The Grey Cat Rules

Short Story

By James Strauss

Audio Version Below

Back over one shoulder a crouching human could be seen creeping through the wet soggy grass that led up to the edge of the forest. Harvey waited, standing upright, shifting his gaze from the ungainly man to the forest and back. He turned his head each time, there being no need for stealth until true entry had been made into the dense welcoming bracken. The human knew nothing about hunting, as evidenced by his ridiculous attempt to remain soundless and close to the ground. He failed miserably on both counts. Harvey would have sighed but he didn’t have that emotive power built into his lungs. He was a purpose driven cat.

“Okay, I’m here, right behind you,” the human whispered urgently, as if there was any doubt.

Harvey glanced upward where three crows sat along a single branch of a nearby Chinese Elm. The crows cawed in their usual obnoxious manner. The message of the human’s attempt to hunt were being broadcast over the top of the entire basin the forest covered. Birds. Hard to catch. Not particularly tasty. Always a pain to have around. Harvey flicked both ears, dismissing the overhead reporting, and then moving on.

He made sure to enter the forest by passing under a pine so large that the low hanging branches didn’t touch the thick bed of boughs below. The human followed, stumbling and lurching along. The stream ran down through the center of the small forest where it meandered slowly, winding through the remaining trees around bushes and dead seasonal bracken left over from the long winter.

“Great crick flowing through here,” the human whispered needlessly, letting every alert creature in the valley know exactly what and where he was. Harvey sat at the edge of the moving water, glaring at the man.

“What?” the man murmured in question, throwing up his hands and shrugging his shoulders innocently.

Harvey had allowed the man to accompany him around the outer reaches of his forest. It’d taken a week for the human to come to the conclusion that hunting in the forest with him might be the finest experience any being could have in life. But there the man was, acting the way all humans acted most of the time. Weird emotion. Little understanding. No instinct.

There wasn’t much help for it. Harvey weighed in at 14 pounds, according to the awful woman who occasionally measured and probed him with rubber hands. The rabbit living nearby was a monster, and the monstrousness was the reason the human was there. It had no rightful place in the forest. Harvey had claimed and tamed the place years earlier. Sarcastic birds lingered but stayed high up out of range. Foxes came and went, as did the occasional lone coyote, but they did so with respect or they paid in blood. Even the winter deer, bedding down through the worst of it, stayed a healthy distance from the forest’s prime predator. But then had come the rabbit.

Harvey's Jack Rabbit friendTwo years before it had just appeared one day . It’d taken over an old fox den higher up on the side of a small hill where the stream came out from under a concrete road. The rabbit offered nothing. No warren. No little ones to make snacking pleasurable. Just a big ugly gray rabbit with floppy ears. Ears that had more combat notches out of them than Harvey’s own.

For the whole year Harvey had plotted. Four times he’d gone at the offensive furry beast. The rabbit casually ignored all of his best threats. Hissing had no effect whatever. Neither did leaping through the air, landing on it and jumping away. The big rabbit was only furry on the surface. Underneath that cushioning was a muscular structure formed of sinuous stone. The last encounter had been terrible because of the rabbit’s unexpected and unbelievable muscles. When Harvey had finally been ready to bite the creature’s neck, since no respect whatever had been paid, the rabbit had kicked him in the chest. When Harvey fell back in shock, the beast kicked him again. Harvey’d made it home to be put on a horrid concoction daily for three weeks to heal up. The rubber glove woman had stated to this human that he’d been attacked by some large predator, like a mountain lion. It was the only part of the entire awful affair that gave him any succor at all.

But now he was back and prepared. The human was twenty times the size of the rabbit. After the incident the vague idea to involve the human had been born. Harvey had attracted many animals to come by when the human was doing yard work. The man had driven those animals off with whatever implements he’d had at hand, supposedly to save his feigning cat. The way the man saw it. Being a very successful predator Harvey knew well that if you approached another animal in the forest, like a raccoon, and then ran, the animal would give chase.

The rabbit had no idea that Harvey was bringing in reinforcements. The human couldn’t hope to hold his own with such a large rabbit, let alone have the speed to interdict such an animal. No, the human would be Harvey’s stalking giant. When the rabbit was shocked from his lair in terror Harvey would strike.

The human followed him deeper into the brush. Awful noise followed with him, but Harvey was not disturbed. He stopped frequently so the man would know where he was. The man talked to himself or to Harvey constantly, which indicated he’d never hunted before, but again it didn’t matter. Harvey had studied the monster rabbit for a long time. The rabbit did not hear well, or simply ignored sounds that would have alerted any normal animal. Either way it didn’t matter. The human was merely to stand in the right place just back from before the rabbit hole and provide a properly large terrifying image to the beast. Shock would do the rest. Victim after victim over the years had fallen under Harvey’s claws while struck still because of fright about a larger threat that wasn’t a threat at all. That predator knowledge drove Harvey forward.

“This is awful. My Mephisto’s are covered in mud,” the human whispered, stopping to lean down and try to wash his expensive tennis shoes clean in the nearby running water. “Damn,” he said out loud, his balance shifting and causing him to end up with one foot stuck deep in streambed mud.

Harvey stopped and crept back. Sitting nearby, as patient as he could be, he swished his tail back and forth. The imbecilic human would either recover himself or go back, Harvey could do nothing.

“Harvey. Harvey. Harvey,” the man repeated, as if Harvey was not sitting five feet away, regarding him with faintly disrespectful curiosity. “Come on, let’s get out of here. It’s time for dinner, anyway.”

