Skin Deep
                                                                                                                          By Thomas Mc

                                                                                                                         Chapter 6: Bigfoot

It was the day after Christmas in the small farming town of Oaksburg, population 817 (counting the dogs) The small community was situated on the Maryland - West Virginia border, next to a national park and about 270 miles from the frenetic crush of New York City. Matt had liked it that way when he and his new bride had moved here from New York six years ago and bought that hundred and fifty year old twelve bedroom mansion, turning it into a moderately profitable Bed and Breakfast. The following year they had built the adjoining pub and restaurant. The nearest town of any size, as well as the nearest regional airport, was Hagerstown, about thirty minutes east of Oaksburg. Nearly two thirds of the guests to their Bed and Breakfast came from there.

Matt paused at the door of the sheriff office building and looked east at the low hanging clouds that were lit in red and gold on the underside by the rising sun just beginning to peek over the horizon. The weather service was predicting a couple of days of heavy overcast followed by a snowstorm that would be moving in from the west. Matt pulled his gaze from the spectacular sunrise and glanced around at the relatively quiet, peaceful and so very boring streets of his small community. The perfect environment to raise the child that they had been expecting back when they moved here. Now, ironically, both their children, a girl, five, and a boy, three, were spending their Christmas holiday with the Grandparents back in the frenetic crush of New York City. He shook his head with an amused chuckle and entered his office. Matt smiled at the toy gun and cowboy hat on the chair in the back corner of his office that belonged to his daughter, a pure undiluted tomboy that adored her sheriff father, and his son's toy truck sitting next to it. Matt sighed deeply as he sat down at his desk and glanced around the small rustic office. Matt shook his head as he scanned through the monthly incident report for December which consisted of the typical small town clichéd nonsense. Everything about this town seemed to be a cliché.

Matt's eyes came to rest on his name printed on his open door; 'Sheriff Mathew Dillon'. For years that name had been his solid but unremarkable handle. Then that ancient TV show, 'Gunsmoke', had turned up on the Classic TV channel six months ago and his name had quickly become a local joke. His wife, Katy, who ran their Bed and Breakfast, was more often than not referred to now as "Miss Katy" by the locals. He had even heard the small pub and restaurant attached to their bed and breakfast jokingly referred to as Miss Katy's Long Branch Saloon.

He looked up as Deputy Chastity Fredricks, most people called her 'Chaz', entered his office. Matt sometimes wondered if she had thought about the humor in putting the names Chastity and Fredricks together when she married Freddy. That thought made Matt frown. It was a shame that Freddy Fredricks had died three years ago in that tragic car accident less than a year after his marriage. Freddy and Chaz had been so good together.

"What's up Marshal Dillon?" Chaz drawled with the exaggerated old west accent she had copied from that old show. Since that old TV show had come out Chaz had started calling herself Chester and occasionally affecting an exaggerated limp around the office.

Matt rolled his eyes as he responded. "Same old boring stuff. Frank and his wife were fighting with the bank about their loan again last week. The Jorgensens and the Petersons are at it again. Otis was in the drunk tank last night. I have six unconfirmed reports here of encroachment by wolves and three unconfirmed reports of encroachment by bears. Oh and one Bigfoot report. There is also your brother's weekly complaint about teenagers in his fields. Nothing new ever happens around here." At that point the phone rang. Matt glanced down at the display on his desk phone. "Like I said, Chaz, nothing new. It's your brother, Henry." He chuckled as Chastity rushed over to her desk. Her brother was a farmer named Henry Jones. Farmer Jones, what could be more cliché than that?

Chastity came back looking just a bit perplexed. "Matt, my brother wants to talk to you. He said that he has Bigfoot trapped in his north storage shed." She shrugged shaking her head. "What can I say? He's my brother."

Matt picked up his phone. "Sheriff Dillon here. What can I do for you Henry?" . . .

"Now slow down Henry. What exactly is it that you have trapped in your shed?" . . .

