Summary: Rumors and sightings are flying around town about a dark creature roaming the hills of the Ponderosa. Will the Cartwrights find out what it is? What is Adam’s connection to the creature?
Rating K WC = 1323
Black and Gold
Strolling down the boardwalk towards the bank, Adam Cartwright had to pause after passing several folks caught up in an animated conversation. Adam had felt a nervous feeling running through the town since he and Hoss had ridden in that morning. Leaning against a post a few feet away he could only pick up scattered words but it was easy to tell that two of the men were concerned about something up in the mountains.
“I tell ya Dave, I seen it. ‘Twas big and black an’ had glowin’ yeller eyes.”
“Ain’t no way possible, Tom. Ain’t nothin’ like that around these parts. I’ve been huntin’ in them hills since I was a kid and ain’t never seen anything like that ‘cept a bear.”
“ ‘Twern’t no bear. It was too thin an’ it prowled like a mountain lion.”
A frown crossed Adam’s face as he pushed away from the post and continued on to the bank. Talk like that could arouse a lot of curiosity.
An hour later, Adam caught up with Hoss outside the mercantile. Together they finished loading the wagon and headed home. While Hoss drove, Adam propped his feet up and slid his hat over his face to catch a little shut-eye, but his rest was short-lived as Hoss asked a question.
“Adam, you ever been around Mills’ Peak?”
“Huh? What was that?”
Adam pushed his hat back. “Mills’ Peak? Why?”
“Heard some men in the mercantile talking ‘bout seein’ a big cat up that way. That’s an area not far from one of our pastures. You don’t reckon it could get to the herd do ya?”
“I doubt it Hoss. That pasture is too open and there aren’t any boulders in that area.” He sat up now, giving up on his nap. “What’d they say about the cat? What did it look like?”
“I heard lots o’ things. It was big, dark, maybe black, or brown, and some said it had gold eyes. An’ it prowled like a cougar.” Hoss took his hat off and scratched his head then popped his hat back on. “What do ya reckon it is, Adam?”
“No idea.” Adam spoke quietly as he crossed his arms over his chest.
The brothers finished the trip home in silence as each pondered what they’d heard in town.
After dinner that night, Adam went for a ride. He said he wanted to enjoy the fresh night air but everyone knew he only went riding when he had something niggling at him. Ben stared at the closed door wondering why his son had suddenly taken to night rides.
Hoss explained to Ben and Joe what he’d heard in town. Joe said he’d been hearing that too for the last few days from some of the ranch hands. After some discussion the three men agreed to head out that weekend to Mills’ Peak. They needed to know if there was some creature up there that could threaten their herd. Hours later, when Adam returned home Ben told him of their plans.
“Pa you don’t really believe those stories, do you? Nothing lives up there except bears, and they aren’t going to attack our cattle. It’s a wasted trip in my opinion.” He rubbed his neck. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bed.”
Ben was surprised by Adam’s response. The next morning he insisted they all go anyway. Adam couldn’t see any way out so reluctantly agreed.
The following Saturday, while the Cartwrights made their way toward Mills Peak, several men from town were already in the area trying to find the creature. Everyone met up in a small canyon. Ben told the men they were on Ponderosa property and that they needed to leave. Most left, not wanting to get on the bad side of Ben Cartwright but two men tried to stay longer as they claimed to be excellent huntsmen. Hoss and Joe escorted them off the property as Adam and Ben set up camp.
During the night, each man took a turn keeping watch. Nothing happened so the next day they scouted for any signs of a wild animal. Tracks had been found in nearby rocks and scree, even indicating that the creature could have been near the camp. That night, they kept a bigger fire burning and took their watch shifts again.
At breakfast, Hoss and Joe shared that they were sure they had heard movement near the camp during their watches. Ben thought he’d seen golden lights flash nearby. Hoss had located large cat-like tracks much closer to the camp. Adam remained strangely quiet and made few comments as he sipped his coffee. After eating each man headed in a different direction hoping to catch sight of the creature and maybe deal with it once and for all. By dinner time they had only seen tracks and other evidence of the cat but not the cat itself. Hoss had indicated some of the tracks looked fresh and were close to the camp.
That night, they set up watches with two of them at a time. Adam was on first watch with Hoss, then Joe. All was quiet as Ben joined Joe, and Adam went to get some sleep. The next morning, no one could find Adam. Hoss said he wasn’t in his bed roll when the sun came up. A frantic search began. By mid-day they had found Adam’s boot prints and cat-like prints all around, intermingled with each other. Further down the trail, Adam’s hat was found, then pieces of his black clothing but his boot prints had disappeared and only the large cat prints could be seen.
In a near panic the three Cartwrights returned to camp to get the horses and to start a full search for their missing son and brother. After searching for the rest of the day the three men reluctantly returned to their camp. No one knew what to say or think. They were numb to think that perhaps the large, dark cat had killed Adam, but there was no evidence of that.
After the sun set, Ben, Hoss and Joe sat around the fire. Each man confused, grieving, yet refusing to give up on Adam. Joe heard the sound first, something like a low growl. As he drew his gun, Hoss looked all around to discern where it was coming from. Ben was the first to see the form as it neared the fire. Out of the shadows, he could have sworn he had seen a large cat slowly approaching the camp. Suddenly, Joe, Hoss and Ben looked at each other, none being sure what they were seeing. Adam, dressed in his black clothes, came closer to the fire and sat down slowly, almost gracefully. He looked around at his family and smiled briefly, cocking one eyebrow. He spoke quietly and calmly, “We can go home now. The cat won’t be a bother to anyone anymore.”
The others could only nod, not quite sure if it was the firelight or something else that made Adam’s eyes appear to reflect a golden glow.
Days later as darkness fell upon the land, a large black cat gracefully roamed over the rock-strewn hills around Mills’ Peak. Every so often the sleek creature would stop and listen, release a quiet deep-throated purr, and move on. As the night wore on, the cat disappeared into the shadows of trees and boulders. Moments later, on the far side of the boulders, a tall silhouette appeared, carefully moving down the rocky trail toward his waiting horse. Slowly mounting up, he rode off into the night, making his way back home.
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