Into The Wild
I was numb. I’d gone into town, as required, and returned with the list of supplies Lena had given me. It was dark. I trudged up to the two bedroom rundown house. Lena stood in the little kitchen and barked, “Once you put away the supplies, strip and be on your way. Your clothing will remain here. Each morning, you will report to me, get dressed and go to work. When finished, you will return, get undressed and get out of my sight.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I mumbled. I kept my head down. I didn’t have to look at her to know she was smirking. She was thrilled not to have to deal with me anymore and even more excited at my suffering. She took special satisfaction in my pain.
Silently, I put the supplies away and walked into the small bedroom I used to call mine. Tears washed down my cheeks as I realized there wasn’t anything in there that I cared about losing or leaving behind.
I reached under the bed and pulled out a small teddy bear. It was a gift from my mother. I slept with it every night but always kept it hidden from Lena. If she knew I cared about it, she would have destroyed it long before now.
My belly growled. I hadn’t eaten today. I pushed the hunger pain out of my mind. The only thing left was to remove my clothing and leave. My hands trembled as I unbuttoned my shirt and shrugged out of my jeans. My underwear and bra were the last things to go. I grasped my bear and let myself out the back door, closing it quietly behind me. The night air was crisp, covering my skin with goosebumps.
I let the change happen, falling onto all fours as I shifted into my wolf. I gingerly picked up my bear in my jaws, careful not to puncture the soft fur with my canines, and quickly made my way into the forest. Thankfully, the shack was on the outskirts of the pack, so I wouldn’t have to pass anyone coming and going each day.
I let my Wolf guide me. Her instincts were much stronger than mine. And we were going to need every bit of intuition and determination to survive. She moved stealthily with her nose down to the ground, sniffing for prey. I noticed we were headed toward one of my favorite spots to play as a child, a beautiful valley with a crystal clear rushing stream that flowed down from the mountain. When we reached the water, I dropped the bear carefully on the ground and waded into the water, drinking deeply to sate my thirst.
My belly growled again. We needed to eat.
We will, my Wolf communicated with determination.
She stepped out of the stream and shook the water from her coat. My Wolf held her head still, tasting the scents on the wind and then spun around and headed north. Small game—rabbit, maybe a fox.
Silently, we made our way into the trees, tracking the scent. It was getting closer. She slowed down, taking each step carefully to avoid making a sound. Slinking forward, just as she launched to attack, the rabbit bolted into the thick undergrowth. We chased after it, snapping powerful jaws further into the brush, trying to upheave the animal, but it successfully evaded her efforts, leaving us with a mouthful of foliage instead.
My Wolf spit the grasses and weeds from her mouth, only to continue again. Scenting the air, tracking the scent, darting to attack, but to no avail. Attempt after attempt failed.
We panted, tongue hanging out, under the exertion. Finally, after four hours of unsuccessful hunting, I was so tired, I could barely walk.
Making our way back to the teddy bear, my Wolf gathered it into her mouth and headed up the mountain. There was a ledge not too high up, where, at least, we would have the rock at my back, reducing our vulnerability to predators.
I looked out at the night sky. The moon shone down brilliantly, casting silver hues on the landscape. I used to love watching its beauty, but now I had to turn away. It just hurt too much. Everything hurt. My stomach hurt from hunger. My body ached from exhaustion, and my heart suffered from all that I had lost.
Images of Coal’s face flashed before my eyes. His words cut me again and again as they played on repeat in my head. He didn’t want me and he never would.
I collapsed back on my haunches, raised my head to the sky and released a pain-filled howl into the night.
I heard only silence in return.
Pulling the teddy bear between my front paws, I dropped my head onto its rounded belly, inhaling the familiar scent. Defeat and rejection washed over me hard and sharp. But tomorrow I would try again. I thought as I drifted off to a fitful sleep.
Dawn came quickly. And with it, the realization that I needed to return to the pack for my work responsibilities. I looked to the right and left, searching for a safe place to keep my bear. There was another small ledge higher up with some foliage.
