My front yard is dark; the street light is, at this moment, off, resting, quiet. The dog rushes down the four blue steps that lead from the front door to the little patch of grass. He is so small in comparison to the steps, and his head is so big in relation to his body, that every step presents the danger of his tumbling head over heels to the small concrete landing below. The dog pulls me by the leash onto the slightly overgrown grass. The sprinklers have recently been on; I feel the moisture seeping through the bottom edges of my threadbare pajama pants.
The ritual of sniffing is an important one to my dog. First he sniffs around in the grass itself presumably to make sure that none of the neighborhood dogs have desecrated his most sacred ground. Then he tries to go for the flower bed, but I don’t let him—I’ve just doused the irises with insecticide. He then makes for the rosemary bushes which reside in a thin bed of gravel between the sidewalk and the street. He straddles one that is just slightly bigger than himself, and attempts with mixed success to crap on top of the bush. Without clarity of vision, I look up and down the street. Sometimes homeless people are wondering through the neighborhood, sometimes sleeping in the park. Sometimes there are stray dogs, dogs that could eat my dog as an hor d’oeurves before proceeding to my leg as the main course. I am as vigilant as I can be, half-asleep and without my glasses, which are neatly folded on my nightstand on top of my copy of Twilight of the Machines.
As my dog continues to defecate on my ornamental herbs, I am hazily recalling a conversation I had with one of my friends who forages rather than buys his food. Mostly, he gets his food from the dumpsters of grocery stores, bakeries, and restaurants, but just the other day he mentioned being able to find lots of edible plants “in people’s yards or right next to the sidewalk.” I hope he wasn’t referring to my rosemary.
The dog is now sniffing around, tugging at the leash. He wants to explore the possibility of a territorial infringement involving the fire hydrant on the corner. Across the street is a park, a patch of grass, some of it dead, several large elm trees, a bench or two, and a jungle gym—an elaborate plastic ziggurat planted in a bed of shredded rubber mulch, and flanked by a swing set. I know all of these things are over there in the park, but I cannot see them now at what I estimate is 3:07am. It is too dark, and the street light, normally orangish-yellow at the near edge of the park directly across from the fire-hydrant, refuses to turn on.
I watch the dog lift his leg and delicately balance his body centimeters above the rusty yellow hydrant. My vision suddenly clears. Several things happen almost instantaneously, though I am profoundly struck with the impression that the very first thing which occurs is that my dog’s ears prick up, next the hair on the back of his neck bristles, and then so does the hair on the back of mine. A seismic screech explodes in every direction, its epicenter directly above us or maybe from one of the elm trees across the street, not ten yards away. The shriek is diabolically raw; the noise is tangible and makes our heads swim. It echoes down the urban canyon of houses, and cars. It is inhuman, in fact non-mammalian—neither drowning llamas, nor suffocating oxen could ever make a sound so horrific, so malignantly primal, so pre-historic.
We are in the house. The door is locked, and bolted, the chain slid into its brass slot. We pant in the dark, terrified, full of adrenaline. All I remember is that I almost stepped on the dog as we both leapt for the door, I made it up the four blue stairs in a single bound, the dog, less than a foot long, in two. I have never been more united in purpose with a member of another species. We both had the same flight response. We both knew that we were to either flee or die; run or be torn apart in a mélange of wings or scales, canine and human flesh; the blood of dog and master staining sidewalks and sprinkling rosemary bushes at the hands of…the sound. What had made it? I ask myself without daring to move, sitting on the ground, the Chihuahua trembling at my side; our hearts pumping furiously and at roughly the same rate. What could possibly emit such a grotesquely frightening noise?
I lean back against the wall by the door, right under the hooks where I hang my coats. I try not to think about it, and to catch my breath. I inhale deeply. Oxygen is once again freely flowing to my brain. A cacophony of memories come rushing in to the stygian vacuum which had just began to settle over me. Synapses fire, my eyelids shudder as events are revealed that are moments fresh, before the flight, before the frenzied locking of doors, before the collapse onto the carpet. I remember three things happening not nearly, but precisely, at once.
The First Thing
The shriek was followed by silence. I looked toward the park. There directly above the street’s double yellow center line, was an owl with a wingspan at least equivalent to the length of the Ford Explorer parked nearby. It was ghost-grey and its eyes were red. Its noiseless wings rippled and glowed. Its scythe beak was still slightly ajar. No doubt, it was finishing its fell squawk on the subsonic level warning the stray dogs to stay away. Its talons were extended, serrated like rustic steak knives painted black. It was not interested in me, but in the dog at the end of the leash whose undercarriage was still dripping with piss as he circled around to face his avian apocalypse with what I immediately perceived as a Zen-like attitude more befitting a Shiatsu or Labrador than a dog of his breed.
I could not stop the bird from snatching the dog. Its powerful wings cut me down at the knees as it passed. I fell hard. The leash was somehow severed; it lay limp beside me like a ran-over snake. On my back, with gravel in my leather coat, I watched as the two beasts soared above my head bound for a massacre atop some tree or lamppost. I do not know how long I laid there stunned, catatonic, experiencing grief, and relief, and dumbfounded awe. Finally, I returned my attention to physical reality. I sensed an animal presence, and wondered if the owl had come back for a more substantial meal. It wasn’t the owl. There was a faint rustling of gravel beneath small paws. I felt a little tongue licking my hand. There at my side was the dog. A small fuzzy feather half-protruded from his mouth as his tongue hung out panting, looking thirsty.
