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...
Sunday, December 21, 2014
A note from the author: My original intention had been to complete this particular holiday story and release it as a free short story on Smashwords on Christmas. Unfortunately, due to time constraints I was not able to create a cover or do most of the usual more serious editing that I wanted. So instead, I'm presenting this tale in installments, that will continue until Christmas Day where the last part of the story will be told.
I will do another in this style for next Christmas as well, thus starting my own tradition for you my readers. But I will also be re-releasing this story in full as either a very small novella/short story on Smashwords complete with full editing, a proper cover, AND... hopefully some pen and ink illustrations to accompany the tale.
I do hope you'll enjoy this tale of the season which includes my first crossover. What I mean by that is that this is the first time Nathaniel will be meeting some of the established characters from my first published novel "The Bridge". Those familiar with that novel will see some familiar faces here, but set sixteen years in the past before the events of the novel. Will we see these characters and my vampyre Nathaniel meet again? We'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, please enjoy this story. The next installment will be up tomorrow followed by more each day until Christmas. Enjoy...
A LOST GIRL
New Swindon, Connecticut, December 23rd, 1999
“She’s only been missing for eight hours, Sarge,” said the patrolman, shifting his feet uneasily. His superior had her back to him as she stared out the window, not moving. Even the looser strands of red hair, sticking out of her ponytail seemed unnaturally still. This made him uneasy.
Ever since the summer she’d become solemn and hard. She could also be more unpredictable than a volcano. “Technically, it’s not a missing person case until twenty-four hours have passed,” he added nervously.
Finally she broke her silence and replied in a quiet voice “The temperature is already dropping and it’s starting to snow.”
“Everyone’s keeping an eye out for her already, Sarge,” he pointed out and immediately regretted it.
Sergeant Ross spun around so fast that her pony tail wound up slapping her in the face, which did not seem to improve her mood. “Keeping an eye out isn’t the same as actively searching for her!” she snapped. “We’ve already got one girl missing with no leads. I… we don’t want another.”
The patrolman took a step back. He’d heard that red-heads could have a fierce temper, but up until now he’d never believed it. A part of him silently began praying for some kind of diversion that would allow him to leave the room as quickly as possible.
Just then another voice joined the conversation.
“No we don’t, Sergeant.”
‘Note to self,’ he thought breathing a sigh of relief, ‘Stop by the local church and drop a few extra dollars in the donation box.’ Then he turned his head ever so slightly and watched their boss enter the room.
The man’s craggy features made him look like he was always scowling, so you always had to watch his manner and tone of voice. But even then he could prove quite disarming and trip you up before you realized what had happened. More than one suspect had fallen into that trap which was what had led to his appointment as head of the New Swindon Police Department seven years ago.
Since his arrival, Chief Petersen had made a number of improvements in their department. They had doubled the number of officers and would soon be moving to a new and much larger facility. For now they were still located in the town’s original station which was located in the middle of downtown. He’d also brought in Sergeant Ross to act as his second-in-command, two years ago.
Unlike their boss she had a manner that could be quite disarming, which had been a big help in dealing with the local youths. In fact she’d proven to be one of the most effective officers in helping the more troublesome offenders.
But ever since the night that girl disappeared from the Graham estate, she’d become harder and less patient, even with her subordinates.
Just then, Petersen turned to him and said, “Why don’t you round up as many volunteers as you can to start looking for little Julie, Jenkins?” their boss told him.
“Don’t you mean men, Chief?”
“Women too,” his boss replied, “Remember we’re dealing with a little girl. According to her Uncle Jason, she was pretty upset and might respond better to a woman being around.”
“In that case I’ll head out as well,” Sergeant Ross announced, “Where was she last seen?”
Petersen held up his hand to stop her before he answered. “She was heading off into the woods to the east of the Cyrus Graham’s home.”
Jenkins noted the look that passed between his two superiors and quickly left.
He moved quickly down the hallway thinking, ‘Great, that place again. We’re going to need a lot more people, the grounds there are huge.’
Leaving the station, he headed for the local tavern just a block away. There was always a good crowd there at this hour. And most of clientele would have just gotten off work and would only be on their first or second drink. He should be able to round up a good number of volunteers there, plus he could use a quick shot himself. He’d also grab a little brandy to take with him just in case they needed it for the girl when and if they found her…
“I can handle going out there, Roy,” Veronica told her boss evenly. They were alone, so she knew it was okay to call him by his first name. He had been her first partner back in New York City, ten years ago. And in spite of the fifteen year difference in their ages, they’d become the best of friends. So when he left to become chief of police way up here in northern Connecticut, she’d felt as if a part of herself had gone away. Of course she’d had other partners, but it had never been the same. Plus, the city seemed to become meaner over time.
So when Roy came back to visit her two years ago, she was more than ready to accept his offer to become his second-in-command, in this this rural community of twenty-five thousand. She’d been able to do so much good since coming here, but she’d also suffered some failures…
“Are you sure?” her old partner asked gently, interrupting her reverie.
