Author: WhiteZephyr PM
Her eyes were wide with fear, and she shook in terror as the thing approached, every huge step closing the distance. One of its paws pressed up against the wall above Adelaide's head, though the paw resembled something closer to a hand, despite the pads, fur and claws. The beast opened its maw and brought it closer to her neck, readying itself to rip her throat out... One-shot.Rated: Fiction T - English - Supernatural/Romance - Words: 10,261 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 8 - Follows: 1 - Published: 01-05-13 - Status: Complete - id: 3089635
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Starting from Adelaide's home in the village, one could take up to an hour to arrive at the small farmhouse shrouded by trees that was Garrett's home. Of course, it depended on the season, but regardless of it, Adelaide enjoyed the journey there through the willows and pines, the birch trees and the sycamores. One would begin on a cobblestone road, and as they would approach the small but welcoming farmhouse, the road would transform into a winding dirt path marked by small rocks for a boundary.
Garrett's farmhouse rested in the middle of a clearing, and was an old thing, but he took great care in its upkeep. As children, he, Adelaide and Kolby had make numerous journeys to the once-abandoned farmhouse before they grew into adults, and then Garrett purchased it from the village as his own home. When renovating it, Adelaide would usually stop by and spend time with the young man. It was quite the journey, especially with a basket full of food slung over one's arm, but Adelaide ensured that she would make it at least three times in a week.
Naturally, Garrett appreciated his childhood friend's company. She would even take time away from her parents' store to aid him in clearing the land, or cleaning the inside of the dusty old farmhouse. Adelaide knew the reason why Garrett had gone out of his way to buy such an old place, but she wasn't certain why he wanted to live so far away. However, he seemed happy, and that was enough for her. Especially when night would fall and Garrett would walk her back to her parents' home in the village, where she still resided, and he would lend her his overcoat to keep her warm from the chill of the night.
Adelaide had been aware for several years that her feelings for her old friend were growing further away from friendship and closer towards something she didn't quite understand. And every night that they slowly walked together back to the village, she savoured every moment with the young man she'd known since childhood. His coat, always draped over her shoulders on those nights, smelt of the pines of the forest, the rich soil from the earth, and his own musky scent that she knew so well. Adelaide was certain that she knew Garrett best of everyone in the village. She could even pick him out by sound or touch alone. If she closed her eyes, she could picture his image without fail or fault.
A broad-shouldered young man, Garrett had seemed built for farm work or hard labour from the moment he reached twelve years of age. When he was a child, Garrett was a scrawny boy, who had the fleetest feet of all of the boys his age. Dark, chocolate curls adorned his head, and his turquoise eyes were playful and kind. An adult now, Garrett's physique had changed from thin to lean, mainly due to all the work he did to obtain the coin necessary to buy the farmhouse hideaway, and his curls had brightened and straightened with age, but his eyes were just as vibrant as ever. He and Kolby had been the eldest boys in the village because of the relatively small population, and had accepted a "big brother" role with all of the children. Garrett, however, made an exception when it came to Adelaide, and she had taken a small comfort for herself when he treated her differently than the other girls, because she knew that he liked her too.
It was on one of those long, chilly walks through the forest from Garrett's farmhouse to Adelaide's home that Garrett had fallen quieter than usual. Whenever Adelaide caught his gaze, he was quick to look away, and his tanned cheeks erupted into red. Garrett had never acted so shy with her before, so Adelaide couldn't help but wonder what was the matter with her dear friend. Once the two arrived in front of Adelaide's home (where her parents had already fallen asleep, no doubt), Garrett stopped Adelaide from entering by gently grasping her hand. The renovations on the farmhouse were nearly completed, several months after its purchase, and Garrett thanked her for her aid in restoring it. Adelaide had smiled at him and told him how much she'd enjoyed working on it with him. Garrett, being the person he was, smiled and removed his overcoat from her shoulders to place them on his own for the long trek back to the farmhouse. Adelaide had turned away first to enter her parents' home, but before Garrett left, he deftly pecked her on the cheek with his lips and made his escape.
