Bathed in the eerie light of the misty prairie dawn, Boon Jenner stopped dead in her work. Off in the distance, just beyond the tall grass was the biggest, queerest looking wild dog she had ever seen.
And standing stock still, Boon followed the beasts loping movements, with a natural born sharpshooter’s eye. The damn thing looked like some kind of gigantic wolf. Except this hadn’t been wolf territory, for well over a hundred years.
Wild dogs had been worrying Boon’s sheep something fierce lately. She’d been finding mauled livestock for months now. And even her ole dog Missy, had vanished without a trace, three weeks before.
Boon was sure that something bad had happened to her. Smart loyal dogs as loving and true as Missy, don’t just run away or get lost. And Boon had a powerful suspicion that feral animals were to blame for her disappearance.
And judging by the sheer size, and intimidating presence of the beast in her field. Boon reckoned this to be the alpha of the pack responsible. Although at the moment it seemed to be ranging on its own.
It was a weird looking beast, sure enough. Strangely beautiful in the eerie dawn gloom, but in a way which left Boon feeling decidedly uneasy.
There was something oddly mesmerizing about the creature. Something that left Boo with the impression that somehow, it didn’t legitimately belong to the natural world.
The animal appeared to be in good health. There was no sign of illness or injury in its general appearance. In fact it looked more like a kept dog than a feral one. Too well-groomed to be a wild thing.
Still, it bore no collar as far as Boon could see. And she certainly didn’t recognize it as any of her neighbour’s animals.
Boon stood entranced by the astonishing creature for nearly a full minute, before she finally reacted. Setting down her fencing pliers and slowly retreating through the trees, which grew as a windbreak alongside of the field. Taking care to move as quietly as she could, over the dense blanket of dry leaf litter and fallen branches.
Until finally Boon retrieved her rifle from the back of her truck, having never let the creature entirely out of her sight. Partly so she wouldn’t lose sight of the beast in the gloom, partly because the creature was just so weird looking.
Boon couldn’t quite out her finger on the reason why, but there was something mesmerizing about the creature. Fierce and beastly looking as it was, there was a beguiling beauty and grace about the animal.
Now, Boon hated to kill any living thing. But the mess feral dogs had been making of her sheep lately, galvanized her resolve. For as much as they were property, Boon tended to think of her livestock as under her care, rather than in her possession.
And although Boon tended towards affection for all living creatures, she was a pragmatist as well. And the cold hard fact was, her animals needed protection from this dog, or wolf, or whatever hell it was.
And besides, if this was the beast that had taken Missy, then that alone was cause enough to shoot the thing. Although Boon sure as hell didn’t feel good about having to do so, and would much rather let her rifle stay cold.
But Boon knew the world just didn’t work that way. And that the toll for life was death, and that was that. Whether she liked it or not.
So returning to the spot where she had sighted the beast, Boon shouldered her rifle, leaned into the shot and aimed down the sights.
And as she got her eye in, Boon was struck once again by the remarkable beauty of the creature. It was lithe and sleek, and graceful in its movement, and so strangely fascinating in aspect as well.
But she simply had no choice other than to put it down. Either that or her livestock would pay a heavy toll for her reluctance.
So Boon concentrated on regulating her breathing and steadying her hand, as she assessed her shot.
The direction the thing was moving away from her, and the sheer bulk of the creature gave her few choices. If she missed with the first shot, she probably wouldn’t get a second chance, not with a beast this obviously strong and agile.
If she went for its head she was just as likely to miss and graze its skull, rather than put it down. The heart was a clearer and easier shot, and should she be a little off target, the creature would still be wounded sufficiently to end its life eventually.
As Boon began to apply pressure to the trigger, the creature stopped and sniffed the air. And yet again Boon found herself hesitating, as she watched the curious animal in her sights.
Boon had been around animals all her life, but this thing was something else entirely. Boon found herself entertaining the queerest impression, that the animal possessed an uncommon measure of intelligence.
A sentience far beyond that which might be considered usual. Something beyond the natural cunning of a wild beast, and even beyond the intelligence of a domesticated animal.
She paused a moment and pushed her hat back from her brow, as beads of perspiration began to gather on her dark brown skin. The day was already beginning to warm up as the bright sun began to ascend the dawn sky, rapidly burning away the morning mist.
