I like to go for long walks in the early morning. The very early morning, when it is still dark and quiet and cool and peaceful (and I am unlikely to come across anyone I have to stop and talk to). I can stride out and let Mabel and Maude off their leads for a good run without me having to watch their every move. (Well—I do still have to look out for kangaroos . . . and possums . . . and foxes . . . and the occasional water rat. If the girls see one of them before I do, what started out as a nice calm orderly constitutional turns into a mad free-for-all of epic proportions.)
We have a usual route that we take every morning—out of the house to the end of the street, turn right on to the main road which runs alongside the river, up past the small row of shops and on to ‘Bunny’s Corner’ and back again. The street lights are on and, although there aren’t many people about, lights are starting to come on in people’s homes, the newsagency and the baker are open, and early-shift workers are already dropping in to get their daily paper and expresso coffee hit. The ducks are waddling drowsily around the park, the kookaburras are starting to chuckle throatily, and the songbirds are starting to test their daytime voices. The world is starting to wake up.
I have been taking these early morning walks in the dark for many years now, and I have never been worried or frightened or creeped-out during all that time. Except once. Last weekend I watched an old episode of the X-files (the X-Files are back—yay!) and while watching that episode the memory of my one spooky encounter came flooding back. I don’t think I’ve ever actually told anyone this story before, but, for all you X-Philers out there, I thought I’d share it with you now. (Don’t tell anyone else though—they just wouldn’t understand . . .)
It was a couple of years ago. I am pretty sure it was around 4.30am because my neighbour-across-the-road’s light came on just as I stepped out of my door—she was getting ready for her early nursing shift. It was very dark as we headed towards the top of our street where a large pool of light gathered around the streetlight. As we walked I saw the silhouette of a large black cat move slowly into that light. I remember thinking, ‘Perhaps it will move quietly away before the girls see it’, and I wrapped both leads around my hand one extra time, ready for the jolt that would inevitably come as soon as the cat was spotted.
As I watched, the cat stopped moving, slowly stood up on its back legs, fully erect, stretched its ‘arms’ above its head and then—the only word I can think of is ‘morphed’—into what looked like a small person (where the hell did its tail go?) and continued to walk, fully upright, along the street.
Several things then happened very quickly. My jaw hit the floor. Maudie stopped dead in her tracks and started to rumble menacingly in her throat (‘Danger, Will Robinson!’) Mabel ran behind me, whimpering, and dissolved into a puppy-puddle. The ‘cat/person’ suddenly became aware of us, turned, looked directly at us for a second or two, then turned back the way it had come, dropped down on all fours again, morphed back into a cat and slunk quickly away into the darkness.
Now I know what you are thinking. Well—I don’t, but I can imagine. WTF? Right? Don’t worry, I know how it sounds . . .
I immediately started to rationalise the experience (Dana would have been proud). Well—it had to be a trick of the light didn’t it? Or I was still half asleep? Cats sometimes walk on their hind legs (half way down the block)—don’t they?
By the time I had coaxed the dogs past the last few houses to the spot where the creature had vanished I was even more spooked. Maudie was baring her teeth and all the fur was standing up along her back. She was sniffing the ground where the thing had been, but was all tense and tippy-toed, ready for flight. Mabel was desperately trying to drag me home.
There was nothing there of course—and no sign that anything out of the ordinary had ever been there.
So, I decided it had finally happened—I had definitely lost the plot. ‘Shake it off, Sal—just keep walking.’ Well, I tried. But, I cannot begin to tell you how incredibly unnerving it is to be walking, alone in the dark, with your dogs growling warningly and looking back over their shoulders the whole time. (OMG—is it following us??) We didn’t get far before I gave in to the heebie-jeebies and turned back. I was hard pressed to keep up with the girls as they bolted for home. (Mabel continues to hide from cats to this day.)
So, there you are. My brush with the seriously freaky. Up until that point I had never experienced anything even approaching ‘supernatural’ (and I am sure many would say I still haven’t). I have never seen a ghost, or heard voices, or been on the receiving end of any unexplained phenomena. I have never ‘dabbled’ in the occult—unless you count reading Stephen King or Dean Koontz (‘Odd Thomas’ would not have batted an eyelid at my experience)—and I have never gone searching for faeries at the bottom of the garden. (That doesn’t mean they aren’t there though. . . )
I like to think I have an open mind. Like Mulder, ‘I want to believe’. I sincerely hope there are aliens watching us from afar (please make them friendly and not just wanting to eat our brains). And how cool would it be if all the ‘ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties’ we’ve all been told tall-tales about actually existed? (It would also be really cool if these ‘beasties’ didn’t creep up unexpectedly in the dark and frighten the bejesus out of me and my dogs, but there you are. You can’t have everything.)
But did I really see something weird and wonderful that very early morning, or was it just all in my head? I honestly don’t know. I certainly haven’t experienced anything like it again. But what I do know is this—when I relive the experience in my mind today, several years later, I still see, and feel, exactly what I saw and felt then. It was a cat, then it was a person, then it was a cat. And the hair still stands up on the back of my neck . . . (cue the X-Files music . . . )