Wolf's Lullaby

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Humming at the Moon

LOLA

I jolted awake to some annoying commercial jingle that was my ringtone, as it seemed to be the only thing to bring me back to consciousness.

I answered, not even checking the ID, eyeing the clock on my nightstand. 3AM. Who… I didn’t get to finish my thought as a familiar gruff voice on the other end barked urgently, “Lola, I need you to get here now!”

“Good morning to you too, David,” I answered groggily, rubbing my eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s Philip!” well, that sobered me up in an instant, “He’s up Lola! He’s awake, for fuck’s sake! Something is wrong! Get your ass down here this instant!”

What?! That shouldn’t have happened. I checked on him before coming home. Everything seemed in order. He was completely sedated and unconscious.

“I’ll be right there. Let me get dressed and check on the girls. Give him another dosage from the reserve. And calm down. We don’t need the Alpha to have a breakdown. Full moon affects all of you. Go for a run.” I tried to sound reassuring, calm, but felt anything but. That poor child… the thing I feared. I hope it didn’t come to that. He reacted well on the adjusted dosage, so I was hopeful... but if he developed a tolerance to it this quickly... Gods, I hoped not. For all of our sake’s.

“I’m fine. Already did. Now, hurry it up!” David ended a call.

I… I couldn’t even begin to imagine what David was going through each month. Dreading, fearing his child might not open his eyes again or worse… I shuddered, shaking off the nightmarish coldness seeping into my bones at the thought. The two might not have had the best relationship, but while Philip was under, David never left his side. Not taking a rest until he made sure everything ended well, until we woke him up. Then he would disappear under pretenses of his duties, but I was certain he thought his son wouldn’t want him there.

I grabbed the first thing I got my hands on from out of my wardrobe, pulling my hair up, and hurried out of my room down the hall, stopping first to check on Mina. Cracking the door open, I glimpsed her silhouette in the dimly lit room. Even at almost 18 years old, she still couldn’t sleep without a light source. My girl was lying spread eagle on her bed, softly snoring, her covers tangled around her legs, always a restless sleeper, that one. I smiled as I closed the door, turning to check on Tara in the room across. The girl complained of a headache and feeling under the weather all day, so she went to bed early. I peered inside her room. Moonlight streaming through her window illuminated her tiny figure, fast asleep clutching a body pillow to her.

That child… I hope Natalia knew what she was doing when she entrusted her to me.

Tara was two when Natalia came to Whiteridge, settling in our neighborhood. I sensed Natalia being a witch from the moment I met her. A drifter like me. Untethered to a coven as she revealed to me, she left one of the nomadic packs taking an orphaned child under her wing. What she divulged was that the girl was a half-blood, one of her parents was a wolf shifter and the other a human. The child’s mother died in an accident., a fire and since she had no family left, Natalia took it upon herself to take the child and raise it as her own… with a bit of a twist. She wanted to raise her human, opting to bind her other half, which was easier to do to a half-blood child than a full-blooded werewolf without rendering them catatonic.

A month before she passed away, I received a phone call from Natalia.

I’m not long for this world Lola, I’d ask of you to take care of my girl when I’m gone…” Natalia’s voice sounded weak even over the phone.

What do you mean?! Is there anything I can do to…”

No...it’s already too late… I just wish for Tara to be taken care of.” she said, interrupting me.

You want me to take a bound half-blood to a werewolf pack after you dedicated your life to shield her from our world. Are you sure?” I couldn’t follow her logic. There was a pause... “Is there something you aren’t telling me, Natty?”

A sigh came from her side, “Nothing of the sorts… I trust you Lola, Mina and Tara are like sisters. She’ll need the two of you after I’m gone. She has no one else… You have a pull with the Alpha. He owes you, make an exception for her. She wouldn’t be the only “human” allowed to live in the pack.”

Those are bonded humans. It’s not the same. I don’t think David will agree...”

Just for a year, till she leaves for college… If, gods forbid, the binding loosens, where better to be than in a pack…”

David indeed wasn’t thrilled to have to accommodate a clueless human in his Pack, but he owed me for taking care of his son’s condition, though Tara actually being a half-blood made it easier for him to digest and agree.

Closing the door to Tara’s room, I made haste downstairs, grabbing my keys and my coat as I ran to my car. But before I got in, my eyes turned upwards briefly, catching the sight of the sinister globe casting its frigid, eerie light over the world. With a deep breath, I departed from our home.

In fifteen minutes of almost reckless driving, I parked in front of a house in the woods. The lights were off as sheer moonlight stole away through the thick crowns of the trees, bathing everything in long shadows. A breeze swept through, dragging an unsettling stillness after it. Swallowing hard, trying to push a lump in my throat down, but failing as my mouth was drier than papyrus, I traced a symbol over my palm to settle my nerves. It glowed briefly, then dimmed, disappearing altogether. I got out of the car, took a gulp full of air as I stumbled over twigs to get to the doors leading to the cellar. I hugged my coat closer to me, rubbing my arms absentmindedly. The night was unusually chill… or did pure terror just make its freezing nest in my body?

