I stood on my porch with my dog, staring down at the light in the pond in disbelief. I was looking for reasons that could explain it. Or, more like I was frantically ginning up explanations as to how this could be a hoax or some kind of ruse. Some kinda battery powered light, or I guess it could be solar? Those considerations were drowned out by select portions of what my ol neighbor Dan had told me the previous weekend, which were streaming through my mind like those stock tickers at the bottom of a news broadcast… You don’t need to freak out, just cease what you’re doing and get a fire started – a little fire good enough to heat up some water – when you see the light for the first time, start a fire and call us – if you don’t start the fire after seeing the light and hear drums, get in the truck and leave as fast as you can.
My dog was still looking up at the tree line with his hackles raised, letting out low growls with each exhale. What had him worked up? a wolf? bear? cougar? coyotes maybe? He usually just barks at mammals bigger than him, he doesn’t growl or act like this, even when we run into bears on hikes. Furthermore, even though there was only a bit of light left in the western sky, I could clearly see there weren’t any animals in the meadow between us and the forest line. Failing to find anything explainable as the source of my dog's discomfort almost made me let out sigh. My heart rate was ramping up, I could hear it in my ears like I’d just taken a run. I realized I had subconsciously started talking to the dog, trying to chill him out a bit. You don’t need to freak out, just get a fire started…
I was switching my gaze between the area my dog was fixated on, and the light in the pond. The light was now moving positions every time I’d switch my gaze. Darkness was just playin tricks on my eyes. Right? I’ve spent enough time on night patrols in combat zones and lots of evenings archery hunting to know how easy that shit happens, especially when your heart rate is up and you’re actively looking for something. Your mind starts to lead you on. That's what this was. Totally.
Eventually, the light appeared to be relocating to different spots within the pond at least 25 feet apart. I rubbed my eyes, took a deep breath, and looked at the pond – saw the light – looked up at the ridge – looked back at the pond, and boom: fuckin thing was in an entirely new spot across the whole pond. Ok, well… holy shit. I could feel the tendrils of panic start to flick at the edges of my mind. My hands were going numb, which only happens when my adrenaline is starting to ramp up.
I thought again about what Dan had said: “If you don’t start a fire after seeing the light and hear drums from up the mountain, get in the truck and leave as fast as you can.” Ha. I actually forced a chuckle out loud, the act of which immediately made me realize how anxious I was, and the panicky sound
of which made me even more jumpy. That’s when I thought to myself: how fuckin scary would it be if some kinda ominous war drums started coming from up the mountain?
That thought triggered a moment of self-reflection – wow dude, you really
don’t want to hear the sound of drumming right now. In fact, there’s probably nothing in this world you’d rather not
hear right now than drumming. If that drumming started right now, you’d probably jump in the truck and just tear the hell outta here down the road, you chicken shit.
I realized everything in my body and mind was working to expeditiously rebel against treating any of this as real, and starting the fire would represent my acquiescence, my surrender to fear. One internal voice would ask: what would it hurt to just start the damn fire dude? The louder, more belligerent voice would respond: because fuck
that, this is your land, your little slice of the planet, your god damn terms. This little western folklore can go fuck itself.
That’s when my dog let out a whimper. I looked down at him where he was standing on the porch, and he was looking right at me. I tried to calm him down, or maybe I tried to calm myself down. “Dash, it’s ok buddy. It’s ok buddy!” His tail was between his legs, and he started doing a slow back-peddle as he looked back toward the tree line, then he turned around and booked it toward the kitchen door that opened to the porch. I whipped my head around to look at the area that had him all tweaked out, then back at the light in the pond—new spot, fuck me—then back at the tree line. I could feel my hands and shoulders shaking now. Was I really about to start pissing myself about some light and a folk tale?
I’ve had a significant amount of time to practice getting a grip in high-stress situations, maybe more than most. When bullets are flying, and grown men you’d looked up to and admired are panicking, screaming, or bleeding to death, you’ve gotta know how to keep a level head. It had been a very long time, but I forced myself to go through my little internal mantra I’d given myself so many times before: “deep breath, it’ll happen or it won’t, if it does you won’t feel it, you’re more dangerous than them, you need to move, deep breath, it’ll happen or it won’t, if it does you won’t feel it, you’re more dangerous than them, you need to move, deep breath…”
Dash snapped me out of it when he started yelping and clawing at the door to get inside, something he’s literally never done in his life. I looked back from him toward the spot in the tree line that had wigged the dog out so much, and I felt the pressure change in the air around me, I felt my mouth start salivating like I was gonna puke.
