At The Edge of Tonto
I stifle my scream with the palm of my hand. My other hand clutches an old wooden bat that use to belong to my brother. I look down to see three raccoons rummaging through the knocked over tin trash can behind our small-scale cabin. The thunderous crashing sound of the over stuffed can being brought down by these beasts is the reason I came out here in the middle of the night. Our cabin (which feels more like a trailer) is in the middle of Nowheresville and the sound woke me up immediately. I didn’t even remember bringing this old bat with me to Arizona, but at one o’clock in the morning it was the first heavy object my hands found in the darkness. So here I am, standing in the cool Arizona air with three masked creatures staring back at me, clutching my leftovers and this week’s magazine clippings.
So I’m a little jumpy. I’ve always been that way. Clumsy, jumpy, a little superstitious and a lot afraid of the dark. I have been alone in my new Arizona dwelling for approximately three hours and I’ve managed to wreck the tiny living room all to hell. With my flailing arms in a hurry to turn on the lights and beat whoever was trying to break in with this antique Spalding bat, I knocked over two lamps, broke a picture frame, and put a dent in the side wall next to the back door. I inevitably lost my footing and went tumbling out the door, facing the culprits head on. Not my finest hour, but I’ve had worse.
My husband and I moved near the Tonto National Forest last week. He received a promotion with one of the trucking companies near Phoenix and thought it would be nice and serene to have a place in the middle of nowhere to which I arguably said lets not and get a nice place in Scottsdale. We settled for a temporary place on the outskirts of the forest until his promotion picked up speed and we could begin our search for what I like to call a “proper” home. It really is a scenic spot, being on a plot of land surrounded by trees that reach high into the clouds. A few mountain formations can be seen off in the distance too which makes for some amazing sunset photography, the reds and deep oranges of the boulders reflect the sun beautifully. But at night it can become wicked eerie. Tonight I have been hearing the trees groan even in the absence of wind and the moon is so bright I feel like it has been full for weeks. So, here I am alone, standing outside like a crazy woman at 1 o’clock in the morning, in my long t-shirt, hair ragged, operating a 12 year old’s bat like I’m ready for a joust.
I catch my breath from my shriek and try and compose myself. The raccoons have been staring at me during this whole fiasco, looking unimpressed by my weapon of choice and annoyed at the bright light coming from the living room behind me. I attempt to shoo the animals away from the trailer and after a good 5 minutes of poking and prodding with the bat they decide to leave my dwelling in peace. I pick up the tin can and begin to place the trash back inside. My heart is still beating hard in my chest from the scare and a shiver runs down my spine. It can get awfully cold here at night and I think of my husband’s trip into work this evening, hoping the heat in his truck is working properly. He has been working third shift lately but I’m hoping that will change soon. I really don’t like being here all alone. I’m too jumpy for this edge-of-the-forest temporary home.
I finally get done with picking up the mess the vermin left behind when I notice the air getting even colder. It must have dropped 10 degrees in the past two minutes. Doesn’t cold air mean evil spirits? I shake my head thinking of the little clothing I have on and the fact that the adrenaline that was once keeping me warm must have worn off. My imagination can certainly run away from reality at times and I have to remind myself that I am not a little girl anymore. I put the lid on the can and place it right up against the house under the motion-sensor light, in the hopes that will keep the animals at bay. I turn to face the long dirt drive my husband drove down a few short hours ago and I touch my lips remembering the deep kiss he gave me before he left. He knows I don’t enjoy being here alone. The edge of the drive is clouded by a heavy fog and I cannot see the top of the hill where the road meets my drive. I turn back and look up and out into the clearing of the vast space that is my backyard. The stars are much brighter out here than I am use to, illuminating the entire area around my house. That comforts me some, knowing I have little nightlights above keeping the ghosts away. But that moon! It is so bright it’s blinding! The shadows of the trees are elongated from its glow, filling the three acres behind my home with long, bony fingers crawling out towards me. I shudder and wrap my arms around myself. A bug drawn to to back porch light behind me hits the bulb with a hard “DING” and I jump 2 feet in the air. “Stop creeping yourself out.” I tell myself out loud in the hopes that my superstitious mind will listen. I grab the bat and turn to walk back in my tiny home. I hear an uneasy groaning sound behind me as I open the door and I imagine the shadows of the trees stretching out to grab my bare ankle. I quickly jump inside and shut the door hard.
