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We’ve been hiking for hours, but Pellin refuses to accept that we are lost.
“It’s just some woods, Rachel! We’re smarter than wood!”
No, we’re not. They have the good sense to at least stay put. I don’t bother explaining it to her. Once she’s made up her mind, that’s it.
The path we somehow stumbled onto turns into a tunnel formed by intertwined trees and vines, the sun poking at whatever holes it can find. It’s unsettling. There seems to be a strange darkness here that I can’t articulate, only feel.
“Pellin, seriously, I think we should…”
Something moves in the brush ahead of us. Too big for a squirrel. We freeze in our tracks, even Pellin who is usually fearless.
Just before I suggest that we run, a gray wolf emerges from the brush. He trots up to us, panting like a domestic dog, and the fearless Pellin appears. She reaches down and pets him, but he watches me.
“Aw! He’s so cute!”
“Pellin, be careful! He’s a wild animal.”
“Oh, no, he isn’t,” she says in a baby talk voice. “He just wants a momma. Yes, he does. Who wants a momma?”
The wolf sits beside her, panting and staring into my eyes. I still don’t like the whole thing.
“Okay, okay, geez! You need to learn to enjoy life’s little moments, Rachel,” she says as she walks away up the path.
As I start to walk, the wolf stops panting, and his mouth begins to move.
“You shouldn’t have come here,” he says.
I can’t form a sentence.
“I can talk, yes. It must seem very odd to you, being an outsider. But make no mistake, there are far more shocking things here… far worse things.”
I gather my thoughts enough to ask the question.
“Ah, well, let’s see. There’s the shocking part…”
Before my eyes, he transforms into a black panther.
“Get it? Cats and dogs,” he says with a chuckle before changing back into a wolf.
“And the far worse part?” I ask.
His eyes narrow.
“Yes, the far worse part is the unseen. It does not operate by the cover of darkness. For instance… your friend has already been taken up ahead. I can help you find her, though.”
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