Traveling Joe



Elise was on her way to the bathroom.  It was the middle of the night and the urge had awakened her.  Her modest, one-story home only had one bathroom, just down the hall from her bedroom.  She heard a gentle thump as she made her way down the hall, her mind clouded by a sleepy haze.  It did not occur to her that the sound was out of place until she was seated, doing what she had awakened to do. She turned the memory of the thump over in her head, becoming irritated.  The sound itself did not bother her as much as not knowing what it was. It sounded like it had come from outside but close.  Possibilities occurred to her, ranging from nothing to an attempted break-in.  She lived in a semi-rural area on a street lined with small houses like her own, which might as well have been abandoned at night.  Crime was rare but not unheard of, but raccoons were a more likely suspect than human criminals. They had been around before. Elise tried to remember where the thump had come from.  Near the living room?  Her living room was near the back of the house, behind the kitchen, with a door that led to the back porch.  The porch consisted of a wooden floor that extended from the house, surrounded by a railing, with just enough room for a table and chairs.  It was covered by a roof with hooks for hanging plants that she never used.  Elise realized that she had forgotten to bring in her birdfeeder before bed.  It was out there, just waiting to be raided by hungry raccoons.

            As she washed her hands, she decided to check the back porch.  She made her way down the hall and across the darkened living room.  She knew where the furniture was.  Soon she was at the window, looking out.  Her deck sat under moonlight, unmolested.  Beyond that, she could not see far.


            She heard it clearly that time, off to her left.  Had something bumped against the wall?  A vision of a raccoon chewing on the cord that led from her satellite dish to a fitting set in the wall behind her TV entered her head and she looked around for something to throw, inventorying the contents of the room by memory more than sight.  Paper! The local paper appeared, uninvited, near her front door every week and every week Elise put it in her magazine holder as if she were actually going to read it and threw out last week’s edition. She found her easy chair and groped the magazine holder on the floor next to it.  The paper was still rolled up inside a narrow plastic bag.  It felt tight and heavy as she held it by the edge of its bag and made for the back door.  Embarrassment over going outside without getting dressed tugged at her consciousness.

            The yard was dark.  It was a clear night with a moon, but Elise could only see the sky and the outline of her yard.  As she strode over the porch and around the corner, her attention was focused on the outline of the wall to the left of her deck.  Had something moved?  She heard a scratchy sound that seemed to be coming from where the wall of her home met the ground.

            “Ha!” Elise shouted, brandishing the newspaper.  She was hoping to spook the raccoon.  Silence.  She crept closer, still not sure if she was seeing something or not.  She swung the paper, striking the wall with a slap, and shouted again.  Something definitely moved that time.  Elise threw the paper, which flipped endways toward the something.  What happened next made the old woman shout with enough volume to wake a neighbor.


            Joe traveled on the highway in a cheap rented car that smelled funny.  He ignored the radio in favor of reading the exit signs and remembering how to get where he was going.  He was also thinking about what to ask her.  He would have to introduce himself with a smile and give her a sympathetic ear to get what he needed.  He found his exit, left the highway, passed a mall, turned at a light and began to meander down residential roads while looking for signs. Eventually, he found his destination.

            He parked on the street and stood next to his car, fishing in his wallet for his press pass.  He breathed and cleared his mind before going to the front door of a small house and ringing the bell.  After a moment, a woman answered the door.  He guessed she was sixty or sixty-five, tall and slim with white hair tied back, and wore blue jeans and a tee shirt.  Her face showed curiosity and suspicion and Joe assumed that she figured he might be a salesman.

            “Yes?” she asked.

            Joe smiled.  “Good afternoon, ma’am.  I’m Joe Viajero with the Valley Examiner and I’m looking for Elise Raynard.  Do I have the right house?”  He offered her the press pass.

            She smiled, examined the pass and handed it back to him.  “I’m Elise Raynard,” she prompted.

            Joe offered his hand and she shook it.  “I understand you had some excitement here a few days ago.  Would you be so kind as to grant me an interview?”

