They Walk Among Us, Chapter 90: A Four Legged, Four Armed, Four Eyed, Fur Bellied Sneetch

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The Diamond Paws mystery was taking over my life. No human alive, except of course for those champions of denial, the head-in-sand crowd, could ignore the presence of an unknown, very large, potentially very dangerous creature of a size that might well make a full grown grizzly bear look puny. I’m not by nature a curios person; give me enough information to tackle the job in front of me and I’ll take it from there. But throw a clue or two in my face that hints at a presence so alien it might truly be from another planet, or heck, another dimension, and I become as obsessed as the next guy.

This was what I’d learned about myself, struggling to understand what we were facing. An old black and white TV rerun kept running through my mind. I couldn’t remember the name of the program, but the high I.Q. robot kept saying, Insufficient data.

No kidding.

Jennifer Trace, Jack Hill, my uncle B.J., Sissy Harms, and the old tracker, Horace Tamblyn, were comfortably gathered at Jen’s kitchen table for our usual monthly owner’s meeting, but there was nothing usual about the only topic on the agenda. Nor were most of those present owners in the literal paperwork sense. Bottom line, I reigned supreme as the sole owner of Rodeo Iron and the widow Trace held the reins for everything else, the more than ten thousand acres of foothills ranch land bordering the Bob Marshall Wilderness…but the others were all invested deeply in one way or another. We were a composite, a laminated beam holding the structure together.

Some of us had killed to protect and preserve what we had. All of us had fired shots in anger–as the saying goes, though in mortal combat, for me at least, anger isn’t in it.

“Horace,” I said, reaching for another cinnamon roll to go with my third mug of coffee, “why don’t we start with you.”

“Figured you’d say that.” The tracker brushed a few crumbs from his shirt and opened the folder lying in front of him on the table, consulting his notes. Not that he needed to refresh his memory; the man could recite chapter and verse for every track he’d ever followed in the past fifty years, should the need arise.

“As you all know, we’ve had four weeks to work on the problem since Sissy first spotted a Diamond Paws track out back of the welding shop. There hasn’t been a day since then that I haven’t been on the lookout, along with the rest of you. Diamond has…in my considered opinion, he–I’m calling it a he–has set up a rhythm of visitation here that tells me our sneaky caller is seriously attracted to the shop specifically, smart as Hell, and at the same time doing all he can to keep from being spotted.”

He paused, rubbing his titanium pinned leg. He never complained about it, but the weather had to be a problem. The temperature had hit seventeen degrees below zero during the night and wasn’t exactly skyrocketing toward the tropics even now.

“Which is more or less nothing new from what I had to report the first day out. But with the number of snow days we’ve had, Diamond has given me a bit more to work with. For one thing, I get the impression he’s slipping right up to that blindside north shop wall and sticking his ear right up against the steel siding. Presuming he’s got ears. I get the impression he’s listening to us, based partly on the fact that his wall-side paw tends to make a deeper track than his away-from-wall paw, more times than not.”

“You’ve not been able to spot him at all?” Jack Hill looked troubled, as we all were. With our security chief and our chief tracker taking turns on surveillance–not all day every day but at random periods–you’d think….

“Not at all.” Horace nodded his thanks to Sissy, who’d risen to grab the coffee pot and top off our drinks. “That is, not at the shop. Sissy and I’ve put our heads together; we’re convinced Diamond can sense our presence when we’re watching the place.”

“Hold on, Horace,” my tall dark lover interjected. “Remember what we discussed?”

The tracker nodded. “I was getting to that. Sissy came up with the idea that it’s maybe not our presence Diamond senses, but more our thoughts. That is, say I’m thinking, hey, I’d best get over to the blind, it’s time to sit in there for the next couple of hours, watching for old Diamond, our friend might sense that and stay away. But if someone were to wander into the area without thinking about wandering into the area, then maybe we could sneak up on him.”

Jennifer Trace looked up from taking notes and asked, “How did you come up with that, Sissy?”

“Don’t know.” She shrugged. “It just came to me.”

“Anyway,” Horace continued, “I got to thinking maybe she was onto something, so for the past ten days or so, I been doing what I could to think of something else entirely, not think about Diamond at all.”

