Friday, December 26, 2014

"Home For Christmas: A Para-Earth Holiday Tale" - Part Six


For several seconds no one moved.
Jason looked around.  He knew the opening had to be near here, but even he didn’t know its exact position.  And they didn’t have much time.  A part of him didn’t trust Sergeant Ross and her companions to not overreact if they saw the creature.  Besides, he felt they owed her for protecting Julie. 
There had to be a way to find the portal.
Just then he noticed Otto cupping his hands to his mouth.  A second later, his friend let out an amazingly accurate imitation of the low bellow they had heard before.
Jason was impressed.  He himself could imitate a great number of animal calls, but only after he’d heard them a number of times and had practice long hours.  Otto, on the other hand, had done it perfectly after just hearing the call once. 
In fact the call had been so accurate, even ‘Big Mama’, as Nathan referred to the animal, reacted.  Luckily, the young man was still with her and began stroking her large muzzle to calm her down, while saying, “Easy, false alarm.  We’re just trying to get our bearings.”
But just as the great beast settled down an answering cry, louder than the last one, came back.
Beaming Otto cried, “Got it!  This way my friends, Nathaniel, get her to follow.”
However, the young man did not respond.  Instead his eyes seemed fixed on the opening of the cave.
Jason followed his gaze and saw two figures watching them closely.  “Ah,” sighed and went over to Nathan.  “Come, we must get her home first.  They will wait until we return.”
“Don’t worry, they aren’t going anywhere.”
“Who isn’t going anywhere?” called Otto staring at them and then at the cave.  “I don’t see anyone.  Now come, we have to get her home before the opening closes.”
Nathan sighed and shook his head.  “Damn,” the young man murmured and turned away. 
Quietly, Jason studied the boy and his dog then made a slight gesture in their direction.  The two seemed to understand and headed back in the cave, while he followed his ‘three’ friends further into the woods.
‘Big Mama’ seemed to sense what was coming.  She was becoming more and more excited as they moved forward, and it was getting a little harder for Nathan to control her.  But every so often a stream of green mist seemed to snake out from beneath his coat and she’d calm down again. 
Moving past them, Jason caught up with Otto who was leading the way and asked, “How will we know we’ve found the opening?”
“If we’re at the correct angle, we will see it,” his friend assured him.  “Otherwise, we could literally walk right by it and just hear strange noises from among the trees.”
Hearing this, Jason peered deep into the forest ahead.  After several moments, he spotted something that definitely did not belong.  “There it is!” he whispered. 
Otto looked at him, “You’ve spotted it already?  What does it look like?”
“Something wondrous,” was all he could say.

Nathan had overheard everything his two friends were saying and smiled.  He could now sense the opening himself, and so could his charge.  She was becoming very excited, sniffing the air eagerly.  Still he did not relinquish his control over her, for fear she might rush ahead and accidentally run his companions over. 
But it was getting harder, so as one of her massive front paws came down in the snow, he scurried up her arm and onto her shoulders.  She did not seem to mind in the least.  Nor did she flinch when a couple of his fingers elongated into narrow sharp tips which slowly penetrated her thick skin.
However instead of drawing from her, he allowed a small amount of himself to pass into the creature.  It was just enough to establish a link between them.  Then he focused his eyes straight ahead. 
The animal paused and shifted in wonder.  He knew she was now seeing through his eyes and was amazed at what lay before her. 
The opening was clearly visible now.  It was like a scene from another time that had super-imposed itself over the dark forest landscape.  Ice and snow seemed to stretch for miles, while in the sky ever shifting colors, similar to the northern lights glowed and danced.  Amidst the white were moving shapes some of which resembled creatures who had walked the world he knew, while others were completely unknown.
But close to the opening were several beasts whose size and shape were very familiar to him.
Big Mama seemed to recognize them as she called out and they responded in kind.
Knowing the time had come he called out, “Uh guys… you might want to move to one side.”
Otto and Jason did as instructed, just as his mount lunged forward as quickly as her game leg would allow.
Within seconds Nathan found himself in that other version of Earth caught amidst a family reunion of sorts.  The other sloth-like beings crowded around Big Mama, sniffing and rubbing against her in a most welcoming manner.
It soon became clear he wasn’t going to be able to get down easily.  Not unless he wanted to be accidentally stepped on.  But then he heard chanting from behind and turned see Jason and Otto had followed them into this place. 
The other creatures seemed intrigued by their presence and in particular the shaman’s song.  The moved away slightly, allowing Big Mama to lower herself into the snow. 
Taking the hint, Nathan slid down and stroked her muzzle one last time.  “Merry Christmas,” he murmured to her and then headed over to where his friends waited.
As soon as he joined them, Jason brought his song to an end. 
A moment later, the ‘reunion’ started up once more as their charge was herded gently away from the opening and up the nearest hill.  Towards the top she stopped and turned, sniffing the air once more and called back to them before heading off with her family.

For a moment the three men stood there staring at the wondrous sights around them.  But then Jason said, “Sergeant Ross will be looking for us, and she’ll have others with her.”
“True,” Otto sighed and led the other two back out the way they’d entered.
“How long will the opening last?” Jason asked once they were back in the forest>
“Another day, maybe two,” Otto replied.  “I’d like to come back here tomorrow and do a little exploring, if you don’t mind Nathan.”
“I can load up on the red stuff and join you,” his friend offered. 
“We’ll see,” Otto told him, “We have no idea how much sun there might be, and remember it would reflect off all that snow and ice.  It might be too much for your system even if it was well fed.  Besides, the weather report for around here is more snow.  I’d rather you deal with any remaining questions Sergeant Ross may have.”
“Indeed,” Jason smiled, “I have a feeling she’ll want to ‘see’ him alone.”
Otto couldn’t resist nudging his young friend and saying, “You dog, you.”
Before Nathan could respond, they came to the clearing near the rocks just as Veronica and several officers, including one who appeared to be her boss.
“There you are,” she cried upon spotting them.  “Did the bear come back at all?”
Otto shook his head and turned to Jason who said, “No, she didn’t.  I think she knew her work was done and has gone home.  Black bears are rarely seen in these parts because they try to avoid humans, but a child in distress was enough for her to make an exception.”
“Huh?  I’ve heard of wild animals protecting or adopting children, but never thought I’d see the day it actually happen,” commented the gruff-looking officer.  Then the man looked at him and Nathaniel and said, “I’m Police Chief Roy Petersen, thanks for your help in finding the girl.  We appreciate it.”
“We were happy to help,” Otto replied and then noticed the fellow looking at him curiously. 
“Have we met before?” the man asked, “I could swear you seem familiar, especially with that accent.”
“I doubt it, this is my first time here in Connecticut,” Otto shook his head. “I don’t come over to America very often.”
Just then Veronica frowned and said, “But Nathan said the two of you investigate reports of strange creatures, like Bigfoot and whatnot.”
‘From now on Nathan does not get to do the talking,’ thought Otto as he quickly came up with a reply. “This is true.  But we look into reports from various countries.  There are legends rumors of unknown animals all over the world.”
This seemed to satisfy her as she shot a glance at Nathan who smiled back.
Otto quietly resigned himself to the fact that they would probably be sticking around at least for a few more days.

