My knuckles were white from grasping the rock face of the cliff and my knees and feet hurt from scraping and pulling at the rock. I swear I had a dozen blisters inside my hard brown boots, but I didn't care. Climbing was my life. I'd always loved to reach peaks and stare down at the world from great heights, being able to say that I made it there all by myself.
I had come with a group of friends, but I had strayed away from them, wanting to experience the elements on my own. I had told them I'd be back before sundown. I felt like I could do anything I wanted in my life. I was full of independence and freedom. I closed my eyes and let the wind blow back my long shiny black hair.
I remembered the times when I was younger, before I had mountains, I had trees. In the summer I loved to feel the cool bark of the tree against my cheek as I lazily daydreamed about my future. My cat, Princess, would often follow me, and we would enjoy our paradise together. I always ended up playing fireman, as my cute little Princess always found it easier to climb up than down. I had owned Princess for a long time, but I couldn't remember exactly how she came into my life. Was she a present? Or did she just show up on my doorstep one morning? I shook my head; I couldn't remember.
My mother would always yell at me to get down off those branches before I killed myself. I thought she was going to blow up and take the whole earth with her when I fell off a dead branch and broke my arm. The memory made me laugh. I love to climb.
With my mind back on the mountain, I opened my eyes again and took in the beautiful sight before me. The sun was at its zenith. The land stretched out as far as I could see. Mountains rose up on either side of me. A forest of pines crept along the horizon; the sight was breathtaking.
My climbing gear clinked and clanked as I continued to pull myself up onto the ledge above me. Finally I was able to sit down on the hard overhang of rock and rest my aching limbs. My chest heaved in and out from the exertion. I set down my pack and let myself rest. I intended to close my eyes for only a second. I did not follow my intentions.
* * *
I was awakened by a low snarling 1 growl. Sitting straight up, I reprimanded myself; I had not meant to fall asleep. The last rays of the sun were just slipping over the horizon as I saw my predator. My terrified face reflected in the glaring yellow eyes of a full-grown cougar.
Three words. "Oh . . . my . . . God . . . "
I saw the brown-and-yellow blur and lightning silver claws of the killer flash through the air as he charged.
* * *
My world was thrown back into my childhood as I watched my life flash before me. Am I about to die? I tried to scream but no sound came out. All I could do was watch this strange vision of my younger life, as I was not really there.
"Come here, little kitty," my younger self coaxed to a kitten cowering in a dark alley. I remember now; this was how I had found Princess. I watched the kitten who was to become Princess snarl and hiss at the child who was me. I looked so confident back then. I wished I was back home with Princess. The kitten continued to snarl and bite at my younger self. It didn't faze her. I listened as my younger childish voice filled the air with song.
"What are you hiss-is-ing for?
I'll someday understand
What makes a tiny kitten roar,
There is something you don't see,
Trust in me, trust in me,
Trust in me, trust in me."
I watched in amazement as Princess's yellow eyes eased into a greenish blue, and her bared teeth were brought back into her mouth. I had always had a way with cats, but I had not remembered it like this. The child who was me continued to sing as she stroked the charmed cat. Princess lay down her head and closed her eyes under my touch. I was lost for words.
The image disappeared and was replaced with the glaring eyes of the cougar. Immediately I remembered and, filled with panic, jumped to my feet. The powerful cougar pressed forward, his bared teeth hanging out of his mouth and his lethal claws scraping against the ground. I felt myself backing up and I wondered frantically how long I would last if I ran, except there was no place to run to. Now there was nowhere left to go but down. Taking a quick glance behind me I could see it was either a fatal drop or cougar. Death or death.
The cougar prepared to attack. I closed my eyes and waited for the end. Why do I have to die? And to be killed by a cougar? Why does it have to happen like this? A cougar was just another cat, and I love cats.
Just another cat . . . At once a plan formed in my mind, although a very weak and far-fetched one, and I commenced to sing. My unsure and frightened voice wavered at first as I watched for how the cougar would react to my strange behavior. The notes filled the air and the song became stronger as I gained confidence. The cougar became confused and backed up, unsure of what to do. I continued as the cougar sat down on his haunches, a strange look in his eyes. I cautiously crawled away from the rocky edge. The cougar scrutinized my every movement.
"Trust in me . . ."
The wild cat was entranced by the song. He let out a mighty roar and lay down at my feet. My predator closed his yellow eyes, laying his head on his deadly paws. I snatched up my pack, nervously backing away to find the rest of my group, aware of how close to death I had come.