Since I was a kid, my favorite place to spend a quiet Saturday afternoon had always been forests, and today was no exception. The wind felt nice and cool against my skin, a gentle reminder that fall had just arrived. The leaves on the trees were beginning to get hints of brown, orange and yellow on their tips, and a faint spicy smell floated through the air. This was my favorite time of year.
The forest I found myself in wasn't my usual choice, a forty mile drive from the house I shared with a friend in Danville, Kentucky, the small college town I had lived in since starting school. A classmate in my creative writing workshop had recommended this forest as a place where she would come to get inspired, as there would hardly ever be any other person found there and it truly let one be alone with their thoughts. It was so obscure that it wasn't even marked on the map, and thus I didn't know the name, if it even had one. But she hadn't been lying. The gentle rolling hills complimented the varied colors of the trees, and the wildlife seemed to be more active here, not having to worry as much about human encroachment. Birds sang up in the branches, squirrels scampered about, I even thought I saw a fox dart through some of the undergrowth at one point. This was why I had chosen Centre over the other, bigger colleges I had been accepted to: getting away from the city really let my mind truly think creatively.
Pulling a small Moleskine notebook out of my pocket, along with my favorite pen (one that had cost a hundred fifty dollars but worked in any condition and had a feel like a figure skater gliding on the ice), I sat down on the ground, leaning against a tree trunk. I got to work on a historical short story I had started earlier that week, fleshing out the description of the Arabian-style village which was the setting. Within a few minutes of starting, though, I heard the sound of leaves crunching and sticks breaking coming from directly ahead of me. Something - or someone - was coming my way.
Looking up, I didn't see anything at first. After a moment, though, a figure emerged from the bushes and stumbled towards me, clearly injured. As it got closer, I realized it wasn't a human, but a young feline anthro. I guessed, due to the ruffs of fur under his black-tipped ears and the dark black spots on his light-grey fur, that he probably was a bobcat. I hadn't seen many anthros since moving to Danville, as they generally weren't welcomed by the more close-minded in small towns, and preferred to stay in bigger cities where they had more legal protection.
I could tell right away by looking at him that something was wrong. He was bare-chested, only wearing a tattered pair of stonewashed jeans, and his fur seemed very disheveled. I guessed that he was a few years younger than me, standing six or seven inches shorter and looking rather gaunt, his ribcage visible through his stomach. His paw clutched his left arm and he had a visible limp, dragging his right hind-paw behind him and wincing in pain. His breathing was becoming more belabored, and as he got closer to me, I heard him coughing, a loud, hacking cough that sounded like it was getting worse.
When he got within fifteen feet of me, I quickly jumped to my feet, unsure of whether or not I would need to defend myself in case he got aggressive. The bobcat turned his head, saw me, and stopped, his heavy wheezing the only thing breaking the silence of the still air. A frightened look filled his eyes, but he didn't have the strength to do anything other than stand there.
The two of us stared at each other for what seemed like hours, but in reality probably only lasted ten or twenty seconds, each of us waiting for the other to make his move. Finally, I worked up the courage to speak, saying, "Do you need any help?"
In retrospect, it was a stupid question; he wasn't going to survive on his own. Without answering, he coughed again, bringing his paw to cover his mouth as he did. When he brought it back down, I was horrified to see that it was now coated in blood.
"My God," I said, stunned. "What happened to you? Who did this?"
"Please.... Help...." the bobcat wheezed. With one final cough, blood now dripping down the white fur around his mouth, his eyes rolled back into his head, and he collapsed to the ground in a heap.
Instinctively, I rushed to his side, kneeling down and grabbing his paw. He still had a pulse and was breathing, but I wasn't sure how long he would remain that way. There was nothing I could do for him there; he had to have professional help, and as soon as possible.
Taking a deep breath, I stuck my arms underneath his torso and lifted him up, surprised by how light he felt. He must have been even more malnourished than he appeared. I could carry him, I was sure, but it was at least ten minutes' hike to my car, and thirty minutes back to town, even if I sped. I prayed that he could make it.
As I started walking back the way I came as fast as I could without dropping him, I felt a gentle tug at my shirt collar. Looking down, I saw the bobcat try to force a smile, his wet eyes glistening. "Thank you," he said weakly, "for trying to help."
"You're welcome," I said, smiling back uneasily. "It's the least I could do."
The bobcat took another deep breath. "No," he continued, "most would've left me for dead. There aren't many humans who are as nice as you."
"Like the ones who did this to you?" I asked.
He nodded slightly, turning his head away from me for a bit. I could tell he didn't want to talk about that, at least not right now. When the time was right, I thought to myself...
