The creek wound around at least half of the farm. A row of trees lined the banks of it on both sides leaving a long shadowy trail that left the water dark and ominous looking by the time late afternoons rolled around. I hated ever getting in there much less when the shadows began creeping along the water from the long limbs of the oaks and cypress that hung across the waters. This year the creek was really high because of the heavy rains we’d been having. The dark water rose high up along the shore. It was dangerous when the water was like this with so many branches that had fallen in the water, old fence posts, and even barbed wire that could snag your clothing and drag you under until you drowned. Daddy had always warned us about that.
On this day we were late finishing our chores. It had been Tyler’s turn to paint the porch while I had been scrubbing and mopping the kitchen floor. Daddy had been busy giving some shots to the cattle and wouldn’t be back until early evening. It was already three o’clock by the time we were finished so I grabbed the tackle box and fishing poles. Tyler had the bait with him and we headed for the creek. I had a strange feeling that day, and I told Tyler not to go goofing off that we had little more than an hour to fish before sunset came around and by that time I wanted to be headed home. Tyler agreed, but it just wouldn’t be so.
Once we got there I baited the poles and Tyler began casting out into the creek. We sat there a long time, but nothing was biting, no catfish, no crappie, no nothing. Soon Tyler got bored and started throwing rocks in the creek trying to skip pieces of shale across the surface of that brown creek water. Best he could do was to get three hops. That was nothing. I could get five or six hops easy with each stone I threw, but the trick was picking the right rock. I tried to show Tyler this, but he just wouldn’t pay attention, so I said it was time to pack up and go home.
Dusk was fast closing in when Tyler dropped his fishing pole in the water. That bamboo pole was cheap, but we only had two, and Daddy would get mad if we lost it so I took off after it as it floated down the creek toward the dark shadows that I hated so much. The water was moving pretty fast that day as I ran alongside the pole. Finally I picked up a long branch and snagged the pole to keep it from floating further into those dreaded areas deep into the creek where it became something else. It became the worst place that a child’s fears could wade into. The trees formed a perfect canopy over the creek waters and made it as shadowy as a concrete drain tunnel would have been. I told Tyler to hang back as I fished the darned wet pole out of the creek.
That was when I heard it. At first I wished that all I was hearing was just a duck or goose fluttering its wings on the water, maybe a beaver slapping the water with its tail, or even a raccoon scurrying around, but no. There was movement out of the corner of my eye, and it was big. The sound of huge feet and long legs wading in those dark, forbidden waters, coming nearer shot right through my senses like a Roman candle on the fourth of July. I grabbed Tyler’s pole and took off on a dead run, screaming for Tyler to head for the house. Behind me was the unmistakable cry of that thing in the woods. It wailed so loud I thought I’d die from fright. I could hear its deep breathing. I could almost feel its hot breath on the back of my neck. I could smell that terrible stench that we sometimes noticed when that thing was close to the house at night.
Tyler was just ahead of me when I broke out of the tree line, and I easily caught up with him. I grabbed him by the collar and practically dragged him the rest of the way home as we heard that horrible groan of the creature finally fade in the distance. Tyler and I ran around back of the house and came in through the porch, locked the door behind us in tears of terror and gasping for breath. We’d run until it felt like our sides had split.
Then for some crazy reason as Tyler stared at me in the final realization that we had gotten away with our lives, and suddenly we both started laughing. Maybe we needed that in order to break the tension. Whatever the reason was, we had literally cheated death because we were both sure the we’d be dead had we not run fast enough out’ve there and made it to the farm house. Then I made Tyler promise that we wouldn’t tell Daddy what happened as I began to fix dinner for all of us. I made chicken fried steak and potatoes for us that night. God we both hoped Daddy would be home soon.
“You boys look like you just seen a ghost or something,” Daddy declared upon coming through the front door and studying our faces once he was in the house. “What’ve the two of you been up to?” He asked, squinting his eyes in a way that said that he wouldn’t believe us no matter what we told him.
“Almost lost my fishing pole in the creek, but I fished it out is all, Paw,” I reassured Daddy as he focused his stare from Tyler and I to gaze upon the dinner I was cooking
.“You didn’t go swimming in that water did you?” Daddy asked as he lifted a lid off the potatoes I had fried.
I hoped Daddy would forget the questioning as he sat down to the breaded steak, gravy, green beans, and fried potatoes that we’d be eating for dinner that night. I hated lying to Daddy. I hated it even more when he knew I was lying. Luckily, Daddy was so tired and hungry that he dug right in, telling me what a good job I’d done on the meal. Boy was I relieved as I looked over at Tyler who wore a sly smile across his face as he picked up a forkful of fried potatoes with onions and took a bite. It must’ve been a miracle that that thing had not come close to the house hot on our tails once we had disturbed him back at the creek. I guess we were just very lucky that day.
