This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
It was a cold, heavy night. The sky was overcast by thick, ponderous clouds that threatened rain somewhere, soon. The moon, though full and pregnant in the sky above the cloud cover, was powerless to pierce the stormy veil. The wind rattled through row upon row of ripe corn stalks, turning the verdant fields into a heaving sea of black-green as far as the eye could see. Lightning flashed somewhere in the distance, the following thunder making far more of an impression than its predecessor.
The only light to break the near pitch-black came barrelling down a road between the fields, the headlights of an ancient ford pick-up whose tractor red paint had seen better decades. Music leaked out of the cab, drifting on the air behind them like an afterthought through the open windows. Like the wind over the surrounding fields, the music could not decide on a direction… or a station. It flickered from Rock-a-Billy to Heavy Metal and back again as the occupants waged a two decade old war between them.
“Fine!” Brian finally snapped, reaching over and shutting off the radio completely. “You win, we both lose.”
His sister laughed, a free and easy sound that rolled out of her like a summer storm. “If I win, we can’t both lose, Briar-patch,” she teased, grinning as he bristled at her childhood nickname for him.
He calmed himself, opting for diplomacy. He glanced briefly over at her. Layla had changed a great deal since she had gone off to college. They were twins, yes, but beyond a few basic physical similarities, they were night and day. They were both tanned and dark haired, though his loose curls were closer to anthracite whilst she was more a ruddy brunette like their mother. They had the same startlingly blue eyes and a similar shape to the nose. But there the similarities ended. Her lips were a little more pouty and full, her cheek bones slightly higher and her chin more pointed and tended to remind you of some fey thing. He had a stronger face, though softened by a boyish charm. He had what his sister always called “Lancelot-looks”, because he was how she always envisioned Sir Lancelot- pure, sensitive, a little boyish, but at the same time rough and ready: a real prince charming. He was a careful man, a little reserved in his tastes, practically living in his dungarees and flannels. When he wanted to dress up, he put on a denim button-down with black denim jeans. In all, he was a typical farm-boy, born and bred.
Layla, on the other hand, was wild and carefree, as mercurial as the moon and inconstant as starlight. She preferred harder rock, metal or what the locals called ‘hick-hop’, and the latest fashions, however trashy. On her eighteenth birthday she had gotten a small dragonfly tattoo on her left shoulder-blade, an act of rebellion that had their father hitting the roof. She still laughed about it. On graduating, unlike her brother who had remained on the farm, she went off to Chicago University to study… she hadn’t decided what yet. Her brother had stayed home and taken a few classes at the local A&M, but otherwise seemed to have no long term plans for leaving their small town.
In typical, Layla fashion, she had slipped back into town with some friends for a Halloween party without telling her family. She had wanted to surprise her brother, who she knew would be in attendance. And surprise him she had. Granted, their friends were in on it all, but the moment she had laid eyes on the man in the batman suit, she had known it was her brother, without even seeing his face. It was just something she always knew. It had nothing to do with how goofy he looked trying to dance with Gina Manowitz, nothing at all. She had chuckled at the sight, thinking that if it wasn’t square-dancing, line-dancing or waltz, he was hopelessly awkward on the dance floor.
She had slipped up behind him in her costume of vampire’s victim, her ample bosom valiantly attempting to escape the tightly bound corset of her tattered white gown. She had let her hair fall across her face to obscure her features slightly, sliding seductively up beside him and dancing very close and personal, running her splayed hands across the black, muscled spandex of his chest and noted with mild surprise that none of it was fake. He had hardened over the previous year. He had also blushed from the bottom edge of his cowl to the neck of his cape.
It had taken him all of four seconds to realize the buxom blonde rubbing against him was his twin. He had flushed almost purple then, jumping back so suddenly he elbowed Gina into the punchbowl, nearly tripping over his own cape in the process. Everyone had laughed, except for Gina, who had stormed off in spite of his profuse apologies. Eventually, even he had laughed, though half with embarrassment as their friends ribbed him in good humour about the whole thing.
“I’m not sure I like your hair blonde though,” Brian said suddenly.
