Thursday, September 8, 2011

Close Encounters

I’m not the type to believe in Big Foot or ghosts.  Even though I’ve been to the Loch Ness in Scotland, and it’s pretty tempting to believe those black waves are flippers of some mysterious underwater creature, I’m sure Nessie is just a myth.  However, some recent encounters with the night life in our apartment complex have caused me to question whether I should so flippantly dismiss the unexplained.

Because the incessant heat of the 2011 Texas Summer has forced us to take Izzy out only after the sun goes down, we first encountered It a couple of weeks ago on one of her late-night potty breaks.  As we rounded a bend, something stirred in a shadowy grove of oak trees.  At first, I was sure it was a squirrel—there are at least 13 for every resident in our complex.  But then it shifted, and I saw that it was much larger and a little silvery in the moonlight.  An armadillo, perhaps?  Or a possum?  We’d seen plenty of those around.  But then it started running away from us, and I swear to you, it morphed.  As it sprinted up the hill and into the distance, it looked like it was running on its hind legs.  What first looked like a squirrel had turned into an armadillo and then a hairy roadrunner with a bushy tale.  And that’s when all hell broke loose.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, but Izzy’s reaction was a bit more intense.  She began lunging forward, a grizzly bear in the body of a slender 65-pound greyhound, as she let out bursts of deep, guttural howls that can only be described as primal.  That’s saying a lot for a dog who we’ve only heard bark about 10 times since we adopted her last year.  Now, Izzy can stalk squirrels with the stealth and focus of a lion hunting its prey.  But this thing unleashed something entirely different.  Something desperate and intensely predatorial.  As I used every muscle in my body to keep her from breaking loose and chasing after Swamp Thing, it occurred to me that if I had any more than one greyhound at that moment, I would be getting dragged and dismembered through that darkened grass. 

Later, as I tried to explain the incident to Scott, he listened with the blank smile of someone who doesn’t really believe what he’s hearing.  Mystery creature?  Morphing?  I don’t blame him for thinking the moonlight had gone to my head.  But then he came face to face with The Thing the following night. 

“Okay, I believe you,” he said, the same wide eyes and look of shock I’d been wearing the previous evening.  “I don’t know what it is, but it’s definitely something.”

After that, I started asking Izzy if she was ready to go see her friend, The Chupacabra.  It was a half-joke; I was starting to think even that was a possibility.  Whatever it was, it waited for us each night in that same darkened oak grove, ready to taunt and play dare with our hunting machine.  And so a routine was formed.  Izzy got her adrenaline rush for the evening, and I got my nightly leash burns.  Believe me, I tried taking different routes, but no matter what, we always stumbled across some other nocturnal being mozying through the grass.

At some point, I realized that it would be easy for me to find out what exactly this creature is.  All I’d have to do is go out there with a flashlight, sans Izzy, and flip it on at just the right moment.  After vacillating for weeks (I guess there was something appealing in the mystery of it all), I ventured out to the moonlit yard at the usual meeting time to solve the puzzle, once and for all.

Right on time and so predictable.  The mystery creature was rooting around in the same shady oak grove.  This was it!  Three, two, one…

Skunk.  It’s a freakin’ skunk.  At least I’m pretty sure that’s the same creature that was driving Izzy crazy and stumping Scott and me.  The black body with streaks of white explains my difficulty in pinpointing its color.  And the bushy tail, which it raised threateningly in the flashlight’s beam, could be why it appeared to morph as it ran away that first night.  All I can say is it’s a good thing we never had a closer encounter with the thing.  I don't know about you, but neither giving nor receiving a tomato juice bath has ever been on my bucket list.   

So, a plain ole’ skunk.  At least, I’m about 90% sure that’s what the mystery creature is.  It’s either that... or a Chupacabra.