The Beauty of Grey

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Chapter 24

Zacharias and I walked back to his cabin together. It was still somewhat light outside, and the sun was slowly lowering in the sky. It would be dusk soon. I found myself growing nervous as I thought of the approaching dark. What was going to happen? I knew it had something to do with the mark, but what would the mark do?

Would I turn into what Zacharias was? My cells were mutated. The moon now had an irrevocable pull to it that my body, without my mind even comprehending, would instantly respond to. I felt like I had become a slave to the night, depending on it for other reasons besides a good nights rest.

I looked up at Zacharias as a beam of light struck him across the face, illuminating the inky stubble that covered his jaw. My finger twitched, resisting the urge to touch him. I wished I had been a good painter, just so I could’ve used oil colours to plaster his face on a canvas. The moments where he looked this ethereal were too few and far between. It didn’t help that he had destroyed the painting the immortal woman had made of him.

Just as he craned to look at me, I looked straight ahead again. From my peripheral I could see him staring down at me, but I couldn’t bring myself to look back up at him. I, again, found myself dreading what the night would drag in, and how the moon would manipulate the outcome. I was at its mercy.

Was Zacharias still at its mercy, too?

I doubted it. He was a werewolf, and he had lived as one his whole life. He had described to me the moons incredible power, but he had twenty-eight years to become desensitized to it—or, at least, twenty eight years to adapt to it. Maybe the moon was too strong for Zacharias, himself, to bridle. I doubted I’d be able to get a handle on things. Ever.

But then, I wondered, what would happen every full moon? Would every full moon have the same effect? I wanted to query Zacharias because I knew he’d give me the answers I was looking for, but in the same breath I didn’t want to alert him that I was nervous. I was sure he could sense it. But I didn’t want to highlight my concerns. I wanted to seem brave in the hopes I would start to feel brave.

Our hands brushed together, and a familiar sensation travelled up the length of my arm. I found myself jerking for a second, surprised at the feeling of the electricity; the same feeling as the first time Zacharias and I had physical contact. I wouldn’t forget his finger scraping my palm at the gas station. Sometimes I swore I could still feel it every so often.

As his cabin came into view, our hands brushed together again. This time, I didn’t jerk away, trying to hide any acknowledgement of the feeling twice in a row. This gave Zacharias the idea that I either hadn’t felt it at all, or I was scared of the feeling—and it was the latter. What did it mean? Everything seemed so new all over again. I’d have to tackle with more adjusting.

His finger skimmed the palm of my hand, the calloused fingertip tickling me as it shocked me. I found myself biting my cheek as he tried to mesh his fingers with mine. And before I knew what I was doing, I pulled my hand away and placed it against the small of my back. I didn’t know why I had done it, given our limbs had been tangled earlier.

He sighed loudly, and suddenly things no longer felt benign.

He threw my—his—old clothes into the laundry and I sat at the kitchen table. I rested with my elbow on the wood and my chin in my palm, eyes glancing uninterestedly around the room. Sometimes I forgot how dull, dreary and bleak the cabin was compared to the outside. It seemed like a home of dust in an acrylic world.

My free hand began to tap a rhythm on the table. From the sparse light from the windows, the gothic cabin became smothered in burnt orange; illuminating dust particles. I found myself gritting my teeth. I was able to make out the makeup and design of each speck; each complex and unique, like snowflakes. Like grey snowflakes.

I closed my eyes, shaking my head. I could hardly enjoy keeping my eyes open without making out the nitty-gritty details of what everything was made up of. I hated sweating, and I hated crying. I hated the feeling of my hair because all I felt was split ends whenever I ran my hands through it. I hated touching things because what once felt smooth now felt rigid and uneven—my fingertips making mountains out of hills. I hated smelling things because if it was too sweet or too fervent I inherited a headache. I could hear things I didn’t care to hear, but also couldn’t mute. I hated my vision because it blocked me from seeing the bad aspects of Zacharias. Now, it was all aesthetic...artificial.

