The Lady in the Mist, The Western Werewolf Legend

October 14, 2012
What do you do when you discover you’re a werewolf in love?  Most of us don’t have to consider that question, but it happened to Sonja Brooks many years ago in a small town in Pennsylvania.  The year was 1863 and the Civil War was raging all over the land.In a rural area near the Virginia border, Sonja lived on a small farm.  She wasn’t afraid to live by herself since the death of her husband.  He’d been killed early in the war.  No, Sonja worked the farm they’d started together and chores kept her too busy to worry over being alone.  That was until the day she met the stranger trespassing on her land.  That one encounter proved very costly for Sonja.

She’d always been a realistic woman so when she awoke and found out she’d been attacked and turned into a werewolf, she thought it someone’s idea of a cruel joke.  Her ideas of reality verses fantasy take a drastic change with the discovery of a Rebel soldier dying of his wounds.

Here’s an excerpt from The Lady in the Mist, The Western Werewolf Legend.  Sometimes love can be a dangerous thing.

Cannons erupted in the distance.  Lieutenant Tyler Loflin opened his eyes and glanced around once more.  A smoky haze drifted over everything like a fog in a dream.  Vaguely he remembered where he lay.  He’d fallen amid the murky water of a southern Pennsylvania swamp.  The dampness seeped into his bones, numbing them but not the pain.  Ty remained motionless, though the heat radiating from the burning wagons loaded with supplies resembled hell’s own.  His efforts to remain conscious wavered.  Fighting the encroaching darkness, Ty finally succumbed to the pain of his wounds again.

Behind his closed lids stood the old, rambling whitewashed house of his home, Shooter Creek.  The gentle hills’ quiet peace beckoned to him.  Returning in his mind to the pastures where his horses roamed untouched by the cruelty of war, Ty moaned as the pain in his leg reminded him the scene lived only in his head.  Using the back of his faded, gray uniform sleeve, he wiped at the sweat on his forehead.

Those days seemed to be from someone else’s life now.  There, in his mind’s eye stood the family he’d left behind his brother, John, standing ramrod straight on the steps of the family’s home.  Ty resembled John in many ways.  His brother’s fierce determination and code of honor anchored Ty these days while his own happy-go-lucky nature remained buried, all but forgotten in the throes of war.

Then, Cloe, the half-breed Comanche and John’s wife, stood stoically on their front porch.  Her deep green eyes didn’t miss a thing.  She held John’s heart in the palm of her lovely hand.  In her arms, she cradled their newest baby, Billie.  Laura Loflin, John’s mother, would’ve said the baby favored her grandmother.  Ty agreed.

A strapping, dark-haired boy of five stood beside Cloe.  His name was James, after John and Ty’s father.  Ty would admit the boy played havoc with Ty’s affections.  The twins, Sara and Mattie, played happily on their palette while Maggie McVey, the family’s housekeeper turned adopted matriarch, took care of them with pride. She’d been a fixture at the ranch as long as Ty could remember.  Since the death of his mother, Running Deer, she’d been his rock in the storm.

The picture of them seemed so real. Ty couldn’t help reaching up to grasping at the thin wisps of haze as the fog floated over him.  He hated to cause them so much pain.  Damn the Yankee bastards to hell and back.  If he could get up, he’d shoot every one of the blood thirsty bastards in the heart for what they’d done!  Another cannon erupted.  This time the explosion sounded closer.  Ty licked his parched lips and wiped the fever’s perspiration from his temple.  Only vaguely annoyed now, he errantly blinked at the picture of his family.  He would miss them so much.

Visualizing them on those steps, Ty focused on his family instead of the melee around him.  He remembered how much he had enjoyed getting under John’s skin about wasting no time in increasing the family linage immediately following his marriage to the eastern educated, half-breed with the sparkling green eyes.  He smiled.  One day, he’d like to increase his own linage.

The late evening sky lit up once more with the explosion of yet another cannon ball.

Ty blinked before coming back from inside his head.  He gritted his teeth as pain radiated down his leg.  He cut his gaze around at the destruction.  After the initial attack, he and his men had taken cover in the swamp.  With the addition of the smoke, which hung thick and unyielding, the land resembled the marshes back in Louisiana instead of the hollows of Pennsylvania.

Refusing to acknowledge the blood mixed with the muddy water could be his own, Ty chose instead to focus on the circumstances around him.  The desire to sleep tempted him.  He struggled against the strong pull of unconsciousness.  Vigilance remained imperative.  Confederate Major General Jeb Stewart, his commander, expected nothing less.

Have to stay alert!  Ty bore down hard on the encroaching dizziness. His peripheral vision started to close in.

“Must stay awake,” he whispered to the dead men scattered like broken toy soldiers all around him.  Have to report to headquarters, he reminded himself as his eyes closed of their own volition.

Guns discharged.  Men screamed.  The battle had been more of a massacre than a conflict.  Ty was lucky to be alive.  Able to recall few of the details of the ambush, Ty’s head lolled to one side.  Explosion after explosion erupted before the pain brought him back to the present.

His mission had been top-secret.  His cavalry unit was given orders to report to Major Jeb Stewart with their supplies destined for the vast wasteland simply known as “The Wilderness”.  His unit had traveled within twelve miles of Richmond before the Yankees attacked them in the foothills surrounding Spotsylvania.  Retreating to the cover of a nearby bog, the Rebels hunkered down.  The Yankees continued their assault.  At first, hope of reinforcements had bolstered the men’s courage.  But the long hours of waiting for help, which never arrived, proved most disheartening.  Darkness fell.  The burning of the wagons had been the final blow.  His men didn’t have a chance of escape.  Most died where they’d fought so bravely.  The rapid fire of the Yankees’ repeating rifles sang overhead.  Fierce, uncontrollable flames broke out almost immediately as his men tried frantically to reverse the wagons loaded with ammunitions to a safer distance.

Then came the explosions.

Desperately, Ty tried to backtrack in order to protect as much of his supply loads as possible before they fell into enemy hands.  Few of the wagons or Ty’s men survived as the sharpshooters picked off the Rebel soldiers like ducks on a pond.

While wagons blazed, shouts of warning rolled over him.  Ty’s men fled past his position and directly into the path of more snipers’ fire.  In the commotion, his commands to “hold their positions” had been mute.  He would never forget the pitying, erratic dance of his men, their bodies already dead before they met the ground.

In the dregs of unconscious, he relived the fighting again.  Sniper fire sounded overhead, Ty’s flight or fight instinct jerked him to attention, his pistol waving wildly about.  The effort proved to be too much for him and he fell back into the water.

Wiping his eyes, Ty glanced around amid the mangled bodies of his comrades.  His throat burned, the heat from the flames scorching the tender skin of his esophagus.  He’d give a month’s pay for a drink of water, he mused.  Firelight flickered all around him, brilliant and bold.  The flames licked greedily at the ammunitions boxes as they erupted, their explosions echoed through the crags and bluffs of the valley.  Trees stood like blackened sentinels, a bleak reminder of the brutality of man.  Ty glanced down at the shrapnel protruding from his thigh with detached interest as if he were looking at someone else’s leg.  He was bleeding out.  The reinforcements wouldn’t get there in time.  Tugging a medallion hanging on a long, silver chain beneath his woolen jacket, he rubbed the precious metal.  Months would pass before John got word of his death, he worried, but at least the medallion would give those who buried him a name to put on his stone.  Weakening rapidly, he realized his time must be drawing near because he couldn’t work up the strength to care that he would never see home again.  He loved his home.  Death was the only reason he could fathom that would take his concern for what he loved.  In the distance through the fire and the darkness, he saw his long dead father and mother.  He would be with them very soon.  Still unable to give the idea the attention it deserved, he glanced about the ruins absently.  Almost time to go.

Another explosion sent more shrapnel raining down.  His men lay strewn at awkward angles in death.  Soon the Yankees would descend like the plague.  He’d witnessed the scavengers going through the belongings of the dead or dying searching for whatever they could carry off the bodies.  His men.  The idea tore at his gut.

Wiping the blood out of his eyes, Ty gathered his last ounce of strength.  He was gonna die anyway,  so taking as many Yankees with him as possible would be a fitting way to go.  At least the loss of his men’s lives wouldn’t be for nothing.  With all the strength he had left, Ty struggled to stand.  Slowly dragging himself upright, he stumbled once before bracing himself against a nearby tree.  His breath came ragged and weak.  Stars floated in front of his eyes.  Ty gave his head a good shake.  The stars spun behind his eyes, while he checked his revolver.  No need to ponder his fate, so he’d go out with guns blazing.  It’s what cowboys did.