            Elise thought for a moment.  “Sure. Do we go somewhere?”

            “Up to you,” Joe answered, still smiling.  “We could talk here if you like, it won’t take long.”

            Elise nodded.  “Come in.” She turned and led him to the kitchen table where she offered him a seat and asked if he wanted a drink.  She had iced tea, lemonade and cola.  Joe accepted lemonade as she foraged in her refrigerator.  Before long, drinks were served and the two of them were sitting across the table from each other.

            Elise sipped her cola.  “Ready when you are.”

            Joe smiled again.  “Please tell me your story in your own words,” he requested.  He had his notepad and pencil ready.

            Elise paused with a far away look.  “It was last Tuesday.  No, Wednesday morning.  I heard a noise outside and went to see what it was.  Turned out to be some kind of weird animal.  It rushed me.  I’ve never seen anything like it.”

            Joe looked alarmed.  “It just went after you?”

            “Um,” Elise paused.  “I threw a newspaper at it.  I figured it was a raccoon or something and I wanted to scare it off.  It was not a raccoon.”

            Joe looked up from writing as she spoke, with a silly grin.  “Not the Valley Examiner?”

            Elise snickered.  “Until today, I didn't know there was a Valley Examiner.”

            Joe made a face, showing mock disappointment, and then was back to business. “What was it,” he asked gently.

            “I don’t know,” Elise answered, enjoying telling her story.  “It was about the size of a small dog, gray with no hair and had a trunk like a little elephant.  I remember big black eyes and claws.  It came right at me.  I’ve never seen anything move so fast.  It knocked me down and scratched me.  Then it ran off.  I called for help and my neighbor Frank came.  His wife called the police and they called animal control.  Is that how you heard about it?”

            “Something like that,” Joe admitted.  “Did it make any noise?”

            “It hissed,” Elise imitated a loud, angry hissing.  “The animal control guy called you?”

            Joe paused.  “Confidential source.”  He smiled and shrugged.  “I hope you were not seriously injured.”

            Elise rolled up her sleeve.  A piece of duct tape covered her upper arm, with tissue peaking around the edges.  “Nothing.”

            “Did you receive treatment?  Did the police look at it or call someone?”  Joe was writing again.

            “The cop offered, but I said no.  It’s nothing and I don’t need medical bills.  I took care of it myself.”

            “I hope you’re healing well,” Joe said.

            “I disinfected the scratch,” Elise reassured him.  “It really is nothing.”

            “I’d like to take a picture of it, with your permission of course,” Joe told her with an embarrassed smile.

            “You’ll print that?” Elise asked.  Although she seemed surprised, Joe was relieved that she was not offended by the suggestion.

            “Maybe,” he began.  “I usually take pictures of everything I can.  Injuries, people, places where something happened and so on.  How many I use depends on where the story goes.  Just the one sighting would probably be a paragraph or two without pictures, but if there are more attacks, I might be working on a series of articles with a comparison of evidence.”

            Elise sat up straight and her eyes narrowed.  “There have been other attacks?”

            Joe laughed off the question.  “Not as far as I know, but it’s my job to find out for sure.”

            Elise relaxed.  “You’re welcome to take pictures.”

            Joe grinned with gratitude.  “Thank you. I’ll poke around after our interview, OK?”  Elise nodded.

            Joe took a quick look at what he had written on his notepad.  “After it rushed you, where did it go?”

            “Don’t know,” Elise answered.  “I was on the ground and it was gone, I didn't see where.  It was fast!”

            “Your neighbor, Frank, found you,” Joe said.  “Did he see it?”

            “He told the police that he did not see anything,” she answered.

            “Can I talk to him, maybe take a picture?” Joe asked.

            Elise shrugged.  “You can ask him.”  She glanced at the clock. “He's probably at work now.”

            “Maybe later, then,” Joe decided.  “In case I miss him, what’s his last name?”

            “Neals,” Elise leaned forward and watched as Joe wrote on his pad.  “His wife goes by Aimy.”

