Creatures of the Night
When I was a little girl, my grandma always told me that everything was connected, like the spider-webs that swayed delicately between the banisters of our battered red porch. If you snapped even one thin strand, the web would be thrown out of balance. She said that our lives are mapped out, a course drawn for each of us. The strands overlap, crisscross. Some get so tangled up that they become one strand in the web of the universe.
Most people simply call it fate. I used to think it was special, connecting me to everyone around me, like the whole world was my friend. Now I know better. What my grandmother never told me was that the paths that cross yours can be good, but they can also be evil. They can build you, or destroy you. They can earn your trust or lose it. They can win your heart or break it. Sometimes, one person, one encounter, can mess you up beyond repair. Then there is no turning back.
* * *
“There she is!” a shout rang out behind me, rough and masculine, followed by a gunshot. The bullet dinged off the concrete wall of the alleyway, missing me by inches and rolling to the ground. In a smashed shop window, a grimy spider stared at me from the middle of its filthy web. I glared back at it and snapped off the top half of the dusty web before sprinting away. Stupid spider.
Tipping my head to the side, I could hear at least half a dozen pairs of feet pounding the asphalt behind me. The ripped soles of my sneakers slapped loudly on the pavement. This could have been a problem, if I were a normal teenage girl out alone past midnight, in the worst part of the city. But I am not a normal girl. These guys should have figured out by now that no innocent citizens would ever come through this part of town past three, if ever.
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of the leader, and the slight glimmer of silver in his hand, illuminated for an instant by the moonlight. The leader had long greasy dark hair, and he was tall and hulking. Despite his size though, he was fast. Really fast.
That should have been my first warning.
The moon was affecting me. I could feel it pulsating with blue fire in the sky over my head. I smiled as the energy coursed through me. Calling me. Urging me to use the power it gave me.
I slowed slightly, giving the leader a good chase. Close enough to taunt him. The pounding footsteps sounded right on my heels. I gasped and panted, faking exhaustion. As if this could tire me. Part of me wished it could.
I forced myself to wait until I could feel the man on my heels, and the others close behind. My body hummed with energy and anticipation. The full moon glowed. I sped up. I reached a sprint, steadily growing faster and faster. I turned corners without thinking. Left. Right. Left. Graffiti flashed past in a blur of harsh colors and words. The pavement was a gray, cracked blur beneath my feet. A breathy laugh escaped my lips, torn away into the night.
I couldn’t even remember the time when I didn’t live for this night, to run, be chased under the moon, faster than any mortal on Earth. Everything was blurry. My hair flew behind me so fast it burned my scalp. The pounding of my feet. The whoosh of the air through my wind cracked lips. Then I realized the footsteps were not my own. Then a laugh cut through the dark silence, and my twisted joy. That was my second warning.
The gang was still behind me, even closer than before. I could feel the leader’s breath on the back of my neck. There was only one way he could have caught up with me like that, and I knew it. This can’t be happening. This isn’t happening! But it was. And I had set myself up.
The man laughed darkly in my ear. Panic set in. My body burned with fear. The humming energy from my late night run disappeared, replaced by terror unlike anything I had ever felt. My legs pumped, my feet flew. I had never gone so fast before. I hadn’t known I could.
Fueled by fear, I lost track of how many turns I took, how many walls I jumped. I saw the hazy glow above the buildings ahead, emanating from the thriving, busy city where the streets were packed with cars and people. I could hear the honking of car horns and the hum of thousands of people on their way from here to there. Some people were yelling for cabs, some talking to friends, somebody was probably yelling for help. Yet it all mixed and blended into one sound. To me it was the sound of safety.
My legs were burning; my lungs couldn’t get enough oxygen. For the first time ever, I was truly running for my life. Every time I slowed, I heard the man behind me, never tiring, his hot breath tickling my neck, his footsteps so loud they drowned out everything else. And the rest of his gang hooting and yelling behind him. Somehow, that always compelled me to find the energy, somewhere inside my aching body, to go on. I completely lost track of how long I ran, how many turns I made, where I was going.
As I flew around a corner, I spared a look over my shoulder, to see the leader grinning as he gained on me. He knew as well as I did that I wouldn’t hold out much longer. I couldn’t run like this forever. If I didn’t do something soon, they would catch me, and I had no idea what would happen when they did.
Gritting my teeth, I turned back to the empty alleyway disappearing into the darkness before me. I glanced up at the bright haze from above the rooftops. I knew what I had to do. My heart stuttered, and my pulse raced, but I couldn’t allow myself time to think.
The man chuckled darkly, his men howled from the dark.
The cars and people and noise beckoned.
The moon pulsated with blue fire.
My feet left the ground.
Into. The. Moon.
My arms hit the roof first. My body followed, slamming into the rusty metal. Time sped up again. I scrabbled at the sharp metal grooves with my hands. The edges cut deep gashes in my arms. The metallic smell of my own blood filled my nostrils.
