The little man. A Halloween short story.

It was a typical South Texas October night. A night just like today.

It was still warm, but the first cool autumn breeze had come to Corpus Christi. Everyone was excited because we had our first big rainstorm, and the weather cooled. Even my two dogs could feel the change in the air and eagerly anticipated their nightly walk. 

I could barely keep them from blasting the door open as I grabbed the leashes. Because it was so pleasant out, rather than simply a jot around the block, we decided to proceed a little longer than usual. 

It was evening, and the sun had gone down over an hour ago. We live in a regular but perhaps slightly upscale neighborhood.  There are a few vacant yards that I will walk by on my standard mile-and-a-half loop. The streets are mostly well-lit, with only a few areas by these empty yards that I would describe as truly, dark.

It was while approaching one of these exceptionally dark spots that my evening changed. I had been watching my dogs roll up to every street light to sniff around, in what I think of as much like my parents with their morning newspaper. Streetlights are like the News for dogs. They were exploring who had been around the block that day and wanted to know what everybody was up to. Because of this, looking at street lights, I think my eyes hadn’t yet fully adapted to proper night vision.

It was then that I noticed something crossing the road. I saw it first on the far side of the street and could barely make out anything, just motion noticed in my periphery.  Human instinct is to track movement, and soon it was directly in front of me, not 10 feet away, yet I still couldn’t categorize it properly.  Tiny, it couldn’t have been more than 8 inches high, and initially, because of the way it moved, I had the impression that it was a small chicken. I’m nearly sure there are no chickens in my neighborhood, so this caught me immediately as out of the ordinary.

The more I squinted and strained to see it, the more this creature became indecipherable. I couldn’t tell what it was. My brain tried to make sense of it, and my initial thought of a chicken quickly changed. I thought it must be some sort of tiny dog and then immediately changed my mind to that of a possum. The more I strained, the more it seemed to change shape, but I know it wasn’t truly “physically changing” at all.  Looking back on it, I think my brain couldn’t handle what I saw.

The dogs had utterly frozen. They noticed but didn’t go after it.  They didn’t bark or stir, and neither of them moved at all. 

While recollecting this encounter later, from the comforts of home, I’m pretty sure I was the same. My jaw hung open, eyes squinting, breathing frozen, trying to process all of it.

I’ve heard experts talk about Flight, Fight or Freeze.  There was no question about which “F” loop I was caught up in. 

 My older dog was the first to snap out of it.   He wasn’t on a leash and cautiously approached the thing. He didn’t run at it like he would a cat or a possum but approached it slowly. My puppy sat there, one paw still hanging in the air, watching his older brother. A statue.

The thing ran off, moving goofily, almost unhinged, what we call in the sports world “Bambi syndrome.” It climbed a very short tree that couldn’t have been more than 3 feet tall. By this time, both dogs had decided they were interested and wanted to follow it. But neither of them ran at it like they would a typical neighborhood animal. They approached cautiously. I could barely make out the thing but watched as it jumped off a limb and took off, running with it’s crazy gait, to a fence. Even as it ran, my dogs pursued, but they did not run. I saw nothing more than its general form scamper up a fence wall- quick and agile, like a monkey turning cartwheels and then over into the Mansfield’s backyard.

My dogs sat sniffing the fence, not barking, panting, or making noise. Within 15 or 20 seconds, they made their way back to me. I thought, “That’s not how they’d behave while chasing a cat or raccoon.”

We continued on our walk, dumbstricken. It wasn’t until I got out of the dark area and back under some light that my brain started processing again. I am confident my eyes saw correctly, but my brain would not acknowledge that what I had seen crossing the street was a tiny little man. It was dark, but I definitely saw him. He dressed as if he were camping. With a little sack like a hobo would have while hopping trains 100 years ago.

What I initially had processed as fuzziness and fur was some sort of handmade sweatshirt, similar to a Mexican Sarape. It was dark, and I couldn’t make out exactly what it was, but a minute or so after the fact, there was no denying it. I was about half a mile away from my house, so I had nearly 10 minutes to process what I had just seen.

I wasn’t on anything, hadn’t had any alcohol for weeks, and wasn’t taking any medication. I knew what I saw, though- and I wasn’t going to tell anybody.

I was somewhat fitful while I slept that night, both because of what I had seen and because holding in a secret isn’t comfortable..  By the following day, I had sort of rearranged things in my head, processing it in a way where I was certain that I was simply mistaken. I went on with my day like any other typical day. Drove to work, was a solid chiropractor to people in need, got in a great workout, and came home at the end of the afternoon and coached soccer practice.

