This was my first published story. Okay: so far, this has been pretty much my *only* published story. But let that bide. It's a true story, mostly. Happened when I lived on Saipan, in the Marianas Islands. That was from 1991 to 1998. The typhoon was in, hmm, must have been early '97. I posted the story on the Lois Bujold mailing list, and someone passed it along to a woman who edited a magazine, and I ended up getting some money for it. The money was very nice, but the main thing is... I miss Max. Still. Anyway. Someone just asked about it. I didn't keep a copy, but now that we have internet, I was able to find it quickly enough. So here it is.
I think I've mentioned that I have a couple of cats. Momo, the female, is small, calico, and very clever. Max, who used to be male, is fat, affectionate, lazy, cowardly, and -- there is no polite way to put this -- somewhat less than brilliant. Amiable dimwit is how I usually describe him. Feline moron if I'm feeling cranky. When Max was a kitten, it took him a long, long time to get housebroken. He couldn't figure out litter boxes, and couldn't distinguish between indoors and out... well, I *said* he was stupid. In order to get the idea across, I eventually had to be kind of severe with him (and no, I don't like being severe with animals, especially with cats, upon whom it's usually wasted). He never did figure out litter boxes, but one day the light bulb went on over his little brain -- ping! -- that's what OUTSIDE is for. Ohhh. When he finally did get it right, though, he became very diligent about it. He'd go outside and make a huge production of digging a DEEP hole, throwing dirt for yards in every direction. Then he'd dig a second hole, more slowly and carefully, to get dirt to fill the first one... yes, really. Not so bright, remember? This raised some additional problems, of course. Visitors began saying things like, "Doug, what the hell happened to your lawn?" But after another year or two of mostly gentle persuasion, I was able to convince him to restrict his sanitary functions to a few select areas outside the public view -- behind the flower bed, up in the little patch of jungle north of the house, and across the street in the junk yard, where he could dig and bury to his heart's content. Now, Max and Momo are boonie cats, distant descendants of sailor's felines brought by the Spanish galleons. For a hundred generations, their ancestors ran feral in Saipan's forests, living on rats and lizards and native birds, before people got around to re-domesticating them. So they've got the instincts of tropical animals, and they know all about typhoons. The falling barometer affected their behavior pretty obviously. Momo, normally the most independent of creatures, began hovering ever closer to me, drifting along at my heels as I moved from room to room. Max, on the other hand, went into the laundry hamper. As the storm moved closer, he dug himself ever deeper down into the sheets and towels and dirty underwear. By the time the first big winds hit, he had been down there for twelve hours or so. So. Fast forward to ten or so on Saturday morning. The eye of the storm was an hour away from its closest passage. Winds outside were sustained at something over a hundred miles per hour, with gusts up to one-forty or so. W ind noise so loud that conversation had to be shouted. Rain intermittent, blindingly thick one moment, clear the next. Boiling sky above, split by lightning every few seconds, and the occasional piece of random debris flying past -- branches, coconuts, pieces of corrugated tin, the hard plastic liner from the back of someone's pickup truck. I had all the windows boarded on two sides of the house, but not on the lee side -- we knew that the winds would come mostly from the south and west, and I wanted to be able to see out. So I was standing on the east side of my living room, ankle deep in warm water (leaky house, tile floor), and looking out over the small lake that had taken over my side yard, when I heard a plaintive little yowl. A familiar plaintive little yowl. It was the sound that Max used to make before I installed the cat door, when he desperately needed to go outside. "Max?" "Mrrowl." I have to go outside. "Max, you must be kidding me. We're having a typhoon." "Mrrowl!" "Max, we're in the MIDDLE of a typhoon. It's a hundred miles an hour out there." "Mrrooooooowl!!" I REALLY have to go outside. I've been in that laundry basket since yesterday. "Max... uh, oh shit." "Mrwl." Yes, exactly. "Oh, oh gosh. Well... let's take a look." I probably should describe the layout of my house at this