Excerpt from Ripped to Shreds
"Screech! Screech! Screech!"
"What the—?" I started to ask Boonie Whetstone, the owner of the Rest 'n Peace RV Park, which was nestled amid the tall pines in the Bighorn National Forest. He was in the laundry room with me, emptying quarters out of the machines into a three-pound coffee can. He'd wrap and resell them to customers to use to do their laundry, he'd said. Now that was a recycling plan I could appreciate.
"What in the world was that?" I asked. I'd dropped my basket of clean clothes, startled by the eerie noise. "It sounds like a woman screaming out there in the, um, out there in the—"
"Boonies?" Boonie chuckled at his pun after finishing my sentence for me. As I bent over to collect my clothes, many of which would have to be refolded, he replied, "Could be a number of things. A screech owl, perhaps. Maybe even a female mountain lion."
"Screech! Screech!" We heard emanating from within the not-so-distant forest again.
"Yeah, my guess is a lion," Boonie said with a knowing nod, as if telling me there was a wild baby bunny running amok in the woods. If there was a bunny running out there, it was probably because a mountain lion was chasing it, intent on devouring the poor thing for lunch.
"There are mountain lions that close to us? Couldn't they come right into the campground?" I asked nervously.
"Yes, of course. The elevation's eighty-nine hundred feet here, and I don't have an electric fence around this RV Park, you know." He laughed and winked, not at all concerned about the possibility of having feral, customer-eating cats in the vicinity.
"Maybe you should invest in one."
As if he hadn't heard me, Boonie went on to explain. "Female mountain lions, or cougars, will scream like that when they're calling out for a mate. Their mating season usually runs from December through March. It's mid-April, but they'll mate at other times of the year sometimes."
"Well, there goes the 'Rest 'n Peace' aspect of your park, Mr. Whetstone," I said with a shudder. When we'd first arrived, I'd thought the RV Park's name was a clever idea for such a quiet, serene campground, but now I found it more ironic than cute.
"Don't worry. They're not apt to bother you. Wouldn't hurt to carry a can of pepper spray when you're out and about on the grounds, though. We sell some in the office for just that reason. Probably not all that effective, but it gives our customers a little peace of mind, anyway."
"I'd settle for a little peace of mind at the moment. I'll go buy a can right now while my last load is drying."
"Sorry, ma'am. The store's closed on Sundays. Only the check-in desk is open."
Swell. "Not apt to bother you" and "not all that effective" were not comforting phrases to me. I didn't have pepper spray to carry on my way back to the Chartreuse Caboose, our thirty-foot travel trailer. What I had was a spray bottle of Shout; a stain remover, not a cougar remover.
"Screech!" I heard again as I took a step outside twenty minutes later. Its source appeared to be eerily close. I quickly stepped back inside and closed the door, giving myself a few extra minutes to bolster some courage. Leave it to Rip to request the site at the farthest end of the campground. "Closer to nature," he'd said. Closer to wild, dangerous animals, too, I thought. And, at the moment, too blasted far from the laundry room for my liking.
I can't stay in here forever. I told myself. When I'd left the trailer, my husband had been watching our team, the Dallas Cowboys, getting routed by the Patriots, and was no doubt snoozing on the couch by now. I'd have to move as briskly as possible returning to the trailer. If I come face to face with a cougar, my only option will be to try to 'Shout' it out'! Not a very reassuring concept!
I made it back to the trailer in record time. And that's taking into account I had to stop once to pick my clean clothes up off the gravel and shove them all back into the basket in one big wad. When a toddler I'd just passed shrieked for her mother, I'd come completely unglued. I'd flung the basket, armed myself with the bottle of Shout, and assumed a defensive posture, all in the space of a second-and-a-half. The young child, now terrified of me, was a cute little girl, and I prayed she wouldn't become an hors d'oeuvre before "me-ma" took her back inside.
When I entered the trailer we'd painted chartreuse, with yellow and brown sunflowers to give it even more style, my husband of nearly fifty years, Clyde Ripple, better known as Rip, was just waking up from his nap. There were four or five cheese puffs scattered across his chest as if he'd fallen asleep mid-snack. He was intrigued, but not all that apprehensive about having big cats in the area. "We'll pick up a couple cans of that pepper spray tomorrow if it makes you feel better. Are you still planning to go garage-sale shopping with Cora?"
"Yes. She's picking me up in about an hour. Willie will hang out here with you while we're gone. In the meantime, I need to fold these clothes for the third time and put something in the slow cooker for supper. Rump roast sound okay?"
"You bet! My rump's about to waste away to nothing, you know." We both laughed. Rip had put on fifteen pounds since retiring from law enforcement six years ago, and he wasn't exactly emaciated back then. Following his retirement, we'd sold our home, gotten rid of most of our belongings, bought the Chartreuse Caboose, and hit the road as full-time RVers.
At the present, we were in northern Wyoming. My late brother's daughter, Cora Beaufont, and her husband, Dirk, lived in Buffalo, just east of the Bighorn mountain range.
Cora's father, Dusty, the youngest of my four brothers, died ten years ago when Cora was twenty-nine. She and I had always been close. Dirk, an engineer for a large oil company, was spending three months in Ingleside, Texas, overseeing the construction of a large oil rig. We decided it'd be a good time to visit Cora and our great-nephew, twelve-year-old William, or "Slick Willie" as we called him. We'd keep them company while Dirk was away on business. I was looking forward to a fun month in Wyoming with my favorite niece.
* * *
"Hey, Aunt Rappie! Over here!' Cora called out across the crowded garage. Story, Wyoming, a town north of Buffalo that fewer than a thousand folks called home, was having a city-wide garage sale all weekend. We'd already been to three places and found nothing of interest. Many of the same people we'd seen at the other sales were now shopping at this one, as well. Clearly, we were all on the same circuit. When I approached Cora, she was holding up a camouflaged box the size of a brick. "Here's what you need!"
"What is it?" I asked.
"A game camera!" She'd been told on the way to town about the screeching I'd heard in the forest. "You can attach it to a tree in the woods and get photos of any kind of critter that passes by. It's motion-activated, and takes color photos during the day and infra-red ones at night. Cool, huh?"
"Yeah, real cool. Except that'd involve actually walking into the woods where a mountain lion might be waiting to stalk me like a baby moose. No thanks, sweetheart!"
I had to admit, though, the possibility of capturing a photo of the critter making the spooky sounds was enticing. Unfortunately, at times, my curiosity was stronger than that of our fifteen-pound cat, Dolly. And I was more apt to be killed by it, too, I realized.
"Take Uncle Rip with you to set the camera up and check it for photos occasionally. He does own a gun, doesn't he? After all, he was a county sheriff for six or seven years."
"Ten, actually. But I'd never let him shoot an animal," I said. "Except maybe with his pellet gun just to scare it off."
After much debate with Cora, and even more with myself, I decided to invest in a like-new "critter cam". I hadn't planned on spending my entire twenty-dollar wad on only one item, but it was exciting to think about what kind of critters I might get photos of in the forest. I could feel my enthusiasm mounting.
Little did I know at the time that my new critter cam would snap a photo of a critter of the two-legged variety; even more menacing and lethal than a mountain lion.