In the Still of the Night

I was alone in the house late at night. We had just moved to a rural area. Standing outside, not one other house could be seen. A farm field was to the north, a woods to the west and prairie to the south and east. It was a lonely dark place at night with no streetlamps. It was a great place to watch the stars. They truly glistened like diamonds in the sky. I named the stars for all my friends: Wally, Ron, Pear-shape and others. They thought that was a cool thing to do. Or, keeping with the times, it was “neato”.

The woods were a great place to camp overnight. The praire was a good place to scare up pheasants that I would attempt to shoot down with my bow and arrow. I never came close. No matter, the chase is the fun. I was eleven years old. I felt like I was an old-time mountain man even though that part of Illinois is flat as a pancake. Imagination is a great thing for a kid.

My buddies and I found a watermelon patch hidden in the middle of the farmer’s corn field. We would confiscate a melon and submerge it in the creek that ran by the woods to cool it off. We would consume the watermelon as we watched the squirrels in the trees and the billowy summer clouds. Everyone called the creek the “crik”. I still do. The creek was a wonderful source of amusement for us. We dammed it up and made a swimming hole. It worked very well. The dam worked so well the creek made a detour around the dam when a big rain occurred. Other town kids found it and there was always someone there during the day. At night, there was no one around our house.

Fairly often dairy cows would get out of their pasture and tramp through our yard. My dad would send me out to herd them out of our yard back to the farm pasture. I would use a clothes pole to gently prod the cows to get them going in the right direction. Our yard got plenty of free fertilizer.

At night, we played free the flag in the cow pasture. Two teams try to steal the other teams’ flag. A lot of running is involved. If you started to slide on a cowpie, we quickly learned to just continue sliding before trying to regain footing. Otherwise, you would probably fall down, something to be avoided. Mothers didn’t much care for the manure odor either.

There was a bull in the pasture next to the woods. We would venture out to the bull carefully and see how close we could get. Once in a while he would chase us and we would quickly climb the rail fence to escape. It was scary but very exciting.

All in all, it was a great place for a kid to grow up. However, on one dark night, the situation became tense. I was lying in bed reading a book, something I did quite often. When my parents were home, I would take the lamp off the nightstand and put it under the covers so I could keep reading past bedtime. My mother caught onto that scam fairly quickly, but she would give an extra hour before she told me to turn off the lamp.

I heard a rattle as if someone was trying to get in the front door. My parents often left the door unlocked so I had checked it myself earlier and found it locked. The lock was a Schlage, a brand my father said was very good. To this day, I buy Schlage locks. I put the book down and lay quietly. After a few anxious minutes, I heard the sound again. It sounded just like someone trying to turn the knob of a locked door. The terror was building inside me. This noise went on for several minutes although it seemed like hours. Since all the lights were off in the house except for my bedroom that couldn’t be seen from the front of the house, I assumed it was a burglar who thought the house was empty. I quietly got out of bed and went to the closet and took out my older brother’s 12-gauge shotgun. I knew how to handle the gun because my brother was very generous with his things including his shotgun. One time he gave me a quarter and told me to take his new Cushman motor scooter to the gas station and fill up the tank. I did. I used the 6 cents change to buy bullseye caramels.

I took three shotgun shells out of the metal Jays’ potato chip can and loaded the gun. I closed the bedroom door and laid down in bed, shotgun pointed at the door. I was still scared, terrified really, but I felt much better with the shotgun. If the burglar came through the door, I would shoot.

After several minutes, the sound was considerably reduced. I got the courage to get up and go to the front door. I looked through the little glass in the door. No one in sight. Just then I heard the sound coming from the kitchen. The kitchen was open to the front hall. I spun around, shotgun at the ready. I flipped on a light ready to fire the weapon. Nobody was there! I walked into the kitchen and stood still. After a few minutes, I heard some scratching in one of the drawers. I cautiously opened the drawer. There was a mouse caught in a wooden mouse trap. He wasn’t dead yet and continued to escape the trap. The drawer was wood so when he moved around, the trap hit the drawer and made the noise like a door knob rattling. Relief flooded through my body. I was very embarrassed to be scared by a mouse! I felt foolish. I unloaded the shotgun and wiped it clean and put it away. I disposed of the mouse and reset the trap in the drawer. Being in the middle of a field, mice were common unwelcome tenants.

I never spoke of the incident to my folks or to my brother.

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