It was a typical Sunday night in early spring, except instead of going to bed early after a large dinner, I would end up sitting by the backdoor all night holding a gun. That was not typical, even for me. It had been raining all weekend and the skies had barely begun to clear when sunset came around. I was at home and had been for most of the day. In contrast to Saturday, the only reason I was dressed today was because I had went to the grocery store early in the morning. The rest of my day had been a total waste, spent lazing around the house, but that was the entire goal of early retirement.
My wife was in the kitchen starting dinner while I was watching TV. I left the living room and went into my office to look something up on the computer when I got distracted. I was sitting in a zombie-like haze when I heard the distinct sound of gunfire. Having spent thirty-years in the Army, I was well experienced with gunfire and quite used to it, although I was not used to hearing it at home.
I broke out of my haze and listened for sirens. If it was a police shootout, I would be able to hear the sirens as the entire world crashed down on my neighborhood. There were no sirens, but I could hear the bloodhounds next door barking. My neighbor Harlan had two bloodhounds, Sissy and Squirrel, and had bred and trained bloodhounds all his life as a hobby. Though it seemed like those two dogs barked at everything, Harlan and his wife Kitty would never let them go on barking like they were going on. As I listened, I vaguely recalled hearing the dogs go wild a few minutes earlier, while I was deep in my computer-induced trance. Obviously something was wrong.
Our houses backed up to a woods, what we called the Quarter-Mile Woods because it was nearly a quarter mile wide as it followed Yellow Creek through the city. The woods ran east a for a mile until they hit the highway and then another four miles to the west, with McCullough Boulevard cutting through it mid-way. I wouldn’t call the woods a wilderness, as numerous groomed trails and bike paths ran through it, yet having your house back up to it was like having a backyard that backed up to all the emptiness of Canada. Deer were a common nuisance, as were deer poachers hunting them, and not to mention the children who played hide-and-seek, and the teenagers who drank out in the woods. If you didn’t consider the occasional squirrel or raccoon, there could be dozens of reasons why the dogs were going crazy, but only a few explanations for the shooting.
The phone started to ring as I headed in to the kitchen to ask Carrie if she knew what was going on. She answered the phone somewhat nervously and only said a few words before hanging up.
“Kitty says to get your gun and get next door right away.”
“What’s going on?”
“She say’s there’s someone or something in the backyard.”
“Is it those poachers again?”
“She didn’t say. But she said to use the front door. Take your key.”
Harlan and I had been best friends since both of us were Army Rangers. When we both retired, we decided to buy houses next to each other, and naturally we exchanged keys. I grabbed my keys from my nightstand and knelt down next to the bed to retrieve my handgun. It was a Colt .45 semi-auto with night sights and a flashlight attached in case I had to confront a burglar in the dark. Some could have considered it overkill as the crime rate in town was lower than Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, but I simply considered it proper preparedness. I took a large police-style flashlight from my nightstand drawer and stuck both items in my pockets.
I went to the front door when I remembered that last year there was a problem with black bears. Thinking better than to confront an agitated bear with a pistol, I retrieved my hunting rifle from my glass display cabinet. It was an authentic World War II M1 Garand used by some Marines on Okinawa that I customized with a new rifle scope and a few other fancy items. I could hear my wife scoffing at me as I loaded up as for war.
The way I went tear-assing out the front door and up the neighbor’s front walk holding my rifle like I was storming a beach in France must have been quite a sight. It was dark on the porch, and with no light to see what I was doing, combined with having to cradle my rifle, I had trouble unlocking the door. Kitty whisked the door open for me and in the process pulled my key right out of the lock, leaving my hand hanging in mid-air.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“There’s something in the backyard. It tried to attack Harlan, so he shot at it.”
“Was it poachers?”
“No. It was something, like an animal. It had red eyes.”
“I don’t know. I took the dogs out to go to the bathroom and they started going crazy at something that was out there. They ran out to the edge of the yard, near the path, but wouldn’t go down it. They were barking away like they had treed a raccoon or something, but they were much more upset than that. Before I even called them back, they kind of backed off, barking away. I had them cowering up on the back porch when Harlan went out there.”
“Where is he now?”
“He’s out back.”
I ran towards the back door.
“Be careful,” Kitty told me as I went out the sliding glass door.
The porch lights were on, as were the motion sensor floodlights lining the house. Harlan was kneeing next to his wood pile looking down the barrel of his rifle. Harlan was the type of person who the anti-gun lobby hated. He would take his fully-automatic assault rifle out deer hunting, just in case the deer had his own gun.
