For the last five years, my family and I have lived off the beaten path – in a beautiful country style home set in the midst of the deep, dark woods. Situated in central Massachusetts, just South of Worcester and riding the crest of the Connecticut border, we’ve found one of those increasingly rare havens where the heavens beam a thousand points of light every time you toss open the shutters to sneak a peek at the great outdoors and the inky parchment above.
When we were seeking new shelter, we weren’t exactly in the market for solitude – just a nice rustic, yet newly constructed home on a decent slice of land that would allow our dogs and kids ample room to roam. We were coming from our modest Cape in the suburban environs outside the Brockton city center – and even though our neighborhood was picture perfect, the night air always carried a siren or two and the occasional pitter-patter of automatic weapons fire. That said, both Andi and I had grown up in small but populated areas and we were accustomed to a little hub-bub in the air when heading out for a little stroll. It took a little getting used to the chorus of woodland critters that would strike up whenever the sun nestled its noggin’ for the night.
In fact, when we moved in, despite the fact that we had found our dream house, the dense woods surrounding us did give me slight pause. I was pretty much convinced that within a day or two of living here, one of us would find ourselves struggling to break free of a grizzly’s maw. At the very least, we were looking at the inevitable deer tick infection or velociraptor attack by the time the leaves fell. As the man of the house, it was incumbent upon me to set the table for the harsh days ahead.
“Make no mistake, Andi. One of us will be dead by dawn.”
Alas, dawn broke the following day and we awoke – ALIVE. And as each day yielded to twilight and then turned down for the evening in order to rest its weary head once more, we began to fall deeper in love with our home and more comfortable with our rural roost.
In fact, I found it curious that as the days tallied to weeks and soon morphed to months, I never saw any wildlife worth cataloguing. I’m sure there was the occasional finch or bullfrog that crossed my gaze but aside from that, all manner of creatures, both great and small, seemed to sit this one out. The absence of life where there should be an abundance sent my mind racing to other wild conclusions. Were we cohabitating in a CDC Hot Zone? An environmental disaster area? A disturbed Indian Burial Ground? Where the hell were all the turtles and when the Hell was Tangina gonna’ bust in to keep me from traveling to the light. I’m gullible. If I’m told “all are welcome”, you’re damned straight I’m busting through to the other side.
I mean, we had trekked into the wilderness from an urban jungle which called upon me to channel my best Steve Irwin on more occasions than I can count. There wasn’t a night that went by that I didn’t step forth into our postage stamp plot of land and spy a set of eyes glaring at me from the tree line. In true cartoon fashion, the sky would go inky dark and those two eyes would soon be joined by 14 additional pairs, each one turning on in rhythmic fashion. And then, as is apt to occur, a huge solitary bloodshot eye, with a radius of about 3 feet apart, would flick open – perched about 15 feet above the ground. It’s at that point that I would turn tail and run screaming into the house with my wife secretly wishing that she had experimented with the same sex a little more often in college. (Editor’s Note – There’s no truth to those accusations and also, to paraphrase Seinfeld, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love everyone. Straight. Gay. Bi. Tri. Asexual. – End Disclaimer so keep your ACLU dogs at bay.) : )
So, while I wasn’t called upon to play Jeff Corwin in our new digs, back where we came from I had done my fair share of alligator rasslin’ and crocodile whispering. I was afraid that the longer we lingered in this wasteland without a coyote to chase or a baboon to give my heart too, the sooner my skills would diminish.
After all, it was only a year prior, that I was called upon to rid our Brockton manse of a fearsome creature. Neither Irwin nor Corwin would cut it. I had to become more than man. I had to be heroic. When a loathsome monstrosity descended into our yard in the middle of the day, sending our world into panic, I had to become a symbol. Something scary. Something that would inspire fear in my enemies.
I had to be more than the white knight. I had to become the NIGHT.
