“Don’t go out into the woods alone, Deirdre.”
The girl in red shrugged her shoulders, acknowledging her mother silently and almost sullenly. Deirdre loved being in the forest. It was the only place she could hear herself think. Her family’s comfortable home on the outskirts of the city was bubbling over with younger brothers and sisters, noisome creatures that scuttled about endlessly.
Deirdre slipped on her galoshes, scarlet like her ankle-length overcoat and shouted over her shoulder as she lifted the crossbar from the door, “I won’t, Mother. I’ll just pop on over to the neighbor’s, see if perhaps Jillian wants to visit a while in the garden.”
“That’s fine, dear,” her mother replied, her voice drifting off as she chased down the youngest pair of twins.
“‘Don’t go into the woods alone.’ What does she think will happen? There’s been nothing dangerous in the forest in years! It’s practically a public parkland, now,” Deirdre mumbled to herself once she sauntered into the neatly hedged yard of her family’s home. The rebellious girl kicked the bottom of the garden gate to speed its opening, her thoughts racing, her intentions outpacing her mother’s warning.
Outside the garden, Deirdre turned left, away from her friend Jillian’s country manor, and trotted toward the dark forest. The sun warmed her from its perch high in the sky and birds whistled happily as they flitted around the flowered fields on either side of the road.
“She’ll never know. The youngsters keep her busy. I’ll just go sit on my rock and relax for a half hour. I won’t be long,” Deirdre promised herself as she hurried along the dusty old carriageway.
Her delight in having outwitted her mother burbled up through her chest and burst from her lips in an airy, happy hum. She beamed at the joy she felt. Her teenage angst melted from her slim shoulders and her feet danced across the hard-packed earth.
Deirdre’s special place, her rock, was only a few hundred yards inside the edge of the forest and a few dozen feet from the road, at the bottom of a small rise in the forest floor. The boulder, its jagged edges worn away by the rough handling of wind and rain, was of a height with Deirdre, but its companion rocks formed a stable stairway to the top. Deirdre loved to sit in the sunken spot at the top, her feet curled up under her, and contemplate her existence.
The sun-heated concavity at the summit was welcoming and freeing to the girl. She relaxed, in her spot, more than she could ever do at home. Deirdre let her guard down, trusting her safety in the forest to the guardsmen who patrolled the old road regularly.
The young girl drifted in her thoughts, the current pushing her mind along in a spiraling circle of what-ifs and if-onlys. The cooling of the granite beneath her lightly-clothed legs tugged her mind sharply back to reality.
The darkening forest startled Deirdre. She had lost track of time.
The girl ignored the natural staircase in favor of a quick leap from the top of her boulder. Her feet thundered in the hushed woods. Deirdre quickly brushed stone dust and leafy debris from her clothes and scurried toward the road. Her mother would be furious and Deirdre would be forbidden from leaving the house without supervision for weeks.
Saddened at her fate, the girl turned to say good-bye to her special place. But the appearance of a tall, slender girl standing in the sunken seat of the huge boulder caused Deirdre to jump.
“Ahhh,” the strange girl purred, “I knew if I waited, patient as only a Hunter can be, I would find something to test myself upon.”
“Wh- who are you,” Deirdre whispered, her voice carrying across the tomb-silent clearing.
“I am a Hunter, beast, and that is all you need to know,” the stranger snarled. Her feet made no noise at all when she hurled herself from the boulder. Her laugh was harsh at Deirdre’s fleeing back.
The girl in red ran. Her coat caught and caressed every breath of wind, slowing Deirdre’s headlong rush, so she tore it off, letting the hooded garment flutter lifelessly to the hard-packed road. Her boots, in her favorite shade of red, followed the outwear to the ground. Freed from the restraints of civilization, Deirdre dropped to all fours and ran, the way her ancestors had run from generations of Hunters before.
Her mother’s face radiated fury when Deirdre crashed through the heavy oaken door of her family’s home. But the whispered, “Hunter,” changed her expression to haunted fear.
“Aa-oooooh! Run, children, hide,” Deirdre’s mother howled. She pushed the newest litter toward Deirdre, “Hide them. I’ll keep calling the pack together. No Hunter, no matter how good, will test an entire pack.”
Deirdre watched with horror as her mother strode from the front door, still calling the pack, to face the dreaded Werewolf Hunter.