It was my first year in high school. Houston, my birthplace, wasn't very familiar because I had been away for about thirteen years. The elder students tormented us. I had made some friends and we wanted to get even and prove our mettle.
There was Carmack: An Irishman whose sense of adventure was in indirect proportion to his physical stature. Carmack could put cheer into a dead cat. An officer's worst nightmare. Juan: A father of three, he worked at night and attended school with us in the day. Juan lived under the radar and visited his beloved wife in Mexico every weekend. He taught me a wonderful ribald song about Solomon. Paul: A genius in the same class as Richard Feynman. Paul was the brother I never had and the only man I have met who understands the female psyche. In this arena, he was as Mozart, talented from birth.
One afternoon in the student parking lot, an idea came to me. I had heard many students talking of a cemetery that was about fifty kilometers outside of town. The place was legendary because of the blue floating lights which had been seen by many people.
Older kids would dare each other to go there at night and remain for a few hours. Those who went were respected by everyone and most of them vowed to avoid the unholy place.
It was perfect! I asked for directions to go there and made sure that lots of people overheard my plan. I put forth the proposal to my crew and after a minimum of cajoling, they were firmly committed. Everyone except Juan, who would be gone to Mexico. We made a plan to ride our bicycles and we expected to arrive several hours before nightfall. We would stay there all night and return as new men.
The ride over that Saturday morning was good, except for the strong wind. The day before had been filled with heavy rains and thunder. It was hot enough to fry an egg on the asphalt and it was humid enough to steam clams. We arrived in good condition and explored the graveyard. We saw a few tombs that had been damaged by the elements and possibly by robbers. The cement covers were cracked and displaced. Some of the bones of the occupants were visible.
This sight, though it was in brilliant sunshine, put a chill on us. After some time, we became concerned about the quickly declining sun. We scouted for a suitable place to sleep and the sky began to redden. We chose a small area under several oak trees. They grew between the graveyard and a flooded field that extended several hundred meters towards the bush land. It was the only dry place near the graveyard.
Everyone dined on the foods they had brought. I ate two tins of Vienna sausages and one of peaches. Having a fire was ruled out, because of our uncertainty of the ownership of the land. Talk ran faster and faster and the light died. Twilight did not linger and soon we were using two flashlights. We told stories and waited. Every compass point was carefully searched for the slightest tinge of blue light. The moon rose. It was almost full. It was bright as the inside of an oyster shell.
The sky was busy with small cumulus clouds that were guided by the strong winds aloft. When the moon was clear of these obstructions, we enjoyed wonderful visibility but every time a cloud intervened, we were covered with darkness. I remembered the poem, The Highwayman. "The moon was a ghostly galleon, tossed upon a cloudy sea." Time began to slow down. We had no caffeine and after the long ride, we began to fade. We arranged our blankets and began to sleep.
I was almost in my slumber when I heard it. Carmack was snoring and Paul was peering into the dark. There was a very peculiar sound which came from the field. It was soft, but complicated. It grew louder and louder. The sound was like distant drums and marching men.
I woke Carmack. We needed all eyes to corroborate what we were about to experience. While the acoustic menace approached, the cloud that had been obscuring the moon, moved away. Lunar light flooded the field of vision. My hair stood erect and my eyes stared. We were transfixed. We saw many different things.
In perfect synchronization to the sounds, I saw water splashes in the soggy field. Brisk oval shapes sprayed upward and were silvered by the moon. They were the size of a big man's boot and they were heading directly for us. The tempo was disciplined like the cadence of marching soldiers. There were hundreds in this spectral battalion. While my sensory organs connected the audio and visual stimulus, another cloud slid in front of the moon.
I felt vibrations and the sound was now very close. Were the warriors of the extinct Karankawa Indians on a ghostly raid? Conquistadors of ectoplasm condemned to search eternally for El Dorado? Or were they the vengeful spirits of the millions of slaughtered bison? We stayed where we were. I am certain that each of us wanted to flee. It was simply of no use to do so. We were going to be overcome at any moment. I cleared my conscience and prepared to die or worse. I looked skyward and saw the edge of the moon emerge from a cloud.
I heard Carmack emit a maniacal laugh. Paul swore softly. I lowered my gaze and beheld a massive horde of armadillos. They veered to our left when they got within ten meters of us. Their bellies made splashes on the watery field with each step.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.