FOUR | THE CLIFF

The rest of the day went quickly, passing me by in a blur of frenzied activity. After speaking to Jacob all I really wanted was a nap, but I was almost certain that my parents would have other plans for me.

I was proved right as soon as I walked back into the pack house. They were sat in the kitchen, right by the door to the grounds – impossible to miss. I smiled at them.

“Thought you two were overrun with work today?”

They shrugged in unison.

“We made some time,” my mum said with a glitter in her eye. I moved to sit down next to them, but my dad held his hands up.

“Woah there, Ari. Don’t get too comfortable. There’s something we want to show you.”

I beamed. I loved surprises. “What is it?” I asked, bouncing on the balls of my feet. My parents laughed at me, standing and nodding towards the door.

“This way,” my mum said, giving my hand a squeeze. I returned the gesture, and then followed them eagerly out into the gardens.

The pack house itself was huge, but it was dwarfed by the grounds surrounding it. Our pack’s boundary was lined with tall trees, and much of the surrounding areas were forested, thick woodlands full of bottle-green pine trees. They were interspersed with sunlit meadows, each full of wildflowers and flowing grasses.

As so much of the pack land was wooded, it had been decided long before I was born, generations ago, in fact, that the pack house would sit within beautifully kept gardens. The training grounds were further down towards the western woodlands, close enough to the house that we could return safely and quickly should an attack occur – not that it ever had – but far enough away that it was separate from the blossoming gardens right by the house.

The gardens were tended to by volunteers from the pack. We kept to ourselves within our community, which meant that we had no need for outside help.

The Omegas did, admittedly, fulfil the largest portion of work around the pack house, gardens, and wherever else they were needed, but the members of our pack were kind and keen to help out where the could. I’d even seen Alpha Kele don a pair of gardening gloves one Sunday afternoon.

I helped out as often as I could, wherever I could. We had officially finished school at sixteen, when we were welcomed into the pack as devoted members, but those who wanted to were able to continue their studies.

Jacob had quit immediately, saying that he’d done more than enough learning to last him a lifetime. I’d laughed along with him, but I disagreed. I didn’t think you could ever learn enough, especially here.

The pack used to attend regular human schools, but as it grew we had the resources to set up our own on the reserve. This meant that the lessons taught could be chosen by us, and tailored to suit the needs of the pack.

We learnt about literature and maths, about science and languages – but we also learnt about Wolfish folklore, about spirit guides and the Elders, about the history of the Silver Crescent pack. I took eager notes in all of my classes, much to the bemusement of Jacob, who sat next to me, but I was keenest in our dedicated subject lessons, as they were called.

I wanted to teach others, so I’d stayed on at school to study the dedicated subjects, specialising in folklore. As there were few teachers, especially for higher level, it required a lot of independent study.

It meant that I didn’t have a lot of spare time to help out, but I did what I could. I loved gardening, and being out in the fresh air, even when it rained. The Twins had caught me outside once, just stood and letting the rain fall on me. They said I was mad; but to me, it felt freeing.

My parents were smiling at each other excitedly. I felt a bundle of nervous energy swell in my chest. Whatever the surprise was, I had a feeling it would be a big one.

“Shut your eyes, sweetie,” my mum said, taking my hand so that she could lead me. I complied with a big, goofy grin on my face. Surprises always made me feel like an over excited child.

We rounded a corner and went down slightly, the ground changing from the springy grass to tarmac. We must be in the car park. But why?

“Open your eyes!” They said, their voices like a chorus. I peeled them open, blinking against the bright sunlight. As my eyes adjusted they focused on a large, teal coloured truck. There was a card tucked into the windscreen wipers, and I looked at my parents for encouragement before I tip-toed forwards and tugged it towards me.

“Is this for me?” I asked incredulously as I ran my forefinger under the seal of the envelope.

