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When I was young, I lived on a farm in rural Oregon with my parents; I was an only child. We didn't have a big, commercial farm. It was only at a family-type standard. We had five cows, three horses, a small herd of goats, two dogs, and one chicken coop. We also had some Indian Runner ducks that we kept for the most part as pets. We didn’t really make any money off the place, just enough to sustain the animals and a little extra for ourselves. However, we were able to sustain enough to take a decent vacation, every couple of years. Dad had his other job in town, an insurance agent. He was the only one around, really. The town population wasn’t more than about 1,500 people. Mom gave horse-riding lessons as well. We weren’t rich, but we were comfortable.
It was really an easy life (or at least it could have been a lot worse), I went to school, Dad went to work, Mom took care of the animals, then we all had dinner together every night, and I would go to bed while Mom and Dad had a beer or two and watched the news. Sometimes at night I would hear things outside. Mostly just normal stuff. The cows or horses would get spooked by a coyote or something, or I would hear the dogs chasing a rabbit, barking their heads off. Every once in a great while we would find a chicken dead. Dad would always tell me about it but never let me see the body, although I asked frequently. He would keep Mom and I inside until he had gone out, did whatever he did with the body, throw sawdust over any blood, and then life would go on as normal. I assumed it was foxes, as I had seen a couple of them out in the pasture over the years, slinking around back and forth through the grass.
The summer when I was ten years old, I remember helping Mom change the bedding in the horse stalls, when we heard a huge racket going on outside. If you’ve never heard the sounds of a horse in pain, you don’t want to, trust me. It almost sounds like a person screaming. Well, that’s what we heard, and one of our horses, the palomino, came running into the barn with a wound on its left thigh. Four long marks, like claw marks, ran across its body for about a foot. It had blood running down its leg, and was limping. I was so scared by the sight of that much blood that Mom locked the horse in a stall and made me go inside with one of the dogs. She told me to lock the door and stay inside until she came in to get me. I did.
Eventually Mom came inside and told me that the horse had hurt itself on the barbed wire that ran the perimeter of the pasture, we owned more land beyond that, but it was mostly forested. I guess I believed her at the time, but at dinner that night I noticed Dad was being particularly quiet and Mom was talking a lot more than she normally did. She was being really animated, and I noticed that Dad had gotten his rifle out and set it by the back door. Usually he only did that when the coyotes had been acting up.
That night I went to bed as normal, but I had trouble falling asleep. I turned on my desk lamp and decided to read comic books until I got tired. I have a very vivid memory of reading Uncanny X-Men and hearing the back door open. Looking out, I could see my Dad by the porch light, lighting a cigarette and holding his rifle under his arm. He started walking over to the driveway and then turned to follow the fence line. I couldn’t sleep until I knew Dad was back safe. I kept coming downstairs with the excuse of getting water to see if Dad was back in the house yet, and each time all I saw was Mom sitting on the couch in the living room, staring at a blank TV screen and looking worried, sighing occasionally. Eventually, about 4 in the morning, I think, Dad did come back, and I was so tired and relieved that I fell asleep as soon as I knew he was home. He never told me what he did that night, but I never thought to ask.
Two months later I was back in school. It rains a LOT in Oregon in the fall, and this day was no different. All I could hear from my bedroom was rain hitting the ground and the aluminum roof of the chicken coop. There was light thunder in the distance, but it was slowly getting closer. I thought I had heard a coyote yapping out around the garage, or it could have been one of the dogs. I looked out, straining my eyes to see whatever there may have been. In a brief and distant lightning flash I saw something. It looked almost like a person, but hunched over, and with a long torso. It was tall, taller than Dad, who was a good six foot four, at least. I just barely caught a glimpse of it on the near side of the garage, then the light faded and I didn’t see it again that night.
There was another dead chicken the next morning. The third in just as many weeks. I told Dad what I had seen the previous night. The color went out of his cheeks momentarily, until he told that the storm must have been playing tricks on me. I accepted that.
Four months after that we lost a cow. It was in the middle of the night, and we all woke up at the same time. There was a lot of noise in the pasture, but only briefly. The cry of a dying animal, and a primitive, guttural yell that I had never heard before. Dad rushed up to my room, I could hear him running up the stairs to my room. He had his rifle in hand, and opened my door. He saw I was awake and told me to stay inside no matter what and try to go back to sleep. I don’t think I have to say that sleep wasn’t really an option any longer, but I did stay in my room, with a blanket held tight around my shoulders and staring out the window. Probably about ten minutes later I heard gunshots in the field. I don’t know what he was shooting at, whether it was whatever had attacked the cow, or the cow itself, trying to put the animal out of its misery.
Dad rarely, if ever, talked about that night. I later found out that he had gotten to the cow only to find it ripped open on the ground, bleeding out from its torso. The shots I heard were him shooting the cow in the head.
It kept going like that. For years. A chicken or a duck here and there. Something bigger only very rarely. It sounds absurd but I almost came to think of it as commonplace. I only ever caught glimpses of the thing until what comes next. It terrified me. It happened in the middle of the day, over the course of a long weekend when my parents had gone to Seattle to see my uncle, who was ill.
