“Was it you, Kaga? Are you going to save Mosi?”
“As you’ve seen, little one, I can’t jump very far – though as chance would have it, I was hiding in those trees. Imagine my surprise when I found I was sharing my perch with five cuguacara!”
“Cuguawhat? More monsters?”
“Did you think she survived in the wild all those years on her own? You are probably more familiar with the name ‘cougar,’ the big cats which roam the forests and mountains of our lands and whose scream, if heard, tells that you will soon die. As I’ve said, there were five of them, all different in appearance – at least, different to one who has an eye for details. One was clearly the oldest, with flecks of white around its face and cheeks, and long white whiskers. The other three were about the same size as this one, with varying patches of fur the sandy color of birches and the occasional orange and reddish brown. The fifth cougar was quite a bit larger, and this was the one that had leaped into the fray first, for an older brother must protect his sibling, no?”
Tohopka roared, a screeching sound of a higher pitch than before. The cougar’s claws had raked eight ragged gashes through flesh and eyes, long strands of hair drifting to the forest floor. Tohopka leaps to the ground, rolling on its back, but the cougar has already leaped off and landed a good distance away from its thrashing. It bares its fangs and lets out the rattling demi-roar of the not quite lion. Tohopka rolls back over, it’s mouth opening and closing, strands of spittle stretching from top to bottom. To either side of it, the three younger cougars have begun to flank it, legs tense and moving slow. The older cougar is next to Mosi, and it grabs her by the neck, it’s jaw closing just short of causing any damage to her damp, clammy skin. All eyes are on Tohopka, but Tohopka’s eyes are erratic, and though there are many, the staccato quick movements of the four cougars around it have it constantly rotating, its eight legs stumbling over the logs and branches around it. In between heavy breathing it growls, a much quieter noise than the roar of before, a single bee rather than the whole hive. A branch snaps under one of its claw-hoofs and it bends its legs, at which the three cougars all pounce at once, claws reaching and fangs bared. Tohopka flies into the air again, cougars in tow. Branches snap against their backs as they rise through the foliage. Forty five feet into the air, Tohopka begins to fall again, and the cougars dig in with all four paws and bite down even harder as the hairy mass picks up velocity. Right before its feet hit the ground it stops for a split second, claws an inch above the ground, and then touches the forest floor again. Its maw vomits forth some dark red blood and its eyes cease their rolling.
The cougars drop from its sides, legs shaky and mouths panting. The large cougar walks towards the gape-jawed and still warm corpse of Tohopka, rubbing against the other cougars on the way, one of whom stumbles and spits at him as he passes. He reaches the body and pushes against it with his front paws. In the space between the ground and hairy underbelly are the old cougar and Mosi. Mosi is still clutching the splintered sliver of tree upon which Tohopka was impaled. They are both panting and Mosi is covered in sweat, but smiling all the same, and she rubs cheeks with her mother.
“Is that it?”
“That is the end of my tale.”
“Mosi won! She’s so cool. I want to be just like–” the girl glances at her parents, who are partly smiling, partly frowning at her enthusiasm. They have to drag her away, and the other people of the village are beginning to disperse, talking of tomorrow’s toils and and saying goodnight to each other.
“It’s altogether unbelievable that such a creature existed, and if it did, there’s no way five cougars and a deformed outcast could slay such a foe. At least tales of Coyote are funny, if not believable.” He turns and leaves, and his friends look at Kaga with half smiles. He returns a smile and bows his head at them as they turn to follow.
“Would that you were right, young hunter.” Kaga whispers by himself as the last ember of the fire silently goes out, a strand of smoke twisting into the sky, the old man’s gaze following it, hands clasped in his lap.
Kaga watches from afar, hidden in the branches of an old oak, as the family of cats sniff and pick at the massive corpse of Tohopka, his eyes wide. Mosi bites the corpse and retches a bit, and the other cougars blink at her. She is hobbling ab it and still leaning against her mother. Kaga shakes his head and speaks softly to himself.
“The forest is bubbling in the heat of summer, even the trees seem to sweat. A girl is sitting at the top of a tall oak–” his voice cuts off, eyes squinted shut and his shoulders bunch up as the shivering cry of the hawk reverberates around him, and all six faces on the ground point in the direction of the sound from overhead. There is a brown blur as the bird man dives towards Mosi and, clutching her shoulders in his talons, drags her into the air. She flails and screams, a hoarse and keening noise that makes the hair on the back of Kaga’s neck stand up. Both he and the cougars watch as she’s carried higher and higher, and with each stroke of the bird man’s wings the two figures become smaller in the distance. All of this takes around seven seconds, and with the end of the seventh the five cougars bound off in the direction of the flight of the hawk man.
Kaga closes his mouth, relaxes his shoulders, and begins to work his way down the tree.
( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )