CHAPTER ELEVEN- Gilbert and Arthur and Climbers, oh my.
He wasn't kidding. He really didn't know. Never saw the movies, never read the books. He was more in the dark than the store they just left. Barbara was stunned. She was amazed. She was- well, you get the general idea. Between the store and the restaurant, Barbara Meadows tried to fill in her husband on everything he needed to know about spy movies of the 1960's. He took it well. And this time, they had no trouble finding a spot to park the car- right next to April's front door. Ray still had questions.
"So- you're saying we should trade in this car for- what? An Aston-Martin?"
"I wish. Maybe the car, our house and everything you can cart out of Granville Corporation with a small truck."
"So- no Aston-Martin, then?"
"Probably not. Such is life. I'll get used to it."
Out of the car and in to April's. It was lunch time, and then some. Buying guns is hungry work. Over lunch, Ray and Barbara Meadows plotted and planned their next moves. Immediate move: Contact this Gilbert Lawrence guy and find out what they could from him about the climbers. The next immediate move for Barbara: Find a pistol range. Long range plan? Tough one there. What were they doing? After they found out all they could about these things Ray was seeing, what, if anything, they could do about them. Just go on and live their lives as though there was nothing out there at night? Not possible. Capture one? That seemed so side-show tacky. Tell the world about them? Yeah, right. They both had always secretly wanted to be complete social outcasts and local loonies. Or maybe not. By the time dessert rolled around, they had settled on finding out all they could about the climbers and keeping quiet about it for the time being. And well into the foreseeable future.
That first order of business after lunch- calling Gilbert Lawrence in Denver, had them heading for home on that bright May afternoon. It was well past two o'clock when they rolled up in to the driveway. Time to call. Now. Ray left the car outside in the driveway and they both headed for the front door. Key out and front door straight ahead, Ray Meadows stopped dead in his tracks, with his wife running in to him from behind. No brake lights on blue jeans. Ray was staring down in front of himself at the front porch floor. He was not blinking, nor was he likely to any time soon. Barbara was at a loss to explain the sudden halt.
"What? What's wrong?"
"Right there. On the porch. In front of the door mat."
"Yeah? A scrape. Your point?"
"A scrape. Just like the ones on the shingles."
Barbara walked around Ray to get a better look. Then she bent down and sat down to get an even better look. That was a scrape all right. No doubt about it.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Same three-pronged pattern. The climber is also a front porcher."
Ray started to look around the front porch as though he'd never been there before. He was seeing it all for the first time again.
"Did you come out this way this morning?"
"No, I went out the back to get my gardening tools from the garage."
"When was the last time we really came out the front door?"
"Other than to just get the paper?"
"I have no idea. It's been a while."
"So this could have been here for days."
"Now we call Mister Gilbert Lawrence in Denver."
Now it was Ray's turn to bend down for a closer look. He ran his hand over the scrape, as if he could tell more from the touch. In fact, he could have if he had realized it. His hand came away from the scrape with bits of paint on the finger tips. This was a fresh scrape. As in last night, or the night before at the most. All Ray saw was a scrape and now one dirty hand. He wiped his hand on his jeans and opened the front door. They went inside, with both of them giving the scrape one last look as they went inside. Time for the telephone.
Ray decided the best place to call from was up in the computer room. He would have all the on-line information at his disposal there. Up they went, two steps at a time. Both Barbara and Ray settled in by the screen. Ray called up the first page of Gilbert's "Climbers in America" file and picked up the phone. Oh, boy, here we go. A long distance call to Nut City. Mister Gilbert Lawrence answered on the first ring with all the intensity that blurry photo might suggest. And then some.
"Mister Lawrence, Ray Meadows calling. Saw your file on the Internet."
Ray wasn't sure exactly how to progress from here. He had been hoping for a more congenial response. Outta luck, here, Buckaroo. Ok, how should he put this?
"We've got a climber in our back yard."
