The Prophecy, declared in the fourth month, 1861
Equip with strength and cunning his like know not, he will be feared. Born to rule, he will restore the balance once more. He will strengthen the blood and the breed, forge alliances and watch as his kingdom grows. The Cold One will be by his side, forever nurturing, the love to guide his way. Though enemies will chase the throne, the strength of he and his will dominate. The world will be as it was meant to be.
December 16, 2007
He was running fast, through the bush, with no care to be quiet. He was enjoying the scenery on his way home- after such a long time. He could see his house from here- up there, past the trees, he could see its dark roof. The dawn light was discovering colours in the darkness now- the trees were a grey-green, the grass was brownish from the hot Spring weather. Not thinking, not being cautious, he trotted into the clearing that surrounded his house then stopped abruptly. If he had been paying attention, he would have detected it earlier. Two smells- both foreign, both unwelcome. Two types of people had taken over his house and land, both types were enemies he was sure. Were they inside the house? He trotted around to the left, where his bedroom was, and listened. There was indeed someone in his room. He felt a low growl rise in his throat.
The Watchers saw his approach; they had been waiting many hours. He was marginally later than they had anticipated, and they had been slowly falling into sleep. They stirred when they heard him coming; their bodies snapping to eager attention as they waited for a glimpse, for proof that he had returned. The woman was young and average looking, with dark blonde hair and brown eyes that showed her intelligence. She had been itching to see him, but the real reason she was huddled in the scrub was tense beside her. The man to her left was still, his large frame squashed into a tight crouch. He too looked eager.
As the pair watched him enter the clearing, they realized something was wrong. Did he know they were there? They were down-wind certainly. He loped around to the left away from them then he stopped, threw a glance to either side of him, then turned and bolted from the clearing. Had they done something wrong? Her partner made a sudden movement to her left and she placed a steady hand on his arm. She shook her head. “Not yet.”
I woke up in the same room that I’d woken up in every day for the last two weeks, a room that wasn’t mine. Well, it didn’t feel like mine. It had none of my stuff in it. The only familiar item in the room was the small Nokia phone on the table beside the bed. I looked around the room miserably. I hated it here. I didn’t belong here. The room was filled with someone else’s things- clothes, furniture, everything. The only thing that I appreciated about the previous occupant was that the walls were painted black which matched my mood perfectly.
I kicked off the covers sullenly and walked to the window. This was one thing I did like about the room. The window was beautiful, big and old fashioned. Just a piece of glass in a heavy wooden frame that swung open on large brass hinges- it swung all the way out to the right so that you couldn’t see it from the inside. It must have been on piano hinges.
The room had an air of freedom about it when the window was open, the smell of the trees blew in and the air was cool, making me feel like it had a secret it wanted to share with me. It beckoned to me. Every time I opened the window, I felt like something amazing could happen. This was important to me, imagining that something could happen, because I knew that nothing could, that nothing would. I was stuck in this bloody town, stripped of everything. No friends. No boyfriend. I turned from the window to look at the door. There was a pretty high chance that it would be locked. It had been locked at most times since I’d moved here. How many Mothers lock their daughters away? Not many, I thought. Mine did. Maybe she felt less guilty because it wasn’t actually her that locked me in each night.
My Mother obviously thought that locking me away was an excellent punishment, as if I hadn’t been punished enough already. Without thinking, I raised my hand to touch the scar on the right side of my neck. It was still a little sore because it wasn’t an old scar- it was pretty recent. It was long, running down my neck and over my collar bone where it faded to a very thin white line and then to nothing. I’d had it exactly four weeks. I got it the day my Mother received a phone call from my school. The day they told her that I was in a relationship with my English teacher. Which I resented, really- we hadn’t slept together or anything like that. Anyway, the shit hit the fan. As predicted. I got home and walked into the worst possible case scenario. Mum was still at work but Steve, her husband, was home. And he knew all about it. My Mother (the sharer), felt the need to confide all about my evil doings and he was waiting for me so he could yell about what a failure I was, what a disappointment. How ungrateful I was- the shame I’d brought to the family. To him. Like I gave a damn. Now, I may have said as much, and I copped it. Boy, did I get it. Right in the face, or neck really I suppose. He wears this hideous ring with a skull on it- it sits on his middle finger like some sort of grotesque pet. He loves it. Anyway, it catches on my skin as he backhands me and it tears all the way down the right side of my face and neck. I had been lucky enough to dodge to the side as his hand flew up, but not fast enough. My neck goes all hot and feels like it’s on fire and I put my hand up to feel it and all this blood starts spurting through my fingers. The blood was hot, I remember that- a lot warmer than I expected it to be. Anyway, Steve, which I will from now on refer to as “The Asshole” gets a bit panicky and calls Mum. Long story short, she had to come home so that she could take me to the Emergency Room because I needed stitches and The Asshole couldn’t take me incase they realized he’d been the one that did it.
