"I can't remember the name of the genius rapper behind the phrase, 'Life's a bitch, and then you die,' but I'm almost certain that whoever it was, they were born before The Awakening and didn't live in a world filled with all kinds of kooky creatures like vampires, werewolves, and shifters. I do, and let me tell you, my life has been a beeyotch with a capital B for the last two months, and I'm alive and kicking.
My world took a nose-dive to colder climates when my older brother Rushing died a year ago. As if losing an older brother wasn't bad enough, get this, my big sister is the one that killed him. I know, right?! That statement screams dysfunctional family on so many levels. If my Mama wasn't such a spaz over things like keeping family secrets, then I would probably be camped out on a shrink's couch somewhere pouring out my heart, instead of sitting here at my desk venting to no one but the glowing, backlit screen of my laptop. But she is, and there lies part of the problem.
See, long before my twin sister Malia, my older brother Jamal and I were born, my Mama was married and lived in this hick town called Goose Creek, South Carolina. We were always told she jumped ship with my older sister Still and left the podunk little town because she couldn't handle life in the boonies. Guess what? LIE!
My sister's father made her take my older sister and run because of some funky deal with some witches—a deal that screwed my sister royally if I might add. Anyway, he made my mom run with an infant werewolf, all the way to Charlotte, North Carolina, where his pack-whatever Marcus could watch over Still and keep her out of trouble.
If someone out there in cyberspace actually follows my blog, then yes, you read right. My sister is the Still Waters, werewolf host of Reel Time, and the reason I'm now stuck in said podunk town with her. That kind of sounds like I'm blaming her for my being stuck in Goose Creek. I'm not blaming her directly, but I was targeted by psychos who couldn't get to her and thought going after her human family was the next best thing.
Believe me, if my sister thought for a minute that we were in any danger or trouble, I have no doubts that she would move hell and high water to keep us safe. But, she didn't know. She didn't know, and I was attacked. Before that night, when I was still an ordinary teenage girl, I couldn't have told you the difference between a werewolf and a wolf shifter, but now I can.
Unfortunately, I have intimate, firsthand knowledge of the differences. Why? Because stubborn, hard-headed me wouldn't let the paparazzi (also on my case because of my sister) run my life and just had to go to the movies. One stupid, ten-dollar movie was the price of my humanity because, while I was coming home from the movies, a wolf shifter mauled me. I was mauled by a shifter and lived.
Lesson number one: the first difference between a werewolf and a wolf shifter; werewolves are born, not made. Shifters, on the other hand—humans unfortunate enough to survive an attack, become wolf shifters themselves.
Lesson number two: surviving an attack by a wolf shifter feels like you died and were dragged back to the land of the living by way of hell. No, I landed there, then swam back through the river Acheron and walked across a desert made of hot coals to get back. Sounds painful, right? It should.
Lesson number three: werewolves and wolf shifters HATE each other. The last one sucks on so many levels. You should try being the only wolf shifter in a town where werewolves make up at least fifty percent of the population. Believe me. If I had a choice, I would still be at home in Charlotte, where I belong. But, until I get a handle on my new abilities, here I am, and here I shall remain. God help me. My name is Maya Merkinson, and I am officially one of the monsters."
Trina Brevard pushed her thin-rimmed glasses back to her face and lifted the sheet from which she was reading. "This post is dated five weeks ago, Maya. You're practically begging for help, but since you've been seeing me, you haven't uttered a single word longer than one syllable."
Maya, the teenager in question, shrugged her shoulders and leaned back into the cushy couch she was resting on.
"Your point being?"
"Fourteen days, Maya. I can't help you if you don't let me in."
Maya pointed at the open, black folder that rested on Dr. Brevard's lap and scowled. "Why do you need me when you've gone to the trouble of hacking my computer? I never posted that online."
Dr. Brevard sighed, closed the folder, and crossed her legs. "I don't make it a habit of invading a patient's privacy. Your sister forwarded the post to my email," she frowned.
"I'm gonna kill Still," Maya hissed.
"It wasn't the alpha," the doctor countered.
"You're lying," Maya spat. "Malia's my twin. She wouldn't sell me out."
"You’re wolf now. You’d know if I were being anything other than truthful. At least you would if you were paying attention to the lessons Ryan has been giving you.”
Maya’s ear twitched, and the teenager dropped her head. “I never figured she’d be the next person to stab me in the back,” she said, with a shaky voice.
“Your being sent here was for your own good and the safety of the people around you. You can’t look at this as a punishment.”
