I had just managed to thrust my right arm out from the gaping mouth of The Abomination when I saw it.
“Watch those teeth!” warned Bret.
I gave a silent scream of fear as I tried to get my head out of the mouth as well, but now my eye was distracted by the large hairy monster a few yards away walking nonchalantly thru the crowd. It had its paws on a young boy.
The creature looked around as if aware someone was watching. It spied me being swallowed by The Abomination. The monster winked at me and guided the boy away from the throng, toward a large pecan tree.
“Dang it! I said watch those teeth,” repeated Bret. “They’re just Styrofoam and they break easy. Okay, I got the picture.”
I gingerly withdrew my head and arm from the opening in the plywood panel that constituted the mouth of The Abomination. Then, without bothering to look at the picture Bret had taken, I hurried from our booth to follow the hairy monster.
It looked somewhat like Chewbacca from Star Wars, or maybe Big Foot, but it seemed different somehow, from the other costumed characters at the Granbury Paranormal Expo.
As I watched from a distance, it disappeared into the tree along with the boy; not up into the branches, but directly into the trunk.
Bret had made The Mouth of The Abomination to attract customers to our booth. He invited people to stick their heads thru the bloody, fang-ringed mouth hole, and act as if being devoured. Folks were enjoying having their pictures taken in the mouth.
Then we would offer to sell them DVD’s of Bret’s movie, The Abomination, and his other horror films and books. Bret doesn’t do much self-promotion, but back in the 80s and 90s he was a well-known Texas B-movie film producer-director-actor. Nowadays he continues to sell his films and publishes horror stories and historical accounts of the Texas horror movie industry.
I made my way thru the throng to where I had seen the furry fiend and the boy disappear. They had walked up to that pecan tree, the ogre had touched it, and they had seemed to step into the tree. I thought it might have been an optical illusion somehow, as they moved from sun to shade. But if they had simply walked behind the tree, I would have seen them emerge from the other side. No, they had vanished into it.
When I reached the tree, I saw it had a straight trunk, about three feet in diameter. The branches were too high for even the tall hairy fiend to have reached.
Then I saw the tree bole had a thin, black line, which began a foot above the ground and extended vertically eight feet up the trunk. It was laser straight and appeared to be burned into the bark. I touched the line, rubbed at it, but I couldn’t alter or affect it.
I looked around the area, circumnavigated the tree, then walked back to our booth. There was a lull in activity. No one other than Bret and his beautiful girl friend, Patrice, was under the canopy. She was busy rearranging the merchandise, so I pulled him to the side.
“You remember telling me about quantum anomalies the other day? How they probably happen often and sometimes we see them, but we ignore them because they don’t fit with our concept of ordinary reality?”
“Sure, what about it? Have you seen something---unusual?” he whispered.
“Yeah, while you were taking my picture in the mouth of The Abomination, I think I saw a real monster grab a kid and then disappear with him into the trunk of that pecan tree over there.”
“Well there are plenty of costumed monsters, characters, actors, and strange beings doing all sorts of things around here. This is a Paranormal Expo, after all.”
“Of course; but, think about it; what better venue for real monsters to go snatching kids and making off with them?”
“I’ll give you that, but what makes you think it was a genuine supernatural creature rather than someone in a costume?”
“It was obviously more authentic. It noticed me and winked. That eye wasn’t inside a mask. Its leer made my blood run cold---now there’s an odd phrase I’ve never understood. How can it feel like your blood is suddenly chilled? Maybe it’s that electric tremor that makes your neck hair stand up, what the French call a ‘frisson,’ but that’s different from ‘cold blood,’ which is also the term used to describe emotionless murder. I’ve heard it called having ‘ice water in your veins, too.’ I wonder…”
Bret grabbed both sides of my head in his hands and looked me hard in the eye. “Quit babbling and stay on subject if you’re serious about this. Show me where you saw them disappear into the tree.”
We sauntered over to the tree, trying to be inconspicuous. I showed him the strange vertical line on the trunk.
“I think the creature touched this line, and it opened up, and he and the boy stepped inside. I had my eye on them the whole time. As I say, the thing sort of leered at me as he pushed the boy into the tree.”
“And the boy didn’t resist?”
“No. It was like he was hypnotized or something.”
“Well, it’s definitely a peculiar situation. But if the boy is missing, how come there hasn’t been any public notice of it?”
As if on cue, a loud speaker burped and someone said, “If Joey Karnes can hear this, come to the tent with the helium balloons. Your mother is looking for you.”
“I think you may be on to something,” said Bret, fingering the black line on the tree trunk. “Let’s get back to the booth and talk.”
We huddled and whispered while keeping our eyes out for more monsters. Patrice looked askance at us but, accustomed to Bret’s often-eccentric behavior, she said nothing.
“What do we do if we see the monster again?” I asked. “It may have super powers of some kind and could hurt someone, probably us. We don’t want to cause a panic or a bloodbath.”
“Right, and if we told the police, they would laugh us out of town. Are you sure this was a true paranormal event? How can we prove it if it is?”
“How can we be sure about anything? All I know is I saw it and can’t explain it by any ordinary means. What was it Sherlock Holmes said? ‘When you’ve excluded everything else, it must be the impossible.’”
Bret eyed me as if I had committed a mortal sin. “No, no! Holmes said ‘when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ But it amounts to much the same thing.
“What you saw is improbable but not impossible, if you accept the reality of the paranormal. In fact Holmes also said, ‘Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.’”
“Well, Sherlock probably ain’t gonna help us in this situation,” I intoned.
