“Fiona! It’s a wolf!”
Fiona followed the line indicated by the girl’s pointing finger and saw the creature. It was sitting in the middle of the clearing, blending in to the high, brown grass scarcely five yards away, watching them.
“Ach,” Fiona replied scornfully. “That’s no’ a welf. ’Tis a…”
But what was it, exactly? It was too big to be a fox, although that was what it most closely resembled. And there was something about its eyes that did not strike her as canine at all.
“…dog o’ some sort, I think,” she finished unsatisfactorily.
All three of the younger girls were edging cautiously away from it, readying themselves to run for their lives. “I think it’s a werewolf!” one of them piped up.
“But the moon isn’t up,” another one argued.
“It’s not up right now, but it doesn’t have to be! It was full last night, or close to it. I saw it!”
“It’s no’ a werewelf,” Fiona assured them, putting an end to the discussion.
But could it be? Those eyes…those eyes were human, she was sure of it.
Fiona’s green eyes locked suddenly with the creature’s brown ones, and then she knew exactly what she had to do. Without breaking eye-contact, she reached inside the picnic basket and pulled out a strip of smoked venison. She held it out in front of her, making it clear to the fox-like being she was offering it for free.
The creature raised itself off its haunches and took a few tentative steps forward. The girls screamed and ran for the forest, and the creature stopped, unnerved, and plopped its rear back down on the ground.
“Come ’ere,” Fiona urged it gently, waving the venison in order to regain its interest. “I’m no’ goina hurt you.”
The creature crept gradually closer, until it was less than a foot away from the proffered venison. It was nervous, she could tell. It would snatch the meat then bolt for the hills—she could read it in its uncanny eyes.
“Hey, there,” she greeted it gently. “Everythin’s goina be alright, y’ ken? Here, take it.”
It took it, but it didn’t run away. It trotted a few paces away from her, shook the strip of venison as if trying to kill it, then devoured it in two bites. Once finished, the creature sat down again, looking at her, and thumped its tail in the dirt.
“You want some more?”
“I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’”
She held out another strip of meat from the basket, and this time the creature ate it right out of her hand, its warm, wet tongue cleaning up any spare morsels that might have been stuck to her fingers. She petted it cautiously on the head.
Thump, thump, thump.
“Do you have a name?” she asked it, somehow knowing it would answer.
“Raif!” it yipped.
“Raif? Weel, ’tis a pleasure to meet you, Raif. My name’s Fiona.”
Raif nosed at the picnic basket.
“No, I dinna think you should ha’e any more,” she said. “The salt in it might make you sick.”
“Oh, alright, but dinna come cryin’ ta me if you get a tummy ache.”
She fed him another piece of venison, which Raif inhaled just as quickly as it had the previous two offerings.
“I dinna think you’d want any bread…”
Raif wanted the bread.
When Fiona finally did put her foot down, the picnic basket was quite a bit lighter than it had been before. She pushed it aside and scratched Raif behind the ears. “What are you, boy?” she asked the creature absently. “What are you?”