I rolled forward over my head, my legs tangled with my arms. The rooftop was slanted. I could feel myself slipping, sliding into the waiting embrace of the greasy haired leader and his pack. I growled, and felt my teeth sharpening, my nails growing longer and thicker.
I dug my fingers painfully into the thin metal, feeling it tear like paper under my sharp nails. My feet found their way beneath me again, and gripped the rusty metal. My sneakers fell uselessly from my feet, tumbling down into the street. I heard a yelp and smirked, but it felt more like a grimace twisting my lips. My feet pounded up the roof, the thin metal crackled and squeaked beneath me.
I felt another body slam into the building behind me. Then another. The howls started up again. Crap. Another crash sent me sliding forward. My head cracked into what must have been a crumbling chimney. Blood trickled down the left side of my face. I stumbled down the other side of the roof. Sliding down the smooth metal, I frantically grabbed at anything that might break my fall. My heart stopped. Coming down was way harder than going up.
My toes curled around the edge of the roof, while my body fell back against the building. I caught my breath, and wiped the blood from my face with the back of my hand. Back into the dark narrow street was the last place I wanted to go, but I didn’t have much of a choice. I couldn’t keep hopping and sliding my way along the rooftops. I was cut up and bloodied enough as it was. With a sigh, I let myself drop onto the cracked asphalt. The entire building was quaking from the merciless pounding on the other side. I took off into the waiting dark.
I was tense and wound as tight as a drum. My hands were clenched so tight, that I couldn’t feel my fingers. Around every corner I expected a greasy, leering face to greet me. As hard as I tried to head away from them, I still felt like I was going in circles; an easy target.
Finally I collapsed against the side of a peeling red dumpster in a wide street. The buildings closed me in. How could I have been so stupid? Suddenly from an adjacent alley, I heard the howls. The gang was no longer hooting and laughing, now they were hunting. Hunting me. I was on my feet and sprinting in the opposite direction before I had time to think.
More howls filled the silence before me. Dark shapes loomed out of the musty gloom. The lights of the city provided a dim glow that silhouetted the men. I backed up and spun around to run, and slammed into a solid mass of leather clad muscle and bone. The smell of sweat and leather filled my nose.
The leader grabbed me around the neck, digging into my windpipe. I gasped for air, struggling to breathe. In the edges of my vision, I saw more figures step into the street. Way more than first chased me. The pack must be far stronger than I originally thought. I clenched my hands into fists and pummeled the iron forearm of the leader. He didn’t even flinch. If anything, he gripped me harder. Long greasy hair fell in my eyes. I gagged.
The others gathered closely around their leader, some leaning casually against the cement walls. Greasy Hair leaned in close, until his face was inches from my ear. His hot breath smelled of blood and fumes. I could feel his words tickle my eardrum as he spoke.
“This is our city, wolfling. You’d do well to remember that…” He whispered, his eyes glinting. My eyes widened. Was he letting me go? “… as you die,” he finished. My heart stopped. The pack laughed and hollered. Countless eyes glowed amber from the darkness around me. The leaders dark ones turned to gold before my eyes. They were preparing for something. I felt sick.
The leader turned to address the others around us. “This is our city isn’t it?” His voice was soft, but it projected through the silence, reaching all ears around us. The group yelled their agreement.
The leader smiled. “So why shouldn’t we defend our city,” he continued. “From loners who think they can waltz on in here, run through our streets, hunt our food, claim our territory?” More yells and whistles followed this. The leader smiled grimly, showing his teeth, which were sharpening into points. His eyes glimmered yellow and gold, electric in the hazy light.
The arm tightened around my neck. “This girl,” he said, swinging me around effortlessly for all to see. “We just caught her running through our streets, hunting our food. In our city.” The faces around me, leered. Canine grins flashed bright white in the light of the full moon. My stomach twisted itself into a knot. Black dots appeared in my vision. I was going to pass out.
The leader spun me to face him, but I didn’t have the energy to fight. I brought this upon myself. The moon clouded my judgement. It was stupid to come here tonight. It was stupid to stay in this city. I should have just moved on when I first smelled another wolf at the train station that first day. I should never have let myself become what I am.
The leader doesn’t give me time to feel sorry for myself. "Well, then, I'd say she has to pay." He grins. I see the white flash of his mouth a moment before it is coming straight for my throat. I scream, but I don’t have the breath to produce a sound. My vision clouds, my hands come up to block my head and neck.
The dark alleyway falls away. My eyes are clouded by a memory I can’t block out. In my weakest moment, it has found me. Coming in flashes, like the lights of a speeding train. The leader’s face disappears.
Mom, crying at the kitchen table. “Mom?” No answer. “Is he coming home?”
Her voice flat, emotionless. “No.”
“ What happened, Mom?” “Mom?”
Her eyes staring. Empty. Dead. Lost.
Into the rain.
Sitting on a park swing. Angry. Swaying. Forward. Back.