point. It's one story, long and skinny from north to south. The south end faces the road across a small front yard. On the west there's a long skinny patch of lawn and then a very overgrown and scruffly flower garden. The north end has no windows, and there's a little patch of jungle behind it, presided over by a hundred-year-old breadfruit tree. To the east there's a big, low yard, which at this point was now a small lake, maybe two hundred feet by fifty, and nearly a foot deep. The front door opens out of the kitchen onto the driveway, to the south. There's a door to the west that opens on nothing in particular. So anyway, Max waddled over to the western door, picking his way across the wet tile floor, and looked up at me and mrowled again. I shook my head, but he just kept looking at me, so I grabbed the knob and shoved *hard* against the door. It wouldn't budge at first -- the wind was coming out of the southwest, hitting it almost square on -- but I waited until it subsided for a moment, then slammed my shoulder against it and jammed my foot in before the wind could knock it shut. Outside, the storm had laid the grass flat. The palm trees were bent into U-shapes, heads touching the ground. The rain had almost stopped for the moment, but the few stray drops were like BB pellets. And the force of the wind was such that I, 190 pound human, had to put my head down and lean far forward and brace myself just to look out the door. "No, Max, I really don't think --" But he was already hopping over my foot and out the open door. "Hey, what? Max!" He made a beeline for his favorite spot, the scruffy weedy little garden to the west of my house, across the little lawn. That western strip of lawn slopes a little upwards. I had never really noticed this before, but now I could see it clearly. Because, you see, the slope meant that the lawn immediately adjacent to the house was sheltered, just a little, at least down at cat-level, a foot or so off the ground. So Max got out the door okay. But once he moved a few feet away from the house, and started to ascend that little slope, the full force of the wind caught him head on. He slowed. He slowed to a crawl, and then to a creep. But he didn't stop. He flattened himself against the ground and, as I watched in amazement and growing awe, began to *squirm* forward across the wet grass. The wind was solid, smooth and glassy, palpable. The farther he moved from the house, the worse it got. From the door I could see the fat on his flanks and buttocks begin to ripple, and then to flutter. When he turned his head, I could see his jowls were pushed back against his shoulders, and his lips were flared into a rictus, like the face of an astronaut in a jet-sled. But he kept going. His claws were out and he was pulling himself forward like a mountaineer using pitons to traverse a wall of ice. Bit by bit, inch by inch, he crept forward to within a couple of feet of the far edge of the lawn. And there he stopped. The ground rose to a little ridge there. It was only a foot or two in elevation, but it concentrated the air flowing over it, and the wind speed was at its very highest just there. And no matter how hard Max tried, pulling with his front legs, kicking with his back, he couldn't cross those last few feet. His claws just could not get enough purchase on the slick wet grass. Again and again, he stormed that little ridge in slow motion, squirming forward into the howling river of air, clawing and kicking against the invisible power of the gale. And again and again, he would just reach the top, only to lose his grip and be forced backwards by the wind, claws digging furrows in the wet dirt. He tried tacking, zigzagging against the wind's direct path, but that was even worse: it turned his fat flanks broadside to the storm, and he lost ground even faster. At last, in frustration, he pushed himself as close to the top as he could and then gathered his back legs under him and leaped. The result was utterly predictable: the instant he left the ground, the wind just grabbed him and threw him back across the lawn, costing him all the ground that he had so laboriously gained. "Oh, Max!" He was back inside, wet, muddy, battered. "Max, guy, are you okay? Let me get a towel," But he was shaking himself and growling (growling? Max?) with frustration. "Max?" He looked at me. "Mrowl! Mrrrooooooowwl!" "Max, I know, but no way! Forget it, guy! Listen -- I'll make you a litter box, okay? Yeah, I threw the old one away years ago, but we can rig something up -- uh, I'll get a cardboard box, shred some paper towels, that Robert Jordan novel that