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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #2281941
You never know where you'll find true courage.
1328 WC for the Twisted Tales contest

It was Hank that taught me what courage was. He and Sissy Thomas, his wannabe girlfriend, and I were camping in the high country. Me, because Sissy’s mom, required it, thinking a small aged chaperone was better than none. The two had been caught mooning on her front porch, were old enough for court’n but too young to make a go of marriage was her parents thought.

I was taken aside and my ear bent on that fact. My own hellish nature, a legend in my time, was given whispered full reign to humble their romance. It was the first incident of forgiveness and freedom out of my room since getting the neighbor pigs drunk on Tyler's still’s homemade corn liquor and the invasion thereby of Hornaby’s home, now totally re-arranged to the pigs liking.

It was my get even for making fun of dad’s singing behind his back. If they’d been kindly and plugged their ears like the rest of us, there would have been no call. Was it dad’s fault that when he hit the high points it set off their guinea hens screeching to dad’s mating call? Maybe if those birds hadn’t confused Ma Hornaby’s favorite feathered hat on her head for sparring partners things might have gone different.

That is how I ended up with my freedom and license to practice my craft on Hank and Sissy. They knew what was up. Half the fun was doing nothing during the hike up the old deer trail to where the spring washed a flower speckled glade near the summit.

Sissy took the twitch in Hank’s eye for flirting. I knew it was pure being nervous, waiting for the world to turn upside down and how best to hang on for the ride. He’d plied me with all manner of bribes and offerings.

I now owned his favorite slingshot, he’d carved his own self. Hank filled my pockets with marbles and rounded rocks pried up along the way for ammunition. I’d taken the hint to practice missing retreating tails of squirrels, startling long eared rabbits attuned to my advance with their radar, and had caught a few tail feathers of magpies chastising me for doing so.

My presence would be gone long enough to get the two love birds comfortable enough to be perching into a hug when I’d announce myself behind them. They’d catapult theirselves into the air, find their legs, and land full running barely touching ground. What a grand sight.

I never knowed Hank was such a tree hugger. Sissy stared daggers at me whilst prying him off the most recent one and waiting for his eyes to uncross. Her boyfriend’s nerves being shot, she took up the challenge to use her charms on me where Hank’s bribes failed.

That portion of the hike ended with Hank trailing behind us, building up a jealousy would make any man proud. Sissy got so busy into laying sweetness on me she didn’t notice the signs. I admit, I misjudged when the kettle boiled over. Steam wasn’t just coming out of Hank’s ears and from under his collar, it boiled his skin and eyes red.

First thing, I found his fist flying past my ear. It took him following, over the edge of the cliff which Sissy and I were admiring the view from. Once again being a tree hugger saved Hank. He bounced from one to another like they were living trampolines, him singing out curses along the way.

I don’t blame Sissy for attempting to push me after. Her tripping, arching out into space, and joining her wannabe lover down below was apparent punishment enough. I pondered leaving them be, but mom’s contract with me required me to join them, although in a less ardent descent.

They were headed back home when I caught up with them. It was getting dusk. I crossed my heart and hoped to die if I did any more tricks, long as we didn’t walk the precarious trail downward at night.

I could tell by the looks from them, they both longed for me to fulfill my promise. I set up camp by my own self right there at the abandoned mine wed found ourself at, lost to human gaze for a century. Hank knew he couldn’t go on without me. They set up as far away from the other side of campfire as warmth would allow.

The mine was supposed to be haunted. I pointed out Tommy Knockers could be heard echoing using their picks from deep inside the hollow entrance if you listened hard. Sissy took that as opportunity to sit closer to Hank.

I felt trapped. There was that look in Sissy’s eyes semaphore’d by Hanks. I had given my truce promise. Grasping at straws, I stood up, faced the mine, and said the dead miners were calling me. I grabbed a lit campfire branch, swung it like a flag and headed towards the entrance.

A strange baby-like cry met me inside the darkness. Sissy have a startled cry right back, yelling that a child was lost in there. Hank knew better. It was a cougar, making the mine a mothers den, protecting her kittens, warning us off.

She appeared silent as a ghost, snarling and spitting, claws extended. I dropped my torch. It rolled, spun, hit the rock wall. Sparks shattered the shadows. The light sputtered and went out, not before the green eyes of the wild cat held me captive.

She was on me, knocking me to the ground, teeth and claws hunting purchase. I was a whisper away from sure death. Sissy’s screams joined those of the cat. She grabbed at Hank. I heard his shirt rip and tear off his body as I hugged the animal to me and prayed out loud.

Hank followed the sound. I let loose of the cat when its claws etched patterns into my flesh. Hank’s steps scattered rocks. The weight of the cat lifted into Hank’s grunt. I felt the broken slingshot in my pocket and rolled free, feeling the cougar’s soft stomach fur tickle me into faster motion.

My hand found the ember hued tip of the dead torch. It became a sudden weapon, swung back and forth, the cold mine air bringing it back into flashing light. Hank stood in the center of the main mine shaft swinging the cougar around and around by its tail, the cat snarling and screaming its fear and hate.

Three kittens ran past my feet towards the entrance. Hank, exhausted, dropped the cat with a thud, twisted its tail into a knot and sank back on his rear end. I batted the cougar on its way as it passed me, following its kittens.

Sissy helped the wild cat along its way with another lit branch from the fire; she'd hurriedly brought back to the mine, ready to join the battle. We looked at each other, wide eyed in the torch glare.

Hank and Sissy saved my life. It changed that night. My pranks and tricks seemed childish. The real action comes with helping others in need. Coming so close to death sobered the lovers as well.

They tied the knot a year later when gramps gave Hank owning rights to his farm. Getting old has side benefits when you have the right help around. I get asked to show the claw marks embedded into scars on my chest to prove the reality of that night.

Tales of the cougar with the knot in its tail grow bigger and more wild with time. Sightings still occasionally occur around the ghost mine where avid photo buffs are foolhardy enough to chance fate.

Hank says with a wink in his eye, that night was just a beginners lesson in learning courage. Now that I’ve given up pranks, Sissy caught the bug. I know, because I get blamed often enough for her doings. For both Hank and I, figuring how to keep a tiger knot tail kept tied to Sissy’s wildcat ways keeps getting harder to keep from unraveling.
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