Wednesday, December 24, 2014
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...
TO BE CONCLUDED TOMORROW....
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
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.
TO BE CONTINUED...