I should have listened to the girl at the shop. But who takes a tarot card seriously?
Perhaps I should go back to that day. It started off as pretty normal, just me and the gang hanging out after school. While walking towards the diner, we spotted a new shop that had opened in the empty store front on Main. The sign labeled it as an occult shop.
Wow. Whoever owned that place sure was ballsy to open in the middle of this town. The storefront window was filled with usual occult stuff; beads, shawls, crystals, etc… A sign was offering free tarot card readings today only.
Of course Brittany jumped at the chance. My pretty little airhead. She grabbed my hand, dragging me along with her as the others followed with a round of laughter.
Once inside, the incense was over-powering to say the least. Heady and hot, it was instantly disorienting, though none of the others seemed to be as bothered by it as I was. That should have been a clue of things to come, but smelly stuff has always given me a headache, so I didn’t think anything of it.
A girl sat behind the counter. Of course she was also the new girl that had started at school the day before. Figures she would work here; she was tall, pale, and eerie all wrapped in black. The word freak rang through my head when I saw her for the first time in homeroom. Apparently the others had thought the same thing as they all shared a giggle upon seeing her perched behind the ancient register.
Freak was shuffling a deck of what had to be tarot cards. She smiled at us, spreading the cards out in one hand and fanning her face with them, “Care to learn your fates?” she breathed, a knowing smile playing at her lips.
Brittany stepped right up, “Your sign said free readings, how’s that work?”
Brittany never passed up the chance to flash her step-daddy’s cash as he has money to burn, but the blonde loved free things even better.
Freak reshuffled the cards and spread them along the counter in a high-arch. “Choose a card and we’ll see,” was her response as she eyed Brittany.
Brittany studied the deck, her brow creasing. After a moment, she turned to me, “Why don’t you go first, baby?”
Mason snickered behind me, but I ignored it.
“Fine,” I huffed, pointing to a random card near the middle.
“You have to pull the card from the deck yourself,” said Freak.
Rolling my eyes, I flipped it over for her to see, messing up her neat little cards in the process. Oops.
Her smile softened.
Brittany let out the fakest gasp ever and grabbed my arm like a vice.
All I could do was laugh, “Gonna tell me I’m about to die some horribly tragic death?”
Freak raised an eyebrow and then scooped up the cards to reshuffle.
“Death can come in many forms,” she started, “The card usually refers to a more metaphysical death than an actual one, like the end of one chapter leading to a new one. I’d say you’re in for a great change over the coming months.
“Anyone else wish to tempt Fate?” she asked, never looking away from me, as if daring me to argue with her and her knowing smirk.
“Weirdo,” I seethed and turned to leave with Brittany on my arm. The bell of the door ringing as we left continued in my head for the rest of the night.
The next couple of weeks I tried to avoid the girl. Her name was Quinn, not that it mattered as the word Freak still ran through my head whenever I thought about her. Which wasn’t often, mind you. It’s just that she seemed to be everywhere all of a sudden, in every class, including shop. (The girl could handle a hammer like nobody’s business.)
Even during lunch, I was forever aware of her presence on the other side of the cafeteria where she sat alone. She was always alone and very quiet. I swear I could hear her heartbeat. It sped up slightly when she realized I was looking at her. She would meet my stare, a questioning concern in her green eyes. I would turn away.
I suddenly couldn’t eat enough if my life depended on it anymore. I was hungry all the time, my mother was starting to complain about me eating her out of house and home. But I couldn’t help it. I was buying lunch on top of what I started bringing with me, and it was never enough. I even resorted to eating whatever Brittany didn’t finish, which was most of her food, as she was trying to stay slim for the Fall Carnival.
I was also becoming very aware of everyone else too, in the weirdest ways possible. The smell of Brittany’s shampoo, which I used to find nice, was soon too sweet for me to stomach. And Mason…God that aftershave could melt the paint off a car it was so strong.
One day during announcements the feedback nearly killed me with how piercing it was. Nobody else seemed to be bothered by it as much, but damn if my ears didn’t ring all day after that.
Every time something like this happened, there was Freak watching me. Studying me, as if expecting me to grow an extra head or something. I tired to ignore her, I really did, but she was always in the background. Sometimes asking if I was okay, like she knew something was wrong with me even though no one else noticed.
