Brittle boards pop like firecrackers under my bare feet as I step gingerly across the icy porch. “Sau-aul!” I call out. My breath becomes a million tiny ice crystals reflecting the meager light that spills from the open kitchen door behind me. Beyond the porch railing, the back yard is a broad semicircle of nothingness. Stygian black, completely silent, vastly cold. And roaming around out there is a Stygian-black collie.
It’s my own fault. Never ask a dog if he wants to go out right before bedtime unless you’re reasonably sure the answer is no. It’s really more of a courtesy anyway and puts you on the moral high ground if he does wake you up later, legs crossed, meaningfully eying the door.
I can’t see anything, and my calves are beginning to ache because I’m standing on tiptoe. Unlike calves, tongues and toes must have great personalities because we subject them to a lot and they rarely complain. (What the brain tells the tongue to say doesn’t count.) That jalapeno popper searing your fingerprints off? Pop it in your mouth! And toes? They regularly sacrifice themselves on cold tile floors, hot asphalt, and at this moment a frozen deck that the just-arrived sheepdog relishes as a large, flat snow cone.
“Saul!” I call out, beginning to get annoyed. It’s after midnight, 8 degrees, and I’m standing outside in shorts, for Pete’s sake! I grumble back into the house for a flashlight. Correction: The flashlight; the 4lb, 16″ black aluminum Maglite torch with knurled grip. This is the kind of flashlight that cuts through fog and thunderstorm like a lance, and will lay out cold a burglar with one whack. Carry one of †these, and the only guy who won’t envy you is the state trooper who is trained to use his own state-issued Maglite to take down wildebeest. He’ll politely tip his hat and ask you to help direct traffic.
A light saber hums in my mind as I sweep the light across the yard. Movement along the fence grabs my attention. Narrowing the beam, I zoom in on twin points of light close to the ground. A pair of eyes gaze back at me for a moment, then turn back to surveying the stump that the intelligence behind them is contemplating peeing on.
“Saul, come on!” I waggle the light back and forth, he snorts something in collie under his breath and starts back toward the house. Past experience teaches that collies are easily detoured on their way to and from places. So, I wait, slowly scanning the woods for any results to add to the log of my periodic contributions to the search for Bigfoot. Nothing.
Checking the pond to make sure Saul hasn’t waded in for a drink, I glimpse a tiny underwater flashbulb. What in the world? Another flicker answers a few feet away. Those flashes look like …
Fish! Our fish are back! The pterodactyl didn’t eat everyone after all! I quickly count 11, but it’s hard to see from here, so I bound down the frozen steps to the “promenade” and lean out over the water. Telltale pairs and triples of orange, gold, and silver speckle the pond bottom like Dejah Thoris’ costume jewelry. Where’d they come from? Where’ve they been?
His muzzle dripping from an unnoticed but satisfying drink, Saul saunters up the stairs unconcerned, as if to say, “Yeah, so? They’ve been here all along. They come out every night. You just never come out to drink at the right time.”
Saul was correct. The bizarre truth is that every morning now, the pond appears to be completely empty of fish. They’ve bugged out to their secret subterranean redoubt. Only after the sun disappears do our little Morlock friends come out to play.
Their numbers are greatly reduced, but 11 smart Rambo fish are better than no fish. Whether this is a normal display of a heretofore unobserved survival skill or just a trick that Snug Harbor fish have learned, I’m happy to know that they’re out there. I’m guessing that we’ll see more of them in daylight as things begin to warm up a bit. All the more reason for us to let fly the barrage balloons and post ack-ack around the perimeter.
What that state trooper doesn’t know is that it’s your wife’s Maglite
; a fact she enjoys reminding you of. Never mind that it came to her via the same “Dirty Santa” game a few years back that you walked away from with a copy of Steel Magnolias and a basket of bath soap.