And it was on that exact night, the one that Garrett had shown his feelings for his childhood friend, that Garrett was attacked, brutally mauled by a monster.
Adelaide had run as swiftly as she could to the remote farmhouse in the middle of the forest from the moment she'd heard the words from her father. Her heart pounded in her skull, but all of the hurt and worry was in her heart rather than her head. If she'd thought clearly, she would have remembered to put on her boots and a coat, but the chill in the air was nothing compared to the chill that ran the length of her spine at the mere thought of her oldest friend's injuries.
She arrived at the farmhouse to see a few men standing outside, speaking amongst themselves. The wooden walls allowed their weapons to lean on it, though it groaned in frustration from the winds that night.
"Where is he?!" Adelaide demanded breathlessly as she approached the men.
A stupid question, really, since there was only one obvious answer. "Inside," one of the men replied. She recognized him as Jonas, the butcher from the village. "The doctor's patching 'im up."
Adelaide moved to enter, but Jonas stopped her. "He's a right mess, miss. Best not to disturb."
She thought it over, and then nodded slowly. Of course, Jonas was right to stop her. She had no idea what she'd do if she saw Garrett. She had a feeling that she'd be more of a hindrance than a help.
"I thought your pa only left an hour ago?" Jonas inquired as he rubbed the roughened crags in his greying beard.
Again, Adelaide nodded. "H-He did. I..."
Jonas glanced down and noted her bare feet, and then the older man sighed. "Miss, get inside. Warm yourself by the fire. Just avoid the bedroom, right?"
Adelaide thanked him and entered the tiny farmhouse. The porch was small, allowing only a coat rack and a small cupboard for shoes. Adelaide needed to leave none of these things, and quietly made her way into the parlour. She sat down slowly in the armchair that rested across from Garrett's. She could remember many-a-night that she had sat across from Garrett as she shared news from the village. Unless it was for food or other supplies, Garrett hadn't really been able to make it to the village. He was always so busy working on the farmhouse.
The flame in the fireplace had ebbed into a simple, strong ember. Adelaide stuck a log and a bit of kindling into the fireplace, and gently blew on the dying ember. Soon afterwards, the fire began licking the wood, greedily sating itself.
"Miss Adelaide?" Adelaide stood and regarded the doctor. His hands were bloodied, as was his apron, and he was just removing his beaked mask to reveal his old, withered face. "Shouldn't you be at home, young lady?"
"Doctor..." Adelaide stared at her feet. "How is Garrett?"
The doctor, Quentin, strode to a wash basin that he'd placed and dunked his red hands into the clear water. Adelaide was certain he'd placed it, since it hadn't been there when she'd left with Garrett a few hours prior. When Quentin's hands were clean and the water was pink with blood, Quentin looked at her and wiped his hands on his apron.
"He'll live," the doctor said, "but his wounds are grave. He may not be able to perform how he used to. What a tragic thing to happen to such a young lad..."
Adelaide wasn't certain about how she should react to the news, but Garrett was alive, and that was all that mattered to her.
"Miss Adelaide..." Quentin cleared his throat. "I must return to the village and gather more bandages from my office. Would you kindly remain at Garrett's side? If he takes a turn for the worse, send one of the men outside to fetch me. I'll do my best to hurry."
Adelaide bowed her head at the doctor as he picked up his mask and coat and left, and then she made her way to the bedroom that Garrett had claimed as his own, while the second was for guests. The bed lay at the furthest wall of the room, but it had space in-between the walls and the bed, sandwiching it in the middle. A small wardrobe with a meagre amount of clothing inside faced the bed from the wall opposite, but besides a nightstand and a chair that had been brought in from the dining room, there wasn't much else.
