*Attack in the Mountains*

Submitted for Contest #96 in response to: Start your story with the arrival of a strange visitor in a small town.... view prompt

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Jun 04, 2021

Adventure Mystery Suspense

The gemstone in the sky shone a lovely milky white appearance. The wind howled as it traveled throughout the peaks. Everything stood calm. Below a leaning pine stood a treen cottage secluded behind the brambles. A family relaxed at the table. The eldest daughter, Serria, sat near the window. Rather than listening to the discussion of her family. She viewed the forest. Her family preferred to be solitary. Not be included in anything that went on in the community nearby. People knew they lived somewhere near here and didn't trust them since they isolated themselves and weren't like them, outgoing and all. They usually considered her family as a group of strangers, though they lived here all her life. She kept to herself. On the trail to the town, she knew what to avoid. Simply the three poisons, tall grass because of ticks, mountain lions, and fire. There have been forest fires near the area lately. Some of the brush abruptly shifted outside. She got up closer to peer at it. For a brief moment, she thought she saw someone passing by. Who was that? And why out of all places would they come from here?

Sierra glanced at a group of kids playing along the dusty road. Even in the rainfall, everyone was still having fun. The rain pattered along the steel roofs of the town. She strolled through, avoiding eye contact with anyone who stared. She was not the type of character who would be very outgoing. Sierra believed that many eyes were observing her, and she wasn't mistaken. At that moment, she wanted to disappear. She pulled the hood over her head more and kept walking. In front of her, a mother cried over someone. Words of sorrow alternated among them, and they wept bitterly. Towards the window. In the back of their house. There were claw marks along the wall. People stood around the house, comforting the couple and investigating the wall. She ran her hand along with the claw marks that only scratched the surface. Adjacent to the wall was a window. That she guessed had been left open at midnight because of the heat. The house was one of the few houses in the town that boarded the forest. So whatever got it, got in from the forest. Whatever happened, happened because of this. Because no one was watching, she walked toward the woods. The forest was 10 feet from the window. Underneath her, the earth was still muddy. Pawprints. Not those of a dog. No. Too small. She knew it was a mountain lion. But why would a big cat make its way to the town to cause damage? Sierra turned around to walk away when she came face to face with a person. He was about her age, and his eyes met hers then to the print on the ground. She slipped out of the sudden mass and slid out of the crowd. Because of her, they were looking at the pawprint. The racket of steps came racing after her. She turned around. And once again, face to face with the huntsman. His expression was desperate, and he started chatting away like the morning birds. She remained quiet until he finished. Sierra barely paid notice to him. She just wanted to vanish on the spot. "Are you able to identify the print?" He asked with wonder. Keeping still, she just nodded her head in response. "Well. Can you tell me what animal it is?" He said eyes narrowed. Her voice was suddenly calm and low. The pawprint is one of a cougar. She muttered lowly. They were both still for a moment. His icy blue eyes met hers again. Would you stop staring at me?! She wanted to shout at him but waited there. "Any cougars up in your area? You might know where to look". He waited patiently for an answer. I might be able to identify it. Judging by the claw marks, I say that nails are shorter on one paw. So it shouldn't be hard to find a semi deformed cougar. She responded strongly. "I already chatted with the family and the other hunters. You're the only one who might be able to find it. You seem to have a knack for tracking animals. And I heard from someone that the huntsman who lives outside of the town is your father. " He spoke while watching the sky. Sierra kicked at a stone. He just stood there and assumed she would help him. And where did he hear of the best hunter in the mountains was her father? It was because of him that she was able to identify the cougar print.  What happened to that family? She uttered without reflection. "The father got injured. But besides that, nothing else." He said. You're not one to have any emotions that I can tell. Don't you wonder why the cougar went through all that trouble to get into the house and strike only the father?" She said, filled with curiosity. The wind drifted silently between them, and it was a little before he answered.  "Maybe. The cougar could've remembered something that he did. But I can't think of anything. But it still seems strange for an animal to come out and attack violently." He replied. Is the father a huntsman like you? She said out of the blue. "I think so." Sierra eyed the home once more. Something here didn't make sense. She didn't know what else to do. The discussion was uncomfortable enough already, and she had to study cougars to find out why the attack happened in the first place. She might've been looking at this wrong. If she were alone, thinking would be a lot easier than being alongside a stranger and talking about the problem with him. When he wasn't staring, she shoved through into the crowd. Watching her back to make sure he wouldn't come out of nowhere again. The rainfall lessened later on in the day, but she still kept her hood up. While filling up water at the center well, she overheard gossiping close to her. She made sure her hood covered her face so that it wouldn't interrupt their talk. It was a mix of different voices, but all of the women of the community were present.  "I heard that a girl is lurking somewhere around that can track down the animal. Some of the men are looking around, along with the one who got attacked. He says that he wants to meet her right away. Aaron is leading the search. He said that there's a higher chance of finding her in the outskirts of town. Since she probably wants to avoid them as much as possible. Just a bunch of trouble for one girl!" Well, now she knew what to do. She didn't like the town that much anyway. There was no need for a whole explanation on why. Sierra walked away and observed everything around her. She headed towards the forest, where it was calm. 

