Short Story by James Strauss
The winter storm took three days to pass and those days were anything but restful or relaxing. Bad Taffy spent the entire time running back and forth from the to inside of the house. The humans spent huge amounts of time trying to discover where the errant ugly thing was hiding when she was in the house. Josie and Harvey attempted to ignore the entire process of cat to human adaptation that was never going to occur. Bad Taffy was from wild stock, mistreated along the way by unkind humans and left to the care and keeping of one small boy and an unforgiving forest. Finally, the storm outside abated. The fourth morning following the frozen adventure under the pine tree dawned.
Harvey’s alpha male opened the garage door without ceremony after filling four cat bowls with huge amounts of both wet and dry food. Listening to the door’s heavy drone, Harvey ate first and then went to make believe he was going back to bed or helping his human pick out clothing, thereby allowing Josie and Bad Taffy to access whatever they saw as their portions of the house. For some reason Josie, the princess cat who never went out but acted like the ruler of the house, got along just fine with the wild mess Bad Taffy presented. Once the humans were cleaned up and wearing the many layers of fur-like materials they wore, there would be plenty of opportunity to exit the house through the garage or even through the front door when the papers were collected from the front walk. Harvey waited for his special collar attachment to be stuck to his collar. There was no sense trying to go outside without it because the humans would go crazy until they hunted him down and found him to put the stupid thing on anyway. Harvey lay on his human’s bed. There were many beds in the house, but Harvey only occupied the one where his own personal human’s slept. Upon occasion he went up and lay on top of Josie’s human’s bed, but that was only to reinforce his ownership of the entire house, not just the downstairs.
After taking a decent undisturbed nap, Harvey rose up, stretched slowly and made his way to the front door to wait. Sitting by the front door patiently, until noticed, was the best way to get outside. A passing human would open the door for him specifically, or simply to go in or out of the house, allowing him to slip through. It didn’t take long before he was sitting on the stone walk near the garage, able to view a large portion of his lower territory and see what was going on around it, at the same time Harvey exited the house, Taffy also escaped and headed to the wooded area.
Right Claw, Left Eye, and Nothing Crow landed on the driveway only a few yards down the asphalt from where Harvey sat. The three crows
pecked away at non-existent bits of potential food, strewn nowhere on the wet surface that had been covered by snow only the day before. Their presence disturbed Harvey simply because of the deliberate disrespect of their actions. The crows knew there was nothing to eat on the driveway. When Harvey was very young he would have had a chance at catching one of the blindingly fast but arrogantly loathsome flying creatures, but no more. He ignored them until they left. It was the crows, however, that brought Harvey’s attention out to the drain under the road that separated his territory from that of Good Christ, the red fox. The three crows screamed together from atop one of the overhanging trees. Their combined warning squawks were quickly drowned out by the agonized scream of a badly wounded cat.
Harvey instantly came to alert on all fours, adrenalin spiking through his system. The scream had come from a small marshy mess of reeds just beyond where the swollen stream ran down the center of Harvey’s territory, to empty into the drain. Harvey launched himself, running directly toward where the single agonizing sound originated, coming up to full speed within a single body length. The rough edge of the forest didn’t slow him in the least, flecks of melting snow and water bouncing from his flying fur as he went. The stream was bordered by mud banks too wide to leap in a single bound, so Harvey allowed his paws the indignity of penetrating deep several times before he was able to ‘land’ in among the reeds and onto the edge of a small beaten down clearing. He braked to an abrupt halt at the very edge of the marshy area, his sensitized predatory eyes spotting Good Christ’s simultaneous arrival on the scene at the same instant.
Bad Taffy lay on her back near the far edge of the clearing, all four paws raised in self defense, leaving her belly open to attack. Harvey knew the position as a last ditch, and usually failing effort to avoid death. Taffy’s head was covered in blood, with a flap of fur hanging down from between her ears.
A large orange cat, heavy muscles coiling through its fur, stood close and reared back, preparing to deliver a final fatal strike downward upon Bad Taffy’s helplessly exposed body.
Harvey’s decision to attack was made without any conscious thought beyond that of outraged shock. The three crows screamed from a branch just above the clearing, while a bounding gray blotch bounced through the reeds nearby and Little Floyd’s voice could be heard plaintively yelling his cat’s name in the distance. Harvey leapt, marginally noting a red blur moving to his right while he was in mid-air. His front paws struck the orange cat high on its right shoulder.
The orange cat instantly rotated its head before reacting with its body. Harvey’s paws bounced from his target’s shoulder as if they’d encountered a tree trunk or a large boulder. The solidly built orange cat turned, but not in time to avoid being struck a second time in the side by Good Christ. The more massive fox’s hit had an instant effect. The orange cat leapt over Bad Taffy’s supine body toward the reeds rising up on the far side of the clearing, his hissing growl overpowering all other sounds being emitted from the forest.
The orange cat did not land among the reeds. As so many other predators, prey and humans alike before him, he instead encountered the huge back paws of Thumper hammering into his chest. The cat was thrown straight backwards into the middle of the clearing he’d been attempting to flee from. His body hit the hardened reed-covered mud with a thump. Instantly he righted himself and was gone. Only a splash in the deeper water at the stream’s center indicated the path of his departure and the fearful nature of it. Cats never leaped into deep water if it could possibly be avoided.
