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Halloween Howlers

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 Thanks so much to Rich Brauer for his assistance, and encouragement

Also to Strbck23, beta reader extraordinaire

 

Halloween Howlers
Rated PG
Suzanne L. Feld

 

“Why Michigan, Mulder?  Can’t we find a resort closer, here in Virginia?”

 

“It comes highly recommended,” I said.  “Color’s peaking up there, and I thought it would be nice to get away from our usual haunts for a change.”

 

“I’ll have to take a few days off from the hospital on short notice, and they won’t like that,” she said warningly, pulling her hair back into a ponytail, the length of rich auburn falling down her back.  We were in our bedroom getting ready for the day, which meant her going to Our Lady of Sorrows and me heading down to my office and computer.  Although now that I had my teeth into an interesting case I wasn’t as apathetic as I had been feeling recently.  “You seem awfully excited about a weekend away. Isn’t Traverse City where we had that one case where the creep tried to give me an icepick lobotomy?”

 

I knew damn well I couldn’t tell her the real reason we were going, or she’d never come along. I figured that once I got her out there, I’d deal with it.  I had, indeed, made reservations at a B&B just outside Traverse City, but that wasn’t why we were heading up there.  The reason was much more interesting than driving around and looking at trees.  I decided not to respond to her mention of the Jerry Schnauz case, afraid she’d use it as an excuse not to go.  Then I remembered that the nutjob had been obsessed with his own made-up howlers… and what we were going after howled.  Definitely not telling her.

 

“How long’s it been since we’ve taken a trip together?” I asked instead of answering her question, pulling on a pair of gray sweatpants and t-shirt.  My uniform of the day, so far different from the pressed and dry-cleaned Armani suits I used to wear. 

 

“After how many we took when we were with the FBI, I’d be happy not to go on any more,” she retorted, going to the vanity and sitting down.  I watched as she put on eye makeup and smoothed something beige over her face, which in my opinion she didn’t need but I knew enough to keep to myself.  “But a weekend away does sound good.  When did you want to leave?”

 

“Our plane leaves at eight tonight, so—”

 

“Mulder!” her clear blue eyes met mine in the mirror, stern and angry.  “That’s not enough time for me to get home and pack before we have to leave for the airport.”

 

“I’ll pack for you, and I could meet you at the airport,” I said, tamping down my annoyance.  “We have reservations at a really nice B&B for tonight, with a jacuzzi room and a lake view.”

 

“Not like we’ll see much of it that late at night,” she grumbled, but got up and turned to face me, one hand on the back of the vanity chair.  “All right.  I’ll come home so we don’t have to pay for storing two cars at the airport.  You’d better not forget anything, Mulder.”

 

“Oh I won’t, Scully, not after all those years we traveled together,” I assured her breezily.  She narrowed her eyes at me, but without another word she left the room.  I listened to her footsteps descend the stairs, then the front door close, before I hurried down to my office which was off the living room.  I turned on my laptop and pulled up the email I had gotten late last night.

 

Mr. Mulder,

You don’t know me but I’m a reporter for the Benzie County Times.  I was given your name by a business acquaintance, Rand Thirby.  He saw you speak at a symposium back in ’99 where you posited the existence of Bigfoot and aliens on earth.  I’m not sure if this qualifies but let me tell you something you may want to come and check out.

It’s bow-hunting season here in Michigan.  Late yesterday afternoon I was scouting the woods near a local swamp that’s known for big buck activity when I heard what sounded like a baby crying.  I tried to find it but every time I thought I was getting close, it moved away.  I realized that I was being drawn deeper into the woods so I left, and never did see what it was. I reported it to the police, but they didn’t take me seriously other than one deputy who may help us.

We haven’t had notable UFO activity up here, but we do have something called the Dogman.  It’s supposedly a Bigfoot-type creature, with dozens of sightings over the years.  I’m not saying that’s what it was, but we’ve had a problem with thefts attributed to the Dogman and it’s possible he has taken an infant or young animal which was making that noise.  I know it’s a jump, but I did see some large unusual tracks while out there which made me think of it.  I couldn’t find any reports of babies missing, but that is certainly what it sounded like.

