Photo by Hannah Troupe on Unsplash

Jason and Jillian were having a wonderful time hiking the Appalachian Trail. They were doing sections. More than 20 Years ago, when Jason was a senior in high school, he had read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. In the book, Bill explained he had always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. But attempting the entire trail was too much.

So, he walked the trail one section at a time, skipping ahead to reach the trails he was most interested in. That’s what Jason and Jillian were doing. Today was their first section — the Roller Coaster.

Although it was less than 14 miles long, it was one of the most challenging hikes on the trail. It was named the roller coaster because it went up and down ten climbs and descents of several hundred feet each.

They decided to start with a rugged trail because they wanted to test themselves. They hadn’t gone into this unprepared. Jason and Jillian were in shape. Working out was part of their life together, and over the last six months, they had stepped up their routines.

They worked out four days a week — sometimes more. Not only did they do aerobic exercises but also a Thru-hikers workout. The workout included: squats, traveling lunges, hip hinging, rotation step-ups, and more. They were ready.

It was a beautiful autumn day, October 11th, 66 degrees. The sky was bright blue with fluffy white clouds drifting across. There was a pleasant smell in the air. It was the smell of autumn. The earthy smell of plants preparing for winter. Piles of leaves releasing their stored-up sugars, creating a musky-sweet bouquet. The sun was warm on bare skin. Jason took off his jacket. Jill kept hers on.

If you listened, there was a quiet cacophony of critters. Birds chirping in the trees and insects buzzing about. Squirrels running through the leaves, searching for nuts to store for the winter. It was better than Jason and Jillian had hoped for.

They were approaching their seventh assent. It was just past the 10-mile marker when they heard a rustle somewhere behind them. Jillian and Jason stopped and looked behind. Jason released his bear spray from his belt and held it in his right hand. They heard and saw nothing. Jason and Jillian moved forward.

They had gone less than a quarter-mile when they heard something large creeping through the leaves. It wasn’t a squirrel. They both turned and looked back. Whatever it was, it stopped. Jillian and Jason didn’t see anything, but they were on alert.

About halfway up their ascent, they heard stealthy rustling to the right. They saw nothing. Whenever they looked toward the sound — it stopped. They didn’t hear any other rustling the rest of their ascent or on the descent.

By the time they peaked the ninth climb, Jillian and Jason were no longer on alert. They relaxed and enjoyed the scenery, weather, colors, and each other’s company.

It wasn’t until near the top of the 10th and final ascent that they heard paws on leaves again. This time it was different. It was coming at them in a gallop. They hurried toward the top. As they neared the top, they saw it. It was a cat, a house cat.

A domestic feline, but it wasn’t. It was at least five feet from nose to tail — probably more. Jillian’s best guess was it weighed 50 to 60 pounds.

Jillian had read about giant feral house cats in Australia. She even saw a video of a supposed typical size house cat outdoors with a huge black tabby in the background. She didn’t buy it. It would have been easy to doctor the video. But this was different. This was real, and it wasn’t in Australia. It was on the Appalachian trail, in Virginia, in the good ole U.S. of A.

The cat hunkered down and focused on Jason and Jillian like cats do when they’re about to attack.

“Quick, let’s begin the descent to the station.”

As they ran down the hill, they heard the cat; it was moving quietly and quickly. It was going for the kill.

Jason yelled, “Go ahead. I’ll face it here!”

Jillian grabbed her bear spray with her left hand and knife with her right. She was right-handed. “No way. I’m in this too.” She said with conviction.

When the cat came within ten yards, Jason and Jillian made themselves as large as possible. Both screamed at the top of their lungs. The cat stopped and began circling the prey.

The cat circled as Jason and Jillian backed down the hill. Fortunately, it was one of the shorter descents.

When they were within 500 yards of the station, the cat attacked. It was so quick Jason and Jillian barely had time to react. Jason’s first blast of the spray missed its target and drifted away on the breeze. Jillian’s knife didn’t miss her mark. She nicked the cat’s paw as it swiped at her. Her blade did little damage to the cat but gave it something to think about.

The cat backed off and began circling again. Jillian and Jason backed down the hill. Twice, the cat charged at them but stopped 20 feet away and stared at them. Both times the couple was ready. Their weapons were in their hands.

The station was in sight. It was only about 100 yards away. The cat must have sensed this because it made another attempt at an attack. This time Jason’s aim was true, as was Jillian. The cat slinked back and then ran up the hill. Jason and Jillian made it to the station.

*******

Jillian removed her headset and unzipped her VR suit. She looked at Jason and said, “Wow, just wow. It was like being there, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. It. Was!”

“What do you think about hiking Maine next?”

“I’ll load it.”

“Sure, but let’s give it a day.”

I had read about giant alien feral house cats and thought it was a hoot. My first idea was to write about a couple actually on a hike, not a VR game. As I began the outline, the idea of making it a VR experience came to me. My wife said she wants a VR suit to go to the beach. Wouldn’t that be wonderful during quarantine!