Adventures of Harvey
GOOD CHRIST the FOX
Short Story By James Strauss
Harvey crouched down near the side of the garage, his long feline body carefully inserted into the slot between the relatively warm wall of wood and the below zero frigidity of the ice bank only inches away. There was snow out across the yard, extending all the way into the forest beyond. That forest was the subject of Harvey’s intent unblinking gaze. The appearance of the snow was deceiving, however, as was much of the landscape in Southern Wisconsin during full winter was. Trees looked like trees but were frozen as solid as ice. Bushes looked like bushes but were so brittle that they could not be sinuously and silently moved through to provide cover and concealment. Finally, the snow was only snow under a surface of hard glare ice, invisible to the normal eye but not to Harvey’s broad-spectrum cat vision. Seeing into the ultraviolet range brought the ice refraction into stark contrast against that of the absorbent snow just underneath. The ice came back in layers of white while the normally white snow underneath appeared gray, unlike the shouting brilliant color of animal urine speckled here and there. Harvey could see those scent markers visible up and down the stream but the marks mostly bore sight identifiers that were Harvey’s own. There was only one reason in the world that could draw Harvey into the subzero outside world, away from the dying but wonderfully warm embers radiating from his lair’s central fireplace.
The brilliant patch of color Harvey spotted from the laundry room where he’d gone for a snack was distantly splattered against the trunk of the forest’s largest tree. It was a big patch, foreign and obviously applied there as a challenge. A direct challenge to Harvey’s territorial imperative. It could not be ignored. Either the interloper had to be killed or, if the creature had wisely figured out from Harvey’s marks were that of a superior predator, then covering the mark with his own was absolutely required. Nothing moved in front of him. Harvey’s gaze was as patient as it was slowly relentless, his eyes slowly moving from left to right and then back again with no movement from any other part of his body.
“Harvey,” the word, came drifting from Harvey’s rear. He knew he would have to move very soon or be discovered. His humans no doubt believed that he had demanded to go outside to take care of biological needs. Harvey had learned long ago that scent markings were invisible to humans, or simply too unexplainable for them to bother with much less understand. The vibrant patch that radiated back at him from the big tree demanded an immediate and violent response.
The ‘snow’ could not be crossed, and the width and breadth of it ran in all directions. There was no avoiding the fact that Harvey had to move from
the edge of the garage to the tree and that there was only one uncomfortable way to do it. Abruptly, Harvey stood up, placed his front paws on the leading bare edge of ice in front of him, and then pushed down with all the weight of his full fourteen-pound body. The ice broke, as expected. With a brief check around him, and hearing “Harvey” for the second time well behind him, he deftly inserted himself under the half-paw thick layer of ice and began using his muzzle to form a tunnel. Any effort to cross the thick but fragile ice layer atop the soft snow surface would lead only to embarrassing, and potentially painful, crashes down through it to the hard tundra below.
Coming back up through the ice was easier, but more filled with risk. When going down under Harvey was able to see and hear everything going on all about the forest but once under he was like prey; deaf, blind and easily detectable. Just shy of his projected target Harvey stopped tunneling, rolled onto his back and placed all four paws against the underside of the ice coating above. He pushed upward with all his might. The ice broke with an explosion of shards and spraying plume of powdered snow. Instantly, Harvey was up on his paws with his head inserted through the hold like a submarine periscope. He peered all around him, fully aware that his head was nothing more or less than a moving dark target against a nearly impossibly bright white background. He pulled his head down to consider. He was twenty body lengths from the tree, which rose up from the ground a few lengths beyond the frozen black ribbon of the stream. His plan was to surge out of the hole and make his way directly to the offending scent mark, examine it closely, cover it with his own spray and then retreat, as necessary.
Harvey stuck his head up once more to make sure there was no activity that could possibly be predatory, and stopped. He stared upstream to where a single human construction sat pitifully by itself on the border between the yard and the forest proper. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He had to risk sticking his head up one more time to make certain.
Nothing moved. That’s why he’d missed them. Two creatures sat under the strangely colored and unlikely looking bench. The bench, Harvey knew, was the kind of human thing put all over the inside of human lairs. It did not belong outside, which was the reason why he’d dangerously disregarded it in the first place. Thumper, the more than mean giant rabbit, and Bad Taffey, the troublesome cat belonging to a house just beyond Harvey’s territory, sat side by side under the bench a few feet apart, as if that was somehow okay. Neither creature seemed to notice Harvey’s dark gray head sticking up out of the whiteness covering all the ground around them. Both creatures stared with intensity at the back porch of Harvey’s house. Harvey rotated his head to follow their gaze.