If you would like to come help find out what this is, let me know your arrival time and I’ll be glad to take you out to where I heard it.

Sincerely,

Brody Speer, reporter Benzie County Times

 

I had written him back to let him know our arrival time in Traverse City, and it was about an hour’s drive to Benzie County where he was.  I didn’t know how I was going to explain this to Scully when we got there, but as always, I’d find a way.

 

*          *          *

 

“Are you kidding me, Mulder?” Scully’s strident voice filled the rental car with anger.  “We came all the way up here looking for a goddamned werewolf?”

 

“Dogman, Scully, not a werewolf,” I said with deceptive and deliberate calm as we rode along a dark, almost-deserted two-lane country road on the way to Benzie.  She’d caught on quick that we weren’t going to a B&B; at least not yet, anyway.  The tone of voice was pissing me off, but I knew better than to show it.  “It’s a whole different animal—literally.”

 

“I don’t believe it, that you’d pull this kind of stunt on me again,” she said heatedly.  “Why couldn’t you just tell me?”

 

“Because you probably wouldn’t have come along, and I want you with me,” I explained, not taking my eyes off the road.  “We’re still going to the B&B—I just want to check this out first.”

 

She didn’t answer.  I took a moment to glance over at her.  In the dim light of the dashboard she was sitting stiffly in her seat, arms crossed, staring straight ahead with her mouth set in a stubborn line.  Even her profile looked pissed.  I had expected this, but never did enjoy it.  Still, it was worth it to have her here with me.

 

We rode in silence for a time before she spoke.  “Mulder, just tell me the truth from now on.  I hate that you assume that I won’t go instead of asking me.”

 

“Would you have come?” I countered. 

 

“Probably.  It does sound… interesting,” she said almost reluctantly.  “How far is this town from where we’re staying?”

 

“About an hour.  But I doubt we’ll be there long tonight, we’re going to the woods so we won’t be able to see much.  But the reporter did want to show me where he heard the baby crying in case it happened again.”

 

“By the way, Mulder, did you realize that tonight is Halloween?”

 

I glanced at her, startled.  “No, I most certainly didn’t.  I totally forgot.”

 

She shook her head.  “Will wonders never cease.”

 

I didn’t dare respond or risk getting smacked.  Instead I followed the reporter’s directions to the local tavern where he was to meet us.  No sooner had we pulled into the rear lot than a tall, burly man came out of the back door, shading his eyes against the glare from our headlights.  I cut the engine, and we got out.  A floodlamp mounted on the back of the building gave enough light to see by.

 

“Mr. Mulder?  Fox Mulder?” he called as he neared.  He was easily my height, but much bigger—though not fat—and had a graying beard and neatly cut, shoulder-length dark hair.  “I’m Brody Speer.”

 

We shook, and I gestured to Scully.  “This is my partner, Dana Scully,” I said as they shook hands briefly.  “When did you want to head out to the woods?”

 

“Now would be good.  I’m afraid if we wait any longer whatever it is will go away,” he said.  “I also talked to some locals who had a run-in with the Dogman last year to—”

 

“Wait—someone saw it?” Scully said.

 

“Not only saw it, two got clawed, and one died,” Speers said impatiently.  “Can we talk on the way?  We can take my car or yours, doesn’t matter to me.”

 

We all got into our rental car, Scully taking the back seat without being asked, and Speers directed me to drive out of town.  Between directions, he told us the story of the Dogman, and it matched what little research I’d had time to do.

 

The Dogman was a Michigan legend, though not well-known outside of the area where it was thought to inhabit.  It was first reported in 1887, described as the body of a very tall man with the head of a black dog.  Over the years more sightings were reported, with the attacker being described the same way, often the body being covered with fur as well.

