As I have explained before, every night we have to walk up the road to close the gate to the park. It is a fairly mundane task generally. If not for our love of walking in the forest at night, it would be downright dull most of the time. But one never knows when excitement of the worst kind will find you. And this, I know very well. One never lets down their guard. Never. Never. Ever.
It had been a wonderful night. Our grandson Cedar, almost through his third year, was staying the night while his parents celebrated a birthday. We had cooked sausages and beans. Had watched some incomprehensible foreign children's shows. And had played several games all of which seemed to revolve around Cedar having imaginary conversations with Spider man and a squirrel puppet. As the evening wore on and the couch and the food and the voice of a child threatened to send me into a nodding coma, I realized that the hour had come to close the gate. I forced myself into my rain gear and grabbed my key ring and headlamp. Outside a storm was raging, surprising in intensity when compared with the peaceful goings on in the caretakers cottage. I stood in the doorway and watched the rain pound against the porch, hearing trees groaning in the dark, battered by warm southeasterly winds. It was black. It was blowing a gale. And it was raining hard. I stepped out onto the porch, and had the door almost closed when Cedar spoke up. "Papa..." he asked in his meek voice, "can you take me to see the beavers now?" I had forgotten until that moment, that I had promised to take him with me when I closed the gate, to see if the beavers were repairing the dam that we prudently breached as the storm hit earlier in the evening. If nothing else, it meant a few more dry moments while I waited for him and his grandma to find rain gear, flashlights and various other paraphernalia they thought they needed for the short walk up to the gate and a stop at the pond on the way back.
It was raining hard. Water blasting into us from underneath up top and sideways and all ways all at the same time. A gasping, snorting nostril filling deluge. And it was great. Cedar must have stomped in every one of the thousand puddles between the house and the gate, singing to himself and paying the weather and the pitch black of night no heed at all. Donna and I walked on either side of him, laughing every time he stomped his feet and splashed us with muddy water. We were all soaked by the time we got the gate locked. We had to shout to each other to be heard over the wind. In weather like this, I knew it was a waste of time to go look for beavers, but it was worth a visit just to re-check the level of the pond one more time. It was up. And there were no beavers around. Even in the heavy rain and wind I could smell them though. The stink of a male beaver was all over the dam, and there were new sprigs of willow and a bit of moss in the hole I had breached just a few hours earlier. I thought about pulling them too, but decided against it. I couldn't hear a thing, and a beaver dam on a flooding pond in night with a raging storm is nowhere to fool around. And Cedar was beginning to wander a bit. Not acceptable. No fooling around in the dark in the forest. Especially when the weather takes away one's hearing and sense of smell to add to the near blindness of night. We headed back to the house, and I sternly told Cedar to stay close. Just because that is what we do.
Near the house it is as black as it was near the pond. When the street light in the parking area burned out last month, that was the end of having an outdoor light in the park. Welcome to the new austerity. But no matter. We had headlamps and Cedar had a flashlight, and besides, there was nothing to see anyway. I knew this from 94 other walks just like this. And I knew that wasn't right either, and it bothered me, but I pushed it further into the background. We were almost home. We strolled quickly down the main road towards the house, looking straight ahead into the rain and wind and dark.
Looking forward to a warm dry bed.
A story for Cedar.
Sleep after chasing a three year old all afternoon.
Cedar is three steps ahead of Donna.
I notice, and shake the sleep off, and open my mouth to say something.
He is another half step ahead now.
I am wide awake.
I don't know if I felt it before I saw it.
But I knew. And time changed.
A million ages of man pass in the splashing of one raindrop into the green eyes speeding past me 10 meters to my left.
Low to the ground.
The voice erupts from inside me. I lunge towards the edge of the forest, quicker than I imagined I could still move.
Wrath, terrible terrible terrible rage fills me.
"Donna, grab him!" are the words that come, so loud. In the black I sense her throw him over her shoulder as she begins sprinting for the porch before the next word comes.
The word fills me with more hatred.
You will not take my grandson. The words form in my head in a universe different and distinct from the one unfolding here in the dark and the rain and the wind.
"Get out of here!"
In my headlamp the cat shoots forward, a blurry tawny image with glowing green eyes crouched impossibly low in the wet salal but moving at an incredible speed, angling out of the woods to get between Donna and Cedar and the house.
I lunge into the forest, and I hear the door slam closed. I realize I am still screaming the worst obscenities at nothing. The cat is gone. I have no idea which direction it has gone.
My headlamp is dimming. The wind and rain is increasing. I glance left and right, stepping back against the trunk of a fir before I glance overhead. Time now resumes it's normal pace. Hearing and feeling returning like awaking from a nightmare.
My headlamp, now in need of a charge, begins to die. I back slowly to the porch and the light goes out.
The cougar is no longer here. It is gone.
I close the door, and Donna and Cedar are standing there.