Nathan’s Private E-Journal – February 16, 2014 “My Odd Valentine’s Day Adventure” Part- II

      Anyway, Otto was still shaking his head saying, “Missing lectures again.  How many times have I told you that will cost you on the exam?”

      That startled me.  “There’s going to be an exam?  I thought I was simply here to listen to bunch of experts in their field.  Admittedly, some were more long-winded than others, present company not included,” I added hastily.  “Is there any way I can make up the points?  Maybe, go on a field trip or something?”

      A bright smile appeared on my mentor’s face.  “What a lovely suggestion.  In fact I had recently been hearing reports of strange creatures being spotted in a region just north of here.”

      “Really?  And did that region happen to coincide with any interesting mathematical computations you’d been working on recently?”

      He gave me a disappointed look.  “I’m a professor, I’m always doing some kind of mathematics.  But to answer your question, yes they do.  By the way, how are you with snowshoes?  It’s going to be pretty deep where we’re going.”

       This time it was my turn to smile indulgently at him.  “Snowshoes?  Pffft… who needs those?  I can just do my Legolas impression and move across the top of the snow without breaking it.”

legolas172-1

     Which is true.  I can make myself extremely light at will and can walk across a number of surfaces without breaking the surface.

      Apparently, he’d forgotten this fact, but instead of looking too embarrassed he simply grinned evilly back at me.  I had no idea what was going on in his head, but I just knew my bragging was going to come back to haunt me later.

aurora

      Three days later…

      “What do you see with your elf eyes, Nathan?”

      See, I told you that wisecrack of mine would come back to haunt me.

     Turning I stared down the mountain at him and replied, “A lot of snow, trees, and one wiseass.”

     “You know, Aragorn told me Legolas said the same thing to him,” he smiled innocently.

    I chuckled at that.  Otto is one of those people you can’t stay mad at for very long if ever.  At that moment, my ears picked up a susurration off to my left.  I had gotten used to the sounds in the area over the last two days, which was why this whispering rustle caught my attention I slowly turned, scanning the terrain very carefully until my eyes detected one area among the trees where the light was much stronger than it should be, considering the sky above us was dark.

    Pointing in the direction of the spot, I called down to my mentor, “It’s about two hundred yards to your left, and twenty yards up the hill.”

     Nodding he started moving towards the spot I indicated with great speed, which was quite an accomplishment for anyone wearing snowshoes.  But Otto is far more athletic than his appearance belies.  At first glance one might think he’s in his later 50’s, short, and stocky.  But he can move as silently as a cat, and as fast as a leopard when he wants to.

      Even with my ability to run across the snow he beat me to the spot by a few seconds.  Now the thing with Para-Earth portals is that in order to spot them you have to be at just the right angle.  Otherwise, you could walk right past them and probably do several times a decade.

     As we examined the opening, Otto made careful measurements, which I faithfully recorded for him.  Then he prepared himself to step through.  He always goes first, since out of the two of us I’m more vulnerable.  The one time I didn’t wait, I wound up racing back to our reality with the worst sunburn you never wanted to see.

     I watched anxiously as he disappeared through the opening and waited.  They say the waiting is the hardest part.  Even knowing how durable my friend is, I still get a little nervous.  Luckily, my wait was not a long one.  After a few moments, he reappeared sporting a pair of stylish sunglasses which told me all I needed to know.

      “Let me guess, it’s very sunny over there.”

     “Actually, I discovered that the future is so bright in that reality, I have to wear shades,” he quipped without missing a beat.

     “Sounds too heady for me.  I’ll stay right here and make sure nothing comes through that shouldn’t,” I told him.

     “Good idea,” he nodded and then added, “And this time, please don’t let anything from this reality slip through the opening while you’re at it.”

     Rolling my eyes I protested, “I only let that happen once.  And it was just a bunny.”

     “That’s what that kid said down in Australia, and look what happened there.”

     “True,” I conceded and then added seriously, “Be careful, over there.”

     “You worry too much,” he smiled, “But it is appreciated.”

     I watched him pass through the opening once more and then turned to take in my surroundings. Trees blanketed the area, but were not so thick as to keep any snow from hitting the ground.  A thin layer of white gently covered decades of fallen pine needles.  Glancing up, I could see the snow was much thicker on the branches.

branches

      Between that and the fact that the nights were much longer at this time of year, I had little to fear from any hint of sunlight that might peek through.

