Mr. Smith
Hello again everybody.  I'm going to do something a little different this time and try to post everything in one long story, rather than multiple smaller ones.  Let me know if you like this better or if you would prefer more two-parters.  Also, because I'm an idiot with clumsy fingers a draft of this story went up a few minutes ago under an incomplete title, so don't read that one.  Read this one.  

Anyone who has ever been to the Rockies, and especially anyone who has ever lived there, will tell you that the mountains are colder than they look in all of those old cowboy movies.  It's a grasping cold that makes your whole body ache, unlike the dull, numbing cold of Michigan or Pennsylvania in the wintertime, and that cloying, gripping cold is precisely what I found myself experiencing on a dark October morning in Idaho not quite two years ago.  

But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself; let me give you a little bit of context first.

I have been a pretty avid hunter and outdoorsman for most of my life, and ever since I turned eighteen I've been applying for the tag lottery in a few states out West, hoping for a chance to hunt mountain goat.  Finally, after several years of applying, my number came up in Idaho, and I soon received my tag in the mail.  Unfortunately, due to a few scheduling conflicts, I couldn't go on my hunt until the last week of October, towards the end of the legal season and well past the mild-weather days of August and September.

Now, a hunt for mountain goats is one of the most physically demanding and skill-intensive endeavors a hunter can undertake in North America, a true adventure of a lifetime.  Even in ideal conditions, you have to hike steep mountains, have a good set of binoculars and sharp eyes, know how to camp efficiently, and of course you also need to be a crack shot.  Late in the season, such a hunt becomes even more strenuous due to the shorter hours of daylight and the more hostile weather, not to mention the fact that a lot of local predators are in overdrive trying to bulk up before the lean winter months.

However, I wasn't about to let a little bit of cold wind and snow come between me and one of my ultimate dream hunts, so I immediately began planning. 

I was worried I would have to make the cross-country drive, but luckily for me an old college friend of mine was working as an engineer for a big Cobalt mine in Eastern Idaho, and he was willing to let me ship most of my gear to him ahead of time.  Besides, he had an elk tag that he wanted to fill that season, so we could camp together and help one another scout and hunt.

In the final few weeks leading up to my trip, I started checking the local news from the area I would be hunting in, just to keep an eye out for severe weather or other hazards.  As a side effect, I got to see all the small-town news from Western Idaho as well.  Most of it was pretty mundane, but one story that caught my eye was the mysterious disappearance of two hunters who were last seen on a swathe of public land just Southeast of where my buddy and I would be hunting.  

Of course, people go missing from big state parks and public hunting lands all the time, and they're usually found alive in just a few days thanks to the hard work of trained professionals.  Maybe they strayed too far from the trails and got lost, or maybe they took a tumble in some rocky ground and hurt themselves, typically nothing too out of the ordinary.  But, occasionally, there are accidents and animal attacks that people don't walk away from, so I always pay attention to stories like that in order to prevent something similar from happening to me.  

Anyway, the day of the big trip finally arrived, and after a long flight and an even longer drive I found myself at a little hotel in a small town called Slate Creek, not too far from the huge tract of public land we would be hunting on.  My friend arrived less than an hour later, and we quickly got settled in before heading down the street to grab some supper at a local diner.  We had a good time and caught up over our dinner, but at one point I happened to look up at the TV on the wall, and the headline scrolling across the bottom of the screen ominously read: "Missing Hunters Found Slain near Hell's Canyon, Mountain Lion Attack Suspected.

This definitely caught my attention, because a mountain lion won't usually attack more than one human, so there's usually safety in numbers.  However, on the rare occasions that they do attack a group of more than one person, the attacks aren't usually fatal.  A couple of fit hikers or a hunting party of grown adults is usually more than capable of forcing even a determined cougar to retreat.  This is especially true for two hunters, who would certainly have been armed with rifles and probably would have been toting pistols and skinning knives as well.  Any mountain lion capable of mauling two heavily-armed outdoorsmen to death simultaneously was certainly not one I wanted to meet.

An adult cougar can have a territorial range of up to 300 square miles, and this put the region of our hunt easily within its patrol range, considering we would be camped out and hunting right on the edge of Hell's Canyon.  However, my buddy and I had talked previously about the possibility of running into predators during our hunt, and we had packed accordingly, with him carrying a 10mm automatic and me lugging my .44 magnum.  Still, we decided to take some extra precautions.