“Dammit” Boon muttered.
She was hesitant to take her shot, the hound was such a queer lookin’ creature, like no kind of wild dog she’d ever seen before. Maybe it was a kept animal at that. And if it was, then putting it down would be a terrible crime, to her way of thinking at least.
But Boon dismissed the thought as her natural reluctance to kill, looking for an excuse to spare the animal.
‘Stop being so damn sentimental, Boon Jenner….’
‘….this animal dies or your sheep get torn to pieces….’
‘Now, what’s it gonna be?’
Reluctantly Boon took aim once again, and slowly squeezed the trigger.
And as the rifles report cracked like thunder in the air, Boon Jenner beheld the most astonishing and horrifying sight.
An incomprehensible parody of reality, which would sear itself into her mind, like a hot brand on the hide of a bull.
It happened in an instant, in the smallest fraction of a second. She missed, at least she must have missed.
The beast must have bolted, but she didn’t see in what direction it had run off. Boon Jenner could swear she had seen it vanish. In the blink of an eye, it just winked out of existence.
But she definitely hit something. And whatever that something was, it certainly wasn’t a wolf.
“No…!” Boon gasped in astonished alarm.
In the moment she saw the beast disappear, Boon saw a human figure fall to her shot. It was a girl.
“But it couldn’t be….”
Boon froze on the spot for a moment, her mind utterly overwhelmed at the horrifying and impossible event she had witnessed.
“….what did you do?”
With her heart gripped with anxiety and her blood racing with adrenaline, Boon rushed to the spot where she saw whatever, or whoever it was fall.
And every step of the way, she prayed to god that she would find nothing more than a dead wild dog. But god seemed not to have heeded her plea, and what Boon Jenner found, confirmed her direst fears.
It was indeed a girl, white as winter snow with hair the colour of a raven feather. And as naked as the day she was born, without a single stitch of clothing on her.
Blood rapidly pooling at her left shoulder where the bullet had entered, and beginning to soak into the cold earth.
“Aw hell..!” Boon wailed in panic to the empty and unheeding heavens.
“….oh sweet mercy!”
Boon hurriedly pulled her phone out of her jeans pocket, and dialled the first name that came to mind.
The name that was always first in her mind.
And Officer Mathilda Dixon pulled her patrol car over, to answer the incoming call. Checking the caller identity Tilly wondered.
‘What the hell could Boon Jenner want, at this time of day?’
“What’s up Boo?” Officer Dixon answered brightly, glad in spite of her puzzlement simply to hear the sound of Boon’s voice.
“Tilly, I need help, there’s been an accident….”
“What’s happened Boo?”
“….I shot someone!”
“You shot someone? Who the hell did you shoot Boo, and for gods sakes why?”
“Tilly, please. It weren’t on purpose, it was an accident. I was out by the north pasture, where we used to play in the birches. And there was a wild dog, I’m sure of it….” Boon sobbed in obvious distress.
“I was sure it was a wild dog, Tilly….”
“….but then there was this girl….”
“….aw hell Tilly, I shot her.”
“Okay Boo, just try and stay calm. Is she still alive?”
“Yeah, she’s still breathing. And she has a pulse, but its running awful slow, Tilly.”
“Okay, where is she wounded, Boo?”
“I hit her in the shoulder, just below her collar bone….”
“….aw hell Tilly, she’s out cold.”
“Okay, calm down Boo, a wound like that won’t kill her. Leastwise not with that junky old rifle of yours.”
“Oh sweet Jesus Tilly, I hope you’re right.”
“Just stay with her Boo, staunch the bleeding best you can and don’t let her move. I’ll call an ambulance from Markham, and I’ll call Doctor Cox too. Cody can get to you quicker than the ambulance.”
“Aw Tilly, I’m scared. What if she dies…?”
“Come on now Boo, keep it together. You know full well a shoulder wound aint gonna kill a body. Just take a deep breath, and keep your head screwed on. Me and Cody are on the way.”
“Okay….” Boon sobbed gratefully.
“Where are you exactly, Boo?”
“I’m parked out by the old tree house, remember?”
“Okay, I’ll be right there, you just hang on Boo. And try to stay calm, everything’s gonna be fine. Okay?”
“Oh Tilly, please hurry!” Boon cried.
