Outside the plane window was a home that had become foreign and distant to me. The dawn sky was shades of navy blue and teal rising over the black silhouettes of evergreens. Below us was a small city that was just awakening. Watertown, Maine.
The wilderness was dense and rife with wildlife in this part of the world. Nature pressed in on cities that had died nearly a century ago. It seemed fitting that there was a clan of Faoladh, Irish werewolves, hiding in its hills.
The plane shuddered as it made its descent. I grimaced as the small cabin made the pressure in my ears bulge to a painful degree. The woman beside me reached out and laid a compassionate hand on my arm. I gave her a queasy smile, not thinking as my lips split to show teeth. Her hand jerked back and she stared at me for a long moment.
Sometimes I forgot what I looked like. My canines were sharper than they had once been. My eyes were an inhuman blend of yellowish gold and black. I hadn’t always been this way. I sighed and looked back towards the window. I’m coming home, Wolf’s Head. A heavy weight settled in my stomach.
I grabbed the duffel bag that sat between my feet, the only luggage that I brought for this trip. I didn’t plan on staying in town for very long. There was nothing that could make me stay in Wolf’s Head, I thought as I trudged single file off the small plane. The airport was a small, single room building. It was a place to pick up your luggage and huddle against the harsh cold of November as you waited for your taxi.
The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I spun my head, staring at the woods as if something would jump out. There was nothing in these woods, I told myself. Nothing to be afraid of. I shook my head, trying to fight off the feeling.
Across the parking lot, I spied a familiar body leaning against a green sedan. Aunt Magda pushed away from her car, wearing a gray jacket over her bright hoodie. I let her pull me into a hug. She smelled of coffee, herbs, and wood smoke. I melted into her, feeling safe for a glorious moment. I told myself that it had only been Aunt Magda watching me, but the hair still stood up on the back of my neck.
“I missed you so much!” Aunt Magda whispered into my hair.
I pulled back, taking her in. She was the younger sister of my late father. There was a new streak of gray running from her temple down the length of her dark hair that hadn’t been there seven years ago. Soft lines had begun to set in her face, lines that betrayed her age. She didn’t have the werewolf gene. Her years weren’t being reset, they were finite.
I gave her a half smile, genuinely happy to see her. “Can we get in the car?”
The feeling of being watched wouldn’t leave me and the wolf inside me was beginning to panic. My human body kept her caged while her instincts told her to run and she was inches away from fight or flight. We needed to leave. Now.
Aunt Magda’s smile faltered but she nodded and punched a button on her key fob. The car doors made a clicking noise and I slid myself into the passenger seat. The inside of the car smelled like baked goods and steaming coffee. There were two thermoses in the console cup-holders and a small paper bag. Aunt Magda slid into the driver’s seat and caught me eyeing the paper bag.
I remembered my Aunt’s cooking. I knew that it could only be pure satisfaction, bliss, and euphoria in a paper bag. I was excited to figure out what was hidden behind this brown paper.
“The blue thermos is for you too,” she said. “I thought you could use a treat after flying all night from San Francisco.”
Hidden inside the bag was a pile of mini-muffins, each topped with cinnamon crumb. I stuck my nose into the bag and inhaled. Pumpkin. Mini Pumpkin Muffins. It made me ecstatic that everything came up pumpkin in the fall months.
“I’m so happy that you’re home,” my Aunt went on.
“I’m not staying.” I protested through a mouthful of muffin.
No way in hell was I staying here. Home was in California. Not here.
Aunt Magda’s lips twisted and her shoulders slumped just a little bit. I didn’t mean to be a buzz kill, but I had my reasons for staying away from Wolf’s Head. The only reason that I returned was to attend my Grandfather’s funeral after my mother’s stern insistence. I jammed another mini muffin into my mouth, slouching in my seat.
“A lot has changed since you left,” she continued. “There’s no official Alpha right now.”
My grandfather had been the Clan’s Alpha, the head of the household so to speak. For a short while my father had carried that torch. My grandfather had been forced to pick it back up when his son died. I shoved those memories to the back of my mind.
It’s not my problem, I wanted to tell her. The Clan hasn’t been my problem for a long time. I swallowed down another muffin and took a swig of the chocolate laden coffee. Everything was better with chocolate. It eased the panic that I had felt earlier and I felt my wolf ease away from the surface.
