"Blind Man's Bluff"

The sunset must be very bright today, thought Matt. It's so hot on my face I can hardly stand it. I wish I'd worn a hat. Matthew Golding trudged down the well-kept sidewalk in Washington, D.C. He was always surprised at the quality of the sidewalk whenever he walked here, despite the fact he did it often. His cane didn't hit anything worse than the regular cracks between the sidewalk squares, for which he was grateful. He didn't like to walk any farther than he had to; even after seven years of blindness, he was always afraid that he would trip and fall and break his neck, or worse. That someone would rush over and help him up, doing their karmic duty for the day by helping the blind man. His fist clenched around the plastic grocery bag that had brought him out of his apartment in the first place. He knew how people looked at him. When he was younger, he had looked at handicapped people the same way. Fortunately, no one seemed to be out and about today. Maybe it was the heat. Even at dusk, he felt perspiration on his brow. Pausing to wipe away the line of sweat above his eyebrows, he froze as he heard someone approaching. Approaching very fast, at the sound of it. He picked up his grocery bag again, hoping he wasn't near a corner. He didn't want to be run into. It seemed, though, that the spirit of the perverse was active today. Matt heard the someone skid around a corner much too close for comfort. In the next instant, something heavy had collided with Matthew, knocking him to the ground and sending red sparks across the blank void that was his field of vision. He heard a female voice swearing.

"Goddammit! Watch out, I- oh, I'm sorry." The voice suddenly noticed his glasses and cane. Matt rubbed his back where he had hit it. He started to mumble something, but the voice interrupted. "Oh, shit! Run, get out of here, or they'll get you, too!" Matt suddenly heard a large group of people pounding the pavement toward them. "Come on, get up and get out of here!" The owner of the voice hauled him to his feet and shoved his cane into his hands. "Oh, fu- " "Well, here's the little bitch we were chasing." Matt heard the group of people round the corner, and a deep male voice begin to speak. "And she found someone else for us, too."

"Get the hell away from me!" The woman snarled. "And leave him alone, too!"

"Or what? Now, are you gonna come with us, or are you gonna make it difficult? Ian, get the blind bastard's wallet." A hand, presumably Ian's, grabbed Matt. He started to pull away, but Ian abruptly let go with a yelp of pain.

"I told you to get the hell away from me!" Matt was shocked at the venom in the woman's voice.

The man who had spoken before growled menacingly. "Get her. We're gonna have a party." A higher voice, still unmistakably male, spoke up. "And the guy?"

"Kill the bastard." Matt could hear the sadistic smile in the leader's voice. Matt gritted his teeth. He had always known his blindness would kill him. Well, he wasn't going to go out without a fight! He gripped his cane like a baseball bat and swung it in what he hoped was an intimidating manner. A chorus of voices, all male, laughed.

"Get back!" The woman hissed at him.

"What?"

"Get back! I'm a...a black belt. I can probably take them out, or at least convince them not to go after us anymore. But I need space, and I can't worry about not hitting you. So get back." Matthew swallowed, and obeyed, retreating several paces, though something inside him grated at the notion of retreat. He suddenly felt a cold wind blowing, very much at odds with the summer day.

"What the fuck-" the leader's voice was tinged with incredulity and panic. The next thing Matthew heard was the snap of bones breaking, and voices screaming. Something hit the ground with a wet smack and a male voice screamed before being abruptly cut off. Several pairs of feet went dashing off just before something large and heavy hit the wall of a building, which Matt knew to be a human being by the crack of his skull against the brick. He shuddered. No wonder this woman had wanted him out of the way. It sounded as if she were unbelievably powerful, even for a black belt in - what martial art did she study?

He hadn't heard of any that could produce some of the effects she obviously had.

"Are you all right?" He started. He hadn't even heard her approach him.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Uh, thanks, um...."

"Sarah. Sarah Whitmore."

"Matthew Golding. Call me Matt, if you like."

