The week flew by fast for Emerson, and it was already the day to leave for Isa’s. She had packed everything else the night before and made sure to get a good rest. She loved visiting her grandmother, but absolutely loathed the journey.
The Chestnut Forest is a dangerous place, not only because of the wild animals, but also because of the number of Unnatural sightings there have been. While most Unnaturals are friendly, the ones who lurk in the forest hunt for blood. Emerson has never run into one in the forest, and she wasn’t looking to change that.
Over the past week, Emerson couldn’t get that stranger out of her head, or rather, the words he spoke to her. ”You will.”
The words haunted her in her dreams and she couldn’t shake the feeling that the strange man had really meant it, in some demented way. She’s been on her own for over a decade, and had never had an encounter like that. She’s never met someone who shook her to her very core.
Emerson pulled herself from her thoughts and got ready to leave. The sun was about to rise, which meant it was getting close. Although she lived in a time with modern technology, she didn’t exactly live in the kind of place that allowed it. And she didn’t care. She didn’t need any of it. She was perfectly fine living without electricity. Emerson was accustomed to telling the time by how the sun rose and set; all she needed was food and the river.
Today, she made sure to secure her unruly hair in a tight French braid so it wouldn’t come undone on her three day journey. She always dressed comfortably, which for her meant tight jeans and a tank top, covered by her signature red cloak. As usual, she decorates her body in daggers and grabs her bow. Today, though, she had to carry a basket. It always made it more difficult to maneuver herself.
By the time she could the the sun’s first rays, it was time to leave. She popped her hood up and looked back to her cabin. Emerson always hated this part. It felt like she was saying goodbye, even though she would be back in 2 weeks.
She stepped outside and slammed the door shut, inhaling the scent of nature. Unlike the last time, she could hear the river flowing, the birds chirping, and the wind blowing. She smiled to herself. Today would be a good day.
Her second day into her journey, Emerson was exhausted. She collapsed down by the river and shrugged her cloak and quiver off, setting her bow and basket to the ground. She leaned down and stared into the river, her reflection staring back at her. Emerson cupped her hands in the water and splashed her face. She repeated the action, this time drinking.
She sat down, staring off into the water, watching a school of fish scurry down the stream. A gust of wind blew her way, and she didn’t hesitate to put the red hood back on. She leaned back on her hands and stared up at the sky, the clouds slowly moving. Her eyes fixated on the sun. It was almost noon, she had to get moving.
She gathered all of her things back up and began walking through the forest again. Left, right, left, right. She sighed, readjusting her grip on her bow. I hate walking this forest.
She glanced down at her feet as she walked, mesmerized by the way the grass by the river disappeared under her large boots. The only reason she knew how to get to Isa’s house was because of the river. Her mother used to tell her as a child, “If you ever get lost, follow the river. Grandma Isa will be waiting for you.”
Emerson had been walking for a couple more hours, looking at her feet, when she came to an abrupt stop. Just a few feet in front of her, was a large footprint. It was too small to be a bear’s print, but too large to be a wolf’s footprint. There was a trail of them, leading away from the river, into the woods. Growing nervous, Emerson set her basket down quietly and slowly nocked an arrow.
It didn’t register in her head that she shouldn’t stray from the river, or not to follow the footprints of whatever beast it could be. It was simply curiosity. She glanced at the first footprint, then the others. The way they were spread out looked like something, whatever it was, was running.
Emerson followed them. She walked sideways along the footprints, looking straight in front of her, not daring to look down. Her jaw was set straight, and she was led into a clearing deep into the woods. By this time, her hands had begun to sweat.
There was a single boulder in the middle of the clearing, surrounded by trees, which only made the woman more curious. She took a deep breath and continued. The footprints stopped just behind the boulder.
Her heart started beating faster, her knees became jelly, and her eyes were darting all over the clearing. But when she got to where the footprints stopped, there was nothing there. Her eyebrows furrowed.
What the hell is going on?
She crouched down by the last footprint and touched the dirt, rubbing her fingers together. She looked into the woods where they would have led her if they had continued on, but she didn’t see or sense anything. Whatever the beat was, wherever it was going, had just vanished.
Unsatisfied with her discovery, she decided to go back. She stood back on her feet and turned around when she heard a noise. A long, low growl.
She slowly turned around and raised her bow instinctively, and found herself staring at a very large, very menacing, white wolf. Emerson backed up and dropped her bow, starting to panic.
There really was a wolf in these woods?
