Christmas Eve -- I go to bed late and exhausted, and lie there realizing that I haven't seen one of our two cats for a while. As in, as least a day. Whisper doesn't usually go out in the winter, so I get up and check to see if he's gotten shut up in the attic or in the cellar or is under the bed. No cat.
First light, Christmas morning -- still no cat. So I bundle up and head to down to our neighbor's barn, with our dog, Ruby.The barn is at least a hundred years old and hasn't been used for the last twenty.The neighbors themselves don't live here in the winter. But this old barn is where Whisper goes when he's mad at me for some atrocity I've committed, like going on vacation and leaving his bowl to be filled by the neighbors, or taking him to the vet's. He'll stay in the barn until I come and beg and plead for him to come home, which he will deign to do if I carry him all the way back, scratching his chin in just the right spot. I realize that I might have erred this time by letting the house get too cold while we were having furnace problems recently. I suspect that he's in the barn, having a kitty pout.
I circle the barn a few times, calling his name. Nothing. I'm about to leave when Ruby pricks up her ears and I hear a very, very faint meow from inside. I call a while longer, but Whisper doesn't come out.The barn has many, many holes in the walls and foundation, but only two doors that open. I get in the first one, but there's no sign of him where I am, and no way into the rest of the barn from there. So I go around to the other door, move the rock that's holding it shut, and go in. I've never actually been inside the main barn before, and there are holes in the floor as well as in the walls. It's dark and just about as unsafe as anywhere I've ever been. Nor do I have a flashlight. But I make my way carefully to the far back of the barn, where there's a strange "fixture" that was added years later -- some kind of square silo that's taller than the barn itself, very narrow, and has a rickety ladder build into the far wall that runs up the whole inside of it, with several narrow landings you can step over onto, if you want to. I have no idea what the purpose of the thing was.
I'm still thinking Whisper is down under the barn floor, so I step over this really wide, scary dark space onto the ladder and go down, thinking how no one in the family has any idea where I am, or even that the cat is missing, and that if I fell to my death, no one was going to find me for a long while. But there is a streak of courage in me, and I go boldly down where no one has gone before, not at least for a long, long time (except a lot of spiders).
But I can still hear him meowing.
Reason asserts itself, and I climb to the main floor, tell Whisper to hang on wherever he is, and head home for back up.
The family is less than thrilled that we'll not be opening stockings right now, we're going to go climb around in a cold, dark, dangerous barn.
So with husband, grown daughter and her boyfriend, and teenage daughter, we return to the scene, armed with flashlights. We approach the strange structure at the back of the barn. Faint meowing. We listen, argue, listen, comment on the spider webs and holes in the floor, and the narrow ladder rungs. We listen some more, argue some more, and conclude that since I've already been down, the cat must be UP.
The teenager daughter gets voted to climb since she's young, strong, and will fit up the narrow passageway around the ladder. She goes up to the first landing, under protest, looks up, and comes back down. Yes, Whisper is up there. All the way at the top of the peak of the roof, stranded on a narrow ledge. Yes, he looked okay. No, he didn't look like he was coming down any time soon. NO, she wasn't going all the way up there.
I think the next step is to call the fire department. But no, wait. Our grown daughter's boyfriend is an EMT with firefighter training. The problem -- he has a big heart and a brave soul, but he's not exactly a small person. And he's actually a bit scared of cats. But he heads up the ladder.
Afraid to watch, I dash home for the cat carrier, thinking that if we can get Whisper into it, it'll be easier to get him down the ladder, though I'm afraid that the space is too small for a person and the carrier, both. Of course, I can't find it at first, and by the time I return to the barn, our personal firefighter is on the ladder and Whisper is now several landings below him. Our firefighter managed to scoop him off the ledge but wasn't able to hold onto him all the way down, and in a struggle I'm glad I didn't witness, Whisper ended up on the landing above us. Closer, but not budging. And our firefighter doesn't dare move for fear Whisper will dart back up the ladder again.
Now the cat is freaking out, so we send the teenager up again. She manages to get Whisper calmed down, but her arms are too short to reach him. So she climbs back down and our grown daughter goes up. She can reach him, but she's afraid to take her hands off the ladder. So the teenager and I reach over the abyss and try to hold her onto the ladder by pushing on her legs. Not sure how effective this technique is. I'm imagining the ladder breaking and the floor collapsing and all of us being found a week later in a pile. Probably the cat would have been the only one to walk away, and I have to wonder how the forensic team would have pieced together our last moments, and if they would have been able to figure out what on earth we had all been doing in the old abandoned barn on Christmas morning.
My daughter gets hold of Whisper and tries to hand him down while I reach up as far as I can. We can't quite reach each other. No one is having a good time. Finally, she drops Whisper down to me. Ever caught a falling cat in midair over an abyss? I did it, but won't ever try it a second time.
For the first time in his life, Whisper is eager to go into his carrier. A few moments after that, every one is down off the ladder, and we make our way back toward the open barn door.
An hour later, Whisper's tummy is full and he's asleep in the middle of our bed. We're all cleaned up and have antibiotic ointment on our scratches, the Christmas turkey is in the oven, and we sit down to a late breakfast and our stockings.
It's probably completely lost on Whisper how lucky he is that he was adopted into such an awesome family.