That did it, Ray. I think you've loosened things up a bit. Let's see.
"You've got one in your yard? You've actually managed to trap one? How did you do that? What's it doing right now? Where are you?"
Yeah, Ray, that loosened him up quite a bit. Too bad you can't tighten him down some now.
"Whoa, whoa- WHOA! We didn't trap it. I've seen it, that's all. I don't know what these things are, but your photo-drawing on the 'net and the thing in the tree out back could be brothers."
"You've got one. Do you know how rare that is?"
"No, but they don't seem to be a hot topic around the office water cooler."
"No, they aren’t. Did you check out the sightings map?"
"Yeah, I did. They look pretty evenly distributed, except for the Southwest."
"I guess they are, except of one thing: Those location points are for sightings that go all the way back to 1948."
"Meaning . . . . ?"
"Meaning, Mister Ray Meadows, that there are only around two sightings a year somewhere in the U.S. Sightings where somebody sees a climber and realizes it's NOT somebody's loose monkey."
"I thought we had a loose exotic cat out here for awhile. Maybe a leopard."
"Ok, I can see that. Sure. So, when did you see this climber?"
"The first time was in late March, I think-"
"You've seen it more than once?"
"Well, yes. I saw it again, up close and personal last night."
Last night? That was last night? Seemed like eons ago to Ray. He'd been running in top gear all last night and today. Hard to believe that some fourteen hours ago he was standing in his own back yard, watching some blue weirdness dance across the grass and leap into invisibility in a tree. Was that just last night? It was.
"Close? How close? How close did you get to it?"
"More like how close did it get to me. Maybe twenty-thirty feet. Why?"
"Why? Why! Because just your two sightings are almost as much as anybody in this country has EVER seen. And twenty or thirty feet? Most sightings are at over a hundred feet, if that. You'd take the prize for close call of the Century, Mister Meadows."
"Call me Ray."
"Ok, Ray- where are you?"
"I'm calling from my home, why?"
"No, no no. Where do you live? What city? What state?"
"Oh. Sorry. Greenwood. I'm in Greenwood, Indiana. Just south of Indianapolis."
"Let's see. Ok, got it. I'm adding your two sightings to the map."
"Look, Mister Lawrence-"
"Gill? Ok, Gill- Look, I've got some questions."
"Like what are these things? Where did they come from? And why aren't they public knowledge?"
"I don't know, I don't know and nobody knows."
"Ok: What are they? I don't know. They look simian- monkey-like- but they aren't. The coloring is all wrong, for one thing. Blue. There are no blue animals. Where did they come from? Take a guess. A government experiment gone bad? Alien life forms? Mutant evolution? Kids in body suits? I only discount that last one. They are NOT kids in body suits."
"So why aren't they public knowledge?"
"Good question. Yetis are public knowledge. Flying saucers are public knowledge. People still see Elvis from time to time. But these things are different."
"Why is that?"
"Nobody sees them. And those that do don't usually get a good enough look to know that they aren't seeing something normal. These climbers don't want to be seen. You see a blurry movement out of the corner of your eye at night, and when you turn your head, there's nothing there. No big deal. It was dark. Could have been anything. Happens all the time, doesn't it?"
"Until one goes sliding across your roof and rips off a shingle."
"A climber stole part of your roof? That's incredible!"
"No, not at all. It slipped on the roof. One of the shingles it landed on was pulled loose from the force. I found it in the yard."
"You saw this?"
"No. I heard this. And I still have the shingle. Somewhere."
"Let me get this straight: A climber slid across your roof hard enough to tear off a shingle, and you have that shingle in your possession right now?"
"That pretty much sums it up, yes."
"Mister Meadows- Ray- you may hold the answer to the $64,000 question in that damaged shingle."
"What do you mean?"
"Tell me, did it hit hard enough to leave a mark?"
"It hit hard enough to tear the shingle in half. Its foot print nearly ripped completely through the shingle."
"WOW! That's it! We've got it!"
