Silence: the absence of sound.
It's supposed to be peaceful, tranquil, calming. To ease the mind and body into secure relaxation, free of worries and strife.
But I am a firm believer in context.
And as I stared out across the fields of brown, I longed only for any sound of life. The chirp of a cricket, the buzz of a bumblebee or the whisper of swaying grass in a gentle breeze.
But there was only silence. And it certainly did not bring me any peace.
I tilted my head back, taking a deep breath and taking a second to close my eyes and escape. But my lungs soon filled with the dust and fragments of dried up debris that hung in a thick haze in the air, flaked up off the ground by even the slightest of winds.
So like an itch at the back of my throat, the coarse reality refused to be forgotten.
I walked out further into the wasteland, plucking at shards of shrivelled crop that stuck out of the ground, jagged and deformed, drained completely of life. The once lush foliage was now powdery and brittle between my fingers, it's dry rigid spikes digging into my skin before crumbling like sand to my feet, coating my shoes in a thin layer of pale dust.
The first sign of trouble had been the autumn storms that brought us the battering winds and biblical floods, saturating the landscape with suffocating churns of mud. Then December gave us a stubborn winter with frosts that clung to the fields every dawn until we rolled well into spring. But even as the cold subsided, May and June refused to have mercy as the drifting clouds above us dissolved, leaving a vast scape of blue as the intense, uninterrupted heat of the sun scorched what little had persevered through everything else.
It'd been a month since the annual harvest day where all the pack would come together to bring in the year's yield.
But this year the fields had been abandoned, the hopeless crop left to rot and decay as the people shielded away in the forest, stretching the scraps of last years supplies as thinly as possible, clinging onto survival. But every day was more of a struggle than the last. Every day, the inevitable doom of starvation pulled stronger. Every day, we grew weaker and soon enough we'd be unable able to resist being dragged down into the darkness of death's jaws.
I sighed and looked out at the fields once more before, unable to take the hopelessness anymore, I decided to head home.
But as I turned,from the corner of my eye I caught a little dash of black amongst the beige.
A small child watched me in the distance. Her raven hair hung messily across her face and in her left hand, she clung to a dirty rag doll.
I recognised her. She lived in a village not far from here but this was hardly a pleasant place for children to play.
"What are you doing here?" I asked her.
"I'm sorry Miss Brynn," she replied as I neared her, "I'm hungry and I thought maybe the harvest was finally ready."
I sighed and crouched down in front of her. She was four, maybe five, years old. How do explain a famine to a child that young?
"What is your name?" I asked.
"Penelope," she replied.
"The harvest won't be coming this year, Penelope," I said, holding her hand.
She looked up at me with large, round eyes as her eyebrows folded down and her lips creased with worry.
"Then what will we eat?" she asked.
I sighed and forced my mouth into a reassuring smile, "I don't know yet. But the Alpha, Luna and I will think of something."
I couldn't tell if I believed my own words.
The hopelessness that rendered my heart heavy and filled my mind with a sorrow frustration said I didn't. This had been looming over since last autumn and a solution was yet to grace us.
It would take a miracle to save us now.
But I couldn't convey my fear to any of my pack people, let alone a child. Morale was already at rock bottom and if all it took to ease a child just for a little while was a small display of misplaced hope, I was willing to sacrifice my honesty.
"For now," I said reaching into my pocket, "Have this."
I held out a small scrap of bread wrapped in a cloth. It was my breakfast, lunch and dinner for today but I could do without, especially if it meant a child could eat.
She smiled and took it gladly, "Thank you."
I patted her shoulder, "Now you better get home. Your Mother will be wondering where you are."
She nodded and scuttled away.
I stood up and glanced out at the lifelessness once more, desperately searching for even a hint of how to live up to the promise I just made. But my mind was just as spent as it had been for weeks.
We truly needed a miracle.