Bret looked thoughtful. “Maybe we could lay a trap for the monster like Holmes did in The Speckled Band or The Adventure of the Empty House. We lure the creature to a certain place and then capture him.”
“How do you lure a monster you don’t know anything about? I asked.”
“We know it abducts children. Where can we get a kid to act as bait?”
It was at this point we realized Patrice had been listening in. She smacked Bret upside the head with a paperback book, fortunately not one of his thicker ones.
“You idiots aren’t about to put some child in danger trying to catch a monster, even if it is real. You could be accused of abduction yourselves.”
“Okay, okay, don’t go all momma bear on us. We’re just a pair a’normal guys, heh, heh. We would have reached that conclusion eventually, I’m sure,” said Bret, rubbing his injured ear.
“How about if we just stake out that tree and catch him as he tries to slip back inside?” I suggested.
“Well, that certainly has the advantage of simplicity,” he opined. “Yeah, let’s try it.”
We strategized some more and worked out a plan. We figured the monster probably wouldn’t return today. But the Expo would continue tomorrow, so if he did reappear, it would be sometime that second day.
We bought a panel of half-inch plywood, eight feet by four, and leaned it upright against a light pole just a few feet from the tree with the magic line.
We cut a peephole in the panel, so one of us could observe the tree without being seen. Patrice painted a sign on the front of the panel with the Sherlock Holmes quote: ‘Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.’
When she finished, the board was yellow with large black letters and was decorated with strange creatures. It fit right in with the Paranormal Expo.
We arrived well before the Expo’s start time the next morning. I took the first watch behind the sign. We changed places every hour.
About 11 o’clock, I was watching thru the hole in the panel when the line widened to become an opening and the monster’s head poked out.
It looked around to see if anyone was about. It looked directly at our sign for several moments then widened the opening more and stepped out. To my surprise, however, the same young boy also emerged from the tree. Then the slit closed into just a line again.
The monster and boy walked hand in paw out into the crowd. I phoned Bret per our arrangement and saw him exit the booth to follow the pair. Meanwhile, I hefted the sign, moved it over to the pecan tree, and leaned it up against the magic line.
Minutes later, Bret hurried up to me. “They are wandering around like normal spectators. The monster isn’t drawing any more attention than the costumed ghouls and goblins. People must assume it’s just a werewolf suit or something. Let’s get ready for their return.”
We stood nearby but acted as if we were sorting items in some cardboard boxes. Half an hour later, the monster and boy were back. The monster stood in front of the sign obviously puzzled that it was now leaning against his tree.
Bret and I ran toward him with a roll of duct tape stretched between us. We pushed the furfiend up against the sign and continued around the tree with the tape, almost colliding with each other as we ran. We circled it several times in a few seconds, wrapping the monster in several layers of sticky tape.
Bret and I then grabbed up the baseball bats we had stashed behind the sign and jittered around ready to whack the monster. But the creature didn’t show any signs of resistance or anger. The boy, however, began to cry. He grabbed the monster’s leg and screamed, “Momma!”
“I guess you got us guys,” the monster said in growly but easily recognized English. “As you guessed, we’re not from around here; but I assure you we mean no harm.”
“But you kidnapped this human boy,” said Bret, sounding suddenly not so sure of himself.
“This is my child. He’s just in human costume. Take your head off, Apuka.”
The boy wrenched at his head and removed the human mask. He now had the same hairy face as the monster. How had I not noticed the mask? I guess we only see what we expect to see.
“I just wanted to show Apuka some fun in your human society. I figured a Paranormal Expo would be perfect because we could intermingle unobtrusively. Everyone would see me as just another costumed character. And they did. But you noticed us enter the tree and realized it was a real paranormal phenomenon.
“The linear interface on the tree is a portal to another dimension. Earth is a major hub for interdimensional transport. We are seldom detected because humans tend to ignore what goes against their beliefs about reality. Again, I assure you I’m not dangerous.”
At this point, Patrice showed up with a pair of scissors to cut the tape. She gave the little monster a hug and a cookie.
“Well, our apologies, uh, Mam,” said Bret. “When we saw you weren’t human, we assumed you had kidnapped a little boy and had, uh, evil intentions. Our mistake.”
“An understandable reaction. And a creative means of capture,” said the momster, stripping the tape from her fur. “I really like your quote from Sherlock Holmes. Life is indeed stranger than the mind of man can imagine. We will return to our own world, now, if we may.”
Apuka was still sniffling a little and clinging to his mother. Patrice said, “Would you like to have your picture taken in the mouth of The Abomination, Apuka? You would? Well come on and I’ll take it for you.”
She led the little one over and, sure enough, he stuck his head in the mouth and grinned huge-toothedly as Patrice snapped a picture. While she photographed the tyke, we removed the panel from the tree. Then our two furry friends slipped thru the portal and disappeared.
“Dang, we should have asked them to let us visit their world,” said Bret, “or, at least tell us how this portal thing works. Oh, look, now the line has disappeared too.”
“No interdimensional travel for ya’ll; you morons would just get yourselves in a deep heap of trouble,” said Patrice.
Bret sighed and we walked back to the booth. Patrice showed us her picture of Apuka’s hairy face smiling in the mouth of The Abomination.
“Even that picture won’t prove the truth of what happened,” grumbled Bret.
I looked over at the tree and said, “Well, I think I’ll keep a look out for lines on trees now, and I might write a story about this little misadventure, even if no one will believe it.”
“Yeah, Sherlock, you can call it the Case of the Mistaken Monster.”