She stared down at the ground, concentrating on the thick, colorful lines drawn out before her.  A small stone was held in her hand, and then she tossed it in front of her, watching closely where it landed.  Taking a deep breath, she began.  Hopping on one foot, then two.  Switching feet, daring to get as close to the lines as she could without touching them.  Her blonde pigtails bounced as she skipped.  She sighed as she got to the end and looked back.  This game was nowhere near as fun when she played by herself.  She needed a new game.

Resigned, she fell back into the grass by the edge of the sidewalk and lay there, looking up at the sky.  It was getting darker now, the pale yellow of the streetlight growing brighter.  She could make out the stars now, and she started counting them as she often did in the evenings.

She had gotten past fifty, when she heard someone walking down the street, the scrape of shoes on pavement getting louder.  She ignored it and started counting again, irritated at the interruption.

“Excuse me?” she heard.  Lifting her head from the blanket of grass, she saw an older man standing in front of her.  He was holding a long, pink leash in his hands, looking worried.  She tilted her head to the side, questioning.

“I’m so sorry, but my little girl just got off of her leash and ran off.  My little pup, that is.  Have you seen her?  Small, brown with white patches?”  He spoke quickly, his hands running over the leash ceaselessly, from the loop of the handle to the catch on the end.

“No,” she said, getting to her feet.  “I haven’t seen any dog around here.  Did she maybe run down to the dog park two blocks over?  They usually love the park.”

“She ran down this street,” he insisted.  “Are you sure you haven’t seen her?  Maybe she ran behind one of the houses.  Can you help me look?  Please?  I’m so worried about her; she’s never done this before.”  He stared past her into her backyard.

“Sure.  We can check behind my house first and check the others after.  We’ll find her,” she reassured him.

He took a step forward, and then glanced around nervously.  “Oh, thank you!  I just have to find her!”

She stepped forward, took his hand, and smiled sweetly.  “Come on, I know some great places to hide back here.  She might have found them, too.”  She led him past the edge of the house, past the row of tall evergreen bushes that divided the lot from the neighbors and rounded the corner, disappearing from view.

Several moments passed, and then the little girl’s voice could be heard.  “Princess!  Princess!  Are you there, girl?  Is that you, hiding under that tree, naughty girl?”

Rustling of branches echoed over the yard, and then a short scream, cut off quickly.  Silence fell over the street.

A pair of headlights emerged from the darkness as a car pulled up and turned slowly into the drive.  A woman opened the driver’s door and stepped out of the car.  Her black hair was pulled back sharply, a touch of silver threaded at her temples.  She withdrew a briefcase and started walking towards the front door.

She stopped suddenly, thinking she heard something.  Her head cocked to the side, she remained still as she listened.  She heard the sound again and her dark eyes flashed.  Movement from the corner of the house caught her gaze and she watched, a tiny smile curving her mouth.

The little girl strolled up to her and grinned.  “Hmm,” she murmered.  “And what, pray tell, have you been up to?”

The girl’s smile widened, flashing tiny fangs.  She wiped the corner of her mouth, dashing away the trace of blood that remained.  “Playing.”

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