Beast in the Night
were in bed, nearly asleep, when the growling began. A low rumble
at first, it grew louder and louder still until it seemed to be
coming from all around us. The growling was accompanied by horrible
scraping sounds, like claws on wood. There were thuds, too, one
after another, as if someone were dropping unabridged dictionaries
onto the ceiling directly above our heads. As it continued, the
growling became more vicious, the scraping more frenzied, the thudding
more violent until I was convinced beyond any doubt that whoever
or whatever was making these noises would, at any moment, come crashing
through the ceiling or tearing through the wall, its red eyes illuminating
the darkened room, its gnarled, scaly hands ready and willing to
stifle our screams, snap our necks and devour us whole as we wriggled
and begged, our cries eventually silenced, our bodies consumed,
the only traces of our once-vibrant lives a few drops of blood on
the flowery bedspread we received as a wedding present and which,
to be honest, I've never much liked.
you hear that?" I whispered idiotically to my new and not-deaf
she whispered back.
do you think it is?"
sounds like bears."
did sound like bears. Angry, homicidal bears. It was unlikely that
there were any bears, homicidal or otherwise, inside the walls of
our one-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Austin, Texas. We
had been married only a few months; I was in graduate school for
reasons I can't quite recall, and Kellie was working part-time at
a toy store up the street. The apartment overlooked the headquarters
of drkoop.com, among the most spectacular of the late-nineties Internet
flameouts. A friend who worked there once gave me a tour of the
office with its fully stocked kitchen, foosball tables, and thousand-dollar
ergonomic chairs. I was nauseous with envy. Here I was hanging around
a university campus with no discernible purpose in mind, save growing
a really impressive goatee, while other nerdy young men were deciding
to which island paradise they should retire with their dot-com bazillions.
The fact that they later had to auction off those thousand-dollar
ergonomic chairs for fifty bucks apiece does not retroactively justify
my feckless academic tourism, but it sure does make me feel better.
bears turned out to be a family of raccoons that had taken up residence
in the crawlspace above our bedroom. We learned this from Jim The
Genuinely Friendly But Utterly Ineffectual Maintenance Guy, who
also informed us that raccoons were a tremendous nuisance throughout
the complex, and particularly in our unit, an interesting tidbit
that the apartment manager had somehow neglected to mention during
the pre-rental walkthrough. The previous occupants had vacated soon
after a raccoon tore through the balcony's screen door and found
its way to the kitchen, where it commenced rummaging around in the
cabinets. They arrived home from some happy outing to find the furry
intruder perched next to the sink, a potato chip bag clutched between
its paws and a smirk, no doubt, on its pointy, masked face.
The Genuinely Friendly But Utterly Ineffectual Maintenance Guy swore
that the raccoons would be humanely trapped and the entrance to
their attic redoubt sealed against future encroachment. Weeks passed,
however, and nothing was done. The growling, scraping, and thudding
continued unabated, seeming even to intensify. Perhaps, we speculated,
they were readying themselves for a full-scale invasion of the apartment
proper. I placed daily, sometimes twice-daily, calls to Jim The
Genuinely Friendly But Utterly Ineffectual Maintenance Guy's cell
phone. Then I decided to up the ante, dialing him at three a.m.
listen to this!" I said, holding the receiver up to the ceiling
so he could hear the violent commotion going on above our heads.
The Genuinely Friendly, etc., etc., was none too pleased. But guess
what? I was in a bad mood, too. It had been a month since I had
gotten a solid night of uninterrupted sleep and I was no longer
my normal, mostly reasonable self. Several days later the traps
had still not been set and so we shifted our attention to the apartment's
management, calling the leasing office and sending letters. At least
one of these letters was composed by Kellie, the unrivalled master
of the well-wrought nasty-gram. Her notes are truly models of this
minor literary genre. In fact her genius for the lapidary put-down
is one of the many reasons we can never get divorced: I simply could
not stand the quietly devastating post-breakup missive.
combined efforts bore no fruit. And so, after one especially rowdy
night of raccoon raucousness, I marched down to the leasing office
to register my displeasure in the flesh. The office wasn't open
yet so I took a seat on the doorstep and waited. I should note,
in the interest of painting a more vivid tableau, that I was unshaven,
uncombed, and dressed in a t-shirt, sweatpants and flip-flops. I
looked exactly like I felt.
the manager showed up. Her name was Stacy, and she seemed momentarily
taken aback at the sight of this unkempt, bleary-eyed figure camped
out in front of her office. But, professional that she was, Stacy
shook off her discomfiture, greeted me fake-brightly, and invited
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