That fateful day began like any other. At the time, I was in the midst of a layoff from the first and only professional gig I had known post-college. I’ve been out 16 years and in that time have encountered two such spells. See – the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Andi and I had decided that summer to get a dog as decent training for our inevitable plunge into parenthood. We did all the research and found a breed that was certain to be a hit with us and good with kids – the Labrador Retriever. So, we searched around and found an excellent, reputable breeder that was conveniently located a few towns over and made plans to procure our pooch from their next litter on deck.
The mother lab – also yellow – was located in scenic Mattapoisett, a little hike but not far to travel when you’re looking to add real value to your life. So, we went down to visit with the owners after the pups had made their grand entrance and we selected the one that really called out to us – a little rambunctious beauty with the nickname Juliet. We knew that we were going to rename her Abby but the name Juliet sang to us. While we were sad to separate her from her fair Romeo, we weren’t prepared to take on two at the time. That would come later and is a story for a different day.
With Abby at home and me around the house more often than usual, I took it as my summer project to train and bond with her. She was my first dog, EVER, and I while I didn’t know much about training a dog, I had the benefit of dog owners in my midst, obedience class once a week, the Internet and my own paternal instincts to do the job proper. And this little project helped to take me away from the arduous daily grind of trying to locate new gainful employment and keep those walls of sanity from collapsing any further.
As part of my routine, I would often make time each day to bring Abby to the back yard for a little R & R – tossing a little yellow tennis ball for an hour or so as she stretched those legs and I drank deep of the Vitamin D. It was a good salve for both of us and it helped strengthen that lifelong bond that was melding us together.
We would do this every afternoon – a couple times a day – like clockwork, and I really began to look forward to those little siestas as it’s true what they say – dogs chase away the worries of your day. And I had a number of those troublesome mailmen that needed scaring. The end of my severance was approaching all-too swiftly and the job opportunities were not flying forward to match the monetary decline.
One afternoon, when Abby and I were taking our first steps out to enjoy a particularly pleasant, albeit a little too warm, August day – I found all my concerns were completely assassinated as a more dire threat emerged. That’s all it takes sometimes. The worst case scenario makes you forget all the other issues. And the best part is, if you can toss aside that bad penny, you usually reap greater rewards which make you feel that all those other problems are mere child’s play. What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.
Anyway, as I threw open the door to our fenced in yard, Abby ran out a few yards and performed her patented pivot – awaiting with eager anticipation the release of the ball signaling “Oh yeah… It’s On!!!” As I reared my right arm back, a strange fluttery movement caught my eye and implored me to track its source. It had come from ground level, a few feet away from where this tiny, little puppy stood oblivious, concerned only with that bouncing ball of golden happiness. But somewhere, deep in my cranial command, neurons fired and tripped klaxons – those precious parental alarms that tell you grave danger is right at your feet.
There, moving in a strange herky-jerky fashion was what initially appeared to be a very large leaf. But the wind was absolutely still on this stifling day so there was no Earthly reason that other forces of nature should be disturbing the fallen foliage. So, I leaned forward to investigate further and what to my wandering eyes should appear but a bat in mid-daylight.
That’s the first thought that raced through my brain. The last thing we needed was for our ‘baby’ to get anywhere near that fearsome disease and there was no doubt in my mind that if this creature was stirring when it should be slumbering, then there was something seriously wrong. So, I instinctively ran for Abby which of course sent her into full-on play mode – pinballing throughout the back yard. Using my best herding technique, I finally got her in the door through a deft mix of my mad skills and liberal application of Snausages.
With Abby out of the back yard, I could proceed with the plan. As we had a fenced-in yard, and it didn’t appear this bat was going to fly away (it was just fluttering and crawling on the ground), I needed to find a way to escort it off the premises. Which meant that I was going to need the longest shovel that I could find. My feeling was that I could scoop it up, travel the 30 feet it took to get to the fence line and toss it in my neighbor’s yard. Voila. Problem solved.
So, I got the necessary appendage but suddenly grew pause. What if it flies up at me… and bites??? Just because it wasn’t flying away now didn’t mean it wasn’t just biding its time for me to get nice and close so it could spring upon me and make me one of its faithful servants of the night. I was gonna’ need to take precautions.
