(Editor’s Note: I’m reposting this piece – originally published in January 2011 – because I found me another one!!!)
I wasn’t in this house more than 1 month before I heard my first gunshot.
That’s the cannon blast that echoed through the interior, bouncing off every uncovered surface, before finding my virgin ears. What the hell was that? I fought for rational thought while my mind flipped through a Rolodex of bad horror flicks.
“We’ve traced the call and… IT’S COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!!!”
Andi must have caught sight of this growing neural tempest, as she yelled over to me – “It’s just a hunter.”
And then it hit me. We’re officially in the sticks. As long as I kept my souvenir Bugaboo Creek antler cap mothballed in storage and refrained from prancing around the neighborhood with it fixed to my cabeza, I’d likely never find myself strapped to anyone’s hemi. That’s the last thing I need. After all, it’s a small town. People talk.
Before Andi and I decided to wrap up the brood (at the time its members included Colin and our two labs; Abby and Chatham) and move West, we had lived in Brockton, MA.
Brockton’s got a bad reputation. One that I certainly spent a good portion of my youth supporting and believing in. Having grown up a few towns over, in the smaller, more bucolic Rockland – we looked at Brockton as the BIG CITY. I believe Boston looks at it as a speed bump. And New York – well, they probably claim all of Massachusetts as just another borough.
So, when my Dad rang me up one day in the Summer of 2000 – as Andi and I were waiting with anticipation for our Fall wedding day – offering to sell us his quaint Cape, I wanted to leap immediately but knew this meant our zip code was gonna’ fall somewhere behind the Gates of Mordor. That being said, we’d be going from a tiny 1 bedroom apartment to 2 bedrooms, 1 & ½ baths and all the yard work you could dream of – so we jumped at the chance.
And as it turned out, Brockton wasn’t half bad. In fact, where we were living, we were down right residential. You had to wander at least a mile before you’d find a burned-out APC carrier or underground den of nightwalkers. But Google Earth showered us with shrubbery and I took to labeling our address as ‘On the West Bridgewater Line, MA’.
The only thing that reminded us, at least once a week, that we were city dwellers was the staccato beat of automatic weapons fire. And even then, it was only during the summer when the air was still and the sound waves able to travel from the heart of the city all the way out to my manse. Once the snow moved in, the gangbangers abided by the pirate code of parlay and lay down their weapons for a long winter’s nap. So, if you made it through the Summer without getting capped, you patted yourself on the back. Another job well done.
The point is, I’d heard guns before and they didn’t sound half as scary as you would think they should. That muffled rat-a-tat-tat sounded like someone playing with a cap gun. Of course, it lost a lot of its menace to society as it traveled that warm soupy air mass. Distance robbed it of its strength – even if you secretly told yourself – there’s no way in hell we’re raising a family here.
With that thought on my mind – and with the notion that Andi and I would add at least one more mouth to feed to see if we could ever really, truly break us – we started scanning the horizon looking for a larger parchment of land. We had a decent chunk of equity tied up in the Brockton home, thanks to an inflated housing market and $20,000 worth of alterations and improvements that we laid into it, and this allowed us to set our sights higher. That being said – for what we desired (newish construction, at least an acre of land) we would have to head further away from the seaboard and move West towards the great frontier.
And that’s how we ended up here. Way out in the woods.
And while I entertained the notion that one of us would clearly be eaten by a grizzly or velociraptor before the Sea Moon ate the Blood Spot (at least I think that’s what that creepy gypsy woman warned me on our way into town – Andi swears she said “See You at Big Lots!“); not once did it occur to me that we would play host to the touring Michael Bay road company.
So, that blast – which seemingly was fired from within my cerebral cortex, set my mind on a wild course – one that was slightly steadied by the calm in my wife’s voice. She reminded me that we’re in the woods – so of course there are hunters but our property also looks out on a slight valley with a modest set of hills standing sentinel behind it. That shot could have been miles away and simply reverberated to us.
As a kid I played in the woods constantly; and heard those loud shots. We never once took pause. In fact, I think it’s true that all kids think they are invincible. The sound of a rifle was as commonplace as me humming “It’s Raining Men.” Disturbing!!! – but it happened all the time so you got used to it.
But, now – as a Dad to one child and a future Dad to another, this set me at ill ease for a short time. As with most fears, it finally faded into the backdrop. We could get used to this. And hell, I look damn good in safety orange.
For the longest time, those fears stayed at bay until one dark, misty October evening, it staggered out of the shadows to haunt once again. Isn’t that always the way.
Returning from work one evening and feeling pretty proud of myself that I’d lived here long enough to memorize an incredibly complex series of rural back roads; I turned onto my street and plowed into a massive fog bank. Living on a sleepy one way road, I wasn’t scared of traffic but I did slice through the settled atmosphere a bit slower than normal as the last thing I needed to do was strike down a neighbor and drop our street’s population from 10 to 9. Safety in numbers, people.
