The months had grown shorter—I barely noticed they were gone. I’d done nothing, just lied in bed and drowned my sorrow with sleep, where I saw my parents. Where I could touch them, talk to them, stare at them. Where I could just be with them.
Aunt Lyd had tried to get me to come out of my room. To do something active. I ignored her a lot now. She’d grown so desperate she’d even sent Cam, who was now back at school. I’d only talked to him a few times... and he hadn’t been rude, per say, but he hadn’t been the Cam I needed to lean on either.
The only thing that had actually kept me going at all, the only thing to keep me waking up instead of drifting off to my parents forever, was Andro. I’d thought about going to see him, but I couldn’t. When I tried, my body fell weak, my head lightened too much, my muscles ached, and I wanted to sleep—to go back to my parents again.
I’d also started having odd dreams, involving the white wolf from outside the kitchen window, and the statues from the Statue Garden. In my dreams, they moved, like the marble and cement they were made out of was cloth, easy to move, even making irritating sounds when they rubbed together. The statues all stood around in me in my dreams, the wolves crying, their tears streaking their cement bodies, whilst the Guardian stared at me, as if sizing me up—she probably thought I was nothing, a tiny vessel dirtying her sacred land. I never moved, though, just stared back at her, daring her to say something rude, or make a move at me. She never did. And after a time of watching each other, the white wolf came in, from behind me, to sit down at me side, resting his head against my jeans-covered thigh. Then it all started to fade when I woke.
My eyes slowly opened at the sound of a knock on the door. Aunt Lyd, probably.
“Hello?” came her muffled voice through the wood. “Zelda, are you awake?”
“Yes.” It’s been weeks since I’ve spoken and my voice sounded hoarse and unnatural.
“Will you eat?”
“Yes.” I was starving. If I didn’t eat, I’d die. And if I died, I wouldn’t see Andro, I wouldn’t be able to help Cam—the only reason I hadn’t gone with my parents. So, I guess he kind of saved my life. Damn it.
The door opened and Aunt Lyd came in. She was much better, not sick anymore. She carried a bed tray that held a plate with two sliced of buttered toast and a glass of orange juice. Setting it down beside me, she asked, “Are you feeling any better?”
“I guess.” I looked at her and saw how puffy her eyes were, the redness of her face. “I’m going to go out today.” I knew she would smile at this, and she did. It made her happy.
“That’s great. Really. It’s good you’re getting out. I was worried, Zel… you missed their funeral.” That struck me, took the breath from my lungs and nearly threw me back to wallowing in my bed. I hadn’t even realized that my parents were going to be buried, put deep in the ground where their bodies would rot into nothingness.
I turned my head away and looked out the window to the faintest ray of sunlight before speaking. “Yeah, well…” I didn’t say anything else, I just waited until Aunt Lyd got up and left. Then I got up and went for a shower. I was still upset... depressed, really, but it was about time I stopped lying around in bed. My parents would be ashamed to see me like that...
The water ran down my skin, leaving red marks for a second, before they disappeared. I washed myself and jumped out, towel wrapped tightly around my body. After drying and dressing, I went downstairs where Aunt Lyd was buttering toast whilst humming ‘Humpty Dumpty’.
“Here,” she said, smiling. She held out the toast and I gratefully took it, smiling back. I took a bite and melted with the deliciousness. “So, where are you going today?”
I knew exactly where I was going, but whether Aunt Lyd needed to know was something else... so I lied. “Um, just around. Maybe the library.” And suddenly I remembered book, the one Andro had gotten for me. I dropped what was left of my toast and ran up the stairs, nearly breaking down the door of my bedroom. Why was in such a rush to get the book, anyway?
Because I knew it held something. Something that would maybe clear up all these weird happenings—the wolf, the statue, the missing pages from the book downstairs, the fall from the window... maybe even my weird dreams. Maybe.
My head swivelled from left to right and back again. There, under the bed, a corner of it peeking out from under one of my hoodies. I ran over and grabbed it, nearly tearing the cover off as I pulled it open. Reading the contents, I didn’t have a clue what I was looking for. Maybe wolves, or free-falling?