The sound of the Yankees advancing caused ripples in the murky water as the horses hooves pounding in the earth grew nearer.  With his back against the tree, Ty strained hard to see the blue-bellied killers.  Here they come!  Their blue coats standing out in stark relief against the smoke and flames.  Like haints of the souls unable to cross over because of crimes done on earth, the Yankees came marching in unison toward the bodies of his men.  Ty refused to watch the despicable act happen to the men he served with.  His vision clouded again.  Gotta stay awake.  Damn their immoral souls, he swore under his breath, “They’ll pay!”  He struggled to lift the revolver.

Footsteps sounded from behind him.  They sounded too small to be a man’s.  The ground didn’t crunch and grind with the shifting of rocks, he mused.  Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a movement as another thieving Yankee took Ty’s sergeant’s pocket watch.  Curse their wretched lives!  More would come, he snarled to the smoke and fire.  Let them come.

Falling to his back with his revolver in his hand, Ty leaned over, aiming at the apparition floating in the smoky haze.  Scanning to either side, Ty found only one body advancing in the damnable smoke. “Who’s there?” he hissed as blood chocked his throat.  The gun in his hand shook, but he forced his one good eye to focus on the form moving closer.

“Easy, mister.” The voice belonged to a  young female.  She formed out of the mist.  Human or ghost, Ty couldn’t tell as the woman advanced in the urethral fog that hung over everything in sight.

“You’re hurt.  Helping is all I’m about.”  The slight, slender form of a woman in a gauzy drape slipped closer until she stood within steps of his position.  She all but hovered like an angel.  Her voice, a sweet, singsong whisper, settled nicely in his fevered mind.

Mesmerized, all Ty could do was stare.  His head pounded as if the whole of the Army of the Potomac marched between his eyes. The apparition faded in and out of his vision.  Struggling to focus, he fought to remain awake.  He had to remain alert!  Report!  Nausea swam in his gut.  The wet ground soaked his uniform as he sank deeper into the mire.  “Stay back!” he ordered.  Hearing the slur of his own tongue, Ty sought a more convincing voice.  “I don’t want to have to shoot you, but I will!  Do you understand?  Back, I said!”

“There, there, mister.  I won’t hurt you.”  A small delicate hand reached out, touching his shoulder. “I’m here to help.”

Ty flinched, jerking back before aiming the gun at the chest of the mud-clad form of a golden-haired woman.  Without the sight in one eye, he could only surmise she wasn’t a soldier.  Stories, of the enemy’s women running a man through with a blade or a sword simply for being a Rebel made him cock the gun.  He shoved back farther digging into the muddy bank.  Watch her hands, you buffoon!  “Get back.  I’ll shoot you even if you are a woman.  Stay away!”  He had no such intentions of harming her, but he prayed she believed his words.

He rubbed at his eyes with his coat sleeve.  Praying seemed of little use these days.  His faith in the prayers, even less, but they were the only things he had left at the moment.  The woman’s smile stilled his hand.  She was an angel sent down from heaven.

“Sir, I’m here to help.  My name is Sonja.  I only want to tend your injuries.  Don’t worry.”  Her small hand stroked his cheek.  Ty tried to fight by shoving at her.  Her hand simply gripped his.  “Take heed, sir, I mean you no harm.  You’re safe now.  You’re saved.”

The woman’s hand ran lightly over the wound in his thigh as she bent forward.  The cannon fire receded to a distant rumble as her gentle fingers glided over his flesh.  A drawing sensation washed over him.  Someone cried out.  Did he scream?  The blood in his veins coursed through his body.  The sensation grew stronger as his hold on consciousness ebbed away.  Slowly his body relaxed and the pain eased.  With his eyes fluttering shut, Ty floated on a cloud of oblivion.  He smiled inwardly as cool water lapped at his fevered skin while tall grasses caressed his dying body.  Birds sang from the treetops and white clouds floated in the bluest of skies.  He must be home.

***

Thanks for stopping by today and please leave a comment.  I do enjoy talking with my readers about my stories.Image

The Next Big Thing – Blog Hop

Week 17: The Next Big Thing
I’d like to thank Eva Marquez, SweetestTabooBook.com/blog/ for inviting me to the blog hop.

1. What is the working title of your book?
The working title of my new release was Renegade Rebel.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
The idea for the book came from my love of western romance and the paranormal genre. I wanted to create a story using these two elements in combination to weave a picture of love, honor, lust and danger in the old west.

