The Beast of Bodmin Moor
Jack’s very stance was that of a panther poised to pounce; dark, sleek, deadly… He was magnificent; somehow more than he’d ever seemed before. Majestic.
Jack did not pounce. He stood, splendid, quivering, as if he were being tugged by a non-existent wind.
All Phin could do was stare, awestruck, at luminous whirlpools of blue. Eyes that seemed somehow lit from within…by the waves of energy rolling off Jack? That didn’t make sense, but other people never did. Phin had given up trying to fathom their whys and wherefores…until he met Jack. Who proved unfathomable, no matter how hard Phin did concentrating on his very own mission impossible. It didn’t help that those inimitable blues were too befuddling to focus beyond; even when they weren’t ablaze with topaz fire. A fact too doolally to be true. Phin had to be doing hallucinating, surely?
Perhaps he was, but he’d never conjured anything quite so magical, which made it a tad tricky to care. Being hypnotized by Starlite hues was far preferable to the scratchy crawl of insects up wobble-board walls. He watched, transfixed as they flickered, then flared to full beam intensity about a snatched-off breath before Jack turned on his heel and took off.
“Jaaack!” Phin bolted after him in a scramble of limbs as ungainly as it was useless…but blimey, Jack was fast. He didn’t so much as glance over his shoulder, merely carried on running hell for leather—which he wasn’t wearing—only a white t-shirt and skinny jeans. His legs were just a different shade of darkness, but his top half gleamed like moonlight in the glow of the lamps fixed to the pub walls. The pale beam they cast across the parking bay hadn’t reached Jack’s gloomy hideout behind the bins, where he’d seemed waxen white, rather than pearly gold.
He was never going to catch up—Jack was whippet-quick—Phin felt like a dopey Irish Setter gamboling along in his wake. He wasn’t about to give up and go home though, even if he was doomed to being left for dust. A resolution that promptly paid dividends when Jack stumbled and fell, crashing to his hands and knees with an unearthly shriek. The instantaneous surge of guilt was scything. Had Jack hurt himself? If he’d broken his bloomin’ leg, it would feel as if Phin had wished it on him, to put a stop to his gallop. He’d better start praying for a twisted ankle, or better yet, a bit of cramp.
When Phin was about ten yards from Jack a hideous crack of sound pulled him up short. No, a succession of snaps, like the peppering of rifle shots. These made Phin flinch, as did Jack’s howl of pain, but the sight unfolding before his very eyes was…too fast to do working out. Far too befuddling for a brain wired all wrong. It seemed as if Jack’s entire self was wracked by a series of shuddering spasms; jerky snatches of movement that looked agonizing. Phin was about to spring forwards to try and do helping when his sight was shattered by a sudden explosion of fragments; scraps of…fabric? They shot skywards, fluttering in the air that shivered above Jake’s huddled form.
The noises that accompanied all this were more worrying, because Phin could make sense of them. They rang with utter clarity in the confounding clash of stuff assaulting his senses. A cacophony of snap, crackle, popping was followed by a strange grinding grate and deep raspy groans…and a weird squidgy-squelch like welly boots stuck in mud.
Most doolally of all, were the images being beamed to Phin’s boggled brain. The very darkness seemed to shimmer; as if Phin were seeing sound waves, which wasn’t all that odd when he’d always felt colour. He could taste and hear it too, which p’raps explained why he found new situations so scratchy—it was tricky to tell which was being weird—Phin, or the world itself. Familiar things and people were far more comfy, he didn’t have to fear appearing freaky, nor fret about being deemed so.
The spookiest part happened when the shivery air settled; stilled to reveal a strange shadowy shape that was not a jot Jakeish. Figuring that the shimmer must have boggled his eyeballs, Phin scrunched his lids tight…then prised them apart. Nope. Exactly the same. Except, the shadowy form was starting to unfurl.
He watched riveted, with eyes wide—wider—breath abated…then blinked. Twice. Neither made a fig of difference, Phin still found himself staring into twin pools of luminous…blue.
