The Duck Hunter’s Cabin
By Richard Paul Davis
We settled into bed and the creaks and groans of the cabin nestled in with us. Cozy would be too confortable of a word to use. It was snug and tight, though not cramped. The cats became more comfortable as the night went on. They took turns bouncing back and forth between the floor, dresser and bed. Kris lay next to me, and through the darkness of the bedroom I could hardly make out her outline. I earlier opened the window partially so that we could see the sun come up in the morning. We were both city folk by now. Even the cats were accustomed to civilization, and all of the quiet was more unsettling than anyone wanted to let on. Outside of the occasional hiss from my older cat, and the odd pecan sliding down the roof, it was as still as a cliche about stillness.
The cabin where we were staying was said to be the very last address in Texas before you were in Oklahoma. It was literally a stone’s throw from the Red river. When the river was stiff and full of water, the shores came within feet of the cabin. The river, as most things here, is ancient. Its full history though has no place in this writing. Suffice to say there are trees still standing here that have predate European settlement. Trees and vines, mounds that hold decrepit bones of men that saw things that no longer walk the earth. Men that uttered words that are lost like the arrowheads without their shafts in the cranky red earth. There are many things in the woods here that wait. That is what they do best, and most.
There is a mound near the river, and I’m told that it is a burial mound. Though why it was built so close to the water, I cannot say. I’ve found in my travels that every bump in the night, every changling and every haunt is blamed on “old indian burial grounds.” As though there are no other burial grounds, and the Native Americans are so innately bitter and grumpy that even the slightest amount of activity will call their spirits instantly to the surface. Oh no, chief “Long dead in the ground” has risen to avenge the sanctity of his garden again. It stands to reason, that by now, everywhere is a burial ground, for something somewhere has likely died everywhere. But, I digress from the trajectory of my tale.
Back to the outline of my dearest Kris. She was to my right on the ornate and intricately carved but undersized bed. Farther right were the apricot colored logs that made up the walls of the cabin. Offset, in the middle of the wall was our double window. Like everything within and without of the cabin, it was made to look modest. Classic really; four panels per window, with a curtain and blinds. Excited and anticipating waking up at daylight, I pulled the cream curtain to the right before we went to bed. I could see the moonlight being cast around the yard, like someone had placed the moon into a burlap bag, and poked oddly shaped holes into the bottom. Strange enough the description, stranger still the sight. There was enough steady light, suffice to say, to illuminate at least part of the backyard after midnight, and enough light to see large movement, and the inside of the window. The way the light shined in and outlined Kris reminded me of some movie poster, with the shape of a woman lying on a fur, with the Nile running out of her and an Egyptian sunset fading into her.
The image was enough to content most men, and enough to enamor the rest. I was thankful. I peered up at the window once more. Why, I don’t know. I saw in the top left pane, what looked like something blocking the view. Black, but more darkness than typical night. I squinted my eyes and looked again, this time with that slight tingle one feels when viewing something that they should not. That feeling of being in someone’s bedroom while the owner is away. Shivers rose up and across my arms, and my chest felt as though someone else’s breath was in it. I could make out an outline, that looked like, or I imagined it to look like, a domed skull, round much like a man’s head, but with a horn to the left and to the right of center. Small horns really. I saw a sharp white light where its right eye would be if it were a normal creature of flesh, bone and breath. The left was surely covered and concealed by the curtain that hung frightened and lifeless. We both stared and pretended not to be seen, just like the mischievous child that closes his eyes and pretends he hasn’t been caught stealing a cake or bite of pie. I inched backwards into my hearth of pillows that rested behind me and pulled the covers up to my chest as any craven would while alone with a monster. I pulled my eyes away and looked down to Kris and saw no movement, only joyous slumber uninterrupted by demon or uncaring dream.
Surely I was mad, or, I was finally seeing the truth. I looked down my nose, with my forehead cast down to fool the wood creature into thinking I wasn’t seeing him. I looked and he was still there, only turning to see me better with that dreadful right eye. It blinked. The eye blinked a slow and cautious blink. Or was it a wink? I was thinking too much into this. Rain was dropping again, as it had for our entire trip. It was pacing, the rain. A steady thump thud, and several large pecans, or peaches, or some damnable thing would bounce from the tin roof and into the yard below. The creature seemed startled suddenly and jerked. I could feel the wall creak as the thing stumbled. This thing was much less graceful than I imagined monsters would be. The creature jerked out of my sight and I heard words. Ancient words that grunted and hissed from a throat that shouldn’t be capable of speech. I heard a small and vibrant laugh? Then there was the sound of a bow knocking, and the bending of wood. I knew there was a child’s bow and practice arrows outside of the back door. What was happening? I felt the shivers run across my arms and took a deep breath, shot past a hissing cat and ran into the dining room.
All around the dim room there was glass: in windows, in shelves and seemingly in the air. I looked to my left and nearly fell over seeing myself in the liquor cabinet. This was no time for drinking though. The house was full of guns, as it was owned by an obsessive duck hunter. I crept along the cold floor, walking along the old style picnic table and pews that inhabited the dining room, and looked out the windows that spanned the entire wall. I saw shadows. Two of them this time. One held the boy’s bow and fired an arrow over the side of the hill that the house was placed on. The other figure shot me the same glare as before, and I knew it was the same thing I’d seen seconds earlier. He’d been found out. Or, I had been found out. Before I could scream, the bow looked to stand on its own, and blew over as if it had been held by the wind the whole time. The figures melded with the darkness and seemed to flow off on the breeze. I turned back towards the liquor cabinet, as a man is prone to do in times such as these, and looked up into the openness of the cabin.
The ceiling was unnaturally tall for a duck hunter’s cabin. I looked up past a beam made of a tree, and saw the taxidermy head of a deer. It was likely felled on this land. I was almost hoping for some reaction from it, as odd as that sounds. Its ease at the current situation made me feel as though the events that occurred were somehow natural. After a small glass of unadorned whiskey, I fell quickly asleep.
I woke the next morning at that wonderful time of discovery; dawn. I made myself a pot of coffee and buttoned up my flannel shirt, pulled up my boots and made my way outside. Of course I picked up the bow, and noticed the wood was cracked. Several times over the next two days I found things made of both wood and steel that were close to breaking. It raised an interesting thought. When have we ever seen wood, or steel break on its own?
Sometimes in the wild a branch would break, and steel isn’t a naturally occurring substance of course. But what about stone then? Or iron? We never see it break. These things made by man, should be eternal. We craft and shape and twist them to our will to make our lives easier. What if these tools we have made, and we sometimes leave around, are used by the others? The dark things that were here before us, and surely here before the Native Americans we blame for our hauntings? What if these thing haunted them too? Of course, our tools and machinations have made our lives easier, but what if, these things we use, they help the dark things as well? Perhaps that is why the beasts I saw did not run. It is because they have become fat and lazy, using our tools. Their touch corrodes our tools, and our tools corrode them, as well. We packed our things after two and a half days. We packed our cats and our memories, and we left in the pouring rain.We left behind those monsters where they can continue to wait.