"Are you talking to me?" Belleza inquired, feeling like a fool.

WAH-WAH.

His facial muscles did not twitch. The bulbous eyes appeared blind, yet obviously he saw her. The creature lumbered toward Belleza. She recognized how unsuited for step-by-step walking were his clown-sized feet, his trailing tail. She, a woman beginning to be old, could outrun him.

"Are you lost?" she asked.

WAH-WAH. WAH-WAH.

"Is that all you can say?" she responded testily, wondering, to her own amusement, what sort of genitalia might be hidden within his shaggy coat. And in what state? Was she attractive to a monster?

The creature stopped five feet from Belleza, reaching toward her with those weirdly human arms. She forced herself to remain in place.

WANNA. WANNA, the mouth said.

Belleza touched the claws, each one longer and thicker than her own hand. The nails were the color and feel of fire-blackened wood and veined with stress cracks. They were chipped, splintered, with dirt in the rough spots.

"You need a manicurist," Belleza said, she who had never undergone a professional manicure in her life. But it was a clever comment. Too bad the creature didn't appreciate it. None of the men in her life had appreciated her cleverness.

"You're hurt, you stupid simpleton," Belleza said. "What have you been doing? Cracking rocks?"

The creature thrust one paw forward and clipped Belleza on the chin. She fell. Jarringly. She landed on one buttock, then along the length of her back. Her head struck something.

"Don't DO that!" she shouted. "How dare you do that!"

The creature stood over her, his black marble eyes unblinking, his arms at his sides.

WAH-WAH.

"You are an idiot," Belleza told him, but she rose cautiously, putting some distance and a tree between her and the creature. "You could kill me and not know it. I assume you are a vegetarian."

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