“Yes!” My mum cheered, pulling me into a hug. My dad joined her from the other side, and I was encompassed in their familiar warmth. I felt tears springing to my eyes, and I rested my head against my dad’s chest. He kissed the crown of my head, and then they both stepped back, allowing me to pull the card out of its envelope.

It had a picture of a big brown wolf on it, and I laughed as the first of many happy tears dribbled out of my eyes. I blinked and looked upwards, remembering the heavy coating of mascara I had on. The card felt heavy and uneven on its surface, so I opened it. Inside there was a set of car keys, and on the key ring was another wolf, this one also brown with tiny stones set in its eyes.

“It’s beautiful,” I said, beaming up at my parents. “Thank you.” I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand, and then stepped back to take stock of the car.

It looked old and battered, and a little rusted around the bumper. There was a solid dent above the back tyre. The teal paint looked fresh, though, and there was a blanket folded up in the back. I could imagine unfurling it, filling with cushions and lying there at night, looking up at the stars. I loved it.

“You got me a car,” I breathed in awe. They laughed.

“We did,” my dad smiled. “We knew you didn’t have much need for one up until now, but you’re an adult now, and as much as we don’t like the idea, your mate might be in a different pack. We thought it would be nice if you could come and visit us, then, and this should make that a little easier.”

“Thank you,” I cried, pulling them both in for a hug. Then I pulled back excitedly, scrambling towards the truck. “Can I drive it?”

“Of course you can, it’s yours,” my mum laughed. “The papers are all in the dash. Go ahead,” she nodded, and I climbed in.

           

I spent most of the afternoon driving. I knew how to – I’d learnt when I’d turned sixteen – but I’d not driven since then. The truck was manual, too, so using the clutch took a little getting used to. My parents took it in turns sitting with me, the other hanging on in the open back as I wheeled down the tracks and lanes near the reserve.

Eventually, though, our stomachs started to rumble, so I drove back to the pack lands. I knew Jacob would want to spend some more time with me – we usually spent our birthdays together, and had done every year since we were three – but I felt a little uneasy about being around him. I felt bad for feeling that way, but he was so certain that we should be together. I had been, too, but something inside me was telling me to wait. For what, I wasn’t sure.

When we pulled up at the reserve I waited a moment before getting out. My parents sensed there was something on my mind, and instead of clambering out immediately as I’d expected them to, my mum turned to me in the front seat, and my dad stuck his head around so that he could be involved. I rolled my eyes at him with a laugh and scooted over so that he could join us in the front.

“What are you thinking about, honey?” My mum asked. We were a close family – most werewolves were, though I had heard of a few outliers. I was glad that we were; I depended on my parents, and I couldn’t imagine life without their love and guidance. I relaxed back into my seat.

“Honestly? Jacob.” Neither of them seemed surprised by my answer, so I waited a beat before speaking again. “He’s said – he’s said he’d reject his mate for me,” I stuttered.

“I’m sure that’s a lot to take in,” my mum said, her voice soothing. I looked at the wooden brown wolf, dangling from the key ring by the steering wheel. Its tiny eyes glinted in the afternoon sun. “Jacob is a lovely boy. He’s always been sweet on you,” she smiled, and I blushed.

“The Moon Goddess knows you both intimately, though,” my dad said with a frown. “She will have paired you with someone different for a reason. I love Jacob, and I’d love to see you as the Luna of this pack. I’m sure you’ll make the right decision.” He gave my shoulder a small squeeze.

Surprisingly, I didn’t see Jacob for the rest of the day. Initially I’d sighed with relief when we’d entered the pack house and he was nowhere in sight, but as the day drew on I’d started to miss his company.

As we were sitting down to dinner my best friend, Rosa, screeched and pulled me in for a hug. I laughed into her shoulder, trying to pry myself out of her grip. She didn’t let me, holding me even tighter.

“Happy Birthday!” She yelled, right next to my ear. Finally, she released me, and I straightened my sweatshirt as I grinned up at her. Rosa towered over me, and had done since we were pups. She was tall and lanky, with a short curly bob of blonde hair.

