May 1974 found me between my first and second year of college, applying for a summer job at Hardee's, more than willing to slave away for the summer, up to my neck in hamburger grease, working at the beck and call of the owner, who quickly surmised that I was an employee that would always show up, do the job, and would rather work than stand around, due to my low level of tolerance for boredom.
This meant I worked nights and "close", from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., with the restaurant closing at midnight, followed by two hours of intense cleaning.
Those two hours were actually pretty fun, since we were all college age. The supervisor (and I use that term loosely) was Steve, an engineering major and mature man of 22. He was quite the ladies man, and had recently bolstered that position with the purchase of a green MG convertible, which, in retrospect, I realize he loved more than any of the girls he went out with.
The MG was All. Steve drove it to work, parked it across two spaces at the back of the restaurant, washed it, waxed it, gave it a name, and did everything but marry it.
One Friday just after close at midnight, he and the MG left to pick up his date. We labored on, and two hours later had just about wrapped up the evening's work, when Steve came swerving back into the parking lot, complete with the girl crying in the passenger seat.
After bringing the two of them into the restaurant, re-locking the doors, we sat down and waited for some sort of explanation, since Steve's dates normally did not return crying (at least not for the first month or so).
As usual, he had picked up the girl, and launched his patented master plan - a trip in the MG out to a nearby supposedly-haunted cemetery in Maxwell. The time-tested plan was to tell spooky stories on the way down, hang around the cemetery long enough to scare the girl, then drive her back to his place and reap the benefits of being the big-strong-guy-who-keeps-her-safe.
Except this time, things went a little differently.
The cemetery was very large, bordered on two sides by residential streets, and the other two sides by cornfields. Then as now, there was no fencing, no curbs and no streetlights. This particular night, the moon was weak, providing only an occasional glimmer of light bouncing off a tombstone.
Steve had pulled over along the street, two wheels on the grass, put the top up, and was in the middle of a ghost story. He looked over at the girl to see whether his story was having the desired effect. She was staring beyond him, over his shoulder, with an odd look on her face. He turned to see what had caught her attention -just in time for it to register that something large was coming at the car. Something very large, something leaping, something with teeth, something making noises.
His mind filtered the possibilities -even while his hand was slipping on the window crank - too large to be a dog, too massive to be a coyote, too mad to be anything but rabid. The girl was screaming and unable to take her eyes off the thing. His hands couldn't seem to grab the keys - he kept fumbling while the car rocked from side to side. That thing appeared to be throwing itself against the car, and its hot breath was fogging up his drivers window from the outside.
Finally the car started, his foot found the pedal and the MG came through, flying them back to Ames on I-35. All the way, he kept looking back, wondering how fast that thing could run and whether or not it could track them.
Now, he and the girl were sitting in the back room of our Hardee's, safe and sound, telling us their story, both still white-faced and shaky.
It being 1974, we were wondering where we could get some of whatever they'd been smoking. But Steve was insistent - he said come out and look at my car.
He had parked long ways, across a couple spots, with the passenger side facing the restaurant door.
Then we walked around to the other side, the driver's side.
No creature, no hot-breath fog, no growling sounds.
Just ten, perfectly spaced, sharp-edged, down-to-the-shiny-bare-metal, claw marks, running top to bottom, right through a creased dent just shy of the width of the door.
The kind of claw marks something would make if it really, really wanted in.