"No Gill, we have a foot print. That's it. The animal- whatever it is- is still out there. Loose."
"Yeah, but these things don't wear shoes, do they? Any material imbedded in that shingle that isn't part of the shingle must have come from the climber's foot. If there's enough there, it can be tested. The DNA pattern will tell us what it is. Or isn't. We could solve the mystery once and for all. Crutchfield will be thrilled beyond words. I can't wait to tell him."
"Crutchfield? Who's that?"
"Arthur Crutchfield. He was one of the first people to see one. Or at least, to really to admit it. Wrote a book about it."
"Ok, what book?"
"In Search of Sanity."
"I saw a reference to that title on the 'net menu under 'night climbers'. I thought it was a mistake."
"So did Crutchfield for a while. He's much better now, though."
"What do you mean?"
"His book wasn't very well received. Everyone thought he was writing a piece of fiction. The more he insisted it wasn't, the more people thought he was crazy. He was institutionalized for a while in the fifties, but he's doing pretty good these days."
"And he saw these things back in the fifties?"
"No, before that. During the war. In a park in London."
"Ok, in the early forties, in London?"
"Yes. You really should read this book. Or talk to him."
"No problem. What's his number?"
"Wrong question. No number. No phone."
"Ok, where is he? I could send him a letter."
"That was not a voice of encouraging optimism. What's wrong with sending him a letter?"
"He may not answer you. He may not even read the letter."
"He's not interested any more?"
"Oh, he's interested. He's just a bit of an eccentric."
"So where is he?"
"Just outside London. But you really should read his book first, before you try to contact him."
"You're right. I'll check around for it here, and look up that page on the 'net. What is that?"
"Sort of a fan club- sightings club thing. They're ok, but they've got a lot of false sightings and information in there."
"Worth a look?"
"Everything's worth a look, Ray. Just don't let it change your view."
"Ok. What should I do about this thing in the back yard?"
"Ignore it. Pretend it isn't there. If you try to get near it, or try to see it, it might get skitterish and move on. They don't seem to like to move, but they will if people get too close. You have any old trees near your house?"
"Oh, yes. Definitely. One big one. Maybe two hundred years old in the next yard."
"It's probably living up in that tree. So don't go near it. Just pretend it isn't there. Go on with your life. That's the only was to be sure you might see it again. And let me know if you do."
"I will. One last thing."
"Is it dangerous?"
For a moment, Ray thought the phone line had gone dead. Or maybe Gilbert Lawrence had hung up. The silence on the other end was complete.
"Hello? Gill? You there?"
"I'm here. Tough question."
"A simple yes or no will do."
"No, it won't. These things aren't dangerous in the usual sense."
"Meaning . . . . ?"
"They won't eat you."
"Ok, that's good."
"Yeah, that's something, I guess. But they aren't harmless, either."
"Well, it's tough to put into words. They change you. Seeing one makes you different somehow. I'd have to say it's like people who claim they've seen UFO's, or something like that. Everyone else figures they're a nut case now. So in that respect, these things are dangerous. If you tell people what you've seen, they'll avoid you, if you're lucky. And lock you up if you're not."
"So I shouldn't mention this at parties?"
"I wouldn't mention this in my sleep."
"You can sleep?"
"Oh, yeah. The insomnia doesn't last. You'll sleep better in a month or so- if you don't see it again."
"Great- any other advice?"
"Whatever you do- don't touch it."
"Like I'd get that close."
"You won't- but it might. It's happened before. One guy saw one, and slept out in his back yard to see it again. This climber must have been curious- maybe a young one- and it came up to him as he slept."
There was a silence on the line as both men thought about the scene.
"Ok, you've got me on pins and needles here- What happened?"
"He woke up- just slowly opened his eyes, and there it was, just above him in the tree. It was reaching down to touch him or something and he grabbed at it."
"Big mistake. Don't ever touch one."
"No, they really don't like to be touched."
"That's it? Come on."