To that end, we got up early the next day, and after I had enjoyed what would likely be my last hot shower for close to a week, we met up at a trading post in town which dealt in all sorts of camping and hunting gear.  We picked up a few perimeter bells for our campsite, and we each bought a box of hard-cast bullets, designed for penetrating the thick and muscular hides of predators.  They may kick like a mule, but they certainly don't play around when it comes to stopping power.

While in the trading post, we asked the owner, a quiet man of about 50 with salt-and-pepper hair and skin weathered from decades of outdoorsmanship, if he had ever seen anything like the cougar attack that had been in the news last night.  I was hoping he could give us some advice on protecting our camp, but what we got instead was far more unsettling. 

"I've seen the wilderness out here kill a lot of people in a lot of ways, but it's been a long time since I last saw anything as brutal as this.  Usually if you find more than one person at a time that's been killed, it was the work of something walking on two legs, not four, if you catch my drift.  Every now and again though a couple of hikers will walk up on a sow grizzly with cubs, and we'll find them all mangled up in a week or so, but bears always leave clear tracks behind, and it's not the right time of year for them to be raising cubs anyway."

"No sir, the last time anything like this happened was about two decades back when we had a whole rash of weird happenings.  Everything from house cats and hens all the way up to prize-winning bulls was found gutted, mauled, chewed on, and otherwise turned into a fine red paste for nigh on a month.  It sure put a damper on business around here, I'll tell ya that much.  The rangers said it was a cougar back then too, but I didn't believe 'em then any more than I do now."

My buddy and I looked at one another uneasily before turning back to the store owner and asking "If it wasn't a cougar, then what was it?"  The man behind the counter simply grinned and continued his tale:

"Well, after a couple weeks of livestock getting mauled, some local ranchers decided to take matters into their own hands.  They went out hunting one night and bagged themselves three of the biggest mountain lions anybody 'round here had ever seen, and when the rangers examined the cougars, they found that all three of them were related.  You see, If a mother puma has more than one kit, she'll teach them all to hunt in the same way at the same time.  The rangers were thinking that the mother of those three had brought them up hunting livestock, so that was just all they knew.  A couple of folks weren't so sure though." 

"One old-timer that lived up in the hills told stories of a behemoth cat that had been stalking the woods around his cabin, and it wasn't just some mountain lion either.  He said it stood taller than even the largest mountain lion, and its pelt was black as sin.  That man had fought in two wars, but he said that this creature scared him stiff, and not two nights later, the worst incident of the whole string happened right here in town." 

"One of the rangers, some rookie that had just moved here from California, was walking back to the ranger station from the diner --keep in mind that's a walk of less than 300 yards-- and the rest of the rangers at the station never saw him again.  They didn't find anything left of that boy the next morning except for a slick of blood and his freshly-shined shoes, left at the scene of the attack like he'd been plucked right up out of them."

"Not long after that, though, a group of rangers was seen sweeping the town and heading off into the wilderness, and from what I've heard they followed that thing's tracks all the way up to an old silver mine back in the hills.  None of the rangers have ever talked much about exactly what they saw up there, but several hikers in the area reported hearing a hail of gunfire right at dusk." 

"Sure enough, the killings and maulings never happened again after that night, but I'll tell you what, if there's another one of those things out there roaming the wilds now, then you can bet your bottom dollar I won't be sticking around to see how it works out this time around."

It was a hell of a story to be sure, and it took me some time to take it in, but it couldn't all be true, right?  No cat that big and that aggressive could possibly remain hidden on public game land, I told myself.  The two of us thanked the man for the info and paid for our ammo and supplies, and after that we got on our way as quickly as we could.  Our time was limited, and listening to the man's story had put us behind schedule.  

Our last stop on the way out of town was at the ranger station to check in and inform the rangers of where we would be and what we would be doing.  There was only one officer on duty since it was so late in the season, so I figured we would probably be able to get through check-in pretty quickly, but as we answered his questions about our firearms and tags, I thought back to the outfitter's story.  I asked the old ranger if there had been any mutilated animals found recently, or if there was any dangerous wildlife in the area we should be aware of.  After all, we would be camping back in the wilderness for close to a full week.  The ranger froze for a few moments, and he quietly zipped my .30-06 rifle back into its case before raising his eyes to meet mine.  

"I suppose you heard about those two bodies over at Hell's Canyon.  To tell you the truth, there's a lot of nooks and crannies in these hills where something could be hiding, but we've got our best men out there workin' to keep the place safe.  Still, you two should be extra careful out there, and if I were you I wouldn't split up.  I'm really not supposed to do this, but if you've got a note pad handy I'll give you boys our radio frequency, and you just tell us if you find anything... unusual out there."