It hit me right then. Maybe it was the dog’s behavior, maybe it was something else. It had only been about a minute and a half since I noticed the light in the pond, but the desire to get a fire going hit me for the first time like a ton of bricks. The need for that fire felt primal, felt like it came from my damn soul. It felt like my unborn children and grandchildren depended on it to survive.
I might be a stupid, stubborn asshole, but I’ve always been decent at acting deliberately under stress. I wheeled around and was at the firewood stack a few yards down the porch in what felt like two steps. I grabbed the hatchet and 6 or 7 of the smallest logs in the stack then bounded inside, locking the door behind the dog. I grabbed some junk mail off the counter as I flew through the kitchen toward the fireplace in the living room where I dumped the logs, grabbed a couple firestarter matches off the mantle, cranked open the flue, and took a knee. I had several envelopes’ worth of papers crumpled under the smallest logs when Dash started barking. I looked back at him over my shoulder, and he was standing in the kitchen, barking at the door we’d just come through that led to the porch. What the hell, I thought, that’s not something he does unless whatever's got him worked up is like… right
outside the damn door. My body was screaming at me to grab a rifle and go tearing out into the yard, when my mind won: Focus motherfucker.
I turned back and struck one of the thick firestarter matches and set it under the papers. Then lit another one, then a third, then a fourth. As I was watching the flame of one sizzle with ignition as it burned into the resin-soaked pulp body of the match, I realized I was pleading internally not to hear drumming from outside. I grabbed the hatchet and started hacking off smaller strips from one of the pieces of firewood, adding them between the paper and logs as I worked. Eventually, I noticed one of the logs catching and dropped the hatchet and blew on the flames a bit. Wasn’t long until the fire was going on its own. I added the rest of the logs into the now cackling fire, and took a deep breath. Dash was next to me now, looking between me and the fire and wagging his tail as though he approved of the work.
I pet the dog and checked my watch. Sasha wouldn’t be home for at least another hour. I remembered something else Dan had said the weekend before: when you see the light for the first time, start a fire and call us.
I went to the fridge to where Dan and Lucy’s number was, moved the magnet obscuring the last few digits, and started punching it into my phone.
Wait a second, I thought. I told myself to just breath and think for a bit before calling them. My body and instinct were still screaming at me to arm myself, get a headlamp on, and go secure the area. But I did, undeniably, feel more at ease. I could feel the panic leaving me. I couldn’t remember if Dan had said anything about going outside after starting the fire… I went to the letter desk where Sasha had stashed the written versions of Dan and Lucy’s warnings, pulled one out, unfolded it, scanned down to where I saw the underlined heading “Springtime,” and read through it. The last few lines of this section stood out:
“Once the fire is going on its own, the light should go out. Go to a window on the south side of the house and look to see if it’s still there. If it is, add more wood to the fire. If the light is gone, the spirit is gone, and you can let the fire die out and go about your business as though nothing had happened.” As though nothing had happened.
Yeah fucking right, Dan. Here I am engaged in some kinda ritualistic pageantry in an attempt to ward off some evil spirit for the first time in my life, and I’m gonna just pivot back to going about my fucking business as though nothing happened.
That sentence really pissed me off, or maybe it just rekindled the shame-based anger I had in being frightened of something this preposterous. In fact, my hands were shaking I was so angry. I took a few deep breaths, as I slowly walked toward the guest bedroom-office combo that looked to the south, over the pond.
I kept my eyes down as I approached the window, put my hands on the sill, then looked up: the light was gone. That exact moment was easily the most profound moment of the entire experience that night.
In the time between noticing the light and finally seeing it gone, every little facet of cognition and emotion in my being was engaged in a violent gestapo-tier suppression campaign against the notion that this “spirit” bullshit was in any way
real, and even despite that great effort... an exquisite relief washed over me the second I saw the light had disappeared; a sensation of release I didn't know a human could experience. It was an emotional release, coupled with a fantastic physical relief that felt like I simultaneously took an amazing piss, walked into an air-conditioned building on a hot day, and
lost 15 pounds, all in the same second. It made me openly shudder, then smile and almost laugh. The dog was completely back to normal as well, standing next to the front door wagging his tail, waiting to be let outside.
I walked back to the kitchen and called up Dan and Lucy’s land line. After a few rings, I heard Dan’s voice:
“This is Dan.” — “Evenin Dan, this is your new neighbor, Harry.”
