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November 27, 2023

The Beast

By Frederick Foote

It's a good day. I get underway with a six-mile hike up Little Bear Lake Trail. I beat the summer heat and hit the Trail at 5:30 a.m. on this first glorious day of summer. Well into my trek, on my right, there's a flash, a dash, a fleeting bit of golden fur between the bright, green leaves and bold, dark branches.

I freeze in place in stone cold fear. Shit! A mountain lion, a puma, a panther, the only thing like that in these woods. Shit! Man, I should maybe turn my ass around on this not so good morning.

But turning back might make the beast think I'm fleeing and that might invite a predator-on-prey attack. Still, moving forward I could be moving into its territory and promote a defensive attack. Fuck me!

Just, three months ago and seventy miles south of here a cougar attack on two cyclists left one cyclist dead.

Standing here frozen in fear is not going to get it. I jam my walking stick furiously into the ground three times and shout "Fuck!" with each strike. I walk on. This can still be a good day. Right?

Damn, it could just be somebody's golden retriever or lab. It could be a coyote. I have seen coyotes out here plenty of times before. But, I know it isn't. I know in my heart of hearts that it's something far more fierce and dangerous.

Still, nothing out here's as devastating as the ravenous creatures ripping me apart in the real world. Health insurance just leaped well beyond my reach. I don't see any retirement in my future. Work will leach the life from me and I will die at my desk. Unemployment's low, but neither I nor any of my friends can compete with the ruthless cash buyers from out of town. We can't afford to rent or buy a house, and some of us can't afford an apartment. Shit, I might be soon living in a homeless jungle along the river.

And in the White House, we got a crazy clown king and a party in power that supports him. To me, it looks like a pile of orange shit in a pool of pale piss.

That puma can't be more dangerous than the hypertension inducing, ball-busting racial and gender hostility I face each day in the land of the Second Amendment assassins and the home of the brave blue butchers.

Man, I would rather confront the blond beast than a blue-clad "peace officer" frightened to deadly violence by the mere sight of my dark skin.

A pair of crows sitting on a limb above me caw in telepathic agreement with my unspoken thoughts.

Goddamn! Sounds like a low growl coming from thick brush about thirty yards to my right. The crows scream and flap rapidly away.

Someone has pushed the mute button on all of the buzzing, hissing, slithering, sounds from the wildlife near me.

I have a half-mile to go to my turnaround point.

I have six months to go on my apartment lease before the management doubles my rent.

My car warranty ran out one month before my transmission died.

Time is not on my side.

Damn it all to Hell. This morning I'll take my chances with nature's beast.

I stride forward, whistle a tune I recall from my childhood.

The ditty reminds me of my mother, her tongue as keen as a razor cutting our father to ribbons with that slashing blade. I see her turn her piercing gaze on me, flick her tongue, wink.

I sweat, wipe my sweat, try to forget and to hold my pace.

And it's there, on the right, it's keeping up with me. I can hear it, sense it, feel it. Oh, shit!

Wait, wait, I was checking out shoes in Nordstrom's on my lunch hour and I felt the store security people on my right and left watching and waiting. Shit, I got a better chance with this unprejudiced puma.

I stop. Wipe my brow. I take a moment to take in the view of Little Bear Lake down the hill. Forget the four and two-legged beasts. This is one of my favorite spots on this hike -- no, one of my favorite places, period.

About a month ago, while driving along the North Shore, I saw our dream house. I screeched to a halt, took out my phone, took about twenty pictures of the appealing palace we could never afford to even pay the taxes on. I was four blocks away from that impossible dream on the hill when the police car stopped me with lights and sirens.

On the Trail, the birds are back, and the sounds of all the creatures great and small are everywhere. There's a gentle breeze. I could stand here for a very long time. I could live and die here, "Mr. Mountain Lion. That's not a cue for you."

I sigh, continue on my way escorted by a screeching scrub jay, ubiquitous mosquitoes and a gaudy white and green butterfly.

When I got married twenty years ago, my sister said, "You're a hypocrite Negro. You talked all that black power shit in school, and here you are marrying the whitest British girl you could find."

Shit! I think the beast's no longer on my right. I feel, feel it is directly behind me just out of sight. Ah, shit! Shit! Shit!

Just before my Scottish wife and I divorced six years ago, she said, "Harold, sometimes I see you staring at me with such a fierce hatred it wilts my soul."

I stop for a moment. I feel the thing following me stop with me.

At age ten our daughter said, "I'm not black, and I'm not white, and I don't have a side except maybe suicide."

I stride forward again, that daughter became a force of nature destroying, rampaging, and rebuilding her own world. I laugh out loud with pride.

"I'm not laughing at you brother Panther. I'm not laughing at you at all."

In June of last year we buried our eighteen-year-old son with his drug paraphernalia and a picture of the boy he loved. I wipe away my tears of sorrow and anger.

"I'm not crying out of fear of you, big bad ass cat. Don't get the wrong idea, okay?"

All right. Thank God! Here at last. Amen. I'm here at mile three. I turn back to face the trail. I know that somewhere along my return trek the beast lies in wait.

I empty my lungs with a scream that shakes the leaves from the trees. My feet are eager to take the path home. I start with a quick pace, move on to a trot and before I know it I'm racing down the trail toward the kind claws and gentle fangs of the beast.

Article © Frederick Foote. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-10-22
Image(s) are public domain.
2 Reader Comments
03:43:57 AM
All kinds of big bad-ass cats frequent this world - you've got a huge percentage- maybe more than your share - but I like your style of handling them!
09:48:46 PM
I love the parallel between the fears of the unknown- those wild and domestic. The reveal of the loss of the 18 year old son is a surprise and reminds us all that this narrator has already had his worst fear come true. Bravo, Fred.
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