Something a bit different today...

Refreshingly cold as I first stepped out onto the deck, clues that this was a holiday lost behind the sliding glass door to the kitchen, an ordinary winter night surrounding me. Full trash bag in one hand and flashlight in the other, I paused before descending the stairs. The fact that I had slipped on the wrong sort of shoes for this time of year made me focus on the patches of ice remaining on the stair treads before me, and it was in this quiet, still moment that I heard the footsteps.


The first crunch could have been snow falling from a branch. It was the most probable explanation my brain produced in that initial fraction of a second. A moment or two later I realized that this was not an isolated noise, but that this sound was repeating and regular, and seemed to be coming from my neighbor's yard to the north.

Sound travels well in the cold, still air, and families were all feasting inside so there were no other sounds coming from the neighborhood to confuse my ears: it was clear to me that these sounds were footsteps, and that they were approaching. Since there are several bamboo plantings between my deck and this neighbor's yard, my flashlight was useless -- I could have closed my eyes for all the good they were doing at the time -- but I could almost picture the person who was about to enter my back garden.

That it was a person crunching through the thin, icy snow I was certain. The regular pace, the rate at which they were moving, the direct line of travel all said to me that this was no coyote or dog, no raccoon looking for turkey carcasses -- my thoughts went briefly to the trash bag sitting on the frozen deck -- this was a human. But why were they walking up the hill back here in darkness?

"It's probably kids" was my next thought. But no, these footfalls were too measured. If it were kids, would they be marching in step, and would they have been able to remain so quiet? I had heard nothing but the steady crunch so far. No, it almost certainly was a single person, but the questions remained: why were they walking through the backyards, and where were they going? It was feeling more and more like they had intentions that were not entirely compatible with the spirit of the holiday, and I started preparing for a confrontation.

As I was thinking all of this the walker had entered my yard, had passed my fenced veggie beds, and was now in front of the pond. In a moment they would enter a gap between the bamboo and the pine tree and I'd be able to see them, so I clicked on the flashlight.

Its feeble white LED light shone into the gap, but I could not see anything. I was illuminating the spot where the footsteps were coming from, but there was nothing to be seen! I should take a moment to explain that this was not a high-tech tactical flashlight, its white-hot laser of a beam fooling my garden into thinking that the sun had momentarily emerged. This was a small, hand-cranked flashlight, easily capable of illuminating the footpath to the trash bins, but not much more. So I may have missed seeing the walker due to lack of lighting.

That was not my response at the time though. Out there on the deck where I was starting to realize that a short-sleeved shirt was not weather-appropriate apparel, with the ever-increasing tension as the footsteps slowly came closer, the feeble beam revealed nothing, I had two simultaneous thoughts, both of which seemed equally ridiculous or plausible. Either this man was non-corporeal, a Thanksgiving spirit walking these hills for reasons unknown, or he was crouching down, bent over to avoid being revealed by my light.

As I said, both seemed equally ridiculous. Ghost didn't make any sense (why would the snow be crunching?) but a crouching or doubled-over walker didn't either, as there had been no detectible change in his gait, no pause of any kind.

The next gap as he was approaching my banana grove was much larger, and I'd surely get a glimpse of him there. Since it was the last opening before he'd go behind more bamboo and then out of my yard, I knew it was my final chance to catch this intruder. So I played the light onto that space and waited for him to move into it, out of the darkness.

Having a free moment, my mind prepared what I'd yell out to him. "What are you doing in my yard?" was most likely what I'd shout first, but the more direct "Get out of my yard!" was a possibility too. I briefly considered a more friendly approach, starting with "Happy Thanksgiving!" before ascertaining his intentions, but that didn't seem appropriate under the circumstances.

For a split second I was convinced that the sound of the footsteps was already coming from within the area that contained the flashlight beam, and I was astounded to know that the ghost theory was the right one!

I saw the movement a moment later and quickly realized that none of the verbal challenges I had prepared would be appropriate... a huge buck deer crossed into the light.

He was clearly unfazed by the flashlight, never even turning his head toward me as he continued with purpose behind the bamboo and out of my sight. It sounded like he stopped in my neighbor's yard and was rubbing his antlers on something -- a tree or perhaps the garden fence -- before moving on to wherever up the treeline the deer come from every day.

A few quick cranks to recharge the flashlight and the trash was finally binned, as I was quite eager to get back inside and out of the cold.

Thinking it over though, it all made sense. The unhurried pace, the shortcut, the trek through the darkness, the fact that I was anticipating the faster movement of a 2-legged human when I shined the flashlight -- it was all explained by it being a deer.

Somehow knowing that a 250+ lb. animal and not an axe-wielding lunatic or vengeance-seeking ghost is out there in the darkness made everything okay...

I hope you also had a memorable holiday! (if indeed you celebrated)


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Salty Pumpkin Studio  – (November 28, 2014 at 11:16 AM)  

Thank you for the Very enjoyable post. You are a good writer.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Mark and Gaz  – (November 28, 2014 at 1:44 PM)  

It sounded more like a tale for the Halloween than Thanksgiving! Great story and thank goodness it wasn't what you first thought it was...

danger garden  – (November 28, 2014 at 11:57 PM)  

Oh my, no telling whee this was headed other than the fact you are still alive and not in jail (I doubt they let people blog from behind bars). I was holding my breath though.

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