Ariana 15, Conall 16
Every teenage girl has a crush on the one boy she will never have and will never forget. Some drool over Rege-Jean Page, Chris Hemsworth, or Jason Momoa. Mine is Conall Sullivan. Tall. Dark. Mysterious.
I’ve only been harboring my obsession with him for the last fifteen years. In other words— my whole damn life. It started off innocently. I used to play with trucks and dinosaur toys so that my mom brought me over his house for playdates. Then, I used to send him love-sick puppy eyes. I tried to touch my unattainable crush in the school’s hallway by brushing my skinny arm against his muscular one. But when I asked the school football coach if I could join his team, based on the coach’s reaction, I knew my obsession to be around Conall had grown out of hand. Coach’s loss. I could have made a great quarterback.
I’m walking a fine line between being hopelessly in love and a hopeless moron.
I find myself following my brother, Warren, and Conall yet again. They are best friends, and I’m third wheeling behind. I’ve followed them everywhere since I can remember. Does following people constitute stalking? I know the answer to that one but refuse to accept it. I’m determined to show Conall what he is missing out on. He won’t even know what hit him.
I don’t have anything better to do in Westwood, city of no more than 15,000 people surrounded by forests and lakes and wilderness. The three of us grew up together— whether they like it or not— they’re stuck with me.
My loving mom tried to comfort me when I was little and my playdates with Conall turned into my brother and his best friend playing while pushing me away. She said they played rough and didn’t want to hurt me. I told her “Duh. I can play rough,” but my Mom didn’t buy it. She was overprotective like that. I could keep up with the boys. Or so I thought.
Just like I’m trying to keep up with them now. My brother and Conall are already on the trail about to enter the forest. Conall turns around with narrowed eyes and yells at me.
“Turn back, Ariana. Don’t be stupid.”
“Wait up. I want to hike with you guys.”
I want to add “don’t call me stupid” but I’m already breathless from running after them. These boys are fast.
We’ve gone hiking and camping together in the past but lately Warren and Conall have been keeping away from me more so than before. Ever since they turned sixteen.
I get to the beginning of the trail and turn around to take one last look at our house. The white object appears small in the distance but still near enough that I can see it. My mom’s words echo in my mind, “Ariana, please don’t go in the forest by yourself. Scary creatures live there.” The only two creatures—not scary, but foolish-- in the forest are running ahead of me. Warren and Conall. Stupid boys.
How else do I get Conall to notice me, to give me the time of day, to date me? In his presence I feel complete. Alone, I’m lost. Deep in my soul, I feel like I’m meant to do something good with my life. But I’m only excited about my future if Conall is in it.
I run on the trail hoping to catch up to these two fools who left me behind. The summers in northern California are humid. My forehead is covered with beads of sweat. The tall trees around me rise out of the earth to brush the cloudless sky. I lower my gaze to the dirt-covered path to make sure I don’t trip on sneaky stones. It’s so quiet around me that I can’t even hear the wind that usually rustles through leaves.
Our city is surrounded by wilderness, making it a secret gem that not too many tourists have discovered. Although, we still have visitors who like camping in the woods. If I were them, I’d visit Lake Tahoe which is only two hours away or Glass Beach, a six-hour drive. There’s nothing to see or do in Westwood City in Norther California.
I don’t understand why Warren has to follow Conall’s every whim. Sometimes Warren forgets about my existence and does whatever boy-things he does with Conall. I know my brother loves me and so do my parents, but Warren can be an insensitive jerk.
“They thought I’d give up at the beginning of the trail. Jerks.” I mutter under my breath and keep on jogging.
I’ve run for ten minutes now and the trail is not ending. My foot suddenly catches on a moss-covered rock and I twist my ankle as I try to balance. Ouch. A sharp pain cuts through my leg, and I slow down to a walk and catch my breath. I inhale the sweet scent of cedar and the musty scent of moss. Totally worth a sprained ankle.
I wonder if the boys stayed on the path or strayed off it.
The silence in the woods is peaceful.
The air catches in my throat.