 

About a year ago, for some reason no one knew, the Dogman began stealing from farms in the Benzie County area and attacking people near the Garland Swamp.  Speers explained that we would be meeting the cop who had been in charge of the case—the only one who took it seriously—and two of the people most affected by its actions.  Though they had tried to keep it quiet, Speers had found out about it by talking to the locals although he hadn’t written anything about it.  “Yet,” he added with emphasis.  “If we can get proof of this creature it would blow the lid off cryptozoology.”

 

“We’ve been trying for years,” I said drily.  “We’ve seen some stuff you wouldn’t believe, but never have gotten proof.”

 

I expected him to challenge me, ask what we had seen, but we swept around a long curve and I spotted a pair of headlights off the side of the road ahead.

 

“That must be them,” Speers said, pointing, as I slowed. “Pull over there.”

 

As if I couldn’t see the odd roadside gathering for myself, I thought.  But I kept my peace and drove across the road onto the shoulder, parking nose-to-nose with a Benzie County Sheriff’s Department car.  Three people were clustered near the furthest vehicle, a red sedan parked behind the police cruiser, and began to walk towards us as we got out of the car.  I left the keys on accessory, so my headlights also helped illuminate the area.

 

“Speers, this had better be good,” the cop, a pretty, dark-haired young woman, said as she stomped over to us.  “Of all the cockamamie, on Halloween night of all ni—"

 

“Chill, Meg, it’ll be worth your while,” he said easily as the six of us met at the side of the cruiser.  “This is Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, ex-FBI agents and paranormal investigators from Virginia.  If anyone can get to the bottom of this, they will.”

 

I was a little taken aback and looked down at Scully, who stood by my side.  She was frowning back at me, but neither of us corrected him.  It worked as well as anything else we could be called, I guessed. 

 

“This is Deputy Meg Samels,” Speers continued with the introductions, indicating the youthful uniformed officer who didn’t appear to be more than thirty, if that.  We all shook, and I wasn’t surprised to find that she had a firm, no-nonsense grip.  I wondered if Scully and I had looked that young when we started at the FBI so many years ago.

 

“And this is Hank Purvis and his wife Dorothy.  They both encountered the creature last year, and Hank’s got the scars to prove it.”

 

The heavyset man, who looked like a stereotypical farmer in his jeans, plaid shirt, and tan Carhartt jacket, reached over and shook my hand with a firm, but not crushing grip while meeting my eyes guilelessly.  He had a friendly, engaging air about him.  “Nice t’meet ya.  Be good if we could get to the bottom of this mess.”

 

His wife, standing next to him, shook my hand next.  She was a handsome middle-aged woman with blonde hair, a jacket to match her husband’s only smaller, and also wearing jeans and sneakers.  She also made direct and open eye contact, which was something I tended to like people for.  I’d seen too many shifty characters who couldn’t even look you in the face.  “Darn thing kept stealing my snowmobile, we never did figure out why,” she said with clear annoyance.  “It’s stopped now, ever since that night last November, but people are still seein’ it and hearing its howls.  You can’t mistake it.”

 

“Long as folks stay away from the Garland Swamp it seems to let us be now,” Hank added as we finished up introductions.  “Sucks ‘cause I got a helluva nice picture of a big ten-pointer there with my game camera, and that’s where my blind was.”

 

“Show them your scars, Hank,” the reporter urged. 

 

He frowned at Speers, but took off his coat, handing it to his wife, and rolled up his shirtsleeve.  There were several twisted, puckered scars along his forearm, which I leaned closer to see in the glow of the headlights.  “That must have really hurt,” I remarked, moving back so Scully could examine them. 

 

“You go not idea,” Hank said.  “Not only from the tearin’, but the thing’s got some sort of poison on its claws.  Damn near killed me before we got the, uh, antidote.” He glanced at Dorothy, who shook her head slightly as she handed his coat back.

