His roommate vanished to Europe for six weeks, leaving Gustav on his own in a cabin in the Ozarks. A cabin on top a mountain with no neighbors for three miles, and only dirt roads to and from. A place where cell phones don’t even bother to turn on. All he has at his side is a Labrador named Buster. Can he survive six weeks alone in the wilderness with little to no human interaction? Each week he will document his further descent into the hermit life, and possibly his development of insanity.
My first day on my own was like a bit of a revelation. It hadn’t been so clear until this particular moment that spring had arrived. I mean yes, I knew it was spring, I do have a calendar (it has goats on it) This however, was the first time reality came up and whacked me with a bat labeled “spring”across the back of the head. It was a welcome assault though. I walked off my deck barefoot and into grass that was so vibrantly and lusciously green it clearly existed in some exaggerated palette that only illustrators use.
Standing with dog (once was plural, but sadly Buck never came home a few weeks back, leaving Buster and myself on our own) in the yard in front of my house, I was content to indulge in the cliche of taking in the sun and listening to the birds and frogs. However a series of sickening cracks took center stage in my ears, and I had to turn to my pond to find their origin. Water is gushed up, and two shapes were wrestling for dominance. Two enormous snapping turtles, duking it out, doing their best to mimic every Gamera film under the sun. Transfixed by their combat, I quickly wondered why they had decided this pond wasn’t big enough for the both and that one must suffer. Only feet away was a similar pond, just without turtles. I guess they hadn’t scoped the whole site out.
While pondering what two neighboring turtles would get up to, a biplane flew over my head. A biplane. Believe me, I was completely derailed on all thoughts when that passed over.
Unfortunately the days that followed weren’t as promising or pretty. Nothing occured, save rain and its buddies, thunder and lightening. Leaving me to stay mostly inside. Because, yeah, it wasn’t that kind of comfortable rain that let’s you wander around that spring can bring. This was the rain where you question if the droplets are in fact liquid, or instead bullets. Angry awful dreary weather that makes the frogs scream even louder at each other.
And this is what leads me to the nights.
Let me preface this all with a bit of a story that’s well known amongst the many guests we’ve had over the year. It’s a bit of a tradition at this point, when the night falls the story begins.
When I was fifteen or sixteen, I spent the night out here. Post my parents’ divorce, this cabin was the weekend place with my dad. So every weekend was back up the mountain into the thick of the Ozarks. Now this wasn’t some new home to me, this wasn’t some foreign place I got shipped to on weekends. This was the house I spent the first fourteen years of my life living at. And living at this kind of place accustoms you to all manner of weird sounds at night. If you live in nowhere, it can sound exactly like somewhere. And that somewhere is anything but pleasant.
Well this particular night was on a Sunday. I was in bed staring at my ceiling, a ritual I have apparently replaced sleep with. By this point the sounds of my father snoring were already echoing through the house. Bruno, my dad’s enormous Rottweiler, Bruno, slept soundly on the deck. The only noise was your inevitable ambient amphibians jazz quartet. And it was that way for a good while, until something tore through the veil of standard sounds and echoed from the woods and into the dominion I called my teenage bedroom. The sound was some kind of roar. I guess that’s the simplest summation I can give of it. Too be more specific it was about four different roars at four different pitches. Each an emotion all its own, from furious rage, biting pain, sickening sadness, and some twisted little glee. From the deepest guttural call to the highest squeal. At this point I burned a hole through my ceiling as my eyes rocketed open and stared piercingly at it.
That was it. For about fifteen minutes. Silence. I can’t even recollect the frogs following that. For fifteen minutes was this silence that was obtrusive. The first sounds that edged passed that enormous absence was the yelp of Bruno, followed by his terrified body fleeing off the deck. Then the silence stopped entirely. Loud thundering feet stamped up the deck. Snorts and grunts of dissatisfaction were emitted haphazardly. The screen door opened, and then slammed. It grunted once more, and continued to open and close the screen door as if entirely unsure of its function. Twenty minutes continued of experimentation with the door followed by groans of possible confusion before one final enormous sigh was emitted. Those feet of its began to beat the deck once more and then it had left the deck. Bruno, the noble guard dog he showed himself to be, scampered back on the deck at barked a triumphant call. Pretending he had shown it that he was boss.
Ever since I’ve been especially jittery in the noises I hear at night in the Ozarks. Which leads us nicely into the events of the previous nights.
Now sleeping is not particularly easy for me in any case. So hearing Buster rush off into the woods barking angrily at the moon, or whatever non-threat he has taken a grudge with, will make my imagination run wild. It will also delay sleep another hour. This has proven to be exponentially worse with each passing night. Especially as of three nights ago. I was working, as I do, into the late hours on the comic in my office. Suddenly something barked at me. Like the clear and present woof of a dog. I turned around immediately and utterly confused. Buster was outside, galavanting against across whatever adventure his paws took him on. Whatever barked at me had clearly had an origin of being in the very room with me. So from there I was on edge.
I then took to sleeping. I’m a weird creature in that sometimes I prefer a couch to a bed. Something about the crammed arrangement is more comfortable to me, as if you give me too much space I have no idea what to do with it. Seriously, how can one get comfortable when the positions are endless, and there clearly is a more comforting arrangement you have yet to find. On a couch, there are only so many, and it’s likely you will find the most comfortable. Besides the point. I was on the couch in my office. Now below the window of the office is the cabin’s motion light. (you see where this is going) Suddenly Buster barks, and chases something away from the house and continues barking successive barks that dwindle with distance. Suddenly the motion lights turn on, lighting up the ceiling. Not being Buster, I’m curious as to what caused this, I get up and look out the window to see nothing. Chalking this up to a fluke I get back on the couch. The light comes back on. And again. And again. Until I just stay and watch it go off and come on again. Some phantom causing its triggering. A booger dog or hell hound, taunting me first in my office, and now my front yard. Sleep is all but existent and comforting that night, as the motion lights flicker until morning.
Looking like three kinds of hell (all of them the lowest three levels) I begin my routine of cleaning myself and cabin a like. Just this time it’s all punctuated by mutters of sleep deprivation. After establishing myself as a human being, I walk out those front doors to make a trek to the restroom (or a tree to you city folk) when from under that motion light a bird flings itself past my head. After some cursing a look up and see a nest under the motion light.
I suppose not every phantom is from hell.