For the few years Steve had been married to my Mum he’d been OK- a bit useless and a bit assholeish but otherwise OK. I think he’d meant to give me a bit of a fright, just not that much of a fright. I won’t forgive him- I’ll make sure I never get that close again. I got given thirty eight stitches that night, all in my neck- my face was surprisingly OK they just packed it with steri-strips to hold the cut closed. Mum didn’t say much, but neither did I really. I think she felt a bit bad about the whole thing but when she found out I was going to be OK, she changed her mind.
Unfortunately, the two of them went all parole officer on me. Just when I thought I was making some headway, Lee decided to show up at the house and apologise to my parents for his behavior towards his student. Hello, stupid? Steve didn’t even let him in- the three of them just stood on the front verandah staring at each other. Then Lee told them that the whole time we were together, he’d had my best interests at heart. Mum told him if he’d kept his interests to himself in the first place, nothing would have happened. Lee then replied that he was aware of that but he couldn’t shove his feelings aside that way. Steve told him he’d shove the letterbox up his ass if he didn’t piss off. Lee decided to leave.
So anyway, when my parents realized I couldn’t be trusted, they decided to move. And by “decided to move”, I mean they decided to move me. Away from them. Out into the middle of nowhere where nothing happened and there was no possible way I could get into trouble. It’s funny that Mum decided on this road because it’s pretty much exactly what her parents did to her- she came from a religious family and she fell pregnant with me without getting married first. They were not very understanding, especially her father, and they sent her away. She raised me on her own until she met Steve.
They let me finish year 12- I only had the exams to go, then I was out of there. Mum put me on a bus that drove for four hours to the hopeless town of “Rosehill”. I was almost glad to leave- I don’t think I could have taken much more of Mum’s crying. That’s all she’d done since they’d found out, cried. She’d be making breakfast and suddenly burst into tears. Or she’d come in to say goodnight and the tears would just start to run while she was looking at me.
Rosehil. It was a pretty name for such a crap place. As we drove through the main town (about 5 houses), I took in the scenery with decreasing enthusiasm- there were only a few shops on the main street and the shop owners were all standing on the foot path gossiping to each other because none of them had customers.
The streets were lined with Liquid Ambers that shaded pretty much everything and I felt slightly constricted as we drove beneath them, like they were the gate keepers to the town and they were locking me in. They were tall and sturdy, thick as anything and they had a wisdom twisted into their trunks that even I could see. We drove through their shadows to the end of the main street then turned right and drove for about a kilometer until I saw her house. The bus sailed right past the little orange post that marked the last stop, not slowing down until it reached the big house I knew to be hers. It was the last one in a row of three, about three hundred metres away from the house before it. It was set back from the road beneath yet more Liquid Ambers- a big country house with two stories. It had a fresh paint job in a light cream colour with white gutters but the grounds looked pretty run down. Behind the house, to its right side there was the glimpse of a path that led into an overgrown thicket of trees and shrubs. At the time I didn’t care what the path lead to.
She was out the front waiting for me as the bus pulled up, waving. As the doors opened, she leapt forward and flashed the driver a smile.
“No need to bring her all the way up, Bill! I would have come and got her!”
The driver tipped her his hat and gave an embarrassed nod. “Oh well, it’s a hot one today.” He glanced at me then looked away.
The woman leaning into the bus turned and beamed at me. “You must be Charlotte.”
