I first saw her on the day the big truck came. The house at the edge of my woods was empty for three full moons before she came. On the day the night would show the amber moon, in the early morning, she wandered around my land until the moon was high and bright in the sky. That day, she didn't wander far into my territory. I watched her with caution, as I do with all humans. From the first day, I could sense something was off about this one, but I thought nothing of it. Humans are strange in general, and shouldn't be bothered with unless one is seeking to walk with Death to the eternal stars. The second day, I got a better look at her. She was a pale thing, almost sickly in appearance. Long, stringy hair swayed down her back like grass in the chilling fall and were the same shade as those dying blades. Her eyes were amber, two bright moons encased in a sandy, fragile mold. On her body, she covered her thin skin in dull greens and yellows, the summer field to her fall strands. A long skirt, stopping a little past her knees, caught the wind well and moved with its invisible dance. An undecorated T-shirt, I hadn't seen a human in one in a while. Most these days seem to worship symbols across their hearts. I've long wondered their purpose. Protection? For favors? There seems to be no symbol they worship for long. Perennials last longer than human loyalty. But she wore none, and never did on any of the times I saw her. Nor shoes, when she went wandering. She only wore them when she got on that yellow bus or in a car. For that, I had some respect. Humans allowed themselves to grow weak by shielding their connection to the earth and casting away their fur. Comfort is such a high priority for them they never learn to watch for obvious signs of danger down a path. The earth speaks loudly with its silent voice; in her stones and dirt and water, and through all of her children. I watched her carefully shift her feet while climbing over stony hills, moving with the guidance of the rocks. Whether she knew it or not, this one listened well in spite of her human nature. As the moon came and went three times, I watched her explore deeper into my woods. Winter was upon us by then, and she still dressed lightly. While I could admire her courage to grow stronger, for a human, I knew this was risky. Their strength's limit was much lower than most. Long ago, humans traded their fur for bare skin and cloth, to traverse between all the lands of the earth. Such creatures simply couldn't survive the cold without their woven skins for long, no matter how strong they became. She tested her body's limits with each visit. I watched her shivering and wondered why she did not accept the limits of her strength in winter and cover herself. When the first snow fell, I closed the distance. The girl, who I'd taken to calling Two Moons when I spoke of her in passing to others, collapsed in the snow. She was deep into my territory then, halfway up my side of the mountain. She lay there, unconscious and barely breathing. If left alone, Death would come long before sunset and I'd have a fresh meal I wouldn't have to chase down. I was always hungrier in winter. That day, I wasn't. With care for her delicate nature, I grabbed the back of her shirt and carried her into my home as one would a young cub. With my back to block the wind, I curled around her and warmed her with my fur. I told myself I wouldn't worry too much over if my warmth was enough. She was still a decent sized meal, and the snow and wind never allowed me to forget the season. Watching her up-close, I noticed the scratches and bruises on her fragile body. Perhaps, I thought, she acquired them when she fell. Snow is a master of disguising dangers. Then, I noticed her clothes were worn and holey, and her body was near skin and bones. This one couldn't have been well fed. I thought it odd as the family she stayed with would make very nice meals, and humans weren't typically the kind to abandon their sickly children. I couldn't understand it then, so I gave up on that and went to sleep, wondering if I'd be eating when I woke. When I left the dreaming world, Two Moons was gone. I went to the edge of my woods and peered into her house. She sat in the window, staring upward. I turned my gaze to see what she was looking at. The sky had cleared and the moon bathed us both. Two Moons went out less in the colder times after that. She stayed by her window, watching the world from within her shelter. I, in turn, spent my time at the forest's edge, more curious than a cat about this strange human. One night, when the moon was sleeping, she opened her window and sang a wordless song to the stars. I am not an expert in human languages, but I know the one most of them speak here and I can recognize the general patterns in their spoken words. She sang in sounds bursting in emotion without a single word, as my kind do. Humans and my kind, our worlds are different but our hearts beat the same. I felt the sadness and pain in her voice, and out of instinct, I howled back my own song. We sang together in a beautiful harmony. A few dogs joined us, telling us of their own sorrows, and the tenacious coyote who respected no borders of mine did not stir annoyance in me that night