“But wolf rules and Brian rules only applied to wolves and Brian.” — Gary Paulsen
Back in the long-long ago before artistic sincerity was murdered by memes, in a banal and decadent time known to the ancients as “1994”, my grandparents owned a summer-house so beautiful it was featured in a magazine literally called Better Homes and Gardens. There was even an engraved plaque on the front door that said which issue and everything.
The house was located in Covington, Louisiana. “The Northshore” as us New Orleans natives referred to it; the shore being referenced was of course Lake Pontchartrain’s and calling the area North of it “rural” would be an understatement. Especially back then.
When my grandparents first started construction on the house in the mid 80s, Covington was little more than one big forest intersected by several winding branches of the Tchefuncte (pronounced “JUH-funk-ta”) River. And my grandparents had chosen to build what would come to be known as “the Covington house” along an isolated stretch of one of these branches.
The place was technically three stories tall but the truth was that, with it being so close to the river, the house had to be situated on 10-foot stilts to make it even remotely insurable. So the first of those three stories was just a drydock obscured on three sides by a lattice wall and used mainly to store my grandfather’s fishing gear during the off-season.
Locating the entrance to the house proper required ascending a tall set of wooden stairs up to the porch bordering most of the second story. From there, you would finally find yourself at the front door, complete with its engraved plaque from Better Homes. And yes, having to climb an entire flight of stairs just to reach the house’s primary entrance does make the plaque itself seem almost condescending by that point.
But then the front door would open and the first thing you would see is that view through the set of floor-to-ceiling picture windows filling the opposite wall. Your initial reflex would be to approach these windows and stand with your nose right against the glass… It’s okay; everybody does it the first time.
From here, you would be able to see clear over the tiny densely-forested island directly across from my grandparent’s dock, to a narrow split in the Tchefuncte were one arm of the river hooked back in on itself to form the aforementioned island while a much wider vein continued on into the distant tree-lined horizon like some garish painting of a fantasy landscape, only then you would remember that it wasn’t a painting and you would think…
Fuck me. This place DESERVES a plaque.
My cousin Jude had been looking out one of these same windows when he experienced the first of what would become a long list of encounters involving the Farrelly children and the “man in the woods” as we called him. Late one evening after sneaking out of bed to pilfer a fudge-pop from the kitchen freezer, Jude (who was maybe 12 at the time) was standing there at the window watching the water lap at the dock behind the Covington house.
That was when he spotted the silhouette of what appeared to be a large alligator emerging from out of the Tchefuncte. The silhouette started toward the house and as it grew closer, the shape of the approaching gator became withered and twisted until it eventually resembled the outline of a person crawling on their stomach.
This now vaguely human-shaped silhouette proceeded to stand and point at Jude. The figure then gestured for him to follow before dropping down onto its belly as it started to crawl back toward the river, where it finally reverted to the shape of an alligator just as it reached the waterline.
This one experience had left Jude so shaken that he kept it a secret for more than two years, refusing to explain to anyone why he suddenly never wanted to stay overnight at the Covington House anymore, which had previously been his absolute favorite place on Earth aside from maybe Universal Studios.