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     By Sarah Dorko

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The pen was poised to write over the blank paper, but it refused to move. Its holder had been sitting for some time now, eyes narrowed at the pen, wishing it would write on its own. Finally, she blinked out of her angry trance and started to move the pen with shaky, but urgent jerks from her awkward hold on it. For a time, the scratching of her writing was the only sound in the room. The candle sitting on the corner of the desk was burning low, causing the night’s shadows to slowly consume the room. Its light reflected off the gold of the pen and its constant movements sent the small shimmering reflections across the ceiling in the dim light.

The creak of the door opening caught her by surprise. Her head flew up and she caught a glimpse of herself in the window. The dying candle provided just enough light so she could make out her features perfectly. With a crunch, the tip of her pen smashed into the paper, spilling ink all over.

“Oh, dear! That’s the fifth pen this week, Lucy.”

Her arm lashed out and the pen was thrown to the opposite wall. The chair toppled as she stood. She paid no attention to her disturber, only locked eyes with herself in the window as she approached it. Her long arms reached out to grasp the handles to throw the window open. Her claws clicked against the wood. The wind rushed into the room, shuffling the papers on her desk and tossing the white curtains into the air, but, most of all, it blew her snarling reflection away, the long, hideous muzzle. The only discomfort from the evening wind was the rippling sensation it brought, running through the thick, reddish brown fur all over her body. She wrapped her long arms around herself in an attempt to ignore the breeze. They were more for running on all fours instead of writing and walking like a human.

“You’re going to give yourself an awful chill with that window open.”

Lucy growled at the open door, now giving it her attention.

“You and I both know the only one who will get cold is you, Mrs. Harding. So leave.”

Mrs. Harding sighed and brought over the tray she held.

“Drink while it’s hot,” she said, setting it over the ink splatter. “And don’t worry about the mess. I’ll get to it in the morning.”

Lucy turned away again to face the window. With her sharpened sight, she spied the moving shadows in the woods that surrounded the manor. Her ears pricked at the soft sounds of Mrs. Harding hovering in the doorway. The door creaked as her hand rested on the knob, unsure whether she was staying or leaving.

“If you go out, dear, be careful.” she finally said.

“I can take care of myself, Mrs. Harding. Get out.”

The soft thud of the door was the only sound to mark Mrs. Harding’s exit. Lucy didn’t know why the housekeeper didn’t leave. It had been over five years now and it had always just been the two of them moving about the mansion. It could have simply been duty and the curse that made Mrs. Harding stay, but it was more than that. All of the other servants had left long ago, but she had chosen to stay. In spite of the countless nights and days that Lucy spent on her own, Mrs. Harding would always be in her kitchen, her sanctuary, cooking in hopes that Lucy would appear, leaving food outside her door in case she grew hungry.

Lucy’s eyes settled on the splash of ink on the wall and growled at it, angry at how it marred the room. Not able to take the room closing in around her, Lucy closed the windows and left. She remained on her hind legs as she made her way downstairs. It was much easier on all four, but she liked to keep up appearances because it pleased Mrs. Harding. She turned into the living room where two armchairs and a rocking chair sat before the fireplace.

Mrs. Harding was rocking in her chair, but stopped with Lucy’s appearance. Her joints creaked as she made to stand.

“Go ahead and sit by the fire,” Lucy said, trying to keep her growling to a low rumble, attempting to be gentle towards the older woman. She didn’t want to drive Mrs. Harding away from the little warmth that the house had to offer. Though there was plumbing in the old manor, electricity proved difficult for the multitude of rooms and, with so few occupants, wasn’t worth the effort.

“It’s nice that you finally left that room. Will you sit with me for a while?” her soft voice asked.

Though not wanting to disappoint her, Lucy hesitated, unable to stay cooped up in the house for much longer. She hadn’t gone out in about a week, and already she cringed at her claws snaring the carpeted floors. All the floors were carpeted to protect her sensitive ears from the clicking that her claws made on stone or wood. At least outside she would face none of these problems and could let all the reminders of her monstrosity go, forget everything. Out there she could act as she looked, a beast, without the thoughts of what Mrs. Harding would think haunting her and without the effort of trying to be something she was clearly not. “I’m going hunting,” she finally said. “I’ll try to be back within a couple days.”

Mrs. Harding sighed.

“You’ve been spending too much time out there as far as I’m concerned. I wish you’d stay here and spend more time with me.”

“Well, I need to eat. A monster’s stomach comes with the looks and I’d rather be alone for that.”

“Just don’t forget you are human, my dear. Don’t lose that.”

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