The slight strain and wheeze in his voice as he started talking suggested he was sitting up or standing while initiating his reply: “Well hey Harry! How are you guys? How’s the move-in going? Y’all getting settled in?”
“Yah, it’s all going fine. Hey, I’m calling because a little bit ago I saw the light in the pond.”
Dan's firmly-toned response came maybe
a half second after I finished my sentence: “Did you start a fire? Do you have a fire going right now, Harry?”
I tried to keep some levity and humor in my tone, as though it would help foster the fictional nature of all this bullshit: “Yah, yah I started a fire right when I saw it, just as I promised y'all I would! The light is gone so your miracle cure worked. No drumming either!”
I could hear Lucy in the background let out a muffled “oh thank god” before Dan responded: “Well we are both very glad to hear that, Harrison. We are both very happy that you followed our suggestions. Is it alright if we stop by real quick? We won’t take up much of your time, but we know how, well… unnerving it can feel and we just want to make sure you two are alright.”
“Well Dan, Sasha is in town having dinner with some friends, and won’t be back for a bit, but you guys are welcome to swing by.” – “Alright, we’ll be right over!” I felt like a nervous middle schooler all the sudden as I prepared to ask the next question, and could literally feel myself blushing: “Hey, Dan, real quick… so, it’s alright for me to go outside now, right? Y’all said as soon as the light’s gone, it’s fine to-“
“Oh sure, once the light’s gone, it’s all clear. You can usually feel when the light is gone, just as well as you can see it’s gone, which I’m guessing you noticed. We’ll be over in a second!”
I hung up and thought about what Dan had said. He was right. I had… “felt” it. Seems like the dog had too. Unreal, I thought. Even so, I was already back to rebelling against the acceptance of all this ju-ju by aggressively denying the significance of it. I had a plan in my head already working; a plan to settle this bullshit once and for all, but I had to finish part of it before Dan and Lucy got here. I got my 30-30 rifle, a headlamp, my big spotlight, and one of my game cameras (a weatherproof, motion-activated, night-vision camera that hunters strap onto trees to track animal activity at night). I made sure the game cam had a SIM card as I was walking out of the front door, and went out into the night.
I scanned the treeline where the dog had been growling toward. Nothing. I went out through the gate that leads out of the fence around the yard, and worked my way down toward the pond. I was definitely on edge, and had my rifle shouldered. There was a cluster of small aspen trees next to the pond that would work perfectly. I strapped the camera around one of the small trees, and flipped open the built-in digital monitor to take a couple test shots to ensure the angle was good. It had a perfect view of the entire pond, bank to bank. I figured if those old crazies really had snuck into the meadow to put something in the pond to make that light, they’d be fixin to sneak it out before morning to keep the ruse alive. I left the camera set up, and worked my way back to the house as I saw the headlights of Dan and Lucy’s truck coming down the road. I got to the porch as they were parking, stashed my rifle behind the grill, and went to meet them as they were heading toward the walkway leading to the house.
“Well hey there Harry!” Lucy said, as Dan was opening the gate into the yard. I gave Dan a handshake and went to do the same with Lucy but she gave me a big hug and said out loud: “we’re so happy you did the right thing, hun. We’re so happy you followed our advice.” I wasn’t sure how to respond, but I lead them toward the house and invited them in, with Dash trotting along at our heels, ever-ecstatic about any human guest. Dan had a bundle of more firewood in a canvas shoulder bag he dropped on top of our wood pile on the porch: “just in case it’s a busy season for the lights” he said with a smile. I didn’t respond. The notion of that experience becoming common splashed some gas on the embers of my earlier anger at all this insanity.
They refused my offer of something to drink, and seemed comfortable but remained standing. “Oh gee, you guys really have made it feel like a home in here, it’s lovely” Lucy said with sincerity and a smile. “Thanks, Lucy.”
Dan looked me up and down and then asked: “So, you still on the fence about all this?” Yet again, I wasn’t sure how to even begin responding. I got a half shrug and some head shaking out before Lucy interjected: “Hun, you don’t have to believe it’s real yet. I can’t imagine this happened without you feeling the presence of something though, but we don’t need to talk about that. Summertime is around the corner, and you’ll have no choice but to believe this is all real once you experience that
. But for now, we’re just so happy you followed our advice. Please, please don’t do anything different next time one of y’all see’s the light? Promise me that?”
“I promise, if that happens again, I’ll start the fire, just as I did this time, and Sash will do the same.” Lucy looked up at Dan almost as though she was proud of me or some shit, and Dan smiled. Jesus, this was all so fuckin strange. “Good man” Dan replied. Lucy asked that I call them again when the light comes for the first time with Sasha here, which I said I would do. With that, they left.