The Lady in the Mist, The Western Werewolves Legend is a blend of western romance with the paranormal genre, an unusual pairing to be sure, but one I think the reader will find very entertaining.

3. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I think Hugh Jackman did a wonderful job as a cowboy in the movie, Australia, so he would be Tyler Loflin. The woman is a bit harder to determine for me. There are so many good actresses today. Nicole Kidman would be great in my opinion.

4. What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

When confronted with life altering situations, will their love for each other be enough for Tyler, the confederate soldier and Sonja, the Yankee widow?

5. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Self-published. I love the course I’ve chosen by becoming an Indie author.

6. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Six weeks, though not in secession.

7. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

That is hard to answer. Why don’t we let the readers decide.

8. Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I have a wonderful sister who I give the credit to for encouraging me to write in the first place. She suggested I take a risk with this unusual combination of genres. I’m so glad I took her advice, because I loved every minute I spent with this story.

Of course, the novel is about werewolves, but I think readers will find my furry friends maintain more of their human qualities and transcend the boundaries of the paranormal world as we know it. Watch for threads, which lead to a continuation of Ty and Sonja’s story coming this spring.

Thanks so much for stopping by and please check out these authors posts next week on October the 17th as we continue The Next Big Thing Blog Hop.

Lindsay Avalon – Lindsayavalon.blogspot.com
Emily Walker – Selfpublishordie.com
Ally Thomas – allythomas.wordpress.com
Virginia Wright – Virginiawright.com/blog
Wendy Ely – Wendyely.blogspot.com
Alexandra Anthony – alexandraanthony.wordpress.com

Virginia Wright – Featured Author

Today we have Virginia Wright who is an author of young adult books. Virginia sat down with me and answered a few of my questions. She is currently working on her fifth book, The Christmas Secret which will be out later this year.

When did you first decide you wanted to write?

To be honest Catherine– There wasn’t any deciding to or not to write. Writing is part of me—Ever since I was a little girl, it was just something I did. Back then I wrote poetry and haiku’s. Over the years, I’ve written health articles, opinion articles, educational pieces, and as of lately, the love of words for me lies in—children’s storybook writing.

What is your favorite genre to write and why?

While I consider myself a mixed genre writer, the children’s genre, Catherine, has been one of my favorites to write so far. The reason being is that it is a great deal of fun, but also challenging. You have to put your mindset in that of a child’s. What the children would like, what would they do in the situations I put them in, what would they say. Yes, definitely challenging and that is why I enjoy it. I’m never bored when writing.

Please tell us about your upcoming book.

I’m looking forward to the release of my next children’s book, The Christmas Secret this year, in late fall 2012. It feels like it is working into a Christmas classic to me―it is about two little boys, Mikey and Charlie, who learn the real meaning of giving through one boy’s selfless act.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely  imagination?

My book Buzzzzzzzz What Honeybees Do is based on a real life experience―as my husband and I are natural beekeepers. The book was written because my granddaughter, Abigail, visited a few years back and had lots and lots of questions about honeybees—this book was dedicated to her. I figured if she had questions, other children would have them and learn from Buzzzzzzzz. It turns out, adults have lots of questions about our greatest pollinator too, and in my reviews, it has been said that my honeybee book is a honeybee primer for both children and adults!

How did you come up with the cover?

For Buzzzzzzzz, I wanted a photo of a honeybee, as a hobby I am a nature photographer and I have taken thousands (Truly) of photographs of the honeybees. I chose one of my favorites for both the paperback and the ebook. I also illustrate my own books, and in all three of the other books that I have written, The Princess and the Castle, The Prince and the Dragon, and Crying Bear I came up with the cover based on the title. With the book I am writing right now, The Christmas Secret,  I changed things up a little bit and the reader won’t know based on the cover until they get into the book why I have chosen that particular art piece.

Spaghetti or Lasagna and why?

What a fun question for ending this interview, Catherine! I like both―but if I were to choose, I would say Spaghetti. The reason for that is, that Spaghetti can be served in so many different ways; it is a very versatile food. This wonderful pasta can be served with marinara sauce, with seafood, vegetarian style, with creamed sauces like Alfredo, plain, with bacon and eggs….the list goes on.

Thank you for having me as guest author! One of your commenter’s will receive a copy of my educational, non-fiction book titled: Buzzzzzzzz What Honeybees Do. They must comment for their chance to win. -Virginia

VIRGINIA WRIGHT is an author and illustrator of the children’s books- The Princess and the Castle, The Prince and the Dragon and her latest release, Crying Bear. She also authored an educational, non-fiction book, titled Buzzzzzzzz What Honeybees Do. While considered a mixed genre writer, Virginia says she has found her love of words lately in children’s writing; and spends her time writing from the Downeast area of Maine.

