For every ridge, there was a canyon. Some were so deep the sun only shined down through the pine and fir about an hour on each side of high noon. The shadows were so deep it was always twilight.
Puma, Bear, and The Unknown lurked in those shadows. I rode in tracking a stray calf. I drew my saddle rifle, chambered a round, and levered back the hammer. I kept it at the ready.
The springs was the only water in 20 miles of heavily forested mountains. All the critters on the mountain shared the cool clear water. I would find something here.
I entered an Aspen thicket. A scream rang out echoing from the walls of the canyon. My horse could not be controlled and I dismounted with a bound. I brought the rifle to my shoulder.
I was terrified. I had never heard a scream like that. It was blood-curdling. I noticed the scrapes on the aspen bark. Like nothing, I had seen before. The claw marks were everywhere.
There are signs
The claw marks started 12 ft off the ground and were almost 2 inches deep. The scream came again. I scrambled behind a big gray granite boulder. I saw the cow and calf.
The bovines looked like they had been through a meat grinder. Worse There was a shredded puma mixed in with them. The screams seemed closer...hard to tell...the echoes...another sound
My heart was pounding. The hair on my arms stood up. What the hell was making that sound? Then I saw the scratch marks in the boulder, Another scream..much closer.
I didn't feel safe with a puny Winchester 30/30. My heart was in my throat pounding. I was sweating profusely in the cold mountain air. I heard something scrabbling through the pine duff.
I heard movement and another scream behind me. I turned and started firing. I emptied my rifle in the direction of the scream. Everytime I fired "it" screamed.
Then silence louder than the screams. Then the sound of twigs and limbs breaking coming closer. "It" was thrashing through the undergrowth. I was whimpering and slobering down my jacket.
Alone in the canyon.
I heard my hobbled horse scream and shriek. The saddle flew over the top of the boulder. I sat and clutched my empty rifle so tight my hands were white. I was blubbering.
Fear of the unknown
The sound of movement kept approaching from the other side of the boulder. I lost control of my bowels and my bladder. I could no longer think beyond my hat. Then I heard the final charge.