There were two guards posted at the entrance. I recognized Dragos, one of David’s Enforcers. He inclined his head as I approached, tapping his chest twice with a fist over his heart as a salute to Ishaba, a revered goddess of all witches. The All Knowing, The Loving Mother, The Creator of Magic. I nodded, passing by them descending the stairs into a dimly lit hallway.

More Enforcers lined the walls, their expressions blank, but their tense, rigid postures gave up their nerves. I glanced at the silver door at the end of the hall, glinting with a red hue from the seal placed on it in the dim light before I ducked into the monitor room.

“What took you so long?!” David bellowed, stopping his pacing the moment I stepped inside the room. His hair in disarray from running his fingers through it one too many times, eyes wide, a wild look in them. He was a mess. Frantic.

“I apologize.” I muttered, pushing past him, looking over at the screen showing the inside of the chamber. Air caught in my lungs, my stomach hollowed out at the sight. The bed and all the machines inside the room that helped pump the medicine to keep Philip unconscious for the duration of the full moon laid broken in smithereens on the floor as a half-shifted Philip paced the room, growling and snarling his rage. He pulled and clawed at the silver chains attached to his throat and ankles, trying to get free, howling at the burn of it. The tufts of black fur shimmered menacingly in the red emergency light inside the room.

“You gave him another dose, right?” I asked, trying to keep the tremble in my voice at bay, keeping my eyes on Philip.

“Two.”

“What?!” I whirled on him. Impossible! That’s too much Night-crawler extract. The dose would kill a grown werewolf!

“We gave him two more, and he’s still like this!!! What’s more, I think it’s worse! This never happened before. What’s wrong with him?!” David roared, his voice breaking with the question, an utterly devastated look on his face as his green eyes searched my face for answers I wasn’t sure I had. I schooled my features, willing the fluttering in my chest to calm, fearing he’ll hear it, and it will give away the fear creeping its way inside me.

There was just so much information about Philip’s condition that was known.

A defect, a glitch in his genetic makeup, preventing him from taking control of his full shift. The boy was feral, lost to blood lust. It was all basic instinct and none of the child in there.

The condition manifested earlier than the expected first shift, which was on a first full moon of them turning 14. The full moon being when the shifters reach the apex of their power. Also, it being the time they get a bit... ansty. More impulsive and slightly unstable.

Going through all three stages of a normal first shift. Rage. Fever and pain. Excruciating pain. The last one being the longest. In a normal shifter body, that only ever happened once. After that, fully shifting wasn’t uncomfortable or painful. Easy, like breathing.

But not with this condition.

Very rare and followed by fluctuating mood swings and forced shifts, it was never without consequences on their physical and mental health. These kids died almost always half a year after their first shift, and those were the lucky ones. Others wasted away for a year or two, only to be ultimately put to death by either their parents or their pack as they posed danger to others. Because of the devastation they could cause if they went on a rampage.

Philip’s case was… unique, to say the least.

He exhibited little to none of the physical impairments in the five years since his condition triggered, except headaches, and his mood swings… well, those I attributed to the hereditary assholeness. The kid had his father’s temper.

But the tolerance he seemed to be developing to the experimental extract that kept his condition at bay as much as it could... was worrying.

“I… He’ll be..” I started, trying to string along an answer to appease his worry, but the look on his face made me pause. David grabbed my hand abruptly in a death grip, making me wince as he jerked me towards the screen. “Lola! His eyes! Look at his eyes!” he screeched, the hand holding me shook almost violently as my eyes adjusted and focused on the screen.

What in the ever loving God’s names… As Philip trashed around the room still pulling his chains, his face turned towards the camera and his eyes... his eyes glowed in two different colors. The right one glowed blue, and the left one green. That... that was new. But so were the shadowy, smoke like tendrils rising from his straining and heaving body.

With a painful roar Philip pulled on a hefty silver collar around his neck and with an earsplitting howl he ripped the damn thing off, throwing it on the ground with a resounding thud. Both David and I tensed, panic turning my stomach inside out as cold sweat slid down my temple. If he breaks out…

“Eva... Philip… Forgive me…” David whispered, tightening his trembling grip on my hand. In the next moment, as both of us came to unspoken terms that in the worst-case scenario we’ll have to implement emergency protocol, Philip howled again. But this time the howl was long, low pitched. The sound not of pain but rather one of immense… sorrow.