So, despite the fact that the mercury was hovering somewhere close to 98 degrees, I descended to the basement storage and extracted every article of winter clothing I could find. And remembering the sage words of my dear Mom, I applied layers. Four pairs of underwear. Jeans. Several sweats. A coating of snow pants. A few sweatshirts covered with a ski parka. Then I tossed on a winter hat and topped that with a ball cap. On my hands, a couple pairs of gloves and maybe an oven mitt or two. And of course, goggles. Then I grabbed my shovel and tossed it over my shoulder – this makeshift Michelin Man heading out into the back yard to take down the fearsome dragon that dared lay claim to my kingdom.
I reminded myself of the plan. Slide the shovel under the bat. Scoop him up and head for the trees. One quick flick of the wrist and he would be someone else’s immigration problem.
I approached the bat real slow – taking measured steps. He was stiff and still and somewhere in my brain I secretly wished that in my flurry to assemble my secret identity, he had expired. So, I exhaled and just moved forward, ready to get this unpleasant business behind me.
Besides it was hot and my uniform had successfully raised my internal temp another century mark or two. I had to get out of this get-up before I turned Kate Moss. So, I picked up the pace and moved in for the kill. And that’s when I got careless.
Removing the shovel from my shoulder, I let it hit the ground. I then slid it forward and approached the bat.
The second the shovel touched the bat, it flared to life and with that – with all intelligent thought and bladder control now on strike – I lifted the shovel over my head, held aloft just long enough for a spark of light to gleam off for dramatic effect and then on my word, I unleashed hell. The shovel came crashing down. Again and again. Smashing and crashing and bashing the creature into submission.
When the torrent had subsided, I realized I now had two bats to contend with.
I had decapitated the beast. Horrified at my actions, I scooped both parts up and headed for the tree line – giving this unholy parcel a generous toss out of my life. I wanted all this unpleasantness far behind me.
In true scary movie fashion, I went about covering my tracks. I removed all articles of clothing and scrubbed myself from head to toe. I needed to reapply normalcy and bring us back to the Pleasantville of white picket fences and domestic bliss. I threw on my standard civvies of T-Shirt and cargo shorts and then let the bad dreams evaporate – getting back to a little play session with the poor pup who was woefully robbed of her recess. While slightly ashamed and disturbed by the unfortunate twist of events, I comforted myself with the knowledge that I was sworn to serve and protect this family. And I made a mental note that unless the neighbors went a callin’ to the local TV station with tales of the midday massacre and the neighbor who always seemed like such a quiet, unassuming guy, there was no way I was gonna’ tell Andi about any of this. And if they did contact Gene Lavanchy and the Morning Zoo Crew, well – my Gear by Jake Burton was only a storage bin away.
So, the story remained six feet under. Until six months later when that telltale heart throbbed loud and clear.
I was at work when I received a call from Andi. It turns out on one evening, as we shared a cocktail or two with friends, I busted out the tale (and sprung it on Andi) for a laugh. I forgot all about it (so much for discretion), but apparently she had been fine with it so long as the bat stayed buried. What is it about a little murder that turns every sweet housewife into Lady MacBeth?
But now her pretty head was full of worry.
“When you killed that bat, where did you throw it?”, she asked.
“Through the trees… don’t worry. It’s gone. It’s dead. It can’t bother us anymore. Not with this white knight on constant vigilance. Not with a savior in your midst. Not with a MAN in the HOUSE.”
“Well,BIG MAN, Abby just came in juggling a tiny skull in her mouth… so, I guess the bitch is back”, she said.
And right then, without another word expressed, I knew exactly what I would have to do when I returned home.
Because I’m the hero Andi and Abby deserve, and the one they need right now. I’m a silent guardian, a watchful protector.
A dork knight.
…Just as soon as I stopped and picked up a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk and some Cookie Crisp. We’re running low.