Sometimes phobias are a good thing.
| Daniel Williams was looking forward to tonight. It would be the first time that he visited Sierra at home. She had invited him to have supper with her at her house. He had been dating Sierra Ferguson for about a month. She was sweet, and pretty without being 'fru fru', as his mother always called it. This suited him. He remembered the overly made-up girls in high school. He hated having to wash the makeup off after a date. He much preferred Sierra’s natural beauty. He also liked her kind ways. She had a quiet, kind vibe about her that eased his anxiety-ridden soul.
Sierra was looking forward to it too. Daniel was a hardworking man, strong and handsome. She was glad to finally meet a man who had some morals. She was tired of being groped without her permission. Daniel had treated her with respect.
The only thing that Daniel was worried about was Sierra’s cat, Cheri. He had suffered from an intense fear of cats since he was very little. He hadn’t told Sierra about his fear. It made him feel ashamed. She had mentioned the cat on other dates, while they were getting to know each other. Sierra talked about the cat like it was her best friend. He planned to be brave and try to hide his fear.
As it got closer to the time to go, Daniel was getting more and more nervous. He was nervous about going to her house for the first time, and he just couldn’t get the cat out of his mind. As he walked up the path to the door, he began to tremble. His breath came in gasps. It was a struggle to get one foot in front of the other. In the living room, Cheri, Sierra’s pretty little calico, relaxed on her favorite perch on top of her cat tree.
As Daniel neared the door, she raised her head and licked her chops in anticipation. She knew that she would soon be able to feed. She could smell the fear. She instinctively knew that it would take some time to overcome Daniel's strong sense of self-preservation. She was patient. A few million years of evolution had well prepared this sweet little animal to get the human chi that she needed to live. Cheri's subspecies, Felis catus vampirus, had evolved alongside, but separate from, the common domesticated cat, Felis catus domesticus. Outwardly the two species are indistinguishable from each other. That is what allowed the species to thrive.
Cheri had chosen Sierra for her personal human a few years ago. She showed up on Sierra’s back porch. Her highly developed senses allowed her to find the kind, loving person who would serve her needs.
It was time to feed. She could only take small amounts of chi from Sierra, enough to keep her in line, but still able to provide Cheri with the love, companionship and help that she needed. It was past time for a full feeding.
Daniel got to the door and stood there trying to gather the nerve to knock. Sierra got tired of waiting and opened the door. “Come on in, she said with a shy smile. He walked in, and took a long look around the room, trying to see the cat before she could sneak up on him.
“How are you? He asked. It’s good to see you”.
“It’s good to see you too! Come on and sit down. Supper's almost ready.”
“That’s good”, he said. “I’ve been looking forward to it. Everybody says that you are a good cook.” He tried and failed to keep the tremors out of his voice.
Sierra noticed, and looked closer at him. She could see his hands shaking. "Surely I’m not bothering his nerves that bad," she thought. “We’ve been dating for a month”. His eyes kept scanning for the cat, finally spotting her on top of her tree, watching him. Her eyes on him made him even more nervous.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“I’m okay,” he said, even though it was obvious that he was not. Cheri, still on top of her tree, decided that it was time to introduce herself. She licked her hide a couple of times, stretched a mile, and stood up. Daniel gasped. Cheri leaped to the floor and sauntered slowly toward Daniel. He was determined to keep his cool no matter what. He tried to slow his breathing. “Meh”, she said, as she approached slowly.
“Pretty cat”, Daniel said with a shaky voice.
“What’s wrong?”, Sierra asked.
Cheri said “Maar” softly and sniffed Daniel's foot. That was all he could take. He ran from the house and down the street, leaving Sierra staring after him in shock. Daniel was obviously scared to death of her little cat.
Sierra knew that she would have to talk to Daniel and find out what was going on with him. She had a pretty good idea of where she could find him. She got a rideshare to Mountain Brews, his favorite taproom at the local microbrewery. She knew that he liked to go there to relax. He definitely needed to relax today. She walked up to the bar where he usually sat. He was nowhere in sight. “Have you seen Daniel?”, she asked Jake, the bartender.
