Killian pulled the trigger and waited. Watched the Mountain Lion sway and then drop into the blood-stained snow. Winter smothered the world as far as the eye could see. An occasional “Swoosh” broke the silence when an evergreen bough grew too burdened and dropped its sleeve of snow. The Cougar’s adrenaline-inducing laments had cleared the area of all other wildlife, leaving Killian alone with his own pounding heartbeat. His own breath gushing out in clouds of steam. Checking his watch, he finally closed the distance between him and the blood. Dropping to his knees right in the midst of it, he pulled his other glove off and carefully pried the cat’s eyelids open. Shined his penlight across the pupils to check dilation.
“Sorry, I had to do that, girl,” Killian said quietly, rubbing his numbing fingers into her warm fur. “I couldn’t have you taking my face off, when all I’m trying to do is help.”
So saying, Killian set to the task of freeing her back leg from the bear trap. The only thing that had saved the Cougar’s foot from getting lopped off by the spring-loaded metal was the fact that it was old, rusted and frozen. It hadn’t triggered all of the way. Or not nearly with the force it had originally been designed for. It was a difficult chore. Not wanting to lose his fingers nor cause more damage to the Puma, Killian finally pried the trap open and locked it, before carefully removing the cat’s leg. The snow was a blessing, keeping the cat’s wounds from instantly swelling, but Killian’s hands were quickly becoming useless.
After releasing the trap with a stick, he carried it back to his snowmobile and secured it to the side, then lifted the cargo seat and grabbed his first aid kit. He was less concerned with the tranq wearing off, than with predators smelling the blood and moving in. After bandaging the cat’s leg, Killian pulled the makeshift sleigh over that he’d crafted out of heavy, thick evergreen boughs and rope. Finding an old beach towel buried under the first aid kit, he folded it lengthwise a few times and used it as a sling under the Cougar’s front legs in order to pull her up onto the sleigh. Tunneling his hands into the snow, he then used it to secure the cat in place. It was nearly too short, the Cougar being an easy hundred pounds of efficient, hunting muscle. The trek back was slow, Killian keeping the throttle at its lowest speed so the sleigh would hold. Exhausted and numb, he finally saw the eaves of his rustic cabin looming ahead with blessed relief.
For a week, Killian tended to the Mountain Lion he kept secured in the small trapper shed behind his cabin. Using a narrow window near the top of the building, he was able to drop raw, sedative-loaded meat inside and wait for them to kick in, before entering to tend her wounds, refresh her dish of water. He talked to her constantly, while feeding or healing her, though he knew she didn’t understand. Would never appreciate his efforts. He didn’t mind. He’d worked with wildlife for as long as he could remember, always volunteering at the closest refuge wherever his travels had taken him. Now, Killian was trying to write a book about his adventures. The reason why he’d rented the mostly isolated cabin in the first place.
Upon returning from his weekly day trip to the nearest outpost for supplies, Killian discovered the shed door standing open. Cougar tracks led away from it and right into the forest. His temporary companion was gone. Feeling a clash of happiness and sorrow, Killian simply closed the clawed up door and went about carrying his supplies into the cabin. Two nights later, a loud noise startled him out of deep concentration. Abandoning his typewriter, he slowly crept toward the back door. Peering outside, he couldn’t see anything, because the moon was still behind the trees, in the process of rising. Grabbing his tranquilizer gun and flashlight, Killian slowly opened the back door and nearly stepped on the rabbit lying across the old mat there. The smell of cedar and pine filled his nostrils from the firewood he kept stacked to the right, but Killian also smelled the sweat of animal fur. Shining his flashlight, he eyed the Cougar tracks leading up and down the back step and through the snow, returning the same way it arrived.
Stunned, Killian stared down at the dead rabbit that was completely intact, its neck broken and knew. Knew that his patient had brought it to him as a gift. A very domestic cat thing to do. Unable to stop himself, Killian laughed, as he carefully lifted his present and walked to the edge of the porch, holding it up.
“You’re welcome, my sweet girl!” He called out.
Taking the rabbit back inside, Killian understood that he couldn’t discard it. Couldn’t risk pissing off whatever nature gods had just presented him with such an unbelievable night, so he tried his hand at rabbit stew. Unfortunately, he was no chef and it came out as rabbit soup, but it was filling all the same and Killian decided he’d never had a better meal in his life. He never saw or heard from his Mountain Lion ever again, but she became the highlight of his book, and the one story most speculated over by critics and fans alike.
Settling in California, Killian gave up traveling in order to dedicate his time to the Mountain Lion Foundation in Sacramento. He still took two weeks out of every winter to return to his isolated cabin, though. There, an old trapper shed with permanently claw-scarred walls held his annual collection of confiscated traps alongside a shabby, makeshift sleigh, an old beach towel and the soft pelt of the oddest, most meaningful gift he would ever receive in his life.