Chapter One: Bite of the BobcatEdit
- THE PORCUPINE MOUNTAINS, MICHIGAN, USA
- SUNDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2006
Night was falling along with a heavy early December snow in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The mountains stood tall and silent, cloaked in a thick white blanket, as a small road wound through the valley like a snake. On this road, almost insignificant against the mammoth landscape, were the headlights of a car.
Dr. James Harper was driving home to the small town of Penmount from a medical convention in the nearby town of Albiville. The snow was impairing his vision, so he had to drive slowly and carefully to avoid running off the steep cliff which ran precariously close to the road. At the bottom of the thousand-foot cliff was a river, frigid and ferocious in the midst of the winter storm.
Suddenly, something large and black leaped into the road directly in front of him. Dr. Harper gasped and slammed on the brakes, but he couldn't stop quickly because of the icy condition of the road. His car slid off the road and down the bank towards the edge of the cliff.
"No, no," he said to himself as his car neared the brink. His heart beat harder and harder as he realized that he could very well die on this dark, cold night. He could just see a brief article in The Penmount Tribune with the headline "Doctor Dies in Freak Accident."
Just as he was expecting to find out what his eternity would bring, his car crashed to a halt. The thick root of a tree growing on the edge of the cliff had caught the rear axle, halting the small car as it was about to plummet down into the raging water below. Heart still pounding, Dr. Harper took out his cell phone and dialed the number of the nearby ranger station.
"This is Ranger Fred Montgomery," said the amiable voice on the other end of the line. "How can I help you?"
"Mr. Montgomery," gasped Dr. Harper, "My name is James Harper and I'm stuck on the edge of a high cliff. I don't know how I've been stopped, but I need you to get me out of here before whatever's holding me in place decides to let go."
"Where are you?" Montgomery asked casually.
"I was on Route 77 when some wild animal landed in front of me," Dr. Harper explained. "Then I took an awful turn off the road." There was a frustrated sigh on the other end.
"All right, I'll be out there with my truck as soon as I can," Montgomery replied. "In the meantime, stay as still as you possibly can. One false move could send you off the cliff. Can you signal me somehow?"
"I'll leave my blinker on," Dr. Harper told him. "Thank you for all your help, Mr. Montgomery."
"The pleasure's all mine," Montgomery replied and then he hung up.
However, almost the very second Dr. Harper put his phone down, there was a creak and the car started to move.
"Oh, no...please, no..." whimpered the short, middle-aged doctor. He couldn't die - he had two teenagers and they had already lost their mother. Didn't the universe know he needed to live?
The car was sliding very slowly toward the edge, which wasn't more than a few feet away by now. Dr. Harper would have screamed, but he couldn't make any sound in his throat. He could feel the car gaining speed little by little as it was freed from the root's weakening grasp. Finally, he decided he had to risk getting out and opened the door.
That little jolt was all it took to completely free the car's front axle. As soon as the door opened, the car slid forward toward the edge of the cliff. Harper fell out into the freezing snow and started rolling downhill. He reached out and was relieved as he grasped a tree root. As he pulled himself toward the tree trunk, he heard the car groaning as it teetered on the cliff's edge and tumbled into the abyss.
"Great," he said to himself. With his blinker gone, he wouldn't be able to make the ranger see him. Just as he was thinking this, Dr. Harper heard the rumble of a motor as though on cue. On the road above, he saw the headlights of the ranger's truck.
As he ran for the truck, Dr. Harper began to wave his arms wildly, in the hope that the light would catch them. However, the snow was coming down so heavily he wasn't sure it would do any good. It didn't and Dr. Harper watched in dismay as the truck passed on and drove around the curve and out of sight.
Something else had spotted him, however. As the doctor vainly shouted for the ranger to come back, a large beast pounced on him from the right, knocking him from his hold on the tree trunk. As he and the animal tumbled toward the cliff, he struggled with it, but then he felt a horrible, icy pain as the animal's teeth puncture his arm.
Dr. Harper let out a piercing, blood curtailing scream that no one heard. He would surely die now...
Chapter Two: Dead Yet Not DeadEdit
- HARPERS' RESIDENCE, PENMOUNT, MICHIGAN, USA
- MONDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2006
The next morning, Fred Montgomery notified Officer John McPherson of the Penmount police force of Dr. Harper's apparent death. It was now McPherson's sad duty to phone the Harpers and tell them the tragic news. It was not something he was looking forward to.
