Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2289639-Finding-West
by JD
Rated: 13+ · Novel · Fantasy · #2289639
Chapter 3: Fear of Anything New
“Wolves are not only intelligent, they can be playful and have a natural sense of curiosity. Their curious nature, however, comes second to their neophobia – a fear of anything new.”


I overhear more quarreling upon my investigative approach. The words: “I can handle it. Don’t worry,” seem to stick with me. Honestly, it sounds like something Lindell would say — that’s the only logical conclusion I can come up with. Why else would I feel drawn to the human activity happening near me?

Still wet from the unfortunate pond dive, I peruse the rock face from a distance, concealing my four-legged self in the dense vegetation. Thankfully, humans have an inferior sense of smell because my damp coat brings new meaning to the phrase “wet dog smell.”

With my ears perked, I continue to eavesdrop. One of the males in the group sounds genuinely afraid, yet chooses to mask his fear with frustration. I can’t say I blame him for being concerned. Why would anyone want to purposely dangle themselves over a cliff when there is a safer more practical way down?

In order to get a better view, I move closer, lowering my ears and tail as I dash to a nearby bush. Right away I catch sight of a vulnerable girl hanging twenty feet high. Gleaming in the bright sunlight is her sandy blond hair, beautiful shiny hair that sits just above her shoulders. I watch her tan toned legs demonstrate good balance and agility as they make short jumps down the boulder. Her black tight-fitted shorts also catch my eye. As much as I want to appreciate that well-rounded view, I can’t. The makeshift harness barely keeping her suspended is highly unsettling. I don’t know this fearless girl; she means nothing to me, yet, I fear for her life.

I have to admit, the excitement in her voice as she loudly expresses her exhilaration brings me unexpected joy. Possibly even a bit of jealousy. Despite her poor judgement in recreational activities, there’s a certain appeal to her adventurous spirit.

The sound of falling debris interrupts my thoughts, raising my fur like an alarm. One rock ricochets off the ground and pops me in the snout. I shake my head in response, then quickly peer up, eager to assess the situation. Panic sets in as her posture becomes unsteady, and her movements unpredictable.

Stop moving. Please, stop moving.

She fumbles with the rope as it becomes loose around her waist. It’s at that point, I realize her fall is inevitable. I burst forth from the bush with a sense of urgency, leaping as if my very existence hinged on saving her. As my feet make contact with the ground, I seamlessly phase into my human form. I catch her in my arms, cradling her gently, mere seconds to spare.

With her eyes tightly-shut, I quickly glance over her facial features, admiring her button nose and full lower lip. Her sky blue eyes open slowly, revealing their vibrance with each blink. Then her mouth opens, whispering just one question. “Is this a dream?”

My response alludes to possible trauma, a valid assessment in my mind. But the moment her palm touches my face, my concern and uneasiness disappear. The light brush of her hand softens my face and my heartbeat. Gazing into her eyes, I begin to feel a deep connection. Affection, trust, and admiration, all linking together and coursing through me. What is it about this girl? Why do I suddenly feel so strongly about her?

An intense yell from above steals both our attention. It’s the same panicked guy from before. Her ear splitting claim of being all-right releases the rest of my tension, allowing me to set her down.

“I’m glad you’re OK,” I convey softly, immediately regretting my lame choice of words.

Her voice of gratitude is sweet, but that hair-tucking thing she does sparks further approval. There’s this sexy innocence about her. Probably why her face turns beat red when she realizes I’m naked.

I explain, rather badly, my awkward ill-timed situation, covering my front area in the process. At this point, my mindset has already shifted to flight mode. Her one request as I attempt to flee the scene is instantly granted:

“West.” I start to jog. “My name’s West.”

“I’m Laken,” she yells, “And no, I wasn’t born in or around a lake.”

I crack a smile. “Thanks,” I holler, “I appreciate that clarification.”

Moments later, I hear her shout, “You should be very proud of that backside!”

I chortle into the dense thicket, flattered with her proclamation, and immediately contemplate a return to her. But what would be the point of getting to know her? She can’t cross the border into my land, and I can only spend a limited time in hers.

Unwanted sadness creeps in.

I pick up my pace, sprinting through the uneven terrain without concern for my human form. Leaves crunch at my bare feet. Sunlight beats on my naked chest. Limbs of trees smack my arms and legs as I carelessly run along the border of our territory. All while fighting a battle within.

