Windtaster stretched his branches towards the pool, then towards the driveway where the orange boat stayed, then towards the house, then towards the azaleas. Aaaaah. But Shorty was on his trunk, and it tickled. He called to his old friend, Anklo, settled in the deep grass. “Anklo, do you see the lizard on my trunk? Can you reach him?”
The ancient box turtle peered up at the oak. “Too high for me, friend, but perhaps one of the cats is ready for a climb.”
As it turned out, one of the cats was. Anklo drifted over towards the porch, and found Strider.
“My friend the oak tree needs some help. One of the lizards is on him, and I think it tickles. He may be trying to take a nap … hard to tell with an oak tree, of course. Can you help?”
The thought of lizard on the tongue was enough to bring Strider to full attention. A full stretch, a yawn big enough to swallow that lizard whole, and he was ready to go.
Should he bring some help?
What did I say? Did I say that out loud? Surely not. How embarrassing.
“Let’s go!” he said to Anklo, and then remembered. Turtles do not “go” in anything approaching cat speed. In fact, he could have agreed to meet Anklo at the oak tree, and taken another nap in the meantime.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Did you say where, exactly, the lizard was?”
“Well, they move a lot, as you know. And it took me a few minutes to find you. When I saw him last, he was just above the first big branch, on the side facing the rising moon.”
A few minutes, Strider thought. In cat hours, that would be … days? Months?
“Thanks!” he replied, and bounded off.
From the foot of the tree, he peered up. No sign of the lizard. Of course, the little critter would have seen Strider approaching. Jumping to the trunk, he scrambled up.
Approaching the first branch, he moved slowly. One glimpse is all he would get.
The oak shuddered. “Anklo.”
“Yes, my friend.”
“This cat is worse than the lizard! His claws really tickle!”
Anklo laughed. “I have known you since your first leaf came looking for the sun, youngster. I have known many of your brethren, for many, many summers. I have never known a tree that was ticklish. You had best trust that I tell no one, and hope the cat forgets. If the knowledge of your … problem … were to spread, every lizard within three days’ travel would be here to torment you!”
Windtaster sighed. He knew it was true. Best he think of other things, and hope the cat found what he sought quickly, and everyone left. He stretched out again, feeling the sun on his leaves, feeling the breeze through his branches and leaves, feeling that lizard on the higher branch! Sigh.
Strider continued to climb. The tree seemed to shudder under his feet. Strange. Must be the wind.
Shorty had seen the pursuit begin, as Strider came up the tree trunk to find him, and thought he might have some fun. The cat did not know where he was, so … he could be anywhere. Under the cat, for example. He slipped onto the branch Strider had chosen, and dropped to the underside of it. As Strider carefully worked his way out, Shorty moved carefully towards him, peeking now and then to see Strider’s tail and be sure of where he was.
Strider decided the lizard must be somewhere else, so he began backing up.
That’s no fun, thought Shorty. He turned, ran to the end of the branch, and popped up on top. Puffing out his throat and pretending not to notice the cat, he instantly got Strider’s attention. Strider headed back out onto the branch, and Shorty went out onto a twig, jumped to the back of it, climbed back down underneath the branch, and resumed his pursuit of the unsuspecting cat.
Strider ran, then walked, then began walking very carefully on the outermost reaches of the branch. There was no nearby branch the lizard could jump to, and they were high enough that no lizard would jump to the ground from this high up… probably. So this was beginning to look like a sure thing. Mmm, he could taste lizard already. Where was that silly thing?
Shorty came underneath the cat. This was tempting. Too tempting. What should he do? What a great story it would be … “Lizard Bites Cat!”
Strider was far enough out he was very unsteady, and it was a long way to the ground. The lizard was so close he could smell it! Where was he? His tail twitched slowly on the branch behind him.
Shorty could not stand it. He came up on the branch behind Strider, and bit his tail.
At just that moment, Windtaster could not stand it either. Having both the lizard and the cat at the same place on the same small branch just overwhelmed him, ticklish as he was, and he jerked the branch.
Suddenly Strider found himself in mid-air, twenty feet off the ground, with a lizard clamped on his tail.
Shorty let go, and spread out to get as much glide effect as he could on the way down. Wow. I never would have jumped from this high! Wonder if this is what it feels like to die! His life passed before his eyes, all he could remember of it. Two days’ worth, or so.
Strider twisted around, desperate to get his feet under him, and crashed into the flower bed. Gardener must have turned on the soaker hose, because it was a muddy mess. He climbed out, disgusted, and found Felix looking at him. And Fenix. And Jasmine. And … good grief, everybody.
“That was great!” they said. “What a stunt! Can you do it again?”
“Right. Did you see a lizard?”
“Yeah. He went that way, and we think he was laughing!”
Strider and his friends are from The Oak and the Cliff series of books.