The Wild Beast 

Renie Szilak Burghardt

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Copyright 1998 by Renie Szilak Burghardt
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When I moved to a house in the woods, I discovered that my woodland neighbors liked to visit at night. A steady stream of raccoons and opossums nosed around on my deck as they searched for something to eat. I enjoyed watching them through the glass door that opens to the deck, and to encourage more visits, I began to put a pan of scraps out every night. Pretty soon, I had even more nightly guests sharing the food without much fussing.

However, a few nights later, just as I had walked away from the door, a piercing scream rang out on the deck. I ran to see what the problem was. It turned out to be a huge cat, with orange stripes, chewed up ears, and an obviously mean disposition.

"That's no ordinary cat, Mom," my grown son, visiting me at the time said, as we watched the cat hiss and scream his way to the food. "That's a wild beast!"

After he ate his fill, the cat jumped up on the railing and glared at us with his big yellow eyes, as if daring us to come out. We didn't take him up on his dare.

The following night the cat showed up early and ate his fill before the rest of the gang's arrival. Obviously, he was a smart cat. He had to be to survive in the woods. I drove to town and bought some cans of cat food.

"I know you have a special weakness for orange tabby cats, Mom," my son said, as he was about to leave for home. "But I'll say it again, that cat is as wild as the raccoons and opossums he hangs out with. So don't get your hopes up about taming him."

That night, I began to put a separate dish of cat food out, just for the cat. And I named him beast. And sometimes, I opened the glass door and talked to him. But Beast always responded with a hiss and a snarl. He made it clear that he didn't want to be friends.

Then, autumn turned to winter, and it got cold. Soon, there were even more hungry visitors on the deck. Beast, meanwhile, showed up earlier and earlier. Often, he'd be lurking in the yard while I was putting out his food. So I began talking to him.

"Hi, Beast, ready for your supper?" I would often ask.

"Meow. Hiss!" Beast would snarl.

"I see you have a new scratch on your nose."

"Meow. Hiss!"

"Well, enjoy your supper and try to stay out of fights. I don't like to see you hurt." But beyond these conversations I left well enough alone. After all, Beast was one tough feline, and I was a woman well past my prime. I didn't think I was a match for him.

Then came the night of the first Arctic blast of the winter. The north wind blew through the woods like a rocket, chilling the air with its icy lips. The animals were in for a tough night, I thought, as I put out their food.

"Here is your supper, Beast," I called out with chattering teeth to the waiting animal. "You'd better eat quickly and find some shelter. This weather ain't fit for man or beast."

"Meow," Beast responded, jumping up on the deck for the first time, and startling me. I backed away and quickly went inside. Then I sat down by the glass door and watched Beast wolf down his food. When he finished, he sat there and stared at me. I noticed he was shivering.

"Beast, go find some shelter or you'll freeze to death," I called out loudly from the warm kitchen.

"Meow," Beast responded, walking right to the glass door and peering in at me. The wind was ruffling his orange fur, and he shivered again. So I threw caution to the wind, and gingerly walked over and opened the door, fully expecting Beast to run off. But he surprised me and walked right into the kitchen instead, looked around, walked over to the wood stove and curled up under it! He was still there when I headed for bed. "Good night, Beast," I said softly without touching him.

The following morning I awoke early. Immediately, I wondered where Beast was. But I didn't have to wonder for long. As I moved to get out of bed, I felt something heavy on my feet. It was Beast! He was curled up on top of them, still asleep. I reached over and stroked him, ever so gently. Beast responded by purring. And when I walked into the kitchen to stoke the embers and throw a log into the wood stove, he was right at my heels, as if he didn't want me out of his sight. I was bowled over!

Later that morning, I brought my old cat carrier in from the shed and tricked Beast into it. He screamed like a banshee on most of the way to the Animal Clinic, until I pulled to the side of the road to have a talk with him.

"If you and I are going to live together, you'll have to stop your wandering, Beast. You will get a health check, vaccinations, and you will be neutered. Your fighting days are over," I told him firmly but lovingly. "Besides, you can't afford to lose another piece from your ears." He calmed down and seemed to accept his fate without another complaint.

A few days later, my son came back for another visit.

"I can't believe that you managed to tame him," he kept saying, shaking his head.

"It wasn't even difficult," I told him. "All that wild beast needed to turn him back into a kitty-cat, was some love and kindness."

These days, when I sit by the glass door and watch my woodland neighbors eat their supper, Beast sits in my lap and watches them with me. He seems quite content with being an ordinary house cat, instead of a wild beast.

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