It was the first day of spring and Tom was sitting on his porch. Next to him was a fresh cup of coffee that was sending ribbons of steam into the air. He loved the smell of coffee. He never actually drank the coffee, but mornings just wouldn’t be the same without a few whiffs of that most curious drink. Sometimes with some cream and sugar and sometimes just plain old coffee.
He sat waiting for the rest of the world to join him.
Though he generally preferred the darker hours – that was just the way he was – he loved this part of the day. The sun peeked through the trees at the top of the hill and reached out to the small valley with soft beams of light. The lush greenery would surely turn to ash from the fire that appeared to be dancing on the leaves and branches. It was beautiful.
He would soon fall asleep and leave the daylight to those living with the obvious need to be seen and heard, but he loved watching everything come to life at sunrise.
During the night it was pretty quiet in the valley. Some of the neighbors had dogs that would bark if they thought something was attempting to trespass. There were frogs down by the creek that shared Tom’s affinity for a primarily nocturnal existence. And, occasionally he would hear the snap or rustle of the, otherwise stealth forms of wildlife that inhabited the surrounding hills or an occasional traveler making their way down the small, two-lane road that was on the other side of the creek.
But, at sunrise, things happened. And contrary to what others seemed to think (because he preferred to sleep during the day) he liked action. Whether it was a butterfly fluttering about from bush to bush, watching the dogs compete for alpha status across the street or, his personal favorite, hunting wild animals.
He didn’t have to hunt wild animals for food any more, but some things just become habit. And besides, wasn’t that how his ancient ancestors had survived? They didn’t get food that was prepackaged and sold at the local supermarket. They had to hunt for their food, or they would die of starvation. Never mind that it was his God-given right to provide for himself on his own terms. No, he definitely wasn’t the city type.
He spotted a deer. No, two… three! Right there across the creek! And they were huge! But he had no way to subdue them and, even if he did, they were running across the road, through the neighbor’s yard and vanishing into the woods almost as soon as he had spotted them. Holy crap, that would have been a feast! He could have eaten for a good long time on just one of them!
Tom moved to the other side of the porch seeking shade, now that the sun had fully risen, and sat back down behind the large pillar that supported both the awning and the step rail. Yes, it was a beautiful morning. He stretched and leaned over until he was laying on his side, yawned, and started thinking about hunting again.
He thought about how the wild animals must fear him. Though they never stopped coming around. It was almost as if they were daring him to make them his next meal. He closed his eyes and started to replay all of his favorite hunts in his mind. Almost all of them were worth remembering. After all, he was a magnificent hunter, so it was no wonder that every kill was an impressive display of stealth, skill and superiority. Yes, he was the King. Even though…
“What was that?” he thought as he lifted his head and opened his eyes wide.
He had heard something, but he couldn’t tell where it was coming from. He looked around, hoping to see what had made the noise and saw nothing unusual. In fact, he saw a lot less than he thought he should. It was dark outside! He must have fallen asleep and slept the day away.
He heard the noise again. Just a light rustling sound from down by the creek. He could have sworn it was louder and sharper the first time. But, then again, he had obviously been asleep, so who knows.
He sat full upright and peered down to where he thought the sound had come from. His eyes had always adjusted pretty well at night, exceptionally well, and he expected to see something coming over the top of the gully that held the creek.
He heard it again. He leaned forward just a bit and watched. Listening. Not moving a muscle. He snapped his head to the left toward a clicking sound.
“Dang bugs.” He thought.
They were congregating around, and colliding with, a solar yard light (which was one of the few modern touches to this little slice of heaven, and was purchased, ironically, to defeat the need for the modern world and technology, and live further “off the grid”).
Tom decided it was time to leave the porch and take a look around. He got to the edge of the old concrete walkway, where it turned toward the side of the house, and stopped. There it was again. And again! And, did he actually see something move?
Tom crouched a little, not wanting to attract attention. There was definitely something moving around. He couldn’t see anything from this position, but he was closer and could hear it more clearly.
He slowly raised one foot and began to move it forward, trying to be as quiet as possible. There were no leaves left in the yard and the grass had finally turned green, so remaining silent as he attempted to get a closer look wouldn’t be as difficult as it was in fall or winter when the yard was cluttered with dead leaves and crunchy grass. He moved the other foot with just as much control as the first and continued until he was almost one-third of the way across the yard, and then froze.
It was much louder now. And, now that he was so close, he noticed that the sound didn’t stop as often. Whatever was down there was casually going about its business with no clue that Tom was trying to sneak up to the edge of the gully and get an eyeball or two on it.