Silence began to permeate the car. I could hear the squeal of the fan belts in the heater and the hum of the old engine. Soon enough, we passed an oval wooden sign, painted in tones of brown and green, that read:
Welcome to Wolf’s Head.
The dawn light was just settling over the town, glowing golden. That bright light made it seem like a ghost town. Lichen, grayish green, had settled over the wolf statues that flanked the entrance to town hall. It covered their faces and dulled their teeth. My lips twisted as I realized they looked more like gargoyles than wolves.
All that was left of the flowers that had surrounded the building were skeletal husks. It was dreary and seemed bereft of hope. I remembered my Grandmother telling me that those same flowers had once bloomed all year round. They braved the cold winters of Maine, yielding fluffy blossoms in white and deep violet. They had been a gift from the Goddess that was thought to have created us. Turning my head, I caught a glimpse of the old standing stone that used to serve as an altar to that goddess. There were no flowers or other offerings on it anymore. It was just a stone, a pagan symbol out of place in the tourist town full of cafes and antique shops.
We passed the old playground, a wooden castle that circled a towering maple tree. There were no fiery leaves scattered about and the wood looked damp and black. November had settled in and taken a hold onto Wolf’s Head.
Every bit of magic was gone, I thought. There was no Goddess for these wolves, only the horrible human in all of us. I sank into my seat and closed my eyes against the world outside of the car. I wanted nothing more to do with this sad sight.
The story was told to all of us as children, the story of a mother who wished to protect her family and her home. Weak and feeble in the minds of those that would hurt her, she stumbled out beneath the moon and pleaded with the wild gods to give her the strength. She became the first of us, the first Faoladh. She could slip between the skin of a woman and the skin of a wolf because of the Goddess’s admiration and love.
But it felt like a tall tale told to children. Had there ever been a Goddess for the horrible creatures that we were?
The next thing I knew, someone was shaking me, calling my name. I cracked open my eyes, fighting against the sleep that held them shut. Panic gripped me. Where was I? Something smelled wrong. My hand clawed at the car door. Distantly I could hear someone shouting. I needed to get out. I needed to escape.
“Diana! Calm down!” Fingers touched me and I leapt into action.
With my other hand I lashed out. My fingers curled into claws and a growl was on my lips. Through the blood thundering in my ears, I heard someone scream in pain.
The smell of pumpkin and coffee brought me back to my senses. I was in Magda’s car. I was in Wolf’s Head for my grandfather’s funeral. The rush of adrenaline made the food in my stomach turn as it receded.
Aunt Magda clutched her arm to her chest, blood seeping between her fingers. There was a look of mistrust in her eyes that cut me to the core. I opened my mouth to apologize, but shame trapped the words in my throat. She just turned away, throwing her door open and leaving. I had to give her props for not slamming it.
Left alone in the car, I had a moment to get a hold of myself and my surroundings. The car sat in front of an old white farm house, squares of colored glass lining the windows of the porch and the door sitting wide open. A wind chime made from bent forks and spoons swayed in the wind as Aunt Magda marched up the steps. There were other cars in the driveway. There was a clunky, black, two door Hyundai and a sleek, white Lexus. I grabbed my bag and reluctantly scooted out of the car. The green Ford was a pop of color amongst the other cars.
I took in a deep breath, scenting the air. Wet bark and rotting leaves came on the strongest, comforting my wolf with the idea of home. Beneath those smells I could catch the sweet scent of baked goods, cookies I hoped. This isn’t home, I reminded her. We couldn’t stay here, at least not alive.
No. He will hunt us. He will kill us.
Then another smell hit me hard. It was sweet and coppery, potent enough to make my head spin. It suddenly smelled as if I was covered in blood. I grabbed for my arms and wiped at my legs, trying to brush off something that wasn’t there. My breath came fast and hard to keep up with. My wolf raised her head to scent it, a new gleam in her eye. She growled and it rumbled in my ribcage. I could feel my teeth pressing against my lips as they grew long and sharp. I turned away from my Aunt as the fear rode me. I was bound to lose control.
My bag fell from my hand. I spun and took off before it could hit the ground. Behind me I could hear my Aunt yelling, calling my name. I didn’t think twice about it. I didn’t question where my feet were leading me. I simply ran. I ran from the smell of fresh blood, towards control.
Not safe, she agreed with me. We aren’t safe here.
