The Mud CatJacob P. Silvia
Barry had decided to treat himself to a challenge. His hiking boots were now broken in, so when he picked his route through the woods, he picked one he had never done before. It promised lots of up- and down-hill steps, narrow paths, and the best thing of all: complete solitude.
As he walked down the trail, he took in the fresh smells of spring. The earth was loamy with a recent rain. That, mixed with the scent of maple and pine energized him on his trek. He took a deep breath, enjoying it.
When he reached the top of a hill, he rested beside a gulch and took a moment to appreciate the engulfing nature. He closed his eyes and listened. He listened to the wind rustling the leaves, the birds calling in the distance, and the panicked meows of a cat.
That didn’t seem right. He listened again. Sure enough, another pitiful meow echoed through the forest. He followed the sound until he came to the edge of the gulch. In the distance below, he saw the creature making the cries. The cat was covered in mud, and trying in vain to scale the wall of the ravine. He looked up and down the gulch, but close-packed rocks prevented much travel in either direction.
Barry pulled out his phone, ready to dial the ranger’s office. His phone, however, told him that it had no service. The cat meowed again.
Scanning the edge of the ravine, he looked for the best way down. A combination of tree roots and rocks line the wall. He gave the nearest root a tentative step. It seemed sturdy enough, so he proceeded downwards. All the while, the cat meowed at him.
When he climbed to the bottom, he hopped from the wall, his boots making a wet smack in the mud. The cat backed away from him.
“Here, kitty, kitty, kitty,” he called, wiggling his fingers together as he did this. “Tsk, tsk, tsk.”
The cat meowed, but still kept its distance.
Barry reached into his pack. He pulled out a stick of jerky. From this, he tore off a small chunk and tossed it to the cat. The cat backed away further when it landed, but after a moment, slowly crept towards the piece of jerky. After a brief sniff, the meat disappeared into the cat’s mouth. Barry watched as the cat gnawed the piece on its back teeth. When it had finished, it looked up at him and gave another meow, this one less frightened.
He tossed another piece, which the cat ate. After repeating this several times, the cat had managed to wander within arms’ length of Barry. He crouched down, and while making soft cooing sounds, scooped up the cat. The cat began to wiggle and squirm, but another piece or two of jerky gave it sufficient reassurance.
Clutching the muddy cat to his chest, he began his ascent. It took much longer to scale the gulch wall, being as one hand was occupied with cat wrangling, but soon, he had made it near the top. However, once his head, and the cat’s head, poked over the wall, the cat sprung from his arm, pushing off of Barry’s shoulders as it leapt.
This caused Barry to stagger back. Reaching out and grabbing at the closest thing he could, he clutched at a nearby root. This, however, being pulled with such unfamiliar force, fell free from the dirt wall. Waving his hands and knocking forth more roots and rocks, he fall backwards. After a short fall, he landed with a splat in the mud. His ankle hurt, sprained from the fall, leaving him unable to stand.
He sighed, the cold, wet mud seeping into his clothes. A slight meow echoed from above. He looked up. The muddy cat’s head peered over the edge. It meowed again, almost as a question.
“I’m all right,” Barry said. “Just hurt my ankle.” He let his gaze drift down the gulch wall, fresh holes indicating where climbable roots and rocks once protruded.
The cat sat down at the edge and began cleaning the mud from itself. When it had made satisfactory progress, it gave one more meow before disappearing down the trail. Once it was gone, Barry looked around the gulch floor, trying to find anything that might help him out of this mess.