Night. The time when the silence is quicksand heavy, when a million eyes stare, unseen. In short, it’s creepy. It’s a time that always frightened me, maybe because I always knew it was forbidden, and so it was mine. I’ve always been different, odd, an outcast. I didn’t wear it proudly. I’d try to shake it off, but it stuck to me, even when, on the outside, I was exactly what was acceptable. No matter what I’d wear, who I’d hang out with, who I’d date, no matter what music I listened to or who I said was my celebrity crush, people knew. And they shut me out of the inner societal norm sanctum because they knew. I wasn’t even my parents’ favorite, and I’m an only child. I resisted the night, even when it called to me, welcomed me. I wanted so much to be accepted, no questions asked and no impossible expectations, but not if it meant joining the night, being one of them…
But then I was hunted.
And I had no choice.
My eighteenth year was coming, no stopping it, and I was afraid. It was like a storm gathering over me, telling me to be ready…ready to conform or ready to run. But how can one conform when one cannot change? Come first full moon, it would be obvious to everyone.
I was not a Werewolf.
Fairy tales become fact people sell their souls for while memory becomes history that no one cares about, but my memories created me from the ashes of that day. The crowd assembled in my Grandmama Inga’s front yard. She was an Elder, though she’d never hunted. She was just as respected as Sheriff Jack Swartz, who stood on the front porch, waiting to begin. The Slayers stood to the side, their arms crossed, their crossbows hanging low over their backs. They looked straight ahead, but I somehow knew they were looking at me as I huddled behind Grandmama Inga’s sheer window curtain.
Tim Tyler, a.k.a. Timmy the Twerp, though I never told anyone else I called him that, stood beside Sheriff Swartz. Timmy the Twerp was only a few years older than me, but the Werewolves almost genuflected when they saw him. My dad sometimes called him “the Door,” as in the doorway for Werewolves to take over Human society because he did some charity stuff and acted all squeak when he walks around people. When other Werewolves did something good, they said it was because Timmy inspired them. When Timmy screwed up, they said it was still something great, or it was someone else’s fault. My mom used to tell me she wished I could hear how I sounded sometimes. Yeah, well, I wished they could hear themselves getting all pretzled up over Timmy the Twerp.
Timmy’s great-great-great-great grandfather, Johnston Tyler, helped establish Covenant after the Civil War. When I was little, I would spend hours looking through Grandmama Inga’s scrapbooks. A photo of Johnston Tyler standing next to my ancestors who came to Arkansas from Kansas during the Civil War was on the first page. The local men had taken off to hide in Missouri because they didn’t want to fight for the Confederacy, so their women and children were alone and vulnerable to the Jayhawkers, my ancestors, who were hungry.
Grandmama Inga hated the Slayers. She remembered when they hunted Werewolves, but my dad struck a deal with them over a common enemy, the Vampires. Grandmama Inga always said Slayers could never be trusted, even when it came to Vampires, because a Slayer had killed our ancestors. I never had the guts to remind her that our ancestors had ripped the Slayer’s family to pieces, and that’s what made this girl go after them. My dad was the Alpha, but he was afraid of his sweet little mama whose face looked like one of those dried apple dolls, so I always kept my mouth shut. Besides, she was an Elder, thereby immune from snark.
Werewolves gathered out front. They slapped shoulders, their smiles spread wide, as they talked about their kids being out of school for the summer. Sheriff Swartz consulted with Timmy the Twerp, who kept this serene look on his face, like those girls who’d followed Charles Manson had during their murder trial.
A car passed. Human children pressed their hands on the back passenger’s side window as they looked out, their eyes wide as they took in the scene. Sheriff Swartz waved at them, a smile wide on his pillowy face. The children’s faces beamed as they waved back before tapping the lady riding in front’s shoulder. After he watched the car disappear, the sheriff turned to the crowd.
The older Werewolves in front nodded while the younger in the back roared in excitement. I saw the sheriff’s son, Derek, in his deputy uniform. He looked hungry, eager.
“Why don’t you go join them, Eliza,” Grandmama Inga said.
I looked back at her, the last time I’d see her. She rocked in her rocking chair, knitting a blanket for the baby, my second cousin. She raised her eyes from her knitting for only a second, but it was a maternal prodding, the mother saying go play, honey, it’s for your own good. I stood from the love seat, and went to the back door (no sense in stepping out the front door and stealing the sheriff’s thunder, that would make me a very bad girl). As I opened the back door, I heard Grandmama Inga’s voice.
