I don't want to get anybody's hopes up, so I'll say straight away that this story doesn't involve any werewolves or skinwalkers, but it's 100% true, and it still makes my blood run cold to think about it, even several years later. 


I grew up out in the country, rural North Carolina to be precise. I grew up hiking, hunting, and camping, and I'm lucky enough to have a couple of friends that go up into the mountains with me a few times every year.
Usually we head up to a campground or a state park in the Appalachians just before hunting season starts in the fall, and we'll spend a week or so camping and hiking to limber ourselves up for a couple of hunts once the season begins.
Certainly not a bad way to spend the last few days of the summer. 


Now, I'm no stranger to spending time beyond where the paved roads end, but the foothills and farm country where I spent my childhood are a very different kind of "remote" from the deep mountains of the Western part of the state.
A few years ago my friends Jonathan and Charlie and I decided to head farther back into the mountains than usual to really get the "wilderness" experience. We also decided we would stretch our stay out to a full fourteen days.
We would prepare all our meals over a fire, cut our own firewood, forage for wild berries and mushrooms, and catch fish for dinner straight from the stream. You know, really get away from it all. 


It was nothing we hadn't done before, but never for a full two weeks. Honestly though, all three of us were pretty stoked to spend that much time away from everyday responsibilities and the 24-hour news cycle. 
Even better, Charlie "knew a guy who knew a guy" who had given us the go-ahead to stay on some of his land that backs up to the Nantahala national forest, way back into the mountains and several miles from the nearest town. 


We would be breaking our wilderness "rules" just a little bit, since the property owner had a utility shed and some small storage buildings set up on the property, complete with a good stock of firewood and a generator, but we were excited nonetheless. 


Anyway, the big day finally arrived, and the three of us piled into my old Chevy and made the long drive up to the Appalachians, enjoying the beautiful late summer greenery and scenic roads which grew more and more circuitous as we got deeper and deeper into the mountains. 


We turned off of the paved roadways just outside of a very small town, and we made our way for the last few miles using handwritten directions and a crude map drawn on a post-it note to navigate the winding series of old logging paths.  Finally, we made it to the small clearing and cluster of outbuildings that would be our home for the next two weeks, pulling in just before sundown.


By the time we finished pitching our tents and laying out the campsite, the sunlight was almost gone, and we had to rely on the headlights of my truck to finish setting up the fire ring, even though it was still pretty early in the evening. 
Being in between a couple of mountains does weird things to the concepts of sunrise and sunset. 


With the sun gone for the day, there was a crisp autumn chill in the air, just enough to make a nice flannel perfectly comfortable, and just enough to practically demand a cozy campfire for roasting hotdogs and marshmallows over. 
We pulled the tarp off of the cache of firewood and eagerly set to putting plenty of good, dry logs in the fire ring, but we quickly realized there weren't any smaller sticks or sawdust to use as kindling.  There were a few cans of gasoline lying around for the generator, but we agreed that we wanted to try to build a fire the old-fashioned way instead of just using a lighter and gasoline. 
Besides, there wasn't much gas left in the cans, and we didn't want to leave them empty in case the property owner needed them for the generator next time he visited. 


Looking back now I really wish we had just taken that shortcut.  Instead, we grabbed our flashlights and the ax we had brought along, and we headed off into the woods. There was a pretty well-worn game trail that we could make out on the uphill edge of the clearing, and we decided to follow that and see where it led. 
We wanted to explore a little bit of the surrounding area in our search for dry sticks and kindling, as well as keeping an eye out for anything like blackberry bushes or wild grape vines that we could forage from later in the week.   


We had been tramping through the brush for about ten minutes, gathering sticks and small branches and chatting merrily about what toppings we were going to put on our hotdogs and about all of the things we were planning to do for the next couple of weeks. 
Then suddenly it hit us. 


There was no sound whatsoever in the forest around us, nothing but the sounds of our voices and the rustle of our boots through the brush.  The frogs had stopped croaking, and the doves and mockingbirds had stopped calling.  Even the crickets and katydids had fallen silent.  It was truly unnerving.  We all stood still for a few moments, each of us instinctively holding our breath in the dead calm, listening for anything out of the ordinary. 


After about thirty tense seconds, an owl hooted somewhere off in the distance, and the whole forest seemed to stop holding its breath.  The crickets resumed their chirping; the frogs went back to croaking and singing, and the three of us could breathe a collective sigh of relief and chuckle nervously.


After that, we decided that maybe we would leave scouting and foraging for the next day, and instead we would stay out just long enough to gather another arm-full of good kindling and be on our way back to the campsite for some much-needed dinner.


Even though the sounds of evening had returned, we still couldn't shake a feeling of vague uneasiness as we pulled down dead branches and picked up sticks and twigs.  It was Charlie who said,  "Does anybody else feel like we're being watched?" 
Jonathan and I both quickly agreed; we certainly had that "chill running up your spine" feeling as well. 


