A roaring engine comes up behind me, but I ignore it as I set foot in the cemetery, a shortcut to Rachel’s house. My car wouldn’t start this morning so now I’m left walking in the cold to her house. It sounds as if the car shuts off behind me, so I assume someone is probably coming to visit a grave and I hurry to get through and out of the way. I yank my black hood of my jacket over my head before shoving my hands back into the pockets, though it offers little relief to the continually dropping temperatures.
Dried leaves crunch to my left, as if something of substantial weight stepped on them. I stop walking and my head darts its way. Nothing, but a chill runs down my spine and the feeling that someone is watching me streams into my body. I take a look around, spotting the car that I heard earlier parked and quiet, but with no driver to be seen. I gulp, slowly turning back around and walking even faster than before, wanting to get out of this graveyard as soon as possible.
Just keep walking, Parker.
I keep my head down as more noises sound around me, hoping to ignore them. It’s when the footsteps stop that I get worried enough to come to a halt myself. It takes me a moment to work up the courage to look in the direction I last heard the noises. Other than my pounding heart and the flowing wind, there’s nothing but silence to fill my ears.
I flinch upon turning my head and finding a figure bending over a grave, pulling my hands out of my pocket. Dark clouds have moved in front of the sun, leaving the cemetery shadowed and even more sinister than before. Before now, I’ve never really considered cemeteries to be creepy, but as if right now, there is no other word for it.
My body stiffens and thoughts of various ways I could be killed racks my brain, which may or may not be an overreaction to the situation, but I can’t really prevent it from happening. The figure sets down a bouquet of flowers before rising to their feet and turning in my direction. Whoever it is appears much smaller once they’re up, which brings me the faintest feeling of comfort. But not enough to make me relax.
Even as the person makes a step toward me, I can’t bring my feet to unglue themselves from the ground and move. They step into an area of light and I immediately begin to settle down, feeling stupid. It’s only a young-looking woman with long, straight black hair hanging down her shoulders. Her petite nose is tinted red, most likely from the freezing air blowing in her face.
“Oh, god,” I say. “You had me freaked out for a second there. Sorry about that.”
“It’s fine,” the woman says, her head cocked, studying me. The clouds drift away from the sun, brightening up the area enough for me to be able to read the gravestone. Tiffany Anne Rhodes, it reads.
Tiffany? I think, put on edge. How does she know Tiffany?
“You’re Parker, right?” she asks, startling me.
“How do you know my name?” My eyes search the graveyard for a means of escape, though they get latched onto the woman’s after a second. They begin to glow a bright red color, exactly like Julia’s can. I can’t pry my eyes away, let alone move my petrified body.
“I’d like to talk to you, if you don’t mind,” she says. Her eyes stop glowing, returning to a dark, nearly black color.
My fingers thrum against the sides of my legs. “I do mind, but I don’t think I’m in the position to object right now,” I say, wishing I could stop myself from saying these kinds of things.
The woman smiles brightly. “You’d be correct.” She waves a hand. “Walk with me.”
My feet unfreeze themselves from the ground to catch up with her. She doesn’t even bother to check on whether or not I’m following her, but I don’t know what would happen if I chose not to, so I match myself to her pace next to her.
“I’m here to make an offer to you, Parker. I’m assuming you recognized my eyes and have figured out by now that I’m a werewolf. Correct?” She looks at me and I find myself nodding. “Good,” she nods. “My question for you is...do you want to be?”
My head darts toward her, surprised. “Do I want to be a...werewolf?” The woman nods. I pause, every nerve in my body warning me that something is wrong. “And what is it that you want?”
She walks in silence for a few moments, staring ahead in thought. “What I want is for you to say yes. You see, I’ve been wanting to strengthen my pack. Recruit people. And I’ve been studying you, Parker. I want you to join me. I look for certain qualities in people, and you happen to have all of those qualities. I think it would be a huge benefit to have you on our side. And I think that this would benefit you tremendously as well.”
She...what? Out of everyone she could choose, she chooses me? And….just who is she? Why was she visiting Tiffany’s grave?
“But...why me? And what do I get out of this? Why would this benefit me?”
