The werewolf came when the sun was high.
It was lunch and I’d fled the cool tiled halls of Pinewoods High School in favor of the green quad. I dropped my purse and spread myself on the warm, prickly grass. The blades tickled my palms and the backs of my bare knees. I closed my eyes and turned my face to the sun. It pressed down, the heat weighing on my skin. I cooked, baking myself darker and soaking it up. I wanted to strip off my tank top, pull down my skirt and lay there in panties and bra – no, I wanted it all gone. I wanted to be naked between the grass and the sun, so every single inch of me could learn the patterns of the heat; could memorize it against the cold, dark night.
The noise of my classmates faded while I listened to the heat. I could hear it clinging to the wind, and for a moment I imagined grasping the strands of air and flying away, tugged along up to the clouds higher and higher until I was so close to the sun it felt cold again.
That high up, could Dove face the sun with me?
I remembered a song Mama used to sing, before I’d come to live with Poppy and became a monster:
It don’t matter where you bury me
I’ll be home and I’ll be free
It don’t matter where I lay
All my tears be washed away
I wondered what it would feel like when Dove finally took too much, when he drank everything out of me. Would it all – my blood, my anger, my fear – flow out and into him, or into the ground? But instead of empty, I imagined I’d be filled up with all the things I was missing now. Freedom and joy. Love. He loved me. He was the murderer, the vampire. But I was the monster because I only wanted him to touch me, I only wanted his icy fingers pushing up my shirt so I could think about how he’d torn Poppy apart, about how when I was like him I could destroy everything that scared me.
The sun pressed down. Its hot orange glowed behind my eyelids. I heard Melissa Harvy screech with laughter and her boyfriend Hank’s teasing, and I tried to picture Dove beside me. He’d be wearing a letter jacket, and his pale hair would shine. He’d smile and I’d sit in his lap so he could kiss my neck while we laughed with Melissa Harvy and her boyfriend Hank about how Dove was going to lead the football team to victory while Hank whined on the bench. They’d get into an argument, and Melissa and I would coo and pretend to disapprove, when really we liked to see them fluff their feathers for us.
Suddenly I was cold and the hot glow vanished into shade. I opened my eyes and peered up. A boy blocked the sunlight. I fluttered my eyelids as my pupils adjusted. “Who are you?” I said. I didn’t recognize him from school, though he fit in well enough with his jeans and confused expression.
“You’re Savannah Ingram?” He towered over me.
“Who. Are. You?” I propped myself up on my elbows.
“My name’s Jared. You don’t look like a girl who favors the blood-suckers.”
I was on my feet in two seconds, poking a finger into his chest. “Look, I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but back off.”
His mouth curved into a smile. “You’re the one attacking, sweetheart.”
I made a fist and withdrew my hands to my hips. “I’m not your sweetheart.”
“Better me than him.”
“Why do you care?” I started at his hair (rowdy and dark) and slid my gaze down his face (no older than mine), past his chest (nicely muscled), over hips and thighs (lovely), and ended on the steel-toed boots that must’ve been roasting his feet.
“Why don’t you?”
“He isn’t cocky or full of himself, for starters,” I sneered.
I smoothed down my skirt and then bent to grab my backpack. “Later, loser.”
“Wait.” Jared caught my arm. I froze before I could help it, but as soon as I did, he released me. I continued to feel the phantom pressure of his hand, and I thought again of Poppy, and how Dove had scattered his fingers like flower petals on the living room floor. “I smell him on you,” he continued, almost gently.
I hated it when people were gentle. “That’s disgusting.”
“I agree – I wouldn’t want the stench of death on me, either.”
It was my turn to laugh as I glanced up at Jared’s face. The line of his lips was earnest and there was no amusement in his dark eyes. I backed up several steps. “You care what happens to me.”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“I don’t care what happens to you.”
“Then why are you still here?”
“Because – because you’re weird, and I want to know how you know about Dove.”
“I smelled him.”
Jared nodded again and spread his wide hands. “We try to keep track of the suckers in Jackson.”
“Me and my family.”
“What are you?”
“That’s all he is.”
Jared blinked. The sunlight turned his eyelashes into gold and I wanted to skim my fingers across them. They’d tickled like the warm green grass. But he shook his head, “He hunts people.”
He saved me. “People deserve it.”
“You don’t really think that.”
I hitched my backpack onto my shoulders and said, “You know, I really,really like it when guys tell me what I think.” I left him standing there in the sunny quad.
Instead of returning to class, I ditched and went home to the mod house park. Dove and I didn’t bother locking the door, so I slammed straight in, dumped my books, and headed back toward my bedroom. As I passed Poppy’s recliner, I kicked it, hoping he was watching from his window in Hell.
I pulled off my skirt and shirt and crept under the covers next to Dove. He was cold and didn’t budge in his sleep. Or death. Whatever it was. The thick curtains were drawn, blocking the hot sun, and for a brief moment I considered throwing them aside and clinging to Dove while he burned.
Instead, I snuggled closer to his silent body, pressing my cheek to his shoulder. I shivered and splayed my sun-darkened hand over his chest. How long would my tan last when I never again saw the sun?
Another song chattered in my ears:
Open me up anywhere you wish
Take out anything you like
Seal me up when you’re through
Leave a little room for surprise
Still on my neck the breath of the dead
Even as blood and bone
I can tolerate a still heart
But I can’t stand being alone
Dove woke me with his wintry fingers running through my hair. I sighed but did not open my eyes. I was warm under the blankets, and his body was, too, where it was curled around me. Only those fingers were like ice. I kissed his shoulder.
“You smell like dog,” he said.
