“Everybody has ‘n animal.” He smiled, leaning back in his rocking chair and pulling his worn blanket around his knees. Something creaked when he moved – old wood or old bones, she couldn’t tell.

“Their animal shows isself in diff’rent ways. Maybe they’re ‘n artist or writer, an’ ‘at animal is their muse. Maybe they’re a scientist, an’ ‘at animal pulls ’em t’learn about living things. Maybe they’re ‘n occultist, an’ ‘at animal is their spirit guide or their animal totem. Maybe they’re a furry, an’ they think they chose ‘at animal t’express ’emselves. Maybe they’re s’ hollowed out by the world around them ‘at th’ animal is just a favorite, a passing name or image, an’ nothing more. Maybe they’re s’ worn thin an’ grey-eyed ‘at their animal died right along with their heart, years ‘go.

“Or, sometimes, ‘at animal isn’t separate from us. ‘At animal is us.” He lifted a wrinkled, spotty hand, tremors racing through his crooked fingers. His fingernails were yellow and cracked, but they were thick and heavy and unusually rounded.

“Our bodies start forgetting ‘at they have t’be human, ‘specially if we change a lot. My nails’re a dog’s claws now. Sometimes, my eyes don’t go back t’blue for days an’ days.” He smiled again, showing off worsening teeth. “We live a long time, us animal-people. And ‘ere’s never any telling when an animal-person will find ’emselves an’ figure it all out for th’ first time.

“We ain’t werewolves like in th’ movies.” The smile faded from his lined face. “We ain’t monsters, an’ we ain’t looking t’hurt nobody. We’re just animal-folk, living our lives as best we can. Some take it ‘pon ’emselves t’help others find their animals, howe’er their animals show ’emselves. Most of us, we just live quiet. It’s getting harder, what with th’ world changing ’round us, t’keep normal folks from finding out ’bout us. But we’re doing alright. Just a li’l underground people, like th’ old Christians or th’ new pagans, like th’ Irish back in th’ railroad days – just living our lives, not wanting trouble.” He peered at her with white-clouded eyes. “D’ya understand what I’m saying?”

She nodded with a little smile. “I do, sir.”

He chuckled raspily. “Don’t need t’call me sir. I ain’t a stranger t’ya.”

Her smile widened, showing teeth. “Alright. It’s just very wordy to call you Great-Great-Great-Grandfather all the time.”

His eyes crinkled as he chortled, slapping his knee. “Then just call me Great!”

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