“How is Julianna?” asked Jason, anxious to know how his niece was doing.  He would’ve dearly loved to have held and spoken to her for even just a few minutes, but circumstances being what they were had prevented it.
“She’s fine, in fact she’s doing really well,” Chief Petersen smiled.  “Dispatch got a call from your wife just as we were heading out.  Your brother and his family were found alive and well out at sea.  Their ship took a pounding during the storm which drove them way off course and knocked out their radio equipment.  But everyone’s fine and they’re being towed back to port even as we speak.  With a little luck, they’ll be joining you on Christmas day.  So it looks like our work is done here.”
“Indeed it does,” he smiled back and then noticed Nathan glancing back at the cave and thought, ‘Almost.’

As the clock struck midnight, Jason made his way through the snow once more.  Julianna was safe and resting comfortably.  He’d asked her many questions about her experience and her responses had both warmed his heart and troubled him slightly.  She remembered things exactly as Nathan had instructed, but she had asked questions about things like how large the ‘bear’ had been.  To her the animal that had protected her had seemed much larger than any black or even grizzly bear.  And there had been something odd about the beast’s claws…
He sighed inwardly.  She was going to follow the path, just as he and his brother had.  He had hoped it would be one of his own children, but they had not shown any sign of interest or talent for it.  In fact, they hardly showed any inclination to even really learn the stories or herbal remedies that had been passed down through the years.  Whereas his niece, she could never get enough.
It was something he’d have to discuss with his brother, but after the holidays.  There was no need to burden him with what may come to pass down the road. 
Besides, there was another who needed his help right now.
He had just reached the area where the cliff face stood with its low narrow cave entrance.  His ears could detect voices coming from inside.  One of them he recognized and smiled.  Yes, he had not been mistaken in placing his trust in his new friends, particularly this one.
Closing his eyes, he listened carefully, filtering out the sounds of the wind and trees until he could hear ‘them’.

“So you’re parent’s car flipped over and you were thrown from the wreck?” Nathan was saying to the twelve-year old boy before him.  The lad was huddled up close to his dog. 
He could clearly see the boy’s dog still seemed uncertain about what to make of him.  But there was little he could do about it.  Misting would not help in this particular case.
“That’s right,” Michael nodded.  “I tried to reach the car to get at my parents, but I could see from all the blood they were dead.  Then that big animal started roaring and stomping around and Riff and I took off running.”
“Looks like you hit your head pretty good,” Nathan remarked.  “That’s quite a bump you got there.”
“Yeah,” the boy nodded, touching his head.  “I must’ve hit the doorframe when I got thrown.  I remember feeling really dizzy as me and Riff headed into the woods.  He stayed with me the whole time, wouldn’t leave my side even once.”
“Then you found this cave and crawled inside, am I right?”
“We had to,” Michael told him.  “That thing was still out there and it seemed to be following us.  When Riff led me to the cave, I could see right away the thing wouldn’t be able to get inside, so I let him help me in and then we just curled up together and waited for the creature to go away.”
“Only it didn’t, it kept hanging around didn’t it?”
“Yeah,” the boy nodded and touched his head.  “Dunno how long we’ve been in here.  I kind of fell asleep and then I heard that girl crying and knew the creature would go after her so…”
“So you called out to her and tried to keep her safe?”
“Yeah, I didn’t want it to hurt her like it did my folks.”
Nathan frowned, “I thought you said the creature killed them.”
The boy hesitated, “I thought so too, but when I was asleep I dreamed I heard them calling to me.  And then today, when I was watching you and the others dealing with the thing, I heard them again.  Do you think they might be okay?”
Before he could answer, Nathan’s sharp ears detected chanting coming from outside the cave.  He recognized the voice immediately, but the song was different than the one he’d heard earlier.  Yet it filled him with a sense of longing.
Then he heard more voices calling as if from a distance, but getting nearer.
Both Michael and Riff heard them too and stood up.  “That sounds like Mom and Dad… can you hear them?  Or am I just dreaming again?”
“No,” Nathan assured him, “I hear them too.”
Michael started forward and then stopped, “What if the creature is still out there or comes back?”
“It won’t,” Nathan assured him.  “She’s gone home and now it’s your turn.”
The boy hugged his dog and murmured, “I’m afraid.”
“I’ll carry you, both of you,” Nathan offered and removed the dark heavy cloak he’d changed into before coming back here. After wrapping both Michael and Riff in it, he lifted them up and headed for the opening.
“I hope we’re not too heavy for you,” the boy whispered as they drew closer to the entryway.  “Riff’s pretty big.”
“You guys aren’t that heavy,” Nathan assured him and even felt a faint wagging of a tail as he stepped out into the clearing. 
There off to his left he spotted Jason continuing his chant, while a man and a woman stood near the trees with their arms outstretched.  “Michael!” they cried in unison. 
“Mom!  Dad!” the boy cried and rushed to meet them, with Riff following close behind. 
Nathan stayed still, his arms still held out as the reunited family hugged and laughed, before slowly fading before his eyes.
Once they were gone, Jason finished his chant and approached him.  “Do not look sad my friend, they’ve been searching for him all this time. And now they have all moved on, just as you have.”
“Is it that obvious?” Nathan asked, shifting the bundle in his arms ever so gently.
“How long have yours been gone?”
“Over a hundred and thirty years,” Nathan told him.  “But I do have other family.  It’s an extended family which is composed of many homes and people who know what I am, and that I’ll always watch over them.”
“My people belonged to the Iroquois, and we used to live in longhouses that were comprised of many families who lived together,” Jason remarked.  “You’re extended family sounds much the same.  I would honored if you would count my family among them.”
Nathan thought about it for a moment and then said, “I’d like that too.  But, some of them are going to have to know the truth about me.  I don’t age like normal people.  If I keep coming back to visit, I’ll either have to wear make-up to look older or…”
“My wife and my eldest boys are fully aware of the other worlds,” Jason interrupted.  “Remember, I told you before about that which my ancestors imprisoned so long ago.  Well, that prison still exists and it is my job to keep watch over it and make sure the thing does not escape.  After I’m gone one of my children, or possibly one of my brother’s, will take over the job.”  Here the shaman paused and turned to him and said, “I would feel better knowing they had someone like you to help guard their back.”
Nathan smiled, touched by his friend’s words.  “Of course I will.”
"Good, it would be nice to add to my family at Christmas.  You and Otto will join us."
Hearing the note of finality in his friend's voice, Nathan nodded.  "Of course,"
As those two words left his lips the beam of a flashlight appeared among the trees. 
A moment later, the familiar form of Chief Petersen, followed by one of his male officers appeared.  “Okay Jason, I’m back just like you asked.  What did you find…?  Oh no, please don’t tell me that’s Rachel?” 
“No, it’s Michael Broughman,” the shaman replied.
“The boy who disappeared after his parent’s car crashed eight years ago?”
“I’m afraid so,” Nathan nodded. 
“Where did you find him?”
“Inside the cave,” Jason answered.  “Julianna told me about a boy she’d seen in there who’d helped her.  We never saw anyone come out, so Nathan and I came back to see if he was still there.”
“And apparently he was,” Roy shook his head in disbelief.  “But she said he ‘helped’ her?  How?  Are you telling me she saw a ghost?”
“Perhaps,” Jason shrugged.
“Or maybe she simply saw the shadow of the remains and imagined he was real,” suggested Nathan.  “The mind can play tricks on people, especially when their stressed or upset.”
 Chief Petersen took a closer look at the bundle and nodded.  “Looks like the boy took a nasty blow to the head in the crash, probably a concussion.  The dog knew he was hurt and wouldn’t leave him so it tried to keep him warm and they both froze to death,” he sighed.  “Well, at least now they can reunited with his folks and rest in peace together.”

