Normally, when Patty McGillis woke up in the morning, her cat was one of two places: sitting on her pillow meowing in her face, or, if he'd refused to come in the night before, sitting on the back step meowing at the door. Today he was not on her pillow, so she stepped outside, expecting to hear his insistent cries.
And sure enough, there he was, lying at her feet in the early summer sunshine. "Good morning, Snuffy," she said, squatting down to pet him. "All tired out?"
As soon as she touched him, she knew something was wrong. He didn't respond at all, didn't stretch out and flex his claws, didn't flop over for a belly rub. His calico fur was soft as ever, but the lithe little body beneath it was unmoving. "Snuffkin?"
She laid her hand on his body and shook him just a tiny bit, then retracted her hand, tears already coming to her eyes. She sat watching him for a good minute, but his sides failed to rise and fall, his fur didn't expand and contract, and his eyes, she saw, were half-open and utterly unmoving. Snuffkin was clearly, unalterably dead.
Gingerly, she reached out and took the cat in her arms. A sob shook her, at this completely unexpected hurt in what was already a difficult year. Snuffkin wasn't even old! He was just six years old, full of life... too much life, sometimes, like how he'd offer his belly and then decide to scratch the shit out of you, or how he was always staying out at night, fighting with the other cats in the neighborhood, like that wild tom they called Lion who seemed to live in the empty lot down the street... It wasn't fair! It wasn't his time!
She stroked his fur, her cheeks wet, sobbing. But how had he died? She always expected, if this happened, that Snuff would just disappear, hit by a car, or carried away by a fox. Instead, here he was. He hadn't been sick.
As she petted him this last time, she examined his little body, looking for a sign. He could have been hit by a car, and come back here and died of internal injuries. That was the most likely answer, though her fingers came up with nothing in particular.
Then she spied them, on the left side of his neck: two dots of dried blood in the patch of white fur there. She peered closer through her tears, spreading the fur away from the injury, saw the two small puncture wounds in his skin.
"Motherfucker!" she cried, with venom. A vampire had killed her cat.
"It's one of these crazies I've been writing about," she told the officer taking her statement, a big, pink-faced, blond man named Askew, which was how Patty felt today. Also hurt, enraged, and a little afraid. "These cultists, the Sons of Judas."
They were standing in her back yard, over Snuffkin's body. The other officer, a woman, stayed in the patrol car, apparently deeming this not worth her time. "Why do you say that?" Askew asked.
"Because a vampire obviously did this. He drained poor Snuffkin and set his body here on the step."
"Do you have video of this, or..."
"No, I don't have video. What I have is an inbox full of threats."
She'd finally gotten his interest. "Can you show me?"
Sitting at her desk, the same place she'd written most of her stories, she showed him the three or four threatening emails she'd received. They were all from nonsense addresses, of course, but three were signed "True Son," and all made vague if increasingly violent threats against her person. "We know where you live," one read, "and you know we're invisible at night."
"See?" she said.
"Yeah, these guys aren't happy," said Askew. "But you know they can't actually turn invisible, right?"
"Of course I know," she snapped. "I just finished writing a three-part expose on the Sons of Judas. I'm well aware of what they are and what they can do."
Askew gave her a troubled, disapproving look. "They're not all like this, you know. My nephew's got vampirism. It's not his fault. He takes his pills, works the graveyard shift, stays inside during the day. He's a good kid."
Vampires, it turned out, had always been with humanity. It was a unique virus, transmittable only through bodily fluids. After a brief period of coma-like sleep, those afflicted developed a powerful desire to drink blood, were sensitive to light, and grew the famous fangs. For millennia they had either hidden themselves out of fear for their own survival, or simply died shortly after contracting the virus.
These days, there were medications they could take to control the bloodlust, if not the other symptoms. Nearly all had the fangs filed down or removed. A very few, however, took their condition as a special mark, a sign of divine favor, and claimed all sorts of supernatural powers.
Among these organizations were the Sons of Judas, who had a thriving little club here in Denver. As a reporter for the Denver Post, Patty had spent months learning about their organization, and her final expose had run just this last Sunday.
Now the Sons were receiving renewed scrutiny, and they were clearly pissed. There was no other reason to kill her cat but to threaten her; you couldn't transmit the virus between species.
Back outside, Askew's partner used a couple cotton swabs to take samples from Snuff's wounds. "We'll run the DNA, see if we can get a match," she said.
"Until then, you might want to set up a security camera or two around your place," Askew added. "Maybe also get some bars on the lower windows."
Patty crossed her arms, shivering. "Can't you guys, like, stand watch tonight or something?"
Askew raised an eyebrow. "We could have someone drive by a couple times, if you want. Beyond that, I'm afraid you'd have to contact a private security contractor. Until there's a more serious crime, that's all we can do."
"So after they kill me, then you'll really investigate."
The officer sighed. "There's not much else we can do, at this point." He jerked his head and the two officers began walking to the back gate. "Sorry again about your cat."
That evening she dug a hole beneath the catalpa in the back yard and buried Snuffkin there in an Adidas shoebox. She held it together while she was digging, but when she tried to speak she lost it. "Snuffkin, you were a good cat. You were always so full of life, you taught me how to live better myself." She patted down the last shovelful under pink skies and went back inside to wash up.
She slept restlessly, waking up again and again, thinking she heard a cat outside meowing. Then, somewhere around three or four a.m., she woke from a doze with a jolt, certain she really had heard a cat.
She hurried downstairs in a bathrobe, heart beating fast. She left the lights off, though. What if it was actually the guy who had killed Snuff, returning for her? Moving silently, she advanced to the window in the back study, and lifted the curtain to look outside.
The moon was high and nearly full. She stared and stared, and sure enough saw a cat hopping up the steps. It's a ghost, she thought wildly. It's Snuff's ghost.
Quickly she stepped to the back door and jerked it open. With her movement the back light turned on, and the creature there ran off a few yards. But it was tawny, not calico, and it was larger than Snuff, with matted fur.
It was Lion, the wild tom from the empty lot. And he had left her a present. She knelt down and looked at it.
It was a rat, and thoroughly dead. Turning her head, she could see two little puncture marks on its neck where the blood had been sucked out.
The Sons of Judas hadn't killed her cat, she realized. It was just Lion, fighting with Snuff they way they always had. But this time Lion had changed. The virus, she realized, had mutated. It had jumped species.
Mind aswirl, she closed the door and went back upstairs to bed. One way or another, she had another story to investigate.
In the early dawn she woke suddenly, eyes wide with realization. "Oh God," she cried, as she threw on her robe again. What if she was too late?
She shoveled in her house slippers, getting them filthy. She hoped her neighbors didn't see her. They'd think she was crazy. When she thought she was close to the box, she got down on her knees to clear away the last of the soil.
When she heard the first meows, she began crying again. Snuff wasn't dead, of course, not really. He'd just been sleeping, in the pre-vampiric coma.
She opened the lid and Snuff exploded out of the box like a rocket, tearing halfway across the yard before stopping to lick himself. "Snuffkin!" Patty cried with joy, extending her arms to him.
But Snuffkin only hissed at her, and from where she sat she could see the exaggerated fangs. She retracted her arms, and Snuffkin turned and climbed over the fence and was gone.
Oh well, she thought. Snuff always had been a bit of a handful.