My chest burned with the cold November air. Caffeine raced through my system and my stomach churned the coffee. It was a long time before I felt safe enough to slow down. I found myself standing under a giant maple tree that was dripping scarlet leaves into the air. They fell all around me. I dropped myself to the base of its trunk, my heart trying to beat its way out of my chest.
“No!” I screamed into the dark woods. “I won’t let you!”
Inside of me, I felt her lower her head. The smell was gone and the fear was ebbing. The terror that raced through me made her lash out like a feral animal. She was beyond reason, only an animal ready to defend herself. I didn’t want to be that monster. I didn’t want to senselessly lash out at anyone.
I slammed my fist into the ground. It left a deep little half moon in the dirt. They wouldn’t make me into a victim once more and I definitely would not become a monster. I could feel my wolf raise her head again. She was scared. She felt cornered, tricked. We had been safe back in Monterey. Other wolves knew not to bother us anymore. Here the Clan could hurt us again. The Clan always hurt us.
She pushed forth and I felt my human body begin to slip away. It never hurt. Yet, it was an odd sensation to feel your spine bed and pop, to feel your ribcage realign, and your legs reshape. I pressed my cheek into the dirt as my tail stretched and my fingers curled into paws. We melded together, reason and instinct.
It felt natural.
As a wolf, I lifted my nose to the air. I could smell the exhaust of cars on a nearby highway. I could smell the slow burn of someone’s charcoal grill. I could smell the possum rotting amongst the piles of leaves. I tested my wolf feet, stretching and digging my claws into the earth. With my clothes hanging from my muzzle, I ran once more.
Claws. Teeth. Running. We are safer.
No longer was I in California, I thought as I picked my way through the path of fallen leaves and dirt. All around me were thick trunked trees, even a few with tin buckets still attached to draw sap for maple syrup in the springtime.
Red leaves clung to the trees above me, only found on maple trees like the ones so plentiful here in the east. The setting sunlight dappled the forest floor with golden shapes that danced across stones and dirt.
This had been my home once. This was the home of the Faoladh. Like the werewolf of popular culture, we could take the form of a wolf whenever we pleased. When the full moon rose, we fell to our knees and let the change take us, our supposed Goddess’s forced offering. But, unlike the werewolf of popular culture, we were supposed to be protectors.
Sure, we hunted. Small game like rabbits and gophers when running on your own was nice and even hunting deer in a pack had a kind of satisfaction to it. We always ate our kill, never hunting simply for blood lust. We hunted to learn how to fight, how to keep our loved ones safe.
Or, at least that’s what we had been once upon a time. I found myself at the edge of Magda’s yard, feet rooted to the ground for a moment.
There was no blood in the air this time. My wolf stirred only a little, just enough to peek. There had been enough blood to kill a Faoladh earlier, I thought. My wolf growled at the thought, sitting up straighter. There should have been a residual smell in the air, no matter how well it could have been cleaned up. You can’t hide something like that from a wolf.
I pushed the thought aside, trying not to worry about whatever had been going on here. This wasn’t my problem. I was going to leave again in a few days.
The back door of the farmhouse was left open for me. Barefoot, I padded into the kitchen in the dark. All the cars had left and the only person in the house was my Aunt. The air was full of lingering smells, familiar and not all at once. I’d been gone too long to recognize anyone by their smell. But, there no smell of blood in the living room or the kitchen. There wasn’t even a trace of cleanser.
Quietly climbing the stairs, I found my bag sitting outside a spare bedroom. I was thinking that this must be my room when I heard the floor creak. I froze halfway to my bag.
A shape appeared in the darkness of the hallway. It was feminine and there was the smell of shower products in the air.
“What happened to you earlier?” Aunt Magda’s voice asked. There was white gauze wrapped around her arm. How badly had I hurt her? Had that been what I smelled? How could a scratch have set me off like that?
I swallowed hard, unsure how to answer her. I had panicked. No one in Wolf’s Head, not even my Aunt, needed to know how broken I was. She didn’t need to know that I ran away to keep from losing control.
“Not talking to me now?” a new bitterness tainted her voice.
I opened my mouth to toss a quick lie, but she spun around. She disappeared into her bedroom and guilt sat heavy in my chest. I glanced at the red numbers of the alarm clock in my spare room. It was almost four in the morning. She would be getting ready to head to Balefire, her restaurant. Shuffling forward, I snagged my bag and shut the door behind me.
Four days. That’s all I had to make it though. Four days in Wolf’s Head. Could I survive that if my father’s killer was still here?
