A lunatic moon
A Lunatic Moon
Saturday, September 28th, 1985...
Walking home from town, drunk, late at night, was as common place for Mike VanSickle, as was hitch hiking into town to party with his friends in the first place. Usually he'd walk the distance along the main road and stick his thumb out to any car coming along. Unfortunately, at 3am. on a Saturday night, cars were few and far between. More often than not, he'd have to walk the seven miles on the dark unlit country road, until he reached foot sore and exhausted, at his parent's driveway. Tonight was different though, because the late summer humidity had condensed into a thick, impenetrable fog. Mike knew from experience that trying to thumb down a car in this kind of fog was practically impossible. The cars would blind him with their high beams and the drivers wouldn't even see him walking backwards along the shoulder with his thumb out until the last second. He'd almost been run down a few times and knew for a fact that he'd also scared the shit out of more than one late night driver, as he materialized out of the gloom, in their headlights at the foot of a hill. So tonight he'd decided to take the railroad tracks into town.
It was a bad idea. Mike had no way of knowing it was a bad idea, he probably wouldn't have listened anyway if someone had told him as much, because Mike didn't listen well to suggestions and more or less did things his own way. Especially since he spent a lot of time on his own and took risks other people wouldn't dare to take. Like hitch hiking home alone on a dark country road at three in the morning, or walking a dark set of railroad tracks by himself, through a foggy forest still miles from town.
As he walked the tracks, every now and then he'd kick up a stone and it would clang off one of the rails. Every time it happened he would swear softly. He felt safe enough walking down the middle of the tracks, knowing that even on the off chance that if a train were coming, he'd be able to hear it from miles off. Besides, the trains had almost stopped running this way entirely and were limited to a handful every day. in fact one of the three that passed through here, came late at night, around this time . Still, Mike had no fear of getting hit by a train. Mike was more afraid of ghosts. Yes that's right, ghosts. Although he'd never seen one, nor ever witnessed any evidence to the truth of paranormal, it was the one thing that honestly shook him to his core. Mike wasn't easily intimidated as a rule. He wasn't afraid of bullies at school. He'd always stood up for himself. He wasn't afraid of animals, even big ones like horses, or big dogs. He'd worked with both, living out here in the country. He knew that as a young man he was able to gain control over them, that he was their master. He was afraid of the unknown, ghosts. Therefore he concluded that if he ever ran into a wild creature on a night like this, it wouldn't be anything more menacing than a coyote or a wild dog. He felt confident enough to defend himself from an attack. It was common knowledge out here in the town of Glen George and surrounding areas, that there were roaming packs of wild dogs. For the most part, they were just timid collections of mutts that had been dumped in the country, by city folk who no longer wanted them. He'd seen some himself down by the local creek in the middle of the day. It was a small pack of three dogs. There was a Golden Lab, a German Sheperd and some kind of Collie cross. Very Disney-esque. They'd had their heads down while drinking from the creek and as soon as they spotted Mike Vansickle, they'd fled in fear. As far as he knew, nobody had ever been threatened by any of the wild dogs out here. Sure there was the odd case of rabies and once a rabid dog had walked down the middle of the road, frothing and growling, all the way into the village. Cars had to swerve around the thing to avoid it. So by the time it got to the crossroads most everyone had heard about it. Mike's next door neighbour had come out with a rifle and shot it dead, for animal control to pick up. For the most part though, the wild dogs had near mythical status they were so rarely seen. Mike was the only one in his group of friends to have seen more than one at once. He'd known they were wild by the way their fur looked, shaggy and matted in spots with clumps of burrs. They were fearful too and had probably spent their domestic life being mistreated by their owners, before getting dumped in the country. So carrying a deep mistrust for man. Many times late at night when he'd been walking home alone in the dark, he'd heard them barking and howling, far off in the woods somewhere. He'd also heard the odd pack of Coyotes too and they sounded much more different than wild dogs. They would pack together before going on a night time hunt, and he could hear their yips and high pitched howls rising to manic crescendos as they ran through the forest. Some nights it sounded as though they were coming his way, the yips and howls getting louder and closer. Soon they sounded close enough to make him feel nervous and quicken his pace towards home, before their lonely wails would fade into the distance again. Mike didn't relish the idea of being faced with a pack of hungry coyotes. They weren't as predictable as wild dogs. He always carried a sharp pocket knife with him wherever he went. Not a flimsy little penknife either, but a good sturdy locking blade that he'd sharpened himself. He didn't believe that a few coyotes would be able to kill him. He was sure they could mess him up pretty good, but ultimately he thought he'd be able to drive them off, if he could kill one or two in a fight. He could take a single coyote. Sure he could, no problem. He knew how to grab it by the lower jaw and force it into submission, before dispatching it with his knife. Mike was fearless, but he wasn't stupid. He knew a trick like that wouldn't work with a Timber wolf, or a bear for that matter. But they didn't live around here. The best that these foggy woods could throw at him would be a desperate coyote, or a starving wild dog. Unless there were ghosts.
