Tryn walks down the street, staying away from the edge. She keeps her head down and avoids the glare of the streetlights. She doesn’t mind the darker corners – she’ll see them better when they draw closer. Their fur glows. She squeezes into clusters of people to hide herself. To confuse her scent with the others, even if she knows they’ve long memorized it. Only a few more blocks. Her grip on the house key around her neck tightens. It glints as silver as the gazes that slice through her back.
The wolves have found her.
Her feet scrape against the sidewalk, their pace matching the building rhythm of her breathing. She can hear them following her. Growls rumble low in their throats; the sound is steady and carries over the chatter and frantic thudding of her heart. They’ve marked her as their prey, holding her at the mercy of their drawn out game.
“They’re harmless,” she’s told.
But they hole up in the crawlspace under her house as soon as she closes the door behind her. She hears their claws scraping at the floorboards, wearing them down just a bit more each night. It’s only a matter of time before they find a way in and tear her apart. They’ll reduce her to only a name; one repeated one more time before it’s forgotten. She’ll joins all the others that are missing – that are dead. Dragged into darkness by glinting, sharp teeth.
They continue to trail after her and she wants to grip the nearest person by the arm and beg them to save her. But she knows their excuses. You’re overreacting. Her mind screams danger as the gap between her and the pack narrows. They haven’t done anything to you.
Nausea swarms her stomach. She just wants them to disappear, for the relentless hunt to be over. They haven’t done anything? Dark bruises under her eyes from nights of terrorizing snarls, the peril of her own mind, hair falling in clumps on the shower floor. They close in on her every time she wakes up, every time she moves. They seal her into an ever-shrinking glass cage. They suffocate her and invite anyone to watch, but no one shatters it. No one tries to break her out. She balances on a razor edge of destruction – by them, or herself.
She bristles when two push against her and her knees knock together. She imagines her back pinned to concrete. She imagines people stepping over her as she is devoured, continuing on their way. She pushes the crowding wolves off with her hands, yelping when one bites her and draws blood. She nurses her hand, squeezing it to staunch its steady stream, rushing away in the precious seconds they are knocked back. You provoked them. It’s your fault. The smell of her blood arouses howls.
“Don’t let me die” escapes her every ragged breath. She reaches a crosswalk and watches the cars streaking past. She doesn’t want to wait. She’s cornered. Perhaps she should just jump out. It’d be less painful than what they will do to her. No one will say it didn’t happen when her body is in the middle of the road.
She teeters at the curb’s edge, ready to leap.
An arm pulls her back, reeling her in until she bumps against the stranger’s chest. Tryn comes face-to-face with a woman with honey-colored eyes, her expression alarmingly calm, while Tryn’s panic overwhelms her entire body. The woman ignores the bloodstains beginning to seep into her shirt from Tryn’s hand clenched around the material. She watches Tryn’s blown out pupils instead.
Tryn’s head whips from the woman’s gaze to the wolves, baited by adrenaline to run until her legs give out. But they’re already about to give out. She hardly registers that the stranger is holding her away from traffic. Keeping her safe. The thought of being saved does not even cross her mind.
She shakes seismically against the other woman, barely able to hold the air in her lungs. “Let me go. I need to cross. They’re–”
“I know. I won’t let them touch you.” The mysterious brunette nods her head towards the now clear crosswalk. “Try to breathe and stay with me.” She nudges Tryn forward, holding her tight and guiding her so that each leg goes in front of the other without buckling. The world around her runs like watercolors. The red traffic light spreads out into a foggy lens flare; her savior’s face is a blur of warm browns and indistinguishable shapes. She turns, searching for the wolves, and sees their eerie, white glow lingering behind. They stay away.
She and the stranger stop when they reach the next street. Tryn settles heavily against her, head still spinning, exhausted. Questions bombard the tip of her tongue, but crash into each other all at once into a hoarse, garbled mumble. She doesn’t expect her to translate it.
“You’re bleeding.” The woman focuses on her hand before anything can be answered, picking it up and inspecting it with scrunched eyebrows. “I can help bandage this up for you if you want. My apartment’s not much further of a walk.”
Tryn looks behind her to find that the gathered wolves still have yet to budge. “Why’d they stop?” she presses the subject.
“They lose some nerve when you’re not alone.” The brunette eases her grip off of her. “And when that’s not enough, you fight. You become their nightmare.” She fidgets with her sleeves, rolling them up to show Tryn dozens of crescent moon scars. Tryn traces their outlines with her gaze, sees the pain in each divot.
“Where’s your apartment?” she asks, ignoring the lingering doubt that she could ever fight back against the wolves. How could she make them fear her or run away from her? She wants an excuse so she doesn’t have to go home and face them on her own again, even if following a stranger to their home doesn’t seem like the best idea.
“This way.” The woman offers out her hand and Tryn takes it in her unharmed one.
They walk beside each other and she is distinctly aware that the wolves are still gone. It would be a relief if she didn’t know they would come right back when her new companion leaves.
“You’re not afraid of them.” It’s not a question.
The woman looks over at her as she approaches and unlocks the gate to her complex, going still and grave. “No, I’m terrified.” The gate screeches as she pulls it open. “But that’s what keeps me going – if we run them out of town, this’ll all go away.”
“And you think that’s going to happen?”
“I have to,” the brunette insists. “If I don’t, I’m letting them kill me and everyone else they mark.”
“That’s a lot of responsibility to carry around.”
She holds the gate for Tryn, chuckling dryly. “You’re free to take some off my hands.”
Her gaze draws back to the scars that run up and down the stranger’s skin. She pictures the same angry gashes on hers, the struggle that would go along with each, and grimaces. But wouldn’t it hurt more if she let the wolves push until they rip her apart – to die? Don’t let me die. Don’t let me die.
“Alright.” She follows the other woman in.