Let me start by sayin’ every word that follows is absolutely true. If anything, it’s been embellished the opposite direction, so that tellin’ it won’t make it hard again for me to sleep at night. You see, after all these years I’ve just begun to come to grips with what happened. I still ain’t got no explanations.
This particular summer, I was beginning to feel the regrets of age. You know, thinkin’ about old girlfriends and nights beer drinking with the boys, that sorta thing. This regret started when I was in my mid-twenties and hit hard when I turned thirty and my boy had already seen his first decade. He’s going to be a better man than me, I can tell already. Anyways, I know I shouldn’t feel like that about gettin’ old. Shit, some of my buddies never even made it this far. Guess I should name myself lucky. So I never complain. Reckon it ain’t my style.
But anyways, I started goin’ out on these long forays alone into the woods when work was done and I could get away for a day or two. Gave the missus the fits. I suppose it was some last-ditch effort to prove to myself I was still really livin’ not some walkin’ corpse like so many in this god-forsaken world. Yep, sleepin’ out under the stars made me feel alive.
I got to the point where I was goin’ out on these little trips a once or twice a month. Nothin’ much ever came of them. But there was this one time, the time I keep tryin’ to tell you about before my train keeps rollin’ off on a new track, that I will never forget.
I set out that afternoon in my pickup headin’ to my favorite spot an hour or two outta the city, just far enough that the lights didn’t orange-up the sky so much. I planned for two nights. That’s ’bout the most I can spend anymore. Didn’t bring much, just the clothes on my back, a cooler half-full of food and beer, a sippin’ flask a whiskey, a few blankets and a cheap little disposable point-and-shoot, you know, the kind with regular film you still have to take in to get developed or whatever. I left after work and by the time I got out there it was near dark and I had only enough time to stoke up a small fire, cook a can-a-beans, and lay out the sleepin’ pad in the back of my truck before it was full-on night. That was when all the strange stuff started happenin’ that changed my mind about the dark, and spooks or whatever, forever.
The real crazy shit started when I woke up in the middle the night needin’ awfully to piss. My little fire had burned down to a few whisperin’ coals so I grabbed my flashlight and took a stroll just away from the truck so I wouldn’t hop out in the mornin’ into a squishy puddle-a-piss. I had this funny feelin’ that something was watchin’ me and it gave me them goose shivers. I strafed my flashlight through them trees until the beam landed on the biggest, yellowest set of eyes I e’er seen not thirty feet from where I stood. Carl Lewis woulda been proud of me runnin’ back to my truck, still dribblin’ piss and workin’ up my fly all the while. I jumped in the back, grabbed my 12-gauge and sat there still as a stump waiting for whatever it was to come closer so I could part them eyes from the rest of whatever body they belonged to. I sat there ears open for a good half hour before I had the courage to even so much as breathe. When I finally did, I started makin’ enough noise that I thought I’d scared away every animal for three counties. I even fired off a round from that gun, I’s so scared. I don’t usually do things like that. I hate to think of me and careless gunplay only to find out later there’s a dead man on the receivin’ end I’m responsible for.
I ain’t slept but two blinks for the rest of that night. I couldn’t get them two eyes outta my head. There was somethin’ about them. Somethin’ odd like I’d never seen before. I built that fire up like you wouldn’t believe until a circle of woods a hunderd yards across was good and orange. Kept it burnin’ like that all night. And that ole gun a mine never left my fingers.
In the mornin’ I got to feelin’ kinda stupid for being such a chicken shit but I did a round near my truck anyway to look for prints or shit or any anythin’ else that might clue at what owned those piss-yellow eyes. I looked and looked but found nothin’. I eventually resolved that it was likely just a cougar. Them got those spooky eyes and are all quiet and sneaky like, so it fit. I’d planned to spend another night out and I was feelin’ braver by day, so I packed up and drove a little deeper into the forest. The road got rougher than hell and looked like nobody’d been down it all season. Five, maybe ten, miles on I found a great spot next to a babblin’ crick with a good fire ring and little nails already knocked into a tree so I could hang some of my pots and pans and the like. Mostly forgetting the night before, I made camp, got comfortable, and chewed up some jerky and beans for supper. I went to bed feelin’ pretty darn good about things. Them stars were out and the night was as beautiful as you could imagine. I even took a tug or two from the bottle-a-whiskey I’d packed along.
I had the strangest dreams that night. Dreams them eyes was everywhere lookin’ in on me in my truck, hunderds of ‘em as a matter a fact. I woke up pretty spooked and held in a piss for a long while cause I was scared all over. All’s I could do was pull my damn sleeping bag over my head and hope I was invisible or somethin’ like a damn kid. I never felt as scared in all my life. When I did finally piss—I couldn’t really hold it no longer—I just sorta dangled my manhood over the edge of my truck and kept my eyes closed. No doubt I put a little water on my tires, but I didn’t know what I’d do if I saw them two eyes again.
I laid there the rest of the night with my head inside my sleepin’ bag and my hand on my shotgun, debatin’ on whether or not I should just pack up and get the Sam-hill out of there. There was no way I was gonna sleep, but for some reason I felt safer just tucked away like a damn turtle or somethin’. At first light I got the hell outta there without pokin’ around tryin’ to figger out what was a-hauntin’ me. I figgered I didn’t want to know.
So I got home and prolly acted a little funny for a while ’cause the wife kept askin’ what had gotten into me. Never had the sack to tell her nothin’, though. Wasn’t sure how such a story might sound. People would figger I cracked or somthin’. I never told anyone, in fact, until tellin’ you just now.
Now you prolly think that isn’t much of a story. Prolly just let my mind get the better of me. I started to think so myself and after a few days I would think back and call myself crazy and worse names, and have a laugh or two. But the strangest part came a week or two later.
You see, I remembered my little point n’ shoot. I’m always worried I’ll catch some monster fish and nobody’ll believe me without proof. Well, I took it in to get the pictures developed, mostly fogettin’ that I’d even had it with me on that strange weekend. Don’t think I even took a single picture. When I came back to pick up my prints, I's flippin’ through them in the drugstore parking lot gettin’ a good laugh from the ones of me and the boys a-drinkin’ a few weeks before. But I came to the very last one and all my blood just went zero and I got them goose shivers all over again.
The last picture was of my truck at that campsite the second night. And layin’ in the back there was me, sleepin’.
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