as he sang along. His song was my song, and we were all one. The other humans who lived in that house ended the song with shouting about three in the morning. Another human concept I don't understand. How can you have morning without the sun? Two Moons closed the window and never sang again during the night. Sometimes, I caught her humming when she wandered my woods, but her voice was never as free as on that wintry night. When spring returned, Two Moons spent most of her time in the woods on her bare feet. I saw her from afar, going about my day searching for food and running off the coyote and the todd and vixen pair that moved in outside my western border. The second time we came into contact, she followed me. I was bringing back home a doe when she stood outside the entrance of my home, bold and fearless. Even another of my kind would not be so arrogant as to do that to a stranger. This type of human, one lacking in fear or sense of weakness, are often the most dangerous kind to encounter. I told myself it would be best to eat her along with the doe. Humans have a knack for stirring feline tendencies out of most. That is why the cats find them so appealing--they're quite cat-like themselves. Too curious, too reckless, and they always find ways to bounce back from Death's traps, as if many souls dwelt within them. The cat's curiosity captured me, and I allowed her to enter my private space. "You're quite big. I've never seen a wolf your size before." Two Moons said. I typically don't bother speaking back to humans. They don't understand my language, and they fear me more when I use their own. To test her courage, I used her words. "I am very old." She didn't flinch. "I thought so. Wolves don't live her anymore." "We certainly do. Whether we allow you to see us or not is another matter." I said. "Human girl, what are you doing here in my domain?" "Yours? Do the birds agree with you?" She laughed and walked around my kill. "Did she agree to that?" "It is the way." I simply said without a care. "As it is yours to take her." "I suppose." She kicked a small stone outside. "And is it that I am yours to kill?" "I could eat you up right now for daring to enter my home." My words were meant as a test more than a threat. She met my test with one of her own, once again stirring that horrid feline tendency out of me. "Go ahead. I get eaten alive every day. What's one more day going to hurt?" Though curious, I was not going to allow myself to be caught up in a cat's game. "Is that so? How dull. I prefer to hunt. Scavenging is for the vultures." "What's your name?" She asked. "I do not have such a thing." I lied. My mother and father taught me to never tell my name to a human. They use names as weapons more than any other creature, despite most losing all of their natural magic. "I'll call you White Fur. Your coat is so clean and bright." She petted my back. "I'm covered in blood. You are a very strange one. Your hands are soiled now too." I said to her. The doe's blood on my fur stained her palms, but she did not react. "So I've heard." She did not move away from me. I looked over at the strange girl. Blood covered more than her hands. Specks of dry blood and fresh scrapes decorated her skin like stars. Back then, I thought she was careless again and tumbled on her way up my mountain, perhaps misreading the earth or misjudging her limited human strength. She left shortly after that, laughing on her way back down the mountain. In summer, she visited me again. She kicked the stones at the entrance of my home with her earth-covered feet. She asked, "No food today?" "I will hunt later," I said. The heat of the sun was particularly powerful that day, and I was too worn out from its force to do anything midday. "Do yo not have school today? Or is today that thing you call a weekend?" "It's summer. There is no school right now, but I won't be going back anymore." She said. "Oh, have you reached adulthood now? That's what that means, doesn't it?" She laughed. "Well, that's not quite right, but I am eighteen now. That means it's time for me to go. I'm not entitled to anything." "So, you'll be off and out of my territory finally. You're worse than that sneaky coyote." I said, showing her my fangs as a joking threat. She laughed again. "Most likely. I doubt anyone will hire me, so I'll probably live in the streets. This place is for wealthy people." "Oh, is it? Then why are your clothes full of holes?" I asked. "That's how it is. I'm strange, so it's not worth it to spend money on me. And now that I'm eighteen, they can throw me out whenever they want." Two Moons sat down on a large rock near the entrance. "I don't understand. You are certainly a strange girl, but I find the lot of you strange. In what way are you strange to them?" I raised my head a bit as I spoke. "There is no way in which I am not." She kicked the dirt below her. "They moved me to this family because the last one got tired of me. It's happened so many times. But this place, the people here are even worse. Everyone's scared of the littlest of things, like a girl talking to a wolf. I'll probably disappear soon. They'll lock me up or I'll fade away on the concrete." I rested my head back down on the cool earth. Closing my eyes, I