I’d have to scale the cliff to reach it, but it would be safer there. I shifted into my skin and shivered in the cold fall weather. Clenching the bear between my teeth carefully, I used both hands to pull myself up the rock, working to find footholds.
When I reached it, it was only a few feet wide, but the bear would be safe tucked inside the foliage.
I gently pried the greenery apart and set the bear inside, letting it close behind me. I shuddered hard when the wind blew harder, my teeth chattering together. I began the climb back down and froze when I heard a branch break in the distance.
Still clinging to the side of the mountain, I spun my head around, my eyes searching the landscape. For a moment, I could have sworn I saw a large dark figure sitting in the distant trees, watching me.
One of my hands slipped on the rock. My heart raced in my chest as I scrambled to catch myself. When I finally made it down, I turned again, only to find nothing there.
Maybe I had just imagined it...
Another long week passed. My new schedule was becoming routine. Alpha had decided I would no longer clean the packhouse, thus eliminating me from Coal’s presence altogether. Instead, I was sent into town on a daily basis to gather supplies, clean homes or run errands for pack members who lived there. It was a ten-mile trek each way, but I didn’t mind the walk, and I was thrilled to be away from the pack.
I was weak, but thankfully, my Wolf had been successful in hunting a few rabbits. We didn’t eat every day, but it was enough to keep us alive.
Today, the last house on my list, belonged to a member of a neighboring pack, Onyx Moon. Frankly, I’d been surprised to get the assignment, because relations between Ravenswood and Onyx Moon were not always the best, aggravated by a fierce rivalry for land. And their alpha, Alpha Wilder, was known to be a ferocious man. Of course, I couldn’t imagine a man worse than Alpha.
I pulled the address out of my pocket, checking it again and turned right down a side street. The house wasn’t where I expected, so I continued further. After another thirty minutes of searching, I finally found it.
I stood in front of the house with my mouth open. This couldn’t be right. It was huge, four stories tall, Victorian, with intricate moldings. I rechecked the address, comparing it to the house number and street. Yes, this was the right one.
Walking up the brick steps to the front door, I hesitantly pressed the bell. Chimes sang inside the home, announcing my presence. A moment later, a woman answered the door. Older with pleasant features and softly greying hair pulled into a loose bun on her head; she had a slim figure, rounded face, high cheekbones and mischievous expression, still very beautiful regardless of her age. Deep blue eyes crinkling, she smiled widely. “Come in, my dear.”
I stepped in slowly, mumbling, “Thank you, Ma’am.”
She tsk’d, “My dear, please call me Darcie.”
I nodded shyly. “Yes, Ma—I mean, Darcie.”
“You must be Brinley,” she looked at me expectantly.
I wasn’t sure what to say. I didn’t really know how to socialize. I’d never done so, and most in my pack either ignored or tormented me. I bit my lip and shifted my weight, looking down. I whispered, “Yes.”
She was silent. I glanced up, worried I might have angered her in some way. Her eyes narrowed as she studied at me.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled quickly, looking back down at the floor, cringing that I already made a mistake, and didn’t even know what it was.
Her slender finger reached under my chin, pulling my head up to look at her. I flinched. She pulled her hand away, but I maintained eye contact as I understood it was what she wanted. Her words were soft, inquisitive, “What are you sorry for?”
“Ah, I...don’t know.” My cheeks heated with embarrassment. Why did I have to be so stupid and socially inept? Most wolves could easily carry a conversation, but I had no social graces. I’d never been taught.
“I see,” she murmured, and then, surprisingly let it go. “Why don’t we get started?”
My breath whooshed out in relief. I eagerly followed Darcie as she showed me which rooms to clean and then into the laundry area for instructions there. I listened carefully and got right to work.
About an hour later, I was standing on my tippy-toes, stretched as far as I could reach, to run a duster along the top shelf of books in her library. I’d been so intent on my work, I didn’t realize she came in the room.
My shirt had ridden up from my stretched position. Darcie startled me when she trailed her fingertips on my revealed ribcage.
I jumped and spun around to face her, quickly tugging my top back into place.
Her mouth pressed into a thin hard line. “When was the last time you ate?”
Embarrassment washed over me again. I tried to remember when we caught the last rabbit.
