The wolf’s yellow eyes glared me with determination. Its back arched. Hackles stood on end. Sharp teeth gnashed at the air as it snarled a threat. My body froze despite my rapidly beating heart.
The beast took a slow, calculated circle around me, snapping and growling in my direction. I mimicked its movements, my feet moving with the wolf’s, as my eyes shot in different directions looking for anything that could be used as a weapon. The landscape of the Big Horn Mountains did not offer much other than a few downed branches or palm sized rocks—useless against the creature this size.
I bent down bit by bit and stretched my hand towards a limb, never taking my eyes off the wolf. Any protection was better than nothing. I gripped the branch tightly, its bark feeling slippery in my sweaty palm. A deep rumble sounded from the wolf again. My body trembled as I imagined those teeth sinking into my flesh. Its angry, vicious face was about four feet away, one leap and I was a goner.
My knuckles turned white and ached as I held the branch between us. If I wanted a chance at escaping, I had to stand back up. My legs shook, and my muscles screamed in protest as I inched up. Any sudden movement could trigger the wolf.
When I was straightened, I shuffled my feet backwards to gain ground between the wolf and me. However, with each step I took, the wolf inched forward baring its teeth. My breath became labored as adrenaline coursed through my body. My heart thudded in my chest hard. We stared into one another’s eyes—human and beast. The scenery disappeared as I kept my gaze pinned on the wolf. I kept dragging my feet backwards, not knowing what my escape route was. I just needed to get away. Crack. A branch snapped under my foot and everything went into slow motion. I had a split second to realize that the wolf’s taunting games were over and that I would have to run for my life. Like a bell in a boxing ring, the wolf charged and I screamed. I darted left as the wolf leapt through the air. A heavy crash behind me propelled my feet forward. Zigzagging through pine trees and decaying branches, they whipped across my face. The wolf’s growls taunted me—too close. There was no way I could out run it—we both knew that.
Whirling around another batch of trees, I skidded to a stop at the edge of a cliff. My eyes shot to the bottom—at least 400 feet down—and then to the wolf sauntering through the forest as if it knew I was out of space. A glint of victory flashed in its eerie eyes; our gazes locked. I felt like a gazelle staring down a lion. A million useless thoughts rushed through my mind. How long will it take them to find my devoured corpse? Will they even find me? I’m about to be eaten alive. Did I mail the electricity payment? I need a drink.
A howl echoed through the mountains and reverberated in my eardrums. My attacker perked its head to one side and listened. When it looked back, something changed in its eyes. The beast rushed forward, and out of instinct, I stepped back. My feet slid off the ledge and then I was slipping over the edge. My arms flailed as I tried to grab anything I could to keep from falling 400 feet. For a split second I was thankful I might die from the fall and not be eaten alive. But the wolf’s teeth sank into my forearm, nearly ripping it from my body. I screamed as it tugged back. The flesh pulled from my arm and its teeth scraped against the bone. I scrambled to use my other arm to heave myself back up. My top half flattened against the solid ground before I stopped, tears streaming down my cheeks. My adrenaline charged strength was waning.
The beast released my arm and went for my throat, its teeth digging into my jugular and cutting off my oxygen. Before it could snap my neck, a deep growl sounded next to us. The wolf released me and rolled on its back. I didn’t have time to think about how strange that was; the edges of my vision were blurry from tears and the site of my own blood dripping down my arm. Blood made me woozy, not an attribute that helped me right now.
“What have you done?” a man asked. His voice sounded muddled to my ears.
“I’m sorry.” The words formed as a whisper on my lips. I wasn’t sure who I was apologizing to—maybe to myself. I knew I shouldn’t have gone into the mountains alone. There had been multiple animal attacks the past month, I knew better than this.
“I’ll let you have first dibs,” a female said and was answered with a deep growl.
A giggle bubbled up my throat as I imagined the wolves talking—woozy hallucinations. Peeling an eyelid open, I stared at two na**d bodies. The woman had shoulder length brown hair that brushed her skin as the wind played with it. The man had wavy, honey-colored locks. Both of them stared at me, the woman with hunger and the man with remorse.
Blinking a few times, I searched for the wolf that attacked me and the other one that growled. When my eyes didn’t find the beasts, I wondered why the man and woman were na**d. Perhaps they’d been camping nearby and my cries of pain interrupted their lovemaking. I feared for their safety. Somewhere, two wolves lingered waiting for the opportunity to strike the couple.
My fingers found the puncture wounds on my neck and came away slick with blood. I was going to die. Staring up at the sky, I found a sense of peace and excitement that I’d see my parents again. They were up there, beyond the clouds, waiting for me by a set of pearly gates. Their smiling faces would welcome me.
“You know you want her as much as I do,” the woman said with anxiousness.
“You have to stop this,” the man said, his words angry and disgusted.
