Solstice

Melanie Solstice Cromwell is a werewolf. She, the her family, and the rest of the Pack live at the Silver Pines Inn, a modest place nestled high in the North Cascades Mountains of Washington State. For generations, the wolves of the Cascades Pack have lived in (relative) peace, until one blustery night, Melanie finds a man, another werewolf in the snow. He's a loner, something that, in Melanie's world, is deeply frowned upon. The more she finds out about this man, the deeper she is pulled into t

CHAPTER ONE

 "And that's how the Moon came to be," I finished, leaning forward so that the flames leaping in the fireplace could dance across my skin.

  "Nuh-uh!" Exclaimed one of my audience members, a pudgy faced six year old with a mop of brunette hair. He was clutching a battered teddy bear to his chest. Around him, the other six year olds were fixing me with wide, blank stares.

  "Yes-huh, Timmy," I smiled at him. "It's true."

  "That doesn't even make sense," Timmy whined, throwing down his teddy bear. "The Moon was a princess? How dumb is that?"

  I had to agree with him, somewhat. The legend, sacred as it was, was a bit far fetched. But, it was part of my heritage, my being a werewolf and all, and it was the only story I knew that I'd assumed the kids would enjoy.

  "Well, I don't think it's dumb, Melanie." A little girl chirped from beside Timmy, who blew a juicy raspberry in her face.

  "Hey!" The girl drew a small hand across her cheek to rid herself of Timmy's saliva and then proceeded to throw the pillow she'd been sitting on at him. This sparked a flurry of first grader violence. Not only were Timmy and the girl fighting, the rest of the kids decided they wanted in on the fun, too, and started throwing things at each other for no apparent reason.

  "Hey, stop it, you guys!" I sighed, grabbing the pillows they were smacking each other with out of their tiny hands. I piled the pillows up next to me before turning back to the kids, doing my best to look severe. "You guys know you can't do that next to the fireplace. You could fall in or something."

  Timmy and the rest of the kids cast horrified glances at the fireplace, which was crackling and spitting out sparks. Instantly, I regretted my choice of words. Judging by the terror on their faces, they wouldn't be sleeping tonight, and if they did, they'd have nightmares about giant fire monsters coming to eat them.

Their parents were going to hate me.

"Erm, that's not what I meant," I backpedaled nervously, scratching at my arm. They were not convinced.

  Thankfully, before I could embarrass myself even further, the woman whom I knew as Timmy's mother walked through the front door, her puffy cheeks bright with the cold. Timmy's giant of a father soon followed, slamming the door before the wind charged in.

  "It's absolutely nasty out there tonight," Timmy's mother hooted dramatically to the couple sitting on the couch near the door. The man nodded and said something I couldn't quite hear over the crackling of the fire, then proceeded to point to the flatscreen mounted on the wall in front of him.

  There was a prim looking blonde on the screen sitting at a desk with the words "MONSTER BLIZZARD WALLOPS WASHINGTON" scrolling in big white letters underneath her. Her lips were moving, but I couldn't hear her, nor did I care to hear her. Living in the Northern Cascades at a relatively high elevation for your entire life prepared you for these types of things. Made you a little less worried. When everyone was stocking up on canned goods and toilet paper, my family and I were anticipating these "monster" snowstorms like we would Christmas. Snow meant skiers and skiers meant profit. Profit was sort of important if you were running an inn.

The Silver Pines Inn was located deep in the heart of the Northern Cascades National Park, about an hour from Diablo. It wasn't a flashy hotel on the side of a mountain. It was more like an oversized log cabin with two stories and a deck on the second floor. A massive stone chimney shot up from the ground and was always billowing with black, firewood smoke. The building itself was made of real logs, not the synthetic things that most cabins were built with this day and age. My father, Llyr Cromwell, was a carpenter and when he built this place back when he and my mom got together, he wanted it to be done right.

He didn't want it to look like a cheap imitation, and through about a year of hard work, he got what he wanted and fulfilled my mother's dream of owning an inn at the same time. I was born here, raised here. My entire family lived here, all five of us, along with a handful of other people. The rest of the Pack. Living in the inn meant that, when I had turned sixteen last year, I would be an official part of the staff.

I was a secretary, a tour guide, a maid, and a storytelling extraordinaire all rolled up into one convenient package. It was my job to baby-sit the kids while their parents were off skiing or hiking. It was my job to answer the phone at the desk if no one else was around to pick it up. When people wanted a tour of the Park, or of just the inn itself, it was my (or my sister's) job to do it. We all had our roles to play here at Silver Pines.

  "Looks like we might get snowed in," Timmy's father rumbled, stepping past his wife to get a better view of the TV. Timmy, who had been a little preoccupied with my story and staring at the fire, barely even noticed his parents' entrance. Timmy's parents were obnoxiously rich and gave him everything he had ever wanted, everything just short of the love and attention that every child craved.

