I looked around, thinking somebody else had come onto our property, but even as I did, I knew I was in denial. I’d seen the bear move its mouth.
“Hello!” The creature waved the paw in a decidedly human fashion. “I’m right here, pal, talking to you.”
With great reluctance, and wondering if somebody had slipped something into my lunch, I looked at the bear, fumbling for what I might say. I cautiously took another step backward.
Was this a sign of dementia?
My father had died at ninety-eight with full use of his mental faculties. My grandfather on the other side had reached his mid-eighties and had been sharp until the day he died.
“I’m sorry,” I said carefully, fearing I’d misread the situation. Perhaps this was a badly malformed human. If so, he might understand my surprise, he probably received it all the time. My kinder instincts came into play. “You just caught me off guard, hiding behind the lilac bush and all.”
I smiled wanly.
The creature came entirely into the open, revealing that the rest of him did, in fact, look like a bear. The only thing even close to human was its face and the fact it walked on two legs, apparently with ease.
“I need to hide,” it said. “Do you have someplace I can go?” It looked at my house.
Even though it looked helpless, I hesitated. Marjorie was off in town for most the night and I was alone. If this creature had malintent, I wanted to make sure my wife wasn’t left wondering what had happened to me.
“What are you hiding from?” As I asked the question, I looked at my watch and noticed there were only a few minutes of daylight left. The sky still had plenty of light so it was difficult to conceive that twenty minutes from now it would be dark. I rarely had, if ever, noticed the setting sun in the city.
“You don’t want to know,” he said. At least, I was starting to think of it as a he. I avoided looking between his legs to determine gender. It seemed the polite thing to do even though it appeared to be mostly animal. “Trust me, it really is better you don’t know.”
I shook my head. “I’m not one who is opposed to giving a little help, but this is sudden and I’d rather like to know what I’m getting into if you wouldn’t mind.”
It strained my mind to be polite to the creature, but it seemed the civil thing to do.
He nodded in a distinctly human fashion, making my other desires for empathy want to kick in even more. Perhaps I had been too quick to judge. He could think and speak. If I were ever put under oath, I would have to testify he seemed self-aware.
A howl cut through the warm evening air and it was like the little ball of fur had been hit with a jolt of lightning. He bounded up and turned, sniffing the air while looking every which way.
“She let them out already?” He shook his head. “Oh man, this is not good. This is not good. She never lets them out before sunset. Never. I thought I had more time.”
“That’s nothing to worry about,” I said, assuming he was afraid of the wolves. “I haven’t had any problems since they were reintroduced.”
The fuzzball shook his head, reminding me of an earnest little boy.
Dang it all, I could imagine Marjorie saying, her voice brooking no discussion. Some half-beast thing shows up on our property, and you start assigning human emotions to it.
“Listen, listen,” Fuzzball said, his voice turning into a high-pitched squeak. “Those aren’t wolves and we need to get inside!”