said, "The mountain is vast, and it judges none." "Yes," she said. "Sometimes, I dream about disappearing out here--getting so lost no one can tell me from the trees." "There's nothing stopping you," I said, half asleep. "Not even a big wolf?" I couldn't see her face then, and her voice was getting harder to concentrate on. "I don't eat interesting things." She laughed again and skipped back down the mountain. That was the last I saw her for a while. The men in blue showed up at her house the next week. I didn't hear the conversation clearly. All I understood was that a search was underway. Two Moons was missing and someone saw her leave with a group of young men, but no one knew where she was. I don't know why--it's not in my nature--but I went searching for her. I called upon my brothers and sisters to ask if they saw the girl. Then, I spoke to the birds, the foxes, and the snakes. With none left to ask, I turned to that sneaky coyote for help. He knew what none else did, and he took me down to them. Outside my land, on the other side of the mountain, a group of young men brought Two Moons out to an isolated place three days after I last saw her. She was tied up and barely conscious, the coyote told me. He watched them, both afraid of them and hungry. For several days, they tortured her and left her alone each night. The coyote said she seemed to recognize them. They called her many human insults and laughed as she suffered, but not once did the coyote see her cry. She never screamed. She never spoke. Two Moons only watched the sky. He had contemplated finishing her off to eat her, but he was too frightened of the girl to move in close. When he last saw her before he spoke to me, she was definitely still alive. We ran quickly through the woods. I'd never run so fast before. No hunt ever pulled such urgency from me. I saw her there at the bottom of the mountain, in front of a cave, tied up to a tree. Four boys were standing around her holding that flame-creating device humans call "lighters". One of them had a jug of something, but I didn't know what it was. It smelled awful. I don't care for humans, not at all. It's not in my nature. But just then, I was very hungry, hungry enough to eat four humans. But I didn't eat any human flesh that day. Someone else beat me to the kill. As I was moving in for the attack, Two Moons saw me. Her body was weaker than ever--beaten, frail, and ragged. I could smell Death's unmistakable scent lurking nearby, coming to collect. Her eyes showed no signs of fear. They glowed brightly, golden-amber moons perfectly reflecting myself within them. I sensed something different in her then and stopped. The coyote cowered behind me, sensing it too. The lighter one boy carried exploded, as did the jug. He slipped in the liquid from the exploded jug. One of the other boys went to help him. His lighter slipped from his hand and somehow clicked down to produce a tiny flame. The tiny flame met with the liquid that spilled from the jug and grew, spreading over the boy who fell. The boy who went to help also caught fire. The other two boys tried to help, but were quickly consumed by the flames. They writhed on the ground, unable to stop the fire spreading deeper into them. The boys burned at an impossibly fast rate. When there was nothing left to burn, they crumbled into ash and blew away in the wind. The coyote and I watched it all transpire. When it was over, Two Moons snapped the ropes holding her down and hobbled up to her feet. The coyote backed away, but I stood my ground. Humans are dangerous, but I would never bow to one. I asked her, "So, you have magic still. Why did you wait to free yourself?" She burned the ropes in her hand. "I was thinking about becoming a ghost. Seemed nice at the time, but they were taking so long to get on with it. Then I saw you, and remembered there was other interesting things still here." "You are a strange one." I said. "Those men in blue came to your house." "Oh, did they? I'm surprised they called anyone." "Are you going back now?" I asked. "No, there's no reason." She turned away from me and put her hands behind her back. She turned to the sky. "I've been thinking, I'd like to see what's beyond here. I don't care about rules and borders. I've been thinking this form doesn't suit me." "Oh, have you become jealous of me?" I joked. She laughed. "No, I'm not looking to run." From beneath her feet, shadows rose from the earth and consumed her. The darkness covered her for a while, swirling around until it dissipated. Just above where she once stood, a raven sat perked on a branch. The bird looked at me with its amber-gold eyes and flew away. I never saw her again. Sometimes, on wintry nights when the moon is full and bright, I hear a familiar song in the distance, but that may only be me dreaming. Once, I passed a raven at the edge of my border. When our eyes met, I swore I saw her in those golden eyes. I blinked and saw nothing but brown. Another dream. I don't search for signs of her anymore. She was a passing interest in my many centuries of time, but every now and then, when the amber moon comes in fall, I can't stop myself from remembering that sliver of time years ago.
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