About The Deep Wood:
The day I stumbled on a four-legged critter with human eyes, the rightness of my revenge begun to unravel, leading me to a clan of two-natured shifters what'd been living under my nose the whole time. And when the two-natured started showing up in odd places, stalking humans in a very unnatural way, weren't nothing I could do but dig to the bottom of it.
And what I found turned my world and ever thing I knowed upside down.
Author's Note: The Deep Wood was written in the native dialect of the narrator, found in the rural areas of the Southern Appalachians. The grammar, spelling, and syntax are not standardized American English.
“Tall tales, legends. Nothing to explain why them painters is acting the way they is.”
I pursed my lips together, hesitant to tell him about the human eyes of the painter me and David found. Letting Riley read an encyclopedia about fairies weren’t nothing a’tall. He couldn’t get hurt sitting on my couch a-reading, but the more I told him, the deeper he’d sink into this dark, dangerous world I lived in. Did I really want him to see that side of me? Did I really wanna throw him in harm’s way without proper cause?
Riley tucked a finger in the book, holding his place, and slid his free hand up and down my thigh, up and down, soothing me. “What’s wrong, baby?”
I shook my head. “Nothing. It’s just…”
“It’s just what?” he asked gentle like, and the wealth of patience in his voice sparked something in me, something lonely and small and in need of the friendship he offered.
“That painter me and David found?”
“What about it?”
“It had human eyes.”
His hand paused and them hazel eyes of his widened. “What?”
“Human eyes,” I repeated. “Like mine or yourn. You know. Round of pupil? Not like a cat’s a’tall.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
I shrugged. “Didn’t seem important.”
He sat there a long time just looking at me, his expression dead and flat and somehow bleak. At last, he said, “What kind of animal has human eyes?”
I don’t know why, but his answer lifted a weight off my shoulders I weren’t aware bore down on ‘em. “Shifters and such. Transmogrifiers.”
“Them’s the most common.” Or the most talked about anyhow, but that didn’t seem pertinent, and I weren’t sure I wanted him to know more about them sorts of critters nohow.
“You ever hear of panthers in this area turning into humans?” His shoulders shifted impatient like under his t-shirt. “Or humans into panthers.”
“No, but that don’t mean they ain’t none.”
“Maybe that’s what you should be looking for, then. It might explain the panthers singling you out.”
I narrowed my eyes on him. I hadn’t told him word one about my suspicions along them lines, so how’d he know? “Who you been talking to?”
“Missy told me about the panther you saw on the trail between here and Fame’s. And then the one at the wedding?” He shrugged, this’un looser and casual. “Seems logical.”
I clucked my tongue at him. “Riley, honey, ain’t nothing logical about monsters.”
“Sure there is.” He held up the book he was a-reading and waggled it at me. “Every creature in here operates by rules of some sort, biological or societal or whatever. You just have to figure out what rules govern the panther-humans.”
“If they is human.”
“You’ll figure it out.” He flopped over on me and planted a big smooch on my mouth, and
sorta laid there for a minute, looking at me all serious. “Don’t ever hide anything from me again, Sunny. Not anything.”
I couldn’t quite agree to that, but lucky for me, he drawed his own conclusions and went back to his studies. Me, I picked up the Foxfire book like he hadn’t rattled me good, and pretended to search for answers ‘til the butterflies in my stomach settled down and I didn’t have to pretend no more.