Thorn (Werewolf)

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Chapter Twelve

I look around nervously as I squat to pee behind some bushes. Thorn has been sleeping for a long time, I’m not sure how long because I have no idea what time it is anymore but I’d guess a few hours. Sleepwalking must make him really exhausted.

I hear some noises and I wiggle my pants up quickly. I walk a little further into the trees and I see the mother bear with her cubs in the distance. Even from here, she looks enormous. She’s too far away to see me so I fold my arms and I rest against a tree as I watch the sweet sight of the cubs playing.

I suddenly sense that I’m not alone. Thorn appears to the tree to my left. He keeps his arms behind his back and watches them with me. I smile as a cub clings on to a tree and starts climbing it. Thorn is watching me, I can feel his eyes boring into the side of my face, studying all of my reactions.

“Why does this fascinate you?”

I shrug. “It’s cute.”

“It’s nature. Nature isn’t cute. It’s brutal and unfair. One of the cubs has been attacked, probably by a lion or coyote. That’s why she’s here.”

My smile drops. “You just had to ruin it.”

“The cub is alive though,” he says. “Which means I really don’t want to mess with that mother. Let’s go.”

I scratch my head as I follow him. “So, you have superhuman hearing, sense of smell and eye sight? What are you?”

“I’ve just been out here a long time,” he says. “You’d be amazed by what your senses can adapt and change to when you’re constantly looking out for danger.”

I don’t buy it. Heightened senses might be natural when living alone but he can hear things that shouldn’t even be possible to human ears. He was asleep when I left him and he found me easily as though he just followed my scent.

“How long?” I ask.

“Over a century.”

I laugh. “Right.”

I have to almost run to catch up with his long strides. His speed is annoying. He starts to walk slower when he hears my breathless panting. We arrive at a small lake a few minutes later which is surrounded by long branches that Thorn holds high enough for me to walk under. He stops suddenly and moves to the side, cocking his head towards the water.

“This is the lake that I use to bathe.”

“Okay?” I say.

“You stink,” he says.

I blink. “It’s the clothes. I’ve been wearing them for two days.”

“Oh.” He looks over them. “I’ll bring you some fresh ones. Wash those.”

“I don’t suppose you have anything a little smaller, do you?” I grin as I tug on the baggy pants.

He shakes his head with a small smile.

“Yeah, I didn’t think so.”

“I won’t be long. Stay out of trouble.”

“Wait, you’re just going to leave me here?” I say. “What about the bears? Thorn!” He vanishes through the trees.

I fold my arms as I look around the perimeter of the lake. The only sound is from the birds whistling in the treetops. He knows that I don’t know my way back to the camp from here, he’s probably finding it amusing that I’ll have to wait for him. He most likely wants to get rid of me.

I start removing the damp and smelly clothes, including my underwear, and I descend into the water. The water is so cold that I squeal. I dunk the clothes underneath the surface and I hold them there for a few minutes. I have no idea how to ‘wash’ clothes in a lake. I assume I just need to wet them.

The water isn’t the cleanest and I observe the heavy load in my hands that smell very strange. I walk through the water and I place them at the side of the bank on the least dirty patch of grass that I can find.

I push my body across the lake, swimming my way into the middle. I float on my back and I dunk the back of my head down so that my hair is wet. My eyes meet the strength of the sun above me and I circle my arms as I smile. The peace is exhilarating. My heart has never felt so relaxed. I’ve had anxiety for most of my life, mainly due to my parents and family members that would always treat me as though I had to earn being accepted.

I’ve never felt like I had a home or a purpose and maybe I’ll die before ever finding one. I’m okay with that. Leaving this world without ever finding a place to belong is better than being raped, beaten and belittled every day for the rest of my life.

Maybe I’ll belong to something new every day. Today, I belong to this lake.

The sound of rustling leaves makes me push myself back to my feet. I curl my arms around my chest as Thorn returns and drops a pile of fresh clothes onto the grass. He meets my eyes when he straightens. I circle my finger slowly as I swallow.

He distances himself a little, turning his back to me.

I still keep an arm tight around my chest and my private area as I leave the water. I make sure he isn’t looking before I rinse my knotted hair. I look down at the ground and I spot a towel.

“Where do you get this stuff from?” I say as I bend down and pick it up.

“I stole them from cabins.”

I make an amused, shocked sound. “Thief.”

“I’m sure they don’t care.”

I dry off my body and hair with the towel and I lay it down to stand on. Thorn keeps his back to me the entire time, he rests his hand against a tree and sighs.

“Are you done yet?”

“Almost.”

“By the way, I don’t mind you going through my things but those books are very old. Try not to ruin them.”

I almost drop the shirt from my fingers. “You know? Is that another superhuman sense you have?”

“No, I just noticed that they were put back in the wrong order.”

