FRESH YARN presents:

A Beast in the Night
By Tom Bartlett

We 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.

"Did you hear that?" I whispered idiotically to my new and not-deaf wife.

"Yes," she whispered back.

"What do you think it is?"

"It sounds like bears."

It 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, 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.

The 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.

Jim 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.

"Hey, listen to this!" I said, holding the receiver up to the ceiling so he could hear the violent commotion going on above our heads.

Jim 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.

Our 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.

Eventually 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 me inside.

"So -- what can we help you with today?" she asked, flouncing down in the chair behind her desk. Stacy wore a forest green pantsuit that flared out unflatteringly at the hip, a detail I would normally omit but in this instance feel compelled to record.

"Raccoons," I said.

"Yes, raccoons," she mindlessly agreed while messing with some papers on her desk and glancing distractedly at the blinking red light on her telephone. "We're going to get some traps up there for you."

For you! I loved it. Like it was a personal favor for the leasing office to rid the building of ferocious vermin. Like I was asking them to go out of their way because I had some quirky desire to sleep at night.

"We've been hearing that for weeks," I said.

"Well, it's true."

She smiled broadly as if this were a pretty good comeback.

"I'm not sure you appreciate the urgency of our situation," I said flatly and, I hoped, just a touch menacingly. Menace is tough to pull off unless you have a commanding physical presence or a strong German accent. Unfortunately I am slight of build and non-Teutonic.

"I don't know what to tell you," Stacy said, throwing up her hands in mock helplessness.

"Tell me you will do something."

"We will."


"Of course!"


Stacy launched into a lengthy non-answer that featured words such as "shorthanded" and "backlogged."

"I am not a well man," I said, interrupting her mid-ramble. As I spoke, I began tapping the edge of her desk with my knuckles. "I haven't slept, really slept, in weeks. I can't think straight."

I tapped harder.

"Sometimes, Stacy, it feels like I'm losing my mind. Do you know what that feels like? Do you know what it feels like to lose your mind?"

I was no longer tapping her desk: I was hitting it. The sentimental trinkets and framed photographs of her grinning loved ones bounced with each rhythmic strike.

"Look, I'm not trying to bother you," I said, my voice pseudo-sincere. "That's the last thing I want. I know you're a busy person with many important matters to attend to. Maybe the raccoons don't seem like a big deal to you, Stacy. But they are a big deal to me. A very big deal. The biggest deal. I'm asking - begging - you to make the raccoons go away. I don't want to go crazy. Please don't let me go crazy."

Her eyes were wide and the perkiness had drained from her demeanor. Stacy's mouth hung open for several moments while she gathered herself.

"I will talk to Jim," she said finally.

I would like to report that immediate action was taken, that my desk-thumping tantrum did the trick. But that would not be true. We suffered through several more weeks before the traps were set. Eventually, though, the raccoons were caught and we watched as one of them was lowered in its cage from the roof of our three-story building. It was impossible not to feel sorry for him. After all, he had done nothing to warrant forcible eviction except to behave like a nocturnal animal, which of course he was. But our twinges of fellow-creature sympathy were outweighed by the sheer, gorgeous, unsurpassed bliss of a good night's sleep.

Since then we've moved a couple of times, gotten jobs, purchased a house, and become the kind of people who walk the dog each morning, fret uselessly about world events, and forget to pay our bills on time. Average citizens, in other words. The raccoon episode has naturally begun to fade from our minds, replaced by other memories, some of them pleasant, some of them painful. Life has gone on, as life tends to do.

But I was reminded of the raccoons recently when, late one night, we were awakened by a yowling. It was gentle at first, more like a soft mewl, but the volume steadily increased and the noise became more insistent until the room was filled with a racket that could rouse even the deepest and most dedicated sleeper.

"What do you think it is?" I whispered stupidly.

"I think he's hungry," Kellie replied.

I clicked on the lamp next to the bed while Kellie scooped up our three-week-old son. It was obvious from his half-closed lids that he was tired, but hunger had trumped fatigue in the age-old battle of pressing needs. While I can't say I was thrilled to be conscious at such a dark and godless hour, it was difficult to be upset with the little guy as he suckled merrily away, his tiny hand wrapped around my wife's finger. And, besides, we had no right to complain; this time, it was all our fault.


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