I crashed into the twin mattress and let sleep claim me.
Two gold eyes peered over piles of sheets. She could still feel her legs humming from running in her dreams. The wolf stretched her limbs and yawned wide. Tongue lolling out of the side of her mouth, she caught her reflection in the full length mirror.
Goddamn it. Let me out.
Claws and teeth, we are safe. She growled low as she settled back into the piles of sheets. She could fight. She could run. Claws and teeth were much safer than fists and words.
Damn it. I pushed my way through the wolf’s protests, eager to reclaim my own body. Gathering every ounce of my will, I pushed from the inside out. My legs stretched into long limbs as my spine realigned itself and my skull shrunk back.
Our consciousnesses switched places, the last whimper my wolf made fading from reality and into my own mind. I ran a hand through my hair, pulling it in my fist as tears began to well in my eyes. This was going to be a hard four days if this is how every morning would begin.
I had to take several deep breaths before I could put my feet on the floor. I had no real desire to get out of bed, to go out into the world of Wolf’s Head, but if I didn’t prove strong then my wolf would keep pulling stunts like that. I had to show her that I was capable of surviving and that began with day to day functioning.
Instead of cowering in bed like I really wanted to, I pulled a pair of running pants and a sports bra from my bag. I grabbed the Avenged Sevenfold t-shirt from the day before off the floor and threw it on as I left the room.
Outside was chill, but not so cold that my breath was caught in the air. Give it a couple of weeks, I thought. Then again, I wouldn’t have to. My sneakers crunched on the gravel of the driveway as I began. Heading in no particular direction, I ran. The pounding of my feet against the earth was rhythmic; the burn in my chest was masochistic pleasure.
Lost in a blur of my own thoughts, it was quite a while before I realized that my feet had led me back into town. I ran past old shops that I had once known and the playground that I had conquered as a child. I ran until I came to the doors of Balefire.
The doors were heavy, dark wood, decorated with two stained glass windows that held warm reds and oranges. The building itself was a towering and ancient brick building that had vines climbing its facade, slowly tearing it apart. On the sidewalk was a chalkboard sign advertising handmade French toast donuts and granola cakes with fresh fruit. My stomach growled in protest at me, willing me inside.
I pulled on the curved wrought iron handle, throwing my weight into it. A burst of warm air greeted me, as did a soft glow that I had long ago forgotten about. Inside the restaurant, there was a kind of warmth that would wrap around you much like a hug. It sat down with you at your table and encouraged you to drink a little more wine, to smile a little wider. I liked to believe that warmth came from the glow of the quartz veins that ran through the bricks of the pizza oven. It seemed completely illogical, the bricks of natural and rough stone yet fitting together as if they had been created for this very purpose. The fire inside the oven sent light through the thick veins of quartz that dance with shades of jade and amethyst. We called it the Balefire, never dying and the heart of our town. The heart of our Clan and my Aunt’s child, her only true love.
Mesmerized, I was pulled in. How could I have forgotten about something as great as this?
I walked past the empty hostess podium, heading for the bar that sat on the far wall, close to the Balefire oven. My legs thrummed with the run as I pulled myself atop a barstool. The available space on the back counter held an espresso machine and numerous glass bottles of alcohol. The Balefire was open twenty four hours a day, always open, always a place of peace and sanctuary to the Clan. Of course they served breakfast and happy hour.
I couldn’t help but smile at the absurdity of this place, my Aunt’s one and only child. Through the long windows that flanked the glowing oven, Aunt Magda caught sight of me at the bar. She gave me a tight lipped smile and said that she would bring me something.
“Can I help you?” a heavy set auburn haired waitress asked from behind the counter. The neck of her Balefire t-shirt had been cut open to show off the colorful tattoos that sprawled across her chest. More danced down her right arm, flowers that looked vibrant and alive.
I shook my head. “I think I may have already ordered. But could I get a coffee in the meantime?”
She nodded and went about her job. She had the kind of hourglass figure that was heavy bottomed but she still worked skinny jeans. Auburn curls were trying to escape the sloppy bun they had been wrangled into and there were flour hand prints smeared across her jeans.
She set the coffee before me, adding a small milk carton shaped glass of creamer beside it. She gave me a friendly smile that said she had no clue who I was. I beamed back at her.
“My name is Diana,” I offered.
“Sabrina,” she motioned to her name tag before returning to her job.
