away again. But then, there came a rustle from behind her. She twitched her light reflexively at the sound as another coyote slipped from the shadowed brambles. It was in this moment Indigo felt that prickle of fear return. Before she had a second to think, there was another snap of twigs as three more coyotes emerged from the brush, their baleful eyes fixed on her. The delight Indigo had felt mere moments ago was replaced by sinking, dreadful fear. “Stay back!” She screamed, as the pack encircled her. Their lips peeled back in a snarl, encroaching toward her. The same manic screeches from before filled the air, their drooling maws snapping feet from her. “Go away!” She cried desperately. She wished to run, but fear was like a tangle of roots binding her legs to the ground. “Leave me alone!” The coyotes pressed in on her, their white fangs glistening in the moonlight. “Dad!” She screamed. “Dad!” She saw their tensed haunches, ready to spring toward her and fight over the morsels of her tiny carcass. Overcome with fear she dropped to the ground and covered her head, waiting to feel their fangs bore into her skin. She could almost feel the pain seething inside her, when instead an icy chill came over her skin, and the smell of an infernal rot filled her nose. Suddenly, the manic shrieks of the coyotes were replaced by a helpless whimpering. She peered up, horrified to see one of the coyotes held high in the air by skeletal tendrils, the full moon like a spotlight shining down on its pelt, crying out helplessly as it was ripped in half in a grotesque eruption of blood. She saw clearly now the hideous creature that towered above. She watched, numb, trapped in a mental prison of horror, as those slender hands began stuffing the coyote’s twitching carcass into its cavernous maw. It moaned with primeval pleasure, then turned its gaze toward Indigo as blood dripped from its gnarled jaw. She shivered, the only defense her body could muster. The creature bent its slender frame down toward her, the sickening smell of rot more than she could bear. Loose, leprous skin sat stretched over its skeletal frame. She thought its eyes were hollow at first, no more than two empty, abysmal sockets. But as the horrid thing grew closer she saw in the dim light a pair of human eyes gazing back at her, buried in the skull of the deformed creature that did not belong on this earth. Years later, Indigo would say she saw a sadness in those eyes, a torment that none should ever have to bear. Those eyes were the last thing she remembers of the beast. She doesn’t remember when or how her father found her. She doesn’t remember the searing flames her father set upon the creature, nor its wretched screams as the abomination boiled and melted into a heap of frozen ash. Her memory spared her such unbearable horrors. What she does remember is her father lifting her into his arms, her father clutching her to the warmth of his chest, her father whispering to her that everything will be okay, that she is safe now, that he is never going to let her go. Even decades later, when her father had passed, and she feels that prickle of fear return as she wanders the woods with her own children, she remembers the comfort of his love, the safety of his arms wrapped around her, and feels, for a moment at least, secure. Her father was not perfect. He never opened up the way her mother hoped. But he kept her safe. He made her know that she was loved. And this, Indigo felt, was more than enough. 21

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