I stood, slung my bag over my shoulder then raised a hand in an extremely in-polite welcome. “Hi.”
Her smile faltered slightly, but she fixed it back in place and turned back to the driver. “Could you give me a hand with her things? I don’t like to be out of the house for long.”
“She didn’t bring any cases with her. Just the back-pack.” The driver shook his head while I stared out the window.
I looked over in time to see her gazing at me.
“Goodness. Well. Well, thanks again Bill, I’ll see it from here.”
I followed her out of the bus and stepped onto the hard hot earth. She glanced around and then followed the path up to the house. I assumed I was to follow. She entered through the kitchen door, not the main door, and held it open for me to walk past her. She locked it behind her, nudging me towards a chair at the big dining table.
I was forming a first impression on the house when she threw herself down upon a chair and gave a great sigh.
“Now, I’ll have none of this “Grandma” stuff. I’m only sixty-three and we’ve never known each other as grandmother and granddaughter so I’ve no idea why we should start now. My name is Harriet and that’s what you’ll call me.”
I had my pathetic collection of possessions packed in a bag under my bed. It was too depressing to unpack- unpacking had such a finality to the move that I was determined to avoid it at all costs plus I didn’t like the thought of using another person’s dresser (which still had clothes in it). I walked back to the bed and picked up my phone from the bed side table, checking the tiny screen. Nothing. I pressed speed dial 1 and heard the phone dialing. Heard Lee’s familiar voice ask me to leave a message so he could call me back. I left the fourth message I’d left in the last week. He hadn’t called me back yet and I was starting to wonder if he ever intended to. When I’d told him I was leaving, we’d decided we’d let things cool for awhile first then he’d come down and get me and I’d move back with him, to the city. But how much cooler was it likely to get? How long was he going to make me wait?
I ached without him- a dull sick feeling that refused to go away. I had to satisfy myself with memories- the way he kissed me, the way he smiled at me when we were in class, a sexy secret smile that only I understood. The gentle way he held my hand or brushed the hair away from my face. I wished he’d pick up just so I could talk to him.
I paced the room for awhile, thinking of how I could waste my day when I heard the door get unlocked. Excellent, I thought: breakfast. I waited a few minutes then crossed to the door, opened it and stepped out into the hallway. My bedroom was on the ground floor, facing the secret path I’d noticed on the first day as the bus had arrived. I walked to the kitchen to see Harriet seated at the table eating toast. I said nothing. Grabbed a piece of toast and jammed it into the toaster, with maybe a little more force than necessary.
“Good morning, Charlotte.”
I looked up and stared until my upbringing got the better of me. “Good morning.”
She nodded her approval.
“What are you going to do today?”
“I thought I’d just stay in my room.”
“You did that yesterday.” She smiled. “And the day before. In fact, that’s all you’ve done all week. Don’t you want to see the town?”
“What’s to see?” I asked, completely and utterly not interested. I gazed intently at the toaster, willing it to toast faster.
“Well, there’s plenty to see. They all want to meet you, you know.”
This was enough to draw my attention; I was appalled. “Who wants to meet me?”
She smiled secretively. “Everyone.”
“All twenty-eight of them, then?”
“Oh, ha ha. Rosehill has a population of almost two thousand, you know.”
I didn’t reply because just then the toaster decided to co-operate and the toast sprung out. I slapped it on a plate and smothered it with butter.
“I’m going to be gardening this morning, I think. Before it gets too hot.”
“Would you like to help me?” she asked, looking away. I couldn’t believe she thought I’d ever say yes.
“No thank you. I still have some unpacking to do.” This was vaguely true- I hadn’t taken anything out of my backpack yet. It was all still under the bed. I knew it was a pretty pathetic thing to say- I’d been there for two weeks now and had had all the time in the world to unpack.
“Alright. Well, if you change your mind.” She got up and took her things to the sink.
