When I was in my late teens, during a memorably awful summer, I had a friend named Todd. Actually, most of the male kids in my class at that point were called Todd; it’s a Canadian thing, don’t ask. I got him a job at the warehouse where I was already employed. I hated the gig and knew I wouldn’t be able to hack it without a sidekick, so I tried to delay the inevitable with every means at my disposal. I asked the line manager to synchronise our shifts so I could go round his flat every morning and retrieve him. I would then have to physically wake him up myself. Sometimes I had to dress him. Like I said, it was a memorably awful summer.
One morning, while we were both en route to another day of hellish boredom lugging boxes around, we were almost at the warehouse when Todd stuck out his forearm to halt my progress, then used the index finger of said arm to point at a flyer stuck to a telephone pole.
“You see that shit, dude?”
I examined the flyer closely. It read: “MISSING: ONE COUGAR. NON-DOMESTICATED. PROCEED WITH CAUTION. 5,000 DOLLAR REWARD FOR SUCCESSFUL CAPTURE.” There was a picture of what one could only imagine was the cougar in question. Just in case you happened to come across another urban dwelling mountain cat.
“I see it, yes.”
“I thought I saw that reward poster yesterday, but I figured at the time I must have been trippin’.”
Todd was a fan of the joint as breakfast.
“Yeah, cool. A missing cougar,” I said with deep disinterest. I tried to start walking again but Todd’s forearm stopped me in my tracks once again.
“Do you have any idea how much damage a wild cougar can inflict on a human being?”
“I’m sure you’re about to tell me.”
Todd stared straight ahead, stoic.
“Plenty, man. Fucking plenty.”
I began walking towards work once again, and this time my friend did not impeded me. As we worked that morning, Todd talked to me about nothing other than his plan to catch the cougar. I didn’t mind too much; at least he wasn’t moaning about the job as per usual.
“Dude, I’m telling you catching a cougar is simple. It all comes down to one thing and one thing alone: the quality of your trap.”
“Are you suggesting we try and capture a feral animal? One that you described only this morning as being capable of inflicting damage in the quantity of, and I quote, ‘fucking plenty’?””
“Isn’t it worth it for two and a half grand each?”
This was another reason apart from differentiation from normal conversation I was letting Todd rabbit on about the cougar; he was actually succeeding in talking me into the whole idea of capturing the beast and claiming the reward. Looking back on it, this is amazing for several reasons, not least of which was how lacking Todd’s plan was. It consisted, in its entirety, of: one, build a trap (his specialty, apparently); two, hope the cougar randomly wanders by; three, that’s it, really.
The morning after Todd pointed out the cougar poster, I arrived at his place to find a first: Todd was already awake and dressed. Not only awake, but building his very own, purpose-built cougar trap. It consisted of a large milk crate and an assortment of paraphernalia that would come easily to the average stoner: empty crisp bags, empty cans of cola, bongs of various shapes and sizes which had obviously outlived their original use. As for bait, well that was even less imaginative: a little hunk of weed. Apparently Todd figured that since he liked marijuana so much, cougars must go wild for the stuff too. He asked for my opinion of the trap. I didn’t pull any punches.
“It’s piece of shit.”
“Fuck you, it rules.”
“Where do you plan to put it?”
“I’m keeping it right here, in the centre of the room.”
“What, in the hopes that the wildcat just happens to be wandering past your window, smells the weed and comes to investigate?”
“Couldn’t have explained it better myself.”
“I thought you were at least going to put it in a field or something.”
Every day for the rest of the week, Todd would spend the whole shift at work going over in great detail the latest upgrades he had made to his cougar trap. It came to a point where I was actually starting to pine for the days of his bitching about boxes to make a comeback.
“Thought I heard something last night. But it was just the next door neighbour’s cat.”
“The cat was in your apartment?”
“Have to keep the window open for the cougar, so I get a lot of cats.”
“The cat wasn’t interested in the weed, I take it.”
“Not in the slightest,” said Todd with genuine surprise.
About four or five days later, I was walking home from work with Todd in tow. He invited me up to his place to hang out and I accepted. When we got to the top of his stairs, we heard a noise coming from inside his flat. It sounded like a trapped animal. There was a lot of scuffing and scratching accompanied by a loud wailing sound.
