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Fully healed from his time in the silver prison, Ben narrowly escaped from Bart and his troop as he back tracked to Devil’s Rock. Knowing that Bart might be hot on his trail, he avoided the place so as not to further incriminate himself. Instead, he refreshed himself with Clarence’s scent and deviated from the path, following the outlaw and his gang.
He passed a neighboring farmhouse and helped himself to a fresh shirt, vest, and pair of trousers. Although, it didn’t much matter to him whether he faced the outlaw completely naked or dressed for a bitterly cold winter. Justice would be dispensed no matter. For Sarah’s sake, he would take care of Clarence once and for all.
The scent trail led him to a town about a day’s travel west from Devil’s Rock. The town was modest and small, much like all the towns and trading posts in that region of the frontier. He scouted around the borders first, assessing how many people were in the town by the medley of sounds and scents that he could detect on the wind. Clarence’s scent was all over the place. This must have been a frequent stop of his.
Yes, I know this is a little off topic from what I normally post and it doesn’t really belong to either of the stories I have going on right now, but this story has been pressing on me for the last couple of days and unless I let it out, I won’t be able to write anything else. It’s based off of a personal experience. It’s not what happened, but it could have. And if it did, I probably wouldn’t be writing about it to begin with.
She sat in her car, staring ahead at the stone edifice of building 400. This was her first visit to the campus. Up to this point, it had been all online, but she couldn’t continue without meeting her academic advisor. If emails were enough, she wouldn’t have been there.
This was the only time she could squeeze out of her work schedule to be here and she’d been both dreading it and anticipating it for weeks. In another month or so, she would be enrolled in college for the first time. Her high school education had allowed her to get a job and pure wit and street knowledge got her the rest of the way. But it was time to take the next step. She just wished there was an easier way to do it.
Clad in her khaki pants and black work polo and toting a less than fashionable canvas purse she had purchased years ago, she slipped out of her leased car and marched up the front steps, feigning confidence in the only way she knew how.
The tall man in front of Tessa looked friendly enough, but she wasn’t going to be fooled again. She had always heard about post traumatic stress, and this was a far cry from what soldiers must experience in the heat of battle, but Tessa couldn’t ignore the obvious fear and hesitance that coursed through her now. The last stranger she tried to trust drugged her and tried to rape her in an alley. Christopher was the only thing keeping her from screaming and running for cover. He would protect her.
“Tessa,” Christopher rumbled, “I told you to stay upstairs.”
Tessa didn’t speak, but kept her stare fixed on the dark eyes of the stranger between them. He offered out his hand and she flinched backwards, her nails digging into the white wood of the doorframe that she clung to. She might as well have been like a skittish colt the way she behaved.
Christopher was instantly between Tessa and the stranger, his broad shoulders tense. She could see the bunching of taunt muscles beneath his shirt and it took quite a bit of self control not to reach out and touch him.
“You’ll have to forgive Tessa,” Christopher said. “Your Lance put her through a great deal of stress.”
Tessa’s frightened eyes widened, darting back and forth between the two men, hoping an explanation would come up before she had to ask.
The stranger’s mouth drew down into a slight frown as he lowered his arm. “That’s not what I heard,” he replied as he crossed his canon-like arms over his chest. “Lance accused you of attacking him without cause.”
“Then he’s a liar. Tessa just woke up from the effects of a drug Lance slipped in her drink at the club.”
The stranger didn’t looked shocked at all to hear the truth. Instead, he sighed. “This wouldn’t be the first time.” He took a few massive steps towards Tessa and this time she skipped behind Christopher and clung to the back of his shirt, her fingers wrinkling the soft material. Like a child, she dug her face into him and took comfort in his earthy smell.
She heard a low, guttural growl rumble rise from Christopher that she could also feel in her own body due to their closeness. She peaked up and saw the stranger and Christopher locked in glares.
“I just want to confirm what you’re saying is true. You know I’m here under a white flag, Christopher.”
The growl subsided and Christopher gently guided Tessa to face the stranger, his hands placed protectively on her shoulders should something go unplanned.
The stranger stepped close and demanded, “Open your mouth, child.”
Feeling the light squeeze from Christopher, telling her to obey, Tessa opened her mouth. The stranger bent down low and sniffed.
“It’s been mingled with alcohol, but the traces are still there,” he said as he straightened and turned his attention back to Christopher. “Lance has a bad habit of lying about these things. This isn’t the first girl who has fallen victim to him. We ask him to be discrete, but he’s still young.”
“That’s no excuse,” Christopher retorted. “If you know he has done this before. someone should have been keeping watch over him.”
“With half a dozen other newly turned wolves to look after, we can’t keep tabs on everyone else in our pack.”
