One would have expected Joe Clark to have been used to the climate by now. He’d lived in the same area his entire life. But being indigenous to a part of the world that saw an awful lot of cold, rainy days had not tempered the effect of such weather on his state of mind. Cold, rainy, overcast days, no matter how frequent, always played hell with his mood. Today served as no exception. Gray, gloomy and damp, and Joe Clark felt like shit.
It also didn’t help that he’d come out in this weather on the proverbial wild goose chase.
*Why did I listen to this nutcase?*
They were together in Bill Brenton’s pickup, bouncing along what passed for an old logging road down into the woods on the northern side of Highway 16. Clark could tell nobody other than Brenton had used the trail in a long time. It had started raining harder.
“They call them ‘flaps,'” Brenton said, flipping the windshield wipers to a higher setting. “Or ‘windows,’ sometimes. Every time you hear about a rash of UFO sightings—you look at the number and frequency now, Joe—there are all these sightings that come out of nowhere and then one day, like you snap your fingers, they just stop. It’s because the opening between the dimensions, the ‘window,’ it closes. Then it won’t be long till you hear about another flap somewhere else. Another window opens.”
“People see Sasquatch year round,” Clark said, playing along. Might as well, he figured, since I’m here.
“Right. I got a theory about that, too. I think it’s like maybe some of the openings are bigger than others. The ones that are only open for a while, the temporary ones, they’re bigger. But there are smaller ones that stay open all the time.”
“And these are the ones that Sasquatch uses?” Clark said.
“Sure. Right. It makes perfect sense, Joe. Explains everything. Look at the evidence. How many people, tens of thousands, hundreds, even, have claimed to have had encounters with these creatures?”
“Sasquatch,” Clark said.
“They call them by different names all over the world, and the sightings take place all over the world. Hundreds of thousands, Joe. They can’t all be false. No way. No way they’re all frauds, cases of somebody misidentifying a bear, or somebody drunk, or a guy in a monkey suit. At the same time, there’s no way that a species of big bipedal animals could exist right in our backyards without somebody, somewhere having found evidence, real evidence, of it.”
Clark nodded, sipping at the lukewarm dregs of the coffee he’d bought at the last service station they’d come across, over an hour ago. He’d tried to make it last.
“I don’t get why it’s so hard for people to believe,” Brenton rattled on. “Mathematicians, scientists, they tell us that parallel dimensions exist. They say it’s empirical fact, Joe. Why then is it so hard to accept that there are holes where a being can pass through from one into another?’
“If they do exist,” Clark said, “why haven’t we found them by now?”
“I think we have, Joe. I mean, look at the Bermuda Triangle. That was a window if ever there was one. A big one. Planes and ships used to disappear there all the time. Now that window’s closed.”
“Curious that none of these windows into other dimensions ever manifest in a heavily populated area,” Clark said.
“Could be that’s no accident,” Brenton said. “Or else they do but we don’t notice it.”
He stopped the truck, put it into park. He left the engine running. “They’re right over here.” He leaned over to grab the faux-leather handbag from the floorboard at Clark’s feet. He plopped it into Clark’s lap. “As I said, I found this with the tracks.” Clark had already examined the purse. It had no ID or cash in it. “How’d that get all the way out here?” Brenton asked.
“Somebody dropped it,” Clark said.
“Sure. Dropped it while being carried off.”
Brenton got out of the truck and Clark followed. Rain peppered his face, his eyeglasses, spattering off his jacket and cap. Clark remembered (too late now, surprise, surprise) that the last time he’d worn these boots out into the woods the left one had leaked and his foot had gotten soaked. The thought of trekking through the woods all afternoon with a wet sock did not help his mood in the least.
The footprints were only a few hundred yards away, thank God. Brenton had covered them with a tarpaulin and weighted it down with rocks.
“Help me uncover them, Joe.”
Looking at the tracks, it crossed Clark’s mind again that Brenton himself might have made them.
*No. Bill might be a nut, but he’s always been honest. He wouldn’t do that.*
“See how they just stop, right there?” Brenton said. “Like whatever was walking here just—poof—disappeared!”
“It stepped through one of your windows?” Clark volunteered.
“Yeah, it did! And it took the woman it was dragging through with it! The rain’s obliterated a lot of the sign, but I’m telling you, Joe, a couple days ago it was real plain. The creature had been dragging a person.”
“Sure. I deduce it was a woman because she dropped her handbag, and because it’s always women that go missing in these parts.”
“And you’re convinced all those women are being carried away into other dimensions by Sasquatch,” Clark said. “Why would our big hairy friends even want to do that, Bill?”
“Why do men kidnap women, Joe? There’s only so many reasons. But I don’t think it’s every Sasquatch doing it. There’d be a lot more disappearances. Could be there’s just this one.”
“There have been a lot of disappearances,” Clark reminded him.
“Joe, I’m not trying to suggest that every woman who’s ever gone missing along the Highway was carried off by this creature. But I suspect more than a few have been.”
Clark knelt to look at the prints. Filling with rainwater, already washing away, they were enormous. Half a meter long and as wide as Clark’s thigh. They looked like a human footprint, only far bigger, with the exception that each foot had only four splayed toes.
“Hey, look at this,” Clark said, pointing. He had just noticed that the toes seemed to end in…
“Claws!” Brenton said.
“Does Sasquatch have claws?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen any evidence of claws in any of the prints or casts I’ve examined.”
“A flourish,” Clark said. “Suppose whoever carved the fake feet wanted to add a little something.”
“Joe, I don’t get you. You’re Indian. Saulteaux, right? Don’t the legends and beliefs of your own people mean anything to you? Don’t they talk about parallel worlds?”
“And monsters?” Clark stood up, his knees protesting the effort. “They’re stories, Bill. They’re meant to teach a lesson, like fairy tales. We were cops. We have to have evidence. Even if you are right, how could we, how could anybody, even follow up on this? We can’t go arrest Sasquatch, can we?”
Had Clark known right at that moment the way things were going to go, he would have found the irony of his words stunning. He didn’t, though. Not yet.
“The way you feel about these disappearances,” Brenton said, “I thought you’d want to know what I’d found. What you do with it…” Brenton shrugged.
“I do appreciate it, Bill. It’s just, I don’t know.”
“Come on. Let’s get out of the rain.”
They made their way back to the truck. Clark’s left foot was soaked. At least the cab of the truck felt warm and dry.
“I know I’m right, Joe,” Brenton said, as he turned the pickup around and started back up the logging trail. “Read up on quantum physics and parallel realities and you might start believing it, too.”
They rode in silence after that. At last it had stopped raining. Now that my foot’s sopping wet, Clark thought.
“Joe, does it seem like this trail was shorter on the way down?”
“Seems like we ought to be back to the highway by now, doesn’t it?”
Clark hadn’t been paying attention. “Now that you mention it.”
It had gotten darker, too. *I know it’s not that late.* Brenton had to turn on the headlights. They kept going.
“Could you have gotten lost?” Clark asked.
“It’s a straight shot, Joe. There are no side trails.”
“I know I didn’t see any.”
Brenton hit the brakes. Ahead of them, illuminated by the truck’s headlamps, the trail dropped off over a steep cliff. They could see the tops of trees—strange-looking trees—sticking up past it.
“What the hell?” Clark said.
Brenton released a contented sigh.
“You ready to believe me now, Joe?”