Virginia became a published author in 1981 when she sold her first writing to a regional magazine in the state of Maine. She also had several of her writings published in an Anthology– Soundings, by the Poetry Fellowship of Maine. Her articles have appeared in print, and at online newspaper websites. She was quoted as saying, “When I am not spending time with my husband, or developing recipes, doing my nature or food photography, you will find me watering my vegetables and herb gardens, canning, or cooking; I spend my time doing what I enjoy doing most, writing…”

You can learn more about Virgina and her books at her Amazon Author page.  And be sure to check out her outstanding illustrations on her website or blog. I’d like to thank Virgina again for stopping by my blog.

Visiting with Ally Thomas

Ally Thomas, author of the Vampire from Hell series, asked me to answer a few questions she had about my latest release and I’d like to share those with you today. Please check out my book on Smashwords and Amazon.

Here it is…

How did you come up with the title for your book?
The Lady in the Mist refers to the hero’s first glimpse of a woman approaching him following an ambush by Yankee renegades. Tyler Loflin is sure of one thing – that he’s dying. The woman is shroud in mist as a fog rolls in. There’s fire and smoke impairing his view of the woman. All he can tell she is a vision, like an angel with golden hair. The working title was Renegade Rebel.

Did you brainstorm the idea for The Lady in the Mist with family and friends?
I talked extensively with my sister about this book and the protagonists. My characters have some serious decisions to make following some life altering events. How they react will have a lasting effect on their future.

How is The Lady in the Mist different from other books in this genre?
I love westerns and western romance. However, I also enjoy most storylines in the paranormal genre.I blended the two genres for this book. Really it’s a blend of western romance with paranormal elements involving werewolves and vampires.

The year is 1863 and the story begins in Pennsylvania near the Virginia border. Ty and Sonja are from opposite sides. She is a Yankee and he is a Rebel facing death. Her instinct is to save him despite his being the enemy. He is loyal to those he cares about and honorable to a fault. They fall in love before discovering the truth about one another. How they handle the changes they face will test their strength and their love.

Read more here.

Also I’d like to thank Ally for creating my cover for this book along with my other covers. She’s a great graphic artist as well as writer! Learn more about Ally and her books at allythomas.wordpress.com

Book 1 of The Western Werewolf Legend is Live

My latest book is live at Smashwords. If you have noticed the free sample that is currently out, you may now want to read the complete book 1. I’m so excited that over 500 people have downloaded the sample so I hope you’ll check out the full book 1.

What is Book 1 About?

The Civil War took Sonja Brooks’ husband and left her alone. Unprotected and scared, she runs headlong into a life changing event when she’s attacked by a pack of wolves. Her fate as a werewolf is sealed. When she stumbles upon Ty Loflin, a Rebel solider dying of his wounds, she nurses him back to health. He’s the perfect mate, but will he want her once he knows the truth?

At Smashwords

You can download my book one here.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

He appeared in the shadows, preventing Sonja from viewing nothing more than his dark outline.  Since she’d lived alone after her husband, Robert’s death, she carried a small Derringer in her skirt pocket at all times.  With a hand on the gun, she hailed the person.

No reply.

How rude, she’d mused.  Perhaps he didn’t hear her.  “Hello, stranger.  May I help you?”

Still no reply.

“You’re trespassing on private land.  State your business.”  Glancing behind her, she started to speak again and lost her voice when suddenly, a hand gripped her.  Her snap peas spilled to the ground before the basket followed.  Sonja screamed as the stranger grabbed her arms pinning them to her sides.  The small gun clattered to the ground.  The vermin laughed coarsely in her ear and his breath smelled hideous.  His ragged nails tore at her flesh.  Frantically, she struggled to get away.

“Be still, girly.  Nobody’s going to hear you anyway,” he hissed.

She didn’t intend to obey the stranger.  Darkness had fallen suddenly.  His eyes glowed red from behind his mask.  Sonja fought to see more but to no avail.  “Show yourself, you bastard.”  She spit at him.

He laughed again, this time the sound was vulgar and callous.  “Don’t fret, girly.  I’ll make it quick.”