At nine o' clock, the phone rang in the Harper's home and Dr. Harper's eighteen-year-old son Brian answered. "Hello?" he said.
"Is this the Harper residence?" asked the gruff voice on the other end of the phone.
"Yes, who is this?" Brian asked.
"This is Officer McPherson of the Penmount police," the voice said matter-of-factly. "I hate to be the one who has to tell you this, but your father was just killed in a car accident on his way home last night." Brian’s heart almost stopped.
"What?" he asked incredulously.
"Apparently, he was driving alongside the cliff on Route 77 when some wild animal jumped in his way. He swerved to miss it, but ran off the road and off the cliff. I'm sorry, son." Brian felt as if he had been stabbed with a knife. How could it be?
"Are you sure it was my dad?" he asked.
"That's what Mr. Fred Montgomery told me. He's the ranger up at the Porcupine Mountains. He said your father called him last night because he was stuck on the embankment. By the time Mr. Montgomery found the tire tracks, the car was gone. The tracks went all the way down to the edge. I'm really sorry, son." Hot tears formed in the young man's eyes as he hung up.
Suddenly, his sister Audrey, who was a year younger than him, walked into the room. "Brian? What's wrong?" she asked.
"I don't think you're ready to hear this," he sobbed.
She walked over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "What is it? You're crying!"
"Yes, thank you, I noticed," Brian said sarcastically, temporarily misdirecting his anger at his sister. His shoulder heaved. "Dad died last night," he choked. Audrey was stunned.
Suddenly, the phone rang. Audrey picked it up. "Hello?" she said.
"Hello, is this Mrs. Harper speaking?"
"No," Audrey answered, "This is Dr. Harper's daughter."
"Oh, well it doesn't matter. This is Mr. Fred Montgomery, owner of the Porcupine Mountains Visitor Center. I just found your father alive this morning!"
"What?" Audrey asked in surprise. Then she turned on her brother. "You said he was dead!" she shouted. "Was that some kind of sick joke?"
"No, I swear he said Dad was dead!" Brian insisted. He was close enough that he had caught the voice telling the good news.
"He's telling the truth," Montgomery clarified. "I did report earlier that your father was dead, but now I know he's alive."
"Oh," Audrey said as she blushed bright red. "Sorry," she added shyly to her brother.
"It's okay," Brian assured her. Audrey thought for a minute.
"Wait a minute, how could you announce he's dead just like that?" she asked indignantly. "Don't you have to find the body first or anything?"
"Well, uh, from all evidence it seemed he was dead, but...he's alive," Montgomery insisted, "but I have to warn you...he's been, uh...damaged a little."
"Daddy? Hurt?" Audrey asked, starting to get worried. "How will we be able to make money if Dad's hurt? Our insurance won't last forever! Don't worry, Mr. Montgomery, I can handle it - give to my straight. He twisted his ankle, didn't he?"
"Uh, not exactly," Montgomery replied, sounding more nervous than ever. "It's, uh...a bit more serious than that."
"Did he break a limb?" Audrey asked anxiously. "Please don't say he broke his right arm. If he broke his right arm, he won't be able to sign his signature and that's what doctors do!"
"Um, actually all his limbs are fine," Montgomery said slowly, "but he's...well, let's just say he's not quite himself." Audrey was silent for a moment.
"Amnesia?" she asked nervously. "Oh, please, no! Don't say it's so. He'll forget everything he learned in medical school and Dr. Shimmings'll fire him!"
"Um, I'll - I'll just have to show you," Montgomery said. "You'll just have to come down to the ranger station. That's where we're...where he is."
"All right, we'll be there," Audrey replied, feeling a little calmer as she put the phone down.
Chapter Three: "It's Classified"Edit
"How could you say you'd tell them the truth?" Officer McPherson asked Montgomery incredulously. "What did you think it would accomplish?"
"They're his family," Montgomery insisted. "They have a right to know!"
"No, they don't," McPherson replied. "This is all top-secret and, if you tell them, you'll be risking our national security. Besides, they are losing their father. That will be painful enough without this. By telling them he's not dead, you've given them false hope."
"Maybe it's not false hope," Montgomery pointed out. "Maybe we can reverse the effects of the bite."
"Of course! Maybe we can reverse the effects of that bite. But how?" McPherson leaned closer to his comrade. "How are you going to do that? Have you assembled a team for that goal? And what if it can't be reversed?"