"Um, Matt. Uh, can I help you with your bag? Oh, it looks like I made a lot of stuff spill. Here, let me get it." He heard her shuffle around, putting things back in his bag.

"Thank you. Don't worry about it, I live near here."

"Oh, no. It's no trouble at all. I'm the one you bumped into you, after all. And led those assholes right to you."

"Why were those guys after you, anyway?"

She sighed. "Because I was a girl, and alone. I was trying to lose them, but then I ran into you, and...." her voice trailed off.

"And I held you up."

"And I didn't want them to beat on you for the loss of me."

Matt grunted noncommittally. "Well, thanks, anyway. Can I have my bag back?"

"No. I told you, I have to at least carry it to your place, or something."

He sighed. Her tone of voice was no less determined than it had been when she told those guys to get away. "All right. Come on, it's this way."



"Hey, Matt. Who's your lady friend?" Bill, the landlord, was sitting in his office by the door. Matthew shoved his keys into his pocket.

"Sarah Whitmore," she announced, before Matt had a chance to speak. "I accidentally ran into him and spilled his groceries all over the sidewalk, so I forced him to accept my help in bringing them back here."

Bill laughed. "Yeah, that's Matt. Never accepts help from anyone. He's more independent than most of the bums who live here. He always makes his rent."

Matthew sighed. "Bill, come off it."

Bill laughed again. "Aw, Matt, you know you've always got my respect. I assume you're going to insist on climbing the stairs again?"

"Why wouldn't I? I need the exercise, and besides, that crappy elevator is a mass death waiting to happen." He heard Sarah chuckle at that.

"Your choice."

Matt started up the stairs. His apartment was on the second floor, the closest to the ground he could get. Sarah walked silently behind him. "So," her voice echoed in the stairwell. "You live alone?"

"Yeah. I work at this publishing house. I'm a typist."

"A typist?" Sarah couldn't keep the surprise out of her voice.

"Yeah. I take dictation."

"Oh." A silence followed.

Matt found the top of the stairs and turned a sharp right. "Here we are," he said, feeling the familiar door ornament. "Thanks for the, uh, help."

"No problem. My pleasure." She paused.

Matt heaved an inner sigh. "Say, would you like to come in for coffee? There's some beans in the grocery bag. That is, if the bag didn't break when you spilled the whole thing on the sidewalk."

"Sure. I don't have classes tomorrow."

"Classes?"

"Oh, yeah. I'm going for my Master's at George Washington U."

"In what?" Matthew noticed they were already inside his apartment.

"English lit."

Matthew felt his eyebrows rise in slight surprise. English literature was one of his favorite subjects. "Really? What're you working on now?"

She laughed a little self-consciously. "Well, I'm working on my thesis. It's on Othello. I'm afraid it's a little boring, though."

"Oh, no. I love Shakespeare. C'mon, tell me about it." Matthew started for the living room, indicating that she should follow.

"All right. Well, I postulated that...."



Matt marveled. He couldn't even remember the last time he had had a visitor, and now here he was, chatting with this woman as if they were old friends. It helped that they both loved literature, and had been avid readers of the Bard and Beowulf while their classmates were still struggling with Bronte.

"I remember the first time I read The Canterbury Tales. I was fifteen, so I could hardly understand a word of it. I managed to read it again when I was a senior in high school, and actually understood it. I was thrilled. Of course, I haven't read it since. Apparently no one's thought to translate it."

Sarah made a sound composed of sympathy and aggravation. "If you don't mind my asking, how did it happen?"

Matt sighed and turned away. "It was...needless. An accident. I was driving one night, and another car collided with me. It was on a residential road, and there was this tree right by the curb. A branch went through my windshield, and the glass flew into my face. I suppose I'm lucky none went through my throat, but...." his voice trailed off.

"But sometimes it's hard to see how. Yeah, I know. Something like that happened to me."

"Really? What happened?"

"I - if it's all right, I'd really rather not talk about it."

"Oh, yeah. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry."

"No, I brought it up. But anyway, I have to be going. It's pretty late. Thanks for the coffee. It was nice. Eau de Sidewalk."

