It was nearing the hour of midnight and the pale light of the full moon shone brightly through the windows of a rickety, old white farmhouse. Outside, crickets sang their nightly lullaby and the breeze rustled the tall grass. The horses, goats, and pigs slept quietly in the barn secure and locked in their stalls and pins. It was no different from any other calm summer night in the town of Fort Benton, in northern Montana.
Johnathan and Mary Zanther were sitting in the living room with their one-year-old daughter Elizabeth, who was finally falling asleep next to the family dog. Nothing about the moon or the crackling fire suggested that this would be the last night the three of them would ever be together. The clock struck midnight and the silence was broken by the border collie. She sprung to her feet, waking Elizabeth, and started barking at the front door. Johnathan, being a man who trusted the instinct of his animals, grabbed the poker from beside the fireplace and placed himself in front of his wife and child. Nothing, however, could prepare him for what was racing towards the house.
With a crash that shook the entire building, an enormous brown and gray wolf burst through the screen door, breaking it off of its hinges. Johnathan yelled at Mary to take Elizabeth to the barn and ride to town. Within a short second, the wolf sprang at Johnathan, ripping open his neck and spraying the floor with blood. The collie tried to save her master but she stood no chance against the hungry wolf.
After the immediate shock wore off, Mary ran, carrying the baby out through the back door and to the barn. Elizabeth screamed as her mother opened the stall and mounted the fastest horse they had. They took off into the night, speeding through the strawberries as fast as they could, but they could not outrun the wolf. Out of nowhere, it leaped up and knocked Mary and Elizabeth off of the horse.
Mary dropped Elizabeth as the wolf bit her side. Screams filled the air as the woman was eaten alive, only four feet from the terrified infant. Within moments, Mary was gone down the animal’s throat and he rounded on the small girl. He jumped but the tips of his claws were the only thing that touched her. A flash of gold light and brilliant snowy white wings came out of nowhere and sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Zanther woke with a start.
Upon realizing that she was safe and she was having another nightmare, she got up and went for a walk through the woods outside the city walls alone to clear her head. She ambled along in a silk robe of white that fell to her bare feet and a crisp white camisole and denim shorts. She was on her way to anywhere but where she came from. Her footsteps were light and silent as she approached the lake. Danger usually resided near the water and there was no moon to light the ground so Elizabeth had to be extra cautious. When the lake came into view, Elizabeth stopped, listening for any noise that would tell her that she was not alone. However, all she could hear was the breeze and an owl hooting somewhere nearby. She stepped out into the clearing and looked around. She was completely alone and for that she was happy. Elizabeth pulled her long, curly brown hair away from her pale round face, knelt at the water’s edge and cupped her hands to drink.
She sat in the comfort of the silence on a lifted root and began to drift back to sleep. She felt as though she had just relaxed when she heard a twig break somewhere off to her left. Her heart raced as her body tensed and she anticipated a fight. She leaped to her feet with surprising speed and agility. She pulled a knife out of a sheath that she had strapped to her lower thigh and braced herself.
A slightly muscular young man who looked no older than seventeen came through the trees holding a small tin bucket. He saw Elizabeth and his russet eyes got round with awe and he dropped the bucket he was carrying.
“It’s okay I’m not going to hurt you,” he said with a slight southern accent. Elizabeth thought maybe he was originally from Texas or Georgia. “I’m Daniel Brogan.”
“Elizabeth Zanther,” she replied. Her voice was warm and soft but her tone was alert. “Were you following me?”
“No,” said Daniel. “I live a short distance from here to the south. I’m here for water for tomorrow.”
“Why not just come in the morning?” asked Elizabeth, lowering the dagger but she wasn’t ready to put it away yet.
“I couldn’t sleep,” said Daniel, running a hand through his dark hair. “I got a letter from my baby sister yesterday. She got accepted to a university in California after she finishes high school in June.”
“I would think that you would be happy,” said Elizabeth.
“I am,” said Daniel. “But Grace has never been away from home before. I worry about her.”
Elizabeth studied him with her ice blue eyes for a moment and then she put her knife away. She sat down on the tree root and motioned for Daniel to join her. He moved with caution so as not to scare her and sat down to her right.
“If I may ask,” said Elizabeth, “how long have you been imprisoned here?”
“Since I was twelve,” said Daniel. “I was catching fireflies in the backyard when I was attacked. How about you?”
“I was one,” said Elizabeth. “I don’t remember anything before I was brought here. I don’t remember my attack. I don’t even remember what my parents really looked like though I see them in nightmares.”
“I’m sorry,” said Daniel. His long face fell a little. “It must be hard to have no memories of a life outside these fences.”
“I would imagine that it’s easier to have no memories than to be ripped away from your family and still remember what they were like. They must miss you.”
“My sister Grace does,” said Daniel. “My father isn’t happy that his only son had to be locked away. He hasn’t written me a letter in years. Grace said he’s putting all of his energy into putting her through college. I guess my other sister ran away, which almost killed my mother. She was spoiled and selfish. I don’t think she’s going to make it that far in life.”
“Are all families like yours,” asked Elizabeth curiously.
“No. Some are better, some are worse, some stay together and some fall apart.” Daniel looked a little bitter for a moment. “Either way, having a family, no matter how dysfunctional, is still better than this place.”
“Well, as soon as I turn eighteen I’m getting out of here,” declared Elizabeth. “I don’t care if the Highers find out or not.”
“You know that escape from here is nearly impossible,” warned Daniel.
“Nearly. Not completely.”
“You seem like one of the lucky ones the Highers will let go,” said Daniel glumly.
“Come with me,” said Elizabeth. “We could escape together.”
Daniel smiled and his eyes lit up. “I would like that.”
They sat in silence for a few moments. Elizabeth could tell that Daniel wanted to say something so she asked him to say what he was thinking. He looked surprised at being asked so directly and he took a moment to respond.
“I think you’re beautiful and I wanted to know if you wanted to go out with me sometime. I know a spot that has a lot of deer.”
“I would love to see you again,” said Elizabeth. “Maybe right here when the moon is full.”
Daniel smiled. He got up and grabbed his bucket and filled it. When he looked up, Elizabeth had gone.