Tiger of the Countryside (A Short Story)

Written down by Joyce Jacobo

[I heard the story to follow from a former neighbor. She was a jolly and generous person who, when my parents, brother, and I first moved into our house, came over to introduce herself with a huge plate of homemade fudge as a welcome present. In addition, she had a whole menagerie of cats, each seeming to have her or his own special quirks.

However, the most famous feline among her household was a ginger tabby cat with an insatiable wanderlust named Roman…]

Summertime was among the hottest and most humid times to live in the upper desert region of Southern California. Most creatures came out only in the early mornings or late afternoons, to stay cool and expend less energy. But certain predators still prowled around the countryside during the day at times—on the lookout for potential prey caught out in the heat. Easy pickings meant a full belly to enjoy in a nice, cool den or burrow afterwards.

                The young coyote must have then felt fortunate when he spotted the tabby cat on that early summer afternoon. As a rule, outdoors cats in the countryside led turbulent and unpredictable lives. Many people in the local community even took it for granted that any cats missing for more than a few days had likely become the victims of any number of potential hazards, from sidewinder snakes in the tall grass, hawks from the skies, or even fast-moving cars on the only highway that cut through the area. However, Coyotes were their most common threats and adversaries.

                Now here was a gingery, stripped tabby resting in the shade of a bush on a broad hillside slope, just across the narrow dirt road from where the coyote had his den in a field. The cat was on the chubby side and waddled a bit as he moved; the woman who lived in the house further up the slope fed him well.

                Crossing the dirt road, the coyote crept among the high grass with his body lowered and his tail perfectly rigid. His dusty fur helped him to blend in with the surroundings, and he was careful to stay upwind of his quarry. Even the slightest breeze when he was in the wrong position could betray him, or the smallest sound.

                The cat batted at some grass with a paw, completely serene.  

                When the coyote began his pursuit, striding forward with the grace known only to hunters, he closed the distance between them in a matter of seconds.

But… then the cat twisted around to face him.

                Usually there was a moment of shocked recognition at his approach, right before his prey registered the impending danger and tried to flee.

                The cat did not flee.

                Instead, the coyote heard a sudden wobbly, hissing noise like a sprinkler system turning on full blast mixed with a rattlesnake quivering his tail in sudden warning. It took him a moment to realize the sound came from the small creature before him, whose calm expression had altered with a crazed look in the eyes that drew the coyote up short.

                This coyote was young, a little more than a year old, and until now the sight of his swift charge attack had probably terrified everything one-third his size—except snakes, of course—which had given him confidence. He had never encountered absolute disdain for it, especially from a cat.

                Cats were supposed to run from coyotes.

                Things got even stranger when the cat underwent a rapid transformation. Uttering crackly growls, sharp teeth bared, all his orange fluff stood out like porcupine spikes on his body. He seemed to expand to several times his original size, eyes burning and claws out. His growls turned into manic screeches.

                Suddenly regretful about the whole undertaking, the coyote might have backed down on his own, except he never got the chance. A second more and the cat had launched himself at the predator, claws swiping at the coyote’s snout, causing him to yelp, twist about, and beat a panicked retreat—pursued by his spitting aggressor. The cat chased the coyote in circles through the meadow grass, up and down the slope, swiping at his sides and roaring fit to make a tiger proud, until finally the coyote regained enough orientation in the heat of the chase to make it across the dirt road and into his den.

                 The cat stopped his pursuit on the other side of the road, although the victorious feline continued to cry out in rage for several minutes longer before he returned to his usual prowls.

                After this encounter, the coyote never chased after the tabby cat again. He kept his distance from the hillside altogether and would hasten his steps when traveling past the property—out of continued fear, perhaps, or possibly even respect.

                As a matter of fact, it soon became clear all the coyotes in the area had decided to give that particular property a wide berth. And whenever one of the other cats who lived at the house there happened to slip outdoors for a frolic, they always came back safe and sound, watched over by the little tiger of the countryside.

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