Adventures of Harvey
THE COMING OF THE DAWN
Short Story by James Strauss
Observation. Keen patient feline observation. Not notice, interest or simply seeing. Harvey stared, his ears moving undetectably to take in all sound, the nose of his blackened gray muzzle very faintly sniffing the gentle breeze flowing down the hill not far from Bad Taffy’s residence, between carefully sculpted pines across one of the narrow asphalt roads that crisscrossed around and through his territory, claimed part of the forest. Feline observation brought into play every sense, and then something special that wasn’t identifiable or truly understandable. A special feeling was layered atop the results Harvey’s hyper-sensitive sensory apparatus fed into his small brain. It was the that feeling, along with what he was seeing and hearing, that caused Harvey to lay staring in only one direction. He lay flat, between two fully matured Chinese Elm trunks, atop the naturally scooped surface of a giant boulder that had appeared several years back, as if by magic. How the boulder came to be in such a commanding position, just back from the eastern edge of his territory, wasn’t important to Harvey. What was important was the commanding view it gave over almost every entry and exit point of Harvey’s part of the forest. It was cold out, but not too cold. The winter air was filled with moisture, but not the kind that penetrated a heavy fur coat, and his concealment was complete with the two gray tree trunks and natural gray color of the stone.
The forest moved. The creek, under thin treacherous ice cover, gurgled too gently for any but the keenest observer to note. The brittle frozen bushes stirred gently in the mild cold wind, making tinkling sounds to cover the movement of animal life. The forest seethed with life in winter, but gave the appearance of being stark, lonely and dead. Right Claw, Left Eye and Nothing Crow sat on a power wire running across the end of the cul-de-sac at the base of the driveway leading up to Harvey’s house. Harvey feigned not to notice the three violators, although all three stared down at him with undisguised interest. They waited for Harvey, as they waited for all real predators, to do their work. The crows were a noisier, and more irritating, aerial version of Bad Taffy, Little Floyd’s scrawny cat.
Once a day Taffy showed up at Harvey’s back door, where the females of Harvey’s pride filled bowls religiously morning and night. Why Taffy could not eat at her own house, why Little Floyd didn’t take care of her better, and why his own humans fed her, were all mysteries. Harvey stared out over his territory. He’d brought hapless Bad Taffy out of the freezing cold himself. He reflected glumly on that mistake and others he’d made. Thumper, the giant rabbit that acted like some sort of hibernating lion, also occupied part of Harvey’s territory. The three crows fully possessed the tops of all his forest trees without confrontation or permission. Good Christ, the red fox, continued to edge up from his nearby territory just across the northern road, and Little Floyd, the miniature human, ran back and forth through his territory with wild abandon, disturbing the wonderfully revealing new layer of snow, and acting ridiculous in his absurdly shiny blue suit.
Bad Taffy sat half way down the white hillside leading up to her own house. Harvey glanced up. The alpha humans who lived at Little Floyd’s house hadn’t bothered to clear their driveway. It didn’t matter one whit to Harvey, because it was just beyond the edge of his territory. He watched as the male and female human came through the front door of the house, and started speaking to one another loudly. Harvey’s ears automatically moved slightly to point in that direction. Harvey concentrated on the sounds. There was conflict and strife. Harvey had heard such exchanges between them before. The female’s name was Coaster. The alpha male, late on a hot summer night of the summer past had said to her, “you’re nothing more than a coaster under my drink.” Little Floyd, down near the center of the forest, was breaking the ice on the stream by thumping his small boots down one after another. He stopped and grew silent, taking in the heated exchange back toward his home
Coaster stood next to her black gleaming hunk of rolling metal, parked at the top of the driveway. The alpha male turned and went back into the house, slamming the door. Coaster walked slowly down the driveway until she got to Bad Taffy. She leaned down as if to pet the raggedy-looking creature, but picked him up using both arms instead. She turned and walked back to the black shiny car. She pried open a back door with one hand and threw Bad Taffy in with the other, slamming the door immediately before getting in the front of the thing.