He lifted his head, just a little, to see if it was in view yet. Nope. Well, in a way, that was good news. It didn’t sound like it was right below the top of the bank, so it was probably a good thing that it wasn’t so big that it could be seen from way down at the bottom. Could this turn into a hunt?
Tom figured he’d be up for it since he’d been asleep all day. Nothing like a good hunt to wake you up!
His head involuntarily snapped back toward the ground. It was on the move. Well, it was for a second. Now, just the same “snap-crunch-rustle-rustle-rustle…snap-crunch-rustle-rustle-rustle…” over and over.
One foot, slowly, then another. He continued. Almost to the edge of the gully now. Head down, heart beating faster, stopping every few seconds to listen (“snap-crunch-rustle-rustle-rustle…”).
As he creeped forward, the glimmer of the neighbor’s porch light appeared, reflecting off the far edge of the water. Slowly, he raised his head, almost like somebody was lifting it with an old bumper jack, one click at a time.
At about 5 clicks up, he froze.
There it was. It was about the same size as he was. A couple more clicks of the head jack.
Wrong. That was just its head.
It was huge. Tom had never seen anything like it before. In some ways, yes. If you looked only at the silhouette version, it could have been a garden variety deer. Well, a buck, to be exact. It had horns. They were different though. Not quite like a buck’s horns at all. More like thorns. Big long curly branches with long, needle-like thorns that were as long as Tom’s head was wide.
He now wished he had stayed on the porch. Or, better yet, gone into the house. But it was too late. He was so close to this strange creature that he could hear it inhale and exhale, which was all he heard at this point. It had stopped whatever it was doing and was looking right at him.
For the first time in his life, Tom wished he couldn’t see so well at night. The creature had the body of a deer and horns on its head, but that’s where it failed any further likeness. It was like some mad scientist had bred a buck with a pit bull, a possessed owl and barbed wire. It had thick, muscular legs, a huge head with an over-sized jaw and teeth to match. The creature’s horns took up about the same space as a 10 point buck, but were spiraled (like a ram’s, but half as thick) with those big needles sticking out all over. It’s bulbous, neon orange eyes were glowing under two small pointed ears.
Why didn’t he just stay on the porch? He knew why. Because this was his yard, his kingdom. He was a hunter and this was his hunting ground. And anything that dared to trespass was fair game for the hunter. He lived his life as the master of his surroundings, without fear or caution. And now he would pay for it.
The hideous monster grunted and Tom thought he could almost see smoke coming from its snout, even in the dark.
It turned to face him, lowered its head a little, barred its teeth and, as it’s eyes began to glow even brighter, let out a roar that sounded like five different animals at the same time.
Tom instinctively braced himself and shifted to a “fight or flight” stance. For a split second, he and the monster faced each other. One roaring and the other sounding more like a squeaky toy. Both crouched and ready to launch. Then it did.
Those bright orange eyes were suddenly bright streaks of light as the deer/dog/owl monster closed the short distance between them. Tom exhaled with a broken howling whimper as he threw himself to the side, barely escaping the beast’s attack. Tom scrambled to gain his balance, missed the edge of the drop-off and rolled down into the gully.
The monster stood at the top of the bank once again, barring its teeth and growling. It’s eyes, now pulsing from bright orange to crimson, were dead still and locked on Tom, who was sitting in the middle of a large patch of mud with nothing but the steep bank above him and the water below him. The deer/dog/owl monster cocked back on its haunches ready to launch again. Tom knew there was no hope. The mud offered no traction. He was stuck. Somewhere between curiosity and his need to rule his kingdom, Tom, “the hunter”, would end up being some monster’s midnight snack.
Wait! What was that? He thought he heard someone! would they be able to distract the monster? Maybe he would be able to…
The monster didn’t even flinch. It was one focused hunter.
It almost seemed like time had slowed. The monster sat at the top of the bank, almost imperceptibly rocking back and forth. Tom wanted to look around for a way to escape, even though he knew it would be wasted effort, but he couldn’t take his eyes off those pulsating orbs. The monster’s body rocked, but those huge, wicked eyes didn’t budge.
Then they did.
It happened so fast. Tom didn’t even see the thing move its legs, but it was in the air. Then he felt it. The heat of those eyes. Then he was looking at those horns. It was lowering its head. It was going to shred him with those horns!
The first thorn pricked his nose – “TOM!” – then continued through – “TOM! TOM!” – then everything went bright white.
Tom jerked, rolled to his other side and sunk his teeth into – “OUCH!! Stop that! It’s just me!”
Tom recognized the voice instantly and let go. He relaxed a little, let out a sigh and waited for his eyes to adjust, heart still beating fast. It was just a dream.
As he rolled on his back and let his human rub his belly, he thought of his nice big bowl of processed, store-bought cat food.