The birds in the forest were so skillful at singing that their song filled up all of space and time. Drops from tree branches fell like music while fresh air washed over Kali as if to say, “Welcome home.” Though the trees had been there for ages, they still seemed eager to share what was inside them with anyone who would listen, their secrets, making it a refuge…a tranquil getaway.
Of course, they would build their poison palace out here. Kali thought as she peered through the lens of her DSLR at the hideous and unnatural-looking building before her. The structure was constructed in a jagged manner, made to stand out awkwardly and disrupt the tranquility of the surrounding forest.
As Kali lowered her camera, she moved her jaw from side to side, teeth gritted tightly. She had been diligently tracking Pozoia Inc., the company responsible for the water poisoning that had wreaked havoc in her hometown. Her mother was one of the many sickened by their negligence and one of the few who’d lost their life because of it. Yet the business still flourished, their careless disregard for human life apparent in the continued livelihood of their operations. Even those who the tragedy hadn’t personally touched struggled to understand how something so vile could be accepted as a positive force in the small town’s economy.
But Kali knew the crooked truth. Money was too important to the people in power. The people who turned a blind eye to their crimes. The people who were complicit in her mother’s death. So she left her job as a reporter in the big city and moved back to her small hometown to break the story and hopefully get closure.
Kali lifted her camera, squinted through the viewfinder, and clicked the shutter. She moved around like a hunter, seeking the perfect angle and moments that would not be replicated. The sound of the shutter clicking filled the air, and Kali kept shooting until she had hundreds of photos that could tell a story too grand to be put down on paper.
“Hey!” The gruff shouts of the guards echoed through the trees, and she felt as if her heart had stopped. She took off running, her shoes slapping against the damp earth. She heard the thudding of boots behind her and knew that if she didn’t make it out, all would be lost. She bounded over fallen logs and stumbled in the slippery mud puddles, but the pursuers were gaining on her. Fear coursed through her body, propelling her forward. Her lungs ached, and her legs quivered with exertion, but she refused to give up.
Kali’s heart thumped in her chest as she sprinted through the murky forest. She’d been a reporter for a few years, and this was only the second time she’d been forced to abandon a stake-out on foot. Her camera and heavy bag of gear shifted uneasily on her shoulder as the wet leaves crunched beneath her sneakers. Suddenly, her foot caught on something. In an instant, her camera and belongings were thrown across the wet, leaf-strewn floor.
She pulled herself up, attempting to gather her things but fell to the ground again. Her breath hitched as a stinging pain radiated from her leg, and when she looked down, she saw a deep cut in her jeans, revealing a jagged wound as red blood spilled onto the ground. She reached for her camera with trembling hands but saw the guards coming closer. Their stern faces gave away the truth; she was caught.
“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” one of the guards snickered as he reached out and snatched the camera from the forest floor, removed her SD card, and tossed it onto the ground, shattering it into pieces. Meanwhile, his companion began to close in on Kali with an eerie silence. She backed away until her back was pressed against a moss-covered tree trunk. Her brown eyes widened with fear as she realized she was cornered—with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. The guard crept closer. She was wounded, drenched in sweat, and exhausted from running. Kali knew her fate was sealed.
As the guard advanced one more menacing step, a large brown wolf burst from the bushes beside her. The wolf huffed and snarled, baring its teeth at the guards and stepping forward to stand protectively in front of Kali. Its hackles rose, and its large paws pounded against the ground with each step as it put distance between them, ready to fight if needed.
Then a white wolf emerged, terrorizing the men with its presence, “Let’s go, the wolves will take care of her. Besides...” the man said, flashing the SD card, “We got what we wanted.”
Kali looked around in wonder as the two wolves converged around her, their eyes locked on hers like a pair of impenetrable shields. She felt terrified. Maybe they smelled my blood, she thought. However, instead of attacking her, they simply stood before her. Two mysterious figures, protective in every way, from their wild and truly majestic stares to bold and translucent stances. The brown wolf drew closer, hastening its pace with each step until its amber gaze found Kali’s brown eyes, and it was there she felt an immense sense of calm wash over her entire being. She felt her heart racing as if the wolf’s stare was taking away her breath. Its amber eyes burned into hers, and its strong and powerful frame seemed to take up more of the space between them. Suddenly, its head cocked to the side, and the wolf shifted into a handsome, tall man.
Kali gasped in awe, taking in the sight of his broad shoulders, chiseled chest, and toned abdomen. His olive skin shimmered in the dim light like glistening bronze, and his rippling muscles glided gracefully across his body. His amber eyes seemed to sparkle with their own inner light, holding her captive in their gaze. His presence was mesmerizing, and she felt she had been transported to another realm. She couldn’t help but feel a deep connection to him, and every inch of her body seemed to tingle with anticipation as he met her gaze and reached out his hand. His voice was like a caress as he asked, “Where are you hurt?” His gaze scanned her body hesitantly, looking for any sign of wounds or bruises.
Kali was in shock as blood trickled down her legs in a never-ending stream. She felt herself begin to faint, unable to keep her eyes open. Kali’s body slumped against the rotted tree stump before the white wolf morphed into a woman. Her hair was a rich chestnut brown, cascading over her bare shoulders, and her green eyes sparkled in the sunlight. She stared down at Kali, her arms crossed in front of her chest, “Why did you shift in front of this human? This outsider?” she asked accusingly.
He knelt beside Kali, his strong hands cupping her face tenderly. His fingertips brushed against the soft strands of her hair, pushing them away from her face. His gaze was unwavering and steady as he declared with absolute certainty, “She is not an outsider; she is my mate.”