She snapped out of the reverie she had slipped into, happy to be home even if it was only for a weekend. She twirled a lock of it around her finger, looking at it in the dim light of the instrument panel. “Hmm, I was going to go full red, but had to bleach it out first. I got a look at it and liked it, so we stopped there. Got some honey-caramel highlights.” She shrugged. “I just wanted a change. You don’t think mom’ll have a heart-attack, do you?”
Brian gave her his shy, wry grin. “Might be sore disappointed though. Shoot, they’ll just be happy you’re home. Be a nice surprise.”
She smiled wickedly. “Think they’ll still be up?”
He glanced at her, starting to worry. “Maybe not. It is almost midnight. Why?” he added with a warning tone.
She just shrugged nonchalantly, picking up his cowl from the seat between them and playing with the latex rubber ear-points. “Oh, nothing, just…”
She laughed softly, a sure sign she was up to mischief. “Just thinking of sneaking off to bed and coming down to breakfast in the morning…”
He turned to glare at her, smiling in spite of himself. “You just want to see if you can scare mom into breaking another orange juice pitcher!” he accused. God, it was good to have her home, he thought. Comfortable, like nothing had changed. Like a missing puzzle piece had finally been…
“BRIAN!” she screamed suddenly, pointing.
He whipped his head back to the road and the long pools of light in front of them just as he ploughed into something white that had run across the road. He slammed on the breaks and threw the truck in park, jumping out of the cab and running into the headlights. Layla appeared around her door, her face pale under the white make-up.
There was blood on the road and on the truck’s grill, but no animal or body to be seen. “What was it?” he asked, trying to still the panicked response of his heart as he glanced under the truck.
“Not a what, a who!” she gasped. “I saw it. It was a girl!”
“No way. Maybe a dog?” he muttered, shaking his head as he noted a small dent in the hood just above the grill, but no other damage beyond what had been done to whatever it was they had hit. It could not have been a very big animal. Steel frame or not, a couple years back he had seen what a deer could do to the truck. This couldn’t have been a deer, though he could have sworn he saw something like fabric.
Layla looked along the side of the road, shaking her own head as her brother looked up and down the lonely highway. “No. It was a woman,” she insisted. “French revolutionary, I think.”
He frowned at her. “I hit Marie Antoinette?” he growled sarcastically, taking note of the blood trail leading off into the right hand field.
She growled back. “You know what I mean. Long dress, powdered hair, the neckline, the sleeves… I saw a girl and she was running scared.”
He narrowed his eyes. “And how much of Billy’s ‘special’ punch did you have?”
She slipped down off the embankment into the cornfield on the side of the road, climbing the fence deftly, in spite of her long skirts. “Not enough to mistake a girl for a dog.”
Getting a flash-light from the truck, he closed the door and followed her. As the light hit the rail fence, he noticed blood and fur on the underside of the bottom slat. He felt the cold panic that had been growing in his belly ease a little in relief. He sighed and began to follow his sister’s footprints in the soft ground and the sounds of her pushing through the tall canes in the dark ahead of him. “We’ll need to get it to Dad if it can be saved. Though if it’s gone in this far, it probably has a fair chance.”
Her voice ground out of the dark somewhere ahead and to the left, “For the last time, Brian,” she snarled. “It’s not a…”
“Dog?” he finished softly with a smirk as he shone the light over her shoulder on the panting, bloodied, white canine trying to conceal itself amid the corn but unable to go any farther.
“Well,” she began, reluctant to admit he had been right. “It isn’t a dog, if you want to get technical. It’s a wolf.”
“I don’t,” he grinned, handing her the flash-light “I guess you won’t be sneaking up on mom tomorrow.” What he didn’t tell her was that for a least a few seconds, he too had thought it might have been a girl.
He crouched in front of the wolf, not close enough to seem a threat, but ready to dodge should it come to that. Layla nervously held the flash-light in position. “Careful,” she whispered.
He chuckled, was careful not to bare his teeth as he did, “You? Telling me to be careful?”
Not wanting to startle the wolf by making a sudden move like hitting her brother, she settled for snarling between clenched teeth. “You heard me.”