The woman seems to almost have a smirk on her face as we come to a stop by her car. She opens the passenger door to a red corvette with white streaks down the side, though I’ve no clue of the year model. “Get in. We’re going for a short ride and I’ll drop you off at wherever you were headed.”
I do as she says and contort myself to fit inside of the vehicle, a bit hard considering my height. I sit there stiffly while she comes around and starts the car, and backs out of the parking space.
Is she going to kill me? Is this some kind of joke? I can’t bring myself to ask her anything else aloud.
“I think this would do you good, Parker. What I’m offering you isn’t a curse like some people say; it’s a gift. It’s more than you could even ask for. You’ll go from inadequacy in many things to being breathtaking. You’ll be stronger and faster than any human, you’ll have better senses, your family will be protected, you’ll never get tired from physical activity again, you’ll never be sick again, any injury that you could get would heal instantly. You’d have a long lifespan so long as you stuck with me. The list goes on.”
It hits me that, though this woman could kill me at any time, I don’t think she’s going to. I think this is a genuine offer, and I need to actually consider it instead of worrying about whether or not I’m going to make it to Rachel’s house.
“What do you mean my family would be protected?” I ask. “From what I’ve heard, and seen, wouldn’t this put them in more danger?”
“Typically, it would,” she agrees. “But not with me. My pack is too strong for anyone to consider messing with. Which means that you’ll be safe, as well as your family, if you join me. Safe against almost anything. I won’t lie to you, Parker, there are...disturbances occasionally. But never anything that we can’t handle. We’re kind of in one right now, and you’d be put into it by taking up my offer, but it’ll be over soon enough. And after I think we’ll be in peace with everyone for a long time. Everything will be settled. And you’d be safe.”
That...that actually sounds good. Really good. Mom and Lizzy would be protected if I did this. I’d never have to worry about someone breaking in and hurting them because I’d be able to handle whoever it was. And….I wouldn’t mind having some powers of my own for once. I wouldn’t mind being put higher up on the food chain instead of always being stuck at the bottom, like all of the other people of this world who have been born into poor families. I would have the power to do something with myself. I would be better than regular humans at most things. Which means I’ll be picked first for once. I’ll be able to give Mom and Lizzy a better life. And give myself a better life as well.
I see the woman glancing at me out of the corner of her eye with a smirk on her face and I wonder if she knows what I’m thinking. Knows that I’m considering it.
“What about my self-control?” I ask. “I don’t want to go around killing people. And I don’t want to turn into someone else either. I want to still be me.”
“Don’t even worry about that,” she says. “I will personally work with you and get you through the hardest parts of turning myself. The hardest is the beginning. If you can get through that without losing your control, you’ll be good. And I’ll make sure that you do. My pack is united, and we take care of one another. We’ll take care of you too. We’ll make sure you don’t do anything you don’t want to do, alright? The only thing that is going to bring to you is good things. Good things for both of us.”
She stops the car at a red stoplight, and upon looking around I have no idea what area of town we’re at. There’s not a single other soul to be seen for miles. It’s pretty much deserted. The woman turns to me, her eyes meeting mine in a rigid stare.
“Don’t you want this, Parker? Don’t you want a chance to make something of yourself? Be more than what you were meant to be? The chance to make your dad regret ever leaving you? Show him what he did was a mistake. Don’t you wonder what’d it feel like to have him begging you for forgiveness; to have him wondering what he did to make you hate him? That same feeling he’s put you through for so many years? Take what I’m giving you and do that. There’ll be nothing left to hold you back. You are better than your father is. And it’s your time to prove it.”
As she says it, I feel almost captured by her energy. That burning light in her eyes connects with me and forces me to take heed of her words. Something in her–be it her words, her anger, or something else–resonates with me. I can’t wrench my eyes away from hers.
“Isn’t this what you want, Parker?” she asks. My mouth opens and I find myself answering the question aloud–and truthfully.
“Yes,” I whisper. I don’t know if she can hear it because I don’t even hear myself say it. This–this connection I feel with her….I wonder if this is how Logan and Julia felt with each other. So in sync that they don’t even need to speak aloud, like they have the same brain. I don’t think anyone has ever understood how I feel as much as this woman–this stranger–does right now. Not Elijah, not Lizzy, not Rachel, not anyone.