I pick up the living room and realize I am wide awake. I start to shift my eyes from one corner of the house to the other, which can be done without turning my head. If there’s one positive thing it’s that this cabin is too small to hide a monster. I decide to make some tea and place a cup of water in the microwave to heat. I push the 2 minute button and watch as my cat mug rotates slowly on the shaky plate behind the dirty glass. My husband is notorious for not cleaning the door. I smile at the thought of him but my moment of day dreaming is interrupted by a loud BANG coming from the front of the house. I jump back into the kitchen table and knock over a vanity mirror that was sitting on the edge of the table. It hits the floor quickly and I hear the piercing sounds of the glass shards bounce and scatter on the hard floor. I close my eyes knowing I will have another seven years of bad luck. I grab my mother’s old cast iron pan that was sitting on the stove and head for the front door. These raccoons just don’t know when to quit! I think of the tomato plants and herbs I have in heavy, brown pots on the porch and just know at least one is in a million pieces, it’s potting soil covering my white porch.
I burst through the door, cast iron pan first, yelling and making loud incomprehensible noises hoping to scare the animals away properly and for good this time. I look around and see all of my pots completely intact, no beasts or monsters to be found. I jump down off the porch, skipping the two small steps, and onto the yard where I feel the cool grass under my naked feet. I look around the yard slowly, holding my breath, squinting in the half illuminated yard and hear a low gurgled groan. My attention snaps to the right and I look intensely at the dense, dark blue forest. I cant see a thing in that direction but I can definitely hear something. I’m standing in place with the black pan held high above my head in what I think is a proper striking position. My body is shaking but I’m too afraid to move. I stare hard at the trees and a violent chill sends my hair standing on end.
The sound coming from the thick of the forest suddenly turns into a long, throaty growl and I snap out of my trans. If it’s a bear, my mothers old pan isn’t going to save me. I drop the pan in a panic and I turn quickly to run back into my house. My feet get tripped up under me and I forget about the steps up to my porch. I fall hard on the corner of the last step. A burning pain fills my left side and my right ankle is twisted in the wrong direction. I roll over to grab my ankle and my eyes raise up to see a large, dark figure standing right over me. The thing appeared to be wearing some sort of head-dress or crown of branches and was completely shadowed by darkness. It threw its head back and gave a loud shriek. I close my eyes and scream while I push myself up quickly. My side feels hot and wet and my ankle is bent badly. I take three big hops to get inside and slam the door shut, locking it clumsily and sliding down the door and onto the floor. Panting and shaking, I look over my right shoulder and lean slowly towards the window next to the front door. I blink hard through my tears and see nothing there. The yard is still and the light of the moon is bright on my porch. I take a quick glance at my right ankle and see it has already begun to swell. I must have knocked it back in place in my hurry to get inside because it appeared to be straight now. I touch my left side and wince at the immediate pain. Taking my hand away I see the color red smeared on my left palm. I lean back up against the door and pull up my long green shirt. It hurts to lean and even more to lift up my shirt and my breathing is so fast that my lungs feel on fire. I look down to see a piece of the wooden porch sticking out of the left side of my abdomen. My hands are sweaty and I begin to panic.
I can see about an inch of wood sticking out of me but I have no comprehension of how far inward I have been pierced. My shirt is soaked with tears and sweat and I lean over to look out the window again. Still nothing. Was there anything there in the first place? The porch was flooded with moonlight. If someone had been standing there I would have been able to see every detail of them. But that sound. I definitely heard that horrible sound and had no desire to ever hear that again. I crawl into the kitchen, pushing the shards of glass from the broken mirror under the table and out of my way. One of the pieces nicks the side of my right hand I can feel the sting of yet another object sticking out of my skin. I stop crawling to pull the glass out and a bubble of blood appears in its absence on my hand. I finally make it to the bathroom and pull myself up using the sink for support. I put a little bit of pressure on my right foot and it feels okay to stand if I balance most of the weight on my left foot. Though this makes my left side scream in pain. I lift up my shirt again and hold the bottom of the wet fabric in my mouth so I can use both hands to examine the wound. A slow trickle of blood runs down my side and hip and slowly drips onto the floor. “Fuck” I whisper under my rapid breathing. I grab the wood that impaled me and give it a quick tug outward. It slides out with ease, like pulling a knife out from a birthday cake. A flow of blood follows it like a dam being opened for the first time. I grab the white hand towel off the side of the sink and cover the hole in my side, applying hard pressure. The tears are rolling off my face and into the sink and I look at the sight of myself in the mirror. I look terrifying. There is a window behind me and see a dark figure run past out in the yard. My eyes widen in the mirror and I whip around to face the window.