Unlike a lot of the wolves in our pack, Rosa made herself up every day without fail: she swathed deep red lipstick across her mouth, and curled her lashes up with dark mascara. When I’d asked about her choice of lipstick colour, she said it made her feel as though she was “wearing the blood of our enemies.” I’d laughed, but she’d raised an eyebrow and her face told me that she was being deadly serious. 

“Thanks, Rose,” I beamed. She took the seat next to me, pulling it around so that she could straddle it.

“So. Eighteen. Finally. You’ve gotta tell me what it’s like.”

“You don’t have that long to wait,” I shrugged. “My sense of smell is better. Oh! And I have a car now. I can drive us everywhere we want to go.”

“You got a car and you waited this long to tell me?!”

“I only just found out!” I held my hands up. “I know. I’ve got an idea for us, after dinner. You’re free, right?”

“It’s your birthday,” she scoffed. “Of course I’m free.”

I smiled. Jacob would just have to wait.

Dinner was a less hectic affair than breakfast had been. Most of the wolves were out as we were dining at an odd time, so it was just my parents, Rosa, and I. Her family lived further out on the reserve, in an old stone cottage bordering on the woodlands.

They lived in a small cluster of houses amongst the other warrior wolves. Unless there was an event happening or announcement to be made, most of the wolves dined in their own homes with just their families.

Rosa’s family was much larger than mine was – she was the eldest of six, and the only girl out of them all. Each time her mum had got pregnant again she’d willed it to come out as a little sister, but to no avail. She loved her brothers, but they were raucous and playful and sometimes she just didn’t have the energy for them – not all at once, anyway.

As we were finishing up, my dad pushed back his chair and stood abruptly. There was a devious a twinkle in his eye. I’d devoured my meal; it seemed to be another one of John’s specials, homemade ravioli filled with garlic and herbs, and a large garlic flatbread that I tore away at.

Rosa and I cocked our heads at him in sync, then turned to one other and giggled. My dad looked pointedly at my mum, and she gasped, quickly getting up to follow him. They snuck off around the corner towards the sink, and Rosa and I tried to see what they were doing without making our intentions obvious.

They came back carrying the large tied cake from yesterday between them. From behind them other wolves spilled into the room: Jacob and his parents, The Twins and their family, as well as a few other wolves that I was close with. They began singing Happy Birthday, and I groaned. Not again.

I looked at Rosa. “Did you know about this?” I asked, and her eyes widened.

“I didn’t, I swear,” she said, crossing her fingers over her heart. “You think I’d put you through this?”

I nodded, happy with her answer. The singing came to an end, and I smiled up at everyone. Although I didn’t really enjoy being the centre of attention, there was something nice about the fact that I was loved enough for so many people to go to this amount of effort for me.

Plus, I conceded, if I was going to maybe be a Luna one day then I’d have to get used to having people’s attention trained on me. I stood unceremoniously and thanked everyone profusely, smiling and making eye contact with everyone gathered in front of me.

We all sat, and then my dad passed me a knife so that I could cut the cake. It was in three tiers, and I wondered if each tier was a different flavour. Based on the breakfast John had made for me this morning, I hoped that it would be. More than that, I hoped that at least one layer would be chocolate.

I did my best to cut even slices, but some came out a little larger by pure mistake. I passed these to Rosa and Jacob, and they smiled knowingly back at me.

After we’d finished eating, Jacob caught hold of me by my bicep. I looked up at him, confused. He asked: “Will you come with me?”

“I can’t,” I replied regretfully. He looked so sweet, sincerity lining his face. I gently pried his hand from my bicep and took it in mine. “I’m hanging out with Rosa. You can come, if you want,” I added with a smile.

“It’s okay,” he said, a small smile of his own dancing about his lips. “I just want to give you your present. It’s kind of, um, personal. Can I see you after? When you get back?”