Boon Jenner pocketed her phone, and draped her coat over the girl’s naked form. Applying gentle pressure to the wound, in hopes of stemming the flow of blood. Trying her hardest to do as Tilly said, and stay calm.
“What the hell were you doing out here…?” Boon appealed to the unconscious figure, as tears tumbled from her eyes.
“…and why the hell are you neked?”
Boon sat down beside the unconscious stranger, and monitored her pulse and breathing, as she anxiously waited for Tilly Dixon and Cody Cox.
The girl was awful queer looking, without a doubt.
And as the dawn gloom began to dissipate, beneath the bright morning sun. The more anomalous aspects of the girl’s features, became increasingly visible. And increasingly unsettling as well.
The stranger had great big creepy looking feral eyes, which stared open and unheeding at the early morning sky. Looking for all the world like the girl was jaundiced or some such, but with the discoloration more of an amber than a yellow.
And she had weird, kinda pointy ears. Large and elongated, maybe like a fairy or an elf, or something equally fantastic.
And she was paler than a ghost. Like she hadn’t seen the sun in an awful long time.
And the girl had clearly never heard of wax or a razor. Plus she was in dire need of a good hot bath, the girl smelled strongly of sweat, earth and blood.
But not just fresh blood, the girl smelled of stale blood as well. And eventually Boon realized it was more than normal body odour, which bothered her senses.
The strange girl was high with the smell of carrion. Truth was, she stank of death.
And then Boon noticed the dark crimson stains, on her lips and under her finger nails. And pieces of what looked awful like fresh meat and fur in her teeth.
“Just what the hell kind of girl are you…?” Boon appealed again to the unconscious figure.
“And what the hell have you been doing…?”
As she waited, Boon speculated that maybe the stranger was a vagrant, or perhaps some kind of hermit or something.
But there was something about her that suggested not. Derelict as she may be, Boon had never seen a railroad bum as curious looking as this.
But Boon didn’t have to dwell too long in her speculations. Both Tilly Dixon and Cody Cox knew every mile of road in the district, and both arrived at the scene in no time flat.
Mathilda got there first, and Boon hurried over to meet her lifelong friend. Throwing her arms around her for comfort.
Grateful when Tilly decided to show a little compassion and hug her back, rather than scald her for a fool or ignore her distress. Such being an even split bet, with Tilly Dixon. Hot and cold as she tended to run.
“She’s still out cold Tilly….” Boon cried in nervous agitation as she led Tilly to the wounded stranger.
“….I thought I saw a feral dog Tilly….”
“….or a wolf or something….”
“A wolf…?” Tilly remarked incredulously
“Aw hell, I don’t know….I didn’t know it was….”
“….I didn’t know it was a girl Tilly.”
“Okay Boon” Officer Dixon soothed.
“It’s gonna be alright. Just let me take a look at her.”
Tilly barely had time to check the girl’s vital signs before Cody Cox, the local doctor and childhood friend to both arrived. And immediately went to work assessing the extent of the stranger’s injury.
The girl was maybe somewhere in her thirties with long dark hair, she appeared to be in very good health except for the bullet wound. She was white as a sheet, but Cody put that down to her natural colour as much as due to blood loss.
“Kind of pretty for a wild dog, isn’t she Boo?” Cody Cox remarked, attempting to divert Boon from her trauma. Hoping that the humour or irritation at a little jibe would do the trick.
“Just as well you only carry that antique peashooter, else you would have laid her low fer good.”
“Is she going to be okay, Cody?” Boon pleaded, ignoring Cody’s attempts at levity.
“I’m certain of it, Boo. Just relax and be thankful that you never could shoot straight.” Doctor Cox replied.
“But why is she still unconscious?”
“Can’t say, but it’s probably better this way. Trust me Boo, she’s going to be fine.”
“I’ll believe that when I see her walking and talking.” Boon uttered nervously, as she paced to and fro. Wringing her hat in her hands in agitation.
“Boo….” Tilly soothed as she smiled warmly and took Boon’s hand.
“Trust me, she’s not going to die. You just wounded her.”
And by the time the ambulance finally got to the scene, Doctor Cox had the girl stable enough to travel, with her wound dressed and the blood loss minimized.
