May 31, 2011

Tracks of the Beast

A good hunter knows how to read a landscape for signs of his quarry’s passing, to track an animal all day just for the chance to get off one shot. But only an obsessive, stubborn, crazy hunter would keep up the chase after he learned that the creature he hunted was no ordinary animal, that it could easily turn the tables and become the hunter.

Daniel had been a hunter since he was old enough to hold a rifle. In the woods of Pennsylvania, doe and bucks were plentiful, and Daniel had bagged many over the years, becoming a skilled woodsman.

Daniel writes to tell me about the hunt he went on in 1994. The snow was deep and early that year and it was easy for the hunters to track the deer from the fields and into the forests.



Having always had good luck on his hunts, Daniel made a promise to himself that season that he would only take the biggest, baddest buck he could find. “I was looking for a big rack,” Daniel tells me. “I wanted a trophy that year.”

Daniel’s trophy proved elusive, however, and for five days he trudged up and down through the cold woods, catching sight only of young does. On the sixth day, fresh snow blanketed the ground and Daniel’s luck changed.

“I was up on a crest above a little creek,” Daniel recalls, “and that’s when I first saw the tracks.”

Daniel had tracked swift does and powerful bucks before – even a few bear in his day – but he had never quite seen tracks like these before.

“They were peculiar,” Daniel tells me. “They were the biggest damn tracks I’d ever seen on a whitetail. Had to be a twenty-pointer.”

Daniel began to follow the tracks down the ridge toward the water; they continued on the opposite bank. “I knew this buck was a big one, but that was one hell of a jump he made to clear the creek,” Daniel remembers.

Finding his way across the creek cost Daniel some time, so he hurried along the trail through the snow. It was late morning now but Daniel was sure he could easily overtake the buck by lunchtime.

Daniel had hunted these woods with his father and his grandfather, with uncles and cousins, with friends and colleagues. He knew the woods from one end to the other, from the highway to the dam, from the river to the railroad tracks, and as the old tracks came into view, Daniel was reminded of something his grandfather had once told him.

“One time when I was a kid, we were hunting some doe that crossed over the tracks,” Daniel tells me, “and my granddad said we couldn’t follow them anymore.” Daniel asked if someone owned the land on the other side of the tracks, someone who didn’t allow hunters. But Daniel’s grandfather said he didn’t know who owned the land, but that Daniel should never go there, that he should stay far away from Broome’s Quarter.

“At the time I didn’t know much about it, about the history” Daniel tells me. “I just knew that some folks thought the place was haunted or something.”

Daniel saw the big buck’s trail on the other side of the railroad tracks, much too far for any deer to jump. “I thought this thing must be a monster to jump that far,” Daniel recalls. “So there was no way I wasn’t going after it.”

On the far side of the railroad tracks, the forest was thick and dark. While Daniel had hunted next door as a child, the trees in Broome’s Quarter were already ancient. They grew close together, shutting out the light and testing Daniel’s tracking skills.

“The snowfall was lighter under the big trees,” Daniel tells me, “but there were are other ways of tracking.” Daniel could see the path that the buck had made through the dense undergrowth, the snapped branches and scuffed-up lichen.

At first Daniel was too busy reading these signs to notice that some of them were out of place for even the biggest buck. “I started to notice that some of these marks were 8 feet up and some were 10 feet across,” Daniel tells me.

It seemed to Daniel that either he was following a kind of animal he hadn’t seen before or he was about to bag the biggest trophy the state had ever seen. Daniel decided to believe the latter.

“I wasn’t thinking ‘bout nothing except that buck and his big rack,” Daniel recalls. “I was reading the trail signs, but I wasn’t reading the warning signs.”

As Daniel pushed deeper into the Quarter, he was struck but how little it resembled the woods just across the tracks. The trees there were young and the terrain was accustomed to heavy traffic. Daniel’s woods showed in many ways how they had been managed by people for hundreds of years.

Here in the Quarter, things were different. People still visited and there were some roads and buildings, but the Quarter seemed to shrug off the daily influence of the human, the civilized, and return each night to its wild, untamed soul. Daniel couldn’t understand how a place so full of life could radiate such a profound sense of alien desolation.

A hush fell over the woods as afternoon turned to evening and Daniel realized he had been tracking his prey for most of the day. He knew he should turn back now and find his way home before dark, but Daniel was focused only on his trophy.

“The sun was getting to set,” Daniel recalls. “And then I heard it up on a ridge above me.” In a small clearing the snow was deep and white, and Daniel could plainly see the tracks that crossed it. He looked to the ridge that loomed above him.

There stood Daniel’s prey, although Daniel could no longer stake such a claim. Silhouetted by the setting sun, Daniel could see the powerful body of an enormous buck and its prodigious antlers. It seemed to be looking at Daniel, studying him with mild surprise, but Daniel couldn’t be sure as the sunset obscured his vision.

He crouched on his knee and readied his rifle. He would have to make this a good shot as Daniel knew he had only seconds before the buck fled. Daniel sighted his scope and lined up his shot, just as the sun disappeared behind the ridge.

As the sunlight faded from behind his quarry, Daniel could see the buck in full and now he knew that he should never have crossed the railroad tracks.

Although the buck’s body was huge and strong, Daniel could see that the rest of it did not look quite right; in fact, it didn’t look like a buck at all. A hideous, lolling tongue hung down from a gaping mouth while above, black antlers grew thick and twisted to crown a vaguely horse-like head from which a pair of red needles looked out from the gloom at Daniel and his gun.

In the beast’s blood-red eyes, Daniel could see the long passing of many years’ solitude and the insane, murderous cravings it had engendered.

The strange spell was broken as Daniel gasped at the beast’s grotesque countenance and then dropped his rifle when he saw the wings. From the back of the beast, a pair of monstrous bat wings unfolded, casting a deeper shadow over the clearing as the sun disappeared for what seemed like the last time.

Daniel’s rifle is probably still lying in the clearing today, but Daniel was lucky enough to make his way home. As Daniel ran for his life, it seems the beast took to the air and flew away. “I don’t know if it was coming after me or not,” Daniel tels me. “But I got back over the tracks and into my truck before I realized it wasn’t.”

In 1994, Daniel did not know the tale of Mother Meade and her thirteen monster children who, it was said, still roamed the wastes of Broome’s Quarter. But now that he had met one of the children face to face, he knows every detail of Mother Meade’s mad cult and the strange beasts she called her family.

Since his encounter, Daniel has sworn off deer hunting, only to take up another kind of hunting. For the past fifteen years, Daniel has dedicated himself to tracking the beasts that lurk in the Quarter, to hunting the monsters. “I never ran from anything in my life before,” Daniel tells me. “Someday I’m going to find that damn thing again.”

When and if he does, we’ll post his true story here.

Read more about Mother Meade's monster children here.

5 comments:

  1. Fantastic story! Jeez, that was a great escape. I'm featuring your blog on Hug-A-Blogger on the 5th. This is a favorite getaway.

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  2. Thanks for the complement, Autumnforest! And thanks for hugging my blog!

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  3. It sounds kinda like the Jersey devil.

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  4. You might be on to something but I think it's more like the Pittsburgh Penguins than the Jersey Devils, don't you?

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  5. He never recovered his rifle?

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