“Home For Christmas: A Para-Earth Holiday Tale” – Part Five

shoulder radio

FOUND

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.

the vision

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…

“Home For Christmas: A Para-Earth Holiday Tale” – Part Four

 THE THING IN THE WOODS

Bonnechere_Winter04

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?”

sloth paw prints

“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…

snow-falling-through-light-gif

TO BE CONCLUDED TOMORROW….

Nathaniel’s Blog March 23rd, 201- “Me and My Easel”


Just got back from the museum.  Transcribed more letters onto the computer, while Brian tended to a new exhibit.  I’m pleased to say that the transcriptions are getting easier with time.  Occasionally, I find it more difficult and emotionally draining, but it mostly depends on the content of the letters and who wrote them.

Tonight I was mostly working on letters to friends while I was serving the in the 7th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment, more commonly known as ‘The Bloody Seventh’.  We didn’t start out with that moniker, it came later.  But for the first six months of our existence we were basically guarding the railroads from Confederate raiders.  These letters were from that period.

I enter the building where “The Crypt” is located.  But instead of going into the club itself which is located in the basement level, I head upstairs.  As I’ve indicated before, I bought the entire structure back during the Great Depression.  It’s a four story affair that takes up a small block downtown.  I keep the place in good shape so no politicians can get any funny ideas about declaring the place ‘run down’ or an ‘eyesore’ that needs to be pulled down.

The ground floor is currently being renovated to become roller skating rink.  Yes, you read correctly.  A Roller Rink.  There’s already some really good hardwood floors and open space down there. It won’t be a huge affair, more like a couple of small rinks.  The smaller of the two will be for lessons or private parties, while the other will be more like a regular place.

I had thought about making one of them and Ice Skating Rink, but the refrigeration equipment would have to get run down into the basement area.  Plus there was the risk of any leaks dripping down into The Crypt itself.

Anyhow, above what will become the roller rink are three floors.  The 2nd floor is comprised of mostly empty office spaces, while the 3rd floor contains empty small apartments.  Occasionally I’ll rent a couple out, but not for very long.  I’m not keen on anyone living full time in the same building where I stay whenever I’m in town.

Then there’s the fourth floor, which is closed off to all unless I invite people up.  The entire floor is one gigantic open space that I use as my art studio.  Mostly the room is filled with canvases, oil paints, pastels and the like.  There’s a big window that looks out into the sky that I love to work near, especially on nights when there’s a full moon, like tonight.

I wander over to where my easel is and pull out one of the many canvasses I’ve been working on.  That’s one of the tricky things with oil painting, you have let each layer dry before you continue.  So whenever I do settle in to work in here, I’ll have several pieces under way and a lot of paint on my palette.

I tried my hand at painting until after I ‘came back’.  It was in the late 1890’s, shortly after the death of my first wife Madeline.  We’d been traveling in Europe at the time she passed.  Feeling lost and alone I’d found myself wandering the streets at night.  One evening I’d run across a gallery where a local artist was giving a demonstration.  I wandered in and sat down to listen.

By the time he’d finished, I was eager to talk to him about doing a portrait of my dear Madeline.  Alas the  speaker refused, but another fellow who had attended the talk was only too happy to talk with me.  He was an older man, Professor Otto Hofstadter.  I often wonder what turns my existence would’ve taken had I not met him that night.  Much of man I have become I owe to him.

We spent many evenings talking and eventually Otto found an artist who was renowned for his portrait work.  I still treasure the portrait Mr. Sargent did of my Madeline, but I remember him more fondly for taking me under his wing.  I studied oil painting under his watchful eye for three years, but then I had to return to America to deal with issues regarding my Madeline’s estate.

But like any good pupil, I continued to learn more from other teachers, some of them recommended to me by my mentor.  I did not see him again until 1918 when we met in England.  He had just been hired by the British Ministry of Information to paint a series of images depicting the Great War (World War I for those not familiar with the original name of that conflict).  His depiction of the victims of ‘mustard gas’ I still find hauntingly realistic.

I like to think it was my time with Mr. Sargent that got me to try and learn new things.  Otto, being a professor, got me to take night classes and expand my education. But that’s a story for another entry.  Right now it’s time to get down to some painting.  Light is just right and I know what I want to work on.

I turn to my unfinished paintings and pull out the one of Brian’s daughter Lisa.  She’s going to be turning sixteen in a couple of months.  And since I’m doing her portrait in oils, I really want to make sure its fully dried and finished in time.