"Are you sure it's not just a bear?" . . .

"OK, OK. Calm down and . . . just don't do anything foolish 'til we get there." . . .

"Chaz and I will be right there as soon as we can." . . . He hung up the phone and jumped up from his desk. "Come on Chaz. We'd better get out there before your brother ends up shooting some hitchhiker in a fur coat."

~ o ~

Ten minutes later Mathew and Chastity approached her brother very cautiously. "You can put that gun down now, Henry, we'll take it from here."

Henry reluctantly lowered his shotgun then waved one hand negligently at the shed. "It's inside the shed. Better watch out Sheriff, that thing's got long sharp claws and it moved pretty fast after I shot at it. I wouldn't get too close to it."

Matt glanced at the shed. It was a twenty foot by twenty foot metal shed with two large eight foot by eight foot sliding doors on the side facing them. Matt turned back to Henry. "So what type of animal is it?"

"I told you, I think it's Bigfoot." Henry insisted.

Matt shook his head. "OK, if you say so. Stay back out of the way; Chaz and I will take care of this." He turned his attention to Chastity. "You move in from that side; I'll take this side." Cautiously they moved in on the quiet shed. They had no idea what kind of animal Henry had trapped in there and things were complicated by his insistence that he had shot it. Matt was very nervous. An injured animal was twice as dangerous. Matt banged twice on the door of the shed. "Police! Come out with your hands up." No sound came from within. He pounded again. Still no response.

Matt reached out and checked the left sliding door. It wasn't locked. He turned to the nervous farmer that had come up behind him. "Henry, go get inside your mobile home and lock yourself in." He watched while Henry did as he was told then turned his attention to his deputy. "I'll take the left door and you take the right. On the count of three we'll pull the doors open."

"OK, Matt." She positioned herself on the other side of the doorway. Glancing down she noticed the two buckshot strikes on the right-hand door. She also noticed a few drops of blood on the large paving stones in front of the doors.

"Watch yourself, we have no idea what kind of animal Henry has trapped in there. If the animal makes a run for it just jump out of the way." They drew their guns and each grabbed a door handle. "One . . . Two . . . Three!"

They yanked both sliding doors open and jumped back, guns at the ready. Nothing happened. After two seconds Matt nodded and they both stepped into the open doorway. The inside of the shed was a cluttered mess with the center dominated by a very large complicated looking piece of unidentified farming equipment. Matt had no idea what it did and he didn't really care. All he knew was that it was big and it obscured his view of most of the interior of the shed. The rest of the interior was taken up with racks and shelves of various items normally used on a working farm.

Matt motioned for Chastity to circle around to the right then he began working his way over the cluttered dirt floor around to the left. He had worked his way half-way around the interior when he saw it, standing ten feet in front of him and froze in shocked surprise. A second later Chastity came around the other side and also froze when she spotted it.

Though there was no electricity to this shed, the morning sunlight streaming in through the large open doors and the four translucent fiberglass panels in the shed's roof did an excellent job of illuminating the interior. The creature was backed into the darkest corner and its head was covered by a deep hood, but Matt and Chastity could both still clearly make out its rather incredible features. The apparition before them was very large, about six and a half feet tall, and massively built. The creature's face bore a strong resemblance to a lion with the exception of its bright fiery red coloring. Its arms and hands and feet were thickly covered in the same red fur, and the hands and feet ended in long deadly claws. It was definitely wearing clothes, including a long dark hooded cape. Its head kept swiveling, warily, back and forth between Matt and Chastity.

Matt was also thinking that there was something vaguely familiar about the strange . . . 'lion-man' creature. Then with a quiet, "Oh my God!", he realized why it seemed familiar. With the exception of its coloration, it was the perfect representation of the New York urban legend of the 'Creature of Central Park'. Somehow the legend never mentioned the bright red fur. He was reminded of the creature craze of '41 through '43 when he was just a child.