Good Christ lay crouching, directly across from Bad Taffy. Harvey noted the disruption to the fox’s side that had been exposed to the orange cat during the attack. Good Christ eyed Harvey back, then flicked its head to briefly lick its distressed fur. The orange cat’s long and sharp rear claws had taken a toll on Bad Christ. Harvey retreated back into the reeds as Little Floyd burst through the undergrowth not far from his badly damaged cat.
“There you are,” he cried, bending at the waist before recoiling back upward in shock. “You’re hurt. My cat is hurt,” he cried, waving his tiny hands in little circles.
Harvey saw movement just behind the boy’s back and came back to full alert but then relaxed a bit when he realized it was merely the giant predator rabbit angling through the reeds for a better view of the scene.
“Harvey, now what are you into out there?” Harvey’s alpha male yelled from over in the direction of his house. At the same time a female voice could be heard calling Little Floyd from the other side of the forest.
Harvey realized the humans were closing in from both directions more by feeling the vibrations of their heavy-footed approach right up through the hardened wet ground than by their sound. He backed further into the reeds, but in so doing climbed upward a bit where the berm of the road ran down from the road above. He saw the orange blur of the marauding attack cat before his alpha male.
The orange cat soared into the air from a spot in the reeds, not far from where the human was proceeding toward the clearing.
“Holy moly,” the human yelled, throwing up his hands as if the orange monster was going to attack him, but the cat plummeted back to the earth and ran right by.
Harvey watched the thing disappear under the far pines, no doubt on its way into a more distant part of the upper forest at a speed that would have been impressive to Harvey even in his youth. Holy Moly was a tough predator and Harvey knew he’d been lucky to survive the encounter in the clearing.
Harvey’s alpha male reached Little Floyd before the boy’s mother.
“It’s okay, your cat will be okay,” the human told Floyd, as if he’d had anything whatsoever to do with Bad Taffy’s survival. He clutched the boy to his side with one arm, while massaging his chin with the other, and stared down at the damaged cat laying and mewling before them. Good Christ had wisely melted into the forest, although Harvey had no idea as to where or when. The battle in the clearing had gone down too quickly, and the subsequent events were too many in number to allow for the monitoring of everything.
“Oh god Floyd,” Little Floyd’s human said in her painfully piercing high voice, “this is all mud. What are you doing down here and why is that awful cat back?”
Harvey’s human looked at her, letting go of the Floyd so the little boy could run to the female, which he immediately did. “Back from where?” his human asked.
The female human ignored his alpha male, wrapped her young in both arms and began making her way through the reeds to her house.
“What about my cat?” Little Floyd cried, trying to extricate himself from the female’s tight grip.
“I’ll do what I can,” Harvey’s alpha human said, moving his attention from the female and the child to the cat struggling in the mud before him. He leaned down, the sound of the female and the child becoming distant as they moved away. He reached out his hand toward the injured animal, but got only a harsh hiss in return.
“Okay, okay, lay there then. Come at your own speed. It’s not like we’re feeding you or anything,” he said angrily before turning to walk back toward the house without looking where he was going.
The splash was subdued when he landed in the very center of the stream, one boot top sticking out of the heavy mud bank just before it.
“What is this?” he yelled to no one at all. He crabbed back to the side of the stream to retrieve his boot.
Harvey watched in silence and with patience. Somehow, stupid, dumb and ugly Bad Taffy had survived, Good Christ was injured, his human was down in the stream again and Harvey’s performance was ignored. The whole thing was disgusting. Harvey had instinctively attacked to protect his territory from a dangerous new predator, not to save the dumb ugly cat. Even Good Christ had thrown in along with Thumper, both equally sensitive to a new powerful predator likely to challenge the established territorial ownership Quite properly under Harvey’s control. And what was the result? Bad Taffy, who should have been dead again, was saved. And there she lay in the middle of the clearing with everyone and everything gone, except for Harvey. There was no justice in the forest.
Harvey stood up for the first time since the attack. Only the crows remained, clucking and grousing out their bad dispositions to the two surviving creatures below them. Harvey would have loved to abandon the wounded cat, but could not. Other predators would be attracted by Bad Taffy’s decaying body. Leaving her wasn’t worth that result even if it meant that Harvey would not have to think of her ever again.
Slowly he approached close to where Bad Taffy lay. She’d turned over onto all fours, which was a good sign. Her head was a mess, slit from the top of one ear across to the other. Harvey eased forward until he was less than two paws from her muzzle. Bad Taffy didn’t move or make any noise at the violation of her space. Harvey breathed in and out deeply. Ever so slowly he turned and walked to the edge of the clearing closest to the stream. He stopped and deliberately turned his head to look back. Bad Taffy climbed to her feet and staggered in behind him for the long walk back to the garage. The female humans at the house would figure out something. Female humans were where cats went for repair, and more attention than usually could be stood for any length of time. But sometimes healing called for such suffering. Halfway up the long black driveway Harvey looked back, to make sure Taffy was there and also to make certain that the clearing would remain embedded in his memory. The clearing would remain, as Bad Taffy would likely remain, and the others who’d invaded his space. The garage door hung open. Good Christ would have to be checked on later. Holy Moly would have to be driven out at a later time. There was no justice in the forest.