He began to softly croon to the animal who watched him with the palest eyes and an almost human expression of suspicion and pain. “Not gonna hurtcha,” he purred, keeping his tones even and mellow, trying to sound soothing and as not like a growl as he could manage. There were some advantages to being raised by the county vet. Approaching and tending injured animals was something they’d been doing since they were nine.
“She’s not exactly a typical wolf,” Layla murmured, leaning so she could see around Brian’s hunched shoulders.
“What makes you think it’s a she?” he found himself asking.
“Chah,” she tutted. “If she’s not then he’s been fixed. I don’t see anything obvious…” she pointed out, aiming the flash-light at the parts in question.
Brian started blushing. “’S not where I’m looking,” he retorted. As if she could understand them, the wolf moved her tail and bloody back leg into a more modest position. He frowned. “Easy, girl,” he crooned. “We’re not going to hurt you any more. I’m sorry about that, but you can’t run out in front of a flying pick-up and trot away. Layla, go back to the truck and get that horse blanket from the bed. Oh, and there might be a muzzle in the toolbox.”
“I’m not leaving you here without a light,” she began.
“I don’t think she’s going to bite,” he whispered, feeling a cool thrill run down his spine as her damp, hot nose made contact with the back of the fingers he held out to her. “There’s no sign at all of aggression. Might have been a pet, not all wolf, though she’s pretty damn close.”
“Didn’t Earl Kepler have a half wolf bitch?” she asked.
“Yeah, but this ain’t one of hers. Either way, we’re going to need the stiffer blanket if we’re going to move her without hurting her more than we have to. If she’s got a broke rib, just picking her up is going to hurt like hell, maybe make it worse. We’ll have to gurney her. So, go. I’ll be fine.”
Hesitant, she started to back off down the row.
Just as he was out of the pool of light, he called softly, “Oh, and if you hear two voices suddenly baying at the moon, you’ll know she bit me.”
“Ha ha. Keep it up, Briar-patch. I’ve got two whole days to get even, so don’t try nothin’ you don’t want flipped.” Her light and her voice faded into the night as she moved off, cutting over between rows to get back to the truck.
Brian kept his eyes on the panting figure in front of him in spite of the pitch dark, let her make the first move. After sniffing and touching his hand he felt her head move away, heard the movement of earth as she laid her head on the soft mound of dirt raised between the cornstalks. Though she seemed to have determined he was no threat, he remained careful, not wanting her to snap at him. “All right, lady,” he said softly. “Now I’m not going to hurt you intentionally, but I’ve got to touch you to see how bad you’re hurt and if I can move you.” His hand stretched towards her bloody shoulder, his ears straining for any sound that she was moving, fast or slow. His fingers touched fur, thick and silky, not half as coarse as he had expected. He kept talking as he slowly applied pressure, ran his right hand up to her neck for control and to warn him should she suddenly object, his left gently working its way over her body. “My father’s a doctor for animals,” was saying as his fingers found a still bleeding wound near the shoulder. Not saying the word ‘vet’ in front of an animal was just habit for him, knowing some animals learned to fear the sound of the word.
She gave a small whimper as he touched the elbow joint below her shoulder, more a gasp than anything else. He felt her move her head, not toward him, more like an arching of her neck, seeking comfort or showing trust or …he couldn’t be sure what else. Encouraged, he felt her ribs, sensed a change in her breathing, though she did not yelp or gasp as before. When he tried to feel the underside, she made an attempt to roll for him, but her breath caught in her throat as she did. He held her still. “It’s OK,” he crooned. “I think I got it. You’re doing good,” he said, running his fingers through the thick fur of her neck, marvelling at the quality of her coat, forgetting for a moment that she was a wild wolf and not the pampered Samoyed she felt like.
His hand was just reaching her head, finding that comforting indentation at the bridge of the nose when she suddenly moved. Beneath his palm he knew her eyes were open, her ears swivelling and alert. He felt a low growl beginning deep in her belly. He moved his hands back to her neck and just above her hips where it would be easier to control her. “Easy, it’s just Layla with the blanket. Nothing to fret.”
But the wolf would not be consoled. In spite of obvious pain, she tried to get up, move past him. “Naoowow,” she yowled.