As I waited for whatever Aunt Magda was going to bring me, I sipped my coffee and looked out into the restaurant. Wooden support beams towered over the patrons, slanting into the peak of the ceiling. Small and narrow stained glass windows glowed from the morning light. As I lowered my eyes into the crowd, I realized that people were sneaking glances at me, whispers humming in the restaurant.
A few friendly smiles were offered, telling me who still trusted me. Many others just cast quick glances in my direction, lips twisted or quickly spewing some tale I couldn’t hear. I wondered how they could be such harsh with their judgment. Had they heard the true story?
“Just for you,” Aunt Magda pulled my attention away from the crowd. She set a plate before me. Eggs scrambled with chorizo and cream cheese was flanked by long points of toast that, from the shape of them, came from homemade bread. My stomach growled as the smell tickled my nose.
“Thank you,” I dug into it just as I heard the door open.
Aunt Magda glanced up, her face turning somber. Forehead crinkled in confusion and a mouthful of food, I turned to see whatever had changed Aunt Magda’s mood. I should have swallowed first, because what I saw almost made me choke. Standing beside my ethereal Grandmother was another ghost from my past.
Darren Blackford was a good foot taller than when I had seen him last. His dark mahogany hair flopped over his eyes, as if it had once been styled and after running his hands through it a few too many times it had given up. His shoulders were wide and his lean waist led into an ass that filled his dark jeans well.
This was one person I had hoped I wouldn’t see.
I turned back to my food, eager to finish it and run. Why was he with my grandmother? Was this the man that my family wanted to follow in my Grandfather’s footsteps? I couldn’t tell if he made my heart race in fear or lust. He had grown up well, grown into a man while I’d been gone. No, I couldn’t be attracted to Darren Blackford. The entire notion was simply ridiculous. I shoved the yellow egg scramble around my plate, picking out the chunks of meat smeared with cream cheese.
Memories that had been long locked away were breaking free. I gripped my fork in my hand, knuckles turning white as I tried to breathe. Darren had helped the man who killed my father. He had also been my best friend at the time. Son of a killer, friend of the victim. That day was coming back, vivid as when it had happened. Darren held me back while I listened to my father die.
I shoved the memory down deep and followed it up with a bite of homemade bread.
Yet, now my Grandmother was accompanying him. She stood tall and proud, wearing nothing but white. Her salt and pepper curls were neatly pinned back and she smoothed the lapels of her white jacket as she sat across from Darren. She looked as if life were a business meeting. Maybe it was, I thought as I watched her converse with the spawn of the man who had killed her only son.
Feeling my breakfast form a heavy lump in my stomach, I pushed myself off the barstool. I swallowed down some water before turning to leave. His head shot up, hazel eyes immediately finding me. I looked forward, unable to acknowledge him. I couldn’t deal with Darren Blackford just yet.
Outside I pushed myself into a jog, feeling my stomach churn. I forced myself past the nausea. It was only nerves, I told myself. That’s all it was.
“Don’t let her out of your sight again,” Chris jabbed a finger at me before leaving the store.
I had escaped, run as far I could. The boys had caught up with me though. Christopher had tackled me to the ground, wrangling my flailing limbs. Together they had dragged me into the general store.
Darren and I sat at the general store’s ice-cream counter. There was a throbbing in the side of my head. Mrs. Kapinski looked between us with suspicion clear on her face. We lied and told her that the blossoming bruise was a result of too much rough housing. No, his father hadn’t beaten me. He hadn’t killed my dad.
She set a tall stainless steel cup before me, frost already crawling up its surface. Inside was creamy chocolate malt milkshake. It tasted bland in my mouth so it sat on the counter, slowly melting. Darren tried to move closer, grabbing the spoon floating in the milkshake. I spun my stool away from him.
I could smell the fear and blood that clung to my clothes. I remembered my father’s body lying on the floor of his own home, of my home. Jonathan had caught me; he had hit me. Everything after that was missing. I laid my head down on the cool counter top to ease the throb. His blow had meant to kill me. I knew that his every intention had been to kill me.
Why was I still alive? I knew I shouldn’t be in one piece either.
“Are you alright, sweetie?” Mrs. Kapinski asked when she saw my untouched milkshake.”This isn’t like you.”
I turned to look at Darren. He reached out to me, but his hand fell when I flinched.
“I’m going to call your mother,” Mrs. Kapinski disappeared.
