This is the story of my encounter with the Mothman of West Virginia in the early 1990s.
The hills of West Virginia are deeply lush in the summer and the humidity of the rain forest weighs heavy in the lungs. Overnight, a thick, cool fog will steep the land, lasting just before daybreak, when it settles onto the grass as dew.
In the year 1994 I worked as a disk jockey at the local (and only) alternative nightclub in Huntington. I was going through a lot and my thoughts were always chaos. Many were the nights that I would come home from work at four in the morning, restless, and walk through the fog and the peace.
I enjoyed the stillness while coming down from the buzz of working and would ramble far from the house. It was a ritual.
One night I met a dog. The fog was exceptionally thick and so I heard his paws padding on the asphalt before his silhouette emerged. He was a golden color and short-haired, a magnificent animal. He didn’t have a collar but was clearly cared for.
The dog walked up to me but refused a pet when I bent down, hand outstretched. He made a chuffing sound and started walking away before stopping and looking back. He chuffed again, and when I walked towards him, he started walking further.
Lone dogs were not uncommon there and then and I assumed he was a neighbor’s charge. However, he was leading me somewhere. I followed.
We walked down Hammill Road and onto South Altamont, which was then paved with gravel which crunched under my beaten Chuck Taylor’s. The dog was growing more agitated, chuffing louder and with greater frequency.
Eventually the dog cut off the road, into the deepening forest. The fog flowed through the trees and the moonlight cut through the canopy and here was an earthy smell of renewal.
I felt drunk and foolish, following a stray dog through the forest. I knew these woods by sun; at night they were foreign, but I wasn’t afraid: this was my home, and I was merely seeing another side of it.
The dog chuffed louder and picked up its pace, heading up the hill, leaves crunching under-paw. I knew where we were supposed to be – or at least I thought I did – but we must have slipped around the house I knew was sitting off the road because I never saw it.
A quarter mile from the road the dog let out an actual bark. Not a bark of fear or anger, nor one of warning. It was a bark to attract attention, and that’s when I heard it.
From the top of the hill, a low rasping through the fog, like someone sucking in a big breath, followed by a scream, loud and abrupt and terrifying, more so because it was staccato in nature: “AHH-AHH-AAAAH-AAAHHH-AAHHH” echoing through the murk of the forest.
A figure rose suddenly in shadow, slippery, and spread what I was sure were wings out through the pin points of moonlight. It seemed to me to keep getting larger and more indistinct; time was suddenly meaningless to me.
The dog ran towards the shadow. I did not. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t move at all. I felt adrenaline drop down my spine and my legs twitched and the air tasted metallic and foul. The figure seemed to shrink, and there was a quick breathing sound, like a “hesh-hesh-hesh”.
Then, just as suddenly as it happened, it was gone. So was the dog. I stood still for the longest time, hoping that I was invisible in the dark. My heartbeat was loud enough to hear in Kentucky.
I sat down in the leaves and waited for my heart to normalize before creeping as silently as I could back to the gravel, so that I could go home, to my dog.
I grew up hearing that the Mothman was a portent, a signifier of pending change or a reckoning. Within three months I had moved across the country to the San Francisco Bay Area, where I’ve remained to this day.
I have some ideas about what that actually was. I think it was a hobo and his dog. I think he stood up quickly, trying to scare me, or summon the dog. I think he was more scared of me than I him. I think he ran up and over the hill, taking his dog with him.
At least that’s what I hope happened.