Bodies scattered around me. Their burned flesh seared and ash smeared all over their faces. My eyes were getting too droopy. The smoke was getting to me. I tried holding my breath, stumbling over the bodies. Trying so desperately to get to someone.
Everyone was dead. The fire took them. Ruined them. Turned them to ash and stole their lives. There was no one left.
My feet hurt, pinching as tiny sticks poked me like endless needles with every step of the way. The woods weren't that far away, I recalled. Daddy had been taking me there more often to go on runs with him and my brother. I remember exactly how to get there. But I didn't know how much time I had left until the fire took me too. But maybe that would be okay. I could be with mommy and daddy again. I could even see Dustin.
"Evangelina! Is that you!?"
Dustin. My gaze snapped to my brother's sad eyes. His sad, broken eyes looked so happy to see me. A familiar face in the black smoke. But something was wrong. Something wasn't right. His steps hastened. His pace quickening. He was running over to me.
I reached out my arms, visibly shaking with fear overrunning my body. Something wasn't right.
And then, it happened. I saw it before I felt it. The pain. The whoosh of air, its claws sinking deep into my chest. The blood beginning to seep from each mark that was made. The pain was a dull-like sensation at first. The wolf in front of me growled, but I looked past him. At the tears, my brother shed. I could tell rage was burning at his core. He caught my gaze, and I mouthed one word: 'go'.
His eyes were pained, a desperate look taking over his demeanor. At twelve years old, Dustin was so close to shifting to his wolf. He was becoming protective and beginning to realize the importance of family. Of Tradition.
And then, the wolves came to play. Not the nice ones. Not our wolves. The bad wolves. The "rogues" as daddy called them. They were mean and ruthless. Killed without compassion and mourned for no one. They were vengeful creatures out for nothing but destruction and blood.
I looked at Dustin, my vision starting to fade. The blood was gushing now. Pouring out of my flimsy shirt to trail down my paling skin. I could feel the life begin to drain from my soul. The wolf I never met mourning inside me, disappearing with each second. It was almost as agonizing as being torn by the beast's claws. I had heard about losing your wolf if you were injured badly enough. It was especially damaging to the children who had yet to shift.
I was one of those children at eight years old who haven't shifted. I'm not supposed to shift until I hit puberty. I've always felt my wolf inside me, though. Running countless circles inside my mind and whispering encouraging words in times I've needed it the most.
But now. There was nothing. No words. No whispers. No echo of anything. I felt lost.
My eyes began to droop a little more as I watched the back of my brother run to civilization. Run to freedom. To a new life.
Please let him live, Moon Goddess. Please.
The monster in front of me snarled out, readying itself to go after my brother. But instead, I used every last will power to move the muscles in my throat. A blood-curdling scream tore through my lips, puncturing a deep-rooted wound in my heart as the daunting realization came upon me.
My scream startled the beast, and I cringed at the snap I heard as its neck turned sharply towards me. It bared its teeth, piercing fangs glinting in the moonlight as venom dripped down. The venom of a wolf was deadly to humans. It didn't do much to other werewolves but it didn't mean it hurt any less. Still, I prepared my little body for death. I felt my wolf leave my soul through the scream I let out seconds ago.
It prowled towards me. Its very own prey. I was going to die tonight. In these woods along with my family. Dustin would be the only one left to carry on the Rivers' legacy-if he makes out in time. He will make it in time. He'll survive.
The creature was mere breaths away now. There was no more waiting. No more stalking.
Within seconds, the beast pounced, baring its fangs as he went in for the kill. I clenched my eyes shut as tight as I could.
But nothing prepared me for the sharp, jagged edges of its teeth puncturing into my neck. The shock and adrenaline were no longer fueling my body. I felt everything.
As blood continued to pour from my neck, I felt my head limp towards the side. My human side was leaving me too. I could feel it. I wasn't going to make it.
But that's okay. I'd be with mom and dad again shortly.
* * *
Death did not want me, it seems. Because soon enough, I found myself lurching through the air, gasping for greedy breaths of oxygen. I never knew just how much I took for granted in life until I knocked on death's door. But death did not take me into its awaiting arms with gentleness and grace. My family was not waiting for me on the other side with bittersweet smiles and warm hugs. There was nothing for me on the other side just as there is no one for me here. Even death rejected me.
My neck felt sore. Nothing was forgotten but as I sat up, confusion swarmed my head.
Why wasn't I dead?
It was dark. And cold. Shivers wracked through my small frame and I wrapped my arms around myself. I sat there, silent, rocking back and forth to ease the pain. Even though I cannot feel the marks that once marred my skin- the deep gashes on my chest and the holes in my feet, or even the bite which was clearly meant to kill me, it was as if they were still there. As if I were still a bleeding mess seconds from taking my last breath.
But there was no blood except dried blood. No evidence of any wounds but the scars that now remained. The only explanation had to be my wolf. Was it possible I still had my wolf? Was it possible my wolf used its last moments of life to save me?
No, no that couldn't be. A werewolf is nothing without its wolf.
I'm nothing without my other half. Emptiness resides in my chest, a hopeless feeling I have never been accustomed too.