The bell over the door rang. I turned to find Christopher hot on the heels of his father. Jonathan. My body tensed. I didn’t know how much fight I had left in me.
He turned on me. There was a wild gleam in his eyes. The only evidence of what he’d done was a spray of blood across his left cheek. Darren shot out of his seat, coming around me. He turned his face up to his father in challenge.
You held me down, chased me, and now you want to defend me? No way.
I stood up, shoving Darren as hard as I could. He tumbled forward into his father. I could hear the roar of an engine coming up the road outside and Mrs. Kapinski returned from the storeroom. Her eyes were wide with fear and worry. Even as a human, she could feel the tension that was building in the room.
Suddenly, the general store doors burst open. My mother came in, her own storm of anger and human dominance. She was a slight figure, but she commanded obedience. How she had arrived so quickly, I would never know. She seemed to know exactly what had happened, a sadness already weighing down her eyes.
“Time to leave, Diana.”
I ran into her arms, pushing both of us out of the doors and towards her car before anyone could react.
Sirens pulled me back to the present, my feet still beating the ground. White cars with blue and red lights spinning raced past me. My breath coming fast, I picked up my pace. The cars slowed down as they rounded the corner. A white Lexus brought up the rear of the entourage. I knew what was just past that bend and a shot of adrenaline rocketed through me.
The General Store was up ahead, stationed at the intersection that connected the main road to the one that led to the family Manor: the Kapinski’s General Store. I pushed myself hard, my lungs burning with the effort. By the time I arrived in the dusty parking lot, the sirens had been shut off, but the lights still spun in dizzying patterns. They bounced off the windows of the little shop, is weathered wood facade lovingly painted while I had been gone. But something was obviously wrong.
I could smell dust and blood in the air. My heart skipped a beat. One day back in town and someone had died. The smell was far too strong for someone to just be hurt. There was so much blood in the air. I waited for the panic to wash over me like it had yesterday, but nothing happened. Filing it away to question later, I raced over to the storefront, past black garbed policemen that called out for me to stop. I wanted to be wrong. I wanted it to be deer blood that I was smelling, but I knew that it wasn’t.
“Diana?” someone called out.
I slowed down, trying to pinpoint the voice. The scent on the wind sent a flare of panic through my mind. My wolf moved inside of me, the same thoughts flowing through our mind. I shut her out as tight as I could. I couldn’t lose it now. I clenched my jaw and found Christopher Blackford leaving the general store. Two Blackfords in one day?
He was taller and leaner than his younger brother. The years had stolen his air of control and dark circles were blooming under his eyes. He had always been under his father’s thumb, and the toll was starting to show.
Before I could even open my mouth, he growled at me.
“What is the point of you even being here after all we did?” He said through clenched teeth. “Get the fuck out of Wolf’s Head. You don’t belong here anymore.”
Fuck you, Blackford asshole.
I turned away from him, the heat of anger burning across my skin. My feet hit the pavement in a steady rhythm that sent jolts up my spine. I smelled blood again. Closer and closer I ran; it got stronger and stronger. It was everywhere. I pushed past the uniformed cops, rushing into the general store.
I came to a grinding halt when I saw what lay before me. Rusty red was smeared throughout the store. It covered the black and white checkered floor in a mess of hand prints and footprints. There was too much blood for someone to still be alive.
A hunt is over, my wolf said. She sat back on her haunches, alert but not yet afraid. I trusted her. I let myself relax a little as I pressed forward.
My grandmother and Darren stood at the other end of the store. They looked up when the door slammed behind me. The aisle shelves gave me a choppy view of the body that lay on the floor before them. Threads of a knit sweater were glued to the floor in blood. There was a thick brown arm, fingers pointing to the aspirin. It lay too far away from the old work boot that I could see past the potato chips.
My stomach churned, again threatening to throw up what little I did eat.
My grandmother stood; her spine as straight as ever. There wasn’t a speck of blood on her white pant legs. I shook my head at her, unable to speak yet.
“Listen to Petra,” Darren added.
A cop grabbed my upper arm, but I jerked it away from him.
“You think I can’t handle this?” Even as I said it, my wolf snapped forward and my stomach rolled.
My grandmother sighed. “We know you can handle this. I don’t want you seeing it. So, get out.” She pointed a long finger at the door behind me.
Darren watched me, his eyes shadowed and a sad twist to his lips. Who would want to see this, they seemed to say. I took in a deep breath, trying to get beyond all the blood. I could smell spoiled milk products, pine-sol, and something naggingly familiar.