            “Frank and Aimy Neals,” Joe repeated.  “I take it you have not seen the animal again or heard about any other witnesses?”  Elise shook her head.  “Ready for pictures?”

            Joe used his camera-phone to take a picture of Elise, the scratch on her arm and her house, including the area where the attack had taken place and her back yard.  He said goodbye, thanked her warmly and got her permission to contact her if he needed more information. Tough old lady, Joe thought as he was leaving.  She had not made a sound when she tore off the improvised bandage and the wound she thought was nothing was deeper than he had expected.  Joe had noticed that there were no signs of infection or venom.  While sitting in his car, he went over his notes with an eye on the Neals’s house.  Using his cell phone, he was able to make an appointment with a representative of animal control.  The police were not open to an interview but some of their paperwork was available to the public.

            Eventually a man, presumably Frank Neals, arrived.  Joe waited about a half an hour to let him unwind after work.  Press pass in hand, he rang the front doorbell and turned on the charm.  Frank and Aimy hadn’t seen anything, but they did pose for him as he took a picture of the two of them together.  Having finished interviewing, he found a cheap hotel and met with animal control the next morning.  The representative gave him an official-sounding statement that ordinary wildlife was often mistaken for mysterious creatures late at night.  Joe did not get anywhere by asking if there had been other reports of strange creatures or to see the worker who had responded on the night in question.  Next, he searched the Internet for any site run by local police.  All he could find was the local sheriff’s department and the state police.  Both sites had paperwork arranged by date, but all Joe found was a brief report of a call to Elise Raynard’s address on the night in question posted on the local Sheriff's website.


            That night at the hotel, Joe approached the young man at the front desk with something underhanded in mind.  “Hey,” he said in greeting.

            The clerk smiled insincerely.  “How may I help you?”

            “Want to make twenty bucks?” Joe asked, seductively.

            “Number for hookers is in the men’s room, middle stall,” the clerk said, sounding bored.

            “Not that,” Joe said with a chuckle.  “Make a phone call?”  He drew a bill from his pocket.

            The clerk looked suspicious.  “Call who?”

            “Nine-one-one,” Joe answered.  “Tell them there’s an unknown, aggressive animal in your parking lot.”

            “Which you can’t do because...” the clerk prompted.

            “They’ll recognize my voice,” Joe explained.

            “They have caller ID and I’m the only employee here,” the clerk objected with mild annoyance.

            “A call from a payphone could be anyone.”  Joe looked in the direction of the hallway that led to the restrooms and payphone.  “You can’t see whose calling from here.”

            The young man’s face brightened.  “True.”

            Joe gave him the twenty and soon afterwards the clerk was on the phone while Joe stood next to him, silent and amused.  “There’s some freaky thing in the parking lot.  It chased me into the hotel and it looks dangerous,” the young man said, pretending to be frightened.  He gave his location and paused, listening.  “Seriously.  I don’t know what it is.”  He turned to give Joe a triumphant look.  “Sending animal control.  Thank you... thank you very much!”  He hung up. “Need me to call anyone else?”

            “Nope,” Joe chirped.

            They walked back to the counter.  “I didn’t see anything,” he said.

            “Neither did I,” Joe answered.  “But I will be wondering why animal control is here.”


            Joe watched from his room as the brown animal control van hurried into the parking lot.  The vehicle paused and then a compact spotlight attached to the forward passenger’s window came to life.  Its beam moved slowly over parked cars and bare pavement.  As Joe moved from his room to the nearest exit, the van circled the parking lot with slow deliberation and the spotlight beam move shadows aside while examining potential hiding places.  By the time Joe arrived, the van was parked in an out of the way space.  Two people in brown uniforms had exited the vehicle and were organizing their equipment. One was an average-looking older man who was plucking what he needed from the open door of the van.  The other was a short but burly young woman holding a flashlight and watching.

            Joe approached the pair and said, “excuse me” as politely as he could. Both of them turned and looked, as if he were interrupting.

            The woman walked toward him.  “Sir, I have to ask you to go back inside.  We’re responding to a call.”  She shrugged.

