My cat Zelda is acting strangely, pacing and meowing as if she’s in distress. Now, she talks to me. “You need to find Killer,” she says. Killer — our neighbor’s cat? “Hurry!” Zelda urges. Now, Scout, my Beagle, barks. I dash outside but don’t see Killer anywhere. Zelda runs over to our seldom-used side yard and paws at a pile of autumn leaves. I dig through the leaves and find Killer, worried for a moment when he doesn’t move. I scoop him up. He’s all right! I’ve gotten to him in time, but I wouldn’t have without Zelda’s help.

What a funny dream, I thought nervously on waking. In real life, my cat Zelda couldn’t stand Killer, the big, gray-striped tomcat who lived next door, so named because his owners hoped he would be a good mouser. Killer loved to hang out in our yard and would spend hours lazing on our redwood deck in the sun, much to Zelda’s dismay.

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Killer tolerated Zelda’s daily hiss. He’d roll over contentedly, ignoring her unless she came too close. I didn’t blame Zelda. She was there first. Scout was the buffer between them.

The dream didn’t ring true. It hardly seemed likely that Zelda would worry about Killer’s wellbeing, but I felt a twinge of alarm regardless and made a mental note to check on Killer before I left the house for the day.

As I gathered up my keys and stashed my laptop in my briefcase, I heard Zelda meowing somewhere in the house. That was odd. Zelda rarely meowed. Impatient to get going, I walked outside and scanned the empty yard for Killer, shivering a little in the crisp air. At first, I didn’t see him, but then I spotted him, lying on the bottom stair of the deck beside a pot of yellow petunias, just where the early morning sun was shining. Relieved, I walked back indoors, closed the sliding glass door firmly behind me, and called to my pets to be sure they were both inside before I left. Immediately, Scout came scampering, but now I couldn’t find Zelda. Oh, no! Had she darted outside while I was looking for Killer? I didn’t want her to be out all day, especially alone with Killer.

“Zelda!” I called. “Where are you, kitty? Come here, Zelda.” I checked all her usual places — behind the family-room couch, under my office desk, on top of the living-room chair. No Zelda. Where was that darn cat? If I didn’t get going, I’d miss my morning meeting. “Scout,” I called, remembering now that Scout had barked in my dream when I was looking for Killer. “Where’s Zelda? Show me where Zelda is.”

Scout bolted down the hall to the door of our guest bathroom and barked. For the first time, I noticed the door was slightly ajar. We rarely used this bathroom, and Zelda never went in there. I pushed the door open carefully. An eerie light greeted me. I opened the door wide, astonished to see Zelda perched on the edge of the sink, her image reflected in the mirror like a glowing, silvery ghost. Beside her flickered a wax candle my husband had lit that morning and forgotten to blow out before he left. In the wee hours, unbeknownst to me, our power had gone out briefly. The candle was nestled among a decorative wreath of fall leaves and had burned nearly all the way down.

If I’d left the house as planned that morning and not returned until evening, the leaves would surely have caught fire. Shaken, I blew out the candle and scooped Zelda up in my arms, nuzzling her warm, gray fur. I was stunned as I thought of what might have happened and remembered her strange meowing, both in my dream and later in the house.

My dream had been a warning — just not the one I thought it was when I awoke. This “Killer” was hidden in my home, a candle burning unattended among dry, autumn leaves. If not for Zelda and Scout, I might never have known. My sweet cat had not only kept a fire from burning down my house that morning, but she may have saved her own life.

I have always had a healthy respect for the messages that come to us in dreams, but rarely has one been so urgent and literal. As for Killer the cat, he never left his perch in the sun that morning, but Zelda had her favorite dinner of fresh prawns that night and even got to be queen of our the deck the next day when a vet appointment kept Killer away.

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