Chapter Four

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Bethany's first sensations were unfamiliar ones.  Scents of sap and dust, a heavy almost-numb dragging at her shoulders, the insistent droning of insects; there was a gritty taste in her mouth, as if she'd been sucking on a bit of gravel.  But above all that was what she saw.

The little girl standing before her couldn't have been older than ten or eleven.  Her hair was tangled since it hadn't had proper care for years, but Bethany could tell that the strands wanted to lie straight.  Her eyes were a startling tawny-yellow.  She was very short, with just the slightest hints of curve beginning to develop, and Bethany had the sudden feeling that this girl didn't know what was happening to her body, maybe even wasn't aware of the changes.

Bethany leaned forward, pressing a hand to her forehead.  The movement made the numbness in her right shoulder draw upwards slightly.  "Um?"

A flash of movement and she found herself nose-to-nose with the other girl.  "Hi!" Layne squeaked with delight. 

"Um, hi.  Can you..."                                      

She'd been about to ask if she could move back, but that wasn't going to happen.  "Are you another person, like me?  Are you a girl, too?  Or a guy?  I've never seen a guy before.  Have you?  My name's Layne, what's yours?  Your wings are so pretty!  Mine are boring, see?"  She turned in a circle, stretching out her wings slightly so that Beth could see them better.  "Black is my favorite color, but my feathers are tinier than yours.  Yours are all fluffy and white.  Like the moon!  And milk.  Do you like milk?"  Layne had more questions, but she figured it would be better if she gave the other person time to answer those.

I'm hallucinating.  And she's deranged.  Ignore the wings, ignore the wings, ignore the wings!  Ignoring the wings, Bethany dredged up from the back of her thoughts the questions the crazy little girl had asked.  She intended to answer them, but she quickly realized that would only lure her deep into a conversation she would never escape from.  "I'm Bethany.  Bethany Young."

Layne nodded.  "Beffany Yung." 

Bethany raised an eyebrow.  "You can call me Beth."

"Beff."

"Alright, then.  Which are you?"

The thin eyebrows drew together for a moment before she understood.  "I'm a girl!"

"So which do you think I am?"

"Girl?" Layne asked tentatively.  At Beth's nod she went on.  "I wasn't sure because I've never seen a guy before."  She was suddenly crestfallen.  Beth had an almost overpowering urge to hug her.  "Is that weird?"

"What about your dad?"

She knew the answer to that question, at least.  "I never met my daddy.  It's just me and Momma and Hazzi." 

I wonder where "Momma" is?  "Oh?  And who is Hazzi?"

"Hazzi's my wollof!  Hazzi!"  Layne twisted around, craning her head.  Her wings flopped; Beth neatly avoided looking at them too closely. 

"Wollof?"

Master!  The wolf lunged out, snarling, from the tree line.  His front paws landed in the ring of flowers, crushing many underneath his weight and bending still others.  His ears were laid back; he approached with steady, thudding steps, his tail lifted high over his back in an aggressive show of dominance.

Beth stared.  "OhmyGod."  It could have been a large Siberian Husky if it weren't for the classic wolf coloring and the pale-green orbs centered in flickering patches of white and silver.  The broad face would have been handsome and the muzzle refined if the teeth hadn't been bared and the mouth salivating, foaming.  She moved back a couple inches, scooting her butt along the surface of the table.  The wolf's head darted up and his body went into a low crouch, muscles bunching in powerful hind legs.

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