The Night That
by Rich Logsdon
I. It was late Sunday night in Oregon, twenty miles from Portland, and
the rain had been beating with savage satanic fury upon the tiny isolated century-old log
cabin. The storm reminded Garth of Noahs flooda tale his father, a
died-in-the-wool fundamentalist, liked to tell in order to scare the hell out of his sons
right up through their college years--and brought to mind the image of an angry, avenging
God. Garth wondered if God were unhappy with him.
Now, wide awake, heart thumping wildly, Garth lay in
bed, tossing and turning in the sweaty sheets, listening keenly to the sounds behind the
rain. The sounds, he knew, came from somewhere in the thick forest surrounding the old
family log cabin; they had been constant for the last three nights.
If he listened hard enough, behind the rain pounding on
the cabins tin roof Garth could even hear a reverberating empty wooden sound, like
two hollow wooden sticks being struck against each other, at regular intervals; it was as
if someone were trying to send him a message through the chill wet October darkness.
Occasionally, straining to listen, head exploding with migraine pain, he was certain that
he could detect voices, sometimes a mans but most often a womans. Once last
night, Saturday, he had even heard someone shriek.
Now, Sunday night, the hollow wooden thuds came about
every thirty seconds, and as he listened Garth tried to rationally construct a picture of
the noises source. If the noises had come during the day, he concluded, they might
be caused a woodsman, but at night no one would be working in the forest, especially
during a furious October rainstorm. Maybe, he thought, it was an animal, but an animal
couldnt maintain the steady, rhythmic beat all night long.
Then, as he heard a beasts low howl, he sat
bolt upright in bed; he remembered a story he had known about since childhood and had
heard as recently as last year in one of the bars in the small logging town just down the
Some old locals had been talking about a witch or a fallen angel
(they couldnt decide which one), a woman with dark wings who prowled the local
forests, kidnapping and dismembering stray children and who could assume the form of a
wolf or large dog at will. One of the men claimed to have seen the witch a beautiful
woman with long raven hair, black wings, and a black flowing gown--thirty or forty years
ago when he had been fishing with his son down by Anderson creek. Another commented that,
ten years ago, he and his wife had seen a huge white wolf in their back yard late one
night. In fact, according to the areas historian Simon Reyes, reports of the
sightings of the huge beast and the beautiful woman with raven wings had been occurring
for a century.
When he had heard these tales before this weekend, Garth had
discounted them as mountain myths that locals made up to keep themselves amused and
frightened. As Garth now lay in bed listening to the rain drumming on the tin roof,
waiting for the sounds, imagining a howling, shrieking beast prowling the forest just
beyond his cabin, certain that he had detected the rustling of wings behind the rain, he
wasnt so sure.
II. Three days before, following a severe depression that had been triggered by
his brothers suicide four months ago (Ronnies wife had found him in the attic,
hanging from a dark chord wrapped seven times around his neck and tied to the center
beam), Garth had driven from his home in Salem to his familys log cabin.
A respected college English professor who wrote
historical novels in his spare time, Garth had looked forward to the weekend as a chance
to clear his mind, polish a new manuscript set in the pre-Civil War South, do a bit of
hiking and fishing alone, and escape an alcoholic wife and two teenage sons that thrived
on making his life miserable. His nineteen year old son Jeff, in fact, had spent the last
weekend in jail; the sixteen year old, Danny, was being held in a detention home for
raping the neighbors twelve year old daughter.
Almost as if they had been timed to do so, the incessant rains had
started one hour after his arrival, around 4:30 Friday afternoon, gradually at first, but
by midnight water coming down in sheets. The more it rained, the more depressed Garth
became. Now it was late Sunday night, and the rains had been unrelenting as blood flowing
from an open wound, confining Garth to his dark cabin, turning the land into a dark muddy
wasteland, and pushing him into the unlit canyon of despair. With the rain feeding his
dark mood, he was now afraid to walk to the trout stream that lay one hundred yards from
his cabin door. The notion of walking to the small town one mile away earlier that evening
had become terrifying.
So as it had poured, day after day, Garth had remained in his cabin,
keeping the television on nearly full volume to drown out the sound of the rain as well as
the images of dismemberment and decapitation that came with this storm, forcing himself at
times to read through Nabokovs The Execution, unable to tackle his unwieldy
manuscript, titled DeathWitch, about witchcraft in the pre-civil war South. Upon
occasion, he knelt next to his bed in the small room at the back, opened the old black
leather family Bible, and prayed that God would help him to make it through the weekend.
