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Sleeping Bear

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PrologueEdit

SLEEPING BEAR DUNES
NORTHERN MICHIGAN
OCTOBER 4, 2007

Autumn had arrived in northern Michigan, autumn with its crisp, chilly air, cold moonlit nights and bright, dazzling red, orange and yellow leaves that decorated the trees like Christmas trees and covered the ground like a thick carpet. The sky was clear blue, the sun shining brightly down through the beautiful foliage and casting an almost magical appearance on the road.

The sun was beginning to slowly drift downwards toward the western horizon, casting lazy shadows across the farm as a tractor, just finished shucking the cornfield, was on its way in. In an apple tree, a cicada was chirping. The insects, not so long ago very plentiful, now were very few and far between as many had died or gone into hibernating. However, the one that sat in the apple tree was late, comparable to a teenager who stays out too late and only comes home after one o' clock.

The tractor pulled into the barn, and its driver turned off the motor and climbed out. Walking to the doorway, he took a moment to survey the field he had just gone through. Before the corn had been six feet tall, and the plants had been bent over from the weight of the ears. Now the stalks were barely five inches high, and you could now see from one end of the field to the other. At the far end was the woods, which was mostly pine.

Bill Mason opened the front door of his house and walked in, catching the scent of a delicious pot roast. "Mmmm, smells good!" he remarked to his wife, who was mashing potatoes. "Well, got all the blasted corn done, so now we gotta mash it up for the cattle, while it's fresh."

"Couple of them's missing," said his wife, taking the bowl of potatoes to the table. "I went outside today to slop the pigs, an' I noticed there weren't fifteen cows like there's s'posed t'be."

Bill was shocked. "You sure? Like maybe they was all gettin' ahead of one. That'un's been sick lately, y'know."

"I looked all 'round the pasture, couldn't find any trace of 'em. They might've broken through the fence!"

"Naw, that fence is such high voltage they wouldn't even try!" Bill scoffed, sitting down and piling up beef and steamed vegetables on his plate. "They're probably hidin' out near the woods somewhere's and'll come back 'afore dark."

His wife didn't look very sure, but said nothing and proceeded to spoon potatoes onto her plate.


As the sun sank beneath the horizon, everything suddenly went silent. The buzzing of crickets hushed, and the night owl abruptly halted its hooting. For a moment, there was no noise at all, except for the wind blowing through the trees and rustling the foliage.

But it didn't last long. Abruptly, the stillness was broken by a noise, seemingly coming from deep within the forest. It was a low moan, or perhaps a howl; it was indiscernable. Nonetheless, it was sufficient to wake Bill Mason.

The farmer sat up with a start, then his gaze shifted to the window. Had he heard something? Yes, he had. But was it just his dream? He couldn't tell, but something had awoken him.

It came again; that low, deep throaty howl-moan, riding on the wind right up to the house. He shook his wife, who groaned and sat up and rubbed her eyes. "What is it, William?" she asked.

"I just heard somethin'," Bill answered, his eyes wide as dinner plates. "It sounded like a screechin' jet. Didn't you hear?"

"You must've been dreaming," said Mrs. Mason. "Go back to sleep." She turned over and closed her eyes again. Bill sighed, slipped out of bed and pulled on his overalls. "I know I heard somethin'," he kept saying to himself. "There's a coyote out there. It'll be after the cattle!" He grabbed his hunting rifle and hurried down the stairs, pulled on his boots at the front door and went out.

The night air was unusually still. There was no buzz from the crickets and not even the hoot of an owl could be heard. "It's way too darn quiet," the farmer muttered as he strode out to the cattle fence. Several cows were lying down, barely moving except for the occasional twitch of the ear.

"Strange," Bill said to himself, frowning. "They only act like that when there's something here that shouldn't be. Must be a coyote!" Shouldering his gun, he went into the barn, opened the gate and stepped into the pasture. Then he began walking very slowly and silently towards the back, nearer the woods.

Something suddenly flashed in his vision; he stepped back abruptly and nearly fell over. Too shocked to move, he simply stood still for a moment, as if to take in what he had just seen. Had the tree in front of him mo ved? He looked carefully at it, and it looked just like an ordinary tree. "That coyote's near around!" he finally hissed. "Time to pump it full of™"

He stopped instantly as something caught his vision. Back in the woods, where the moonlight shone through the empty spots between the leaves, he could see the cattle fence. But what had happened? It looked as if the fencing had been ripped straight in half and tossed aside. Perplexed, he creeped slowly forward to see it more closely.

It was as if a wave of intense heat had passed in front of him, distorting the images in front of him. Mason shook his head and aimed his gun. "What the heck is goin' on here??" he demanded of the woods, which again stood as still as posts. Then, looking ahead, Mason could see that a stake had been ripped out of the ground, and was lying in two pieces alongside the piece of fencing, which were lying in bits all over the ground.