This was way out of the ordinary, since game wardens and rangers never give out their radio frequencies.  If everyone in the area with a radio could listen in on them, a poacher could have a hay-day with all of that unsecured information.  For the park service to be handing out secure channel information, they must have been truly desperate for as many eyes and ears as possible.

To make things even more unsettling, according to the sign-in book, there were only four other hunters in this section of the wilderness, two individuals and one duo.  Of course, there could be others out there that hadn't signed in (an extremely stupid idea in such a large and dangerous wilderness), but this late in the season I certainly didn't expect the area to be crowded.  Even though being so isolated and alone was less than ideal if there was truly something dangerous roaming the area, I have to admit I was relieved that I wouldn't have to worry about anybody else spooking the game.

We finished our check-in at the ranger station by noon, and it was finally time to head back into the wilderness for what would hopefully be the hunt of a lifetime.  In fact, it would definitely be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but not in the way we initially expected.

We drove my buddy's pickup as far as we could along winding gravel roads, well back into the public game lands, and when we finally found a good area to park on the side of the road, we packed all of our camping supplies into our two huge backpacks and started hiking even further into the wilderness on foot.  After all, if you really want to find where all of the record-book animals are, you have to go where most hunters won't.  All in all, we probably hiked a little over a mile further uphill to get to a good base camp location. 

We finally got settled into a nice little clearing surrounded by dense forest by about 6:00, just as the sun was setting over the beautiful Rocky-Mountain landscape. We pitched our tents and set up a few lines of string with small bells on them around the edges of the clearing, and then we finally stopped for a simple but filling supper of canned soup cooked over our small camp stove.

I was so tired from hiking and so happy to be out in the wilderness on such an adventure that I completely forgot about all of the strange rumors and unsettling happenings, and the next two days were free of any weird incidents.  We scouted the ridge lines and timber thickets, searching for just the right place to set up for the perfect shot, and the whole time we never saw anything out of the ordinary.  Every now and again, though, we would hear our handheld radios crackle softly, and we would always stop what we were doing and listen carefully. 

Most of the time it was just a ranger checking in and giving his location, but more than once the voice on the other end was uneasy as one of the rangers called in finding a severely mutilated elk or mule deer.  What was even more ominous was that if we checked our maps and marked out the locations where mutilated animals had been found, a pattern started to emerge, and it looked like whatever was leaving the mauled animals in its wake was headed our way.

At the end of the third day, we had found the absolute perfect place to lie in wait for a big billy-goat, and we were planning on getting there early the next morning.  We were both bone-tired from hiking all day, but as we sat around the warm fire, waiting for our dinner of sausages and hashbrowns to finish cooking, we both became aware of an approaching sound in the woods beyond our clearing.  

We were both reluctant to leave the warmth of the fire, but finally I made myself stand up and head toward the tree line with my .44 in one hand and a lantern in the other.  There was barely a sliver of the waning moon in the sky, so my visibility was limited to how far my lantern could reach in the coal-black darkness.  The sounds grew closer and closer, and soon the crackle of leaves and branches was accompanied by heavy breathing.  I brought my revolver up and pulled the hammer back, bracing myself for some horrible demon-cat to come bursting out from the shadows of the forest.  Instead, I heard the sound of a human voice call out from about fifty feet into the tree line. "Hello?  Is someone over there?"

Relieved, I called back "Yeah, theres a clearing not far in this direction, just come towards my voice slowly.  What the hell are you doing out here this late without a light?"

A few moments later, a pair of men dressed in camouflage clothes and safety-orange toboggans stumbled out of the woods and into the light of my lantern.  The two men looked haggard, and spooked, but after taking a moment to catch their breath, they introduced themselves.  I recognized their names from the sign-in sheet at the ranger station, and they explained that they had followed a wounded elk into the brush and gotten lost without their flashlights.  Being lost in the woods at night is a scary enough concept on its own, but what they told me next sent a real shiver down my spine.  

They explained that they had shot a fine bull elk from across a gully, and before they could track him through the brush they had to hike down the side of one mountain and then up the slope of another.  By the time they crossed the gulch, found the blood trail, and began tracking the wounded bull, it had been over an hour.  They spent a further forty-five minutes or so following blood spatter and broken branches through the brush, and when they had finally come to a clearing, they hadn't found exactly the sight they had been expecting. 

