Know what a ringtail is? I didn’t either, until New Year’s Eve, 1998. That’s when one checked in to my pitch black hotel room on the floor of Zion Canyon in Zion National Park. A ringtail is a southwestern relative of the raccoon, though the only resemblance in my book is that they both have the same tails. Ringtails are quirky little gremlins. Sometimes near sunset, they’ll zigzag around a campsite in full view, thinking for some reason that you can’t see them. Ringtails are dangerous, elusive beasts. At least they are to me, born and raised on the North Side of Chicago.
I’d been out hiking all day, and decided to have a dinner of salmon at the restaurant, then go straight to bed. I had to be up early to drive to Vegas in the morning for my flight. Besides, there are no TV’s in Zion.
I’m nodding off under the sheets. No sound. No light. Zion is a dark and quiet place without TV’s. Suddenly, a wild, demonic howl explodes from under the bed, as the sound of claws tearing up my bedding circles around me again and again. I stand on the bed, motionless in the utter black. Will it attack? Bite? Does it have rabies? What the hell is it!? All I know is, it’s wild and loose in my room. I muster the courage to turn on the lights. A thorough search reveals nothing.
I must be losing my mind. All this no TV. I go back to bed and switch off the bedside lamp. Wild squeals and growls whirl around me, like Rush Limbaugh possessed by Alvin and the Chipmunks (or is that Alvin and the Chipmunks possessed by Rush Limbaugh?). I get on the horn and inform the middle-aged lady at the front desk that my room’s the territory of ravenous wolves.
“Oh, that’s probably a ringtail. They get lose in the ceilings sometimes,” she informs me in her matter-of-fact drawl.
“Do they bite? Are they dangerous?”
“A ringtail?” she laughs easy. “They’re about as big as a big squirrel. If it keeps up, just call back down.”
I’m in a building separate from the front desk, which adds to my sense of frontier isolation. I lie in the peaceful dark. That woman wasn’t too worried about it. Why should I be? I dozed off into a peaceful slumber. Until the thing starts rending my room to ribbons.
It’s like an animal spirit, all around me at once. The Tasmanian Devil, Warner Brothers subspecies, whirring around me at 300 RPM’s and with the violence of an RPG. I put in a frantic call to the front desk as I stand on a chair.
A few minutes later, this big college kid marches into the building with a skeptical glance and a flashlight. I open the door in my blue underwear, a real example of manhood. A thorough search reveals nothing. I make him search the linen closet next door. Zip. He dragnets the hall and the stairs down to the outside world. Then he abandons me to my delusions.
As I hover under the covers in my bed, I await its next demarche. Will it pounce? Is it rabid? What if this one’s bigger than a squirrel? A squirrel could be dangerous, if it’s on PCP or meth. I search the room once more, then reluctantly turn off the lights. Wild hissing and gnashing explodes from the black. That does it! I will not be intimidated by a damned raccoon-squirrel.
I stand. I flip on the lights. In my pants-less state, I resolve to purge my territory of ringtail. I put on the nearest foot cover, my gigantic hiking boots. There am I, in my baby blue bikini briefs and hiking boots, sweeping my walking stick under the bed, when this six-inch monster with a fluffy, striped tail lunges out from behind the nightstand and bounds around the room. I shriek. It shrieks, and runs in my bathroom. Cunningly, I slam the bathroom door, and sleep the rest of the night in peace.
At sunrise, I drove to Vegas to catch my flight, a bolder, more confident outdoorsman. I’d learned new techniques in bladder control, new ways to shave without water, and I dared board my plane without having showered.
© 2014 by Michael C. Just