My family has always been a clan of moonshiners. Myself, I haven't mixed up a batch in a few years. I don't touch the stuff anymore. I haven't had a drop of any strong drink of any kind in almost 30 years. Not since that night.
It was not uncommon, back then, for a group of us to gather out at my cousin's still to party and drink. Deep in the woods, we were far from the law and could hoop and holler as loud as we wanted. We would drink, fight, sing and laugh long into the wee hours of the night. Most of the time we would all crash on the floor of the shack that housed the still. If we were feeling particularly brave, some of us would pile into the old truck and drive, swerving wildly and dangerously, back toward our various homes for a warm bed. I am still amazed we all made it in one piece over the years, because each drive was a harrowing afterthought when dawn finally broke, bringing pounding heads with it.
One night, however, I decided that I was drunk enough and that I would walk home. I couldn't tell you now why I made such a decision. Walking home was something we never did. It would be all too easy to get lost among the trees and the area was famously known for bears and coyotes. And knowing I would be talked out of it, I didn't bother to tell anyone. I simply filled my flask with some shine for the road and toddled off out the door and past the treeline.
I do still miss that flask. It was a beautiful thing made of crystal with a stainless steel cap, purchased by my father in France after the Great War. It passed it to me after his death and I kept it as full as he did. I wish I could still pass it to my son, but then if it weren't for that flask, I probably wouldn't be here to pass it along anyway.
As expected, I was soon wandering among the trees, all turned about. I was more angry than panicked, filled with a fair amount of liquid courage already and taking the occasional bracing sip as I stumbled along through the brush. I was a lucky bastard, though, and soon ran across the old train tracks. Abandoned years ago when the old bridge finally gave in and collapsed, I knew I could follow them back to civilization without fear of being run over by a train in the dark.
I began walking along the tracks, occasionally tripping over the ties and singing loudly, though I don't remember what now. It was maybe 20 minutes before I ran into the old tunnel, black and gaping, which of course meant I had been walking in the wrong direction.
Cursing and swearing, I began to turn to go the other direction when I spied something down the tunnel. It was two pinpoints of light low to the ground, like the shine off of a cat's eyes in the dark. That must be what I had decided it was, because in my drunken state I crouched down and began making clicking and cooing noises, trying to coax it out into the open so I could pet it. And that's when whatever it was stood up.
The pinpoints suddenly widened to large, saucer-sized pools of pale light and began to rise from ground level until they floated about five feet high in the darkness of the tunnel. Spooked, I also rose, my hand clutched tight around my flask, my body tensed. I did not know what I was looking at, but I was scared to make any sudden movements.
Suddenly those round, pale saucers began to bob down the tunnel towards me at speed, and I could hear the heavy thumps of limbs pounding against the ground, belonging to something big. I panicked and hurled the first thing I had at hand down the tunnel toward it, my crystal flask. I missed it, but I must have come close because I heard it crash against the ground and the thing stopped short. The cap must have hit a rock or a metal spike because there was a spark and a sudden whoosh of flame as the moonshine inside caught fire.
In the light of the flame I caught of glimpse of a pale shape, something akin to a gaunt, naked ape with huge eyes and long, sharp teeth, its skin covered in patches of greasy black hair. The fire caught some of that fur and the beast began to burn, the flames quickly covering its body. Howling, it began to run away toward the other end of the tunnel, its screams echoing down the length. As it went, the orange light of the flames bounced off the walls in the dark, faintly illuminating other shadowy shapes that scurried away as it passed. More points of light appeared in the darkness.
I turned and ran. I do not remember how I got home, only that I was glad that I had. I tried for many days to dismiss it as a drunken fantasy, but I could not forget those pale eyes in the dark. I still can't. I don't go walking in the woods anymore. And I don't drink.