“Get up, Butch! It is nearly noon.”
My mother had this raspy voice, and it was only made worse when she used it on me first thing in the morning.
She stood in the entrance to my bedroom door as she had done hundreds of times when I was a kid. I was 22 years old, and due to a set of irreversible circumstances found myself right back where I was before I had even gone to college.
“Five more minutes, mom.” I rolled over away from her towards my wall.
“Your dad said to be ready for that job interview by seven. It is a quarter after six.”
I graduated from the School of Engineering at the University of Akron two months ago. I was only planning to live at home through the summer, but the job and the girl I planned to move to Jacksonville for didn’t pan out. More like she found out about the kiss I shared with my best friend, Molly, one drunken August night.
The kiss meant nothing; I barely recall it. Okay, I’m lying, Molly had on cherry-flavored lip balm. I could still taste it days later when I thought about it; only I tried not to because we had been best friends since the second grade. We both realized the kiss was a huge mistake. We were only drunk from homemade moonshine someone brought to the party. Molly and I agreed it was no big deal; only Molly had been weird with me since it happened. Becca had talked her father into offering me an entry-level position at his manufacturing company not far from Jax Beach. Only when Becca found out about my kissing Molly, thanks to my stupid need to confess it to her the next day, I lost my best friend and girlfriend in less than twenty-four hours. My life became the living Hell you are currently witnessing.
I now had a curfew again because my mom said she didn’t want to worry about me. That it was polite to text her when I was going out, and what friends I would be hanging out with and what time to expect me home. I was an adult now and didn’t need this crap.
My dad was the worst, always going on about how I should have taken the internship two years ago with his friend’s company. He was right to have been a little angry with me because I would have had a decent entry-level job after school. I thought it was beneath me to take the internship because it was unpaid. I needed money for beer, for games, and I figured with my degree it would be smooth sailing.
Much to my embarrassment, and multiple, “I told you so’s” from my parents, I found myself unable to secure a position after graduation. My dad finally told me it was to get any job or get out.
My dad worked for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and they were looking for a maintenance man to ensure all of the restrooms in the Park. It didn’t pay much, and I had no desire to make twelve bucks an hour, especially since I now had a degree in engineering. I knew I had to suck it up, so I rolled out of bed and put on a nice polo shirt and slacks.
“Why don’t you cut that hair?” my father asked me when he saw me.
“It is combed and clean what more do you want from me?” I asked, annoyed.
My father rolled his eyes and sucked in a rude breath. “Get in the car, Butch.”
The fog was erupting from the forests near the Cuyahoga Valley, and I rode with my father to his job. We pulled in front of the main park maintenance office, and I went in.
I met with his boss, Mr. Fletcher, and we discussed the new job. I got an offer on the spot because, as Mr. Fletcher put it – how hard was it to clean shit?
I was given a park uniform, and I set to work that afternoon under Mr. Fletcher. He insisted that he showed me the ropes such as where to empty the receptacles, what time of the day to do each rest area, and to ensure I kept tabs on toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
“In the summer months, you have to come out here twice a day. At least check on things to make sure we don’t run out of supplies. Lots of hikers, bikers, and runners.”
No shit. I thought to myself. Of course, there would be more people in the Park in the summer; but I smiled and nodded anyway.
Mr. Fletcher drove around the Park and showed me what areas I would be responsible for daily. It seemed simple enough.
It was a long day riding around and pretending to care about small talk with Mr. Fletcher. We talked about the Cleveland Indians as he loved baseball. He went on and on about how many times he and his family had seen home openers. He made sure I knew that once upon a time, he almost had a spot playing for pro baseball. That was before an elbow injury put him out of the game for good.
When the day was over, I was exhausted because I was bored to tears from listening to Mr. Fletcher drone on about himself. Granted, I let him talk about himself; it saved me from sharing anything about myself or the fact that my life was shit at the moment.
The following weeks went by as expected, it was a relatively easy job and one I got to do by myself. The pay wasn’t great, but at least I had freedom. I wasn’t being watched all day, nor was I sitting behind a desk pushing paperwork.
Then came that day in March of 2016 when things began to get weird.
It was nearly spring, and the snowstorms we had on and off March were almost at an end. You could see peeking green grass coming up here and there in the wettest marsh. The carp at Beaver Marsh were becoming active here and there on the warmer days, and a Blue Heron or two was spotted in one of the nests that hung in the towering trees alongside Bath Road.
Monday’s were as dreadful as any other job even working for the Park. The cold and lack of activity in the rest areas, due to the cold, made for a slow, dreary morning.
The day before, Mr. Fletcher had me go with him to search for a missing hiker in the old Oak Hill trail. I had felt weird about it when we arrived, but there wasn’t much to relay except we turned over a backpack and a single hiking boot.
I took my lunch break at the local HELLTOWN DINER funny how they capitalized on the legends of Helltown for a quick buck. On my way to the diner, I saw something odd cross the old road. I couldn’t make out the animal, but I was slightly fearful it was a black bear. The hikers didn’t need to know any of that. I pulled into where a guy was working on a cell tower but didn’t seem interested in making small talk. I was fearful that what I saw run through there was what I had heard so many rumors about it.
I left the guy who told me his name was Ethan and hoped I’d see him come into the diner.
I walked in and sat at the counter, waiting on my usual waitress Kelly to pour me a hot coffee. I felt tired suddenly. Everything seemed to be slow-moving on this particular morning.
