One of my earliest memories of not belonging was when my brother first shifted into a wolf. I didn't remember where I came from, all I knew was that I had a mom, a dad, and an older brother. That was until I met him. My adoptive brother, Ripley, had this one friend named Rider. When I was eight, they were eleven. Most wolves turn at the age twelve, but wolves with alpha bloodlines could turn as early as ten.
My brother and Rider had already turned, since Rider was the Black Moon Alpha's son, and Ripley was the Alpha's son of our pack, The Lightened Horizon. They used to shift and run through the woods, and me being the youngest sibling, I'd always run after them.
I'd trip, and run myself ragged trying to keep up with their fast, wolf bodies. My soft, pale skin would break and bleed on branches and thorns, while they were protected by fur and calloused paws. I could have stopped chasing, it would have been the smart thing to do, but for some reason I felt like I didn't want to be left behind. I had this feeling that as soon as they were out of sight, I would be forgotten. My brother would constantly stop and wait for me to catch up before taking off again. Rider would get so angry when he had to slow down.
One day, he came over and told me that Ripley was waiting in the woods for us. I was ecstatic, glad to be included by one of Ripley's friends and followed naively after him as he shifted and ran through the woods. Like always, I chased. When he jumped over fallen trees, I struggled to climb them, and when he maneuvered past bulging roots, I would trip. Every thorn he saw coming, would pierce my skin, but unlike Ripley, he never slowed for me to catch up or stop so I wouldn't be left behind.
After awhile of running at full speed to keep up with Rider, I collapsed exhausted. My lungs burned and every breath felt jagged in my chest. My heart struggled desperately and thumped a frantic rhythm that I could feel down to my fingertips. I laid amongst the dirt and leaves, cold from sweat while my body shook. Rider jogged to a stop, then ducked behind a tree to shift back and change into clothes. I could hear the subtle change between the sound of his paws crunching on leaves, to that of human footsteps. I pulled myself up, my muscles aching painfully as I sat.
Rider walked slowly up to me, then crouched to eye level. He wore a smile that seemed to enjoy my suffering. He looked as if he wanted to laugh as I gasped in breath. I realized then that we had never come out here to meet Ripley as his eyes seemed to mock me.
"You see how I'm not even breaking a sweat? How you have to run as a human? How weak you are? That's because you're different, Vera. You'll never be like me or Ripley. You don't belong here," His voice was uncaring, and unnecessarily cruel.
I felt truth ring through the air as his words sank in. Threatening tears filled my eyes as I glared at Rider sharply. I knew he was right though. I had always been different from the other kids. I had always felt like an outsider in a pack that treated every member like family.
"You don't know anything Rider!" I screamed at him, standing up, furiously. I didn't want to hear a truth that was already painfully obvious.
I marched right up to him, unafraid to stand almost chest to chest with the older boy.
"I might not be like you, but I'm glad. Even if you are strong, at least I'm not a bully!" I declared.
His race turned red in anger as he pushed me down.
"You don't know anything!"
I stood back up, indignant.
"I know that much! You're just too stupid to see it, you poopy head!" I screamed.
He growled darkly at me while I stuck out me tongue. I refused to be affected by the words of a brat like him.
"Why don't you just leave, Vera? Nobody likes you! Ripley told me you're just a bother and that he wishes you were gone! All the kids in this pack think you're weird and don't even want to breath the same air as you," Rider shouted angrily.
I sucked in a breath, ready to fire back when I heard a growl.
"What the heck, Rider? Why would you say that to my sister?" Ripley asked, furious, as he maneuvered his way to where we stood amongst the trees.
Rider looked taken back for a moment, but then started right back up again.
"She's so annoying! Plus, she's just a stupid human. She can't even run with us! You always have to stop just to baby her."
"She's my little sister, Rider! And she does too run fast! I can't remember you running for so long at her age," Ripley scoffed, glaring.
"Don't compare me with her kind!"
"Her kind? No matter what, she is one of us! And if you can't see that, then just leave!" It was quiet as the accusation stood heavy in the air.
Then Rider scoffed and did just that. He turned, his sharp eyes full of rage, but as he passed me, he growled out,
"You will never be one of us."
I don't know why, but those words always stuck with me. When everyone in my grade shifted, but I remained human, Rider's words continued to echo in my mind.
When everyone had a mind link but me, I thought about those words. When I saw my only friend find her mate, when I cried because I realized I never would. When, no matter what I did, the members of the pack continued to treat me like I shouldn't exist...
I knew Rider was right.