She dreamed of soft peat and its lovely, acrid odor. Half awake, she tried to stretch out in front of the comforting warmth and found she could not. Merta fully awoke struggling, her hands and feet bound, lying in front of a real fire. The huge flames leaped and crackled against total blackness. Beyond she made out vague shapes of animals with bright, glowing eyes. Their blended voices rose and fell with the wind. Bit by bit, she picked out a chilling conversation.
"Is it flesh?"
"I think it not."
"Not one of us."
"Not for me."
Merta scowled. Boney. Her girlish figure was a sore spot ever since she'd been teased by a voluptuous nymph. She strained against her bonds, worked loose the knots, and broke free.
She marched to the other side of the fire, hands clenched. A dog-like creature, a cat, a bird, and an unknown animal sat before her. Merta swallowed hard. The unfamiliar one lay flat on its belly with no legs. She stared at the cat instead. "I am not boney." She swished her thin hips. "Cute and tiny. Everyone says so." The animals remained silent. She pursed her lips. "Say something, you big oafs," she yelled, shaking a small fist.
The creatures grew even larger. The dog-like animal shook a massive head, its jaws snapping. The black bird stretched wings high overhead and flexed pointed talons. The spotted cat hissed. Merta sucked in her breath. The legless something slithered around the edge of the fire, exposing sharp fangs. Merta took a step back.
"Seems violent," the cat purred.
"Kill it," said the dog.
"Ummm. My pleassssssure."
The legless animal glided towards Merta. Its maw opened wide, and liquid glittered from two white teeth. A long tongue rolled out like a moist red carpet. Merta screamed and tried to run, but the sticky appendage wrapped her firmly. Just as she was about to be swallowed, a loud whack resounded through the forest and the tongue went limp. Merta tried to run again, but a huge paw pinned her to the ground. She squeezed both eyes shut then peered through her lashes.
"Leave," the new voice said.
"We did not ask you here, Bear," squawked the black bird.
A menacing growl filled the air, and the other creatures slunk backwards.
"No need to make a fuss," the black bird said, tucking its wings behind a broad, shiny back.
"If Bear wants it then she may have it," said the cat.
"Of course. Quite right. Bear may have it. Absolutely yes," the dog said with a nervous yip.
"Thall right, thoo than thave it. Thy thoung thuirts, though. Thix it," the legless creature stammered. The long tongue rolled up lumpily and out of sight.
A low growl thundered, and the creatures retreated farther, their bright eyes blinking out one by one.
Merta opened her eyes wider. Huge brown orbs studied her. "Are you going to eat me?" she whispered.
A deep rumble coursed through her body via the large paw, and Merta realized the animal was laughing. She frowned. "I'm not boney. I'm not."
The paw lifted. Merta sat up, scowling.
"Do you want me to eat you?" the furry stranger asked.