And before long, the ambulance crew hurried over with a stretcher. And quickly had the stranger loaded up and on her way to Markham Hospital. Leaving the three lifelong friends standing in the very place, where as children they once played together.
“Okay. Let’s go over this one more time while it’s still fresh in your mind Boon. You were mending the fence just before dawn.”
“You saw a wild dog, so you went to the truck for your rifle.”
“You had the dog in your sights, but you didn’t see the girl?”
“But you said before, that something queer happened?”
“Gracious yes, something queer happened.”
“….you took your shot, then what happened…?”
“I was certain my shot was true, I was aiming for the heart. But I missed, I must have done. Except I’m sure I didn’t miss. I saw the dog bolt, or…” Boon trailed off into silence.
“Or what?” Tilly prompted.
“Well it didn’t bolt exactly….” Boon continued to nervously fidget with her hat, obviously still in a state of distress and confusion
“….it just vanished.”
“Okay, maybe don’t say that to the investigators, maybe just say it ran off.” Tilly advised in a gentle tone.
“Investigators…?” Boon pleaded, her face a mask of alarm.
“There will have to be an investigation Boo. I can’t just write you a ticket for shooting strangers, and have done with it.” Tilly answered calmly.
“Oh hell….” Boon cried.
“….will I go to jail?”
“Boon, no. They’re not going to imprison you for an accidental shooting like this. Especially not as she’s just wounded.”
“Relax Boo, you’re not in trouble, just tell us what happened next.” Doctor Cox soothed, gently prompting the rest of Boon’s account.
“Well I took my shot, and the dog vanished…”
“Bolted.” Tilly corrected.
“The dog….bolted. And at the very same instant, I saw the girl drop.”
“It was weird Tilly, really weird. It was kind of like…” again Boon trailed off, as if unsure herself of what she had witnessed.
“Like what, Boo?” Tilly prompted.
“Like she fell out of the wolf….dog….thing….”
“Fell out of the wolf…?” Tilly repeated uncomprehendingly.
“Okay, maybe leave that part out too, Boon.”
“Dammit Tilly, I’m telling true!” Boon protested, stamping her foot in frustration.
“I seen what I seen….you gotta believe me….”
“Alright Boon, just calm down. It’s going to be okay.” Cody reassured in a compassionate tone.
“Maybe the girl was near the dog when you took your shot, but you just didn’t see her. Maybe you hit them both…?”
“Nope” Mathilda answered.
“No animal tracks leading away, no blood trail and no dead dog.”
Tilly thought for a moment as she inspected the scene.
“Look, here’s what happened….”
“There was some mad girl, wandering around naked in the middle of nowhere. Who the hell knows why? Maybe she escaped from some asylum somewhere, or maybe she’s a vagrant or some such….”
“It was just on dawn, the light was still dim, and you thought you saw a wild dog. So you shot it. It was an accident.”
“Oh come on Tilly, are you serious…?” Boon protested
“….that sounds insane. People don’t just wander around neked like that. And people dun’t look like wild dogs neither, they just don’t.”
“Really, Boo?” Tilly challenged as gently as she might.
“So accidental shooting sounds more insane to you than a vanishing wolf?”
“It’s the truth Tilly Dixon!” Boon insisted angrily.
“Well this is getting us nowhere.” Cody interjected, feeling that the discourse was headed nowhere useful.
“Are you alright to drive, Boon?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Right, then go home. Take a shower, drink some coffee and clear your head. Meet me and Tilly at the station at noon. We’ll get something to eat, and we’ll work it all out. Together.”
“Fine, but I already told you everything, there is to tell. Aint nothing gonna change after a cup o’ coffee and a plate of eggs.”
“Okay” Tilly reassured.
“I guess I believe you, I mean of course I believe you Boo. But I have to make a report, and I won’t be the only one looking at it, so it has to make sense.”
“Boon” Cody interjected.
“We all know you’re not mad, and we know you aren’t a liar. This isn’t about that, this is about getting the paperwork correct, and our accounts consistent. This is about keeping you out of trouble.”
“Fine….” Boon conceded
“I’ll be at the station at noon.”
“And I’ll be taking that old pea shooter of yours as well, Boo.” Tilly added in an authoritative tone.
“What fer!” Boon objected “t’aint yours”
“What fer?” Tilly slightly mocked Boon’s heavy rural accent
“Fer the vestigation, Miss Boo.”