Matt glanced over at Chastity who glanced back at him. She shrugged her shoulders as she mouthed, "Now what do we do?" Matt shrugged shaking his head to indicate his own uncertainty about the situation. Chastity and Matt slowly, cautiously started to move in closer to the creature. "I wonder if it can understand us." Chastity remarked mostly to herself.

Matt saw the hazard too late to warn her, and then things happened very fast. Chastity's concentration was totally fixed on the cornered creature as she moved slowly toward it. She was oblivious to the wall of sharp farming implements she was passing and she didn't see the rake that Matt had spotted as her foot was coming down on it. Matt watched in horror as Chastity cried out in pain, toppling back toward the deadly wall as the handle of the rake swung rapidly up toward her face while her gun flew out of her hand as her arms wind-milled vainly for her lost balance.

In the same instant there was a blur of motion and suddenly the creature was between Chastity and that deadly wall of tools, with one arm supporting her around her back and the other hand firmly grasping the handle of the rake less than a foot and a half from her face. By the time Matt had managed to cry out "Chaz!" it was already over. The speed with which that creature had moved had been incredible. As the realization of what had just happened sunk in, he had the distinct feeling that the only reason he and Chastity were still standing was because that creature was simply not inclined to attack them.

Heart pounding in fright, Chastity stared up over her shoulder into the golden eyes of the impossible creature holding her. Then after a second she glanced past the creature at the wall of disaster that she had almost fallen into. Then the next instant the creature set her back on her feet, propped the rake against the wall and backed away from her. It took another couple of stunned seconds before she realized that she was now unarmed.

Matt swallowed then spoke to her. "Chaz, are you OK?"

Chastity glanced over at Matt. "Uuuh, I guess so." Then, while trying to keep a wary eye on the creature, she began to search for her gun. After a couple of minutes she found it half hidden under a nearby shelf full of fertilizer and assorted chemicals. She retrieved it then stood back up. She glanced first at the creature, then down at the gun in her hand, then at the wall of sharp tools next to her. She shook her head, muttering. "I just can't do it." And placed her gun back in its holster.

Matt had observed her actions and thought that he understood what must be going through her mind. She couldn't bring herself to shoot the creature; not after it had possibly saved her life rather than taking the perfect opportunity to make its escape. For that matter he wasn't sure that he would be able to bring himself to shoot it either. As Matt and Chastity glanced at each other he remarked. "We can't just leave him here."

"Do you think we can get him into the back of the cruiser?" She asked uncertainly.

"We can try." Matt replied just as uncertainly.

Chastity began cautiously backing up trying to indicate to the creature to follow her. The creature glanced at Matt then began to follow her toward the open doors. Once Chastity and the creature were halfway to the door, Matt began to follow. He had no idea what he was going to do if they did succeed in getting the creature into the back of the police cruiser. He figured that he would just have to deal with that situation when it came up.

~ o ~

Katy Dillon, wife to Sheriff Dillon and manager of both the Dillon Bed and Breakfast and Katy's Restaurant, looked over at Michelle who was cleaning up the just vacated table. She had looked so lost and pitiable when the trucker she had been hitchhiking with had kicked her out of his truck three days ago. Matt had asked her where she was going and she had admitted that she really didn't know. After a quick discussion with Matt, they had decided to give her a job in the restaurant and put her up until she was on her feet.

In the three days since they had taken Michelle in, they had learned that she had no memory of her past; she only knew her name because someone had told her; and apparently nearly her whole left side had been badly scarred by fire. The young girl seemed to be a bundle of mysteries. Though she had no memory of her past, she had teared up when she had spotted Katy's collection of children's books by Peter Chandler-Wells taking up one whole row in the common room bookshelf. Matt had figured out, from various comments the girl had made, that she was running away from someone whose life she didn't want to ruin. Though nothing had been said about it, Katy suspected that it had something to do with her disfigurement. It all seemed so very sad.