Garrett laid on the bed, the thin sheet draped all the way up to his stomach. The reddened bandages on his torso and arms explained the reason why he was so pale. Tiny beads of sweat lounged on his forehead, and every so often he would shake terribly, as if a strong wind had suddenly gusted into the room through the single sliding window in the room.
Gently seating herself in the chair, Adelaide reached for the basin of water on the nightstand and wetted a clean, available cloth with the cool liquid until it was damp, and then she carefully brushed the perspiration from his head and face. He looked anything but peaceful; he looked to be in great pain. There were also two cuts driving diagonally across the right side of his lips, and they were still wet with blood. The doctor had seemed to greatly underestimate the amount of bandages he'd need.
"What in God's name could have done such a thing to you, Garrett...?" Adelaide whispered.
She remained with him until Quentin returned with an armful of clean bandages, and Adelaide retreated once more into the parlour, where she stared at the greedy flames until the morning's light.
For most of the day, Garrett had sported a nasty fever that needed constant attention by either the doctor or Adelaide, when the doctor would return to the village for supplies. Adelaide's mother and father, Jetta and Woodruff, respectively, arrived in the morning to offer whatever aid they could, since the store they owned was typically closed each Sunday for those in the village who went to church. Not many did, but the inhabitants would go on more important dates such as Easter and Christmas.
Jetta had almost instantly begun cleaning from the moment she entered the farmhouse while Woodruff stood outside and surveyed the land. Adelaide had helped Garrett with the plow to till the land, but they still weren't finished yet. The house had taken priority, though Garrett had also begun to build a shed and restore the barn not far from the farmhouse.
Hours later, once Quentin asked Adelaide to leave the room so he could change Garrett's bloodied bandages, Adelaide stepped outside in the only other overcoat that Garrett owned and a pair of sturdy boots that her father had brought from the village. She eventually found her father plowing the land by himself, mumbling curses about how he should have borrowed a horse from someone in the village. Regardless, Adelaide was certain that Woodruff was, in his own way, repaying Garrett for seeing his daughter home safely. It could certainly have been Adelaide in Garrett's place, or perhaps they both would have been in the same sorry state. Garrett had simply been unlucky, and Adelaide regretted not accepting Garrett's offer the previous night to stay because of the shrill wind and darkness, illuminated only by the full moon hanging overhead.
Wrapping Garrett's overcoat tightly against herself, Adelaide savoured Garrett's scent and murmured a prayer for his swift recovery. By nightfall, Quentin had allowed his apprentice to care for Garrett while the doctor left for his home in the village to sleep. Woodruff, Jetta and Adelaide had returned home to sleep as well, but Adelaide returned to the farmhouse early in the morning to stay by Garrett's side. Quentin had already returned from his home with more bandages and sent his apprentice away to tend to any villagers who visited his office in his absence.
Garrett was in a stable condition when Quentin had once more sent Adelaide away to change his bandages. No infections had set in, despite the fever's warning, and Garrett had even seemed to look a little healthier than the day previous. By nightfall, Adelaide, having busied herself with anything she could lay her hands on, had fallen asleep in the armchair opposite Garrett's, with his overcoat draped around her. And Quentin, having done all he could, left behind some bandages as he removed himself from the farmhouse in full confidence that, if anything suddenly went wrong, Adelaide would surely fetch the doctor or take care of Garrett to the best of her abilities.
Adelaide woke up late in the night as the fire before her dimmed into feeble embers. She rubbed her tired eyes, gently pushed Garrett's overcoat to the side, and fumbled for the woodpile in the darkness. Once the fire was ablaze once more, she slowly gathered his remaining overcoat into her arms and hung it up in the porch, then she began to make her way to the guest bedroom. She glanced inside of Garrett's room and found him asleep, but the flame in his lamp on his nightstand was dwindling. Adelaide decided to put it out to allow him a restful sleep.
Adelaide peeled her eyes open, wincing at the morning sunlight streaming through the window and into her eyes. She slowly roused herself from the bed and stretched, and then realized that she had forgotten to bring a spare change of clothes to change into. She sighed in relief as she remembered that Garrett had kept some of her clothes in the guest room if she'd ever forgotten. He always made fun of her forgetfulness, but he'd accommodated it.