     Now my ears picked up the usual sounds of nature, birds, a stream in the distance, and the occasional scurrying of an animal either underground or foraging some ways off.  In short, it was very peaceful.  The perfect place to crash out for a while.

     So I gathered up some fallen branches and moss and made a little nest against a thick tree, so my pants would stay dry and sat down.  Leaning up against the trunk I relaxed and settled in to wait for Otto’s return.  It was all so nice, I couldn’t help letting my eyelids close and drift off for a while.

     And before anyone asks, no, I didn’t wind up sinking into the ground for a dirt nap.  Contrary to what many in my extended family think, I do not always go to ground to sleep.  I’m perfectly capable of sleeping in a bed, on a couch, or a sleeping bag, whatever.  However, sometimes it gets a little lonely so I actually sleep in the ground more often than I actually need to.  While I’m in the soil I feel more attached to the world itself.  I can see and feel the vibrations of nature at work, like the plants drawing their nourishment, the passing of an industrious mole or field mouse making its way through the Earth.  I’ve even had some pass through my liquid-like state on occasion, which was actually rather ticklish, believe it or not.

     Anyway, this time I stayed above ground.  The cool fresh air lent itself to some very pleasant dreams.  Because I never know who might be reading this entry (i. e. YOU Lisa), I won’t go into details.  However, I will say I was enjoying the company of an enchanting young person when a weight settle in my lap.  Immediately, I recognized this form had warmth which roused me from my slumber.

     Having grown up in the 1850’s when horses were our main means of transportation, I can safely say I’m quite familiar with their general physique and shape.  I’d spent many hours among those my parents kept for pulling our carriages, as well as for personal riding.  And more than once I’d had one of my more favored mares place her head in my lap while I was sitting on the fence of their enclosure.  So even without opening my eyes, I knew my visitor was of the equine persuasion.  A gentle horsey snort confirmed my suspicions.

     At this point I was still not fully awake, but it did occur to me that this encounter out in the wild was rather odd.  Not that I minded.  Animals in general seem to be attracted to me, perhaps it’s the way I smell that puts them at ease.  In any case,  I started stroking the side of its face to reassure the animal that I did not mind the intrusion.  Still, I couldn’t help wondering what was a horse doing out here in the woods?  Just I moved my hand moved up to the animal’s long face and encountered an odd bony protuberance.

     Immediately my eyes snapped open and I stared down at my visitor and saw a very long white horn sticking out of the animal’s forehead.  It was a unicorn.  A real live unicorn, and it was resting its head in my lap.

unicorn

TO BE CONTINUED…

Nathaniel’s Private E-Journal January 19th, 2011 “Night Flight”

Oh Alaska, how bewitching you are, I never tire of visiting you.  Earlier this evening I visited a  tavern/hotel made completely of ice.  And I’m not talking about just the building itself but all the decor inside was also made of ice.  The bar, the chairs, tables, even the glasses were all made of ice.  The artistry that went into each and every item was exquisite.  I could spend hours inside that place with my paints trying to capture the colors and beauty, to no avail.  Mostly because my paints or brushes would wind up freezing.  Just kidding.  It’s cold inside but not nearly as bad as outdoors where the wind was howling.

But as much as I was enjoying myself, I began to hear the call.  It wasn’t one you could hear with your ears.  No this was the call of the siren of the woods, beckoning for me to come and dance with her beneath the stars.  Her song was so alluring I didn’t hesitate to answer.

Soon I found myself out in the wild once more.  Above my old friends the stars smiled down upon me as I gazed up through frozen waterfalls.  It’s nights like these where I truly believe that magic does exist in the world.  For all the technology and logic we’re taught, the beauty nature can create on her own is beyond compare.

I almost felt like intruder in some ways.  The loud crunch of my feet in the snow made my self-conscious.  I began to feel like I was defacing the peace and beauty of the land.around me.  Then I thought back to one of my favorite movies, “The Fellowship Of The Ring” and remembered how Legolas actually walked and ran on top of the snow without disturbing it.  After a few tries I managed to lighten my step so as not to disturb the surface of the snow as I moved across it in silence.