The Second Thing
The shriek was followed by silence. I looked toward the park. A fire burned brightly where there was only darkness before. The flames were taller than the jungle gym, maybe thirty feet to the left of that structure. I could only see the tops of the flames. The place where fire met ground was obscured by trees and bushes, and tall blades of grass, all of which were made into silhouettes, two dimensional foreground, by the fire’s light.
I became aware of the drums. I released had always been there, pounding an ancient cadence. As I looked, the dog began to bark, angry, confused, defensive. The fire became closer, or more accurately we moved toward it. Our surroundings blurred. Without moving any of our six legs we were ten feet away. Silhouettes were gone and shadows faded and we were confronted with a demonic spectacle. We were in a shallow depression in the middle of the park. The grass was full of dandelions, but these most innocent of flower-weeds some how looked grotesque and menacing, as if they all had just swallowed a bee and were looking for something else to eat.
The fire was hot and red. Human or near-human figures danced around the fire, eight of them. Their bodies were naked and purpled by flame and clotted blood. Their faces obscured by masks. At first they danced close to the fire, cellulose, and bellies, and genitalia all wildly shaking and writhing en masse to the rhythm of invisible drums. Suddenly they moved away from each other and the fire. They radiated outward, some of them toward us, but they did not seem to see us. As far as I could tell, their masks had no holes for sight.
With the bodies not clumped together near the fire, I finally saw the base of the flames, and I almost threw up. The beheaded bodies of a mastiff and a poodle lay bleeding out in front of the fire, their aortas still squirting blood according to the intervals of a still beating or very recently beating heart. Each squirt was accompanied by a faint squishing sound which matched the rhythm of drums. Or was the blood-song itself the sound I mistook for drums? The figures started singing, and they had been singing all along. Through their gestures and the words of their song I knew that the animals would be burned. I did not know what language they sang, but I understood it. This was a ritual sacrifice, a marriage sacrifice. My attention was drawn (by the lyrics?) to two of the dancers, a man and woman, newly made husband and wife. They were the source of the screech which had been created by the orgasmic union of two bodies and two spirits bound together by the magic of blood, and fire, and fur. I saw that these two were not really wearing masks at all, but wore the heads of the mastiff and the poodle over their own. I wondered how they fit.
The Third Thing
The shriek was followed by silence. I looked toward the park. There was darkness. A gathering ominousness was felt behind me, like a land facing monk would feel if a boat of rapacious Vikings were sailing up behind him. The dog and I turned at the same instant. A pterodactyl had just landed on the low wall which separated the neighbor’s yard from mine. Chunks of stucco and cinderblock crumbled silently onto the grass. At the instant the pterodactyl landed a street light a block away turned back on. Its orangish-yellow light was eclipsed by the enormous flying reptile, but provided a halo all around its long narrow head, and caused its sinewy, outstretched wings to glow with amber translucency.
As a precocious child, I had wanted to be a paleontologist, and had conducted enough pre-pubescent study to know that the winged lizard in front of me should have gone extinct 65 million years ago. Its long, hammer-shaped head swung back and forth as it examined my yard with hungry eyes. Its cuspate beak opened to reveal a full compliment of needle-thin teeth. It shrieked again, jerking its head back and forth, extending and distending its razor claws. Its enormous wings (which are, of course, attached to and a part of its arms) made of membranes, marbled with blood vessels, and fortified with muscle and sinew trembled, pulsated with the monstrous sound of the screech. My ears rang; the dog (or was it I?) howled in pain. More stucco on the wall cracked and crumbled opening up huge patches of exposed chicken wire on either side of where the creature perched.
And then the pterodactyl began to speak to my dog. I knew this because its piercing violet eyes were not directed at me, but down at my feet where my now placid dog sat nodding his head in comprehension as the pterodactyl hissed and hummed and made little motions with its beak.
After a moment the dog turned to me and said, “The pterodactyl comes from another planet. She and her noble colleagues have come back to earth after 65 million years to bear an important message to the dominant species.” The dog turned back to the reptile and sneezed. The reptile again spoke to the dog. After a time the dog turned to me.
“The pterodactyl, whose name is Quetzgloteropolext, was sent to relay this message to you so that you can tell others. She says it is a message and a warning. She says she and the others will be watching.”
Another round of translation followed.
“Quetzgloteropolext has this to say to you and to all humans: you have forsaken the practices of your forefathers and strayed from the purposes for which you have been made. You plant things and then poison them. You domesticate plants, and other animals, and each other. These things should not be. You were made to hunt, to gather, to climb, and crawl and jump and stand tall over the plains and on the mesas and mountaintops. Instead you live like insects in colonies of iron that threaten to stamp out all life. This is not why my noble colleagues and I created you 5.2 billion years ago.”
While my dog was relaying this message the pterodactyl turned her terrible hyacinth eyes on me; reading my mind; judging all of my thoughts and actions past, present and future; nodding her head, as if to provide me with cool assurance that I would be held accountable. The next thing I remember was pissing my pants, right there next to the fire hydrant. Warm urine ran down my leg to join my dog’s in soaking the gravel.
I suspect that it is about 3:12am, though the red, LED alarm clock is in the other room. I don’t bother to go back to bed. Instead I strip off my leather coat, ignore my moistened pajama pants, and lay down on the carpet by the door. The Chihuahua curls up a few feet away. A bloodied feather is stuck to his right front paw. I try to go to sleep knowing full well that somewhere members of a satanic blood-ritual cult are enjoying their honeymoon while the pterodactyls are keeping a watchful eye on us all.