I slid my finger along the page as I searched, stopping when I found it. Wolves of Rossbane, page fifty-four. The pages smelled old and worn as I flicked through them until I came to chapter seven. I started to read aloud.
“Rossbane has always had wolves, though many think it untrue. The truth, though, is that Rossbane was founded in a forest where wolves ruled. Though not always seen, the wolves were still there, watching the humans destroying their land. They revolted, attacking the town, until the people of Rossbane fought back using all at their disposal. The people won, sending what was left of the wolves back into hiding.
“But with the wolves, went people. Not all, but some. The people went with the wolves because they were the wolves—one of the same being. It is said that the humans became the animals, and the animals became humans. Werewolves, as they say. The werewolves, in human form, hid their secret when they returned to town. No one suspected anything, no one recognized the people who had fled. They blended in with society, only changing form when needed.
“But with the privileges of being normal cam the consequences of hiding themselves. They let off a strong scent that signalled other unnatural beings. The beings ransacked the town, their forms different—some were bears, some were humans, some were horses. All different beasts. The wolves of Rossbane gave themselves up to protect the people of the town, only to be saved by a beautiful woman with a deadly sword. Some referred to her as the Guardian, others said she was a god. No one really knows who she was, because once she had defeated the town’s enemies she went into the woods with the wolves, never to be seen again.”
I stared at the pages, not actually able to understand the words that lay on them. Werewolves? The Guardian being real? Weird people-bears and people-horses… was that even physically possible? And why had Cam told me to read this? I mean, he’d already told me kinda when I asked about werewolves, but I hadn’t expected it to be true… but then again, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe, like Cam had said, it was a fable. But I felt, deep down, that it was true, or some twist of the truth, at least. That something supernatural was in Rossbane, and that I owed it to myself, because of all these freaky happenings, to find out what it was.
I shut the book and laid it on the bed beside me, the silky sheets soft on my fingers, slipping between them. This place was so strange… and it was my home now, too. I had nowhere else to go. Only here. I couldn’t go back to my friends, I’d have to make new ones.
“Zelda, honey, are you okay?” Aunt Lyd called from downstairs. Probably wondering why I’d bolted up here.
“Yeah… yeah, just fine!” I called back. I grabbed the book and stuff it into my back pack that had various items inside—for various emergencies. I slung the back pack over my shoulder before rushing downstairs. Pulling open the front door, I shouted to Aunt Lyd, “Going to the library, be back soon!” Then I took off, heading for the distant forest.
It wasn’t long before I got there, after running through the yard, over the hedge that bordered Aunt Lyd’s property, and jumping over a tiny stream. The trees dominated the crisp-blue sky, shadowing the land around them, their branches thick and their leaves falling. Brown. Yellow. Green. Red. Orange. The colours that surrounded me. The smell of the forest wafted through me, pulling my body towards it. I obeyed.
Inside, it was dark, only patches lit by tiny rays of sun. The rain from a while ago still lingered everywhere, like teardrops on the trees. I could smell something else… something familiar. Wet dog? Yes. That was it.
I guess dogs could live in here. I mean, why not? It was a refuge for wild animals. And there was definitely plenty of them, some I could hear nearby, probably wondering why I was her. Some I could hear singing high above me, and some stood near me. Squirrels. I’d only ever seen a squirrel once in Ireland, and that had only been a glimpse before it ran up a tree. These squirrels were bright-brown, their tails bushy and wet. Their eyes lingered on my own as I looked at them, before they took off up a tree. Oh well.
I pushed forward, going deeper and deeper into the forest. I knew what I was looking for… well, I didn’t, but I had an idea. And I hoped that one would be nearby, to cure me of my insanity, to make me realize that what I was actually believing for some forsaken reason was true. That book had done nothing but make me more curious, bring to light what I had thought was already there. Maybe what I might find in this forest would help even more.
I didn’t know how long I’d been walking—a half hour, maybe—when I heard a twig crack to my left. My head shot to the spot where I’d heard it, catching a blur of white. Had I found what I’d been looking for? I waited, frozen like ice. There, again, another crack. I didn’t move my head this time, for fear it would run away. I wanted to lure it out, make it come to me. And it did, after a long pause. I felt its cold breath against my skin before I felt its nostrils flare. I could hear, its tongue wet and lolling out of its mouth. Was it being playful?