My fingers stopped tapping the beat I was tapping before. I could hear Zacharias coming into the kitchen. Slowly, I opened my eyes. I didn’t smile—or grimace—at him as he walked to the table, pulling out the chair to my left. He sat in it. We were sitting on the same side of the table; his knees almost touching my thigh until I turned to face him. Then, our knees touched.

“You’re stressed,” he said. I wondered if he smelt James; well, of course he must’ve. But he never addressed it. Which stressed me out a little more than I was already stressing. “You always have a look of deep concentration on your face when you’re stressed. Are you stressed about tonight?”

“If I try to deny it, will you believe me?” I laughed lightly, a nervous habit. A nervous laugh.

“You’re an open book, Edie. Your pages don’t lie,” he gave me a slight smile. In the orange light that caressed his cheek, his small smile almost seemed too harsh. “And I won’t lie to you, either. I don’t know what will happen to you.”

My eyes widened slightly. “What do you mean?” I felt like a child, panicking when they asked their parent a question the parent didn’t know the answer to because parents were supposed to know everything. “I thought you—”

“I’m not the moon. I don’t know everything. I don’t know what will happen to you. I don’t know if you’ll shift, or if you’ll feel anything at all. I doubt you won’t feel anything, but I don’t know.”

“Is that why you’re sending me away?” I gulped. “Because you don’t think you’ll be able to handle me when—well, I’m assuming at least—when I’m at my worst?” I bit my lip, knotting my hands into a big fist. “Because I’ll be too hard to handle?”

“Edie, if I handled you for this long I don’t think one night every month would be the breaking factor between us,” again, that slight smile. “Seeing how tonight goes will decide what happens to you every full moon.”

I felt at ease enough to ask Zacharias more questions. The orange glow was gradually darkening to a candy-apple red, making Zacharias appear almost as if he was bathed in blood. “What happened to you on the first full moon you remember?”

“Your first shift depends on your strength. Some shift earlier than others. I was a late bloomer,” he chuckled, looking down at his lap. His posture was the same as mine; hunched forward, a fist knotted in his lap. He seemed suddenly more tense, however. I remembered how James had given me a brief insight on his past. “Would you believe that? A late bloomer.” He said absentmindedly.

Was he going to tell me about his past? I didn’t say anything, hoping he’d divulge his story to me without any prompting or cajoling.

“I shifted first when I was fifteen, which is late. I haven’t always been like,” he shrugged one shoulder. ”This. I was lanky—just a tall, scraggly kid. But years passed and,” he shrugged the same shoulder again. “This developed.”

I nodded, chewing my lip. My skin started to bristle, but I ignored it, believing it was elation that Zacharias was about to tell me his history. I had always liked hearing of a persons history before they strolled into my life. I liked it when people shared parts of themselves I hadn’t been there to build.

“When I first shifted, it was excruciating. It was just this white-hot pain,” he wriggled around in his seat for a moment. The sun illuminated him in carmine. “My bones broke on their own volition, fur came from nowhere, a snout like swine grew from thin air. I thought I was dying. I thought the moon was trying to kill me.”

I unclasped my hands and rubbed the back of my neck that was tingling like insects were walking across, using my nape as a bridge. There was nothing there, however. I shook my head, assuming I was just going crazy. I looked back at Zacharias, who was watching me with critical interest. I gave him a wry smile.

But he didn’t question me, which I was grateful for. “When I had four legs instead of two, I walked like a fawn. First time on my new feet,” a brief twitch from his right eye. “But once I adjusted, it was incredible. After my first shift, I had the freedom to shift whenever I wanted. It still hurt the first few times after, but it doesn’t anymore. The pain wears away.”

“Are you—” an electric spasm in my back. I jerked forward, slapping my hand to the origin of the sensation. Zacharias grabbed my free elbow to steady me. I took a deep breath, cheeks feeling warm. “Are you still affected by the full moon?” The light seemed almost burgundy.

“Yes. But not like I used to be,” he released my elbow. “Our pack has a tradition that every full moon, just before midnight, we all shift and run through the forest. I think I might have to skip it tonight.” He said softly. I worried my lip.

