She was eleven, very imaginative, and very much into books. One particular historical biographical series told a bit of a tale about mountain lions, and described their unsettling screams in the night as they looked down out of trees on unwary passersby.
Autumn came, and the daylight shortened. Now she needed a flashlight to go out and feed the chickens. And normally this was fine, except that by now the mental images and horrific sounds described in the book made her tremble at what might be out there somewhere in a tree.
Maybe if I wave my flashlight beam in circles like a disco, she thought, whatever is probably not there will be too scared to come near. The large, sturdy lantern made a splendid light show, and she stepped towards the pen with a bucket full of chicken feed, feeling confident.
Screams ripped the air. The chicken feed flew up then down and scattered on the walkway. Trembling, she stumbled back up the way she'd come, falling several times. It had come from the large oak in the front yard.
Screams rang out again, making her hair stand up. She felt like vomiting. She fell against the front door, holding onto consciousness by sheer willpower.
Then she heard something that made her feel foolish: the last set of screams was followed by a familiar "who who who." Who knew that owls who are frightened by a lantern beam can scream to scare the daylights out of the sturdiest of hearts? Not to mention those less sturdy and more creative.
As time went by there were many screams in the night, belonging either to bobcats or to owls. She often dealt with them by imitating them and screaming back. It worked. You couldn't feel scared when you could make a bigger, badder noise than the animal was making.
Howls of coyotes were not frightening. She always felt they were her friends. She especially liked to stay out late on a moonlit night and listen to them. They were melodic, musical, sweet. She never lost a single hen or single head of livestock to them, whatever the reason, and whatever the neighbors' reports of their tenacity.
Shooting stars, once one had gotten over the surprise, were beautiful and amazing, brighter than lightning and almost as quick. Though they didn't scream they sometimes made her scream if they startled her.
One of the more frightening things was the cat. The cat was a very good mouser and a very devoted friend, but one thing she did that was almost unbearable: she'd sit atop a wooden post above six feet high, and remain there with her silently glowing eyes, looking for all the world like an owl or a mythical beast. You could walk right under her and not know she was there, and if you happened to look up the sight was initially surprising.
Now, the old timers of the region didn't help anything. They'd swap stories that were about 45 percent fictitious, about four foot high wolves and cougar tracks in their yards. Occasionally a lone rogue cougar could hypothetically come so far south from his native grounds, but it was highly unlikely. And there were no wolves in this region. Coyotes, yes, and maybe a stray dog gone wild, but definitely no wolves.
And even if there ever were a wolf, by all means you could flash your lantern at him.