As Garth now lay in bedFriday night, Saturday night, and now
Sunday night-- listening to the intensifying rainfall, he began to recall a childhood
incident that had scarred him deeply and that he had tried to forget. It was almost beyond
control, his minds almost obsessive insistence upon bringing to the surface of his
conscious thought the memory of a gruesome tragedy and upon replaying bits and pieces of
the event until the script lived in his mind in its entirety. This night, Sunday, he
finally recalled the incident in vivid, bloody color.
III. It had been late Saturday evening in October thirty-two years ago, and he,
his brother Ronnie, his sister Tina and his mom and dad had spent the weekend at cabin.
Out behind the outhouse next to the cabin, Garth and Ron had been gutting and cleaning the
fish they had caught that day, occasionally spattering each other with fish blood and
guts, when they had heard yelling from the cabin.
Confused, Garth had dropped the fish he was cleaning,
wiped the blood on his shorts, looked at Ronnie, and begun to walk towards the house. It
was then, with no warning it seemed, that the sky darkened and rain began to fall in
buckets. Through the whoosh of the rain, as the boy had walked towards the cabin, he could
hear uncontrolled sobbing, which he knew came from his mother. Hed heard his mother
cry many times before. Too, as he approached the front steps, he noticed the local
sheriffs blue and white patrol car parked out front.
When Garth had stepped into the small darkened cabin, his
overweight, red-haired mother had run to him, thrown her arms around him, and wept. In the
small room, his father, he noticed, had had his back turned towards them and was talking
in a low monotone to the officer. "Whats the matter, Momma?" he had asked,
holding his trembling mother, stroking her long red hair, and trying to comfort her.
Between gasps and sobs, his mother had told him that his
sisters body had been found three hours before five miles up the creek. Numbed,
Garth had listened as his mother related how a tourist family from Arkansas had found
eight-year old Tina floating face-down in a pond that fed off the creek. Rope burns on her
neck had suggested to local authorities that Tina had been strangled to death, her corpse
left in the pool for someone to find. Horribly, Tinas hands and feet had been cut
The story of the murder had made evening news on all three major
networks. However, as rumors of a child-eating witch circulated the bars and stores in the
area, Tinas murderer had never been found; local police and the FBI had searched the
area for clues and missing body parts hundreds of times.
Secretly, from the day of his sisters disappearance and
murder, Garth had blamed himself and Ronnie. At nine oclock the morning of the
murder, when the children had begun to fish the stream, Garth had joyfully noticed Tina
wandering away from them, heading upstream towards the darkest part of the forest and had
said nothing. Tina was always wandering off on her own, and Garth, the oldest at twelve,
was tired of looking after his sister.
Now at forty-four years old, Garth remembered that as she had
wandered off down stream, Tina had carried two large wooden Chinese sticks, one in each
hand, which she struck together in five-second intervals. The result was a hollow
reverberation that carried for miles through the forest. Her father had given Tina the
sticks for Christmas last year, supposedly to ward off unfriendly Chinese spirits.
So when he and Ronny had returned to the cabin in the middle of the
afternoon, storm clouds rapidly gathering overhead, he had noticed that Tina wasnt
there. He had been instantly seized with a panic he tried not to show his parents.
Shes coming, he had assured his worried mother and father, who at four oclock
had climbed into their pickup and driven the back roads to find the little girl.
Hopeful that everything would work out, Garth had returned to
helping Ronnie clean the twenty-two fish they had caught. An hour later, his parents had
returned home without Tina, and it was then that Garth had started to get the queasy
feeling in his stomach that told him something was definitely wrong. Around six, normally
dinner time, as he and Ronnie were packing the fish in an ice chest, Garth had heard the
sobbing and walked through the torrential rain to the little cabin to learn the details of
IV. Now, at half past midnight, the sounds-- the hollow wooden, almost metallic
thumping that almost seemed directed at him--began coming with increased regularity and
volume from somewhere near the cabin, somewhere in the thick grove of pine that stood
between the cabin and the creek. As he listened, the window to his small bedroom open, he
was sure he could hear something moving and scraping through the brush and trees just
beyond the window screen. With a start, he heard the unmistakable bounding of someone or
something running across his back yard.