The last straw came in shop class one day. One of the other guys nicked his finger and started bleeding, but I smelled the blood before he even yelled out. I froze, it smelled like Heaven, like the best steak I’d never had, but always wanted. A small growl escaped me, but no one noticed as they were all paying attention to the guy who’d been hurt. Everyone, but the Freak. She had placed herself between me and the pool of blood, an understanding look on her face.
“Breathe, Michael,” she soothed, her voice low and nearly inaudible, but I heard her.
I tried to breathe, but the scent of blood was heady, almost like a high. My eyes watered and my stomach clenched painfully, causing me to realize with a terrible chill that I’d finally found something that might satisfy my hunger. My mouth was watering before I knew what was going on. The room spun, I wanted to vomit. I watched as the teacher gave the guy a bandage and walked him from the room, the scent trailing behind them and mixing with the stench of teen BO that would forever haunt the shop room.
Freak was still talking to me. “Let me help you, please,” she pleaded in the sweetest voice I’d never heard.
And I became angry, furious. Another growl escaped me, this time a few of the others did noticed, including Mason.
“You okay there, man?” he asked, brows knit together in worry.
I didn’t pay him any attention, I only had eyes for her, and I was seeing red, “I don’t need any help from a FREAK LIKE YOU! So why don’t you just FUCK OFF?!”
I’d never called her that to her face. Part of me instantly regretted it, but the rest of me couldn’t have cared less at the moment. Her expression glazed over, from one of serious concern to complete detachment.
Without another word, she walked out of the room, leaving her bag behind. I didn’t see her for the rest of the day, or the rest of the week for that matter.
That small part of me that regretted yelling at her also felt worried, but I smashed that down with a vengeance. We weren’t friends or anything. She was just some weird girl that noticed when things weren’t right with me when no one else did. What should I care? Though I did find my self stealing glances over at her empty table more and more during lunch, the absence of her worried eyes leaving a sick feeling in my gut. But I ignored it. We weren’t friends, we never would be. It didn’t matter.
By that Saturday, I was absolutely on my last nerve and I couldn’t think of why. Brittany’s parents were out of town while both my parents had to work third shift at the hospital, so of course that meant party. But as the full moon started to rise over Brittany’s house and the party went into full swing, I just couldn’t shake what I was feeling. It was like my skin was crawling with spindly little insects with knives for legs and my head was spinning in a whirlwind. The air was thick with the smell of beer and pot and sweat and it made my nose burn, made my eyes sting and tear up. The music was pounding my skull like a sledgehammer sized metronome. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t breathe.
My cell rang, braking me out of this…whatever was going on. I answered without checking the ID.
“You need to leave the party, Michael. You’re not safe anymore,” said a calm voice.
It was her.
“I think you’re right,’ I whimpered, without considering who I was talking with or how she could have known. No way she was here. Brittany would have a cow if Freak so much as touched a brick of the immaculate mansion.
“I can help you, Michael. You don’t have to go through this alone. I can make it better,” she tried to tell me, but I wasn’t listening anymore as my fury took over again.
How could she know?
What could she know?
Crazy stalker freak.
I threw my phone and glass shattered somewhere. I didn’t care. There’s not much I remember much after that. I do know I pushed Brittany. And hard. Mason was yelling as I ran. His pleas fell on deaf ears.
I wasn’t me anymore.
Inside, I started to shrink away to nothing and a horrible, vicious thing clawed it’s way into my head.
The full moon shone above me. The second one this month. My bones ached to the marrow and my muscles were screaming in agony. I had to get away. I had to run. And I was hungry. More hungry than I’d ever been. It was like a great hole had ripped open inside of me that could never be filled. It was Hell. I’d died and gone to Hell. I could feel my skin ripping and burning and falling away as something inside of me took hold. It tore its way out of my mind and my body and I ceased to exist.
After that, it’s all blackness and cold. There Is Nothing.
The next thing I’m aware of is something hitting me in the face and a gruff voice scoffing, “Who’s the freak now, mutt?”
