IT WAS A STRONG AND SUDDEN COMPULSION that made me turn off the freeway and on to a small side road. We were driving back to Chico after a day of thrifting and record shopping in Sacramento. As usual, I’d done a slow drive by of my dad’s midtown studio apartment. Baby blue door, second floor, number seventeen. Never did I stop and knock. Instead, I’d just imagine that he was in there, sitting in his long ago broken office chair sipping coffee and reading his newspaper or maybe tending to one of his many potted plants.
But before the side road was the cloud. Vanessa noticed it first, a wide disc of tornado gray streaked with violets and blacks. It had a presence, that cloud, that seemed out of place on an otherwise blue sun afternoon. We talked of the demons in the cloud and how they were chasing us as we sped homeward. We talked of this because back then we talked a lot of demons and spirts and energies and such things. I was pursuing a degree in Religious Studies and Vanessa ended up working as an astrologist and phone psychic. As much as I laugh at those things now, she had the touch. She really did. If she said there was bad juju in a cloud, I took it seriously. At the very least, there was chaos in the air. And we’d soon get another taste.
I pulled our little green Dodge Colt off the freeway in part to avoid the hovering cloud of doom, but mostly as I said, because I felt compelled to. After about a mile of wheat fields, we came to a factory or storage facility. It wasn’t much, just a few tin buildings wrapped by a low wire fence. What made me stop was the dog standing in the middle of the road. For some reason it reminded me of a dingo, but I guess it was more like those dogs with different colored eyes that only care about fetching sticks or balls. Australian Shepherds, I think. Anyway, it wouldn’t move so I stopped. And we got out of the car. It wasn’t until then that I realized the dog was standing on top of very large and very dead cow.
Why we didn’t notice right away the dead cow or the fresh born calf carcass next to it remains a mystery. It may have had to with watching this oddly compelling dog while keeping an eye on it’s mate who came wriggling through the fence. They were domesticated, to be sure, but there was a touch of feral in them that had me a bit on edge. Plus, that damned cloud was right on top of us now. It seemed lower, too. I walked over to the adult cow which was on it’s side and not much bloated considering the heat and the blacktop. There was no obvious cause of death. No blood, bullet hole, or impact mark. Same thing with the baby. I shouldn’t admit this, but long ago in one of my lesser moments, I made a cardboard sign that read QUIET! CAT SLEEPING with an arrow that pointed down to a roadkill kitty. Anyway, while I was checking out the bodies, that strange, strange dog just kept jumping up and down from it’s perch on the cow’s shoulder.
I looked around to see if there was anyone to alert or talk with. It was just us, the dogs, the dead cows and an indescribable creepiness that grew and spread the longer we stood there. So we got out of there. There wasn’t much to say. We drove back, the cloud broke up, and that was the end of it. We knew we’d seen and felt something not quite normal, but then it wasn’t really abnormal. Cows die, after all.
There was more to it than just some dogs and dead cows, but that more is something I can only describe in the cheapest of ways. I could say that there was an electricity, that there was some kind of charge in the air. I could say that it felt like the cloud led us there, that the dogs were trying to tell us something. All of these things now seem trite and indistinct. Yet, the truth is that they hint at the feeling rather well. Vanessa and I stayed together a few more years and then X-Files started airing which would remind us now and then of “that weird time with the dogs and that spooky cloud.”
My sister told me the reason my dad had so many indoor plants is because people kept stealing the ones he’d set outside on top of the air conditioner unit. I did end up knocking on door number seventeen eventually. That’s a different story… set of stories, rather.
[The “Life Moments” series consists of half-hour morning exercises. I sit, let a memory bubble up and type it out …. with the clock set for one half hour. Doesn’t leave much time for worrying about grammar or editing. Just get the stuff out the door. Associated photos are mine… but not this one.]