Coaster was obviously unaware that her actions had brought the entire forest onto full alert. The forest noted differences, and the greater the difference the greater the notice. No cat, including Taffy, had been thrown into any vehicle in forest memory. Harvey observed the forest coming alive in stop action. Little Floyd stood still as a statue, watching from the middle of the shattered stream ice. Thumper poked a nose and two big ears up through the layer of snow covering his den. The three crows flew down to land on the road and make believe they were there to simply peck around and look for snacks. Good Christ, the dangerous fox from the territory just to the north, peeked out from behind a bush, not violating territorial rules but edging close. Harvey himself went to full alert, waiting for what might come next, prepared to move instantly to either fight or flee.
The only sound Harvey could hear, the tinkling of frozen twigs and gurgling water filtered out by survival instinct, was the squeaky crunch of Coaster’s shiny metal beast backing down the driveway. The thing stopped at the bottom, turned, and then slowly moved south on the road out front that would quickly take it out of the area surrounding the forest. The threat was gone. The crows flew back to the power line, Thumper retreated back to hibernation and Good Christ disappeared back down into his own territory. Only Little Floyd and Harvey reacted. Little Floyd slowly began to work his way directly back toward his own house. Harvey silently jumped to the nearby road and made his way to the biggest of his trees, located not far from where Little Floyd had stopped breaking the stream ice. Carefully, but quickly, he climbed. He went right by the perch he’d occupied only a day earlier until he was so high in the tree that the branches bent dangerously under his weight. He found a small area where several branches crossed one another. He nestled there, using the support provided by the many thin members densely packed to securely hold his weight.
Harvey looked out over the entire area beyond his own territory, and the greater patches of forest that surrounded it. He’d only climbed to the point of the tree’s highest elevation once before, but that had been in full summer on a day where there was absolutely no wind, unlike today. A fall from such height would not be survivable for a cat of his size and heft. Harvey stared out, extending his head up for maximum viewing. His steady gaze caught sight of Coaster’s glinting metal beast as it proceeded west on the main road that cut Harvey’s territory in two. The black object grew smaller and smaller as it retreated, until it disappeared down a hill. Harvey stared at the point of its disappearance and waited. He was good at waiting. The wind was gusty and occasionally scary but it wasn’t cold enough to penetrate his fur. Right Claw, Left Eye and Nothing Crow settled on a branch not one body length from where Harvey was scrunched in among gathered branches. The irritation caused by their lack of respect for his predatory prowess and their constant bickering chatter was muted out with difficulty. Harvey’s patience and concentration became complete. He stared waiting, his genetically adapted eyes not having to blink or change focus.
In spite of Harvey’s observing skill, it was Right Claw that first took notice. Right Claw stopped musing about Harvey’s presence up in its world and cocked its head sideways, as if in question. Harvey caught the reflected glint of the shiny black object of his intention far in the distance. It was no longer moving west. The thing had turned and was heading south. It was a long way away because even to Harvey’s eyes it was almost too small to see. And then it stopped. Harvey moved his eyes for the first time, in order to gain contrasting perspective; to make sure that he was seeing what he thought he was seeing. Coaster’s car was stopped in front of a very distant stand of pines almost too small in the distance to tell that they were pines. The metal beast remained stopped for only a few seconds before turning around to reverse direction. The crows watched Harvey, incredibly close to where he lay, but so far beyond reach that they might as well have been balanced on the power line as before. Harvey watched Coaster’s car return. It disappeared along the way, just before the road’s depression, and then reappeared closer. Minutes later Coaster’s car came squeaking down the road and slowly pulled up into the driveway it had so recently backed down.
