I Got to Keep Him

by Tony Rauch


We're out late, creating a fort in the tall grass out in the field—stamping the grass down under a tall tree. Suddenly a speck of light grows in the dark sky. It looks blue and reddish, then purple and orange. I motion to Wilson and he looks up. "Looks like a shooting star," he announces as he straightens to gain a better view.

It does look like a shooting star or a meteor zipping across the sky, at first anyway, but it keeps getting bigger and brighter. We follow the spot of light as it descends in a smooth arc to glide low above the treetops. We start to run. We run and run, hop­ping through the tall grass that slaps us in the darkness, watching the ball of light sink below the trees, below a little hill, below the tall grass, down by the edge of the swamp, rushing in the night to meet it, to find out what it is.

We run and run, down an incline, the grass swirling around us. And we start to giggle, the wind tickling us. I begin thinking that it's funny that there's a world of mysteries and possibilities percolating even way out here—in all these wide open spaces, tangled in all this grass, buried behind all the lines of trees, hid­den within folds of the earth, in the wrinkles of material, just waiting in all this blank darkness.

Maybe it's an aircraft, or a satellite, or some kind of space­ship dropping down to take on water. Maybe we'll get a reward for finding it.

We see the light flashing intermittently through the trees and grass. And then it drops over a hill and goes out, down by the swamp. We run and run, but never even get close to the light, whatever it is. We can't get there in time. Suddenly it rises again, and after the ball of light flutters away, up into the clouds, we finally make it to the edge of the swamp. We stop at the top of the hill, looking down and all around, but don't see anything in the darkness. We don't hear anything but the wind in the grass, the long grass blowing all around in the bright moonlight. We look up and watch the light flicker and change colors until it joins the stars and is lost.

We hear a shaking sound in the tall grass, so we step down to the edge of the swamp. Slowly we isolate the location of the noise—a slight rustling. Carefully we step to it, walking through mud and grass to a dark outline. We find a strange shaggy beast by the side of the swamp, peeking above the tall weeds. It's shak­ing itself off. We decide to slowly approach it. Maybe they were sucking up water to re-supply their aircraft or something and let it out so it could get a drink and accidentally left it behind. Maybe they were in a hurry and accidentally forgot it or some­thing. Or maybe it got out and they didn't notice. Or maybe it was misbehaving and they didn't want it anymore, so they just left it here.

As we move forward, inching closer, we notice its huge, webbed, three-clawed footprints in the mud leading from the water. We see its smooth, long leash is caught on a log. The shaggy beast is tugging at it, struggling to get free, but only drag­ging the large, dried-out log with each mighty pull. Wilson approaches slowly and untangles the long leash. We see it totter­ing about behind some bushes and tall weeds and grass. We stop and watch it for a careful moment. The hairy beast just stares at us in the darkness. I can't tell if it's sitting or standing.

I walk up to it real slowly, parting the long grass and step­ping around the lumpy bush. I put out my hand. It leans to sniff at me, then looks up to me. It smells horrible, like a garbage dump—like a series of bad smells swirling into one incredible mess of a stagnant, swampy, garbage dump of a storm of a men­acing odor.

Wilson tugs the leash and we start back to my uncle's farm. The thing lopes along cooperatively as we lead it back through the fields. It is huge—six feet tall and woolly and muscular and stocky and looming and what-all in the darkness. It's hard to see exactly what it is because it's so hairy and so dark out. It seems like a cross between a buffalo and a hippo and some type of woolly beast thing. It has horns poking from its back—lots of them that run down its back and sides. It has three sets of legs, and at least four or five long tails and who-knows-what-else.

"I wonder what it eats?" Wilson whispers in the darkness as we stop to take a quick rest in the grass and midnight breeze.

We both search the sparkling velvet sky to see if the light is coming back, but all we see are the silver dots of stars scattered across the soft blanket of night.

"Not people, I hope," I exhale as I slowly crouch and reach my arm to it again.

The beast leans in and sniffs my arm. It seems to consider me with the same curiosity and hesitation that I must be looking back at him with.