Pain seared her senses as he slapped her across the cheek.  Sonja’s breath came in pants.  He laid his grimy fingers over her mouth.  She gulped down the bile that threatened to spill at his decaying carcass body odor.  Swearing she’d never forget the scent, she struggled with more force, but the man’s grip held like iron.  His breath tickled her skin.  The pain that came next made the world go black.

When she woke, she lay in a pool of blood.  The trees above her swayed as if they’d come alive.  She raised a hand to shield her eyes from the sunlight before crying out with the pain shooting through her shoulder.  Gingerly testing the area, the flesh didn’t hold over her collarbone.  Exposed to the open air, the hard marrow didn’t appear damaged.  She whimpered though, when her fingers came back with her own skin mingled with clots of dark, crimson blood.  Panicked, Sonja jumped up, running blindly.

***

She woke with a jerk.  A sharp pain shot through her whole body, making her cry out.  An old woman sat beside her on a cot.  With a gnarled but gentle hand, the woman brushed the damp hair from Sonja’s face.  Flinching despite herself, Sonja yanked away.  The pain sang through her neck and shoulder again.

“There, there, my child.  Lie still.  The healing will be accomplished if you remain quiet,” the old woman soothed.  “My name is Hortence.  I’m a witch.”  Simply stated, the woman’s words were without inflection.

Sonja’s mouth had gapped before she clamped her lips shut.  “You admit to being a witch?”

“Yes, I was born a witch, or rather, born with the gift.  As I grew, I learned and developed my skills.” She waved her arms upward and fire leapt from her fingertips.  “My craft is real.”

Sonja inched backward.  A fleeting glance around and she realized she didn’t recognize her surroundings.  “Where am I?”  Her voice sounded strange, almost garbled.  Sonja searched the old woman’s face. Watching the old hag as she crooned, Sonja tried her best to understand where she was.  Small snatches of horrible pain jabbed at her conscious mind.  Sonja shut her eyes, wincing as the pain reminded her she’d been injured badly.

“Lie still now,” the old woman said.

Sonja opened her eyes cautiously.

Hortence crooked her head to the side, before peering at Sonja out of one eye.  Sonja couldn’t tell if the other eye had been sewn shut or the old woman had a permanent squint.

“Shush, my child.  Lie still.  Your wounds are many.”

Sonja stared.  Who was this old hag with the straggly, gray hair?  “Where am I?” she asked again.

“You’re safe, my child.  Now, you need to rest.”  Gently laying a hand over Sonja’s eyes, the old woman murmured soft soothing words.  “Rest, my child, rest.”

Despite her better intentions, Sonja couldn’t hold her eyes open any longer before falling back into sleep with the woman’s simple urging.

When she awoke, the room held darkness.  A dreary cold gripped her.  Sonja reached up rubbing at her arms.  She’d already moved before she remembered her neck.  No pain — how amazing, she mused.  Perhaps the pain had really been only a dream.

Roughly cut, the rafters above her head hung heavy with cobwebs.  Rolling her head to the side, she spied the old woman bent over a pot at the fireplace stirring something that smelled like stew.  Sonya’s hunger was acute.  She silently hoped the old woman would share.  Bending her arms, she took solace in the fact the earlier pain had disappeared.  “How did I get here?”

The old woman turned at the question, giving Sonja a broken toothed smile.  “I brought you here, my child.”  At Sonja’s blank stare, the old woman continued, “Don’t worry, you’re safe.  There’s a protection spell around the cabin.”  Settling her hands on her hips, the old woman glared at Sonja.  “Do you remember anything?”

Sonja rubbed at her temple.  “Some,” she mumbled.  Everything blurred when she tried to recall the attack.  “I wasn’t dreaming?  I was really attacked?”  She wished for some of the soup in the pot over the fire.

“Oh, to be sure.  You are very fortunate that I happened along.”  The old woman bent again over the pot to stir.  Glancing back, she gave Sonja her broken toothed grin once more.  “Don’t fret. I’ll get you something to eat.  First, I wanted to hear about the scoundrels who attacked you.”  She peered quizzically at Sonja with pursed lips.  “Tell me everything you remember.”

Frowning, Sonja tried to sit up.  The room spun.  She caught her head in her hand before scanning the small space.

The room afforded all the comforts of a modest home.  A small kitchen area nestled near the fire while the other side boasted a small seating area.  On the opposite wall, the bed anchored the chilly stone expanse.  A bench provided enough room for one person.  Glancing up, Sonja noted the small window that allowed a sliver of light into the room.

