Unbelonging

“You could be an Alpha, you know. It seems like a waste to walk away like this.”

Aileas smirked and rolled her eyes. A female as the primary Alpha was a rarity, but not impossible. The issue at hand then was not whether she could be one, but whether she wanted to. She was smart enough, strong enough, and even vicious enough. But her heart would never be in it. Aileas would never be an Omega, but something inside of her indisputably made her an outcast. The pack needed surer leadership than she could offer; but Keir refused to see it that way.

Aileas’ decision to leave the pack came in the aftermath of a treacherous time for them. The winter had been a harsh one and the battles for territory had been in abundance. A neighbouring pack had waged war on them and it made for countless bloody battles. Their opponents were hardly a pack anymore. Aileas herself had proudly torn the throats out of four; three times in human form. The thrill of that winter was great, but the loss was greater. By the spring, her pack had dwindled from eleven, to five. Among the fallen had been their sibling Mysie, to whom Aileas and Keir had been like second parents.

“It’s about Mysie, isn’t it?” Keir asked for what seemed like the thousandth time this week.

“It’s not about Mysie, it’s about me. Once a lone wolf, always a lone wolf, right?”

“Not right. You were separated from your pack as a baby, Ail. You can’t keep pretending that defines you. This is your family, always has been.”

Aileas sighed. He was right. This wasn’t about her lone nature. It was about her curious nature. Humans were an all consuming question to her. It was a bit romantic, she supposed, but living among them seemed like a better thrill than anything she could get in the wild.

Sure, they interacted with humans on a pretty regular basis, but it wasn’t the same. Historically, humans had been the wolf’s greatest enemy – a predator that simply can’t be defeated. In fact, Lauchlan’s own line had been chased out of Scotland by humans in the 16th century. Most wolves just steered clear of people at all costs, but avoidance wasn’t appealing to Aileas. Instead, there was a magnetic draw she could not ignore. Inside, she knew what it meant. She hadn’t been born to wolves, but to humans. Someone had turned her; ripped her away from her cozy human life. She wasn’t angry though, or even looking for answers. She just wanted to know what it would have been like; what she was really meant to be.

“I shouldn’t have told you I’m going,” she whispered.

It was true. Unofficially, the correct way to leave a pack was to wander off unnoticed. But the idea of hearing the melancholy search howls in the distance, night after night, just stung too much. She loved her pack, and she wanted them to know she was going to be okay.

“Did you tell Lauchlan, yet?” Aileas asked, afraid of the answer. She hadn’t specifically asked Keir to keep it a secret, but she had hoped that he would, even if it was wrong to conceal information from the Alpha.

“No. Not until you’re gone.”

Aileas turned to Keir, less surprised than she should have been. He was facing forward, lying on the hill with his right elbow propping him up. His thick dark curls bobbed in his eyes, their emerald tint peeking through. His jaw was clenched, tense with several emotions. Since losing Mysie, there had been an unspoken anger floating between the two of them. It was obvious to Aileas that they were trying not to blame each other, and failing.

The next morning, Aileas roused when all was still. Without the darkness to blanket her indiscretion, Aileas couldn’t help but feel exposed and dirty. Having always felt abandoned by her blood pack, abandoning her adoptive family had an eerily cyclical quality that didn’t settle quite right. Her heart pounded against her chest, sweat spewed from her glands, and a burning fever rose in her. The unexpected guilt was throwing her body into chaos and the lack of control was bringing on a change.

After the night’s hunt, Aileas had gorged herself on fifteen pounds of moose, and it was all coming back on her now. Changing was always laborious and required an amazing level of self-control. Without that, the pain was excruciating, twisting her gut until it emptied itself onto the melting snow. Heaving, wrenching, writhing; Aileas had no choice but to stop fighting and let the change take her over. When it was over, her fur was matted with blood where her skin had been torn open recklessly.

Ashamed at both her ability to leave, and her inability to do it with grace, Aileas took off into the woods. No melancholy howls followed, and she couldn’t help but wonder if she’d ever know what it was to have a family again.

Too human for wolves, too wolf for humans. Aileas knew she’d simply never belong.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

 

Cry Wolf (Patricia Briggs): Book Review

Supernatural; Romance ♠

Author: Patricia Briggs

This book was published in July 2008, the first of the Alpha & Omega series. It holds a 4.11 rating on Goodreads. The series is now a graphic novel series, as well.