I let out another deep breath, my skin full of static like a disconnected television set. “N-no,” I stammered as I grew uncomfortable, and hot. I felt as if I was burning a fever. I could feel the sweat swelling in their glands. “That won’t be n-necessary. I’ll be f-fine.”

“You don’t look so fine,” I dropped my chin to my chest, but Zacharias took it in his fingers and lifted my head back up to face him. “You’re flushed. It’s beginning.”

In a state of disarray I asked him, “what’s beginning?”

“What’s happening to me,” another twitch of his right eye. “Is happening to you. You’re transitioning.”

“Will I be a wolf before midnight?” My eyes were wide. Something in my cheek twitched, or maybe it was my eye. I couldn’t tell. The light was red like wine. “This is more uncomfortable than your average cold.” I tried to joke.

Then I cried out. Pain radiated strongly in my stomach, curling around my ribcage. I instantly slapped my hand over my mouth, as if it could disregard the sound I had just made. Zacharias pulled his fingers from my chin, and the absence of his touch suddenly made me feel peculiar.

“How do you deal with this every month?” With great pressure I smoothed my hands over my stomach. Although it was painful inside, I felt nothing cracking or breaking. “How will I learn to?”

He grabbed my wrist, pulling me from the chair. I made a grunt of discomfort, but Zacharias ignored me. His touch sent electricity up the length of my arm, before it swirled in my chest. It lingered then dissipated as soon as we reached the stairs. He walked slowly up them so I wouldn’t fall behind.

But I did end up falling to my knees as another convulsion sent waves of agony through my stomach—more enraged and intense than the first. The air looked imperial purple. My wrist slipped from Zacharias’ grasp as I somewhat broke my fall. Sweat dropped from my hairline down the tip of my nose. I placed my head on the cool wood of the stairs.

“Edie,” Zacharias grabbed my shoulder. “Do you need me to carry you?”

“No,” I tried to sound strong, but my voice came out raspy. “Please. I just need a second. I don’t want to move.” My hands balled into tight fists.

“Take your time,” was all he said, his hand creeping to my back. I resisted the urge to slap his hand away as his fingers grazed my spine, sending odd feelings throughout my body. “We have all night.”

That nearly made me cry. A whole night of this seemed like cruel and unusual punishment—torture. I swallowed, my throat feeling tight.

Zacharias sat down beside me, his hand remaining on my back. I could feel his warmth, which was almost too overwhelming. I felt hyperthermic, as if I had contracted heat exhaustion and was on the cusp of heat stroke. Only I doubted heat exhaustion was as painful as this.

I rolled over, lying like a starfish on my back, on the stairs. Spasms lapsed in my stomach and spread throughout my entire body. A heartbeat throbbed in my skull, and I felt like a bug being cooked on a windshield on a hot summer day. The cool stairs didn’t help me. I began pulling on the edge of the shirt I wore. I didn’t have an undershirt on, but I knew the t-shirt had to go.

The fabric felt prickly against my fingers as I began to pull at it. I lifted it up, flashing my belly as I struggled to lift it over my head. Once I did get it over my head, I wrapped the shirt into a ball and dabbed my face with it; absorbing the interminable sweat. The red bra I sported was cherry-coloured from how much I was perspiring.

I allowed my head to fall slack. I didn’t care that I had stripped myself of the shirt. The pants were next, anyway. But I needed a closed space. I needed the bedroom. I felt as if I was suddenly agoraphobic. I needed to be contained.

Tenuously, I pushed myself to my feet. I ignored Zacharias as I crawled up the rest of the stairs like a dog, staggering into the bedroom. Zacharias was hot on my tail, and I could feel his eyes on me which only made me burn up even more. The room was bathed an an iris-purple light. Night was rolling in fast, or maybe my perception on time was slowed.

I threw the t-shirt onto the bed and slipped off my shoes, the pants quick to follow. I was, then, left only in my undergarments. I realized that I had just done in front of Zacharias what I would’ve done if I was alone and going through the same thing. I had done it so naturally, as if it was second nature.

