They were at the mouth of the forest where a dirt road led deeper into the dark woods. The gray cat was fast and picked up the pace, pulling ahead of Tabs.
Tabs felt a twinge of panic as he tried to catch up alongside the gray cat but found that he couldn’t. Tabs was a few feet behind and running flat out like a startled rabbit.
Tall pines lined both sides of the road, blocking much of the moonlight from reaching the forest floor. It was dark and getting darker as they left the rocky beach further behind. Good thing Tabs had the night vision of a master mouser.
Barking. Coming from far behind them. Tabs wasn’t sure at first, but then he was. Like Rottweiler barking, low and full-throated, mixed with growls.
The wolves were talking, but Tabs couldn’t make out the words. Probably trading recipes for ways to prepare cat…whether roasted or grilled.
It pushed Tabs to run a little harder, which brought him up alongside the gray cat, who glanced over, then gestured up ahead with his snout.
“Meow!” We’re here!
The road turned to a circular dirt driveway. Up ahead, at the end of the loop, was a large wooden one-story building, about the size of a Sephora. A green truck was parked in front of what Tabs figured must be the main entrance.
“Mraw,” the gray cat said. It’s an old ranger’s station. They slowed to a trot, both of them panting, down low in stealth formation, and the gray cat guided them around the truck toward the left side of the building.
A boxy ground-level air conditioning unit, about three feet tall, sat flush against the wall. “Mrow?” the gray cat asked. See that plank up there?
Tabs did. It was a narrow wooden plank that rested at an angle from the top of the air conditioner up to a windowsill. The gray cat motioned toward it with his nose, directing Tabs to head that way. “Meow-ow.” You can get to the roof.
“Mrow?” Tabs asked, a little perplexed. Aren’t you coming?
“Mroh,” the gray cat answered, standing his ground. I’ll be right behind you.
Tabs thought about it for a second, wondering why the gray cat didn’t just lead the way.
“Meow!” the gray cat finally ordered, raising his gravely voice. Go on, get!
It jolted Tabs into action. There were some things his little kitty brain struggled with, like doors and can openers, but climbing was not one of them. In about half a second, or two beats of a terrified tabby’s heart, he processed the entire scene with mathematical precision, calculating the proper angle of approach to the plank, the appropriate speed-to-weight ratio and the amount of force he’d have to exert to leap from the windowsill up to the rain gutter, which led up to the roof.
In one fluid maneuver, he hopped up on the air conditioner, zipped up the plank to the windowsill, jumped to a crook where the rain gutter met the wall, and then carefully walked up along the gutter before pulling himself onto the roof.
Yes! He’d made it. It was a wooden roof, easy to walk on, with a shallow slant, and it was much brighter up here under the open sky than it was down in the forest.
Tabs peered over the edge at the gray cat, who looked relieved. Tabs was shocked that the gray cat was still standing on the ground. What was he waiting for? “Meow!” Tabs called down. Hurry!
The wolves would be upon them any moment now, and Tabs thought he even heard their footfalls on the dirt road.
The gray cat nodded once, leapt up on the air conditioner, and pushed the wooden plank off the unit with his paw. It tumbled and crashed to the ground.
“Mrrow!?” Tabs said. What are you doing!? Tabs couldn’t believe his eyes.
The gray cat looked up at Tabs with kindness in his eyes “Mrow,” he spoke softly. I recognized you back there on the lake. “Meow.” Tabs, you’re one of my heroes.
Tabs was speechless. Heroes? What did the gray cat mean?
The gray hopped down to the ground, and then looked back up to Tabs. “Meow-row,” he said, his eyes glistening in the moonlight. You’ll be safe here till morning. I’ll lead them away.
“Mroww,” Tabs mewled, as the gray cat turned back toward the woods. Wait.
But the gray took off like a falcon in the night, disappearing into a copse of thick trees. “Mew…” Tabs whimpered after him. No…
To follow our story from the beginning…