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  • Texas | Columns | "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"

    THE NIGHT
    THE GHOST HOUNDS CAME

    by C. F. Eckhardt

    Halloween, 1960. Well, it wasn't quite Halloween yet, but it was close to it. Late October, a Friday night. A nice, crisp, cool, still night—cool enough for an outing shirt but not for a jacket yet. I was home alone at our isolated ranch house, nine miles west of Georgetown in Williamson County, two and a half miles north on a private dirt road from the nearest highway, two miles from the nearest occupied house. My folks were gone to a meeting of the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers' Association. I was writing a paper for a history class, banging on my old L. C. Smith & Corona upright that would stand up and spit keys at you if you made it mad. I'd made it mad a couple of times already.

    I'd been to town earlier in the day, both to visit my girlfriend and make sure she was going to be able to go with me to the local dance on Saturday, and to go to a Mexican bakery to buy some of my—and my dad's—favorite cookies. Called roscas, they were ring-shaped, iced, and flavored with anise. Both Dad and I loved licorice but Mom wasn't all that fond of it, and those licorice-flavored cookies kept us out of her cookies.

    Being as it was close to Halloween, the bakery was getting ready for that unique holiday the Mexicans call El Dia de los Muertos—The Day of the Dead—which is celebrated on November 1st, All Saints' Day for the Catholic Church. The peculiar Dia de los Muertos baking and candy-making was in progress, and the results were all over the shop.

    El Dia de los Muertos is celebrated with some of the most macabre confections imaginable. Little candy skeletons everywhere, doing everything you can think of. There was a hot-rod race with two plastic convertibles manned by candy skeletons, with candy skeletons as starters, pit crews, and audience. There was a skeleton wedding, with the bride, groom, wedding party, priest, and spectators all skeletons. There was a skeleton nightclub with a skeleton piano player, skeleton dancers, skeleton waiters, a skeleton barkeep–the list could go on and on. The only time of year I really didn't like to go into that bakery was just before Halloween. It was a creepy place at that time of year.

    About half past nine I finally won the fight with the old upright and got the paper finished. I went into the kitchen, heated up the coffee pot, poured myself a cup, filled my pipe, and went out to sit on the front porch and listen to the night. There was a three-quarter moon overhead and the night was almost as bright as day. I could see a long way. I could hear a long way, too, because there were no city noises to interfere. A coyote howled a long way off, a big truck changed gears on Texas 29 two and a half miles to the south, an armadillo was rustling in the dry leaves west of the house, and somewhere off in the brush I could hear a nanny goat softly calling for her kid.

    Then, away off to the north, I heard a sound. It got clearer. It was a pack of hounds in full cry. Somebody was hunting ‘coons, and the pack had the scent. I wished I was with the hunters instead of sitting on the porch.

    Then something dawned on me. This was a big pack of hounds—a huge pack. There were more hounds in this pack than there were in all of western Williamson County. I knew every hound around our place, and there weren't a full dozen coon-hounds in five miles of our house. This pack had thirty or forty hounds in it.

    Not only was it a huge pack, it was headed straight for our pasture–and it was coming fast. It was coming too fast–no hounds I'd ever hunted with moved that fast.

    Dogs in the livestock! That's one thing a rancher fears more than anything else. Dogs—feral, tame, or dumped—don't kill like wolves or coyotes do, one animal at a time to eat. They chase, pull down, and kill as long as there are animals to chase. Two months earlier four dogs by the tracks got into a neighbor's small pasture while the family was gone. In the pasture were 22 head of registered Suffolk sheep, the teen-aged son's 4-H project. The ewes were valued at about $75 each, the ram at $150. When the family got home every sheep was dead. Each one had its throat torn out, but only one had been eaten on. The rest were killed simply because they were there and they ran, so the dogs chased and killed them.

    I went into the house, got Dad's Winchester Model 12, and loaded it with three #1 buckshot shells. Then I loaded my Winchester .30-30 carbine and the family's nine-shot .22 revolver. I put on a jacket, stuffed a half-dozen more buckshot shells, the rest of a box of .30-30s, and a full box of .22 long rifle hollow-points into my pockets. Then I went outside to save the stock.

    When I got outside the hounds had the house surrounded. I could hear them baying in chase all around me. I could see nothing. There was no movement in the grass, no shadows among the trees. The brilliant moon showed a tranquil landscape—but all around me were the sounds of hounds in chase.

    To say that the hair went up on the back of my neck would be to understate the matter by a considerable margin. The hair went up all over me. I put my back to the wall of the house and, moving cautiously, the shotgun off safety in one hand, the .30-30 with the hammer back in the other, fingers on both triggers, I began to circle the house.

    What caused me to look up I have no idea to this day. When I did, I had to sit down. My knees temporarily gave way. I let the hammer down slowly on the carbine and put the safety on the shotgun. Then I watched as a flock of Canada geese—one of the more poetic names for geese is ‘the hounds of heaven' for the sounds they make in flight—clear in the moonlight, circled the house. The bright moonlight, reflecting off the metal roof, apparently fooled the leader into thinking he'd found a body of water the flock could rest on. In a few minutes the flock chose a new leader and lined up in their Vee to head south, their baying growing fainter and fainter in the distance.

    I went back inside, unloaded the guns and put them in the rack, and heated up more coffee. This time I dug out the bottle of Old Crow Dad kept for visitors and poured a generous shot in my mug along with the hot coffee. When I told Dad what happened—and why the bottle was still on the counter when he and Mom got home—he said he didn't blame me a bit.


    © C. F. Eckhardt October 8, 2012 column

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