Los gatos were missing this Tuesday. The bus didn’t pick me up this Tuesday. I’ve seen no moving cars this Tuesday. I’ve seen no person this Tuesday.
Los gatos are the men who hide in the bushes. Los gatos is the name I gave them. But only I know that name and now you. Los gatos hide from the sun, not from predators. Los gatos I see every day because I ride my bike past them. They are sometimes more like cats than cats. I know cats. I grew up with cats. Cats kept my abuela from being lonely. She’s dead now, so the cats are lonely.
Los gatos are not scary men doing scary things in the shadows. Los gatos are working men like my father. Working in places other than offices. Yards. Warehouses. Construction sites. They have no break rooms with shade and air conditioning. The sun is always staring at them in Los Angeles.
The sun is staring at me now. I’m outside the front door of the shipping and logistics company where I move freight around. The door’s locked. I look through the tinted glass door. I can’t see Ashanti. I can usually see Ashanti chewing on her pencil at the front desk. I can still see her mug that says, “Ssshhh…There’s wine in here.”
I’m very sweaty because I had to ride my bike from Boyle Heights to Baldwin Hills, because the bus never showed up. I didn’t want to be late for work. I’m really late for work. I call my boss on his cell phone. My heart’s going really fast because he told me to only call his cell phone if it’s an emergency. I leave him a voicemail that it’s an emergency.
I bike home to take care of another emergency. Home is where I can use the bathroom. I feel funny peeing in bushes. I don’t want to pee where los gatos take their breaks. After I pee a long pee in the bathroom, I see my mom and dad’s car in the driveway and I see their door is closed. They’re usually at work at this hour. I leave for work in the morning before they wake up.
I enter their bedroom and they’re still sleeping but they’re not making a sound. My dad makes sounds because he snores. But not today. I shake my dad to wake up. I shake my mom. They don’t wake up.
“MOM!!! DAD!!!” I say.
They don’t wake up. I feel their wrists and I feel a pulse. I call 9-1-1 but no one answers. I start calling everyone in my phone but no one answers. I start shouting and crying but my mom and dad don’t wake up. The cats are all coming into the bedroom now. Someone once told me six cats were too many for our house. That someone hated cats.
Our six cats arrange themselves in two neat rows lining the doorway. It’s like they’re waiting for red carpet to roll out between them. They lie down and a shadow stretches from the doorway to my feet. My tears are dry now so I can see. I can see a cat the size of my father. Large green eyes. And fiery fur. The Cat of All Cats stops in the middle of our six cats. I can see our cats are not just lying down; they are submitting to it.
“I wish everyone would leave me alone so I can draw.” I hear my voice in my head. I don’t understand why.
“You said that yesterday,” a different voice says in my mind. A woman’s voice. And I believe it’s the Cat of All Cats.
“Sí, es mi voz. You said that yesterday when you were feeding a bug to your abuela’s favorite cat. You were tired of working in the warehouse and tired of helping your parents around the house. All you wanted to do was work on your graphic novel. So I made your wish come true, because what your abuela never told you was that her favorite cat is my acolyte. And when you give my acolyte a sacrifice—even a little bug—it’s a big deal because you’re calling upon me to answer your desire.”
I see the Cat of All Cats watching me, waiting for me to say something. I wonder if it will eat me while it’s clawing me or eat me after it kills me. I see my parents are not moving. I see Los Angeles outside is not moving. I begin to feel sick. I begin to feel like crying again.
“You understand now. Yes. Nobody woke up today because of you. You got your wish so you can draw more of your graphic novel.”
“I don’t want to draw right now. I want everyone to wake up.”
The Cat of All Cats licks her paw and looks at it a moment, and then looks at me and sends another message to my mind, “Sure. But it’s going to take a bigger sacrifice to wake up the whole world.”
“Did you think only Los Angeles was affected by your spell?”
I wonder if the cat is lying but don’t know if cats can lie. “What do we do?” I ask.
“You mean, ‘What do you do?’ Easy. Kill a man for me. His name is Galen Gorry.”
I think I must be dreaming. I think I must wake myself up, so everyone else will wake up too. I feel myself grimacing as I walk past the Cat of All Cats. I imagine a flash of lightning if it swipes at me. I imagine my stomach gushing open. But the gigantic green eyes just track me when I walk past it.
I jump into bed so I can fall asleep in this dream and then wake up in the real world. I close my eyes. I get comfortable. I stay like this but I cannot fall asleep. And I cannot be alone. I open my eyes and the Cat of All Cats is standing over me. I feel uncomfortable being watched by a five-foot cat so I turn away and look at the wall where I’ve pinned all the pages of my graphic novel.
“You wouldn’t have to do anything at all. Put a pillow over his face. Maybe drown him in a bathtub. He’s not going to struggle. He’s in a coma like everyone,” the Cat of All Cats says in my mind. “He’s a dangerous man—Galen Gorry. Believe me. You don’t want to meet him when you’re awake.”
“I—I don’t want to kill anyone.”
“You killed a bug for me.”
Our cats climb into my bed. I look at my abuela’s favorite cat. I see it represents something bigger than itself. I look at the wall of my art and storytelling. I see it represents something bigger than itself. I start to understand how this works, this magic the Cat of All Cats is talking about. I do have to make a bigger sacrifice than the first one.
So the world can wake up.
So I can have a world again.
I take my graphic novel pages off the bedroom wall.
“Stop!” the Cat of All Cats says. “Put those back.”
In the kitchen, I turn on the four burners of the gas stove and I drop my graphic novel on the blue crowns of fire.
“You’ll lose your greatest work!” the Cat of All Cats cries.
Pages curl. Flames chew through them, bite on edges, turn my story and artwork into black memories. I open the window. A breeze comes in. The Cat of All Cats disappears as gradually as the smoke does.
Los gatos are back in the bushes on their 10-minute breaks. I am back in the warehouse moving freight around. My mom and dad are back on their feet and working again. My graphic novel is not back. It is still ashes. I am in bed now, remembering the next page I was going to create.
Someone calls but I don’t know the number glowing on my phone. I don’t answer. A few minutes later, my phone chimes with a voicemail. I play it. It’s a man’s voice:
“Everyone lost a day but no one knows why they were in comas. But I know. And I know what you did to help us. It was brave and you spared my life. Not everyone would have done that, and that’s because you’re not just anyone. Do you think an Egyptian cat goddess visits everyone in east L.A.? Yeah, your graphic novel’s gone, but your imagination isn’t. If you’re curious, I can help you use it to create things that no fire can destroy. It’s true I’m dangerous. Bastet wasn’t lying about that. But I’m not dangerous to you. And as for her, I doubt you’ll be seeing her again unless you want to. This number I’m calling from is a pay phone. I’ll call you from my phone after you start sharing your artwork online. It’s too good to simply pin on your bedroom wall. Then we’ll take it from there. Goodbye.”
My abuela’s favorite cat jumps onto my bed when the voicemail finishes. She’s purring. I pick her up and put her outside my room.
I have work to do now. I turn on the scanner and begin digitizing my drawings.
— C.Z. from Boyle Heights
Art and magic are no different. But we are.
We’re from another world.