Tonight though, on the unlit tracks and the thick dripping fog, as brave as he felt, he suddenly shrieked like a little girl and froze gasping for breath when he heard something snorting and stumbling blindly through the dead leaves in the ditch beside him. He swore softly to himself again, as a skunk materialized from the dark and rushed off through the brush towards the woods ahead. Jeezus! Just a skunk! His hands trembling a little, he pulled a damp pack of cigarettes from his jean jacket pocket and lit one up. He took a deep drag, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the gloom again, after the flash from his lighter. As he exhaled the smoke into the clingy fog, he listened for the skunk, trying to gauge how far it was from him now. The last thing he needed was to get sprayed. Showing up at his parent's house reeking of weed, beer and skunk wouldn't go over well with his mother. She'd be sure to wake up upon his arrival, with that reek wafting through the house. He trained his ear towards the brush listening carefully for the skunk but he could no longer hear it. The smell of it still hung in the wet air.He smoked his cigarette for a bit, gathering courage before heading into the spookiest part of the walk. It was at least half a mile of railroad tracks through some old dense woods, before they opened up again with big empty fields on either side. Then it was just over a mile of that, before the small town of Glen George and the comfort of home. The beer and weed buzz from the old quarry party in town had just about worn off. That last little scare from the skunk in the ditch had sobered him up a bit. Now he was simply burned out and tired from walking, so he stood smoking and listened for a while to the fog and dew dripping in a steady rhythm.
Mike looked up in the sky, surprised to see the full moon. It was by no means clear, it looked like a blurry, flat white dinner plate. Cold, empty and pale as death. He watched as a cloud passed in front of it, darkening the sky once more.
He shuddered, chilled, starting to feel the gloom seeping into his bones. Starting to feel fear creeping up his spine. Warily he scanned the fog and peered down the tracks as far as he could see. Which wasn't far at all, roughly fifty feet ahead before the fog blotted everything out. He took one final deep drag of his cigarette and flicked the butt into the wet weeds.
"Well..." He said, "Here we go!" And he started off towards the dark tunnel of ancient overhanging trees. He knew that the trees here were as old as time. A hundred and fifty years ago men had carved a straight path through the forest to lay their tracks. The trees on either side had been left untouched as pioneer stands. As forests like to do, the two sides had grown since then and their canopies touched each other above, creating a dark tree lined tunnel that the tracks ran through. Mike could hear water dripping from the leaves and the muted clack of the smoth white stones of the railbed under his feet. He tried to time his steps, so that he would step on a wooden cross tie instead of the stones, trying to be as silent as possible. Every now and then he'd kick up another rock that would go spinning down the tracks ringing off a rail.
"Fuck." He swore softly.
He found that if he stayed on the railway ties with each step, it was a much quicker pace. So he stretched each stride in order to land softly on wood. He had a ways to go through the woods and it was completely dark now. Not even the foggy silver moon could penetrate the giant old Maples whenever the sky cleared, that made it hard to see the ties with every step. Finally, he gave up trying to be silent and walked slower instead, trying not to kick any more stones.
Mike had been afraid of ghosts for as long as he could remember. His earliest memory of getting truly freaked out, was when he was about 6 or 7 years old. He'd awoken from a nightmare, not so scary that he needed to wake his parents, but bad enough that he couldn't go back to sleep right away. So little Mike crept quietly downstairs and turned on the T.V. He didn't know what movie was playing, but he didn't want to make any noise turning the channel knob either. Instead, he sat there watching some old black and white movie, with the volume turned way down. Whatever show was on, it was creepy in it's own right, some murder mystery, maybe Hitchcock or something. In the brief scene young Michael watched, a woman in a long coat and veiled hat, was accompanied by a tall dark man in a fedora and black trenchcoat. The two figures slowly walked around in a circle, examining what appeared to be a jumbled pile of wooden planks. Suddenly the woman reached in, tugging on a board and out flopped a deathly white hand. The pale dead arm led into the pile, where obviously the remains of someone had been concealed. That was enough for him, he jumped up and turned off the TV, then quietly hurried back upstairs and hid under his covers until the afterimage of that dead hand flopping out, finally dissolved into sleep. It nagged him for weeks afterward. Not that it was a particularly graphic, or even violent scene, but to him it was horrible. Just in the way the arm and hand had fallen out of the woodpile like that, it had been so final. So undeniably dead and horrific. The woman in the movie had screamed when that hand fell out, but with the volume down, her scream had been a whisper. In his head, Mike's scream had been full volume. Now as a young adult, almost eighteen at least, he was afraid of ghosts. Nothing would scare him more right now, than to see a wispy white spectre materialize out of the fog and hurry his way, floating through the mist. Just the thought of it made him hasten his pace and in doing so he kicked another stone, hard this time. Not only did it rattle loudly off the rails, but he stubbed his toe as well.