It was on a Saturday afternoon, I was 17 years old. I was out in the barn putting out food for the horses and the dogs. The horses were running around out in the pasture and the dogs were asleep in the corner of one of the horse stalls. I heard something rustling in the tall grass outside in the pasture. The dogs looked around a little bit but didn’t seem to mind. I assumed it was just one of the horses waiting for me to leave so they could eat. I kept going about what I was doing, and in several minutes I thought I heard breathing. I turned to look and it was standing in the door. Tall as hell even hunched over. The sun was streaming in behind it, lighting up all the dust in the air around it like some kind of sickly halo. It was looking at me. Considering me.
Maybe it was trying to decide whether or not I was food. I remember swearing, turning, and running as fast as I could for the house, not even thinking. Panic causing my legs to move. It was behind me, not even breathing hard. I heard its feet hitting the ground in a constant rhythm. I got to the house, opened the door, slammed it behind me and locked it as fast as I could. I tore through the house, locking every door, and drawing the blinds on every window. I could hear it snarling outside the back door. The dogs were barking at it, but they wouldn’t try to attack the thing. It was too big and they knew it. It roared at the dogs and they ran off, probably to hide in the pasture.
I went to my parent’s bedroom and got Dad’s rifle. I loaded it, set up a chair in the living room facing the back door, and waited. It started prowling around the house, I could hear its feet crunching on the gravel of the driveway and the wooden planks of the back deck. It kept walking, back and forth. I thought about trying to look through a window to see it, but I was too scared. Eventually, after hours of hoping it would go away, the sun went down. I turned on all of the outside lights and went up to my room. I opened my window, with the rifle in my hands, hoping to be able to pick the thing off from above. I saw it lurking just beyond the glow from the porch light. It had long, sinewy arms, and walked on bent knee. It was by the chicken coop. Then it disappeared from view. I heard the chickens squawking and screeching. The thing reappeared with a dead, bloody chicken in its hands.
It bit off one of the wings with jaws that were dripping with slime and drool and let the dead bird drop to the ground at its feet. Then it looked at me. Its eyes made contact with my eyes. It turned away again, back to the chickens. It came back with another bird, mutilated it in front of me, and dropped it. It went back again. And again. I should have taken a shot at it, but I was astounded and confused trying to figure out what it was doing. Then it hit me, it was a show of power. It was showing me that it was stronger than me. That it could do whatever it wanted to do because I couldn’t stop it. At the same time I felt powerless and sickened. Powerless because what it was saying was true. If it was just that thing and me, I wouldn’t stand a chance. Sickened because I realized what kind of intelligence it would need to be able to convey that message. The thought shook me out of my stupor and I remembered the rifle at my side. It was heading back to the chickens, and I decided that when it came back I would take my shot.
It strode back to the porch. Almost arrogant, walking on bended knee with those arms so long that the chicken was nearly dragging on the ground. I raised the rifle up to my eye, and tried to steady myself. My heart was beating so hard I could see the rifle shaking ever so slightly in rhythm with each heart beat I could hear pounding in my own ears. It raised the body to its mouth and just as it was about to put the chicken’s head inside, I squeezed the trigger. The crack of the gun echoed in the now shattered quiet of the nighttime standoff and I heard it howl. A painful, loud, startled howl. I had hit it on the outside of the shoulder. It ran off into the night. I never saw it again. It was still out there, though. It still killed chickens, and other things. More often than before.
I’m writing all of this now because my parents died three weeks ago. They were killed in a collision with a drunk driver. He survived. They left me the farm, and I intend to live here with my own family. I’m 32 now, and I work for an Oregon Fish and Game office in Salem. I’m married to a wonderful woman named Stephanie. We have one son, Zachary, who is four years old. We are expecting a daughter in four months. I’ve come to the farmhouse alone today, I told Steph that I just wanted some time alone in my parent’s house. To deal with some emotions. She was very understanding.
I’ve come back to claim what is rightfully mine. I have Dad’s rifle next to me on the table and it is almost dusk. I’ve also brought several portable halogen lights to set up around the house, and my own shotgun. I’m borrowing a handgun from Joe, a guy at Fish and Game who I work with. When I am done typing this account of my memories, I will print it out, and leave it on the dining room table, along with my wedding ring and my key to the safe deposit box where my will is kept. Everything is loaded and ready. Hopefully I will return here to collect these things and nobody will ever know I wrote this.
Steph, in the event that you are the unfortunate soul to find this, which I’m terrified to think seems a likely outcome; the thought of you having to go on alone hurts me more than anything in this world ever can, know that I love you more than anything and I hope you understand that I am doing this to keep you safe. Zachary, I love you and can only hope you grow up to be a good, kindhearted, and strong man like your grandfather was. To my unborn daughter, if I don’t live long enough to meet you, it will be the single greatest regret of my life.
Tell the police, tell fish and game, call Joe, he’s one of the few people who knows about this. Make this situation known. Eventually someone will kill it, even if it isn’t me. Goodbye for now.