“Foxy?” Phin wondered, barely above a breath, but he heard. He cocked his head to one side and twitched his tail a tad; as if it wanted to do wagging but wasn’t sure if that was the right reaction. Why was he uncertain if Phin was friend or foe, all of a sudden? Perhaps finding him here, when Foxy had only ever seen Phin on the moor?
Phin often couldn’t place peeps if he encountered them out of place. Not just folk he’d only met a few times. He had walked straight past Mr. Neil in Waitrose with nary a glimmer of recognition. Even after he’d tapped Phin on the shoulder, which proved a smidge sticky. He’d asked if Phin had done forgetting him. On purpose. Oops.
Phin was so surprised to see Foxy here that he quite forget to do counting. Not a jot of ‘one and one makes’…well, anything crossed his mind. Nope, Phin was too busy rustling up daft questions. Scraps of which he actually wondered. Aloud. In English, not being fluent in Fox. Nor Coyote, or Jackal, for that matter.
“How did you…? Where…?” In his own defence? There was no one else to ask; Foxy was here and Jake was…not. Oh.
That, was when the penny farthing dropped—on Phin’s head—which was very much how the clatter-crash of realization felt. Phin had gone loopy. He’d either not cottoned onto the fact staring him full in the face. Or he’d hallucinated said fact into fruition. Two facts that added up to an impossible sum. One and one did not make one. Not even all-for-one-and-one-for-all pulled that off, and Jake was not a Musketeer moonlighting as a foxy friend. Did it matter what he was?
It sure as shapeshifters did, if Phin’s shrieking instincts were wrong. In which case, Jake had fled and left him, or fallen off the face of the planet. Both of those were bad things. Jake morphing into Foxy before Phin’s very eyes? Was not. It was a world away from bad—albeit a skewed sort of too perfect to be true one—but that had never stopped Phin before, so why start now? He liked this one way Too Much.
Dropping to his haunches seemed the po-lite thing to do, being a tad taller than Foxy. He did howling, so he was unlikely to get a crick neck, but towering over him wasn’t considerate when Phin could half his own height in an instant. After resting his forearms on his knees, he held out a tentative hand, so Foxy could snuffle it if he wished.
He should surely recognize Phin’s scent? It was arrogant to assume Foxy might think ‘oh I know him…he’s that tall bloke from up the moors‘ when most humans probably looked much of a muchness.
Phin was aware that suspecting his Foxy friend from the moor was also his very foxy friend going by the name of Jake, was barmy bonkery.
Something that would—at the very least—be considered the stuff of doing hallucinations. On the whole, Phin couldn’t care less. He was too busy doing hoping that he was right. If he was, then Jake had not vanished in a puff of shimmery air, pass the sick-bucket cracks, and welly boot-squelches.
If he was wrong, then Jake had Gone. P’raps forever. He’d told Phin to Go—who didn’t do listening—so Jake had scarpered instead. ‘I don’t want you’ had been a definitive statement. Rather than an attempt to drive Phin away, to stop him seeing..this.
While he never wanted Jake to do hurting (it had sounded lots more painful than that), Phin couldn’t think of another reason why said sight should perturb him. Nor its consequences.
Foxy was his friend. It wouldn’t have been fun if he’d wanted to eat Phin…but Foxy had never seemed inclined to do him harm. On the contrary, he’d been a cosy companion in Phin’s happy place.
It was, he must admit, far comfier to think of Jake being partial to scampering about on the moors after work, rather than frequenting strip clubs with his mates. There were no doubt many reasons why Phin should be bothered. But he wasn’t. So, that was that. A plenitude of what-why-when-where ‘n’ how’s were hovering on his horizon, but for now? Phin just wanted to drop anchor for a while and do drinking things in.
Foxy was snuffling Phin’s fingers. He had not bitten them off. Sometimes, things were that simple. If you let them be.