“They already are I’m sure,” Nathan heard Jason reply as they both stared out into the woods which glowed like a frozen cathedral in the night..


Thursday, December 25, 2014

"Home For Christmas: A Para-Earth Holiday Tale" - Part Five


As soon as Veronica ended her chat with Jason, she changed the channel on the radio.
“What are doing?” asked Nathaniel watching her closely. 
“Switching to the police frequency, I need to let the others know we’ve found Julie’s trail,” she replied.  As soon as she heard the familiar chatter of her fellow officers she hit the button.  “Attention all officers, this is Sergeant Ross, I’ve found the girl’s footprints and their fresh.”
A brief round of cheers and congratulations were offered, then one gruff voice burst out of the radio saying, “Good job, Sergeant.  I’m with a team of volunteers at the opening in fence where you left the flares.  Can you give us your position?”
“We’re deep within the woods off to your left as you look into the field, Chief” she responded.
After a moment Roy’s voice came back saying, “Who’s we?”
“I ran into Jason Cloudfoot and a couple of ‘Bigfoot’ hunters who volunteered their help,” she replied and gave Nathan an apologetic look.  He rolled his eyes and shook his head with a smile.  Then he mouthed ‘I’m going to try and find her trail again,’ and moved a few yards ahead.
Just then Roy’s voice came over the radio again.  “Oh for God’s sake, someone else looking into that damn Yeti or Winter-Beast folks keep talking about.”
Veronica frowned.  “You mean there really is some kind of Abominable Snowman around here?” she asked, thinking about the strange howl they’d heard moments before.
“Yeah, it was first seen about thirty years ago.  Some big creature covered in white fur that only shows up in winter.  Supposedly it caused an accident the year before I took over as Chief of Police.  A couple lost control and crashed just about where I’m standing.  They were killed in the crash.  Their son, along with his dog, apparently had been thrown from the car.  Their footprints were found leading into the woods, along with a third set of prints that no one could identify.  They were huge and described as ‘monstrous-looking’.”
“Oh really?” she murmured, thinking back to the strange bellow she and Nathan had heard a few moments ago.  “Did they find the boy?”
There was a pause before she heard Roy quiet reply, “Not to my knowledge.  Look, we ain’t got time for legends.  I see another flare and then what looks like some glowing lights leading into the woods.  Is that you’re doing?”
“Yeah, we were marking our path so we could find our way back out,” she told him.
 “Thank God, for a minute there I’d thought someone had decided to decorate the entire woods for Christmas.  I’m seeing some more off to my right, should I be sending any men that way?”
“Those they were left by Jason and another volunteer when we split up.  Don’t bother following those, the four of us are heading for a rocky area west of your current position.  We think Julie might have headed that way.”
“Copy that.  Stay put and we’ll follow the trail you’ve left,” her boss instructed.
“Negative, we’ve just heard a loud roar or bellow a few moments ago.  It might have been a bear or something, we’re going to investigate.  I’ll be dropping more of glow sticks for you to follow.”
“Understood, but proceed with caution Sergeant.  We’ll bring some extra fire power just in case,” Roy instructed, and then added quietly, “And Ronnie, be careful.  Don’t do anything foolish.  I know how bad you want to find the girl.”
Veronica smiled, touched by her old partner’s concern.  “I’ll be all right, I’ve got good help with me,” she replied, glancing at Nathan whose head suddenly snapped up.  His eyes were closed and his brow furrowed, as if he was in deep concentration.
Curious she drew closer and waited. 
After several seconds she reached out a hand and was just about to touch his right shoulder when his eyes snapped open.  “I know exactly where she is!” he cried, leaping to his feet.
“How…?” Veronica began but he cut her off with a look and said quietly, “She’s not alone.”

*   *   *   *   *

Julie still couldn’t believe what was happening.  The huge beast had just finished snuffling her from head to toe and then let out the most piteous bellow she’d ever heard.  Now it was trying to curl up around her as if to keep her safe from the cold. 
Did it understand that she was lost and upset? 
It seemed like that was the case.  Uncle Jason had told her before that some animals will respond to the cry of a baby or child as if it had come from one of their own offspring.  It seemed to trigger a mothering instinct in them and… a female!  This thing, whatever it was, had to be a female.  And now it was trying to mother and protect her.
But what was it?  She’d never anything like it before.  It clearly wasn’t a bear.  Plus it was way larger than a grizzly.  So what was it?  Glancing over at the cave, she could see Michael and his dog standing in the entrance looking confused and uncertain.
Then she heard voices in the distance, a man and a woman’s.  She didn’t recognize either of them, and although they were calling out, she didn’t hear her name.  Instead it sounded like they were calling for someone else…
 Suddenly she spotted movement in the snow.  They were small and she couldn’t make them out clearly, but they appeared to be mouse-shaped.  There were dozens of them.  Their dark forms stood out clearly against the white-snow. 
A moment later, more voices could be heard, along with the sound of fast feet crunching through the snow.  Then she heard her name being called, “JULIE?”
“I’m over here!” she cried and then noticed the animal holding her seemed to become startled and afraid.  “Move slower, your frightening her!” she added loudly and tried to calm her protector by gently stroking its thick fur. 
“Don’t be afraid,” she whispered, “I won’t let them hurt you.” 
The great beast seemed to respond to her gentle touch and relaxed as two figures emerged from the woods, one tall the other short and bearded.
“Uncle Jason!” she smiled and then quickly said, “Don’t hurt her.  She’s protecting me.”
“I can see that,” her relative nodded and smiled staring at the beast. 
His companion shook his head in awe and his mouth stretched into a wide grin.  “Oh, she is magnificent.  You did say it was a ‘she’ right?”
Julie nodded.
“Definitely from a cold climate,” the stranger muttered as he slowly approached.  “No wonder she only appears in winter, she follows the snow.  What a clever girl you are,” he added excitedly.
The animal seemed to sniff around in his general direction until it located the man and apparently decided he was not a threat.  Then it did the same towards Uncle Jason with similar results. 