Anna never knew werewolves existed, until the night she survived a violent attack… and became one herself. After three years at the bottom of the pack, she’d learned to keep her head down and never, ever trust dominant males. Then Charles Cornick, the enforcer—and son—of the leader of the North American werewolves, came into her life.

A werewolf tale with very little bite, and a pathetic protagonist for whom you may root out of pity, or grow terribly bored with. The latter was my experience.

To preface, I am very fascinated with wolves and pack structure, and my favourite werewolf narrative to date has been the film Ginger Snaps. I also enjoy the Bitten TV series, although I had never read any werewolf fiction before Cry Wolf (unless you count the shorts in Angel Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Stephanie Meyers’ depiction of the werewolves in Scarlet). I chose Briggs because I had read that she was known for her action-packed stories and strong female lead, Mercy Thompson. Cry Wolf takes place in that same universe but is, as far as I can tell, altogether different. It has an original (if sometimes laughable) take on pack structure, and a sterile take on romance within it.

Anna, the Victim-Hero

The heroine of this book, if you can call her that, is Anna. As the protagonist, the reader should be able to rightfully predict a certain level of character growth and heroism, but I got none of that out of this book. It’s important to note that Anna is a victim, and has been for years. Treated as a submissive wolf within her former pack, one can only imagine the tortures she would have endured. That she survived should be telling of her strength, but the trauma overpowers her.

I appreciate that Briggs took the realistic route here and let Anna be a wreck, but it was very difficult for me to spend 300 pages in the headspace of a victim. Specifically, a victim of male dominance. Surprisingly, the difficulty did not spring from any sort of too real depictions of the abuse, and maybe that was the problem. The details of Anna’s story are grazed over so it’s difficult to really feel them with her. Instead, I just found myself rolling my eyes every time she’d cower or crumble because I wanted her to stop being so pathetic. I couldn’t sympathize because, it seems, the author didn’t really want me to.

She has been saved from her pack by Charles, a werewolf enforcer whose standing basically makes him a prince. A real fairytale, right down to the lack of true connection. In fairytales, the prince sweeps the princess off her feet, away from the evil stepmother, the end. In the same way, Anna and Charles’ connection seems as though it was instant, based on nothing, and surviving on nothing. No spark; just a desire to be mated. And yes, the word “mate” is on every other page along with some form of “you’re mine.” Turns out, Charles chooses Anna as a mate because she is an Omega. In wolf packs, the omegas are the bottom of the food chain acting mainly as servants to the others, bullied to no end. Sometimes, they tire of the abuse and wander off to find new packs where they might challenge an alpha and gain better standing. Not in Briggs’ world. Omegas have special powers to soothe and comfort, are less violent, and more valuable. So Charles didn’t really fall in love with Anna, just her omega scent? Beautiful.

By the end, she finds her true strength. It’s not violence or kicking ass. She’s a soother. And when it comes down to it, and witches need to be fought, she might step up. I wasn’t very impressed with whatever (I won’t say what) is supposed to pass for her growth from victim to hero.

Narrative and Plot Development

I also wasn’t impressed with the story or plot development which is slow in most places and convoluted in others. Briggs’ writing is always grammatically correct, but this can sometimes lead to a boring read. There aren’t any prose that scream creativity or passion or even atmosphere and tone. They’re just words, followed by more words – usually “mate”, “mating”, or “mine”.

The story grabbed me in the first few pages which are told from the perspective of a mysterious man in the cold Montana wilderness, who risks his life to save a young man from being attacked by a beast, becoming one himself. Personally, I liked this idea and wanted to know a lot more about the rogue. A true horror narrative was somewhere in there but it didn’t develop. Instead, most of the pages are dedicated to Charles and Anna’s relationship and how she is trying to overcome her fears. I expected more action than I got – and why were there witches? I’m still not sure if it worked for me.

However, I did like how Briggs swapped character point-of-views often enough that the reader can learn about others. It was done well enough.

Final Thoughts

With a 4.11 rating, I know a lot of people loved this book and will disagree with my criticisms. That’s fine. To each their own. Paranormal romance has never been my thing, and Cry Wolf was simply not the type of werewolf story I was looking for when I picked it up.

I give it 1 spade: ♠* for creativity.

*My rating is based on a five-spade system. The rating is decided based upon how well/uniquely the book: 1) develops story and plot; 2) develops characters; 3) accomplishes or deconstructs the conceits of its genre; 4) raises thought-provoking issues; 5) discusses important issues. This system has been developed according to my own understanding of what makes a book "good." It is therefore subjective.

