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Things that go bump in the night

By Charlotte B. Cerminaro
web posted May 24, 2021

Not long ago an acquaintance of mine asked a very simple question. Something was puzzling him, occasionally frightening him, in the middle of the night. He asked if I would help him think about it analytically. When he explained what was happening the answers seemed relatively obvious, at first.

For the past few months he would hear tapping on the window, but only at night. When he looked outside there didn't appear to be anything, though it was too dark to see clearly. Sometimes he would hear chewing sounds but again, nothing to see. I asked if he had trees and shrubs near his house, which he did, but he thought they were too far from the window. I told him he was probably hearing rodents, nothing more than a night breeze and a mouse, raccoon, or possibly rabbits.

He questioned my confident assertion and didn't seem to understand, or want to believe, there are creatures that only come out after dark. Most of these creatures don't avail themselves when we're looking for them. I've seen more of them because I'm usually up late. He described himself as an "early bird" and compared my lifelong night habits to those of a large and peculiar nocturnal avian predator. His concerns were eased but not entirely convinced. Thinking about this a little more, I remembered a most unusual and creepy experience of my own. The disturbance was caused by something very unexpected and I was not impervious to a little fright.

It was during a camping trip in the mountains with one of our teenagers, in midsummer. We managed to find a beautiful spot in an old growth pine forest, about 8,000 feet elevation. A few other campers were scattered around, including a small family with their two dogs about a hundred meters away. As the sun went down a biting chill crept in along with an eerie quiet. Dozing off well after dark, we were stirred by the sound of dogs barking. It was frenzied, the way they bark when predators are near. I sat up and listened; there'd been a number of sightings of the smaller California black bear, a non-aggressive species that are common to the area. The dogs calmed down and no forest rangers drove by so it wasn't likely a bear or mountain lion. A half hour later I finally dozed again.

Not long after it was the far distant sound of a scream that awakened me. That was a mountain lion. Many miles away. Listening deeply into the silence, I waited. Thankfully my daughter was asleep. A minute later a twig snapped nearby. Then I heard it, very distinct and very soft, the slow footsteps approaching. Perhaps 50 feet away, maybe closer. Reached my hand over and rested it on my weapon. The utter silence, as if the entire mountain was blanketed in stillness. Minutes passed, motionless, just breathing softly--then froze, hearing the sound that sent a chill down my spine and the hair standing on the back of my neck. Something was munching.

I picked up my rifle and opened the tent door just enough to slip out. The full moon was already overhead; no need to strain my eyes, it took only a moment to pick out a shadowy figure at the edge of the clearing. It wasn't very large, shorter than me, but even a crouching mountain lion would appear small. Whatever it was stopped munching. I swept my flashlight in that direction and illuminated a pair of glowing eyes, about 5 feet above the ground. The eyes were looking right at me--held my gaze for several moments--finally I said, "Go somewhere else to eat, you're keeping me awake!" The young doe slowly turned around and sauntered back into the forest, completely unafraid.

Sometimes the things that go "bump" in the night are unbelievably mundane. The deer certainly wasn't mundane but I felt quite silly afterward. We fear the unknown and unseen, so the mysteries of the night hold more trepidation than the ones of the day. My acquaintance had his mystery solved for him not long after we talked. The master sleuth that cracked the case was his cat; sneaking outside after dark, the feline's night vision and keen sense of smell took him right to the culprit. His owner was giving chase, running full speed to catch the furry escapee when a small white rabbit darted out of the shrubs next to his house, the cat hot on its heels. The mysterious sounds didn't return after that, and presumably, neither did the rabbit. ESR

Charlotte B. Cerminaro is a Juilliard-trained classical musician who, in addition to being a studio and orchestral musician, enjoys writing and has a degree in Molecular Biology. © 2021

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