I smile as I pull the shirt over my head slowly, trying to ignore the shooting pains around my bruised wrists. The shirt even bigger than the last one and I try to fold it up to my waist so that I can get the pants on easily. It’s uncomfortable without underwear, the material itches against me. I pull up the ends and I fold them around my ankles. I slip my feet back into my flat wedding shoes. They don’t match and I look ridiculous.

“You can turn around now,” I say.

He pushes his hand away from the tree and turns. He looks me over for a few seconds before sniffing into the air. I freeze as he walks towards me, he keeps his eyes on mine with seriousness as he stands right before me and sniffs again. “Better. Your natural scent is incredible.” He backs up and shakes his head.

I scowl after him as he walks away. I slowly follow. “Can I give an opinion on your stench?”

“No.”

“What about the clothes?” I say.

“Leave them to dry, I’ll collect them later.”

I wince slightly at the thought of him handling my underwear but it vanishes when I realize that we’re going to be sharing more intimidate moments than that. What am I supposed to do when I get my period? How do I even bring that into a conversation?

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“Hunting.”

I stop suddenly, he paces on until he notices my pause and turns around. I start shaking my head as he approaches me. “No,” I whisper.

“What? You can eat it but you can’t kill it? You said you wanted me to teach you how to survive.”

“I’m not killing anything,” I say.

“I’m not killing for you,” he says. “I let you off yesterday because I owed you for what those cowards did to you. Everything changes today, princess.”

“I am not killing an animal,” I hiss. “And stop calling me that.”

“We’ll start with something easy first, like a rabbit or a squirrel. Killing is the easy part, it’s preparing the food that will be harder to teach.”

“For someone that has this amazing hearing you really suck at listening,” I say angrily. “I am not murdering anything. I can’t. I won’t.” I wrap my arms around my stomach.

He drops his eyes to my stomach and grins. “You’re right, I do have amazing hearing. You are starving.”

“That’s because you made me throw it up!” I yell. “I’ll find some fruit.” I charge past him, inspecting every tree and bush that I pass.

I pause against a small bush of berries and I reach out to grab some. Thorn appears in the corner of my eye with his arms folded. He shakes his head at me. I sigh and move on to the next bush. He shakes his head again.

“Are there any berries in these damn woods that won’t kill me?”

“Yes,” he says.

“Stop enjoying this.” I hear a loud thud from my right and I follow it curiously.

“Good,” Thorn says. “You’re using your senses.”

I investigate the ground and I find the source of the thud. I kneel down and I pick up the small apple, my head rising up at the enormous apple tree above me. I reach up and I grab another apple from a hanging branch, it comes off easily.

“Is it ripe?” he says.

I turn around. Thorn leans back into a tree and studies his nails before glancing up and smirking. “Ripe?”

“Is it ready to eat?”

I scowl down at my hand, trying to work out what the hell ripe means. I heard my mother say that before but she never explained what it meant. I always just grabbed an apple from a bowl and ate it.

The apple looks normal. Green and round. It looks appetizing. Thorn becomes impatient with my confusion and he walks towards me.

“You’ll need to know the difference between ripe fruit and unripe fruit,” he says. He reaches up and pulls another apple from a branch. “With apples, if it comes away with the stalk intact and you don’t have to pull hard then it’s ready. If you’re still unsure then cut it open and see if the seeds are black. If they are black then it’s safe to eat.”

“Okay,” I say. “So this is safe to eat?”

He nods. I bring the apple to my mouth to take a bite and his hand pulls down on mine, stopping me from biting into it.

“Woah,” he says. “Are you really going to just bite into a wild apple?”

“Why?” I sigh. “What am I doing wrong this time?”

“You might get a mouthful of worms.”

I cringe, my eyes widening as I stare at the fruit in my hand. Thorn grins and pulls a blade from out of his pants.

“There’s two ways to check,” he says. “One is to cut it open. Can you guess what the other one is?”

I stare back at him. I’m not amused.

“Think about it. If there’s worms or bugs inside then how did they get there?”

“Oh,” I mutter. I hold the apple to my eye level and I twist it. “Look for holes.”

“Right.”

I twist the apple around as I keep a firm grip on it. I become satisfied that there aren’t any holes. I look back to him.

“Now, when you cut into it you want to slice delicately to make the pieces as slim as you can.” He holds the apple up to show me. I try to pay attention as he gently moves the blade along the side of the apple, catching the curved piece in his other hand.

I never knew that so much care and precision went into eating a damn apple.

“Inspect it before you eat it,” he says. “Make sure that the colour isn’t dark or rotten.” He holds the sliced piece in the air. “Do you think it looks okay?”

“Yes,” I say.

“Good. You try.” He passes me the blade.

Easy enough. I assume. Thorn watches every move I make carefully, his hand even hovers above mine as though he’s anticipating that I’m going to slice my fingers off. I manage to cut the apple open without causing damage to myself. I inspect it first before placing the watery fruit into my mouth. I continue slicing as I eat. Eventually Thorn backs off, trusting me to handle the blade without supervision.