"-That's what I thought!" McPherson stepped back and clapped his hands in glee at having trapped Montgomery in a logical problem. He then brought his look back to him. "I give you a standing ovation for being the biggest maybe-er I've met today." He started clapping again.
"Oh yeah? Well, I'll find some way to reverse that bite, I definitely will."
"Well then, Mr. Montgomery," McPherson replied swiftly, " I'm sorry to say that, until then, all information regarding this incident is classified and will be released on a need-to-know basis. As of this moment, Dr. James Harper is officially dead."
"Yeah, until then." Mr. Montgomery departed from the office.
McPherson laughed inwardly. Speaking to no one in particular: "Oh, Monty, Monty! Haven't you seen yet, that I've just set you up so that you will fix this problem no matter the risks? That by attempting to prove me wrong, you have committed yourself to doing exactly what I wanted you to do? You are so predictable..."
Chapter Four: The National Guard CordonEdit
Brian and Audrey pulled up in front of the ranger station in their old family station wagon. As soon as they got out, they saw the area was cordoned off and swarming with National Guard troops. When they approached the ranger station, Officer McPherson stepped in their way.
"I'm sorry, Kids, but you can't come in here," he told them seriously. "Go on home where you belong."
"But - but Mr. Montgomery said our father was here," Brian insisted.
"Mr. Montgomery was mistaken," McPherson replied, "Your father is dead." Brian and Audrey looked at each other.
"What's with all the National Guard troops?" Brian asked curiously.
"There's been an 'incident' here," McPherson replied tersely.
"What kind of incident?" Audrey asked curiously.
"That's classified," McPherson said shortly.
"Is our father involved?" Brian asked.
"That's also classified," McPherson said sternly. "I'm sorry, Kids," he added sympathetically, "but you'd better get on home and let the professionals take care of this."
"What do you mean, 'it's classified'? I can't even know if my father's there?" Brian asked incredulously. Then it clicked: "Oh, I see. My father's involved, but you're trying to deter me by not telling me so. Instead, you're trying to make me leave like this...because if it wasn't my dad, you'd say so and then I wouldn't be annoying you."
"Your overactive brain is going to land you in trouble." McPherson wore an angry frown on his face by now.
"You can't stop us!" The kids forged ahead, running through the National Guard cordon. The soldiers all pointed their guns at the kids, but it was a useless gesture - the teenagers knew the soldiers wouldn't actually open fire and didn't stop running until they got to the other side and into the building.
"Mr. Montgomery! Mr. Montgomery!" Brian yelled as he ran through the building. Suddenly, something grabbed his arm and yanked him to a halt. He turned, and saw McPherson staring at him. Any compassion that had been the officer's face before was now gone.
"You have no right to be in here!" McPherson shouted. "I could have you arrested for this!" Suddenly, Montgomery entered the room.
"Oh, hi, Officer," he said. "I thought you weren't going to let Dr. Harper's kids in?"
"I assure you I did not authorize this!" McPherson shouted. "These kids breached the National Guard cordon!"
"Well," Montgomery said carefully, "I might as well tell them now what happened to their father...if you authorize it, of course." Brian and Audrey looked hopefully at McPherson, who still looked very angry.
"Fine!" he said eventually, letting Brian go. "But, I warn you...you're not going to like it and you're going to wish you'd listened to me."
"I seriously doubt that," Brian said.
"And I warn you, very seriously," McPherson added, "I don't want an incident any more than anyone, but if you kids try to breach a National Guard cordon again, I'll see to that they will open fire."
Brian and Audrey weren't sure if he really meant it - after all, they were only kids - or if he was just trying to scare them, but they both nodded mutely anyway. McPherson turned to leave the room.
Chapter Five: The TruthEdit
"All right, kids, where's your mother?" Montgomery asked them. "She should see this, too."
"She's dead," Brian said grimly. "She's been dead for over a year."
Montgomery was suddenly stricken by this fact, and its significance for the children. "Oh," he said, "I'm so sorry. That - that means you're orphans now."
The words took Andrey by surprise. Stuttering, she asked, half hoping: "I thought our father was alive?" "This is all very confusing. First he's dead, then he's alive, then he's dead and then he's alive."
Montgomery sighed heavily. "Officer McPherson and I have never seen eye-to-eye," he said slowly, "and I, uh, don't fully agree with how he's handling this, uh, thing, but he is right about one thing. What happened to your father is horrible. You might even say its a fate worse then death."
