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By Rachel Lee
Wheeler PublishingCopyright © 2004 Rachel Lee
All right reserved.
Chapter OneShadow smelled it first. He lay on the living-room floor at his owner's feet, sprawled on his left side with a rawhide chew bone a whisker's length from his nose. He'd worked the knot for a while earlier, massaging his gums, as close as he was likely to get to the satisfaction of gnawing fresh, warm meat from the bones of a kill. Now the comforting scents - the half-chewed bone; the master's feet wrapped in old leather slippers; the rug still rich with the aroma of pipe tobacco, though the master had long since stopped smoking; beef and potatoes and carrots and red wine in the pot on the stove; the barest remnant of the master's wife's perfume, even though she'd gone out the door; the salt air that was ever-present; loam on the master's slippers from the garden; the varied and precious scents of Shadow's world - were displaced by something else.
He drew in the air in quick, rapid sniffs, emptying his lungs when he could hold no more, repeating the process again and again, focusing, letting his agile mind filter out the familiar to pinpoint the new odor. Cold. Earth. Must. Decay. Chill. Death. Evil.
One quick noise, as much to chase the horrid scent from his nostrils as to alert the master. But the smell would not leave. The growl grew low in his chest as he rolled onto hishaunches, not yet standing, still sampling the air.
"What's wrong, buddy?"
The master's voice, so soothing with its deep rumble, barely reached his mind. In a smooth, graceful motion, he rose and trotted to the front window, his nose still foul with the air. Couldn't the master smell it? Probably not. The master and his wife missed so much of the world.
His pupils widened as he approached the glass, beyond which lay the dark world, full of the rising scents of nighttime. But they held no interest. It was there. It was right out there.
Begone! This is my master's home! You may not enter!
If it heard him, or understood, it paid him no heed. But his friends in the other houses heard, and understood, taking up the cry.
"What, Shadow?" the master said, now at his side.
Shadow looked up at him, then out the window again, growling an angry warning as it approached.
"There's nothing there, boy! Stop that racket."
The master couldn't see it? Of course he couldn't smell it, but couldn't he see?
No! You can't have him! I will die before I let you near him! Begone! Evil! Danger!
Shadow looked up, his teeth bared, as it came through the glass - how could that be? - and leapt up at it, snarling and snapping, clawing at it and finding nothing.
"Calm down, boy!" the master said, though his scent now held the tiniest inkling of fear.
Be afraid, Master! Run!
Shadow grabbed the cuff of his master's pants and pulled.
The master reached down to push him away. Noooooo! Shadow made one last lunge, then turned to the foul horror that seemed to stab at his nostrils like the quills of a porcupine and let out a savage growl, leaping between it and the master.
But it passed right through and into the master's body, now curling and ripping inside him. The master crumpled to the floor. Shadow pushed at him with his firm nose.
He pawed the master's arm, then his face, carefully, so that only the soft hairs between the pads of his paw touched the skin.
But the awful evil would not be deterred. With a horrible, joyful cry, it tore something deep inside. Shadow heard the ripping sound and saw the light go from his master's eyes.
But the master's spirit wouldn't listen. It floated up and off, leaving nothing but the limp husk on the floor. Sated, the evil left, though Shadow was only dimly aware of its leaving.
The master's spirit was gone.
No more morning walks to talk to Shadow's neighbors.
No more of his rough hands behind Shadow's ears, working fur and skin and flesh as joy danced in Shadow's heart.
No more easing his feet into the slippers to settle in for dinner with his wife.
Shadow turned his nose to the heavens and howled at the master's soul.
Please don't leave me!
Please don't leave!
Excerpted from Something Deadly by Rachel Lee Copyright © 2004 by Rachel Lee. Excerpted by permission.
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