I wished the world had ended the day the werewolves came.
Years ago, before me, before my brothers, before my family even came into existence, the werewolves came.
Terrifying creatures, beasts that fed off the moonlight, wild animals that praised a Goddess that didn’t even exist. Of course, that had been years ago, in a time that had been lost to history. My teachers had told me that the wolves came to make life better for us, that they came to give us opportunities that only they had experienced. I read that the world before the wolves was harsh, there was no peace, that the government itself was collapsing, that the wolves saved us.
I had been told that a lot, though I usually couldn’t see how it was different from life now. At least, life for humans, life for me.
The wolves hadn’t made the world better. They had made it worse. I was petrified of them, their snarling teeth and supernatural abilities would send shivers of fear down my spine as a young child. But the scariest thing about them was that they didn’t feel. They tore my mother and father apart until they were shreds of blood-coated skin and bones right in front of me, I only would have been seven or eight. Once the wolf was done, he barely spared a glance at me, the child who was still screaming and then ran off to goddess knows where.
My brothers and I lived in a small hut just outside of the mines. At sixteen, all humans were assigned a job by the leading wolf in our area. Usually, jobs ran through the family, so when my older brothers Elijah and Isaiah had turned sixteen, it was no surprise that they had been sent to work in the mines, just as my father had once done. And, just like my mother, I was sent to one of the factories where I spent my workdays sewing together garments that would be sent out to the rural packs. We didn’t earn much, the boys were paid in money, bringing home usually fifteen dollars each fortnight. I was paid in cloths, the would give us material that couldn’t be turned into clothes, the amount of material based on how many garments we had made that week.
It was hard I suppose, living that way. But it was all I had ever known, all anyone had ever known.
Our lives weren’t as bad as others, I would constantly remind myself. I had met a girl once, she worked at the station directly next to mine in the factory. She lived in a house near the school, she was supporting her elderly grandmother and her younger brother, neither being able to work. I had offered her some of my rations one week, a guard had noticed her taking it from me.
I never did see her again.
My shifts finished usually around four in the afternoon, but my brothers wouldn’t be back until at least seven. The mines were gruelling, they would leave the house at four to start their five o’clock shift. People died in those mines, and every day was spent me praying that both of my brothers would return that night, not just one.
Our house was broken down, the windows had been boarded shut by large, thick wooden planks. Most of our doors were hanging off their hinges and soot and coal dust lined the floorboards, the black stains permanently etched into the wood.
But others had it worse.
Humans that lived far out in the rural packs wouldn’t even have the luxuries of a house, or so I had heard. Most were forced to sleep in campsites or the basements or sheds of the higher wolves in their pack.
We lived in the main city, Gyabo. Most of our city names were in ‘Nitoag’ the language of the Moon Goddess. When the wolves had first come, they changed the humans living to match theirs. You were either from the North or the South. The North stretched over many countries, taking over every city and place north of the equator, the South taking everything south of the equator. The northern wolves, according to the books, had always spoken English, only using Nitoag when they were having religious ceremonies. Nowadays, they only really spoke it when communicating with the Moon Goddess. But the South, they had never been like that. We were taught that those wolves only spoke Nitoag, and when they took over the southern continents, the humans quickly adapted the language as well.
Gyabo was huge, the largest city from the northern continents. Our city was split into two, divided by a gate. The gate was pretty easy to use, you couldn’t see it. It was similar to glass in that way. Connected to the gate are scanners, to cross through you need an authorised pass that would be granted to you from The Gate Office. Only the guards were entitled to free passes that could be used at any time during their employment as a guard. For everyone else, it would cost an unreasonably large sum of money to buy a pass, and it could only be used once.
Humans rarely crossed into the Wolves side of Gyabo, just as most wolves didn’t come into our side for any reasons other than work. Lower-ranking wolves were usually tasked as guards to ‘keep us safe’. The store that I bought our food from was right next to the gates, I would usually find myself being caught in the beauty of it all.
The wolves had built their empire up a mountain, their houses and businesses having the best view of the ocean that lay along the east side of the city. However, we weren’t entitled to that same luxury, living at the foot of the mountain, our homes leading out into the woods that were west of the city. Their buildings and houses were beautiful. A light grey and white covered most of the buildings, but from what I could see and what I had heard, the streets weren’t absent from colour.
The one thing, however, that I was sure about the wolves side of the gate was that the Castle was the most beautiful piece of architecture that I had ever seen. It was at the very top of the mountain, large walls that protected it already impenetrable borders. Turrets that seemed to touch the clouds extended out from the main part of the castle, each turret was covered in curved windows, as was the rest of the building. The castle was occupied by the Royal Family. The Royal family had been in power since the birth of werewolves, the myths and legends of their power being spread amongst us humans. The current Alpha King had taken over only a year or so ago, and as expected, he had made no changes to the humans living conditions. Instead, he chose to lower wages, forcing us to work longer and harsher hours then we had before.
Alpha King Lancester was credited with being one of the harshest yet, the wolves applauded his control over us, praised for his treatment towards us.
I felt a prick in my finger,I looked down to see a few droplets of blood. I was sitting at our tiny dining table, desperately trying to sew together the holes in Elijah’s mining uniform. I looked over at the broken straps of Isaiah’s uniform, When you worked in the mines, you were issued with two uniforms, made in the thinnest material possible.