Otto studied the great beast carefully.  It reminded him somewhat of the Giant Sloths that had wandered this Earth during the Ice Age, only this one had other adaptations such as white fur and those massive claws.  No doubt they were for bringing down tall tree branches and other hard to reach flora.  It didn’t have the snout or teeth for taking down large prey, although it might also indulge in fish from streams.
In any case, it was a magnificent specimen.  It also seemed to be...
“Lost,” Jason murmured beside him.  “The creature is lost.  It’s looking for something, but cannot find it.”
“The way home?” Otto suggested.  “That would explain why it keeps coming back here in winter.  It knows the doorway is near, but has not been able to find it because it only opens every ten years.  The question is why didn’t it find the portal the last time it was open?”
“Look at how it moves.  It searches by sound and smell.  I do not think it can see,” the shaman replied.  Then he called to his niece, “Julianna, can your friend see?”
The dark-haired girl shook her head, “No, she’s blind.  I saw her eyes they were pale and milky.  She can’t see at all, so she searches by sound and smell.”
“Ah, that explains much,” Otto nodded. 
“Yes, Jason agreed, “It will need our help to find the opening so it can go back to being among those who are searching for it.”
Otto was about to ask Jason how he knew this when another great bellow rang out.  Only this time it had not come from the creature before them.  It had come from elsewhere, unfortunately the sound echoed off the walls of the cliff and seemed to come from all directions. 
The animal before them looked up and around as if confused and gave a plaintive cry of its own in response.  Soon the creature seemed to become agitated and began moving around, carrying the girl with it.
“NO…” Jason began when a figure appeared out of the woods.
“WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?” Sergeant Ross cried upon spotting the animal and immediately pulled out her weapon.  But then a green mist seemed to rise up from the ground and engulfed her, the huge beast, and its precious charge.

Jason stared in awe as the unnatural haze seemed to have a calming effect on those caught within its grasp.  The cloud hovered around the trio for several seconds, defiantly resisting all attempts by the wind to push it away.  Then it slowly slunk back in among the trees, where Sergeant Ross had emerged.  Then the blood-red mice who dotted the snow, followed and a few moments later, Nathan stepped into the clearing and walked right up to the animal.
Stretching out two arms the young man said in a soothing voice, “It’s okay, you’ve done your job. I’ll take her from here, she’ll be safe.  You’ve done well, Big Mama.”
The great beast obediently released its charge into Nathan’s waiting arms and even gave a gentle nuzzle to the girl before moving away from the pair.
Then Nathan turned to Sergeant Ross and quietly told her to holster her gun, which she did without question.
“Good, now take Julianna and head back to your boss and the others.  You found the girl being protected by a mama grizzly who was all covered in snow.  The animal thought she was a cub who needed protecting and was keeping her warm until you and I showed up.  Then she got up and took off, it was a Christmas miracle,” he told her.
Unfortunately, the sergeant’s mind was not so easily swayed.  “But grizzlies are brown and the thing I saw was white…”
“That was the snow sticking to the bear’s fur.  She’d been staying put after curling up around the little girl,” Nathan pointed out casually.
“Oh… yeah, it was amazing,” Sergeant Ross nodded and started to head back the way she’d come.  Then she paused and said, “Aren’t you coming?”
“I’m waiting for Jason and Otto to catch up.  As soon as they’re here we’ll follow.”
Jason watched the policewoman scan the area and even look right at him.  “All right,” she nodded.  “But if you don’t show up in ten minutes with the two of them I’m coming right back.  I can’t leave you hanging out here in the dark by yourself.” 
With that she disappeared into the woods, following the trail of glowing sticks.

Nathan blew a sigh of relief as soon as Veronica and the girl were gone.
‘That was close,’ he thought as he headed over to where Jason and Otto were waiting.
He’d actually been able to hear most of the conversation passing between Otto, Jason and the little girl thanks to his ‘minions’.  Since they were actually made up of him, he was able to see through their eyes and hear through their ears.  So he knew what to expect when he and Veronica arrived on the scene.  But he hadn’t expected her to pull out her weapon so quickly.
Luckily he’d been able to take his mist form which had a calming effect on most beings, especially mammals.  It also had the added effect of making them more pliant and easy to suggestion.  He’d kept his ‘revision’ of what happened close enough to the truth so that neither Julianna’s nor Veronica’s mind would reject what he’d told them.
Still, the fact that Veronica had questioned him about the animal’s fur was a bit surprising.  She obviously had a strong mind and will, but she seemed to accept his explanation.   He might need to stick around for a few days to just to make sure his suggestion did wind up sticking. 
Of course, if they succeeded in getting the animal home it would be moot point.  There would be no way for Veronica to check up on what she really saw.  Even if she remembered that Otto and Jason were actually here when she arrived, both would tell her they’d seen a snow covered grizzly bear.

Reaching his friends he sighed, “Okay gentleman, we have ten minutes to get this creature back to her own reality and home in time for Christmas.  How are we going to do it?”


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"Home For Christmas: A Para-Earth Holiday Tale" - Part Four


     Julie continued to stare at the opening of the cave.  The creature was moving very slowly as if searching for something.  It raised its camel-like snout into the air and sniffed several times, before moving again. 
     She’d never seen such an animal before.  For one thing it was huge, way too big to come into the opening of the cave.  So even if the animal did sense their presence, it couldn’t get at them even if it wanted too.
     Then again, it could try using those massive claws on its front paws to try and reach in to get them.  She’d never seen such talons before on any animal.  There were three on each paw, and measured a good yard or more in length.  They were so long in fact, that the animal had to curl its front paws back and walk on its knuckles.
     But what made them truly frightening was the way they curved like a scythe.  She could easily picture herself being hooked by one of those terrifying claws and dragged out into the snow. 
     Yet, something about the animal’s behavior made her think it didn’t want to harm anyone.  Her father and Uncle Jason had taken her out into the woods to observe animals in the wild.  She’d seen how various creatures behaved and this one seemed to be more lost than anything.
     Without thinking she slowly started to move towards the opening to get a better look when Michael hissed, “What are you doing?  It’ll kill you if you go out there!”
     “How do you know?” she whispered back.
     “Because it killed my parents!”

