I woke with a gasp. I lay on the forest floor, alone. It was still dark out and I had no idea how long I’d been unconscious. I twisted my head to the side and couldn’t see anything but the trees near me, with their skeletal branches reaching out at me like fingers wanting to kill me. The back and side of my head were throbbing and it felt like my face was on fire. My previously injured ankle sprouted with some more pain, inviting my newly damaged shoulder to join. I struggled to turn in the opposite direction, moaning as I rolled over.
And I came face to face with bared fangs. I reached out and grabbed a medium-sized stone and slammed it into the wolf’s head, knocking it sideways. Then I staggered to my feet and ran again, picking my knees up high to avoid the roots this time.
Behind me, Claire howled and the sound made me stumble. I whimpered and ran faster. And then, it dawned on me that nothing looked familiar, and a terrifying feeling swelled in my chest.
Am I running away from the house?
I was lost and turned around—possibly heading even farther into the heart of the forest. And now I could hear the wolf chasing me again. I couldn’t find it in me to worry about changing my course anymore.
I pumped my legs under me and tried to find other routes that might save me. I didn’t think wolves could climb trees, but no tree offered a branch low enough for me to leap up and grab. And then, finally, through the pitch black, I saw a light.
Relief soared through me before the wolf hit me from behind and sent me flying, then skidding along the ground. Just as I slammed against a tree, I felt razor-sharp fangs sink into my leg.
An overwhelming wave of pain crashed over me. I tried to kick the creature off, but it held on tight. Then I saw a flashlight. Did I bring that with me? But then again, did it really matter?
I reached out, grabbed it, and brought it down on the wolf’s head. It cried out in a high-pitched yelp, releasing my leg, and jumped away. I looked down at the blood oozing from my calf and pooling on the ground around me. I have to make it back to the house and get help quickly. I was losing a lot of blood and the sight of it made me light-headed.
I pulled my act together and tried to stand. My leg burst with pain, and along with my hurt ankle, I didn’t make it far before I plummeted to the ground. But I never hit the hard dirt. I looked down to see strong arms tightly grasping me round my shoulders and gently laying me down on the forest floor. I glanced at Nathan and stared into his eyes, which were full of regret and worry. Why would he be regretful or worried?
“Elana! Stay with me! Don’t close those eyes. Stay awake! Elana!”
The blackness that has been trying to consume me for a while started to eat away at the edge of my sight and I distantly heard my name repeated over and over. It didn’t matter though, because I felt my heavy lids closing in on themselves.
I felt myself come to, but couldn’t make myself open my eyes. My leg and ankle throbbed, along with my cheek, shoulder, and wrist. I felt as though I had been hit by a car.
I tried to open my eyes, but my lids seemed to be glued together, as if life depended on it. Just that little act left me exhausted, and I let sleep take me again.
I must have fallen asleep again, because this time, I could feel Nathan outside the door, but could also hear him talking this time. Yelling. But at who?
I tried to strain my ears to understand what was going on, but that felt nearly impossible. The voices seemed to get farther and farther away the more I tried and I felt myself getting utterly exhausted yet again, and this time, I didn’t fight the sleep coming to claim me.
My mind came back and I could slowly feel reality settling in me again. My eyes wouldn’t open, though, so I stopped trying and focused on what happened. Flashes of a wolf and a bright moon shot through my mind like a slide show. Then I remembered blood. So much blood.
Claire’s blue eyes haunted my mind, surrounded by a salt and pepper wolf’s fur.
Claire was a Shape Shifter.
My eyes shot open without any other protest. I have to go see Claire, make sure she’s okay. I determinedly thought while rising onto my elbows to get out of the bed underneath me. My arms and shoulders felt stiff, however, so I looked down to see my full right shoulder and arm in tight bandages. Doing a more thorough search, I found my left ankle and leg matched. A dull ache echoed through my body, stopping to emphasize my injuries.
“Hey, calm down,” a voice calmed me instantly.
“Claire,” I breathed, but immediately regretted speaking as my stomach shot with pain.
“Shh, don’t talk. You’re still hurt,” Claire responded, pushing lightly on my good shoulder to push me back into the bed.
“What happened?” I asked, despite the pain that sailed through my abdomen.
Shame and regret instantly filled Claire’s eyes, fear eminent on her face. What was she afraid of? Her head dropped to her chest in defeat, her black hair falling like a curtain around her face.
“Are you okay?” I asked slowly, not wanting to upset her anymore.
Claire’s head lifted and her eyes bore into mine. “I got you kidnapped, attacked you, nearly killed you, and you’re worried about me?” She asked in surprise, shame still shining in her eyes.
I took in her appearance. It seems like she hasn’t slept in days, dark bags apparent under her brilliant blue eyes, hair frizzing and a little greasy, and a baggy t-shirt so big it reached her knees. “How long has it been since you slept?” I thought out loud.
“You’ve been unconscious for five days, El.”
What? Five days? I looked away from her and towards the ceiling, thinking about how long it has been since I was functional.
“Elana, I’m so sorry. I feel horrible,” Claire said, staring back at her feet in embarrassment.