Opening my eyes was pure torture as the giant gas-ball of a sun overhead burned worse than ever above me. I heard a growl and tried to force my eyes to adjust. There was a dog, it’s hackles raised, teeth bared and drooling.
I tried to scramble away, but my body spasmed in protest as every muscle fiber burned and my head swam. Darkness licked at the edges of my vision, but I fought it back. I would not go back to that emptiness.
Looking around for what hit me in the face, I found clothes. A dingy tank and sweats. The man who spoke called his dog to him, the flannel of his shirt waving through a wall of green as they walked away through the trees.
Trees? I was in the forest? I went to stand up, failing not to cry out from the pain. I finally noticed just how sticky I was too. Red and …is that blood? Looks like it. Smells like it. Smells good. My stomach clenched into knots again like it did in shop class only the week before and this time I did vomit. Mostly blood and a lot of other chunky bits that I really don’t want to think too much about. I struggled into the clothes, but as the minutes passed the pain became more manageable. I felt more real and here, not away in the blackness. I followed the path the man took and found a truck on the other side of a clearing.
“In the back, mutt,” he ordered as the tailgate slammed down. He and the dog climbed into the cab, the door banging shut with a great CLANG.
Guess that makes me the mutt.
Crossing the clearing took my breath away and it’s a moment before I realize someone else is in the truck bed. I recognized that jacket.
She raised an ebony eyebrow, “Thought my name was Freak?”
The truck grinds to life, the man roaring from inside, “Get in or get lost!”
The dog barked too and I got the sense he’s said the same thing, only in canine.
I’m able to climb up with some difficulty and plop down beside the girl before the truck screeches away. I was fully aware of her green gaze watching me, I can’t bring myself to look at her. I also can’t bring myself to admit, even if only in my head, that a part of me had missed those eyes watching over me. Thinking back to the last few weeks, maybe she was trying to help. But how?
“You knew about this,” I whisper. More of a statement than a question.
A pause. “I suspected, but there was no guarantee you’d change,” she answered.
The truck hit a major bump that sent me reeling. I felt like I’d need to be sick again, but managed to fight it down.
“Here,” she said and I finally looked at her. I’d never seen such a beautiful sight; a sandwich in one small hand and a bottle of water in the other. It was enough to make me whimper, though I don’t think I’ll ever be full again after feeling that emptiness that settled into my core last night.
“You can eat more once we get back to the manor,” she said as if she could read my mind.
Manor? The only manor in this town was the Quartermaine House and that place had been empty for years. It used to be a big party house until part of it burned down due to one of those parties. No one had been hurt, but the place was condemned afterwards.
The dog barked and I nearly dropped my sandwich, having forgotten about him and the man who was driving. It was still glowering at me, teeth bared and all.
I tipped my head towards the cab, “Who’s the guy?” I asked.
“Burne, my brother.”
It was my turn to raise an eyebrow. What kind of name is Burne? The girl smirked as if she knew what I was thinking, but didn’t say anything else. I shrugged and ate. There was some kind of sauce on the sandwich that I couldn’t place, but it was good. So good. I wolfed the sandwich down in one, two, three bites. Why couldn’t she have brought more? my stomach whined at me.
We rode in silence for a while, I tried not to nod off, but exhaustion was catching up to me now. I had a feeling I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, as it seemed I’d wandered pretty far in to the woods. After much higher bump jolted me back to awareness, the dog’s barking soon signaled that we were nearing his home. Across the open expanse of field was the Quartermaine House as I’d guessed.
“We had to fix it up before it was livable, but it’s home,” said Quinn, as if in answer to my previous thoughts.
I was starting to get really weirded out by that. But considering what had happened last night, how could anything weird me out ever again?
There were still scorch marks around some of the back windows, though it wasn’t caved in or anything like I’ve always thought with the way people went on about how bad the fire had been. Guess that explains why she’s so good in shop, it would have taken both of them to fix it up.
Burne stopped the truck just behind the house. He and the dog jumped out without so much as a backwards glance and marched in through the screen door, letting it slam loudly in their wake.
“Well, he’s friendly,” I commented, heavy on the sarcasm. And this made her laugh. I’d never heard her laugh before. It was nice. Soft and light. Not loud and attention-grabbing like Brittany’s.
