Adventures of Harvey
Short Story by James Strauss
There was no special talent necessary for inhabiting the tops of trees. Harvey relaxed to better reflect upon the lower forest below him, as the wind moved the branches supporting his body slowly back and forth with boring regularity. Squirrels from his former territory had taught Harvey well. The secret to climbing was no secret at all for a cat of his size and dexterity. Muscles and razor sharp claws made the ascent simple, direct, and rapid. It was returning from the heights to the floor of the forest that could prove problematic. Backing down a long stretch of bark left a feline predator fully visible and blind. However, Harvey’s ability to watch squirrels instead of eating the nasty tasting tree rats had proven profitable. Squirrels went down the bark of even the highest of trees head first, making sure to curve around and around many times to limit the angle of descent. Vision of all that might be going on below was unimpeded, and when a sufficiently low altitude was arrived at the tree trunk could be exited in any direction. Harvey seldom climbed trees, however, once he’d come to accommodate and ignore squirrels. There was nothing to eat in trees. Occasionally they served to allow for a safe haven or a means of retreat.
Harvey peered down with half-slit eyes to watch Good Christ, the dominant predator fox of the lower forest, pace slowly around the tree Harvey had chosen to relax in, until the furor of his foray into the prohibited area died down. Good Christ was unaware of Harvey’s presence, swaying gently twenty-five body lengths above, and so continued sniffing a course that took him in ever widening circles further, and further from Harvey’s selected tree. The normally clever and lethal fox knew Harvey was nearby but did not have the necessary instincts to look upward. The trees of winter were bare of leaves. The intense coldness of deep winter was gone. It would be some time before the forest became a real forest again in the spring. One glance up and Harvey would have been revealed, although the knowledge wouldn't be of much use to a fox having no ability whatsoever to climb much of anything, but steps or rock piles. The three neighborhood crows, none of whom respected territorial boundaries, whatsoever, sat together along a bare exposed branch of a nearby tree, way too close for real comfort. For some reasons that Harvey could not fathom the crows did not reveal Harvey’s position, or make any of their awful raucous sounds. They sat and stared, one of them making an occasional comment to the other almost too quiet to hear, and certainly impossible to fathom.
Harvey knew each crow individually, as the three prevented any other crows from coming around. He didn’t need to name them, because each was very identifiable. The lead crow had only one claw on its right foot. That dominant crow sat closest to where Harvey rested, only two or three body-lengths away. Next to Right Claw, separated by less than the width of a crow’s body, sat a slightly smaller bird with only a left eye. In turn, Left Eye was accompanied by the smallest of the creatures. There was nothing wrong with him that Harvey could pick up on. Right Claw, Left Eye, and Nothing Crow continued to watch, as if expecting the nearby arboreal cat, that could not be arboreal, to fall and become carrion. Harvey licked a paw, his eyes slowly rotating back and forth from the deadly idiot Good Christ’s meandering moves, over to where the crows patiently waited and mused about his unlikely presence up in their arboreal habitat.
Time was on Harvey’s side. The wind was cool, but his two-inch-thick coat of heavy gray fur was quite capable of dealing with that. Good Christ was becoming ever more distant in his circling search, the crows continued to do what nasty-minded birds do. There was no threat. But there was movement. Harvey’s sharp predator eyes automatically homed in on the slight, but out of place movement. The movement was human. Only a human could step into a perfectly ordered forest, quietly functioning as it should, and draw every bit of attention away from every other living thing within it in seconds. The human was not a real one. It was one of the little ones. Little ones to be avoided at all costs. Little humans that pulled tails and got laughed at, but if corrected with a well placed cat claw it was the cat that was thrown out into the cold. Harvey noted that it was a boy human. Bad Taffy’s human, wearing it’s distinctive and stupidly revealing thick blue suit.
Blue Boy crept from the western direction, approaching the stream beyond which was the tree Harvey was relaxing in. Blue Boy was obviously following in the tracks Good Christ had left, after probably consuming Bad Taffy’s food supply at their house. The boy was not threat. Bad Taffy was no threat. It wasn’t Harvey’s territory and therefore their invasive presence wasn’t Harvey’s problem.
Harvey caught movement from further east. Good Christ had taken note of the cacophony created by the boy’s intrusion. The fox should have run. Almost everyone ran or hid from humans. To do otherwise was to risk extinction. Human contact was worse than eating a bad mouse. A bad mouse only made an animal sick. But Good Christ did not run, and didn’t hide either. Very slowly it began to stalk the boy skyrocketing Harvey’s attention and interest. The fox was a big fox. The boy was a small boy. From its very stealthy and slow moves Harvey realized that the fox was either ignoring the threat of human contact, or considering the child to be acceptable prey. Bad Taffy picked up on the fact that something was wrong. She stopped and then let out a small cat growl. Blue Boy stopped, turned and said something unintelligible to the cat. Possibly, Harvey realized, potential disaster might be averted. Until a distant call came from his own house. “Harvey, where are you boy?” One of the females was calling out from the front door. Harvey could see over the other trees and bracken. He ignored the call because the female was standing in the door wearing night clothes. She wasn’t going to be coming out in winter for some time. But Blue Boy heard her call too. Instead of listening to his cat companion he turned to move toward the female’s voice, gently repeating the call.