Slowly, I turned, looking down to see it. Pure-white, the wolf from the window. It was beautiful, its eyes shining like the sun of a summer’s day, illuminating the space before it which was my hand. It looked up at me, curious. I moved my hand towards it, but it backed away. I stopped. I didn’t want it to go. Nodding, as if understanding human qualities, the wolf came forward again, sniffing at my hand, before gently biting. Not penetrating my skin, but a soft gnaw. A greeting, perhaps?
With my other hand, I pushed through his soft fur, relishing at the touch. The stray strands were reminds why I came here—like the strands, I shouldn’t have strayed from my mission. I looked down at the wolf.
“Change,” I said. “Show me yourself.”
It barked, backing away.
“Don’t be afraid. I just want to know the truth. I won’t tell anybody.” I reached back out, and it came forward, pushing its head beneath my fingers, closing its eyes at my touch. I stroked him, ever so softly.
“Can you understand me?” I asked.
The wolf nodded.
“Are you human?” I asked.
The wolf nodded.
“Do you live in Rossbane?” I asked.
The wolf nodded.
“Do I know you?” I asked.
The wolf nodded.
Suddenly, I felt the connection. Something snapped in my mind, sending images and thoughts and voices through my brain. I fell backwards, disoriented, then whispered, “No.”
For they all whispered one thing, and one thing only: Cam.
“No,” I whispered again and again and again. It couldn’t be. I’d accepted the fact that werewolves could exist—it hadn’t really fazed me—but that Cam was one… it just didn’t feel right. I felt protective of him, even now when he was a wolf.
He came up to me, his nose brushing my face. I rubbed his head and he whined.
“Can you change back?” I asked.
Cam looked at me, into my eyes. I looked into his, slightly squinting at the bright-yellow. He whimpered, stating an obvious No, I can’t, Zelda.
“Not right now, but later?”
He lolled his tongue out and nodded. At least there was that—he wouldn’t be stuck like this forever. Only a while longer till I would be able to really talk to him—to get all this straight.
A thought occurred to me. “Are there others like you?”
Cam nodded, his ears pricking at a sound near us. Probably an animal. I wondered if Cam ate the animals in this wood, like a normal wolf would do. I wondered if he did wolfy stuff, like run away if a human came close. I wondered how this had happened to him.
I wrapped my arms around Cam, his white fur soft against my skin. We huddled together for what seemed like days, though when he finally did change it was barely dark.
His fur fell to the ground, disappearing in puffs that floated up into the air, revealing skin underneath—human skin. His ears retracted, becoming round instead of pointed. His eyes returned to normal, but all those things didn’t bother me. What bothered me was when he yelped in pain as his legs began to break and his tail cracked and his neck twisted, his teeth pulled up into his gums, causing blood. He looked at me, a tear running down his face, asking for help. But I couldn’t do anything… I was useless.
“Cam,” I whispered. But he turned away and fell, not getting up until his body had returned to normal. “Oh,” I said. I ripped off my jacket and passed it to him. He tied it around his waist, blushing slightly. “It’s okay, don’t be embarrassed.”
I hadn’t realized until then just how strong Cam was. He had muscles! The ones you saw on TV with the American jocks. He was not my Cam. And I was not my Zelda anymore.
“I’m not embarrassed.” He winked slyly. Ew. “So… um, yeah.”
“You’re a werewolf,” I said.
“Shifter, actually,” he corrected.
“The difference being?”
“The difference being there’s whole other groups of Shifters out there. They don’t just take the form of a wolf. It’s what they chose.”
“Why’d you choose a wolf?”
“I didn’t. The First did. The First was the first Shifter in Rossbane. He chose the form of the wolf then passed it down through his genes.” That made sense, considering wolves practically showed up on everything here.
“Wait a second!” I gasped, having a thought, “Does that mean the Guardian of the Shifters was real?”
