A wisp of smoke curled from the fireplace and traced the storyteller’s jawline. Reeve sucked his crooked teeth as he surveyed the writhing flames. “There’s critters born tender as kittens. But earth’s foul air can poison things. So a purr can’t be trusted. At any moment, a sweet-sounding thing’ll carve your eye out to save itself.”
Rayanna gripped the armrests and lifted the chair, backing silently away from him. “I don’t see what this has to do with me.”
She froze as he drilled his focus on her.
“There’s another kind of beast. See, some creatures are born evil.” He leveled his ember-flecked glare at her, leaning forward. “Instead of suffocating in the corruption of the air, they thrive on it. Rumors point at them for bringing malice here in the first place. But I couldn’t say. Seems awful plentiful to have come here without a natural place already here for it.”
Sweat trickled along her hairline, but she didn’t dare move to wipe it away. She’d wandered into the shack of a paranoid mountaineer. One wrong move might confirm his suspicions and he’d label her as one of these alien predators.
“I’ve seen that look in your eyes before,” he said.
She blinked. Shook her head. “I’m just listening. Like you told me. I–”
“You think I’ve lost my mind.” He stood, retrieved a Bowie knife from the mantle, and perched back on the hearth.
“No, I just don’t understand the whole story.” She held up her palms. “Maybe you could just explain the details. So it makes sense to someone who’s never heard it.” She stopped short of adding a comment about her memory lapse, in case it’d tempt him to think this was her own forgotten backstory.
“Don’t matter what you think of me.” Reeve cleaned his fingernails with the blade’s tip. “Truth don’t make no never mind of opinions. And neither do I.”
“So, can you help me here? Are you saying those beasts outside and this creature here …” She pointed to the monstrous fur rug. “Were some sort of werewolves?”
“Wipe that look off your face, varmint!” He stabbed the knife within an inch of her nose. “These are lycan. Not movie or storybook werewolves. And not like anything one of them fool humans in town would’ve ever seen before.”
An ache clubbed at all sides of her skull. But she had to think. To say something. She forced her trembling lips to spit out the first words she could summon. “Couldn’t I just be a fool human, like the townspeople? I did manage to get lost in the worst possible place. And roll into a fire afterward.”
“Nice try. If only I were the kook or fool you were countin’ on. That’d be a sight easier on us both, now wouldn’t it?” Ashy whiskers bristled around his craggy sneer. “You’re lost all right. More’n you know. See, you ain’t no more a human than I am, varmint.”
*** TO BE CONTINUED ***