Chapter 3: Questions and Belief
I awoke to find my windshield cracked, bloody, and smelling like cooked blood. I gagged, and I looked all around my car, trying to see whether I could find the huge dog. But I saw nothing, just darkness. I looked at my wristwatch—it was 3:33 a.m. I was extremely confused, and my ears were ringing. I peered into my rearview mirror and saw that the back window was pitch black. I could not see anything behind me or in front of me.
I opened the door and instantly felt the cold, crisp night air on my face. Walking around the car, I found that the back of the vehicle was burned, certain parts of the bumper almost melted.
As I gazed at the mutilated metal, something on the ground caught my eye—just off to the side was a huge paw print, the sand inside its borders auburn red and sweltering hot. Then I spied another, and another. Following them back toward the top of the mountain, I saw a whole trail of dog prints lighting up the road like luminarias around Christmastime.
I reached into my pocket for my cell phone and dialed 411 to have a tow truck come to the mountain. The female voice on the phone asked for my location.
“I’m at the bottom of the mountain near Devils Lake,” I answered.
“There’s a towing company about a mile from there. I’ll get them to send someone your way.”
I said OK and waited, trying to be patient. Before too long, a tow truck arrived and drove slowly up to my car.
The stocky man who got out of the truck with his clipboard made me kind of chuckle. He was hobbling because he was half-asleep.
“What seems to be the problem tonight, sir?”
The fellow standing before me shakily looked at the car and asked if I was all right.
Trying to sound as casual as I could, I told him, “Yeah, I’m all right.”
With that, he walked over to the front end of the car and gasped.
“My God, sir, what happened?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
He seemed suspicious and somewhat scared at this point, but he proceeded to get his strap and chains and started to connect the front of the car to his tow truck. Sliding under the car, he put the first strap around the frame of the car. With this accomplished, he went to the other side of the car, and while he was underneath that side, he said, “Sir?”
“What do you need, sir?” I replied sarcastically. I did not like to be called sir. He didn’t answer.
I walked over to where he was lying and asked again what he needed.
“I…” the man started to say, and then he grunted.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
He grunted again, shifted his body to the right, and sent out a scream. This was followed closely by a sigh of relief. I put my hand on my gun just in case. He came out from underneath the car a bloody mess. His face was covered in thick red blood, and he spit on the ground to get it off his lips. From his hand dangled some sort of creature.
Looking at me pointedly, he asked, “Do you want to tell me the story now, sir?”
“What are you holding in your hand?”
“It’s a dead crow, and there are about ten of them stuck in your radiator,” he told me. “I pulled this one out, but at first the damn thing wouldn’t come loose.”
I looked at the crow and noticed the head was missing. The man had pulled at the damn crow until the body had separated from the head, snapping back at him. He was no longer mystified at the blood on the windshield. I told him the birds had just started flying into my car, and that’s what had caused me to stop. I covered my ass by telling him the car must have died because of the crows fucking up my radiator. Had I told him what had actually happened, he would have called the psych ward.
He looked uphill into the forest, saying that as he’d been driving up to get me, he had seen spots of fire coming down the mountain. I looked at the dirt road and found that the dog prints had cooled down and were no longer flaming red. The guy looked at me, worry all over his face. I glanced at the name tag on his jacket.
“Theodoro, can you tell me exactly what you saw when you saw the spots of fire coming down the mountain?”
“Sure,” he said. “The flames disappeared one by one until I got to this location.”
“Is that unusual around here?”
“This mountain scares everyone who comes up here,” Theodoro replied. “When I was called to pick you up, I was informed that a police officer was stranded.”
How had they known that? Glancing at my phone, I realized that as an agent, I must have been in the database. Theodoro went on to say that if I hadn’t been a police officer, he would have let it wait until the morning. He told me that the stories he’d heard about the mountain were always dark and scary and that as a religious man, he was going to have to pray when he got home. Rolling my eyes, I said, “Let’s get away from this mountain.”
When I finally got home, I stood at my door shakily looking at the dead bolt as I got out my keys. I turned the key and went inside, and as I did, the light above my head flickered, which I thought was odd—there were no bugs around the door. I looked at my wristwatch to see what time it was—5:50 a.m. In the kitchen, I warmed up some coffee that was left over from the previous morning, a habit I’d formed during the time my wife, Irene, had still lived with me.
I got my coffee and went into the living room, where I turned on the television. The room was still dark, and I could see the solid oak floor shimmer in the electric glow of the screen. My mind roamed back to thoughts about the day and how I’d been attacked by the crows and then by the dog. Flipping idly through the channels, I found nothing exciting to watch.
As I sat there on the couch, I suddenly felt liquid dripping down my face.
“What the fuck happened today?” I asked myself.
I got up and headed to the bathroom, and as I turned the light on, the sound from the television suddenly and loudly exploded into the harsh cawing of a crow. It made me jump, and the hair on my arms started to rise. Shaking it off, I looked into the mirror and discovered many small cuts on my face where the crows had clawed and bit at me, and the drips I’d felt were blood. I grabbed a towel and started to clean up the cuts. When I’d finished, I made myself feel better by looking at my reflection in the mirror one more time and saying, “Damn, you look sexy!”
I walked out into the hallway toward my bedroom to get a clean set of clothes. As I changed, I looked over toward my daughter’s bed. I sighed and returned to the living room.