by Joyce Ann Brown
Here is another entry from our Halloween mystery short story contest-this one is a little less of a mystery, but is a fun Halloween story with just a bit of a mystery twist. The 2nd place story will go up on Saturday morning. Check out our Terrific Tales section to see all those that have already gone up.
“Wait.” I whispered the word and grabbed Sandy’s arm to stop her. Her tramping and chattering came to a dead halt, and the silence on the murky trail made me shiver.
“What is it?” she asked, matching my volume and note of anxiety.
In the long shadows, alarm made my heart race and caused my small, white-haired friend to hug herself as she stood in the middle of the path, her eyes focused on the inscrutable wall of growth on our right. I stepped off the trail and peered into the thick, dark woods. It was October 31, and the late afternoon walk Sandy and I took at four or five times a week became a twilight excursion at this time of year.
When I pulled back the closest bush in an effort to see farther into the thicket, a sudden swish of movement a few feet into the dark made me jump back. I pressed one hand against my palpitating chest.
During the ensuing seconds, images flew through my mind. A squirrel? No, too small to make that much commotion. A deer? Too large. A rabbit would make a different sound, hoppy and hesitant. A red fox, maybe? Could a fox make the high-pitched scream I heard?
Then I saw it. We both saw it if Sandy’s sharp inhalation of breath was any indication. On the trail behind us, a large cat broke from the woods, paused for half a second to face us and then leapt with wild gracefulness back into the underbrush on the opposite side of the trail toward the creek bed.
Not quite believing my eyes, I stepped to the edge of the trail on the creek side and looked into the darkness. All I could see was a ripple of water reflecting the last of the sunset. A series of squeals grew fainter downstream, and then I heard some tiny echoing squeaks from the woods behind me.
Sandy pulled me by the arm. “Come on, Jane, that looked like a wildcat. There might be more. Let’s get out of here!”
I agreed. Black tufts of fur on its cheeks, long ears, glittering eyes…
Overcoming legs that felt as weak as Grandma’s ring finger, I turned and we darted on up the walking trail toward home.
“I read that a bobcat was spotted on the outskirts of the city last week.” Sandy puffed out her words.
No kidding. It was Halloween. In another hour or so, little goblins would be out on this very trail, hiking between parts of our suburban neighborhood. Families had moved to this subdivision because of the way the cul-de-sacs were connected by green space and walking trails. Houses and yards were built to include the native woodsy area along the creek, and people commonly used the pedestrian bridges. Offshoots of the trail made loops through the community. We could walk for an hour or more without retracing a path. So could the trick-or-treaters. So could an angry wildcat.
Sandy and I turned off on the side trail toward our houses before we stopped running. I pulled out my cell and dialed 911. The operator promised to send someone to meet us at home. Outside my front door, Sandy pulled a long face. “Gee, Janie, I, uh, promised to help take my grandkids trick-or-treating. Could you – would you mind talking to the authorities without me?”
What could I say? I didn’t have any such duties this evening and Howie would be home from work shortly. A police car drove up to my curb just as Sandy’s, my next-door neighbor’s, front door closed behind her. One of the officers must have been a wild animal expert, because he asked all the right questions to nail down my description. “Now, are you sure you weren’t a little spooked and imagined those wild features from pictures you’ve seen? Big house cats can look similar.”
“It’s my neighbor who read the article about the bobcat,” I said. “I just saw what I saw.”
“Hmm. Bobcats normally stay away from urban areas,” he said for the fifth time. “They’re shy.”
Nevertheless, as soon as they were convinced, the police sprang into action like, well, like wildcats. The parts of the trail through the woods and along the creek were cordoned off. Officers directed parents and costumed kids to take the long way around through the neighborhoods. They snatched Sandy away from her trick-or-treating detail. She reluctantly put one of the parents in charge and joined the search group.
Howie, tired from a long day at work and confused by the turmoil, agreed to hand out candy while I trudged down the trail with officers who carried weapons and stun guns. My certainty that Sandy and I could point out the exact location of our sighting was soon quashed as we ended up wandering from tree to tree and bush to bush with searchlights, trying to remember anything unique about the spot. Animal experts took off into the woods in various places looking for signs of the bobcat.
At around nine-thirty, after Halloweening ended, Howie followed the lights and noises to find Sandy and me on the trail. He brought sandwiches, chips and bottles of water to replace our missed dinners.
“So? Any progress?” he asked.
“Not yet.” I dug into the appreciated food and drink.
Her meal munched to the last crumb, Sandy headed home, a tired grandma, but Howie and I stayed. He schlepped snacks and warm clothes and intercepted phone calls from neighbors while I roamed back and forth on the trail searching my mind’s eye for details about “the spot.”
Not until almost one o’clock in the morning did we hear someone shout from near the creek. “Found some scat and paw prints. Could be from a bobcat!”
Howie and I made our way down the trail to above where we heard the voice and the other officers crashed through the brush down to the creek. We were watching the points of light coalesce below when prickles formed on the back of my neck. I turned around, remembering the small squeals I heard after we saw the cat. This time, I heard faint mewling and scuttling in the dry leaves.
I grabbed Howie’s flashlight and pulled aside the undergrowth until, about six or seven feet in, I found a nest of tiny kittens. Bobcat kittens, I speculated, at first. Howie joined me. He picked one up and cupped the ball of fur in his hand while he petted it with one finger. “This isn’t a bobcat kitten. From its size and markings, I’d say a feral cat left her kittens here.”
A shocking thought struck. “This has to be the spot where the bobcat crept out of the brush and onto the trail. Do you suppose it was protecting these kittens and showed itself to lead us away from them? I don’t see a mother cat around here.”
Later, animal experts found bobcat fur near the kittens’ nest. Neither the mother cat nor the bobcat was ever located in our woods, but there was another wildcat spotting some weeks later in another county downstream. All four of the kittens were adopted by families in our neighborhood. I named mine Bobby.
Bobby’s story has been told and retold every Halloween since. It becomes scarier each time. The bobcat has grown into a giant mountain lion which eats a mama cat, steals her kittens and attacks stragglers in the search party. Kids spook their younger siblings and themselves into goose bumps with the tale as they walk our neighborhood trails on their trick-or-treating jaunts.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories (including more Halloween ones) in our mystery section.