The scary things that lurk, slurp behind us

Sometimes the hardest part of an early morning run is the first step outside, and this one was no exception. I’ve often joked that fall ushers in hibernation season, when bodies long to remain cocooned in soft, warm beds. But I knew myself too well; skipping one run would open the door to others ignored, and before long my butt would be glued to the couch. So I pulled on my gear, and tripped over snoring setters on my way out the door.

The air slapped me in the face like a wet towel, and I eyeballed the pavement for ankle-slaying potholes as I launched into my slow, churning cadence. The fog was thick, creating auras where streetlights should be. My uber sexy headlamp lay forgotten in the kitchen junk drawer. Great.

Mist swirled as I shuffled along, holding sounds close as though enveloped in a big bell jar. I’d run this route hundreds of times, but once-familiar houses looked alien in the pressing gloom. The fog grew denser the farther I went, until it swallowed visibility with a giant gulp. Even making out the curb took significant effort.

My imagination spiked with my exerting heart and lungs. Alarms rang in my head as I recalled the imaginary monsters that once lived beneath my childhood bed. The hair on the nape of my neck stood up. Something was definitely wrong.

My ears strained to distinguish a huffing sound that was not my own. I couldn’t tell where it came from, but it grew louder as though it was drawing very close, very fast. Its source was low to the ground, a slick gasp like a tongue rasping teeth. I picked up my pace, but it advanced as though pulled by a magnetic force.

I was only halfway through my run, but I’d had enough of the freakish fog and its eerie noises.

I rounded a corner and hoped I was heading for home. I followed a row of streetlights that seemed familiar, yet found myself in the empty, water park parking lot — an abandoned facility that had long been closed for the season. The place was not on my regular route. I had strayed far from my intended path, but at least I knew where I was.

The sound crept closer. I was being stalked.

I passed a solitary and battered Jeep in the parking lot, and nearly had a heart attack when its engine caught and lights snapped on. It pulled slowly into the street behind me. I have never felt more alone than at that moment, and my feet moved faster than I ever thought possible.
I was about a mile from home, and the Jeep followed close enough to light my way. I didn’t know whether to be thankful or terrified by the gesture. And that squishing, slobbering sound was … driving … me … nuts.

I stopped in my tracks.

“OK, that’s it!” I gasped. “Buzz off, Jeep guy! Hit the road, slobber puss!”

Jeep brakes squealed as it lurched to a stop, and my noisy tormentor rocketed into view.
It was a 3-pound Chihuahua with a nasal problem. The snarling beast latched onto my running tights like it was killing a mongoose.

The Jeep door swung open, and a man in camouflage jammies stepped out.
“Rocko!” he yelled. “Where have you been?”

He unlatched the little demon from my ankle, and scooped it into his arms. Tight remnants dangled from the dog’s teeth.

Pajama Guy crawled into his Jeep with his killer dog, slammed the door, and drove down the street. As he disappeared from sight he yelled, “Happy Halloween!”

Tamera Schlueter

Tam Schlueter adopts a "strike-fast-and-keep-them-laughing" approach to writing. Her column appears every Thursday in the Hastings Tribune, and showcases the wonder of family, dogs, muscle cars, and folks with blue collars and no-nonsense attitudes.

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