I left the kitchen and got changed into jeans and a singlet top. Walked around my bedroom for a bit. Gazed at the furniture that belonged to somebody else- cupboard, bed side table, bed. Stared at the cupboard for a long time before opening it and having a look at someone else’s things. I don’t know why they’re all still here. The cupboard was made for clothes but was mostly full of books- old ones, new ones, all different sizes. They looked well cared for. I like books. I tilted my head so I could read the spines more easily. It felt strange looking at something that someone had obviously cared about, so I was careful when I reached forward and slid a book from the shelf. It was an old one, with a leather cover and silver edged pages. But the spine looked more worn on this one, like it might have been the previous owner’s favourite. I opened it slowly, savouring the unique smell that drifted up from the pages. Poetry. I skipped past the contents page and read the first poem. It wasn’t very good. I turned the page and read another. This one was better but it didn’t really grab me. I didn’t like many poems. My favourite was, and had always been The Highway Man. Talot talot. I went back to the contents page and searched for it there. Most good poetry books had it. Page two-four-six. I read the poem through once, and then I read it again out loud to myself, pausing dramatically when Bess hears him coming, when she hears her love return to her, though hell should bar the way. Talot talot. It makes a great sound, that word, when you say it out loud. Talot talot. I was close to tears when I read the end the second time. The language was fantastic, “His hair like moldy hay.” You can’t get more descriptive than that. I shivered, thinking about Bess and her Highway Man.
I reached under the bed and pulled out my bag. I rummaged through it until I found a piece of paper to mark page two-four-six. I would come back to this one, I was sure. I put the book aside on the table near the bed and went back to the cupboard. I picked up a book with a red spine that turned out to be Frankenstein. I put it back and selected another: The Underworld. I wasn’t really into Sci Fi. I scanned the titles more carefully, looking for something to stand out. There were three books on the bottom shelf that all had identical, black spines with no titles. I slid the one farthest on the right out, sat back on the bed, cracked open to the middle of the book and began to read from the typed pages.
I could hear them coming from down the street. But I wasn’t outside. I was in my bedroom. I was in my bedroom and I could hear them coming. From down the street. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I shouldn’t be able to hear like that. It’s not possible. I hear one say to the other, “If you don’t hurry up, the wolves are gonna getcha.” And in reply, someone else laughs. So I think something’s wrong with me. I think, “You’re sick. You’re just sick. Go back to bed.” Except I don’t. I go to the window and lean out, looking for what I can hear. And sure enough, there they are. My friends at the end of the street, walking towards my house. Laughing and joking about the wolves.
I keep telling myself I’m sick, but all I can think about is what I’ve seen in the last few days. God, the things I’ve seen. I think of Samantha. I think of her standing in my room, laughing crazily as she shows me what she’s worried about. It worried me, what she showed me. I think what happened to her is happening to me, too. I think I’m changing. My beautiful sister. I don’t know where she is now. No one knows. My Mother is sick with worry for her and my Father searches the grounds every day for clues even though she’s been missing for almost two weeks now. Somehow, I know they will not find her. I swallow hard and open the door. I go down the hallway and find my Mother, telling her I am too sick to go to learning today. She looks at me with concern and I am glad that I am frightened enough to be pale and sweaty that she sends me back to bed. I lie down and hope for sleep so that my headache will go away. I can hear so many things. Too many. I think again of Samantha. Did she feel this? Did she hear everyone and everything around her until it became a steady ache? Where is she now?
Feeling intrigued, I flicked to the beginning of the book and read the first page.
It’s raining outside and the house is quiet. My mother and sister are sitting at the kitchen table. My mother is white as a ghost and gnawing on her fist. My sister is quiet but she looks alert. I am worried myself, because I know that somewhere outside, my father, and his friends, are being hunted. Hunted by a dangerous creature our town has fallen to. It snuck upon us in the night and has plagued us for many months. We cannot seem to be rid of it- we cannot find it and we cannot fight it. It finds us though! It steals children in the night. Mr. and Mrs. Glen lost their daughter, Sorrelle, last week. She was sixteen. Mother is worried because Samantha and I are sixteen also, but I do not think age is relevant to who it takes. We all live in fear of who is to be taken next and all the children are locked away, but it does not seem to help. It cannot be stopped. I get scared sometimes when I go to bed at night, because my room is on the ground floor and I think it would be easy for it to break in and take me. Samantha at least is in a bedroom upstairs, and for that I am glad. I think it would be harder for it to get upstairs. My Father and the men of the town have been hunting it for weeks and they still have not seen it. It continues to rob us in the night but they could not even describe what it looks like. I cannot explain how this could happen, only to say that it must be very fast and very clever. My mother sits bolt upright in her chair. There is a blood curdling scream outside, close to the house. She yells for us to go upstairs and I grab Samantha’s hand and we run. We are now in my parent’s bedroom and I lock the door behind us, backing away from it toward the bed. We hear another scream and Samantha digs her fingernails into my arm. We are both standing, staring at the door. Suddenly my Mother is banging on the door for us to let her in. I run forward and take the latch off and she falls inward before I slam the door shut again and put the latch across. She’s shaking with panic.
