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Kountry Life Memories

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A Scream In The Night
The year was 1948. That means I was 5 years old. How do I remember that far back? Well, in His infinite wisdom and for reasons known only to Him, God has blessed me with the ability to recall events from about my 3rd year until present. Not everything, but things which for one reason or another became memorable. This is one such event, indelibly imprinted in my then young memory by cold, stark fear. It was one of those oppressively hot Texas nights when the air itself felt hot on the skin. No electricity, no fans or AC, we sat in the back yard under the oak trees hoping to catch even the slightest breeze. There were several cots under the trees where Dad, my two older brothers, & I slept nights such as this. Mother & my two sisters slept in the house, preferring the heat to the buzzing, crawling, & creeping critters that frequented the outdoors. This night Mother & Dad sat in cane bottom chairs & my middle brother, my two sisters & I sat on the cots watching the heat lightning & listening to the crickets, owls, & whippoorwills. My oldest brother had gone, after chores, to run his trap line & see if he had a fox, coon, or possum to add to the pelts on stretcher boards drying on the smokehouse walls. Yeah, I know, summer pelts aren’t worth much, but every 2, 4, or 6 bits adds up when you’re 17 & saving up for the motorcycle that town guy has for sale. You know the one. The big blue & white Indian with the Indian head on the front fender that lights up, the little blue lights around the saddle & saddlebags, & the big chrome “crash bars”, &….well, you know the one. I’m sure my sisters would have been talking about Rita Hayworth & Betty Grable & giggling over Clark Gable, Cary Grant & various other heart-throbs of the time while my brother & I plotted whatever mischief we had in store for the girls. Mother & Dad were quietly talking between themselves when suddenly a dark shadow streaked from the darkness & scrambled under our cot. It was our feist dog, which had gone with my oldest brother & now was cowering, trembling, under the cot. Now this was the dog that kept the longhorns & brahmas at bay while I wandered through their pastures. This was the dog that would, without hesitation, jump any dog or varmint that came in his territory or when we said sic‘em & now he was hiding. Add to that the fact that he came in by himself. In those times, it was not a good sign if a dog or horse came in alone. Dad was instantly out of his chair, peering into the darkness to see if my brother was close behind. Mother began to wring her hands & my sisters, brother & I checked the dog for injuries while also watching fearfully. As we all instinctively moved close around Mother & Dad, the dog came out from under the cot & stood in front of us, ears & hackles raised, growling into the darkness & glancing back at us, ashamed & hoping we had forgotten his earlier cowardice. Suddenly, in the distance, we heard a faint sound, a high-pitched keening sound that lingered in the still air, a sound you would imagine a banshee or similar demon would make, crying out in their torment. “Oh my Lord! What was that? What was it Reagan? That can’t be Odell…can it?” “No, that’s no human sound.” “What is it Daddy? What is it?” “Y’all hush now! Listen!” “Listen? To what?”, I wondered, my young mind trying to comprehend the total silence. It was as if every living thing except us had ceased to be. Not a sound to be heard except our own hearts pounding in our chests & the occasional low growl from the dog, trying hard to regain his former courage. “RRRROWER-EEEEEEEEEEEEOWWEROWWERR-UNGH….UNGH!!!!!!” None of us landed in the same place we had been standing. We all hit the ground running for the safety of the house, Mother & the girls screaming, boys yelling, Dad trying to calm everyone & get us to safety, the dog losing it again & soaking both hind legs. The scream/roar/coughing growl rent the still air like a knife, much closer this time, coming our way, moving fast. Icy chills of fear were chasing each other up & down my spine as my hair stood on end….Wait! There was another sound, getting louder, closer, a thumping,..no,..a pounding,..no,..running footsteps as my brother materialized from the darkness, eyes big as silver dollars, sweat soaked, & breathing hard. As relief at his safety flooded over us, we gathered around him & started to flood him with a barrage of questions. “What is that?” “You OK?” “What happened?” “RRROWERRR—RROWREEEEEEEEOWWERRGH—UNGH—RR-UNGH!!!!” “GET IN THE HOUSE!!! It’s right there by the barn!!” Safe in the house, going from window to window, seeing nothing but imagining everything in the shadows, the questions started again. “What is it? Did you see it? Did it chase you?” “I don’t know what it is, but it’s big, I know that much. I was down on Joplin Creek, had a ‘coon in a trap, & the dog started whinin’ & growlin’. I figured it was another ‘coon so I said ‘sic ‘em’ but he wouldn’t. Bout that time that thing screamed & the dog took off. Well, I left that ‘coon & took off right behind the dog, but he outran me. I could hear that thing in the brush so I moved out in the open, stayin’ close enough to the trees in case I had to climb one. I Don’t know if it can climb or not. Anyhow I took off & that thing stayed right with me, just inside the treeline. I could hear it coughin’ & growlin’ all the way home & then it screamed again just as I topped the hill. I bet it’s one a them catamounts but they ain’t sposed to make that much noise in the brush. I’ll look for his tracks tomorrow.” Huddled behind the safety of four walls, we listened as “it” prowled & growled, coughed, & grumbled it’s way around the perimeter of our home, then finally it was quiet again except for the usual night sounds,..crickets, the lonesome call of the whippoorwill, & the ghostly hoot of an owl. Next morning, no tracks were to be found in the rocky soil. While we were looking around, two cowhands, Wilmer & “Meskin” Tom, rode up all excited, horses blowing. “Y’all see anything last night? Somethin’ killed a calf over on the LaGrone place. It’s purty tore up.” The last night’s adventure was repeated & questions started again…. “What do you think? Reckon it’s a catamount?” “I don’t know. Kinda sounds like it & kinda don’t. What do you think, Tom?” “Qien sabe. Mebbe El Gato Diablo Grande.” “Big devil cat? Why? What’s that?” “He ees ghost cat. Beeg, beeg ghost cat. No see..no track..he come..he keel..he go…mebbe….?” My brother no longer ran his trap line at night & we didn't sleep outside for a while. Two years ago, before my brother passed away, we were reminiscing & this incident came up in the conversation. I asked him what he really thought it was that night. “I don’t know, probably a big cougar” he replied. “What I do know is I was so durn scared I had tears runnin’ down both legs.” So what was it that frightened us so bad all those years ago? Cougar?..Probably. Big Foot?..We had never heard of such back then. El Gato Diablo Grande?….Nahhh!......Still..????

Submitted By: John Shaffer (Ol Tex) from TX on 2005-06-12

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