The dogs, just on the other side of the door glass, were baying loudly and smearing the glass with their foamy mouths. At the bottom of the stairs, I crouched low and ran out to Harlan, holding my rifle not like a hunter, but like a solider. When I got within a few feet of Harlan, I called out his name softly and put my hand on his right shoulder to let him know I was there. He nodded his head in response, but didn’t look away from his sights.
“What’s going on, buddy?”
“Something’s out there?”
“Is it poachers or a bear?”
“Dunno. I thought it was a raccoon when the dogs went off, but Kitty said the dogs were scared of something, so I got my gun. I thought whatever it was, was poachers at first, ‘cause it looked like a man, but then I wasn’t so sure.”
“Well it was as tall as me, maybe taller,” Harlan was 6’ 7”, “and it looked like a man. I thought it was at first, so that’s why I asked it, or them, ‘What are doing?’”
“Was it or wasn’t it somebody?”
“It wasn’t a man.”
“So what was it?”
“I ain’t too sure.”
“Was it a bear?”
“Maybe. But if it was a bear, it was the damndest looking bear I ever saw.”
“What did it look like?”
“Like I said, it was at least as tall as me, but it was kind of hunched over, you know, like one of those old men with humps. It’s arms kind of dangled and it went by me real quick-like. It was all black, as near as I could tell, but I couldn’t see so well.”
“That sounds like a gorilla.”
“That’s what it looked like, but I’ve never heard of gorillas being that tall.”
I started to get a smirk on my face. “Was it Sasquatch?”
“Sasquatch? Did you make that word up?”
“You know, Bigfoot.”
“Oh, Bigfoot. I don’t want to call it Bigfoot. That would make me sound crazy.”
I laughed out loud. “You saw Bigfoot!” I joked loudly.
A loud moan of sorts rolled into the yard.
“Shh,” Harlan said, putting his finger to his lips. There was a crashing a couple dozen yards into the woods. “It’s out there, and it can hear us.”
I pulled my rifle to my shoulder and adopted the same stance as Harlan. I felt the same way I did the first time I went into combat. It was the same kind of expectant fear that could only be relieved with a target crossing your sights, but that was also when the fear was at its greatest. I stared into the blackness of the woods watching and waiting for anything. Had a deer appeared at that moment I would have emptied my rifle into it before the deer would have hit the ground.
“Does Sasquatch have red eyes?” Harlan asked.
“I don’t know. Why?”
“’Cause this thing does.”
“Oh great, thanks for telling me that. Next time call Animal Control, not me. Now I’m going to have to sleep with the lights on.”
“They wouldn’t believe this kind of thing.”
“Yeah, and the police would take you to the nut house.”
“Let’s go further in.”
“Further in? Are you crazy?”
Harlan turned to look at me with a strange look on his face. “No, but crazy is just another word for brave, isn’t it?”
“I’m not scared of people shooting at me, just mysterious creatures in the North Carolina woods that might want to eat me,” I whispered back.
Without a word, Harlan got up and we went deeper into the woods. Soon the light from the floodlights faded, leaving only shadows leaning into the woods and the safe, bright glow of the yard far behind. I took out my flashlight and shined it all around. I saw nothing except the trees, shadows, and darkness. Off to my right, there came the sound of something crashing through the loam. The sound circled around towards the left and I tracked it with my flashlight. Whatever was making that noise stayed just beyond my flashlight beam, revealing only a quick-moving black mass that kept low to the ground.
“I saw it!”
“Two o’clock, but it disappeared.”
Both of us were nervous, crouching side by side there in the woods, looking for God-only-knows-what. Then it came.
We heard deep breathing like that of a large animal immediately in front of us. It was faint when we first heard it, but it got increasingly louder. The breathing seemed to shift directions as we listened, meaning the creature was not coming directly at us. Very smart of it. I shined the flashlight down the path and saw it. It was only about fifty feet away from us. The beam reflected off the black fur or hair as the creature turned its head away and dodged left. After a moment, it disappeared and was quiet. Then with a crash of leaves and branches, it appeared directly in front of us only a few feet away.
My flashlight was no longer aimed at the creature, but instead up into the trees, doing us no good. The creature was down on all fours yet we couldn’t see any real detail about it. The thing stared at us with these evil-looking red eyes that burned themselves into your consciousness. They were as red as the red numbers on the clock-radio that sat on my nightstand. The creature reared up on its hind legs and gave this kind of growl. We were terrified. Here we were, being confronted by this monster with red eyes that towered above our crouching figures.
