PREPARING THE ATTACK -
Short Story by James Strauss
Harvey settled into his short-shouldered round bed set atop the couch, sitting in direct opposition to the fireplace. The stone fireplace was across the room but his alpha human built such intense fires that the entire couch became a raised platform bathed in continuous waves of warmth. The relief he felt from escaping the withering cold of his quest to reach Bad Taffy had taken a heavy toll, but not as heavy a toll as his fear that he would die under that distant pine, slowly frozen to death in a failed attempt to do something for another animal he had no understanding about or real care for.
Before taking his place in the bed, where sleep would not come, Harvey had looked out the back window to see Thumper, the giant rabbit, unaccountably sitting outside his winter haven, the former hole where a children’s treasure hunt had ended years before. In the lightly blowing afternoon snow he could also see the red of Good Christ, the predatory fox, sitting not more than a few body lengths from the dangerous rabbit. Bad Taffy was outside in the cold garage, where she’d been left when all the attention was concentrated on Harvey, and efforts to bring him back to warmth and some semblance of comfort. Little Floyd would still be sitting by his front window peering out to try and see what had happened to his cat. He was the kind of idiotically dependable, but inscrutable human, like the rest of his kind. In spite of the fire and the gathering of his own pride about him, Harvey knew that there was nothing right in his territory.
Harvey’s first thought, as he slipped through the crack of the door left open by one of his female humans hauling bowls of food out to feed Bad Taffy, was that the garage wasn’t that bad. It was cold, but not too cold. Harvey sniffed the air near one of the garaged metal monsters. It smelled but not too bad. A small heater pumped out warm air, but it seemed to do little to overcome the coldness of the walls, concrete floor and the metal of the monsters themselves. It was no place for a cat to live, but it was vastly more comfortable and survivable than what lay just beyond the three hulking, but perfectly sealed sliding doors. The doors worked loudly but smoothly, and on summer days Harvey liked running under them just before they closed, making them rise up again, causing his humans to protest loudly. The wind beat blowing snow against the outsides of those doors so Bad Taffy wasn’t going anywhere. Harvey waited until the female humans went back into the house, unaware he’d slipped through the crack of the door behind them. They’d be back soon enough when they couldn’t find him inside. He sat next to the small, noisy, little heater, valiantly pumping out barely warming air. He waited. It didn’t take long. Bad Taffy knew where the only warm spot in the garage was too, although she’d taken a few minutes to eat as much food as possible from the ridiculously over-filled bowls the humans provided.
Bad Taffy crept forward, coming from under the metal monster occupying the center garage. She crept on her stomach, her small inadequate brain too emotionally charged to note the dirt and grease always to be found under the things. She stopped before she reached the rear bumper to give deference to Harvey’s position of prime predator.
The garage door closed with a creaking bang, not loud enough to startle Harvey but loud enough to cause Bad Taffy to turn her head in that direction. Harvey knew the humans would quickly discover that he was not among them and be back. He crouched down to wait. It didn’t take long. Slowly, as the door re-opened and the calling of his name began, Harvey moved under the car, to lay not far from where Bad Taffy crouched. After a while, when Harvey made no move to respond to the cajoling commentary of the human females, it got quiet again, except this time the door did not close. It was left open to allow Harvey to re-enter the house at his own speed. Harvey knew from past experience that it would take some time for the open door to heat up the garage, but waiting was something he did very well. It might be irksome, though, because the humans would not stop coming out to check on his location.
Impatience finally overcame Harvey’s natural ability to remain still and wait. He crept to the edge of the open door and stood on top of the highest step. The human females were doing what human females unaccountably did inside the house, rattling mysterious metal implements in their favorite room. Harvey looked back at Bad Taffy and gave her the look. Bad Taffy was dumb, but not stupid. She moved forward to follow her natural leader.
Harvey waited for just the right second, before darting through the open door and across the kitchen floor, staying so low and close to the edge of the wall that he might appear to be nothing more than a rapidly-moving small cloud of gray, visible but not truly noticeable. Once under the protective cover of the dining room table he flipped around to see if Bad Taffy followed. The big ungainly female ran right over him before he was fully turned. Harvey recovered in disgust and walked toward the library. The only acceptable downstairs hiding place was at the base of a curtain behind the couch facing out from the big windows. Heat from a vent came up under the piled curtain bottom. From sitting on the warming vent a cat could experience rested comfort, security, a view of the entire front of the forest and, most importantly, secrecy. Taffey caught on in a flash and secured her position. Harvey knew the humans would eventually figure out that the mangy ugly cat was not in the garage, but by that time Taffy would have recovered to the point where she might not have any trouble getting home.
Harvey went through his house, hitting every vital point in each room to assure himself that everything was as it was supposed to be. When he approached, Josie cowered in one upstairs bedroom at the end of the long hall at the top of the stairs. That was as it should be. The other bedrooms were unoccupied so Harvey jumped up on the beds to leave the imprint of his body exactly at the center, near the foot of each. He ended his tour by returning downstairs, checking out his own bedroom and then went back to the library to make sure Bad Taffy stayed where she was intended to stay, while warming up. He ended up on his couch across from the unlit fireplace to pointedly wait. The fire would be there, and it would be there sooner if Harvey stared at the space it was supposed to appear in. His humans were relatively easy to control and command, although impossible to understand. One of the female humans closed the garage door when she took note of Harvey’s usual presence on the couch.
“He’s inside. I don’t know about that other wild thing out there though,” she said to nobody Harvey could see. “Harvey wants a fire so you better get busy,” she followed up, there being no doubt that this time she was speaking to Harvey’s alpha male.
