Hysterical Fiction

By Bonnie L. Schermer

Virginia Barbary of Shouns, Tennessee

1775 - 1851

That spring was to remain in Barbary's memory as the most beautiful time of her life. Plants bloomed on the lower elevations in March, and continued up the mountainside to a climax in May. The azaleas, silverbells, dogwood, rhododendron, redbud, yellow poplar, and mountain laurel put on a show. As she wandered the valley, gathering edible wild plants, she had time for quiet reflection on the changes Leonard's dream was bringing to her life. Her attitude was one of hope for her great trial, the birth of their child.

One day, she had roamed farther than usual, seeking ginseng which, because of its value as a cash crop, had become difficult to find in her native Virginia. Off-balance because of the unaccustomed weight of the pregnancy, she was having trouble maintaining her footing on terrain which normally would present no problem. As the afternoon progressed, she felt unaccountably uneasy, and kept glancing behind to see if someone were following her. At last she resolved to double back on her tracks and hide, watching the trail in hopes of discovering what was making her so nervous. A few minutes rest and some of the water she carried in a leather bottle would refresh her. She had just got comfortable, when she heard a slight stirring behind her, a sound which could have been the wind, but wasn't. She turned her head without moving her body, and peered into the brush, a few yards away. She stared straight into large yellow eyes. She had an impression of golden fur and a long tail. Then it was gone.

Hastily gaining her feet, Barbary checked the priming of her rifle and loosened her knife in its sheath. Then she began walking, struggling not to run, towards home.

The animal had not yet given up, but would vanish whenever she turned her head. Her mind churned, recalling the tales of other hunters who had bagged catamount, and she wondered what to do. Then she remembered the slice of ham in her knapsack. She dug it out, threw it into the middle of the path, and continued walking. At the next bend, she circled into the woods, silently approaching the ham against the flow of the breeze. She raised her rifle to sight towards the meat, hoping that the big cat would appear, but it did not. It was behind her...

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