For nearly two weeks, the Palmeri community had been covered in a shroud of fear, starting with the disappearance of 13-year-old Scott Jamison, and followed by four animal attacks within their small suburb. It was believed that the Jamison boy might have been a fatality of one such attack, but ten days of searching revealed neither the boy nor any sign of his encounter with the predator. Animal control officers had done their best to track the beast into the hills overlooking the community, but their meager resources were stretched to the limit and the dense woods presented a maze of obstacles, caves and embankments well beyond the skills of any novice hiker. All anyone knew for sure is that the beast was a cat of extraordinary size, judging by it's tracks some eight feet in length and weighing in excess of 200 pounds. The four fortunate enough to survive it's maulings described it as being a large mountain lion. The popular consensus being that the animal had been driven to the area by raging wild fires in the mountains west of the community.
Tank Barber was a giant of a man, six foot five and nearly three hundred pounds. He was an avid hunter and outdoorsman, strong in every area with the sole exception of his faith. His wife Elouise was always a single at church, she had long since given up trying to persuade Tank to join her for Sunday worship, but she continued to lift him in prayer, believing God for his ultimate conversion. Although he wasn't a believer, Tank was a good sort, a devoted husband, hard worker and loving father to three adult children. He was respected as a charitable and considerate individual by all his neighbors and friends, and as a community leader he had a burning desire to find the missing boy and put an end to the fear gripping his community.
Sunday morning was clear and bright, with just the vague odor of smoke carried in on a cool easterly breeze. In the Barber home, Elouise was fixing her hair in preparation for her church attendance, when her curiosity peaked at the sound of Tank opening the closet in his den. She hurried out of the bathroom and into the den to see him dressed in full camouflage clothing, with a back pack filled with climbing gear lying open on the desktop. What on earth are you doing? She inquired.
"I'm just going to do a little hikin'". He replied, flashing a smile of resolute confidence.
"No you're not!__ " Elouise adamantly responded, her volume raised along with her growing concern. "__ you're going out to look for that boy, aren't you?"
"Well, suppose I am, __ " He said with loving resignation. "__ I can't just sit around when that poor boy might be wandering around in those woods,__ especially with some vicious cat out there."
"Tank, I don't want you to go alone,__it's just to dangerous!" She insisted. "Besides, the police are convinced the boy's not in those hills."
"El,__ " He began, as he took her hands in his and looked into her eyes. "__this is just something I gotta do. You know me, I can always take care of myself and just about anything that comes my way."
She knew that Tank was a stubborn man, set in his ways, and driven by his intentions. Years ago she had stopped trying to dissuade him from his perceived notions, becoming wearied at the futility of attempting persuasion. Tank kissed her hands and released them, then he reached inside of the closet and pulled out his hunting rifle.
"Okay honey,__ " Elouise surrendered. "__ have it your way, but you be extra careful. I'll be praying for your safety."
"That-a-way El, __" Tank smiled slyly. "__ you keep your faith in Jesus, and I'll keep mine in old Winchester and me." He mused, patting his rifle stock.
About an hour later Tank pulled his Hummer into a parking space on Delray Drive at the base of the Palmeri hills. He exited his vehicle, swung the backpack over his shoulders and secured it in place. Taking a deep breath, he at last snatched up his rifle, slung it over his shoulder and started off up the rough, woodlands trail.
Tank quickly began by re-checking some areas searched by the police and civilian patrols in the first few days after the boy's disappearance, then as the sun started to rise overhead, he decided to go off trail toward the caves and rocky hills to the south. As he forged deeper into the seldom-traveled and hazardous hill country, he was surprised at how much the terrain had changed from his hunting trip the year before. It was evident that the heavy spring rains had caused much sliding and shifting on the clay banks and barren embankments, making it easy for any hiker to suddenly lose footing in loose unsettled soil.
Tank had more than a passing familiarity with the Jamison boy, he had been his trainer in a firearms safety course, and just two years hence served as scoutmaster for his Boy Scout troop. Now, as he pushed his way through the heavy foliage toward the hills, Tank found himself increasingly hoping that the boy's Scout training had somehow enabled him to survive the wilderness for the past twelve days, provided the beast hadn't brought him to an untimely end.
When the sun was at last high in the sky, Tank seated himself on a rock under a large tree to nourish himself on a prepared sandwich and quench his thirst with some cold water from his canteen. He felt weighted by the downhill side of the day, pressured to conclude his search before sunset, and somewhat discouraged due to his lack of results thus far. After a few moments he got up and resumed his hike, approaching a ravine with a small stream below. He took his field glasses out of his back pack and scanned the area from his vantage point at the summit of the steep cliff. Immediately his attention was drawn to a red flag on a stick. It was tied to the undercarriage of a crushed vehicle on it's top near the stream and was completely out of place for this wilderness area. As he focused on the flag, he realized that it was not a flag at all, but a shirt, __ a boy's red t-shirt. Tank knew that he had to get down to investigate, but the cliff extended nearly two miles in either direction, making it a four mile trek in thick brush and rugged terrain to get back to the flag's location. "It has to be a sign from the boy!" Tank thought to himself, and he knew that if indeed it was, time would be of the essence.
