When Frederick Francis Cale was a babe, he observed his father’s dog barking at a cat which had stepped across the street and swiftly dropped to his hands and knees and keened at the top of his lungs, to the surprise and amusement of his parents and the grand terror of the tabby, which, wide-eyed, sped off to the distant alley from whence it had come.
From that moment on, whenever young Frederick would chance upon a cat, he would fall to all fours and bark until exhaustion overtook him.
At first, his parents were greatly amused, but after several months the boy’s behavior remained unchanged. Mr. Cale feared some dark aberration had taken root in the lad’s mind, but could find no example, in the excavation of his memories, of any queer turning in the child’s development; his upbringing had, until recently, been completely normal, which made the boy’s strange behavior appear, in retrospect, all the stranger.
“Surely we should speak to him.”
“Oh, darling,” Mrs. Cale cooed, “Its just a phase. He’ll grow out of it.”
“Perhaps you’re right.”
The next month, the Cale’s neighbors, The Cumberlands, bought a young feline from the local shelter and gave it to their daughter Esmeralda, as a present for her birthday, who decided to take her new ward for a turn around the culdesac. When Esmeralda passed the Cale House, young Frederick, upon spying the cat, rushed to the window, howling and yelping and slobbering upon the glass, giving the girl a terrible fright and causing her cat to tug against its leash, tail flickering, hair standing on end. Mr. Cale shut the window, shot his son a withering glare, shook his head and bounded quickly from the house to greet the woman upon the green and grey.
“I’m sorry. We’ve no idea why he does that.”
To his great surprise the woman only smiled and laughed.
“Its alright. I’m sure its just a phase. Worse to be too strict than too lenient, right?”
A year passed and Frederick’s peculiar behavior remained unchanged—indeed, had compounded. The matter came to a head when, in the month of January of that year, Frederick, in one of his canine fits, tried to bite Esmeralda’s cat. Despite his wife’s protestations and the fact that the Cumberlands were nonplussed about the affair, Mr. Cale sent the child off to the local shrink.
One day, scarcely a month into Frederick’s new regime, the Cale’s phone rang. Mr. Cale answered and was greeted by a frantic female voice.
“This is the Cale Residence?”
“Yes ma’am. This is Arthur Cale. I assume this is about my boy?”
“It is. Please, come as soon as you’re able.”
“What happened? Is he all right?”
“There’s no time to explain. You must see for yourself.”
“Very well, I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
He hung up the phone and, with a thrumming heart, dashed to his car, and spun out of the short, white gravel drive.
When Arthur arrived at the shrink’s office, he found the psychologist snarling at a tree.
A cat upon its gnarled branches.