Sure enough, the carcass of the elk was sitting there in the middle of the clearing, but it had been torn apart.  Limbs and bones had been tossed aside, and the entrails had been torn out and devoured.  Large hanks of meat still hung on the bones in places, so whatever had been at the elk had either had its fill with the innards or had simply been mutilating the carcass for the pleasure of it.  Both hunters said they had gotten an extremely uneasy feeling, and they had been debating on whether or not to try and salvage the rack when they had realized that darkness was beginning to fall.

"So we high-tailed it out of there as quick as we could, but we must've gotten turned around somewhere in the underbrush because we certainly didn't end up back where we started.  Thank goodness we finally found you two, or we might still have been wandering around out there come morning."

The two were clearly exhausted, so we offered to let them share our campsite for the night and threw a few extra sausages on the griddle.  They thanked us and said they would be on their way at first light, and as we ate I asked if they could think of any more details that might reveal the identity of whatever had mauled the wounded elk.  They said there had been a few prints, but in the fading light and the mud and blood from the carcass they hadn't really been able to tell exactly how large the prints had been, though they both agreed that the tracks looked like those of a mountain lion or a bobcat. 

Moreover, they both reported feeling like they were being watched during their walk through the woods in the dark.  "We never saw anything, but occasionally we'd hear a rustling in the brush, or we'd catch a quick movement out of the corner of our eyes, or all the hairs on the backs of our necks would stand up all of a sudden, but we figured it might have just been our heads playing tricks on us in the dark."  

We talked for a few more minutes as we made our plans for the morning, but soon our exhaustion got the better of us and we all decided to hit the hay for the night.  We doused our fire, and soon we retired to our tents.  My buddy would be staying with me in my tent that night and the other hunters would be sharing his tent.  It didn't take long for us all to fall asleep, since a light snow had begun to fall and our warm quilts and sleeping bags had never seemed more cozy and inviting.  

At some point during the night, however, I woke from my peaceful slumber.  I'm a pretty light sleeper, so at first I figured my friend had just shifted in his sleep or something like that, but soon I heard it: the soft tinkling of bells.  Something had bumped the line of small bells strung around the perimeter of the campsite.  Now, at first I assumed it was probably one of the two guests; maybe one of them had gotten up to use the bathroom out in the trees, and maybe they had bumped the trip line by accident.  But then I heard it again, louder this time.

It was like someone was... playing with the string and bells, swatting and jerking the line to illicit the quiet jingle of the little tin bells.  Again and again the string thrummed from an impact, and the bells tinkled as they were tossed around on the line.  By this point I was starting to get nervous, and I reached down to the floor of the tent next to my sleeping bag to find my .44 in its holster.  I'm not sure if I made a noise as I moved or if whatever it was just got bored with the line of bells, but as soon as I sat up the jingling stopped, and the night again fell silent, with no noise whatsoever except for the soft crinkle of falling snow.

The next morning we rose early, coming out of our warm cocoons at 3:50.  We brewed a quick cup of coffee in the morning darkness and munched on some trail mix as we got our backpacks ready.  However, when we were about to set out for the ridge line we had found the day before, our flashlights caught something menacing pressed into the fresh snow.  Coming into the campsite, from the same place where the two hunters had stumbled out of the woods the night before, was a trail of paw prints.  Big ones. 

They followed the exact path that the two other hunters had taken from the edge of the woods to the fire pit, and then they made a large circle around the tent the two other men were sleeping in, before crossing the campsite again and ending before the line of bells on the far side of the site, only to continue again about fifteen feet further into the forest.  It was almost like whatever had stalked around the campsite had jumped a short distance to avoid the bells at that end of the clearing.

I realized that the sound I had heard the night before must have been the thing playing with the bells on the way into the campsite, amusing itself with our security measures, measures it was smart enough to avoid triggering on the way out of the site.  Now I was severely creeped out, and I decided that this, combined with the story of the mutilated elk from the day before, qualified as "unusual" enough to report to the ranger service.  I called it in over the radio, giving the sleepy ranger on duty our location and quietly rolling my eyes at his reprimand for using a secure frequency.  He said that somebody would be out this way in a few hours, and to just stay put.

Of course, if we wanted to be in position on time, we couldn't afford to wait a few hours.  We opted instead to just leave a note taped to the inside flap of the other hunters' tent before going on our way.  It was a bone-chillingly cold morning to be hiking up and down steep mountain ridges with a heavy pack and a rifle, but I knew there was no other way I'd be bagging a nice goat, so we continued on our way with dogged determination.  