“Which can’t be easy.” I chuckled. “How do you do search and surveillance without thinking about doing it?”

“True. It ain’t easy. But every hunter worth his salt knows that when you’re lining up a critter in your sights, you don’t want to be thinking too much about what you’re doing. It’s an art, yeah, but we all practice it. A deer or an elk can feel you thinking about putting a bullet through his lights; I’ve seen more than one rookie lose a shot that way. So anyway, I been practicing. It hasn’t worked so far from any of the surveillance posts Sissy and I set up, but I swung by there on Friday afternoon about two o’clock, just sort of meandering up along the fence line this side of the trees, thinking as hard as I could about decorating a Christmas tree in my cabin. Not that I got a Christmas tree in there, but I figured it’s the thought that counts. And I stopped alongside a corner post, my eyeballs just drifting along the forest edge, and danged if I didn’t spot something.”

We all leaned forward in our chairs. “And you said nothing until now?” B.J. cocked his trademark eyebrow, accusing.

“Nope.” The tracker didn’t look a bit repentant. “So far, Diamond Paws hasn’t given any indication of meaning us harm, so there was no immediate need. Main thing was, I only caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye. Couldn’t pin it down at first. But I’ve learned over the years, if I keep my trap shut for a while, let my mind work on it careful-like, I can sometimes sharpen the image. Which I did, a bit at least.” He picked out a number of copies from his folder and passed them around. “I ain’t saying this is what our diamondy visitor looks like for sure, but it’s close. Close enough, at least, we can use it for identification. There dang sure ain’t nothing else like it.”

Diamond Paws First Sighting 002

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said, stifling an impulse to laugh. “Looks kind of like a Dr. Seuss character, a sneetch or something.”

“Hey, Tree, I just sketched what I saw. Trust me, it didn’t look that cute and harmless out there in the woods. Not to the naked eye, it didn’t. That thing is big. But okay, it’s a giant sneetch.” Horace’s tone was defensive, a touch irritated. He was touchy about his artwork. “With four ground-covering legs that travel in a diamond pattern, four arms above the four legs, four eyes above the four arms, round eye sockets, fur all over except on the face, joints that move any which direction, but otherwise, the spitting image of a sneetch. Especially a star bellied sneetch.”

“Okay, okay.” I held up both hands, palms forward in a sign of surrender. I hadn’t intended to piss off our tracker. “I guess the resemblance isn’t really all that close.” I could see everyone else around the table trying to not to laugh, though. The sketch really did have a Dr. Seuss quality to it. “Hard to tell whether he’s coming or going, isn’t it?”

“It is in the drawing.” Horace was pretending to be mollified, but he was also carefully not looking at anyone but me at the moment. “Not when he’s on the move, but in a still shot like this, yes.”

I tapped my finger on the table, thinking. “I’m pretty sure it’s a good idea we decided not to let anyone outside of our inner circle know about this. Some of the welders are talkers; we’d have every crackpot on the planet coming up here with cameras and environmentalists wanting to put Diamond on the Endangered Species list and whatnot.”

“You know what I think?” Jennifer got up from her seat. “Anybody want pie?”

“I like how you think,” B.J. grinned at her. “I’ll take a pie or two.”

“You could.” The sixty-one year old widow, still a looker and healthy as a horse–so to speak, never mind that her ranch hands were treating several sick horses this month–punched the big man lightly on the shoulder as she passed his chair. B.J. went with it, flinching his three hundred pound body away from the blow, clapping his free hand over the spot, and screwing up his face as if he were in mortal pain.

“Aside from the pie,” she went on, nodding her thanks to Jack Hill as the ancient Protecter pulled a stack of plates from the cupboard, “I think it’s obvious our Diamond Paws is studying us for a specific reason. He’s repeatedly stood up against the shop wall with his ear–wait a sec. Are there any ears in your sketch?”

Horace answered absently, his eyes on the boysenberry pie. “No. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any. A lot of critters don’t have ears that you can see, and yet they hear just fine. Plus, Diamond could have itty bitty ears my quick glimpse didn’t notice, or maybe his ears don’t look like ears. Might hear out his ass for all I know.”

“If he has an ass.” Jack’s tone was dry.