"Son of a bitch! Prick Bastard! Dammit." He hissed, but stopped short of letting loose a torrent of curses. He'd heard something else this time. It came from the woods. A single, loud and clear. 'Crack!' ...Just the one and Mike figured he'd probably startled a deer, or even a raccoon in a tree somewhere. He peered ahead of him and then tried looking behind him down the tracks, to see how far he'd gotten since entering the tree lined canopy. It was impossible to tell. He listened intently for a few seconds and thought he heard rustling, but he also heard the drip, drip, dripping of the leaves. The more he tried to listen, the more he heard his own heart beat, then his own breathing. He shrugged the noise off, convinced it was some forest critter and started walking again. Maybe even that damn skunk. He picked up the pace again, shifting into power walking mode. It was deliberate, fast and almost a military, double time march. He didn't care about making noise at this point, screw that. He was getting wet and cold and very tired. He was also irritated now that he'd had to walk the entire seven miles from the outdoor teenage quarry party in town. If he'd taken the road instead, he might've gotten lucky and been picked up hitch hiking. Now though he was becoming more afraid than irritable. He had no idea why he was so frightened all of a sudden. Either way, one last push and in just over a mile he'd be in town and that much closer to his soft bed. He struck out now, not caring when stones rang off the rails. He had a pretty good idea he was almost out of the woods already.
But he wasn't. He was exactly halfway through the woods when he heard a new noise, one that froze his heart and forced him to walk even faster. It had been a snort from something big. Even through the thick stifling fog, he could tell from the angle of the snort that it did not come from ground level, it did not come from deep within the woods either, it was close and it was large. He prayed that it was a deer, maybe a large buck. It might've even been a cow, lost from it's herd. It was possible, many of the fields around the woods were cow pastures and a Holstein could have wandered off. When he heard the rustling and loud cracking of branches this time, he knew right away this was no cow, It moved too fast. Fight or flight welled up inside him and instinctively he chose flight. It didn't matter if it was a deer, or not. He had no way of knowing what this thing was and even as he pulled his knife, he also knew he was at a distinct disadvantage. It was pitch black and foggy, he was miles from any source of light or farmhouse and besides it was 3:30 in the morning. No one would be able to hear him if he yelled for help.
He brought the knife up in front of him and broke into a moderate run. He was lucky enough to be able to just barely see the the twin rails in front of him and stayed between them, lifting his feet so he wouldn't trip on a railway tie. As soon as he found his rhythm he poured it on and ran harder, with his heart thudding, his knife held tightly to his chest. Stones rang off the rails and he shrieked, before realizing that it had been he who'd kicked them, running wildly down the tracks. It was during this brief respite of relief that he heard a new sound... A deep wet growling, no more than ten feet off to his right. Whatever it was, it was running alongside him in the ditch and it had caught up. He stopped and spun to face it, holding the knife out making slashes in the air. Something hit him in the chest with incredible force, knocking the wind out of him. Mike stumbled backwards, his heels hit the rail behind him and he went down on is back with this thing on top of him. It stank and his first thought was that it was some kind of dog, but in the next second he realized it was nothing like a dog at all. It had a stubby snout, not a muzzle. Actually it was more of a face than a snout. It had long hair and incredible strength, big white eyes and when it sneered at him, he saw it almost had lips and big teeth, some of which were very sharp. But if this were an animal, then its paws were more like hands with long fingers and sharp nails that pierced his skin as it gripped his shoulders, straddling him, pinning him. Fear gave way to anger and in a desperate act of self preservation, he plunged the knife into it's neck with all his might, noting how tough it's thick, bristly pelt was. The creature roared and Mike squirmed, squealing with fright and pushing with his feet trying to buck it off. It was too heavy to budge though, whatever this was, it was solid as fuck and really fucking heavy. it was also incredibly strong, as it forced him into the stones lining the railroad tracks. With his free hand he pushed against it's chest that roiled with steely muscle. It forced him down squeezing the air from his lungs and he heard his ribs starting to crack. He pulled his knife free and thrust it deep into it's neck again with no effect. This time the creature hissed, it's face inches from his own, it's breath putrid, hot and reeking of rot, of certain death. Drool dripped into his eyes, blurring his vision, blinding him, but Mike could've sworn it smiled. It smiled, or sneered, mocking his futile attempts at killing it, something no animal could possibly have the intelligence to do. What the hell was this thing? He thought, struggling to get free. Staring down at him, with it's big yellow eyes, it licked it's chops, spilling fresh drool into his eyes and up his nose. Mike choked, gagging against the stench, spitting the drool back at it. He took a deep breath, gathering all his strength hand gripping the haft of his knife twisted it deep in the monster's neck and screamed as loud as he could bucking desperately. Suddenly it leaned in and cut his scream short, biting a large portion of Mike's throat away. Stunned, he could do nothing, he felt his strength draining onto the stones, as he lay there quietly gurgling. The night grew darker around him, shortly becoming silent and black.
Hours later, the dawn broke and the sun rose, shining on the mess that used to be Michael Vansickle. Mourning doves gathered on the old telegraph wires above, while Bobolinks merrily flitted in and out of the long grass in the adjacent field. It wasn't long before the flies began to gather.
About the Creator
Jim E. Beer
I was raised outside of Ancaster, Ont. I write about what I know and what I've survived. I hope you enjoy what you read. Leave a comment and feel free to tip. There is an option to do so at the end of each story if you feel so inclined. Jim
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