Oh, God. Brittany. A sinking feeling settled into my stomach. The vague memory of her party last night came forward along with a sudden realization of what this all meant.
“This is really happening?” I asked.
The smile left her face, telling me all I needed to know. She climbed out of the truck and offered me a helping hand. I could only stare.
This wasn’t a bad dream I’d ever wake up from. How could I ever face Brittany or anyone else again? How could I ever go home? I’d never be able to tell any of them.
Quinn’s voice cuts into my thoughts, “We can help.”
“Why didn’t you just tell me about this before it happened?” I ask, my voice hollow even though I feel like I should be angry.
“You wouldn’t have believed me.” A statement that we both know is right.
“Is it permanent?”
I sit back on the tailgate, my head swimming with confusion and hunger.
“How did this happen…..don’t you have to be bitten or something?”
Quinn shakes her head, “Moon wolves are bitten, but you’re a Blood Wolf. You inherited this condition from your father, and he from his mother.”
“My father?” My biological father had skipped town before my mother even knew she was pregnant with me. When my mom married Steve, he became my real dad. I never gave the deadbeat a second thought afterwards. Gee, thanks genetics.
“Our parents knew your father before he moved here,” Quinn explained, “Only just found out a few months ago that he’d had a relationship with a woman who’d had a kid. He had a habit of not staying in any one place too long, though you’re the first kid we’ve ever heard about. Burne and I came here to see if you were really his. To see if you’d be like him.”
“I’m nothing like him!” I rage and my vision goes red. I was standing before I realized it, my voice raising with every word, “You should have TOLD ME THIS BEFORE LAST NIGHT!”
“And like I said, you wouldn’t have believed a word of it. And if I’d tried telling you anything about your real father, that would have pushed you even further away. We came here to help you, Michael, I swear.”
Her voice was calm, but I could feel her heart beating, racing too fast. I could see the wariness in her eyes. The pulse in her neck thumping against pale skin. The way her hands were raised, like someone confronted with an animal that might attack.
And I’m the animal. My hands have balled up into fists, nails cutting into my palms deep enough to draw blood. I want to hit something, anything.
The only thing near is the taillight. It shatters.
A second sound reaches my ears. I spin to find out what and see the back door has flown open.
Here comes the dog, barreling out to stand between me and the girl.
While Burne now stands framed in the door with a pistol trained on me. A deadly glint in his eyes.
“Whoa, hold on….” I gulp, my anger vanished, having been replaced with a sudden need to disappear.
“Burne. Put that damned thing down…NOW!” There’s a power behind Quinn’s words. A power that cracks through the air like a whip. The hand holding the gun begins to shake.
“Yell at her again, mutt, and I’ll put you down.” Burne hesitated for a moment longer, but his gun hand jerks down, almost as if an unseen hand were forcing it that way against his will.
“I’m-I’m sorry…..I didn’t mean t-to yell or break the light. Honest.” Now it’s my heart that’s racing.
“It’s okay, Michael. We know you didn’t.”
Is she always so calm about everything?
“You’ll pay for that, one way or another.” Burne gestured to the truck with the pistol and I tried not to flinch. No success.
“Yeah, ‘course,” I nod. As if I would disagree with him. Or the gun.
The dog hadn’t twitched a muscle beyond the beady little black eyes that followed my every move as I leaned back against the truck. What little energy I had having drained away with my frustration.
“I am sorry,” I say, hoping she gets that I mean it about everything; the name calling, the ignoring, etc.
“It’s okay, you’re not the first or the worst.”
That’s awful cryptic. And kinda worrying.
“What d’you…?” I start to ask but she cuts me off.
“You’d like to get cleaned up, huh? I’ll put some clothes in the bathroom and get breakfast made. I’m sure you must be starving.” Quinn walks off, the dog trailing behind her, never taking its eyes off me for a second.
It could probably see me for what I really was; a monster, a much larger and more dangerous predator than itself that had somehow wandered into his territory. It would never accept me, that was sure.
After taking a second to catch my breath and wonder why I had so much insight into a damned dogs mind all of a sudden, I too followed like the hungry mutt I’d become.