“Claire, don’t even start,” I warned, knowing she already placed the blame on herself for what happened. My chest protested with a sharp, direct pain in my heart as I spoke, but I continued anyway. “It wasn’t your fault. You had no control, and it was my fault I came to you. I just—I thought you were in trouble and . . . Well, I’m the one who should be apologizing.”
Claire’s eyes were filled with even more tears as she looked back at me. “I remember doing it all, El. I smelled you, and just had this uncontrollable desire to tear you apart. I wanted it so bad. I couldn’t control myself. I’m so sorry.” Claire lowered her head again as I saw a lone tear escape her eye. “I’m a monster.” Another tear slid down her face and my heart tore in half hearing her words.
“No.” I said firmly. “You stopped. I’m here, alive, because you had enough self control to stop and remember who you are. You have such a great heart, Claire. You have from the first moment I met you. The first time I told you my secret. And you still have it. You will always have it. There is no way a heart like yours can belong to a monster.” I surprised myself with how much boldness came from my voice. But I knew it was true. Ever since I met her, she has had the softest heart for anybody and everybody, trying to take care of anyone she came in contact with. I grabbed Claire’s warm hand with my bandaged arm and squeezed it as another tear rushed down her face, and I brushed it away with my thumb. “You’re my best friend, Claire, and I love you.”
Claire squeezed my hand back and stared into my eyes for another moment, and I hoped the look she saw was confirming everything I knew.
“Am I interrupting something?” A shadow at the door called out, silhouetted by the darkness of the hallway. Trysten stepped out from the shadow and made his way over to Claire and I. “I need to heal your wounds, if that’s alright with you?”
Claire smiled and released my hand, instantly making me cold. She rose from the chair next to my bedside and Trysten instantly filled the spot, resting his hands over my shoulder and leg first. “You suffered a broken shoulder, broken leg, fractured cheekbone, and broken ankle. I’m going to have to be let in a little longer, you think you can do that?”
“Why didn’t you do that while I was sleeping?” My question was supposed to sound curious, but came out rude instead.
“When foreseers sleep, their brain kind of goes on lockdown mode, and there is no way into it. I can only get in when you’re awake.”
I nodded as I wondered about my chest. “What about my stomach or ribs?”
Trysten looked confused and looked at Claire, who was now on the other side of my bed. She shrugged. “What about them? Do they hurt?” I nodded. “I can check while I’m healing you, seeing if maybe you bruised your ribs?”
I smiled a little, but my cheek ached and I relaxed my face again. I closed my eyes, much more secure about finding my boundaries and opened them in seconds. For the first time, I stepped out of the way and closed my eyes and waited for the blue entity to leave my body.
I felt the aching in my shoulder and leg let up as it dissipated. Then the same happened to my face and ankle. I waited for my chest to stop hurting, but it never did. In fact, the pain intensified.
“Okay, you’re fine,” Trysten announced. I closed my mind first, then opened my eyes. I would have celebrated my success of my first opening and closing not resulting in me almost dying, the ache in my chest was worse than before.
Trysten’s smiled evaporated soon after he read my look. “Still hurt?” I nodded again, now scared to speak, remembering how it was before and imagining how much it would hurt now.
Trysten frowned. “Why don’t you rest while I go talk with Stephan?” I nodded again, too tired to do anything else. I saw Trysten leading Claire out of my room before he closed the door and my eyes shut involuntarily, sleep overcoming me again.
My heart exploded in pain and my eyes shot open. I grabbed my chest and looked down, expecting to see the hilt of a knife lacerating my skin, but found a smooth surface. My eyes danced in confusion before another wave hit me and I lurched forward, screeching out in hopes of lowering the pain. Nothing helped, though, as I hoped the pain would leave me, but only intensified.
I heard a continuous pounding, followed by my door bursting open and a figure stomping into my room, the look of a wild, angry bull in their whole body language. Crossing the room in seconds, he reached out and grabbed one of my arms clutching my chest. The pain lessoned and my screaming came to a halt. The agony was dissipating slowly, causing my body to start to respond to other things. A dull ache kept declining until it was completely gone in less than a minute.
“Shh, calm down, it’s okay. You’ll be fine,” a deep, baritone voice floated down and I looked up for the first time to see Nathan staring down on me.
I opened my mouth, but he put his palm on my cheek instead, silencing me with a warm tingle. “Don’t say anything, just go back to sleep,” he whispered.
“What happened?” Someone shouted from the door and marched over to my bed, hair wrapped up in a towel. Claire went to the other side of the bed and Nathan retracted his hand as if something electrocuted him, leaving a soft, fading tingle where his hand once was on my face.
“Nothing, she was just having a nightmare. C’mon, she still needs to sleep some more.” Nathan’s voice had changed. It was harder than the calm, soothing voice from moments ago. He spun on his heels and all but ran out of my room. Claire looked at me again before retreating.
“I’ll be back soon,” she whispered a promise before shutting my door and I closed my eyes again, falling into a much more peaceful sleep.
