What's in the Woods

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By JLNagel
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I was driving down a stretch of backwoods road, on a trek across the country, just me and my dog. I was low on gas, and the night was getting dark. Up ahead, a rest station was carved out of the dark woods. A clearing lit by two street lamps held just two gas pumps and a shack that could barely be called a convenience store. A few other cars were parked there already when I pulled in. I told my dog to wait in the car, that I'd let him out before we left, and went to pay for some gas. On the porch of the store stood a few other guys, making small talk. When I approached, their talk died down and they watched me approach.

"Hi there," I said cordially.

"Hey. I'm George, I'll ring you up as soon as I finish my cigarette. That you're dog?" said an older man in a long-sleeved plaid shirt and blue jeans.

I looked back at my dog, "Sure is."

"Make sure you don't let him out without a leash, you hear?" he warned.

"Oh absolutely, his leash is in the car," I assured him. I eyed the woods and the nearby road, and smiled, "Wouldn't want him to run off, right?"

The old man grunted. "So, you know about the velociraptor, eh?"

My eyebrows felt like they were going to peel off my face in an effort to get to space. "I'm sorry, the what?"

"Velociraptor," he clarified. That's what I'd thought he'd said. "There's one of those raptors in the woods. Eats any dogs that go out there, and makes a horrible racket."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Certainly this man didn't really believe an extinct animal was hunting in his woods? "Have you, um, actually seen the raptor?" I asked.

"Of course he hasn't," said the man sitting next to him. "There's no such thing as velociraptors." I didn't bother to correct him, the detail that velociraptors once existed didn't seem to matter at the time. I grinned at the man, George scowled. "It's a sabretooth is what it is." My grin vanished. "I can hear it roar at night, real loud. Definitely a sabretooth."

"But no one alive has ever heard a sabretooth before," I pointed out. "How could you know?"

"Oh I just know. I mean, once you've heard it, you'll know, no doubt. It's a sabretooth," he said, absolutely sure.

"I've heard it, and it's a raptor!" George barked. "No sabretooth makes a sound like that."

I looked at the third man and he said, "These two can go on all night arguing and neither one will see sense of how dumb they sound." I looked at him skeptically. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. He went on, "I mean, seriously. Everyone knows those are extinct animals."

I began to warm up to this guy, he was talking sense. "Well, yea," I said, brilliantly.

"Look, everyone knows the truth is the government is behind it," he put it bluntly. I just stared. "Alright, look. People keep losing their dogs out there, loud noises, can't be any kind of extinct animal. But something is going on, right? The truth is, the government dropped an African Lion out there. They want it to kill people's dogs. You see, they have investments in puppy mills, so they get paid when you buy a new dog." I was speechless.

"What do you think?" asked George.

I took a moment to gather my thoughts. "Well, he's right about the sabretooth and raptor," I nodded to the third man. "Both are, actually, extinct." The third man smiled, I held my hand up. "But, honestly, I don't see a few dog purchases at government invested puppy mills covering the cost of importing African lions to American forests in secret. I won't claim the government is good with money, but I give them a little more credit than that."

"So," said George, a little angry, "What is it then?"

"Look," I placated, "I don't know what's out there in those woods, or what exactly is happening. If I had to guess, nothing special. Dogs probably run off and get lost, and you guys are hearing various, local, non-extinct wildlife and letting your imaginations get the best of you."

"Alright, so why put your dog on a leash then, if there's nothing out there to be afraid of?" asked George.

"Well, there's plenty of reasons to put my dog on a leash. Even if nothing's out there, I don't want him getting lost. Also, there's a road a few feet away, and I wouldn't want a car to hit him. Besides, I never said there's nothing out there. I just think that if there is, it's more likely to be a black bear or cougar, something a little more easily explainable. Still, at the end of the day it could be anything, I suppose. That said, I'm certainly not about to come to a conclusion on the matter without significant evidence. I'll just keep my dog on a leash out of good, cautious sense."

"Hmph," grunted George. He and his friends didn't look convinced. "Well, I've finished my smoke, let's get you fueled up."
Just a little short story inspired by my experiences as an atheist.
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