I feel the towel getting damp under my hand, but that is the least of my worries. Someone or something is outside. I know I saw its shadow in the mirror. I hobble to the window nervously and look out into the back yard. I see nothing but the lanky shadows of the trees and the yellow moonlight. I open the medicine cabinet under the window without averting my eyes from the yard. I grab some medical tape and begin to wrap it around my middle, holding the towel over my wound. Luckily I have a small waist and enough tape to hold the handmade bandage in place. The pressure helps but my head feels light and dizzy. I head for my nightstand in my bedroom to get my phone. It’s not there. I look around frantically, exhaling loudly and hobbling around my room. I find my purse and pull out the dead iPhone. Crying softly, I struggle back over to my nightstand and grab the white charging cord with my red-stained, shaky hands. It takes forever to get the charger plugged in. Seconds felt like minutes and a minute felt like hours. Leaning against my bed, I take a deep breath and grimace at the pain in my side. I finally see the battery symbol when another crash fills my terror-stricken ears. I don’t jump this time. I’m too afraid to jump. It’s coming from the front again. The crashing sound was instant but the sound that follows lasted an eternity. I walk slowly around my bed so I can get a visual of the front door through the frame of my bedroom door. A screeching metal sound was coming from along the outside of my front room wall, starting at one end and making its way along the length of the siding. It pierced my ears and tears filled my eyes again. “What do you WANT!?” I scream, closing my eyes. The sound comes to an abrupt stop. I don’t feel pain any more. I feel numb. My mind is empty, as if I had lost control of all my own thoughts. The door flies open and a horrible scream fills my empty head. Was it my own scream? I open my eyes to find myself standing on the front porch. Did I run out here? Was I pulled? I look to the left and and turn to face the outside of my home. Gruesomely etched in the siding are the words LEAVE MY LAND. The letters are dripping with a black, sticky looking substance. Is it blood? I realize I have been slowly stepping backwards off my porch and I am now standing in the yard, exposed and vulnerable.
I hear the trees groan again behind me. The low growl of pain and loneliness surrounds me and I turn to face the black trees. The moaning is louder towards the end of my driveway. I look up and squint to see my husbands truck just peaking over the hill! I feel my heart beating again. A thought rises in my head. Run. It isn’t a pretty sight but I run as best as I can up the long dirt drive. The groans of the trees are so loud that I wonder if they are alive. I make it to the top of the hill and at the end of the drive to see my Husband’s truck facing away from the home. I walk slowly to the passenger side and look inside the open door. The lights are flickering in the cabin and the keys are still in the ignition. The truck is beeping steadily to remind my husband that the keys are still in but there is no sign of him anywhere. His bagged lunch is still sitting in the seat, untouched. Did he not make it out of the driveway!? The groans start again behind me. My eyes widen as I realize the familiar sound of the groan. It was my husband groaning. In a panic I reach for the flashlight I knew was in the glove box. I flick it on and spin around to face the woods. My right ankle throbs. The light dances off the trees as I hastily shine the beam from one spot of the edge of the woods to another. I am hobbling back down the drive, my side is bleeding down my leg, and the groans are getting louder once more.
Suddenly the light catches an object high in the trees and I jerk the flashlight away from the object in fear. I am so panicked that I can’t find the object again. Holding the flashlight with two hands to steady it, I raise the beam up and see my husband hanging between two tall black trees. He is facing away from me, and his arms and legs have been nailed to the two trees, spread eagle in the air. There is something hanging off his back. I find no voice in my body. I can’t speak to him. I carefully step closer to the edge of the woods. I hear a slow drip of blood hitting the leaves on the forest floor under him. I take a breath. He isn’t moving and as I examine what is on his back I realize what it is. His lungs have been pulled out his back and spread out in the air like a pair of red wet wings, hung up by something I can’t see in the darkness. I drop the flashlight and stifle my scream with both hands. The trees move and groan as my husbands body sways between them. I feel sick and dizzy. I back up taking one slow step at a time. My back hits something hard and cold. I turn around and look up to see the tall, dark, head-dressed figure standing behind me, over me, all around me. I drop to my knees and look up at the murdering beast. I’m paralyzed, helpless, and so very cold. I just want to wake up from this nightmare. Where has my mothers pan gone to? She will be so mad at me for losing it. My mind starts to fade. I’m blacking out.
The dark sky has begun to lighten as the morning approaches. A cool blue hue fills the yard. Still on my knees as my body begins to sway into unconsciousness, I get one good look at the monster. His cloak of darkness lifts and I see the Native American’s repulsive face. Deep cuts and foreign tattoos cover his face like a mask. His teeth appear sharpened to a point and his eyes are wide and hysterical. His head-dress sits 2 feet on top of his head and the colors of the feathers and sticks look faded and dead. The daybreak shows his swollen body riddled with holes and stab wounds. His skin looks grey and his breechcloth is ratted and torn, exposing his putrid skin. He tilts his head back to howl and screech in the morning light. I put my head down against the cool, wet grass and close my heavy eyes. I imagine the home I will one day have in Scottsdale. I see my husband and his toothy smile as he dances with me in our living room. I count my breaths and feel the cold grass on my forehead. I find strength to lift my head up. The man is gone. The beast has fled. A ray of warm light flashes in my eyes. The sun has peaked over the mountain top and shown right on top of me, where I lay bleeding, panting, and crying. At the edge of the Tonto forest, as my husband’s body sways behind me.
I hear the tin trash can fall over. The raccoons are back.