Then he stopped… His ears perked up, twitching, listening. To what? I couldn’t figure out. He tilted his head to the side, closing his eyes, holding for a few moments as tranquility settled over his half transformed face before he dropped to the ground, unconscious. David and I exchanged worried looks before I turned back to the screen, noting Philip’s chest rising and falling at regular intervals.

“What the fuck was that?!” I loosened a breath as my heart hammered in my chest.

********************************************************************

TARA

Snuggled up in a blanket sitting on my bed, I blew on a steaming mug of tea, watching the gauzy wisps of steam twirl and disperse.

That morning, I woke up with the worst headache I ever experienced in all of my seventeen years of life. No, not just that. I was drained, feverish but oddly restless, so I cut my school day short.

I didn’t see Philip today; he was absent and the message I sent him didn’t have a seen on it. I hoped he was alright and didn’t contract whatever bug I did since we’ve been in close contact.

I wouldn’t mind an even closer contact… I blushed at the intruding thought and immediately smothered it with a mental pillow, though its now muffled words still bounced around my mind.

I looked at the unanswered text. A sliver of doubt, a thought that he might be ghosting me for some reason, filtered in, and my fluctuating mood went from restless, to irritated, to completely deflated. Depressed. Must be the damn bug. It was making me completely irate.

Scrolling through the photos of three swaddled, most adorable little, pink potatoes that the proud new uncle Ivan sent me today, I absentmindedly sipped on scalding tea and sputtered, spilling some on my lap.

Mother Fluffer!!!

As I patted down the wet spot on the blanket, cursing under my breath, a knock sounded at my door and Mina popped her head through.

“Yo, T ’what’s up? How are you feeling? ”

“Like absolute shit! What do you think?!” the harsh tone of my answer surprised both of us. The regret instantly cooling whatever possessed me to snap.

“Well, someone’s being testy today…” Mina unbothered, sauntered in, sat at the edge of my bed, crossing her arms, her manicured brow raised.

I sighed, burrowing into the fluffy burrito of my blanket throwing it over my head, “Sorry… It’s just this stupid headache! I don’t remember the last time I had been sick. It’s like someone is drilling for oil inside my skull!” I complained, tightening the blanket over me as I peered underneath it at Mina.

“Here,” Mina outstretched one of her hands, handing me a box of painkillers.

I smiled, snatching the box from her quickly hiding it under the blanket. “Master has given Tara a box. Master has presented Tara with an item! Tara is going to be free from a headache!” I squeaked the words in my rendition of Dobbie, the house-elf.

Mina snorted, pulling the blanket lower over my face. “You idiot.”

I laughed, diving out from under it, taming my unruly hair, disheveled and staticky from its contact with the material, finding Mina staring at me, biting the inside of her cheek.

“What?” I asked. It was clear she had something on her mind.

There was a pause while I drank the medicine before Mina hesitantly asked, “T... are you... Are you dating Philip?” The question almost made me choke on the tea I was downing my pill with, “What?!... W-who? W-w-what?” I sputtered, some of the liquid spilling down the corners of my mouth, over my chin, heat pooling on my cheeks.

Her gaze bore into me, unrelenting, waiting for my answer. Wiping my chin, I gathered my wits about me as I answered, “No, we’re not dating.” A girl could dream, though… smack with a mental pillow.

Mina let out an exaggerated, long sigh, a relieved smile gracing her face sparked annoyance.

“Ok, good… You definitely shouldn’t date that guy…” Her statement turned the spark into a simmering flame. The throbbing in my head intensified.

I frowned, “Why?”

The slight edge in my voice made her brows crease and her lips thin. “Because he has anger issues, I don’t want you to get hurt. You shouldn’t date someone like him. He isn’t good enough for you.”

That simmering flame now turned into a blazing inferno, gaining a will of its own churning and whooshing beyond my control rushing the words out of my mouth with no restraint, or measure. The headache with great vehemence drowning all reason, “Oh, nice of you to mention not good enough! Philip, albeit grumpy, is nice and sweet to me! Unlike the asshole you are dating, who treats you like his possession trying to fix you so you FIT him better! Why do you let him dictate your taste or try to change you?!”

With each of my words Mina’s eyes widened more, her lips parted, confusion clear on her face, but more than that she was surprised at my outburst, again so was I. I never raised my voice at her, we sometimes argued but never like this. I saw the moment my words hit a nerve as her eye twitched, her mouth snapping shut, brows furrowing, But I wasn’t done. No. An old forgotten friend reared its ugly red horned head, and I was on a freaking roll.

Rage.

The bastard took a grenade to my friendship.

Bippity boppity BOOM!