That’s when I heard it, a high pitched scream from outside. I dropped the needle and shirt occupying my hands and rushed to peek out through the gaps in the window. It was a girl, she would be around my age, dressed in the uniform that showed she worked in one of the mass-production factories, which one, I didn’t know. She was being dragged by the arm by a guard, the was thrashing around desperately trying to free herself from his hard grip,
“PLEASE! PLEASE LET ME GO!” She sobbed, her voice sending the street quiet, “SOMEONE HELP ME! HE’S TAKING ME! HE’S TAKING ME AWAY!”
“Please stop screaming mate,” The guard begged her, “I promise I won’t hurt you!”
I sighed, my heart aching for her. Even if I could help the girl, it would be suicide to do so. She was his mate, the one thing more precious to the wolves than life itself.
Mates were the real reason werewolves had revealed themselves to the humans. Mates were soulmates. I was told in my classes that once you found your mate, life was suddenly given meaning, a meaning that wasn’t there before. The wolves found that their soulmates were human, and more wolves began to lose their mates because of this. After a wolf is rejected by their mate, they no longer have a purpose. They no longer have a soul. This increased Rogue numbers, pack deaths and soon enough, the Alpha’s decided it would be more beneficial to them if all the humans knew of them, and had been raised in a way that they knew a mate was a blessing, not a curse.
It wasn’t unlikely to hear the screams of a human being dragged home by their mates anymore.
As soon as a wolf turned sixteen, they would be able to find their mates. Most wolves found their mates by the time that they were seventeen, and at the very least eighteen. I had recently celebrated my nineteenth birthday and my brothers celebrated their twenty-second birthday back in June. Because of our age, we were all pretty sure that we were safe from a wolf’s claim.
I watched the girl being picked up in her mate’s arm just as a car came into view. She continued to thrash around, still refusing to accept her fate. A man stepped out of the car, a large needle held in his gloved hand. I knew what would happen next. The guard sat on the ground, still holding on tight to the frantic woman in his arms. He was whispering in her ear, even I couldn’t guess what he was saying. Probably lies that were coated in sugar.
The other man kneeled down beside them and the guard closed his eyes, the long needle quickly being jabbed into the girl’s neck. As the guard let out a growl, the girl’s movements slowed down, her arms stopped flailing in the air and her legs stopped kicking. In only a couple of moments, she had completely stopped moving.
The man went back into the car as the guard stood up, his mate’s head slumped against his chest. I made a silent prayer, hoping that this guard wasn’t nearly as aggressive as he looked. He carefully climbed into the car as well, still refusing to let the girl out of his arms. The other humans raised a hand to their lips, letting a finger touch their face and the other fingers extending forward, a sign of respect for the girl that had been claimed. A sign of goodbye. The other guards that had been patrolling the street, however, began clapping, letting out howls of congratulations. The guard stuck his hand out of the car in thanks before closing the door. The car then drove off, disappearing from sight. I walked away from the window and sat back down at the desk, picking up the needle in my numb fingers.
I was never going to see that poor girl again.
“Another girl was claimed today, one of the guards.”
Elijah and Isaiah looked up form their soup bowls at my words,
“How old?” Elijah asked, letting his spoon drop into his half-full bowl.
I shrugged, swirling my soup around before letting it sink into the curve of the spoon, “My age, probably younger. I didn’t recognise her, but she was wearing a factory uniform. I think the food packaging one, just on the outskirts of the woods.” I replied, before shovelling the food into my mouth.
Isaiah sighed, “You need to be careful Elora, these wolves... you can’t intervene when a guard finds their mate, it’s not worth it. Besides, no matter how much we hate them and they hate us, if their mate is human, nothing is going to happen to them.”
“I was watching through the window!” I quietly protested, “I wasn’t even thinking about intervening!” Lies. “Those wolves... I can’t think properly when they’re around. If I tried to intervene they would kill me for wasting their time with my stuttering!”
Elijah and Isaiah looked at each other, sharing a glance before turning back to me.
“That’s not what we meant...” Elijah trailed off, “The wolves are finding their mates later. if you go out-”
“Chances are you’ll end up with a wolf claiming that he’s your mate.” Isaiah finished, “You know Mikey from processing down in the mines? His older sister Poppy, who’s 24 got claimed by one of the merchants over on the wolves side when she had to deliver a crate of food. He let her come home and pack her things, but Mikey hasn’t seen her since!”
“Just make sure you avoid them, Dad would be furious with us if we let our baby sister be claimed by one of those werewolf brutes,” Elijah warned.
“Trust me, I’m not going to end up with one of those wolves,” I assured them, but their worried expressions didn’t change.
Elijah and Isaiah were identical twins. Dark, curly, black hair and light brown eyes. No one could mistake us as anything other than siblings. My eyes were darker, however. The same dark, soil colour that my father had. My black hair was straight, falling down my back, but other than that the three of us were the same.
The table went silent after my comment,
“I managed to score a late shift tomorrow, so I won’t be back until eight. Do you think you could make a start on dinner?”
Isaiah nodded, “Course, we should be back around 6:30, one of the guys skipped a shift and we could be let home early for our good behavior while he takes over our shift. Everything should be done by the time you get home.”
I took one last spoonful of my soup, finishing it off, “Thanks. I finished stitching up your uniforms, I’ll see you too tomorrow, I’m off to bed.”
I put the bowl under the tap and filled it up a little, careful not to waste too much water, and then set the bowl by the sink. I moved into my bedroom, lying down on the springy mattress. I didn’t have a bed frame, we’d been putting away a little bit of money into savings for stuff like that, but we almost always had to cash it out on extra food.
It didn’t take long to fall asleep, my dream plagued by the scream of the girl being taken, her frail body ripping apart as the rocky ground tore at her skin. I recognized the face of the girl,
The girl was me.