Matt chuckled. "Say, since you're not doing anything tomorrow, you ah, want to get some coffee?"

"No. I want to get some pastries. Why does everything have to be about coffee?"

Matt smiled. "Starbucks international conspiracy."

Sarah laughed. "Well, then I'll see you, say, four o'clock? I don't really know any good pastry houses, so I'll pick up something from a bakery and bring it here. Sound good?"

"Sure."

"See you."

"See you."



Matt shut the door, sagging against it as his breath left him in a rush. What am I doing? I'm...I'm trying to go out with this girl! But how can she...oh, come now. She practically forced me to invite her in. Maybe she is doing this out of pity, but she's damned good at hiding it, if she is. He sighed and made his way to the bathroom. Well, she was obviously coming over tomorrow, and since it was a Saturday, he didn't need to get up early or go out. Hallelujah.



"Fresh from your friendly neighborhood Heidelberg Bakery, some delicious baked goods!" Matt heard the cheery voice on the other side of the door.

"Come on in. The door's unlocked." He heard the door creak open. He really should get Bill to fix the damn hinges. They made entirely too much noise.

"All right, I didn't know exactly what to get, so I got a Napoleon, some German apple cake, some cupcakes...um...yeah. I kind of overbought."

"It's fine."

"I guess I just wanted an excuse to buy some stuff. I've got a bit of a sweet tooth." Matt grunted noncommittally. "I'll get some plates. Come on into the kitchen." He knew his kitchen intimately, and didn't have any trouble getting two plates and silverware for them.

"So, what's your poison? Napoleon, chocolate cupcakes?" He heard Sarah set bakery boxes on the table.

"I don't care. Just give me whatever you don't want."

Sarah fell silent. "Um, all right." She opened the boxes, and Matt sighed.

"Listen, I'm sorry I'm so curt. It's just - "

"You're afraid that I'm going to reject you because of what happened. I know. I...I almost didn't come today." Sarah's voice was heavy and dull. Matt was sorry he had been so short with her.

"It's all right. I'm getting used to this, too."

He practically heard Sarah smile. "So, want the Napoleon? I've never been partial to them, myself."

Despite himself, Matt felt his mouth twitch in answer to her tone. "Sure."



Sarah's voice pealed with laughter. "So then, this guy walks in the door, carrying this huge paper bag. I seat the guy, he orders a Long Island iced tea, and proceeds to unpack the bag, which contains six blue-clawed crabs, still alive. He puts them on the table, and when I come back with his drink, he says, 'And my friends will have the chili!'"

Matt burst into laughter. He marveled at the sound, realizing this was the first time he'd laughed like that in years. "Man, talk about the crazy people you meet."

"Being a waitress should come with hazard pay sometimes. I decided to quit after the second time we were held up."

"Huh. I never pegged waitressing as being a hazardous job."

"More than that, I was never a very good one. I always attempted to injure the patrons who insisted on grabbing my butt."

Matt started. He couldn't imagine someone doing something so crude to such a nice woman. "Man."

"Oh, that's nothing. Frankly, I don't know why some of the other girls kept at the job. 'Course, anything can be hazardous. Even...." her voice trailed off.

"Even...." Matt prompted.

A tinge of irony colored Sarah's reply. "Even driving down the street. Or going on a hike. You never know what might happen."

"No," Matt sighed. "You never know what might happen. God, I wish I'd done more before the accident."

"Why?" said Sarah, sounding genuinely surprised. "You can do almost everything you could before. You're, well, you're still you."

Matt considered her odd reply. "I can't see. I can't see art, or read a newspaper."

"But," her voice had become very soft. "You're still you. You still enjoy reading literature. You still enjoy having conversations. At least," she hesitated. "It seems like you enjoy conversation."

"Look at what I've lost!" he said, grimacing at the irony in his phrasing. "I can't see."

"Yes, I realized that," Sarah's voice sounded irked.

