His indiscriminate feet shuffled and shushed through loose leaves. She saw movement – what appeared to be a trick of light and shadow. She did not expect to see the beast, so she didn't. But there he stood. Belleza discovered herself looking at an upright body clothed with a winter-thick pelt. He was tall, freakishly tall, and the same cold color as the trees.

The beast had a somewhat triangular silhouette, bottom-heavy, supported by thick, rabbit-like haunches and enormous feet. His tail made the third point of a tripod on which he balanced. The body tapered upward to narrow shoulders and a more narrow skull. He moved his head side to side, as if agitated.

Belleza laughed out loud. It had to be a joke. She was seeing a ragged tent, or a blanket snagged on a tree. Perhaps a human swaddled in a bear rug. If it was a man, she shouldn't approach. Why would he be in the woods at the dawn of an unseasonably cold morning? A drifter? A fugitive? Or, more horrible, one of his victims wrapped in a dark shroud?

But the thing was none of these sensible options. The monster was indeed a live animal.

He extended his arms. They were eerily human-seeming arms, ending in three toed paws. From each toe grew a black, horny nail, stout and blunt like a peg: surely his digging tools and the explanation for the holes in her garden.

If the beast killed her, how long would she lie undiscovered on the path? Gerald emailed intermittently. She had a computer friend who posted reviews on book sites. Others, more like acquaintances, knew her from an opera list-serve and a genealogy chat room. Did any of them have her full name?

The swaying head stilled. He gazed at Belleza with the startled, inflexible face of a cat, his expression raw, undeveloped. He had wet black rodent eyes that glistened. Tufts of hair grew out of his ears. More hair grew out of his cheeks. His mouth was round and lipless. Sounds came out of it.

WAH-WAH. WAH-WAH. WAH-WAH-WAH-WAH.

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