*   *   *   *   *

Otto and his companion were studying the ground carefully as they entered the woods.  So far they had found nothing but what looked like mice tracks.  He knew from experience that these belonged to Nathan and was inwardly pleased.  Surely they’d find the missing child with this much ground being covered so quickly.
Still, he was a little surprised that his friend had apparently revealed his nature to a stranger.  Looking up at the tall Seneca, he could tell there was more to this man that met the eye.  Decades of meeting people from all different walks of life had allowed him to catch certain looks and behaviors in people that spoke volumes about themselves. 
Pausing to crack another plastic stick from his pouch, he placed the glowing rod securely on a tree branch, just as his companion spoke.
“I appreciate what you and your friend are doing to help find my niece,” the man said.  “I’d like to be able to do something for the two of you.  You are seeking something that much I can tell.  But what it is, I have no clue.  Would you tell me what it is?”
“Nathaniel did not tell you?”
“Only that he had crossed into one of the many realities that are and are not, like this one.  Places where some if not all life, evolved very differently than it did here,” the Seneca replied quietly. 
Intrigued, Otto turned to him.  “You have knowledge of such places?”
“As shaman of my people, I know a great many things, including how to recognize those who have been places and come back ‘changed’ by their experiences,” the fellow nodded.
“Then you also know that the openings that occur tend not to last for very long, but sometimes come back every so often,” he pressed.  “Have you heard of any around here?”
“Yes, I have.  There is one place not far from where we are standing where the woods have been reported to be haunted,” Jason told him.  “Strange noises can be heard, from beings unseen that are not of this world.  Even the local creatures avoid that place when the sounds come.” 
Immediately, Otto became more excited.  “I see,” he nodded rubbing his hands together.  “Most interesting, tell me when do these sounds occur?  Are they all year round or just at certain times?”
“Only in winter, as I suspect you have already guessed,” Jason answered with a smile.  “But they do not come every winter.  I have heard them twice myself.  The first time was when I was only a boy of ten and had come out this way to hunt deer, in order to see if I could approach one and pet it without frightening the animal.  It took me by surprise and I was both frightened yet intrigued.  I came back several days in a row trying to find the source of the sounds, but then they ceased.  I returned the following year, but they did not come.  Still I hoped and kept coming back year after year in Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.  Then exactly ten years later, around Christmas I heard the sounds again.”
“Yes, yes… that is exactly what I calculated,” Otto beamed with pride.  Then he glanced at his friend and said, “And that happened ten years ago, am I right?”
Jason smiled and nodded.  “Indeed it did.  And I got close to the source, but the wind kicked up and began to howl as it is doing now.  It drowns the sounds and carries them away, but I am certain even without hearing those strange noises that I could find the opening you seek.”
“Do you think it’s possible your niece has already found it?” Otto asked quietly.
“It is possible, but I do not think she would enter such a place.  My brother and I have taught her well to avoid certain places where things do not feel right,” Jason assured him.
“I hope so,” Otto sighed.  “The question is, did something from the other side have as much common sense?”
“You speak of the creature that supposedly wanders these hills in winter, don’t you?”
“Have you seen it?”

“No,” Jason shook his head, “but I’ve heard of it.  A towering creature with massive claws which can stand up on its hind legs from time to time, but mostly travels on all fours.  I have even seen the strange footprints it leaves in the snow.  They are huge yet not found very often.  They seem to vanish near large snowdrifts, yet I’ve been able to detect a disturbance in the pack as if something has passed into it, as a fish will move through water.”
 “It swims through the snow?”
“No, I suspect it travels beneath the white, displacing the snow before it and pushing the pack past and then behind it, thus leaving no trail for anyone to follow.”
“Especially adapted for a colder climate,” Otto murmured thinking aloud, “It must come from a version where the Ice Age never ended.  Do we have any idea of the creature’s nature?  Is it aggressive?  Does it hunt other animals?”

“I’ve not heard of any strange remains being found in this area or of any livestock disappearances that could not be explained,” Jason replied after a few moments of thought.  “However, there was one incident about eight years ago when…”
A low distant cry as if coming from a gigantic throat cut off the rest of his words.
As the sound echoed and reverberated across the woods, both men stood there listening in wonder.
Soon the sound passed and only the wind could be heard. 
“That…” Jason began.
“Would be our friend,” Otto nodded.  “It sounds very large indeed.”
“And I think I know where it came from and it is not too far from where the opening you seek is.”
“How can you be certain?” asked Otto curiously.
“For that howl to have echoed so well above this storm, the creature must be near a stony area.  And I know of one not too far from where we parted company with Sergeant Ross and your friend, Nathan.”
Just then the radio attached to Otto’s belt crackled and the voice of the policewoman in question could be heard.
“Jason?  Professor Hofstadter?  Do you read me?  Respond?”
Grabbing the device, Otto pressed the button and replied, “We read you loud and crackly.  Did you hear that deep, loud noise?”
“We did,” came the reply.  “We also found one of Julie’s footprints in the snow.  She appears to have been headed towards a rocky area to the south of our current position.  We’re heading that way now.”
He turned to his companion who nodded, “That’s the same area I was going to take you.  Tell them to move carefully and we’ll catch up as soon as we can.”
Otto relayed the information and then the two of them set out, moving as quickly as possible. 
“I’m sure we will find her safe and sound,” he assured his companion.
“I hope you are right,” Jason replied, but kept moving with a fast determined step.  “You asked me before if the creature was dangerous or not.  Well, there had been a car crash that occurred at the same place near the barbed wire fence where we met and...”

*   *   *   *   *

     “That thing killed your parents?” Julie murmured.
     “Yeah,” her shadowy companion whispered back.  “It would’ve gotten me too if Riff hadn’t led me away to safety.  He was the one who found this cave and dragged me inside.”
     “He dragged you? Why?”
     “I’d hurt my head and couldn’t walk too well,” her friend replied.  “I don’t remember too much after that, except waking up inside here and feeling cold.  Riff was still with me and curled up with me so we could stay warm.”
     Julie turned and stared back at the mouth of the cave.  The animal was moving slowly very slowly, or so it seemed.  She could see the back half of the creature and noticed one of its hind legs was limping.  “It’s hurt,” she murmured.
     “Probably from when our car hit it,” she heard Michel remark somewhere behind her.  “It rose up out of the snow as we were driving and my Dad lost control trying to turn away from it.  But the car started to slide and couldn’t straighten out.  Our car fish-tailed and then suddenly that thing hit us and sent our car flipped over.  We rolled over a barbed wire fence and then the door to the backseat on my side opened and I went flying because I didn’t have my seatbelt on…”
     As she listened Julie kept one eye on the creature which continued to move away from the mouth of the cave.  Something didn’t seem right.  Then without thinking, she crawled forward all the way to the opening and took a closer look at her pursuer.
     The beast was as bigger than a bear, perhaps as large as a rhino and had long limbs which made its limp so distinct.  Strangely, she couldn’t detect any blood on the animal that she could see.  There was nothing near the snout or around that injured hind leg.
     She was about to double back and ask Michael another question when the animal suddenly sniffed the air and turned around to face her.  The great nostrils flared and exuded steam as the beast seemed to stare at her with eyes she couldn’t see. 
    Just then a strong wind kicked up and blew some of the long hair back off the animal’s face.  What she saw made her cry out in shock.
     A moment later, the great beast unleashed a bellow of its own, before loping straight towards her as quickly as its bad leg would allow.
     Paralyzed she stood there unable to move, as the snow continued to fall all around her...


