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It was not a dark and stormy night. Indeed, there was nothing in the elements to foreshadow the events that lay ahead.
Chester, Howie and I were gathered on the front porch for a bit of post-dinner snoozing. I was stretched out on my back, my paws dangling at my sides, thinking of nothing more than the meal I'd just eaten and the chocolate treat I hoped might still lie ahead. After all, it was Friday night, the one night of the week Toby was allowed to stay up to read as late as he wanted. And that meant snacks. Snacks to be shared with his old pal, Harold. That's me.
Chester, curled up on an open comic book nearby, purred contentedly. Only Howie, who was growling as he chewed vigorously on a rawhide bone, seemed unable to relax. But all that highstrung energy was natural, I suppose, considering he was still just a puppy.
"Boy, this is the life, huh, Uncle Harold?" Howie asked between growls.
"Mmph," I replied with as much vigor as I could muster. Which wasn't much. After all, I wasn't a Puppy anymore and had used up most of my energy long ago. I listened to the sound of children playing down the block somewhere.
"There's nothing like hanging out on the porch after a good meal," Howie went on enthusiastically. He lifted his quivering nostrils to the air and sniffed rapidly.
"Ahhh! Smell that night air. Mmm, what's that? Somebody's having a ... a what'd ya call it? What is it when they cook outside, Pop?"
Chester raised an eyelid. "A barbecue," he said with a yawn.
"Oh, yeah. Gee, I have so much to learn. But you and Uncle Harold have taught me a lotalready." He gazed admiringly at Chester. "Thanks, Pop," he said.
Chester raised his other eyelid and shook his head. He turned his gaze from Howie to me.
"Why does the kid insist on calling me 'Pop'?" he asked. "I'm not his father. I'm not even a dog. If anyone around here should be his 'pop,' it should be you, Harold. Dogs of a feather should stick together and all that."
Howie chuckled. "That's a good one, Pop. 'Dogs of a feather. . . ' I'll have to remember that one.
I didn't even attempt to answer Chester's question. After all, Chester, who doesn't hold dogs in particularly high regard, did seem an odd choice of a father figure for a young pup. But Howie, who had recently come to live with us, had formed his attachment right away, and there was no breaking him of it now.
"Too bad the rabbit can't come out here, too," Howie went on with a nod toward the living room. "It's not fair, his having to be cooped up inside that cage all the time."
"I'm afraid that's a rabbit's fate," I said. "At least for a domesticated one. Though I must agree with you, Howie; I feel sorry for Bunnicula, too.
"Save your sympathy," Chester muttered. "Bunnicula is no ordinary rabbit. If he ever got out ... and let's not forget that once upon a time he did, Harold ... he'd only stir up trouble."
"Are you still convinced -- " I started to say, but stopped myself, not wanting to alarm young Howie with Chester's theories of Bunnicula's true identity.
Chester looked mildly surprised. "Of course, I am," he replied. "Can there be any doubt? You saw the evidence yourself, Harold."
Howie looked back and forth from Chester to me. "What are you two talking about?" he asked.
"Oh, nothing. Nothing." I thought of the cuddly little bunny-rabbit who'd become my friend, of the hours we'd spent snuggling in front of crackling fires on cold winter nights, of the time I'd saved him from Chester's attempt to starve him to death.
"That rabbit is a vampire," Chester said matter-of-factly.
Howie's head jerked up. The rawhide bone tumbled down the front steps. "What? A vampire?" He gasped. Then, after a moment's reflection, he asked, "What's a vampire?"
I felt obliged to step in and save Howie from the seamier facts of life.
"A vampire," I explained, "is the person who calls the rules during a baseball game."
"Don't confuse the kid," Chester said, bathing a paw. "And don't be such a Pollyanna." Turning to Howie, he said, "A vampire is a creature, once dead, who sucks the blood out of other living beings in order to live."
Howie's eyes widened in amazement.
"Wh ... wh ... what?" he stammered.
"So far, our friend Bunnicula hasn't attacked people," Chester went on calmly, "or cats or dogs for that matter. But he has drained the juices out of vegetables, turning them ghostly white. He came to live with us when our family. . . "
"One night the Monroes went to the movies," I said, picking up the story, "and found Bunnicula lying in a dirt-filled box on one of the seats."
"Don't forget which movie," Chester interjected.
"Dracula," , I conceded, "but that doesn't mean
"Nonsense. In this case, everything means something. Don't you think it's significant that shortly after Bunnicula's arrival the vegetables in the kitchen started turning white? And wasn't it strange that they did so during the night, the only time Bunnicula wasn't asleep? Wasn'tit stranger still that he could get out of his cage by his own powers? Without even undoing the lock? And what about those marks found in the drained vegetables? Two tiny holes that matched up perfectly with the rabbit's oddly-spaced teeth or should I say, fangs?"
"I know, I know," I said impatiently. "We've been through all this before. But I'm still not convinced -- "
"Nothing will ever convince you, Harold. I wouldn't be surprised if that bunny's got you in his powers. Listen, Howie...