The bird cried out in alarm. I looked up from my lawnmower, right into the setting sun as it squawked once more before flying from its perch atop the shoulder-high lilac bush on the outer edge of my property.
I furrowed my brow as I covered my eyes with an arm. The evening air was still. Was it a fox? Maybe a skunk? Maybe one of the feral cats I always found. My dog Becker lay in the nearby grass that I hadn’t yet mowed and he too raised his head in curiosity, carefully sniffing the air.
The day had been hot, and despite the late hour, it was no less warm than it had been just a couple of hours previous. I released my hold on the mower, letting go of the handle so that it killed the engine. I kept an eye out for the source of the disturbance as I walked to where I’d left a water bottle sitting on the hood of my old Ford truck. Becker continued to test the breeze, and I noticed movement in the lilac bush as I put the bottle to my lips and took a swallow.
The bush rustled again as I finished another swallow and wiped my mouth on the back of my hand.
Becker was up on all fours by that time, a low, menacing growl escaping from his throat. This was as excited as he usually got.
“Quiet, Becks.” I made a snapping sound with my fingers, and he immediately shut up. After a moment of hesitation, I told him to stay, remembering a kitten I’d found climbing up a tree on the backside of our property last week.
Thinking that it might be a similar situation, I didn’t want Becker on my heels making things more difficult.
I walked towards the bush, swinging my water bottle on my finger, using the loop of plastic between the lid and the container to keep hold of it. It had been five years since Marjorie and I had retired and moved from the city. Not a day went by that I didn’t ask myself why we hadn’t done it sooner.
I’d thought the office had needed me, that they couldn’t do without me, but my retirement had been easier than I’d imagined.
I was four steps from the bush when the branches parted, and the head of a furry creature came out from behind. Becker barked when he saw the animal, which was surprising. He almost never barked.
“Hush,” I said, snapping my fingers again. Becker sat back on his haunches, but he became more agitated, whining as he waited. I ignored the noise, taking it as a sign he was trying to be good.
At first glance, I thought the animal was a bear cub. It was brown and about the right size, but the more I looked I realized something was off.
It wasn’t uncommon to get wildlife wandering across our three acres, but it was usually a rabbit or a fox. Sometimes a few deer. It was the first I could recall seeing a bear, or for that matter a bear cub.
I automatically took a step backward when it looked at me.
Its face was distorted. The snout was too small, and it appeared to have human skin through the blonde fur. “Help!”