And Quinn was right, I was starving. Ravenous. I thought the sandwich had helped, but it had only taken some of the edge off for a short while. Now the mention of food had set my gut wrenching in anticipation.
Just inside the door was a good sized kitchen. Everything from the farmhouse sink to the cabinets to the black-iron wood-burning stove, and patterned wall paper all looked vintage, original even. The floor was well worn and creaky underfoot.
I wasn’t really sure what to do, the dog didn’t seem ready to let me out of his sights and I didn’t feel like I was welcome to make myself at home like people in town would invite me to do. So I just stood by the door, hoping Burne wouldn’t pop back up with that pistol again.
It may have felt like an eternity, but Quinn was only gone a few minutes, reappearing through a small doorway I hadn’t even noticed.
“Shower’s running,” she said, pointing back towards the doorway, “Up the stairs, first door you come to. Anything in particular you like to eat?”
“Uh, no. Whatever’s fine, I guess.” I caught a scent of her as I passed. I’d smelled it before at school. It wasn’t like anything any other girls wore; not floral or sweet, but pretty nonetheless. Through the low doorway was a narrow staircase winding up into the darkness.
“You know, ” I started, looking back to see her reaching for a cabinet door, “This is all really confusing and I’m not completely convinced this isn’t some weird nightmare.”
The expression that passed over her face was gut-wrenching. “I wish I could promise you that’s all this was,” she said.
“If this isn’t a dream though, I’m glad you’re trying to help me.”
“It’s what we came here for.”
“I guess I should say thanks then.”
“You don’t have to.”
“Yeah, I do. I don’t deserve your help after the way I’ve talked to you.”
“Go clean up, you look like shit.”
And there’s the end to that heart-touching moment. Which was only right, no need to let things get anymore awkward than was necessary.
The bathroom was also done in retro-chic, right down to the claw-foot tub. Quaint really.
I hand’t realized just how much blood I was covered in until I stood watching it all run down the drain as if I were still bleeding from a fresh wound. And I had wounds. Huge claw marks across my shoulder and down my legs. It was as if I’d tried digging something out from inside of me. Or more along the lines of something inside had tried tearing its way out of me.
Either way, it should have hurt more than it was and it seemed to be healing fast too. Super healing, like the Wolverine. I’d always wondered what it would be like to have a superpower, but this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.
By the time I was finished, the wounds had closed completely, though they left some pretty nasty looking scars. Hopefully those would be gone all together by the time I got home.
Ah, home. I hadn’t bothered looking for a clock, but if it was as late as it felt, my parents should be home by now. Would they notice I was gone? I was for sure grounded if they had. And how would I explain it? “Oh, don’t worry, I wasn’t drunk or doing drugs or anything. Just turning into a raging man-beast for the night thanks to my loser sperm-donor of a biological father. No biggie.”
That would go over so well.
All thoughts of my parents evaporated once the scent of breakfast hit my nose. It carried me down the stairs and to the table. Bacon, eggs, and french toast were set out in mismatched china. Without a word Quinn handed me a cup of something hot then turned back to the stove. It smelled Heavenly and tasted just as amazing. Spicy yet sweet. It instantly settled my raging hunger cramps.
“What is this?” I asked, sitting down. The warmth of it spread across my skin and settled into my nerves, allowing my muscles to relax. I felt calm, truly calm, for the first time in weeks.
Without looking back, she answered, “Wolfs-bane.”
I had to stop myself from spitting it out. “Wolfs-bane…isn’t that supposed to be poisonous for people like…like…,” I couldn’t bring myself to finish the sentence. I just couldn’t.
Finally turning around with a plate full of sausages, Quinn smirked at me as she sat down and explained, “That myth has been perpetuated by Wolves for centuries, so that superstitious people would grow and maintain it. It’s actually beneficial, it does in a pinch when the hunger gets too strong and you can’t find something to eat. It also helps with healing, especially after a bad turn, which I’m sure last night was. The first always is. You look much better all ready.”
Looking down at my scarred hand I was startled to see it wasn’t scarred anymore, only an ugly red line was left were a terrible scratch had been and it was still fading away before my own eyes. In a matter of seconds it was completely gone. “Wow,” I breathed out in amazement, “Can I have some more?”
