It’s harvest time again and I am way too busy. There’s veggies to pick, food to can, and dogs to train. All I want to do I go look for the person I found. After telling Ruth about my encounter, she decided to name them “the feral”. I don’t think she wants me looking for them. She keeps saying they’re just as likely to attack me as any animal at this point. She may be right, but my curiosity has the better of me. I’ve moved the stuff from one of the bedrooms and put a bed in it just incase I find them. If nothing else it would be nice to have some help with all the stuff we’ve got to do.
On the plus side I have lots of good food to distract me. Ruth secured a lot of wild bird eggs and has been making pies. Some goose eggs she says are fertilized; she’s set in a warmer in hopes of them hatching. She says they can be domesticated, then we’ll have not only a supply of eggs but some additional guard animals. I know nothing about geese other than the horror stories I read on the internet before everything shut off. Either way, I’ve had to spend more precious time preparing another yard for livestock.
I feel like Ruth is purposely giving me more work than normal to keep me from looking for the feral. We’ve finally located two kinds of apple tree and I spent two days picking fresh apples which Ruth immediately pulled the seeds from and started the plants she says will make our own orchard. I thought we were going to just have some pies and cobblers. Ruth decided we needed cider and that I needed to learn how to make it.
It turns out making alcohol is more complicated than squishing the juice out and waiting for it to ferment. First, we had to gather almost every apple on the tree. Then I got to spend an afternoon pulping the apples into goo. The next day I had to build a press, and we squeezed all the juice we could out of the pulp. The next day she sent me out to find some additives I’d never heard of. After searching for hours, I found actual sacks of the stuff at the tractor store. I would love to tell you the name but it sounds more like something that belongs in a science lab than a homemade drink. We had to let the juice sit for a day after she added what she called the sterilizer. The next day she added some special yeast she’d been cultivating. Then we let it set for a week, during which time she had me searching for sealable glass bottles. We ended up with a hodgepodge of wine bottles and jars from different peoples’ houses. Half of which it turned out we couldn’t use. But after another day of searching, I was able to secure all the bottles she needed. After all the bottling was done, we stored them at one of the neighbors’ houses for a few days before moving them to the basement to cool down.
I was really iffy about trying it after seeing it at all stages of the operation, but as has so often been the case Ruth was right. The cider was delicious. It’s really strong and only slightly sweet. I made the mistake of finishing a bottle the first time I tried it. My hangover the next day is not something I really want to talk about. Ruth told me the best hangover cure was lots of work and water. So, I spent the day picking pumpkins and corn.
Try as she might Ruth can’t keep me distracted all of the time. I’m still responsible for our meat supply, so I still go hunting twice a week. Maybe it’s the lack of other people but I’ve never seen so many deer in my life. I guess with no people, there no one to run them over. It really makes me wonder what else is thriving out there. I don’t have to go very far to find game anymore, but I make sure not to hunt in the same places too often. I don’t want them to get uncomfortable with any one place. The deer are getting a lot bigger than they were at the beginning of the year too. The last one I killed was almost too big for me to get home. The wild dogs are also becoming a problem. They don’t even look like dogs as I’ve always known them. They’re patchy fur, and gaunt frames make them look more like a monster out of a video game. They’re not the fluffy pets they once were. They’re meaner too. More than once, I’ve caught them trying to hunt me. A shot or two from my shotgun usually sends them running. More often than not they follow me in hopes of getting what’s left after I field dress a deer. I feel almost as bad for them as I am afraid of them. I know it would probably be best if I shot them, but I can’t bring myself to do it. That being said, I’ve started to notice coyotes in their packs. At first, I thought they might be wolves but Ruth corrected me when I described them.
I’ve seen some weirder stuff too and I know where they’re from. There’s a group of monkeys that have taken up residence in a bank about five miles from my house. They must have escaped from the city zoo. Abby really hates them. I brought her with me one day and all the monkeys sat on the roof screaming at us and throwing stuff I’d rather not mention. I’ve never been to the city zoo. I may need to go just so I can have an idea of what might have escaped. I’ve also seen what I guess was a crane fishing in the river which I’m pretty sure is not native to the area, but I can’t say with any certainty. Sometimes I kind of hope to run across an elephant or giraffe, but I don’t know if the zoo had any of those.
