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True Fright: Trapped Beneath the Iceand Other True Stories Scarier Than Fiction
By Pedersen, Ted
Tor BooksCopyright © 1996 Pedersen, Ted
All right reserved.
January 9, 1974, was the strangest night--and the scariest--that some residents of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, would ever experience.
Even before the sightings began, Police Officer Dennis Jones knew it was going to be "one of those nights." The fog was already thick as it crept in from the swamp that bordered the town. In the warm Florida night, the fog tasted like sour soup and made the officer's clothes cling to him like a damp blanket.
Jones was parked on a road near the beach taking a break from his night patrol, sipping on a soda [Coca-Cola], when the call came in over his radio. A careless driver, who probably thought there was no reason to slow down for a little night fog, had run over someone--or something. The report wasn't clear. But the accident was less than a mile away, so Jones was assigned to investigate.
It took less than five minutes for him to get to the spot, a long, straight stretch of road bordering the swamp just north of town. There was an Oldsmobile coupe parked at the side of the road. In the glow from his spotlight, Jones could see a large dent in the front left fender. The car had obviously run into something pretty big and at high speed to cause that much damage. But, amazingly, there was no sign anywhere of whatever it was.
Nobody, man or beast, could walk away from a collision like that, Jones thought to himself ashe left his patrol car and walked over to the Olds.
The young man, in his early twenties, was shaking as he sat behind the wheel. Jones told him to step out.
"It wasn't my fault," the man mumbled as he opened the car door.
"Just tell me what happened," Jones said. At this point, all the police officer knew was that the young man had flagged down a passing car and asked the driver to report the accident. That was in his favor. He could have simply driven off and the accident would have become just another unsolved hit-and-run statistic.
The young man gave his name as Henry Mathews. He was a senior at the local vocational college. "It wasn't my fault," he said again. "I wasn't speeding."
Jones looked at the dent in the Olds. "You were going pretty fast."
"Well...maybe I was a little over the limit. There isn't any traffic out here after midnight."
"You should always slow down when the fog comes in. It plays tricks on you."
Mathews slumped against the car. "Yeah. I know. I just didn't see it."
Mathews looked at Jones for a long moment before he replied. "I don't know. It was big and black. I thought it might be a bear. But it wasn't. And it wasn't a man. It was...something else."
"It was either a person or an animal. Which?" Jones was getting irritated.
Mathews shook his head. "I only saw it for a moment in the headlights. It wasn't like anything I've ever seen before."
The police officer pulled out his flashlight and searched the area around the car. There was what appeared to be black hair on the ground. Probably from a dog, Jones thought. It must have been a dog that Mathews had hit. He looked again at the dent in the car. But it must have been one huge dog to have dented the fender like that.
Jones next performed a routine investigation of the area beyond the car. Nothing. Weird, Jones thought. What kind of dog could sustain an impact that hard, then walk away...without a trace?
After the police officer finished taking the report, he determined that Mathews' car was safe to drive and let him go. Jones returned to his patrol. That was the end of his excitement for the night. Or so he thought.
Over the next two hours, a half-dozen reports of motorists' sightings of a mysterious "something" were reported to the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. And each report was similar to the story offered by Henry Mathews. Either a lot of people were seeing ghosts or there really was something strange out there in the night.
Jones took out a map of Fort Lauderdale and began to pinpoint each of the sightings. He saw a pattern form, based on when and where the sightings took place. Whatever the creature was, it had come out of the swamp north of town; then it seemed to have lost its bearings. Being hit by a car would tend to cause that. But now, based on the reports, it had circled around and was headed back toward the swamp.
It was three in the morning, his mid-shift break time, but Jones was too curious to quit now and drove back to where the first incident had occurred. That was where he knew the "something" was headed. And he planned to be there when it arrived.
But the road was empty when he got there. The fog had thinned and he could see that there was nothing suspicious in the area. Walking to the edge of the swamp, Jones thought he was too late. Whatever it was, it had vanished back into its lair.
Then he heard it. Footsteps. Something running. Muffled, like it was wearing tennis shoes or slippers. And it was coming straight toward the place where he was standing.
Jones turned in time to see it materialize out of the fog behind him. It was big and black, just like the thing described by Henry Mathews and the other dozens of sightings. But now, close up, it seemed even bigger and blacker than he had expected.
It moved upright on two feet, a shambling mass of hair and arms that lunged toward him.
He turned to run, then tripped and fell headfirst onto the soft, wet grass. For a moment, he could not move. He seemed to be paralyzed as he heard the thing coming closer...and closer.
Jones pushed himself out of the way just as the thing reached the place where he had been lying. It roared, like some monster out of a nightmare, as it stopped and turned and looked down at the helpless police officer.
Frantically, Jones stumbled to his feet. His hand reached to unclip the flap that held his pistol in its holster. He drew out the gun and aimed.
"Stop!" Even as he said it, the word sounded ridiculous. Whatever this thing was, it wasn't human.
It roared again. Jones fired one shot. It caught the thing in the shoulder, and only seemed to make it angrier. It suddenly came straight at him with a full head of steam.
Jones fired two more bullets. One missed, but the other hit it full in the chest. The thing jerked and fell backward a step. It seemed more surprised than hurt. Whatever it was, it was tough.
Jones didn't want to kill it. He wasn't even sure if he could. But he didn't know what else to do.
Then, before he could get off another shot, the thing turned and roared and headed off toward the swamp.
Jones could hear the splash as it entered the water. He waited for a long time before he got up the nerve to walk to the edge of the swamp.
The fog was thick now, so he couldn't see more than a few feet ahead. He heard splashes that became fainter, and then he heard nothing but the normal sounds of the night.
Jones sat down on the wet grass, feeling exhausted. His hands were still shaking. He looked out into the fog that shrouded the swamp. Whatever it had been, it was going home again.
Jones realized that the creature could have killed him if it wanted to, but didn't. Suddenly he was sorry he had shot it, but somehow he knew that the thing had survived his bullets, just as it had survived the earlier collision with the Olds.
Trying to think of what he would put in his report. Police Officer Dennis Jones slowly turned and walked back to his patrol car. Neither he nor anyone else from Fort Lauderdale ever saw or heard from the creature again
Copyright 1996 by Ted Pedersen
Excerpted from True Fright: Trapped Beneath the Ice by Pedersen, Ted Copyright © 1996 by Pedersen, Ted. Excerpted by permission.
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