Trouble in the Neighborhood
The doorbell cover sitting on my desk was a pretty thing, with a bronze dragon curled around the button. That didn’t stop me from stripping the spell from it and tossing it in a bin that was headed for the crusher. One down and an entire days’ worth of disenchanting to go.
Being a witch gave me the ability to use magic, but that didn’t mean it was all fun and games. I worked as a consultant for the police in north Georgia when they needed magical help. Sometimes that meant rescuing homeowners from unruly spells and other times that meant going through boxes of problem items, stripping off the spells, and sending them on to their next life.
Stretching my neck and shoulders, I eyed the pile to my right. There were ten boxes of magical items waiting for my attention. Some of those boxes were from a stockpile up in Union County, but the rest were overflow from my hometown and the surrounding area. Lately the area had been flooded with illegal magical items, most of which didn’t function properly. While I was concerned about the source, likely a new black market ring, I was grateful for the work. Not only did it pay the bills, but it was nice to have office work during the winter.
I pulled a lightly used pair of athletic shoes out of the box in front of me. A stomach-churning stench hit me and I quickly activated an odor-neutralizing charm. It wouldn’t last long, but I shouldn’t need much time to figure out a permanent solution. According to the tag, these shoes infected the wearer with a magically enhanced toe fungus. I had a feeling someone had spelled them before returning them to a former significant other.
My phone rang, saving me from having to work on the shoes for the moment. Caller ID informed me that it was Rodriguez, a hedge-practitioner with the local police, officially known as the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office.
“Oaks,” I answered.
“Michelle, could you come down to my office this morning?”
“I found an interesting collection of reports about a suspected magical creature on my desk when I came in. Until I do more research I won’t know what it is, but I think I could use your help on this one.”
“Sure. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
I hung up and set the shoes back in the box, then made a mental note to thank Rodriguez for saving me from them. Now that I knew what I was getting into, I could set up a couple of spells to help with the smell before I started on the shoes.
A few minutes later I was in my car and headed to the police station. I didn’t even try to speculate about the creature. If he didn’t know, there was nothing to be gained. My only hope was that most of our investigation could be done from the warmth of his office or car. The radio cheerfully informed me that it would be sunny today with a light wind, the high hovering at freezing. At the moment, freezing temperatures would be an upgrade.
Maybe the cold weather was keeping people home, because there wasn’t much traffic on the drive. When I pulled into the parking lot, it was emptier than usual. Bracing myself for the cold, I grabbed my gear and hurried inside.
I waved at familiar faces as I walked through a room filled with workstations and made my way over to Rodriguez. I set down my bags and dropped into the chair in front of his desk. “Good morning.”
He nodded curtly. “Thanks for coming.”
With his caramel skin, black hair, and dashing smile, he usually charmed every woman around, even when there was something serious to discuss. But today his brow was furrowed and the corners of his mouth were pinched.
“That bad?” I sighed. “Did you figure out what kind of creature we’re after?”
He picked up a piece of paper. “I’ve got one adult and several children saying they saw ‘a bear that smelled terrible with fur the color of blood.’ A couple of the kids go on to describe it as having glowing yellow eyes. Two of the children have been hospitalized after having horrible nightmares.”
“A bugbear?” I glanced at the calendar. “Are you sure this isn’t a trick cooked up by kids who’ve been inside too much this winter?” Bugbears were only native to the British Isles and they were almost extinct. They sought out children to scare them, often causing night terrors that lasted until the child reached adulthood. To make matters worse, a bugbear could feed off a child’s fear every time they had a night terror. There were even reports of children being killed by the night terrors, if not the bugbears themselves.
“The last report was pretty convincing.”
“I’ll tell you in the car.” He grabbed keys off his desk and stood up.
“I’m listening,” I said as I followed him to the parking lot.
“I’ve gotten four reports from two subdivisions a few miles away.”
I nodded and tossed my bags in the trunk of his car and we hit the road.
“All the reports are from the past three days. It seems to me the bugbear was set loose in town and found a place to call home. Those subdivisions are near a primary school. Yesterday, it scared a couple of kids along a walking path in the neighborhood. They were able to escape without any lasting damage from the encounter, and gave me a good description, so we have a place to start.” Rodriguez rubbed the back of his neck. “I would try to find it alone, but my tracking spells aren’t as good as yours.”
“I should be able to track it, though if we get close enough, we’ll be able to smell it.” I couldn’t remember if there was a specific spell for tracking bugbears, but I was sure I could cobble something together. “I haven’t encountered a bugbear before, but my understanding is that they have some magic that can make them difficult to track. But I have a spell in mind that can search for magical bearlike creatures. It should work as long as there aren’t any similar beasties in the area.”
“That particular ability is why I called you. I doubt I could track it. ” He sighed. “What else do you know about them?”
“If I remember correctly, not only can bugbears avoid tracking spells, they’re able to warp magic. My textbooks and teachers weren’t overly specific in the mechanics of that ability.” Right now I really wished they’d been more thorough.
Rodriguez’s voice was dry. “Delightful.”
While I agreed with him, another issue had captured my attention. How had a bugbear gotten here? Who would go to the effort of importing one just to set it free in north Georgia? And why? There was only one answer that made sense to me, but I had to see if Rodriguez agreed. “Could the bugbear have been brought into town by the same people who are supplying the magical items?”
He paled. “I sincerely hope not. It’s bad enough that we have a black market ring pumping illegal items into the area. We don’t need illegal creatures, too.”
“Agreed,” I said, my voice soft.
Copyright © 2016 N. E Conneely