"No, there's more. He grabbed it, but it was covered in a sort of slippery fur, as this guy described it. But the weird thing was the shock."
"Did I stutter?"
"No. What kind of shock?"
"Like a low voltage electrical charge. Not enough to hurt, but enough to razz you. This guy felt some sort of charge go through him until the climber pulled free. Needless to say, that was the last he ever saw of it."
"But he was ok, right?"
"What was wrong?"
"He couldn't sleep at night. Daytime, no problem. Big Snooze City. But at night? Forget it. Cost him his job, and his family was ready to lock him up as a nut case. They would have, too."
"Why didn't they?"
"He found out what they wanted to do and just ran away. Fled the scene. Gave it all up and moved to a little town in Illinois, two thousand miles from his family. They don't even know where he is."
"But you do?"
"Yep. He calls from time to time. He thinks he's found a hotbed of climber activity."
"In a small town?"
"No. In the old trees around it."
"So where is he now?"
"Look on the sightings map, Ray. It should be obvious."
"Ok, I will. Listen, Gill, you've been a great help. I feel a lot better about this."
"Don't. Just call me if you see it again."
Ray Meadows hung up the phone and turned off the computer. He'd look up the sightings map another time. And maybe that Crutchfield guy, too. For now, he was content to just sit back and relax. He had found out more about these climbers than he had hoped. What questions he had could wait.
Barbara had been more than patient, listening to Ray's side of that conversation. Now she wanted to know what was said on the other end of that line. What did Gilbert Lawrence say? Was he some sort of nut? And what were those things, anyway? Ray explained what he could and was more than generous in his assessment of Mister Gilbert Lawrence. Probably not a nut. Just some guy with an odd hobby. Or maybe an odd guy with just some hobby. And a great imagination. The climbers really were blue, and not really overly dangerous. The Meadows spent the rest of that Saturday afternoon relaxing in the back yard shade. Ray had not bothered to relate the warning about touching these things. Why get her all worked up? They chatted about this and that and nothing. It was a perfect lazy day with summer almost upon them.
But Ray was still thinking about all he had learned with that phone call. They live in the trees? Really? Maybe they were up there right now, sleeping through the daylight hours. He tried to look, without looking like he was looking. No sense in bothering Barbara. What was up there? Just limbs and leaves, as far as he could see. Nothing else. Nothing blue. Not right now.
By late afternoon, Barbara got up out of her chair and went back into the house. Maybe it was time for dinner. Lunch at April's was good, but nothing good lasts forever. She was hungry. Must be dinner time. She made her way to the kitchen to examine the options for tonight's menu. Ray had dozed off in his chair, oblivious to his surroundings. The last twenty-four hours and been the proverbial action packed roller coaster for Ray. A little cat nap would do him good. She let him sleep.
Ray stayed put in his chair in the back yard. The shadows lengthened, then covered the yard completely. As evening approached, Ray was entirely too comfortable, snoozing- and snoring- in that chair out back. Barbara could see him though the kitchen window as she worked on dinner. He looked so peaceful sleeping out there. At least all this weirdness hasn't got to him. Must be nice. Barbara was not so calm, cool and collected. A daytime nap was out of the question. Too much to think about now.
Thinking your husband is nuts is one thing, and she could deal with that. After all, she'd known him for years, and he did occasionally get a bit, well, eccentric. But up to now, he was the only one. Now Mister Eccentric has a buddy: Mister Gilbert Lawrence. Barbara had a bad feeling that these two would fan the fires and turn this whole thing into something far more than it was. What ever it was. And it couldn't be much, could it? After all, it sounded like only about four people in the whole country have seen these things. So it's no big deal, right? Well, no, it's no big deal. Except for this: By this time next week, Mister Eccentric will have a gun. Ain't that nice?
