By Kaitlyn Emery
I sit, enthroned in the branches of a mighty oak. Waiting…
Grandmother had warned us not to gather herbs in the woods. “Beware the wolf who hunts the forest for unsuspecting souls,” she would say.
That day, I forgot.
I should have known better, but I was drawn by a man more beautiful than anyone I’d ever seen.
He’s close now, his foul stench floating on the breeze. From my perch among the trees, hiding between the forest’s branches as they swallow me in their boney jaws, my gaze shifts toward the small clearing below. The fog clears, and the moonlight shines like a beacon upon a fair figure shrouded in a blood-red cloak.
Her cheeks hold the softness of youth. She picks flowers from the clearing with a steady hand, placing them in the basket beside her while humming a soft, lilting tune. My stomach clenches as I work to suppress memories.
I could never remember why I felt such a strong desire to follow him, nor what he said when I reached him. I could only recall pieces of what followed. Blood. Lots of blood. Searing pain as teeth sank deep into my face. The screams of my grandmother as she ran at the demon with an axe raised above her head.
I blacked out then, venom coursing through my body. When I woke up, my sister was carrying me through the dark forest, my grandmother’s crimson cloak draped over me. Grandmother’s axe swung at my sister’s waist.
My survival was a miracle, and the Bite was a gift my attacker never meant to give. Heightened senses. Vision that could pierce the dark even when there was no moon to illuminate my way. Hearing that could detect the slightest breath. And smell…
I could smell that vile half wolf from a mile away.
I focus on the whispering trees and the approaching devil’s padded steps instead. Innocence will not be the victim tonight.
In the distance, I see him approach. His steel-grey and pupil-slit eyes greedily drink in the sight before him. The moon lights the way for the young woman as she picks up her basket and wanders toward me. The wolf prowls through the shadows with teeth bared.
When he reaches the edge of the darkness, he grows taller; his back straightens, and fur falls away to reveal the face of a man as he steps into the light.
His red-hooded target continues to hum her tune, never faltering. She seems blissfully unaware of the stalking predator. Then the wolfman calls to her, his voice alluring as heavy perfume. She turns toward him. Her lips curl into a dreamy smile, and her voice, steady and sure, beckons him to approach.
I take a deep breath and almost gag on the violent stench of my target. Slowly, I pull a silver-tipped arrow from the quiver on my back. I notch it into place and draw the string, brushing the feather alongside my scarred cheek.
I fix my gaze on my prey and remember.
Grandmother had perished at the hands of the wolf. The wolf perished at the hands of my sister. I survived because of Marian. She helped me to endure the changes. We knew once I harnessed these newfound abilities, I would never be helpless again. And, just maybe, this gift could save others from becoming prey.
“My, what big teeth you have.” The girl’s voice in the clearing below is controlled.
“All the better to devour you with, my sweet!”
I’ve heard this line a half dozen times. Werewolves are rarely original.
The attacker lunges, bloodthirst in his eyes, but his mark is ready. She throws back her cloak, and the moon’s rays catch on the vicious blade of my Grandmother’s axe. I release arrows, my aim true as they pierce the monster’s back, causing his back to arch as he stumbles forward.
My sister does not falter. She swings her axe in a silver arc, lopping the beast’s head from his shoulders and breaking the spell that transformed him. The wolf’s head tumbles to the forest floor with a satisfying splat.
Marian throws back her crimson hood and howls at the moon in open defiance, daring any other wolf to challenge her. The shadows seem to shrink around her. She steps over her fallen foe and begins to hum again, the wolf’s blood dripping from her axe as she walks toward me.
I drop out of the trees to meet her, my heart racing. I embrace my sister and fill my heightened senses with the scent of her. I smell no fear when she holds me, and my pulse slows to match the steady beat of her heart.
“It will be dangerous, but I promise no wolf can stand against us if we’re together.”
Fearless Marian. Her faith in me changed me from prey to avenger…
Every werewolf hunt, I am afraid I might lose her, but Marian never wavers. The day of the Bite, Marian told me I would never be hunted again. Instead, we hunt.