Winter Rain, part 8

I stash my clothing at the back gate and abandon two legs for four. I need to run free for a while, to put the whole mess of family and home behind me.

The worn path feels good beneath my feet. The air is wonderfully cool, and smells of wet leaves and soft earth.

I love October.

With the trees bare, I’m taking a risk, running in the daytime. Very few people would mistake me for a dog. Things could get complicated. But so what? They couldn’t catch me anyway, and nobody carries a rifle in an urban forest. Besides, I know these woods better than any human. They stick to foot paths. I go where I want.

I race down the slope toward the river. I smell a squirrel up ahead and grin. I dart around a tree to avoid a loud patch of leaves and dive straight for him. He notices me at last and leaps up a tree. I snap my jaws at him for fun, but veer away to avoid catching him. I don’t want a hunt, right now. Judging from Faolan’s call, there will plenty of that tonight—and game worth hunting. For now, I just want to run. To move. To be.

I turn northward just before the river and run along the footpath. I’m not worried. This end of the forest is always pretty quiet. Besides, with the wind in my face, I won’t be startling anybody.

I can see the northern edge, up ahead. I turn east again and make for the big hill across the river.

The water is cold, but shallow. I splash across without pausing.

The hill is steep, but I want to go fast. I push harder.

I notice Tara’s scent as I crest the hill, and stop dead. She’s wearing human form, of that I’m certain. She’s outside of the forest, too—maybe 300 yards. Which is about 200 yards too far, given my current form. Still, it would be impolite not to say hello. I bark twice, then briefly howl.

I wait. And her scent changes, ever so subtly. She’s recognized me.

I’d like to see her. She’s my favourite cousin, and she might like to run together, for a while. Still, without a place to stash her clothing, she probably won’t come. But, there’s no harm in checking. I head back down the hill toward the path.

Halfway down and her scent is on the air again. I slow to keep pace with it. She is definitely heading west, toward the north entrance of the park. I stop just this side of the river and wait.