            Joe pretended to look alarmed.  “What’s the situation?”

            “Aggressive animal.”  She looked around, watching for a stealthy attacker.

            “There’s nothing here, now,” Joe countered with a smile.

            The woman gave him an exasperated look.  “Please, sir.”

            The older man spoke without taking his eyes off of the equipment he was examining.  “We warned him, Kath. We’re not liable if he gets hurt.”

            Kath relaxed and Joe grinned.  “I’m Joe.” He paused and waited.  Neither person answered, so he continued.  “I can help look if you want.”

            The older man turned toward him and smiled.  “See that spot over there, Joe?”  He pointed.  “Go lie down and pretend your hurt.  We’ll catch whatever eats you.”  Kath snickered.

            Joe thought for a moment and then chuckled.  “Looking for bears, huh?” he guessed.

            The old man had gone back to work.  He handed a pole with a hoop to Kath, kept another for himself and put on a backpack while speaking without looking at Joe.  “We don’t know.  Caller just said, Um...”

            “Freaky thing,” Kath interjected.

            “Freaky thing,” the older fellow repeated.

            “Sounds like a prank,” Joe commiserated.  “You get a lot of that, huh?”

            “Oh yeah,” Kath admitted.

            “We’re paid to answer calls, real or not,” the older man added.  “Sometimes there’s something to it.  Raccoon or something.”

            Joe decided to work on Kath and turned to her with a grin.  “People say some nutty things, don’t they?”  The two of them had started to search the parking lot with flashlights and Joe followed but gave them a little space.

            “Yup,” said Kath.

            “Still,” Joe began.  “If a lot of people are seeing weird stuff, maybe there is something out there.”

            “People don’t know what they see,” the older man said, laughing derisively. “A raccoon or stray dog shows up at night and people think it’s something out of a movie.”

            “Or something strange is there and gets away,” Joe taunted.  The old man turned toward him with an irritated look and Joe knew his provocation was working.

            “This is the sixth weird animal call we’ve had in two weeks and there’s never anything to it.  People are just yanking our chain, having fun making us roll at all hours of the night,” he groused.  “I don’t care.  Same hours and pay, on call or not.”

            “Sounds like something’s around,” Joe persisted.

            “Bill!” Kath said sharply.  She gave the older man a quit screwing around look and went back to shining a light under cars.

            Joe smiled.  “You’ve seen something,” he said, faking overconfidence.

            “There was that lady who was knocked down,” Kath pointed out, still working.

            Bill growled dismissively.  “Raccoon, maybe a squirrel.”

            “Raccoons bolt,” Kath pointed out.

            “And other people have seen it in the same area,” Joe added.

            “The calls came from the same development, which tells me that some bunch a’ kids are doing it to impress each other.”

            “And they threw a raccoon at a woman,” Joe added, hoping to further irritate Bill.

            “I’ve been doing this job for sixteen years and I never found no alien mutants or whatever!  Witnesses make mistakes or play pranks,” Bill argued.  He pointed his flashlight at Kath.  “You’ll learn.”

            Kath grinned.  “Or we’ll catch a chupacabra one of these days.”

            “A what?” Joe asked, pretending not to know.

            Kath turned toward him.  “You don’t speak Spanish?”  Joe had Latin looks but no accent.

            “Yeah, but goatsucker doesn’t make sense,” Joe explained.

            “That’s what the tabloids call them,” Kath said.

            “And one has attacked six people near the hotel I’m staying in!” Joe said with urgency.

            “No, not around here,” Bill corrected.  “The other five calls were near that lake over on Pickard.  Raccoon habitat.  There was only one attack.  That lady probably heard a rumor and thought she saw what she heard about.”

            “Or there is something around,” Kath persisted.

            “Tabloid nonsense!” Bill countered.

            “Yeah, but there could be an exotic pet or something on the loose,” Kath pointed out.  “Remember that lizard?”

            Joe tempted Kath into telling him about the unusually large iguana that had escaped or been let go a little over a year ago.  Not really listening, Joe went over what he had learned in his head. Six calls in two weeks, near the lake on Pickard street, wherever that is, and only one actual attack.  He had what he needed.

