Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Featured Creature: The North Ridge Fence

The day had started overcast and temperate, but a heavy wind had blown in from the west around lunchtime.  The trees shook and swayed all afternoon as the cold air had settled in.  By evening, the sky was mostly clear except for a thicket of clouds to the north.  Now the last vestiges of clouds struggled to maintain their forms against the harsh cold gusts.  Glen watched several smaller puffs just above the horizon dissipate as they slid across the sky.  The sun had begun to set, but he had one more task before heading back to the house.  He turned his Jeep onto the dirt road that led to the north ridge pasture.

Several horses had disappeared after spending the day up on the north ridge.  He hadn't been particularly worried at first.  There were several large patches of clover in the pasture adjacent to the north ridge.  It wasn't the first time he had to retrieve strays looking for a tasty snack.  However, he knew something wasn't right as soon as he rode up to the fence that afternoon.

The team would usually congregate at the far end of the pasture and Glen always had to herd them back to the gate.  When he approached the fence today though, they were under a cluster of trees not far away and moved closer as soon as they noticed him.  When he opened the gate they nearly trampled him to get past.  His own steed became skittish when he had entered the north ridge pasture, but calmed as soon as they were headed back.

He had done a count on the way back to the main pasture.  He'd sent out twenty-five to graze that morning and only twenty-two were returning with him.  By the time he got the team back that afternoon they were all nearly in a frenzy and wide-eyed with panic.  He'd set Linda and Michael to watch over them and took the Jeep when he headed back out.

He had a downed tree on the main fence that had taken up his whole afternoon, so it wasn't until this late hour that he was able to get to the north ridge to check things out.  He'd brought his shotgun with him and a fresh pack of shells.  He thought the trouble might be a pack of coyotes or a mountain lion that had the horses spooked, but once he got up to the ridge he knew it wasn't either.

He started at the far end of the pasture and stopped at several spots where he had encountered the coyotes before.  He refreshed the repellent in those areas even though he saw no signs of intrusion.  He stopped at every few posts after and shook out more of the repellent.  It took him about forty five minutes to get to the top of the ridge.  The sun had just dropped below the horizon and most of the light was nearly gone.

In the twilight, even though Glen had his high beams on, he almost drove right into the sinkhole.  He floored the brakes hard.  The Jeep twisted slightly as it skidded to a halt.  A cloud of dust, kicked up by his sudden braking, danced in the wind briefly and was gone.  Where the fence on the ridge should have been was a sinkhole the size of a house.

He put the Jeep in reverse and backed several car lengths away from the hole, aiming his headlights into the maw.  He grabbed his flashlight from the glove compartment and stepped out.  He trudged up to higher ground and stood at the edge of the fence.  Several wooden posts poked out at the edge of the hole and the fence wire was twisted around them.  In the bright light from the Jeep, the wires looked like lightning disappearing into the darkness.

Glen had never seen a sinkhole before.  He shewn his flashlight across its width, amazed at the clean edge where the grass simply ended.  The site of that much absent earth made him uncomfortable.  He found himself involuntarily backing away from the pit.  He stamped his feet several times to confirm the solidity of the soil beneath him.  He leaned against the remaining fence post anyway.

The wind was much stronger up on the ridge.  It pushed at him and whipped his hair about.  Coming from the hole there was a thick smell somewhere between the rich earthy odor of horse manure and the sour fetor of the cornmeal fish bait his uncle had taught him to make as a child.  Despite the gale, the air was permeated.

Glen finally forced himself to move.  He followed the edge of the hole, looking for hoof prints in the surrounding soil.  Behind him the Jeep hummed.  The wind rushed in his ears.  Beyond the wind he thought he heard a deep thrumming, like the whale song they always play on ocean nature shows, but deeper.  Perhaps the wind had chilled him more than he realized or perhaps some heretofore unknown intuition called to him, but the skin on his back tingled suddenly as if electricity were dancing across it.  He shook visibly and moved quickly back to the Jeep.

Just then the ground beneath him heaved and Glen was thrown through the air.  He landed at the front of the jeep, skinning his face and hands.  Fear compelled in him a great speed and he leapt to his feet. The ground shook with terrific tremors as he moved and again he heard the deep thrumming.  He slammed the door as climbed inside his vehicle and threw the gearshift hard into reverse.  The electric feeling from his back covered his entire body now and he struggled to focus past its trembling embrace.

The wheels of the Jeep spun in the soil and kicked up clouds of dust and grass.  As he braked to change gears, the earth before his vehicle surged up like an opening door.  A pale beast rose up from the cloud of dirt.  It had enormous claws, each easily as long as his windshield.  It pushed the dirt away as it rose up, stretching its clawed appendages outward.  It turned its eyeless head towards him and the thrumming noise came once more.  It began shifting, a myriad of legs appearing out of the soil as it brought its body upward.  The thing was almost as large as the sinkhole.

Glen struggled with the gearshift.  Finally it locked in reverse and he floored the gas.  Suddenly the creature was retreating, getting smaller.  It faded into the darkness as his headlights angled away.  He twisted the wheel and thrust the gearshift hard into first.  The wheels spun and kicked up clouds as he raced away.  He couldn't see the beast in his rearview.  He breathed in heavy gasps.

Suddenly, Glen was jerked around and hit his head against the steering wheel.  There was a loud thump and the landscape around him tilted.  In slow motion, he watched as the last bits of sunset twirled in a pink orange kaleidoscope.  His headlights flashed for a split second, across two multi-armed behemoth creatures before he crashed.  He screamed as the Jeep made impact.  Darkness and the deep earth enveloped him.

{8x5.33,  created in Adobe Photoshop}

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