Emerson didn’t run, she just backed herself up slowly, decided not to make any movements, and ended up with her back in a tree. She silently cursed herself for dropping her bow. I can’t believe I’m completely defenseless in the presence of a goddamn wolf, she thought. Wait!
Her hand immediately went to her side, clutching her hand at around dagger, when the wolf growled again. Her hand stopped, shaking. The wolf stalked over to her, watching her closely, and stopped right in front of her, baring its teeth.
Emerson turned her head, panting, and squeezed her eyes shut. This isn’t how I want to die. Please!
The wolf suddenly backs up and stares at her, almost as if it were thinking, and shakes its head violently. What the hell is this thing doing, she asked herself. The wolf looked at her again, and Emerson found herself staring into cold, black eyes as it snapped its teeth at her face. She felt like she was the wolf’s prey.
Emerson whipped, pushing herself further into the tree when she suddenly spoke. “Please! Don’t hurt me.”
She knew the beast couldn’t understand her, but she found herself trying to communicate with it, trying to...connect with it.
The wolf blinked, and its eyes suddenly turned green . Emerson thought it was trick of the light, and the wolf’s eyes were back to black. It jerked its head to the side again, before whining. The wolf threw its head up and howled, the loud sound making Emerson cover her ears.
“Please,” she whispered. “Let me go.”
The sound of Emerson’s voice made it stop howling, and her walked toward her again, this time not baring any teeth. The wolf just...stared at her. Its left ear twitched, and its tail had begun to move.
“Well isn’t this just lovely,” a new voice came.
Both the wolf and Emerson jerked their heads at the sound of the new voice, and Emerson found herself staring at the stranger from the week earlier. Not this creep again.
“Told you that you’d need me, didn’t I, dear?”
Emerson gaped at him before she responded. “What exactly do you think I need right now?”
“To kill the wolf, of course,” he deadpanned, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
The wolf turned to Emerson and whined. Emerson’s eyes grew; it was as if the wolf was trying to do with her what she was trying to do earlier. To communicate. The wolf didn’t want to die.
“No need,” Emerson spoke. “I’m just fine.”
The stranger cackled. “Dear, that wolf is about to rip you apart, limb from limb, and you don’t want my help?”
Emerson shook her head. “Nah, I’m good.”
The man stared at the scene before him. A terrifying wolf terrorizing an innocent woman, and the woman didn’t want help? It was the first time something like this had happened to him in all his years of living. This was really putting a damper on what he needed. Suddenly, the man had an idea.
“Well alright then,” he said. He stalked from his current position in the trees and crouched by the wolf, who growled in return. “What about you, wolfie? Do you want my help?”
The wolf just stared at him. “What in the world could a wolf need from you?”
The man shushed Emerson and stared the wolf down. “I know what you want, wolfie. I can give it to you. Do you want me to give it to you?”
The man couldn’t believe he was doing this, offering a mere mutt his help when his objective was right in front of him. However, these things took time and he knew he had to coax Emerson Russell into striking a deal with him.
He pulled his hood from his head and the wolf whined. “Do you want me to help you? I won’t ask again.”
Slowly, the wolf nodded its head, and Emerson was completely shocked by the scene unfolding before her. Just moments ago, this very wolf was trying to rip her throat out. And now? It was nodding its head as if he understood the mage.
The man jumped to his feet and clapped his hands. “Perfect! Go lay on your boulder. You know the drill.”
The wolf complied, but Emerson wasn’t having it. “Wait a second, just what the hell is going on? What are you going to do to that wolf?”
The mage turned and looked at Emerson, who was still laying against a tree. “You’ll see, come on.”
He stuck his hand out for her to grab, but she smacked it away, standing on her feet alone. She walked toward the boulder carefully, grabbing her bow on the way. She grasped it tightly, watching the wolf with worried eyes.
“Now,” the mage spoke. “This will only hurt for a minute.”
He put his hands on the wolf’s white fur, and whispered a spell under his breath. The wolf started howling and yelping, thrashing around on the boulder like a fish out of water. It dug its nails into the rock, trying to stop the pain.
Emerson felt tears prick her eyes. “Stop!”
“Why should I?” the man asked.
“You’re hurting him!”
“Really?” said the mage. “He doesn’t look like he’s in much pain to me.”
Emerson whipped her head around and for the second time that day, she dropped her bow. Her jaw dropped. She turned to ask the mage what he did to the wolf, but he was already gone.
Just what the hell is going on here?