There was no moon, and it seemed extra dark to Nellie Kunz as she sat by the fire. She stared into the darkness toward the trees that she knew were there. She wished she had never heard all the stories of mountain lions and wolves that her father and brothers had told.
Nellie was twelve years old, and this was the first time she had come to the sheep camp to cook for her father and brothers and the hired men. They were up in the mountains and over fifty miles from home.
Zina, Nellie’s younger sister, sat beside her and poked a stick at the burning embers. She had come to be Nellie’s assistant and companion while the men took care of the sheep. Besides being sisters, the girls were best friends.
“We’d better get to bed now,” their dad said. “The sheep are all settled down for the night, and we have a lot of work ahead of us in the morning.”
“I’m tired anyway,” said Zina. “And Nellie and I have made a comfortable bed in the wagon.”
“Good night, Daddy,” Nellie said as she gave him a hug. “Good night!” she called to the others.
Zina climbed into the wagon first and Nellie followed her. The wagon was covered with canvas and all their food supplies were stored inside. The girls had made a bed of straw topped with their favorite quilts and pillows from home.
The men slept under the stars near the campfire. Nellie didn’t envy them at all. She liked the idea of sleeping in something enclosed and comfortable. It seemed a little safer and more like being at home.
“It’s so quiet,” whispered Zina.
“Yes,” agreed Nellie. “It’s far more quiet than when Sister Jenkins dropped a pin for us to hear in Primary last week.”
“Don’t forget your prayers,” said Nellie. As she knelt on her soft down quilt, she thanked Heavenly Father for her family and for her many blessings. She asked him to watch over and protect all of them.
“Are you scared?” whispered Zina.
“Sure. Are you?” answered Nellie.
“Yes,” said Zina and they squeezed each other’s hand before they snuggled down into their quilts.
Zina became more and more quiet and Nellie knew she was falling asleep. But Nellie couldn’t sleep. She lay wide awake, staring at the darkness.
After a while she heard a noise. At first, Nellie thought it was the wind blowing the tree branches, but then she felt sure something was moving outside. The sound came closer and closer, and soon Nellie could hear another sound—a heavy breathing sound.
“Zina!” she whispered. “Zina!” She gently shook her sister’s arm.
“What’s the matter?” answered Zina.
“I don’t know,” whispered Nellie, “but when I count to three, scream as loud as you can. One … two … three!” Both girls screamed.
There was a crashing sound beside the wagon as something bounded away. Dad and all the men jumped up from their bedrolls, grabbed their guns, and raced for the wagon.
Everyone was shouting and talking at once for a few minutes as Nellie and Zina tried to tell what they had heard. The men started the fire up again and, holding their torches high, they looked around the wagon. “Looks like the tracks of a mighty big mountain lion,” said Nellie’s oldest brother when he came back from his search. “Took off through the woods.”
“There’s no use trying to track him down,” said Dad. “He’s clear over the mountain by now, with the scare these two girls gave him. I’ve never heard such a row.”
Nellie smiled at her dad, though she was still shaking. “Come on, Zina,” she said as they climbed back into the wagon. “Let’s kneel down again. We need two prayers tonight—another one to say thank you.”