“Of course.” I pulled him into a hug. He tucked me under his chin, as he’d been doing for years.

 I sunk into him, his warm scent of climbing garden roses and cherry blossom enveloping me. It was so much stronger now. The first time I’d told him what I smelt he’d been embarrassed, saying that floral scents were for she-wolves.

I’d lightly smacked his chest, looking him in the eye as I explained that scents weren’t implicitly girlish or manly. Plus, I’d said, I’d rather spend my time with a boy who smelt like roses than one that smelt like body odour. He’d finally laughed, then, and he quickly made peace with the idea.

I gave him one final squeeze before letting go. Everyone slowly filtered away after that, and I grabbed Rosa. We linked arms and skipped outside.

The sun was starting to slope behind the house, and I paused.

“Hold on. Come up to my room with me quickly,” I said, and we turned as one.

I rummaged around, searching for a large box tucked under my bed. I pulled it out triumphantly, then scurried around my room, throwing in a couple of candles and a rolled up set of copper fairy lights. I then nodded to Rosa, who was sat on my bed watching me with an idle gaze, one of her eyebrows slightly raised. She looked as though she should’ve been lazily sucking a lollipop.

“We can go now. Wait – grab one of my jumpers. It might be chilly.”

She rolled her eyes, but pulled out one she’d borrowed many times before. I’d said she could just keep it on multiple occasions, but she said she’d have to borrow another one when she was here, and she’d end up wearing it less.

It was old, a little frayed around the hems of the sleeves, knitted in dark red with bold tribal patterns cascading down its front. Fortunately for her, despite our height differences, I tended to wear oversized sweatshirts and jumpers, so it fit her perfectly. She slung it over her shoulder; I re-adjusted the box in my hands so that it was at chest height, and we left.

She let out a low whistle as she admired my truck. I dumped the box into the back before pulling out the keys and unlocking it. She immediately scrambled inside, checking herself out in the rear view mirror. I laughed as I jumped in after her, shoving her into the passenger’s seat.

“Where are we going?” She asked as I twisted the key in the ignition. 

“You’ll see,” I said with a grin. “You’ll like it, though. Promise.” I slowly backed out of the reservation and onto a winding dirt road. 

We trailed for miles through dense woodland, eventually turning onto a cement road. The drive became much smoother, and I relaxed. The roads around the reservation were generally quiet, so we were unlikely to meet much passing traffic.

Most of my concentration was focused on working out the right way to get where I wanted to go. I’d been there a few times, but only ever in my wolf form. It was so far away that attempting it by foot would have been lunacy – in my opinion – but with my wolf’s longer stride and double the leg power it was doable. Working out how to travel there on roads rather than through the forest was a challenge, though.

As we turned off the road and onto a small lane the moon was beginning to rise, equidistant to the slowly sinking sun. I could feel my wolf howl happily inside my chest, and I smiled as I looked up at it.

The truck dipped into a pothole, and I slammed on the brakes. Rosa and I were both flung forwards. “What the Hell was that?” She screeched, holding onto her forehead.

“Sorry,” I mumbled. The car had stalled, so I turned the key again and we slowly set off.

Rosa’s forehead had a large red mark on it, and I felt horrible. I wanted to say something to alleviate the tension, but I always became stuck when I felt guilty – tears edging at my eyes and my throat closing up.

“Hey, it’s fine,” Rosa said, touching my arm gently. “We heal quick. It’ll be gone in a couple of minutes.”

“I’m sorry,” I repeated. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

She snorted. “Of course I am. Are you?”

“Yeah,” I said, keeping my eyes fixed determinedly on the track. “I guess I need some more practice,” I smiled, the knot between my lungs slowly unfurling.

“That’s for sure,” she teased. She busied herself fixing her curls, and I let out a deep breath.

Her tone still teasing, she asked, “Are we there yet?”

“I’m definitely sure that we might, maybe, be almost there.”

“You don’t know?” She rolled her eyes. “Why is it always an adventure with you?”