"Is - is he in a coma?" Audrey stuttered in a small voice, somehow infinitely calmer then when she had been worried that he might have twisted his ankle.
Montgomery gave her a tilted head, as he pondered what so say in reply. They obviously had no clue. "No, you think the National Guard's here for fun?" Montgomery answered and asked. "No, it's something...well, unusual. And it is horrible. Are you kids sure you want to know?" He stretched this line out, in a powerful undertone, thus greatly increasing the suspense that they would feel.
The boy couldn't stand it. "Yes!" he answered immediately, although Audrey didn't look so sure.
"I don't know," she said. "What if this is classified for good reason?"
"Come on, this is our father," Brian insisted. "We have a right to know and we should know." Audrey thought a little more about it.
"All right, I guess I would like to know," she replied eventually. "If I don't find out, I'll probably spend the rest of my life wishing that I had." She seemed very depressed, as if she didn't know what better to say.
With a grim look on his face, Montgomery led the two teenage siblings through a door that read "Staff Only" and into a dark room.
Tied down to a metal table, was a large, black-coated, hairy creature pumped full of traquilizers. The homunculus had the appearance of a giant cat - the biggest and scariest cat the Harper kids had ever seen - except that it had a vaguely human-like shape. Its veins were half popping out, and blood streamed from several severe gashes which were clearly inflicted by some dreadful kind of cat.
"What the heck is that?" Brian asked, knowing in his subconscious what the answer was going to be.
Montgomery looked like he was holding back real tears. "That..." he said, pausing as he looked at them once again, but knowing that they demanded an answer, "...is your father."
Chapter Six: The Grand DebateEdit
For once, the two children didn't know what to say.
"I realize it must be very hard for you, but I had to tell you the truth..." Montgomery broke down, unable to continue his explanation, while the children, shocked, could only look on at their mutated father, paying no attention to the ranger's futile attempts to speak.
"Do - do you know anything?" Brian asked eventually. "I mean, can he speak or anything?" Montgomery solemnly shook his head.
"No," he said, "we don't know anything. All we know is that when he isn't pumped full of tranquilizers, he tries to kill anything that moves - or doesn't move, as the case may be."
"Well, how do you know he's our father?" Audrey asked quietly.
"He still had some of your father's clothes on when we found him," Montgomery said in a monotonous voice as though reading from an encyclopedia.
"What're you going to do to him?" Brian asked. Montgomery sighed.
"Well, we're still debating that," he said casually. "Some people think we should just kill him."
"Euthanasia?" Brian asked.
"Well, it's partly that and partly that there's nothing we can really do with him," Montgomery continued. "Some of us, like Officer McPherson, think we should keep him alive for scientific study."
"He doesn't strike me as much of the 'scientist' type," Brian commented.
"Some of us," Montgomery said, indicating himself, "want to find a way to do undo this, but, I won't lie to you, the odds of success are not good." Brian thought about this.
"Well, we're his family," Brian pointed out. "Shouldn't we decide?"
"Well, uh," Montgomery began, "How old are you?"
"Eighteen," Brian answered.
"Seventeen, going on eighteen," Audrey added brightly.
"Okay, so you're technically an adult, Brian, so normally, you might have some say," Montgomery told them. "However, the circumstances are far from normal. Half of the government's decided that this is a threat and the other half's decided it’s a scientific opportunity. Very few of us seem to think of it as a human being." Brian and Audrey considered this.
"It's just you that sees him as a human, right?" Brian asked. Montgomery gave him a half-smile.
"Pretty much," he answered with sigh. The kids took in the strange creature for another second.
"Well, now you kids know the truth," he said quietly. "Now, at the risk of sounding like Officer McPherson, I think you two should go home for your own good. Does either one of you have any kind of job?" Audrey, who was still in high school, shook her head. "I work at the Penmount variety store," said Brian, who was planning to follow in his father's footsteps and go to medical school next year.
"Maybe I should take you to my place for now," Montgomery said kindly. "Just until the state decides what to do with you."
Chapter Seven: A Friend in FredEdit
"How could something like this happen?" Brian asked as he and his sister followed Montgomery's truck. "I mean, it sounds like the kind of cheesy thing people making up stuff on the Internet would come up with."
"Brian, this is serious!" Audrey shouted. "How can you be so insensitive?"
"Calm down," Brian told her. "We've arrived." Brian parked the Harper station wagon right next to Montgomery's truck. The kids looked at Montgomery's house. It was nice enough looking, but it looked a bit rundown.