Normally, that is the kind of comment that gets the boy you’re in bed with a swift kick in the balls, or at the very least some harsh pinching. But I lifted my chin and looked at him, into his washed blue eyes. He
was so effing innocent sometimes. “I haven’t been around any,” I whispered.
His nose wrinkled. I could see the tiny blue veins in his cheeks. I licked my lips and pressed them against his. His hands tentatively gripped my arms and I could feel the shape of his fangs. I wanted to prick the tip of my tongue against them. I wanted him to tear out my throat. I bit down onto his lip, until I tasted his blood.
Dove didn’t move, but waited for me to get over my pique.
I shoved away from him and stumbled out of the bed. “I’m going for a run.”
The sun was low, and when I dashed into the forest of needle-thin pines, it vanished almost entirely. My feet crunched on the path and I settled into an even pace. Wind licked at my thighs and elbows, brushing wisps of hair away from my forehead.
Shadows flickered, as if I was inside a shutter-box, and the rows of trees snapped fast pictures, click-click-click, faster than my heart beat, faster than my feet shoved at the earth.
Dove told me my heart sounded to him like the dying wings of a bird. If I ran hard enough, maybe I could hear it, too.
Movement caught my eye and I slowed my jog. There weren’t often other runners this time of day, especially not off the trail. But there it was again – a gray shape keeping pace with me. Panting.
A huge dog – a wolf.
I picked up speed, and it swung its narrow, fuzzy face to me. It grinned and stretched its legs wider. It passed me, and I focused on the path. I ran.
The shock of running echoed up from my toes and I pushed harder and harder, pumping my arms, leaning forward, reaching with my strides. The forest blurred into a long, dark tunnel, and my breath and heart fell into quick rhythm.
The pulse flowed through me, roaring into my ears and down to tingle in my fingers. I ran – I ran and that’s all I was. My heart did not flutter and die – it soared.
But the wolf beat me to the loop where I always turned around. He sat in front of a wide tree, his tail brushing against the ground as he wagged it, clearing a fan-shaped space in the fallen pine needles. His tongue lolled out.
I slowed and stopped. My chest heaved and I was the one panting. But my blood was alive.
The wolf shook itself and stood. It lowered its head and arched its back and suddenly began to shake all over. Fur rained down among the needles. I only stared. It whined, but I couldn’t move forward – there was nothing for me to do.
And I was completely unsurprised when its hide split down its back like a zipper and sloughed off like a coat.
Jared crouched there on all fours. Naked. The muscles in his shoulders clenched and relaxed and he rolled his head around to stretch his neck. Then he stood, gripping the wolf-skin in one strong hand.
I finally moved, but only to walk forward and skim my fingers down the coarse fur. He didn’t stop me, and I was close enough to feel the heat radiating off of him. My heart was already beating so hard and I felt so alive it was too easy to lean in and put my lips against his neck. His pulse was strong, and he did smell like a dog.
“Come with me,” he said, and his voice vibrated against my lips.
Backing away a few inches, I tilted my face to look past his mouth at his eyes. “Where?”
“My family. We can protect you.”
“I don’t need protection.”
“You do – he’s all over you, and inside you, too, isn’t he?”
Not as far as I’d like. “He loves me.”
“They can’t love.” The words were harsh, and I wondered what had happened to make him hate Dove and his kind.
“Not like you can,” I smiled and pressed my hands flat against his chest. His skin was as dark as mine. Sun-kissed.
“I’m serious, Savannah. We know what he did to your grandfather. He’ll do it to you, too.”
“Maybe.” It didn’t scare me. I wanted Dove to tear me into pieces.
“Or he’ll make you like he is.”
“Why did they send you, Jared?”
“I’m your age.”
“And why,” I touched his wolf-skin again, “should men who turn into wolves be safer than vampires?”
“I’m human, Savannah. Like you.” He bent and whispered it in my ear. “We have families and live in the sunlight.”
I closed my eyes. “I had a family.”
“He took it from you.”
“Only because I was too afraid to do it myself.”
“Why are you loyal to him? Are you in love with him?”
I looked, and standing behind Jared was Dove. I stared at his grey-blue eyes, the palest things in the darkness of the forest. And I said, “No.”
Jared smelled him then, and shoved me back. As I stumbled, he whirled around. “Stay away, blood-sucker.”
Dove flicked his glance at me. I’d landed on my butt, rubbing my sore palms together. Then he shrugged. He smiled sadly at Jared. “You shouldn’t have come,” he muttered in that softest voice of his.
“If you love her, you won’t destroy her.”
“Didn’t you realize it was getting dark?” Dove stepped forward.
Jared looked at me for help. His hand fisted around his wolf-skin. But he didn’t have time to put on his own fangs.
He wanted my help. And for a moment, I thought of how alive I’d been after we’d raced; how my blood had thrummed and how warm he’d been under my touch. I said, “You don’t understand, Jared. Dove can’t make me like him.”
Between one blink and the next, Dove stood before Jared and griped the wolf-boy’s throat in one hand. His fish-belly white fingers glowed against Jared’s dark neck. Jared struggled, but the fingers dug in.
I met Jared’s panicked eyes and said, “Because I already am.”
Dove squeezed, and Jared’s body collapsed to the pine-needle carpet. Dove turned to me with Jared’s throat still clutched tightly in his fist. Blood splatter decorated his face. He held his other hand out to me.
I took it.
Author’s Note: the songs are “All My Tears” written by Julie Miller and “Still Heart” by Cree Summer. Also, you can find all of Dove and Savannah’s earlier episodes (The Dusk Saga) tagged under dove.
image by davespilbrow