Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Howly Things

One Summer, just around the end of high school we had a couple of nights of good heavy rain. Normally this wouldn't be an issue but if not for the fact that my best friend Garth had plans early one of those mornings.

Garth was spending the Summer with my family and I out on our farm in rural Snohomish, WA. We had five acres on a hill, most of it fences off into pasture for our horses, sheep and cows. When the rains came, the hillside turned to muck and my gravel driveway became a serious trap, a trap my mother had managed to get her truck stuck in and it wasn't getting any better. Because of this, my buddy decided that he would squeeze his Camaro out past mom's truck before the driveway deteriorated any more.

His plan was to park some place overnight and sleep in his car and he asked me to come keep him company because he, "Didn't want to be a black guy sleeping in a car in the middle of BFE." I could sympathize and even though I had no plans to go paintballing myself, it seemed the good friend thing to do and so I agreed. We gathered up a couple of blankets, some sodas and snacks and his paintball gear and set to eeking his muscle car past the stranded Chevy. It took a bit of doing but eventually we got out of the driveway and rumbled on down the road.

Our first thought was to keep close to home and so we decided to park along side the corner store down the hill. We knew the owners well and spend a good chunk of our pocket cash there on comics, ice cream, and the occasional girly magazine, so we figured if we got caught there they'd be cool. Unfortunately, we failed to initially recall the number of times the windows and signage at the store had been shot out and upon remembering that little point, we decided to relocate. Besides, the store is built next to the old foundation of one of the first one-room schools in the valley and that place was a bit spooky at night. It was time to relocate. Our next choice was a place that would color our perceptions of the area for years.

We pulled into the gravel parking lot of the old roadside grange building close to 11pm and with the waning rain and the gloom it left, the whole wooded road was misty and wet and very quiet. The old building was nothing more than an angular shadow about 10 feet to our left with none of its pealing yellow hue to be seen. It's peaked roof broke the silhouette of the overcast sky, back lit by the moon and the occasional glint of the metal grating over its windows did nothing to help it uninviting nighttime demeanor. As if this wasn't bad enough, the grange was built above a slew that rest at the bottom of a tangled gully that loomed up at us with the most hollow blackness it could have possibly managed. 

With our new position reluctantly decided upon, we shot the shit, drank a few Cokes, ate our jerky and snack cakes and likely talked gaming and other geekdom until sleep started to creep up on us. Shrouding ourselves into the fleece blankets we'd brought with us, we made sure doors were locked and dismissed the fact that nothing was visible beyond the fogged up windows. The Camaro wasn't comfortable, but it could have been worse. He might have still had his VW.

I woke up for the first time who knows how many hours later, but it was cold enough in the car that the windows had ceased to be foggy and my freshly opened eyes were met by the gaping dark maw of the gully below. The grange was now lit by a moon that had appeared from behind the dwindling cloud cover and didn't look any more inviting with its grated windows staring, hollow, right at me. All of this was punctuated by my ear catching the fleeting sound of some strange sound just ending at the moment I stirred. Thinking nothing of it, I shook off my creeping nerves, closed my ears, wrapped myself in the blanket and dozed back off.

Minutes or an hour, I could tell exactly, later I was awake suddenly and my ears filled with the most horrible cacophony of noise. The sound instantly grabbed hold of my primal brain and I immediately turned to check on my best friend. I found him rod straight in his seat, eyes wide and as pale as hi natural complexion would allow. 

The sound still ringing in my ears and showing no sign of dying out, I asked him, "Do you hear that?"

Garth managed a nod, I think, and we both set to scrambling. Unshrouding ourselves from clinging blankets and double checking the locks on the doors, the sound seemed to draw closer and closer as if whatever it was  or they were was clambering up the mucky embankment from the slew below. 

The sound was awful. I have come to think of it as a combination of canine and some smaller animal, but with a range of tone and vocalization beyond those sorts of creatures. It warbled, cackled and yelped in a mad manner that made it impossible to identify it as anything I knew. I had never heard anything like it in all the years I lived out in the valley. Coyotes, dogs, raccoons, opossums, and all manner of livestock I knew full well and this was none of them.

Garth fumbled with his keys while my eyes were set on the dark tree line. Like something out of a movie it seemed the normally reliable ignition of the car was vexing my friend's fear-stricken dexterity. When finally the noises seemed sure to break free of the treeline, revealing themselves to us, the V8 rumbled to life and we left whatever it was behind in a shower of gravel and mud and skidded down the twisted road back toward my house. Unable to get back into my driveway yet and afraid to park on the street only blocks from our harrowing auditory encounter, we decided to head into town proper and parked out in front of my grandparents' bed and breakfast until morning.

The rest of that Summer just felt a little more claustrophobic. My friends and I continued to hear those noises on several occasions. We even found an abandoned campsite in the trees off the road from where we had originally heard them. It was obvious that it was a homeless camp, but we never saw any such folk around that site in all the times we passed the camp that could be glimpsed from the road.

One night a motorcycle crash down that road was punctuated by the sound of what we started calling the "Howly Things" in a feeble attempt to give such a frightening thing a silly name. Another night my friends were chased away from paintball practice in the back pasture by the sound of whatever those things were rolling over the other side of the hill from my farm. I had heard them freaking out of the headset comms we used when playing and met them at the back door (I wasn't out with them), only to hear that same wit-curdling sound with my own ears.

That was the only Summer we heard them. We never caught a glimpse of them, or managed to identify their sounds, but we had never heard them before or since that one Summer when the evening shadows grew a little darker and the rustling of wind in the leaves a little more suspicious.


  1. Great story. More satisfying than a lot of fiction manages, and way more evocative than the movies tend to be these days.

  2. Thanks,

    The story could be considered nonfiction as it really is something that happened to us. The only thing that might make it less than the honest truth is that some of the details of when it occurred are a little up in the air.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Ifn' ye ask me 't was the Rebs in them thar woods

    3:11 if you just want to hear the yell

  5. Is there a zoo anywhere near? I wonder if some monkeys escaped.
    In San Francisco a troop of Patas Monkeys escaped and lived for quite a few months in Golden Gate Park. Some monkeys have some very creepy calls and vocalize in the mornings to mark their territory.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...