Saturday, June 16, 2012

Camping With Johnny: (Nosey Part 2: The Brief Return of Nosey)

Camping With Johnny
(Nosey Part 2: The Brief Return of Nosey)

Note:  If you haven't read "The Demoniac Cat", please read it first, as it is part 1 of this story.

There came a bright, sunny, summer day.  The leaves were full and green, the forest deep and shaded, the sky crystal clear Carolina blue. The corn in Mr. Laughridge’s field was waist high and thick.  The birds were singing in full volume, each as sure and as proud of his or her song as any person ever sung.  It was a perfect day to be a boy. 

I had not a care in the world: no chores to be completed; no where I had to be; no future event hanging heavy over the horizon.  I was young and free with no hindrances. A boy like that can be dangerous.

It’s also very easy to get bored on days like that.  The weather makes you lazy.  I decided some action was in order, so I got out my fishing pole and went to the river. 

The lazy flowing Catawba ran right in front of my house so that was an easy fix, The water drifted down from above, swirled and eddied in the long deep pool there, before accelerating into the shoals below.  I sat and dangled my feet in the edge of the water and baited and cast and reeled and waited, but the fish weren’t biting, so after a while I gave that up. 

I put up my fishing pole and wondered around the yard until the poplar tree there in front of the trailer caught my eye.  The first limb was twelve or fourteen feet off the ground but I had climbed it before and thought it would be fun to do it again. 

Climbing trees like that is simple, but rough on your chest, arms and legs.  I walked up to the tree, reached as high as I could, and hugged the tree as tight as I could.  That doesn’t mean I’m a tree hugger.  Then, I lifted my legs as high as I could and wrapped them around the tree tightly, and held on with them so I could move my arms up higher.  Then I scooted my legs up again.  Following this sequence, I could be up to the bottom limbs in very short order.  I perfected this technique on the trees there along the hillside. 

So up the tree I went; up the trunk, then through the limbs as high as I trusted the tree to hold me.  I could see across the river into the parking lot of the Dolphin Fish Camp, and down through the fields toward the corn fields and cow pastures toward the airport.  I couldn’t see the airport, of course, but it was not far below us on the river.

With the tree climb out of the way and me safely back on the ground, I began to wander around to see what else I could get into.  Nothing really grabbed my attention till I thought of Johnny.  I wondered what we could get into together…

I had to walk up the hill to my grandmother’s house to call Johnny, since we didn’t have a phone at the time.  I used grandma’s phone after promising to keep it short and local only.  Within a few minutes we had secured permission for him to come over.  I thanked Grandma then headed down the hill to figure out what we could get into first.

By the time Johnny arrived it was near noon, so we ate a sandwich and decided to climb the mountain behind the trailer.  We called it Grandpa’s Mountain since he owned a chunk of land on the slope next to the river, but I never knew the real name of that hill. 

A few years earlier, Roy, Johnny and I were playing up on top and had gathered every stick, log, and dead tree we could find and had stacked them up to form a square hut about four or five feet tall right on top of the ridge.  It had no door so we had to climb over the walls to get in or out.  We laid brush and slender trees across half the top to form a roof.  It was our fort, clubhouse, log cabin, and whatever else our imagination could come up with at the time.

Johnny and I went up there for a while.  It was a rather rigorous climb, but we had no problem with that.  We played, made repairs to the clubhouse, and talked about the deep, deep philosophical things that boys can find to speculate over: UFO’s, Ghosts and whether they are real, how far away the stars are, what we would do if a bear attacked us while we were up here, wouldn’t it be cool to be a pirate?   That sort of thing carried the day until we started running out of words.

We wandered down the mountain and slid through under a wide laurel thicket.  If you got down on the leaves and started sliding, with a little control, you could go a long ways solely on gravity power.  It beat walking down that steepest part of the mountain, and it brought you out just above and around the bend from our trailer. 

When we got down to the road we started toward the trailer.  There were a lot of animal tracks in the mud there and I pointed some of them out to Johnny.

“These look like cat tracks.  That’s a big cat” 

Johnny agreed and after a short discussion we decided it was the old bobcat that had left those tracks.  The old bobcat roamed up and down the river on our side but especially around the side of the mountain.  It had been seen several times.  Roy and I saw it very well once, and I know how big it really was.  To this day it remains the biggest bobcat I have ever seen and I have seen a few.

Often, late in the evening we would hear the old bobcat scream up on the mountain.  It made our blood run cold.  It sounded remarkably like a woman screaming in terror or pain and several times when we were out in my grandma’s back yard, a few shrieks from that cat would be enough to send us inside.  Knowing that old bobcat was around was enough to give you the willy’s if you were out after dark and happened to start hearing strange sounds.

So Johnny and I followed the tracks until the road started drying out and the tracks no longer made an impression on the ground that we could tell.  Then we did the natural thing.  We forgot all about it and continued on our way.  At some point in time we came up with the idea of Johnny sleeping over and us camping out that night.  Now there’s a plan Huck Finn would have been proud of.