I thanked Kelly and then pulled out my cell phone. NO SERVICE. Odd, but that wasn’t unusual around here.
I found myself staring into space, thinking about Molly. Mr. Fletcher called me, interrupting my thoughts.
“Butch, we need to come help clean up out here on Riverview. There was a large dead animal that was hit by a car.”
I rolled my eyes. “Sure thing Mr. Fletcher.”
I stood left a five-dollar bill on the table and chugged my coffee. Kelly had a fresh cup for me as I was walking out the door. I think the older woman liked me a little bit.
“I couldn’t help but overhear. This one is on the house.”
I smiled thanking her and then ran out the door.
By the time I got to the road, I had noticed that Mr. Fletcher had the street blocked off.
“Butch, by the time I got here, the animal was gone. I’m guessing it was a dear. Look at all that blood, though.” Mr. Fletcher said, covering his nose with a handkerchief.
I noticed a small patch of hair in the blood, but I didn’t want to say what I thought.
I smelled the air, and that is when my nostrils caught the fresh smell of sulfur.
A couple of local cars drove by, and I waved them through the mini barricade. I happened to look up and into the trees. Beyond the treeline, I saw two yellow lights. At least that is what I thought they were when I saw them. I squinted my eyes and focused on it, and that is when I saw something stand up.
There were two pointed ears attached to a black shadow between two oak trees. The low lying plants covered up its lower half, but I could distinctly make out something with a dog-like head.
Then it faded into the trees as though it disappeared into thin air. It reminded me of Harry Potter when he put on the cloak and disappeared.
I didn’t say anything to Mr. Fletcher, but I could feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
I knew then I would come back when Mr. Fletcher was no longer around. I had to know what the Hell that was. I’d wait till nightfall.
I packed a book bag full of things I would need. I had my night vision binoculars with me, and I had my recording devices, thermal gear in case the temperature dropped, and a compass. I took my gun too, a small pistol in case I ran into any trouble. It wasn’t much, but it was better than being attacked and having no chance of surviving.
I pulled out of my driveway, telling my parents I was going to a buddies house, and I sped towards the Park. I knew there was a place in the Park where I had heard of strange things happening. I had heard rumors for years that the Ohio Grassman was frequently spotted in the woods not far from Ira Marsh. Where I was going was Brandywine falls. I knew the river would most likely be where any of these creatures may have territories if they were like most animals in the Park, they would be near a water source.
I parked my car near the side of the main lot and got out. I looked at my wristwatch and saw it was just after eleven o’clock. I took a deep breath and headed out towards the bike trail. From there, I headed off towards a side trail that was covered in rocks and fallen tree trunks. It wasn’t the most accessible trail to walk in the day, let alone at night.
Just then, I heard it. There was a deep guttural howling coming from near the river just south of the Falls. I felt the hairs stand up on my back, and I questioned my sanity in continuing further into the woods. It was pitch black except for my flashlight. I picked up my recording device and held it up into the air, trying to capture the sounds.
I walked deeper inside the shadows of the forest. I saw something in the distance. I blinked twice, and it disappeared. There was a light of something that I thought was eyeshine. Then it went again.
The forest got quiet. There were no crickets or sounds of animals scurrying in the underbrush. The sound of the falls as the water hit the rocks below seemed far off in the distance.
I heard it whistle then. Then again.
This time it was coming from the tops of the trees.
I looked up, and there to my horror were a dozen yellow eyes looking in my direction.
I heard a “whoop whoop” it wasn’t an owl. It was as though something was trying to communicate with me.
My chest heaved, and I took in a deep breath.
WHOO WHOOP again.
Then I felt a loud thump behind me. It was the sound of something dropping from the tops of the trees onto the ground behind me.
Then I heard it again beside me, and then in front of me. I could see nothing in the darkness. I stood terrified, realizing these creatures were hunting in packs.
Then along, moan escaped one of them that still lingered inside the tree above me. It had a significant presence that seemed more massive than all of the rest. I could feel myself and the terror inside of me growing into a full-fledged panic. Why had I been so stupid? I was going to be shredded meat.
I remembered my pistol and pulled it out slowly from my backpack to make any sudden moves.
Then I shot in the air. To my utter amazement, it did nothing to deter these creatures, whatever they were.
I backed up unbeknownst to me, and they seemed to back up too. Whatever moves I made, they mimicked. I felt tears in my eyes, and all I could do was plead.
“Please don’t kill me.”
Then one of them laughed like a coyote or a hyena. It seemed to be grinning at me as I held the flashlight on its face. Its amber eyes never blinking, just a sickening grin.
Then I heard something else in the distance. It was a deeper growl, and when it appeared, the others seemed to stop focusing on me, and all looked ahead. The most massive creature had somehow appeared in front of them all. It arose and disappeared in the black of the night like something from the movie predator.
They could cloak themselves, and all disappeared in a split second—the sounds of trees rustling above me then in the distance.
I took the opportunity to run back up the trail with them out of sight, and I took no chances.
Just as I got to the top of the trail, I felt it then. One of the creatures had followed me and dropped down from the trees in front of me. Only I couldn’t see it. I could hear it, but I couldn’t see it.
It was utterly invisible to me, and then I felt it on my neck. It seemed to be sniffing me. I bolted towards the bike path and the street. It didn’t follow me into the road, but when I turned to look behind me, I saw twenty pairs of amber eyes watching me.