Title: Creature Feature (2/?)
Author: Saone
Summary: AU. There are stranger things in heaven and earth... and Orlando’s determined to find at least one of them.
Pairing: V/O eventually
Rating: Adult
Warnings: Not at the moment
Disclaimer: It’s complete fiction
Remarks: Thanks go to [info]j_crew_guy for the beta. *puts gold star on forehead* ;D

Part 1, Part 2

The tiny town of Adelaide was situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Northern Georgia, close to the southern end of the Appalachian Trail in a lovely little valley carved out by water and wind eons ago. When the team finally arrived, the late evening hour, combined with mist from a recent rainfall added to the enchanting, almost surreal feel of the place.

It had taken nearly twelve hours to get from picking up Elijah at his little rental house in Falls Church down through Virginia and North Carolina, and east through Tennessee to their destination. The boys were bone tired, cramped, and feeling decidedly mutinous.

“Just whose idea was this again?” Elijah asked crossly as he cracked his neck. The weight of Orlando’s, Billy’s, and Dom’s glares fell heavily on the younger man and he blushed. “Oh, yeah.”

“If we kill him now, there’ll be more room in the van for the rest of us.” Billy said pragmatically.

“Uh, guys, can anyone else hear the dulcet strains of a banjo, or is it just me?” Dom’s cheeky grin withered a bit under Orlando’s scowl.

“Look, we all know how things can be in small towns, yeah?” Orlando asked, resisting the urge to strangle his friends. “Strangers aren’t usually trusted easily, and if there is something weird going on here, that’s likely to be even more true. One good way to not win their trust is to immediately assume they’re all inbred hicks.”

“Ruin all my fun, why don’t you?” Dom pouted.

Billy tapped Orlando on the shoulder. “You know, if we kill Elijah and Dom, the two of us will have a lot more room.”

Orlando rubbed a hand over his eyes. I’m going to find someplace to eat, and pretend I don’t know any of you.” He set off down the street.

Their first step was to find some sort of lodging. Internet searches had provided them with the names of a couple hotel chains in neighboring towns, but nothing for Adelaide. In fact, Elijah had been unable to find any online information about the town. He was begining to think it didn’t really exist until it turned up on MapQuest.

So, since the net had failed them, they realized they had to approach the problem in a different way. They actually had to ask someone.

The boys had dealt with small communities before. There were two places where locals tended to congregate in the evening hours. Restaurants and bars. Alcohol loosened lips would be more likely to provide them with juicy information, but the atmosphere had a stronger possibility of becoming combative, and they had all agreed that it wouldn’t do for them to once again spend the first night of a new case in jail.

Orlando’s destination was a small, nondescript brick building half way down the block. A hand painted sign above the door read ‘Esther’s Eats.’ He paused in the entryway and waited for his friends to catch up.

Conversations didn’t cease when the four men came through the door, but many curious pairs of eyes did follow their trek to the counter. They took their seats on ancient stools. A sound not unlike a dying cat emerged from Dom’s when he tried to get it to swivel.

An older woman with a teased helmet for a hairdo sauntered over. Her name tag read Arlene. “Evening.” She nodded amicably. “You boys know what you want?”

Billy sniffed the air. “What is that wondrous smell?”

“Spicy or sweet?” Arlene winked at him.

“Definitely spicy.” Billy grinned.

“That would most likely be our pulled pork barbecue. Comes with a roll, homemade coleslaw, and hand cut french fries.” She raised an eyebrow at the resulting gastronomical gurgles from the four young strangers in front of her. “Four plates, then?”

Orlando, Billy, and Dom nodded sheepishly while Elijah looked vaguely horrified at the sound his stomach had produced.

“Don’t worry.” Elijah said, patting his belly. “No more fast food for you.”

Orlando rolled his eyes, then pasted on his most charming smile. “Um, before you go, may I ask you a question?”

In looking at the sweet faced, seemingly guileless Brit, Arlene was suddenly reminded of the act her two teenage sons would pull when they wanted to butter her up. “You can ask. No guarantee I’ll have an answer for you, though.”

“Fair enough.” Orlando said. “My friends and I are visiting here for a few days, possibly up to a week. We need someplace to stay. The closest hotel we could find on the internet was in -“ He looked to Elijah.

“Clayton.” Elijah said.

“Right, Clayton. And, quite frankly, we’re not sure if our vehicle can take that kind of daily commute.”

“Well, if you don’t mind roughing it, there are campgrounds at Blood Mountain. That’s a little closer than Clayton.” Arlene said.

“Blood Mountain?” Dom blinked. “Why-”

“There was a big Indian battle there a few centuries ago. Creek and Cherokee. The name stuck.”

“Ah.” Dom nodded. “Bet it’s a hit with tourists.”

“We aren’t really prepared for camping.” Orlando said, trying to get the conversation back on track.

Arlene seemed to debate with herself for a moment. “Miss Mabel down on Oak Street sometimes rents out rooms, but only if she likes the looks of you.”

“And since she’s half blind, that don’t really account for much anymore.”

The team started a bit as a new voice came from behind them. A tall man sidled up to the counter between Orlando and Dom “Coffee to go, if you please, Arl.”

“Coming up, Vig.” Satisfied that the strangers were in capable hands, Arlene hustled off to put her orders in.