Harvey waited, unable to understand the human words but long experienced in reading the meaning of their sounds. He was not surprised when the male crossed the room and headed for the back deck through the glass double doors. Harvey purred, although too silently for anyone or anything to hear. The hauling and the fire building took some time to accomplish. Harvey waited for the usual shocked jump his male made every time the fire was lit. The human leaned down, pushed a strange rod device under the wood. The rod made a click and then the fire flared out briefly before falling back.
“Good Christ,” the human exclaimed, calling out the fox’s name and jumping back, as he did every time the fire exploded into life. He then went to his nearby chair, reserved for his presence alone, and sat down. The talking device, with bothersome moving pictures mounted on the wall across the room, came alive. Harvey ignored that, instead closing his eyes and positioning his body to most advantageously absorb the building heat radiating from the fire.
Harvey relaxed fully, his eyes nearly lidding over, but he didn’t drop his guard to the point where he could miss a small flick of movement appearing in the farthest corner of his vision. His eyes opened and his head automatically snapped toward the direction of the movement. Dropping his chin to the material of the cushion he stared out toward the deck, his vision partially limited due to the intervening placement of the breakfast room table and the reflections of afternoon glare off the sliding door glass. Harvey concentrated, and then his shoulders slumped slightly. Out on the deck, through the glass and snow blowing outside, he could just make out the barely visible, but unmistakable, images of Good Christ and Thumper. Good Christ was slaking his hunger by eating Bad Taffy’s food from the bowls instead of eating Thumper. Meanwhile, the idiot giant rabbit sat as before up by the road, like a frozen statue except for when his big floppy ears sort of flew around a bit when the wind gusted.
Harvey would have shaken his head if he was a human. The rabbit and the fox had no place being near the back doors of the house, or even out at all in such terrible weather. Something had to be done.
Harvey launched himself from the couch toward the back door, but as soon as he hit the floor between the coffee table and the couch he changed direction. It would not do to call attention to the violators of his territory. Humans never acted. They over-reacted. Harvey whipped around through the kitchen, scurried between the moving legs of the working females and disappeared from view under the breakfast table. Very slowly he moved out from under the table where it angled closest to the glass doors. He sat down and stared out with his nose less than an inch from the cold glass.
Good Christ continued to eat the last of the dry food, messily moving his voracious muzzle about until the last bits of material either were consumed or flew about to be lost in the moving snow. Thumper moved his big head to concentrate one eye on the glass doors. It took some time until Good Christ realized that Harvey was there, only a body length away behind the thick but crystal clear door glass.
Good Christ stopped moving, his body sideways to the doors, his head turned, and locked his eyes with Harvey’s. Neither predator moved at all, only the wind-driven snow giving away the passing of time between them. Neither predator blinked. Until Thumper jumped. The giant rabbit, in a single small leap, landed only a paw’s distance from the window, its body so close to Good Christ’s that the fox gave way with one small sideways step. Good Christ’s concentration, however, remained totally focused on Harvey, as if the outlandish big rabbit wasn’t there right next to him. Until Bad Taffy appeared.
From out of nowhere the scraggly, ugly, little cat came into existence, sitting right next to Harvey’s right side, appearing as if from out of the air itself. Harvey’s concentration on Good Christ was so intense he’d neglected everything else around him. There was no choice as to what Harvey had to do. He had to maintain his ground without showing weakness. He took as much outward notice of Bad Taffy as Good Christ took of Thumper, which was none.
Good Christ was the first to break the impasse. He turned his eyes without moving his head at all. He let his gaze fall for the briefest instant on Bad Taffy, before coming back to concentrate on Harvey again. Harvey could tell that Thumper’s concentration was also on the errant mistake of a cat next to him, before it jumped again. Good Christ reacted by jerking slightly. It was impossible for any of the remaining animals not to have their attention drawn to the rabbit. It leaped so high that it’s body arced over the railing of the deck. Its’ takeoff threw up a cloud of snow. The rabbit seemed to disappear right into that cloud. Good Christ walked away toward the steps to the brick walk, leading across the lawn toward the forest. It looked back while it walked, before it too disappeared into the blowing snow, but it looked at Bad Taffey, not at Harvey.
Harvey finally was able to turn, prepared to use one viciously clawed paw to put Bad Taffy in her place once and for all, but the elusive mess of a female feline was gone. Harvey retreated back to his couch. The humans continued whatever they were doing unaware of the drama playing out all around them. He moved up to the back of the couch and stared toward the front door. At the foot of the stairs he glimpsed Bad Taffy disappear up the steps with Josie, Harvey’s indoor nemesis, racing by her side.
Harvey lay back down on the couch, his head on his paws, soaking up the fire’s radiating warmth, his alpha human in his chair where he was supposed to be. The human females worked in the kitchen. The talking but not saying anything machine on the wall went on and on. Everything was as it should be, except nothing was. Thumper and Good Christ were going to have to be put in their proper place, no matter what. The one would-be predate or rabbit and the other red killing machine fox would have to be forced to realize that Bad Taffy, and the rest of the forest, belonged to Harvey. Their interest in Taffy’s survival was misplaced. Taffy herself could not have the run of Harvey’s house. She had recovered from being out in the blizzard. She too would have to be beaten into submission and tossed back outside. Josie was another matter entirely, since the human attached to her was special to Harvey. Harvey closed his eyes. Spring was coming, the fire was warm, food would be in his dish.
He would wait and plan his multi-pronged attack patiently and carefully.