She managed to right herself enough to sit in the middle of the cot and cross her legs.  “There’s really not much to tell.  Everything’s so blurry.”

The old woman sat across the room at the small table.  The old woman ate as she listened.  “Go on.”

“Uh, I remember seeing someone in front of me on the path.  I’d been down by the creek gathering peas from my garden.”

Eyeing the bowl contemplatively, Sonja pursed her lips.  Her stomach growled.  Insulted by the old woman’s rude behavior, Sonja shifted on the cot.  Her unease heightened when flashbacks of the stranger appeared in her mind’s eye.  She reached up to touch the wound at her throat.

“Stop that.”  The old woman wagged her spoon at Sonja.  “I’ve already told you to leave the healing alone.  The process will go faster if you don’t pick at the wound.  Now, continue.”  She scooped up another spoon full of stew.

Sonja couldn’t help but glower at the old hag.  Irritated at the woman’s behavior, but desiring to remember more about the attack, Sonja pushed on.  “Let’s see.  I remember seeing this man standing in the path, but the shadows prevented me from telling anything about his identity.  Darkness fell almost immediately.”  Sonja paused.  “That seems peculiar, because enough light remained for me to get back to the cottage before he appeared.  Strange…”  Her forehead wrinkled in bemusement as she considered why the light had left so quickly.

“You’re doing fine.  Continue…”  The old woman’s tone had softened.

Sonja couldn’t stop the pangs of hunger from coloring her opinion of the old woman’s manners.  She’d offered her nothing of substance so far.  “I called out, but the stranger wouldn’t answer me.  Again, I called out.  I smelled something before a set of hands pinned me.”

“Yes, what did you smell?”  The old woman’s interest had peaked.  She dropped the spoon before placing both hands on her knees.  Peering at Sonja from the one eye, she asked, “What did you smell?  Think, my child.”

Perplexed at the strangeness of the question, Sonja glanced at the old woman before dropping her eyes to her hands in her lap.  Conscious of the woman starring at her, she shifted.  All right!  She would try.  Straining, she tried her best to bring the scene back into her mind.  “Yes, I remember a smell…”  She wrinkled her nose.  “Decay – like rotting meat.”  Glancing back at the old woman, she searched her face, which remained blank.

“Go on.”

With a heavy sigh, Sonja relayed the rest of the story to the old woman.  Finally gaining a bowl of the stew for her trouble, she ate every bite.

“What do you think it all means?”  Sonja desperately wanted answers. Instead of answering, the old woman hummed as she merely stirred the pot.  Perhaps Sonja should get up and go.  Her house remained empty and she had animals to tend.  But when she stood, everything spun and she reached back for the cot to anchor her.

Turning, the old woman stared hard at her, making her feel like a child who’d misbehaved.  “Didn’t I tell you to rest?  Don’t move, do you hear me?  Not until that bite is healed.”

“Bite!”  Sonja couldn’t help her voice raising an octave.  “I was bitten?”

The old woman shot her a one-eyed glare before cackling like a loon.  “Bitten?  Of course, you’ve been bitten.  The damn demons tried to kill you.”  She stepped to the bed, shoving gently at Sonja’s shoulders, settling her on the bed once more.  “My child, you were bitten by a werewolf.”  She shook her head slightly.  “The likes of which I didn’t realize existed here.  Now you carry the mark of the beast on your palm.”  Pointing to Sonja’s hand, she lifted her fingers before turning her hand palm up.  “See?”

Looking down, Sonja scowled at the inverted pentagram she found imprinted in her flesh.  Without thinking, she rubbed at the mark.  Where had the mark come from?  She scrubbed at the skin.  Surely, the woman was mistaken.

“The mark of the beast can’t be erased,” the old woman said quietly.  “Soon you will start to feel the effects of the change.”

Sonja’s eyes grew wide.  “Change?”

“Yes, as the earth turns the moon grows closer.  During this phase of the cycle, you’ll experience changes.”  She patted Sonja’s shoulder.

“What sort of changes?”  Sonja asked out of a strangled voice.  Aggravated, she shoved the woman’s hand away.

The stew she’d wanted so badly didn’t seem like such a good idea, as she only had time to lean over the edge of the cot before retching.  A slow wash of perspiration engulfed her.  Moaning, she lay back against the pillow.  “Sorry,” she whispered.