Soon I raced across the snow laughing and jumping, leaving no trace of my passing behind.  It felt exhilarating.  The feel of the breeze against my cheeks was invigorating.  I soon found myself wanting to ride the gentle wind and came to a halt underneath some trees.  Unlike the vampires of legend when I shift my shape, my clothing does not change with me.  Instead it remains behind while the rest of me takes whatever from I choose.

Tonight, I chose bats.

My hands and arms were the first to shift and break apart and free themselves of my garments.  Soon my shoulders and chest followed, along with my neck and head.  It’s a strange experience, one that is not easy to put into words.  My senses change in ways one cannot imagine.  I don’t mean merely the fact that I take on the keen hearing and senses of the animal form I take, especially when I become not one but many.  I am keenly aware of what’s going on with every single one of me that separates.  I see and hear through its eyes and ears.  I feel the sensation of the breeze and smell of the air as my forms spread out across the night sky.  Its the same when I become a horde of rats or mice.  I’m aware of each tiny foot hitting the ground, every whisker that is tickled by a piece of grass or other object.  Yet I’m not overwhelmed by all the information.  Instead I can take it all in and analyze it without pause or hesitation.  And I can enjoy and revel in all of it.  It’s wondrous.

Much like the aurora that finally begins to pain the night sky above.  But this time I’m seeing it from multiple angles.  But even more importantly, I’m in the air and get closer than ever before.  There is a magic here and tonight I got to be a part of it.  As strange as my existence is, it can be a wonderful life.

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
SEARCHING

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.”

 *   *   *   *   *

cave

     “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.

*   *   *   *   *

woods winter

“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.

Snow_and_Silence

TO BE CONTINUED…

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

icy barbed wire

FRIENDS AND STRANGERS

     “We have company,” Nathan heard his friend murmur, and simply nodded.

     He’d heard the approach of the car but hadn’t bothered to look up.  His mind was solely focused on the barbed wire stained with blood.

     More than one being had passed this way earlier, but the snow had already covered the tracks.  The blood appeared to be human, but he had been fooled before.  Touching a finger to the barb, he found the blood was still wet.  Without hesitation he tasted it…

     Veronica was keeping an eye on two men kneeling by the barbed wire fence across the road.  Her original intention had been to stop and ask if they’d seen a little girl, but now then she saw the one in the full length parka reaching out to the barbed wire.  He touched one of the points and then began sucking his finger.

     Normally this wouldn’t have seemed all that odd, but it was the way he’d done it.  He hadn’t pulled his finger back quickly or yelped, as if he’d hurt himself.  Instead he’d moved slowly and had the most intense look on his face.  It was that, which really caught her attention.

     She’d seen that kind of expression before on some of her fellow officers.  It was one that said a clue had been found.

     Studying them carefully she noted that neither man appeared to be armed, nor were they dressed for hunting wild game.  ‘So what were they doing around here?’ she began to wonder when a figure appeared beside her.

    “They seem to be searching for something, don’t they, Sergeant?” the newcomer observed, quietly.

     Turning she saw the familiar profile of Jason Cloudfoot, the missing girl’s uncle.  He didn’t even glance at her.  His focus was solely on the two strangers across the road.

    “Or someone,” she whispered back and stepped forward, while keeping one hand close to her gun.  “Excuse me? Have either of you gentleman seen a little girl, around nine years old, come by here?”

    The two men exchanged a look and then the younger one stood up.  “No, but someone’s come through here recently and pricked themselves on this barbed wire,” he told them.

     ‘Oh dear God let this be a lead,’ she thought and quickened her pace, totally oblivious to the fact that Jason had not followed her.

     As soon as she reached the pair, she bent down and saw that indeed someone had cut themselves on one of the points.  At a guess, she suspected it was just the right height for a nine year old girl to try and climb through.

     Unfortunately, the wind and falling snow had already erased any footprints.   “Damn, if only we knew whether it was really Julie’s blood and not some poacher who cut through here,” she muttered.

     “Is that the girl’s name?” asked the younger of the two men.

