Midnight Encounter

I was in the tree-shadowed garden in my coat, shoes and pyjamas, knowing it had long gone and that so, unfortunately, had the dog, in frenzied cacophonous pursuit, like me far too late, as the side gate was mysteriously wide open. It was a mild night for November and after hurried discussion with my wife I set off to find the animal, which was young and crazy and might run across a main road.

We had been drifting gently into sleep when, on the stroke of twelve, the cry shocked us awake, a high, keening wail but with bass notes under it, almost a roar echoing at the end, utterly different from the all too familiar savage, dry, despairing bark of the urban foxes that use our pond as a watering hole. It was a startling, chilling sound and came from very close, from the back garden we thought.

I guessed the chase would take the dog to the river but, of course, when I eventually came home, it was back and somewhat sheepishly wagging its tail at me. I went back to bed and told my wife what I had experienced. She was unimpressed. “Must have been a fox,” she said and went to sleep.

It was very dark on the towpath under the overhanging trees. I’d been trying to follow the dog’s wild, distant barking for ages but all was now quiet and still as I looked out over the river. Then, along the muddy gravel bank below me, came a whispery sound of racing feet, light and fast, and against the faint reflected light on the water I glimpsed an outlandish, rangy, grey silhouette shoot by, about knee height it seemed. I heard it faintly skitter on and on along the shore, off into the night.

A memory I am reluctant to explain away with my wife’s common sense.