“A mountain lion,” she nervously mumbled. “A real mountain lion.”
Tuff patted Sunshine Twinkltoes on her shoulder.
“It’ll be okay,” he said. “Don’t you worry your fluffy fur about it, not even for one minute. I’ll take care of you.”
The ranch crew hunkered together in the barn. An ominous gust of wind blew through the open barn doors, and across the animals. Banjo looked out from the wide-open doors. His gaze searched and scanned every piece of hollow air between winter tree limbs, leafless brush, and tucked in the shadows.
“The only the thing is,” Banjo said, “You won’t see him coming.”
Tuff turned his attention away from Sunshine.
“What do you mean?” Tuff asked.
Banjo turned to him and the others. His stance was bold and direct.
“It’s the mountain lion from last summer,” Banjo said. “The one who came in with the fire. He’s sneaky. That one disappeared just as quick as he came, or so we thought.”
Banjo turned to look back outside. Tuff joined him. Banjo’s demeanor alarmed Tuff. As Banjo edged further and further out of the barn, Tuff followed. The snow had all but melted in the turn-around, and mud puddles splattered across the graveled ground. Banjo was quiet, too quiet, and it made Tuff even more nervous than before.
“What is it?” Tuff asked as he joined him.
Banjo nodded his head forward.
“Storm’s coming in,” he said.
Looking towards the mountains tops, once again, a spring storm was cresting the high peaks and rolled toward them like a frothing wave.
“Think we should move the cows up closer?” Tuff asked.
“I don’t think,” Banjo said. “I know we better, and not just because of the storm.”
Tuff hesitated before his question, but he had to ask.
“What else do you feel is coming? You’re not just thinking about the storm, are you?”
Banjo turned to him.
“No,” he said with an even deep tone.
“You really think that lion is just out there watching us and the cows?” Tuff asked.
Banjo turned to him and said, “I do. He’s hidden and he’s out there. We just don’t know which one of us he’s going to try to come after first.”
“But we have to keep doing what we do,” Tuff said.
“You’re absolutely right,” Banjo replied. “We just have to ensure we’re being actively aware and set up precautions. But first, let’s get all those soon-to-be mama cows up and into the corral.”
“Head down and talk to them,” Banjo said. “I’ll be down directly. I want to talk with the barn crew.”
Tuff did as he was asked and knew it was imperative to get the cows closer, especially with the lion lurking, unseen, somewhere on the ranch. As Tuff moved quickly, he caught himself from running. He wanted to run, but knew if he ran, he wouldn’t be able to keep his senses about him so he could easily listen, see, and hear anything. Moving closer to the cows, he too, peered into the leafless brush, forbidding shadows, and skeleton trees to see if he could catch a glimpse of what he felt must be watching him.
Meanwhile at the barn, Banjo was greeted by the ranch crew. Cowsuela was the first to step up.
“What’s going on down there? Are my cows alright? Anymore calves?” she asked, nervously but directly.
“Everything is fine,” Banjo reassured. “Tuff’s ahead of me and is going to get the girls moving this way. No need to worry about anything.”
Pudge was next.
“Do you really think it’s that mountain lion that was here before?” she asked.
“I do,” Banjo said. “But together, we kept him at bay, remember?”
He walked over to Pudge and patted her back with his tail.
“We’ll be alright,” Banjo said. “But for now, I want all animals to stay in the barn, just as a precaution.”
“In here?” Cowsuela asked.
She looked back at the bunched together group of cows and calves.
“We just can’t do that,” she said. “There’s too many of us.”
“We’ll have to rearrange our current space and routine a little, but we can,” Banjo said. “It will take a little getting used to, but it’s a necessary precaution until I find more evidence and can further investigate the lion’s tracks.”
Sunshine Twinkletoes shuddered.
“What about me?” she asked. “If no one knows I’m here, how will my owners find me?”
“Don’t you worry about that,” Banjo said. “We know every person that comes on the ranch and when they come looking for you, we’ll get you to them.”
Cowsuela turned to her cows.
“Alright, ladies, let’s get ‘moooo’ving,” she said.
Ben the Horsechief joined her, suggesting, “We can move some of them to the stalls. If we leave the stall doors open, they can move about as they please.”
“Thanks,” Cowsuela said. “That will help out a lot.”
“That’s a way,” Banjo said. “Thanks for thinking out of the ‘stall’ box and working together. Now, all animals stay put for the time being while I meet up with Tuff. Ben, can you keep head and tails on all?”
“Why, of course, old friend,” Ben said.
Banjo turned to speed away when Miss Sunshine Twinkletoes breeched the animal crowd and reluctantly moved forward.
“Wait…” she said softly.
Banjo came around to her.
“What is it? I told you not to worry about your owners?”
“I’m really scared,” she said. “This isn’t anything I’ve known or ever been around before. I am really scared.”
Banjo softened his tone and stance. The tiny dog seemed so fragile and slight. She shook, unknowingly, and he felt bad that he’d been so hard on her. Banjo knelt to her level.
“You’re safe here, even though this is all new to you,” he said. “We’ll take care of you.”
“But it’s as if we’re living in constant fear of the mountain lion,” she said. “He could be anywhere, even in here, and we just don’t know.”
“You’re right,” Banjo said.
Sunshine’s eye bulged open and she swallowed hard.
“I am?” she asked.
“You are,” Banjo said. “But the only thing we have to truly fear, is fear itself. If we constantly live in the fear of ‘what if’ how do we really live? But what we can do, right now, is make a plan and be prepared. I’m not trying to scare you, little one, I just want you to be aware. Do you understand?”
Sunshine nodded her head, and said, “I understand.”
“Okay,” he said and gave her a soft pat. “Now scoot on back with the rest of the crew.”
Banjo turned around to leave but before he could go, Miss Twinkletoes called to him, “Wait!”
She ran to him and buried her head in his chest with a dog kind of hug.
“Thank you,” she said.
Banjo nuzzled down to her.
“You betcha,” he said.BACK