Followers of my blog may recall that my family and I spent Christmas morning rescuing our wandering cat, Whisper, from the top of a silo in a falling down barn near our house. The story had a happy ending, but it involved five largish people clumped together on an unsafe floor and climbing on very unsafe ladder, and all kinds of drama involving a free falling cat being grabbed over an abyss by the author herself.
Suffice it to say, I have been keeping my furry wanderer under lock and key ever since Christmas. Well, okay, I take pity on him and let him out once in a great while, and he always comes straight back inside the minute his precious little paws hit the cold patio stones. He's been the perfect little purry kitty, looking very chastised when I remind him daily how lucky he is.
I stayed home from school with one of those colds that feels like head explosion is imminent every second, where your eyes are red and oozy, your ears are blocked, your throat feels like sandpaper, and things are not okay in your tummy. A cup of tea and your pillow are the most important parts of your life. But of course a mom has responsibilities even on a sick day, so I managed to let the dog in and out a few times. Since it was a warmish, sunny day, the cats went out, too. Because I was feeling so miserable, I went back to bed without counting heads when the pack was ready to come in.
It wasn't until I was about to fall into bed for the night, at about nine o'clock, that I realized something was wrong. I'd let Ruby, our golden retriever, outside while I was doing the final sweep through the house to gather up tissues and a glass of water to get me through the night. But when I called her back in, she didn't come. Well, sometimes when I've called and she's been right in the middle of doing what I let her out for, she won't come, for obvious reasons. I gave her a few more minutes, then went to the door again. Still no Ruby.
I immediately began to think that she'd been run over, even though traffic is almost non-existent around here. Or maybe she'd slipped on the ice and fallen into the brook and been swept away. Or been attacked by a pack of wild pigs! But before I could get too alarmed, she bounded up the steps.
Relieved, I start heading to bed again, but something about the way Ruby sat down and looked at me just wasn't right. I don't know if I've said this before, but Ruby is one smart dog. All dog owners think that about their pets, but Ruby really is. She stopped me from walking into a bear once, and she's very protective of the girls and the cats. And she was giving me this look with her eyebrows wrinkled up and her ears half cocked, like she knew something I needed to know.
And then it hit me that I hadn't seen Whisper all afternoon.
Somehow, I knew that Ruby had just followed his scent down to the barn, and that he was at the top of the silo again.
Of course, I searched the house. No Whisper, and he's not one of those cats who hides behind the washing machine for fun. He's gone.
I called my husband, on his way home from a band rehearsal. (He's in FOUR bands now, which means practicing FOUR nights a week. I've got nothing against music, but REALLY!) So, figuring he owes me since he just sprang band number four on me yesterday, I called him in the car and asked him to stop at the barn on his way up the road and see what's going on in there. He sputtered about it, but he was in no position to refuse, especially since I'm sick, so I went to bed, hoping Whisper would come crawling out from under it.
I couldn't sleep.
So I got up, got dressed, found my flashlight, got in my car, and drove to the barn. I know it's just down the road, but it's dark, it's icy, the bears area awake and hungry, and I'm SICK! I park and walk around the outside, calling his name. I don't want to have to deal with the old door and the frozen rock that keeps it closed if I don't have to.
I've just about convinced myself that Whisper must have decided to hide behind the washing machine like normal cats do, and that Ruby and I had miscommunicated, and that I can go home to my pillow, when I hear a very faint, "Mew?" from deep inside the barn.
The first words I said are not appropriate for the blog of a young adult writer.
So I dealt with the door and the frozen rock, picked my way through the holes in the floor with my flashlight, went up the rickety stairs to the bottom of the silo, eased my way to the ladder over the abyss, and shone the light upwards.
Two yellow eyes looked down at me from the very top, and somebody said, "Mew?"
I said more inappropriate things involving getting his little, gray, furry self down here this instant, or sooner. He just looked down at me pitifully. So I put my flashlight on a pile of old storm windows, aimed upward, stepped over the abyss and headed up the ladder with no clear plan in mind other than what was I was going to do to him when I got up there.