 

The Night of the Moonlit Curse (Midwinter Special)

A special thank you to Three Drops from a Cauldron for including my dark fairytale, The Night of the Moonlit Curse, in their seasonal special (page 31).

A mile later Poppy’s knees grew weak and the insatiable hunger she so feared began to creep up her throat.

Midwinter Special 2015 is currently available as a free e-issue, and a print anthology will be available soon.

Thank you to anyone who takes the time to click the link and have a read! There are some great fairytale shorts and poems collected here… some darker than others.

The Antidote

Johnny entered the pub through the side door and looked around. The atmosphere was exactly what he had been expecting. The room was dimly lit by low hanging chandeliers that were caked with dust, most of the stools at the bar were occupied by middle-aged men sitting in silence and sipping aggressively, and in the back corner a booth was enlivened by two drunkards carrying on a desultory conversation. Johnny took a deep breath and strode over to an empty booth near the back door. He was close enough to the drunkards now to see their spit flying back and forth and wished he could settle in elsewhere. It was too risky though; the instructions for this meeting had specified this booth, and he did not want to get it off to a rough start.

“What’ll it be?” the waitress asked. She was the type of woman who Johnny guessed was much younger than she appeared. Chronic exhaustion seemed to be taking its toll.

“Um, just a water please.” The waitress sighed, dropping her hands to her side, still lazily gripping the pen and pad.

Johnny tried to smile politely but she took off without a glance back. Only a little scathed by her rudeness, Johnny slumped down in his booth and began tapping his fingers impatiently on the poorly wiped down table.

It was nearly an hour after their agreed upon meeting time when Oliver finally entered. Johnny perked up at the sight of him and gulped the remainder of his second coffee. It was tepid and strong; too strong in Johnny’s opinion but he kept ordering them to keep from further upsetting his waitress.

Oliver gracefully took the chair opposite Johnny, and it was not until they were eye level with one another that Johnny saw how much the other man was sweating.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Oliver whispered. “It’s been a difficult morning.”

Johnny nodded sympathetically, but said nothing.

“Look doc,” Oliver continued, leaning in now, eyes wide. “This needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.”

Stunned, Johnny began to stammer in opposition but was abruptly cut off by more of Oliver’s urgent whispers. Johnny shifted in his seat, discomforted by the intensity.

“I’m not messing around here. It’s serious. You gotta help me.”

Johnny nodded. Panic was obviously taking Oliver over. Johnny had hoped he would be able to convince him to come back to the lab with him for a proper assessment; a night of observation, even. But Oliver was intent on meeting in this very spot, which should have been a red flag that no amount of common sense was going to change his mind.

“I want the cure. I want it now.”

“It’s not like that Oliver. Like I said, we need to evaluate the circumstance surrounding the -”

“Doc!”

He raised his voice nearly, leaping out of his seat. Immediately afterwards, he became aware of the attention he had drawn, slunk back down, and glanced around nervously. Lycanthropy in such early stages had many possible symptoms which depended upon the infected person’s own genetic makeup. But no matter how you analyzed the data, aggression and the inability to control oneself were always at the top of the list.

Johnny tensed, trying not to let Oliver sense his building fear. The scent, as far as Johnny’s own studies showed, could enhance the potential for sudden onset rage in the infected.

“Okay,” Johnny whispered. “Order a drink.”

Relief overcame Oliver. It was visible, especially in his demeanor which lightened significantly. Oliver hailed over the waitress and had her bring him a tequila. No salt, no lemon. After a deep breath, and a slight smile, Oliver shot the liquor back and rubbed his eyes as if just waking up. Johnny could see how happy he was in that moment; it was a moment he had dreamt of for weeks on end now. The stress of the change had been an unbearable burden, but it would be over now. Johnny discretely passed him the vial under the table, and as it exchanged hands he felt a thankful squeeze of his own.

With that, Johnny rose from the table and nodded a friendly goodbye. As he made his way back to the side door he could hear Oliver order a second tequila; the one he’d poor the vial contents into. It ached Johnny to know he would not get the chance to study this one. All the same, the fallacy of the so-called antidote would be taken willingly, which was to Johnny’s benefit. Yes, they needed to die; but he always preferred it not be directly by his hand. He slept better that way.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Ruby

Across the town line, parallel to the stream, and a quarter of an hour through the forest, in a small wooden house – that’s where her mother had been hiding. Ruby knew the route well, and had been secretly slinking through it for weeks. However, she had not once approached the door. Her grandmother had been quite stern on the matter. Ruby’s mother was gone, and Ruby was to leave it be.