Sasha got home about 45 minutes later, and I told her about what happened. She seemed scared and excited, and was happy I did as Dan and Lucy had told us. She asked me to repeat every little detail from the moment I saw it until the moment she arrived, three times over. “Did you shoot at it with one of your rifles?” This woman knows me well. “No, but I sure as hell came close…”
I set my alarm for 6:30 the next morning, and after it went off, I was in my waders and down at the pond with a rifle, a shovel, and a rake by 6:55. I was gonna either catch Dan and Lucy on my game camera toying with some kinda light they planted, or dredge up whatever the hell it was they’d planted in the pond to make that light and move it around. I opened the monitor of the game camera and saw eight pictures had been taken over night. The first four were of a skunk that had waddled by between the trees and the pond, and the next four were of a cottontail that had hopped up to the pond to take a sip of water.
Well then, it's still in the pond, whatever it is. Over the next hour and a half, I trudged around that entire god damn pond five times over. The deepest area of the pond was only about 5ft deep, and I hit every square foot with my rake. Nothin. Lots of sticks, but nothing that could’ve made that light. Fuck me…
I walked back to the house, covered in mud and completely soaked. Sasha had gotten up and came out from the kitchen with some coffee as I was stripping off my swampy clothes. She had pretty much bought into everything Dan and Lucy said right away, and had been researching all this kind of stuff all week, so she almost
had a bit of a victorious air about her when I told her there’s nothing on the camera or in the pond that suggests what could’ve made the light. She also knew it was bothering me, which it was. I was pissed. Not sure at who, or what, but I was more angry than anything else. I get frustrated by confusion. I don’t do well with shit I can’t explain. Never could buy into any religion, and never have gotten a kick out of any other kind of lore or fantasy type shit. I’m one to keep to the concrete, the explainable, and the expected. I'm used to feeling threatened, but knowing
what threatened my well-being, which up to this point had always been another man, or myself. Both were simple to understand.
Sasha put her hand on my shoulder as we sat on the porch and I looked over to her as she started talking: “Babe, there’s nothing you can do about this. Sometimes there are things in this world that just can’t be explained by-”
My frustration boiled over, I snapped at her: “Like what Sasha?! Like what? Name one fuckin thing you’ve ever
experienced that is even remotely like this. Name one supernatural
thing that can’t be explained by reason? I saw that fuckin light, and felt something fuckin change. It was in the air. It was in my head. Dash freaked out too. Name one other thing you know of that you didn’t
learn about on the internet that you can even remotely compare to this. Seriously, just name one thing.”
“Babe stop, you don’t need to get angry at me, I’m just trying to-”
“Trying to what!? Trying to make me feel good about some Native American curse horror story bullshit like this? Trying to make this into something exciting and heady and groovy? Should we have a séance, burn some fuckin sage and lay out some protective crystals? Sash - if this shit is for real, then in a couple months we’re gonna have some demon guy getting devoured by a bear in front of us every week. You get that right? You get that? Dan and Lucy said we have to fucking kill
some naked asshole before he ‘tears us apart,’ you think that’s gonna be all exciting and mysterious?”
I knew I’d gone overboard before even finishing my little diatribe, and I think Sasha could see that too. I wasn’t myself. I felt like crying. She stood up and gave me one of her looks, a look that says 'don't even bother saying shit until you apologize and chill.' I started my next sentence:
“I’m sorry, Sash. I didn’t mean to talk to you like that. I just… what the fuck, man. I mean what the fuck is going on?”
“I don’t know babe… It’s all pretty damn scary, obviously, but I mean we can move. If this is too much for us, we can just sell this place and move. But Dan and Lucy told us how to stay safe, and I think it’s at least worth getting through the summer to see if this is all 100% real. I mean, if this whole ‘bear chase’ thing actually happens, then we’ll know beyond a doubt.”
I couldn’t even believe what I was hearing, but I felt the same way. Even after everything, I figured it could still be some kind of hoax. The bear chase thing though, that’d settle it, right? If some naked dude comes trouncing out of the woods to get devoured by a bear on several
occasions, I figured that’d settle it, and there’d be no denying this shit is real. Sasha and I went about our lives. Every evening from sundown to when my head hit the pillow, I was catching every glimpse of that pond I could.
