Prologue: The Creature
The stillness of the night drags on, broken only by an occasional distant howl. In the middle of the forest, there is a house far away from the rest of the world. Inside, a little girl is sleeping soundly. When she is woken, she has no idea of what woke her: the house is silent. Perhaps the silence itself woke her.
She slips from her bed, throwing her quilt haphazardly to one side, and lightly sneaks out of her bedroom into the open hallway. “Hello?”
She pushes open the door to her father’s room with a creeeak. “Dad? Dad, are you sleeping?” She climbs up onto the bed...and it is empty. Her heart begins to beat rapidly as childhood’s greatest fears are realized; she is alone, and a pesky thing in the back of her small mind called instinct is whispering “Danger, danger!”
“Dad? Where are you?” she calls, walking into the house’s large living room. The curtains are pulled shut, but the door is slightly -- very, very slightly -- ajar. Slivers of silvery-white light snake their way through the crack and illuminate the house just enough for the child to see she is well and truly alone.
What could have happened to him, she thinks, out here in the middle of the forest? Terrifying thoughts come to mind, especially when she hears the cries of wolves...and the sounds of heavy footsteps in the woods. They’re coming closer. She pushes the door shut and opens up one curtain just a bit, peering out with frightened curiosity.
A few of the animals are slinking close to the house. Two, no, three, moving her direction in the way that hunting beasts do. The girl watches in frightened fascination. She’s lived in the wilderness all her life, so predatory animals are familiar to her. This isn’t the first time she’s seen wolves. But something is different about these: the way they move, for one. They move like men, never with all four feet touching the ground.
One of them breaks away from the others, coming still closer to the house. The girl is unable to take her eyes away. The beast walks right up to the window where she crouches, narrowing its eyes and growling. She shrinks back, and it stares intently at her. Studying her. There is a quality about it that seems almost human.
No, no “almost.” There is most definitely something human about it. Its hands are like human hands, and there’s just something about its eyes. Something familiar. The girl looks away, shuts the window, runs back to her room and pulls the blanket over her head, as any shaken child would do. She tries to sleep but can’t -- she’s haunted by the sight of the wolf, anxious over the whereabouts of her father, and scared of what might be out there with him.
When the sun’s come up again, she hears the door open. She runs to the front hallway and sees her father there in the doorway. He’s ragged, flustered, and dirty, half naked, with strands of his curly dark hair matted with sweat and something that looks like dried blood. “Dad!” she cries.
He looks surprised. “Sweetheart? How long have you been up? Is everything okay?”
“I woke up last night, Dad. You weren’t in the house, and I was scared, and....” She trails off, unable to tell him what she witnessed the night before. About the creature -- it was no wolf, of that she is now certain -- and the way it looked at her.
He kneels down to be on eye level with his daughter. “Hailee,” he says seriously, “there are strange things in this world, okay? If you saw something last night, I don’t want you to tell anyone. Someday I’ll explain it, someday when you...when it’s safe for you to know. Someday, this will all make sense. But for now, this is our little secret. Okay, my sweet? Can you do that?”
She nods, though she does not understand his words. “Okay. I can do that.”
He smiles, ruffling her hair. “That’s my girl.” As her dad stands up, she swears she sees his eyes flash, changing color. She swears for a second that his eyes are bright, shining gold.