I've always taken great joy in writing - I've blogged for a long time, and I've completed NaNoWriMo three times - once turning my winning work-in-progress into a completed novel.

My fiction work is usually in the fantasy genre. Here is a short story I wrote based on an illustration drawn for me by my superbly talented friend, Candace Breakell.

The Lion
Dusty fidgeted restlessly. He wasn't nervous, exactly. They had been waiting a long time, but he knew an animal would come for him. Pig had said so. She was bossy, sometimes; and when Tiny had shyly asked what would happen if no animal wanted him, she had laughed at him. "Every kid gets an animal," she said scornfully. "You were one of us as soon as you found us. Even someone as little as you will get one."

Tiny was sitting behind Pig on the huge hog that was her animal. Swift was perched on the coils of Boa's gigantic constrictor. Dusty hung back behind Jaguar, who had his hand on his namesake cat's shoulder. The three Masked Children were the newest to the tribe, the ones who had most recently acquired their animals; so they had been tasked with guiding Dusty, Tiny and Swift, who had all arrived since the last Meeting.

Dusty had run away from home. He had never known his father; his mother drank and beat him. He had run off into the forest, not caring where he ended up, just wanting to be somewhere else. He had wandered, lost, and had been so delirious from hunger and thirst by the time he stumbled upon the Masked Children that it had taken him a moment to realize they were real. At their urging, he had left his old life behind, even his name; they christened him Dusty - after the dusting of freckles across his cheeks - for the time being, until he got his animal. He found the memory of his mother's face was already growing dim.

He didn't know where Tiny or Swift had come from. He didn't know where any of the Masked Children had come from. But it didn't matter: as soon as a Masked Child met their animal, their life started anew. Meetings happened four times a year, at the solstices and equinoxes; today, midsummer's day, was when Dusty would meet his animal. He'd get a Mask, a new name, a soulmate animal, and finally become one of the Masked Children in truth.

He absently scuffed at the dirt with a toe. He wasn't nervous about getting an animal, no; but he didn't know what kind of animal his would be. What if he got something boring, like a pigeon or a sheep? You got an animal that was like you, Pig had told him, superior as always. She was always acting pushy and bossy, but she was the most outgoing and talkative of the bunch. Boa was clever and sly; she seldom spoke. Dusty liked Jag the best out of their guides. He was nimble and alert, quiet but friendly. "You might not know what animal suits you," Jag had said, "but the animals know best. They know you better than you know yourself. Your animal will be just right."

Something caught Dusty's eye in the distance. Maybe it was his animal? He peered into the distance, shading his eyes against the sun. Dust rose; whatever it was, it was moving fast.

Soon Dusty was able to distinguish that there were three creatures approaching. He peered at them, greedily drinking in the details, trying to discern which was his. One was a great antelope, with tall, spiraled horns, loping easily along beside the others. That one was for Swift, Dusty decided; the tall boy liked nothing better than to run like the wind, leaping and bounding around the forest and plain.

The smallest animal was a dog, long and sleek and shy-looking. Definitely Tiny's animal, Dusty decided. The dog was small, too, and now that the animals were closer Dusty could see they had the same soft dark eyes.

But all those thoughts left his head as Dusty turned his attention to the middle animal. His breath caught as he found himself staring into the eyes of a majestic lion. It was a beautiful creature, and in its eyes Dusty saw familiarity and love and acceptance. Dusty no longer, he heard, the voice echoing from everywhere and nowhere at once. You are Lion now.

Dusty - no, Lion - felt an unfamiliar fierceness and pride welling up in him as he watched his lion's face shimmer and waver. Suddenly, a Mask appeared, a replica of his lion's visage. It floated toward him. Lion was dimly aware of Tiny and Swift connecting with their animals, but his eyes only saw his lion, and his Mask as it neared him. He never would have thought of himself as a Lion, before; but now that the lion was here, he knew nothing else could have been so perfect. A grin spread across his face and the fierceness and joy welled up inside of him as he reached out and took a hold of his Mask. Turning it around, he fitted it to his face and tied it on.

Then, he roared. He and the lion were one.