“He’s back there”. He pointed to the booth in the very back corner. “What’s with him today?”, he asked. “I’ve never seen him like this. He's white as a sheet. He never breaks his two-beer limit. He's on his fourth one today”.
Not wanting to embarrass him, Sierra said “He had a bit of a shock. He'll tell you about it if he wants to”.
Sierra ordered a Scottish ale and walked up to his booth. She could see spilled beer on the table, as he took another shaky sip, sloshing the stout beer. “Mind if I sit down?”, she asked.
“Go ahead”, he said. “I have to face you sooner or later. Might as well get it over with. I guess you’re going to break up with me”.
“No. I just didn’t know that you are afraid of cats”. She stroked his cheek with a comforting hand.
“I guess I owe you an explanation”. Daniel searched for the words. He didn’t want to talk about such a personal thing. “My whole family is afraid of cats. My twin brother died when he was six. The cat was laying on his chest. My mother always told me about my uncle, who died from unknown causes. There was a cat in the room. People in my family have always told stories about how cats are evil and steal people’s breath”. This archetypal belief served to protect people from predatory cats.
“I always heard that this belief comes from cats smelling milk on babies’ lips. They don’t really steal breath”, Sierra said.
“I’ve heard that. It doesn’t change how I feel”. He looked down, ashamed of his fear. Neither of them knew that a cat had influenced his human to write this bit of misinformation in 1783, a time when the Enlightenment ideal of reason provided fertile soil for it to grow and spread.
“Cheri is a very sweet little cat. Why don’t you come back to the house and try again? She won’t hurt you." Daniel didn’t want to go, but he felt that he owed Sierra that much. He ordered the strongest beer on the menu to fortify his nerves. When he finished it, they left.
They arrived back at Sierra’s place. Cheri was waiting patiently. She instinctively knew that she had to ease Daniel’s fears. She approached him again, purring her hypnotic purr. “I guess she isn’t so bad”, he said as he reached out a fearful hand and petted her head. She rubbed her calming pheromones on his fingers with the side of her face. Before he knew what was happening, she was on his lap, getting petted. She had successfully hooked another phobic person. From then on, Daniel was a cat lover.
Six months later, Daniel had moved in with Sierra and Cheri. They were planning their wedding. Daniel was worn out after a meeting with the wedding planner. He fell asleep on the couch. Supper was almost done. Sierra went in to wake him up. “How cute!” she thought. He was laying on his back with Cheri on his chest. She hated to bother them, but it was time to eat.
“Daniel”, she called. He didn’t move. Cheri jumped down. Sierra shook his shoulder. He didn’t move. “Daniel!”, She said, louder. Fear shot through her. She touched his face. He felt cold. Sierra called 911. The paramedics tried CPR, but it was too late. The ambulance took him away.
The coroner first thought that Daniel had overdosed, but he only had a trace of diazepam in his system. There was no obvious cause of death. The coroner put it down as an acute respiratory failure, even though he knew that this did not explain why he died.
Sierra was devastated. All she could do was cry. Her friends and Cheri did their best to console her. Her friends said the usual useless words that people say to the grief-stricken. “He’s in a better place”. She just wanted to be left alone with her cat. Cheri was the only one who could help her.
Sierra forced herself to go to Daniel’s funeral. She could see his family staring maliciously at her. As she approached his casket, his mother blocked her way. She said in a harsh whisper, “What the hell are you doing here? You let that devil cat kill my son”.
Sierra fled from the church crying. She thought in disbelief, “These people are completely insane!” They really believe that Cheri killed Daniel!”. She went back home to the comfort of her loyal pet.
Sierra poured herself a double Scotch and sat down on the couch. Cheri knew what she must do. She rubbed Sierra’s leg for a minute and jumped into her lap. She purred her comforting, hypnotic purr, and curled herself into a ball. Sierra began to feel just a little better. She petted Cheri and cried herself to sleep.
Cheri relaxed on Sierra’s lap. She could afford to be patient. She knew something that Sierra didn’t yet know. She allowed herself to dream. Newborns have the sweetest chi of all.