  Timmy might have been obnoxious, but I felt bad for him. Every child deserved to be loved by their parents, truly and unconditionally. And, so, because I felt bad for him, I got to my feet and approached his parents wearing the best smile I could muster without showing my teeth (I never smiled with my teeth. It always felt so forced and awkward,) and lied to them about how wonderful a kid he was.

  "Really, Mrs. Holmes, he's been great." I told Timmy's mother in a tone that I hoped didn't sound as artificial as it felt. Yeah, your child's a brat, I wanted to say, but he's your brat and you should really start paying more attention to him.

  "Ah, very good, dear," Mrs. Holmes said as though she were distracted. The woman on the television was just repeating the same things she was saying a few moments ago, so I knew that Timmy's mother couldn't have been paying attention to that anymore. She pretended to be extremely occupied with a loose thread on her (no doubt) very expensive skiing jacket.

  She must have thought me stupid. I knew what she was doing. She was avoiding looking at me. Last week, I had heard her and a few of the inn's more snooty patrons talking about me in the hall, whispering about how shocking it was that my parents would let me dye my hair gray and about how weird it looked. Too bad my silvery gray hair was completely natural. When I tried explaining this to people, they would only scoff at me and say that I was a liar, and because of this, I just stopped trying and let everyone believe it was dyed.

  No, I am not some seventy three year old woman trapped in a seventeen year old girl's body. No, my hair isn't prematurely gray. I was born this way, charcoal colored hair and all. I was sure that plenty of werewolves had hair like mine...Just not any around here.

  Whenever we shifted into our "true" forms, our pelts took the color of our human hair. My sister had very, very, very light blonde hair, so when she shifted, her pelt was a dirty white color. My mother had light brown hair, so when she shifted, her fur was the same color as her hair. That being said, there were two ways a practiced eye could tell the difference from a regular wolf and a werewolf.

  Werewolves are considerably larger than regular wolves, and werewolves are usually never gray. A great number of regular wolves are. The gray hair trait had slowly been weaned from the werewolf bloodline because it was so unnatural for a young person, such as myself, to have gray hair. We wanted to blend into human society as much as possible so as to avoid suspicion. Having two year olds running around with hair the color of a seventy year old's wasn't exactly the way to do it.

  I was one of the only exceptions to the silver/gray rule, strangely enough. I was the only gray werewolf in this section of North America. Lucky me. All that "but, Melanie! You're so unique!" crap really got on my nerves. I was tired of being unique. For once in my life, I wanted to be normal.

  "Come along, Horace!" Mrs. Holmes said suddenly, grabbing her husband's beefy hand. Unable to resist his wife's whims, Horace Holmes let himself be dragged across the room and up the staircase. Timmy watched them as they walked past and got to his feet, following after them with his teddy bear in tow.

  Something told me that that teddy bear was the only friend he had. Poor kid. I hadn't the slightest idea why, but I had found something of a kindred spirit in that little boy. He was lonely, and frankly, so was I from time to time.

  With a defeated sigh, I returned to the remaining children whose parents hadn't got back yet from whatever they were doing, and told them that story time was over. Out of the four of them, three looked immensely relieved (did I freak them out with my fireplace crack that much?), and one of them, the little girl that had told me that she didn't think my Moon story was dumb, groaned loudly.

  "But, Melanie!" She complained, tugging at the gray wool of my sweater. "I don't wanna go back upstairs!"

  "I'm sorry, Everleigh, but I don't have any more stories for you tonight," I told her, trying my best to sound less exasperated than I really felt. Why my parents wanted me to play babysitter was beyond me. I wasn't exactly good with kids, as made obvious by my fireplace comment, but they some of them seemed to love me. Especially Everleigh. The other children that had called this inn home for the past few weeks were either terrified of me or in love with me. That was how it was with kids, I was learning. One extreme to the next. Love or hate, black or white.

  I'd found myself on Everleigh's good side and she hadn't left me alone in about a week.

  Lucky me.

  "But," Everleigh yanked at my too-large sweater again. I crouched down to listen to what she had to say. She cupped her mouth with her little hand and whispered in my ear: "Aunt Wendy's up there."

  I stifled a laugh. In the two weeks Everleigh and her family had been here, I'd chalked Aunt Wendy up to being one of the most neurotic people I had ever met. She, unlike almost everyone else that stayed at Silver Pines, locked herself up in her room with the curtains drawn. She was tall and thin with short brown hair and a long face, her eyes constantly bloodshot with exhaustion. I'd only had the (dis)pleasure of running into her a handful of times, but that was all it took for me to feel a little sorry for seven year old Everleigh.