Opening the lid of the small chest at the foot of the guest's bed, Adelaide found her work clothes neatly folded at the top. They were clean, and once she'd replaced the clothing she'd been wearing with them, she realized that they smelt of Garrett as well. Adelaide opened the door to the guest room and glanced once more inside of Garrett's room. He was sound asleep, his breathing steady and strong. He was healing slowly, but at least he was healing.
She threw some ingredients into a pot of boiling water that she hung over the dwindling fire (which she made into a proper blaze) and stirred it slowly. She'd forgotten bread the last time she'd returned to the village, and she knew that she'd have to re-stock Garrett's supply soon.
Adelaide heard a sound behind her, and she wondered if something hadn't fallen, so she left the soup to investigate. Her eyes widened as she turned the corner to see Garrett using the doorframe as a support to keep him standing. His teeth gritted in the effort, and he had placed a hand on his stomach, where some bandages concealed one of his many wounds.
"I... smelt food," he admitted sheepishly, a smile curling at his lips. He stopped it though, since the scratches across his lips no doubt caused him pain.
She immediately found herself holding him as tightly as she dared, her relief swelling throughout her heart. Garrett removed his arm from his stomach and wrapped it softly around Adelaide, resting his chin atop her head. He stumbled slightly, his balance off and his strength failing, so Adelaide aided him in making his way over to the table in the kitchen that seated only four. Garrett sighed in exasperation as he sat, and then held one of his bandaged arms. He was still wearing his blood-soaked trousers, but Quentin had removed his boots long ago. His overcoat had been shredded to pieces, and his shirt was beyond repair.
Glad that she'd decided to make soup, Adelaide found two bowls and placed them on the table, then spoons, and she used a wetted rag to carry the steaming pot over to the table. She ladled Garrett a small portion to see how he'd eat. She didn't want to risk him losing his food if he ate too much, but as she'd finished scooping for herself, Garrett had already finished and licked his bowl clean of the soup. Pleased, Adelaide gave him more and sat beside him, watching him through spoonfuls of her soup. The more he ate, the more energy he seemed to have, and the healthier he appeared. Adelaide wondered if he wouldn't make a full recovery.
With the soup finished, she placed the bowls and spoons in a basket and decided to use the stream nearby to clean them later. Garrett leaned back in his chair and stared at the roof for a time, his turquoise eyes tracing the boards he'd installed not a few months ago. She wondered what he was thinking about, but didn't ask. She didn't want to bombard him with questions, even though she was itching to do so. Did he see what had attacked him? Did he feel all right? Was it very frightening? There had been little-to-no word of the thing that had attacked Garrett, even though some hunters had swept through the area. Garrett could, no doubt, provide some sort of aid to the men searching for it.
"Are you tired?" Garrett asked, gently tugging Adelaide from her thoughts.
She shook her head. "No. I had plenty of sleep."
"Liar." Garrett smiled at her with his eyes so as not to agitate the scratches on his lips. "You look exhausted. You've never been much good at lying."
Adelaide smiled in return. "I suppose that it's a good thing though." She gently placed the warm but empty pot into the basket as well. "And are you well?"
He nodded slowly. "I am."
"I hope you've got some books, Garrett."
He tilted his head to the side in confusion. "Why?"
Adelaide grinned. "You're still confined to your bed until you have enough energy to stand on your own, and you'll need something to keep you entertained during the day."
In nearly a month, Garrett had almost fully healed. Certainly, his energy was high, and he had argued with Adelaide several times about going outside and working before the rains came, but he had been bedridden for another three days before she so much as opened a window, but when he was strong enough to stand on his own and walk without getting dizzy he helped around the farmhouse and ensured that the fire stayed strong. Quentin had returned to the farmhouse every two days to examine Garrett's miraculous recovery, and every time he visited, it seemed as though more bandages were removed from Garrett, though the doctor insisted on rubbing medicinal salve where the wounds were to prevent infections from settling in and to help his already swift recovery.
