Yeah, that’s, uh, timing

So, a few minutes back, I’d been editing photos for an upcoming post and had taken a break, skimming though some nonsense posts from The particular one was about the scariest sounds anyone has ever heard. Just to set the scene, it’s 11 PM, The Girlfriend is asleep, the house is dead quiet, as is the neighborhood. I’m on #8 at this point, looking at the illustration provided as ambience and thinking, “Yeah, that’s a pretty spooky animation” – it was, in fact, the one below, except that they’d used an mp4 video and I converted it to a gif (pronounced “gtfo”) for convenience:

spooky gif… and right at that moment, there came this curious howling wail, really, not far outside the office window. I’ve never heard anything of the sort before, but it was reminiscent of a woman hooting or wailing, in a tone like a dog’s howl but not that kind of sound quality. Remarkable timing.

Now, I’m familiar with a lot of noises, not just from kids in the development, but all kinds of wildlife, from owls bickering to rabbit screams to cat fights, and this fit none of them, but I’d have to say it was closest to a cat fight, though more hooting than you imagine. I couldn’t make it fit anything that I knew.

Did I run upstairs and hide under the covers with The Girlfriend? Nope – I grabbed the headlamp and went outside in the direction that it seemed to have come from. I don’t call this any kind of bravery, but just the attitude/perspective that I’ve arrived at where imagination (or the influence of superstitious horseshit) doesn’t fill in the gaps. I really wanted to know what did make that noise, even when I believed it unlikely to be repeated, or the emitter to stick around while I was walking through the yard, however quiet I tried to be.

I found nothing, and heard just a few little rustles here and there from the branches above me, typical for night. So I watered the plants while I was out there, since I hadn’t done it earlier like I’d planned. Drama all gone.

If you went to that link, I can tell you that I agree with #10, though I didn’t find out what it was until years afterward, but I’d been out walking on the road late at night in rural NY when I heard the sound of a woman being beaten, roughly a hundred meters off in the woods to my left. Easily the scariest goddamn sound that I’ve ever heard, and I had little idea what to do about it; the police would be a while getting there, once I’d run back home to even get to a phone, and all I would be able to do was point in a general direction. Such a thing called for more immediate action, but again, where, exactly, and what was I gonna do about it, blundering around in the woods with an inadequate flashlight against, what, exactly? So I stayed rooted to the spot and listened intently, not hearing another sound at all. And while this was happening, I realized that, as clear as it was with no other following sounds, this was suspicious in itself, as well as being a regular cadence, perfectly spaced and even in tone and volume; that generally means intent, not randomness – calls of some sort. Damn weird calls, admittedly, but if it was an assault, it would be almost certain that I’d hear something else. Eventually (I have no idea how long I stood there, but it was several minutes at least,) I assured myself it was some unknown form of wildlife and moved on. Like I said, years later I found that I’d heard the mating calls of a fox.

A few years ago, I was out doing night sky time exposures in the darkest area that I could find within 20 minutes of driving, a dead quiet country road amidst nothing by fields, and heard a pack of coyotes howling, a few hundred meters off. Unlike so much of what I’ve heard from wildlife, this was exactly like TV and movies had it, a wonderfully emotive sound, and I was delighted, while at the same time chagrined that I had no way to record it (not that they gave me a chance with a repeat performance anyway.) I knew coyotes wouldn’t bother me, or even draw very close, so I just reveled in the perfect quality of it.

There really are some great sounds out there, though admittedly a bit creepy when first heard, especially if you have no idea what makes them: screech owls and barred owls, raccoons fighting, the aforementioned squeal of an injured rabbit, even the piercing alarm whistle of a woodchuck (which I had the misfortune of hearing directly underneath me in a raspberry patch one day in our back fields, again in rural NY, but at least it was daylight.) Woodchucks whistle? Yes, rarely, but it’s very clear and loud, and they can even climb trees when fleeing.

But yeah, I might have to rig the infra-red cameras back up…

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