The sounds, the terror, Garth knew, had to stop. This
was becoming unbearable. At the very least, spiraling into depression, Garth knew that he
had to discover once and for all what was causing the sound. It was possible, even likely,
Garth realized, that the sounds were figments of his exhausted and overworked imagination;
he knew that his depression, if untreated, invariably led to moderate to severe psychosis.
He suspected that he was already hearing things. As for treating the symptoms, Garth
remembered that he had left his medication back home in Salem.
Yet, if he could assure himself that there really was no basis for
the sound, Garth knew he would probably find peace. It was just as he put his legs over
the edge of the bed and stood, ready to get dressed and brave the rain storm, that he
heard voices coming through the rain and an explosion on his roof, as if something had
jumped onto the top of his cabin. In his minds eye, he saw what sat atop the cabin:
a demonic spirit, an angel with dark wings. He froze, body numbed by fear, waited for the
voice, knew instantly that it had to be Tinas voice.
Jesus Christ, Garth thought, trying to call upon the rationality and
intelligence that characterized him as an English professor and a writer. Jesus, this
cannot be happening; I cannot allow myself to get depressed. Wondering why he hadnt
stayed home in Salem, he noticed that he was sweating profusely. He felt sick to his
I have to act, Garth told himself, sitting on the edge of his bed,
pulling on a sweater, his levis and boots, and his winter parka and heading for the door;
for only in action, only by confronting the sound and the basis of his fear would his
fears vanish. Fearful yet determined to face his own darkness, Garth strode boldly to the
front door, unlocked the bolt, and grabbing the old ax he kept near the door stepped
outside onto the porch and finally down the two steps into the relentless rain, pounding
the muddy earth with hellish fury. He couldnt recall ever having been in such a
violent storm. Pausing for an instant, he listened to the rain and looked at the huge
sharp ax he was cradling in his hands. It had been his fathers ax and had never been
used for anything but to cut wood. Perhaps, Garth thought, his mind spinning for an
instant in a crazy direction, that was about to change.
Then, startled out of his brief reverie, he heard the hollow wood
sound again, but this time the drumming occurred in rapid succession and came from the
trees all around him. Then, as the drumming suddenly stopped, he heard laughter and voices
form behind the cabin. Determined not to be mastered by his fears, Garth put his head down
in the driving rain and, carrying the mighty ax in both hands, waded through the thick mud
around the cabin towards the dense undergrowth.
As he moved in the direction of the creek, he peered through the
furious rain, expected thick wet darkness, and could just make out a dim glow somewhere
several hundred yards in front of him. What the hell is this?, he asked himself. He
couldnt fathom an outdoor fire in this weather.
Heart pounding furiously, the sounds now drumming constantly, he
pushed his way through the forest towards the glow, aware as he walked that he was looking
at a huge bonfire that had somehow been set in the rain. When he came to the clearing, he
stopped, fire towering in front of him, flames leaping to the sky and cracking wildly in a
fiery dance. What is this?, he wondered, slowly circling the fire, feeling scorched by
flame, and keeping his eyes on the perimeter for anything that moved. He felt in his heart
that something had to be there, lurking in the darkness, waiting for him; he listened for
the hush of dark wings. It was still pouring rain.
He had circled the huge flame a fourth time when he saw it, movement
next to a huge dead pine tree ten yards away, a gigantic white blur. Quickly, he left the
fire and moved toward the flash, walked up to the tree where the white thing had been,
found nothing, looked again, and turned around. Whatever it was had gone, he decided.
Perhaps, he told himself, he had made this up in his mind.
It was as he turned around to walk back towards the fire that he saw
the huge thing seemingly step out of the fire, separating itself from the flame, placing
itself between him and the flames. Briefly wondering if he had become totally delusional,
stopping abruptly and raising his ax, he stared at the thing silhouetted by the fire and,
as he continued to stare, watched the dark figure materialize as the biggest dog he had
ever seen. Garth could clearly see the thing now, a beast that had just walked into this
world from the gates of Hell. The thing seemed to be inches in front of him. It was a huge
white beast, its eyes glaring red, its teeth bared, a snarl audible though the rain. He
could smell the fetid breath of the white beast.