"I don't even know the color of your eyes, or your hair."

"Green and black."

Matt smirked. "That's a very odd color. I didn't peg you for the type who would dye their hair green."

Sarah squawked and suddenly Matt felt something soft hit his face. A pillow. He grinned and threw the pillow in the direction of her voice. A soft thump followed by an indignant yelp told him he had hit his mark.

"And you have the nerve to call yourself disabled! I know people who can see and can't throw that well! Why, I do believe you're not even blind! You cheat!"

Matt laughed, and wondered at Sarah. She seemed so happy just to be there, with him. Why was she so eager to be there?

"Oh, look at that! It's eight o'clock! I've kept you busy for four hours. I'm sorry, I seem to have completely taken up your afternoon and evening."

Eight o'clock already? "Really? I didn't even notice. It's all right, I had a great time."

"Well, I should be going." A pregnant pause stretched between them.

"Say," said Matthew carefully. "I don't suppose you'd like to, I don't know, go out to dinner sometime? Maybe Tuesday?"

The note of joy in Sarah's voice took Matt aback. "I'd love to! I know just the place, too. Ever been to Tara Thai?" Matthew shook his head in the negative. "Perfect! I'll come by here at, say, seven o'clock?"

"I can't wait," said Matthew with true enthusiasm.

"Great! See you then!"

"Goodbye, Sarah."



My God, did I just do what I think I did? Matt heard the door close and was suddenly hit with the realization that he had asked Sarah out on a date. A date. He hadn't been on a date since, well, since the accident. Hell, he hadn't even been out to eat since the accident. All those pesky menus. And she - he almost didn't believe it. And she accepted. His face split in an incredulous grin. He walked with a much lighter step toward the library, for once impatient for the next day to come. Maybe he would read a bit before bed. Nothing depressing, tonight. Sorry, Ernest, he thought wryly. But I'm afraid your tales of death and disaster in the bull ring will have to wait. Maybe Jane Eyre. I haven't read that particular bit of fluff in awhile. However, he paused by the threshold of the library. No, I won't be able to concentrate. I'd better just lie in bed for now. He continued down the hallway toward his bedroom. Halfway there, however, he was struck with a truly horrid thought.

He didn't have anything to wear.



Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ri- "Whozzat?" Bill rubbed his eyes, peering at the alarm clock by his bed. Who the hell would call him at one in the morning?

"Bill? This is Matt. I have a big problem, and I need your help."

Bill instantly shook off his lethargy. "Matt? What's wrong? Was there an accident? Are you all right?"

"No, no, I'm fine."

"Then what the hell's the matter?"

"I-" Matt paused, and Bill could hear the chagrin in his voice. "I don't have anything to wear."

"What? Matt, the hell are you talking about?"

"Um, well, you remember that girl who's come to visit me a couple times?"

"Yeah."

"Yeah. Well, she's...er...that is, we're going out to eat tomorrow night, oh, no, never mind, it's tonight, and I can't find anything to wear."

Bill blinked uncomprehendingly at the handset. Matt calls him at one in the morning because he doesn't have anything to wear on a date? Matt, Mr. Practical, calling him at least seventeen hours before the date itself, because he's having clothing anxiety? What sort of strange aliens had abducted him and planted him into this cheap imitation world? Well, whoever was in charge of it was a real dumbass.

"Listen, Matt, I'd be perfectly happy to take you to Armani and give you a complete three- piece suit, but you'll have to wait about six and a half hours. It's one in the morning."

"Yeah, I know. Man, I haven't been able to sleep at all since Saturday."

"Saturday? Damn, Matt, I think you've got it for this girl." He heard squawking on the other end of the line, and smirked at Matt's discomfiture. "Like I said, I'll help you, but in six and a half hours. Preferably later. Bye." And he slammed the handset back into the cradle, then on second thought, let it rest on the counter beside his bed. He was afraid to leave it receptive to calls.



"Does it look ok? Is my tie straight? Are my shoes scuffed? My shoes are scuffed, aren't they?" Matt patted the new suit, trying to straighten the jacket and pants. Bill chuckled at him.

