Babysitting Never Ends Well
I walked behind Larken through the town, watching his light brown hair swivel back and forth as he looked for his parents. We were met with looks of concern, dismay and disgust as we marched down the clean street in our ragged, dirty clothes. I had piled my knotted hair into a lump on the top of my head and tried to fight the urge to shift back into my wolf.
“Do you think they would still be at the gas station looking for you?” I asked him. It was a longshot. They would probably be tearing apart the town looking for him.
“I’m not sure.” He said absent mindedly. “They were in a big hurry to get back to the pack. They usually put that above everything.” Larken’s voice was different, lower and heavier than his bright, upbeat personality I’d witnessed.
I took in the boy’s appearance with new interest. He couldn’t have been more than eight or nine. His lightly tanned face was round and freckled. He was scrawny, almost like a runt. Those golden werewolf eyes were replaced by his soft green human eyes and they were looking at the pavement trying to hide his disappointment and fear.
I took in a deep breath, sifting through the different scents that hit me. I could only faintly smell the trail of two other wolves in the area, but it was clear they weren’t here anymore. Shit. They seriously just left him behind. That was a new level of messed up. Now I had a new problem. A lost pup left behind by his family with nobody nearby to help him but me. I was literally stuck with this brat.
“So… how far was your pack from here?” I asked awkwardly. Maybe I could just stick the kid on a bus or something.
“Oh, not far! It’s a big town, so you can’t miss it.” Larken said with renewed hope. “I remember my dad saying we were almost home when we stopped.” At the mention of his dad, his eyes shifted downward again, and his lips pulled inward into a tight smirk. This type of situation clearly wasn’t new and that was just depressing.
“Well, maybe we can get someone to drop you off.” I suggested, trying to worm my way out of the problem.
“What?” He squeaked. “You can’t hand me off to some stranger!”
“Larken,” I sighed. “I’m a stranger.”
“Yeah, but I know you.” Ugh. This kid is a pain in the neck.
“You can get to know someone else.” I offered. “Besides, brat, I have my own self to worry about.”
“But humans will never get to my pack’s town!” Larken whined. “Security never lets them anywhere close to the borders!”
“And you think I’ll be able to get through?” I laughed. That was hilarious. Lone wolves without a pack were shunned and regarded with serious suspicion. It wasn’t natural for our kind to be alone.
“Please, Asenna!” He was staring at me with wide, teary eyes. I gritted my teeth and rubbed the back of my neck. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t just waltz into another wolf’s territory to drop this brat off. It was suicide. They would be on me faster than an Energizer Bunny on crack. I would be outnumbered and overpowered before I even got a chance to run. I was a warrior, but not even I could survive those odds. But those eyes that were staring at me. Goddess be damned!
“Fine!” I groaned. “I’ll drop you off at the border, but that’s it! After that, I’m done.”
Larken launched himself at me and practically choked me as he wrapped his tiny army around my neck.
“Thank you, Asenna!” He gushed.
“Okay, okay, get off me, brat.” I untangled his arms from around my neck and plopped him back on his feet. His face was beaming with a big, dimpled grin. I was getting soft.
I scented the air again, narrowing down the path that the other wolves’ scents were coming from. I tried to make it look like I was just looking around, but we were still met with confused looks from passing pedestrians.
“Looks like they went this way.” I told him as I pointed down a road heading north. “Let’s get moving.”
We’d been walking for an hour at least. It was slow going as humans, but it was safer. A lone werewolf approaching a pack’s territory in wolf form would be seen as a threat. At least as a human, I might have a chance to get away.
“How far is this place supposed to be?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” Larken yawned. “But my feet hurt.”
I wasn’t surprised. Most kids don’t travel on foot, let alone to this extent. I heard a rumbling come from his stomach. He was tired, sore, and hungry. I slung my rucksack off of my shoulders and rifled through it.
“Here.” I said as I held out a smushed granola bar. It was all I had, and it was probably stale, but it was something to put in his stomach.
Larken took the granola bar and his mouth twisted a little bit in distaste, but he opened the wrapper anyway and started nibbling on it. When you’re hungry, you eat what available. My own stomach felt like it was about to eat my liver, but I could manage better than the kid.
“Why don’t we take a break?” I asked him. I could use a rest anyways and I know Larken was struggling to stay upright.
“Finally!” He groaned as he let his shoulders slump forward.
I stepped off the paved road and led us into the tree line out of sight. Larken wasted no time in finding a soft spot to sit and rest his back against a tree trunk.
“What will you do?” He asked me.
“After dropping your butt off where it belongs?” I said. “Well…” I couldn’t tell you the last time I actually had a plan. “I guess I’ll just move on.”
“Where will you go?”
“Wherever I feel like, I guess.” I made myself busy with untying and retying my shoelaces. I didn’t meet his eyes, but I could feel them staring at me.
“Where’s your family?” He asked. It was innocent curiosity, but it still stung.
I was without a pack- without a family. Wolves aren’t alone of their own choice, but I didn’t have anywhere to go or anyone to run to. Everyone that I once knew were long gone.
“Gone.” I stated without emotion. I buried the pain and hurt, swallowing it like cough medicine. “It’s just me. Now drop it.” I wasn’t as snappy as the first time he poked into my business, just hollow and resolved.
My ears suddenly picked up rustling movement. I heard them before I smelled them, but sure enough the woodsy odor of wolves drifted towards us.
“Shit.” I hissed.
“What?” Larken asked as he followed my gaze.
The smell was getting stronger, the rustling louder.
“I think your pack found us.” I said as I stood up warily. I backed against a tree, trying to at least cover my rear in case I got surrounded.
Three wolves crashed through the trees and surrounded us. Without missing a beat, a huge black wolf came straight for me. He towered above me, glaring down at my small human form, lips curled back, and fangs only inches away from my face.