Have you ever heard of Toledo, Ohio? John Denver wrote a song about it once. It tells you almost everything you need to know, and this story will tell you the rest. One line goes, “After the sunset, the dusk and the twilight, when shadows of night start to fall. They roll back the sidewalk precisely at ten and people who live there are not seen again.” Here’s what happened one night after ten.
It’s sometime in the fall of 2011 and I’m accepting the reality that I won’t be leaving this town anytime soon. If I’m honest, it’s not even that bad. Sure, at the time there was basically one bar anyone went to, the streets and sidewalks were a treacherous mosaic of cracks, and small piles of literal rubble sulked between semi-abandoned brick office buildings. But I had a smattering of good friends and everything was dirt cheap. Even to this day the claws of gentrification haven’t gained much hold, though not for lack of trying.
It was late one Saturday night and I had been out drinking. I was making my way home, ambling around the tipped over trash cans and generally vibing. I can’t stress enough how utterly desolate everything used to be at this hour in downtown Toledo. The stillness was such that I could hear someone coasting their bike towards me from a block away.
This person turned out to be my dirtbag friend Toby, who had also been drinking. In real cities, you run into your friends in a lush, public green space or an airy third-wave coffee shop. In Toledo they materialize out from under the only functioning streetlamp between the money-laundering corner store and its weed-filled, carless parking lot.
We yelled our greetings into the silent streets, our voices bouncing weirdly off the dimly lit buildings. He weaved around me on his bike as I walked, our conversation full of superficial jubilance. We chatted like this for the few blocks our route had in common, kicking cans and talking shit, until we approached a crosswalk.
Now, this crosswalk had something in the middle of it. On the asphalt, a dark shape lay next to a damp cardboard box. It looked like an old piece of clothing or something, at first I didn’t pay it any mind. Shit is laying out on crosswalks in rustbucket cities all over the country, just urban detritus. But as we approached, the shape became harder to filter out as visual background noise. Our banter slowed, then ceased.
Have you ever experienced the nagging dread that accompanies simply not being able to tell what the hell you’re looking at? The feeling of subtle panic mounting as you try and fail to fill in blanks and categorize a strange trick of perspective or something unfamiliar in odd lighting?
Usually this experience lasts just a couple seconds, though time distorts as you try to figure it out.
Usually the closer you get to the thing, the faster you realize just what on earth you’re looking at, and the dread gives way to relief.
Usually whatever the thing is turns out to be way less weird or upsetting than all the guesses you made when you didn’t have the information needed to recognize it.
But tonight, the closer I got to the thing on the ground, the dread-distended time in visual limbo only ballooned, and even when I was right on top of it there was no relief in finally understanding what I was looking at.
Toby asked, “what the fuck is that?”
Undeniably animal shaped, the whatever-it-was sent us lurching into a state of surreal disbelief.
Was I dreaming? All of a sudden anything seemed creepily, wrongly possible. Every shadow and ambient sound around us loomed with a new and horrible potential. The familiarity of my surroundings had curdled into a clammy flush of adrenaline.
The thing on the ground was dead. It was the size of a fox or large raccoon, with four pale, scaly legs each ending in a clawed foot. A gentle breeze rustled its dark feathers. It had no discernable head, just two plumed tails on either end. Two pairs of… were those wings? folded demurely to its sides, and a glint of thick, whip-stitched thread shone wetly along its middle.
I said, “I think it’s… two roosters, cut in half and sewn together.”
We stood and stared. I took out my Nokia touch screen dumb phone to snap a couple grainy pics.
We tried to laugh, to diffuse the tension by saying things like “yo what kind of fucking hillbilly ass shit is that” and “holy shit dude that’s fucked uuuuup let’s go!”—but it didn’t really work. We left our jovial chatter at that crosswalk with the double ended rooster, and went our separate ways.
The subtle, broad-spectrum dread that sunk into me that night would have many applications over the next several years, an omen of unprecedented bullshit to come. But something besides the dread stuck with me, and ultimately solidified into a deep love for the rare places you’d ever have a chance to encounter something like that. I felt an uneasy sense of camaraderie with the cryptid. The conditions necessary to support each of our existences felt oddly aligned. Conditions that aren’t pretty, or focus grouped, or upwardly mobile—within them thrive only the unmarketable, the discarded, the fuck ups, the freaks, the ones who see a rooster sewn to another rooster in the middle of a deserted crosswalk at 1:30am on a Saturday night and think, “Same.” ~