“Don’t go looking for my tractor.”

John Peters was known around town for being a very level-headed and practical man. He’d always have explanations for the strange things. Howls at night? Coyotes or foxes. Creaking in the fields? Forgot to bring in a wheelbarrow, and a possum was scratching at it. Shadows darting through the corn rows at dusk? The deer wanted a snack.

But there were some things even old John Peters couldn’t explain. Things he kept to himself until the liquor loosened his tongue, and he started rambling. Things that drove him absolutely mad until he skipped town with little more than a vague instruction about his tractor.

It started rather mundanely. One cool morning, John Peters went out to check his fields, just as he always did. He started at the border of the woods, hoping to catch straggling critters and scare them off. He yelled at a possum or two, spooked a deer, found rabbit tracks, and shooed a flock of birds into the air.

Then he mounted his tractor and continued his patrol. Though, when he approached the woods, he heard something else over the grumbling machine. Curious, he turned it off and listened.

Far off in the trees, faint but recognizable, was the sound of an idling tractor engine. John got out of his tractor and stood at the edge of the woods, listening closely. The distant tractor engine revved up, then resumed idling. After a minute, the idling stopped, and the woods were silent.

Deathly silent. No chirping birds, no rummaging critters, barely even a breeze to rustle the leaves.

John backed away from the woods and got back into his tractor. He sat there, casting side glances at the woods. There was no reason for a tractor to be in the woods. The trees were too dense to even fit one through! It couldn’t be another farm since the woods went on for a few miles.

He heard the forest tractor again the next day. It sounded closer. The pattern went on for a week until, when John revved his tractor, the one in the woods sounded like it came from behind the tree right next to him!

He started avoiding that patch of land, but the tractor in the woods didn’t leave him alone. He would hear it idling in the trees at night.

Then weirder things happened. “I saw a deer that was too big to be a deer!” he said one night in the bar. “And its eyes! Its eyes weren’t right either, they weren’t on the sides of its head, it turned and looked straight on at me! Then when I looked again, I’d have sworn it stood on two legs for a moment, then it was gone! Just gone!”

His friend closed his tab for the night and sent John home. Clearly, he’d had one too many.

Unfortunately, John’s drunken escapades got worse. He started bashing holes into his barn walls (“It kicked in the wall with its huge hooves!”), cut long gashes into the side of his grain silo (“What kind o’ critter has eight fingers on a hand?”), and tore up one of his spare tractor wheels (“Can’t you tell that’s a massive bite mark?”). And there was the unseen tractor in the woods. Always the tractor. “Can’t you hear it? It’s just in the woods, waiting and idling until it gets what it wants!”

The bartender banned John from drinking, but his mania still continued. After a few weeks, a handful of sympathetic town folk offered to go with John into the woods to find his monstrous, haunting tractor.

They didn’t find anything, of course. It didn’t help that John insisted they start searching at dusk (“When it gets real active!”), which meant it got dark almost immediately.

The woods retained their usual level of noisiness with insects and critters chirping and hooting. John was horribly on edge, sweeping his flashlight at any little shadow.

After about an hour, they called it quits. “Wait!” John called. “We can’t go yet!”

One of the men scowled at him. “Yes, we can, John. And we will. You too. Come on, now, let’s go home.”

They headed toward home, but John lingered behind. He kept sweeping his light around, searching for some sign of the mystery tractor.

Then the woods went silent. Every bug and creature and bird stilled at once.

John’s light caught something. Two dots reflected light back at him. Eyes. They were too high up to be a person, too big to be a bear, and not close enough to a tree to be a bird. “Look!” he called. The others were too far away. He turned and shouted. “Look! Eyes!”

They turned. John looked back at the eyes.

The eyes were gone.

“Come on, John. Go home. Get some sleep.”

John went home, but he did not sleep. He stayed up all night, listening to that distant, idling engine.

Finally, he had enough. He idled at the edge of the woods, sat in his tractor, facing the trees head on. Throwing the engine into drive, he crashed through the woods in search of the mysterious tractor.

He drove deep into the woods and parked the tractor in a small clearing, leaving it idling and waiting for sunset.

Soon, he heard it, the other tractor. He revved his engine, it answered. He honked the horn. There was a pause, then it honked back.

He sat in the cab and waited, listening.

The other tractor revved close to his right-hand side. He looked out the window. Those huge eyes stared at him, glowing softly in the fading daylight. The eyes were set forward-facing, with the binocular vision of a predator.

It looked like a moose, except it wasn’t a moose. It was bigger; it had too many antlers and not enough bones. When it moved, it didn’t seem to walk, it just moved.

It approached the tractor and opened its jaws, letting out the mighty roar of a diesel engine. The creature idled and poked the side of the tractor with its nose.

Regaining his wits, John shoved open the opposite side door and threw himself out of the tractor, running to a safe distance. He heard the creature making more noise and turned around, both fearful and curious.

The creature rubbed against the still-running tractor, poking the metal with its snout and nibbling at various corners. Then it lowered its head and nuzzled the tractor, letting out a stuttering engine noise that sounded a lot like purring.

John blinked at the strangely affectionate behavior. The creature rubbed and nuzzled the tractor like a cat against a clean pair of slacks. Then it laid eyes on John. Its engine-like noises got deeper, and it glowered, lowering its horns toward John as it took a defensive position.

John decided it was a good time to run home.

The tractor noises were a little louder that night.

The next day, a neighbor noticed John packing things into his car. She asked what was going on, and with a wide-eyed look, John turned, looked her straight in the eye, and said, “Don’t go looking for my tractor.”

Then he got into his car and drove away.

He hasn’t been seen since, but at least he left with an interesting story and a new town tradition! Every year on Halloween, the town hosted a hunt. At high noon, brave and foolish souls alike venture into the woods, looking for John Peters’ tractor.

Then, one year, someone came out of the woods with a haunted look and said they heard tractor engines idling somewhere in the trees.

“Of course, we’re looking for a tractor!” the others told him.

“No,” he says. “I heard two.”