Becoming leader of the Mantra pack is too big a burden, I tell myself. Too big a responsibility. Why me? Why was I the one born of the mark, chosen to lead their tribe at the rightful age of twenty-one. It should be someone like Trent. Someone with passion and a strong decisive voice. A voice worth listening to. The truth is, if I’m not building or tinkering with something, I’m busy brooding over my life. Does that sound like a good leader? A leader that inspires and empowers?

Continuing to wallow, I ponder an escape to the human world, imagining a life of freedom. A fantasy world of my own, without the constant fear of failing everyone around me. A life, no longer bound by tradition or an authoritarian cultural structure.

The bleakness of my muse creates an urgency inside of me: a need to be in better control of my body. While entering an open space of land, I phase with an upward leap, breaking free of my constricted form. I release a short but powerful howl, timing it with the landing of my front paws. With little to no difficulty, it’s full speed ahead, my fur acting as a shield from all the elements. There’s a sense of purpose to my movements, a more fluid and coordinated pattern taking shape. Powerful agility allows me to cover a larger distance.

I gallop for miles against the wind. Hours of scenery blend into a colorful blur. I hear the rhythmic beat of my feet against the terrain, my stamina outlasting my mental exertion. But no matter how fast or how far I go, I can’t outrun guilt.

I picture the triplets in my mind—Mace, Malik, and Mark—only to see their cheerful, frosting covered faces turn gloomy and disheartened at the mention of my absence. I can imagine Lindell upset and demanding a search party. And after closing my eyes, I see the rest of the Mantra pack, all troubled, concerned, even agitated. The guilt of wanting to leave my tribe, even for a few days, is unbearable, causing me to reduce speed and brake my steps. I slowly roam the area, sniffing for a water source, catching my breath in the process.

Later, I gulp down my pride from a nearby creek and plan my return home, but only after deciding on a forbidden detour.


With the night sky on my side, I approach the camp grounds quietly and quickly, traveling on my toes from one camp site to the next. Hiding my wolf form in the shadows is easier said than done. Still, I imagine someone finding a naked man at their tent would be far worse than them spotting a calm innocent wolf.

Putting my snout to work, I use my keen sense of smell to find Laken and her group of friends. For a while, I watch the four of them roast food on their blazing campfire, laughing and making friendly gestures. But it’s not enough to satisfy my curiosity. I relocate behind a nearby bush, in the hopes of hearing their conversation.

“I still don’t believe it,” the brawny guy admits. “There’s no way a nude dude appeared just in time to catch you from falling fifteen feet in the air.”

“Maybe it was only ten feet,” the girl in glasses chimes in.

“Or, maybe she hit her head and imagined it all,” he continues.

“Y’all, why would I make something like this up,” Laken says with conviction, poking the fire with a stick. “I swear to you, I was only half way down the rock when I fell. My eyes were closed for most of it, but when I opened them, I gazed up to this gorgeous man with golden eyes and black shoulder-length hair. I touched his sun-kissed face. He’s real. And no, I can’t explain how his impressive muscles cradled me from that height. I just know that it happened.”

Warmth stirs inside my heart with her bold flattery toward me.

“Well, I believe you,” says the smaller guy next to her, tapping her foot with his.

“Thanks, Hunter,” she replies, offering him a warm smile.

I find myself wondering if this guy is doing his part to avoid conflict, or if he’s genuinely interested in her. I’m betting on the latter of the two.

“The important thing is you’re alive and injury free,” the bigger one explains, standing from his chair. “I’m heading to the restroom. Hunter, you coming?”

"Nervous about tackling it solo?" he chuckles softly.

“Yeah, punk.Time to roll."

The sound of Laken’s laugh is hearty and infectious, compelling me to relax my mouth and pant. On instinct, I wag my tail against the foliage, causing a soft rustle.

“You hear that?” Hunter asks, addressing the girls.

“I didn’t hear anything,” Laken expresses.

Fortunately for me, he shrugs it off and catches up to his friend. Seconds later, Laken’s friend switches chairs.

“Now that we’re finally alone, what’s the deal with you and Hunter?” She inquires, crossing her legs.

Suddenly, my ears perk up, eager to hear every word.

“Uh, what do you mean, exactly?” Laken answers.

“Did you notice how overprotective he was being towards you today?”

“Morgan, that was just Hunter being Hunter. He has a big heart. You know that. Besides, when has he ever been afraid to speak up? In all sincerity, I don’t see him as anything but a friend. We enjoy each other’s company, but there are no sparks or desires for anything intimate. Trust me, I would tell you.”