Heart jumping into his throat, thinking he should turn and run,
Garth nevertheless raised his ax and planted his feet firmly in the ground just as the
beast lowered itself, howled, studied him for an instant, and then lunged towards him.
seeming to hang in the air for an instant. Instinctively, Garth struck out with his ax,
aiming for the head, the sharp metal ax head cracking into the animals neck. The
beast shrieked in its death, and Garth could hear gristle and bone snap and pop. With a
spray of blood that covered Garth, the beast bayed again and again and, its mouth wide in
agony and its red fiendish eyes on Garth, fell to the earth inches from Garths feet
in an explosion of mud and blood. The bloodied white beast lay there, its eyes open, its
body motionless and apparently unbreathing.
Garth breathed deeply, wiped some blood off his cheek, realized he
was still in the world. The things gotta be dead, Garth assured himself; nothing
would survive that blow. The ax stuck from the beasts neck, and it occurred to Garth
that he should chop the things head off.
Slowly he leaned over to pull his weapon out. Just as he grasped the
handle, the bloodied white beast opened its eyes and mouth, shrieked like a demon, bared
its teeth, and lunged. Reacting automatically, Garth sprang backwards, fell on his back
still clutching his ax, felt the beasts teeth sink into his right leg, screamed from
pain. He knew death was certain, paused and lay on the wet ground and then sat up to look.
The huge beast lay still and bloodied, Garths leg still in the things jaws.
The rain was now a constant deluge. What the hell sense does the damned fire make? Garth
asked himself. Prying his leg loose with agony, Garth learned to one side and vomited
wildly and then struggled to his feet and, ax poised, slowly limped over to and then
around the wolf. Holy Mother of God, thought Garth, this thing is as big as a bear.
Exhausted, his energy spent, Garth studied the fire, still blazing
furiously, mysteriously, looked once more at the beast, assured himself that the thing was
dead, put his ax over his right shoulder, and began to limp back in the direction of the
cabin. The pain from the bite was excruciating, the bleeding he realized intense.
He had limped one hundred yards through the forest, leaving a sure
trail of blood, when he again heard a sound, a hollow baying, knew then he should have
severed the beasts head; heart in his mouth, he heard something unmistakably huge
crashing and thudding through the forest in his direction, knew before it was on him that
the beast was not dead and was closing on him.
Panicked, Garth tossed the ax aside and took off running towards his
cabin, charging through the dense, wet undergrowth in spite of his limp. The terror of a
pursued animal coursed through him like electricity and he wondered, for an instant, who
he was and what he was doing. Then, cabin in sight, he stumbled, tripped over a fallen
log, and went sprawling face down into thick mud.
Pounded mercilessly by the punishing rain, Garth never had a chance.
As he forced himself to turn over, held up his arm to defend himself and fought to get to
his feet, he knew instinctively that the thing had sprung. Sudden burning pain coursed
through his body as he felt razor-sharp teeth penetrate the flesh of his neck, felt the
jaws seize his neck, knew his body was saturated by a warm, sticky fluid, felt himself
being bloodily dragged by the neck through the mud, grabbed weakly at the jaws to pry
himself to freedom, felt the animal on top of him, suffocating him with its massive
strength. Blood flowing from his open neck wound, realizing that struggling was futile,
even insane, Garth let his hands fall from the beasts mouth, gave death permission
to take him, and felt the beasts teeth release its grip around his throat.
Dazed, bleeding profusely, Garth saw the beast looking at him, noted
again its red demonic eyes, then saw standing behind the beast two figures: one was a tall
beautiful woman with long flowing black hair, blood red lipstick, dark angelic winds, and
a long flowing dress that was black as night; the other was a girl, whom Garth in the
delirium that precedes death struggled to recognize. The girl held a long hollow stick in
each hand and, at regular intervals, staring at him, pounded them together. He
couldnt place the little girl.
He knew the tall gorgeous woman must be death come for him, and so
relaxed, feeling no fear, no pain, only a gentle and growing stillness as he felt himself
being sucked into something far greater than himself. Then, spiraling into the swirling,
giddy darkness that awaited him, surrounded by a blazing light whose source he could not
place, Garth remembered Tina, knew for sure that he would find her, knew that his parents
would be glad when he had done so, and finally closed his eyes with a gentle and final
© 1999 Rich Logsdon