Sally, Harry Donn’s female, mixed breed dog was missing. It was true , dogs came and went on his five hundred acre Oregon ranch, but he’d grown fond of the friendly animal. He decided to use the excuse of searching for her to speak to his neighbor to the north of him.
This morning was ideal; puffy white clouds hung over the rolling green pastures in picture perfect form, softening the heart and mind to at least give getting along with old Albert Spainn half a chance. For at least fifteen years, or more, no words but those of business had been exchanged between the two.
At one time the two had been good friends, but one of Harry’s boys strayed onto Albert’s land plinking at birds and squirrels. One of the man’s steers had a wound that Albert believed was a pellet from Joe John’s gun. So the feud began. Joe John swore he’d never do a, “thing like that, to an innocent animal.”
A stout black calf broke from its mother’s side and ran along with the truck on the other side of the wire fence. A bird too raced along just a few feet over the calf as the ancient farm truck bumped along on the gravel road, leading to the modest farmhouse which hunched in the shadow of a massive newly, painted red barn.
Albert was sitting on the top step of the porch, a big black wooly dog between his feet. Buzzard at once sprang to his paws when he heard the crunching gravel of the approaching pickup. He bound in one leap down the steps.
“Buzzard, get on back here!” Albert descended the steps, ground out his smoke and much slower than Buzzard limped to the gate. “Harry, what are you doing over here?”
They shook hands; Albert swung around his arm, offering Harry a seat on the porch. Harry shook his head, declining.
“Got a dog missing. Thought I’d swing by and see if you’ve seen it.”
“No, no extra dogs around, Harry, but I got one missing myself.”
The hair on the back of Harry’s neck stood up. Albert actually laid a hand to the back of his neck and rubbed. The two really didn’t need to say what they each were thinking. But since they rarely spoke, words were needed. “You thinking what I’m thinking?” Harry finally said.
It didn’t take much for memories to surface with both these men, of the time they’d seen something that was even now difficult to explain. Albert asked if Harry had his gun, then added, “You want to walk down the creek path?” Harry nodded.
Buzzard refused to stay behind; so there, twenty feet in front of the two men, the dog bounded like a pup until he stopped to dig the dirt in the tall weeds and then off again. He was now whining and sniffing the air.
“Harry, I did come across a footprint last week, when I was out yelling for my dog.” He paused then said, “A big one.”
It was no surprise to Harry; someone was always finding a print in this part of Oregon. These two men, however, knew exactly what made it. Or at least they know what they saw those many years ago. Neither man had seen it since. And they didn’t expect to see it today, either. But it was an excuse to walk together for a little while, each bringing back to the other memories of younger days when his life stretched endlessly into the future. Albert now limped and Harry had three missing fingers on his left hand from a farm machinery accident. Both their faces were deeply lined from working long days in the sun.
“Grace every talk about it?” Albert asked Harry as he reached for a smoke.
“No, I think she was too young, probably more like a dream than reality. It’s just a guess mind you.”
“Well, I can tell you I’ll never forget it,” Albert said. “I can still see that thing like it was yesterday.”
Actually when Harry was driving up to Albert’s house and the black calf ran alongside him, it brought back the memory of that animal running alongside Grace, then four, as she rode her bike down to the bus stop to wait for her brother, Joe John. It was a good thirty feet from the girl. Grace saw it only when her dad and Albert came up behind her in a flatbed truck and told her to stop and get in with them. The animal screamed dropped to all fours and parted the grass in haste. She hadn’t gotten a good enough look to haunt her, just a black spot getting smaller as it disappeared into the thick firs across tiny Rock Fern Creek.
But the two men were haunted by the animal. Harry reported it to the police and was embarrassed into not filing an official report. From then on he was open game for bigfoot slurs and jokes. Harry believed Albert had done the right thing by not reporting the animal.
The men found nothing, no footprints, and so parted company again settling into their old routine of not speaking unless business required it or they ran into each other at the sale barn, the likes of that.
The high mountain winds were kicking up, a front was coming in. Harry checked the animals, fed and watered them and pulled his rocking chair closer to the woodstove. The wind howled and the snow blew sideways. Sally, the dog, never came home. , Harry held the pup now on his lap, stroking her shiny black hair. The phone rang. It was Albert telling him he should turn on the TV and catch the news. Albert’s words flew so fast Harry had a difficult time understanding them. Dog in hand, phone still to his ea,r he turned the TV on.
Both men spoke at once; there was the animal they’d seen running alongside Grace. It was facedown, dead under a fallen tree. The announcer pointed out it had hands and feet, not paws. “Some kind of ape,” he said with a puzzled expression. When he thought the sound was off, he said to the cameraman, “What in the world was an ape doing up there?”
Harry and Albert spoke for a long time on the phone that evening. Harry thought for sure this would prove the animal he reported or tried to report was real and the harassment would finally stop.
“Yeah, I think you’re right, Harry, this will be the end of it!”