The tall man. Raindrops dripping from dark eyes. Evil. Black.
The full moon. Reflected in amber eyes.
His grinning smile.
His sharp teeth.
Coming towards me.
Turning, running, caught.
Nails grabbing me. Screaming. Thrashing. Not nails but claws.
Blood mixing with rain and tears.
My voice raw from screaming.
Screaming for Mom.
She won’t come.
She can hear no voice but his.
Gaping mouth, grinning, sharp. Coming for me. Last thought. Mom.
Pain, unlike anything I’ve ever felt.
My eyes close, blocking in tears. Blocking out the world.
When my eyes open, the man is gone.
The world has changed.
Good to evil.
Gentle to harsh.
Or I have.
* * *
“Stop!” A voice brought me back from the past. That dark awful day in the rain faded away, until the memory was gone, back to where it belonged.
“Brother, please. Stop.” The strange new voice pierced the fog that surrounded me. It was neither the cold, merciless voice of the leader, or the jeering jumble of taunts that came from the rest of the pack. This voice was younger, perhaps a few years older than me. He was calm and controlled. But not warm.
I blinked my eyes open, to see the leader’s narrowed amber eyes focused not on me but over my shoulder. My legs trembled. I had to fight to keep my eyes open. The leader took his hands from my shoulders, and gripped my upper arm. Hard. I winced, but turned with him to face the newcomer.
The boy’s face was narrow, his hair was black and shaggy, hanging over his face, and hiding his features in shadow. He blended in seamlessly with the rest of his pack, clearly a wolf at heart. Only his eyes said different. Instead of the crisp amber eyes of a wolf, the eyes that stared his leader down were blue. Deep, clear blue. The full moon did not change his eyes. But that was impossible.
I shook off the initial shock, and concentrated on the silent battle that seemed to be waging between the two men. They stared each other down, blue vs. gold.
“What are you suggesting, Damon?” The leader’s voice was calculating. The two might have been brothers but there was clearly no trust between them.
“I’m suggesting you let her go.” Ouch. If looks could kill. I realized suddenly what he was saying. If what I new about pack politics was true, and Damon was the leaders blood kin, that made him second in command, Beta wolf. Why would he throw that away.
“You know what this means Damon. You are openly defying your leader.” I thought I saw Damon flinch, but barely. The leader saw it too.
“Oh yes, brother. If you request this, I have to oblige, but you will no longer belong to this pack.” I saw the smug look in his golden eyes. He knew he had won.
My heart sank. There was no way Ice Boy would risk banishment to save me. A wolf without a pack did not deserve to be a wolf at all. That had probably been drilled into his head since he Turned.
But Ice Boy surprised me.
The leader looked as shocked as I felt. The smug look vanished from his eyes. His canines visibly sharpened, and he stepped menacingly towards his brother.
“So you understand,” he said, his voice low and cold, “That if I let the loner go, we will hunt you down, as we will her, until you are both gone from this city. Every one of your packmates will be forced to kill you on sight if you ever step foot here again. You will never again be a part of this pack.” His amber eyes were cold and hard. He would be making no exceptions for his kin. The pack was deathly silent, waiting for their packmate’s reply.
The blue eyed boy nodded. His eyes were just as hard. He had made up his mind as well, but it still didn’t make any sense, not to me anyway. “ I know how it works, Brother. But you could make this easier, if you just let her go.”
“If I just let her go? I have a duty to this pack, and this city. Even if you can’t seem to grasp that, I must.” This encounter seemed to be nearing it’s end.
The boy looked pained. “Brother—“
The leader cut him off sharply. “Oh, and that’s the other thing. You are no longer my brother. So take the loner and run. Because you are kin perhaps I’ll give you an extra few minutes to get the hell out of my city. As a parting gift.” His tone of voice said this conversation was over. And that Ice Boy had better get lost.
Dozens of glowing amber eyes watched in a silent shun, as Damon walked to me. The leader let go of me without a second glance. I stumbled, before I got my feet under me again. Damon drew me next to him before he turned and walked to the edge of the pack. His packmates silently watched him go. I couldn’t imagine that pain of walking away from the only place you truly belonged. In a pack.
Before we stepped into the darkness of the empty street, he turned back one last time to face his brother.
“You know why I did this, Brother. Because someone in this family had to break the trend of cruelty our father began.” His blue eyes met the leader’s gold ones. “And because we were no better than she was, once upon a time.”
The leader spun around. His eyes were dangerous. “Get out of my sight.”
We did, turning and running towards the glow of the waking city. I glanced at Damon, running beside me. He looked like his mother had just been killed. Part of him had been broken badly when he left his pack. It was something I would never truly understand. I started to say something, but changed my mind.
We turned a corner, until only a wide empty alley stood between us, and the bustling city of light and noise. Neither of us looked back.
If we had, we would have seen the moon slowly setting behind us, it’s blue fire leaving the sky in peace.
To be continued...