"That's some coyote!" the farmer finally gasped as he took in the scene. "Tore up the fence...snapped that post like a twig...that's no coyote. I guess this explains the disappearance of those cattle!"

He had no time to contemplate further, however, as something suddenly appeared in front of him that caught his attention. Two little lights, about five feet apart, seemed to suddenly pop out of the trees. They expanded, until they were about five inches around. At the center of each was a single slit.

Bill stared at the glowing objects, until abruptly the thought was forced into his mind. "Eyes?" he said hoarsely. "EYES? What the blue blazes could..."

The eyes blinked. Bill stared up, frozen still. Something huge was standing in front of him, and now he knew he didn't want to face it.

The eyes drew nearer, and Bill's control snapped. Dropping his gun, he exploded into a sprint, dashing out of the woods and back into the pasture, but before he even passed the last tree he was suddenly grabbed from behind. He slapped at his pursuer, but suddenly was tossed into the air, and then landed on the ground with a loud thump, and everything went black for him.

Chapter OneEdit

GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN
OCTOBER 6, 2007

Joseph Crane reached for his bagels in the toaster, took another bite of his cereal and then proceeded to unfold his newspaper to look at the morning's news. At thirty-four years, Joe was an experienced biologist, having studied for six years at West Michigan University. Now, sitting in the dining room of his small condominium, he ate his breakfast before going in to work at the Van Andel Institute in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Joe was about six feet tall, and had blond hair and a thin beard. He was not extremely athletic, although he did bicycle a lot. In fact, sometimes when the weather was suitable he had ridden to work, although this morning was too cold for such a long ride.

As he looked down at the newspaper, something off on the sidelines caught his eye.

Farmer Disappears In Small Northern Town

Joe looked over the small report.

Two nights ago, farmer William Mason was found missing on his farm outside the small town of Sleeping Bear, Northern Michigan. His wife reportedly woke up, and, finding him gone, went outside to look for him. She found the cattle fence torn up and most of the cows missing. She immediately phoned the police, but they were unable to find any conclusive evidence as to what exactly happened. However, a large, muddy print was found just alongside the road, though its exact shape is uncertain due to the loose gravel that apparently filled it immediately after formation.

The biologist looked up and scratched his head. A print? What could have happened? He had never been one for mystery novels but he had always been intrigued by real-life oddities which went unsolved, and now here was another one. But, this one was the biggest he had so far encountered.


SLEEPING BEAR POLICE DEPARTMENT
OCTOBER 7, 2007

Officer Henry Williams leafed through his files on previous disappearances over the past fifty years. He pulled out file after file of kidnappers, murderers, suicides, runaways, and animal attacks. He could find nothing that matched this new case.

Suddenly his secretary, Miss Rayfort, paged him. "Yes? Who is it?" he demanded. "Can't you see I'm kind of busy??"

"It's your wife," Miss Rayfort said. "She said her tire's flat."

"Tell her whoopee-dingdong for me," Williams smiled grimly. No extravagent shopping today! he thought as he turned back to his filing cabinets.

"That's the craziest incident I ever did see," he said as he put the last file back in. "Let's see...I suppose it could have been a bear," he proposed as he sat back in his seat. "But ripping cattle fences out of the ground? And electric too! Yeesh..."

Suddenly Miss Rayfort paged him again. "There's a Mr. Montgomery here to see you, sir," she said. Williams sat up quickly. "Send him right in," he ordered.

Mr. Montgomery pushed the glass door open and walked in. Williams stood up, and offered him his hand. "Thanks for coming, Chris!" he said, vigorously shaking his park ranger friend's hand. "I really could use your help here."

Chris Montgomery stroked his thin beard as he looked over the police chief's desk. "Looks like you've had quite a morning!"

"You don't know the half of it," said Williams, slumping back into his chair. "Have a seat. How 'bout some coffee?"

"Sure," Chris replied, and took the mug.

"So, what do you know about our recent little disappearance over at the Mason farm?" Williams inquired earnestly as the ranger sipped his beverage. "I've practically gone insane trying to figure it out. The best I can think of is an unusually large bear."

"Very likely," Chris replied, swallowing his coffee. "At least, that's the likeliest possibility, and it isn't even close to what it most likely is."

"Mrs. Mason said a whole section of her electric fence was torn up," Williams reported. "Could a bear have done that? Not from my experience."

"Nor mine," Montgomery replied. "There's no way a bear would just go up and rip a thousand volt wire right out of the ground. Now if it were a bear, say a black bear or a grizzly, it would've gone to probably the smoke house where all the meat's curing."

"She said the smokehouse wasn't touched!" Williams broke in. "All the meat was still there. And how about all the missing cattle?"

"Well, they probably would've gotten excited and ran," Montgomery said calmly. "But they shouldn't have gone far, and there's no obvious damage from cattle done to any of the surrounding farms. Buddy, I think we may have a bogey on our hands!"