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Home For Christmas: A Para-Earth Holiday Tale" - Part Three


     Veronica was having trouble closing the trunk of her patrol car.
    She’d already radioed back to headquarters about her location and that she had reason to believe they’d narrowed down the search area for Julie.  Due to the worsening conditions he could only send a few uniforms to help.  However, he himself was bringing over a dozen volunteers that Jenkins had rounded up, to aid in the search.
    But it would be a while before they got here, she’d popped open the rear of her patrol car to retrieve some blankets, bolt cutters, a first aid kit, roadside flares, and a couple of flashlights.  Unfortunately, her arms were now rather full.
     Luckily, the professor emerged from the trailer and quickly came to her aid.  “Here, let me take a few of those things from you Sergeant…?”
    “Ross, Veronica Ross,” she smiled gratefully at him as he took the bolt cutters and flashlights.  She noted he’d grabbed some extra jackets along with two sacks that contained small narrow rods that looked like magic markers.  “We’re not going to be able to see any markings you make on the trees once it gets darker.” she remarked.
    “True, but glow stick placed every so many yards in a tree will remain lit for hours in this cold,” he smiled.  Since there are four of us, I grabbed red, blue, yellow and green.  This way we’ll know who went in which direction and follow them back if the storm gets too fierce.”
    She smiled, gathering up the bolt cutters and flares from the ground where she’d placed them.  “Very smart, no wonder you’re a professor.”
    “I got the idea from Greek mythology,” he told her.  “Consider it an updated version of Theseus’ twine when he entered the labyrinth of the Minotaur.”
    “You have a point there,” she replied staring out at the forest in the distance.  Suddenly their task seemed even more daunting than before. “We are about to enter one helluva big maze, only there aren’t any walls, just lots and lots of open space that goes on for miles.  Poor Julie could be anywhere.”

*   *   *   *   *

     “Aren’t you cold?” asked the little girl.
    “No, Riff here keeps me warm,” said the boy, gesturing at the huge dog next to him.  It was the biggest German Shepherd Julie had ever seen. 
     The boy’s name was Michael and he was about two years older than her. 
     He’d spotted her wandering around in the woods and had called out, urging her to come join him in the cave before the creature came back.  She’d been too upset to watch where she was going that she’d quickly found herself quite lost.  At first she tried following her own footsteps back to Uncle Jason’s place, but the wind had blown some of the looser snow across her path, thoroughly erasing it. 
    Then she’d tried to use some of the other techniques to get her bearings, as both her father and uncle had taught her, but the sun had hidden behind the clouds and there was no moss on the trees to help her find north.
    Plus she was getting colder and more frightened.  She hadn’t taken notice of any landmarks and every direction started to look like all the others.
    So when Michael started calling out to her from his hiding place, she’d quickly joined him.  But now she was having her doubts.  The place smelled and there was nothing to eat.  ‘Not that I really needed to eat, at least that’s what everyone else keeps saying to me,’ she thought miserably. 
     She knew she wasn’t skinny, but she’d liked being this way.  Her two older brothers were so much bigger than her, were always roughhousing together and she loved to join in.  They used to tell her she was too little so she started to eat more to get bigger so she could handle getting bounced around by them. 
    But then everyone started picking on her and that hurt.  Even her own cousins had begun teasing her, but Uncle Jason had made them stop. 
     Not that it mattered anymore.  Her brothers were gone, along with her mother and father.  She was all alone in the world, except for her Uncle Jason and his family.  They were still around and would probably take her in.  But…
     Somewhere behind her, the big German Shepherd growled making the hair on her neck stand up.
     Turning to Michael, she saw his shadowy profile staring intently at the opening of the cave. 
     “What’s wrong…” she began but he held up a hand and shushed her.
     “Don’t make a sound, if it hears us, it’ll come in and get us.”
     Obediently Julie closed her mouth and waited, staring at the opening in the distance.  For several minutes she saw nothing, just the growing dark.  But then a huge head came into view.  At first she thought it might be a bear or something, and that they might actually be inside its lair.
     But no, the shape of the massive head was all wrong, as was the color of the long thick hair that seemed to completely cover the thing’s eyes as well as the rest of its strange massive form.