“To be honest, I’m not quite sure. The pack only knows so much about what we are through some diaries that were badly burnt. And all we found out there was that the pack before us—which was about one hundred years ago—had to be protected for some reason.”
“What do you mean ‘about one hundred years ago’?”
“The last pack, that’s when it was. It’s kinda confusing but the only time the Shifter gene comes out is in puberty, and when there’s another Shifter group nearby. That’s why we changed—we found out there’s another group a town over. We haven’t had direct contact, but we can feel their presence.”
“That’s so cool” I squealed. “The presence-feeling bit. I don’t like hearing your bones break and seeing you shed—it’s weird. Wait, so you dissed school to break your bones?” I raised an eyebrow accusingly.
“No. I’m sixteen; still a teen. That means my body’s still “changing”,” he said, creating air-quotes around changing, “so I change whenever my body feels like it. I don’t get a say in the matter, until I’m older. But, even though I’d love to never feel the pain of shifting again, we have to change at least once a month or our body will do it for us, whether we’re in plain sight of everyone in town or not.”
We sat in silence for a minute, then I asked, “Who else is one of you?”
“The people dub them Misfits.”
“Oh. Now it makes sense—the group of people causing all the trouble and smoking are obviously not bad people at all. Nope, no way would they be that. I mean, I bet it’s the wolf inside that needs a smoke now and again, not them,” I said, my words drowning in sarcasm.
“Zel…,” Cam started. He stopped and looked down at the ground, reminding me of the shy boy I used to be inseparable from. And I felt bad, so I moved forward and hugged him; not too tight, but not too soft either because I wanted it to last—I wanted have one of our old hugs. He smelled of sweat, and of wet dog—so it had been him I smelled when I’d entered the forest—and of Cam. Cam always smelled of rain. Always.
“Is this why you’ve been a jerk? You didn’t want me to find out?” I asked as he broke our huh.
“Yeah. I’m sorry Zel, really, I am. It’s just, the pack doesn’t want anyone knowing, and I agree with them wholeheartedly because if people found out what we were we probably be burnt at the stake. But, now that you know, you know—end of the secret.”
“I’m hardly going to tell the whole town,” I said, feeling like he’d just personally attacked me. Did he think I was a gossip? Even if I was, who would believe me if I told them the misfits were actually Shifters who turned into wolves at random times because they were going through puberty? No one.
“I know that. I’m just saying...”
“Saying what, Cam? Huh?” I glared at him, waiting for his answer.
“I’m just saying that once someone finds out about something, everyone else does too.” His eyes had hardened, gone a deep shade of brown.
I stood up and held out a hand. “You coming?” I asked.
Cam smiled and replied, “Of course, Zeldar.” Use of the nickname he had for me? Was I finally going to get him back? I smiled back and he took my hand.
When we got back to the house Cam threw on some clothes happily and snuck over to my room.
“Can’t let Mom see me. She doesn’t know about me, or about school, so I’m gonna hide in here with you.”
“I don’t want to be convicted for the abiding of a crime!” I exclaimed dramatically.
“Oh, but you’re already part of it now,” Cam whispered. “You saw me change. That means you’re going to have to get involved with our activities. Can’t leave you up here on your own while we run around the forest. And plus, I know you want to see us all together as a pack.”
Cam’s words wafted through my brain before dissipating. I’d been thinking about something else. “Cam,” I said, “do you know what happened that night? When we fell from the window?”
Cam looked into my eyes, letting me know he was telling the truth. “No.”
“But it has to be something to do with you, right? Because you’re a Shifter.” I still couldn’t believe it didn’t faze me that he was a shape-shifter. But I guess I had known in some aspect the whole time.
“I don’t think so... I didn’t feel anything, like adrenalin or power. Maybe it was you!” he said, wagging a finger.
“How could it be me? I’m not magic or whatever you call it, I’m just human. I’m normal.”
“Well maybe normal’s not what it used to be.” Cam stuck his tongue out and I whacked him with a pillow, making him fall off the bed.
“That’s what you get for being a jerk for so long!” I teased. He stared at me, his eyes ice-cold, before he suddenly leaped at me and brought me down on the bed. We laughed for a while before sitting up again. And then Came asked me about something I wished he hadn’t.