Orlando had to lean back a bit to get a good look at the man who had insinuated himself so closely. It was hard to judge his age. His dark blond hair had hints of gray at the temples, and his face, though handsome, was worn. But, his eyes were clear, and unsettlingly penetrating as they focused on Orlando.

“If you fellas are looking to hike the trail, I can recommend a few other places to stay.” As he leaned on the counter his jacket parted a bit, and Orlando spotted a flash of gold at the man’s waist.

“We’re not hikers.” Orlando knew if this man was what he thought he was, the truth was the best option. “We’re investigators.”

The man frowned. “Like private detectives?”

“Oh, no.” Orlando said quickly. “Paranormal investigators.”

“Paranormal?” The man looked like he had bit down on something rather unpleasant.

“Well, cryptozoological, really.” Orlando manfully ignored Billy’s finger that was incessantly poking him in the back. He heard a soft groan come from Elijah, and a muttered “Oh, nice.” from Dom.

“Crypto... right.”

Orlando took a deep breath. “Look, Chief...”

“Sheriff. Mortensen.”

Orlando smiled. “Sheriff Mortensen. Right. May I have a few moments of your time?” He gestured to the back of the restaurant where several booths sat empty

“Why not?” The Sheriff shrugged. “This sounds like it’s going to be the most interesting thing I’ve heard since the last time someone tried to talk his way out of a ticket.”

Orlando left his surprised companions at the counter and he followed the Sheriff to a darkened booth. They settled into the cracked vinyl. Orlando put his arms on the table and leaned in towards the older man.

“I’m going to be completely honest with you.” His voice was low and serious. “My name is Orlando Bloom. My team and I run a website called Encounters X, dedicated to the sightings of strange and unusual creatures. A few days ago we received an email with pictures purporting to be of animal mutilations occurring around Adelaide.”

The Sheriff’s eyebrows rose. “Animal mutilations?”

“Our laptop’s in the van, we could show you, if you’d like.” Orlando offered.

“No, that’s all right.” Sheriff Mortensen said. “I think I know what you’re talking about. I wouldn’t call them mutilations, though. Someone, probably under 21 and drunk off his ass, has been opening gates around the valley. A couple folk have lost some livestock.”

“When you say ‘lost’?”

“They were killed.”

“Were their throats torn out?”

Sheriff Mortensen grinned. “Mr. Bloom, I sincerely hope you didn’t come all the way from England just because a coyote took a couple of billy goats.”

Orlando frowned. “We came from outside Washington, actually.”

“Still, that’s a long way to travel. At least you’ve seen plenty of nice scenery.”

Orlando pursed his lips. “So, you’re saying you believe a coyote was responsible for the deaths?”

“It’s possible. There are a number of predators in these mountains. Coyotes, black bears, bobcats, hell, some folks swear up down and sideways that they’ve seen cougars roaming around up there.”

Going for broke, Orlando added. “The email we received also stated that their hearts were missing.”

The Sheriff shook his head. “I hate to say it, but it seems somebody pretty successfully pulled your leg. The only wounds on those bodies were at the neck.”

“Parts of the email may indeed be false,” Orlando admitted. “But what you just said brings up another interesting point. If it was a coyote, or even a cougar, why didn’t it eat its kill?

“Maybe it got frightened off.”

“Every single time?”

“Well, what’s your theory, Mr. Bloom?” The Sheriff asked. “Am I gonna have to round up a posse to take down a Bigfoot?”

“We don’t have any theories yet. They’ll come after we gather some evidence.”

“Gather evidence? What sort of evidence?” The Sheriff cocked his head and narrowed his eyes. “What exactly is it you intend to do here?”

Sensing rising hostility, Orlando spread his hands in supplication. “Like I said, we’re investigators. We just want to find the truth.”

“Even if it’s not strange or unusual?”

“Even then.”

Sheriff Mortensen scowled. “And, I don’t suppose there’s anything I can say or do to make you go investigate the Indian mounds, or the Georgia guidestones, or anything out of my jurisdiction instead?”

Orlando shook his head. “Sorry.”

The older man leaned back in the booth and appeared to think for a moment. “All right. You’ll have to stay in Clayton tonight. Miss Mabel doesn’t open her door after seven. In the morning, if you still want to pursue this, come on by the station. I’ll give you the name of the vet that examined the carcasses. I’ll even send out one of my deputies to show you where they were found.”

Orlando was clearly astounded. “Uh... okay. Um, if you don’t mind me asking, why are you being so helpful?”

“I assume as soon as you see there’s nothing... odd about these deaths, you’ll pack up and head home, correct?”

“Yes.” Orlando silently added probably to the end of his statement.

“That’s why.” The Sheriff said. “The sooner you city boys go back up where you belong, the sooner I can stop worrying about you falling in a crevasse, or getting shot for trespassing.”

Orlando smiled ruefully. “Thanks for your concern.”

“What can I say, I hate paperwork.” The Sheriff slid out of the booth. Looks like Arl’s brought your dinner out. If they have any left, you should try a piece of the brown sugar pie.”

“I’ll do that.” Orlando said.

“Have a nice evening, Mr. Bloom. I hope I don’t see you tomorrow.”

Orlando watched as the Sheriff collected his coffee and tipped an imaginary hat to Arlene. “Don’t worry,” he said softly. “I’ll be there.”