“Dude, it’s the fucking cougar! I caught the fucking cougar!” Todd said, jumping up and down like a small child. I was obviously sceptical.
“That’s very unlikely. You said yourself you get a lot of cats coming in through the window. It’s probably just a house cat that set the trap.”
“I’m telling you, man: those are the sounds of a trapped cougar.”
“When have you ever had the opportunity to hear what a trapped cougar sounds like?”
Todd ignored the question and responded by putting his fingers to his lips in a “keep quiet” gesture, as if the trapped animal, whatever it was, was a sleeping child. Todd then creeped the short distance to his front door, eased the handle down gently, then slammed open the door and leapt into the room in a way that made you instantly question his previous inching. I entered behind him and we both approached the cougar trap gingerly.
“Have a peek, man.”
This infuriated me.
“Why should I have to peek? It’s your cougar trap for God’s sake!”
“I thought you were convinced it wasn’t a cougar.”
“I am. But that doesn’t mean I want some hysterical house cat clawing my eyes out either.”
“Just do it. If you want your half of the the five g’s that is.”
I figured, what the hell. At least when it turned out to be a mangy little tabby I could gloat for a while. Todd had built a tiny viewing screen made of some off cut of transparent plastic near the bottom of one of the thin ends of the trap. I bent down to have a look. At first I couldn’t see anything, as if the animal was hiding. Then came a vicious feline face, teeth bared, flying towards the soft plastic. I was hit in the nose with the plastic screen and the force of the blow sent me flying backwards. I looked over to see the view hole, which now had the nose and mouth of a reasonably-sized cougar sticking out of it.
“See I told you so!” Todd shrieked with glee.
“Help me up, doofus.”
Todd ran over and lifted me to my feet. We both stood there watching the cougar try and escape from the trap through the tiny space left by the view hole. The animal was what you might call pretty upset; I began to worry about the fact that the only thing keeping a vicious, furious, high on cannabis mountain cat from trying to eat me was a flimsy trap made from plastic, one constructed by a cretin.
“What do we do now?” I asked.
“I got the number of the guy’s who’s looking for it. As a cougar owner he’ll probably know what to do from here.”
As I looked at my face in the mirror, checking for any damage done by the flying piece of plastic, I nodded in agreement. There wasn’t any other acceptable option.
Todd called the guy on the leaflet, who said he’d come right over, and then we smoked a much-earned joint. Instead of the usual “Sabotage”, Todd instead put on “Black Sabbath Vol. 4”, judging the mood of the room correctly. Once we were stoned, the cougar’s mouth sticking out of the hole in the trap went from terrifying to incredibly amusing.
Then the cougar owner showed up, in remarkably little time. His name was Mordroop, a handle that was practically onomatopoeic: his face looked as if it were melting. He looked like he could have been any age between forty-five and eighty. He was dressed like a 19th century grave digger, all in black with a novelty top hat. After getting to grips with his bizarre appearance (which took several, silent seconds) I invited him into Todd’s apartment (I had answered the door after drawing the short straw in a contest waged prior to the initial toke). Todd, Mordroop and I then sat in the living room of the flat, no one saying a word, for a period that felt like a quarter of an hour. Meanwhile, the trapped cougar made an even greater racket, growling and scratching the inside of the trap, its mouth and nose still sticking out of where the view hole once was, as if it could sense a connection with Mordroop. The man who had presumably come to reclaim his mountain cat finally broke the ice with the world’s most idiotic question.
“So where is my cougar exactly?”
“Right there, dude,” Todd helpfully explained, pointing to the trap while unable to take his eyes off of Mordroop even for a second.
Mordroop was quite the number. I got up and walked over to the makeshift trap. I hit the top of it with my hand, something that made the cougar even more upset but which did finally snap Mordroop’s mind to attention.