With another trip up the hill and a phone call, permission was secured for Johnny to stay over, so we started gathering some few supplies for our overnight excursion.  It was quickly decided to not just sleep out in the yard, but to go far enough away to call it a real camping trip.

There was the old shell of the bed of an old milk truck in a field down below the cornfields and back up in a pastured cove in the hill.  It was some small amount of shelter and the bottom was dry and off the ground, so we decided to treat that like a camper and sleep in it.  We would still be under the stars, but up off the ground and away from any creepy crawlers that might be about.  So we had one flash light and scratched around and found two or three candles for light.  We decided not to build a campfire.

About the time the sun started going down we headed out.  My big white German Shepherd went with us.  Bigfoot was a pretty good companion if you were going to be outside and away from the safety of the house.  No one or nothing would bother you with Bigfoot around.

We walked down the old road at the base of the mountain to where the spring was where we drew water.  At that point the old road turned very steeply up through the woods on the side of a lobe of the mountain to crest out on a ridge.  From there it sloped more gently away down toward the cow pastures.  It came out of the woods about a hundred yards away from the fence. Right as it reached the pasture fence the road turned up into the woods and circled back up on the mountain.

We left the road and crossed the fence then headed for a small hay barn under a low ridge.  The barn had long been a fun place because some of the hay had broken loose from the bales and we
used to go jump out of the top loft down into the loose hay.  Many times we came home almost black from the dust sticking to our sweaty bodies during all that jumping. 

We circled the barn and went around the ridge into the cove where the old milk truck bed was.  A small branch about a foot wide trickled down the left side of the valley, with a line of low brush and trees to mark its position.  To the right of that was a narrow level area then a rising slope covered with deep, fresh green grass.  About a hundred and fifty yards back was the fence and the line of the forest.  One tall, large beech tree stood out from the forest by about ten yards or so in the field.  Far to the right a cluster of oaks stood at the end of the ridge.  With the fading light and the breeze rippling through the grass, it was picture perfect, but the sun was disappearing fast and we had to get our stuff laid out to sleep in that old milk truck. 

First in order was to clean out the accumulated leaves from several seasons of build-up.  They were piled mostly in the lower side so we just pushed them over board and brushed out the dirt with straw pulled from the field.  In no time we had the bed clean enough for an overnight sleep.

It was about the time we got the blankets laid out, (we did not have sleeping bags), that I saw something move up near the woods.  It was tawny yellow and just a flicker, but I was sure I had seen it.  “Johnny, I just saw something weird moving up near the woods.”

Johnny looked long and hard.  “I don’t see anything, it must have gone on.” 

“Yeah, I guess.”  I did not mention to him it looked like a big cat, but I kept my eyes on the woods from that moment on.  I had a creepy feeling about what I saw.

It was almost dark when I saw it again.  I told Johnny, and he looked but saw nothing again.  “You’re imagining things, you ain’t scared are you”

“Well….No….Of course not.  I just thought I saw something, that’s all.” 

We gave way to talking about various and sundry things that boys like to talk about, but I kept my eyes on the edge of the woods.  I had good eyes and knew that something had been there.  Thoughts of that old bobcat began to give way to thoughts of becoming the old bobcat’s dinner…

The evening light faded away late as it was summer and it didn’t get dark until around nine pm, and the first star appeared.  The little rhyme was quick off my lips: “Star light, Star bright, First star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, Have the wish I wish tonight.”  I was wishing whatever was in the woods up on the hill would stay away the rest of the night.

We watched the rest of the stars come out to shine silently above.  One of my favorite topics back then was whether or not man would ever reach the stars and what it would be like to be able to set a course for half way across the galaxy and go visit other worlds, star systems, and civilizations.  I loved classic science fiction and was a major Star Trek fan.  We worked that topic for a bit but I was preoccupied and not as into it as usual.  Then Johnny started talking about girls, he was a year older than me and I just wasn’t into the interest in girls yet.  That was coming soon enough but not this night.

We lit one of our candles and dripped wax on the framework of the truck bed.  The candle was stuck into the melted wax and allowed to cool so it would stay, and we stretched out on our blankets with intentions of going to sleep.  It was up toward eleven at night by then, and tomorrow was going to be a busy day of fun and excitement.

I laid awake for what seemed like an hour and couldn’t doze off.  My nerves were a bit on edge and I laid there knowing something was watching me. I could feel it.  Bigfoot was somewhere nearby, but I don’t know where so I occupied myself with other thoughts.  Johnny appeared to be asleep soI sat and watched the candle burn slowly down. 

As the night dragged on my eyes got tired and dry and I closed them to rest them for a few moments. I was not asleep but just resting my eyes, and when I opened them, there was a pair of glowing eyes reflecting the light of the candle up on the hill toward the woods.  They blinked, then disappeared.  I woke up Johnny.