Hearing Laken describe her platonic relationship puts my mind at ease, allowing me to rest on my hind legs.

“I don’t know,” Morgan says thoughtfully. “Something just seemed different about him today.”

“It was probably just the heat getting to us all. But what about you and Alex? Any new developments there?”

“No.” Morgan sighs deeply. “I still like him, of course, but I also can’t let myself go there. He isn’t relationship material, as you know. Literally every weekend he’s hooking up with someone new.”

“One of these days, he’s going to grow up and want something more.“

As their private conversation continues, a part of me feels guilty for eavesdropping. But I’m shortly reminded by the howl of a distant wolf that I don’t belong in their world. I’m a shadow of the night, soon to be departing, without any plans of coming back.

When the guys return, I position to all fours, crouch low to the ground, and prepare for my retreat, The warmth of Laken’s voice halts my departure as she requests a campfire sing-along. Hunter is quick to retrieve a guitar from a red vehicle. I peak my head around the bush instead of through it for a better view.

Plopping in his chair, he says, “Any requests?”

“Wagon Wheel,” Laken calls out.

Grunting softly, he says, “I’m the only one that sings the lyrics.”

“Yeah, but we all join in for the chorus. Please,” she begs, doing that adorable hair tucking thing she does.

“Alright,” he caves, strumming the strings a few times.

The animated way in which Hunter sings, surprises me. There's a newfound vitality about him, a liveliness I hadn't observed before. Honestly, the boosted confidence suits him.

The upbeat song continues to evoke feelings of joy and optimism, reaching beyond just my own experience. The faces of his friends beam with happiness and vibrancy, clapping along as they join in on the strange chorus:

“So, rock me mama like a wagon wheel. Rock me mama anyway you feel. Hey, mama rock me.”

It becomes a seated dance, everyone swaying and tapping to the music. I even catch myself swinging my tail side to side in a rhythmic movement. However, despite my relaxed ears being soothed by the uplifting melody, there’s a sense of envy building inside me. I wish to be closer to Laken, sharing in this beautiful moment beside her. Relishing in her voice, her scent, her gentle touch of the hand. If only I could be more than just an onlooker. Sadly, my proximity must remain as it is.

During the conclusion of the song, a strong gust of wind sends sparks of ember into the sky, generating a brief mesmerizing dance of light. I remain focused on Laken as her head suddenly shifts towards me. Alarmed, I duck my head behind the bush and stay perfectly still. Though, my mind whirls on, wondering what caused her to peer my direction in the first place.

Hunter begins strumming his guitar once more, a new slower paced tune grabbing everyone’s attention. The lyrics speak of shared sentiments—pain and sorrow, the need for friendship and the importance of leaning on one another. The swaying of bodies and snapping of fingers paints a clear picture of mutual affection, trust and support. As they lean closer together, arms wrapped around each other, I find myself averting my eyes. I no longer wish to see their companionship thrive, for it stings my heart to observe from a distance. With one final glance to Lakens illuminating smile, I shift my body, then sprint to the darkest part of the campsite.


Beneath the glistening moon, my legs grace the red dirt with ease and precision. The brief journey home weighs heavily on my mind, each step a mental challenge as I wrestle and suppress resentful thoughts. I exit the forest with a new sense of curiosity, wondering if anyone noticed my absence.

After transitioning to my human form, I grab some stashed clothing from a box positioned by the distant wood gate. Wearing only shorts, I walk through the well-kept field of grass, petting a few sheep as I go. I spot Lindell approaching me from our quaint village, a look of relief upon his face.

“Where have you been?” He asks, punching me in the shoulder. “I was about to send out a search party.”

I curl my lips at his response, pleased and satisfied with his concern.

“I needed some time to myself,” I answer, patting him on the back as I walk.

“Ten hours?” He debates. “You needed ten hours?”

“Yes,” I simply put, opening and shutting the gate to the field.

“Where did you go?” Lindell presses, kicking up dirt as he walks.

“For a run. A very long run.”

Shifting on our dirt road, I pause to gaze around our small rural village. The rustic buildings crafted from mud and wood remind me of the simple charm our settlement offers. Minimal light can be seen through the windows. Laundry is strung on twine reaching from one hut to the next. The only sounds of the night consist of animals, crickets and other insects. It only takes me but a moment to remember and appreciate all the authenticity and comfort of home.