“Give me your arm,” she says, holding her hand out. I do as she says and she goes about rolling up the sleeve to my jacket. I watch in awe as she begins to shift, her eyes burning red and her teeth and ears elongating into sharp points. She pulls my arm closer to her as her head cranes down to meet it halfway.
Wait, do...do I really want to do this? I ask myself at the last second, but it’s too late. My arm tenses up and I feel a sharp pain as her teeth sink into my flesh. She pulls away, leaving a perfectly shaped bite mark in my skin that my eyes can’t look away from. A drop of blood drips from her bottom lip onto my arm, the deep maroon color dark against my near-gold skin tone.
The woman, whose name I still don’t know, pulls a tissue out of her pocket and delicately dabs the blood from her mouth. I, gazing at her again in wonder, reach out and run my fingers along the tip of her ear, entranced by the beauty of her when she’s in her….more natural state, I guess you could say. I let my arm drop as her ears and teeth begin to retract. She sets the tissue down in the cup holder next to her, now looking at me.
“So, where am I taking you?”
The sound of her voice jolts me back into reality and I find myself staring at her in surprise. “What?”
“Where am I taking you?” she repeats.
Is she serious?
“Are–are you serious?” I ask, echoing my thoughts. “We’re not going to talk about anything else?”
“No, we will,” she says. “But not right now.” I hesitate, my mind beginning to fill with thoughts of uncertainty. Did I really just agree to this with a complete stranger?
“Can I at least know your name?”
She gives me a look so intense it feels as if she can read my thoughts. Her dark eyes almost seem like they’re sending out waves of sorrow, or maybe they’re just like that in general. I’m surprised I didn’t notice it sooner. It’s like there’s a….a darkness in her eyes. It’s a bit unsettling.
“I’m sorry,” she says, shaking her head. “I can’t tell you now. But I will soon. And I will contact you later and we can discuss everything more.”
I grimace at her, wanting to argue, but also knowing that I am in no place to do such. I look out my passenger window, closing my eyes with a sigh. “Just take me back to the cemetery. I’ll walk the rest of the way.”
“Are you sure?” she asks. Her voice is soft, like she legitimately cares.
The drive back to the cemetery is filled with tense silence. Though I don’t look at her, I can feel her eyes on me almost the entire time. Maybe she’s worried about me. Or maybe she’s just studying me for her advantage. I really don’t know. And that’s the problem; I just subjected myself to a stranger’s wishes, without even knowing what she truly wants and who she is. I shouldn’t have let the brief connection I had with her in the moment convince me to do this.
But it’s too late now. I’m stuck with this. And to be honest, I’m both elated and regretful about it. Should I have trusted a stranger so easily? No. Do I regret choosing to become a werewolf? Not really. Now I’m left with a numb, in between feeling. The anxiety from choosing to trust this woman and the euphoria from the new vision of my future--a happy future--evens out.
I look down at the bite mark on my arm, then start rolling down my sleeve to cover it. If it works like I’ve been told before, that bite mark will most likely be gone within a day, maybe two. If not…then something must’ve went wrong.
The car comes to a stop outside the cemetery, back to where we started. I quickly open the door, wanting to get out of here as soon as possible. The woman grabs my arm to stop me, her grip firm but not forceful. I could still leave if I want to, but I look back to see what she wants. I leave my body turned to the door to make for a quick escape if needed.
“I’m sorry if I’m being vague, Parker. I promise you, on my life, that I have no bad intentions for you. And I’m going to come see you soon to explain myself more. Okay? As soon as I get a chance to within the next few days, I’ll be there to talk to you.”
“Okay,” I say quietly, unsure of how I feel about that. My hand reaches for the door handle to pull myself out, but the woman doesn’t let go yet.
“Wait,” she says. I look back at her, astonished by how overwhelming the sadness in her eyes looks right now. I almost find myself feeling sympathy for her, even though I have no clue why she’d be sad. “I just want you to know that I’m not the bad guy. No matter what happens.”
She lets go of my arm and I dart out of the car, glancing back a few times to see if she follows me. She doesn’t.
I continue on my way to Rachel’s house, flying through the cemetery at record speed. The woman’s voice rings in my ears over and over again, and I’m left confused by what she meant by those last words.