I was relaxing in my favorite rocking chair, watching the sun set over the west forty, when the stranger parked his truck out front. The three-word name of his business was emblazoned on the side of the truck. The stranger was wearing a business suit and a cowboy hat. He came up to the porch.
"Good evening sir!" the stranger said with a slight German accent. "Do you have any tree thinning, hedge trimming, or lawn mowing that you've been putting off? I represent Professional Landscaping Ungulates, your best choice for all your landscaping needs."
"Ungulates?" I asked. "Horses and cows?"
"Yes sir," he answered. "And not only horses and cows, but also goats and llamas and lots of other species. All professionally trained to keep your property looking its best!"
"No thanks," I answered. "I don't need your help to take care of my spread."
The stranger leaned closer and spoke softly without missing a beat. "Might you want to carve a corn field puzzle cache? Our specialty! Hard for a busy man such as yourself to do on his own."
I stared at him for a good ten seconds before replying. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
The stranger smiled. "Mr. lesdubois—if that is in fact your real name—I think you know exactly what I'm talking about. I keep track of my competitors' work, and I've monitored your serial disappointments on geocaching.com. Where John, Tomé, Al, and May have failed you, my ungulates will succeed. It's been over four years since you tried carving cache coordinates into a corn field. Aren't you about ready to give it one last go?"
My mind raced. It had indeed been more than four years since my last attempt, but my passion for carving cache coordinates into a corn field, visible only from an airplane, still consumed me. It was just that I had been disappointed time and again by corn field carvers who left behind unintelligible abstract designs.
"Just so we're clear," I finally spoke. "I'll give you the coordinates. Your ungulates will chew them into my corn field."
"Agreed!" said the stranger.
"I want them big enough to be visible from aloft. The distortion from three or four thousand feet should be negligible."
"Three or four thousand, negligible," repeated the stranger, who was taking notes on his phone.
"I don't want any tricks. Reading those coordinates should be as easy as reading a grocery list."
"Grocery list," echoed the stranger without looking up.
I could feel my old enthusiasm returning.
"I want those coordinates to be so obvious that a blind man could read them on a cloudy night with his eyes closed!"
"Obvious to blind man," mumbled the stranger, working his thumbs furiously. When he realized I'd stopped speaking, he looked up, smiled broadly, and reached out to shake my hand. "Leave it to my ungulates. You will not be disappointed!"
I reached into my pocket, pulled out my wallet, and removed a slip of paper.
I've been saving this hiding place for a long time," I said, handing the paper to the stranger.
"We'll be back tomorrow night to do the carving," he replied, taking the coordinates. "In 36 hours, you'll finally be in business.
The next evening, right at sunset, the stranger arrived with his menagerie. I don't care how many zoos you've visited or how many photo safaris you've done, you've never seen anything like what I saw. As advertised, there was a horse, a cow, a goat, and a llama. But also there was also a deer, an elk, a moose, and a sheep. A giraffe, a hippo, a rhino, and a tapir. There were over 450 animals, each from a different species.
I pointed the stranger to the west forty. "I can't bear to watch," I told him. "I'll be here on the porch when you're finished."
The stranger nodded and led the ungulates behind the barn to the field. It was a dark night with no moon or stars. I couldn't see anything; all I could hear were chewing sounds. I rocked myself to sleep.
"He's not going to like this," I heard someone say. I opened my eyes. It was morning. Two men and two women were standing on the porch in front of me. I recognized them immediately. John Conway, Tomé Depain, Al Carmichael, and May Zee.
May spoke. "We got wind that Huftiere von Hoof and his smelly band of ungulates were doing a job for you. That shyster gives our profession a bad name. We came out here to warn you, but it looks like we're too late. He's gone. We found this in your mailbox."
May handed me a sheet of paper. This is what I saw:
Exactly as ordered. Didn't want to wake you. All the best. HvH.
John spoke up. "We know that you didn't think much of our work at first, but you have to admit that you've had plenty of finders on those caches. But von Hoof's work here is downright fraudulent and completely useless.
"Would you like us to repair the damage?" Tomé asked. "We'll do it out of professional courtesy."
Satisfaction guaranteed!" added Al.
I looked at the design, reread the message, and thought back on my prior day's conversation with Huftiere. Slowly, I began to see. Slowly, a smile came to my face.
"Stay away from my carving!" I ordered my four visitors. "The four of you each gave me a corn field carving that I could never understand. You left me with years of heartache. But Mr. von Hoof's carving is a work of genius. He gave me exactly what I asked for! I finally have what I've wanted all these years!"
My four visitors stood quietly for a few moments before filing away. I wasted no time going to my computer and posting this cache listing. After six and a half years, success!