“Johnny….Hey Johnny…Johnny…”

“What?”  He didn’t sound happy. 

“I just saw that old bobcat up on the hill watching us sleep.  I opened my eyes and he was right up there.”  I saw no advantage in telling him I hadn’t been asleep yet.

“You’re seeing things.  There ain’t nothing up there. Scaredy Cat.”

Well that shamed me into silence for a while and Johnny went back to sleep.  Not me.  Truth be told, I was scared.  I had seen that bobcat in broad daylight and he was big and scary.  Having it creeping around in the woods at night when I was out there in the dark essentially defenseless was a shade more than my young mind could override. 

I had read somewhere that a candle one inch in diameter would burn at an average rate of one inch an hour.  I began to mark time by estimating how much the candle had burned.  I think it was probably one or one-thirty in the morning when our hillside visitor showed up again.  I was watching all around, but especially in that direction, when the movement caught my eye.  Something was back up there at the edge of the woods.  I wished I had more light because the candle and the moon just wasn’t enough to see what it was, but when it looked straight at me I could see its mean, green, beady eyes reflecting the light.

“Johnny….Hey Johnny…Johnny…”

“What?”  He didn’t sound happy. 

“It’s back again.  Look, it’s right up there.” But, of course it wasn’t.  I guess the sound of my voice scared it back into the woods, and there was no evidence that anything had ever been there.

Johnny’s scathing words had far less effect on me this time and I stood up and picked up the flashlight. 

“Well, I’m going to the house.  I’ve seen something up there watching us all evening and you don’t believe me, but I seen it and it’s that old bobcat, and I don’t want to be attacked while I’m sleeping, and killed. I’m going home!” 

“Well alright scaredy cat, we’ll go home.”

I wrapped my blanket around me and hollered for my dog.  “Bigfoot! Here boy! Where you been all evening? Some guard dog you are…”

“That’s just more proof nothing was ever there” Johnny piped up.  “It that old bobcat was up there Bigfoot would have heard it and run it off”!

That was a real good point, but my mind was made up and I turned toward the fence and started home with Bigfoot on one side and Johnny one step behind on the other. 

We crossed the pasture, climbed through the fence and started up the sloping road toward the wooded ridge of the mountain.  Johnny reminded me that he couldn’t believe I was scared of something that he had never seen.  I walked in silence, carrying the flashlight and looking at the dark tunnel that was the road when it entered the woods.

We passed the first few trees and the darkness swallowed us.  The trees were big broad leaf trees and what little moonlight there was blocked out by the overarching limbs and thick foliage.  Our world shrunk to the circle of light cast by the slowly fading flashlight.  Big tree trunks edged the bank above us and were an uneven row of columns below. 

I heard Bigfoot growl softly.  He had detected something by smell or by hearing but not yet by sight.

The crest of the hill was just step away and the road dropped very steeply beyond that back down to the edge of the corn field.  I lifted the flashlight toward the point where the road peaked out, and a squalling scream wrenched the air.

Off the bank above us leaped a big tawny-orange-ish ball of screaming fur and claws!  My heart stopped dead and my hair stood on end and I froze in place, expecting a horrifying death in the next instant. I have no recollection of a real, conscious thought in those seconds but only the white-hot burn of pure terror.  All my fears of the whole evening were focused like a spot of sunlight through a magnifying glass into one super-intense instant of unmitigated fear.

Then Bigfoot howled a ferocious growling bark, and leapt to my defense. It snapped me out of my mindless paralysis and back to the real world as the screaming fur ball hit the road in front of me and leapt again to escape the jaws of my massive cat-killing machine which was already in mid-dive to catch it.  It was Nosey, the cat who had attacked my thumb and ran off into the woods never to return… until that night. 

As cat and dog went off the bank and down the side of the mountain I realized all that had transpired and breathed a big sigh.

“Holy Cow, Johnny, it was Nosey all along….Johnny?....”

I looked and Johnny was gone.  I didn’t catch up until we were safe in the living room in the single wide trailer on the riverbanks of the old Catawba.

I explained to Johnny that the death we had narrowly avoided was actually only Nosey and Bigfoot had run him off down the mountain so it was no big deal.  He wasn’t impressed.  We crawled in bed and slowly went back to sleep. 

We never talked about that camping trip much after that.  Bigfoot was home when I woke up the next morning and was none the worse for wear.  I gave him a few treats and a generous scratching behind the ears and thanked him for being a good guard dog after all.  He found a shady spot and took a nap.

I never saw Nosey again.  I think maybe Bigfoot caught him, or at least ran him far enough away that he never showed up again.  Good riddance.  I wasn’t as afraid of the bobcat after that either.  As long as my big white German Shepherd was with me, I felt confident he could handle whatever came up…Still those blood-curdling screams on the mountain were a reminder of who really ruled the woods at night on that mountain.

The end. 

James Lee Frady (c) 6/16/2012