The werewolves of the veldt filled the night with their howls. The villagers drew together behind locked doors. Shutters were drawn and locked. Fireplaces filled with crackling flames.
Old Mahela sat in her rocker by one such fireplace. She sat in her tiny hut, with her grandson, Jayson, waiting for his sister, Lilly. Waiting.
“She will return, soon,” Old Mahela said. “She is swift and crafty. Stop worrying.”
Jayson stirred the flames with a stick, sending sparks rising up the chimney.
“She is late,” he said. “It doesn’t take that long to return from across the veldt. She should have returned before the moon was up.”
Old Mahela shrugged and drew her furs closer about her shoulders.
“So then the wagon must be full on the return,” she said. “Of meat, salt, ale, tools. It is always slower. The old mules can only go so fast. No matter how hard Lilly spurs them on.”
She waited for Jayson to make a comment. If he was feeling himself, he would compare her to the speed of the mules, mocking her. But he held his tongue. So she knew he was truly concerned.
Jasyson stopped poking at the fire and stood up. He went to the window and peered with one eye through the gap into the dark outside.
“Sit and eat some stew,” Mahela said.
“Not hungry,” Jayson said.
Now Mahela knew he was in a bad way. For Jayson not to eat…
“Then play me in a round of bits and bones,” Mahela said. “Or dance a jig. Sing me a shanty. Anything but fill the place with your worry. Lilly will return when she does, and your fretting won’t speed her up!”
Jayson turned from the window and grabbed up the leather pouch of bits and bones. He tossed it onto the table.
“Play the game with yourself,” he said. “I’m going out.”
Mahela sat up.
“No you’re not,” she snapped. “Mind yourself, boy. I won’t have you going off and…”
She stopped herself before speaking her thoughts aloud.
“Going off and what?” Jayson said. “Before I go and get torn to pieces? Or bitten, and cursed? Just like Lilly could be?”
Mahela opened her mouth to respond, but the sound of a wagon approaching stopped her.
Jayson’s eyes blazed. He rushed for the door.
“Wait!” Old Mahela barked. She rose shakily to her feet.
“It’s Lilly!” Jayson said. “I know it.”
“Maybe,” Mahela said. “But even if it is, we need to be sure.”
Jayson leveled an angry gaze at her, but she could see in his eyes, he knew she was right.
“If she was bitten,” Jayson said, “she wouldn’t be taking the wagon. The mules would be killed.”
“Or she’d want us to think so,” Mahela said.
Jayson opened his mouth to reply, but closed it as the sound of footsteps approached the door.
Old Mahela found she was holding her breath.
“Lilly?” Jayson said softly.
A soft knock came. Mahela found herself exhaling, allowing herself to relax.
Jayson reached for the latch.
And then a low, rumbling growl filtered through the door, and Mahela’s heart froze in her chest.