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This time he was running. Sleepwalking had often caused Luke to wake up in strange ways, but he’d never been running before. He slowed to a stop. Whatever he’d been trying to escape didn’t matter anymore. He just needed to get home.

He glanced around. Woods. The forest behind their trailer was huge and it looked like he’d gone pretty far. He let out a grunt. It would be hard enough to make varsity football as a sophomore without spending the night before tryouts wandering through trees. His stomach turned. The woods were already pretty bright and he needed to be home in time to wake his brothers. Most eight and ten year old’s could make it to the bus on their own, but if they didn’t, there’d be hell to pay. It wasn’t worth the risk.

He took a few steps and shook his head. Something was off. Maybe he was still dreaming. He felt too close to the ground, and everything was too loud. Something stirred next to him and he jumped. He realized he’d been walking on all fours.

Luke’s heart started racing, but he wasn’t afraid. He spotted a tree 100 yards away and sprinted towards it. He was strong. Stronger and faster than he’d ever felt before. He tried to laugh, but the sound that emerged was more like a quick pant. He glanced at the prints he’d left behind. Wolf.

His mind was racing. All his senses told him he was awake, but he couldn’t be. He took a step back. He’d heard the local crazies talk about shapeshifters, and werewolves. Even his best friend believed the forest was cursed, but they were all just stories. There was never any--

He snapped his head towards the shadows. Footsteps. Lots of them. All at once, he remembered what he had been trying to get away from. The blood drained from his face, but he forced his legs to move. He needed to run.

As fast as he was, he could hear them gaining. He’d only gotten a glimpse of them once, but there were at least six. It was a pack of black wolves, each bigger than him. Some seemed almost twice his size and he was sure they wanted him dead.

Luke ducked past an oak and jumped over a fallen pine. He recognized some of the terrain. If he was right, he was almost a mile into the forest. He’d know for sure when he reached the river. He turned his ears and his eyes grew wide. The pack was closing in.

He made a sharp turn down a steep hill. His feet slipped, but he used the momentum to go faster. He was at the bottom in a second and could hear some of them falling behind. He glanced back as he took a breath but caught it in his throat. One of them was behind him.

It snapped at his leg, but Luke jerked to the side. He could hear the snap of the wolf’s teeth, and realized its footsteps were silent. Another two showed at either side. Luke felt a weight pressing against his chest. There was no way to tell which was going to attack first. He needed to change the odds. He turned and charged the wolf behind him. It lowered its head and bared its teeth, but Luke held his gaze. He was aiming for its side. As soon as the wolf broke position, Luke veered the other way and rushed past it.

He wanted to smile, but caught himself. The rest of the pack would be nearby. He turned towards the river and pushed himself to go faster. He wasn’t afraid to fight, but he’d avoid it if he could. He glanced back. Nothing. If he crossed the river, he might be able to drown his scent.

When he looked ahead, he felt as if his heart stopped. There was no time to hesitate. A few strides in front of him was the largest wolf of the pack. He couldn’t stop. He waited for the right moment and repeated the move that worked before. Pain shot through Luke’s side as he hit the ground. He closed his eyes. He couldn’t give into the pain. As he jumped to his feet, everything started to spin. He shook his head and glanced around. They had him surrounded. He lowered his still spinning head and snarled. He wasn’t going to make it easy for them.

The world was coming into focus but there was no way around them. His heart was pounding. Something moved to his left and he rolled to the side. He watched a wolf charge past. He heard another move behind him as he stood, but before his feet were set, nails were driving into his side. Before he could think, he buried his teeth into the attacker’s neck. It let out a cry as it wriggled free. Luke dropped his head and growled at the the others. He was starting to feel as if it were some sort of game to them.

He saw one in front of him shift position. Suddenly, pain was spreading through his chest. He was on the ground before he could react. He closed his eyes and heard a snap. One of his ribs was broken. He gritted his teeth and forced his eyes open. The largest wolf had him pinned. He tried to inhale, but the weight was too much. He recognized the murderous look in the wolf’s eyes. He squirmed against the pressure, and felt the world spin again. The pain would cause him to black out if he tried again. A sinking feeling filled his empty chest as he laid helpless. He was sure he was going to die.

His eyes darted back and forth as his heart started to flutter. There had to be something he could do. He glared at the monster above him. He wasn’t afraid to die, but his brothers...there was a ringing in his ears. Darkness was closing in from all sides until all he could see was black. Then, he was gone.

Luke blinked several times. He was home, but his mind was clouded. There were voices coming from the next room. His heart beat fast. He wandered to the door and peaked out. “Look at what you’re making me do!” His father slammed his mother to the floor. “You’re the reason those boys are so soft!” Luke could feel a lump forming in his throat.

