In 1970, I was fulfilling my Alternate Service obligation to the Government by working as a Child Care Counselor at a residential treatment center for pre-teens in Ukiah, CA. During that time, I was renting a small cabin about 5 miles outside of town for my days off. It was situated near a vineyard that backed into rolling hills, and the nearest neighbors were about a mile away. I had inherited it from another counselor who had burned out emotionally after two years at the center, and had returned to his home in the mid-west somewhere to recuperate.
Along with the cabin I had unwittingly gained a small, non-descript cat who wandered around the premises spreading cat hairs. Chronically allergic to cats, I tried to avoid this character, but he was apparently oblivious to my health issues and persisted in his shedding. Eventually, I felt that I needed to take more decisive action. As he was nonchalantly lounging on a widow sill one sunny morning, I scooped him up and carried him out to my car. Discerning my intent he offered a mild protest, but my resolve was firm, and I would not be dissuaded from my chosen course.
I drove four or five miles up into the hills to release the little fellow into the next phase of his earthly destiny, reasoning that he was semi-wild and independent anyway, and would likely adapt without much effort to his new environment. The hills were stocked with abundant rodent life, and he had already demonstrated his skills in that regard by occasionally depositing mice cadavers at the cabin’s front door. Without much ado I bid him good luck and happy hunting and then drove off, forgetting that things are not always what they seem to be.
The cabin itself possessed an odd quality, as if it was simultaneously appearing in this as well as some other, invisible realm. Not only the cabin, but the surrounding hills themselves seemed to evoke a subtle mix of mysterious intuitions at a subconscious level that I had difficulty accessing. Initially I ignored these whispers, speculating that perhaps they were just the lingering vibrations from an ancient Indian encampment in the area. I had recently begun practicing Zen meditation, and attributed these perceptions to the mere play of mind. Sometimes we can be rather naïve in our assumptions. One day I was to find out just how much.
It was a beautiful early afternoon in Autumn. Northern Californians called this time Indian Summer and, although I never knew the derivation, it seemed like an appropriate designation for this lovely season. I felt like a hike into the hills behind the cabin that day, and started off along a deer path that wound lazily up through the oaks and manzanita shrubs that thrived on the hillsides above the vineyard. Curiously, as I passed by certain random trees I felt a strange sense of apprehension just below the surface of awareness. It felt as if they were somehow conscious players in a spell that was being woven around me!
I had spent a good deal of time in the woods, and in fact had lived as a hermit for six months in the Sierras during the previous year, but I had never felt anything like this before. As I proceeded further into the hills, I began to sense an ambiguity about my orientation and, to my growing dismay, eventually realized that I was lost. I had been wandering around in circles for over an hour, and had no idea now how to continue. I found a rock outcropping to sit and ponder the situation, but as I took my seat I noticed a group of large buzzards directly overhead and was instantly aware that they were keen on some sort of rapidly approaching death.
My hair literally stood on end as a series of violent shivers churned through me, and without further thought I jumped up and began to run! It didn’t matter where – I just had to move, and I let my body take me on whatever course it would. Time played havoc in my mounting panic, and it was nearly dark when I finally – gratefully – reached my cabin, slammed the door behind me, and exhaled. Whatever that was, I believed that I had left it behind in the hills.
I was mistaken. A deafening series of clashing cymbal-like sounds, accompanied by blinding lights and shrieking howls, started encircling the cabin – slowly and methodically at first, but soon accelerating into a dizzying rush that threatened to sweep the cabin itself into a tornado whirlwind and whisk it from its foundations into the open maw of chaos and catastrophe! The walls began to vibrate fiercely, and then something told me: “Here it comes!”
Suddenly it was dead quiet. Too quiet. I now realized to my mounting horror that I was no longer alone in the cabin. Some kind of dark and menacing force was materializing in the corner across from me. A pitch-black shadow was growing before my startled eyes, blotting out the faint light from the window and creeping across the ceiling, walls, and floor towards me. I stood paralyzed in fear as my eyes darted helplessly in search of some escape. Suddenly spotting an opening, I raced towards the hallway leading to my bedroom before it too was swallowed up in the oncoming shadow. Slamming the door, I dove like a child under the bed and waited there, shivering uncontrollably.
Suddenly sensing movement to my side, I inadvertently banged my head on a bed board in startled shock before realizing that the creature next to me was the cat! The cat! Somehow, over the course of several weeks since I had dropped him off in the hills, he had managed to find his way back to the cabin, slip in through an open window, and was now calmly stretching and yawning next to me! I was incredulous – so much so that I had even momentarily forgotten the terror that was now pressing ominously against my bedroom door.
With feline grace the cat then stood up and padded in a most regal and dignified manner to the edge of the door that stood between us and the relentless psychic pressure being applied from the other side. Pausing there, he then tilted his head back and let out the most piercing cat screech I had ever heard! The echo of his shout seemed to reverberate through the whole valley, and then there was complete silence. I listened for any sign of the horror that had invaded the house, but heard nothing. Crawling out from under the bed, I proceeded carefully to the door and, opening it gingerly, found no evidence of anything amiss. The cat scampered into the living room and pounced up onto the couch and resumed his relaxed pose, as if nothing extraordinary had just transpired.
After looking around to inspect the place, I peeled off my urine-soaked pants and headed into the bathroom for a long shower. When I had dried myself off, I went to the kitchen cabinet and found some herbal tea. I brewed a cup and then joined the cat on the couch. He climbed into my lap, meowed, and together we kept vigil until dawn.
As the brilliant morning sun streamed through the windows, I was engulfed in a mood of deep peace. Outside, a family of deer was grazing near the window, and the valley was filling with gorgeous birdsong.
Since that night, I have never been troubled by allergies to cats, although I do pay more attention to where I am going when walking in the woods.