Barbara knew that Ray was no Marshall Dillon. He had never fired a gun, and probably had never even held one until they went to that darkened gun shop. So, she reasoned, keeping that little item somewhat hidden and out of his reach should pose no problem. Especially if she hid the bullets somewhere else. Maybe Jake Jacobson had something going there: Forget gun control. Let them have all the guns they want. Just no bullets. What's the worse that could happen? He'd drop the thing on his foot? Hide the bullets. This could work. By the time dinner was ready, it was dark outside, but Barbara Meadows was feeling bright and sunny. The situation was under control. Just the way she liked it.
Time to go get Ray. She knew he'd be a bit groggy, having slept for a while in that chair out back. Better wake him up slowly. No need to alarm him. It's just dinner for two. No climbers invited. Barbara stepped out the back door, and the yard lights came on. It wasn't totally dark yet, but the first bright stars were out. The sky ranged from deep blue in the west to black in the east. A perfect night following a perfect day. Not a bad planet to live on, even if they did have to share. Halfway between the house and the husband, Barbara caught a movement in the tree above Ray. What was that?
She stopped dead still in the yard. Nothing moved. Not her, not Ray, not a leaf in that old tree. No wind, no noise, nothing. Seconds turned into minutes and the yard lights went off. She knew they'd come back on the moment she hit one of those beams. Mentally, she tried to diagram the beam paths across the yard. How far could she go, how close could she get, without tripping that beam again? The answer was: Not very. She and Ray had done too good a job for her to be sneaky now. Too bad. She was convinced she saw something move in that tree. Something just above Ray. This was not good. When wild animals lose their fear of humans, bad things happen. Usually to both. Ok, think, Barbara: What's your next move? The easy one? Just walk over there, lighting up the yard and wake up Ray? Or try to be stealthy and maybe catch a glimpse of- of what? A squirrel? The neighbor's cat? That infamous loose leopard? Or a climber? She decided to go with the blundering dumb approach. Maybe in the long run it would be the best. It was certainly the easiest. She took a few steps backwards, towards the house, until she tripped the beam and the yard lights came back on.
Doing her best carefree wife routine, she then walked right over to Ray to wake him up for dinner. She was too late. He was wide awake and staring straight up into the tree. She did her best to keep up appearances.
"Hey there sleepy head, time for dinner."
"Did you see it? You must have seen it."
"What? See what?"
"The climber. It was right above me. I saw it come out of the tree."
Ok, Barbara, plan B. Go for incredulous. It might work.
"No. Really? When?"
"Just now. I'd been watching it for quite a while before the yard lights came on earlier. It just blended back into the tree for a while. I thought it was gone, but it didn't move. Not until you walked up. It fled when the lights came back on."
"That's incredible. How close was it?"
She really didn't want to know, but knew she had to ask.
"I don't know- how far is that big limb up there? The one that splits into two?"
"Whew, I don't know. Thirty feet? Twenty?"
"Ok, then it was half way down from there. Ten feet- maybe fifteen?"
Barbara was stunned. And not very happy about it.
"That's too close."
"What do you mean? It was incredible. Like watching a nature show on A&E without the commercials or droning narration."
"Come on, Ray, dinner's ready. It's dark out here."
"Yeah, ok. I'm coming."
Ray got up with one last look up into the tree. Nothing there. Really. Barbara found herself doing the same thing. Couldn't help it. Still nothing there. They went back into the house, and the kitchen lights were turned on. In a few minutes those outside yard lights would go off and the yard would be dark, except for the glow from the lights in the house. The tree, above the first floor windows, would be in total darkness. It was night time.
"So- Are you going to call Gilbert Lawrence back and tell him to add one sighting?"
"No, I don't think so. I don't want to be a pest."
"One pest in the back yard is enough?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah- I guess."
"You said you say it came out of the tree? You mean like on the ground?"
"No- I saw it- uh- emerge from the trunk. Sort of."
"It lives inside the tree? Like in a hollow trunk?"
"Ok, we'll go with that. I guess that's what I saw. But you know, I've never noticed a hole in that tree. Not one big enough to hide something like this, anyway."
