August 31, 2008

Night of the Lepus

Earlier tonight I was drawn outside when the dogs began firing off a volley of "I'm gonna rip you to pieces" barking, to which you can literally apply the old phrase about their bark being worse than their bite... you would understand if you've ever seen our dogs. One rat terrier the size of a small cat, one offspring of said terrier not much larger than his mom, and one old mixed breed than can barely get around anymore...

When I was outside I couldn't discern the target of the aggression and began calling the sentries back to post. It was then that I noticed that Max, the family rabbit, was doing some sort of strange ritualistic dance in his cage. Being dark, I heard him as opposed to seeing his activity. I walked over to check on him and watched him as he ran in constant clockwise circles around his dwelling. I have never seen Max do anything other than eat, drink, or sleep so I became curious.

The dogs had returned, but were all growling in the same general direction.The dogs will go after anything from squirrels to opossums to armadillos to deer, so I didn't think too much about it. Max's behaviour is what made me wonder what sort of vile creature was afoot. I half listened to the sounds of the woods as I corralled the dogs back inside, but I remained outside as Max was still doing the furious "oh damn" dance. Once all was settled, I noticed clue number one that let me know there was foulness in the air, no crickets. The night sounds of the woods are constant this time of year unless something disturbs them, then they go silent until normalcy returns, or they simply accept the intrusion. The dogs had been with me, then inside for more than enough time to allow the resumption of the usual chorus. I walked to the edge of the porch and began an earnest audial search of all areas surrounding my home. Max was now silent and so was everything else, too silent for everything to be right.

Being six hundred feet from the road with no moon and no lights in the yard, it was dark, very dark. The only source of light was one lamp shining through the window's closed curtains, needless to say if you were more than two feet away from the window it was useless. I had no light source with me as well as no supplies for an exploratory venture into the woods to see what was going on, so I listened. I would guess maybe ten minutes or so passed with me propped on my elbows on the porch rail with head down and eyes shut to quicken night vision and my ears alert to every sound they could catch when several things happened at once.

The hunting dogs at my brother's house through the woods began howling, several owls sounded off at once, very strange, something heavy crashed through brush from the area the dogs were growling toward earlier, and our dogs again sounded off from inside. I raised my head, opening my eyes, and found that night vision was no use, it was too dark. After several moments of thudding heart beats the dogs went quiet. I remained motionless with my ears trying to pick up any movement. Max was moving again and that made it a bit difficult to hear. There was one owl, close to the pond that was hooting at regular intervals now, but no other sound could be picked out. Owls will sound until they get an answer or company or decide to move. As I had heard more than one a few minutes ago I found this to be unsettling for some reason. Then the deciding factor came into play. A definitive series of cracks from the woods to my left. I decided to move off the porch, grabbing a cane I was prepping for carving. I didn't stand up straight and moved cautiously, I would've rather gone inside for a more substantial protection unit, but didn't want to flood the porch with light and sound and decided stealth was the best option. I got to the bottom of the steps and made my way to the front corner of the porch and remained silent, utilizing what little vision I had and picking up on any auditory signals I could discern from Max's ongoing menacing dance of death, which was taking place about twenty feet off to my right.

There are many things that can create noises of this type in the woods at night, the only one to be feared here is human. Bears don't come this far south, and panthers are pretty much unheard of these days, and bobcats would rather jump into an open pit of flame than confront a human. That leaves deer, coyotes, small vermin, or people. Deer avoid you, coyotes leave you alone unless you are dying or covered in garbage, vermin are harmless, but people are treacherous.

The night creatures had not yet resumed their songs so that let me know there was surely something moving about. There aren't many things that can move in silence in the woods and people are the loudest. Try as they might they make a sound that eventually can be recognized as being all human. Deer will make noise, but not a lot. Human contact here at this hour is rare but not unheard of so I remained vigilant in my duty. Then I heard it again, three or four short cracks of advancing movement, and Max stopped dead still. The sounds weren't enough to define a source creature, but were plenty to pick out placement and direction. To my one o'clock going in the direction of my mother's house, but not yet to the dirt road that separates the two sections of woods, closer to my yard than to the dirt road.

There is no brush in my yard, tall grass that needs cutting, but no undergrowth to be too loud or snag or trip on so I decided to move to my eleven o'clock to start a path of interception. My car was parked directly in my line of movement, pulled into the turn around facing straight toward the spot the noise had come from, about forty feet from where I was standing so I chose to make it's back passenger side corner my first destination. I picked my footing carefully and began moving. I listened as I walked and heard nothing, I moved around the back of the car and positioned myself in a crouch looking around the driver's side toward the area housing the demon that was haunting me at the moment. I thought of turning on the head lights, but decided against it.

I waited, listening. As more time of overbearing silence crept past my mind began to wander. I thought of all the stories of my father and grandfather telling of all they had encountered in these woods, from jack o' lanterns (balls of ignited swamp gas that float around, yep.. I've seen one) to turtles that bit you and wouldn't let go until it thundered all the way up to my brother's sighting of a tall bi-pedal creature staring at him from the edge of the woods as he walked home from my grandparent's house one night, not big foot, but definitely in the same genre... Don't laugh too much, we all did when he told us about it. We weren't so amused though when the following week's edition of the local paper came out filled with strange sightings of a similar creature being reported all over the area the same night. You talk about a smug look... You should've seen his face when we all looked back and forth from the paper to him. Then it hit me.

I am forty one years old, crouching down behind a car in my own front yard like a twelve year old playing hide and seek trying to figure out what made a noise some ten to twenty feet into the wood line... Screw this... I would just go see. So I stood up and began boldly walking directly toward the dirt road that starts at the corner of my yard and works around toward my Dad's old shop and then on into my Mom's back yard, it also goes in the other direction and branches off to many other places.. Don't think that thought didn't cross my mind as I walked forward trying to carry myself with more bravado than I really felt.

When I reached the beginning of the dirt road I stopped and stared into the woods in the direction that the noise came from and then down the dirt road. I thought it was dark in the yard.... Damn, it was pitch black looking into that tree tunnel stretching out before me. I had come this far, nothing else for it. I started walking into the void in front of me. About half way to the fork in the road I heard an incredibly loud grunt to my right and stopped dead still. A huge sudden flash of movement caught me by surprise as did the all mighty sensation of pain as my heart stopped beating and attempted to rip it's way out of my chest, then I saw it. An ungodly large buck bounding away from me in leaps clearing at least fifteen feet between light as feather touch downs on the ground. I'm telling you as sure as I am sitting here typing this at 3:40 a.m. that I could clearly hear my father laughing his ass off... A few seconds after my heart resumed rhythmic functionality I couldn't help but join him...

The only disturbing thing is that I just left this computer and went back out on to the porch and Max is still on high alert... I wonder if he knows something I don't...


Anonymous said...

I was thinking for sure it was a hog.

HeartofGoldPlate said...

Maybe Max is just a nocturnal exerciser?

Clay Perry said...

there was some wild pig activity around at one point, but long ago. we saw some pig trails down in the swamp, but their activity was scarce