A low rumble began to vibrate deep in Maya’s throat. “I’ll look at it anyway I damn well please,” the frustrated teenager growled. “I had a life, and now I’ve got nothing!”
“Nice to know that I’m nothing,” Still Waters sighed from her post near the door.
At the sound of her sister’s voice, Maya twisted in her seat, unable to hold back the tears that had gathered in her eyes. “That’s not what I mean, and you know it.” Maya left her chair and was at her sister’s side in the space of a few seconds. Still unaccustomed to the new levels of speed that her body could reach, the teen gave her head a slight shake, orienting herself before she began talking.
“Still, this is my junior year. I’m supposed to be on the prom committee and the drill team, letting Mama teach me how to drive stick, and narrowing down what college I want to attend after senior year, not stuck out here learning ‘Werewolf 101’ from your fruity gater.”
“The term is ‘beta,’ and that's Bishion, not Ryan,” Still said through clenched teeth, “and as a rule, most non-straight men take offense at being called fruity.”
“Like I care, hypocrite. I’ve heard you call George that plenty of times. Look, all I want to do is go home.”
“With George and me, it’s a term of endearment,” Still reasoned. “Look, I know how frustrated you must be. Under any other circumstances, I would move hell and high water to give you what you want, but this isn’t one of them,” said Still. “The best thing for you to do would be to start thinking of this place like home.”
“Still—” Dr. Brevard began but was quickly cut off.
“Like hell!” Maya barked as she folded her hands across her chest before narrowing her eyes at her sister. “What are you doing here, anyway? I thought my sessions were off-limits.”
Still shot a glance in Dr. Brevard’s direction before shrugging her shoulders. “I may not be in the room with you for your sessions, but I’m always nearby if you need me,” Still admitted, with carefully chosen words.
“If I need you,” Maya countered. “No, that’s a lie—a damn good one because I almost didn’t catch it, but a lie, nonetheless.”
Maya’s arms dropped, and her hands curled into fists, then she began pacing. “You’re here because you don’t trust me! Aren’t you?!”
“I trust you just fine, Wooly Booger. My being here has nothing to do with trust. I—”
“Liar!” Maya yelled, her voice several octaves lower than it was just moments ago. “All of you are just waiting for the freak shifter to lose her cool and prove how different she is from your precious werewolves! I see the way everyone looks at me. I’m not stupid!”
Still slowly raised her hands and took a small step in her sister’s direction. “Maya, calm down, kiddo. It’s not that serious, baby.”
“It is when my sister thinks I need a chaperone wherever I go!” Maya yelled again. The teenager jerked her head, and the bones in her neck popped in a rapid-fire series.
Still locked eyes with Maya but spoke to Dr. Brevard. “Leave us,” she said.
“She wanted me to open up and talk about my feelings. Well, I’m about to share. So she stays,” Maya countered.
Still shook her head and took another step toward her younger sister, who was now doubled over and clutching her stomach.
“No can do, Maya. Neck popping? Your tells are the same as mine. You’re dancing on the edge of your control. I won’t have her in the room if you shift.”
“You’re just like everyone else in this backwater dump,” Maya whispered. As soon as the words left her lips, the teenager screamed and dropped to her knees. Her back bowed at an unnatural angle, and bones began to creak and pop. She was starting the painful shift that would transform her body from that of a five-foot-seven, one hundred and forty-pound girl with hazelnut skin, brown doe eyes, and braids, into a creature that most people would only have the chance to see while watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster.
Once Maya completed her shift, she would stand well over six feet tall. Her hands would be tipped with three-inch claws, sharp enough to tear through flesh like wet paper. Her skin would become a thick leathery hide, mottled with multiple hues designed to allow the predator to blend into a nighttime environment without being seen.
Her hair, one of her pride and joys, would thin in some places and grow longer in others. She would also sprout small tufts in areas where before, there were none. No longer would the thick, shoulder-length tresses be soft and silky like the commercials she tried to emulate, but rather thin, coarse, and stringy, in varying lengths. Her muscles would take on mass, giving her strength beyond that of ten grown men, filling out her feminine curves until her body was chiseled and defined.
Her teeth would grow and elongate, filling her head with an array of deadly, inch-long fangs, all designed to rip and flay the flesh from her chosen prey. Maya would become the stuff of a nightmare’s nightmare if she didn’t pull back the rapidly progressing shift.
“Sissy, please!” Maya screamed as she reared back, her gaping mouth revealing teeth that had already begun to elongate and fill her head, making it hard to understand her garbled speech.
“Shit,” Still hissed and dropped to her knees in front of her ailing sister. “Maya, baby, I know it hurts, but I need you to focus on my voice.”