Sierra walked for a few hours. The leaves of the trees protecting her from the rain. Thoughts flowed from her family. Her father was an excellent hunter, tracker, and trapper. He taught her everything that she knew about the wildlife in the mountains. What type of prints belonged to an animal. How to help an injured being, what plants to avoid, what to eat, and how to purify water. It all came in handy when living on the mountain and being separate from people. She was used to being only around those she knew and trusted. The only time when she journeyed to the town was to get medical supplies. Her father had a legacy of his skills told in the community. She wondered if any people comprehended that she was his child. Not the man she met earlier. He seemed as clueless as a squirrel. Her thoughts ended when the stench of flesh rotting came to her. She followed the scent, and it was unmistakable. Something had died near here. Under some bushes, a little tawny paw stuck out. Using a limb from a tree, she held back the bushes, and terror spread over her. Under the leaves, a deceased cub laid there. On its side, dried blood stained its fur. That was not normal. The cause of death wasn't an animal. No animal would leave something to rot. She brushed its hair alongside using a leaf and found a small hole in its side. The puncture went deep into its side. Someone shot the cub and hid the body. And Sierra guessed that it was a hunter, and this cub had a mom. She spent the next few minutes searching through the leaves when she heard footsteps behind her. It was surprising to hear somebody's voice from maybe twenty feet behind her. "She is over here!" A person shouted. Instead of leaving, she rolled her eyes and kept searching. Hidden in the dirt were three shells. The cartridges were missing. She heard the sound of footsteps approach her. She turned around and came face to face again with the young man from the town. 

"Well, there you are," he said with a grin on his face. Sierra narrowed her eyes in annoyance. What do you want? "Nothing. I just wanted to see what else the detective found. Wait, what's that you're holding?" She clenched the shells in her hand. And without thinking, moved aside for him to see. She could only see his eyes widen. His eyes met hers, and he glanced at her closed fist. "There are either bullets or bullet cases in your hand," he said, gazing at her. She looked away. The last thing she wanted was somebody here. If she were alone, then maybe she could concentrate. Of course, he broke the silence. "Maybe if we work together, we can find out what happened," he said with a smile. She couldn't help but look into his eyes. Sierra didn't respond, but she headed back towards the town. And it seemed as if he knew her choice. Soon, he was walking alongside her. Why were the townspeople so different from what she believed? Aaron was not like them. Why did he come looking for her? They just met. Why was he here? She didn't even notice him glancing at her. "What's your name?" She quickly glanced at him. Sierra, she responded. "Did you know your name means mountain range?" He said. I have never thought about what it meant before. She found the topic of names useless, so she changed the subject. Are we there yet? I got to be home soon since the sun is starting to set. "Almost it should be just behind this last stretch of woodland." Then on the horizon, a man came rushing towards them. Is that another one of your friends? She said, "No. Do you see that he has scratches running down his arms and face? That's Arawn. He's one of the best hunters." She paused for a moment and said, what if he killed the cub? That would explain the attack. The mother would've done it out of revenge. She watched as the man called Arawn slowed to a stop. He heard her, but his tone wasn't threatening. "No, I don't think that's possible. I was hunting for deer. But there was someone else who shot the cub. I didn't go near the cub. It's against the law to disturb the mountain lions in any way. You know that, Aaron." Sierra looked at the man. He didn't look like the type of person who would kill an innocent cub, and he was right. It was against the law to kill mountain lions. She saw his serious expression turn into sadness. "I have to take care of my family. My wife is having a baby soon. Why would I do something so foolish when I know it's going to cost me jail time?" Sierra sighed. I believe you, but I think it would be best to check your house. If we investigate, then we can find the person who did this and clear your name. She watched Aaron and Arawn's face light up. Ugh, she was pretty sure these guys had telepathy or something.