I took the growling noise to be a sound of aggression, knowing that bears, for example, sometimes stand up on their hind legs and growl before tearing humans apart. Coupling that with the fact that glowing red eyes have always been a sign of sure death for those people in movies who are dumb enough to investigate noises in the forest at night, I figured the creature was going to kill us. I have made it a general rule of mine to not die until I am ready, plus I was due for a nice dinner that night, so I decided that it was either the creature or me. So I started shooting at it. Harlan must have had the same idea because he fired away at the thing, too. I managed to fire an entire clip in about half a second and reloaded it in about triple that time.
At the same time, Harlan was blasting away with his rifle, which to the displeasure of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, was fully automatic, firing about fifteen times a second with a single pull of the trigger. Except for the brief pause when he ran out of ammo and had to reload, I could have easily mistaken the noise he was making for a chain saw.
The creature seemed not to be affected by our shooting, even though we were aiming directly for the chest. It was as if it was impervious to bullets. What was even more upsetting then not being able to kill it was that it started moving towards us. Given the stress of the situation, the distance was probably much more than we thought and time didn’t come to standstill, but it sure felt like we were in serious trouble. After what seemed like several lifetimes, the creature stopped advancing ran away from us, moving to the right. We stopped shooting and looked around. We couldn’t see it, but we could hear it.
“It’s on the right!” I shouted.
“It’s moving back from us, to the house.”
“Towards the house?”
“Yeah,” Harlan confirmed. “It’s trying to cut us off!”
I was stunned at how smart this thing was.
I shouted out “Fall back!” to Harlan, which he promptly did. Like a good solider, I kept my rifle on target and gave suppressing fire to cover Harlan as he ran back. I listened to him running away, feeling like the only guy in the world, exposed and alone for the creature to ravage.
“Okay!” Harlan yelled to me after what seemed like forever. I heard him start shooting into the darkness and I ran back, hoping he didn’t shoot me. I felt like I was running the gauntlet, waiting for the creature to reach out and grab me, then drag me away, screaming, into the darkness to be painfully devoured in a dank cave somewhere.
I shoved my third and last clip into my rifle, I stopped at the edge of the woods, about a yard back and to the left of Harlan, just as we were taught in the Army. He got up and ran towards the house while I covered his retreat. I couldn’t see anything in the woods, so I held my fire. It was then I could have sworn I heard the creature panting loudly as it ran away through the forest. I heard Harlan charging up the stairs to the porch so I got up and ran back to the porch. We stood on the porch huffing and puffing from our excitement for a few moments. We looked at each other with a look seen often in combat that was a cross between a smile and sheer terror.
“I think we just lost the first battle of your backyard,” I said to Harlan.
“Win or lose, I don’t care. I’m not going back out there.”
Both of us went inside the house where the dogs had gone into a fury as I have never seen before. Kitty was pale white and holding a shotgun. Harlan set his rifle on the dining room table and poured himself a large glass of whiskey. He promptly drained it and then filled up a glass for Kitty and me. We had barely taken our first sip when there was a pounding at the front door. All of us went pale and stared at each other. As if Sasquatch knocks. Harlan went to the door, with his rifle, and saw three Sheriff’s deputies standing on the front porch.
“Uh, hi there. What’s with the rifle?” a sergeant asked.
“Oh, we saw something in the backyard.”
“Is that what all the shooting’s been about?” The amount of sarcasm in his voice could have fed a sitcom writer for ten years.
“Yes sir. Y’all want to get your guns and take a look? This thing is some kind of monster.”
The deputies looked at each other, clearly thinking we were all insane, drunk, or both. After about five minutes and producing a clump of hair, we had convinced them what we had seen and they pulled out all the stops. In addition to the three police cars in the street, two ambulances, a fire truck, the game warden, the Animal Control officer, six more sheriff’s deputies, and two state troopers arrived. We watched the posse comb the woods from the safety of the back porch, drinks in hand. They even called up a helicopter with a fancy heat-seeking camera on it that they use to track down missing hikers, but they didn’t find a Bigfoot, a bear, or even an escaped gorilla.
They couldn’t even find tracks or blood stains in the dirt, just some shell casings and a whole lot of boot prints. I was glad no one decided to check my underwear. An hour after they arrived, everyone left, giving us a stern warning not to go shooting up the woods after we had been drinking. I excused myself, as I needed to change my shorts and make sure all the lights in my house were working properly. Harlan and I parted, both of us knowing that our next project would be building a sturdy brick wall.
Author Don Shift
Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and avid fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film who has pushed a black and white for a mile or two. He is a student of disasters, history, and current events.