Katy was distracted from her ruminations when Henry Jones came into the pub section ranting about the creature that Matt had captured in his north storage shed. The few other patrons in the pub laughed at him asking him if he had been getting into some of Old Walters moonshine again. Henry pulled himself up straight trying to preserve his offended dignity and responded. "I tell you it was Bigfoot and it was real. Matt and Chaz came out and took it away. It looked like a giant mountain lion but it walked on two legs, was wearing clothes and had bright red fur."

The crash and clatter of dropped dishes drew everyone's attention to the kitchen door where a shocked looking Michelle stood, her mouth hanging open. Half of the patrons started clapping and cheering. No one noticed the shocked look on Sally's face. Then Michelle ran up to Henry and grabbed his hand. "Please, where did they take him?"

Henry stared at her a moment in surprise then answered. "I think they took it to the jail." He then turned toward Katy. "I need a drink, bad, Miss Katy. That thing was huge and dangerous looking."

Michelle rushed over to Katy and began begging her to give her a ride to the sheriff's office, or at least tell her the fastest way to get to it. After a moment's pause Katy handed Henry a tall beer then spoke to Michelle. "I'll take you." She turned to Jack who worked for them as the cook. "Jack, watch the place for me. I'll get back as soon as I can." She grabbed the car keys from under the cash register. "Come on Michelle, let's go." Katy had no idea why a ridiculous tale about her husband having Bigfoot in the jail would have such an effect on Michelle but she was curious enough to go with her to find out. Besides she was also curious to find out what it was that Matt had found.

Sally placed her hand on Katy's shoulder. "I'm going with you and we can take my camper."

~ o ~

Matt urged Larry out of the office, telling him there was nothing in there to see. In the last hour a half-dozen townsfolk had come by wanting to see the Bigfoot that he and Chaz had supposedly brought in. It was amazing how fast rumor spread in a small town like this. So far he had refused to let anyone in to see the creature. He still had no idea what he was going to do with that creature now that he had it but he certainly wasn't going to turn it into some circus spectacle. If only they could figure out where it came from and get it back where it belonged.

Chastity came out of the jail section in the back. "I don't know if that . . . whatever it is, can speak but I'm dead certain that he understands us." She glanced back at the door into the back. "What are you going to do now?"

Matt shook his head. "I wish I knew. I'm just glad that it hasn't shown any signs of violence so far."

Michelle burst through the front door followed closely by Katy and Sally. "Where is he?" Michelle advanced on Matt, determination and desperation equally expressed in her face and voice. "Please, you have to let me see him."

"Now hold on a minute there, Michelle, what are you talking about?" Matt demanded, glancing at his wife and Sally.

"The creature you caught. I have to see him. I think I know him. Please, just let me talk to him." She turned to Katy. "Please, Katy, tell Matt to let me in to see him."

Matt glanced at his wife who shrugged then looked back into the desperate eyes of Michelle. This was not just another case of idle curiosity. This was obviously extremely important to her. Matt took a deep breath and looked over at Chastity. "Let her in, Chaz. Maybe we'll get a few answers."

Chastity opened the door to the back room and, with one quick glance at Katy, Michelle rushed through the door and stopped in front of the cell containing the creature which appeared to be standing waiting for her. Matt, Chastity, Sally and Katy crowded at the doorway to the jail section anxious to see what would happen. Sally gasped in surprise and recognition.

The creature spoke. "Hello Sparrow . . . or do you prefer Michelle now. Personally, I like both names. They are both beautiful names for a very beautiful woman, but I will always think of you as Sparrow." Matt was amazed at the quiet power and intelligence carried in that voice. Katy and Chastity nearly swooned at their first exposure to the creature's voice. Though she had heard it once before, Sally was still affected just as strongly as the other two women.

Michelle responded, her voice radiating a combination of fear and anger. "What did you think you were doing, putting yourself in such danger?"

The creature responded. "I had no choice. I've fallen in love with you, and now without you there is no safety for me."

