THE WONDER by Dawn Miller

The lynx appeared at night. New mothers up for 3 a.m. feedings witnessed the velvet-skinned animal slink between houses. Exotic dancers, trudging home with aching feet, caught sight of it behind Pizza Shack, the animal exhausted, alone, its scent musky with wet earth and something grassy and strange.

Local radio hosts interrupted songs to announce the sightings and opened lines for call-ins. A majestic being, everyone agreed. A gentle and shy feline. A wonder. A gift. Did you hear about the lynx? people asked at the gas station, the bank, the car wash, and we said yes because everyone had.

Stories surfaced about how the lynx slipped through the woods or sunbathed on the softly turned earth in the Anglican graveyard. Some said its long whiskers, like errant handlebar moustaches, flanked its heart-shaped face. Others said its fluffy paws stretched twice the size of a housecat’s, only softer. A few said the animal moved panther-like, all loose-boned and silent.

Why does it hide from us? we asked in line at the coffee shop and at bus stops. Grocery store clerks kept watch on their breaks. Teenagers and old folks started carrying binoculars.

Bowls of kibble and saucers of milk set outside houses went untouched. Squirrels devoured pricey kitty treats sprinkled on doorsteps. The creature remained elusive, a grey ghost. We began to blame it for turning down our kindness, for trespassing into our little town. For not sharing its beauty.

Perhaps it’s a mutant lynx, we said at the barber shop. An aberration.

Perhaps it’s dangerous.

Reports emerged: farmers heard it sniffing around chicken coops and caught flashes of grey near calves and newborn lambs. Children sensed its dark presence in shadowy corners and abandoned buildings.

Maybe the lynx wasn’t a lynx at all, we speculated, but a bobcat, rabid and savage, or a bloodthirsty cougar plotting its next kill. The radio show aired statistics on cougar attacks. We locked our windows at night and reinforced our fences. We wondered if it could be a grizzly cub, the mother ready to rip apart someone’s throat, possibly a child’s.

Businesses posted signs in windows: Beware of the Beast! Stay Alert! Protect Your Children! Radio-show listeners donned camouflage jackets and combed the woods. Teachers kept children inside at recess.

We loaded rifles and leaned them by our doors, or waited on dark porches through the night, guns cocked. We set steel traps and freed rabbits and raccoons from the metal jaws each morning, their legs shattered.

When we finally hoisted the grey carcass shoulder-high, its fur bloody and matted at the bullet hole, and flung it onto the grass in front of town hall, everyone gathered to peer at the strange creature.

It’s so much smaller than we expected, we said.

If only the lynx had come to us, we whispered to each other. We would’ve protected it.

Photo by Jaanus Silla, used and adapted under CC.