He’d actually seen a mountain lion in that vicinity, and he swore to find the indisputable evidence of such. “Weren’t no wampus cat and weren’t no deer,” he claimed. Collecting scat to prove it turned out to be a tricky business, though. Either DNA from that mess or plaster casts of tracks would serve as testimony.
To search the dense forest was like finding that old needle in the haystack, but he plundered through the thick expanse of trees anyway. Poison ivy grew thick through the area, and he practically swam in Calamine lotion afterward to cover his welts and ward off itching. Darnell watched droplets of blood ooze up through the pink crust and coat the underneath of his fingernails from all the scratching. His wife scoffed, “That’s what you get for being so stupid. Everybody knows there’s no panther back in them trees.”
“Hell, yes, there is,” he refuted. “And I mean to prove it to everybody, including the authorities. ‘Specially after that one got hit down in Laclede County that Johnny Law had to take down and give to them Revenuers. ‘Member, in the paper?” he asked her.
She nodded in recollection but still thought her husband crazy as a loon. They’d heard tell of cats once roaming those hills before being effaced from the region by gunshot. Too many people still claimed to spot them, though, for Darnell to completely doubt it. His cousin swore to seeing them on his land over by Longmont more than once.
Right after Darnell stopped hanging out with his old friend, Harry, he thought he saw one for himself. Had he not sworn off going fishing with him because of all the Bigfoot shenanigans, Darnell would’ve asked that so-and-so to go squirrel hunting with him that day. Old Harry coulda been a witness to the woodland sighting, but Darnell didn’t want Harry’s lunatic reputation taking away from his own credibility. Nobody believed that one crossed County Line Road right in front of his headlights on the way home. He saw its size and recognized the fat tail. Fawn-colored coat be damned — it was no deer, and it was no dog.
Even Harry brushed off Darnell’s claim and said if as many pumas roamed their part of the country as people said, all their farms would be overrun by now. Said that must be some kind of virile male out there siring such a brood and he’d sure like to weigh in on the bet against that possibility. He didn’t care that Widow Williams attributed the scars down her mare’s hindquarters to a cougar attack and took no heed to her living by that riverbank with rock face and caves on the opposite side. “Big cats live out by the desert,” he professed, “not here in this farmland. And they’re certainly not huntin’ down that widda’s livestock.”
Darnell begged to differ. He asked him, “What about all them dead armadillas, huh? They used to live but down South. They been movin’ further up all these years, and now they’re squooshed all over highway. Makes it look like scute road pizza everywhere.”
The buddies ceased debating the presence of hillbilly speed-bumps once Darnell had his own experience with a cat. He got permission from Mrs. Williams, as any conscientious poacher would, to lay in wait for a mountain lion on her land. Rifle slung over his shoulder, he slunk below some low-lying cedar branches for three nights that autumn in hopes of spotting one of those mountain screamers. Preferably from a good distance. Family and friends considered him nuts.
He promised his wife he’d be careful. Darnell had no desire to be mistaken for a raccoon and become a cougar’s last meal before Widow Williams could hear his cries for help and shoot the animal from her back door. Surely she’d come to his rescue, her being the only one who ultimately believed him.
On that overcast day, the fall wind cooling the temperature down enough to necessitate extra clothing, Darnell lay in the underbrush wearing coveralls. Lulled to sleep in his warmth, he rolled over on his back and woke to see a scraggly evergreen canopy above him. A brown and gray beast rested in the higher branches that resembled his daughter’s silver tabby housecat so much he first thought it to be Tiger Lilly herself.
The size of the bobcat’s paws in comparison, jogged Darnell to full awakening at the realization of what looked down on him from its treetop perch. The animal flexed its phalanges to reveal gigantic claws from within its feet pads, and Darnell almost wet his camouflage.
Widow Williams heard the screams all right. She actually thought the neighbor’s peacock wailed in the evening gloom until she looked out the side window to spy Darnell running to his pickup parked in her gravel drive. Standing alone in her kitchen, she commented aloud to no one in particular, “Whoulda figured he could move so fast on such short little legs.” The woman shook her head and said, “Didn’t hear a shot, but he mighta seen something after all.”
*image via Wikipedia Commons