"Matt, someone's got to say it. You're acting like a fifteen-year-old on his first date."

"I am not! I just haven't been on any dates in awhile." Matt screwed his face into an expression of comic dignity.

Bill smothered his laughter in his hands. "Matt, calm down. If this chick is anywhere good enough for you, she'd love you in a disco suit." Matt grunted and sat down on his bed. He was about to say something else concerning the proverbial disco suit, but a knock on the door heralded the cause of the past eighteen hours of commotion. Matt froze, seemingly completely petrified. Bill grinned again, and grabbed Matt's hand. "Come on, Matt. It's the big hour." Matt fumbled for his cane, which Bill pressed into his hands, and the two men walked to the door. Matt closed his hand around the knob, and did an incredibly brave thing. He turned it.

"Hi, Matt. Ready?" he heard Sarah's voice, and it seemed to him the sweetest sound he had ever heard. Behind him, Bill whistled.

"Lookin' nice, Ms. Whitmore. Matt, just in case you wanted to know, she's wearing a black dress cut just above the knee, with sequins at the bottom. And her hair is all done up."

Matt closed his eyes in frustration. "Thank you, Bill."

He was sure Bill was grinning like a madman when Bill said, "Well, I'll just be off now, and leave you two lovebirds alone. Call me if you need anything, Matt." He heard Bill walk out of the apartment.

Sarah laughed softly. "Bill's quite a character. Shall we? I have a cab waiting for us." She took his arm in her own.

Matt smiled, and felt a gush of happiness well up in his breast. "I would love to."



Tara Thai proved to be an elegant, upscale restaurant, soft traditional music playing in the background. A few other couples were talking quietly or enjoying their food, but the restaurant was mainly empty. Sarah smiled at the matre'd, who seemed slightly surprised at seeing Sarah with a companion. She gave Matt's hand a squeeze to reassure him.

"Good evening, Sarah. Table for two?" Matt could tell from his voice that the matre'd was originally from somewhere outside the United States, probably from a country in the eastern hemisphere.

"Yes, please, Ahnan," she said.

"A regular?" Matt asked her.

She chuckled, a little nervously. "Yeah, well, I like it here. It's nice. The atmosphere, I mean, and the food, and.er.well, yes, it's very nice." Matt practically heard her grimace. He smiled a little at her discomfiture. It amazed him that she could be so nervous.

"Here we are, Miss Levendis. You and your companion have a lovely evening."

"Here, Matt. Let me get the chair for you." He felt the back of a chair guided into his hands. He had a brief flash of himself holding out Sarah's chair, the picture of a gentleman. His hands clenched on the back of the chair as the image reversed, Sarah helping him, poor blind helpless him.

"Look at that. He's blind, and yet he has such grace of movement. You see, you can function with a handicap. Just because you're partially paralyzed, doesn't mean you can't still have a wonderful life."

"I guess.."

Matt froze at the half-whispered exchange behind him. Grace of movement? Someone partially paralyzed..

"Come on Matt, valuable Thai-food-eating-time is wasting. You haven't had Thai food unless you've had the lad na here."

Matt felt himself smile, almost involuntarily. "You're the expert, whatever you want is fine with me."

"Well, Sarah, Matt, are you two ready to order?" Matt heard the voice of Ahnan behind him.

"Certainly, Ahnan, we'll be having the lad na, tonight, I think."

"It'll be ready in just a minute." Ahnan walked away.

A silence followed, so heavy Matt felt it sinking into his skin.

"Please don't push me away.I can't stand it anymore," the low, murmured plea shocked Matt out of his paralysis.

"What?"

"Please Matt, don't push me away after we've gotten so close. Matt, we have a real connection, I can feel it. Matt, I.I think I'm falling in love with you."

Matt felt his heart drop out of his chest. "Sarah," his eyes began to sting. "Sarah, I."Matt felt his mouth working, but no sounds came out. She.loves me? How.can she not pity me, think me below herself? But - I never thought anyone would feel that way about me. Can I return her feelings? Am I even able to anymore?

