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She was waiting to see it, the flash of color deep in the forest. Snow flurries danced outside in the dark while Gwen held her steaming cup of coco. It looked like it was going to be a perfect Christmas, if only mom could be with them, but Gwen tried not to think about that. Her nose was pressed against the cold glass, fogging it up from her breath, but she didn’t want to look away. If she blinked, she might miss it. This was the third night in a row that the weird light had appeared. Then, just as she thought she couldn’t possibly stare another second, a streak of purple and blue flashed between the black trunks.

“Dad!” she squealed, nearly sloshing her hot chocolate everywhere.

She kicked the blankets away from her fuzzy socked feet, became tangled in them instead, and fell face first out of the bay window in a mess of blankets and pillows. Barfy, their cocker spaniel, started barking like the little tattle-tail he was.

“Barf,” she growled back at him. “Shh! Quiet.”

He wagged his stubby tail and bounced around barking like a lunatic as she tried to stand up. Then she noticed the large, brown chocolate stain on the white rug.

“Oops,” she said, just as dad walked into the living room.


She grabbed his arm before he could say anything, or notice the stain.

“I saw it! I saw the glowing light again!”

“You saw what?” he said as she pulled him over to the large window.

“That light, dad. Look!” She pointed outside, and he looked at her with a grin. “Not at me. Look outside!”

He turned his gaze to peer out the frosty panes of dark glass. “I don’t see anything,” he said a second later.

Gwen rolled her eyes. Her father annoyed her on purpose. It was his life’s goal. He smiled and raised his eyebrows.

“Rick Navarro, you have to look longer.” She always used her father’s name like that when he either was not listening, which was most of the time, or when he was annoying her, which was also most of the time.

“Guinevere Navarro,” he replied in exactly the same exasperated tone. “I think it’s time you went to bed.”

She was about to use her best argument for why bed was not an option right now, when she saw his gaze take in the scene behind her. As a frown spread across his face, she sheepishly grinned and slowly turned around. The brown coco stain was no longer the least of their worries.

Barfy was valiantly defending them from an evil army of now de-feathered pillows. Growling ferociously, he shook the last pillow in a flurry of feathers. Satisfied, he dropped the evil pillow and laid down, happily panting, in a pile of shredded cloth and floating fluff. Gwen turned back to her father who was staring, speechless, at the chaos.

“Well,” she said, cheerfully patting his arm. “Off to bed. G’night.”

Before her dad could figure out who was actually in trouble, her or the dog, Gwen skipped out of the living room, down the hall, and into her bedroom. Without even turning on her light, she bounded across the messy, clothes-strewn floor, jumped onto her big quilt, and looked out the window. If only they had the internet out here so that she could contact her friends, or look up what glowing lights in the woods meant, but no. This was her parent’s vacation cabin in Colorado. To an eleven-year-old girl, however, it was more like frontier times where things like computers and microwaves didn’t exist. It was a lot more fun, though, before her mom had disappeared a year ago.

It was a long time before sleep finally won out over staring into the night. The storm had grown worse and snowflakes draped around the windowpanes. Her forehead and cheek squeaked down the glass, waking her up with a snort.

“What,” she mumbled to herself, wiping drool off her numb cheek.

Just as her eyelids were beginning to droop once more they snapped open, and Gwen pressed her face against the icy glass. She could hardly believe what she was seeing. Near the crest of the hill was a creature. Surrounded by glowing specks of purple and blue light, it pushed its way through the deep snow towards the cabin. She blinked but the vision didn't vanish. As it struggled through the drifts up to its chest, she saw that it was cat-like. A mountain lion? They were rare in these parts, but no mountain lion would be glittering like the snow and glowing with colorful sparks of light. Just as the creature was almost close enough to see, it veered off to the right and vanished around the other side of the house.

She scrambled off her bed and stumbled across the dark room.

“Ow,” she grumbled as she stepped on something pointy lying on the floor.

Carefully, quietly, she opened her door and tiptoed down the wooden hall. It wasn’t her dad she was worried about waking, it was Barfy. He was a furry alarm, but only when she was trying to do something she wasn’t supposed to do. He never barked when strangers or possibly axe-murderers came up to the house. Peering into the living room, she didn’t see the slobber-machine, so she made her way over to the kitchen. The fire was just embers, making it difficult to see, but after walking into a chair, stubbing her toe, and tripping over Barf’s squeaky-toy, she was finally standing in front of the door beside the fridge.

Cupping her hands around her face, she stared wide-eyed at the impossible scene under the moonlight. Only a few paces from the door, glittering like crystal, its eyes and spotted fur faintly glowing violet, sat a very large snow leopard.

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