutes,” she repeated, then left.
The cat continued to sit on top of the cage watching Allison hook the oxygen to the intake valve on the cage door. Zak stared at the cat as it stretched and yawned, apparently bored by the intrusion. It's not a very pretty cat, Zak thought, although he suspected it had once been. The cat's fur, despite being dirty, maintained a sheen, like a piece of expensive furniture with a thick coating of dust over the fine wood.
As the cat yawned a second time, Zak noticed several front teeth missing and at least one broken fang tooth. It's an old cat, probably a stray for most of its life, he thought, as he studied its gnarled ears and the many scars on its face. Probably came to the clinic to warm itself and get a couple free meals before setting out again. It was one of the things Zak liked most about cats, their independence. Unlike a dog who would take any amount of abuse from its master, a cat would disappear in a flash if mistreated, sometimes even when it received the best of care. If it got the urge to go, it was gone.
The cat began to lick one of its front paws, as though its personal hygiene was still an important matter despite its overall disheveled appearance. Zak's attention kept returning to the cat, even though he felt he should have all his attention on Angus. Allison adjusted the oxygen flow to the proper setting, then turned to Zak.
“I'm going to go find a couple of towels to place under Angus. When he wakes up, he may need to urinate from all the fluids he's getting. I'll be back in just a few minutes.”
Zak nodded, opened his mouth to say something wise or clever but then couldn't think of anything to say, so he just kept nodding. Oh great, I probably look like one of those dumb, bobble-head dolls you see in the back window of some cars. Say something…anything. But still nothing came to him. Now that the initial shock of the emergency had passed, his customary shyness had taken over again.
Still, he liked her positive outlook and wished he could share in it but, as he looked at Angus's still limp body, a cold chill ran down his back and he renewed his prayer with more vigor. Please, God, don't let my dog die.
Allison shut the door to the ward behind her, leaving Zak by himself except for the cat who continued cleaning itself. Zak wanted so much to reach into the cage and rub Angus's stiff coat, to somehow send him the healing power the poor dog needed so badly at the moment. But to do so would mean opening the cage door and letting the life-giving oxygen out, so he refrained. Instead he stuck his face against the glass to get as close to Angus as possible.
He stood there with his face pressed against the glass while the first tears pooled along his lower lids. “Please don't die on me, fella,” he whispered to the motionless dog. “You've been my best friend ever since I can remember. I don't know what I would do without you. Hang in there, Angus, and I'll get you a new bone-bin filled with those new chew treats I saw on television the other day. Promise.”
He heard the door open behind him and stepped to one side as Allison entered with a couple white towels in her hands. She checked the fluid drip and the oxygen, then opened the cage and gently placed one of the towels under Angus's body. She folded one of the others, and placed it under the dog's head. Zak took the opportunity to stroke the wiry fur for a moment. Allison waited patiently behind him. Zak felt a couple tears stream down his face. Oh great, now I'm going to start blubbering in front of a girl. He quickly wiped his eyes, hoping the technician hadn't noticed. Finally she whispered something about going to find the doctor. Zak stepped back so she could close the door.
He continued talking to Angus through the cage, ignoring the other tears as they dribbled down his cheeks. He figured he was losing about one teardrop for every ten drops of fluids Angus received through the I. V. As he watched the drip-drip of the I. V. he heard a new voice.
“He's going to die, isn't he?”
At first the voice was so soft and strange sounding in the empty room, Zak thought he had imagined it. Then he heard it again.
“He's going to die, isn't he?”
Zak looked in the direction from which the voice seemed to be coming. The black cat licked its whiskers and stared back.
Was he hearing voices? He'd read somewhere that people under a lot of stress occasionally heard voices or had visions. Could it be happening to him?
“My name isn't Tip,” the voice continued matter-of-factly. “It's Ra-Kit. That's spelled R, A, hyphen, K, I, T. So you won't confuse it with 'rocket' or 'racquet'.”
Zak stared at the black cat and noticed for the first time the tiny patches of white on each foot and the small six-pointed star of white fur on its chest. Someone is playing a very sick joke, Zak thought.
He straightened up and looked around but could find no wires or speaker. He glanced at the door which was still shut, then at the ceiling. No one was around and he couldn't find an intercom in the room.