I didn’t waste any more thoughts on their strange conversation. Instead, I continued to stare at the sky until darkness clouded its beauty and my eyelids fell shut.
“Anna, we need more wood,” Elle called from the kitchen.
Three months had passed after I was attacked in the mountains. The fates had something other than death in store for me, something far more complex. Fairytales weren’t just stories. One little bite turned me into a creature who answered to the moon with deep, carnal needs that were harder to ignore than a streaker at a football game.
“On it,” I told my pack-mate. It was strange to be a member of a pack. But I was thankful to have a group of people who shared the same affinity for the moon and the same animalistic emotions. I didn’t remember a lot about the day I was attacked, and no one stepped forward to claim me as theirs. Rumors of a rogue werewolf spread, but I wasn’t so sure. One day my memory would return, and I’d know who sired me—then I’d kill them for what they’d done.
I pushed through the screen door and headed around the back of the house. Every society has a pecking order: children listen to their parents, employees to their bosses, and a person climbs the ladder through time and hard work. I was at the bottom of the order here and expected to prove myself every day. The jobs no one wanted landed on my shoulders, and if I mouthed off or refused, I was taught a lesson through embarrassment. Adam, the alpha of our pack, would transform into his wolf and clasp my jugular between his teeth in front of everyone. When I first heard about that, I laughed, sure that it wouldn’t be all that bad. It wasn’t until it happened to me that I understood how humiliating it was. There was something in my DNA now that took on the traits of a common wolf. In their world, being reprimanded by the alpha in front of the pack was mortifying. You’d think I would’ve learned my lesson after the first time, but since then, Adam has had his teeth around my throat four other times.
Curling my fingers around the axe handle, I split the wood for the fireplaces. Before I was infected with wolf saliva, there was no way I could’ve swung an axe, let alone split piles of wood all day long. Now, however, I was stronger than an ox. It was both a gift and a curse. A gift because, well, it was cool to be able to lift a car, and a curse because I couldn’t use exhaustion as an excuse to quit.
The Everwood pack—named after its alpha, Adam Everwood—consisted of twenty-five members. Their homes were sprinkled within the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. It was my job to chop and deliver wood to each of their homes. I spent two days a week chopping and delivering, and the other five doing equally belittling tasks. My life BW (before werewolf) had been simple. I worked as a teller at a small bank, lived in the home my parents left me when they died, and came home every night to my dog, Jitters. My life AW (after werewolf) meant selling my parents’ home, moving into the mountains with the Everwood pack, and handing my dog over to my neighbor. Jitters didn’t like me now that I was a canine.
My parents died three years ago in plane crash with a newly licensed pilot. I told them not to fly with him, but they didn’t listen. They craved life and adventure and that had gotten them killed. They were the only children in their families which meant no aunts or uncles for me. A few of their cousins contacted me after they died, but not enough to notice when I suddenly vanished from my old life. If they called, they’d find the number had been disconnected and the house sold. I didn’t have a ton of friends or a love life that consisted of more than a couple dates.
When I was happy with the amount of wood I chopped, I pulled my Ford F150 around back and loaded the bed. I didn’t own a truck BW, but Adam insisted I trade my small sedan for something useful. At the time, I thought he meant a truck would come in handy for driving the rough mountain roads. Had I known what he really meant, the truck would serve as my delivery vehicle, I would’ve dug in my heels and kept my car—and probably end up with his teeth around my throat again. Life was a bitch and because of my attack, so was I—literally.
Driving from house to house was the most peaceful part of my day. The summer breeze blew through the cab while Lady Antebellum filled the air. I belted American Honey, and the wind caressed my hand that hung out of the window. The sun glistened on the river, and the scent of flowers hung in the air. An eagle soared high above my truck looking for some critter to feast on. I loved summer and the life and cheer it brought. I intended to soak up every ray before winter reached the mountains.
I turned into the Anderson’s driveway and jumped out of the truck. Every home up here was made of logs. The only difference was the color of tin on their roofs. The Anderson’s chose navy and continued the theme in the color of their shutters and front door. I tightened my ponytail, unlatched the tailgate and piled the logs in a neat pile by their garage. Most of the pack held regular jobs and were gone during the day, but they were seasoned wolves and I was not. I had trouble keeping a lid on my inner beast, and Adam worried I’d snap and devour someone. The thought was enough to scare me, so I didn’t complain; even though, the alternative was being a work horse for the pack. I made six more stops before I went towards Adam’s home—I should’ve delivered to his house first, this was my little way of showing rebellion. I was in the middle of belting out another Lady Antebellum tune about the sun shining and clouds having silver linings, when I pulled into Adam’s driveway and choked on my words. Adam, all six-foot-three feet of him, was curled over the engine of his Silverado. The crunching of my tires drew his attention, our eyes locked before I looked away. It was considered a challenge to stare the alpha in the eyes for too long. I learned that lesson the way I learned all my lessons since becoming a wolf—the hard way.