  Aunt Wendy was utterly terrified of anything that moved, her own shadow included. She was twitchy as a squirrel and moved like one, too. She walked in quick bursts, her wide green eyes glancing nervously around the inn. She always appeared to be lost, the dim fog of madness floating around her. I had asked her one night if she was looking for something when I found her shambling around the hallway upstairs. She took one look at me, choked back a scream, and fled into her bedroom, slamming the door behind her, effectively waking up half the inn.

  I mean, I knew I was kind of weird looking, but I wasn't that weird looking, was I?

  According to Aunt Wendy, Mrs. Holmes, and a handful of other people that were too polite to say anything, I was.

  "I'm sorry, but you know you can't be wandering down here by yourself," I explained to Everleigh with a tight, unconvincing smile. "Maybe you and Aunt Wendy will have some fun?"

  That was very unlikely. Still, I'd managed to say it with a straight face in the hope that Everleigh would leave me alone.

  "But, we won't!" She moaned loudly, making the couple sitting on the couch turn to look at us. My cheeks burned as Everleigh stomped her foot. She really, really didn't want to spend any time at all with her Aunt Wendy. I couldn't blame her.

  "Shhh!" I hushed her, my hands out in front of me in a placating gesture. She wasn't having any of my shushing and stomped her feet again, her arms folded tightly across her chest.

  "It's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair!" She screamed in pitches that only seven year old girls could reach.

  "Oh my God, Everleigh, please!" I begged, putting my index finger to my lips in the universal sign for 'please, for the love of the Goddess, stop your damn screaming.'

  It didn't work. Her screams were so high that they were hurting my ears. I, like the rest of my family, had extremely sensitive ears, but this girl's scream would have hurt even a deaf man. Just when I thought I was going to explode, a warm, comforting voice cut through Everleigh's wail, sounding terribly out of place.

  "Everleigh, honey. What's wrong?" Asked my sister, the ethereal and impeccable Gwendolen Cromwell. Despite her vastly pregnant belly, she was bent down low, her long hands wiping the angry tears off of Everleigh's red cheeks.

  "I-I don't w-wanna go back upstaaairs!" Everleigh whined, sniffing loudly.

  "Oh, but you don't have to, Everleigh," Gwendolen soothed kindly, her white-blonde hair framing her heart-shaped face.

  "B-but Melanie s-said I h-had to," the eight year old pointed a wobbly finger in my face.

  It was amazing how quickly little kids switched their alliances to suit their needs. Just before the screaming started, I was Everleigh's best friend. Now, a few minutes later, I wasn't. For some reason, losing the affections of a seven year old hurt me a little bit, mostly because she was turning on me for my sister. My impossibly perfect sister.

  Gwendolen was the Marcia to my Jan, the hot to my cold, the extrovert to my introvert. She was everything I wasn't and everyone loved her. I loved her too, of course, as she was my only sister, but damn did it get annoying being compared to her every waking moment of the day.

  "I didn't say that," I mumbled sullenly, rising from my crouching position.

  Gwendolen shot me a weary glance and straightened up as well, stretching her back and arms. Everleigh had abandoned her tantrum in favor of gaping at my sister's swollen belly. Gwendolen was massively pregnant, as she was at eight months. Another three weeks and we'd have another Cromwell to add to our tangled family tree. Half Cromwell, I should say. Gwendolen was married to a man named Rolf Halifax (another were from Canada) and she already had a daughter named Poppy, my two year old niece. Gwendolen was only twenty two years old, but motherhood made her seem much older.

  She'd gotten pregnant with Poppy at twenty years old by total accident. She was attending college in Spokane when she found out she was expecting, and so, she finished up her senior year at Washington State University, got her degree that said that she was officially a qualified veterinarian's assistant, and moved back here to the inn. She, Rolf, and Poppy all lived in a tiny cabin about a half mile from the inn itself. I'd been out there a few times, and it was nothing short of beautiful, in a gauzy, butterfly-like manner. Cramped, though, so the three of them were often hanging around here, doing the jobs that no one else wanted to do just to keep away from their miniscule house as long as possible.

  With Gwendolen being here all the time, I was often overlooked. My sister's star shone so brightly that no one in their right mind could look away. That star produced a shadow, and I'd been standing in it for years.

  But, that's how it was. I was the shy, awkward one and Gwendolen was the bright, outgoing one.

  Like I said, everyone had their roles to play here at Silver Pines, and since Gwendolen had all but taken over my babysitting job, I was free of that role and was left to my own devices when the two of them went up the stairs, my sister holding the little girl's hand tightly.

  Relieved that Everleigh had finally left me alone and bitter over my unrequited rivalry with my sister, I abandoned the safe comfort of the inn, grabbing my black peacoat from from the heavy coat rack by the door and slipped it on. I tugged my gray woolen mittens, knitted for me by my mother, onto my hands and squashed the matching wool beanie on top of my head and shoved my feet into my snow boots before taking the door's handle in my wooly hand.