Winter had set in weeks later and it was a cold we hadn’t had in a long time. The house was drafty and the fireplace only heated the kitchen and living room. We had electric space heaters in the bedrooms, but that left a cold hallway and bathroom to get up and walk to at night or after waking up in the morning. Outside the icy winds whipped around the house and made strange moaning noises that reminded me of that thing in the woods. The mornings brought a cold that reached through your clothes no matter how many layers you put on. The school bus usually ran late as a result of having to warm up a long time, the bus driver had told us. Still we waited outside for that old dingy bus to collect my brother and I.
Late one night Daddy got a call from one of neighbors, Bill Brown, a farmer near us. He was warning my father that something had been killing his livestock. I knew his son, Danny. We both got along with him real well so we played football together for a while.
Bill took Dad over to a fence where a set of tracks came up to one side and continued over to the other side. Bill pointed out that one of his hogs had been killed, carried to the fence, and whatever had killed it had climbed over and walked off into the woods with his animal. Both Mr. Brown and my father agreed that there was no bear in these parts capable of doing that. For that matter there was no panther or cougar capable of carrying a full grown hog over a fence and to the woods beyond. He said that hog must’ve weighed a thousand pounds.
Once again we were reminded of our old terrible intruder always lurking somewhere out in the night, there deep in the woods, out just beyond the walls of our houses which were the only thing that separated us from that creature. Where was this thing right now, and when would it strike next? These were questions that ran through my mind as well as my Dad’s. It seemed that this thing was becoming bolder, maybe even more fearless. We also knew that it would only be a matter of time until something even more disturbing would happen, and it did.
That winter had been one of the coldest on record. Many mornings we were greeted with ice on the windows and frozen frost on the yellow grasses. It was a bitter cold season that only hinted at the shocking event that was to come. In the days and weeks that followed, the thing in the woods, even though threatening, had remained mostly benign. Now with a disturbing suddenness it had lashed out and killed a neighbor’s hog, carrying it over a fence, no small feat indeed. Now we knew exactly what it was capable of, and that did not paint a very comforting picture in the minds of my Dad, my little brother, or myself. We, it seemed, had more regular contact with it than anyone else, luckily it had left us alone accept for the time that Tyler and I had stumbled upon it at the creek. Even then, it had not pursued us almost all the way to the house, and now knowing what it was capable of, I shuddered to think of what might have happened had it really wanted in the house. Now I was really scared and so was Tyler. This had become over the years like a waking nightmare that just would not go away. Something was bound to happen sooner or later. I could feel it.
It happened during that last cold spell that comes just before the weather finally surrenders to the spring. Some nights get winter cold and wet only to see the following day bright and shiny. You’d never know what kind of weather to expect. I had grown as a child in the country raised by a single parent and had learned completely through experience to expect the unexpected. My brother and I more than your average child had certainly lived with a chronic situation that had left us fearful and unsure about what could happen next on many occasions. It is amazing how a person can adjust though, even to some of the worst fears imaginable, but never the less, we accepted these fears and went on with our lives.
One night I was jolted out of my sleep by the sounds of our animals in the barn being spooked by something. We had just finished working on the barn and patching it up to keep any animals from getting in to bother our livestock. At first it didn’t hit me as to what might have been responsible for causing the commotion. I was more worried about protecting the livestock from hurting each other than thinking about what had scared them.
It was cold and wet that night. I put on a jacket and raincoat over my pajamas and pulled on a pair of my sneakers before grabbing a Coleman’s lantern to take with me. Tyler slept while I got ready. Daddy was slowly getting up. I’m sure he was dead tired and having a hard time pulling himself out of bed so I was the first there as wind and rain swept the night air. I could hear the horses restless, nervous, and milling about. The goats, sheep, and calves were in a panic as I walked up to the barn door to unlatch it, but it had been opened already. That should have told me what to expect, but I wasn’t thinking real clearly yet.
I held the lantern up to see what the matter was. We didn’t have electricity strung to the barn yet so there was no light switch for me to flick on. There were the animals running back and forth, scraping the walls of the barn, shoving into each other and ready to stampede through the gate as I stood there holding it shut with one hand and holding the lantern with the other hand.
Then I saw it! I don’t know what the heck I’d been thinking or how I could have forgotten, but here I was only twenty feet away from the very thing that had scared and terrified me all my life that I could remember. I froze absolutely still, unable to make myself move as I stood gawking at something that no one had ever really gotten a close look at before. It stared back at me almost as surprised as I was it seemed. I hadn’t had the forethought to bring my deer rifle with me. Aside from my lantern, I had nothing. The thing seemed to shrink back from the light and into a darkened corner of the barn rather than move toward me as I stared at it in stunned amazement. I should have just run, but something wouldn’t let me run away. Whatever it was, it seemed half like a man, though it looked like an animal of some sort too. A man-like body covered in hair, very tall, with penetrating red eyes The face wasn’t like a typical person’s face. It seemed more like a primitive cousin of man. I should have been scared, but as I gazed into a face that I could only have imagined it didn’t seem like the monster I’d always feared so much before.
