“What makes you think I saw anything?” Mr. Burroughs squinted down at them from the top step of his ramshackle porch.
Sage glanced at her husband standing beside her. Rhys’s work as a tracker numbered in the years while she was still new at this, so it made sense for him to guide this conversation.
“We represent a private organization that investigates unusual activities.” Rhys spoke in the fake Georgia drawl that he used to conceal his natural British accent. “The case we’re working on now led us to a wildlife agent in your local game department who reported that two days ago you called inquiring about a naked bear wearing nothing but your tool belt.”
She recognized that Rhys had purposefully misrepresented a detail in what the agent told them in order to spur Mr. Burroughs into correcting him.
His attempt was partially successful. “That’s not what I asked them.”
“Which part did I get wrong?”
The middle-aged farmer with gray stubble on his cheeks regarded Rhys with brows that knitted tighter together. “What organization did you say you were with?”
She didn’t blame Mr. Burroughs for being suspicious. The agent they spoke with was convinced the creaky rustic had nipped too much scrubby moonshine. She and Rhys had a good idea who he had seen, however, and his unbiased testimony was essential to their investigation.
It was time to employ some feminine charm. “We do need your help, Mr. Burroughs.” Sage smiled in a manner that flirted with being coy. “We believe your report was on a subject we’ve been trying to locate for some time. Many people would benefit if you could help us to find it.”
His gaze leveled on her. “So what do you say that I saw?”
She couldn’t tell him the truth. As ancient and widespread as these beings were, they were regarded these days as elements of myth. They sported multiple names like Anthropophagus, Pishachas, Nephil, or Teratism. Rhys had grown up calling them Fomoraig, but Sage couldn’t even use her American term Booger to this man.
When innocent witnesses like him sighted these creatures in modern days, they usually mistook them for aliens. Sometimes she would play upon that mistake while interacting with informants. But Sage ascertained Mr. Burroughs was more skeptical about such matters, so she had to tailor her response accordingly.
“I can only tell you it’s the result of some classified experimentation.” She wasn’t proud of lying. “If I told any more, you would find yourself inconvenienced. I’m sorry, but we are trying to make this as easy for you as we can.”
He stared at her for a few seconds before responding. “At first I thought it was a man, which was why I never shot it. It was after dark, you know, and the dogs were freaking out and barking right at my workshop. So I went to see what the commotion was all about.
“The door was still closed like I leave it every night. I did think maybe some hooligan had slipped in there to steal power tools, so when I went inside, I was expecting to see a person.” Mr. Burroughs inhaled deeply and scowled again. “If that was a person, he’s got serious issues. But a mangy bear doesn’t open and close doors, either.”
“Could you tell what it was doing in your workshop?” Rhys asked.
“Dancing the Macarena, for all I could tell. It was just sort of darting all around the shop, and it was carrying my tool belt around. Only … its head was all shaggy, like it needed a shave and a haircut. But the rest of its body was smooth, though I’m not sure if it was skin or a tight jumpsuit. It kind of woofed after I came in and shot out of there like a greased cannonball … with my belt.”
Her train of thought slammed to a halt and derailed a few cars in the process. His description of the Booger’s behavior didn’t match their other leads. “Did it take anything other than the tool belt?”
“Only what was in it, which was just a hammer and some nails, and a pair of pliers. Believe me, I looked through the place to see if there was anything else missing, while I still thought it could be a person. So, can you tell me if it was a witty bear or a half-wit man?”
What Mr. Burroughs described was unlike any other encounter she’d ever heard of involving these creatures. And considering they’d developed familiarity with this one already, the shift in his behavior made her wonder if this was the same one they’d been tracking.
Considering the description matched that of their target, it had to be the same. Or maybe there really was a stash of tainted hooch on the premises, except it was the Booger instead of Burroughs imbibing nefarious spirits.
There wasn’t much left to this interview, and after they thanked the farmer for his cooperation it was time to head back to the car. Sage was haunted by a nagging sensation that their pursuit had taken a turn for the worse.
“Knickers.” Rhys resumed his native version of English as he started the engine. “This one just had to go and make things interesting.”
Her heart fluttered. “Do you think he knows we’re following him? Could he be trying to lure us into a trap?”
“I’ve seen traps before.” Rhys frowned as he backed the vehicle down the driveway. “It always gets more serious when the hunter becomes the hunted. This is when you embrace the belief that nothing is what it appears to be.”
Burroughs stepped back into his house as they drove away, and glanced at the shadowy form lurking in the far corner.
Its voice was a guttural rasp. “Did you tell them what I instructed you?”
“Of course.” Burroughs smirked. “And the idiots believed every word of it.”
This month the prompt word for #BlogBattle was Shift, so here is my contribution. Follow the link if you want to check out more short stories inspired by this idea!