somebody gave me -- listen, guy, you're not going to --" He gave me a look that stopped me cold. It was a look that I had never seen before, a look that was cool and stern and righteous. It was a look that said, as clearly as words: I know what is right even if you do not. A proper cat does not go in the house. Ever. "Yeah, but Max, it's okay, I never meant -- Max! Hey, Max!" H e was off across the room, splashing across the wet floor, and climbing up onto the back of the couch to peer out the (un-boarded) eastern window. This was a Max I had never imagined. This was a cat who was alert, intent, focused. This was a cat filled with grim resolution. This was a cat possessed. He stared out the window for a long moment, thinking (thinking? Max?) and then, in a flash, he was down on the floor again and zipping into the kitchen. "Max!" I splashed after him, just in time to see his tail disappearing into the dryer hole. Now, the dryer hole is set several feet off the ground, in the southern front of the house, facing the driveway. The cats can use it to get outside by climbing up on the washing machine, but normally they don't, because the drop is inconvenient. It's got a little tin shutter, which the wind had blown shut (some water got in, but that hardly mattered, water was getting in everywhere). I would have nailed it shut, but who could imagine that I would need to? How Max managed to push it open against the force of the storm will forever remain a mystery. But he did, and squeezed himself through. The wind slammed the shutter on his tail as he dropped down, and it scraped off a big tuft of hair and some skin, but he got outside. And now he was on the driveway at the south face of the house, with the wind coming straight at him. Opening the front door was even worse then the side door had been, because the front door opened inwards. Once unlatched, it wanted to fly open for good, letting the wind inside the house. I braced my feet, leaned my whole body against it, and cautiously poked my head out. The rain had started again, fat drops coming at us like bullets. Max was a few feet to my left, squashed against the bottom of the outside wall, the wind shoving him flat against the concrete like a cop arresting a criminal. I could see him shuddering as the rain hit him. A few feet beyond him, at the corner of the house, the drain from the roof was coming down like a firehose. "Oh, Max," I said. " Dumb idea. Dumb, dumb. Come on guy," I reached around the edge of the door. "Come on back inside. Come on. Psss, pss, pss --" But now he was moving, and not towards me, but away, towards the water spout. The water was coming down with tremendous force, the rain from thousands of square feet of roof collecting into this one spot, a gallon per second or more blasting down onto the driveway in a solid mass. Pressed flat, Max slid along the wall, closer to it, closer... and then he simply disappeared into the waterfall. "I didn't see that." I said it out loud. Max, my cowardly eunuch, walking into a firehose spray of water without an instant's hesitation? Max, who screamed like a skewered baby when I gave him his quarterly bath? Max? I put my back against the front door, braced my legs, and shoved it shut. Then I skidded through the kitchen, back into the living room, and flattened my face against the eastern window. The rain was coming down in diagonal curtains, and for long moments I simply could not see anything. But then it paused, and I saw Max. He was crossing the eastern yard... which was under nearly a foot of water. The east side was the lee of the house, partially sheltered, so the wind was not so bad. Still, it was whipping the miniature lake into whitecaps as it gusted around the corners of the house. Max wasn't quite swimming -- his feet could just touch the ground beneath the water -- but only his head, rump, and tail were above the surface, and the waves would go right over him. Still, he forged steadily onwards, chugging along like a little ironclad. When waves broke over his head he simply closed his eyes and ducked and kept going. Fifty feet, a hundred. He was heading north, crossing the yard the long way, moving almost parallel to the house but slightly away from it in shallow diagonal. He took a detour at one point to circle around something -- a deeper spot, or maybe some debris beneath the water -- but he never stopped moving. At the far northern end, the water got over his head, and he had to swim. He swam. "I'm not seeing this," I said. "I am NOT seeing this." Swimming? Max? I could not have been more dumbfounded if he had demonstrated the