The Better to Bite

By: Cynthia Eden

Chapter One


I should have known better than to go into the woods alone.

My dad and I hadn’t been in town long, really just a few days, and I should have stayed at the house. But I was bored and lonely, and the woods around our new place just seemed to call me.

At first, I wasn’t scared at all. Truth be told, I’m not the kind to scare easily, but that’s because I’m…different. My dad’s word. He doesn’t like to call me a freak or anything since he’s my dad, so he says I’m just different.

I am.

My tennis shoes crunched over the ground, breaking twigs and crushing leaves. The waning sunlight barely broke through the treetops. Around me, the woods were dark green and brown and I could hear birds chirping in a sweet song. For a girl who’d lived the first sixteen years of her life in the city surrounded by tall buildings and asphalt that stretched for miles, the swaying trees and the light pine scent of the woods were…nice.

No, at first I wasn’t afraid at all. I just walked and walked. I didn’t worry about getting lost. I can’t get lost. No matter where I go or what I do, I’m never lost. I can always find my way back home.

That’s just one of the ways that I’m different from other girls. But dad didn’t like for me to tell folks about that particular talent. Then again, my dad wasn’t real big on sharing with anyone. As far as I knew, I was the only person he ever confided in. Sometimes, I got the feeling he was keeping secrets even from me.

I walked and walked. I found a small stream and the icy cold water chilled my fingertips. Wisps of dying sunlight fell down on me as I knelt at the stream, and I could take breaths that didn’t taste of the city.

But then the sunlight seemed to fade even more. I was crouched over the stream when I heard the first growl.

And when I felt the light touch of fear on my skin.

I lifted my head slowly, and my gaze darted across the water.

“Oh, crap.” My startled whisper as I saw what waited for me.

I should have known better than to go into the woods alone.

Another growl had the hair on my arms rising. Because this growl…it showed the fangs—the very big fangs—that the beast before me had. Those fangs were big and way too sharp as they burst from the animal’s mouth.

A dog? A really big, scary dog? “Easy,” I whispered as I rose and offered my hand. I thought I’d read that someplace…that you were supposed to let a dog sniff you to show that you didn’t mean any harm.

The dog snarled at me. Seriously, a snarl, and I dropped my hand.

Its eyes—bright and yellow—were on me. Thick black fur covered its body and its strong paws dug into the earth.

Sweat began to trickle down my back. Run.

The dog’s teeth snapped together, and it jumped up, flying right over that stream and coming at me.

I screamed and turned away, running as fast as I could. “Heel!” I shouted over my shoulder as I ran. I heard the slosh of water as the dog landed at the edge of the stream. “Go away and just—heel!” I wasn’t exactly a dog lover, and crazy Fido sure wasn’t doing anything to change my opinion.

The ground seemed to shake behind me as he closed in. I didn’t glance back. I didn’t want to see those teeth again. I raced as fast as I could go, but I was never gonna be a track star. My side ached, and tree limbs scratched over my arms.

Once I got away from Fido, I was never going into the woods alone again.

Never!

I could feel his breath behind me. Maybe that sounds crazy, but I could. Hot, heavy. My own breath choked out as I saw a tree up ahead. An oak tree, one with a long, hanging limb that I was sure I could reach. I pushed forward with my last bit of energy—I am so not an athlete—and I jumped up, reaching desperately for that limb.

I missed it.

So not an athlete.

I slammed into the ground and in the same instant, I felt a white-hot pain slice into my upper arm. I screamed and kicked, and, lucky me, I caught the mutt right in the side. He howled and flipped back.

Bleeding now—thanks, Fido—I pushed up and jumped for the tree again. This time, I caught it. I lifted my legs up, doing a weird half-crawl up the tree. The bark bit into my skin, but I didn’t care. In about four seconds, I was sitting on top of that tree branch.

And Fido was right below me, doing that deep, rumbling growl that freaked me out.

“Go away!” I yelled at him as I glanced at my left arm. Jeez, he’d clawed me! I had four long slices cutting across my skin. Four long, bleeding slices. The kind that you knew weren’t going to heal easy. No, thanks to Fido, I’d probably be carrying these marks for weeks.

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