Nox - May 2014
You know how your dreams are often forgotten as soon as you wake up? How there's only a brief amount of time after you open your eyes when you can remember your own brain's nocturnal hallucinations?
Let's be real–unless you keep some sort of dream diary or have, like, an exceptional memory, there's no chance you'll be able to recall your dreams. Of course, there are the usual deviations; a recurring dream, a night terror you see on a regular basis, a particularly disturbing vision…
Well, not me. I rest easy every night–no nightmares, no recurring dreams, no cryptic death visions or omens disrupting my slumber. Every night, I drift off without a care in the world as soon as my head hits the pillow, and by the time my alarm goes off I've forgotten whatever sweet temptations or cruel torments plagued my subconscious during those midnight hours. My little sister Rayn has always teased me for this, claiming the reason behind this phenomenon was that there wasn't enough brain in my head to begin with.
Jokes on her; I was a solid B student and captain of AOA’s football team. I knew she only gave me a hard time because she adored me, though, so I never let her jests get to me. It's not like I held back my own jabs anyway--insults were just our love language.
On this particular night, however, I had done something I wasn't supposed to do. I had broken one of our pack's oldest traditions. It wasn't an actual rule or law, per say, but it was considered a huge taboo, a major faux pas, a big no-no.
It was the eve of my eighteenth birthday, and I had spent the night at my girlfriend's house.
Every werewolf pack has its own way of doing things, but in our pack–the Denver Pack, the oldest wolf pack in the continental U.S–there's an old wives' tale about being with your significant other on the night you learn the identity of your fated mate. It's considered bad luck, and our elders say it'll always end badly.
It's just an old superstition, though. In reality, it would only end badly if you discovered that your partner wasn’t your fated mate as determined by the Divine Counsel. Hell, I had buddies who slept alone that night and woke the following morning feeling this unorthodox yearning, this pull that led them straight to their girls' doorsteps. Why would I be the exception? After all, I'd been with Aubrey for almost four years, and I'd never felt half as much for anyone as I did her.
She was the most beautiful she-wolf in our pack; shoulder-length chestnut hair framed her slender face and freckled cheeks. Her eyes were a light shade of brown that reminded me of some sort of spice, like saffron or sumac. Aubrey Day was the perfect girlfriend--attentive but not too clingy, spoke her mind without being too confrontational, fun-loving yet knew when to be serious, and boundless patience…
She was my fated mate--she had to be. I just knew it.
Aubrey didn't turn me away when I showed up at her door--and considering she had turned eighteen four months prior, I took that as a good sign. Her parents, Ethan and Lesley Day, were out of town visiting relatives. My own parental figures were very lax in their child-rearing methods. As the eldest, I was trusted to judge every situation carefully and decide how to proceed on my own. That's not to say they were neglectful… At least, not entirely.
They were always working hard, as both lead meteorologists at Moondust Industries and as ranked members of our pack. I was proud of their example and contribution, even if I did wish they'd make it home in time for dinner more often. They were consistently busy with something or other that night (let's be honest here, I could care less about what goes on at MDI, and I can't sit through a conversation with my parents about their current projects without zoning out), so I made things easier on Rayn by dropping our youngest sibling, Storm, off at a friend's house before driving over to the Day residence. My sister invited a couple of her friends over, so I knew she’d be alright.
It was one of the most memorable nights of my adolescent life, despite how typical it was. I ordered us some takeout to eat while we binged Top Chef, then we walked off our late meal with an intimate stroll around the neighborhood. Then we each took a shower, and our night ended with us tangled up in each other's arms. My lips were pressed against her temple as I ran my fingers through her soft hair, relishing her strawberry scent.
Normally, we werewolves would wake up just before midnight and join other teenage members of the occult in attending a secret night school just for magickal beings--but it was Friday night, which meant we'd only be partaking in club activities like football practice and marching band. We had already decided to skip school for the night, so we shut off our alarms and snuggled close with no fear of the consequences.
I was deep asleep, having the weirdest dream when it must have happened. I was standing naked in an open field the likes of which I had never seen--rather, it was less of a field and more like a meadow. I could see a line of trees in the distance that stretched all around, trapping me in this small wooded area. The grass beneath my bare feet was covered with a strange mixture of wildflowers and tall lines of yellow tulips. I could hear the sound of rushing water nearby even though I didn't see a river in any direction. Then again, it was dark--the sky above was pitch black with the occasional streak of azure and lapis, and stars bespeckled the expanse of darkness like a layer of twinkling fairy lights. The only beams shone off the wide face of the full moon, illuminating the scene before me.
There stood two pedestals no higher than my waist. Resting on the one to the left was a cute plush toy that looked an awful lot like a wolf. Its fur was a shiny medium brown, and its eyes a deep russet. I nearly reached for it out of a sense of familiarity--most wolves experienced their first shift when they hit puberty, and Aubrey and I had been on several runs together over the years. I knew her wolf form better than any other, and this little toy had an uncanny resemblance to her.
Then I glanced at the other pedestal and froze. Curled up on the flat, stony surface was a snake the shade of obsidian. Not a plush toy or plastic figure or statue--a living, breathing snake. It was big, a little over four feet in length. It remained bundled up, but its head twitched and swayed from side to side as it sized me up. This movement caused the moonlight to hit its scales, revealing iridescent shades of denim blue, mahogany, and indigo. Its beady eyes were as black as the sky above, as if I were gazing into an endless void…
Remember how I mentioned that I don’t remember my dreams? Well, that doesn’t mean I’m ignorant to blatant symbolism. I was being given a choice--a toy meant to represent my girlfriend, AKA the obvious correct choice, or a literal serpent, the universal personification of all things negative.
