Three houses down from us lived an old, ornery man that none of the neighborhood boys would talk to or even approach. The rumor was that he kept a loaded shotgun standing in a corner of the porch, and that he had promised he would shoot any child who stepped a foot on his property. There was a lot of wooded area behind his land, and we liked to play there when possible.
A crumbling fireplace chimney adorned one end of the ramshackle place. Every boy in town at one time or another had attempted to throw large stones into the leaning brick structure.
My brother and I walked to his place, intending to do what everyone else had failed at miserably over the years. This day when we arrived, however, we heard the sound of a ringing phone emanating from inside the house. The ringing was nonstop, and we did not see our nemesis, Mr. Cartwright.
After throwing a few rocks, we heard a faint cry coming from the porch, and then what sounded like a growl.
“Sounds like he’s hurt,” I said. My brother agreed.
“We can’t go up there,” I continued. “He’s threatened to shoot any child, remember?” Again, my brother agreed.
The phone continued to ring. Again we heard a faint cry.
“Sounds like something crying for help,” I said. “Can you understand it?”
My brother could not.
“I’m going up there,” I announced. “He may be hurt.”
“Don’t,” replied my brother, a look of fear in his face.
But I started into the yard. My brother did not move.
The phone continued to ring.
Next came a sharp growl.
Then came another cry, and this time I could discern a little.
“Help,” a weak voice called. “Help…me…please.”
I moved closer. Before I saw Mr. Cartwright, I saw the cat. I believe it was a bobcat. It was huge, too big for a regular cat. It also had a giant mark on its head—maybe a scar, maybe a fresh wound, I could not tell.
I also saw Mr. Cartwright, lying on the porch floor. The cat was sitting there beside him. It had obviously attacked Mr. Cartwright, who had blood running from his head and what parts of his body I could see.
I stopped dead in my tracks. Then I turned and ran back to my brother.
“Give me as many rocks as you can,” I said. “And then go back and get some help. Get some rags as well. Mr. Cartwright is hurt.”
My brother stood motionless, fear festering in his eyes.
“Now!” I yelled. “Rocks! Help!”
I put as many rocks in my pockets as I could carry, and then I slowly approached.
The phone still rang. The cat was still there. Mr. Cartwright still cried out feebly for help every once in a while.
I pulled the biggest rock from my pocket that I could, took aim at the cat, and I hurled as hard as I could. It went wide to the left, but it startled the cat momentarily. It looked at me menacingly.
I threw three more, and I was finding the range.
A glancing blow to the side made the cat take off, but he was not happy about it. He growled numerous times.
I made it to Mr. Cartwright. He did not seem to be much aware of who I was or of anything else going on. However, he asked me to answer the phone. He said it was bothering him immensely.
I went inside. I expected some creepy old place, but it was a normal house. It was a house a man lived in alone. There were not many decorations in it, kind of plain.
I answered the phone, and the voice at the other end said, “Where’s my dad? Is he okay? I’ve been trying to call him for over an hour, and he hasn’t answered.”
I explained as best as I could what I believed had happened. The voice at the other end—it was a woman’s voice—said she would be there quickly.
My parents arrived shortly thereafter, and we took care of Mr. Cartwright. His daughter also arrived in about half an hour.
Mr. Cartwright recovered, and fortunately for him, the big cat was also caught and killed and tested for rabies, which it did not have.
His daughter told me that she was told I had probably saved his life, and that the cat had the intention of killing her father. She thanked me profusely.
None of the neighborhood boys was ever allowed on Mr. Cartwright’s property even after that. None, that is, except for me. He did not know how to act around kids, though. He was really not very nice even to me.
When I got into my teenage years, I seldom went to his property; likewise, he never sought me out.
When he died, I attended his funeral. I did not cry. We were never close.
However, he left me twenty-five dollars and a shotgun in his will.
I made up my mind before I became an adult that I did not want to be like Mr. Cartwright. I figured it would be a really hard life not to like anyone and not to be friendly towards people.
I guess that is really the life lesson I learned from associating with him. I am grateful for that. Still, I felt sorry for him, once I realized what a lonely person he had to have been. And for whatever reason, how he was bitter about something, something he never shared with me.
I think back about his life. I am glad I saved it because it was the right thing to do. But I have wondered often since that time whether it was worth saving. It does not seem like it did him much good.