"Here you go!" Ahnan set a dish in the middle of the table, and Matt nearly jumped out of his skin in surprise. Sarah laughed weakly, obvious she had had the same reaction.

"Thank you, Ahnan. Here you are, Matt. Try some of this, it's delicious!" Matt winced inwardly at the strained cheerfulness in Sarah's voice.

"Thank you, Sarah," he scooped up some food on his fork and ate it. "It's delicious." He could practically feel her smile.



Matt felt as if a great spring had been wound up in his chest. He felt like he was standing on the edge of a precipice, ready to fall headlong down into a chasm below or take flight and soar away into the sky.

"Sarah," he heard himself say, "would you like to maybe come back to my place for some coffee and dessert? I think I still have some of that stuff left over from when you were there last time."

A silence. "Actually, Matt - " she began. Matt felt his heart plunge. " - I realize that you've never been to my place. Turnabout is fair play, and I want to -" she broke off. Matt felt as if he had been turned into a statue of ice. Time had stopped for him, and he didn't even control his own mouth as he accepted.



Dead leaves crunched under their feet as Sarah and Matt approached her apartment building. Sarah had mentioned that her building was mostly empty, since it was in a rather remote, woodsy area.

"Here we are. It's not much, but I like it. Watch out, we have to go up a flight of stairs." Sarah helped Matt to her door, and fumbled with the key for a moment before she could open the door. "Watch out for the ottoman. I don't even know why I have that there. I trip over it all the time." Matt felt his cane encounter something blocky and low to the ground. The infamous ottoman.

"Mattdoyouthinkyoucouldevercareaboutme?" Unseen, Sarah curled her lip in a self-deprecating snarl, knowing Matt would just turn her away, like the others, even if he hadn't yet found out about -

"Sarah, I.I already care about you." Matt froze as the words left his lips almost involuntarily, but he felt the truth in them with all his soul.

"Matt -" Sarah couldn't keep a tremor out of her voice. When Matt put his hand to her cheek, he found it wet with tears. "Matt, do you think you could care about me if - " she gulped down on her words, but they came anyway. "If I were.not -"

"Sarah, whatever it is, it doesn't matter to me. You're all I care about."

"Oh, Matt. That's just it. It is me. It's so much a part of me. It - it happened six years ago. I was on a hike in Yellowstone. And.and it was night, I always loved night, and looking at the stars. But. I heard something behind me, and I turned around, and in the light of my flashlight, I saw a monster leap at me, its teeth glinting in the beam of the flashlight, and I thought I was about to die. But I blinded it, I suppose, because it jerked away at the last second, and only chomped on my arm instead of my throat. I had a Swiss army knife, and I plunged it into the thing's eye. It screamed.I've never heard such a hellish sound and I hope I never will again. It ran away, and I got a good look at it. It - it looked like an anthropomorphic wolf. I managed to make it back to camp, and radioed for help." She laughed bitterly. "To think, I'd almost left the thing at home. 'Nothing'll happen,' I thought. But - a couple days later, I went back. I had to. I went back to where - it happened, at night, and I looked up at the stars, and I felt - it was as if the night sky had wrapped around me, soft and black and cool. Fire poured through my body, and this incredible power passed through me. I looked at myself, and - I'm a werewolf, Matt. I'm not human anymore." Matt couldn't believe his ears. Why would she say a thing like that? Maybe - they both loved literature, so she was testing him to see if he could make up a story on the spot like that.

"Well, Sarah, I have to confess something myself. I didn't lose my eyesight in a car accident. I was out in this field one night, and this bright light appeared in the sky, and I saw this huge silver thing -"

"Dammit, Matt!" she screamed. "I'm not making this up!" She drew a deep breath. "Look at me." Matt felt a cold wind against his skin, somehow familiar.but he couldn't quite place it. He put out his hand to "look" at her face - and felt a furry muzzle, like a dog's. "That's me, Matt." The face moved with the words, he felt the breath of them. A - hand? took his own, and ran it over a furry neck, a dress, a furry arm-

Matt jerked his hand away as if it had been burned. "What the hell - !"