As soon as I started climbing, my body blocked the light so I could see nothing above me. And then I remembered that I had had knee surgery a year ago and that my knee did not like rickety, narrow ladders. So I climbed back down, stepped over the abyss, and said a lot more inappropriate things to Whisper. I even pulled out my ultimate card -- I told him that I would send him to live with a friend of mine who has been known to threaten to put her cats in a BLENDER!
He was unmoved by the threat. (As I'm sure her cats are, too.)
So I went home. My husband arrived shortly. He and I and our youngest daughter had a council session. Obviously, our plan of attack that had been so effective the first time wouldn't work now, because two key players weren't here -- our oldest daughter and her firefighter boyfriend. We're on our own. And it's pushing eleven o'clock. Things are not looking good. (Well, technically our oldest daughter is part of the conversation, via her phone, on which she is coming up with all kinds of useful advice like, "You had to let the cat out today, Mom!")
Ultimately, my husband, daughter, and I, with the cat crate and a towel and several flashlights, head toward the barn. We do the door, rock, holes, climb into silo thing, and there are more pitiful meows and more language, and eventually our daughter heads up the ladder. She gets to the part where it gets dark, and down she comes. Now, I'm ripped, so I head up the ladder again, and I get to part where my knee starts to hurt, so I come down. My husband goes looking for lumber, thinking to make a makeshift ramp, or something, but nothing is lending itself to the cause.
So we have another consultation. Whisper appears to be just fine. He's in a sheltered place. We have a neighbor who's a building contractor who will come over first thing in the morning and brave the ladder. Morning is just a few hours away at this point. (Our daughter points out that she mentioned all of the above an hour ago in the kitchen during our first council.) So we go home and go to bed, leaving a message on our neighbor's answering machine to help us rescue a cat first thing.
Trying to sleep when you're sick isn't easy anyway. No matter how I tried to lie, I couldn't breathe. I had one of those sore coughs that get worse if you cough, but you can't not cough. My ears were making all kinds of popping, squealing noises that sounded like a cat meowing. My bad knee ached. And you know those feverish, thirty-second nightmares that leave you all drenched in sweat? I had one those whenever I did dose off. I dreamed I was holding onto a ladder over an abyss and somebody was throwing human skulls at me. I dreamed I was holding onto a ladder and there were wild pigs below me, slavering and trying to reach my heels. And whenever I woke up, I knew my cat was stuck inside a silo.
At last, the alarm went off. I let Ruby and our good cat, Pumpkin, out, feeling worse than I had the morning before. I blundered around the kitchen a while, trying to decide what pills to take and if I'm even still breathing. I will obviously be worthless at school, since I would be capable of little save being living example of somebody with The Plague. I call in sick. And then I let Ruby and the cats in.
I've literally closed the door and am halfway across the kitchen before I realise that I've let TWO cats in. Whisper is there at the food bowl, just as normal as can be. I stare at him, wondering if the whole THING was a fever dream. I'm still kind of speechless when my daughter and husband meander into the kitchen. I point at Whisper, and from their reactions, I gather that it wasn't a dream. It sinks into all of us that not only was last night completely unnecessary, but our whole Christmas morning rescue was completely unnecessary! There is some more inappropriate language. The B word might even have been used.
As Whisper finished his breakfast and sauntered off to our bedroom, our neighbor called. We tell him that the rescue is unnecessary, and there is a pause, and then he kind of tentatively asks us if we know how dangerous that silo is. This, from a building contractor, who builds buildings for a living. In fact, he says he thinks the whole thing is about to fall down. We don't say much. And then he says that he guesses he'll seal the whole thing up this weekend. We agree that that would be an excellent idea.
So a few minutes ago, I slipped back into the silo, hopefully for the last time, to retrieve the cat crate and the towel we left there last night, in case our neighbor decides to board it all up today instead. And I notice I sign I'd never seen there before in the dark. It says, "Danger. Area may contain unexploded explosive devices."
Huh. I do remember something about a previous owner of the farm involved in a militia group.
So not only could we have fallen to our deaths, we could have blown up, too!
And Whisper just innocently washes his face.