 

“What kind of poison?” Scully asked.  “I’m a medical doctor, so—”

 

Just then a tinny, wavering cry rose from the trees just a short distance away.  It did, I thought, sound like a baby’s cry and yet, not.  We all froze, Hank in the process of rolling his shirt sleeve down.

 

“That’s not a human infant, but it is a baby of some kind,” Scully remarked even as Dorothy crossed her arms over her chest, shivered, and said, “That’s not what we heard last year.”

 

“What a creepy sound to hear on Halloween night,” Deputy Samels murmured.

 

“That’s what I heard the other day,” Speers said excitedly, pulling an iPhone out of his pocket and fumbling with it.  I noticed that Deputy Samels had her gun in her hand, though I could see that the safety was on.  Scully and I no longer carried, but for the first time I wished we did.

 

Hank swung his tan Carhartt jacket on.  “Well, I ain’t going in there, no sir,” he said stoutly.  “Neither is Dorothy.” He put his arm around his wife protectively.  “We had enough of that damn thing last year.”

 

“Well, I’m going to see what it is, and you two can stay in my car,” Deputy Samels said, tossing her keys to Dorothy, who caught them easily.  “Lock yourselves in until we get back.”

 

“Damn straight we will,” Hank said as we turned away and headed for the woods.  Deputy Samels was in the lead, then the reporter, then Scully, and finally me. 

 

The shriek sounded again, a wavering, high-pitched wail that was eerily like a human baby’s cry but just enough off that it was clear that that wasn’t what it was.  We all glanced at each other in the dim light, as we were a few yards away from the cars’ headlights, then headed into the woods single-file.

 

Speers was using his iPhone’s flashlight app, while Deputy Samels had a good old-fashioned police flashlight.  I had come prepared with Maglites for myself and Scully just like the ones we’d used as FBI agents.  Our beams swept over tangled brush and trees on either side of the path, partly bare this late in the year but with some leaves still blocking our view. Beyond the range of our lights was pitch blackness such as I rarely saw, even living out in the country.  It was now quiet except for the crackling of our footsteps on fallen leaves and branches; anything could have heard us coming a mile away, I thought. 

 

The wail came again, this time from our right.  Speers sped up to a jog, nearly bumping into the deputy, who snarled an angry curse as he brushed past her.  But she let him go and we hurried on, trying not to trip on the uneven ground.  Before the cry had tapered off Speers veered off the trail and into the woods, sounding like a tank moving through the trees as he snapped branches and crunched everything underfoot in an uncaring hurry.

 

“Speers, you asshole!” the deputy snarled, skidding to a halt.  Scully and I barely managed to stop in time to avoid a three-person pileup.  “Get back here!  You know better than to go off the trail near Garland Swamp!”

 

He was nothing more than a white, moving glow in the darkness among the trees by this time.  “It’s over here somewhere… holy shit!”

 

At his exclamation Deputy Samels started forward.  Scully and I looked at each other and even in the faint light I could see the interest on her face.  We headed into the brush with Scully behind me, letting me break trail. Least I could do after dragging her up here the way I had, I thought.

 

Fighting one’s way through a thick forest at night is about as pleasant as it sounds.  By the time we reached Spears I had tripped several times, would have fallen once if not for Scully grabbing the back of my jacket, and suspected that I had a mark on my cheek from a branch whipping across it.  Nothing seemed to be bleeding, so I ignored the stinging.  Scully darted around me and to where the others were.

 

I looked over Scully’s shoulder to where she and Deputy Samels were shining their flashlights on Speers, who was kneeling in a small, leaf-strewn clearing.  In his hands he held a small animal, which I at first thought was a squirrel or rabbit, until he turned it towards us. Though at first glance it appeared to be a husky or malamute puppy, it had bright, shining yellow eyes that I knew belonged to no regular dog.  It also had a long, rangy body and what looked like tiny dark hand-shaped appendages on the end of its front legs.