An hour later, I was back on the doorstep of the little cottage in the woods that had been my home all my life. Its tenants included my older brother, his mate and me. Before it had been my father's home too, but now it was just the three of us.I entered through the wooden front door into the kitchen where my brother, Tobias, sat pouring over a piece of paper in his hands, his forehead creased and eyes fixated on the words.Rose, his mate, stood next to him, her hand resting on his shoulder.Tobias was the official Alpha of the Nightingale pack, a role he was burdened with when he was just sixteen after the murder of our father. In the space of an hour, he had gone from a carefree teenager to a leader, charged with the sudden responsibility to lead a pack alone. Not to mention that I was only a kid at the time and with both of our
The next morning, Tobias wrote back to Alpha Rivers, enquiring further into his offer. It was only a day before we received his response, ordering us to meet him at the waterfall, where the river flowed that separated our territory from his."Why does he want to meet us?" Rose asked as she stood at the stove, pouring the hot water from the kettle into the teapot, which held a dismal number of leaves for three people, "Can he not send us the grain and be done with it?""Apparently not..." Tobias replied from the kitchen table, "He wants to meet us, me specifically, to decide if he will help us."I rolled my eyes, "What a power freak," I muttered. "He wants to look down on us, desperate and hungry, knowing that the power to control our fate is in his hands. What a bloody-""Esme," Tobias inte
The next afternoon, Rose and I were in the kitchen, peeling the last three small, shrivelled potatoes left of this week's ration whilst Tobias sat repeatedly throwing a stone up into the air and catching it again in the same hand.I had just finished peeling the final potato when I caught him doing it once again in the corner of my eye and clenched my teeth. After abruptly stabbing the peeling knife into the table, I snapped my head to him."Tobias," I hissed, "You are going to drive me insane."He looked at me and sighed before lifting his feed off the table and leaning forward, "I'm sorry. Alpha Rivers could be here, on our territory, any moment and I'm anxious.""Well, you're making us all anxious. Go and throw your stone somewhere else," I replied, "We're trying to make soup out of lite
Later that evening, I sat stretched out on the sofa with my legs up on the armrest staring at the ceiling. Tobias was on the opposite side of the room in his armchair reading a book whilst Rose sat with a head rested on his shoulder as she tried to pick the dried flour from under her nails.We'd spent all afternoon and evening delivering rations of grain to villages and families only to come home and make the first fresh bread we'd had in weeks which, whilst in actual fact was probably just fairly ordinary bread, tasted like heaven. The smell still lingered in the air in all its yeasty glory which made a welcome change from the stale smell of wilting cabbages and bread baked months ago that we had become accustomed to.But as I enjoyed the feeling of a full stomach at last, my mind couldn’t help but dwell on the new doom we could now face.
The following morning was a beautiful one. We were still in the early moments of dawn, the first rays of golden morning sun only just creeping up over the horizon. They filtered through the branches of the trees outside my window, filling my room with glorious light that flickered and danced with every little breeze.I lay my sheets flat on my bed and splashed my face with some cold water before picking up my bow and arrow.It's been weeks since I last went for a hunt. But now that we had grain, there was less need to preserve the wild animals so it was time to treat myself - especially considering how sour this morning was inevitably going to turn later on when Alpha Rivers returns and drags us deeper into his shady deal.I had to make the most of it now."Morning, Esme," a voice said as I reached the bottom of the stairs.I froze. It wasn't as familiar as Rose and Tobias's voices but it wasn't entirely unfamiliar either.Deep and col
Six weeks after the arrival of the first grain and the Nightingale pack had been restored to what it once was. With food in their bellies and a steady supply more, the people were happy again and although we had the knowledge of Alpha Rivers' mysterious enemy looming over us, there was no sign of them yet and we let ourselves relax in the moment of peace.Every week Alpha Rivers came with more grain. I usually did my best to avoid him by staying in my room and watching him out the window or tactically going to hunt at times I thought he was most likely to appear. But he gave no indication of when he was going to come and followed no identifiable pattern so there were still occasions where I got caught out and I fell victim of his invasive stares and snide comments.On one afternoon when Rose and Tobias had gone for a run, I heard the distinct sound of his cart rolling towards the house.After putting my book down and getting up from my bed, I sidled up to my win
After my hunt, I emerged from the woods and headed for the house, I noticed the Pheonix cart was still outside.My stomach sunk. I was hoping he'd left.Whilst Alpha Rivers himself was nowhere in sight, the man he had brought with him stood leant against the cart, his arms folded, patiently waiting."Where's Alpha Rivers?" I asked him."Talking with Alpha Brynn," he replied. "Something about adding vegetables to the grain deliveries."I nodded and began heading to the house, no intention of going anywhere near our office where I knew they would be."You want my advice, sweetheart?" he called after me.I didn't bother turning around."Not really."Who even is this man?"Stay away from, Alpha Rivers," he said firmly, "I know he's doing business with your pack but do not get personally involved."I scoffed and turned around to look at him, "I wasn't planning on.""Just be careful.""Why?" I asked
"Your form is wrong," a voice said.I was in the forest, as I was nearly every afternoon, training. I was halfway through my fifty push-ups and as soon as I recognised the voice I just rolled my eyes."It's not," I replied bluntly.Alpha Rivers seemed to spend more time on our territory these days than he spent on his own. He was constantly delivering grain and vegetables - one day he came with a single sack of turnips and spent three hours in our kitchen talking to Tobias and getting in my way as I was trying to cook.He also had this irritating habit of following me into the woods. I was a woman who valued my time alone and I used to find the forest a peaceful escape. But now it was just another place I had to keep an eye out for him and put up with his condescending, sexist, annoying comments."You're making it harder for yourself without any benefit," he sung, an amused smile on his lips."I'm not," I repeated."Straighten your ba