There are two animals I’m always looking for signs of. The feral who I’m convinced is the same person leaving marks around, and was staying at the library. Then there’s the cougar, which I’ve seen no proof of, but there’s something big out there. I find myself praying I don’t also stumble on a bear, or lion. At this point I feel almost anything is possible.
I decided to hunt closer to home for a bit. While I don’t want to scare the animals away from my favorite hunting spots. I would like to scare them away from my house. More than once, I had to cancel a hunting trip because the hunting trip came to me when we discovered a deer munching on the garden. It makes hunting a lot easier to have several yards full of bait, but it makes looking for the feral harder. Two blocks away seems the best place to start. It also means I can bring Abby.
It always amazed me how just a few blocks can change the type of houses you’d see. There are almost no two-story houses here, and the yards are about half the size of mine, but there have been a lot of deer coming from this direction and we have to go where the food is. Abby likes deer, or it would be more accurate to say she like venison. It took some training to get her to wait for my first shot before charging. She can’t take a deer down on her own, but if I only wound it, she’ll lead me to where it falls.
I find a trail of bent grass. It’s short from the constant shade of the near by trees. Abby and I skulked silently following the trail to the back yard. Whatever it is, it’s pretty big. I’m hoping it’s an escaped cow, something with a bit more fat too it. The back yard is scruffy with bits of old lawn furniture scattered about. Abby starts getting impatient and making a bit too much noise. I pat her on the head and shush her. She’s wouldn’t calm down, confused I looked around in time to see giant yellow eyes coming at me.
I didn’t have time to point my gun, and the cougar smacked it out of my hands. It lunged and knocked me over. Abby ran to it’s side and sunk her teeth into the beast’s thigh. It howled in anger and swatted the dog away. I tried to crawl towards my firearm, but the big cat was back on top of me again. I heard something dash away and thought of Abby. Part of me was hoping she was running for safety. I was sure I was going to die. I lay under the big cat as it took swipes at me and tried to sink its teeth into my neck. I punched, kicked, and pushed it in every direction trying to get free. At some point I jammed my thumb in its eye. It howled with pain and raked my chest with its claws tearing my clothes. It felt like hours as I fought for my life.
A rust-colored blur knocked the cougar off of me. Rusty had hold of the big cat’s right forepaw and was savaging it with vicious shakes of his massive head. The cat hissed and smacked the big dog to one side and started running for me again. There was a loud boom and a wound opened on the cat’s shoulder. Then another, and a wound opened on its side. It turned towards the noise just in time for a third boom and red gushed from its throat, it fell to the ground and gurgled out its last breath.
It took several moments before I could focus on anything but the cougar. I heard a whimpering to one side and saw Abby struggling to stand, being very delicate on one of her feet. Rust walked over and started licking her. I turned to the noise and there stood Ruth with one of our shotguns trained on the cougar. Her arms shook but her face was full of hatred. She dropped the gun and grabbed the shoulder the it had rested against. I could tell she was in pain when she spoke. She said it was just a bruise when I went to help her, and insisted I tend to Abby first.
It looked like Abby had hurt her front right leg, but upon a quick examination it wasn’t broken or bleeding. I picked her up gently and walked toward Ruth who was still clutching her shoulder. I asked her how Abby had run in such a state. Ruth started walking toward the front yard and she told me it wasn’t Abby. When we made it around the house Ruth pointed towards the truck, she drove here in. Standing beside it was the dirtiest human being I’d ever seen, green eyes staring at me from under a tangle of matted hair.
I tried to thank them as I approached. The feral took Abby from my arms and started looking her over. Then in a flat female voice the feral said, “It looks like a sprain, she should be fine with some rest.” She turned those wild eyes on me and with an edge of fear in her voice said, “My name is Clair.”
September 12, 2022