"Yeah, you'd think we'd have seen a big hole in that tree, as often as we go climbing up there."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that up until this now, we've pretty much ignored that tree. And all the others."
"Ok, Miss "I-Sound-Like-I've-Got-A-Plan", what do you suggest?"
"I suggest we keep ignoring it."
"Because that's the only way you're going to see this thing."
"Look, this thing, whatever it is, is very shy. Doesn't want to be seen. Hides in the daytime."
"I'm with you so far."
"So- if you want to see it, you've got to act like you don't want to see it. Like you don't know it's there, and don't care if it is."
"I've got to play hard-to-get?"
"Can a man do that?"
"Well, it's against the rules, but I'll try. Promise you won't tell?"
"I promise. Now eat."
He ate. They both ate. And very little was said concerning climbers over the course of the evening's meal. They both worked hard to avoid the subject. And, if you must know, Ray really hadn't been entirely truthful that evening. No, he didn't lie. He could never do that. But he could sort of omit some details and maybe not say as much as he knew. Or tell everything he saw.
And what did he see? Really? Well, he saw that climber emerge from the tree. But he never described how it happened from his point of view on the ground, looking up. Ray was a very lucky boy. He saw the whole thing. Only one other living person in the whole world had seen that, and Arthur Crutchfield was considered a certifiable nut case for what he said he saw. Now two people knew better.
It was just pure luck that Ray had not been asleep in that chair when the sky darkened to night. He woke up earlier and decided to play a game he used to play as a kid. Watch the stars come out. As the sky went to black, he strained to see up through the tree into the night sky. He was working hard at spotting the stars as they became visible against that deep blue background. One by one, the bright ones first, the stars were showing up in the new night sky. Ray was looking hard into infinity and beyond, his eyes focused on the sky, when he caught the first smooth movement in the tree. He shifted his focus without having to move his head. Just a movement of his eyes, and the sky and stars were a blur. The tree was in focus, somewhere above half way up on the side of the main trunk. It looked to Ray as through the trunk was splitting apart, but there was no noise. Surely, this should be making some sort of horrible noise, even going this slow. Nothing. No screeching of tearing wood. No loud crack of splintering timbers. And no rain of bark and wood falling down on Ray. What was going on up there? As he watched, the piece of the trunk that split way from the tree began to change color. From the mottled blacks and browns of the trunk's bark, it shifted to- blues. Blues and blacks. Except where it was still attached to the tree. Still black there. Then Ray caught some movement at the top of it. It was turning its head. It was a climber. Having slept all day in the tight fork of the tree, it was waking up and having a look around. Those huge black eyes blinked once, then twice. It was checking things out. Good morning. Or evening, as the case may be.
Ray thought about it. It was invisible against the tree. This climber had slept all day right there? Looking like part of the trunk? Maybe it did. He was sure he saw that color shift. From browns and blacks to blues and blacks. It was a chameleon. It could change colors. Ray still hadn't moved a muscle. The climber had looked all around, then began to move down in the tree. No sound, no odd movements. Just a silent, smooth flow down the tree. It moved through the tree as though it weighed nothing, and had no trouble gripping the tree. Ray saw that only one of those assumptions were correct. He knew it had weight. But it had no trouble gripping the tree. Those hands and feet were perfect for tree climbing.
By the time the climber had stopped climbing, it was just a dozen feet or so above Ray. Ray could see why it was so proficient at climbing. Claws? Talons? Really long fingernails? What were those things? Not shiny, but some sort of dulled black, this thing had long fingers and nearly as long toes. And those hands- those fingers- they looked to be layered. Not just one nail, or whatever it was, on the end, but layers of them running along the inside of each finger. This thing had a fist full of claws on each hand. No wonder it could climb like that. He could see that characteristic three-toed pattern now as well. Multiple layers there, too. Hooves within hooves? Something like that. Was this the one that ripped that shingle loose? Maybe, but it's certainly graceful tonight. It was a wonder to Ray that this thing could slip at all. It looked to be built for grip. It had stopped, and for the first time- that Ray had noticed, anyway- it looked right down at Ray. Right into his eyes.