His mother stood and pushed him back. “If you think you’re better off, then count me out.” She stomped to the front door and slammed it behind her. Luke clenched his fist. She wasn’t coming back.

Marcus started to cry. She must have woken him. He hurried across the hall and pushed Nate back into the room.

Oww!” Nate was only four. He rubbed his eyes.

Quiet!” Luke whispered, but it was too late. His father was already headed towards them.

You boys need to learn to mind the rules!” He shouted and reached for Nate.

No!” Luke jumped between them. “It’s my fault. I woke them up.” His father looked him in the eye and pushed him against the wall. Luke could see his father shouting but whatever he was saying was overpowered by the sinking feeling in Luke’s chest. It was the feeling he would die.

Marcus was still crying. He needed to reach his brothers. The world was becoming more clouded. The cries seemed further away. Then one cry seemed very close but it wasn’t the cry of a toddler.

His chest burned as the oxygen came rushing in. A sharp pain ripped through his side. He jumped to his feet as a reflex, but immediately wished he hadn’t. It felt as if a thousand blades were being plunged into his core. He let out a yelp, but it was lost in the cries that surrounded him. The wolves were dropping one by one. Luke caught a glimpse of something white. It was headed for the pack leader. He needed to get away while he could. He forced himself to jog towards the river.

The first few steps took his breath away, but he had to keep going. He couldn’t fight with broken ribs and whatever was attacking must be strong. He glanced back. Someone else heading his direction. He tried to go faster, but speeding up nearly made him pass out again. A moment later, one of the black wolves was beside him. With most of its pack gone, Luke expected to see fear in its eyes, but there was none. Luke’s stomach turned. It was still after him.

Luke stopped. He took a slow breath and tucked his head between his shoulders. The other wolf looked pleased. Luke clenched his jaw and snarled. A cold wind brushed his side. The wolf charged and Luke braced for the hit. Suddenly, a large white wolf appeared and forced the black one to the ground.

Luke’s jaw dropped. He wanted to linger, but made himself run. His heart was pounding. For all he knew, the white wolf would come for him next. He listened carefully and turned around. No one seemed to be following. His lungs were burning and he slowed to a walk, careful not to breathe too quickly.

As his heart returned to normal, his mind started racing again. None of this made any since. He grimaced as he took a step. The pain was too real to be a dream, but what else? Even if there were wolves in these woods, why were they after him? How had he become a part of their world? He sighed, and dropped his head. In some ways, he felt more like himself than normal, but it couldn’t be real. Rushing water came into earshot. He would reach the river soon, but then what? Even if he made it home, he couldn’t just--

He stopped. The white wolf. It was just a few yards in front of him sitting next to the river. Luke braced himself. He’d seen how strong this thing was and it wasn’t afraid to kill. He waited, but the wolf didn’t move. He tilted his head, curious. It was looking right at him, but it wasn’t like the others. He looked peaceful. It was the only word that came to mind. Luke wanted to get closer, but hesitated. Before he could decide what to do, the wolf jumped into the river and vanished.

As soon as he was gone, Luke felt his body changing. His face felt like clay moving itself into a different shape. The fur covering his body was pulling inward while the hair on his head grew slightly. His limbs and spine straightened, and his fingers pushed themselves outward. Within a few moments, he was back to himself again. He examined his hands and felt heat rushing to his cheeks as he looked down. Boxers.

He glanced around. At least no one was there to see him. The woods seemed darker than before, but he could see the first light of dawn on the horizon. He took a breath and grabbed his side. His ribs were still broken. A chill ran down his spine. He wrapped his arms around himself and started walking. He still needed to get home to his brothers.

His mind felt clouded again. Maybe he was just waking up. He shook his head. It would explain why none of it made sense. He could have fallen in a ditch or something to break his ribs and just imagined everything else that happened...then again...something in his gut told him it had all been real.

He sighed as his house came into view. He knew what he felt. He knew what he was about to face. He wasn’t sure if it would make a difference, but couldn’t shake the instinct. He needed to figure out what he believed.

Bio

People, not writing, has always been my strongest area of interest. After a childhood of unintentional exposure to a variety of social classes and cultures, I received my degree in Psychology from Liberty University. Since then, I have worked in foster care, in a woman’s shelter, and currently care of my three active boys full time. Steven King once said, “Put interesting characters in difficult situations and write to find out what happens.” For this reason, writing has become a passion of mine because I have experienced both of these and am burdened by the stories dying to be told.

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