Tank quickly pulled a claw hammer from his back pack, tied it to one end of his fifty foot rope and slipped the other end of the rope loosely about his waist. He started to reach the hammer end of the rope around the base of a small tree, when he was startled by a terrifying growl off to his right. Immediately, he turned and found himself facing a very large and ferocious mountain lion. He jumped back in fear and lost his footing in loose soil at the top of the cliff. As he struggled momentarily attempting to regain balance, his rope slipped off his waist, down his torso to his legs and caught around his right ankle. The large man then fell backwards and upside down off of the cliff, with his rifle falling out of it's sling position, over his head, and proceeding him in the descent. Then, with a bone grinding, tremendous jolt, the rope reached the end of it's slack as the claw hammer caught on the small tree above. Pain shot through Tank's right leg and spine, like a bullet through glass, and he knew for certainty that his leg had been broken.
Partially blinded by tears of pain and disoriented by hanging in an inverted position, Tank looked around and saw that he was dangling by his rope some twenty feet above a grouping of jagged rocks on the ground below, and twelve feet out from a small, protruding ledge on the side of the cliff. The pain in his leg was excruciating, and the weight of his body made every movement sheer torture. Tank reasoned that if he could swing to the ledge, he might be able to get a hand hold, then upright himself enough to cut the rope with his knife and set himself down on the ledge. He observed that there was a pathway along the face of the cliff leading to the ledge, possible an exit point to the ground level.
Slowly and cautiously, he shifted his shoulders from side to side, choking back screams of pain as the movement tortured his shattered leg. At last his repetitive movements began to produce the swing effect, and like a human pendulum, each swing brought him closer to the ledge. With his right hand, Tank drew his hunting knife from it's sheath and put it's handle in his mouth, so his hands would be free to grasp any possible hold that might come available.
Suddenly, his blood turned cold, as he observed the lion entering the pathway to the ledge. The dreaded beast had found it's way down to another place of attack, and the degree of Tank's swing was certain to place him within reach of those powerful claws. He reached up to take the knife out of his mouth, but in his haste he lost his hold and the knife too fell into the rocks below. He squirmed to shift his body weight to counter the swinging momentum, as the agony of his pain took back seat to his fear. Tank saw himself similar to a ball of yarn cat's toy, dangling for feline amusement, but he was no toy, and this was no domestic cat, he was at this moment facing a snarling, vicious, carnivore, with absolutely no intention of play.
The lion reached the ledge and crouched, awaiting Tank�s incoming swing. His narrow eyes glared and his snarling lips revealed a mouth full of sharp and deadly teeth. Curiously, Tank found himself thinking about God, _ did this mean he was destined to die? All he knew was that he was finally in a situation beyond his means, the very crossroads between faith and futility. As he started to swing inward toward the lion, his desperation found it's release in his voice, as instinctively he cried out _ "Jesus, please help me!" He then drew a deep breath, and jerked his head and shoulders upward using all the muscles of his tortured, broken leg, in one desperate attempt to possibly escape mortal wound from the lion's ripping claws. He could smell the beast's hot breath as he swung in over the ledge. Almost as if in slow motion, the powerful paw swiped Tank's right shoulder and back, it's deadly claws tearing flesh and muscle. Tank collapsed back to his inverted position as the rope again swung outward from the ledge and away from the predator. He was exhausted, his shoulder and back bled profusely and the level of his pain was now threatening his very consciousness. The rope was spinning, adding dizziness to his nightmare, and as it began to again swing toward the ledge, Tank knew he no longer had the strength to pull himself up to his previous defensive position. He realized that death was inevitable, and as he swung closer to the jaws of the waiting lion he again cried out, "Jesus, I believe in You!"
Like a pendulum, Tank swung in within the lion's reach and the vicious cat once more jabbed it's large paw at his helpless body. At that instant a shot rang out from down below. Tank heard a bullet strike the side of the ledge, and the startled lion fell off the ledge to it's death on the jagged rocks below. Through his fading vision, Tank was able to look down, and recognize Scott Jamison standing below and holding his rifle. The boy appeared thin, dirty and his clothing was torn, but he smiled up at Tank and yelled, "Don't worry mister Barber, I'm gonna get you down and go for help now! That lion had me trapped up here in that old wreck for days, but you saved me.__ Don't worry mister Barber!" Just before he blacked out, Tank reflected on the boy's words, "__you saved me", but he realized there was only one Savior for that day and every day __Jesus Christ. Something had changed in Tank Barber at the end of that rope, he had at last reached a realization of his own frailty and had come to acknowledge his own dependency on God.
"Your enemy the devil prowls around like a
roaring lion looking for someone to devour."
(1 Peter 5:8b - NIV)
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