So, I did what I was supposed to do--I turned my back on the snake, and I took hold of the wolf plush.
Then the sound of rushing water stopped.
The meadow darkened considerably; I peeked up at the sky, half expecting a cloud to have interrupted the moonlight. Instead, I found the left half of the full moon to be shrouded in shadow.
As if that weren’t creepy enough, I could hear someone weeping behind me. I was about to turn around when the wolf plush shifted in my grip, transforming into a myriad of spiders. They slipped through my fingers and crawled all over my hand and up my wrist--
Freaked out, I opened my hand and shook it violently, brushing off the arachnids as best as I could. That didn’t stop one of them from piercing my flesh with their tiny teeth, sending a sharp pain shooting up my left hand…
When I finally spun around to find the person who was crying, the snake burst into flames and let out a blood-curdling, heart-wrenching scream. I didn’t dare touch it--instead, I hightailed it out of there, sprinting across the clearing and into the woods. I ran on and on, dodging branches and hopping over modest boulders, until I saw a light through the pines and spruce. Without hesitation, I charged ahead, eager to escape from the darkness between me and the horrific scene I had left behind. I emerged from the treeline--
And I was back in the meadow, watching a burning snake cry out in pain.
No, no, no…
Desperate to stay as far away from the snake as possible, I bounded westward, hoping the change in direction would break me out of this loop…
It didn’t matter which direction I took off in. It didn’t matter how fast I ran, or if I even managed to get past the sick stench of burning meat or the terrible wailing. I could still smell it, still hear it, still see it…
It felt as if hours had passed before I finally gave up on escaping. Returning to the center of the meadow, I stared despondently at the serpent. For the first time since I had made my choice, the beady-eyed bastard had quieted down. Its silence did little to put out the blaze that was devouring its still bundled figure, but now the only noises it made were whimpers and hushed sobs.
I let out a sigh. I was exhausted--I had spent the better part of this experience sprinting around, eager to break whatever spell I was under. It had to be a spell, right? What else could have done this?
The skin of my legs was covered in dirt and fresh cuts and bruises from all the woodland obstacles I had bumped into. I sank down on my knees before the weeping creature, crushing wildflowers beneath my weight as I glimpsed around. For the first time, I noticed that the tulips had all wilted, their blonde bulbs turning to a rusty brown before my very eyes. They drooped over on their stems, with several of these once cheerful flowers losing their petals left and right…
I fixed my gaze on the snake, and I was about to demand answers from it when my throat constricted, preventing my words from tasting air. Over and over, I tried to beg and shout and order this snake, this thing to release me from this prison, but it was an exercise in futility. It could not hear me, and I suspected it could not see me, or even so much as sense my presence. I was alone in this world, just me and this burning, weeping reptile, and I had half a mind to join it and shed a few tears of my own.
Those words sparked an idea--what if I picked up the snake? Running around didn’t seem to wake me up, regardless of how much my heart rate elevated. Leaving didn’t do the trick, and neither did sitting around twiddling my thumbs.
Well, here goes nothing. I reached out with a tentative hand, chanting a mantra to myself. It’s just a dream, it can’t hurt me. It’s just a dream, it can’t hurt me. It’s just a dream, it can’t hurt me…
The snake, still oblivious to my existence, continued with its fussing; its head was hidden within the safety of its coiled body, its scales shimmering a bright shade of rose red in the firelight.
It’s just a dream, it can’t hurt me.
There was barely six inches between my palm and the shivering mass of twisted muscle. The flames surrounding it licked against my skin, but I gritted my teeth and endured the pain as I closed the distance between us. My hand, wrist, and forearm were dealt with searing heat, and my nose scrunched up at the smell of burnt arm hair and singed flesh.
It’s just a dream! I reminded myself. It can’t hu--
My fingers brushed against the scales along the creature’s back, and an image flashed across my mind. The face of someone I had seen before, but I couldn’t recall where. I pulled my hand from the flames, paying no mind to the burns I received as I thought back on that vision, taking in as many details as possible.
Long wavy hair, soft and shimmering like the feathers of a raven, framing a round face and curved lips tinted rouge. Large, wide ash brown eyes, nearly as dark as her hair. A complexion that reminded me of a caramel latte, warm and sweet.
I barely felt it at first--the slightest change, the smallest shift in energy. It was as if I were being pulled toward this mystery girl, this person I swore I’d never met before. Everything about her drew me in, and that could only mean one thing.
The pain in my right hand lessened to a tolerable degree, and I glanced down to assess what I expected to be extensive burns. Instead, I found a brand I knew would undoubtedly remain after I awoke. Seared into the back of my hand was a symbol shaped like a flower; it had five thick petals that curved up to a point, not unlike sunflowers. The head was a perfect circle, the edges seemingly spiraling toward the center of the structure. The fingers of my opposite hand glanced over the raised skin, and I was surprised by the absence of discomfort.
This is so weird, I thought to myself, still studying the strange mark. I’ve never heard of a mate bond causing physical scars… But I have heard that a mate will experience their mate’s pain, in some form or another.
Then my eyes rose, training on the still whimpering serpent. I had no idea why my mate was represented as such a creature--maybe she was a naga or snake-related Hunter, or possibly an Enchanter whose group was represented by snakes. Either way, she was made for me, and I had to do everything in my power to find her.
Somewhere out there, my mate was enduring pain, and I had to make her tormentor pay.