     Veronica nodded and looked at him.  From beneath the hood of his long parka, she could see he had blonde hair and a pair of eyebrows that seemed to give him a perpetual scowl.  But the warmth in his eyes hinted at a much kinder and caring nature, she hoped.

     “Yes, it is,” she told him and then asked, “How long have you two been in this area?”

Instead of answering, the young man turned to his friend who replied, “Hmm… I’d say about an hour so.”

     “I see,” she nodded and fixed her gaze at the one in the parka.  “Neither of you are from around here, may I ask your names?”

     This time the older man spoke up.  “Well, in spite all the snow that is making my beard turn white, I am not Santa Claus.  My name is Professor Otto Hofstadter, and this is my research assistant, Nathan Steward.”

     The young man smiled and gave a slight bow, which made her wonder.  For someone who had to be her age, his manners seemed a bit old-fashioned.

     She smiled politely, but silently raised her guard again.  Why had the one called Nathaniel had to check with his friend about how long they’d been here?  She’d seen similar behavior between suspects when they were being questioned when they were trying to keep their stories straight.

     Eyes narrowed she asked them, “And neither of you saw anyone else during that time?”

     The younger man shook his head. “I was inside the trailer until about five minutes ago.”

     “Doing what?” she asked curiously.

     But before either man could answer Jason joined their little group saying, “Resting, from the look of things, Sergeant.”

     “And how do you know that?” she demanded, shooting an annoyed look at him.

   “Because while you were over here asking questions, I went inside the trailer,” the tall Native American replied.  “It was wrong of me to do so I know, but as a police officer you have to follow certain rules.  Whereas I am simply a man looking for his niece, and I don’t have time to worry about social niceties.”

      She just stared at him for a moment and then shook her head.  A part of her couldn’t blame him.  Julie was his responsibility and he was obviously very afraid for her.

     Sighing she turned back to Nathaniel and his friend and briefly caught the two men exchanging strange looks, but then it was gone.  But she was sure something had just passed between them.

    But before she could form her next question the professor asked, “How long has the girl been missing?”

    “Since this morning,” Jason answered, “She developed Chicken Pox two weeks ago and had to stay with me and my family, while her parents and older brothers headed back to sea.”

     “They went on a cruise?” the one called Nathan frowned.

     “No,” Jason corrected him, “My brother and his wife are marine biologists.  Then this morning I got a call that my brother’s research vessel had been caught in a storm and all contact had been lost four days ago.  The searchers had found nothing and were now turning their efforts into a… recovery operation.”

     “And the poor girl she overheard everything and took off crying; am I right?” Professor Hofstadter asked.

    “I’m afraid so,” Jason nodded.  “Julianna has gotten into the habit of running off into the woods when she’s upset.  She says it helps her calm down and forget her troubles.”

    Veronica watched Nathan’s eyebrows furrow, giving him a more intense look than before as he asked, “What kind of troubles does she have?”

     It was a good question, she had to admit.  No one had bothered to tell her back at the station why Julie had run off.  Whoever this fellow was a part of her was starting to like him.

     “My niece is a bit overweight and has become more sensitive about it recently.  She’d been teased a lot back at school and even my own children started giving her a hard time about it until I made them stop.  They hadn’t meant any real harm since she was their cousin, but her feelings had been hurt so she was still feeling very emotional.  Then when the call came she overheard and took off before any of us realized what had happened,” Jason explained.

     “The poor thing,” Veronica sighed, feeling more determined than ever to find the girl.  “Assuming the blood on the barbed wire is Julie’s…”

     “It is,” she heard Nathan murmur almost inaudibly, and did a double-take.

      Staring at him she said quietly, “I though you said you hadn’t seen anyone come through here?”

“I didn’t,” he replied and looked her straight in the eye.  “But every fiber of my body is screaming that it was her.”  Then he turned and stared out into the field.  “There’s a little girl out there and she needs to be found NOW!  It’s going to be dark within the hour and the temperature is dropping fast.”

     Hearing the same thoughts she’d had back at the station, struck a tone within Veronica.  “I take it you both want to help?”

    “Absolutely,” Professor Hofstadter, “Now since we already suspect she came this way, I suggest the four of us start searching from here and stay in contact by radio.”

     Veronica looked at him, “Do you have any on you?”