The witch clucked her tongue.  “Don’t worry, my child.”  Waving her hand in the air, the old woman mumbled something.  To Sonja’s surprise, the stench evaporated.  When Sonja rose up enough to look, the mess had disappeared as well.  Slowly her eyes tracked from the floor back to the woman standing in the middle of the small room.  Hortence continued to smile.

“What do you want from me?” Sonja asked with a quiver in her voice.

“Nothing, my child.  The question is what do you want of your life?”

When Sonja didn’t answer, the old woman sighed and picked up Sonja’s half-eaten bowl of stew before hobbling back to the small kitchen area.  “As the moon grows fuller, you will begin to evolve into a creature with great power.  Your teeth will grow sharp and your nails will grow long.”

With a shake of her head, Sonja tried to reject the words the woman said.  “I don’t believe you.  You’re crazy!”  Gripping the bed, Sonja swallowed the sickness that threatened once more.  She cut a glare at Hortence. “Get away from me, you old hag.  I don’t believe in such things.  You’re mad!”  Turning for the door, she yanked the handle.  The light of day greeted her as she raced out.  The nausea followed.

Sunshine flitted through a heavy cloak of trees.  Maybe she’d reacted too hastily.  Glancing over her shoulder, she wished she had a clue as to her whereabouts.  The old woman’s cabin sat nestled in the midst of an oak thicket, one unfamiliar to Sonja.

“How do I get home?”  Baring her teeth with her fists clinched tightly at her sides, Sonja glared into the watery eye of the old woman standing in the doorway.

Suddenly, the old woman stood right behind her as if she’d materialized.  “When you come to the fork in the road, take the path to the right which will lead you home.” With a sweep of her hand she touched Sonja’s cheek.  “You carry the gift.”  Her brief statement gave Sonja the impression the old woman expected her to understand.

“The gift?”

“Yes, you will be the one who leads the Guardian’s followers into the new millennium.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!”  With wide eyes full of shock, Sonja stared after the woman.  She might be imagining the whole thing.  Surely, the woman hadn’t said she would lead anyone anywhere!  She had trouble leading the goat out of the barn.  “Why are you babbling on about a Guardian and me leading his pack?  I don’t understand.  Trying for polite, she offered, “Perhaps you’re mistaken.  I’m a widow with a small farm I tend myself.  I have no plans to change.”  Her exasperation showed by the time she finished.  “I’m going home now that I’m feeling much better.”

Hortence scanned her face.  “You are changed forever, my child.  The place you call home cannot hold you anymore.”  She smiled with sympathy.  “With time, you will learn the ways of the wanderer.  His name is Guardian.  He brought you to me for training.”  When Sonja only blinked in response, Hortence added, “To lead his pack.”

Sonja couldn’t control the laughter.  The sound began as amusement but quickly evolved into hysteria.  The woman was mad, as mad as the hatter in Alice’s Wonderland.  Perhaps the whole thing was as simple as a dream, like Alice’s.  She was dreaming so when she awoke, she’d have a lively tale to tell her sister, Brianda.  Sonja fisted her hands while pondering what to do.  The need to leave made anxiety clog her throat.  To panic wouldn’t help the situation, but she wanted to run wildly down the path screaming out her frustrations.

Hortence smiled.

Wrinkling her brow, Sonja cut a dubious look the old woman’s way.  “You seem as cool as a cucumber.  Why?”

The old witch cocked a gray brow.

Still, she had to admit, something made her feel strange.  Her nerve endings were tingling.  Her sense of smell seemed heightened.  She could even hear the mouse nibbling on a crumb in the opposite corner of the cottage near the fireplace.  Trembling set in and she tamped down the urge to simply bolt.

Hortence continued to smile but said nothing.

Irritation mingled with the concern of where she found herself stirred in her gut.

“You will come again.”  The smile widened across Hortence’s face before she turned, disappeared, and then reappeared on the threshold of the small hovel.  The shutting of the cottage door left Sonja blinking as she stood alone in the dead leaves covering the forest floor.

Sonja swallowed.  Gratitude mingled with relief rose up and almost swamped her.  Glancing down at the bandage on her upper arm, she blinked.  The wrapping was neat, clean, and smelled of disinfectant.  Hortence had taken good care of her.  “Thank you,” Sonja whispered.  Glancing around, she jumped when Hortence’s voice came to her.

“No thanks are necessary.  Your visit was an honor for me.”  The old woman’s voice came to Sonja, startling her.

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