The black panthers were stuff of legend. For one man it is not just a legend anymore.
|The night was haunting in the moonlight and he could make out almost everything around the house as if it was daylight. The hoot owls up in the hollow was in beautiful voice tonight, calling back and forth to each other. The little stream that ran past the house was gurgling but not quite as loud and big as when the big storm had came through a few days ago. No, tonight was cool and clear with countless stars in the sky but with a noise he wasn't used to. That was why he was outside in his underwear with his rifle in hand.
When he first heard it, it almost sounded like a woman was way back up in the in the hill screaming and the hair shot straight up on the nape of his neck. Then his coon dogs immediately started howling and carrying on like there was someone outside their pens . He got out of bed and hurried to the closet and grabbed his 30-30 and ran outside to see what was going on. The frogs and crickets were chirping away as if nothing was out of the ordinary although it just didn't feel right to him. Something was in the air and he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He peered up into the woods, glad the moon was so big and bright tonight because he could make out almost everything. He must have stood there looking for almost a half hour before he decided to go back into the house. The dogs had quitened down too so he thought whatever it was must have moved on.
Just as he stepped up on the porch he heard it again. The scream was no more than fifty yards away and he almost peed himself it was so loud. The dogs were cutting a fit again and clawing at the chain link fence that was going around their pens, trying to get out. He just stood there, frozen in his tracks. He couldn't decide whether to go inside and call his brother to come or to stay outside and see what this was. He knew what he wanted to do but he didn't. He decided to see what was going on by himself. Except for the barking of the dogs the night was deathly quite all of a sudden. The Barred owls were no longer hooting and every frog and cricket on the place must have been scared silent too because they no longer was chirping.
Then he saw it. It looked at first like an overgrown house-cat, slinking along the edge of the weeds and brush about thirty yards out. But no, this thing was bigger than any house-cat he had ever seen and it was solid black except for the fiery coals where eyes are supposed to be. Just for a few minutes he forgot he had a rifle, he was so mesmerized by the cat. At least he thought it was a cat. The cat thing then made eye contact with him and when it did he felt a chill, even more than the one he already had. This one was like someone had just stepped over his grave.
Then he suddenly remembered the old tales he had heard of the panther cat, something like a mountain lion or cougar but not exactly. Some folks thought it was only peoples overactive imagination and some had sworn they had seen it. He now was in the latter category. He was scared breathless and for some reason he was amazed at the same time. All his young life he had tales of the black panther and now, for all he knew, he was staring right at it. The cat made no attempt to come closer and actually sat on its haunches, looking straight at him.
He remembered the tales of the black panther. Some called it a black cougar but there was no hard evidence it was a cougar and that is why it was considered a myth, or legend. And he also remembered it foretold of impending death. Good thing he didn't believe that nonsense. Much anyway. But here it was, big as life and he had mixed feelings. Should he shoot it just to prove he had seen it? He had made his mind up to do just that if it got up and started to come closer. But what if it just sat there and stared at him, like it was doing now? The dogs had even calmed down and the frogs and crickets and owls were back in full voice. The night was normal again, except for the black panther and Joe Hoskins staring each other down. The way the moon was shining and reflected off the cat, the animal almost took a surreal look, like it might not have even been there. All of a sudden Joe thought it was beautiful.
Then the cat slowly got up and started walking the perimeter of the brush, back and forth, it's long tail swaying back and forth but not taking it's eyes off of Joe. Joe brought the rifle up to his shoulder and took aim, his finger barely resting on the trigger. For about three minutes the creature stalked back and forth, looking at Joe. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared it was gone. Joe didn't even see it go. It was there then it was gone like a puff of smoke or a dream. Joe wasn't sure which it was. The sun was starting to make it's presence known with a tinge of red sky in the east. Joe had absolutely no idea how long he had been outside. As he made his way back into the house to put on a pot of coffee, he heard the scream again. Strangely, it didn't bother him this time.