The fire had burned low. Its flickering light joined the soft glow of a kerosene lantern hanging from the lifting pole at the back of the lodge. I lay on my cot, staring up at the tipi canvas suspended overhead by a cone of slender poles.
Walter Dawg was sleeping behind my pack, over by the door. Agitated by Luke’s arrival in camp, he had been barking off and on for a day and a half. His gentle snoring was a pleasant respite.
On the other side of the tipi, Luke and my brother added their own melodic respirations to Walter’s dream song.
I fought back what I hoped was a fart. I had been up to piss just after midnight, and up again at four to take a crap. The trip to the latrine was a cold, dark walk through the woods.
The sliver of sky visible through the smoke hole was still black. I checked my watch. 6:45. It would be light out in about an hour. My sleeping bag was warm and cozy. Surely, I could wait until daybreak.
A rippling spasm rolled through my gut. Perhaps waiting wasn’t an option. A fart slipped past my defenses.
I couldn’t choose when I had this poop. I could choose where I had this poop, but only if I acted decisively and without delay. Struggling out of my bedding, I awkwardly danced into my trousers, clenching my sphincter tightly shut and trying not to wake my companions. Sliding my feet in my moccasins, I toe-walked them on as I shrugged my arms through the sleeves of my wool jacket. I grabbed a roll of toilet paper, snatching my headlamp from under my bunk before diving out the door, into the darkness.
Outside, it was still as death. The scant light afforded by a fingernail moon barely filtered through the tall trees. I pushed the button on my headlamp. Nothing happened. The battery was dead.
At this point I was committed. Nothing for it but to push forward in the general direction of the latrine and hope for the best. As I followed the faint path into the trees another fart made its presence known.
I somehow arrived at my destination, and not a moment too soon. Simultaneously lifting the lid and dropping my pants I plopped my ass on the cold seat of the thunderbox. I began my evacuation before I had completed the seal.
At that very instant an unearthly wail rent the darkness from somewhere behind me and to the left, away from camp. It was followed by a series of short screams and a long, high-pitched moan that tapered off into silence.
I sat there in the blackness, my pants around my ankles, scared quite shitless. What the hell was that? I cleaned up and put myself together, gingerly picking my way back to the tipi, hoping I didn’t sound too much like a wounded animal blundering through the underbrush. I called for my dog, thinking I could follow him back in and two together always feels better than one alone in the dark. Walter did not come. I found him waiting quietly by the tipi door. A weekend of aggressive bluster and now not a peep out of him with banshees wailing in the night? What a fraud.
Luke and Andy were both awake when I went back inside.
“Did you hear that?” they asked in unison. “What was it?”
“We thought it was you screaming,” my brother said.
I’d like to believe they would have come seen if I needed help. Huh.
We talked over the possibilities, from an owl to sasquatch. There are big cats out there and coyotes, but it didn’t really sound like that. Whatever it was, it sounded big and it was nearby.
My best guess is it was an elk, suffering from blue balls in the late season rut. I can understand him pleading for his last chance to get laid before the snow falls, but dude…timing.
LOL – scared not-quite-shitless, as I recall. But you returned without incident and made it through the rest of the night. Meanwhile, some poor, confused elk charged off into the forest wondering what strange creature he just encountered. For real, what animal doesn’t just follow the obvious trail, instead, choosing to ricochet from tree to tree like some pinball possessed by a demon-spirit with no sense of direction?