“I can’t,” Maya moaned with a voice that was deep and gravelly. “Please make it stop!”
“Trina, get out of here, now!” Still ordered the doctor.
“Can’t you take her shift?” The doctor asked with a shaky voice, despite her best efforts to maintain her composure.
“I’ve never tried, but the elders are unsure,” Still admitted. “That’s why you need to leave. I can’t risk anyone getting hurt if I fail. Slowly make your way to the door. No sudden movements.”
Maya’s arms broke, the sickening crunch echoing through the room. Unable to stay upright any longer, she fell to her side, shaking with each new pop. Her chest heaved in and out as she fought to breathe through the pain her body was going through.
“That’s right, baby. Just breathe. In and out,” Still whispered. She swiped her hand across her face, flicking away tears, and exhaled. “Maya, I’m going to help you, okay. I’m going to try to take your shift, but first I’ll ease your pain,” said, Still.
Maya nodded and closed her eyes, trying her best to ignore the intense waves of pain that were slamming her senses.
Still took a deep breath and released the wolf inside of her. Her eyes began to glow with the amber tint of her wolf self. When next she spoke, her voice vibrated with the timbre of an alpha.
“Maya, I know you’re scared. You feel like you are alone in your pain. But not only am I your alpha, but most importantly, I’m your big sister.” Still assured her as she forced her aura, the field of energy that surrounds all living things, away from her. While some humans can see them, only Extras, those individuals blessed with being more, could manipulate them.
“I promise you, you will never be alone,” Still grunted as the first ebb of Maya’s pain hit her. “Right or wrong, good or bad, I will always have your back.”
Maya breathed a sigh of relief and slowly nodded her head. Now that she wasn’t experiencing any discomfort, the changes slowed tremendously, but they kept coming.
“Don’t worry,” Still reassured her. “We got this far. We can make it—” She never got to finish her statement. Just when the situation looked as if it were under control, the door behind Still opened with a bang. Dr. Brevard, inches away from making her escape, stumbled forward after being hit by the door. Her path lead her directly to Still. After tripping over her, she slammed into Maya’s almost completely-shifted body.
Maya, despite the distraction, with the aid of her sister, remained calm. At least she was until a voice called out from the door.
“Hey, Ma, I forgot my house keys,” Brendan Brevard called out, oblivious to the dangerous scene he was walking into.
“Freeze!” Ordered, Still. Along with the command came a rush of energy so tangible that it wrapped around the boy, locking him in place. That momentary redirection of her efforts, though a fraction of a second, was long enough for Still’s aura to pull away from Maya. The anxiety and pain of the shift slammed into her with renewed force, ripping the remaining shreds of her human persona from her body and replacing it with wolf in one fluid wave.
Maya shook her head and whined. They would only have a minute or two, tops before she got over the disorientation that came with her shift. After that, all bets were off. Every were in the room would have their hands full with a pissed-off wolf-shifter that was still miles away from learning how to control her animal half.
Dr. Brevard, who was inches away from Maya’s reach, began to growl. Her green eyes started to glow, and her body jerked. All signs that she had relinquished control of her body to the wolf inside of her.
“That’s not going to help anything, Trina,” Still whispered from her spot a few feet away.
“I’m not going to be defenseless,” Trina growled, her worlds garble as her face had already begun to elongate and form a muzzle. “Brendan, shift!” She ordered her son.
“You’ll do no such thing,” Still interjected.
Trina snarled as she began inching her way toward the door. “I don’t give a rat’s ass who the patient is. I won’t let you put my son in danger!”
Although the situation called for a level head, all civility went out of the window when Trina yelled at her. Still jumped to her feet, snagging a half-transformed Trina by the back of her shirt as she went.
“If ever talk to me like that again, I’ll have your tongue!” Still threatened as she dragged her across the floor like a sack of potatoes.
“Umm, Ma,” Brendan's shaky voice called out, catching both women’s attention. “We’ve got a problem.”
Maya, in all her wolved-out glory, roared and shook her head free of the last bits of human goop that were clinging to the stringy hair covering her.
Still had no time to think about what she was going to do. She simply reacted. She tightened her grip on Trina’s shirt and tossed her over her head. “Maya, no!” She yelled as she stepped forward, holding out a hand. “I know you’re in there. You are in control! Not your wolf!”
If some part of Maya recognized Still as her sister, that part was not in control. The teen snarled and lunged. Her body sailed through the air on an arch that would hit Still dead on. Her claws were poised and ready to strike. Luckily for them both, Still was prepared for her.