We finally reached the base of the ridge line that we would be setting up on, and we decided to take a brief break before hiking up the last hill and getting into position.  As we were sitting there at the base of the mountain ridge, eating a few more handfuls of trail mix to keep our energy up, we kept catching glimpses of movement out of the corners of our eyes in the lavender light of pre-dawn.  It was never anything we could focus on, but every now and again it would seem as if a shadow in the trees would move, or a new shadow would appear where there hadn't been one a moment ago. 

It was more than enough to set me on edge, and I quietly cycled my rifle's bolt, putting a round into the chamber.  Just in case.  Pretty soon we noticed that the sky was getting brighter, so we decided to go ahead and hike up to the top of the ridge.  We made it about halfway up the steep hill before my buddy pointed out just how eerily calm the morning was. 

We hadn't noticed it on the way there due to the strenuous nature of the hike, combined with the fact that it's really not out of the ordinary for everything to be silent in the forest at 4:00 A.M. on the morning after a snowstorm.  However, now that the sun was beginning to light up the sky, small animals should have been out skittering around, and birds should have been flitting from branch to branch as elk bugled in the distance.  But there was nothing, just the occasional *plop* of a gob of snow falling from a tree branch.

We finally reached the top of the ridge, and boy let me tell you that the view alone was worth the early morning trek.  Frost glistened on every tree in the valley below, and a serene blue-white carpet of fresh snow covered the opposite peak like icing on a cake.  I took it all in for a moment before getting down on my stomach and setting my pack up as a rest for my rifle as my friend quietly rummaged in his pack for his binoculars.  Just then, however, a powerful feeling of being watched came over me, and when I rolled over onto my side to look around, I nearly wet my pants in fright.  

About thirty yards up the ridge to my right, a pitch-black shape sat perched like a gargoyle on a snow covered rock.  It had the distinct profile of a big cat, but its fur was so dark that I couldn't make out any features of its body, except for the piercing amber-colored eyes that stared right back at me.  It was massive as well, certainly bigger than any mountain lion I had ever seen.  Furthermore, its ears stood straight up, coming to tufted points like a lynx or a bobcat.  I didn't know exactly what it was, but I knew without a doubt that it wasn't there to ask for a cup of sugar.

I kicked my buddy lightly with my outstretched leg, and it didn't take him long to spot the predator eyeing us from afar.  We were stuck in a standoff, not wanting to make any sudden movements as the cat just stared at us from its perch.  My revolver was strapped on my hip, and while it would be easier to aim with at close range, it would be slow and awkward to bring up from my prone position.  I heard my friend pull his 10mm out of its holster, but he was in a bad shooting position as well.  Instead, my best option would be to turn and fire with my rifle.  

I flicked the safety off, and its distinctive *click* sent the cat into a low, pouncing position, and it began to slink down off of its rocky vantage point.  I knew it was now or never, and I whispered to my friend "You ready?"  He whispered back "go for it," and I did.  As quickly as I could, praying harder than I ever had before, I wheeled around to bring my rifle to bear, and I'll never forget the sight of making eye contact with that thing through my scope. 

I fired, and the shot echoed across the silent mountain range like the bang of a judge's gavel.  I couldn't see anything except for a blur of movement in my scope, but my friend later told me that I had hit it just under its massive collarbone, because he saw a spray of coal-black hair come off of the beast as it charged.  The creature let out a screech that could have woken the dead, and it tumbled and rolled downhill a few yards before getting back to its feet and running off through the snow-covered woods with alarming speed as my friend fired after it with his pistol.  

We both just sat there for a few moments, collecting ourselves and coming down off of the adrenaline high.  There was no way we were going to go chasing after that thing, but we also didn't want to stay there on the ridge in case it decided to come back.  Besides, our hunt was ruined for the day anyway, since so much gunfire certainly would have scared away any animals in the area, so we decided to make our way back to the campsite as quickly as possible.  Before we left, however, I had to have a look at the thing's tracks to see if they matched the ones at our campsite.  

