Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Anna looked around to see if anyone heard her. A snowy owl stared at her, but otherwise she seemed to be part of an empty world. The wind from the east tussled with the wind from the south, and sent dead leaves scattering down from her perch. The owl's feathers waved frantically in the wind, then resettled around the staring eyes. Anna winked and the owl winked back. Then the ghugguk rose over the treeline, riding some kind of thermal into the silty sky, and she could discern a sticklike figure clutching its hackles. Baba Yaga again? Not likely, as she had run into Baba dead drunk only that afternoon at Schort's inn. Her skin twitched. Who else would take the ghugguk out, especially at night, and with the east wind working against the yugo?

She was seen, of course, and the crazy bird began to crane closer. She had only a few breaths to drop from the treetop and find cover. The owl had disappeared.

She crashed through the branches and into the half-frozen mud, bounding back up and racking her brain to remember where she had seen the fox hole. Between the trail and the stone wall? The ghugguk cried and tore down upon her. What threw her to the ground, knocking the breath from her? Why was she bleeding from her mouth? She wiped the mud from her eyes and fought back the rising sick. The man writhing off the back of the ghugguk was Dmitri Shemyaka. She would be killed in this mudscape, and as usual he wouldn't even say why.