We’re the second to the last house on the street and at the very tippy top of a slight hill.
As I hit that final stretch and my car pointed upward for the last leg, I saw a figure stumble from the fog. One arm was at his side and the other was clutching some sort of crescent shape – waving wildly at my car – as if flagging down a taxi. As I got closer, I saw the guy was decked out from head-to-toe in full camouflage. And that crescent shape was a COMPOUND BOW!!!
Now, I’m no naturalist but I’m pretty sure a whack job waving weaponry by the side of a fog-shrouded road is one of nature’s little warning signs declaring loudly – KEEP AWAY!!! DO NOT TOUCH!!!
So I let survival instinct kick intellect to the curb and I kept on trucking – driving right past this Candyman in Cammies. Did I think for one instant that with two houses remaining on a dead-end street, that he would never be able to follow me?
But if I didn’t think it at the moment I was fleeing the scene, that thought did come a’ calling moments later as I brought the car to a rest at the top of my driveway and pointed my peepers towards the rearview – knowing that I’d either spy the maniac at the foot of the driveway – or worse.
“We’ve traced the call and it’s coming from… INSIDE THE CAR!!!”
Fortunately for me, my newfound boogeyman was less of the supernatural variety and more of a born-and-bred hill monster. If he couldn’t enter my Subaru Forester there’s no way he’d vault the velvet ropes and inhabit my dreams later that night.
But, he was very much real – in the flesh – at the bottom of my driveway – walking in that slow, shuffling gate that all the best cinematic slashers rock to. And like one of those dreams where try as you might, you just can’t run away from the specter that stalks, I found my feet had failed me now.
And now I had a dilemma. Inside my home were a wife and child. Outside my home – here I was, just wishing to be alone in the dark. But I wasn’t alone. Jason Vorhees had me in his sights and he was slowly stumbling my way. And then he spoke.
“WHE—-RE —– AM —– I?” – he said, in a slow, measured stutter.
“What?”, I replied.
“Where am I?” he repeated, this time a little more coherent – although there was still something off in his cadence.
I gave him my street name (which I won’t give you because this is the Internet and while I can deal with murderous hill people, I don’t feel like giving up all the goods to whatever Serbian hacker has decided to lay claim to this site).
“Nope… Doesn’t ring a bell. What’s the next street, over?”, he inquired.
So I told him that one too.
“Hmmmmm… what’s beyond that one?”
And I told him that one, to no avail.
All the while, he continued to amble towards me. I had already etched a mental line of demarcation in the driveway. If he crossed it, security protocols would be initiated. And he was getting awful close to full Def-Con alert.
“What town is this?” he yelled out.
“What?!?!?”, I thought to myself. “Where the hell did this guy come from? Did he just stumble from the woods OR wait, is the Mothership still hovering somewhere up there?”
I feverishly scanned the skies in hopes that I’d be the one to make first contact but then his incessant interrogation brought me hurtling back to Earth.
“What town is this?” – he repeated, and although his dialect was slow and measured – making me believe that he may actually have some mental issues (or at the very least, the need for a Breathalyzer and a 12 Step Program); he had made one grave mistake. His foot had crossed the line.
“DUDLEY!!!”, I roared. And then, with my internal censor cowering in the corner, I chased that with “NOW GET THE F#$K OFF MY PROPERTY?”
“What?”, he replied – and it came out in a bit of a whimper.
“YOU HEARD ME!!! GET THE F#$K OFF MY PROPERTY!!!”
“Just tell me where I am.”
“YOU”RE IN DUDLEY!!! NOW BEAT IT BEFORE I CALL THE COPS!!!” – Funny how cheesy those lines seem in the movies but then you bust it out in a moment’s notice in hopes it will carry such great power. The movies are all make believe until we need them to be real – certainly when we’re pining for the cheezeball happy ending. I wanted that now, more than ever.
It seemed to work as he started backing up, fading into the mist.
As for me, I pivoted on my heels and beat my feet to the front porch. I gave one glance back and saw him ambling back into the shroud, heading down the street. I returned my attention to the door, and as I did, I spied a warm scene within as Colin and Andi worked a floor puzzle under the golden light illuminating the playroom. That’s where all that misplaced machismo sprang from. Just keeping what’s mine, SAFE AND SECURE – even if the threat was most likely all in my mind.
As I fumbled with the keys and inserted the house key into the latch, those few seconds stretched into infinity. It suddenly occurred to me. This dude was packing a compound bow. I might as well have an apple on my head.
And for 3 or 4 seconds, I awaited that final thud.
But it never came.
And I never saw that guy again.
And I never told Andi – at least not that year. The last thing I needed her to do was worry that on one night, when we weren’t much more than strangers in this burg, I had run across the devil and dared him to hit me with his best shot.
And he opted to hunt down his next happy hour, instead.