"Well, welcome to the lovely home of Fred Montgomery," Montgomery told them.
"'Lovely' is sure debatable," Brian commented under his breath as they entered the house.
"Ignore him," Audrey told Montgomery, "He's always like this." Montgomery gave her a wan smile.
"Do you have a wife or a family?" she asked him.
"No, I live alone," he answered. "Just me and no one else except Bunnell."
"Bunnell?" Brian asked curiously. "Wasn't he a noted explorer of Yosemite Valley?"
"Very good," Montgomery replied cheerfully, "but this Bunnell is very different." Suddenly, a large, yellow dog lumbered clumsily into the room.
"This is Bunnell," Montgomery told them.
"Why do you call him 'Bunnell?'" Audrey asked curiously.
"We all name our pets after famous people, don't we?" Montgomery said simply.
"I don't think Lafayette Bunnell counts as famous, per se," Brian pointed out. "I mean, no one's heard of him."
"Well, you have, evidently," Montgomery told him. "Now, let's see what's on TV." Montgomery turned on the TV to see his favorite show, Ranging with Ranger Robert Randell, which the Harper kids politely pretended to enjoy despite finding it immensly boring.
Chapter Eight: McPherson Takes ControlEdit
"We interrupt this program to bring you a special news report," said an attractive, blonde reporter five minutes into the program. "I'm Chaleen Bright and this Channel 11 News. We have received word that a situation has arisen in the Porcupine Mountains and that the entire area has been cordoned off by the National Guard. I'm here with Officer McPherson, via satellite, since I'm sure as heck not going in there." McPherson's face appeared on the screen.
"What I have to say is immensely important, so I want everyone to listen," McPherson said very seriously. "I can't give you details about what's happened, but it's very serious and anyone who tries to pass cordon either way will be shot on sight."
"What in the -" Montgomery said in outrage, standing up.
"Thank you, Officer McPherson," Chaleen said cheerfully as though he had said that they were giving out free Beanie Babies, "We will now go to our experts for some -" (she giggled girlishly) "- expert advice."
"How can he do this without my input?" Montgomery asked incredulously. "I'm going to go see what the heck he's thinking."
"Are - are we inside the cordon?" Audrey asked nervously.
"I'm afraid so," Montgomery said seriously.
"Do you think McPherson'd really have them shoot us if we left?" Brian asked. Montgomery thought about it.
"I don't know," he said eventually, "but I wouldn't put it past him."
Montgomery burst into the ranger station.
"McPherson, where are you?" he shouted. Montgomery ran into the room where they had been keeping the creature that was Dr. Harper, but found that he was gone.
"Looking for something, Monty?" a voice asked. Montgomery turned around to see McPherson.
"Where's Dr. Harper?" he asked.
"Dr. Harper is, for all intents and purposes, dead," McPherson replied, "and the location of the creature he mutated into is not your concern."
Montgomery felt his anger swell up inside him. After all, he was the first person to discover this matter, and he therefore should be allowed to know what was going on. Exasperated, he demanded, "Are you kidding?"
"Unfortunately, no. See, it's the decision of my superiors that this information be classified." McPherson smiled and his glance moved slightly upwards, in glee of anticipation of Montgomery's reply: how was the ranger going to challenge him now, when he had shifted the burden of responsibility to his superiors?
"We'll see, McPherson, we'll see..."
...And Montgomery stamped out of the office, back to the waiting kids.
The children looked up at him eagerly. He was now their father-figure, as they were effectively orphans and he was out to save their father. If anyone knew what to do next, it would be Montgomery. They looked up to him to solve this crisis. Meanwhile, an idea formed in Montgomery's head. "Brian and Audrey, I think we'll have to save your father on our own."
"What do you mean?" and "Great! How?" came out simultaneously.
"The National Guard's cordon means that whatever caused the mutation of your father must still be in the vicinity. It has to be somewhere in the Porcupine Mountains area. If we can find it, then the problem will be fixed."
"But how are we going to know what we're looking for? And how can we be sure that we'll find it, if it can move from place to place?"
"Hmm... Sounds like a riddle, doesn't it? I think I have just the idea."
"Yes. I'm sure that whatever caused it can move, or it couldn't have gotten at your father if his car was moving. Basically, I'm going to convince Officer McPherson to tighten the cordon inward. That something will probably go farther inward. So if we start searching from the center outward... at night... With quite a bit of protection from bites... Then we could solve this riddle."