I half-shrugged with the shoulder closest to her. “I like exploring. I found this place a while ago, in my wolf form.”

“But this has gotta be way past the perimeter,” she said, taking her eyes off of her reflection and looking out of the window. “Our land is all flat. Thank the Goddess. I don’t think I could do those boundary runs if we had to go uphill.”

I snorted. “Me either,” I agreed as we pulled off the path and into an open field.

Before Rosa could get her bearings, I spun the truck round so that we were facing the lane.

“Come on,” I said, grinning at her and gesturing for her to get out. She pulled the jumper on after we’d hopped out, and she slid her eyes towards me. I took it as acknowledgement that she needed it, but I knew that I wouldn’t be getting thanked. I chuckled to myself as I towed her by her sleeve to the back of the truck.

“Wow,” she breathed. We’d parked high up, almost up to the hilltop. Steep cliffs rose and fell to the East, their usually red-brown faces shining white against the navy sunset unravelling in front of us. It dipped down, stretching to the sea, which lay almost directly opposite the cliff line.

The sky dove through shades of colour, navy bleeding into purple, which in turn blended into red and then orange. This was reflected in the gently rippling ocean, which curved at the horizon and melted into deeper shades of blue. We could see for miles, and it was breath taking.

I let the back flap of the truck down and hopped up. Rosa slowly spun in place, taking in the sunset. I grabbed the box and sifted through it, pulling out the pile of blankets buried beneath the candles and lights that I’d chucked in on top.

I lay them down in the back of the truck. They had all been made for me by my mum when I was a pup, and I’d wanted to find a use for them but they didn’t quite fit in my bedroom, which was already so full of plants and old keepsakes.

Most of them had been tightly knit, forming tribal patterns similar to the ones on the jumper Rosa was wearing, all in woody colours – pine greens, wood browns and creams, and warm sunset reds.

I didn’t know much about my mum’s family or life before she’d joined the Silver Crescent pack, but she used to say my grandmas had taught her how to knit, and then smiled as though she knew something she wasn’t telling me.

I arranged them so that the metal was entirely covered, then strung the lights along the sides of the truck, and up along the cabin. Rosa saw what I was doing and emptied the box out, then chucked it into the front of the truck. I lit a couple of candles, and then I helped Rosa to climb up, letting her tug on my arm.

We settled ourselves on the blankets, leaning our backs against the cabin of the truck. The tiny lights flickered against the growing darkness, holding it at bay. I leant my head against her shoulder as we spoke, our voices low and gravelly against the silence of the countryside.

There was a thump behind us. We split apart instantly; my eyes flashed, my wolf coming to the surface. Rosa blew out the candles, and then took an offensive stance, her eyes roving across the land behind us.

I leapt down from the truck stealthily, keeping low to the ground. I sniffed carefully, searching for something other than grass and Rosa’s sweet caramel scent.

The wind shifted. I caught the scent of something alien to me, unpleasant and threatening. It smelt like iron and copper, like the taste of a battery against your tongue. It smelt like blood.

I mindlinked Rosa. Be careful. I can smell something.

She replied instantly. Me too. It’s disgusting.

It really is, I said. Stay here. I’m going to investigate.

Why do I have to stay here? She hissed.

There’s no point both of us going. Stay. I won’t be long.

I crept out from behind the truck, careful to keep my body low to the ground. I was cautious about shifting, worried that it would bring too much attention to myself. There was also the slim chance that whoever it was could be human, and seeing a large wolf staring down at them could cause all sorts of trouble for the local packs.

A rock crunched as though beneath a foot. My head swung to the side, eyes narrowed. I took an anxious half-step back. Another crunch.

I stepped forward again, and found myself staring into a pair of grotesque, blood-red eyes.

Comments (2)
goodnovel comment avatar
Phae Tran
interesting....
goodnovel comment avatar
Kara
I think they wondered close to another pack or maybe a rogue.
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