Monday, July 13, 2009

Terror in the darkness

I'm having a hard time waking up this morning. It's no wonder since I had two nights of broken sleep on high alert. It started Saturday night as I sat in bed writing in my journal.

Something walked through the piles of last year's leaves outside my bedroom window. With the light on, I couldn't see anything, but I could heard the shuffling feet moving closer and closer. I called out. The shuffling stopped. The dark silhouette of the broken privacy fence about a foot from the backside of the house was all I could see. The tree that struggles up through the debris was a leafy silhouette and there was no breeze. I kept one eye on the tree for any movement. All was quiet. I went back to writing.

Just as I settled in to write and hit the zone, the shuffling started again. I decided to ignore it after a glance at the tree showed no signs of movement. The shuffling moved closer, a sort of hitch-drag-step that conjured memories of Frankenstein's monster. My writing hand faltered as I searched the tree for any movement. Nothing. The shuffling got louder. Hitch-drag-step. Hitch-drag-step. It moved closer. Hitch-drag-step. Hitch-drag-step. The tree was motionless. But, no, there was a little movement. Hitch-drag-step, hitch-drag-step, hitch-drag-step.

The tree was caught in a hurricane wind but no breeze came through the window. I stopped breathing. Hitch-drag-step-hitch-drag-step-hitch-drag-step. It was just outside the window. Hitch-drag-stop. The tree was motionless again. I peered through the shadow-clotted darkness and a face thrust forward out of the gloom.

Wild eyes, white-ringed and a prominent nose coalesced out of the darkness and stared through the window and then vanished. It took a moment for my heart to start beating again as the face made sense. Bump-thump-shuffle-scratch against the fence.

The white-ringed eyes belonged to a large raccoon that had scaled the privacy fence and sat in the break on the crossbar.

I laughed and went back to writing, still a bit on edge from the adrenaline raging through my blood. As the rush slowed to a trickle and I could breathe slowly and calmly again, I finished writing in my journal and then settled down for a little literary narcotic to help me sleep. It took a while.

The same performance was repeated last night at about the same time, but this time a new wrinkle was added as the wild cat that seems to live next door came bounding through the gap in the fence and pounced on the raccoon shuffling and snuffling in the leafy debris between the fence and my cottage. There was a muffled crash and then two heavy bodies rolled among the dead leaves, a wild howl split the quiet, and then all was silent. I turned out the light and watched the leafy branched shadows on the closed blinds with one open eye while I courted sleep. None came when the hitch-drag-step began again. I know it's just the raccoon again and he has claimed that narrow strip of leaf strewn space as his territory, but those sounds still conjure the heavy-footed, relentless approach of Frankenstein's monster.

I finally understand what made Mom quake in her seat and cling to her mother's coat sleeve when she saw Boris Karloff on the screen for the first time. It's not the make-up or the growling that scared her, it's the sound, the hitch-drag-step, that she couldn't shut out in the darkness of the theater when she squeezed her eyes shut against the horrific vision. She could close her eyes, but her mind was busy conjuring danger that was born in prehistoric times as feral humans huddled around a flickering fire that failed to push back the terrors of the night far enough to keep the sounds at bay.

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