The Wolf This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Heart pounding, Leia paced on, her steps quick but even. She kept her eyes facing forward, despite the gnawing urge to turn and look behind her. She had heard a twig snapping only a short while before. Don't look back, she had always been told. Never turn your head from the path ahead, and you will be safe from them.

Yet who “they” were had never been explained to her. She had never questioned what her father had ground into her brain, never had a chance to. On her eighth birthday, just as she was beginning to wonder what all the fuss her father had forced upon her really meant, he had disappeared. He reappeared exactly three days later, torn to bits and nearly unrecognizable in the police report photo.

Another loud snap, like a gunshot through the quiet air. Leia's breath caught in her throat, but she did not stop, nor did she turn her head. The path went silent, and her mind started to play tricks on her, providing her with images of grotesque, hellish creatures that even now stood behind her, trying to cover the blunder of creating sound by now making less sound than should be possible. A faint buzz sprang into Leia's ears from straining them.

She was almost at the edge of the tree-lined park path, but even now, she kept her steps even. The trees were thinning on both sides of her. Suddenly she felt the panic in her chest burst and run through her veins like liquid mercury, poisoning her mind. Her stride faltered slightly, then sped up, following the beat of her heart. She walked faster, and as she changed her stride she heard the thing behind her grow excited. All its pretenses of secrecy were dissipating with her loss of control.

Don't show them your fear, her father would have chided her, but she no longer cared for the words of her father. She did, however, keep her gaze ahead, too terrified at what she might see if she looked back. Her feet sped even more as she saw an increase of light in front of her, hailing the end of the trees. Her pulse galloped and her feet copied it as she slipped into a panicked sprint.

Panting. There was something panting, its feet softly whispering against the dirt path behind her. She imagined a wolf-like monster the size of a horse, easily keeping up with her flight, playing with her even now, biding its time. Her vision flashed with her fear, and she had to force herself not to turn her head, not to face the monster she was sure was right behind her, the monster that logic told her did not exist but that her mind told her was really, truly there. After all, if not a monster, what had torn apart her father and ruined the life she had once known?

There it was, the source of her fear. She had created some monster to stalk her through the woods because she simply could not let herself believe the reports that a human had killed her father. That a human had made her father into an unrecognizable form of himself, dead and mutilated. These thoughts drove away the image of the monster and made her flight through the trees seem silly. Her fear, though still making her blood cold, no longer had the power to create a monster.

Leia stepped out into the light of the moon, out of the trees, and turned. There was nothing among the trees. She smiled bittersweetly, glad but slightly vexed – she knew that her theory was correct. She turned again and strode slowly along once more, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her hoodie, tears sliding down her face as she disappeared down the path toward home.

Back among the trees, the path twisted away, with a single, giant paw print just inside the shadows.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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