Horror at Sunrise: The House Mountain Incident by John L. Neel

Each year, we took the new Rat Mass, our freshmen, up to House Mountain.  I was in on the planning of the first mission and went with a few others on the first reconnaissance to the top, and right to the Overlook of the Valley.  It was a big muscle movement with an advanced party to set up, move water, medics, and prepare for the Busses.  We moved each company by bus to the start point and then sent that bus back to shuttle the companies from VMI Post. 

Companies departed at intervals.  I usually controlled the Dog Leg, a trail running off to the right, later to the left, at the top, going out to the overlook.  I made sure the flow was maintained so there was only one company at the top.  At the top, the Cadet Company Commander would give his or her company a rousing speech, using the climb up the mountain as a metaphor for the struggle to graduate VMI.

This year, I walked up in the dark, making sure i had time to check the whole trail, and get to the top well ahead of the  first company.  Once there, I changed t-shirts, pulled out my poncho liner, got comfortable, and closed my eyes, knowing Mitch would wake me with a radio call once the first company was past him.  Nap Time. 

I was fast asleep when I heard a small sound next to my right side.

When I opened my eyes, I was face-to-face with SATAN!! - bulging black eyes, a long gray goatee, foul breath, wicked teeth, pointed ears, and huge horns protruding from his skull - no more than an inch from my face.

I did a combat roll to my left, sprung to my feet, assumed a fighting stance, and drew my hunting knife.

"Satan" turned out to be a little goat about the size of a Scottish terrier, wearing a red collar, adorable.  The expression on his little cocked face looked like astonishment, no fear, just unbelieving astonishment.  He let out a little bleat which I took to say, "friend."  Maybe it was a question, "Hey, bud, got any snacks?"

I had heard stories of the "House Mountain Goat" from cadets who had seen him, but, in all my years on the mountain, I never had.

Laughing and taking a few deep breaths to dissipate the adrenalin coursing through my body, I spoke softly to the little guy.  Moving slowly, I opened my pack and, as an apology, I shared my breakfast with him.  We feasted on apples, breakfast bars, a bagel and cream cheese that I had carried to the top.  After I ran out of food, he trailed every company to the overlook, mooching off them as they went.

He met me at the top two more years.  I would always bring him a feast of apples, granola bars, and carrots.  He stopped coming. 

As I grew older and as we added younger members to the staff, I ran the start point and let others take the hike.  As the cadets returned from the top, I always asked if anyone had seen the goat, but no one ever had.

To this day I'm amazed at how quickly I moved that morning, like the paratrooper I once was, and how a little goat made me scream like a little girl.