Big Cat Mishap, Part 1:
“There’s a cougar hangin’ around.” Chad grunted, causing everyone in the family to lift their heads up from the morning meal. Twelve-year-old Andrea Carter stared at her dark-haired older brother, thoughts racing through her head.
“A cougar?” she repeated, contemplating the words. “How do you know?”
Chad jerked his thumb in the direction behind him. “Found tracks this morning when I herded the cattle to the north pasture waterin’ hole.” He replied. “Big tracks, too. This feller’s gotta be at least three and a half feet tall.”
Andi’s oldest brother, Justin, choked on his spoonful of eggs at Chad’s words. This of course led to smothered snickers from her blond-haired brother Mitch, causing Andi to let out a giggle also. A look from her mother silenced any remaining nonsense from the two noisemakers and they turned their attention back to the conversation.
“Chad, you’ve got to be exaggerating,” Justin stated after taking a drink of water to clear his throat. “Three and a half feet tall? There has never been a cougar that big in the area.”
Justin’s right, Andi thought. Chad’s gotta be pulling our leg. But Chad’s face remained stubborn as he glared at Justin.
“I’m not exaggerating anything,” he retorted, slamming his fork down and leveling his eyes at the oldest brother of the house. “I told you what I saw, and I mean it. If you don’t believe me I suggest heading out to the barn and saddling up your horse, ‘cause I’m going to make a believer out of you after you see those tracks!”
“Chad, please don’t yell,” their mother, Elizabeth Carter, scolded. “I believe you saw some tracks, but I must side with Justin on the matter. Cougars don’t get that big.”
“I’ll be happy to ride out with you and see the tracks if you want, Chad,” Justin offered. “If it would make you feel any better about the matter.”
“As a matter of fact, it would,” Chad grumbled, spooning the last of his eggs into his mouth and then standing up. “See you in the barn.” With that he left the room.
“Boy howdy, he is downright set on being right today,” Mitch remarked.
“Not any more than usual,” Mother added with a smile.
“But cougar tracks that big? He’s got to be dreaming. Wait until I write to Melinda and Grandmother about this!” Andi snickered, and Mitch and Justin joined in.
Plop. Andi scooped a pile of manure from the stall floor into the wheelbarrow and sighed. She straightened up and brushed one of her brown braids behind her shoulder, then looked towards the barn door longingly. Whoever invented barn chores must have been really bored. She decided. Of course then again chores have been around ever since God created the earth. Perhaps in a perfect world she’d like doing chores. But this wasn’t a perfect world and she most certainly did not like doing chores. Better get back to work.
She’d just bent down to pick up another pile of manure when the sound of horses caused her to pause. That’s gotta be the boys, back from checking out the tracks. She glanced at her beautiful Palomino mare, Taffy, eating her hay quietly. She then looked down at what she had left to clean up in the stall. I can always finish this later. With that thought Andi dropped the pitchfork and unlatched the stall, running towards the front of the barn to see what her brothers had to say of their venture to the watering hole. Skidding to a stop next to the snubbing post, Andi took one look at their faces and paled.
Justin, Chad and Mitch dismounted from their horses and tied them to the snubbing post, their faces grim.
“What’s wrong? Did you find the tracks?” Andi burst forth, not wanting to wait for an answer one second longer.
“Yep, we found the tracks,” Mitch responded.
“Chad was right, this cougar is a monster,” Justin told her, his eyes betraying the worrisome thoughts in his mind. “Andi, you can’t go riding out until we trap this cat. This cougar is no doubt responsible for the loss of five of our cows in the north pasture.”
Andi shuddered. She remembered when Mitch came riding home and told them he thought some wolves had killed the cattle. One cougar killed five full-sized cows? Another thought popped into her mind.
“Wait a minute!” she cried, running towards her brothers as they headed towards the house. “Cory and I were going to go for a ride tomorrow and go fishing!”
“Well you’ll have to tell Cory it’s off until we’ve killed it. It’s not safe out there.” Chad cut her short, his voice warning her not to press the matter any farther.
Andi scrunched up her face and sighed, then turned around and dragged her feet back to the barn. This is not fair. I can’t believe some dumb ol’ cougar had to show up and scare the boys and mess up my fishing trip! This is worse than the fact school’s starting next month!
Storming over to Taffy’s stall she was shocked to find her palomino mare not in it.
“Taffy!” Andi cried, realizing she’d forgotten to latch the door when she’d left the barn. “Oh no, Taffy where are you?”
A flash of gold caught Andi’s eye and she turned towards the other barn door that led towards the rest of the Carter ranch. There she is!
Taffy was running like a young filly, bucking and twisting around as she enjoyed this newly found freedom.
“Oh great, just what I need today!” Andi moaned, grabbing Taffy’s halter and running out after the quarter horse. “Taffy come here! Here girl!”
Taffy paused momentarily to glance over at Andi, considering her master’s bidding. With a toss of her head she kicked up her heels and ran the other direction, deciding a run sounded much more fun right now then getting caught.
“No no no no!” Andi raced after her beloved horse. “No, Taffy come back!”
But Taffy continued to run until she disappeared into the wooded area of the ranch.
Andi stopped short of the trees, panting and holding her sides. This is not how I wanted to spend the morning. Now she’d have to follow Taffy on foot until she could catch the naughty mare.
Taking a step into the shaded area of the trees Andi stopped short. Chad and Justin’s warning raced through her head as she remembered what they’d said about the cougar. “Andi, you can’t go riding out until we trap this cat.”
The twelve-year-old girl glanced back at the ranch. The barn seemed so far away now and she could barely make out Mitch putting away the horses. No one seemed to have missed her-yet.
I can’t let Taffy roam the woods by herself with that cougar hanging around, what if he killed her? She couldn’t let that happen! And yet her brothers did warn her not to ride into the woods alone…
A thought popped into Andi’s head and a slow grin crossed her face. “Of course, I’m not riding alone, just walking.” She said aloud, her grin growing wider. “They didn’t say I couldn’t walk alone. Besides, Chad would be furious if anything happened to Taffy. I have to catch her!”
Andi’s mind was made up and without another thought she jogged into the treed area in search of her horse, pushing back any thoughts of doubt or guilt.