 

“What in the hell is that?” the deputy said, her voice sounding as shocked as I felt.  We all bent over to see it. 

 

“It’s a Dogman puppy,” a new voice spoke from nearby.  We all jumped and turned to look.

 

In the light of our flashlights, the woman stepping out of the woods seemed ancient, ethereal, not of this earth.  Then Deputy Samels exclaimed, “Francis!  What are you doing here?”

 

“I followed you.  I heard rumors that there was some type of baby crying out here, and thought this might be it,” she said, moving into the light and kneeling at the reporter’s side.  She put her hands out and he transferred the whimpering puppy to her.  In the glow of the flashlights I could see that she was Native American, a striking thirty-something woman, and spoke with a faint accent.  “I think the mom had anoth—er, a litter and this is the last survivor.  I’ve been trying to find and help her, but she—”

 

“You’re trying to help the Dogman?” the deputy exclaimed.  “After what it did last year?”

 

“Who is—” I began.

 

Just then the puppy wailed again, sounding even more like a human baby with its horrible high-pitched cries.  Suddenly the noise stopped and, as we watched, it went limp in the woman’s cupped hands and its eyes slid closed, hiding the bright yellow orbs.

 

“Is it—”  Speers said.

 

“It’s gone,” the woman said sadly, cradling it against her chest.  “I’m not sure why the mom isn’t taking care of it—quiet, listen!”

 

Far off, we heard crashing in the bushes.  “If that’s the Dogman, I’d suggest we all get the hell out of here,” Deputy Samels said, raising her gun as she stood up straight and looked around, moving her light through the trees around us. 

 

Francis, the woman holding the puppy, gently set it down in the leaves.  But as she stood up, Speers reached down to pick it up.  “What are you doing?” she hissed, reaching out to grab his arm.  “Put it back!”

 

“I want to take it in and have it looked at,” he said excitedly, apparently unaware that the crashing was getting closer. 

 

“If you take it, I’m sure the mom will follow us,” Scully spoke up.  “Any mother would.”  She put her hands out and the reporter reluctantly gave her the tiny body.  I held my flashlight up so she could examine it for a few seconds, then she crouched down and laid it in the same spot that the Native American woman had.  Francis nodded at her in approval before we all turned and began to hurry back towards the path. 

Suddenly I realized that I could hear noises from in front of us and I grabbed Scully’s shoulder, slowing her.  “There’s something—” I began, pointing with the hand the held the flashlight.

 

Then the deputy, who was in the lead, shouted, “Hank, what in the hell are you doing here!”

 

I heard Purvis’ voice ahead and then the deputy’s flashlight illuminated the figures of both him and his wife standing in the path.  “We came to see what was goin’ on, you guys been gone a while,” he said in the darkness.  In one hand he held a baseball bat, and Dorothy carried a tire iron at the ready.

 

“Well you’re about to find out, because the Dogman is right behind us!” Speers said as he burst out into the path, dodged around them, and kept going.

 

Just then, right on cue, a horrible, spine-chilling howl rose from the dark forest behind us.  It wasn’t too far away.  Without further ado we all hurried down the path out of the forest as fast as we dared.  I was the last one and kept expecting to feel a tug or slash of pain on my back, but we made it to the cars unscathed.  Another howl rose, this one even closer but in some way I couldn’t define, sounded more upset than angry. 

 

“C’mon, let’s go!” the deputy shouted, waving at me. I realized that I had stopped halfway between the cars and forest, looking back into the dark woods.  I really wanted to see the Dogman, and I had previously survived encounters with more than one unusual being, so I considered going back.  Then I turned to see that Speers was already in the rental car, Scully just getting in, while the Purvises were standing outside their car.  “That thing don’t screw around, Mr. Mulder.”

 

“Yeah, and if it claws you, they put Dogman-piss-soaked moss on it,” Hank called over to me, opening his car door and tossing the baseball bat in the back as Dorothy went around to the passenger side.  I saw that Francis was getting in the back seat and wondered why they hadn’t said anything about her being here if she had come with them.  “Trust me on this, ‘kay?”