“So, Zel, how’re you feeling about... your parents?” He said it so slowly that it stung with even more zing!
“Can we... can we just not talk...” I wanted to finish the sentence, but I saw Mom and Dad in my head, their eyes staring blankly at the walls, their bodies red with flesh and black from being charred. The sight made me retch before tears gushed from my eyes. I hadn’t even noticed Cam had wrapped his arms around me and let my head lie on his chest until I’d stopped crying.
“Shh,” he was saying. “It’s gonna be alright. I’m sorry. Shh. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. Don’t worry, hon.” That’s when I saw his mother in him. Right there, when he said hon. I smiled.
“You’re so like your mom,” I whispered, letting my head rest on him. This was what I needed—a best friend. “I hadn’t noticed till now.” Even the way he smiled reminded me of Aunt Lyd, and the way he hugged, too. One arm near the neck, one on the middle of the back; comforting.
He laughed. “I know. I hate seeing her so upset, but it’s better to have her like that than have her know what I am. She’d be put in all sorts of danger.”
“The other Shifters,” I said with sudden realization. “But why do they want to hurt you? And why can’t you just be nice to your mom?”
“They don’t want to hurt us, per say, but they want our land. We’re animals when we Shift, and animals claim land, mark their territory. The other Shifters want as much land as they can get. But we’re wolves and wolves don’t really want land, they want to run, to explore. But we have to be careful not to stray too far, otherwise we might cross over the Boundary, and then there’d be a massive fight between us and the Shifters in the next town.”
“The Boundary? Like, a line drawn?”
“But what if they’re, like, rhinos? They’d be able to crush you...”
“Shifters can only take the form of quadrupeds. And even then they have to be ones on land. I dunno, it’s really complicated. But anyway, we’re stronger than most animals. It’s our wolf-strength and human-strength combined, along with hearing and all the other senses. So that’s where the myth of that came about.”
“Can other Shifters be wolves, too?”
“Probably. Don’t want to meet them to find out, though.” He chuckled and our conversation ended. I wiped my sleeve under my eyes to get rid of any remaining tears. It was soft and I liked the feel of it on my skin—just another reminder of my mom, when she hugged me she would wrap her scarf around my neck in a loose loop.
I forced myself to not shed any tears and I laid back on the bed, closing my eyes as the rain started up outside again.
A gentle touch to my shoulder was what woke me. I opened my eyes. The room was dark—really dark—which made me wonder how long I’d been asleep. I guess the day’s surprise took more out of me than I had thought it would.
Another tap to my shoulder reminded me why I was awake at all. I looked over, nearly falling out of my bed at the sight.
“What are you doing here? How did you even get in?” My voice came out harsh even though I hadn’t meant it to be.
“I was really worried. I mean, I haven’t seen you in months! Oh, and I used the window,” Andro said, eyebrow raised as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“A, this is the second floor! How could you get up here? B, you came in my window?! What kind of pervy stalker are you?” I turned my eyes into daggers, glaring at him. He fidgeted in my gaze.
“Sorry,” he said, his eyes showing genuine softness, melting me, “it’s just, I felt something on our date, and I was just hoping you did too.” Actually, this was quite creepy, wasn’t it?” He gestured to the window and I nodded, but I couldn’t help but smile. Andro smiled back. He must really like me if he found out where I lived, climbed up to the second floor and shook me awake. Or else he was just a nut job, but I went with hopeless, wall-climbing, romantic and grabbed a tuft of his shirt around his chest. I could feel his skin, hot against my knuckles. We both looked into one another’s eyes before I pulled him in and kissed him.
He kissed back. We moved in a flow, like we’d done it a million times before. I pulled him in closer and my arms wrapped around his neck. I realized his hands were on my hips, his fingers brushing against the exposed bit of skin between top and pants. But then it was over. My eyes were closed, my head was tilted slightly up, and I wanted more. I waited. And waited. When I finally did open my eyes Andro was gone.
“What the hell,” I whispered to myself. Who does that?! What a dick. And I’d actually melted for him.