Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Mystery of the Cougar

It was just another day in the life of Rita. She woke up with the sun, transferred to her wheelchair, and went to the kitchen to get the cat food she put out for four community cats: Little Mama, her two sons Munchkin and Ringtail, and Little Girl from another litter born at the same time. She opened the cabinet door and scooped two cups of food out of the container she kept the food in.

When Rita opened the door, she saw a man riding bareback on a white horse. People didn’t ride their horses back there. She watched him take the horse down the hill into the creek, where weeds had grown as high as the horse’s back. She looked away for a minute, and when she looked back, the horse was standing still without its rider.

Alarmed, Rita tried to think fast. Should she call 9-1-1? What happened to the rider? The horse appeared to be stepping purposely as if to stomp on a snake. Did the rider get thrown? About five minutes later, the rider appeared and climbed back on the horse. Then they rode out of the creek and back through the park.

The following day, Rita saw a woman carrying a bow and arrow… walking down through the high growth. This, too, was highly unusual. The huntress continued walking past Rita’s ability to see where she was headed, so she closed the door and continued with her morning tasks. But she could not get those two incidents out of her mind.

Filled with curiosity, Rita called out to Gertrude, Thomas, and Esmeralda… three mallard ducks that hung out together in the creek – known as the Quackers – because they often spread rumors. Most of the time, they just floated along quietly and peacefully with the current. Today, the noise of water splashing as they were taking their daily bath drowned out her voice. At last, a heron swooped down into the water toward them.

Heron: “Hey guys, the lady up there is trying to get your attention!”

Gertrude: “Oh!”

The ducks shook the remaining water off their feathers and waddled up out of the creek to Rita’s patio.

Esmeralda: “What’s up? Heron says you are trying to get our attention.”

Rita: “Did you see a white horse down here yesterday?”

Thomas: “I saw the white horse. Some stupid idiot rode it into the creek where the cougar was fishing for her breakfast. When the horse saw the cougar, he freaked and threw the idiot off into the water.”

Esmeralda: “Thomas, it’s not nice to call people stupid idiots.”

Thomas: “Sorry.”

Rita: “Thomas, did you say cougar? There was a cougar in the creek?”

Gertrude: “Oh, yes! Good thing we were way up the other part of the creek… or we could have been breakfast instead of the fish.”

Heron: “I only saw that cougar when there was a full moon. Maybe it is a vampire cougar.”

Just then, Squirly Squirrel appeared. “I saw the horse, the man, and the huntress, too. She raised her bow and arrow and shot the cougar in her chest. But what was strange is the cougar vanished.”

Rita: “Vanished?”

Squirly Squirrel: “Yes. Vanished. I saw it from the top of the tree.” Then, he picked up an acorn and ran back up the tree.

That afternoon, when Rita opened the door again, Little Mama was sitting still by the edge of the door looking down at the water dish. She looked very tired. Before Rita could say anything, Little Mama said, “Rita, I’ve come to say good-bye.”

Rita wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw a lot of blood on Little Mama’s chest. Alarmed, she opened the door, but Little Mama backed off and slowly walked away. Because Rita was wheelchair dependent, she couldn’t go out on foot to follow her.

Squirly Squirrel returned a short time later bringing his wife, Angela. “Angela has something to report.”

Angela: “I saw the huntress shoot the cougar. The cougar broke the main part of the arrow off just before she turned back into one of the neighborhood cats.”

Rita: “Oh, no! Could that be Little Mama? She was here earlier, and I could have sworn I saw blood on her chest.”

Rita went to her kitchen and looked up out the window to see Little Mama sleeping under her car. She got her mobility scooter out and rode over there but couldn’t do anything. When her attendant arrived, who had fourteen cats herself, she laid down on the ground and tried to get her out. But Little Mama didn’t want anyone touching her and somehow got the strength to run out from under the car and off to another part of the apartment complex. The attendant reported she saw a stick in her chest.

Little Mama didn’t show up for breakfast the next morning, and Rita was very worried. Squirly and Angela arrived and said, “We will run around and see if we can find her.”

Meanwhile, the other three cats were off somewhere doing their jobs as security officers… keeping mice, rats, and snakes under control. They returned late afternoon for a snack of dry cat food. Squirly was sitting on the stump on the side of the tree switching his tail around to get the cats’ attention.

Squirly chattered away at the cats. “Where have you been? We have an emergency!”

Ringtail: “Ground patrol. Five mice, one rat, and a snake. What’s the emergency?”

Squirly: “Something has happened to your mother. Rita wants to talk to you.”

Munchkin and Ringtail cautiously approached the patio where Rita was waiting.

Rita: “Hey guys, have you seen your mother?”

Munchkin: “Not since this morning at breakfast. What happened?”

Rita: “I think she was shot in the chest with an arrow.”

Ringtail: “Oh, no! I told her not to wander around the creek during full moon!”

Rita: “Why is that?”

Just then, their cousin Little Girl appeared. “What’s up?”

Munchkin: “Mama was shot with an arrow while she was a cougar!”

Rita: “Little Girl, do you know anything about this?”

Little Girl: “Yes. Auntie killed a baby snake last month. Her mother turned out to be a snake witch and cast a spell on her. The snake witch also sent for the huntress to shoot her.”

Rita: “Oh, my! What are we going to do? Mama won’t let anyone touch her… so we can’t get her to a vet.”

Little Girl: “I don’t think Auntie wants to be helped. That spell did more than just turn her into a cougar. It also was a spell of doom. She no longer wants to live.”

Rita went back inside, wishing she could catch Mama Kitty and get her wound treated. She looked up out her front window to see Squirly running across the parking lot. Angela soon followed. They saw Little Mama laying under a car in the next parking area and came back to tell Rita. She got her mobility scooter out to follow the squirrels. Just as she arrived, Little Mama climbed up into the motor of that car.

Rita: “Oh, no!!! If the lady who owns this car comes out to start it, she could be toast! What do I do?” After experiencing a few moments of panic, she decided to call the cat lady. Teri was the one who founded the TNR program and knew these cats. Even though she had been up most of the night, she decided to come out and assist. She brought a trap and blankets. Rita went to knock on the car owner’s door and asked her to open the hood. But Little Mama was a very smart cat and managed to get away. For an injured cat, she sure was fast… and was soon out of sight.

Meanwhile, the city had hired a goat keeper to bring a herd of goats to eat up the overgrowth in the creek. He had his goats in another area of the park when all these events occurred and were moving them in that evening. He happened to be walking by to count them when Teri returned that evening with additional traps. He asked them to wait for him to finish counting, and then he could talk to them. Teri and Rita filled him in on what was going on. He was relieved the cougar didn’t eat any of his goats and said he would keep his eyes out for her. Teri gave him her business card.

The following morning, Teri called Rita. The goat keeper called to tell her he found Mama Kitty. She had passed away further up the creek… and knowing how special she was, he buried her, placing an arrangement of rocks shaped like a cat on top to protect her. He also tied orange flags on nearby branches, so Rita could find her.

Munchkin, Ringtail, and Little Girl conducted a proper cat funeral. Some of the other nearby colony cats attended as well. Rita visited the site several times, and Teri said that Little Mama was now the angel of the creek.

 In memory of Mama Kitty who passed away in 2019.

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