Sissy twinkled at that, but she didn’t say anything. Jack had owned the big woman for a long time before I inherited her. Not that I kept her as a slave like the old man had. On the other hand, there were times I was quite certain she and Judi both owned me, and I was fine with that.

“Back to you, Jen,” I said. You were thinking what?”

She served me first, a full quarter, cherry pie. My favorite. Horace could have his boysenberry. B.J. glanced at my plate with undisguised interest. I got my fork ready to stab him if he tried. My oversized uncle didn’t have many addictions, other than toxic women, but Jennifer’s pie–no matter the flavor–was rapidly gaining a foothold in his affections.

“I was thinking Diamond is trying to learn our language.”

Whoa. My fork, loaded with the most precious tip piece of pie, stopped in midair of its own accord, halfway to my mouth. It made sense. What could an alien creature gain from the behavior Sissy and Horace–mostly Horace–had documented? If it had a steel wall fetish, there were other places to satisfy that. The welding process itself, maybe, the snap and spark and clang and all that. But most of all, conversation.

Benny Combs, Oscar Derough, Ulysses Castorio, and Melvin Grant all had work stations along that north wall. Two of the four were highly verbal; Oscar and Melvin yakked to each other constantly, pretty much closing their yaps only when one or the other was actually running a bead. No one else would put up with them, but their output was better than most despite their constant talking; I wasn’t about to fire them.

Jack looked highly amused. “If you’re right, Jennifer, and Diamond is learning English from listening to Derough and Grant, the result should be…interesting, to say the least.”

He was right about that. In the course of a week’s work, those two covered the bases and then some, from a relatively creative vocabulary of curses to whose wife was most inventive in bed to the ancient writings of Homer and the latest political dustup on talk radio.

“He’ll end up with a redneck accent, no doubt,” I agreed. But even if the ranch boss lady had intuited what Diamond was doing, that didn’t explain why he was doing it. Or when he’d decide he’d learned what he’d come to learn.

“Let’s think about that,” I suggested. “Assume Jennifer has nailed it. Diamond is here to learn our language. What do we know about anyone who might decide to learn a foreign language?” I noticed in passing that I was referring to the mystery critter as if he were merely another human studying French or German or Farsi.

B.J.’s bass rumble took the cue. “That’s fairly easy. One, he could be learning how to communicate with us, intending to make open contact at some unspecified future date. Two, he could be just plain insatiably curious; there are beings like that, curiosity killed the cat and all that. Three, he could be an enemy agent–don’t look at me like that; he’s cute, but he’s huge, and he could be–and he needs to understand our speech in order to plan an attack.”

“Four,” Horace put in, straight faced, “he could be a linguist from far off Linguon, planet of interstellar knowledge, here to study us primitive apes for his doctoral thesis at the University of Linguonia.”

It got quiet then, except for the sounds of pie eaters in action. We didn’t have all the answers yet, not by a long shot, but we had something. We had a sneetch. An eight foot long, four footed, four armed, four eyed, fur bellied sneetch.

For the moment, it would have to do. Sunday afternoon was coming right up, and I’d promised to watch the White Collar Brawlers marathon with my girls.

12 thoughts on “They Walk Among Us, Chapter 90: A Four Legged, Four Armed, Four Eyed, Fur Bellied Sneetch

  1. Well…maybe. That would certainly make the attraction to the welding shop logical. Just because the Lost in Space plot is a tad overused these days doesn’t mean there’s nothing to it. Hopefully, the Trace Ranch bunch will get to find out sooner rather than later. The worst case scenario, to my way of thinking, would be for Diamond Paws to just…disappear without explanation, never to be seen again.

  2. Interesting ideas, that Diamond can read minds and wants to learn the language… but why can’t he realize that he is leaving all these tracks in the snow? Is Diamond blind to the tracks?

  3. He could be blind to the tracks, couldn’t he? I never thought of that. It could be; I’ve noticed that wild animals as we know them seldom seem to worry about the tracks they leave behind, but you’d think a sentient linguist would understand the risk.

  4. Yes, Ghost, I would think that, but – then again – I’m a human being with human thought patters…. 🙂
    Another idea: what if the small group meets in the forest behind the welding shop and starts chanting HU? Could that open a communications channel with Diamond Paws before it is discovered by anyone else?
    Manny

  5. I’m inclined to think the sneetch is spying on Rodeo Iron specifically. Maybe he’s not learning English, but is learning what goes on behind the inner workings of Rodeo Iron.

