By James Strauss
The pride of humans, to which Harvey had become attached, occasionally required him to sit so its other members could admire him. He sat on top of a not uncomfortable basket for one such session. Sitting up on a basket with his back to a cold winter scene outside Harvey glanced through the window and saw movement. His eyes whipped back to the front door that was unaccountably sitting afar. In less than six seconds Harvey was gone from the basket out through the crack of the door and nearing the forest. His race toward the forest required that he run at maximum speed to race across the top of the thick snow cover without causing it to cave in.
Harvey slowed to enter the bracken, coming up to the brace of pines located just before and running up and down the partly frozen over stream. Once under the sheltering arms of one of the big pines he settled in to take stock. There was nothing. What had caused his full scale and immediate alert? There had to be something there. He settled down on the prickly soft bed of dried needles, his head immobile but his eyes rotating slowly back and forth up and down the patches of broken stream ice. He flicked an ear rearward, hearing the calls of “Harvey” coming from all the way back from the house. He hoped that the humans would remain warmly inside the house and not pursue him. They were terrible predators, even though they ate so much meat as well as mysteriously providing unending supplies of it. Whatever the threat Harvey knew he was well equipped to deal with it.
Movement. His eyes zeroed in on the bottom of a pine located on the other side of the stream, not twenty yards away. Harvey’s eyes did not blink. His breathing reduced itself to minimal, his body locked into a prone position but his interior muscles coiled like powerfully wound springs.
Nothing. Except the faintest aroma. Harvey’s nostrils flared to help absorb as many stray particles that might be drifting by. Cat. The underside of the opposing pine across the stream sheltered another cat. In Harvey’s territory. Harvey fought to stay immobile, beating back his instinct to attack instantly and mercilessly. It had been an age since another cat had made its way past all the scent markings Harvey sensibly left deposited at the extremities of his territory. The mark his current location almost overcame Harvey’s urge to engage in mortal combat. He fought the feeling back and waited. It took several minutes for the other cat to move again. When it did it was to move further north and then west. It moved quickly from pine to pine, stopping under each tree only long enough to make certain it wasn’t being stalked or followed.
Harvey had almost attacked when the other cat fleetingly revealed itself. He remained frozen in place, his tiny processing center trying to come to grips with where he’d seen the animal before. And then it came to him. The brown, orange and white thing from the summer before. The stupid thing that had almost gotten Harvey killed by Deuce, the dog that roamed the upper forest, and then caused Thumper to attack his alpha human. The idiot cat his human referred to as “Bad Taffy” for some reason. What was Bad Taffy doing roaming Harvey’s territory again in the middle of the winter. Harvey had to know. Instead of attacking Harvey moved in synchrony with the other cat. Using the greatest of stealth he moved in silence from tree to tree, always staying in direct opposition to Taffy’s departing line of travel, marveling at just how dumb the other creature really was to think she could move through Harvey’s territory unobserved and unaccosted.
It was obvious when Bad Taffy arrived at her own place of residence just outside of Harvey’s territory on the western side. Harvey stayed under a distant bush to observe before striking. Taffy went the back door of the house and scratched on the screen. Harvey waited for a human to appear but after more scratches and some time none did. Taffy went to her bowl, made of dirty glass that sat next to the door. She sniffed. Harvey then took in the rest of Taffy’s territorial surroundings. Snow had fallen a full week before. There were no human tracks in the backyard snow, only those of the offending cat. Taffy retreated back to a tool shed located near the back door of the residence and tucked herself carefully into a cleft created by some folded rugs. She arranged herself so that her muzzle and paws hung marginally out the front.
No wonder the thing was violating territorial imperatives, Harvey considered. The tracks revealed everything. No humans. No food. Bitter cold winter. No game. Bad Taffy was slowly weakening to the point where territories didn’t mean anything anymore because she was going to die anyway.
“Harvey, Harvey, Harvey, where have you gone? It’s damned cold out here,” Harvey heard distantly, the distance muffled words drifting across the fields of snow and ice that separated them. Harvey looked back. The humans would take a while to get ready to come out and get him. They always did when it was so cold. They put a special white thing on his collar so they somehow always knew where he was. It was better when they didn’t know but life wasn’t perfect.
Harvey stepped out from under the bush, in full view of Bad Taffy, and stretched. Taffy remained where she was without moving, the message Harvey sent with the stretch well received. There was to be no attack and no threat. Harvey walked over to the empty bowl and sniffed. The bowl hadn’t seen food for an age. He examined the tracks crisscrossing the back yard. The only departure from the yard area had been Taffy’s recent incursion into Harvey’s territory.
Harvey turned to face his own home across the stream, and then looked back, looking the other cat directly in her eyes for the first time. The look was one of male dominance, superiority and invitation. He walked a few feet before stopping to turn his head once more and to look back. He waited.
Very slowly Bad Taffy crawled out of and down from her rug hole perch. Slowly, one paw move at a time, she made her way toward Harvey, stopping to sit when she was only a few feet away. Harvey walked away, moving slowly toward the rear of his residence, never looking back but knowing Bad Taffy was back there. He jumped the stream, never liking the experience because it was impossible to tell where parts of it had running water just under the snow. He hated getting his paws wet and the bitter cold was slowly eating its way through his thick fur.