            “What kind of pet do you think it is this time?” he asked as Kath finished her story.

            “Don’t know,” she said.  “A monkey or something.”

            Joe almost blurted that monkeys have hair and don’t have elephant trunks, but he stopped himself.  By then, Bill had put away the equipment and was looking impatient as he waited. “Bye,” Joe prompted.

            Kath smiled.  “Yeah, bye.”  While the animal control van drove off, Joe went back inside to ask the clerk where Pickard was.


            The next day, after finding somewhere to eat breakfast, Joe drove to the lake.  It was an artificial lake, which made up the main attraction of a private park, surrounded by a semi-wild forest with a playground and basketball court on the edge.  A sign that warned against trespassing, swimming and fishing guarded the paved walkway that he assumed led around the lake.  Joe cruised the surrounding streets, chose a place to park and made a note of the entrances for future reference before laying low in his hotel room until dark.

            Joe returned a few hours after sunset and parked in the space he had picked out that morning.  It was in an unlit spot along a nearby residential street.  He pulled a pet-box and flashlight from his trunk.  Careful to act like he belonged where he was, he moved along the street and down the walkway into the park.  He did not see anyone.  Soon, he was in the shadow of the trees around him and, hopefully, out of sight of the residents.  He turned on his flashlight and examined his surroundings, making the shadows shift around the slow, fastidious beam.  Nothing.  He moved on, listening quietly and searching.  By the time Joe came to an open area with picnic tables, he had lost track of how long he had been there and how far he had traveled.  He reminded himself that following the walkway with the lake on his left and then turning uphill would get him back to the car.  He sat on the edge of a picnic table, still using his flashlight, and put the pet-box on the ground behind his feet.

            Joe thought he saw something.  He pointed his flashlight at it and his ears examined the sounds of the night around him. He saw nothing, but might have heard something moving nearby, quietly.  Was something there?  Joe jumped slightly as the beam of a powerful flashlight clicked on and a voice said, “Evening, sir.”  The tone told him that he had been caught.  With the light in his eyes, Joe could barely see the policeman as he stepped forward.  Joe heard a radio come to life and the voice said, “I have him.  Picnic grounds.”

            “On my way,” the radio answered.

            Joe smiled, turning on the charm.  “Hi, officer.”

            “Hi,” he answered.  His flashlight beam moved down from Joe’s face and examined him before aiming at the ground.  “Do you know you are on private property?” the policeman asked.

            “Yeah?”  Joe asked, attempting not to confirm that he knew he was trespassing.

            “Only residents are allowed here.  There are signs.  Nobody’s supposed to be here after dark, but you would know that if you were a resident.” The officer waited for a response.

            Joe looked down, being submissive.  “I’m not here to do anything but look around.”

            “Why,” the officer asked.

            “I’m on the job.  May I?” Joe paused, about to reach into his pocket for his press pass.  He was relieved that he had decided to leave his wallet with any other ID at the hotel. The officer nodded and Joe handed him the pass.

            “Tabloid reporter?”  The officer made it sound like an accusation.

            Joe looked away.  “Yes, sir.”

            The policeman stepped forward.  “Freedom of the press does not include the freedom to enter someone else's property. We’re not allowed to do it without a warrant and you have no right conduct a nighttime search.  Turn around.”

            The officer gently handcuffed Joe as he went through the routine of telling him that he is under arrest, informing him of his rights and asking if he understood. Joe confirmed that he did and said nothing else.  The officer led him away by the elbow, followed by another officer who had arrived unseen.  Soon, they were on their way back to the station with Joe riding in the back of their car.  The police had taken his flashlight, but had missed the pet-box, which was still under the picnic table where Joe had set it down.

            Before long, Joe was waiting in a small, bare room.  He had been seated across a table from two empty chairs with his left hand cuffed to the leg of the table, which was secured to the floor.  The officers had searched him, but he had left most of his things at the hotel anyway and he doubted they would search his room.  He did not know how long they had kept him waiting before the sheriff, a gentlemanly old fellow with a casual manner, came in and greeted him.