“Layla? Hurry up!” he called over his shoulder, trying to hold her down with hands that were slick with blood.
From the road he heard a thump and a curse.
“Layla!” he shouted.
“I’m fine!” she yelled back. “I just slipped… dropped the damn flash-light under the truck. I’ll be right there.”
Something was making the back of his neck tingle; the short hairs rise even as the wolf’s hackles rose beneath his hand. Something was definitely not right. The wolf was pushing at him, not so much trying to escape him as to push him toward the road. “Owwp, naoowow,” she growled.
There was a rumbling like thunder but not quite as the wind picked up. Brian’s first thought was a tornado, but the signs were all wrong. There was a loud crack and a shriek from his sister and without another thought Brian pelted for the road, tearing through the cornstalks in the dark. An inhuman cry rent the night like something out of a monster movie. Layla was screaming his name and something large and heavy hit the truck. Ahead he could see flashes of light through the corn, something large passing before the still beaming headlights. He saw white on black tossed high in the air and a flash of dark purple light. An unseen shock wave knocked him flat just as he reached the fence, followed by a loud crack and then sudden silence.
Coming to his senses, Brian scrambled under the fence rail, ran, desperate, to the truck, yelling for his sister. There was no one there. The road was empty for miles and the only sound was his own laboured breathing. The flash-light lay spinning under the front of the truck, and the splatter of the wolf’s blood was smeared on both the grill and the road. The horse blanket lying in an abandoned heap by the right front tire. There was an acrid, ozone smell in the air that burned his nostrils and a panicked, emptiness in his soul. He fell to his knees on the road, one hand braced on the cold asphalt, the other pressed against his pounding heart, nearly crippled by dry heaves. It felt as if his heart was trying to rip itself from his chest with every beat.
He could not understand this sudden incapacitation. He had felt slightly disconnected at first when his sister had left for Chicago, a little disoriented being so far apart from her after eighteen years of near constant proximity. But he had slowly grown accustomed to it. Once, back in high school she had snuck off to a party she wasn’t supposed to attend, with a boy she certainly wasn’t supposed to be seeing, and gotten herself in a bad situation. The ass had roughed her up when she had called a halt to certain activities and left her in the middle of nowhere twenty miles out of town. He had woken up in a cold sweat with his stomach cramping long before she’d found a pay phone. Then, like now, he had known something was terribly wrong. This time it was worse. This time the effect was sudden and sickening. This time he had seen her vanish in front of his eyes and had nothing to chase.
A whimper and the soft, shaky tick of claws on asphalt made him look up and over his shoulder. The wolf had dragged herself after him, barely standing on her own paws, grumbling under her breath. Her eyes flashed silver in the stark pools of the headlights. Brian slowly began to pull himself together, braced himself against the hood of the truck as he levered his body up. His hand found a dent as big as his head. He picked up the flash-light and the horse blanket, checked the hood and sighed with relief that there was no blood at the impact point. He flashed the beam over the fields on either side of the road, both where he and his sister had gone in after the wolf and further back where the animal must have shot out from onto the road. There was evidence something large had come out of there, a horse maybe, but no sign of it leaving again.
He called out to her, staring into the dark desperately, flashing the light over the still crops, getting no response, hearing nothing but the rattle of the corn in the wind and far off thunder. A pressure against his leg drew his attention downward. There was a wealth of sadness and empathy in the animal’s pale eyes and it galvanized him into more useful action. He went immediately to the cab of the vehicle, opening the passenger door and leaned in, reaching for the CB radio. Tuning the channel to the police band, he was frustrated to get nothing but static. He tried a different one with no better results. Confused, he checked the antenna and discovered that it had been snapped off.
Swearing, he threw the mike back into the truck and pressed his fevered forehead to the cold metal of the door. The nearest phone or radio was home, but once there, how could he be sure he could bring the sheriff back to the exact spot? If it rained the blood would be washed away, all evidence diluted or gone. It was a risk leaving, but a greater risk staying put. Thinking quickly, he pulled an old oil rag out from behind the seat and tied it to the fence closest to him.
