In the night, in lonely places, we may find beasts larger than ourselves.
Some we create and some are real.
On one particular night, high in the mountains of Arizona, I found both.
I was an Army lieutenant at the time, "trained to kill", "schooled in the arts of war", "oblivious to fear"
... in the daylight.
The mountains in question rose up behind Fort Huachuca and marched south into Mexico.
The clear air and distant views of the southwest were new to me. From the window in my quarters
I could see the cliffs and canyons of the mountains. Tall trees grew above a certain altitude
where it was cooler and the clouds condensed. I hadn't expected trees in the desert
and I planned a trip to see them close at hand.
The quad map showed a structure of some sort about halfway up one canyon... and a spring
where I thought I might find water. Colonel Osborne knew the place...an old mining shack...
long abandoned at the end of a rough access road. He offered to drive me up that far in his Jeep.
It was threatening rain when he dropped me off, waved goodbye and headed back.
The shack was unusable except for one room with a concrete floor and fireplace.
The other rooms had rotting wood floors with interior doors that sagged off their hinges.
The "spring" of the map turned out to be a concrete cistern with a dead bird floating in it.
No glorious nature stroll to this point.
I found water in a stagnant pool, filtered it through my handkerchief to get the mud and bugs out
and hit it with a triple dose of Halazone. Fortunately the rain began towards evening
and I stretched out a plastic tarp from the porch to collect water and funnel it into a cooking pot.
I started a fire in the fireplace, ate,
and unrolled my sleeping bag.
The rain increased the isolation in a pleasant way.
The fire died down and the room grew dim.
I tried to sleep.
It was the bat that started me to think.
It flew out of the dark, inner doorway, circled the room and headed back into the other rooms.
The other rooms bothered me a bit. What might be in the other rooms?
I had barely glanced through that door earlier. My room was dim but that door was black.
I tried to sleep but the door was there.
I opened my eyes at a small noise and listened. I didn't move at first. Again...
a small noise across the room.
I sat up and turned my flashlight onto ...a mouse, just a small mouse
patrolling back and forth across the floor.
I laid back but didn't sleep. The mouse didn't bother me.
...... snakes eat mice....... and like warm places...... fireplace hearths...... sleeping bags.
Probably best not to have mice about the place.
I turned the flashlight on the mouse and spoke out loud, suggesting that he should leave.
There might be snakes about.... or other fearsome creatures.
He paid no attention and continued his patrol.
I picked up a small stick from the kindling I had gathered, shouted,
and tossed the stick at him.
I hit him. Knocked him out cold.
I felt terrible.
There were fearsome creatures in that shack that night.
Creatures thousands of times his size that roared and threw logs.
He couldn't find the breath to run. The creature stood high above him, blinded him with a bright light
and reached out....
I propped him up gently with my finger and apologized.
The lieutenant who was "trained to kill" hunched over a mouse in the mountains in the night
and apologized out loud.
I went over to my pack and got a piece of granola bar,
put it in front of him as a peace offering and waited.
After a minute he revived, picked up the piece of granola bar and proceeded to munch away.
....truly "oblivious to fear".....
bathed in the pool of light from my flashlight inches above his head.
Later that night he woke me again trying to get into my pack pocket for the rest of the granola bar.
I gave him one more piece and went back to sleep.
The next morning I filled my canteens with the rainwater in my pots and packed to continue up the mountain.
I left a few more pieces of granola bar by the fireplace hearth
just in case the mouse came back the next night
when he would have only bats to worry about
....and dark doors....and perhaps...