            “Good evening, Mister...” the Sheriff said, looking at the sheet of paper he was holding.  “Viajero.” The sheriff seated himself across the table.  “Jose Viajero, reporter. I’m Sheriff Garri.”

            Joe smiled.  “Nice to meet you, Sheriff.  I do hope we can resolve my case.”

            “That’s up to the magistrate,” the Sheriff pointed out.  “Or a judge and jury if you insist on a trial.”  The sheriff leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table.  “To start the process, I need to know who you are."

            Joe gave him a mystified look.  “You have my ID.”

            The sheriff smiled.  “You’re not in our system.”

            “I don’t have an arrest record,” Joe pointed out.

            “Or a driver’s license we can locate,” the sheriff observed.  “Or any other paperwork.”  He paused, waiting for an explanation.

            “I’m from out-of-state,” Joe explained.  “I don’t know how much access you have.”  He was trying to change the subject before the Sheriff asked which state he was from.

            “Carrying a press pass with an assumed name is not actually a crime, as it is not really an official document,” the sheriff reassured.  He shrugged.  “We’ll find out who you are.”

            “Yes, sir,” Joe said.  He thought for a moment.  “I’m not denying that I was trespassing, but I have not been told I’m charged with any other offence.  Will I be permitted to see the magistrate?”

            “When he gets here,” the sheriff answered.  “Why were you trespassing?  You told officer Shelding that you were on the job.”

            “Bullfrogs,” Joe lied.  The sheriff looked skeptical.  “I’m doing an environmental piece and a picture of a bullfrog would go well with my article.  I did not know that no one is allowed there at night.”

            “But you ignored the signs,” the sheriff accused gently.

            Pretending to be ashamed of himself, Joe looked down and mumbled, “yes, sir. Assuming the magistrate agrees, I’ll pay the fine.”

            “You don’t have it with you and without more than a press pass for ID, we would have no choice but to hold you until you pay,” the sheriff told him.

            “I can have the paper wire you the money,” Joe offered with a smile. “You’ll let me use a phone?”

            “You do get one phone call,” the sheriff admitted.

            “Can I use it during business hours tomorrow?” Joe asked.

            The sheriff thought for a moment.  “OK, but you will stay here tonight.”  Joe nodded.

            When the magistrate arrived, Joe admitted to misdemeanor trespassing in writing and agreed to pay a fine.  He ended up spending the night in a cell.  With nothing to do, he lounged on the simple cot against one wall, alone with his thoughts.  Outside the cell was a hallway lit by a bare light bulb and every so often someone walked by, going from one place to another, acting as if he were not there. Joe was starting to doze off when he heard a man chuckling.  Bill stood outside his cell, wearing his brown uniform and grinning the sort of predatory grin one wore when about to give someone a hard time.

            “Got busted, did you,” he said.

            “Uh-hu,” Joe responded while easing into a sitting position.

            “Did you mug an old lady or something?” Bill teased.

            Joe calculated that Bill had come to the station for some other reason and had happened to see him in a cell.  “I’m an evil trespasser,” he admitted with a smart grin.

            “Should’a known,” Bill needled.  “Curious Joe!”

            “You two know each other?”  The sheriff stepped into view, sipping coffee.

            “I saw him when I was on that prank call yesterday.  He was asking questions.”

            The sheriff nodded.  “He’s a reporter.”  Bill stiffened and gave Joe a suspicious look, the playfulness in his demeanor having been dispelled.  The sheriff kept walking.

            “So you’re spying on us for some rag,” Bill concluded.  “Looking for alien monsters I suppose.”

            Joe laughed.  “It’s what people want.”

            “It’s what busybodies who can’t mind their own business want.” Bill grumbled. “Weird rumors and celebrity gossip.”

            “And it’s for you to judge what other people read or how I earn a living?” Joe countered, taking his turn to tease.