The apple is delicious. So delicious that I finish it within a few minutes. I drop its remains to the ground and I reach up to pick another. Then another, and another. I look for any holes before stuffing them into my pockets. I fit eight of them into my pants before the weight makes it difficult to carry anymore.

I smile proudly at Thorn.

“Don’t get too cocky,” Thorn says. “You can’t just survive on apples. You need protein.”

I narrow my eyes. “I told you, I’m not-”

“I’m not talking about meat,” he says. “There are other things you can consume for protein. And they are all around us.”

“Trees?” I say in confusion. “Bark isn’t edible, is it?”

Thorn bites on his lip and shakes his head, walking away from me with a small noise of laughter. I clench on my teeth as I jog behind him.

“Are you just going to keep walking until I figure it out?” I demand.

“Yes.”

“You’re a terrible teacher.”

I have no idea what he means. Trees are the only things that are around us, apart from the bushes but they are apparently filled with berries that—given how Thorn reacted—would send me to hell.

I hear a scurrying noise from above me and I stop. Thorn stops too. I twist my head until I see the squirrels scaling the tall tree.

“Nuts,” I say.

“Can you see any?”

I squint up at the branches. I shake my head and I move on to the next tree. I still can’t see any so I keep moving.

“Okay.” Thorn takes a deep breath and walks over to me. “Every single tree you’ve looked at has nuts in them.”

“Really?” I mumble. “I didn’t see any.”

“Because you don’t know what you’re looking at.” He points up and waits until I’m looking before he moves his finger across. “You see that huddle of white shapes behind the leaves?”

I squint. “The things that look like eggs? I thought they were bird nests.”

Thorn laughs. “They’re nutshells.”

“Oh. I thought nuts were brown.”

“They are,” he says.

I exhale a breath as I stare at him with frustration. “You’re confusing me.”

“The shells are white. Some might be green, some might be brown. You’ll recognize them because they grow in huddles like that.”

“And how the hell am I supposed to reach them?” I say.

“Hm. You’ll be better off with hazelnuts. You can collect them from the ground.”

I sigh deeply as he walks away, he keeps his eyes to the ground as he studies it. We walk for a while until he stops. He keeps his eyes pointed down, giving me some kind of silent instruction, and then he rests beside a tree.

I don’t know what the hell I’m looking for. All I see is leaves and sticks. I feel like he’s testing me. I walk slowly along the leaves and then I find dozens and dozens of furry stones. No, not stones, shells. I pick a few up and I cradle them as I walk back to him.

“Good,” he says. “Now you need to find something to break them open. Keep a look out as we walk.”

A light hiss escapes my mouth as he turns around and walks around the tree. I stuff the nuts into my pockets.

“How are you planning on finding water?” he asks me. “You haven’t been successful so far.”

“That was before I found the lakes.”

He stops and twists his head until he’s glaring at me. Here it comes. I’ve said something stupid again.

“What?” I demand. “Is it not water? Is it acid?”

“You can drink the water from the lake if you’re desperate,” he says. “But you’ll receive a very severe stomach virus. The water might be fresh but it isn’t clean or safe. It usually rains here every five days or so but you’ll die waiting for it.”

“So where do you get the water from? Is it collected from the rain?”

“I don’t have the patience for that,” he says. “I use a much more reliable source. Once again, they are all around you.”

“The trees,” I say.

He cocks an eyebrow for a moment, surprised that I guessed it on the first try. “Yes. The trees and plants will make up around sixty percent of your entire survival. I’ll show you how to extract water but you won’t be able to do it without tools.”

He bends down to the bottom of one of the largest trees in the area and scrapes away the bark with his blade. I kneel down next to him. He finds a stick on the floor and snaps it. He uses the blade to split it open and then he sharpens the edge. He does it slowly, showing me step by step what he is doing.

“You want to make it as sharp as you can,” he says. He shows me the sharpened stick and I nod. “Then you need to make a hole into the tree beneath the bark you cut away. The deeper the hole, the better the pressure will be. I guess you need strength for that.”

He plunges the blade into the tree with one movement and it enters so deep that the blade becomes stuck. He yanks it back out. He pushes the stick into the hole and I watch as water flows right down it and hits the ground.

“Taste it,” he says.

I’m so amazed that I don’t move for a moment. I cup my hands underneath the flow and it fills it quickly. I bring my hands to my mouth and I sip slowly. The water is as fresh as what I’ve been drinking from my bottle back at the camp. Drinking makes me thirstier. I twist my head underneath the stick and I catch the water between my lips, swallowing it down with a strong gulp. I wipe my mouth as I look back to Thorn, he is smiling at me.

“But how will I…?” I begin.

“I’ll give you a blade,” he says. “You can take it with you. Unfortunately, they do not grow on trees.”

I smile. My smile fades and is replaced by a flinch when he throws the blade down to the ground. It lands in front of me.

“Now show me what you’ve learned.”

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