“They say they’s a panther truck going around town!” Bot exclaimed excitedly to my father. Bot was a small, dark man who appeared to be slightly older than Dad. My dad told me later that he was slightly “retarded”. I know that the word “retarded” is not “politically correct”, but it was a perfectly good term in the ‘60’s. As it were, although young, I was more than observant enough to know that the man wasn’t dealing with a full deck; that his elevator didn’t go all the way to the top etc. But that fact, in no way, curtailed his enthusiasm nor his consternation.
“They’s a panther truck ‘round yuh! They sez them panthers is dangerous critters” he continued, frantically swinging his arms like a weathervane caught in a sudden gust of wind; fingers pointing here, there and yon, tracing an uncertain path in the air; illustrating that he knew not the exact location of the alleged “panther truck” but sure beyond a reasonable doubt, that it represented a “clear and present danger” to the townspeople.
“Them panthers is wild beast. They is black as coal and they eyes is red as fie!” he pointed to his own eyes which by the way, were too, blood shot as red as fire! “They say at night you can hear them screamin’ like a woman birthin’ a baby!” Dad gave Bot a couple of perfunctory, “Oh yea?’s” and “Really Bot?’s” with a “Do tell?” thrown in for good measure. Bot, feeling that his work as a sort of dilettante “town crier”, was at least partially done, strode off down the street to warn others.
“What is a ‘panther truck’?” was the logical question for anyone to ask. I was no different. “Bot has it wrong. He is referring to a “Panel Truck” Dad answered. “Well then, what the fiery hell is a ‘Panel Truck’?” would have been the next most logical question for anyone to ask EXCEPT, one of Fletcher Brown’s kids. So, I edited my question accordingly. Dad put on his deep “school teacher voice” and explained it thusly; “A panel truck is similar in function to its smaller cousin the sedan delivery, a station wagon with no backseat and no side windows aft of the front doors. Both types of vehicles are frequently used as delivery vehicles. Panel trucks are often used by construction and maintenance contractors and were sometimes configured for ambulance and hearse roles”. “Oh”, I said.
“Ya’ll boys don’t make fun of Mr. Bot, he doesn’t know any better. Listen! While I tell ya’ll a short story about MY encounter with a panther” my father both, chastised and commanded simultaneously. “I was once stalked by a panther while hunting squirrels and rabbits” he began. One of my father’s nicknames was “Pro”. He was called that for a couple of reasons, for one; he was a teacher and “Pro” was short for “Professor”. “Pro” was also short for “Professional” due to his apparent adeptness at almost every form of sportsman and outdoor activity. He was a prize fighter, a baseball player named ‘Lefty’, a fisherman and a hunter. I have a picture around here somewhere, of him holding up a freshly killed bobcat in each hand.
“It was getting late in the evening” my father began. “I’d had a particularly good day hunting rabbits and squirrels. My hunting sack was full, and its weight was heavy on my back and shoulders. My freshest kills lay warmly against my back. Their waning heat was comforting in the cool, duskish air.
Just ahead, standing black against the orange sky, was the largest, crookedest old oak tree I’d seen in an age. Even from a distance, I could see, what seemed like a dozen squirrels playing cheerfully in the ancient, gnarled branches of the oak. A second later, I could hear them barking boldly as they brazenly played an arboreal game of tag. ‘One or two more for the pot wouldn’t hurt’. So I changed direction, and headed for that tree.
Suddenly, the loudest, most blood-curdling scream I’d ever heard, pierced the evening air. The hairs on the back of my neck, stood on end. Of course, I knew it was the scream of a panther. I’d never heard one before, but I’d read about them many times. Squirrels forgotten, I hurriedly headed in the direction of the highway and the safety of my car.
Again! The “woman’s” anguished scream sliced through the woods, only this time, much closer.
I began to trot, checking my shotgun to ensure that it was fully loaded. It was. I glanced over my shoulder, but saw nothing but the darkness of the forest’s underbrush. However, I could feel the presence of the beast closing the distance between him and me.
I broke into a full gallop, but still the presence closed the distance. Just as I sensed the black presence of the creature about to pounce, I broke out of the brush, into the highway. I could see my car, dark, and tiny in the distance. I could also see the bright eyes of another vehicle’s headlights approaching post hastily.
Thinking quickly, I laid my hunting sack in the middle of the highway, hoping that the black behemoth would accept my sacrifice of squirrels and rabbits instead of insisting on a blood offering of MY blood!
Suddenly, glowing red eyes burst from the dark thicket separating the road from the forest. But instead of plunging towards me, sinking its yellow fangs and claws into my shivering flesh, it stopped, sniffed the hunting sack and immediately ripped into to it.
As I breathed in, attempting a sigh of relief, there was a sudden flash of light, CURUMMP! When I opened my eyes. The panel truck was loudly screeching to a halt as the black and red carcass of the panther skidded, spinning down the blacktop, followed obediently by my hunting sack and a scattering of dead squirrels and rabbits. The beast was dead; killed by a ‘Panel Truck’, or in this case, Mr. Bot’s