The lamb pulled at its leash, leading her past a stand of trees and into a clearing. Once past, the lamb pulled harder; it wanted to run, but she wouldn’t let it. She knew this meadow, and it was dangerous for a lamb to be without a leash here: this was the realm of the gnik, a stealthy monster which would steal unattended herding animals.
She asked herself why the gnik had to exist in the first place. As though she would get an answer. Why does the wolf exist? Why does the lemming? Every creature on this earth has a purpose and a role, and who was she to question the role of a creature whose sole purpose was to abduct the livestock which had been left alone in this one singular meadow?
Some didn’t believe in the gnik’s existence, thought that it was the invention of particularly fanciful and particularly irresponsible shepherds, each of whom would build on the legend that the previous had established: first the gnik just stole one lamb, then it stole sheep at will, then any animal that entered its territory. First it was a spirit, then a shadow, then a beast.
Why had she come to this meadow? What drew her here, if she knew that she was putting her animal at risk just by entering? Her lamb pulled at the leash again, harder this time. It pulled her to the center of the meadow. Had the lamb lead her here today? It pulled her farther still, leading to a specific point, a specific tree which was directly across from where she had entered.
“I apologize,” came a low voice from somewhere beyond the tree.
“What for?” She asked.
“I need to ask you to leave your animal with me.” A man stepped out from behind the tree, a bit tall but otherwise very normal.
“Why should I leave him with you? This is a very dangerous area for livestock, and I hardly have reason to trust you in any case.”
“Your animal is sick. That is why he sought me out. He has not long in this world, but I can ease his transition. That is why all of the animals seek me out.”
She took a step backwards, pulling her lamb with her. “You’re the gnik.” It was a statement.
“I am,” he said, “and as I said, I apologize.” The man stared into her eyes for several moments before taking a firm step, and then another, and then he had one hand around the leather strap at the lamb’s neck and another around a knife to slice it.
In the next moment, there was no longer a man, nor a lamb in the clearing. Just a girl with most of a leash.