I’ve had no shortage of nightmares, and this one at least started out that way. Rarely have they turned into more or less normal dreams though, as this one did. I was out in the woods, searching for my lost cat. I had only a flashlight and bag of cat food, hoping the sound of shaking it would catch her attention.
I heard the jingle of her collar and followed it. But when I swept my light across the source of the sound, my heart stopped. It was a horrible creature of some kind, covered in thick black fur, some of which were quills like a porcupine. It had jaws like a wolf and beady black eyes just barely visible through the dense fur.
In its long, spiderlike fingers, it held my cat. She wasn’t struggling, but I could see she was breathing, awake and alert. The two of us just stood there in silence for a moment. Fearing what might happen if I waited too long, I spoke. “Thank goodness you found my cat. She just ran off on her own to have an adventure, the little shit. Scared me half to death.”
I reached out as if to receive the cat. The creature looked at the cat. Then at me. It set the cat down and began to back away. I don’t know what made me tell it to stop. Curiosity? When you see something that far out of the ordinary, even if it’s terrifying, it isn’t easy to just let it walk away.
“What’s your name?” It stopped. Then slowly turned to stare at me. I couldn’t read its expression but it cocked its head at me, as if I were the bizarre one. To my surprise, it spoke back in comprehensible English, albeit in a deep and gurgly voice. “Why are you talking to me? Everybody else just screams. Some of them start shooting.”
I shrugged. “You walk upright. You have opposable thumbs. You have a large cranium, two forward facing eyes for stereoscopic vision, and the other signs of high intelligence. Sure, you look very different from me. But I also look very different from you.”
It chuckled, then snorted, its breath visible in the cold night air. “You’re a fool to assume all that. I might’ve killed you.” I didn’t dispute it. “Maybe not the most strategic move. But the other thing is, my cat’s not afraid of you.”Even now, she was wrapping herself around its leg and purring. “She doesn’t even like me that much.”
So we sat and talked. Each of us curious about the other, but for different reasons. I asked where he came from and if there were others like him. He said he had no idea, as his earliest memory was being alone in these woods. He asked me about my clothing and how my flashlight worked, which I explained as best I could.
I then asked how he knew English. He replied he never knew it was called that, he would just stalk and eavesdrop on hikers and campers, picking it up a few words at a time. “Early on I would approach the camp fires, trying to be included. They would all scream. Some would shoot, if they had a gun.”
He parted his fur and showed me scars from bullet wounds. I apologized. “We tend to fear the unfamiliar, and attack pre-emptively. That’s not an excuse, just an explanation.” He mulled that over. I asked why I found him with my cat. He hesitated to answer. “If I’m honest, I was going to eat it. There’s not a lot of game anymore, I need to eat.”
I told him about how important pets are to humans, and that if anybody found out they would hate him. He looked genuinely wounded. I promised to bring him meals if he would stop eating pets. He agreed, but said he doubted if I’d ever come here again, and that probably I’d only had this discussion with him to save my own life.
I did show up again though. One night a week, I would bring him a pair of pizzas. It ate into my wallet but it was a small price to pay. During my visits with him he expressed deep, painful loneliness. I told him I considered him a friend, and he should consider me a friend too. This seemed to lift his spirits somewhat.
The next time, I brought him clothing. He hated it. Complained that it chafed his body and rubbed his fur the wrong way. I told him if he ever wanted to come out into the light of day, be accepted and live a better life than this, he would have to take on some aspects of our appearance and culture.
Pretty soon I had him wearing a full suit, using shampoo in his fur, combing it, wearing sunglasses (as his eyes were only adapted for the night, and extremely light sensitive) and in all other ways he was unmistakably an intelligent and civilized creature.
We would sit and look at picture books together. I’d explain stuff that didn’t make sense to him, as he knew many words but often was mixed up about context. I taught him basic manners, addition, the laws of the land, and grew ever closer to him as he did to me.
Finally the big day arrived. I came to get him around noon. He was terrified to leave the woods. But with soft words of encouragement I talked him into emerging from this sanctuary he’d spent his whole life up until now in. When he saw his first human besides me, he flinched, expecting screams.
“Haha, hey dude, that costume is amazing.” I explained the meaning. He was relieved, but also disappointed as he hoped to be accepted for what he really was, not mistaken for a human in a suit. “It’ll be fine” I assured him. “People are more open minded now than ever. You’ll see.”
I sat him down in a park. When people would approach and ask about the costume, I had him remove the sunglasses and explain to them that he wasn’t wearing a costume. He would then introduce himself and try to shake their hands. They all looked startled and uncomfortable, hurrying away while glancing over their shoulders.
He was crestfallen. I pointed out nobody screamed, but it didn’t seem to improve his mood. Word must’ve gotten around quickly as before long a crowd gathered. He started getting anxious about all the people. I reassured him things would be fine and asked them not to take pictures, and to back away somewhat.
Nobody listened. A kid ran up and yanked on his fur. He snarled. The kid screamed, tearful, and ran off. The crowd looked aghast, and finally began to back away. He reared up, and began trying to apologize. The crowd dispersed as a cop approached. “GET ON THE GROUND!”
I laid on the ground, and looked over next to me…but he wasn’t there. He was still upright, about 8 feet tall, gesturing frantically as he tried to introduce himself and explain the misunderstanding using all the manners I taught him. I heard three loud pops, and he fell next to me, blood and brains leaking out a bullet hole through his head.
I screamed and cried. I couldn’t make myself understood. Because I attacked the officer before they could restrain me, they put it down to hysteria, as if I’d been the creature’s hostage or something. I was carted off in an ambulance as federal agents arrived with a body bag.
I don’t know if there’s any insight into anything here. I just awoke feeling devastated. Wanting, irrational as it was, to go into the nearest woods after dark in search of my fallen friend. I wanted to look at picture books with him again, and do flash cards. What a strange thing, to become so attached to someone that never existed outside of my own mind.
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