“Don’t you make fun o’ me Tilly Dixon! You’n Cody spoke just the same, fore you both ran off to the city and came back all gentrified.”
“You aint no better’n me.”
“Okay Boo.” Cody soothed
“No need to get hot about it. Just let Tilly have the gun. And you go home and calm down. We’ll see you at the station, okay?”
“Fine.” Boon conceded angrily.
And Boon marched back to her truck, muttering hotly under her breath. Mad at Tilly and Cody both for their attitudes, as much as their disbelief. Boon saw what she saw, she wasn’t confused and she wasn’t mistaken. She shot a wild animal, but it was a girl who fell to her shot.
It wasn’t a trick of the dawn light, and she wasn’t imagining it. And they ought to believe her, and Tilly certainly oughtn’t to be teasing her.
But Tilly Dixon had always left Boon feeling confused and upset. Even as girls she was always either teasing her, or stealing kisses off her. And Boon never could tell exactly if Tilly was in love with her, or whether she hated her.
But Boon sure wished she’d make her damn mind up.
And climbing into her truck, having collected her tools but leaving her rifle behind. Boon sped off, spinning her wheels in the dirt out of frustration. Leaving Tilly and Cody at the scene.
Tilly inspected the area, beginning at the point where the strange girl’s blood dried in the morning sun, working her way out in a concentric search pattern.
“See anything I don’t, Tilly?”
“Yes?” Cody prompted.
“This doesn’t add up Cody….look….there’s dog tracks leading to where the girl fell….”
“But no such tracks leading away….”
“….and no human tracks leading to where she fell….”
“No other human tracks at all, except those left by us and the ambulance officers….”
“….just a pool of blood surrounded by a whole lot of nothing.”
“And no wild dog….” Cody added.
“So where did the girl come from, Tilly…?”
“She didn’t just fall out of the sky.”
“Hell if I know.” Tilly replied, waving her hands in the air in exasperation.
“Maybe Boon is telling true, maybe she shot a damn shapeshifter.”
“I’m sorry…?” Cody scoffed.
“Aw hell, just blowing off steam, Cody” Officer Dixon replied.
“It’s just my grandmother used to tell old stories, about people who lived separate. Because they were half wolf, or half bear or eagle or some such.”
“They’re just stories, Mathilda.”
“I know that doctor. Thankyou. It’s just that the whole thing is downright queer” Tilly continued
“If Boo says she shot a wild dog, she shot a wild dog. Period. The woman isn’t a fool.”
“I know. I want to believe her too. But the fact of the matter is, we found a wounded girl, not a dead dog.”
“Yep.” Tilly conceded.
As compelling as Boon’s account was, it must have been a trick of the dawn light or the mist or something. Tilly lingered a little longer as the sun rose in the sky, bathing the prairie in glorious light, all the way off to the mountains.
Taking several photos of the blood stain and the surrounding tracks, with Cody keeping her company as she worked.
“Crime scene photos, really?” Cody commented
“Yeah I know, but it can’t hurt to have some kind of evidence. Just in case that girl dies.”
“She’ll be fine Tilly.”
“Yeah, I know that too. But I don’t want Boo getting into any trouble.”
“….so you’re still sweet on her then…?”
Tilly made no reply, perhaps because she was concentrating on her duties. Perhaps because she had been over this with Cody before, and didn’t care to again. Probably both Cody surmised.
“….and I see you’d rather torment the poor, girl than come out with the truth of it.”
“It aint none o’ your business.” Tilly replied rather tersely, to Cody’s admonishing comment.
“The hell it aint none o’ my business, Tilly Dixon. You’ve been in love with Boo, ever since we were girls. I could always see it, plain as day.”
“So what, doc?”
“So I want to know what you aim to do about it. You’re finally home again, you’n Boon are both full grown adults now. Aint nothing standing in your way ‘cept yourself.”
“Aw hell, Cody….”
“Yes this again. And again all over, until you decide to do right. For yourself and for Boo.”
Cody had been subtly pestering Tilly, about coming clean with Boon about her feelings. Ever since she had been assigned as the sole police officer, of the little town of Hurley.
The damn woman was persistent in her nagging and cajoling, and Tilly was beginning to tire of the conversation.