We kept hearing a rustling in the brush up-hill to our right, but every time we would shine our lights that way, we didn't catch sight of anything, and the rustling was pretty soft, so we figured it was probably something small like a squirrel or rabbit, maybe a groundhog at the largest. 



Just up ahead there was a bend in the game trail as it went around a curve in the hillside, and we could see part of a fallen pine tree around the bend.  Jackpot! 
We could finally turn back towards the truck and the tent victoriously. As we rounded the corner though, a swift, darting movement caught my eye and made me stop in my tracks.


I shined my flashlight at the source of the movement and saw something small and tan move behind the trunk of a mid sized poplar tree straight ahead of me. 
I held my light on the trunk for a second, waiting for whatever it was to come out again. 


Sure enough, a moment later a long, slender, tan-furred thing came back out from behind the tree trunk, and that's when I realized it was a tail. 
I got a terrible sinking feeling, and my heart began to beat like a drum in my chest.
I shined my flashlight upwards a few more feet, and saw that the tail was connected to a full-grown female mountain lion, perched calmly on a fallen tree trunk wedged in the fork of the poplar tree. 


It couldn't have been more than thirty feet from me, and I almost didn't see it at all.  It was looking straight at me, and as my light hit its face I could see its pupils contract like that scene in Jurassic Park with the T-rex.  "Guys..."  I said in the loudest possible whisper I could muster, never taking my eyes off of the big cat perched lazily ahead of me. 


The two of them both must have seen the mountain lion at about that same time, because several hushed curses preceded two more beams of light suddenly illuminating the creature from off to my left. 
The cougar looked startled, and it turned its attention in that direction.


Trying to keep my voice calm, despite every fiber of my being compelling me to turn tail and run, I told Jonathan and Charlie to keep their lights on the animal because I was going for my gun. 
Avoiding any sudden movements, I slowly lowered my hand to my side and gripped the comforting shape of my .44 magnum revolver. 


The soft sound of steel sliding across oiled leather drew the cat's attention back in my direction, and I prayed it wouldn't pounce before I could bring my gun to bear.
I brought the heavy revolver up and pulled the hammer back, and the *CLICK* of it cocking made the cougar's ears perk up, like a house cat hearing something in another room. 


My hands were shaky, and my blood was thrumming in my ears.  The tips of my fingers and the soles of my feet ached from the adrenaline coursing through my bloodstream. 
The revolver felt monstrously heavy in my hands, and it was taking every ounce of my concentration to hold it steady and on target. 


My finger was on the trigger, but I was holding my fire for a sure kill, since the flash from first shot would almost surely blind me in the complete darkness of the woods and make follow-up shots even more difficult. 


The standoff continued that way for about thirty seconds (even though it felt like a lot longer) before the mountain lion opened its jaws wide in a yawn, licked its lips, and dropped down from its perch, heading unhurriedly away from us.  It went about twenty feet, stopped, looked back at us over its shoulder, then turned away and kept going until it was over the slope and out of sight.


At that point the three of us decided we didn't need a from-scratch fire that night, and we started to make our way back to the campsite at an extremely tense walking pace.
Never run from a mountain lion, since it will trigger its predatory reflexes and make it more likely to attack you. 


We didn't see anything else on the walk back, but we all kept getting that feeling of being watched, even once we made it back to the site.
We figured that maybe lighting a fire would keep it away, but as we were dousing a couple of paper towels with gasoline to get the fire going, we heard the mountain lion calling, back in the direction we had seen it in. 


Now, for those of you who don't know, a mountain lion's call sounds like a woman screaming for her life. Howls of absolute bloody murder. That was when we decided we would sleep in the truck that night. 
We didn't see it or hear it calling again for the rest of the time we were up there, but about halfway through the trip we made the roughly forty-minute drive to the nearest town to do laundry and restock on a few supplies (yeah yeah, not really "roughing it," but whatever, sue me) and we mentioned what we had seen to a local sheriff's deputy. 


He went white as a sheet when I told him how large the lion was.  Apparently a few years ago in that area there was a series of mountain lion attacks that put three people in the hospital, and the local Forestry Service rangers never managed to catch or kill it. 


The deputy told me that since fully grown mountain lions are pretty rare in this part of the country, the one we saw was probably the same lion from the attacks.  Yeah, that was when we decided to pack up and head home a week early.
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Dissolved_Fatale
Mr Smith, I really enjoyed your story.
You, sir, certainly have a way with words!

I went ahead and edited it for you according to the rules which require proper spacing between paragraphs. 
It makes it much easier to read (:

I'm glad you made it out of there safely!
Mountain lions are natural born killers, and I whole heartedly agree, never turn your back and run...
You are very likely to become dinner if you show or give into fear around them!
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unkown."
-Lovecraft
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