Tessa grew bold and finally spoke. “You’re a werewolf too?” she asked, perhaps a little too loudly.
Christopher shushed her a little too late. But she hadn’t seen a single servant all night, so her outburst might have gone unheard.
“Yes, I am,” the stranger replied, finally looking down to her. “My name is Jareth. Lance is my younger brother and our father is the alpha of our pack.”
“Keep your voices down,” Christopher reprimanded. “I still have my butler on the other side of the house.”
“They don’t know?” Jareth said askance.
“I’ve been very careful to not brag about it,” Christopher replied.
Jareth placed a hand on his chest and gave a short, formal bow of apology. “Far be it from me to spill the beans then.”
Christopher rerouted the subject. “You’re the pack beta,” he whispered. “You’re the security. It’s your job to keep them in line.”
“I keep my pack safe from outside danger. What they do to incriminate themselves is none of my business. Not even if it’s my brother being mischievous.”
“Mischievous?” Christopher hissed. “You call drugging a child to rape her mischievous? What if I weren’t there to stop him? She could have become pregnant.”
Jareth gave a soft chuckle, the sound of rolling thunder coming from his chest. “She wouldn’t have gotten pregnant because Lance would have killed her. He’s done over a dozen times now and I doubt he would have done any different with her.”
The blood drained from Tessa’s face as his words bounced around in her mind. Lance was a murdering rapist and she had been his next target. She was suddenly much more appreciative of Christopher coming to her rescue. She would be dead right now if it weren’t for him.
Tessa could feel the rage boiling up inside Christopher, his hands growing warm and rigid on her shoulders.
“I hadn’t realized,” he mumbled.
Jareth gave a shrug. “We keep it discrete. Mostly picking off criminals or scum bags in the lower parts of the city. But Lance is special. He doesn’t like his meals smelling like cigarette smoke and body odor. He prefers perfumes and soft skin, I suppose. Whatever the reason, he hasn’t been sloppy about it so we haven’t cracked down any harder. Our father has scolded him and taken away privileges, but Lance has found a way around the punishments. For instance, we had no idea he was in this town. He’s never traveled this far looking for a piece of meat.”
Tessa felt faint and her legs buckled as mental images of mangled bodies and gruesome feeding frenzies flashed before her eyes. A whole new reality about werewolves hit her harder than a freight train and she couldn’t handle it.
Christopher braced himself against her to hold her steady. “Are you finished with your investigation?” he asked, a streak of annoyance in his tone.
“Yes, I am. And I’m glad I didn’t have to resort to disciplinary measures.”
“I suggest you use some discipline on your brother instead of me,” Christopher grumbled, the storm of anger still swirling beneath the surface.
Jareth tipped an imaginary hat to both of them and exited the mansion without an escort. Tessa let her nerves fall apart and she crumbled downward. Christopher swept her up into his arms.
It was much of a blur as Tessa floated between reality and the imaginary scenarios that played in her mind. She imagined, to the worst degree, what werewolves might have looked like and what kind of atrocities they had committed.
She was back in the plush bed she had woken up in with Christopher by her side as she sat and tried to regain her equilibrium.
Finally, she asked, “Do you eat people too?” It was a bold question, but Tessa couldn’t continue without knowing the truth.
“No. Never,” he replied.
She nodded and that was good enough before she leaned in and rested her head against his shoulder. She wondered if it would have even matter. Would she still have cared deeply for Christopher if she knew that he ate another human being? Would she still love the embrace of the arms that surrounded her now if she knew that they had also held a half eaten corpse? Or the eyes she adored if she thought they had gazed hungrily upon a defenseless child?
She didn’t know and it was too much to wonder now, not when she was so weary. All she wanted was to be close to him.
“It’s nearly morning now,” he said softly, tenderly. “Do you have any classes today?”
Tessa shook her head.
“You may stay here as long as you need. I have a few classes, but Harvey knows you’re here and will get you anything you like until I return.”
She reached out and grabbed at the front of his shirt, popping one of the buttons off. It clattered to the floor loudly, bouncing on the hardwood and rolling under the bed. “Don’t leave me,” she begged with a whine.
Christopher took her hand and placed it back in her lap. “I won’t be gone long. Try to rest. Can I get you anything to help you sleep better? I have a stash of herbal teas that work wonders for bundled nerves.”
Tessa pulled away and looked into his eyes, a new fear forming a knot in her throat. Through all of her forwardness, she had forgotten that Christopher had no interest in her. She was still a child and although his eyes were still filled with compassion, they lacked the love that she knew she felt now. Perhaps the drugs were not completely out of her system and causing her to be delusional in this way.
