Snap! My eyes flew open like a window shade whose spring has snapped. When I turned my head, the red neon glow from my digital clock radio pierced my eyes. I squinted: 2AM. Oh, no, I groaned, not again. Another night waking up hour after hour. I can’t take it.
I heard the dogs sniff the fall night air flowing from the bottom of the partially opened bedroom windows. They seemed anxious, alert. I figured they had to relieve themselves just like I did. I crawled out of bed and headed for the bathroom. The dogs followed me and waited by the front door. They knew the drill.
I didn’t bother to put a robe over the undershirt and undershorts that I used for pajamas. I figured I’d be back in bed in three minutes tops. I took puppy Meris out first. Generally, she had to go first or I’d be cleaning up the carpet when I got back. I opened the door and stepped outside. The soles of my feet soaked up the coolness of the aged wood that made up the whitewashed veranda. I breathed in a chest full of the clean night air. I loved the 100 year-old house I had purchased just over three months ago. It boasted three stories, three bedrooms, one bathroom, eleven acres of land and a big wide veranda that circled three-quarters of the house. It was just what I needed to relax from a week’s work in the city.
“Come on, girl”, I said. “Let’s get this over so we can go back to sleep”. Meris sniffed the night air and stood at attention. I was going to tug her leash to remind her why she was outside when I heard it, too. Far off now in the woods behind the house. Far off, but moving closer at a steady pace. I couldn’t put my finger on what the sound was. It wasn’t a dog, yet the noise sounded something like a bark. Not quite a yelp but a bark with an added dimension. It wasn’t a fox either. Strange, but it had almost a metallic or machine sound at the tail end of it. I also detected something rhythmic about it. Yet it moved with the quickness of an animal. Mentally, I ran through the catalogue of animals I had seen around the woods near the house. I couldn’t imagine any of them making that sound. Anyway, what wild animal would announce its movements like that? The sound was closer now and moving to the right of the house. Meris hurriedly squatted. Suddenly, I saw the hair along her spine stand on end from her head to her tail. She tucked her tail between her legs, plastered her ears against her head and headed up the porch steps to the front door. She whimpered to get in. I quickly opened the door and we went inside.
I still had to let Zorba out to do his duty. I slowly opened the door and listened intently. It was quiet. I let him out without his leash and stood on the porch waiting for him to finish. Peace had returned to my realm. I looked around the yard, most of it awash in brilliant moonlight except where the evergreen trees dropped their deep shadows to earth. Suddenly, the rhythmic barking started again. This time it sounded like the creature was moving in the woods across from the driveway in front of the house. Much closer now, it assaulted my ears. Once, twice, three times the barking continued. Zorba finished his business quickly and stood up straight. He barked once and bounded toward the driveway. Just as suddenly, the unnatural barking stopped. Bushes rustled. Zorba stopped in the middle of the driveway. He seemed confused. He sniffed the air. He looked back at me puzzled.
“Come on, boy”, I clicked my tongue against my teeth. “Inside”. Obeying, he came back to the porch.
As I let him in, the hairs on the back of my neck pricked up. I turned around once more to check the front yard. I couldn’t help feeling whatever Zorba had been smelling was watching us from its wooded hidey-hole. For the first time in three months, I double-bolted the front door and left a light burning in the living room.