That soft, sweet smile that crinkled her eyes had returned to light her face as Quinn pointed to the table by my elbow where a small kettle sat, “You can finish what’s in the pot, but not more than that. You’ve already had some on the sandwich. Too much more wouldn’t be a good idea.”
“I thought you said it wasn’t poisonous.”
“And it’s not, but it can be extremely sedating, like morphine. You could stop breathing if you take too much.”
“Good to know.”
I began pouring another cup when Burne walked in, that same hard glint to his eyes as when he held the gun. He had green eyes, just like his sister.
How lovely to notice.
He sat down and started filling a plate without looking away from me, as if daring me to say something. I didn’t. I kept my head down and drank my delicious tea, thinking a sedative for Burne wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Quinn paused in plating her own food for a moment to glare at me, but the moment was over quickly. Once everyone had food, Burne took Quinn’s right hand in his and she held out her left to me. I hesitated then took her hand in mine. They both bowed there heads but said nothing, I followed suit. Though instead of offering prayers for the food, I couldn’t help thinking about how soft her hand was. Soft as silk or satin. This amazed me. I’d seen her in shop class, she knows how to use tools and no-doubt had put hard work into this house, but her hands don’t show that. They were warm too, and fit so well in mine. It took me a moment to release her hand once they were finished.
A look passed between us and a blush rose within her cheeks, coloring her face with warmth that made her glow.
I’d never seen that in Brittany, her face was always smeared with so much fake blush and powder. I used to think that was pretty, but now I’ve decided I don’t like that anymore. No make-up is good make-up.
Breakfast was a quiet affair. The only noise was silverware scraping against the plates and glasses being refilled, with small please and thank you’s when something was passed. I decided I liked this too. It was nice.
Breakfast at home was usually making a bowl of cereal and retreating to my room.
A ding rang through the air, Quinn went to stand but Burne signaled for her stay while he grabbed a cloth and moved over to the stove to remove a small sheet of steaming biscuits. Oh, boy. He placed a biscuit on plates for each of us and handed them around. I immediately slathered mine with butter, watching as it melted into liquid gold.
Ah, that’s the stuff.
“Quinn, this is amazing,” I said, finally feeling that it was okay to speak.
She smiled that same little smile that I’d only ever seen today, “Thanks.”
A loud clang made me jump like a foot in the air.
“Sorry,” said Burne, bending to retrieve the butter knife from the floor, his expression not at all sorry. Quinn glared at him, and hard, but he just shrugged and took a bite of his biscuit. I sipped my tea. Then yawned. Quinn noticed.
“You should get some rest, Michael,” she said, “We don’t have any of the guest rooms set up, but there’s a daybed in the parlor. And honestly, it’s more comfortable than most of the guest beds.”
Of course, this made me wonder just how many guest rooms there were, but nevermind. Bed sounded awesome. My bed would be even more awesome.
I shook my head, “I need to get home, my parents must be losing it by now.”
“No worries, they’ve already been told you stayed over at what’s-his-face’s place after the party last night. No worries. It’s better if you stay here and recover. Where I can keep an eye on you,” explained Burne.
Wow, he could say more than five words. And he wanted to keep on eye me? That made me feel all warm and squishy inside. In a please-don’t-shot-me-and-turn-my-warm-insides-into-squishy-outsides kind of way.
Who am I to argue such thoughtfulness.
I was starting to understand not having too much of the wolfs-bane. The tiredness hit me hard and fast from there on, I almost nodded off on my plate as the world blurred around me.
“Where’s that daybed?” I asked.
Quinn and Burne both took an arm and led me down a hall into a large room with a huge bay window. The daybed sat in front of it, looking out over the front yard. And by yard I mean fields of green, only broken up by the creeping red of roses which were rising up from the flower beds to the level of the window outside. The winding gravel drive way was so long it disappeared somewhere in the trees across the way.
My last thought before my head hit the pillow was something about all that green being a bitch to mow but well worth all the green dough of an allowance for doing it.
Again, Quinn laughed out loud to my thoughts, the sound of it washed over me like a lullaby. I’d like to listen to it a little (a lot) more often.