A couple weeks went by, and the emotional trauma of the whole “first light” experience was waning. We were happy, and, without a doubt, we absolutely loved the land and the house and our gardens and this whole lifestyle. One evening in May I was cooking dinner while Sasha was in the guestroom putting together some Ikea bookshelf we’d ordered. I was cutting some peppers when I thought I heard Sasha gasp, and as I opened my mouth to ask if she was alright I heard her yell: “Babe, BABE, THE LIGHT, THE LIGHT IS IN THE POND.” I felt ice run through my veins. My skin went flush with heat at the same time a chill coursed over me leaving goosebumps in its wake. I hadn’t even put the knife down when I busted into the guestroom where Sasha was standing at the window with her hand over her mouth. I looked over her shoulder and saw it, same as before, a small ball of yellow light about 2 feet below the surface of the pond. Sasha looked over at me with wide eyes.
I looked back at the pond and the light had moved, just a few feet to the left. I was angry. That’s the emotion this stupid ass little light brought out of me; anger. I knew what to do, but I was already thinking of some other way we could test this bullshit, some way we could probe it, when Sasha’s voice cut through the malaise of my thoughts:
“I’m getting the wood, come with me and get Dash inside.” Before I could even say anything she was bolting through the living room. She opened the front door and took a hard left to go to the wood pile, and I yelled for Dash as I reached for the spotlight we kept next to the door. Sasha was already coming back in with an arm full of wood and the hatchet by the time I stepped off the porch and was shining the light around the fenced yard looking for the dog. I yelled his name a few more times before I found him in the light. He was at the edge of the yard, facing the same spot in the tree line that had gotten him so worked up last time this happened. His tail was down and his hackles were up. Fuck. I yelled again and he wheeled around and bolted for me as I went back up toward the porch. I closed the door behind the dog, grabbed my 30-30 behind the door, dropped the lever to check the chamber, and looked over to see Sasha already underway in making the fire. I leaned the rifle on a chair and bent down to help with the fire, but Sash gently slapped my hand away, “it’s a one-person job, love. I got this.” She smiled at me. I’ll be damned if she didn’t look excited. I sat down behind her and thought about how lucky I was to find such a rockstar.
Dash was in the kitchen and started barking at the porch door that faced the tree line that seemed to have him so transfixed when the light shows up. Sasha looked back at him, but kept working. I could feel fear creeping into me. I wanted to fight something, but I could feel panic competing with the anger. Sasha had the fire going on its own within a minute, and scooted back to sit next to me. I called Dash over, who came and joined us, whimpering as he paced around the fireplace. Sash and I sat there in silence for minute or two watching the flames when she turned to me, “I… feel it. I feel something. Is that just me?” – “No… I can feel it too.” Sasha nodded. She looked frightened, but determined. After another minute she said we should look to see if the light’s there. We walked into the guestroom, looked out at the pond, and it was gone.
That same feeling of emotional and physical relief washed over me. I even shivered. Sasha grabbed my arm. “Oh my god do you feel that?” – “I mean, what?” I asked – “that… feeling of just, a release, it’s amazing!” She started smiling as she went on “It’s like… it’s like my whole body itched, then all got scratched at the same second, then wrapped in a warm towel!” We both laughed. “I mean… yah, I definitely felt something.”
Sasha insisted on calling Dan and Lucy, even though I told her they’d just say the same things they said to me. Which, upon arriving, they did. Lucy sat with Sasha for a while, and they talked about the feeling the light gives, and shared thoughts about it.
I stepped outside for a smoke. I quit smoking when I got out of the Corps. Well, I should say I quit smoking when I was sober
when I got out of the Corps. But I found an old, stale pack and felt like I’d never wanted one so bad in my life. Dan passed on a cig, but joined me anyway, and we sat in silence looking out over the land. After a few minutes he said “I’m sorry you’re dealing with this… It’s a pain in the ass to have this on your mind, in addition to everything else. I know it ain’t my fault but… I’m just sorry. It ain’t easy, lord knows.”
I let a solid 10-mississippi-count pass before letting out a sigh and saying “yah, this is quite… uncomfortable.” – “Sure is” Dan replied, and we went back to silence. I finished my smoke and walked over to the edge of the porch, crouched down and crushed the butt in the grass. Dan stood, and I watched him as he slowly walked over, leaned on the railing post, hooked his thumbs in his belt loops, look up at the moon, then take in a deep breath through his nose.
I watched him consider the scent like one would a wine, then nod to himself and say “summertime’s just around the corner, son. You can really feel it on nights like this… and remember," Dan looked down at me "spring's the easy one." Part III