 

Much as I wanted to see the Dogman, that last comment got me moving.  True or not, I didn’t want a set of scars to match Hank’s.  My run-in with the beast woman in New Jersey had given me enough scars as it was.  I trotted to the rental car, just barely aware of the deputy yelling at Dorothy to give her the keys to the cruiser, and slid into the driver’s seat.  Luckily the car cranked over despite having been left sitting with the lights on. 

 

The Purvises pulled out first, tires squealing as they headed back to town. Then the deputy backed up and did the same. I waited just a moment, ignoring the reporter’s shouts asking what I was waiting for, looking over at the dark woods.  But the Dogman remained elusive, declining to show itself though the howling continued, and without much other choice I put the car in gear and drove off, wondering if this was just another case that we would never know the truth of.

 

Epilogue

Scully was urging me to try a taste of Chardonnay despite knowing that I don’t care for white wine when my cell phone trilled from my jeans pocket.  Shrugging with an apologetic grin, I pulled it out and headed for the side door of the winery where we were attending a tasting.  “Mulder,” I said, stepping out into the cool autumn air.

 

“Mr. Mulder?  This is Francis Wellman, we met last night,” a woman’s voice said in my ear.  “In the woods?”

 

I walked towards the end of the balcony, which looked out over Lake Michigan. Though it was filled with round white tables, the chairs were stacked against the wall this late in the year.  I recognized her voice, though I’d only heard it for a few minutes.  “Yeah, I remember.  You seemed to know an awful lot about that puppy we found—and its mom, whatever it was.”

 

“Well, I should.  Last year, the mother Dogman gave me a pup, probably to replace the dog of mine that it had killed.  My puppy’s not vicious or evil, Mr. Mulder, she’s just a very intelligent young dog.  I think if everyone leaves her alone, the mom won’t bother people anymore.”

 

“Can I come see—”

 

“No.  We’ve moved out of town and I’m not letting her become a scientific curiosity.  I’m only telling you this to stop you from further investigation.  I talked to Speers as well and he’s agreed to let it be, not publish anything.”

 

“That’s surprising,” I remarked, thinking of how determined the reporter had been.  It hadn’t occurred to me until later that he could have photographed the Dogman puppy since he had his phone out, but none of us thought of it at the time. “I thought he’d be the first to do so.”

 

“Yeah, well, he and Meg have known each other since high school and she knows where some of the skeletons in his closet are,” she said.  “Wasn’t difficult to shut him up.”

 

“Meg?”

 

“Deputy Samels, though not for much longer.  I suspect she’s leaving the force; I think she’s had enough of the weird things going on around here.  She told me that this wasn’t what she signed up for.  Anyway, do I have your word that you won’t tell anyone about my puppy, and will keep quiet about the Dogman?”

 

I saw no reason to argue.  We’d be leaving Michigan tomorrow and who knew if we’d ever be back.  “You do.  Good luck, Ms. Wellman.  I think you’re going to need it, if the stories I’ve heard are true.”

 

She chuckled drily.  “We’re fine, just fine.  Don’t you worry about us.”

 

Something caught my eye and I turned to see Scully waving at me through the glass door that led out into the patio.  In return for dragging her up here on a lie, I had agreed to do whatever she wanted with this day; breaking trail had not been enough of a penance.  That turned out to be tours of several wineries and, up next, a trip to someplace called Fishtown, which was north of Traverse City, and was supposed to be very picturesque despite the name. 

 

“If you say so. Take care.”

 

“You too.”

 

I shut off my phone and shoved it back in my front jeans pocket, heading for the door where Scully waited.  Even if I couldn’t tell anyone about the Dogman or even publish it in one of my articles, at least this trip hadn’t been a total waste.  I had seen an authentic Dogman puppy and heard its mother howl on Halloween night, and that was more than most people ever got.

 

Finis