“It’s outside the house.” She whispers.
Samantha gives a little cry and I wave at them to be quiet. There is nothing to hear but the wind outside. I turn to Mother, searching her face.
“Mother, did you see it?”
She shakes her head. “I heard it.”
There is a sudden bang and I know that the kitchen door that we use as the main door to the outside has been thrust open. It is inside the house. My Mother gasps and clutches Samantha to her. I am trying to decide what to do when there is a yell from downstairs and then a cheer. And suddenly there are lots of cheers. My Father is banging on the door for us to come out. My Mother is too scared to move and so I unlock the door again and there is my Father. He looks shaken but he is beaming at us. He leads us downstairs and on the kitchen floor, right near where we were sitting just minutes before, is the body of a gigantic wolf. It is the biggest animal I have ever seen. Bigger even than Mr. Glen’s hunting dogs. Its jaws are open, revealing huge glistening teeth and I shudder to think what it might have used them for in the past. It will not use them again. There is a spear wedged deep in its side and the wolf is dead. My Mother makes a horrible moaning sound and my Father puts his arm around her protectively. The town men are all in our small kitchen, looking down at the Wolf with fragile smiles on their faces.
“How did it get in?” One of the men asks. The others look up, too.
Another says, “Did you leave the door open?”
My Mother shakes her head but does not answer. I look at Samantha who also says nothing. I step forward.
“We were upstairs. We- we heard it break down the door.”
I expect them to laugh at me but the men stayed hushed. They looked frightened. They have finally discovered the creature. My Father has slain one of them, minutes before it found his family upstairs in the house that he had built. One of the men gasped and pointed at the Wolf. Before our eyes, it begins to shrink. The sound of breaking bones as the legs extend and the arms shrink back. The fur is disappearing, too. It is falling away to reveal smooth skin. The head is changing shape. The tail shrinks away to nothing as the feet and hands sprout toes and fingers. What had been the body of a Wolf just seconds before was now the body of a man, a spear rammed through his chest. My Mother screams and backs away, dragging Samantha with her. The men are frightened- even my Father.
It suddenly made more sense to me why this creature, why it, was so hard to catch. It was a human being- and it was an animal. An animal that had perfected the art of hunting and a man that knew the ways of men.
I felt real fear that night as I lay in my bed. The situation had changed. My Father and two of his friends were outside with lit torches, standing watch over the house. My Mother was with Samantha in her bedroom with the door locked tight. And I was in my room alone because my Father believed me brave enough. I did not think I was brave. I looked down at the small table beside my bed where a slim wooden box lay closed. I knew that inside the box was a solid silver knife- a big one, one of my Father’s favourites. I imagine using it, but I do not think I could. I do not think I am brave enough for such a weapon. He has given it to me to protect the family and myself should something happen to him. All I can wish is that he come back inside safely in the morning. Let the dead wolf be the only one! Please, God, let there only be one.
I flicked back to the beginning of the book to search for something that I had obviously missed. But it wasn’t there. There was no title page. No Author. No contents page marking the chapters. I flicked to the end of the book but there was nothing there either, just the same neatly typed pages. I turned to the very beginning of the book again. I almost missed it, but at the very top of the page on the left was the number, “1877”. But it wasn’t a number. It was the year, 1877. This wasn’t a fictional story. It was a diary.