“Yes, it's me.”
Zak jerked his gaze back to the cat, this time fast enough to see the cat's mouth moving in time to the voice. Perhaps he'd passed out; had been overwhelmed by his fear of losing Angus. At this very moment, he was probably lying on the cold linoleum of the clinic floor, Allison kneeling over him wondering what had happened to him. In a few seconds he'd come to and have an awful headache from where he'd cracked it on the floor as he fell.
“Oh, come now. Surely someone who believes in magic shouldn't be so shocked.”
There could be no mistaking it this time. The voice came from the mangy black cat sitting before him. He might be dreaming, but if so, it was the most vivid dream he'd ever had. Zak pinched the back of his hand, wincing at the sharp pain. Nope, not dreaming, he thought.
“Your friend is in bad shape. Looks like he's going to die.”
“He's not going to die!” Zak shouted at the cat who continued to sit, unaffected by Zak's sudden outburst.
“Well, I've been around for quite a few years and if there's one thing I've seen plenty of, it's dying animals, and this one certainly has all the symptoms.”
Zak glared at the smart-aleck cat. How dare it talk to him like that, like some know-it-all? Come to think of it, how dare he talk at all?
“You're Zak Bates, right?” The cat suddenly changed the subject.
Zak stared at Ra-Kit in amazement. How could this animal know his name? Not only is it talking, but it appears to be clairvoyant. Zak pinched himself again just to be sure he hadn't made a mistake the first time. He hadn't.
“I do wish you'd quit pinching yourself,” Ra-Kit said as she stood up and took a couple of steps closer to Zak. “You'll have a big bruised place and your mom will wonder how you got it. With my luck, she'll blame me.”
“She's not my mom; she's my stepmother,” Zak pointed out.
“Whatever. She still cares about you and no one wants a son who goes around inflicting bruises on himself. It's time you face reality. Point one. You have the great good fortune of being one of the few boys in history to talk to a magic cat. Point two, you have the misfortune of having your dog on the verge of dying from an automobile accident. That's right, isn't it? It was a black sports car, right?”
“How do you know all that?” Zak asked with a note of awe in his voice.
Ra-Kit hung her head for a moment and in a soft voice said, “I was on my way to stop it.”
“You were what?” Zak asked.
“I was supposed to have been at your house yesterday but I was unfortunately detained – unfortunately for Angus and you. I planned to save Angus from the accident and if I wasn't killed in the process, I was going to ask a favor of you in exchange. But I was detained by Kaos.”
“You could have saved Angus?” Zak asked. “What's this about chaos stopping you?”
“It's a long story; one I'm afraid I don't have time to go into right now,” Ra-Kit said. “I need you to do something for me if we're going to save your dog.”
Zak stared at the cat, unsure whether to believe what he heard. Everything was happening too fast. First the accident, then the trip over. Now, a talking cat who claimed to have known the accident was going to happen and somehow knew Angus's and his name. On top of all that, the cat now claimed to be able to save Angus's life.
“Come on, snap out of it,” Ra-Kit said with a note of impatience. “Your dog is going to die if we don't act quickly. I was too late to stop the accident; let's not be too late again. I'm a magic cat, the last one remaining, and I'm darn good at what I do. But I can't bring him back from the dead, so let's snap to.”
Zak nodded, at the same time trying to clear his muddled thoughts. If the cat thought it could save Angus, what did he have to lose? “What do you want me to do?” he asked.
“Open the door and lift me into the cage,” Ra-Kit instructed.
“But if I do that the oxygen will…”
“Darn the oxygen! Do what I tell you, boy, if you want your dog to see another day.” Ra-Kit's tail flicked with angry impatience. Zak jumped to do what he was told, wondering as he did so whether his actions would help Angus or speed his death.
He opened the cage door and lifted Ra-Kit into the cage, surprised at how light she was. Under her thick black coat was nothing but skin and bones. The cat strolled over to Angus and placed her gnarled left ear against his chest.
“Tch-tch, not good; not good at all.” She turned back to Zak.
“It's worse than I thought. We haven't much time to complete our negotiations. I can still save him but we must be quick about it.”
