He stepped out into the mist, watching the swirls coalesce around him. He drew a deep breath into his lungs, tasting the moisture, the hint of decay that drifted from the massive trunks around him, craggy bark rising up into the sky to occlude the stars.
He stepped forward, blinking his eyes. All around him, the trees rose up – but out in front of him, a clearing opened up, pale moonlight shining down through the hole in the canopy. The dim light painted the scene in black and white and innumerable shades of gray, a monochromatic masterpiece.
The boy sighed, feeling tension ebb from his limbs. No one else knew about this clearing but him. He nodded when the elders warned him not to venture out too far beyond the limits of the village, not to stray into the darkness.
He nodded – but inside his head, he clung fiercely to this place, this private retreat.
The mist drifted closer, swirling, the tendrils seeming to almost take on fantastical shapes before bursting apart into nothingness. A few tendrils even drifted close enough to brush against the boy’s bare skin, and he felt their chill, both sapping his energy and electrifying him to feel more alive.
He stepped forward. One step, and then another. The steps came slowly, but then faster and faster.
He ran, throwing back his head, laughing with the sheer thrill of his pumping legs, his blood coursing through his body, exulting in the sheer roar of being alive. The mist seemed to drift along with him, bouncing and trying to keep course, reaching out for him. He easily evaded it, laughing whenever a tendril managed to catch him briefly and brush against him, chilling him before he pulled free.
Out in the field, now, far from the tall trees that marked its border, the boy paused for a moment to catch his breath. He still laughed, but the tendrils massed thicker, reaching out for him, each one like a touch of the ice that formed on the water buckets sometimes during the winter night.
The boy’s laughter faded, cut off. He peered into the mist, seeing something else there, something that drifted in closer towards him.
There was a shape in the mist, there. A creature, on four legs, with a triangular head and pointed ears, a long tail drifting off behind it. Barely distinguishable from the mist, it seemed slightly more solid, although still translucent and ephemeral.
The boy found his breath, his voice. The joy was gone from his voice, replaced by an undercurrent of fear. “Who are you?” he called out, his voice high and small in the clearing.
The answer drifted back, not passing through his ears. *Run.*
He obeyed, running out across the field – and the white shape ran with him, bounding along through the mist, pacing him easily. It turned white eyes on him, mouth hanging open as if laughing at how it could match his speed.
And then it moved in, nipping at him.
The boy drew back, gasping. So cold, such a fierce burn! He tried to evade the white shape, but it kept darting in and out, so fast, stealing a little more of his warmth with each contact.
The boy turned his eyes towards those trees. Once, he’d sought to escape them, but now he saw them as sanctuary. If he could reach those, he told himself desperately, the mist could not follow.
He ran for the trees, his legs burning but still not creating enough heat to fight the chill in his chest, the chill that threatened to drop him, shivering, to the dirt of the field. They grew closer, and he grinned, a rictus of victory. Nearly there-!
And then the white creature was between him and the trees.
The boy skidded to a stop, the tendrils already catching up, sweeping around him. The creature stared back at him, its eyes even whiter and more solid than the rest of its body, no pupils breaking the whiteness. Blind, but it saw him, hungered for him.
“What are you?” the boy asked again.
“What do you want?”
*Life. Life which evades me, runs from me, falls to me. Such warmth, such heat, such sweet release in the hunt…*
The boy looked past the creature, the wolf, to the trees. The wolf seemed to follow his gaze.
*You cannot reach them. You are mine, now. You stepped into my domain, and I may claim you. You cannot flee. Your kind fall to mine, as is repeated throughout eternity.*
Slowly, the white creature prowled closer to the boy, circling around him, leaving more mist in its wake. *Where are your claws, little cub?* it asked, mockingly. *How can you fight back?*
A weapon, the boy thought. He crouched, feeling about. A rock in the soil slipped into his hand, and he stood up, hefting it.
“Get back!” he shouted, throwing it at the wolf.
The wolf threw back its head and laughed, a long laugh that carried soundlessly through the trees, as it evaded the rock. But the boy was already running, his heart pounding, aiming straight for the trees.
Behind him, he heard the wolf coming closer, chasing after him on the trails of mist. He closed his eyes, feeling that cold burn on his back any second now, waiting for it to knock him down, drain him, suck away the last of his energy-
Something struck at the boy’s foot, sending him sprawling onto the ground. He lay there for a moment, not understanding the soft crunch of leaves beneath him.
Not grass. Leaves.
Shakily, barely able to believe it, the boy rose up to his feet. He turned, fearful to look behind him but unable to resist.
The wolf stood there, in the clearing, staring at him in the trees. It pulled back its lips in a grin, tongue of white lolling out.
*You will return, boy,* it called after him. *Someday, you will return.*
The boy watched as the wolf slowly drifted apart, no more than mist, sparkling in the moonlight. He turned and, steps heavy, retreated back to his village, his home, his bed.