She let her arms drop and envelope herself instead of Christopher and looked to the tufted rug on the floor in front of the bed.
“What’s wrong now?” he asked, his hand coming to rest on her back.
She shook her head. “Nothing. I’m just tired,” she replied before edging away and rolling under the covers to wallow in her self-pity. It was partly true. She was tired.
Christopher seemed to buy her lie. And even if he didn’t, he let her alone and left the bedroom. He closed the door, letting darkness take over the room with the exception of the candles burning on the vanity and the tiny fading embers within Tessa’s heart.
Sarah emerged from the mine and watched the havoc unfold amongst the sheriff and his men. Feeling weary by the magnitude of her actions, she leaned against a wooden beam and waited, eyes sullen and emotionless.
She recounted all she had heard from Ben, about his life and his struggles as a werewolf. Half the night had been spent in strange ponderings about the nature of it all. She never suspected that he would be a creature of old myths and fairy tales. A little insane, perhaps, but never preternatural. HIs eyes could have been that way since he was born, a mutation or defect. His hunger for raw meat could have been some weird craving. Nothing could have prepared her for the truth.
And nothing could have prepared her for his story, so full of death and tragedy. She had been just a baby during the war that tore the nation apart. She knew nothing of such misery as he experienced. To be shunned by your family and lose any chance with having a normal life. Yes, she pitied him and his suffering.
Tessa couldn’t feel much at first. Then, slowly, she began to gain feeling in her arms and legs. She curled her toes and felt the sensation of silk on her skin. Her hand slid and she felt the same beneath her fingertips. Then there came the directional knowledge that she was lying down on her back and whatever she lay on was rather comfortable. Much more plush than her old twin mattress back at her apartment.
Even though her eyes remained shut, Tessa began to feel dizzy and lightheaded. A dull throbbing pounded at her temples. She took a deep breath in and let it out before opening her eyes. The room around her was unfamiliar and dimly lit. A few candles burned out of sight, casting a dancing glow upon the walls and ceiling. They smelled of lavender and pine, an odd combination but none the less soothing.
Ben sat upon the floor of his prison cell, leaning against one of the walls for support of his weary body. The silver specks ingrained in the rock around him burned his skin, searing it until his flesh bled and blistered. The previous evening, before the change, he moved around to find a suitable spot to sit where he wouldn’t be tormented by his one weakness. But, the mine was unfortunately rich with the valuable metal and he found no place of relief. Resigned to his fate, he sat there, half naked and ravenous with hunger.
In his human form, he could reason. But the beast that rampaged the night before wasn’t so. His body and spirit was broken when the animal threw itself against the walls of his prison, cracking rock and bone in an effort to escape. And with the affects of the silver weakening his ability to heal, Ben could still feel the fractured bones and torn muscles throughout his body.
Tessa and the three girls who had invited her made their way through the throngs of dancers and partiers. The club was packed for opening night and it seemed like half of the college student body was there to celebrate. To blend in, she let out a wild scream when the DJ started playing a familiar song. She and the girls swung their hips to the rhythm, bumping and grinding like they always did.
The motions made her uncomfortable and she would have rather been swimming in dead bodies riddled with the Black Plague than dancing amongst the wriggling bodies of the strangers around her. But with her face half covered in glitter and her own body clad in the preposterously provocative outfit she often wore out on the town, she looked the part and played it perfectly. The greatest actresses in Hollywood had nothing on her ability to be someone she wasn’t.
Sarah held the cooling tin cup of coffee between her palms, savoring the potent smell. She had never cared much for the drink, but her father drank it often and the smell of roasting grounds reminded her of better days.
Sheriff Bart’s group of officers caught up with them at Devil’s Rock and led them back into the desert with Ben in tow as their prisoner. A chain was tied between his cuffs and Sheriff Bart had one end wrapped around his gloved fist instead of tying it to the saddle like she had assumed he would do. Ben was in obvious pain. Sarah assumed it was from the bullet that was still lodged in his leg, but she could see the burnt skin beneath the metal that bound his wrists.
It’d been a week since Tessa learned the truth about the anthropology professor at her school. Christopher Johnson was a werewolf in need of companionship and Tessa agreed to be his playmate. Since then, she wondered if she had made the right decision.
Christopher made himself scarce, but only in the physical sense. Tessa was haunted by dreams of wolves and medieval carnage, causing her to be exhausted and irritable. She no longer had to fake a hangover as she walked the halls with eyes have shut and feet dragging on the tile floor.
She dreaded each day she worked at the coffee shop, wondering if he would come in and torment her with his handsome looks and dark secret. Tessa didn’t think about the weight this secret would bear on her shoulders; to know that she was the only human in the whole world that knew what Christopher was.