Rayanna recoiled from the gnarled stranger in the door way. Her fingers sank into coarse, thick fur as she crawled backward. At the groan of a floorboard, she froze.
Narrowing his eyes, he clomped forth and extended the lantern. “You afraid of me?”
Lips quivering, she searched the crooked furrows of his grimace for the correct answer and found no clues. “I-I’m sorry to bother you.” She scrambled to her feet. “I shouldn’t have come.” Keeping her distance, she hedged sideways and eyed the exit.
“That depends on why you’ve come, now don’t it?” He set the lantern on a rough hewn table.
“I had a campfire accident.” Sidling a few steps toward the only door, she held out her burned arms with their charred sleeves rustling around them.
He jerked a bark-crusted chair aside. With the rifle, he gestured from her to the tableside seating. “Have a seat … Anna.” He emphasized the name she’d given him, dragging it out.
He couldn’t possibly know I made up that name. For all she knew, maybe her real name, or at least her nickname was Anna.
She trudged toward the table, flicking a glance at the door. Her boot stumbled over the clawed edge of the massive fur carpeting the floor. Its dense black hide spread out to the size of a Kodiak, but its paws knuckled in an odd, un-bearlike shape.
Rayanna laid a hand on the opposite chair, keeping the small table between her and the stranger.
He barked, “Did your accident burn a hole in your backside, too?”
“Huh?” She drew back, flashed a quick scan at her back jeans pockets. “Uh, no.”
He baton-tapped the gun barrel onto her edge of the table. “Then sit.”
Scanning the room, she settled onto the straw-woven seat. The sparse shack offered little other furniture. A hide-draped rocker faced the stone hearth. Mongrel-like quilts of pelts and rags covered a makeshift cot in the corner. A motel room could have swallowed the entire cabin. The windowless log walls shrank the feel of its space even more.
“Now, we’ll have us a little talk.” As he clutched his rifle with both hands and sat opposite her, his whiskered lips twisted into an uneven grin. “Now that we’re good and locked in.”
*** TO BE CONTINUED ***