by Mary Grace Mauney
Hazel and Sam began making their way down the dirt road back to the barn, with Sam running ahead every few steps to check and make sure that there was no danger. Even though she never actually left Hazel's sight, she always ran right back to the little dog and reported to her that all was well and that Hazel could now safely proceed. She seemed so proud of herself that Hazel played along, and made a point of thanking the little rat each time with a great show of relief. This also helped distract Hazel from whistling of wind through the wheat field that surrounded them on both sides of the road…the hum of crickets and the buzz of cicadas…the eerie hooting of owls…Hazel normally found these things benign, even relaxing, but hearing them while she was on the front porch with her mama and hearing them while she out by herself in an unfamiliar countryside with only a little rat for company made a big difference.
The woods that they had passed through earlier on the hay ride were close now. Hazel knew that technically this was a good sign, it meant that they were that much closer to the barn, but…it seemed like the dark patch of trees had grown miles up and acres across since she had ridden through them on the cart. Even Sam balked a little at stepping into them, but there was no way around them, and so the pair of tiny pets walked in to the deep, foreboding forest before them.
Sam stopped her game of running ahead, and instead she stuck close to Hazel, hugging her fur sometimes whenever she heard a noise, like the rustling of leaves or the breaking of a branch far off beyond their very limited line of sight. Then, one noise drowned out all the others---a howl! Just like the one that Hazel had heard before…but closer this time! Instinctively, Hazel and Sam began to run, and soon enough they could see the end of the woods coming close, the dirt road leading out of the trees and back into the open wheat field. A little more, they were almost there, almost… And then something jumped in their path, cutting them off. Something big and grey and furry, with a long snout and yellow eyes.
It was not a werewolf.
It was something worse.
It was a coyote.
And it looked hungry.