I spin around full circle to scan my surroundings. Through the tall trees, the light is fading, leaving behind shadows to surround me. I squint my eyes at the dark patches casted around disfigured tree trunks.
“You guys are jerks if you’re trying to scare me” I shout.
Another rustling sound and a crack of a twig comes from behind me. My body jerks toward the sounds. My eyes meet two red eyes. Of a wolf. The wolf is standing behind a tree only a few feet away from me.
I hold my breath to stay quiet. Maybe I can play dead like a possum. Stupid me. It’s a huge gray wolf with red eyes. The only red eyes of an animal that I’ve seen in my life belonged to a rat and the sight of it still creeps me out, but now I’m beyond scared.
He’s watching me with those eyes and my body freezes. I join the staring contest while trying to recall the last time I saw a wolf. Never. I’ve only seen wolves on TV, and they were small and adorable. How can a wolf be so big and why is he watching me like that? His fur is gray. His canines teeth are on display.
Wait a second… I gasp. Why in the world am I thinking about this beast as a “he” instead of “it”? What’s wrong with my brain? My first instinct is to humanize the wolf by calling him a he as if he’s a person rather than the animal it is.
Suddenly the creature lets out a loud snarl and jumps from behind the tree on the path right in front of me. And. It. Pounces. Toward. Me. I’m blinking rapidly as my gaze follows each movement of the beastly creature. I scream. Any second now I’ll turn into its food. Time does not slow like they portray in the movies. Time doesn’t stretch for little ol’ me to let me analyze the situation, come up with a solution to escape my imminent death. Quite the opposite. Adrenaline pumps in my veins making me move fast.
I stumble a few steps back, putting weight on my injured ankle. Shit. My heartbeat is racing with the realization that I won’t be running out of this vicious creature’s way.
But to my surprise the beast stops a few feet away from me. The potentially rabid wolf tilts its thick neck to one side as if it’s studying me. Its muzzle lifts and takes a whiff in the air. It takes a slow step my way. At least its teeth are not showing anymore. The gray wolf is now only a couple of steps away from me and if I reach out I can touch it. I have a policy of not petting any big wolves, so I keep my shaky hands to my sides.
My only consolation is that if the mutant wolf wanted to eat me, it could have done it by now.
A black wolf, appearing from nowhere, rushes into the gray wolf and rams it with its head. The one with red eyes flies away from me and hits a tree. The show of the black wolf’s strength makes me gasp. Now I’m going to die two times— once killed by the gray wolf and once by the black one. Dying two times sounds painful.
The black wolf turns its head and its black eyes look at me. Not at me. But rather into my soul. Although my mind is reeling and my brain is foggy, I detect the second beast’s height to be about my height. He’s huge and with broad shoulders.
A whimpering sound brings my attention to the gray wolf trying to stand on wobbly legs.
The huge black wolf hasn’t moved from its spot but turns its large head my way. The strangest feeling overtakes me. Its black eyes are trying to communicate with me. Then. It. Growls. At. Me. I run like a madwoman in the opposite direction of the wolves with no sense of direction. The path suddenly disappears and I’m running on a ground blanked by leaves, rocks, and twigs. My lungs burn. I’m lost, but I don’t stop until I trip on a tree root and fall. My hands are scraped, and my right knee is bleeding from the impact with the rough ground. Another ouch.
It doesn’t hurt. Not as much as being eaten by wolves.
My legs muscles tighten, and I get up and run again in no particular direction. Just away from danger.
I don’t know how long I run but when I’m a panting mess, I stop. The anxiety mixed with the running leaves my chest aching and my lungs constricted. I can’t take a breath. What I just saw was not possible. Wolves in the documentary movies are gray and the size of a dog. I’m dizzy. I wipe the sweat off my forehead and lean on a tree, the rough bark digging into my thin t-shirt. The blistering sun rays cutting through the thick trees heat up my skin.
“Ari?” a familiar voice whispers behind me.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like how my name rolled out of his mouth. The light-headedness causes little swirly lines and spots to appear in my sight.