Big, black, bad and invisible
Nobody ever saw The Varmint that menaced rural Blount County during my youth.
The farm boys who could knock the eye out of a squirrel at 40 yards never bagged it. Their prized hounds never caught its trail.
The Varmint was real. My grandmother heard it. It followed my Aunt Lula, although she never actually saw it. Nobody did.
Nobody ever lost a cow to The Varmint. But it was such a menace, nobody ever considered there might be more than one. It was simply, The Varmint.
A lot of people heard it, though.
"That thing could squall like a baby," one neighbor reported, after hearing it one night. The sound was so terrifying that the dogs yelped and ran for cover under the house, he said.
A varmint story was sure to draw a crowd of listeners. It still does.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is looking for its own varmint because of reports of black cat sightings in other parts of the state.
Everyone assumed our varmint was black, too. It sounded black. It blended into the night.
The guys in the state Conservation Department sound a little put out. They say Alabama has no native black cats. It has only two wild cats, the mountain lion and the bobcat, neither of which comes close to being black.
They still dutifully investigate reports of distinct tracks or bite marks, which, they say, usually turn out to be from dogs or coyotes.
The department even reviewed trapping and hunting records back to the 1600s and reports of vehicle collisions with animals and said it is relatively sure that there are no native black cats in Alabama.
They do, though, raise the faint possibility that some non-native black animal might have been released after it grew too large to be penned.
If you see a suspicious track, they say, put a bucket over it to preserve the evidence, then give the department a call.
That wouldn't have worked back in Blount County. It would have taken a wash pot to cover The Varmint's big track.