Fox! The image blasted all other thought from Harvey’s small brain. He pulled his head own and buried himself deeper in the icy cold but safer cushioning of the snow below. Fox. Harvey hadn’t encountered one of those fierce creatures since the territory he’d occupied before acquiring the new house and forest above. He’d had to share his territory in the other place, but only because there had also been coyotes and coyotes ran in death packs where cats were concerned. The alliance had lasted for two years but it had been a painful and bitterly contested one. Foxes were extremely fast and had jaws and teeth that no cat of Harvey’s size could hope to compete with. The only factor preserving the difficult truce at the old place had been the simple fact that the foxes were raising young. Harvey left the young alone and the foxes left Harvey alone. Mostly. And now there was one not only in Harvey’s territory but up on the back deck of his house.
He stuck his head back up. He stared at the back deck but he was too far down the stream to be able to see what the fox was doing. There was only one thing left to do. It was too cold to stay under the ice. He jumped out and slid across the glare hard surface until he came to the frozen ribbon of stream ice. Slowly, not able to see any of the other creatures, he made his way on top of the thicker ice until he came up behind the bench.
He worked through the frozen brush toward the direction of his house, unsettled by the noise the resisting frozen branches and leaves made when he went through. He stopped only a few body lengths from the back of the bench. Although both Thumper and Bad Taffey could not have missed his flanking approach they remained exactly where he’d last seen them. Both peered out at the back deck of the house, although both had to know Harvey was there, behind them. Harvey crept forward, no longer attempting to remain silent, knowing instinctively that his alpha male top predator status was in question.
The fox moved. With no warning it leaped over the high rail of the deck and plummeted through the ice and into the snow below. Harvey sat frozen, unable to move, with Thumper and Bad Taffey next to him. The fox ran across the snow, tossing broken ice up behind him like a snow plow until he was not far from the edge of where the grass ended, and not far from the three of them. The fox sat down and stared, licking one front paw after the other, his gaze never leaving the three creatures in front of him. Harvey glanced very briefly over at Thumper and Bad Taffy. They glanced back. The fox was in Harvey’s territory. The fox was Harvey’s problem.
Making no attempt to build himself into a predatory killer rush at the beast Harvey gingerly moved toward the bright red animal. The fox looked at him, but kept grooming its paws without pausing. Harvey stopped a few body lengths away and sat. It was the only kind of challenge Harvey could think to make. To fight the fox was to die. To run from the fox was to lose his territory, respect and die another way.
Harvey and the fox sat and stared while time around them seemed to stop. Finally, Harvey glanced over at the mark on the tree where the fox had left its scent. He saw the path atop the snow the fox had taken to the deck. Then he saw, for the first time, the fox’s prints meandering down the stream ice, only occasionally visible but indelible in what they revealed. The fox was from the territory below the road.
“Good Christ! Fox!” a human voice shouted from the deck. Harvey turned his head toward the sound. It was the alpha male human of the house.
“Good Christ,” the human yelled again.
The fox leaped into the air.
Harvey whipped his head back and crouched to receive an attack, but there was no attack. Instead, the fox ran at blinding speed back toward the scent-marked tree and then down the stream, following the exact path established when it came up.
“Harvey, come home boy. Good Christ,” the human intoned, joined on the back deck by two female humans.
Harvey turned around to face Thumper and Bad Taffy, neither of whom had moved a bit. He breathed in and out slowly and let both animals know by the nature of his stare that the territory was once more fully under his control. The fox had gotten too hungry and come poaching. Poaching among predators was perfectly acceptable under conditions of temporary duress. The fox was from the territory below where Harvey had only penetrated on very rare occasions. Encountering Good Christ the Fox had been heart-stopping and threatening but Harvey was unhurt and his position of supreme predator again unquestioned. Harvey slowly lowered himself to the attack position and blinked his eyes meaningfully at the two creatures still sitting under the bench. Thumper and Bad Taffy bolted, the rabbit breaking ice all the way to his nearby den and Bad Taffy disappearing across the stream in a pell-mell rush to reach his own territory and lair.
Harvey made his way slowly back to the hole he’d broken through the ice covered snow. Before he climbed down and made his way back to the house he stared down in the direction where the fox had disappeared. He knew that the saga of Good Christ the Fox interloping into his territory was far from being over but that was for another day.