It might have been yesterday...
…or the day before.
I stumbled over my words, not wanting to reveal anything, “I’m fine...it wasn’t too long ago.” Fear ran through me. What if she said something to Lena, or worse, Alpha? He would punish me. I twisted my hands together and stared at the floor again. My lip quivered. “May I continue my work?”
Quiet for a long moment, she finally said, “Yes, go ahead.”
Relief flooded through me, and I hurried back to work, careful not to reveal more of my body.
After several minutes, the smell of something so delicious and tempting hit my sensitive nose, it made my entire body contract with need. I clenched my fists, trying to force my mind away from my wretched hunger, as the scent came closer and closer.
Darcie entered the library, carrying a tray full of food, sandwiches and hot steaming soup, biscuits and jams, and a can of Coke. She set the plate down on the low coffee table and motioned me over, while she sat in a nearby chair.
I stared, wide-eyed, and couldn’t stop the loud rumbling growl from my belly. Legs feeling like wooden sticks, I walked over to her, struggling not to reveal the hunger inside of me.
Darcie pointed to the chair next to her. “Sit. Eat.”
I halted mid-step.
I couldn’t eat her food.
It would be rude, and somehow I knew I would get punished for it.
I rasped, “Oh no...I couldn’t. B-but thank you for the kindness.” I worked hard to keep my tears at bay. No one had ever cared whether I starved or not. No one had ever shown me kindness, and I didn’t know how to handle it.
Her expression turned fierce. “When I paid for your assistance, I was told you were available for anything I wanted you to do. I want you to eat. Would you refuse me, after I paid good money for your services?”
“No, Ma’am!” I gasped in fear and instantly dropped into the chair. She raised an eyebrow at me. I stuttered, “I...I mean Darcie.”
Her glance went down pointedly to the food. I quickly swept a sandwich from the tray and bit into it. I couldn’t help the low groan that slipped my lips. I’d never tasted anything as good. Even when Alpha allowed me to eat, it had always been basic meals with very little taste, nothing as flavorful as this.
Once I started, I couldn’t seem to stop myself. I wolfed down the first sandwich in just a few bites, moving on to the second.
I glanced up to find Darcie staring at me. I couldn’t interpret her expression. It seemed to be a combination of amusement and sadness. My cheeks were full of food when she pointed to the can. “Here, drink, you need to wash some of that down.”
I stared at the can. I’d seen the drink before, but never had one and didn’t know how to open it. Darcie saw my confusion. Understanding lit her expression, and then her lips turned down into a frown. She lifted the can, and popped the top, murmuring, “Like this.”
When it was open, she handed it to me.
I took it and sniffed the top.
“Go on,” she encouraged.
I took a tentative sip. Oh! The bubbles tickled my nose. It was sweet and delicious. I drank deeply, and then was mortified with embarrassment, when a loud belch slipped my lips.
She snickered and grinned at me. I relaxed and gave her a small smile in return. I ate everything on the tray, and sat back, stuffed to the brim. I patted my belly that now poked out.
She looked at her watch. “It’s late. I think that is enough for tonight.”
“But...I haven’t finished.” Fear rolled through me again. I couldn’t return without having satisfied my responsibilities.
She leaned forward and took my hand in hers. Her knowledgeable gaze bore into mine. “I will be sure to tell your pack how pleased I was with your work. You have nothing to fear from me.”
I sat in stunned silence.
She tugged me to my feet and pulled me in for a small hug. When I stepped back, she murmured, “Now, go on, it’s already dark. You should be home by now.”
After I left Darcie’s house, I got turned around again. My anxiety ran high. The day’s work had taken longer than usual. I hoped Lena didn’t punish me for coming in late.
So intent on my thoughts, I didn’t realize someone had come up right behind me until a sweet, cloying scent hit my nose. I spun around but was grabbed in a relentless grip, before I could see the stranger. I could tell my attacker was male by the strength of his hold, but I couldn’t get a sense of his smell because he pressed the sweet, cloying scent against my nose and mouth with his big hand.
I attempted to scream, but no sound came out.
And then my world went dark.