to go home. But she had to know if there was any truth to her dream.
She scaled the fence. The posts at the top were sharp, and as she straddled them, she got the idea that if someone gave her a good hard tug, she would be impaled. Liz Marley, split in two, the Corpus Christi Sentinel would read: She went mad, and was looking for a dream she’d misplaced. It’s true she had a better half. It was her left. Less freckles.
But she got to the other side without incident, jumping down off the high fence and landing squarely in a snowdrift. The thick trees overhead blocked much of the drizzle, and she could hear the soft patter of the rain as it plinked against wet leaves. It felt funny being in these woods. It felt like being inside an animal’s mouth.
She turned in every direction, but there were no footprints, no signs of struggle. No blood. “Hello?” she called softly. “Susan? Is anyone here?” No one answered, and she grew bolder. “Hello?” she said. “HELLO?” she bellowed, because even though she was scared, bellowing is kind of fun. But still, there was nothing.
She smiled self-consciously. Nothing up her sleeves, kids. Nothing behind the trees. Had she really dreamed the whole thing? Maybe so. A relief on one hand, on the other hand, an indication that she needed some serious headshrinking. But this was good news. She could have found something a lot worse than proof of a restless night’s sleep out here. This expedition could have been a disaster.
She took one last look between the trees. “Susan? Hello?” she called out once more, if only to reassure herself that she’d tried her best to solve this strange mystery. Nothing answered her. Only the patter of the rain. She let out a sigh of relief, and started for the fence.
Just then, out of the corner of her eye, something blurry whizzed between two trees. It was pale, and its body shined in the dark. She jumped, getting almost two feet of air between herself and the ground in a way that would have made her basketball-playing boyfriend proud. Then she backed up against the fence and faced the woods. “Who is that?” she called, then winced at the way her voice sliced through the silence.
She waited, watching between the trees, with her back pushed up against the fence. Her pulse pumped audibly in her ears. But she didn’t see anything. After a while she laughed at herself, silly girl. Probably just a white fox, or maybe even a falling branch.
When she turned to climb the fence, she heard a branch break behind her in the direction of the trees. She swung around and listened. This time she didn’t call out. This time, just in case there really was something out there, she didn’t want to invite its attention.
The branches that bridged the gap between the two trees expanded and contracted in a quick burst. Her heart skipped a beat and then started playing the mambo. The trees were about fifty feet away from her, and she could tell they hadn’t been blowing in the wind. Something had pushed them. Something big. A bear?
She backed further against the fence until the bars pressed through her coat and into her skin. She stood as still as she knew how, hoping that this thing would not see her. She slapped both hands over her mouth to muffle the sound of her breath.
“Huuuhh-huuhhh,” she heard behind the trees. She listened closely and it came again: huuuuh-huuhhhhh. She did not want to believe what she was hearing. It wasn’t the kind of sound a dog or even a bear would make. It was deep and rasping.
Okay kiddo, she thought. Shake a leg.
Just as she was about to turn around and climb the fence, the branches between the two trees opened up. The thing came out from between them—
—It was big, maybe six feet tall. It was still too dark to see clearly, but she saw glimpses of its pale body. It didn’t have fur; it had skin. It looked human.
“Huuuuhhhh-huuuhhhh.” Its breath was thick and wet. Its