“Dammit Cody, you know how people are around here, this isn’t the city. Most would judge us as against god, and we’d find ourselves shunned in no time.”
“Oh come on Tilly, this isn’t the dark ages. You might get a little ribbing and a few sour looks. But most folk wouldn’t even have the smarts to realize that you and Boo were a thing.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right. But there are those that would notice, those as would take exception….”
“I don’t care, Cody. Their bullshit wouldn’t weigh the least bit heavy on my shoulders, but it would on Boo. She’d be the one who’d get hurt.”
“Maybe. But how do you think Boon feels now? What with you drawing her near with one hand, and pushing her away with th’other.”
Tilly had no good reply, and she had no interest in arguing the point even if she did. So she remained tacit.
“You can’t live in fear of what people might think Tilly Dixon, and you can’t let that woman who loves you, waste her life waiting on you to find your courage.”
“You have to stand up for yourself and for Boon….”
“You know I’ll stand with you.”
“Maybe you’re right.” Tilly quietly conceded.
“You know full well I’m right” Cody took advantage of this small victory, to press home the point.
“Do you really think God would put love in your heart for that girl, if she didn’t mean for you to do something with it?”
“I Guess not….” Tilly replied.
“….maybe I’ll think on it….”
“You do that Mathilda Dixon, and not just for your own self. Think on it for the sake of Boo.”
“Okay” Tilly snapped in mounting irritation.
“Boo doesn’t live alone because she can’t find love. She’s on her own because she’s waiting for you to make up your mind, even if she doesn’t realize it.”
“You speculate on that, Tilly Dixon. Boo sat all alone every night, waiting on you to stop being so damn stubborn.”
“Okay…!” Tilly snapped again.
“I get it!”
“Well alright then.” Cody replied.
The two searched the area in silence a little longer, until Tilly finally announced.
“Well this is getting us nowhere….”
“I’ll see you back at the station, and we can start working on our reports. I’ll need a statement from you as the attending physician.”
And the two headed back to the little nearby town of Hurley. Tilly spinning her wheels in agitation at Cody’s persistent nagging.
That Cody Cox sure knew how to get her worked up, the damn woman knew exactly what was going on in Tilly’s heart. And she seemed to know precisely which buttons to push.
And all the way back to town, Tilly couldn’t get Cody’s lecture out of her head. She’d heard it all before from Doctor Cox, and she knew that she was dead right.
But this time it was different. Seeing Boo in such distress, seeing her so frightened made Cody’s words all the more effective.
Boo was alone right now, having to deal with her fear all by herself. She’d just shot a woman for heaven’s sake, she must be beside herself. And Tilly knew it shouldn’t be like that, she shouldn’t be alone, not with this.
“I should be with her….”
“….she’s scared and I should be by her side.”
For years Tilly had been supressing her feelings for Boon, thinking that it was necessary to protect the woman from the sneers of her neighbour’s.
But maybe it wasn’t Boo she was worried for, maybe she was just scared for herself.
Ever since they were teenagers, she’d been keeping Boo at arm’s length with her teasing and torments. All the while keeping her as close as she dared, stealing kisses here and there, keeping her wishes alive.
Hoping no one would notice that she was sweet on another girl.
Looking back now, Tilly felt shame and sorrow for the way she had behaved. She had been a bitch to Boon sometimes. Usually when she wanted more than anything, to hold her tight and never ever let her go.
Of course Tilly understood that times had changed, that most folks were used to idea of two people of the same suit being together.
Even if they weren’t comfortable with the idea, there wasn’t the hostility there used to be.
But still, evolution and change can take a little longer in small rural communities.
But would Boo even have her?
Tilly had always assumed that Boo was in love with her too. And the truth was, Tilly had always taken that love for granted.
But maybe she had been dead wrong all along.
Maybe Boo never cared for her in that way at all. Maybe Boo would laugh in her face at the suggestion.
“Damn you Cody Cox…”
“….you’ve got me all spun around!”
Confusion and doubt filled Tilly’s mind, driving her deeper into agitation and frustration.
Her heart beating rapidly as she considered turning the car around. Hurrying to Boon and declaring the truth of her heart once and for all.
She instead decided to take out her sidearm. And fire several rounds into a shot ridden speed sign, as she hurtled down the road.
Why the hell not, everybody else did it.
Thank you for reading