The night it had happened – the night Ruby’s mother had disappeared – it had been just the two of them at home. Monsters had stormed their front door, but upstairs mother had hid her in the closet and told not to come out until grandma came for her. “No matter what you hear, no matter what you see, you stay right here and wait for grandma.” So she did. Even when she heard the riotous commotion, and was tempted to investigate. Even when mother crawled out the window, which Ruby could just barely see through the slits in the closet door.

The intruders hadn’t stayed for long, but it took grandma hours to come to her. Ruby explained that mother had gotten away. Days later, she heard grandma tell Uncle Joe that mother was hiding at the cottage until “it” blew over. Uncle Joe said she’d likely die first – and soon. That stirred Ruby. If her mother was dead, she’d like to see it with her own two eyes; but grandma had many rules. No crossing the town line, EVER. No playing near the stream. No entering the forest, especially at night. Ruby had to successively break each and every one to find mother. But finally, she did, and was very pleased with herself for it. See, Ruby had always been underestimated because of her small stature, young age, and sweet smile. But Ruby was a smart girl, with keen senses, and a precarious nature. Each night, while her keeper slept, Ruby would sneak out of the house, using the very same window as her mother had. Crouched behind a heavy tree trunk, Ruby would watch her mother inside of the cottage – preparing needles, injecting, drooling, and sleeping. Some nights, Ruby would be certain of her demise, but the next night she would find her very much alive, repeating the steps.

On this particular night, something was different. Ruby had been stomping through the forest as usual, when she heard a sound. It wasn’t any of the usual suspects: a cricket, a crow, or an owl. It was something heavier, angrier, and foul. Ruby tried to silence her trot, but no matter how she tried, she couldn’t avoid crunching twigs as she went. She stopped, and spun around, sure she had felt the shiver of someone’s breath down the back of her neck. But she could see no one. In fact, with the moon sinking behind the clouds, she could hardly see anything at all.

She breathed slowly, squeezed her eyes shut, and sprung them back open. Still, there was nothing. But in the distance came a howl that instantly spread goose bumps over her arms. Her chest heaved now, a result of her pounding heart. Of course, Ruby recognized the sensation not as fear, but as excitement. The same kind of excitement she’d experienced when she had been chased by a stray dog that she had to kick with all her might to slow down.

Ruby folded down to her knees and crawled cautiously across the dirt, grass, and rocks, until she found her special hiding tree. As she settled behind it, the noises became clearer, and closer. She heard feet pounding against the ground, stampeding towards her, and then they flew right by. The speed had blurred the culprits at first, but then Ruby saw exactly what they were. Wolves.

She watched intently as the three wolves approached the cottage. The biggest of them stood on its hind legs and crashed through her mother’s door. The wolves ploughed inside, and Ruby instinctively rose for a better view. She tried to keep her eyes on the rhythmic chaos inside of the house, but it was difficult from such distance. Capricious as she was, Ruby skipped her way up to the little house, knowing the wolves were preoccupied now, and squinted through the dirty windows. To her surprise, the beasts she had seen were men now. Well, two men and one woman. Ruby found it implausible that her eyes could have misled her so. But in that moment, they were definitely human; although more vicious than anyone she had known in her own seven years.

She watched the violence unfold, mesmerized by the ferocity before her. When the group had finished tearing Ruby’s mother apart, the woman turned her head slightly, as if catching a scent. Her eyes met Ruby’s, and she rose slowly from a crouched position over the bloody corpse, to a rueful standing posture. Ruby thought she should turn away – hide – but she couldn’t take her eyes off the woman. When the men whipped around to face what had stolen the attention of their companion, Ruby ducked beneath the window. Her mind was racing now. She wanted to feel sad for her mother, scared for herself; but she only felt that nagging pit of excitement deep inside of her.

What was left of the door creaked open softly, and the woman came gently towards Ruby. Ruby let her. Her eyes were soft, despite the blood smeared across her face. The men followed, just as gently. Ruby saw that the men had yellow eyes that were slowly giving way to waves of brown that seemed to liquescence their irises.

The woman knelt before her, smiling maternally, extending a hand. Ruby took it, and could suddenly feel inside of her a strong persuasion; a warmth that would never go away, as long as she stayed by her side.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Also Published by Horror Addicts.