It must have been over forty years ago, he reckoned.
With his headlamp turned off, the coon hunter stood alone in the cool, nighttime woods, listening for his black and tan hound, Tye, to open on a raccoon’s trail. He waited patiently, for here was something he’d not seen in a very long time.
In the silver moonlight, the middle-aged man could see an old foundation with its stones aligned so perfectly. It was right where his father had told him it would be. The full moon had also shone on that fall’s night decades previous, offering a warm familiarity, when he’d been but a boy.
His memory rebuilt the stone foundation that had supported three wooden walls of a long-abandoned, two-story hotel. The fourth wall had fallen to reveal the inner rooms that even back then had not seen a paying guest in many years. His father had explained the hotel had once served as a way station for teamsters to get fresh horses for their wagons as they traveled from nearby Watkins Glen with their produce bound for the markets in Corning.
Then, as he was now, they’d been coon hunting. Their bluetick hound, Duke, searched through that ancient inn’s rooms on both floors. As the boy’s flashlight beam played on the interior, his father had explained that raccoon had likely been playing in the old building and perhaps even called it their home. Duke, nose down, traipsed through the dilapidated structure, trying to sort it all out.
Further, he recalled there had been a decaying wooden sign nearby. Its faded letters were still legible back then and read, “Bridge Out, April 1917.” He could recall the deteriorating bridge, then spanning the creek across stone abutments. Tonight, only the abutments and some rusting steel girders, fallen into the creek bed nearly thirty feet below, acted as a final remaining testament that the bridge had ever existed.
A ghostly echo of Duke’s triumphant voice sounded in his mind as the bluetick finally figured the track out. The older man smiled, remembering the wonder of it all. He wasn’t sure how long he’d stood there with that resurrected night from his youth, but the long hunter sensed something by his side.
The present had come calling on four legs.
The coon hunter looked down to see Tye, who had returned to ensure all was okay. The nearly eight-year-old hound brushed up against the man’s leg, unsure of what had caused his partner’s delay to follow down the trail.
The man gently placed a hand on his coonhound’s head. “I found a memory, Tye. Go find a ringtail. I’ll be along shortly.”
Satisfied everything was fine, the faithful dog ran into the night—his image absorbed by the darkness beyond the moonlight’s reach.
A short while later, Tye’s barrel voice rang out in the nighttime, breaking the man’s reverie and reminding him that it was time to honor the commitment and follow his hound wherever that might be.
With a flip of a switch on his helmet, he turned on his headlight and started toward Tye’s beckoning, walking deeper into those woods, each step returning to the present.
It was going to be a good night.