THE THING IN THE WOODS
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….