What a tease!
Taylor, if I was back in your time I'd give you such a talking-to!
You get me all worked up about a new story, then jump to someone else!
And I love your stories - but come on, girl! Give me something to read all the way through!
The Last Guardian
As I drove home, $30 worth of too-sweet scents wafting from the inside of Taylor's backpack, I couldn't help noticing how distracted she seemed upon our entrance into the shop. Normally, she couldn't wait to start sampling the many smells and colors of candles on a shelf. She'd always been to one who pulled me further into the shop, not the other way around.
She wasn't herself and hadn't been since the attack.
I wanted to ask her what else I could do to provide her with the comfort that she needed, but she'd fallen asleep, her head resting on my shoulder. It would be selfish of me to ask her now. I breathed in her scent; clean and buttery, just like home.
I steered the Bronco towards the soft glow of the cottage, where I parked it in the driveway. I nudged my muzzle against Taylor's cheek.
"We're home, sweetheart," I whispered.
She rose, half-asleep. As soon as she cracked her door open, I caught a scent both strange and familiar; the same scent that lingered on my fur on the night of the attack. Musky, sharp, earthy. Wolf.
I leaned across the bench seat and quickly shut the door. Taylor jumped, fully awake. I gripped the steering wheel, my claws digging into the leather exterior. The wolf had come back in search for us, or maybe for her. The fur on my back and neck stood stiffly up.
"What's wrong?" Taylor asked.
She looked out the window, no doubt scanning the darkness of the woods for the threat she knew I could sense. When she turned back to look at me, her face was full of fear. She said my name, then asked a question, but I didn't hear what the question was. My mind was focused on how I would deal with the monster out to kill my reason for existing. A low growl rose from deep in my throat as I turned my gaze back to our cabin.
"Jack?" Taylor said.
She rested her hand on my arm. Her touch brought me back to my senses. I shook my head, but I still smelled the wolf.
"Stay here, Tay," I told her, opening my door. "Don't get out no matter what happens."
She whimpered softly, then nodded. I stepped out of the Bronco.
"Lock the doors."
Jack's nose led him inside, through the opened door of the cottage. I froze.
Was the wolf in there?
Had I really been stupid enough to leave the front door unlocked, knowing there was a killer animal on the lose?
Would the wolf be smart enough to corner Jack once he walked through the living room, the kitchen, our bedroom?
No, I couldn't think abou tit. Not now.
I turned on the radio. The buttons had gone dusty, mostly because Jack and I hardly ever used it, preferring instead to talk or roll down the windows and take in the wonderful sounds and scents of the woods. Come to think of it, the only times that we ever had to drive into town was for my clothes, our books, and candles. Otherwise, we never had a reason to leave the cottage or Willow Wood.
Jeremy Soule played softly through the stereo speakers. I leaned forward to turn it up, then closed my eyes and leaned back. I took in the music. The song was, "Bifrost" a sort of dreamy instrumental piece that took me back the dreams I'd had since I was small. I'd spent those dreams playing and exploring with Jack. I remembered now, that I never really saw any other children in those dreams, just the too adorable faces of the Guardian pups that played among us. I remembered now, the land we walked on being an abundance of rich colors and eternal sunlight, a land of grass and rolling hills, a land of whispering winds. In my dreams, I never once experienced snow or even total darkness, like I did now. Yes, I remembered those dreams. Those reoccurring dreams.
As I sat there, letting the song wash away every fear I'd had since Jack had left for the wolf, I began to wonder if he ever wondered; about where those dreams came from, about why they were so clear, about who we were.
A chill passed through me, though the heater was on. I shuddered again.
Our cottage reeked of wolf.
I walked through the opened door. The knob was still warm to my touch. The fur on my back stood. I went in deeper, into the living room where the fireplace still burned. I saw the soft cushions of our couch and chairs and the rich smelling wood of our bookshelves and walls in the flickering light.
I sniffed at the air and my lips curled back. The animal's scent, her stench, was everywhere. I growled. She wouldn't catch me off guard this time. This time, I would be ready.
A sound caught my attention. Claws on wood. I growled again, my teeth bared as I made my way slowly into the kitchen.
The white wolf stood effortlessly on her hind legs as if ahe were a Guardian. Her paws clung to several photographs of Taylor and I, which had been clawed at and taken carelessly off the cabinets. I struggled to contain my rage, the rage I felt whenever my girl was threatened. The wolf stared at the claw marks on the wood of the cabinets.
"What are you doing with those?" I growled.
The wolf laughed, a soft chuckle. She smiled. Dried blood was caked to her ruff and muzzle. My blood and the blood of another. She seemed to have made it through both fights without a scratch.
"Ah, Little One," she said, fixing her gaze on me. "I've finally found you."
I'd heard that name before, heard that voice before. It was low, this voice, and disturbingly sweet to my ears.
"I apologize for attacking you, my brother," she continued, in a voice so soft it was almost comforting. "I meant to kill the girl, you see."
My ears drew back. I shook my head.
No, despite our yellow eyes and similar features, this wolf and I did not share the same blood. I knew that. Didn't I?
My body was hot now, my nose and ears and tail. The wolf laughed again, very quietly, then looked at her paws, at the photographs.
"Oh, Little One." she sighed. "This life has brainwashed you. You think this girl gives you purpose? She is nothing to you. Don't you know it? If she were out of the picture, you'd be able to see your destiny. What we are destined to do."
I couldn't listen anymore. I rushed at her, snarling and snapping. We crashed to the floor in a tangle of teeth and claws. My teeth pulled hard at the fur and skin of her neck.
She struggled beneath me. Pain shot through my ribcage as a pair of clawed feet tore at my chest and stomach in a quick and panicked motion. Her claws hooked into my ribs and she kicked me off of her, slamming me into the cabinets. She rolled over and stood on all fours before I got my bearings. She looked over her shoulder, yellow eyes staring directly into mine.
In a flash, my strength was gone. My back and shoulders cried out as I rose to my four paws, limbs trembling. I couldn't get to my hind legs, no matter how much I thought about gripping the counter for support. I was too weak. My head was spinning. My tongue flopped out of the side of my mouth.
What had she done to me?
That voice, so soft and familiar, was muffled just a little. I was bleeding and panting and shaking so violently that I was sure my legs would give way. The wolf stood on her hind legs without any effort at all. She moved towards me and crouched next to my ear. She lifted it with a paw.
"You weren't born to protect," she whispered. "You were born to destroy."
My vision blurred as she stood and started out of the kitchen. I whimpered in protest. It was all I could manage. My body wobbled when I tried to follow her, wobbled so much I had to stop. Going after her was pointless now.
"Please God," I prayed. "Don't let her hurt Taylor."
I was like a puppy again, frightened, unsteady, and helpless. I missed my mother. It had been years since I thought of her, of her sweet scent and gentle manner. I remembered her now, even as I retched and shook like a leaf. Her eyes, so similar to mine, were filled with a kindness that stayed with me long after she disappeared.
I wanted my girl, my precious Taylor. I longed for her touch, for the feeling of her gentle fingers through my fur.
I wanted to protect her.
I couldn't stand. My heartbeat thudded in my ears and my head hit the cold tiles of the kitchen floor. I saw the photos of us, memories of a life now lost, before everything went black.