By six a.m. Erik had been prowling the house for almost an hour, wandering aimlessly from room to room, unable to settle even to his second cup of coffee. He picked it up to take a sip, but set it down to get the morning paper. He read a couple paragraphs of the front page, reached to pick his mug and it wasn't there. Where the dickens had he left it?
Finally, after checking every horizontal surface in the main rooms, he poured another mug full and took it to the back deck. The cry of an infant startled him. Did someone close by have a new baby? Curious, he got to his feet and listened, trying to pinpoint where it was coming from.
Another irate howl set his teeth on edge. “Ah.” Definitely the howl of an annoyed cat, most probably Siamese. He set his coffee down and followed the sounds of distress around to the front of the house.
He tipped his head backward and searched the tree limbs in his oak tree. Another irritated yowl, and a layer of gooseflesh crawled across his skin. The feline wasn't in his tree, but in Annie's. Probably the stranded feline was Annie's high strung Siamese, Barnabas, who never went outside except on a leash. Erik crossed from his yard to Grace's. Through the leaves, he caught a flash of creamy fawn and dark brown.
“Is that you, Barney?” he called up to the cat. “You got up there, you can get down. Kitty, kitty, kitty.”
Barnabas uttered another low-pitched expression of annoyance.
Erik cringed. “Barnabas, don't make that noise. We'll get you down.” Erik hadn’t seen the cat in days. Had he been spooked by the commotion? Peering into the tree top, Erik tried to estimate how far up he'd have to climb. Fifteen, twenty feet? Higher? Hard to tell in the early morning light. And how far out on the branch would he have to crawl to get to him?
Erik jogged back into the house and took a backpack from the hook in the closet and slung it onto his shoulder.
Erik plotted his ascent and hoisted himself onto the lowest branch and began his climb. He shifted his weight and reached for the next branch. After turning the opposite direction, he reached toward another branch that extended toward the house. Erik rose in his tiptoes, leaned forward and lost his footing as his right foot slid from the branch. He grabbed the closest branch—one much too small to hold his weight—and tried to recover his balance.
Don't look down.
He boosted himself into the crotch of the tree, turned the opposite direction and leaned backwards to try and catch a glimpse of Barnabas. Had the feline moved? Barnabas moved a little farther out on the branch to watch his awkward ascent up the tree. The cat gave irate, low-pitched rumble.
“Stay where you are,” Erik told the cat. Barnabas flicked his ears backwards and turned his head in condescending disinterest. Erik hoisted himself upward.
Barney uttered another drawn out expression of disgust and inched farther out on his precarious perch.
“Don't swear at me, cat,” he said. “I'm doing this for you. And don't you dare climb any higher.”
Barney's ears flicked. The tip of his tail twitched as Barnabas turned toward the house and hunched into a crouch. Erik saw leaves flutter and glimpsed a mother bird in her nest. Barney's body trembled.
“Bar-ney,” Erik said as the bird scolded them. “Leave the bird alone.”
Don't look down. Inexplicably, he looked down and quickly closed his eyes. “Yeah, right,” he muttered. “Like if you can’t see you’re almost twenty feet in the air, the ground won’t hurt you when you land.”
Just about five more feet. It wasn't a difficult climb, just a little tricky. Then, he saw it. A branch was missing, leaving a large vertical gap.
The bird squawked and lifted off, turned, and dove at him, beak first. Erik turned his face away from the sharp beak and held up one arm to protect his head and face. “Dad gum it, I'm not after your babies.” The bird buzzed him.
The little bird made a dive at Barnabas, who fluffed up his fur, hissed, and took a swipe at it. Blue eyes glinting with disgust, Barnabas laid his ears back and squalled another complaint. The cat sat just two branches above him, almost as though he was posing for a photograph. “Kitty, kitty, kitty,” he called, wishing he'd smeared his fingertips with cat food.
There was no help for it. If he was going to rescue that cat, he'd have to bridge that vertical gap. The problem was how. And even if he made it that high, there was no way Barnabas' branch would support his weight so far out from the tree trunk.
Barnabas stared at him, blue eyes unblinking. The branch hung over Annie's bonus room and garage If he fell, he'd slide right off the roof and land squarely on top of Annie's car in the driveway.
Erik shifted his weight and peered through the branches. One other limb grew between them, but he'd have to slide around to the opposite side of the thick trunk to reach it, and it'd be awkward to move from there to where Barnabas sat.
As Erik began to pull himself up, he felt the tree sway and heard the branch creak. It couldn't possibly hold him. He paused, caught his breath and tried again. Though it held, he didn't dare climb any higher.
Erik turned to the cat and watched as he inched away from him. “Barnabas, your name means son of encouragement. I'd appreciate it if you'd get your furry little self over here.” Barnabas remained still except for the twitching of the tip of his tail. Father, this may be a trivial thing, but won't you please make that cat come over here?
He'd just braced himself against the trunk of the tree when he heard a loud scrape. In a flash of fawn colored fur, the cat bolted. Instinctively, he made a grab for the furry beast. Off balance, with his left hand he caught the branch above to steady himself. Grateful for his gardening gloves and long sleeves, he clutched the shrieking cat to his chest and gritted his teeth against Barney's sharp claws and teeth.
Barnabas launched a furious attack as Erik tried to maneuver the feline into the backpack. Erik flinched as a claw dug a furrow across his cheek. Finally, he wedged the creature inside. Barnabas' cries turned to enraged high-pitched wails.
“Erik! What on earth are you doing up there?”
Erik looked over and saw Grace leaning out the bonus room window. “Trying to get Annie's cat out of the tree.” Even after Erik managed to close the zipper, Barnabas continued to struggle, shriek and spit. Carefully, Erik began the climb down.
Finally, Erik knelt in Annie's foyer and released the animal. Still growling and spitting, Barnabas took one last swipe at him and hid behind the china cabinet in the dining room.
“Poor kitty,” she said. “He's probably starving.”
Grace went to get the cat food and water and came back with two bowls. “I appreciate your playing knight in shining armor.” Grace set the bowl of food next to the china cabinet along with a dish of water. A growl rumbled in the back of Barnabas' throat.
“Why don't you let me take care of that scratch? It looks pretty deep.”
He touched fingertips to his cheek, and waved away her concern. “It's not bad.”
“I'm impressed,” Grace said as he opened the front door.
He turned around. “By what?”
“That climb is pretty tricky.”
Erik raised an eyebrow. “You've climbed that tree?”
“Only once since I was fourteen.”
He flashed a killer smile. “Now I'm impressed. So why'd you stop?”
Grace smiled at the old memory. “You know that missing branch?”
“Yeah, I had to maneuver around the vertical gap.”
"The limb cracked and Gramma almost had a litter of kittens. I promised her I wouldn't any more. Eventually they had to remove the branch.”