Prologue – Midnight Wolf!
Enjoy this sneak peak at my upcoming novel – Midnight Wolf!
Obsidian feathers ruffled in the crisp autumn breeze, releasing fat rain droplets from the morning storm. The raven sat perched on a brittle branch, over-looking the vast forest, focusing its vision until it found her. From this vantage point, the raven could clearly see the girl, as she hurried across the slippery moss-covered ground, tripping and stumbling, frantic and afraid. It would catch her soon.
The young girl ducked between trees, weaving her way through the thick foliage, jumping over rotting logs, desperate in her attempts to flee. Labored breaths puffed from her mouth, small clouds of moist air dotting her frenzied path. She snapped her head to the left at the sound of a vicious snarl. It was getting closer. She took off in the opposite direction, quickening her pace.
The rushing current of a nearby stream drew her attention and she knew if she could find it and follow it north, she could reach the main highway. She took off toward the sound, climbing over tree stumps and large rocks, racing through tall grass, careful not to slide on the misty dew.
Her morning runs in the preserve had become a ritual ever since she joined the high school track team. She had always been somewhat athletic but sports were never a priority for her. School was. An academic scholarship had been her goal since the 9th grade. Growing up with three siblings, money was a constant topic of discussion between her parents. How would they send four kids to college?
At first, she wasn’t even going to try out –school activities weren’t really her thing either– but once she saw the boys on the team, she realized she would have to do something if she ever wanted to have a social life, not to mention the prospect of a college scholarship. Athletic or academic, a scholarship was a scholarship.
A dip in the uneven terrain caused her legs to tremble, her lungs burning with exertion. But she had to keep going. She had to get away. Another growl echoed behind her in the trees forcing her to push harder. She couldn’t be more than a mile from the highway by now. She just needed to find the water.
Her ponytail swung wildly as she looked around, somewhat lost. Was she going in circles? Where was the water? She briefly stopped and closed her eyes, listening for the familiar sound. When she finally heard it, she began to run toward it, noticing the other set of footfalls behind her gaining speed. Her body ached, her joints stiff with tension. Slick sweat dripped down her face, into her eyes, clouding her vision. She quickly wiped her brow with her sweatshirt and barreled into a crowded row of bushes that lead to a meadow. Halfway into the open plane, she halted, skidding to a stop at the sight of it.
Partially hidden behind an enormous set of oak trees were two red eyes, a long dark snout and sharp fangs dripping with saliva. Its silhouette appeared enormous. The pounding of her heart was so loud, she was certain the crea-ture could hear it. She stood in the middle of the meadow, shaking, sweating and utterly terrified. But she was also determined to live.
Stepping back cautiously, she stretched her arms in front of her in a placating manner. She wondered why the beast wasn’t attacking but before she could change her mind, she turned on her heel and darted back into the dense forest. Hot on her tracks, the creature followed, snarling and biting as it closed in on its prey.
She wasn’t sure where she was going anymore. Her only goal now was to get away from the massive animal chasing her. The mid-morning sunlight streaming between the branches offered little illumination, blanketing the damp forest in a dull glow. A low fog, rolling slowly across the ground made her escape more difficult. It was getting harder to see, the further she went into the wilderness; thunderous footsteps closed in on her, growing louder and heavier.
Distracted by her assailant, the girl lost her footing near a deep ridge and began to tumble roughly down a long hill filled with sharp rocks and branches. Each twist and turn left her battered, scraped and bloodied. When she finally reached the bottom, she rolled to the side, crying out. Her right ankle radiated with pain while her thigh bled through her sweats. She quickly inspected the gash, ripping the bottom of her undershirt off and wrapping it around the injury. Covered in dirt, leaves and twigs, she swept her hands across her clothes, surveying the rest of her body for injuries.
A vicious bark caught her attention.
At the top of the hill she found the creature staring at her, its lip curled back, teeth bared. She scrambled to her feet and hobbled as fast as she could, desperate to get away. A fear she had never known pooled in her stomach, tying itself into knots.