Inside the house, broken glass covered the floor, and the rest of the place looked like mayhem had entered. Sierra looked around and couldn't find anything besides glass. Aaron came rushing up to her from the other side of the house. In his hand, he held a piece of paper. It didn't look like much, but she took it and examined it. On it was the price for cougar pelt. She had forgotten how much fur of a cougar was worth. She stared at Arawn, who was rummaging through his own house. Can you tell us the events leading up to the night in which you got attacked? She said while watching his expression. Aaron saw him and nodded his head for Arawn to continue. "That night, it was hot outside. So I cracked the window to allow some air inside. Then I went to bed, but as I was about to sleep. I heard something break in the living room. I immediately got up to check and saw somebody in my house. He was searching my living room, and at that moment he saw me. The cougar came in through the window. It wasn't trying to attack me, but the man. So she charged at him and attacked. I pulled the man out the chance I got, and that's when that piece of paper dropped out of his pocket. The cougar then scratched me a couple of times, probably assuming that I was that man. Whatever the reason was, it was after him, not me." Aaron then spoke up."Your story fits, but we need concrete evidence that someone else was in this house. I think that this piece of paper will lead us to the man who did this. Are you sure there wasn't anything else that you remember about him?" Sierra glanced at a table moved up against the wall. Scratch marks were all around it. She wandered towards it and motioned Aaron to help her move the table. Behind it, a lodged gun fell from behind. She recognized it from anywhere. It was her father's.

She ran out the door as fast as she could, with Aaron trailing behind her. She slowed down as she reached the cabin. Sierra was hesitant when grasping the doorknob. Behind her, she heard Aaron panting like crazy. By the look on his face. She knew that he knew that her father killed the cub. She pushed past the doorknob and walked into the house. In the living room, she saw her mother cleaning scratches that covered her father. His face was grimy, blood-stained on his shirt. Sierra approached him, carrying the shells, and slammed them on the table in front of him. Explain this. She said in a harsh tone. His eyes were tired, and she heard his breath sounded broken. She kept a straight face and stared angrily into his eyes. “Earning money has been harder because of the new laws passed by the town council. Hunting might soon be outlawed altogether before I know it. Arawn knew certain people that could help me earn more money. So I went to meet with them. They told me they would give me a lot of cash if I were to bring them a cougar pelt. At night, when everyone went to sleep. I left the house since cougars usually hunt at night. I thought I saw a full-grown cougar, but when I shot it. It was a cub. Later on, I found out about the established law. So I broke into his house and left the gun there so they would discover it. And accuse him. I didn't think the mother cougar had been tracking me down and wanted revenge. Or that you and this boy would find out". She saw him wince in pain. She sighed and motioned for Aaron to get the police. Nothing of what her father said mattered. She forgave him. But he committed a crime, and like everyone, he had to pay for it. 

The sun shone through the clouds, brightening up the morning. Sierra walked across the trail. The grass stirred as a hare ran through it at the sight of her. The air detected a scent of fresh pine, and a river flowed close to the trail. She breathed in the pine and up ahead saw a sign. She read it out loud to herself a few times. Welcome to Mountain Peak. National Park. The place where all animals are protected.

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