Looking up at him, she nodded.
Unfortunately, he didn’t seem convinced. “I know you, Ronnie. You’re still upset about what became of that girl who disappeared the night Cyrus Graham had that heart attack that put him in a coma.”
“Yes, I am,” she admitted in a controlled voice. “And I’m still hoping he’ll come out of it one day soon and be able to tell us what happened to Rachel. But right now we have another girl missing out that way and she needs to be found before it gets too dark out. The snow is already falling and we’re wasting time.”
Roy studied her for a moment and nodded. “All right, get over to Jason’s place. It’s located on the grounds of Cyrus’ estate near that old stone bridge. That’s where the girl took off from.”
As she started for the door, he added, “Be careful out there, Rookie. I don’t want you getting lost in the snow.”
That made her smile. Even after ten years, she still found the nickname amusing. “I’ll be careful,” she assured him and left.
Halfway down the hall she could feel his eyes watching her. So she decided to give him some of his own medicine.
Upon reaching the front doors she called over her shoulder, “Don’t wait up for me, Oldtimer!”
She barely caught the words, “Who are you calling old, you snot-nosed…?” as the door closed behind her.
* * * * *
Parked off to the side of the road at a rest stop, sat an old station wagon, with a box-like travel trailer attached. A picnic table with benches stood nearby. Both table and seats were covered in a layer of snow at least four inches deep. But this was old snow which had lost some of its white luster. Another layer was already building, giving both bench and table and icy layered cake effect. Beyond the table a gradual slope rose up a dozen feet or so, before sinking downwards and disappearing among the trees.
However, the driver of the vehicle was taking little notice of the wintery scene around him. Instead, he was standing near the edge of the road where the asphalt ended and frozen ground began. He was an older man, with curly greying hair, and a matching beard and moustache. Standing up, he placed his hands on his slightly pronounced abdomen. “Yes, most curious,” he said to himself in a heavy German accent.
“Find something, Otto?” came a voice from the vicinity of his vehicle.
Turning the driver smiled at the sandy-blonde young man who was stepping from the travel-trailer. He had a slender build and was dressed in a heavy winter parka that stretched all the way down to the ground. Although he had just emerged from the warm compartment, his face seemed awfully pink.
“The sun is still up, albeit behind the clouds,” the older man called Otto remarked. “I didn’t expect you to be up until after it had set. Is something the matter, Nathan?”
“I’m not sure,” the young man replied scanning their surroundings with his eyes. “I… I felt a presence.”
“Blonde, brunette or red-head?” Otto teased.
But his friend didn’t answer. Instead, he found Nathan staring into the open field across the road. A barbed wire fence had been erected to keep interlopers out of the rows of corn that normally grew there. On this day however, the field hosted only a wide expanse of snow that ended at the line of woods that bordered it on three sides. The uniformity of the treetops was interrupted by the occasional sloping of a hill, where some pines rose above their brethren and silently stood watch over the open field.
“What do you see?” Otto asked after several moments had passed.
"Nothing, but I smell something,” Nathan replied and quickly made his way across the road. Once there he started to examine the barbed wire carefully.
From what Otto could see there was nothing unusual or odd about the fence, no wait. One section seemed newer than the rest. It was hard to notice at first, because the wire had built up a layer of rust over the years, but the posts it was attached to were fresher by comparison to the others.
Suddenly Nathan stopped and knelt down in front of one section of the fence. Reaching a hand out he touched one of the barbs and that’s when Otto saw it, a red glistening stain on one of the metal points.
He barely remembered to check if the road was clear of oncoming traffic, before running over to join his friend.
Emerging from among the trees a lone wolf slowly padded down the slope and stopped near the picnic table. Its fur was snow white, which allowed the animal to blend in with his surroundings. Watching the two strangers intently it slowly made its way over to where the station wagon and travel trailer stood. Keeping behind the vehicles so as not to be noticed, the great beast began sniffing around.
Both men’s scents were unlike anything it had encountered before, yet there was also something familiar about their smells. Remembering its mission, the wolf began sniffing around the area. In particular is spent a lot of time around the trailer where the younger man had emerged. Besides his odd scent, the beast also detected another familiar smell, human blood.
Just then the breeze picked up and began to come from across the road. Immediately, the animal raised its head. Its delicate nose had detected another scent, one the animal knew very well.
The wolf eyed the two men suspiciously and was about to approach them when its sensitive ears detected the approach of a vehicle. Looking up, the beast saw the car in question had red and blue lights on top. Without hesitation, the snow-white animal quickly made its way back up and over the slope.
A few seconds later, a new figure appeared. It was a man, with long black hair, and high strong cheekbones. Without hesitation he made his way down the steep incline with all the sure-footedness of a deer.
He reached the bottom just as the patrol pulled up behind the travel trailer. As soon as the driver began to emerge from the vehicle, he immediately recognized the flame-red pony-tail trailing down her back. Delighted, he was about to call out to her when he noticed one of the two men across the road do something, disturbing.
TO BE CONTINUED...