Coaster got out of the car and closed the door with a click. Little Floyd made it all the way up to the back of the car before beginning to make miniature human sounds. An exchange of words took place between Coaster and the small human, but Harvey’s hearing was masked by the wind and the three crows that had gone back to musing or bickering among themselves. Bad Taffy did not come out of the metal beast. No back door was opened. Coaster and Little Floyd talked back and forth with the miniature human beginning to make human distress sounds before Coaster literally dragged him up the steps and into the house. The front door of the house slammed in the distance.
Harvey continued to stare at the closed door, but nothing happened. He moved his gaze back to where the metal beast had stopped so far away off in the distance. He remained in the top of the tree for some time, considering, his eyes never leaving the stand of pines in the distance where Coaster had stopped and then turned back.
Suddenly, Harvey moved. The crows screeched and fled, as if Harvey was making a fruitless and unlikely fatal attack upon them. Harvey worked his way backward to the trunk, and then began winding his way head first around and around down the great tree, wondering about the unfathomable emotions that seemed to govern both bird and human life. When he reached the ground Harvey moved down the stream, carefully avoiding contact with either the ice or the nearby frozen undergrowth until he reached the road. He stopped when he observed movement.
Good Christ stuck his head out of the bracken on the north side of the road, up closing where Little Floyd lived. The fox stared toward where Harvey stood, staring back. There was no violation. Good Christ made no move to cross the road and enter Harvey’s territory. But things were not right. That Good Christ was staring at him, both of them unmoving, spoke to the fact that things were not right. Harvey took the first steps, moving slowly up the road toward where Good Christ had revealed himself. The fox didn’t move at all. Careful not to step on the road, Harvey reached a point where he was directly across from the other faster, more deadly predator. Right Claw preceding the other two crows, landed not far from where Good Christ and Harvey stood facing one another, as if testing to make sure it was safe enough for the other two crows to join him. Harvey waited. It was Good Christ’s move. Good Christ looked up toward Little Floyd’s house, and then deliberately rotated his head back in Harvey’s direction. Harvey repeated the same move. Left Eye and Nothing Crow landed to join their brethren. The three began picking up tiny rocks and tossing them into the air, practicing with their beaks or exhibiting crow humor, Harvey couldn’t decide which, or if that was it at all.
It was late in the day. The sun was reaching its descent into the winter horizon. Amazingly, Harvey observed, the sun was setting in exactly the same direction Coaster had stopped her shiny metal beast so far away, leaving with Bad Taffy inside and returning without Taffy inside it. There was nothing to be done. Dark was closing in and the temperature, already cold, was dropping precipitously. The forest did not deal in mercy, compassion or any kind of courtesy and, most certainly, neither did its predators.
Harvey allowed his body to relax itself into a sitting position, although he kept himself ready to instantly respond to any aggressive move Good Christ might make. But the fox made no such move. Instead, Good Christ assumed the exact same sitting position exhibited by Harvey. They both kept looking at one another and then in the direction human trouble had come from. Things were not right. There was nothing to be done. The coming night ruled out any action except getting through it to rise into a warmer brighter dawn.
Harvey slowly rose to his feet, stretched to let Good Christ know that he was not departing out of fear and that no differences or dominance issues between them currently existed. The crows saw his gesture and promptly took flight, correctly guessing that there would be no carrion available for consumption on the road that afternoon. Glancing once more at the fox, Harvey turned and made his way back home, going to the back door instead of the front where he usually sat and waited for someone to look through the glass panels, notice him, and let him inside.
Once up on the back deck he walked over to Bad Taffy’s empty bowls. One for dry food and one for wet food. Humans overdid everything. His alpha male unaccountably opened the back door and smiled down upon him.
“Oh, you want to eat out here, from one of the other cat’s bowls?” the male asked, demonstrating a complete lack of understanding about cat etiquette and Taffy’s apparently dire situation.
Things were not right. But there was nothing to be done until the coming of the dawn on the morrow. Harvey made one final glance back in the direction that Taffy had disappeared, but there was nothing to be seen through the thick packed trees and undergrowth of the intervening forest. He walked through the back door held open for him and into the house. He would go inside for the night, and wait for the coming of the dawn.