"Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken."
-Jane Austen, Emma


The winter garden was violated, its soil turned over in random spots. Raw, half-frozen clumps of dirt littered the straw. Her asparagus bed, so patiently created three years ago, was ruined. The midnight vandal had reappeared on this, his third and most destructive call. He used a hard, blunt tool that clawed straight down into the earth, lifted it out, cast it aside.

Belleza thought she might cry, but didn't. To steady herself, she considered the sky which glowed with the white light of dawn. A perfectly bisected moon, December’s waning quarter, hung at the meridian. Both the almanac and the radio predicted snow showers. She was grateful for how solitary retirement had evened her temperament. Choosing to be alone, to live alone in this isolated house, soothed her, even as it scandalized the family.

But now, an invader. Human or animal? Human seemed preposterous. A raccoon? A groundhog? Too dainty for such holes. A feral dog? He would have to be a mastiff.

Belleza looked to the woods beyond her cultivated plot. He came from there.

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