“What are you talking about? What negotiations?” Zak suddenly thought of running for Allison or Dr. George. Maybe they'd be able to help figure this whole mess out. But even as he thought it, he knew the cat would refuse to talk with them around. It had obviously waited until he was alone before saying anything.
“You remember I just told you I was coming to save Angus from the accident and had a favor to ask of you in return?”
“Well, I'm asking you to agree to the favor now. I'll save your dog – I can still do it – in exchange for granting me this one favor.”
“But what favor is it?” Zak asked, exasperated by Ra-Kit's vagueness. “What do you want me to do?”
“Ahhh, there's the catch. I'm not allowed to tell you until you agree to do it, no matter what.”
“This is ridiculous!” Now it was Zak's turn to snap. “You want me to agree to do something but you won't tell me what. And you won't save Angus unless I agree to it. Why, that's blackmail!”
“Call it what you like. It's the rules I must follow. Believe me, it's not easy being a magic cat. We have a lot of silly rules. They don't always seem to make sense but for the magic to work, they must be followed. It's like some of your silly laws. They don't seem to make sense, yet at the same time someone says they have to be there for society to work.” Ra-Kit glanced over to Angus and back to Zak.
“Meanwhile, as we sit here and debate the fairness or unfairness of the universe, Angus is on his way out of it. What will it be?”
“Can you really save him?” Zak asked, as a new set of tears streamed down his face.
“Okay, then do it,” Zak answered.
“And you'll perform the favor?”
Zak took a deep breath then let it out with a heavy sigh. How could he say no? If he did, Angus would surely die. He felt trapped, and more than a little angry at Ra-Kit for cornering him like this. “Yes, whatever it is, I'll do it. Just save my dog.”
Ra-Kit nodded again. “Okay, it's a deal. I must warn you, don't try to skittle out of this. A deal with a magic cat is sacred. Not fulfilling it would bring much bad luck on you and your entire family.”
Zak only nodded, his throat too tight to say anything further.
Ra-Kit, apparently satisfied that Zak's silence meant agreement, turned her attention to Angus. She sat down next to him in the small cage and reared back on her haunches. She passed her two front paws over Angus's body a few inches above his wiry coat. As she did so, Zak could see tiny sparks flick from her paws to Angus's body. At first nothing happened. Angus continued to lie motionless, but she continued the task, whispering a strange incantation in a language foreign to Zak's ears.
Finally, as Ra-Kit appeared to weaken from her efforts, Angus's body twitched as the blue energy coursed into his broken body. Each spark brought a stronger muscle spasm. Ra-Kit finally collapsed beside Angus, exhausted but not before Angus's breathing took on a renewed strength.
After a minute or so, Ra-Kit turned her head and looked at Zak through glazed eyes. “Put me back on the top of the cage before someone comes in. He'll be all right now.”
Zak did as he was told and, as he lifted her out of the cage, he felt certain she weighed even less than before.
“Will he be ok? Are you sure?”
Ra-Kit nodded, apparently too exhausted to speak at first. Finally, she lifted her head. “Go home and get some rest. You'll need it. We have much work ahead. Return tomorrow after school. You can visit with him then, and we'll start evening the score.”
Zak checked Angus's gums before shutting the cage door and was encouraged to see their pink color had returned. The door had only been shut for a few moments, when Dr. George and Calida returned.
“We can go home now,” Zak said to Calida. “He's going to be all right.”
Calida stared at her stepson, a stunned look on her face, then at Dr. George who opened the door and listened to Angus's heart. She took his temperature and checked his gum color also. When she straightened up, there was a smile on her face.
“I'd say your son is right. Angus's vital signs are much stronger. He's still comatose but his breathing is much more regular as is his heart rate. I'll continue to monitor him through the evening and call you if there's any change. Go on home and get some rest.”
Calida thanked her for her efforts, then placed her arm around Zak's shoulder. “Let's go call us a cab. We'll visit Angus tomorrow.”
Zak turned to leave. He stopped at the door and glanced back at the black cat lying on top of the cage. As he did so, she opened her eyes for a moment. Zak noticed for the first time they were a misty light green. Ra-Kit winked once then closed her eyes and fell back to sleep.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish