THE REAL PROBLEM WITH ARTIFICIAL TREES • by Cathy McCrumb

My patrol had taken longer than I had anticipated, and I returned at dusk, the cold December air clinging to me as I snuck back into the house. After weeks of spying, I finally had the intel from the last home on the street, and the information on those twins couldn’t wait until tomorrow. Santa was making his trip tonight. There were no little elves to run these covert operations this late in the season; they were all busy filling last minute orders and finalizing the packing. Instead, he was relying on agents like me to get him the last minute updates for his Naughty and Nice List, and I needed to access the Santa Network to do so. I didn’t have a lot of time left: I had to get the message out immediately.

That’s when the sharp, almost acrid, smell of a new artificial tree bit at my nose, making me sneeze. Drat! An artificial tree could be a problem. Real trees worked better. The cell structure transmitted information on the network better than plastic and metal did.

Staying out of sight, I slunk across the front room, my thoughts in disarray. Sure, I had broken the boughs of the real tree contacting the Boss two or three times last week, but did the people have to replace it, tonight of all nights, with a fake one? How was I to transmit the information? If only I could get to the top, the very top, where there was less interference, I could make it work, but experience told me I was too heavy. I needed a real tree… unless!

Rupert! Rupert could get high enough in the fake tree to make this work. He was smaller, lighter than I. Yes, his daintiness would be an asset…

I crept through the room, hiding behind the furniture. Trying to make as little noise as possible while still alerting Rupert, I scratched the textured fabric of the old rocker recliner. He turned to face me at once, suspicion in his bright eyes. As I held his gaze, he quieted, and I wordlessly gave him the report. He nodded once. This was more important than our petty differences.

I stretched, flexing my muscles, then launched myself into the air. With a thud, I hit the sliding bolt that held him prisoner. Wrapping my claws around the knob at the end, I wrenched it open. As he fluttered out and the bird cage crashed to the floor, I, with my usual grace, flipped sideways and landed on all four paws. I tore across the room to take refuge from the ensuing chaos.

A chorus of shrieks from our people drowned out the stuff they called music. Honestly, I could sing better than that. Even Rupert could.

“No! Stop it, Shadow, you stupid cat!”

“Rupert! Catch Rupert!”

“Somebody stop Shadow!”

But Rupert was free, and with a show of fear to cement the people’s concerns, he flew to the top of the fake tree, accessed the Santa network, and sang a song of how the twins down the street had been exceptionally good, but our own children’s behavior was mediocre at best.

Not wanting to be put back outside in the cold, I hid far under the sofa while they caught and imprisoned him once more. Later that night, I sauntered over to Rupert’s cage to thank him for his service. He didn’t mind me being terrifying, not this time. He understood the importance of the job.

With a final stretch, I eased my way over to the tree and climbed up to hide inside the branches. I could still hear the patchy hum of the Santa network filtering through the artificial branches as I drifted off, pleased we’d done our bit to keep the Boss informed. After all, we animals can always tell if someone is, as Rupert says, a bad egg.

I wasn’t surprised to find a new scratching pad in the morning. Santa’s good like that. He even brought something for Rupert.


Cathy McCrumb lives in the Midwest and, sadly, does not have a cat at this time.


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