The Picture

Ye shall know him as Ice Drummer, for that is his handle. (Like me, he prefers to lay low, so I will not spill his secret identity.) And this Waltoween submission of his is a little different from others in that it was never a submission, per se. Rather, it’s a story he shared with me by email several months ago, and it struck me then as something that would be a nice fit for this month’s deviltry, so I asked him if I could share it, and he said yes. Here it is!  

The Picture

by Ice Drummer

 

My mom lives on a Farm to Market Road on few acres. The closest neighbor is just less than one mile away. No streetlights are on this road, so most nights the only light source is the moon, stars, and the light from the kitchen window. On clear nights, you can see the bright safety light from the employee parking lot of the rock crusher about eight miles away.

Last Thursday night, my mom was expecting my brother Ron and his wife Martha to stay for a few days. Driving from Houston, and knowing their departure was after work, she expected them anywhere from 9 PM to midnight. Usually, my mom would call it a night early and just let them make themselves at home until they said their hellos at breakfast the next morning.

This time, though, my mom was going to be filing and shredding a bunch of tax papers. She doesn’t own a shredder as we know it. She has this pair of scissors that has five blades. That’s what she uses. It is time-consuming. That’s why she was awake when they drove up around 11 PM.

Ron brought in the luggage while Martha put away some groceries they bought because my mom doesn’t have any carbonated beverages or red meat in the house. They brought their chocolate Labrador retriever with them. Their dog gets along well with my mom’s dog, a black Great Pyrenees mix that is 125 pounds of muscle.

They were sitting in the living room when the Lab started howling. A dog howling in the country is not unusual. My mom’s dog does it frequently. But there was something different about this howl. It included a distinct whimper throughout it. It was enough to make them go check on the dogs where they saw the lab pacing back and forth, pausing only to throw her had back and howl some more. The black dog, displaying his Pyrenees quality, was sitting but at attention. Ears wide, he was staring into the darkness.

All three of them did what most of us would do. They stared the same direction as the dog and told the chocolate lab to be quiet. After about a minute, the dogs both became distracted by their presence and ended up chasing the frogs that sometimes take a shortcut across the porch.

The conversation moved back inside, plans were being made for the next day when a different sound changed things. The three described it as “A scream,” “A woman screaming” and “I thought it sounded like a pig squealing, except it sounded like a person.”

As you might expect, sound travels efficiently in the country. There is little ambient noise to drown it out. However, it can be difficult to pinpoint. Sound waves bounce off of tree lines, contours of the earth and even low clouds. None of them had an idea until the stepped outside. The brown dog was sitting by the door. The Pyrenees was sitting where he was previously, staring the same direction.

In the daytime, the dog would have been looking at a tangled clump of cedars and mesquite trees. That area of the property is on a dry creek bed where a tractor can’t cross. We have never dealt with it because there is not much space to the barbed wire fence marking the end of my mom’s property. From the house to the trees is about 100 yards. About 25 yards past that is the old Cunningham family cemetery.

The Cunningham estate just leases the land out to hunters now. But from the late 1800s until the law changed 40 years ago, every Cunningham that died in the family was buried in two parallel rows alongside a naturally occurring ridge of limestone.

That’s where the dog was looking when everyone heard a different sound. This time, it was easily identifiable, the yips of coyotes. The Pyrenees was no longer sitting. Now on all fours, hackles raised, teeth bared, he started barking. Violent barking, the barks that result in slobber snapping wildly from his mouth.

“I’m getting a gun.” Ron walked back into the house. My mom and Martha waited, looking into the darkness. The coyotes started howling. My mom jumped when the chocolate Lab at the door joined the howls. There was no whimper this time. The Pyrenees howled. For about 20 seconds, all anyone heard was howling.

The only interruption was the second scream. Descriptions, “A hog getting slaughtered,” “Horrible, not human, but just horrible” and “It wasn’t a woman, but it sounded like one.”

There are two firearms in the house. There is a .22 Ruger rifle for the bobcats that show up in the spring and kill my mom’s chickens. There is a Taurus Judge loaded with .410 buckshot for the copperhead snakes that get too close to the house. The first thing that made no sense is that my brother grabbed the Taurus, which has a range of about eight feet. The second thing is that after loading it, he went out the patio door with just the LED flashlight on his keychain and started walking towards that tree line.

Just after the second scream, the dogs and Martha saw my brother making that walk and got over to the tractor. The keys are always in the tractor, so she turned on the lights. This had no small impact, the back field was almost entirely visible. The dogs both ran to join my brother on his quest. He made it about 60 yards when silence took over.

No sound. No coyotes. No screams. At that distance, my mom could hear my brother’s keys  because everything else was quiet. From the tractor, Martha couldn’t see anything unusual. Ron stayed in place, listening for coyotes in the brush, but there was nothing. The dogs bored of him, started sniffing and moved around. After a minute of nothing to guide him, he returned to the house.

This was more than enough excitement to make some hot tea and talk around the dinner table. My mom finally went to bed before 1 AM. Ron and Martha watched a cooking show that ended at 2 AM while getting settled in the guest room. From all accounts, no one slept well.

The coffee maker was on a timer. Martha was moving around when she smelled it and decided to have some. After pouring herself a cup, she went outside.  Just a few steps from the door was one half of an animal. It was sliced in half, not chewed, not sawed, not dressed with a field knife, sliced perfectly in half. The head was intact, tongue swollen and extended, eyes bulging, forelegs askew, one half of a torso, then nothing.

So fine was the separation from flesh and emptiness that the cutting looked cauterised, folded with no rough edge. This was a bothersome site. Yet, none of this is what was remarkable about this finding. What would bother all three later was the absence of any skin.

See, animal parts are not a big deal when you have dogs like these. They will bring in a road killed feral hog, deer organs from what hunters leave behind, possum and rabbit are all treats to these dogs. The animal carcass always has a hide.

This was not all that was different. When they bring back something they scavenge, they stay with it. They gnaw on it. They keep licking on it. Over a few hours, you have to take it away from them because the smell becomes too much.

The dogs wanted nothing to do with this one. They would not get close to it. When they had the chance, they both rushed into the laundry room where they nap during the day. You got the feeling that the dogs did not bring this body to the house.

Martha woke Ron to get him to come see it. My mom saw they were awake and got her first look at it about five minutes later. The three of them were still stunned when I saw the picture about four hours after it was taken. I was supposed to meet everyone for lunch. They told me the story.

The picture Martha took is disturbing. The animal looks desperate, as if the hide removal happened while still alive. No one has looked at the picture and not had their mouth drop open. Some zoom in to see closer, then shiver or shake their head while handing the phone back to Martha. More than one has crossed themselves.

I only saw a picture because sometime between Martha’s discovery and my arrival, the carcass disappeared. The dogs were inside. There were no buzzards. No one touched it. It was gone.

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