“Harvey, where is cat?”
Good Christ wasn’t listening to anything or anybody. He continued to move from behind one piece of frozen bracken to another, his stealthy approach to his prey invisible except from above. Right Claw, Left Eye and Nothing Crow continued to chatter, their raucous voices beginning to permeate the air moving across the top of the forest. Real trouble was coming to the forest below, and Harvey instinctively knew it wasn’t the kind of trouble he could stay out of. If Good Christ ate Blue Boy the rest of the wildly emotional human population of the entire area would no doubt tear down every tree, plow under every bit of brush, and even likely dam up the stream. If Good Christ was successful in his hunt, then there would be no forest anywhere for miles around. Something had to be done. The crows would do nothing but wait for leftovers. The females back at the house would never know what happened until it was too late. Bad Taffy was already in slow backpedaling retreat back toward his own house.
“Harvey. Cat. Where is cat?” Blue boy cooed softly, as if Harvey didn’t know he was a cat. He continued moving ever closer toward Harvey’s carefully selected tree until he reached the stream. The stream in the lower forest, now running again after the latest thaw, cut much deeper into the tundra in the lower forest than where it ran through Harvey’s own territory. The boy stood at the water's edge, looking for a way to cross. Good Christ, fluffed up and looking more like a small male lion rather than a diminutive fox, had come to lay on the other side of the gurgling cold water. It was obvious that the dumb boy was oblivious to his own impending doom.
“Harvey. Good cat,” Blue Boy said, absently, toying with a frozen twig in his forestry ignorance. Harvey would have snorted or sighed in his arboreal position high above, but he would not give the three crows the satisfaction, or risk revealing his position. Blue Boy’s inference that he was a good cat was paternalistic and demeaning. But something had to be done. Harvey had to save his territory from what would come if nature took its course on the forest surface below. Could something be done? Harvey looked back at his house. No help there. He studied the terrain below. If the boy crossed the stream, Good Christ would not hold his position for long before striking. Bad Taffy had stopped a safe distance away to stupidly watch what was about to happen. Harvey was no match for Good Christ on flat ground, and he knew it. The fox was faster, its jaws stronger, its teeth longer and its willingness to kill larger creatures obviously more sharpened. Direct confrontation was out of question. But something had to be done. Harvey watched Blue Boy struggle to drag a rather fragile log toward the stream, apparently to cross the moving water without getting wet. His mind made up, Harvey began his descent. The three crows went quiet; watching as his fluid slow movement allowed him to wind down the tree trunk without revealing anything to Good Christ, located almost directly below.
The fox was so intent on its final pre-attack approach that only one ear flicked briefly in Harvey’s direction. When Harvey reached about ten body lengths from the forest floor he knew he was ready. Right Claw, Left Eye and Nothing Crow flew down and landed on the stream bank not far away, as if to take in the coming show.
Blue Boy balanced atop his hastily made and ungainly bridge.
Harvey leaped. His body flowed through the air to land on all fours, not one body length from where Good Christ was poised. The fox leaped straight up into the air. Harvey bounded up from the hard landing and then ran at maximum speed to where Bad Taffy sat. He flipped around when he got to the scraggly cat’s side, and faced what he knew had to be coming.
Blue Boy as bit of large prey was forgotten. Good Christ rushed headlong directly at where Bad Taffy sat frozen in place atop the thin layer of snow with Harvey right next to him. Harvey eased slowly back and to one side to let Good Christ do his work.
But it was not to be. Crashing through the bracken and bursting upon the scene appeared one of the females Harvey lived with. Wearing night clothes, a huge coat hanging open at the front and a pair of Wellington boots she stomped across the stream, brandishing a upraised broom and spraying water and chunks of mud everywhere.
“Little Floyd, what are you doing here?” she demanded.
Good Christ, Bad Taffy, Harvey and even the crows stood as still as statues, and as silent. The child came to its feet in the middle of the stream, having fallen from the log in all the excitement.
Harvey leaped under a nearby pine, Bad Taffy raced for home and Good Christ disappeared almost instantly downstream deeper into his own violated territory. Even the crows flew off, making no sound at all except for the wild flapping of their wings.
The female walked to the child, reached one hand down to help him up the berm bordering the stream while talking to him in a gentle tone reserved for female humans alone.
“You poor lost child. I’ll take you home. And you’re courageous cat drove off that horrible fox to protect you,” she murmured as she moved slowly, hand in hand, toward Little Floyd’s house.
Harvey sat under the pine staring out on the scene. It was unbelievable. Cowardly Bad Taffy was a hero. The fox wasn’t allowed a winter snack. The troublesome boy who’d caused it all was coddled and complimented. The crows were denied their rightful meal of leftover carrion and Harvey himself sat alone and forgotten under a cold winter pine.
There was no justice in the forest.
There was only survival and unpredictable change.