When an animal looks at you, you can usually get some idea of what it might be thinking. This thing looked at Ray, and Ray was left with no feeling at all. He couldn't tell what it was thinking. He couldn't tell what he himself was thinking. To say it looked right through him would only begin to describe the feeling it left him with. For that second or so their eyes locked, Ray felt utterly helpless. Couldn't move, couldn't speak. Couldn't even look away. This thing in the tree could have climbed right down and taken his wallet. Or ripped out his heart. It didn't matter. Ray couldn't move. Barbara chose that moment to open the back door and step out, turning the yard lights on.
The climber broke eye contact with a sudden look toward the house. In the next instant it had leapt straight up over ten feet in the tree and its color shifted somewhat. It began to blend back in with the tree. Ray regained some of his limited sense, and still tried to follow it with his eyes. Some guys never learn. The climber had only half blended into the tree. Ray could still see its head, and those black eyes, watching him, watching Barbara, watching everything at once. Ray felt the feeling coming back to his hands and feet. He thought that he could maybe even stand up now, if he had a minute to work on it. No sudden moves, though. No way. Not yet.
Barbara had obviously seen something. She was stopped in the middle of the yard. She must have seen it move up in the tree. Now what? She's not moving. Is it looking at her? Is she as frozen as he was? Ray didn't think so. He felt fine now. The climber would look his way every few seconds, as if Ray would start climbing up there after it. Not very likely. But its look didn't have the same terrifying effect at any sort of distance. Some small consolation. What is she doing over there? He could just see her at the corner of his vision. Standing. Just standing. Come on, Barb- DO SOMETHING! The yard lights went out. Ray's feeling of helpless terror came back. Where is that thing?
That thing hadn't moved since its initial leap up and away from Ray. It had blended in with the tree trunk and was content to stay that way for the next week or two if need be. It wouldn't be the first time. Those black eyes kept looking- down at Ray, out at Barbara. You would have had to be less than a foot from its face to detect any eye movement. They were that totally black. Even at a foot away, you'd just see the skin of the eyelids shift over those huge egg-shaped eyes with their movement. The eyes never changed. Just that deep shiny black, with perfect reflections of everything it saw. And it saw everything. Contrary to what Ray had assumed, it could see in daylight. Didn't like to, but it could. For climbers, night time was their time: Late night and early morning. Total darkness wasn't total for them. They could see just fine when you or I couldn't see our nose in front of our face. Cats were night blind by comparison. With those yard lights off again, the climber was only slightly less nervous. The two people in the yard kept it wary. And neither of them was moving. The climber watched. The one directly below it was still motionless, but calm. Not a threat. The one over there in the yard was something else. Was what? The climber sensed that Barbara was not a predator. But not prey, either. Nervous, but not hungry. The climber sniffed the air silently. The thing below the climber had a scent it recognized but gave out no indication of intent. The one away from the tree smelled like- flowers. This was confusing. There were no flowers to be seen on that animal. Certainly not as many as it could smell. This made the climber more uncomfortable. Something was wrong here. Not right. Flee. Now. The one that smelled like flowers began to move. The climber saw this before the light beam could detect it. When the yard lights came on for the second time, the climber had made the choice- and it was long gone. There are other trees in other places for tonight. These two could stay there all night. This one was gone.
When Barbara decided to play it dumb and just go for Ray without admitting what had happened or what she had seen, Ray also made a decision. He wouldn't tell Barbara all that he had seen. Neither of them needed another cat-and-mouse game, but that's the way it happened. You don't tell me, I won't tell you. So Ray could play dumb, too. And he did. After dinner, Ray decided maybe it was time to start making some sort of record of all that had happened. He excused himself and headed for that upstairs computer room. Time to open a file and fill a disk. Past time.
