by Joelle Steele

Once there were three city cats who lived in the penthouse apartment of a big red brick building. Rosie was the oldest at fifteen, and she was in charge of things. She was a long-haired grey Persian with big orange eyes who spent most of her time dozing in the sun under the tall windows that overlooked the city. Misty was an eight-year-old silver tabby with little white mittens on her feet. She was timid and shy and liked to nibble on the house plants in the windows. Slick was the youngest of the three. He was a three year old, very active and playful Siamese, with beautiful blue eyes that he kept hidden under a pair of sunglasses. Slick liked to lay in the hot sunny window soaking up rays.

One day, there was a scratching at the front door. Misty heard it first and was scared. She thought it might be a big dog and she did not like dogs at all. Rosie was used to strange sounds and she ignored the scratching and went back to her nap. But Slick was very curious. He went to the door and listened, and then cried out in his best and loudest Siamese voice, "Who's there?"

The scratching stopped. "It's your cousin come to visit you," came a voice from the other side of the door. Slick, always anxious for a playmate, jumped up on the chair beside the door, and using his paws to turn the big knob, he opened the door.

Standing in the doorway was a big, scruffy, orange tiger cat. He had a scar on his nose and one of his ears was nicked. "I'm Baxter. I live with your humans' relatives in the country. I've come to see what city life is all about."

Slick stepped aside and let Baxter in. He was impressed by this strange cat who was so much bigger than he was. He didn't know what to say. Rosie yawned and stood up on shaky legs. She cautiously approached Baxter and sniffed at him. He didn't smell right to her but he seemed okay and she turned away and went into the kitchen to get herself a snack. Misty had retreated to the top of the piano — the one place in the house that was strictly forbidden to cats. She peered out from behind a vase of flowers and growled softly to herself. Misty did not like strangers, not even feline ones.

Baxter walked into the room and sniffed the furniture. It all smelled funny, not at all like the plant and flower smells from home. Slick followed his country cousin as Baxter checked out the whole apartment.

"Is this all there is?" he asked, after examining the last room and returning to the living room.

Slick was indignant. "What do you mean? This is a penthouse apartment!" he exclaimed.

Baxter looked at the living room. "But what do you do here all day?" he asked.

Slick walked over to the piano and rubbed his back against one of the front legs of the instrument. "Lots of things. I'll show you."

The two cats walked over to the three-story kitty condo. Misty watched their every move from her perch atop the piano. She wasn't completely sure that she wanted anything to do with this strange feline.

"We play hide and seek in here," explained Slick. "And sometimes one of us hides a ball inside and the other two have to guess where it is."

Baxter nodded. He pictured his own games of rolling in the hay in the big barn at his country home. Slick jumped up on the window ledge and Baxter followed. "This is where we watch pigeons — see, there's one now!" Slick chattered at the pigeon as it came to rest on the ledge of the building across the street.

Baxter watched, remembering that he had chased and almost caught a big, fat, blue jay that very morning. Misty became a little more daring and jumped down to the piano bench where she continued to eye her friend Slick and the big orange stranger. Rosie came out of the kitchen and crawled up onto the sofa by way of two stacks of carefully placed books. She began to wash her face.

"I know," said Slick, "Let's play ball. Here's a brand new yellow ball." He jumped down from the window ledge and began to paw furiously at the ball as Baxter looked on.

Slick continued to chase the ball around the room, flipping the carpet up and knocking over the umbrella stand by the front door in the process. He was obviously having a very good time.

Baxter sat down at the foot of the sofa and looked up at Misty. He thought she was a very pretty little cat and he wished that she was more sociable. He glanced over at Rosie who had finished her bath and was dozing. Eventually, Slick grew tired and flopped down at the foot of the piano bench. Misty looked down at him and pawed at his head. He looked up at her and looked at Baxter. "Don't you like to play at all?" he asked.

"I like to play outdoors," he answered.

"Outdoors is a bad place for cats!" exclaimed Misty suddenly. "A very dangerous place."

Rosie stirred from her nap and looked over at the three cats. She was always alert to a good intelligent conversation.

