Heart pounding, he ran down a dim hallway, angry shouts rising over the music and voices in the background. He wasn’t sure who was following him—following them—but by the way their footsteps reverberated across the floor, they were big. Really big.
His friend was at his heels, shouting for him to keep going. Easier said than done with endless yards of fabric hanging off him. The footsteps behind them grew closer and multiplied. He tripped for the second time over what seemed to be his skirt—why the fuck he was wearing a skirt, he didn’t have time to wonder—and his much-larger friend grabbed his hand and half-dragged, half-slid him across a large brightly-lit foyer.
Serafina! Stop! a voice shouted behind them. He caught a glimpse of a huge form separating itself from the darkened hallway they’d just run out of. Another, only slightly less huge man stormed out of a set of double doors with what looked like a party happening on the other side.
You’re fucking dead, Jones! the second man bellowed as he started across the tiles towards them.
Shut the fuck up, Boone, he heard the bigger man snap behind them as they burst through the doors. Vaguely he noticed the handful of startled faces around them as his friend dragged him over to the bushes in the shadows along the wall.
It was cold outside, carpeting his bare arms and shoulders in goosebumps. Why they were bare, he had no idea but his skin was smooth and hairless. Feminine. The thought was whisked from his head as the doors slammed open and the slightly less huge man exploded from of the building, the bearded giant at his heels.
His friend pulled him deeper into the shadows as the slightly less huge man jogged a few yards down the driveway, looking around. Looking for them. Put this on, his friend whispered, producing an over-stuffed yellow backpack from the bushes and holding the straps out like you would for a kid.
Serafina! the first man shouted again. He sounded angry but also worried, unlike the second man, who sounded just plain pissed. Footsteps and more shouts echoed from inside the building and more men poured out, all large and dressed in suits, like the first two men and his friend.
The first man, the giant worried one, saw him and his friend first. Get on my back, his friend ordered. It should have taken him aback, but just like being dragged by the hand and treated like a child, it seemed natural and right to climb onto his friend’s squatting form and wrap his fabric-swathed legs around him for a piggy-back.
From over his friend’s shoulder he could see the giant man walk towards them slowly, the slightly less huge man and the others approaching in his wake.
You're making a mistake, the giant man said as a semi-circle of men formed around them. You need to stop this. Your guardian won’t be harmed. He can come if it’s that important to you. We can still do this. Let me give you the life you want.
Bullshit, his friend snapped, arms tightening around his dangling legs. The pulse in his friend’s neck thudded against his forearms as the semi-circle of men closed in around them. He’s lying. He’ll kill me and lock you up.
The giant growled and bared his teeth. He was a shifter. The realization struck him hard as he looked around. They were all wolves.
Just let us go, please, begged a voice that came from him, but was not him. A young, girlish voice, soaked in hurt and panic.
I can’t do that, sweetheart, the giant shifter said. I won’t do that. You’re mine. You’ve been mine since before you were born.
What does that mean? the girlish voice trembled with fear and confusion.
His friend scoffed. It means he’s fucking nuts.
The slightly less huge man growled and started forward before a gesture from the giant shifter stopped him. They were surrounded now on three sides with the wall of the building behind them.
Look around you. The giant shifter took a step closer. You’re not going anywhere. What’s the plan here? You going to fight us—fight me with her on your back? How is that protecting her?
Serafina. The giant’s voice became low and appealing. Don’t force me to do something you won’t like. It’s not too late to stop this.
He didn’t understand the stab of betrayal that made tears leap into his eyes, but the agony of hurt and grief was almost unbearable. His chest rose and fell, the tears drying on his face as his pain sparked against a lifetime of unhappiness and resentment. Like a match, his entire being flared with rage.
No, you stop it! The girlish voice cut through the hum of the growing crowd around them. You’re the one doing this. I’m so sick of it! You’re just like them. Well guess what? I’m. Not. Yours.
His chest heaved as the voice screamed the last three words. The giant shifter looked like he was trying to control his anger. His voice was sharp and his eyes flashed in warning. You need to calm down.
No you calm down! the girlish voice was on a roll now, fueled by a white-hot anger he felt to his bones. I’m not anybody’s. I’m not a goddess or a queen and I don’t want to be. And you can’t make me!
The childish declaration hung in the air. The giant shifter relaxed slightly and shook his head like a parent would to a foolish child. Chuckles rippled across the circle of men. Their mockery only fueled the flames of his anger higher.
Fuck you! the girlish voice shrieked, silencing what felt like the entire world around them. Even the sounds of water breaking on the shore far below them and the insect hum he hadn’t noticed until it fell silent. Even the cold breeze stilled.
The giant shifter’s eyes widened. Everyone’s did. He was too angry to notice. It consumed him, blurring his vision, numbing his limbs still clinging to his friend’s back.
We’re leaving and we’re never coming back. The girlish voice was almost hysterical. And anyone who doesn’t like it can go jump off the cliff!
The echo of her words hung over the crowd as the world unfroze and the sounds of the night returned.