I stopped. It sounded so final. I laughed. She shouldn’t be so cryptic, I thought, she’s not that old. With a laugh and a head shake, I walked out the door and rounded the house to join the crowd.
Derek winked when he saw me. He liked to wink, but, somehow, it didn’t seem fake with him. It was more like a mischievous boy with a secret. I liked him. I trusted him. When I was little, I would always stare at the mole under his left eye. The fact that he liked to wink only drew my rude attention to it even more. I remember congratulating myself the first time I had an entire conversation with him and didn’t stare at that mole once.
“…We do not hunt out of hate,” the sheriff said to cheers. “We hunt to preserve order, to preserve decency, to preserve our way of life, the way our founders wanted.”
Roaring cheers rattled my core.
“They seduce our women,” the sheriff paused for the disgusted groans to die down. “And they seduce our men. And they want our children!”
Rage filled the air. I looked at the sky. It was sundown. Soon they’d transform. I could already feel the buzz, the energy, the longing oozing from them. If I weren’t a Beck, one of the Founding Families, I would have run then. But I felt like, though I hadn’t transformed and I hadn’t felt the full moon’s pull, I was safe because of my last name, if nothing else.
I thought they’d never turn on me, on family, someone they’d known my whole life. How could the sheriff, my father’s lifelong best friend, shun me when he’d been there to see me take my first steps? How could Derek Swartz think of hurting me when he’d called himself my Big Bro and swore no one would ever mess with me as long as he was around? Why would Grandmama Inga send me out to them if she thought I would be in danger?
I looked at the Slayers, who hadn’t moved from their spot at the crowd’s edge. Their leader, Abasi, hunted Ilimu in Kenya before coming to America. How he got to Arkansas, I don’t know. I was always too afraid to ask. I thought of when my parents invited him to dinner. He made eating cheesecake look scary.
He looked at me. I shuddered.
“You’re not afraid of the Slayers, are you?” Derek’s voice made me jump.
He laughed, and when I looked at him, he eyes flashed golden brown, his pupils slits. There was something else, something fueling his change, something driving him…
With that, the sky deepened. No going back. And Sheriff Swartz, his own crystal blue eyes glowing deep brown, his sharpened teeth showing in a serrated smile, casually descended the porch steps.
“To the woods!”
With cheers trailing off into deep, rumbling growls, they all made their way around Grandmama Inga’s house to the tangled woods out back. I hesitated, hoping they would forget me, but Derek wrapped his firm hand around my arm and pulled me along. I looked back at Grandmama Inga’s house, something told me to take in my touchstone, my tangible image of home.
The Slayers hadn’t moved from their spot. They loaded their crossbows, looking ready to whistle. One of them chanced a quick glance at me. I’d seen her before, getting ready for hunts, at meetings my parents held in our family room. I was curious about her. All I knew about her was she was Cherokee, descended from people who’d migrated to Arkansas before the Trail of Tears forced those who’d remained in Georgia west to Indian Country. She fascinated me, and I wanted to talk to her, but my mother told me to not talk to the Slayers.
“Our relationship is delicate as it is,” she would say with a slight nose wrinkle, like something about it smelled bad.
She’d only chanced a quick glance. I saw something. What was it? Could it be a smile? The slightest wink just short of being a wink?
Derek pulled me around the house, and the Slayers were gone. On we went to the woods as night stole my vision. It was all smell and touch now. And hearing, as in hearing guttural, low sounds whispering in my ear. They growled, they laughed, like the cat letting the mouse run for its life before easily swiping it back. My instincts told me to run, but Grandmama Inga told me to stay with Derek, that he’d protect me.
I heard laughing as we entered the woods. I sensed heat. They’re nearly transformed. I felt a sympathetic pang for the Vampires who would be ripped apart that night. The ground near my feet sparked into a living campfire. I could see them. They were ready, heaving with anticipation. And they were all looking at me.
“Vampire,” one of them whispered.
I looked around for the Vampire, but only saw massive, bulging bodies standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a semicircle. And they were all looking at me.
“The hunt is about to begin,” Sheriff Swartz’s voice boomed within the crowd.
I tried to pull away from Derek. I didn’t want to see this. But he held me tighter. I saw the crowd begin to part in front of me. Slowly, row-by-row from the back forward, they parted. I could see glowing dark brown eyes moving toward me as fully-transformed werewolves segregated. My chest ached with fear.
Finally, Sheriff Swartz emerged from the crowd. He lowered his face. His eyes were bright, insane with anticipation; his jagged teeth oozed thick saliva as he smiled at me. His voice was a growl, so he spoke slowly, letting each word assault me.
“Now is when you run.”