“He’s in here,” I said just to be sure Mordroop figured it out this time. Without another word, Mordroop removed a pair of leather gloves from his coat pockets and placed them onto his hands. He then got up very deliberately and walked over to the trap. Without hesitation he grabbed the top of the trap and pulled it off, exposing the cougar to the world. Todd and I jumped up and tried to get as far away from the animal as possible, holding onto each other for dear life as we scrambled into the kitchen, wailing like banshees. The cougar was even bigger than I’d imagined, so big I couldn’t quite figure out how Todd’s shitty excuse for a trap had managed to contain it.
Mordroop paid us no attention during this period and instead started stroking the cougar’s head and back. For a moment this seemed to calm the beast and I thought that just maybe Mordroop had some sort of special power over animals, some kind of Grizzly Adams type vibe going for him. I hoped that maybe he would snap his fingers or something and the cougar would follow him out the door and he would depart after giving us five grand in cash. But that wasn’t to be.
The cougar’s mood turned very suddenly. It jumped on Mordroop with some gusto and started to maul him, mostly with its teeth. While the overgrown cat did this, Mordroop laughed loudly as if a giant feather was tickling him. This went on for about forty-five seconds before Mordroop yelled something in a foreign language, which sounded to my ears like, “BOO-DUN-RYE-OON!” Immediately after saying this, the cougar stopped mauling Mordroop and sat to attention, like a trained dog. Mordroop slowly got up from the floor and began to wipe blood away from his face with a handkerchief. He then paced around the cougar in a circle, while the animal followed Mordroop with its eyes every step of the way. Mordroop then ran at the cougar and slapped it on the top of its head, yelling something incomprehensible once again: “GEEVE-DICK-DA!” The cougar sneezed (which even in my panicked state, I had to admit was pretty darn cute). Then it sneezed again. Then the cougar ran out of Todd’s open window, the one it must have used to get into the flat in the first place. Mordroop then very calmly put his hand in one of his trouser pockets and took out some money. He placed it delicately on the living room table.
“Five thousand dollars,” he said simply. He then turned around and left. Neither Todd nor I ever saw Mordroop again.
A few nights later, after I had quit my job at the warehouse and was using my days planning an imminent trip to Europe, I was walking by a convenience store to pick up some supplies for the night when from the bushes I saw a pair of eyes, staring right at me. I knew immediately that they were not human. It was the cougar. He had found me somehow.
I took off, running as fast as I could down the street. The cougar followed me, making terrible growling noises at me as it did. Given how fast the thing must have been capable of running, it proceeded very slowly, just keeping up a twenty yard or so distance between us as I ran flat out. It was as if the thing were tailing me, not intent on catching me, just wanting to see where I was going. I reached my block of flats and shut the main door firmly behind me. I could hear the cougar scratching just outside, trying to find a way in. I walked up the stairs to my place, slowly unwinding, grateful that I hadn’t been mauled by a puma and left to die in the street. I opened my front door and went straight for the fridge. Four beers left. Not enough to drink myself into oblivion. And I wouldn’t feel safe leaving the building until morning on account of the lurking killer feline. I cracked a brew and wondered how the hell I was going to kill the evening.
Half way through said beer, I was roused to my feet by the sound of Max, my German next-door neighbour, shouting in what sounded distinctly like terror. I listened in, trying to discern what was going on. And then I heard him bellow, “GO AWAY, HUGE CAT! SHOO!” and knew that the cougar must have somehow found a way into the building and was at that moment putting the fear of God into the aged foreigner. I had to react; it was at the very least partly my fault the cougar was in Max’s apartment. If something had happened to the old man, I would be on some level morally responsible. I jumped up and ran to the front door of my place. I flung it open and ran to down the corridor to Max’s, once there knocking as loud as I could on his front door. He opened it with the look of a man emerging from a disaster area. I didn’t stop for pleasantries; I ran into the living room, right up to the mad mountain cat, and trying to remember Mordroop’s movements as best I could, slapped the cougar on the head and shouted “GEEVE-DICK-DA!”
The animal looked at me with a mixture of confusion and profound dislike. After a second or two of pause to consider its next move, it ran out Max’s open window, the one it turns out it came in from. Must have climbed up the side of the building. I shut the offending window to ensure the cougar could not return, at least not that night. Max asked me if I wanted something to drink a few seconds after the animal’s departure. I said no thanks; instead I went back to my flat and decided to leave for Europe the following morning.