Changing the subject, I asked, "So what's your name?"
"Likax," he answered, "Likax Rufallo." he began sputtering up blood again; I could tell that even the simple act of speaking was putting a strain on his body. I began to speed up a little.
"Nice to meet you, Likax," I said. "I'm Carson Fischer. Listen, you should probably stay quiet and rest for a while. I'm taking you somewhere to get help." I tried to smile reassuringly, but in my head I was fretting, trying to figure out exactly where I should take him. The closest hospital was in Lexington, but that was over an hour away, and Likax might not survive the trip. There was a small medical clinic in Danville, but the nurses and doctors there might not be willing to treat an anthro, as neither town council nor state legislature had passed a law requiring them to do so. Maybe the best option would be to take him back home; my roommate was on the pre-med track, and he had volunteered in hospitals for years. Besides, I trusted him more than a random health worker.
As I got to my car and lay Likax, now whimpering in pain, across the back seat, I finally made up my mind on what to do. Getting in the driver's seat, I fired up the engine and pointed the vehicle towards home, hoping that my roommate hadn't decided to go out for the evening.
By the time I pulled into my house's driveway, Likax had fallen unconscious. Fearing the worst, I jumped out of the car as soon as I put it into park. I opened the back door and gently slid my arms underneath him, picking him up. As I cradled the young feline, I felt something stirring in my heart: a slight sense of affection for him, brought on by the situation and by how appreciative he had seemed to have been as I rescued him.
I walked to the door quickly, knowing I had to hurry. I could feel Likax breathing, so I knew he wasn't dead yet, but his body was getting colder. Thank God my roommate Javier's car was there in the driveway as well.
I headed up the front steps to the door, kicking it with my feet loudly. Within half a minute, the silhouette of Javier's face appeared at one of the translucent glass windows on either side of the door, and I heard the lock quickly sliding open, the door flung wide seconds later.
"Jesus, Carson!" Javier exclaimed, his voice higher pitched than usual and his eyes wide with shock. "What the hell happened?"
"I found him in the woods," I answered, stepping through the door. "He was limping and coughing up blood."
Javier followed me into the den, clearing pillows and magazines off of the couch. "And you brought him here?" He seemed to be getting a little hysterical. Javier was a good friend and a dependable roommate, but the mix of his Hispanic passion from his mom's side and his Brazilian flamboyance from his dad's made him a self-avowed fiery, intense Latino with a tendency towards drama. Even little things could drive him crazy-- yeah, I thought, little things, like bringing a dying anthro home.
I shot a sharp look at my roommate. "What should I have done, left him there to die?"
"Why didn't you take him to see a doctor?"
"You know the people here in Danville." I placed my hand on Likax's throat, checking for a pulse, then moved it down to his chest. "Unless they happen to work at Centre, most of them couldn't give two shits about anyone 'abnormal'. They'd let him die on their doorstep rather than help out one of 'his kind'."
"What about Lexington? Or Louisville?!" Javier was starting to hyperventilate. He definitely had more medical knowledge than anyone I had ever met and he was extraordinarily compassionate, but he had a hard time dealing with high-pressure situations. Not a great trait for a future doctor, I thought, but I knew he would improve with time and practice.
"Look at him, Javier!" I exclaimed as I furrowed my brow. "He's practically dead already. Do you really think he'd survive another thirty-minute drive?"
"I don't know what you expect me to do, though." Starting to sweat a little, Javier pushed me aside and knelt next to the couch, feeling Likax's chest and forehead. "I haven't studied anthro medicine much yet, and I've only dealt with a few while volunteering." He wiped his brow and turned to look at me, almost crying by this point. "You're asking me to perform a miracle."
I crouched down next to my roommate, placing my hand on his shoulder. "Listen, Javier. I'm not asking anything other than for you to do what you can. Besides, you know more about medicine than any of those quacks over at the medical clinic, and I'll help out with anything you ask." I paused for a moment, making sure he saw the trust in my eyes. "I believe in you, Javier."
He stared at me for a few moments, absorbing my faith in him. Finally, he took a deep breath and started to calm down. "Okay," he said. "Okay."
Turning back to Likax, he continued placing his fingers on various parts of the bobcat's body. "He's in shock. We might be dealing with a collapsed lung." After a few moments, he shook his head in frustration. "How can anyone perform an examination with all this fur everywhere? The only thing I know for sure right now is that he's still breathing and he has a pulse, though it's definitely lower than what it should be."
"What do you need?" I asked. Not only did I want to help my roommate deal with the situation, but for some reason, I also felt an intense desire to do whatever I could to save this bobcat. This young, cute bobcat.