"I told you what I am," growled a voice that almost sounded like Sarah's. "I asked you if you could care about me, Matt. I know how lonely you are. I feel the same way. Please, Matt, I -"

"Get away from me, you monster!" Matt stumbled backward and tripped over the ottoman. He hit his head against the floor and saw stars for a moment.

"Matt!" cried the almost-Sarah voice.

"Get away from me!" he screamed, struggling to his feet and grabbing for the door. He was out in the hall and running for where he thought the stairwell was. He took another step and felt his foot fly out into space. He tumbled headfirst down the stairs, but didn't pause in his flight away from the horrible events of Sarah's apartment. His hands closed on the panic bar of the front door, and he flew out into the night. His foot caught on a protruding tree root, and he went down for the third time that night. He smelled the dirt and leaf litter, a rich, earthy, real smell. He saw in his mind's eye what that thing must look like. A wolfen head, on a furred, humanoid body. He felt burning bile rise in his throat, and wondered if it was all a nightmare. Werewolves weren't real! They were old legends, myths! But he had felt, with a more solid reality than any sight, what that thing was. He had felt it breathing, felt that furred thing breathing. It had a warmth of flesh that betrayed it as a real, living thing. He shivered with fright and revulsion, trying to deny what he had encountered, but failing.

"You forgot your cane." At the soft, gentle voice behind him, Matt scrambled into a sitting position. Sarah dropped his cane into his lap.

"Sarah, it's you -" maybe it had all been a dream, a hallucination. They would laugh about it later, the time he had run out of her apartment, thinking she was a werewolf.

"Yes, Matt, it's me. It always was." He felt the cold wind again, and this time knew what it meant. "It always was me," said the deep, rough, not- quite-Sarah voice. He heard the leaves rustle as she knelt beside him, and he put out his hand in a wild hope that had the flavor of futility, that the face he encountered would be Sarah's. His hand felt a long, furred muzzle with a cold, leathery nose on the end. "It's me. It's what I am now," the muzzle said.

"Can't you not be this thing?" pleaded Matt.

"I'm sorry Matt. But this 'thing' is a part of my body. I can't just stop being. It's not a curse, Matt. It just is. Can't you see that?"

Matt flinched his hand away at her words. "I just.this isn't real! It can't be real!"

"It's as real as you are, Matt. Will you answer my question?"

"What question?"

"Can you care about me?"

Care.about that? About this creature? He shuddered in revulsion at the thought of this.bestiality. He heard the thing beside him rise.

"Goodbye, Matt." Even the strange snarling overtones couldn't mask the tears in the voice. Matt took the opening to bolt to his feet and start away from that place as fast as he dared. Sarah's voice called out to him.

"Matt, wait at the corner. I'll call you a cab." Her voice was hard and cold as gunmetal. He stopped at the sound of Sarah's voice. That thing - how could that thing be a part of this incredible woman? It isn't! his mind screamed. That thing was a blight, a cancer on Sarah's soul. She could leave it behind. He called out to her. "Sarah, couldn't you -"

"No." The voice came from the threshold of her building. He heard the door swing closed. He felt rooted to the spot, feeling so lost he almost didn't notice the cab drive up behind him fifteen minutes later.

"Hey, d'ya wanna ride or not?" the driver's voice shook Matt out of his shock.

"Yeah. I want to get away from here." He climbed into the car and gave the driver his address.

Beowulf, he thought. She loves Chaucer, and Dickens, and Dostoevsky. She tells stories about Long Island iced teas and blue crabs and chili. She laughs about the Starbucks International Conspiracy. She's -

A monster. Something horribly cursed. A terrible thing to be pitied. Cursed, debilitated like - Like someone who's lost their sight.

Matt put his head in his hands and wept.