This particular story was about a panther. I remember nothing except that the last page scared the hell out of me, and, with an oath, I threw the book across the lobby.
The panther had been a totem for me even earlier. When I was a bellman, I took to wearing sunglasses at night, and told my roommates that I was to be addressed as “I. J. Panther.” For some reason, I didn’t want people to see my eyes. Or perhaps I was just trying to find an excuse to wear them, really just trying to look cool.
At that time the Holiday Inn tried an experiment. Liquor is illegal in Denton County, so our “bar” couldn’t operate in the usual way. So they made a “private club”, to which you had to bring your own bottles, and the bartender would make up mixed drinks for you.
My roommate Pat frequented the bar. At this time, he also claimed to be nerval, and excital, and altogether schitzy. His words. To prove it, he had a prescription for Valium. On an evening not long after, off work, I visited with Pat in this bar. He offered me a Valium. Like a fool I took it.
Soon the effect of alcohol and Valium made itself felt, strangely so. Since I felt really wierd, I went home and went to bed. That night my first dream was textured like a Turkish mosque. Not just a wall, but a carven eternity. Not just a cup but an elaborate goblet. But in my second dream, the panther appeared.
In this dream, I was walking across the lawn of my Uncle Doc’s house, when I saw the panther stalking across the lawn toward me. Terrified, I edged toward the safety of the porch, and then heard a woman’s voice saying, “I will teach you how to fight a panther.”
The panther had vanished. Near at hand a tall woman with long black hair stood, dressed in a white flowing robe. She then showed me a judo move with a sidestep. As I turned around, she’d vanished, and the panther sprang!
I ducked and did the sidestep, and the panther had missed me. And had again vanished. The woman in white stood upon the lawn, and showed me another move. In judo, this is called a ‘Hip Throw,” and you grab your opponent, load your opponent on your back, then duck your shoulders and raise your hips, throwing your opponent over your head.
Just as I had the woman in white loaded onto my back, I suddenly realized that the lady in white was actually the panther!
In a shuddering fit of terror, I threw her off, and it was the panther, which crept toward me. I backed onto the porch, and reaching behind me, opened the round doorknob of the screen door. It opened.
Still reaching behind me, I opened the front door, then leapt backward into the room, slamming the door. Uncle Doc’s wife, my aunt Margaret, was there. I told her to make sure the kids were safe in the house, to close all the doors and windows.
On my knees, panting with fear, I slowly raised the windowshade of the window to my left, to peer out. And found myself looking directly into the panther’s eyes. I saw there no intelligence, but only a burning rage, a lust to destroy.
Shaken, I jerked back, and then heard a terrible sound. Something was opening the screen door. An animal couldn’t open a round door knob. The panther was supernatural.
Still on my knees, holding desperately to the doorknob of the door, I looked up. At the top of this door were three tall and narrow windows, and suddenly I realized that the uppermost had no glass, for there I saw the black paw.
The black paw stretched down, and down, and down toward the doorknob, growing longer, longer than a paw could be, and longer, and longer …
I awoke in my dark room with my eyes clamped shut. I knew it had been a dream, but terror shuddered me. For an eternity, I could not make my eyes open.
I was afraid.
In evenings that followed, when I worked the late nights at the Holiday Inn, sometimes I heard a soft patter, but nothing was there. Sometimes I saw a movement from the corner of my eye.
But nothing was there.
Nothing that I could see.