I woke quickly this time, feeling more rested than I had my whole life. The events slowly started coming back to me and my mind starting to keep up with what was going on. I reached to my chest, expecting it to be hurting again, but it didn’t have so much as an ache. Maybe I just had the flu or something. I was out in the rain the day before, I rationalized, not knowing what else it could be.
The last thing I remembered, Trysten left my room saying he was going to ask Stephan something. Claire left, too, still not having returned. I wonder how she is doing, how she is handling everything.
The sun shone through the white curtains in my room and the morning birds outside started chirping loudly. I rolled over and checked the time. 8:32.
I pulled off my covers and stepped over to my curtains, pulling them aside and opening the hinging window. A flashback of my attempted rescue flashed through my mind and I was reminded once again about the attack that left me hopelessly endangered. Next time I try to save someone twice my strength, I will think again.
I threw on some new clothes and ran to the bathroom before heading downstairs. As I rounded the corner, I took a step and heard a few familiar voices. I followed them into the kitchen; Claire and Hyene were sitting at the table with a blonde girl, their backs turned to me.
“Hey, guys,” I said as I walked in and stuck my hands nervously in my back pockets.
The two girls turned simultaneously and Claire leaped across the room and wrapped her arms around me before I could think about what she was doing. After the shock faded off, I hugged her back. “I’m so glad you’re okay,” she whispered into my shirt, not crying this time.
Because I am so tall, most people just come up to my shoulder or chest. Yeah, it’s awkward hugging people, so I usually don’t. However, with Claire, I don’t really care, and she knows it.
I tightened my arms and released her, looking into her blue eyes as Hyene stood from her spot and took a tentative step forward. “Hey, how are you, Elana?” She asked slowly.
“I’m great,” I said sincerely. “How long have I been out?”
“Four days total. Don’t worry, though, we saved you some breakfast,” Claire said before bouncing to the fridge. She pulled out a bowl filled to the top with oatmeal. Scooting around, she popped it into the microwave and grabbed a spoon, glass, and some milk.
“I’ve been out for a week?” I asked, surprised I could sleep that long.
“That’s the normal for when people get attacked by Shape Shifters and healed in the same week, don’t worry,” Hyene soothed, Claire not paying any attention to what we were talking about. I gave a silent gratitude to that. I didn’t want her to hear about the attack and feel bad again.
“Yeah, for fragile humans like yourself,” the blonde girl said as she raised from her chair and turned to me. She was shorter than Hyene, but only by a little. Her blonde hair was stick straight and down to her mid-back, accompanied with bright blue eyes and high cheekbones. Her resemblance to Malibu Barbie was scary—beauty and curves all in the right places.
“Umm, hi, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m—”
“Elana. Right. The new girl everyone’s been talking about nonstop since I got back.” The girl eyed me up and down while folding her arms across her chest and I suddenly felt self-conscious. I reached up to pat down the nest I had on my head from seven consecutive days just laying down. “Well, I sure hope there’s more to you than looks. I’m Jules.”
Jules sashayed towards me with her hand outstretched. I grabbed it and tried to ignore her last comment. She ripped her hand from mine and wiped it on her mini-skirt she had on. “Wow, you need a shower,” she commented and took a few more steps back again. “We can talk after you are somewhat decent. Well, at least as decent as someone like you can get.”
She flipped her hair as she walked past me and turned towards the family room. Someone like me?
I stared at her and made sure she was gone before speaking. “Wow, what is her problem?” I asked, patting my hair down again.
Hyene started towards me again before turning to look at Claire frozen in place. “Nothing, she’s just . . . yeah, ya know.”
I nodded as another voice came from behind me. “Am I interrupting?”
I turned to see Nathan casually leaning in the doorway, looking between the three of us. “Elana? Can I speak with you real quick?”
The unsureness in Nathan’s voice shocked me. What would he have to talk about that would have him so worked up? I walked towards him and he moved aside, letting me get past him. He took off to the family room and I followed, keeping an eye out for another attack by Jules. Luckily, she must have gone downstairs because she wasn’t loitering in the family room.
Pulling on the sliding glass door, he led me out to a small deck, only a step above the ground. There was a porch set on the deck, an umbrella shading the tile table and plush chair set around it. Nathan pulled out his and plopped in it and I took the one across from him. The fall cold metal bit into my skin as I came in contact with the chair.
Remembering what he did before I got myself hurt, I started. “Thank you. For helping me and everything. I’m sorry I made it so difficult on you.”
Nathan’s emotion didn’t change, just a stone face staring me down. Did I say something wrong? “We need to talk about what happened the other night,” he started.
I racked my brain. “You mean when you woke me up from my dream?”
Nathan looked at me confused. “What? No, I mean what happened a few nights ago.”
“What happened a few nights ago?”
Nathan looked at me as his face twisted in confusion. “You know, the night when you woke up.”
What is he talking about? “Uh, in case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t exactly been awake since I got healed.”
Nathan looked even more confused. “You mean, you don’t remember what happened that night?”
“. . . did something happen?”
Nathan stared at me for a moment longer before shaking his head and the confusion was left behind with relief. “No, I just told you I was training you. We start in next week,” he said and got up to leave.
Somehow, I feel like that wasn’t it. What happened while I was asleep?