“What are you looking at?” Lindell ponders.

“Nothing. It’s just really good to be back,” I say proudly.

“Just keep that in mind when you speak with Crue. He demanded I send you to his office as soon as I found you.”

I curse under my breath, then slowly amble in the direction of our taxing leader. "You just found the perfect words for ruining a guy's night—and on his birthday," I remark with a touch of dry humor.

He strolls backwards with a hint of a smile. “You can cry me a river tomorrow birthday boy. I’m headed to bed.”


Crue's office is conveniently located in the same building as the dining hall. I snatch a handful of deer jerky from the kitchen pantry, then mosey on through the dark hallway, scarfing what I can.

Chomping vigorously, I knock on the open door of his office.

“Come in,” Crue says, composed in his delivery.

I enter the snug room, with just enough space for a desk and a couple of bookshelf’s. Three tall candles and an oil lamp sit on the desktop, illuminating the room with warm flickers of light.

“You wanted to see me,” I say, glancing at a pile of organized papers in front of me.

His silky gray hair sways as he leans forward in his chair. “I don’t wish to yell at you on your birthday,” he begins calmly, “but I want you to know how disappointed I am. Leaving for hours without any notification is not only against our tribe directive, it’s also careless and irresponsible. You had many people worried, including your very spirited best friend.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” I exhale slowly.

“Tell me, where did you go today?” He asks, keeping his tone neutral.

I swallow the lump in my throat, ignore my anxious thoughts and respond with conviction. “It doesn’t matter where I went. Only that I returned.”

Pausing thoughtfully, he nods and says, “Fair enough.”

“Thank you for understanding,” I express warmly.

“Listen, I know the kind of pressure being a leader brings. You’re not alone in this. I’m here to answer any questions you have over the coming months. And a year from now, I’ll still be here, as your guide, your friend, and personal confidante. There’s plenty of time to adjust.”

Suddenly feeling bold, I decide to share my burning question. “Can I ask you something about the human world?”

Twitching his lips, he replies, “Of course you can, what would you like to know?”

“I know we have to get permission to cross the border, but—“

“But you crossed without it,” he interrupts. “West, as you know, we’ve been sending people to the human world for trading purposes for years. If there’s something specific you want to trade for that doesn’t break tribe rules, you can put in a written request. I’ll make sure the elders approve it.”

I release a sigh with my unspoken thought: If only bringing back a person were an option, I’d be set.

Crue notices my lack of a response and continues to speak. “That’s not what you wanted to know, is it?

I shake my head. “Why is it so easy to enter their world, but they can’t even take one step across our boundary line?”

Lowering his gaze, he ponders, “I wish I knew the answer to that, but unfortunately I don’t. It’s a mystery we’ve learned to accept.”

I scratch my chest in thought. "It's somewhat of a blessing, I suppose. Our concealed shield ensures our safety."

He smiles with a sense of pride. “Exactly… Any other questions?”

One comes to my mind, as I remember a specific time Crue spoke at school. He explained to everyone how dangerous the human world could be. Listing all the scary risks he could think of to scare us from breaking the rules and crossing over. But the one that always bothered me was the loss of our abilities. Our strength, agility, and heightened senses apparently start to fade if we’re gone too long, and at some point we can no longer transition into a predator. But at what point? That was never made clear.

“How long can we stay there?” I ask.

“Our historical journals say after twenty-four hours the body starts to notice changes. It’s speculative, but once the body is fully void of our unique capabilities, it can never cross the boundary to return home. That’s the extent of our knowledge.”

I furrow my brow and ask, “But no one has ever tested the theory?”

“None that we know of. I can’t imagine anyone willing to risk that harsh of a fate. Can you?”

“No, I guess not.” Yawning uncontrollably, I say, “I should get some sleep. I have that meeting with Bree tomorrow.”

“Yes, that’s right.” He leans back in his chair, a bit of a smile playing on his lips. “Maybe try being extra friendly to her. We really need the trade agreement to go well. Consider it your first lesson in leadership.”

I roll my eyes on the way out. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll do my best.”


The ten by ten abode Lindell and I share is pitch black upon entry. I stumble over his pile of dirty clothes as I crawl into my bed, exhausted in every possible way. Laying above the blanket, I find it difficult to relax. But my mind isn’t fretting over responsibilities. It’s only thinking about one thing. A beautiful adventurous girl with an infectious laugh. Laken. The girl not born in our around a lake.

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