I was used to feeling free and light-hearted. A connection that tied myself to my family. But there was nothing of the sort. I couldn't feel any sort of connection to my family. Not to mom. Not to dad. Not to Dustin. They were all gone. Each one ripped away from me by the treacherous flames of evil and merciless killers.
It didn't occur to me of where I really was. But as I sniffed the air discreetly the smell of burnt bodies overwhelmed me. Two scents, in particular, beginning to catch my attention. Their scents were drifting apart, becoming one with the wind as minutes ticked by.
Limbs aching with every move, I willed myself to stand. My body felt agonized but the pain was becoming bittersweet. At least, I could still feel something. Though all of my other senses seemed to be numbed to an extent, I find relief in the pain that is consuming me. It gives me an escape from the deeper wounds hitting at my heart. It takes away the thought and the reality of some things. The loneliness I feel slowly dissipating into thin air. The more I breathe, the easier walking becomes.
I don't feel myself move through the woods. But I see it. Passing several branches and bodies burnt to a crisp. My feet don't stop as they trek deeper into the area. Unaware of where I'm really headed. My feet continue on a path where familiarity starts to settle in.
Up ahead is the pack elementary school. What's left of it, that is.
The walls are broken in, rubble and dust caving as black smoke still continue to rise from the fire that was set to it. I can still smell the kids in there. The screams echoing in my ears even though I know they're all dead. All the teachers and all the children burnt to ashes. They'll never be able to find their mates or have a family or grow old. The mean wolves took that from them.
I continued walking. My mind numb as tears sat at the forefront of my eyes. But never did I allow a single drop to escape. I was sad. Upset. Depressed. But crying wouldn't take away the pain. Their pain. All I needed to do was put on my big girl pants and keep going.
Death didn't take me for a reason, right? There had to be some explanation the Moon Goddess spared me. I just hoped I'd be able to survive long enough to know why.
My tired legs continued to lead the way a few more minutes until the air around me became heavier with the scent of them.
They were around here. My parents were somewhere among the bodies around me. I think I wished their scents were gone. I wished they no longer carried a smell. I wish mom's honeysuckle perfume wasn't so strong and dad's masculine and woodsy cologne had disappeared. Maybe then I would never be able to identify them. Maybe then it wouldn't hurt so much the moment I did find them. Both of them were by each other's side. The bodies charred and blackened from the burns they received. They were completely unrecognizable. I couldn't tell the color of mommy's golden brown locks of hair, just as I couldn't make out the sun-kissed skin of dad from all those days spent outside.
Pain hit me. As if that rogue was in front of me again. Its paw raised high as its claws blinked in the silver moonlight, ready to puncture my flesh. My parents were dead. I could barely feel the tears as they trickled down my cheeks. Just as I could barely feel the fall when my knees gave out and collapsed to the ground in front of them. There was a deep-rooted pain searing through my body. Seeing my lifeless parents together struck a nerve. They were so very close. My dad had his arm reaching out toward my mother. The tips of their fingers only just brushing one another. They died together.
I couldn't imagine what they went through. The pain they suffered when the flames licked their skin with an insufferable heat. How long must they have screamed for? How many tears did they shed? Did they cry for Dustin and me? For the family, they lost? Did they wish Dustin and I would get out alive, or would we meet the same fate?
At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to give them a proper burial. My parents didn't deserve a death like this. They didn't deserve such a brutal ending! It wasn't fair!
I began digging at the ground as more tears rushed down my cheeks in a hurry. My vision blurred but I kept digging, broken sobs and hiccups escaping my lips. They deserved to be buried. A proper memorial where they can be remembered for all of eternity. I couldn't just let them decay into ground. They needed me. I needed them.
It didn't matter that with every dive into the ground, the sticks broke into the tips of my fingers. It didn't matter my blood was mixing with the dirt. It didn't matter that pain was starting to feel like euphoria to me. All that mattered were them.
But seconds turned into minutes and minutes turned into hours. I was nowhere near close to making the ground wide enough to give them what they deserved. Finally, I gave up and crawled over to the charred bodies that began to smell like death and decay. I laced my small fingers through my father's badly burnt ones and laid my head upon my mother's ashen chest.
There were no more tears left to shed. I didn't want to continue a life without mommy and daddy. Without Dustin. Without my family. Nothing would be the same. My heart ached terribly in my chest. Ringing with a heart-wrenching clarity of my loss.
I was an orphan now.
I don't remember much after that. But sometime within the moment of me laying by my deceased parents, a man came into view. My eyes were swollen and still too puffy to make out what he looked like though. If death wanted to give me another chance, I wouldn't mind though. If this man wanted to kill me, I wouldn't fight him. In fact, a part of me secretly wished he would.
But instead, the man with dark hair, broad shoulders, and broken eyes gazed down at me with a look mirroring my own: pain. Such pain. While I did not recognize him, I was able to detect he was an Alpha by his scent. He was mourning someone too.
Slowly, the man I was not afraid of bent down to my level. It seemed like he was having an internal debate within himself. I was feeling too tired to care though. I closed my eyes, sniffling as I rubbed my cheek into mom's chest, desperately craving the warmth I knew I would never again receive from her.
In no time, I found myself being picked up by the tall man. His arms cocooning me as though trying to shield me from any more possible danger. I didn't fight it.
I don't think I had much fight left in me even if I tried.
"I'll protect you, little Evelyn."