“You are blinding yourself to it! Where are YOU there, where is your self-esteem?! Because you like the guy?! But you aren’t in love with him! I know you liked Ivan four years ago, and I’m beyond any doubt that you are still in love with him! You guys kissed!” pointing an accusing finger at her, I continued, “Why didn’t you tell me that? We are best friends Mina! Why did you hide it? If you hide stuff like that, what’s next?!” Mina looked stricken, guilty as I finished my tirade with a huff.

The rage slowly dissipated, the throbbing in my head dulled and as if the red fog cleared from my mind, pulling me out of a haze, leaving me hollow, tired. Ashamed.

Mina averted her eyes, biting her lip as she picked at her nails. I knew that look. I... hurt her.

Why did I just go off on her like that?!

“Mina I’m…”

“I’m gonna go. You should take some rest T.” Mina interjected, and not even looking at me she got up, bounding for the door.

“Sorry, MinMin... I didn’t mean it... I…”

“You did... We’ll, talk later.” Was all she said before she closed the door behind her.

I... fudged up… She was right. I meant it. Though severely lacking in any tact, I spewed everything that had been bothering me for a while now. It shouldn’t have happened like this… It was so unlike me.

Grabbing the blanket, I threw it over myself, burying myself into self loathing as I plopped down on my bed with a self-deprecating groan, to stew in my guilt as the headache drummed over my temples.

We didn’t talk later or that night. Mina stayed in her room and I got a fever, took some meds and was out like a candle…

The woods were burning as I squinted at the dancing flames licking up the sides of the trees. The air was heavy with the smell of smoke and ash and a tang of iron, clogging up my airways, making my eyes water. I lifted my face to the ebony sky, meeting a glaring globe emitting a dull red shine. There was something about it… though the glow of it seemed ominous, malevolent, it didn’t evoke any unsettling emotions.

Calm.

I felt calm walking among the trunks engulfed in flames, their color changing from angry red to soothing cool, blue-green as my feet dragged over dump earth with a wet squelch.

The iron tang. Blood. The earth was bleeding. I was bleeding. My hands covered in red. Then came the painful tug, a spasm in my chest, my heart drummed with an echo. Each beat with a responding one.

Another tug, and I watched a gold thread, spanning from my chest down the inside of my arm over to my left ring finger, glowing under my skin as it spring forth coiling, snaking over the ground getting lost in the flaming woods, in the darkness.

Tug.

The pain seared through the thread. My heartbeat quickened. The echo of the heartbeats doubled the pain, but it was all… strange. Foreign. I felt the pain, the anguish, but it wasn’t my own... It was distant, but it hurt me in a way I wasn’t sure how to explain.

Tug.

Again.

Tug.

Tug.

Tug! But this time it was more forceful, more... desperate, filled with immense… sorrow, A need to soothe it, to wipe it all away, flooded my senses and as if my body knew the way I pulled the thread tightly around my left palm till it was taut and tugged gently. The thread made a sound, the one similar to a wind chime swaying on a breeze, and I hummed to the melody of it. The pain diminished, dulled. Hmm?

I paused, relaxing my grip on the thread.

At my silence, a tug came from the other end, and with it, pain returned. Oh...

I sat down on the moist ground, crossing my legs, making myself comfortable. I closed my eyes, tilted my head, breathing in, then I tugged again and hummed with the chime. And I continued to do so till the pain completely vanished and with it the glowing thread.

Something cold and wet touched my cheek. I blinked, opening my eyes. Confusion clouded my mind as I found myself dressed in my bunny pajamas sitting on the ground in our backyard as it drizzled. It was night, though the stars were slowly fading from the sky, and the rain clouds obscured the moon.

I shivered as the wind swept through. How…? Baffled, I scrambled up to my feet, tucking my arms under my armpits to ward off the chill and swiftly walked back over to the patio, whose sliding door was wide open.

What the hell was I doing outside?! Did those meds I took made me that woozy? Oh... crap, was I sleepwalking again?!!

I used to do that a lot when I turned seven. It got pretty bad at the time Mina’s father died as I got shaken, thinking I could lose my grandma just as easily. Grandma used to find me in such random places, but somehow I usually ended outside and sat at the oak tree in our yard. Now that I think about it, that’s when our ‘guess what’s in this tea’ game started. After that... I don’t think I ever sleepwalked again. That was, until now, apparently. And that dream… So bizarre.

Stress… I think I was too overwhelmed with everything… Grandma’s death, coming to Blackwood… I don’t think I gave myself the time to process stuff properly. Today’s explosion at Mina being a sound testament to that.

I slid the doors closed behind me, and marched to the kitchen, pouring water into a kettle and reclining on the kitchen aisle, waiting for the water to boil. I steeped the tea bag and then just sat there, staring at my mug, watching steam twirl, letting the remnants of the day dissipate with it.

The rain clouds parted and pale moonlight spilled through the glass doors and I turned towards it.

A full moon… how beautiful.

***************************************

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