            Bill’s demeanor softened and he scratched his head, making the visor of his uniform cap bob up and down.  “No, I suppose not,” he conceded.  “I just don’t need publicity in my way.”

            Joe favored him with a reassuring smile.  “I am going to leave you out of my story, anyway.”

            Bill nodded.  “You don’t actually have a story, do you?”

            “Curious Bill,” Joe teased.

            Bill lowered his voice and glanced down the hall.  “I ain’t seen nothing.  No aliens or mutants or golden-eyed snakes.”

            “No snake-eye aliens?” Joe asked, whispering the question.  With his hands on his lap, he made a circle with his thumb and middle finger while holding his palm up and his index finger in front.  Bill’s knowing look made sure that Joe knew that he recognized the gesture.

            "See you later," the old man whispered.  “I don’t have all night to stand around jawing,” he said for all to hear before making a cranky departure.  Bill came back later and, after looking around to be sure nobody was watching, dropped a business card onto the floor of Joe’s cell and then ambled away.  Joe took the card.  It had Bill's job title and work phone printed on it and an e-mail address written on the back in blue ink.


            In the morning, the sheriff let Joe use the phone and, once the fine had been paid using a transfer of funds, he was free to go.  Joe went back to the hotel.  He had left his key-card with the desk clerk and easily reclaimed it although someone else was on duty.  Once back in his hotel room, Joe used the only e-mail address on Bill’s card.  The message was a simple hello.  Not long after, a response came with a street address, which Joe was able to find using a map website.  After a quick shower and change, he was on his way.

            The directions led him to a house in the country.  Joe looked around.  There was no lawn, only trees, and the driveway was dirt and gravel.  The house itself was nice but not spectacular.  Joe noticed that the home was barely visible from the street and out of sight of the neighbors.  He eased up the driveway in his rented car, went to the front door and rang the bell.  A woman answered promptly.

            “Hi.  I’m Joe and...” he began with a smile.

            “I know,” the woman said quietly.  She was older, slightly overweight and had the look of an ordinary housewife. She motioned for him to come inside and quickly looked around before closing the door with a careful, secretive movement.  Inside, a hallway led to the kitchen.  Joe noticed a picture of the woman with Bill that looked like a vacation memory.

            Without speaking, she went to the kitchen table and Joe followed.  He considered telling her that he was there to see Bill, but decided against breaking the woman’s nervous silence. She led him to a box on the kitchen table.  It was a steel box trap of the sort a professional would use to catch a live animal, with handles and air holes so that, once occupied, it could be used like a pet-box.  Joe was relieved that he would not need to go back for the box he had left behind.  The trap was larger and sturdier.

            His host smiled.  “This is what you are here for?”

            Joe took a close look.  He could see it through the nickel-sized air holes.  Gray skin, black eyes, elephantine-nose, claws, angry hissing.  That was what Joe had come for, all right.

            He smiled triumphantly.  “Thanks!”

            “Glad to be rid of it,” she answered casually.  “Need a hand?”

            Joe picked up the box, testing its weight.  It shifted slightly as its occupant moved inside.  “I got it,” he concluded.  His host followed him to the front door and closed it behind him.  He hid the box in the trunk of his car and was on his way.  He did not stop for food, but he did pull into a strip mall and find a trashcan. "Won’t need this anymore," he thought while holding the press pass.  He wiped it off with his shirttail before throwing it away.  Back in his car, he made a cell-phone call before moving on.

            “Hey, it’s me.  I got it,” he said.  He drove home, taking an exit marked only with a route number to Snake-Eye Valley, and pulled into the town's only gas station.  The attendant rushed out to greet him and the two of them examined the box and its occupant.  They took it into the shed behind the station and opened the trap door in the structure’s floor.  Joe followed as the attendant carried the box down the cramped, stone stairway lined with carvings.  Having reached the dead end at the bottom, the attendant pushed a button and waited as a rectangular hole opened up automatically.  “You don’t belong here,” the attendant explained to the box’s occupant, receiving only an angry hiss in reply.  He carefully placed the box inside the hole and pushed the button a second time, causing it to wink out of existence.



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