"The outdoors is fun," argued Baxter. "You can hunt and you can explore so many interesting places. It's a lot better than being cooped up in this place all day long. There's nothing to do here."

The other cats looked at Baxter and then looked at each other. "We could go out on the patio," suggested Slick.

Rosie gave him a stern look. "You know the patio is off limits while the humans are out."

The feisty Siamese was getting his second wind. "Just a few minutes outside won't hurt anybody and no one will know we did it," he countered.

The old cat stretched and looked at the others. "I suppose it would be okay — but you better be very careful!" she warned. "Come right back in at the first sign of danger."

Slick jumped up and headed for the master bedroom followed by Baxter who was followed in turn by a braver and more daring Misty.

"This door is a little tricky at times," said Slick as he jumped up and pawed at the brass latch on the French doors. After three tries it began to loosen and with one last jump he managed to unlatch it completely. He pushed his nose between the doors and put his body weight against it, forcing the doors to open wide onto a rooftop patio filled with potted plants and flowers and a wooden table and chairs.

Baxter walked out and sniffed the flowers beside the door. Then he walked over and sniffed some green plants growing in a low bed enclosed by a wooden frame. Carrots and tomatoes were growing in the bed. He was instantly reminded of his own human family's vegetable garden.

"Come here," beckoned Slick. "This is where Misty saw a big rat."

Slick was pawing at a rusty old drain pipe behind some buckets and watering cans as Misty looked on from a safe distance. The orange tiger cat ambled over to the drain pipe and examined it by sticking his nose in it. "Country rats are as big as cats!" he boasted. "Couldn't have been a very big rat if it came from such a tiny hole."

"Oh, but it was," insisted Misty. "It was a big, ugly, brown rat and it flashed its sharp yellow rat-teeth at me!"

Baxter looked at the timid little cat. "If that rat shows up again I'll take care of it," he promised. The three cats explored the roof garden, sniffing the flowers, sampling the leaves, chasing flies and each other, until finally they became very tired and decided to take a nap. They found warm sunny spots in which to relax and they all fell asleep.

While they slept, Rosie came outside to check on them. She walked very slowly because she was so old, but she still stopped to sniff the flowers and managed to catch a butterfly snack. That was enough to wear her out and she joined the others for an afternoon siesta.

A loud growl and snarling woke the sleeping felines. The sound came from Misty who was staring eye to eye with a big brown rat who had awakened her from her nap. Her ears were pinned back and her teeth were bared. She growled and hissed at the ugly rat as it hissed and snarled back at her.

Baxter ran to Misty and pounced at the rat, ignoring Rosie who was yelling at everyone to forget about the rat and come inside. The rat escaped and Baxter chased it to the drain pipe where it reared up on its hind legs and flashed its teeth at him. Baxter again tried to pounce on the rat but this time his clumsiness landed him onto the buckets as the rat fled in the direction of the vegetable bed.

"Let me do it!" said Slick impatiently. He crouched down low and slowly and quietly inched his way along the frame of the vegetable bed. He could smell the rat up ahead and knew it was probably lurking around the corner. As Slick drew closer the clever rat surprised him by jumping down onto his back from on top of the vegetable bed! Slick squealed and growled.

The other three cats ran to him and Baxter jumped at the rat, this time grasping its tail in his teeth and pulling it from Slick's back. Baxter flung the rat in the direction of the drain pipe where it quickly recovered itself and scampered up the drain pipe and out of sight.

Four very frightened cats ran inside, pulling the French doors closed behind them. After they caught their breaths, they went to the kitchen and nibbled on some crunchy cat snacks that the humans had left out for them. None of them said a word the whole time.

Back in the living room they curled up in the hot picture window and bathed themselves in the afternoon sun. Rosie washed Slick's head, neck, and ears, and Misty did the same for Baxter. Just before they nodded off for another cat nap, Baxter spoke: "I guess the city can be as exciting as the country after all."

Slick nodded through half-closed sleepy eyes. "I guess I won't know that until I come and visit you in the country."

They were all clean and very tired, so they went to sleep and dreamed of the day's big adventure.