Back and forth, her eyes searched the area, horrified that she no longer knew where she was. She had never been this deep into the preserve before and now every tree, crevice and blade of grass looked exactly the same. A piercing howl broke her thoughts, fueling her body to keep moving.
She kept a hand on her leg, applying pressure to the wound as she stumbled around the unsteady terrain, gnarled tree roots protruding in every direction like snakes swimming through the earth. An eerie calm filtered through the branches, draping the forest in absolute silence. A chill crept up her spine like a spider on a thread of silk. Her eyes landed a few hundred yards in front of her where the remains of a decrepit structure stood. Staggering toward her destination, she only prayed it held a place inside for her to hide.
The closer she got, the more the building resembled a church with decaying white walls, a large brass bell laying askew and a wooden roof that was almost caved in, covered in thick moss with leafy tendrils growing along the sides. The floor was littered with rusty colored leaves and dirt, the earthy stench of mildew invading her senses. The pews were nothing more than piles of rotting wood gathered in the center of the room. She quickly searched for a hiding spot, locating a small door to her right.
Running inside the cramped closet, she slammed the door, holding the knob tightly. Huddled against the shoddy wooden frame, she shivered from both the cold and sheer fright. This was not how she thought she would die. She pictured a life that included college, a job and maybe a boyfriend but she hadn’t even been kissed yet. It was too soon. She still had so much to do.
She used her left hand to cover her mouth when she heard heavy, calculated footsteps approaching. This was it. The beast had finally gotten her. This is where she would die. She sobbed silently, fat tears spilling from her eyes as she readied herself. She listened closely, holding her breath, only to realize that human boots were making the footfalls.
“Hello?” asked a deep masculine voice. She loosened her hold on the door and released a deep sigh. Surely, upon seeing her broken demeanor and filthy clothes, the stranger would help her. She opened the door and watched the stranger turn toward her. He wore a long black coat covered in fresh rain and deep brown boots that were once nice but now covered in mud. He eyed her up and down, stopping to look over her injuries, his nicely tailored clothes appearing out of place in the depth of the forest.
“Please help me,” she began to say as she hopped forward. “An animal was chasing me and I…I fell down a ravine.” She motioned to her torn and dirty clothes.
The man, older than she guessed, tilted his head and clicked his tongue. “You don’t look so great,” he said. Obviously. There was something creepy about him but in that moment, she would have done anything to get away from the creature. “Can you help me get to the highway?” she asked. The man stepped back and looked to the doorway.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
She glanced in the same direction and screamed when the creature that had been stalking her all morning slowly sauntered inside. It was bigger than she imagined, its massive head easily reaching her shoulder in height. Black fur covered thick paws bigger than her hands, each with pointy claws that clicked when they stepped on the decaying wooden floor. It looked like a wolf but unlike any she had seen before. Though its teeth and jaw were impressive, it was the creature’s blood red eyes that truly terrified the girl, for she knew she was staring at something that wasn’t of this world.
She stumbled backward, her wet eyes darting between the animal and the man she assumed would be her savior but now appeared to be an accomplice in her demise. “Please,” she pleaded. A rotten piece of the floor caught her foot, causing her to fall and land on her backside. She quickly sat up and scrambled away from the wolf. It stalked closer, rearing its fangs, snarling and growling savagely, but still, it didn’t attack.
“Please, help me.”
But her plea went unanswered again. The man simply stared at her and then the wolf. That’s when everything made sense. The man was controlling the wolf and he wanted it to attack her. That had been his plan all along. But why her? Was she somehow important? Or was this all a sadistic game? She swallowed down a scream, realizing the wolf was waiting for his master’s command. Her eyes met the stranger’s dark stare.
“Please don’t do-”
“Kill,” he said.
The man watched as his beast ripped through flesh, crunching bones into powder, tearing muscle apart until there was nothing left of the pretty young girl. Nothing but blood matted hair sitting atop a pale face, sunken grey eyes and a mouth permanently etched in a scream.
He watched and he smiled.