I crept forward, careful to keep my sneakers from the blood stains on the floor. The messy black curls and threads of sweater yarn that splayed over the floor let me know just who was lying there. I knew exactly who was lying there in pieces.
Mrs. Kapinski. My feet pedaled backwards. They pulled me away.
It isn’t safe here. It never was. Turn away. Run. I could see her white canines gleaming in my head as she growled.
I didn’t lock the door when I left for my run this morning. It hadn’t even occurred to me. Now, as I climbed the steps, smelling of blood and fear, I saw that the door was slightly ajar and realized that I had truly misjudged the gravity of Wolf Head’s situation. With a death grip on the door knob, I took scent of the air inside. I caught onion skins, coffee grinds, and a smell that had haunted my nightmares for eight years.
My blood froze, but my feet kept pushing me forward.
Was I insane?
Maybe I was. My sneakers squeaked on the hardwood floor and I cursed under my breath. There was no sneaking up on him anyway and if it came to a tussle, I wanted traction on this floor. I would not get caught off guard by this man. If I did, then it would surely mean the end of my days.
“Stop wandering and come join me in the kitchen for a cup of tea, Diana,” Jonathan’s voice called into the house.
Three Blackfords in one day. I guess I was just lucky like that.
Curse words hung on my lips, but I kept them to myself. Reluctantly, I stepped into the kitchen, arms crossed over my chest and a false defiance put on my face. Inside, I was dying to turn and run. My wolf was growling and scratching to escape. I couldn’t let her control me like she did the day before. My head began to throb.
On the small table were Aunt Magda’s blue kettle and two mugs. In the kitchen sink was a mess of rags smeared with streaks of rusty red. Blood. I couldn’t smell it over the scents that clung to me from the General Store.
Jonathan sat with one knee over the other as he toyed with the string on his teabag. He turned his face up to mine, a big smile on his face. I wasn’t fooled at all. His eyes were as cold as they always had been.
“Just thought that I would come to welcome you back to Wolf’s Head,” Jonathan said.
He nodded to the chair across from him at the table, but I stayed standing. He shrugged and sipped his tea.
“It is so nice of you to take time out of your life on the west coast to visit your family, Diana. How long will this visit last?”
“If you’re worried that I’m staying here then let me take a big load off your shoulders. I have a return ticket to Sacramento in two days.”
He nodded his approval, serene smile never quavering. I watched his hand wrap around his mug, manicured nails hiding a line of dark grime. He’d missed a little bit. I took an involuntary step back, my hips hitting the counter. Taking in another deep breath I could smell his joy and ebbing excitement beneath all the blood.
“Helen,” I whispered, raising my eyes to meet his.
His eyes narrowed but he didn’t say anything. He had killed Helen Kapinski. But why?
Empty air hung between us. He turned pale blue eyes upon me, his charismatic smile just a tad too wide. Seeing him there, that air of confidence just barely hiding the fact that he was insane. He was just another person, another werewolf.
It had been a long time since I had last seen Jonathan. I had run into Clan-less wolves before, creatures determined to mate or kill. And I had survived. Jonathan wasn’t much different. I smiled, letting myself lean against the counter and cross my ankles. Something dark flitted through Jonathan’s eyes.
“You’re just another person.”
His smile disappeared. Launching himself from the chair, he was suddenly in front of me. I gripped the counter behind me, hard.
“Maybe you’re just another monster,” he growled, baring his teeth inches from my face.
“Get out,” I growled at him. My wolf’s hackles were rising and I could feel her rage beginning to burn beneath my cold fear.
He raised his hands in surrender and the smile slipped back onto his face. My heart was pounding in my chest. Was he going to try finishing what he started eight years ago? I would fight back this time, but I was sure that I wouldn’t survive. Images of the General Store flashed through my mind. I would become chunks scattered around Aunt’s Magda’s farmhouse? I looked into that smiling face and saw the spark of something crazed in his eyes.
“Just remember where you kept that return ticket,” Jonathan said, throwing in a wink, before he spun on his heel. His jaunty step took him out of the kitchen as if we’d had a friendly conversation over tea.
I didn’t relax until I heard the click of the front door closing behind him. My knees began to shake and I let myself fall to the linoleum. Bile rose in the back of my throat and I struggled to keep it down. I never should have come back.