    Is he a manufactured being? Or a true alien? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

  6. Shauna, what a fascinating thought, that Diamond paws might be manufactures… could he be a product of a genetic experiment? I don’t think so because of the unique movement features that are unlike any other earth creature, but it is still quite a possibility.
    I agree with you that it has a specific interest in Rodeo Iron, but – could it be another long lived individual that is taken to the right place at the right time by spirit? And, is it breaking any spiritual laws by its actions? Now, THAT is an stretch…. 🙂
    Manny

  7. Manny: Good thought. Jack Hill passed awareness of the Hu on to Treemin Jackson; both of their households–six Souls in total–are familiar with the Hu song and could certainly put together a plan of action…after work hours at the shop, when the welders would be less likely to get “sunburned” by the dramatically rising level of the vibrations in the area. But what if Diamond Paws couldn’t handle the Hu? Not everyone or everything can. I remember clearly a road trip I took in 1975, driving a 1974 AMC Gremlin and chanting the Hu for hours on end. It was almost too much for the car; the plastic knobs on the window cranks literally popped free of their moorings.

    Too much Light and Sound, too fast, could be disastrous. The right amount could open a communication channel…but what if opening that channel is opening Pandora’s box? The Rodeo Iron bunch can be mighty bold at times, but if they err on the side of caution in this instance, I certainly couldn’t blame them. Likewise, an overdose of the Hu could end up slamming the communication door shut as easily as it could end up opening it.

    I do suspect Jack at least, and probably Tree, are silently blessing the situation in the name of the Creator on a daily basis, but they haven’t volunteered any information about that and I’m reluctant to ask. Could be the Law of Silence applies….

    ——————————————-

    Sha: Very interesting indeed. I’ve heard nothing from either Jack or Tree to indicate they’ve thought of such a possibility, but a manufactured construct certainly isn’t out of the question when you think about it.

  8. Totally agree with you, Ghost. Too much HU can be an issue, which is why I usually keep my group HU chants to under 30 min, and often only 5-10 min so that the effects are gradual and gentle. I also always recommend that people keep their personal HU chants under 20 min. 😉

    Following your thoughts, I was thinking of having the group just do a quick 10 min chant to open inner channels, and then a quiet discussion that Diamond Paws could feel comfortable around. I would also do it in the time frame when Diamond Paws is usually around, so he could go to the forest site instead of the welding shop. The only risk is that Diamond Paws could lose control and become utterly violent…. Ugh! 🙂
    As a friend often tells me, intent is key.

    Thanks for the great reads!
    Manny

  9. Excellent suggestion, Manny…except that the Rodeo Iron group is not yet certain they want to help Diamond Paws feel comfortable. They don’t yet know enough about him, one way or the other. Which is, I suspect, good thinking on their part. I know Pam and I have, over the years, helped a number of folks feel a bit TOO comfortable around us…only to find that once we understood them deeply enough, we were not comfortable around THEM. There is of course an area of balance (sometimes a razor’s edge) between “There are no strangers, only friends I haven’t met.” and “The word for stranger in our language means enemy.” Which way it will go in the Diamond Paws case remains to be seen….(Insert suspense building music here.)

  10. Hi, Ghost. I hope all is going well for you and for Pam.
    I think you might have noticed our spammer posting here. Even though I believe in freedom of speech, I seriously dislike spammers, due to their rudeness and disrespect for other people.
    I will support any and all measures you take with those who don’t deserve to be named. 😉

    Manny

  11. Manny, I’ll be writing on a post on the trip, hopefully published by daylight.

    As for the spammers, only a few get through these days–thanks to the Akismet anti-spam plugin, which has already caught several MILLION spam comments that never showed up on the sight. I delete those that get through, marking them as spam–and then Akismet looks at that and says, “Okay, next time I’ll catch any that look like that.” Very smart program, that Akismet.

    The spammers seem to be figuring out that they’re wasting their automated electronic time on this site, too. A few months ago, as many as 35,000 comments per day were trying to hit us. Now it’s down to, usually, less than 1,000 per day. Quite an improvement.

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