That night was a lot easier. I had, in essence, dismissed nearly the entire issue. Though it still itched at the back recess in my brain, it wasn’t at the forefront.

It wasn’t till the following morning that the little man returned to my life.

While my kids were eating a solid breakfast of bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns, one of the twins mentioned an antidote that made me nearly drop my fork.  

She told me that while they were at the Wilsons (our neighbors), they saw what they were sure was a tiny little man “about the size of a garden gnome” peeking over the fence while they were jumping on the trampoline.

She continued that there were 4 or 5 kids there, and every one of them had seen him.

I’m sure my daughter saw something strange in my eyes as she continued on.  

“He wasn’t really scary at all, he moved like Woody From the Toy Story movie and it seemed like he was wearing a piece of a towel or something.”

My youngest popped up, “We couldn’t get a very good look at him, but nobody wanted to get closer. We weren’t exactly scared, but it also wasn’t normal. It’s not something you see every day.”

My wife chuckled and continue drinking her coffee.  Other than the story of a little man, it was a routine breakfast—nothing out of the ordinary.

My daughter noticed me though, she asked if I believed her.

I chuckled.   “Of course, honey, I believe you.” then I walked out of the room.  

The next week wasn’t like a Halloween scary movie where a bunch of things kept compounding on each other and each scene got scarier and scarier but I’d be lying to you if I told you I just went on like everything was normal.

I remember being slightly creeped out in the shower each morning before work. A sense of dread when I was returning to the house each night, closing the blinds, tighter,  Also, I wasn’t sleeping great. 

One evening while watching TV we heard what sounded like a rapid knock coming from outside. It was impossible to tell if the sound was produced on our front door or window or a wall or even to tell exactly where in the house it had come from. 

Everybody in the house heard it, even the dogs lifted their heads up and looked towards the sound, yet unlike when someone was at the front door, neither of them started barking nor did they get up and go to the door. We spent three or four minutes trying to find the cause of the knock but came up with nothing. 

I can completely recall the look my dogs had with the knocking sound.  We all looked around, but they had a look of…something different. Curiosity? Certainly, dogs couldn’t look scared, could they?

At one point my youngest son asked me, “What could’ve done that dad? it sounded like a woodpecker on a hollow tree.”

That’s exactly what it sounded like, and there was no evidence that we could find otherwise.

That week and honestly, since then, I had started walking the dogs about 2 hours earlier each night while it was still light out. The shadows were large and crossed the streets but I could still see in these shadows. I wanted nothing to do with another night time stroll. I wouldn’t fully admit it, but I was scared when I walked alone. Also, I’d subconsciously avoid (sub?) the street where I first saw the little man and typically kept myself close to other walkers.

On one of these walks I saw a few of my neighbors chatting together at George’s house. There must’ve been five or six of them huddled by his front fence in a little congregation. I approached them.

They were discussing something that probably through the seasons has been forgotten, but not by me.

They were looking at this little garden house George’s wife had bought him years ago as a yard decoration.   He said it was something he’d sat outside for a little lizard house.  I knew what they were looking at, as I’d probably glanced at it hundreds of times through the years on walks.  

He pointed to it, “What do you make of that?” 

The decoration-house was where it had always been, yet had been manipulated into what looked like a camp sight. 

 I couldn’t talk, it was chilling to see.

“What could’ve done that doc?” A neighbor asked.

Thankfully George spoke up first.  “It’s absolutely crazy. I came out here about an hour ago and couldn’t believe what I was seeing!”

The house had been used.  Debris and old mesquite leaves that had been caught inside through the years had been hauled off a few feet and stacked.  The inside was completely clean with one area that appeared to be bedding.  Soft needles that appeared to be slept in, with just a hint of indentation.   The ground around the front door had wear, not a path but an obvious displacement.  There even appeared to be what had to have been a small fire with a tiny charred area circled by pebbles and even what appeared to be a few tiny bones possibly from a mouse or lizard nearby.    

It was strange to behold.

There was some friendly general discussion from the neighbors about it with the underlying overall conclusion being that it was a Halloween prank from one of the local high school kids. It had to be, but why?  Who has the time or would give the effort?  We all let it sit like that. Just shaking our heads and slightly smiling. Wondering.

Except for me. I wasn’t smiling and wasn’t wondering. So I didn’t say a thing and I never have, until today.

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