Saturday mornings after chores, we usually pick out a scary movie or maybe a science-fiction classic to watch. But for a period, it was Supernatural, a series I didn’t know at the time but completed it’s run this year after 15 seasons. Binge-watching bounty. On the show, Sam and Dean, the Winchester brothers, hunted and killed all kinds of ghosts, creatures, demons, and paranormal, supernatural thingies. The show draws on myth and urban legend as the basis for the story-lines. I enjoyed it as much as Alpha and Beta [my then 14-year-old twin daughters, not their actual names]. One morning, a Saturday before Halloween, I was working on story notes while they watched.
I looked over at Alpha. “Yeah, honey.” It’s funny with twins. They often ask questions they seem to have reached a consensus on through some nonverbal means of communication. I looked up from my notepad to see them glance at each other and nod their heads like, ‘Go ahead, ask him.’
“Do you believe in…” Alpha used the remote-control to point at the TV and pause the show, “ghosts and demons?”
I put my mechanical pencil down. [at that time I handwrote story and scene notes with a Staedtler Graphite 771 or a Faber Castell Pearwood E-motion, now I use this] and sat the lap desk on the Ottoman by my chair. I turned to them both. “You know about what happened to me in Italy?” [Which I’ve told in another story.]
Alpha nodded her head. Beta asked me, “But what about when you were a kid?”
“I can tell you about a boy and what happened to him. Want to hear?” They nodded, so I told them:
He was always happiest outside and on his own. His family lived, barely above the poverty line, in the country on thirty acres of land. About two-thirds forest, the rest pasture and a pond. It seemed all he did was work; there were always things to fix or repair when everything’s held together with baling wire, tape, and a prayer it lasts until money came in. When he had free time, late in the day, he would take a book and disappear into the farthest corner of the woods. He’d bring a canteen of water (sometimes a can of Coke), a bag of beef jerky and a flashlight to read by once the sun started going down.
One autumn day, he was in the back corner where his family’s land ended, and sloped toward the road leading to what he and his friends called The Point but was Grey’s Landing on the lake.
The sun was setting, and through clear patches, he could view the moon rising low in the sky behind the trees. Their tops rustled and moved in the crisp, fresh wind that bent them away from the direction of home. He shined his light on his wristwatch. Seeing the time, he rose from the knee-high stump he’d been sitting on and headed that way along the path. As he stood, stretching and brushing off the seat of his pants, behind him, came baying. An ululation that speared the night [I had to stop to explain to Alpha and Beta what that word meant]; strong enough to beat through the wind’s gasp that flowed around tree trunks and through leaves to reach him.
The boy was halfway out of the woods when came a second, closer howl, accompanied by the sound of gnashing teeth and chattering of fangs. He ran through the dry season forest; sticks and branches snapped and cracked as he made his way. Ahead a wail flowed down to him, followed by a third howl behind him. Whatever they were, he realized they were working together. He angled to his left off the trail, hoping to lose them, now running fast and hitting limbs that didn’t break. They tore long gashes in his face and neck, his forearms protected by his jacket. His hands became scored and cut, trying to protect his face. Blood flowed in streaks.
Gasping, the boy gripped a tree for a moment’s pause, hanging on to catch his breath. At the caterwaul behind him [had to stop and explain that word too]—of beasts close on the scent of their prey—he ran on.
Clouds were building, and the wind picked up as he broke through onto the crest where trees ended, and the pits began. Broad swaths of excavation and deep gouges made in the pasture; the source of fill-dirt his father sold to local construction companies. He had to go down into and through them before the climb back up for the open stretch to his home.
He sprinted, his lungs straining and heart pounding louder than the wind. He slowed to listen, but there had been no more cries. Off the upward slope that plateaued, he passed the set of pear trees atop the rise overlooking the pond. Only 1000 yards down, then up again to his home sitting on the next hill. His thigh muscles twitched and jumped, and his gait became choppy. The impact of his feet as he planted them, a flat-footed, jarring jolt with each stride and a near-puke feeling in his throat. Leaden arms he could barely lift, he spat to the side and looked up at the house back-lit by the last remnants of sundown. He could make it.
Halfway there, he felt something almost on him. The snarl so close he smelled rank, rotted-meat breath. He looked over his shoulder. Its yellow eyes widened, and long teeth glinted in the moonlight as a taloned hand thick with coarse black hair reached for him. Claws dug into flesh and turned him. Spun to the ground, a spray of saliva hit his face as the howl climbed to a shriek. He rolled and got to his feet, his shirt ripped from his back. In his hand was the WWII era bayonet he always carried with him into the woods. Just then, a sheet of rain swept over them…
My daughters’ eyes had widened as I told the story. They became larger still when I stopped talking and waited.
“Dad…” they finally blinked, “what happens next? Did the boy die?”
I said nothing and pulled my t-shirt down, showing them my right shoulder and the scar that ran across. “He got away… but he always remembered.”
# # #
Howling at the Moon / Man Overboard by Kansas (1976)
ABOUT ALPHA & BETA:
I have four daughters. My oldest has grown up during a period when I worked for others and then myself. My second oldest was born 15 days after my resignation from my corporate job became effective on January 2, 1996. So, she’s seen my life as an entrepreneur and business owner from day one. Those early years in business were hard, as they often are, and I became like the father in ‘Cats in the Cradle‘ (the Harry Chapin song). Always busy, too much to do and not enough time, eaten up with stress and worry about many things. Then, in 2008, I made some changes and pursued what I do today. Writing and publishing. And that made a world of difference in having time for my family. The two youngest—twins I refer to as Alpha & Beta—have had more daily time with me as they grew up than their two older sisters… and much of it has been through the ‘lens’ of a writer. So, our conversations and kitchen table discussions—several times—have turned into a series of ‘stories.’