She stared at him, momentarily struck dumb by his declaration of love. "But . . . why?" She shook her head. "I've seen the types of women the men in your family have chosen and I've seen the beautiful girls in your world that want you. Why would you want a wreck like me?" The bitter pain in her voice brought a lump to the throat of all four eavesdroppers.

"They say that beauty is only skin deep, but that is not really true. Real beauty comes from very deep within, from your soul. It's in the way you smile, the way you treat others, the way you touch those that you love." The creature replied.

"Those are pretty sentiments but they can't hide the scars that you must still face when you look at me." She retorted.

"I admit that you are not the most physically beautiful woman. I am not blind, Sparrow. Despite what they may say, true love is not really blind. When you truly love someone you are intimately aware of every flaw and imperfection. You can't help but come to know your lover's body intimately. I helped the doctor treat you when I first found you so I have seen more of you than you might think. But when a person is truly in love, they ignore those imperfections that they know so well because those things do not really matter to them. You are in love with the whole package. To the person in love, those imperfections become just another aspect that makes your lover that much more unique. In the end it is the person inside that you are really in love with. And being an empath means that this is even truer with me. I know you Sparrow, even better, I think, than you know yourself, and I love the person that I feel inside you." He paused. "And, as an empath, I can't help but know that you love me as well."

Chastity had gasped at the mention of the creature being an empath. Matt felt Katy's hand steal into his and when he glanced over he saw that all three women had tears in their eyes. His own eyes were beginning to feel a bit misty also as he gave her hand a squeeze.

"As far as physical appearance . . ." David cocked his head. "You have scars, I have fur and claws. I have no problem seeing past your scars. Can you see past my fur and claws?"

"David, you know that doesn't matter to me. To me you are beautiful." Michelle insisted.

"And to me you are beautiful. I want you back Michelle." There was a pause. "I would follow you to the ends of the earth if necessary."

"But someday you will want more than this scar covered body. One day you will want children."

"The doctor said that, except for the extra sensitivity of your lungs, you are a perfectly healthy young woman. There is no reason why you can't have children. I've already told you that the scars do not matter to me. One thing I can promise you; if we do not work out, it will not be because of your appearance."

"What if some day I get my memory back and I turn out to be some really terrible person?"

"I suppose anything is possible but, remember, Sparrow, I know your heart, I know who you really are inside and I don't believe that any additional memories will change that."

"I'm just so afraid that I will disappoint you some day. I never want to be the one to cause you pain."

"It's the chance you take when you open your heart to someone. You make yourself vulnerable to the one you give your heart to. There is the possibility that we will not be compatible or we could just simply drift apart over time or you could find someone that you like better. Love is always a leap of faith with no guarantees." He tilted his head as he gazed at her through the bars. "But the rewards are usually worth the risks. I'm willing to take that risk. What about you? Are you willing to take a chance on me?" He held out his clawed hand to her through the bars.

"But, David, how am I going to get you out of here?" She gazed at the barred door that separated them.

Mathew swallowed the lump in his throat and stepped through the doorway. "I never locked the cell door."

Michelle looked at Matt in surprise then she pulled on the cell door and, with a click, it easily swung open. The next moment she was in the creature named David's arms as they held each other tightly. After a few moments she pulled back and looked up at David's face. "But we still have to figure out some way to get you safely home."

David's eyes seemed to loose focus momentarily then he smiled. "My family is already on their way here. I'm not really that good at judging distance yet but I think that they should arrive soon."

Sally spoke up. "If I bring the camper around to the back door, we could take him to your place 'til his family gets here." She shrugged. "With the bed and breakfast closed for the holidays, as long as he stays away from the restaurant and pub, he will be safely out of sight." Sally smiled tentatively at David. "Besides I owe you for saving me from that rapist in the shower two days ago.

The others stared at Sally in surprise as the meaning of her words sank in. Sally shrugged at the others. "Now you see why I couldn't give you much of a description of my rescuer. You wouldn't have believed me."