Still, I felt too warm. But I couldn’t bring myself to completely strip. I still needed to upkeep at least an ounce of modesty, even though what I had done was the farthest thing from modest. The bristling of my skin had subsided the tiniest bit. But the spasms didn’t discontinue, drums pounding beneath my flesh.

I walked over to the bed, still pretending I was alone. I crawled onto it, back to Zacharias as I turned my face slightly to the side to look out of the window. I sat on my knees, my back straight as I struggled to not cry out again. Zacharias stood in place, but I was able to hear his heavy breaths over my own.

But I couldn’t help the whimper that escaped me as my stomach throbbed. It felt like hands had broken through my abdomen and opened me up, unfurling my ribcage like butterfly wings as another pair of hands clenched and squeezed my organs. This pain spread throughout my whole body.

I hunched over, smoothing my hands over my slick thighs as I breathed in, and breathed out. My hair, soaked at the ends by my sweat, curtained around me. I had the sudden urge to shave it all off so it wouldn’t disturb me. This hurt more than the whiplash and the tuck-n-rolling and the initial marking all combined. I was tempted to ask for an anaesthetic to knock me out, or an analgesic to numb me. But I was better than that.

And since Zacharias hadn’t offered anything to me, he knew I was better than that too.

I had to bite the inside of my cheek to prevent myself from crying out. Eventually, hunching forward became too agonizing and I tried to sit up straight, but this was just as bad. Slowly, I lowered myself onto my back, my knees tucked beneath me. This eased the pain, but only by very little.

Zacharias began to walk over to the bed, and I closed my eyes as I tuned into his impending presence. My hair splayed over the edge of the bed, but the rest of me was on the mattress. I took another round of deep breaths, but they did me no good.

Zacharias didn’t get onto the mattress with me, he simply sat against the side of the bed, close enough to me that my hair decorated one of his shoulders like an epaulette. I was grateful that even in my denuded state he didn’t try to touch me. I might’ve lashed out at him, even if he hadn’t been doing anything wrong.

“Zacharias,” I groaned, rubbing my hands aggressively over my upset stomach. “Tell me about who you were when you were young. T-tell me your childhood. Your past.” Tell me a story.

I felt his fingers playing with my dampened ringlets. I sighed, then hissed at the feeling. My hair felt as if it was being ripped in clumps from my scalp. Would I turn into a wolf soon? Was this the buildup? Had I yet to reach the culmination? I hoped it wouldn’t get any worse than this. This was nearly unbearable, and I’d like to have thought my pain tolerance was relatively high.

“What I resemble now, I did not resemble as a kid,” he told me after a few moments, fingers still knitting my hair. “As a kid, I was lanky; like I explained to you earlier. My father was the alpha, so of course his insubstantial son would be the laughing stock of the entire pack. Everyone made fun of me, boys and girls alike. I was smaller than everyone, even kids younger than me. I was an easy target,

“My beta was the leader of his little...pack—” a clique, I determined. “He was the ringleader, prompting all of these...attacks, I suppose, against me. I didn’t have a good childhood. You’re going to judge me.”

“I’ve been judging you this whole time. I don’t see how judging you now would make a difference.” I was half joking.

But it was enough to prod Zacharias to continue. “They’d beat the shit out of me, and they got away with it. We’re wolves, after all. When I’d come home, bloody and bruised, I never received the sympathy a human child might’ve received. My mother would just...cock her head to the side, frown, and tell me to clean myself up.

“My father, on the other hand, would come home after dark and force me to come outside with him. Right outside the front doors, Edie, he’d beat the living shit out of me. Not for disciplinary action, but to try and teach me to fight back. I never did. I wasn’t a fighter. I’d walk back inside, once again beaten bloody, and more defeated than I had walked in earlier.