  I went to swing it open, but whoever was on the other side beat me to it, wrenching the handle from me, letting in a blast of freezing air.

  "Oh, hey! Watch yourself!" Said an arrogant voice cracking with puberty. A boy around my age, maybe a year older had almost barreled into me trying to get inside. I knew that voice. Conall Bradberry, son of Dan Bradberry, the beta of our humble pack. Conall thought himself quite the hotshot since his dad was second in command of the entire Cascade Pack, but I had news for him.

  My dad was the Alpha of the Cascade Wolves, the man that everyone, Conall's dad included, had to listen to. No matter what. My father's word was law. But, even if his dad wasn't part of the beta pair, I didn't understand why Conall went around gloating like a rooster. He was an omega like me, the lowest of the low. He had no say in Pack politics. He was not significant. Omegas ate last at every meal (in both their human and wolf forms), never went along on any hunts, and even if they did do something spectacular, it was hardly recognized.

  Thus was the life of me, Melanie Solstice Cromwell. Not that I was complaining. I was the daughter of the Alphas of the Pack and that didn't do me any good. I had to work my way up, I had to gain the respect of the Pack on my own, without the help of others. I was not handed anything. I was raised knowing that I would be an Omega, and so far, this (non)existence was suiting me just fine.

  Not Conall. I supposed that he expected that this whole "lowest of the low" thing was a joke. It wasn't. It was very real. He didn't understand that I, and the rest of the Pack, took our ranks with great seriousness.

  He wanted everything given to him. He didn't want to work for the Pack's respect, and that, not his arrogance, made me hate him. He was simply a lazy bastard and it infuriated me. While the rest of us were working our tails off (no pun intended), he sat around in the inn's hot tub making out with the flavor of the week.

  Speaking of flavors of the week, a girl had appeared behind Conall, a perky brunette with muddied blue eyes and a wide smile that skirted the edges of creepy. She had to have been a tourist, because she appeared to be on the verge of collapse, the merciless wind battering at her face, not caring if it messed up her perfectly curled hair.

  Winters this high in the Cascades were not the nice, blissful winters you saw in the movies. Very rarely did the snow flutter from the clouds. Cascades snow did not flutter. It raged from the sky and could completely cover you in no less than ten minutes. The wind wasn't any nicer. It bit through your clothes, chilled you straight to the marrow of your bones. I didn't understand how regular people did it without fifty layers of clothes and a puffy, heavy duty coat.

  Then again, I loved winter. I loved the cold and the snow and the feeling you got taking a sip of your hot chocolate for the first time after a couple of hours hiking through trails you couldn't even see anymore because they were buried in a foot of snow.

  Conall's little girlfriend looked as if she couldn't have disagreed with me more.

  "Conall," I grunted, backing away from the door so that he and his new toy could come inside. The girl scurried past a slow moving Conall, who had decided to lean against the doorway, a big, stupid grin on his face.

  "Where you goin', Melanie? It's awfully cold and scary out there. Wouldn't want you getting hurt," he snickered, thinking he was cool because he was mocking me. He was showing off for his girlfriend, who was looking at me with all the disgust and curiosity you watched a science experiment gone wrong with. I figured she was gawking at me because: a.) I had sprouted another head and just didn't know it yet, or b.) I had gray hair.

  I assumed it was my hair because, last time I checked, I could not spontaneously grow extra appendages. Being a werewolf has its limits, you know. Leave the limb-sprouting to the faeries.

  "I'm going for a walk, that's all," I hissed, glancing between Conall and his girlfriend. "And I'll be fine, thanks."

  I took a step out the door when Conall stopped me by putting his arm around my shoulders, squeezing them tightly.

  "Don't let them big, bad wolves get you, Melanie," he whispered into my ear, cackling like a hyena. Oh, haha, Conall. Poppy could have come up with a better joke than that and her vocabulary consisted of about three words. Poop, no, and Mommy.

  "Very clever, Conall," I sighed. "Will you move out of the way so I can get out of here?"

  "Sure, sure," he said, bowing into the inn. "Have fun, Mel. It's wicked out there tonight."
Shooting me one last toothy grin, he closed the door, the soft click signifying that I was finally alone in the darkness, the pale blade of the waxing moon being my only source of light.

  As I exited the porch that wrapped around the building, feeling the crunch of the snow underneath my boots, the wind clawing at my hair, the snow catching on my eyelashes, I realized that I was alive again. I was me. I was Melanie Solstice Cromwell, the Melanie I was supposed to be. Bliss settled in my blood, warming me despite the freezing temperatures.

  I breathed in deeply, the cool air cutting my throat and lungs. I didn't care.

  I closed my eyes, shoved my hands into the pockets of my peacoat, and started off toward the shadows of the pine forests, letting the delicious pull of freedom take me away.

The End

7 comments about this story Feed