Laying the horse blanket on the passenger seat, he went back to the front of the truck to face the wolf who had lain down again in the pool of the headlights, panting, but with her head up and watching him. “I don’t want to do this,” he sighed. “But it’s the only way. I’ve got to get you home to Dad so he can fix you up and I can call the police and have the sheriff start looking for Layla… if he even believes me,” he added. “So if this hurts… and it might… don’t bite me, OK?”
Maybe it was the stress, but he could have sworn she gave him a subtle nod. Not quite reassured, he approached slowly, placing his hands on her body as he had before to make sure she would not object, then eased them around her chest and under her hips. She leaned into him, made it a little easier to lift her from the asphalt. She gave a tiny yelp as her injured shoulder was pressed against his firm chest, but made no move to snap or escape. Perhaps she’s been through this before? he thought, hurriedly getting her to the cab and laying her on the seat.
“Stay,” he said firmly, closing the door and rushing around to the other side. She merely watched him calmly as he climbed in next to her and closed himself in. She flinched as he turned the key and the motor roared to life, looked up at him in fright. “Easy,” he said softly, taking the chance of putting his hand on her head to reassure her. She was shivering. “I’ve got to have both hands now, and we’re going to start moving, so please don’t go wild on me and panic or anything.” He slowly transferred his hand from her head to the gear shift and slipped the truck into first. He knew she couldn’t possibly understand a word he was saying, but the sound of his voice might calm her.
She was alert and shaking when they first started moving. But after about a mile, pain and weariness took their toll and she relaxed, laying her head down and paying no more attention to the machine and its noise. He kept talking, both to soothe her and to keep himself from losing control. He was frantically worried about his sister and less sure with each passing mile that there would be much he could do about the situation. To his surprise he felt a large furry head sneak into his lap. He glanced down, saw her hope filled eyes glinting up at him in the dimness. When he did not shoo her off, she heaved a groaning sigh and closed her eyes, making herself more comfortable.
“Great. Just great,” he growled, as the first drops of rain began to splash against the wind-shield.
Usagi Kita: This story is emotional from beginning to end. You get to watch the characters struggle and grow, maturing in different ways so that they come to be the people they are meant to be. Inea is insanely adorable, and his antics made me laugh more than once, and Kaedon is perfect for him in so many wa...
summerstone: Seriously this is one of the best books I've ever read. The plot is intriguing, I love the narrative style. Its very descriptive and unique, with minimal cliches. It makes for a great read and the sequels are amazing. Totally worth reading. ^^ That's me trying to be professional. But in all hones...
Toria Danielle: I must congratulate Erin Swan on completing such a beautiful work. The Rising Sun is well rounded and leaves nothing to be wanted. ALL of the characters and their development are beautifully written. The plot is extremely well thought out. Creating a whole different type of universe is difficult ...
KathyJoy: Supernatural fiction (particularly werewolf and vampire stories) has been popularised greatly by works such as Twilight, which is not entirely a bad thing, but it has led to the genre becoming very stale very quickly. It is a relief, then, to read Aconitum which is bursting with originality, st...
Ben Gauger: Kudos go to the author of ''Equinox: Into the Clouds'' for originality in character development as well as scene execution and in addition plot development, A truly original story if I do say so myself, though the spelling in and of itself could use a little work, but other than that a truly orig...
ernbelle: When I first started this story I was a little unsettled by all of the information that appears in the prologue, and wasn't sure if I would continue. However, I am very glad I did. The plot was very well thought out and really interesting. There were not any page breaks or markers to acknowledge ...
Lauren Suzmeyan-Raine: I'm so glad you found a place to post your stories. I was horrified when I saw yours had been taken down, they are definitely the best 'reading' stories I've ever read. And I've made it my business to read every one I can. Well done.Lauren
RubyScars: I absolutely love your story! It killed me when I finished, I read it all at once and then it stopped at the epic cliffhanger! Uggggggh. But, that said, it just means that you have done such a lovely job. I am so in love with your complicated characters, and even the ones I didn't like you slowl...
FreakyPoet: "you made me laugh, made me cry, both are hard to do. I spent most of the night reading your story, captivated. This is why you get full stars from me. Thanks for the great story!"
Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."