Javier sighed, running his hands through his short black hair. "What I need is a surgery table, a surgical instruments… and a surgeon who knows what the hell he's doing." He turned towards me, a determined look beginning to form on his face. "Go get me my hospital bag from my room."
"Got it," I said, rising to my feet and heading towards the stairs.
"It's sitting on the shelf above my desk. And Carson!" he called out, and I turned my head back to look at him. "There's an AED underneath my bed too."
I scrunched up my nose. "An AED?"
"Automated External Defibrillator." Seeing my continued confusion, Javier explained, his voice filling with more and more urgency. "The thing that gets someone's heart beating again if it stops. I got it as a graduation gift from an uncle with a weird sense of humor. It's about the size of a briefcase, black and yellow and made of plastic. Bring it too… just in case."
Gulping as I nodded, I ran up the stairs and threw open the first door on the right. Javier's room was the polar opposite of my own, everything clean and organized, the shelves labeled and the closet neatly divided by clothing type and season. Three large filing cabinets stood next to the desk, holding every school assignment Javier had done since kindergarten. His walls had none of the band or movie posters that wallpapered my room, only his high school diploma on one side and a framed picture of his family on the other.
Looking over at Javier's desk, I saw that the black medical backpack was right where it was supposed to be, directly above it on a shelf marked "Hospital Bag". I grabbed it and slung it across my shoulder, then knelt down to look for the defibrillator kit. Javier kept the space beneath his bed even more organized than the rest of his room, full of long plastic containers with labels like "Old Medical Journals" and "Med School Brochures". The black and yellow briefcase was there, just like Javier said, sandwiched between a container and the wall.
As I tried to free it, I heard Javier's voice cry out from downstairs, "Carson!! Hurry!" With the AED in my hands, I ran out of the bedroom and almost threw myself down the stairs, hoping I hadn't taken too long, that there was still time to save my new furry friend.
I ran into the den, Javier nearly colliding with me. "The Defibrillator!" he yelled, the panic having returned to his eyes. I handed it over, and he bolted back to Likax's side, flipping it open before he got there. Though alarmed, Javier seemed to have a sense of determination guiding him now.
"What happened?" I asked as I ran behind the couch, looking down on Likax's body below as Javier attached the pads to his chest. The bobcat seemed so frail and helpless, and now didn't seem to be breathing.
"A minute after you went upstairs, his pulse stopped," Javier quickly explained as he looked at the prompt on the AED. "He's in cardiac arrest. Watch out!"
He pressed a button on the kit. A small zapping sound emitted from the pads, and the bobcat's body convulsed with the electric shock, but otherwise didn't respond. Javier looked back at the kit, his face full of concern. As he pressed the button again, I winced as Likax's chest popped up again, then fell back down, still lifeless.
"Dammit!" Javier leaned over the bobcat, starting to perform CPR. Bringing his hands together right below Likax's chest, Javier pressed down hard, repeating the motion several times in a rhythmic pattern. He then brought their faces together, and as he began to do mouth-to-mouth, he had a hint uncomfortableness in his eyes. I had seen Javier kiss and make out with countless guys, but I doubted he had ever touched lips with an anthro before. In another situation, I would have been a little jealous, but things were too grim for that now.
After a few repetitions of this, Javier moved back to the AED, seeing if there had been any change. He pressed the button one more time, sending another shock through Likax's body, but when the bobcat didn't respond, he finally gave up. His head sunk down low, and I could make out a tear or two streaming down his cheek. My own eyes were getting misty, as I sat down on the floor next to him.
"I'm sorry..." he sobbed softly, his voice cracking. I didn't expect or desire Javier to take this so hard. He'd been around death before, both at the hospitals he'd volunteered at and with his father's family down in Brazil. I hoped he wasn't blaming himself for what had happened.
Placing my arm around him, I leaned against his shoulder and hugged him tight. My heart was tearing itself up inside, but my friend needed me now. There'd be time for grieving later. "You did the best you could, Javier," I said in a feeble attempt to console him.
He turned and looked at me, his normally-bronzed cheeks flushed with red. Wiping his eyes and sniffing, he attempted to control himself. "What was his name, Carson?"
"Likax," I answered. "Likax Rufallo."
He slowly nodded. "That's a nice name. I -- I wish I could've known him more."
The two of us sat there in the den, holding and comforting each other while I tried to figure out what to do next. If only today had gone a little differently, I wondered if I might have been able to save the poor young feline.
But I didn't have time to wonder for long, as my thoughts were interrupted by a sound that startled me. I looked up, trying to see the source of the sudden noise. What I saw shocked me beyond belief.