“Every corner of this pack has eyes. Everyone watched as I got the shit kicked out of me by my father. It was a vicious circle, Edie,” he was saying my name for comfort. I resisted the urge to touch him. He didn’t need, nor would he want, my pity. “I was getting the shit kicked out of me day and night,

“My father became the laughing stock because of me, getting challenged by numerous males for his title. My father never once lost, but he had taken enough hits for me. So, when I was twelve, he sent me away to this...place. I don’t know what it was called, but it was like a bootcamp. It was all boys, boys like me. All of us had no substance, but we walked out beasts. I was eighteen,

“When I came back, everything was different. But there was one kid...he taunted me the moment I came back. He was taller than me, so he thought I’d still be scared. He challenged me, a fight to the death. My beta, still friends with the same people from before, watched as I killed his friend. There was no friendship after that. All of them went their separate ways. Some of them left the pack—most of them. My beta might’ve left too, if he wasn’t tied here by responsibility.

“My father trained me for this title for four years. When I was twenty-two, I was ready—I had no choice. My father was sick. I don’t know what he was sick with, but it drove him mad. I had gone out one day, and when I came back he had killed my mother. Then I killed him. I’ve been the Alpha ever since. I’m stuck with this title. I will not allow anyone to defeat me for it. My prides too high. There’s only one other option.” A heir.

I opened my eyes. The room was dark blue—indigo. I imagined a womb barren of children in the near-blackness. I remembered the first time Zacharias suggested a child I was so livid. Now, I felt phlegmatic about it. I was indifferent and uninterested. I had never wanted to have children, and I especially didn’t intend to—if I had wanted to have kids—have them so young. I was still a child myself. Zacharias was nearly nine years older than me.

He must’ve felt like he was nearly expired. I felt somewhat fresh on the market.

His story had numbed the pain—distracted me enough to forget about it. But once I thought about an empty womb, the pain came flooding back; slowly, then all at once. I started groaning again, spine curling like a cats. My consciousness was beginning to switch on and off from the pain at this point, dragging time through syrup.

I was in and out of it for a little while. In the times when I was out I removed my legs from underneath me, dangling my feet over the other side of the bed. Zacharias, at some point, crawled onto the bed and laid beside me; his eyes wide as he admired me. Eventually, I had rolled onto my side and buried myself within his chest. I didn’t remember doing it.

His arms were wrapped around me, but he felt cool and I didn’t necessarily mind. I was still in my bra and underwear, and I was thankful that Zacharias, despite my exposure of skin, had no desire to take advantage of me. He just held me...calmed me down and cooled me off. But the pain was still predominant. I was too tired to react to it anymore.

At some point, through muggy lucidity, Zacharias stroked my hair and rested his chin atop my head. Our limbs were tangled like vines. “Its nearly midnight.”

“Is it?” I yawned, spasmed, twitched, groaned. The room was ashy-black. “Well, you should be going.”

“I don’t want to leave you,” he said. “You’re more important than them.”

“They might fall apart without you,” I said, hyperbolically. Although there was some truth to it. “I’ll be fine.”

His hand twitched as he stroked my hair. He was itching to run. I was itching to pass out again. If we separated, we could both do what we craved. “Edie, I don’t want to leave you.” He was nearly whining.

“You need to run, and I need to sleep. When you come back, we can meet in the middle.” I bargained, spasmed, twitched, groaned.

“Okay.” He whispered softly, and kissed my forehead. The bed creaked as he crawled off of it. I listened intently as he left the room, leaving the door open. He walked down the stairs and left the cabin. There, I waited. I needed to wait for the right moment. The pain was pending, building up. It would reach its peak once the bell tolled midnight, I assumed. I would not shift like them.

A few minutes passed, and a breeze blew in—Zacharias must’ve opened the window. I could hear paws running away deep into the forest. There wasn’t much longer to wait. The pain, stealthy. Increasing. It was reaching its climax. I was reaching my breaking point. The wolves, impatient.

And then hundreds of howls filled the air like a wild orchestra. And I, as the pain seemed to become me, lifted my head up to scream with them. The wolves and I...we cried out to the moon as one. So much pain...so much resentment...so much to bellow for. All of us living with some kind of hurt.

I may not have been one of them, but I was one with them.

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