Maya was dangerously close to hitting her target when Still sidestepped at the last minute. Rather than letting Maya pass, she grabbed her by one outstretched wrist and jerked her out of the air. Before Maya could regroup and attack again, Still was standing over her with both wrists locked in her steel grip.
Even though she was on her knees, Maya was almost at eye level with her sister. She growled before snapping at Still’s face. Her fangs came within inches of finding their mark. Still, for her part, she didn’t budge a centimeter. She rolled her head on her neck and growled.
“Maya, don’t force my hand,” she whispered. “I know you can do this. Focus on my voice and come back to me.”
Maya snarled and snapped again, oblivious to her sister’s pleas. She was too far gone, seeing Still not as the sister she knew and loved, but as another predator—a threat. She pushed against Still’s hold, trying to rise to her feet, but Still’s grip was solid.
“I can wield the strength of every single wolf in this pack, no matter how far away they are,” Still warned. “You need to stop and listen to me, Maya.”
“She can’t,” Dr. Brevard huffed from behind. “She’s too far gone. You know what needs to be done.”
“That I do,” Still admitted, after looking into her sister’s eyes and seeing no sign of human intelligence. “I am so sorry, baby,” She sighed. Still took a deep breath and opened the floodgates on the powers she usually kept such a tight rein on.
“You will stand down!” Still ordered, slamming her young sister with a wave of energy. Though Maya was forced down, she was far from conceding. She fought against the force of Still’s will and lifted her head to issue a challenge of her own.
Maya roared. The sound was a deafening thing that rattled the windows. A thing that was full of emotion and unspoken words. Words that Still read loud and clear.
“I’m sorry,” She croaked as she fought to hold back tears. “I’m sorry that this happened to you. I am sorry that you have become the very thing you hate about me. I am sorry I wasn’t there to protect you, Maya. But all the sorries in the world aren’t going to change our, right now.”
“Stand down!” Still roared and threw another wave of power. The onslaught of energy was so intense that Maya’s body splintered and cracked the hardwood floor beneath her as it was forced lower.
The teenager’s head jerked, and her eyes stretched wide with what could only be called fear. Her tail dropped, and her shoulders slumped. Her wolf finally recognized that the wolf before her was her better.
Maya whimpered and lowered her head, conceding dominance to Still. “That’s it,” the elder sister whispered. “Let go of the anger. Holding on to it solves nothing. It’s time to accept what is. That is the only way you’ll get a handle on things.”
Slowly but surely, the glow faded from Maya’s eyes and was replaced by human recognition. She gasped as best she could in the body she had, and tears began to fall.
Still let go of her wrists, closed the small distance between them, and wrapped her arms around her sister’s neck. “I’m going to take your shift now, Maya.”
The teenager nodded and closed her eyes. Still’s power washed over her, tearing down the walls in her mind, doing what should have been impossible, and seized control of her wolf. Maya’s body began transforming back to human at an insane pace. After a few minutes, the change was done.
“There,” Still said, as she stumbled away from her, her chest heaving in and out with the pressure of containing the volatile energy from Maya’s shift. “My sister is back.”
Never one to bear around the bush, Dr. Brevard wasted no time in putting her two cents in. “She’s back, but what about the next time this happens?”
“Careful, Trina,” Still warned, as she held out a hand for her sister to take. “Can we get some privacy here? My sister isn’t exactly dressed to the nines,” Still said as she looked back at Brendan, who looked like a deer in headlights.
“I was just leaving,” the teenager offered with a finger pointed toward the door behind him.
“Thanks,” Still muttered. “Trina, I think it best you leave with him. We’ll talk later.”
“Yes, alpha,” Dr. Brevard said. “Come on, son. Let’s go get some lunch.”
“And, Trina,” Still called out. “I expect discretion in this matter.”
“But, the elders.”
“I don’t care about the elders,” Still growled. Her voice vibrated with energy that washed over Trina, taking away her power of choice.
“Yes, alpha,” Trina sighed as her shoulders slumped under the weight of her alpha’s order. She relented as she laid a hand on her son’s shoulder.
Brendan remained silent as he witnessed the exchange between his mother and his pack leader. He fully understood the cause of the tension between the two and what having a wolf-shifter in the town meant to most of the others in the pack. Almost every adult was unhappy about the situation and voiced their concerns at the last pack gathering.
The alpha agreed to keep her sister confined to her property until it was decided whether or not the girl was a danger. She’d been in town for three weeks, but none of the other teens had yet laid so much as an eye on her. He was the first. As he spared a look back and stared into Maya’s eyes, he didn’t see a threat. He saw a girl…a beautiful, frightened girl.