After dinner, Ray Meadows was safe in his own little asylum. That converted bedroom on the second floor was filled with computer hardware that was humming its heart out tonight. He had started with a detailed accounting of everything that had happened concerning the climbers. He tried to remember every detail of every thing. He found himself constantly going back and forth through the increasingly large file, adding things as he remembered them, more and more details. Who did he talk to? What did they say? What happened then? All the dates, all the times, all the details. It was making him crazy just trying to remember it all and keep it in order. Before he knew it, Barbara was in the room. And he was dog-tired. What time was it? That clock couldn't be right.
"It's eleven-thirty. You coming to bed?"
That clock was right. How'd it get so late?
"Ah, maybe in a while. I just wanted to put some of this in writing before I forget the details."
"Of everything. Well, everything about the climbers. I never did write anything down. I think now maybe I should."
Barbara was tired, and not about to argue. Let him tap away in here all night if he wants to. He's done it before.
"You're probably right. Don't work too late."
"I won't. Be there in a few minutes."
Barbara shuffled off to bed, convinced that Ray wouldn't be there in the next few hours, let alone the next few minutes. She had seen that look in his eyes before. The one man all-night computer party. Ray, for his part, really thought he would be finishing up in there and heading off to bed rather soon. The next few minutes. He really thought that. Shows what little control we really have over ourselves. Or Ray, anyway. He looked back at the computer screen. Just a couple more things and he'd be done. Almost there. Sure, Ray, sure.
With his detailed account of Everything Climber done, Ray took the time to back it up on two other disks. Can't have too many copies, you know. And now Ray Meadows was ready to go to bed. He was. Really. It's just that- well, you know how it goes. In the process of closing the different files and applications, he would suddenly think of something else he wanted to look at. Like that climbers sightings map Gilbert Lawrence maintained as part of his Internet site. So Ray signed on and found the map. Just a quick look. Then off to bed. Of course, Gilbert had mentioned that other guy- the one that the climber touched. Where was he now? Gill said it would be obvious. Ok, so where? Ah- right there. Had to be. South Central Illinois. South of Mount Vernon, east of Carbondale. Not too far away, actually. One state to the left. Let's zoom in and have a look. How detailed is your map, Mister Lawrence? Hey, not bad: The town of Lyndon. Lyndon, Illinois. Smack dab middle of not much down there, is there? Let's see: The roads are mostly straight lines. Smells like farming country to me. Ok, so some guy in Southern Illinois sees them all the time, down on the farm. What does that prove? That he's nuts? Or that there really are a bunch of climbers in the rural Midwest? Might be worth the drive over there one weekend this summer. Is there even a motel within fifty miles? But not now- off to bed, Ray. Shut this thing down and go sleep. You're not sleepy? And why might that be, Mister Meadows? Busy day? Too much coffee? Or is it that every time you close your eyes you see those two deep black eyes staring right back at you again? Hmmm?
Ray wrote down the name of the little town, and some basic reference points so he could find it on another map. He logged out of Gilbert's climber home page and was all set to shut down the computer for the night when something else caught his eye. You know how it is with us guys: We'll chase a bright shiny object off a cliff. The bright shiny electronic image that caught Ray's eye was the reference to Arthur Crutchfield. Someone here in the U. S. was maintaining a home page for an eccentric Englishman. Ray- for once in his life- resisted the temptation. He jotted down the information about the Crutchfield home page and where to find it. He turned the computer off. He really did. Not tonight. All the hard drives and CDs stopped spinning about one a.m. The silence always amazed Ray. You never realized how much background hum those things put out until you shut them down late at night, with no other noises around to fill in the gaps. Man, did it get quiet quick. In the resulting audio vacuum, Ray felt very sleepy. He had stayed up later, many times, but it had been a long day. Time for bed. Right now. Ray turned the lights off as he headed down the hall for bed.
To Be Continued...
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Copyright 1996,2010, Chip Haynes
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