5:50 A.M. Already my headlights turned the corner toward home, my motored carriage whisking me onward with the morning’s sacrifice of coffee in hand.
Yet as I paused briefly at that turn onto my private drive, a shadowy movement upon the wall of a neighbor’s house caught my attention.
I stared through the darkness eager to see.
First impression: A leaf caught in the wind must be dancing before my headlights and casting a pale figure ahead of me.
Upon closer inspection, though, I realized the leaf would have to be suspended midway between the car and the wall in order to produce such a large shadow.
And that space was filled with empty concrete.
Whatever thing moved about in the darkness, it had to be large and it had to be right next to the wall.
So I zipped home—just down the block, mind you—and rushed inside, grabbed my camera and scampered back down the private roadway. I wanted to know what creature lurked about.
It didn’t take long to find it.
Loud as though a devil-may-care attitude infested it, I quickly stumbled upon a beast ravaging these private gardens in search of food, and in the process it made so much noise that I feared it would wake the dead.
Looming in the dark and rummaging through freshly tilled soil the monster itself had overturned, I approached within a few steps of this nighttime ghoul. Slow and steady I walked, and it ignored me so long as I made no abrupt movements.
And there it was, nose tucked into the earth freshly dug with its own clawed appendages, armored body bristling with the telltale hairs of a being both mammalian and terrestrial, ears alert and scanning for the slightest intrusion upon its dinnertime.
It made enough noise to wake the entire neighborhood, so I quickly set the flash to its lowest setting.
I was, after all, standing near the front door of a neighbor’s house. It behooved me to be as inconspicuous as one can be while lurking about in the dark of predawn hours snapping photographs near the homes of other people.
All the while, and under my steady gaze, the monster continued ravaging the delicate landscaping, throwing dirt this way and that, nuzzling under the surface at each opportunity whilst tossing aside load after load of earth and ground cover.
Scarcely the size of an American football (excluding its serpentine tail, mind you), I still found myself fearing for my own life as this demon ravaged the ground looking for buried souls to steal. My own trembling made photography difficult, yes, but I felt I must endure the savagery of the moment to prove to the world that such things do exist.
I stood my ground through unrelenting terror and watched as the invader moved about, lashing its prehensile appendage behind it like some eyed tentacle looking for prey.
And when a gasp escaped my lips, a sign of the harrowing ordeal with which I was faced, it—The Beast!—lifted its buttocks and mooned me.
But I was not deterred. Not one bit! I would stand my ground and face this devil until it retreated…or killed me. Whichever came first seemed the logical approach.
Wretched tears of anguish scoured my cheeks as I witnessed this terrible assault. I wondered then, even as I wonder now, if the psychological scars would ever heal, if the stabbing of my soul would ever be forgotten.
I doubt it…
And in my moment of distress, when finally I suspected I would be fodder for the cannons of this demon, I wept from desperation, a hushed escape of lamentation meant to relieve me of my panic.
But all it did was call the attention of the fiend itself.
The dead light of its eyes filled my own, blanketed me in the misery to come, washed over me like a tide of impending doom.
I didn’t flinch, didn’t move, didn’t budge.
Neither did the ogre besetting my neighborhood.
With its empty eyes glowing white in the light of the flash, it stared at me, met my scrutiny, looked into my being and scraped its soulless claws across my spirit’s flesh.
In that moment I faced my death.
Perhaps we reached an understanding; perhaps we reached an impasse. In either case, the vile fiend turned and walked across the sidewalk, choosing to attack the shrubs near my neighbor’s front door instead of attacking me.
I ran home, trembling like a child who has wet his pants, and sought the shelter of the seven predators living with me. Even if I could not stand up to the horrible vision I had just witnessed, I knew these felines would protect me—even if only for their own selfish interests.
[photos are of a juvenile nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus); it’s but a fraction of the size it can reach in adulthood; this is the same species responsible for putting my face in the dirt a few years ago]