*   *   *   *   *

“There!” Veronica smiled, as she cut the last of the barbed wire using the bolt cutters from her patrol car.
Professor Hofstadter had already passed out the glow sticks and instructions on how to use them to the other two, along with the spare radios.  They were all set to move out, but there was one more thing she needed to do.
Pulling out two roadside flares from her pocket, she lit each one up and placed them on either side of the newly-made opening in the fence.
“What are those for?” asked Nathaniel, breaking his silence.
Neither he nor Jason had said very much since she and the professor had rejoined them.  She suspected something had passed between the two men, but neither was being very forthcoming about what it was.  Still, they actually seemed more comfortable around one another than they had a few minutes before, so she let it go for now.
“This way the other’s will know this is the entrance and can follow our tracks into the woods when they get here,” she explained and looked out at the expanse of white that led up to the edge of the forest.  Even with all their preparations, the task before them was daunting.  How would they ever find Julie amidst all those trees?
Looking up she noticed the light was starting to fade.
“It’s starting to get darker, we’d best move out,” Jason announced and led the way into the field, then he paused.  “I know we originally planned to spread out, but I think we should remain in pairs.”
“Why?” she asked, surprised about this sudden change of plan.
“The storm,” he answered raising his face to the sky, “It’s going to get worse, it wouldn’t do for any of us to become lost while we search for Julie.”
Veronica wasn’t sure how to feel about this.  Yet, if Jason himself thought they should stay in twos then so be it.  They had more searchers coming to assist them, plus it might be more reassuring to little Julie to see a familiar face instead of two strangers showing up. 
“All right,” she agreed.
“Good,” Jason nodded and turned to Professor Hofstadter.  “I would be grateful for your company, my friend.”
Veronica noted the look that passed between the bearded older man and Nathan, who nodded ever so slightly back at him.
Finally, the professor turned back to Jason and smiled, “It would be my pleasure.”
“Thank you,” Jason beamed as the two of them began making their way across the snow.   Within moments they seemed to get involved in a deep discussion, complete with gestures and even the occasional laugh.
With a curious look on her face she turned to Nathan and asked, “Okay, I saw the look he gave you.  What was up with that?”
“Are you implying that I arranged for the two of us to be paired up together, just because you’re a beautiful woman and I have a weakness for red-heads?” he asked innocently.
Her eyes narrowed dangerously, “Did you?”
“No,” he told her bluntly and began heading out into the field.
Frowning she followed.  “Then what was that look all about?”
“Otto and I came here because we heard of a legendary creature that only appears in this area in the wintertime,” her companion replied, keeping to her right.  “It’s part of what we do.  We investigate sightings of unknown animals to see if there’s any truth behind the story.”
“So you were hoping to find Bigfoot or the Abominable Snow Man?”
“Something like that,” her companion replied without looking at her as he kept moving.
They were almost at the edge of the woods.
It was amazing how fast and sure-footed her companion moved.  He didn’t seem to be the least bit tired either.  She had been finding the snow a bit difficult to move through.
“Did you ever serve in the military?” she asked after a moment of thought.
Here her companion paused and nodded.  “Yes, I did.”
“Is that why you were so willing to help find a little girl you’ve never met?”
For a moment Nathan didn’t say anything.   He just stood there staring into the woods before shaking his head.  “Not exactly,” he replied, taking her by surprise.  “You mentioned the girl was nine years old when we first met, correct?”
“Yes,” she nodded.
“That was how old my little sister was when she passed away.”
“I’m so sorry,” she told him, feeling a little bit guilty.  But she quickly squelched the feeling.  He could be playing on her affections, yet she doubted it.
“It happened in December, during my second year of serving in the army,” he continued and looked around.  “I’d joined in order to protect others but I couldn’t even save my own flesh and blood.  A part of me still feels like there should’ve been something I could’ve done to save her, but there wasn’t.”
“And now you found yourself with the chance to save another little girl,” she said quietly, finding both her resolve and suspicious nature crumbling inside.
“Yes, and I’m determined to make sure the outcome is different this time…” he began and then stopped.  Turning his head he looked around.
“What is it?” she asked wondering what was going on.
Suddenly, his eyes narrowed and once more she saw those eyebrows narrow with such intensity it almost made her take a step back.
“Over there,” he snapped and took off running towards a section of woods off to their right.
“Hey!  Where are you… oh fuck!” she muttered and broke out another flare.  After lighting the signal device, she dropped it onto the snow and took off after him.
She’d lost sight of Nathan himself, but his footprints in the snow were easy to follow.  She was noticed some dark little figures scurrying ahead of her.  ‘Field mice,’ she thought.  But what were they doing out at this time of night?
Then she spotted Nathan up ahead kneeling down near a tree which had a light dusting of snow near its base.  She slowed her pace and took a closer look at the ground.  There seemed to be a series of indentations in the snow that had been only slightly covered up by the new powder that was falling.
“Oh please, let these be hers,” she murmured and joined Nathan who was staring at one small perfectly untouched footprint.
“I’d say it’s safe to say they are,” Nathan smiled turning to her.  “Jason told me what kind of boots Julie was wearing and that they had a diamond-shaped pattern on the soles.”
“And there they are,” she breathed and hugged him, forgetting herself for a moment.
Looking ahead, she saw there were more but then the trees began to think and so did the remaining footprints.  But at least they knew for sure that Julie had come this way.
Grabbing her shoulder radio she was about to call in to the others when a low booming howl rumbled through the darkness.  It seemed to surround them as it echoed and bounced off the trees and hills.


Monday, December 22, 2014

"Home For Christmas: A Para-Earth Holiday Tale" - Part Two


     “We have company,” Nathan heard his friend murmur, and simply nodded. 
     He’d heard the approach of the car but hadn’t bothered to look up.  His mind was solely focused on the barbed wire stained with blood.
     More than one being had passed this way earlier, but the snow had already covered the tracks.  The blood appeared to be human, but he had been fooled before.  Touching a finger to the barb, he found the blood was still wet.  Without hesitation he tasted it…

     Veronica was keeping an eye on two men kneeling by the barbed wire fence across the road.  Her original intention had been to stop and ask if they’d seen a little girl, but now then she saw the one in the full length parka reaching out to the barbed wire.  He touched one of the points and then began sucking his finger. 
     Normally this wouldn’t have seemed all that odd, but it was the way he’d done it.  He hadn’t pulled his finger back quickly or yelped, as if he’d hurt himself.  Instead he’d moved slowly and had the most intense look on his face.  It was that, which really caught her attention.
     She’d seen that kind of expression before on some of her fellow officers.  It was one that said a clue had been found. 
     Studying them carefully she noted that neither man appeared to be armed, nor were they dressed for hunting wild game.  ‘So what were they doing around here?’ she began to wonder when a figure appeared beside her.
    “They seem to be searching for something, don’t they, Sergeant?” the newcomer observed, quietly.
     Turning she saw the familiar profile of Jason Cloudfoot, the missing girl’s uncle.  He didn’t even glance at her.  His focus was solely on the two strangers across the road.
    “Or someone,” she whispered back and stepped forward, while keeping one hand close to her gun.  “Excuse me? Have either of you gentleman seen a little girl, around nine years old, come by here?”
    The two men exchanged a look and then the younger one stood up.  “No, but someone’s come through here recently and pricked themselves on this barbed wire,” he told them. 
     ‘Oh dear God let this be a lead,’ she thought and quickened her pace, totally oblivious to the fact that Jason had not followed her. 
     As soon as she reached the pair, she bent down and saw that indeed someone had cut themselves on one of the points.  At a guess, she suspected it was just the right height for a nine year old girl to try and climb through. 
     Unfortunately, the wind and falling snow had already erased any footprints.   “Damn, if only we knew whether it was really Julie’s blood and not some poacher who cut through here,” she muttered. 
     “Is that the girl’s name?” asked the younger of the two men.
     Veronica nodded and looked at him.  From beneath the hood of his long parka, she could see he had blonde hair and a pair of eyebrows that seemed to give him a perpetual scowl.  But the warmth in his eyes hinted at a much kinder and caring nature, she hoped.
     “Yes, it is,” she told him and then asked, “How long have you two been in this area?”
Instead of answering, the young man turned to his friend who replied, “Hmm… I’d say about an hour so.”
     “I see,” she nodded and fixed her gaze at the one in the parka.  “Neither of you are from around here, may I ask your names?”
     This time the older man spoke up.  “Well, in spite all the snow that is making my beard turn white, I am not Santa Claus.  My name is Professor Otto Hofstadter, and this is my research assistant, Nathan Steward.”
     The young man smiled and gave a slight bow, which made her wonder.  For someone who had to be her age, his manners seemed a bit old-fashioned.
     She smiled politely, but silently raised her guard again.  Why had the one called Nathaniel had to check with his friend about how long they’d been here?  She’d seen similar behavior between suspects when they were being questioned when they were trying to keep their stories straight.
     Eyes narrowed she asked them, “And neither of you saw anyone else during that time?”
     The younger man shook his head. “I was inside the trailer until about five minutes ago.”
     “Doing what?” she asked curiously.
     But before either man could answer Jason joined their little group saying, “Resting, from the look of things, Sergeant.”
     “And how do you know that?” she demanded, shooting an annoyed look at him.
   “Because while you were over here asking questions, I went inside the trailer,” the tall Native American replied.  “It was wrong of me to do so I know, but as a police officer you have to follow certain rules.  Whereas I am simply a man looking for his niece, and I don’t have time to worry about social niceties.”
      She just stared at him for a moment and then shook her head.  A part of her couldn’t blame him.  Julie was his responsibility and he was obviously very afraid for her. 
     Sighing she turned back to Nathaniel and his friend and briefly caught the two men exchanging strange looks, but then it was gone.  But she was sure something had just passed between them.
    But before she could form her next question the professor asked, “How long has the girl been missing?”
    “Since this morning,” Jason answered, “She developed Chicken Pox two weeks ago and had to stay with me and my family, while her parents and older brothers headed back to sea.”
     “They went on a cruise?” the one called Nathan frowned.
     “No,” Jason corrected him, “My brother and his wife are marine biologists.  Then this morning I got a call that my brother’s research vessel had been caught in a storm and all contact had been lost four days ago.  The searchers had found nothing and were now turning their efforts into a… recovery operation.”
     “And the poor girl she overheard everything and took off crying; am I right?” Professor Hofstadter asked.
    “I’m afraid so,” Jason nodded.  “Julianna has gotten into the habit of running off into the woods when she’s upset.  She says it helps her calm down and forget her troubles.”
    Veronica watched Nathan’s eyebrows furrow, giving him a more intense look than before as he asked, “What kind of troubles does she have?”
     It was a good question, she had to admit.  No one had bothered to tell her back at the station why Julie had run off.  Whoever this fellow was a part of her was starting to like him.
     “My niece is a bit overweight and has become more sensitive about it recently.  She’d been teased a lot back at school and even my own children started giving her a hard time about it until I made them stop.  They hadn’t meant any real harm since she was their cousin, but her feelings had been hurt so she was still feeling very emotional.  Then when the call came she overheard and took off before any of us realized what had happened,” Jason explained.
     “The poor thing," Veronica sighed, feeling more determined than ever to find the girl.  “Assuming the blood on the barbed wire is Julie’s…”
     “It is,” she heard Nathan murmur almost inaudibly, and did a double-take.
      Staring at him she said quietly, “I though you said you hadn’t seen anyone come through here?”
“I didn’t,” he replied and looked her straight in the eye.  “But every fiber of my body is screaming that it was her.”  Then he turned and stared out into the field.  “There’s a little girl out there and she needs to be found NOW!  It’s going to be dark within the hour and the temperature is dropping fast.”
     Hearing the same thoughts she’d had back at the station, struck a tone within Veronica.  “I take it you both want to help?”
    “Absolutely,” Professor Hofstadter, “Now since we already suspect she came this way, I suggest the four of us start searching from here and stay in contact by radio.”
     Veronica looked at him, “Do you have any on you?”
    “Back in the trailer, come.  You can call in more help from your station while we’re at it,” the older man suggested as they headed back across the road, while Jason and Nathan remained at the fence.