Harvey sensed weakness, but a weakness to be exploited. He crept under a nearby pine and let out his most mournful of small meows. Then repeated the sound, as if he was in some kind of trouble. He moved another tree closer to the rabbit’s deadly lair.

The human followed, saying such things as “C’mon Harvey, and even “Here boy.”

Harvey knew he had him. The human would now follow him until they came to some clearing or open area large enough for him to be spotted and cajoled in or run down.

The man would not leave him, as had been proven many times before. Sometimes Harvey ran up a tree so the man would have to run around below in order to secure a most favorable position to catch him from when he leaped. Which the man always did, totally unaware that Harvey intended to be caught. The warmth of the house, with pillows, rugs and blankets, filled with attention and readily available food, was always welcome, unless the intensity of a hunt required his full attention. As it did at the moment.

Harvey moved ever closing to where the rabbit had to be. The animal foraged close to his hole, the forest being bountiful in flora of all kinds in the spring. How the rabbit made it through the cold and snow of winter Harvey had no clue. Such regard never even entering his small brain. Other animals and plants simply were, as was Harvey himself. He looked back over his shoulder as he moved under the last pine. The human had one black leg from the knee down and made a loud squishing sound with each step he took. Old pine needles had somehow become threaded into the fur hair atop the human’s head. His eyes peered into every nook and cranny as he moved, searching for Harvey, who was in plain sight right in front of him. Harvey would have shaken his head, but that was another gesture completely foreign to him. Human just were too, like the other things around him in his life, although they were by far the most interesting and mysteriously generous.

“Harvey,” the man complained, finally spotting him among the covering brush fronds. “What are you doing? This is terrible out here. Bugs. Mud. Junk all over. I hate this,” the man intoned, understanding that Harvey wasn’t paying the least bit of attention to his complaints.

Finally, they were there. Harvey went into his attack posture with tail straight back, the tip of it faintly waving behind him, while his low crouched view of the rabbit hole drew his seeming full fixed attention. Part of him, however, listened for the lumbering bulk of the human to clear the tree and bracken around them. A small flat area of rabbit consumed weeds and grass lay before them when the man stepped through, almost coming to a stop at Harvey’s side.

“What’s this?” he inquired, questioning the strange unnatural looking glade and Harvey’s intent driven posture.

The rabbit hole was apparent, due to the amount of vegetation the rabbit had consumed and run through itself. It was an old deep hole the human had once dug to bury a treasure chest for neighborhood children. It was carved into the side of small hillock, instead of simply being a hole in the flat ground of the surrounding area, which the high water table of the area would long ago have filled.

Harvey sensed movement deep within the blackness of the gaping hole. He very carefully moved forward and to the side of the hole, as close to the earth as he could get and still remain suspended just above it. He’d calculated with great precision. The human could be counted on to approach and grab him up if he made no attempt to evade. Such movement would cause the rabbit to stir from his hold and then panic when he took in the enormity of the apparition just outside his den. It was at the moment of his blind flight that Harvey would strike from the flank, securing a death grip on the animal’s neck.

The human complied, even adding to the shock effect by talking loudly while he moved in. He stopped right in front of the old treasure hole.

“That’s it. I’m tired of this game. We’re getting the hell out of here.”

He never finished his last word completely. The rabbit came out of the hole like Jack in the Box and flew through the air, driven by his hugely powerful rear legs. He struck in the middle of the man’s forehead and bounced away before disappearing back down the hole. Harvey’s human careened backward, his arms wind milling but he made no sound until he landed just outside the clearing and in the middle of shallow gently flowing stream. The black mud lining the bottom of the stream allowed one quick sucking sound before it claimed him.

Harvey sat transfixed, his counterattack forgotten, as he watched the man struggle up to a sitting position, using one hand covered in black mud to rub his forehead, turning it black, as well.

“What the hell?” the man said, shakily, rolling over and prying himself to his hands and knees before standing to face the rabbit hole once again, this time from behind the safety of a layer of low deep brush.

“I’ve been attacked by a rabbit. A monster rabbit.” The man stood, his mud-covered body wavering back and forth a bit. “I’ve been hit by Thumper. I don’t believe it.”

Harvey waited, unmoving from his place under a bush right next to the rabbit’s hole. He waited for predatory rage and territorial violation to overcome the man and prove the immediate execution of the rabbit to be immediate and certain, but the man made no move to return to the clearing. Instead he stared at the hole for what seemed like forever. Finally, the rabbit’s giant head appeared behind the lip of the hole’s edge.

It stared at the human unmoving, its eyes unblinking. The man stared back. Harvey waited.

“There’s no percentage in fighting with a rabbit,” Harvey’s human finally said, as if discussing the matter over with the patiently waiting creature. “You can have this place. The brush and bracken. The mud. The insects. The thorns. All of it.”

Very slowly the man walked back to the stream and headed down to the road, a black muddy creature taking one mud-sucking step after another until he reached the road below. Harvey listened to him stamp his feet on the asphalt. He turned his head very slowly to fully take in the rabbit’s head protruding form the hole. The rabbit turned its own head and looked back. Very slowly Harvey slunk down and backed carefully through the brush until he was a safe distance away. On any given day Harvey knew he could take the rabbit, no matter how big it was. Rabbits were not predators. They didn’t even eat other animals. However, it was mid-afternoon and a snack of shaved Krakus ham could always be caged out of his human’s other female human. Digesting the ham would give him more time to come up with a new plan.

Audio Version