The paw prints in the snow were enormous, and they were clearly feline.  Cats keep their claws retracted as they walk, leaving only the indentations of the pads of their paws.  Still, even the largest cougar tracks I've ever seen looked small in comparison to these, and they were pressed deeply into the snow, even penetrating to the mud underneath in some places, indicating that the animal had weighed an enormous amount.  As I surveyed the tracks, I found a few tufts of oily black fur, but there wasn't a single drop of blood anywhere to be seen, despite the fact that I had nailed it dead-center with a .30-06 at less than twenty yards.  

I was curious for sure, but certainly not curious enough to follow the thing's tracks into the brush, so as soon as we both made sure our handguns were loaded and our holsters were unbuttoned, we got on our way.  We made good time heading back downhill, and much to our relief a little bit of life seemed to have returned to the forest, with nuthatches chirping and squirrels scampering through the fresh snow. 

We had made it about two-thirds of the way back towards our campsite when we encountered two men in ranger uniforms coming up the trail in the opposite direction.  They were armed to the teeth, with one toting a black tactical shotgun and the other carrying a semi-automatic rifle, and they both had on body armor over their green uniforms, with lots of extra ammunition practically dripping off of them.  They asked us if the camp just down the trail was ours, and when we said yes they both breathed a sigh of relief, saying that they had heard our flurry of gunfire earlier and had assumed the worst.  

We continued hiking hurriedly back towards the campsite, and as we walked we told the two rangers of what had happened.  When we described the animal to them, however, they both shot one another a dour look before saying "Yeah, you boys sure are lucky to have survived a cougar attack like that."  My friend and I looked at one another in stunned silence for a moment and asked them if they had even been listening to our description.  "I've seen cougars; heck, I've hunted cougars, and I've been hunted by cougars, and this thing was not a damn cougar," I said frustratedly.

The rangers looked at me sympathetically for a moment before continuing to hike in silence, but by then we were nearly to the campsite.  Although, when we emerged from the trees at the edge of the clearing, it looked much different than when we had left it a few hours ago.  

The whole clearing was crawling with people.  Some were rangers decked out in tactical gear like the two that had come to meet us, and others were rangers in regular uniforms, while still others were dressed in the blue and gold uniforms of local police.  Cameras flashed left and right in the woods beyond the clearing, and our tents had both been neatly packed and placed in an organized pile along with our cooler and a few other things at one edge of the campsite.  The other two hunters from the night before were nowhere to be seen.

Our jaws hung open in disbelief, and soon enough a tall man in a clean and well-fitted ranger uniform approached us, telling us that he believed it was in our best interest to pack up and leave the area as quickly as possible.  Of course, we agreed that this campsite didn't really feel "safe" any more, but when we asked if we could simply relocate our camp to another section of the game reserve, his expression quickly turned dark, and he retorted with "I asked you boys to leave.  Now, are you going to cooperate, or am I going to have to 'compel' you?"

I looked at my friend again, and he simply shrugged, unsure of what other options we really had.  After a few seconds I simply put my hands in the air and said "You got it chief, I'll head to the truck,"  before grabbing one of the tents and slinging it over my shoulder.  When we reached the state road where my buddy had parked his truck, there must have been at least fifteen or twenty other vehicles there, lining the shoulder of the small gravel road in both directions.  

We quickly packed the truck, and we returned to town in silence.  Once we were back to civilization, I checked back into the small inn we had stayed at on our first night in town, since it would be cheaper to stay there for the next few days than to reschedule my flight home last minute.  My buddy left for his home on the other end of the state the next morning, and we never said another word about the bizarre experience. 

I spent the next three days quietly milling around town, and one evening while I was back at the local diner, I caught a snippet of a local news broadcast featuring an interview with the same steely-eyed ranger that had told us to leave the reserve.  Following the interview, there were a few snapshots of men in ranger uniforms posing with the carcass of a moderately sized cougar, and the headline on screen emphatically stated: "Cougar Behind Hunter Deaths Trapped by Local Rangers"

I finally returned home, albeit empty handed, and I soon got back to my daily routine of work.  However, less than a month later a mysterious envelope with no return-address arrived in the mail, and when I opened it, there was a full set of Idaho hunting tags with next year's season dates stamped on them.  Everything was there: mule deer, elk, black bear, even mountain goat, all pre-approved and stamped with my name.  Underneath the set of tags, there was a folded piece of stationary marked with the Forestry Service logo which bore the handwritten words "Every year.  Say nothing."  

I haven't been back out West since, but I'm considering going back this year.  This time though, instead of my hunting gear, I think I'll bring a camera.
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Darkness Prevails
This is so long lol. It's gonna be difficult to fit into a script, but I'll see what I can do.
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