As he stepped out onto the porch, the rustle in the woods happened again. It was louder than the last, and this time it wasn’t on the ground. The tops of the trees were swaying just outside his vision in the still, August, night. Despite the growing weirdness of this situation Toby tried to keep a level head.
“Must’ve been a night owl.” He said out loud fully aware, in that pool of reason, deep down in the bowels of his mind, that the way the branches were scrapping, it would have to be three or more of the night hunters.
Lilly…the Lab…the…dog…whatever, was barking at a steady pace now and the nostalgia of that sound was slowly forming a swell of tears on the corner of his conscious. But, mixed with that was a dash of fear and not a small amount of annoyance. Whatever was going on over there it must be taken care of if he was going to get any sleep tonight. Toby took slow steps off the porch and began to creep north passed the barn into the, once, silent darkness. The trees swayed again just to the south of the commotion. It was a lumbering, rasp with a considerable amount of weight scraping and cracking sticks along the way. How the branches would hold something as heavy as this animal (animal?) sounded was, beyond Toby. Whatever it was, it was riding the treetops, creeping towards his Lilly.
He crossed the yard and was approaching the right side of the barn when the yelping ceased once more and something jumped into the woods from just outside the border, behind the barn. Something was messing around in the woods and he wanted it to stop. What worried him was, he wasn’t sure what it might be. He had lived here all his life and Lilly had never acted up like this.
“It’s not Lilly.” He told himself, teeth clenched. His brain kept allowing him to say things like that and, it was starting to really piss him off. He knew better. He had mourned and tried to move on. The old girl was gone and all he had was his farm. And whatever it was back there, in the pitch black of nature, he was going to make sure it didn’t threaten all he had left.
Night was fully upon the farm, and the August moon crept along, half-hidden by the trees as Toby moved slowly along the border of his yard. Something rolled along the tree line in the darkness, just up ahead, cracking the stillness of the night. The snap and slap of the high branches echoed in the air, the sound quickly ricocheting and disappearing into the forest beyond. The sound was crisp and amplified, hypnotic. Hypnotic. He thought about the gun in the washroom. What about the gun? Had something just occurred to him? Maybe he needed the rifle and not the stick. He felt the night wrap itself around him, comforting him. He couldn’t move. He needed to get the gun.
Toby forced himself to widen his eyes, blink and focus as if trying to stay awake. Something was gripping his conscious and squeezing the rational thought right out of it. He had only had one beer, but he felt the same as if he was on his sixth and the glaze of inebriation was forming over his eyes. It was the thing in the trees. He wasn’t sure how he knew this, staring at the ground trying to concentrate, stick held in white knuckled fists, but he did. He also came to realize, in this momentary lapse of reason, that this, something, was luring him against his will. He felt unhinged from himself, like a door not quite centered on its frame, askew, allowing slivers of light in odd angles. That was not Lilly’s bark. It was something else, and if he did not concentrate and try to mentally break free it was going to get him. How, he wasn’t sure yet, but his fight or flight alarms were sounding on the flight side and he could not move. He was in some sort of mind trance yet lucid as ever.
He really needed his gun. And then the barking came again. As hard as Toby tried to fight it, his eyes widened with concern for his best friend and he yelled, “Lilly!” He ran north toward her. Somewhere back in his mind he was screaming to himself that it wasn’t her. Somewhere, back there, he was also telling himself to run. Run and get the rifle, goddamn it. But the Lilly tghing was a siren, pulling him in, using his affection for his lost companion. He lumbered, walking stick in a baseball bat grip, like a drunken pursuer towards the sound of his beloved girl. He felt a crash of anxiety and fear from somewhere deep inside him, slamming down from above. He looked up and saw a large black form riding the top of the tree line. Lilly was a good girl but, like any dog, she was stubborn. If this thing got too close to her before he could save her it might hurt her. Hell it might even kill her.