The back of the house was cold and imposing but approaching the front door would not do, as he was not coming home alone. The back deck was covered in snow, with only a small path shoveled so his humans could haul in loads of firewood to feed the single best feature of the entire residence. The fireplace in the living room. It made winter almost okay to get through. Harvey stopped to check the supply of wood, scent mark one corner of the covered grill, just in case, and then to sit just outside the back door. He looked briefly over his shoulder to see the expected presence of Bad Taffy. The scruffy but thickly furred creature has stopped just below the few steps leading up to the wooden deck. Taffy stared at him in question but Harvey had no answers. There was no need to scratch on the screen. The humans, using their mysterious ways, would know he was there waiting. It simply required some patience, however. He’d given up calling for the humans through the thick glass years ago. It was beneath him.
One of his female humans came to the door. Harvey liked the females because they were his to command, although getting them to understand any command was nearly impossible unless it involved petting him or letting him in or out of the house. The door opened but Harvey didn’t go in, instead he turned his head and looked behind him. The human followed his gaze.
“It’s another cat!” the human exclaimed. “Hey, look at this,” she called over her shoulder. All three humans gathered on the other side of the door not even noticing Harvey, as he slipped inside.
“It’s that Bad Taffy creature,” his male human stated.
“Bad Taffy, that’s an awful name,” one of the females intoned.
“Why’d Harvey bring it home? The male asked. “Where’s it from? What are we supposed to do with it?”
Harvey returned to the open window, looked out at the unmoving waiting cat sitting patiently out on the snow. He sighed too quietly for anyone or anything to hear. He stepped out onto the deck, moved gingerly down the back steps until he was a few feet from Bad Taffy. He stopped and looked over his shoulder at the alpha male human in the doorway.
“What does he want?” one of the females humans asked.
“I’ve no clue, but he wants something,” Harvey’s male replied. “I better get my boots and follow him out there though. This is all too weird for words.
In a matter of minutes the man was back, wearing a pair of rubber Wellingtons and a heavy coat. Harvey began the walk back toward the house not far away where Bad Taffy had evidently taken up residence in. The other cat followed in his tracks, the human behind both of them, unable to remain silent even when moving through a silent forest populated with all manner of predatory creatures.
“Where are we going? What’s this all about? Why am I following two cats, anyway?”
It took only a few moments for Harvey to cross the stream and arrive once more in Bad Taffy’s back yard. Hew moved all the way up to the door, turned around and then sat to wait. Bad Taffy made her way back into her rug nest inside the open shed. Harvey watched the human cross the snow in his ungainly unbalanced way of navigating difficult terrain. Humans were very intelligent but extremely slow to catch on to obvious facts. The human arrived at the back door and knocked on the glass. Harvey waited with patience. He knocked and waited and then knocked some more. Harvey looked pointedly down at the empty bowl. The man followed his eyes.
“Empty bowl,” the human said, stating the obvious. “No food. The owners must be away for the winter or maybe on vacation in Florida. What are we supposed to do? Feed the cat? It’s not our responsibility.”
Harvey stared up at the human, not looking away as he normally would have out of respect.
“I can see you’re serious about this,” the human said, after a while. “I can’t think for the life of me why, though. Okay, okay, I’ll get some cans and some dry stuff and another bowl.”
The human made his way back across the stream, jumping from ice patch to ice patch in his risky unbalanced fashion. In minutes he was coming back from the house. Harvey watched patiently, the cold starting to affect him. He shrugged it off. He would have told the human not to jump on the ice with his hands full if he could have spoken. One jump and human went down, just like during their visit together to forest in the summer before.
“I don’t believe this crap!” he yelled, floundering in the ice cold water and sticky thick mud. “Here I am again. Why in hell did I come out here at all,” he went on, balancing a glass bowl in one hand and a plastic bag in the other. He hadn’t dropped either load in the fall. The human staggered into the back yard, leaving great black blobs of mud in the snow instead of footsteps. “Jeeeez,” he muttered, filling the two bowls with the foods. “We getting a dog next time. That’s it. Dogs aren’t this stupid,” he finished, having forgotten all about the dismal stupidity Deuce had demonstrated in their last outing.
“Come in when you’re good and ready,” the human said to Harvey, departing for their home. He didn’t bother to jump over anything on his way back, merely stomping his way through the stream and undergrowth in his frustrated anger.
Harvey followed, making sure to avoid the human’s muddy imprints.
He stopped at the stream to look back. Bad Taffy was out and standing next to the bowls filled to their brims with winter surviving food. Taffy stared at Harvey.
Harvey blinked back a message of unwilling but grudging acceptance.
Bad Taffy was there on the fringe of his life and there was nothing to be done about it except make sure that his humans refilled Taffy’s bowls as dependably as they did his own. No cat should be left without food in the cold of winter. There would be time enough to kill off the territorial competition when spring came.