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?”
“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?”
TO BE CONCLUDED ‘FOR REAL’ TOMORROW…