    “Back in the trailer, come.  You can call in more help from your station while we’re at it,” the older man suggested as they headed back across the road, while Jason and Nathan remained at the fence.

 trailer

      Nathan stared out at the white expanse.  A part of him had hoped that the girl’s uncle would have gone with Otto and the policewoman, so he could send out a small search party of his own.  But the man had stayed behind and was watching him out of the corner of his eye.  The fellow obviously suspected something.  He’d admitted to going inside the trailer to search for the girl.  Had he found the refrigeration unit with the supply of blood bags?

      As if knowing his thoughts the tall man said quietly, “You have been places where no other man has set foot before, haven’t you?”

    Nathan caught the unspoken hint in those words.  The first time he’d met Otto back a similar conversation had sprouted up between them in a similar manner.  He studied the man for a moment and noted his skin tone and long black hair.  Surely he was of Native American descent.  He also held himself in a manner that more than hinted at authority.

     “Yes,” he said finally.  “Do any of the stories or legends of your tribe speak of strange places that few have ever suspected were real?”

    “They do,” his companion nodded, “In fact I know them all.  You see it is my responsibility to know all things pertaining to my people: our traditions, medicines, and folklore.”

     Upon hearing this Nathan turned to his companion and looked up at him in surprise.  “You’re a shaman?”

The man nodded.  “And I know many things, including that such places as you and I have been discussing do exist.  One of my people from long ago, before we called ourselves Seneca, entered one of those places.”

     “By accident?”

     “No, he went by choice to find a way to save our people from a being that did not belong in this world.”

     “And did he succeed?” Nathan asked quietly.

    “Indeed he did,” said his new acquaintance with pride, “There was no way to send the thing back, but he brought an object with him that allowed us to imprison the creature and keep it from harming others ever again.”

     Nathan smiled and nodded, but a part of him was troubled.  “Was he the same when he came back from that other place?”

     “Yes, but he was more wise than before.  He had seen and learned much during his period in that other reality that was so much like ours, yet so different,” here the man paused to at him and added solemnly, “You were not as fortunate.”

     “Depends on who you ask,” Nathan replied with a sigh.  “My life has been extended far beyond that of any man.  But my body’s requirements changed.”

    “Yes, I found that which you keep cold and hidden from sight,” the one called Jason nodded.  “Tell me, did you enter that other place by choice?”

     “No, it happened purely by chance,” Nathan told him.  “I was a soldier, fighting to protect others.”

     “Drafted?”

     “Volunteered.”

     “Then you had a good heart,” his companion nodded, staring out into the empty field.

     Behind them Nathan could hear Otto and the police sergeant starting to head back their way.  “Our friends are about to rejoin us,” he murmured just loud enough for the other man to hear.

     “I know,” Jason replied without looking at him.  “Can you tell me one thing?  Did you find that your heart had changed after you came back?”

     Without pause, Nathan shook his head.  “No, I’m still the same man I was before.”

     Jason studied the stranger carefully.  Deep down he sensed that the man before him, was indeed a good person.  But still he had to be sure.  “Then please show me,” he told the fellow.  “If you have any gifts that can help me find my niece, please use them and know that you’re secret will be safe.  It getting dark and the snow is getting worse.”

     For several seconds nothing happened.

    Then he noticed the young man’s brow furrow in concentration.  A moment later, the fellow’s right hand disappeared into the sleeve of his jacket. This was followed by the arm of the jacket slowly ‘deflating’ as if the arm that occupied it was shrinking or withering away.

   As Jason stared in wonder, his sharp eyes detected movement within the rest of the coat, as if dozens of tiny creatures were racing down towards the man’s feet.

Suddenly a flurry of mice, the color of blood, began emerging from beneath the edges of Nathan’s floor-length parka.  The creatures began racing across the open field began to slowly spread out in various directions.

    “If they find any trace of your niece, I’ll know,” he heard the young man whisper as the last of the mice emerged and joined their brethren across the snow.

   “Thank you, my friend,” Jason smiled placed a hand on his companion’s shoulder, knowing full well that there was no longer an arm attached.

snowfall at night

TO BE CONTINUED…

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

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…

town

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.

*   *   *   *   *

snow-covered-barb-wire-fence-12653362

      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.

White Wolf

     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…