Williams sighed and leaned back in his overstuffed chair. "I can tell we're going to be stuck in this one for a good long time," he said, glancing out the window at the main street going through town. "A long, long time."


Deep in the woods, away from civilization and human beings, a deer stood, alone and crippled. It had been separated from its herd because of its extreme slowness, and now it just stood, as if waiting for the rest to come back.

But it wasn't waiting. It was petrified.

From out of the trees, it came, hungry and demented, its appearance so utterly horrifying that even a goblin would flee its presence. It moved with the speed of a crocodile, rushing forward and grabbing the deer up in its huge jaws with the ferocity of a wildcat.

There was a brief crunching and crackling as its prey's bones snapped, then it began to tear into the flesh with its teeth, licking it around and relishing the taste of the meat.

But it was nothing like the cows it had had three nights ago.


PORCUPINE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK RANGER STATION
PENMOUNT, MICHIGAN, USA
OCTOBER 7, 2007

Fred Montgomery leaned back in his chair, sipping a mug of hot tea and looking at the newspaper clippings on his wall, detailing the fairly recent "Were-Virus" epidimic. He heaved a sigh as he looked them up and down. "Boy, what a pleasure to have that over with!" he said to himself as he took in another mouthful of blueberry tea. Suddenly, his phone rang, and he spilled some of his tea onto his lap.

"Great," he hissed. "These pants were practically brand new!"

He reached for the phone and picked it up. "Congratulations, you have just cost me fifteen bucks to clean the stain off of my best trowsers! I hope..."

"Uncle Fred?" came the voice on the other end. "This is Christopher."

"Chris! Why did you have to surprise me like that??"

"Sorry Unc, I didn't mean to, but there's something I need to talk to you about."

"If it's about the Were-Virus, I don't even wanna think about it! Have a nice..."

"Unc, please! This is very important! I need your advice on something."

Fred sighed. "Still haven't mastered being a ranger yet, have you buddy?"

"Well, it's not really that, but what kind of animal could rip up a whole cattle fence?"

"What kind of question is that??" Fred demanded. "I thought this was..."

"It is important!" exclaimed Chris. "Just three days ago this farmer and a whole bunch of cattle disappeared, and I'm being consulted about it!"

Fred was rather taken aback. He closed his eyes, and started to think slowly. "So, your expert advice is finally needed somewhere! Congratulations!" he said. "You're officially graduated from Ranger School."

"Unc, I graduated years ago."

"I'm joking!" Fred exclaimed. "It's just this is great news to me!"

There was a sigh on the other end. "So do you know?"

Fred bit his lip and thought for a moment. "To tell you the truth, Chris, that's never happened around here. I mean, when we had the Were-Virus epidimic there were quite a few attacks on shops in town, but I can't recall anything like what you've just explained. What kind of evidence did this thing leave behind?"

"That's the problem, Unc. Nothing! Nothing except a barely visible footprint, but it's full of gravel. We've got a real mystery on our hands!"

Fred sighed heavily and sat back in his chair. "It couldn't have just left no evidence," he reasoned. "Just one footprint? What did it do, fly?"

"We don't know what it is!" Chris persisted. "The overall shape isn't that of a bird, though. It's too big."

"Can you make out any of it?" inquired Fred. "Any lines, like skin patterns?"

"No, and if we remove the gravel we'll just end up damaging the print and therefore we'll have nothing left anyway. You know a lot of animals though, Unc. Couldn't you make an educated guess?"

"I know a lot of animals that attack cattle," Fred replied. "Wolves, bears, lynxes, even coyotes sometimes. But tearing up a fence? Was it electric?"

"Sure as heck was!" Chris exclaimed. "Yet it looks like whatever it was just ripped it out like it was plastic!"

Now Fred was even more interested. "Maybe it was a bigfoot!" he said, rather sardonically.

Chris sighed angrily. "Do you have any ideas?" he pressed. "Or do I have to contact a biologist?"

"Hey, I'm...wait a minute," Montgomery stopped short. "You know, Chris, I do think I have just the person you may be looking for."

"Who?" Chris asked, suddenly very interested.

"His name's Joe Crane," Montgomery replied. "He and I were college roommates West Michigan, and he's far more advanced in that area than me. I only have experience with known wildlife; he knows all about cellular structure and DNA scrapings and that kind of thing. You might try giving him a ring."

"Where does he live?" his nephew inquired.

"Grand Rapids. He works at the Van Andel Institute."

"Aww, that's way down south! He'd never come all the way up here for..."

"I'm sure he might come if I called him," Montgomery replied. "He and I are still close friends."

"Would you do that?"

"Sure," the ranger said. "That is, if you'll get off the phone."

"All right, all right," Chris sighed. "Thanks!"

The phone clicked. Montgomery placed the phone back into its cradle, then stared out the window, trying to figure out what was happening. Finally, he picked the phone back up and dialed Joe's number.

Chapter TwoEdit

VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN

(Help wanted)

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