I’m sorry you feel that way, the giant shifter began cautiously, his eyes focused on them with laser intensity.
He felt his friend’s muscles bunch beneath him as the giant stepped closer, preparing to fight or to run, he wasn’t sure. His heart felt like it was about to pound right out of his chest but the haze of anger was fading and surprise filtering in as he looked around him.
The crowd was breaking up. Instead of surging towards them, the threatening crowd of shifters were turning away from the building and heading for the dense stand of trees that stretched between the church grounds and the cliffs.
What did you do, his friend whispered as the giant shifter recovered from his shock.
The giant shouted for the men to stop, his voice vibrating with fury as the wind swept his words away before it could reach them. Even the slightly less huge man was leaving, crossing the grassy lawn with long, determined strides.
Boone! The ground shook with the giant’s roar. Stop!
The next few seconds were a blur. The slightly less huge man stopped, allowing the others to pass around him as he turned to look back, shaking his head as if he’d just woken up. The giant shifter was furious, baring his teeth at them in another earth-shaking roar.
Hold on tight, his friend said, his only warning before he squatted deep and sprang into a powerful leap. He bounced against a thick coat of mottled brown fur as they landed. His friend was not only a wolf, but he’d shifted mid-jump, something he’d only ever seen one other wolf do before. He wondered for a moment if they were one and the same, but Tom’s wolf was black and had at most, fifty pounds on him.
He caught a flash of the huge white moon over the trees as his friend’s wolf tore down the tree-lined driveway, the giant’s shouts and pounding footsteps fading behind them.
He should have felt ridiculous, even humiliated to be clinging to another wolf in human form, being carried to safety, but all he felt was wonder and exhilaration as they bounded through the gates and he found himself laughing out loud, the girlish sound trailing in the wind behind them.
Nick Durban woke with a start, his pulse still racing with adrenaline and his chest aching from a tornado of emotions that left him destroyed as they started to fade.
What the fuck was that? He frowned up at the peaked ceiling in the dim, green-tinged light of his tent. The light hanging in the corner was still on, swaying slightly as the wind buffeted the canvas walls. Back in camp after four days of recon, Nick came back to his tent to write his report after dinner and must have passed out. Exhausted as he was, he was surprised he’d dreamed at all, much less one of those. He hadn’t had one in a while.
He’d started getting them about ten years ago. Lucid, incredibly vivid dreams that left him with a nebulous feeling of loss. They were generally short and mostly uneventful. In the peaceful ones he was painting at an easel in the centre of a lush garden or chasing the receding waves along an empty beach. Sometimes he was with a friend—the same friend every time, a young boy who grew up over the years to become the friend in his dream tonight. Nick was young too in his dreams, living out moments in a childhood he’d never had.
The dreams weren’t always happy. One of the first had Nick standing onstage in front of a crowd, a couple of hundred people of varying age and appearance, all of them focused on him with unnerving intensity. In another, an old man and a stern-faced woman in white robes stood at the foot of the bed he was in and informed him his mother was dead. Killed in a robbery at the place she worked. Nick’s mother had died a long time ago, in a very different way, but the fresh wave of heartbreak and loss in the dream had nearly unmanned him. He’d woken up with tears on his face, the first time since he was a child.
Even the worst of the dreams were mundane. Disturbing and extremely painful, but not action-packed like this one. He’d be laying in bed, shaking as some terrible sickness raged through his body or hanging over the edge puking tar into a bucket. Or he’d be sitting in a chair holding someone’s hand, their poison flowing into him under the sunlight beaming through the window. The pain was agonizing, dull at first but growing steadily until it finally woke him up.
But this dream, tonight’s dream, was different. Nick forced himself out of his cot and onto his feet. He’d been a female, for one thing. A young female in a what do you call it. Long dress with no sleeves. A young female who could make the world stop with a scream.
He’d only slept for a few hours—recon screwed with his sleep patterns—and the moon was still up when Nick stepped outside the tentflap. The same round white moon he’d seen just minutes ago in his dream.
The insect hum under the murmured voices and night sounds of the moonlit camp reminded him of that moment where the world had stood still. What was that all about? And the small army of shifters turned zombies abandoning them for a group walk in the park? The giant shifter had looked shocked and a flash of something resembling pride passed over his face before he’d lost his shit.
Nick wondered if it was his youthful size in his dream that made the giant shifter seem bigger, or if he really was that huge. But why was such a powerful wolf even chasing them? Why would he kill his friend and lock him up, as his friend said? His friend, who Nick hadn't known was a wolf in the other dreams, and could apparently shift mid-leap, transitioning more quickly and seamlessly from human to wolf form than even Tom.
Going by the moon, it wasn’t long after midnight and the canteen would still be open for another hour. Rubbing his chest unconsciously against the lingering heartburn of betrayal, Nick started down the dirt-packed trail to the centre of camp. Maybe after a few whiskeys and an hour of his fellow officers’ drunken conversation, the leftover feelings and unanswerable questions from his dream would stop revolving through his head.
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