      Nathan stared out at the white expanse.  A part of him had hoped that the girl’s uncle would have gone with Otto and the policewoman, so he could send out a small search party of his own.  But the man had stayed behind and was watching him out of the corner of his eye.  The fellow obviously suspected something.  He’d admitted to going inside the trailer to search for the girl.  Had he found the refrigeration unit with the supply of blood bags?
      As if knowing his thoughts the tall man said quietly, “You have been places where no other man has set foot before, haven’t you?”
    Nathan caught the unspoken hint in those words.  The first time he’d met Otto back a similar conversation had sprouted up between them in a similar manner.  He studied the man for a moment and noted his skin tone and long black hair.  Surely he was of Native American descent.  He also held himself in a manner that more than hinted at authority. 
     “Yes,” he said finally.  “Do any of the stories or legends of your tribe speak of strange places that few have ever suspected were real?”
    “They do,” his companion nodded, “In fact I know them all.  You see it is my responsibility to know all things pertaining to my people: our traditions, medicines, and folklore.”
     Upon hearing this Nathan turned to his companion and looked up at him in surprise.  “You’re a shaman?”
The man nodded.  “And I know many things, including that such places as you and I have been discussing do exist.  One of my people from long ago, before we called ourselves Seneca, entered one of those places.”
     “By accident?”
     “No, he went by choice to find a way to save our people from a being that did not belong in this world.”
     “And did he succeed?” Nathan asked quietly.
    “Indeed he did,” said his new acquaintance with pride, “There was no way to send the thing back, but he brought an object with him that allowed us to imprison the creature and keep it from harming others ever again.”
     Nathan smiled and nodded, but a part of him was troubled.  “Was he the same when he came back from that other place?”
     “Yes, but he was more wise than before.  He had seen and learned much during his period in that other reality that was so much like ours, yet so different,” here the man paused to at him and added solemnly, “You were not as fortunate.”
     “Depends on who you ask,” Nathan replied with a sigh.  “My life has been extended far beyond that of any man.  But my body’s requirements changed.”
    “Yes, I found that which you keep cold and hidden from sight,” the one called Jason nodded.  “Tell me, did you enter that other place by choice?”
     “No, it happened purely by chance,” Nathan told him.  “I was a soldier, fighting to protect others.”
     “Then you had a good heart,” his companion nodded, staring out into the empty field.
     Behind them Nathan could hear Otto and the police sergeant starting to head back their way.  “Our friends are about to rejoin us,” he murmured just loud enough for the other man to hear.
     “I know,” Jason replied without looking at him.  “Can you tell me one thing?  Did you find that your heart had changed after you came back?”
     Without pause, Nathan shook his head.  “No, I’m still the same man I was before.”

     Jason studied the stranger carefully.  Deep down he sensed that the man before him, was indeed a good person.  But still he had to be sure.  “Then please show me,” he told the fellow.  “If you have any gifts that can help me find my niece, please use them and know that you’re secret will be safe.  It getting dark and the snow is getting worse.”
     For several seconds nothing happened. 
    Then he noticed the young man’s brow furrow in concentration.  A moment later, the fellow’s right hand disappeared into the sleeve of his jacket. This was followed by the arm of the jacket slowly ‘deflating’ as if the arm that occupied it was shrinking or withering away. 
   As Jason stared in wonder, his sharp eyes detected movement within the rest of the coat, as if dozens of tiny creatures were racing down towards the man’s feet.
Suddenly a flurry of mice, the color of blood, began emerging from beneath the edges of Nathan’s floor-length parka.  The creatures began racing across the open field began to slowly spread out in various directions.
    “If they find any trace of your niece, I’ll know,” he heard the young man whisper as the last of the mice emerged and joined their brethren across the snow. 
   “Thank you, my friend,” Jason smiled placed a hand on his companion’s shoulder, knowing full well that there was no longer an arm attached.