ability to levitate. And where was he going? A few more yards, and he'd be out of the lee of the house, exposed to the storm again. And then I saw it. Beyond the north end of the yard, set up on a little bank, was the patch of jungle. Most of it was exposed to the storm, and that part was a death trap, branches whipping wildly back and forth with terrible, maiming force. But there was one calm spot: the lee of the ancient breadfruit tree. Max never hesitated. He hit the shore, scrambled up the muddy bank, clawed his way across the stretch where the wind was angling in at full strength, and then gave a single enormous leap with the wind behind him to reach the trunk of the breadfruit tree. He hit it, clung, scrambled around it like a squirrel and he was home free, in the lee, sheltered. He backed down to the ground and slowly, methodically he began to dig. I watched with absolute fascination. Minutes passed as he dug deeper, careful, thorough. The wind got stronger, gustier, and more random, switching direction suddenly around a quarter of the compass, southwest west southeast. The lightning flashed and the thunder boomed. Max never looked up from his digging. More minutes passed. The wind got even stronger. Somewhere around this point, my neighbor's car port abruptly parted company with his house and took off for Taipei like a big corrugated tin pterodactyl, dropping pieces of nail-studded two-by-fours all across my lawn and roof as it headed up into the cauldron of the sky. I never noticed. I was watching my cat. And then he was ready. With an unmistakable air of triumph, he turned away from his deep, deep hole, backed up, raised his tail, assumed the position -- -- and the wind shifted ten points around the compass, from southwest to north, and gusted, hard, hitting him broadside and blowing him away, ass over teakettle across the flooded lawn. He went flying over it like a stone skipped across a pond, and then the wind picked him *up*, 140 mph gale lifting him like a scrap of paper, and flung him into the plumeria tree at the front of my house, ten feet off the ground. "MAAAAAX!!" I was out the front door without a second's thought, screaming across my lawn. Of course the wind hit me like a nose tackle me once I was out on my driveway, pow, and whoof suddenly I'm on the ground looking up at the clouds going by overhead much too fast. Pick myself up and, whoosh, suddenly the wind swings back into the southwest, and my writhing, squalling cat flies out of the tree and hits the driveway, bounces once, and throws himself on me and *clings*. I scream, grab him, let the wind push me back across the driveway, lurching like a drunken man, in through the front door, slip and skid, the wind is coming in through the open door and I fall again and the cat flies off, slides across the wet floor, and comes to a stop in the middle of the living room floor, totally drenched, flattened, with all four limbs outstretched like a cartoon character that's been hit by a steamroller. "M-M-M-Max," I said, wiping bloody claw scratches and rain, "you, uh, you, ah huh, ah hah, ah ha ha ha ha, ahh, hahahahahaha ---" I couldn't help it. Shock, reaction, and, dammit, he did look pretty funny. Flat, wet, fat cat, floored, looking back at me with big wild eyes. "Oh, Max, I, you, ah huh, oh ha ha ha," and now he was looking at me with dawning horror, cats hate nothing worse than being laughed at, "oh hoo hoo hoo, no, Max, haha, listen, hoo hoo, no, I'm sorry," but it was too late. He gave me a look of absolute and utter outrage -- he had just very nearly died, trying to do the right and righteous thing, and I was LAUGHING at him -- and then slunk off, wet, bruised, and trembling with shock and humiliation. He did his business behind the hot water heater in the back of the utility closet, and then he went under the bed in the spare bedroom and stayed there for the next two days. Didn't make a sound, didn't eat, didn't respond to my blandishments and apologies or to catnip or the open can of Friskies that I left there. Just stayed back by the wall, eyes wide open and gleaming back at me when I kneeled down to beg his forgiveness and ask him to come out again. He finally came out this morning, but he's not talking to me. When I called him, he ignored me. When I tried to get near him, he gave me one of those cat looks -- you know, the ones that say, "Excuse me, sir, but I don't believe I know you. Kindly do not be so familiar." -- and then ran away without letting me touch him. And he's right. He was so brave, and I laughed at him... I feel horrible. How do you apologize to a cat? Anyone?