Suddenly the gate was ripped from my hand, and there stood Dad holding his shotgun, “git all of you git!” He yelled at the livestock, who took his advice and ran through the gate and out into the cold dark night.
Dad grabbed the lantern from me as the last of the animals rushed by us and out the door, “you get out’ve here boy and latch that gate behind me!” He screamed as he glared at the hulking figure that hesitated in the corner of the barn only partially illuminated by the Coleman lantern.
“No, Paw,” I pleaded, “don’t make me do it!”
I never saw Dad so angry in his life as he snarled at me, grabbed my coat collar, and shoved me outside the barn entrance, “ I said you latch that door boy right now, or there’s going to be hell to pay!” He threatened.
Crying like a baby, I got up off the muddy ground and stood begging him not to make me do it, “please Daddy don’t!” I wept.
“Boy,” Daddy screamed at me, “I said do it now. I’m about to do something I should’ve done a long time ago!” Daddy seeing that I was going to latch the gate turned toward the creature who seemed to await his next move.
The last thing I saw my Daddy do was to swing that Coleman lantern and throw it toward the creature who gave off an evil howl that cut right through the wind and rain of the night as I locked the door behind him. I knew that the fire would quickly spread all over the hay and engulf the barn in short order. As flames leaped through the cracks between the boards, I heard several shotgun blasts from inside the barn as it began to blaze. Then I heard Daddy’s voice. It was him screaming. I wanted so bad to open the gate and get him out, but I was too afraid. It wasn’t the creature that I was so scared of as it was going against Daddy’s orders because I both loved and obeyed the man.
About that time, Tyler came stumbling out of the house as the rain whipped the property and the barn that was now becoming a raging inferno. Flames and smoke began to boil out of the old wooden building that had seen so many years of my family working this land. Again the unearthly scream of that creature resonated through that dark terrible night. I grabbed my brother and carried him back in the house crying every step of the way.
“What are you doing?” Tyler whined. “Where’s Daddy?” He sobbed.
I grabbed the phone and dialed the sheriff’s office, but got no answer as the barn burned into a ferocious blaze despite the wind and rain that swirled around it in that mournful night. I kept trying until I finally woke up some deputy. I tried to explain to him what had happened as Tyler cried right next to me. I was assured that help was on the way, but it would be too late. Daddy had wanted revenge on that thing from the woods for terrorizing his family all these years, even if it meant taking his own life. Maybe it was because he blamed it for scaring Grandma to death.
By the time help arrived, the barn had been completely consumed by the fire. All that was left was a smoking skeleton of charred boards. The ambulance located two bodies. One was my Dad’s the other was something that they knew immediately didn’t fit into any particular category they could anatomically identify. I overheard one of the men say that a special team had been dispatched from the state university to collect the remains of the thing in the woods.
After a few days of staying in the protective custody of the authorities, my Aunt Samantha came by. She and her husband, Dale, were going to adopt us while Daddy’s property was processed by the state probate courts, I heard. Both Tyler and I liked them a lot. I was still in shock after losing my Daddy, my home, and having to adjust to all that came with it. At least Tyler and I would still grow up together and live as what remained of our little family after what that thing in the woods had done to our lives.
It took Tyler and me a long time to get over the loss of our Daddy. I always hoped that I could grow up to be just as good a man as he was. No one could ever take the place of my Paw. No one. Nowadays on occasion, Tyler and I will go out to dinner and talk about old times, and our Daddy. Seems we have less time to do that these days.
It’s been twenty years since that time in our lives and, I still come back from time to time just to visit the property, the memories, and the place where we used to raise all our animals. I always make sure to come by when there’s plenty of daylight left and I don’t linger very long. I hear talk from the locals that there are still strange reports going on, but you never know if that’s just talk or if maybe there was more than just one of those things out there in the thicket, stalking in the black water of that old dark creek.
Even though they remodeled the old house, the barn was never rebuilt. The new owners live in another state and are gone a lot. They don’t mind my coming by every once in a while. The house is in pretty good shape now. My brother and I went to college, both graduated school, and got decent jobs. Tyler’s married now and we both keep in touch. Don’t know why I just have to go back there every so often. I guess it’s just curiosity. Every once in a while though I could swear that I can still hear that eerie cry echoing out of those woods, just the way that it had once terrorized me so many nights as a young boy in that house before. That’s when I fetch the keys to my car, tell my girlfriend it’s time to go, quickly now before it gets dark, and off we drive. We’ll head off down that old road still full of potholes and back out of this strange isolated world that my family once lived in, and back into the daylight of the present again. It seems to work, chasing the old ghosts from my memory until the next time, that is. Eventually things do change, I guess. Well, maybe, some things at least.