Two-and-a-half weeks after Garrett had been attacked, only a few bandages around his left arm and shoulder remained. The scratches on his lips had healed, although they remained as scars, as much of his wounds also were. When Adelaide had returned home, leaving Garrett in the doctor's care, she had witnessed some hunters from the village parading around, the head of a monster stuck roughly onto a pike. She had recoiled, horrified at the sight of its dead eyes and slackened jaw, an agonized expression forever etched into its features. It looked to be a wolf, but it was much too large to be such, Adelaide thought. When she'd told Woodruff what she'd witnessed, Woodruff had discovered that it was the thing believed to have attacked Garrett, and the hunters would soon return to the forest to search for signs that it was in a pack, though it was doubtful.
Upon returning to Garrett's farmhouse and telling Garrett of the news, he adopted a sombre expression. She could almost see the memory flashing behind his eyes. He'd not yet told her what had happened to him, so she waited patiently. He would tell her in time, she was certain. So Adelaide busied herself with farm work by planting seeds into the newly-tilled soil, thanks to Woodruff. Garrett helped her for a few hours before exhaustion claimed him, and Adelaide helped him back into the farmhouse. She knew that he hated being a burden to other people, but he couldn't help it. It wasn't his fault.
One night, Woodruff and Jetta joined Adelaide and Garrett for supper. Garrett was still restricted to broth, doctor's orders, but he was permitted to have some bread and jerky as well, so long as it wasn't too much. The meal finished, Jetta and Adelaide washed the dishes in some water that Garrett had brought in earlier from the well. Adelaide was going to stay with Garrett for the night, but Garrett convinced her to return home, as she hadn't spent much time there since Garrett had been attacked. Adelaide didn't want to leave him there alone, but with the beast dead, Garrett was safe. At least, she hoped so.
Adelaide was walking along the forest path to Garrett's farmhouse the next morning with a basketful of food, her mind wandering to the recent events that had unfolded in their small community. The village had very rarely had such excitement, because people rarely became seriously injured. When there was a baby due, the village was abuzz with excitement. When someone would pass into God's arms, the village was quiet and respectful. Adelaide wasn't sure what to make of the feelings that the people harboured for the attack. Garrett was a valued member of the community. He'd grown up around everyone, and had the largest heart of anyone Adelaide had known. Even when Kolby left the village to find his own path in the world, Garrett hadn't let the disappearance of his friend hurt him. He had remained that pillar of strength that all of the children clung to.
Garrett will be well in a few days' time, Adelaide reminded herself. And then we will continue work on the farmhouse. He's almost exactly as he was before, save for a few new scars.
She arrived at the farmhouse and knocked on the door. Garrett didn't answer, so she decided to let herself in. She consoled her worry by thinking that he may still be asleep, and therefore unable to answer the door. Adelaide placed the basket on the kitchen table and removed her cloak, hanging it on the rack in the porch, and then walked to Garrett's room. The door was shut tight, and she smiled knowingly. He wouldn't have heard her knock at the front. She raised a fist, ready to knock at his bedroom, when the door swung open. Garrett, drenched in sweat and panic-stricken, stared at her, his eyes wild hollows.
"Something's wrong with me," he murmured to answer her unspoken question. "I don't know what, but something's wrong."
Adelaide made room for Garrett to leave his room. He walked straight to the parlour and began pacing. He looked ready to expel all of his newfound energy, but he had no way to. She rested a hand on his shoulder to stop his pacing and brushed his hand with hers. He was burning up, but he shook as if he was freezing from the non-existent cold.
"Calm down," she told him, grabbing hold of his attention. "Sit. I'll draw some water from the well. You likely just have a running fever that's ridding the rest of your body of any sort of infection."
He nodded and flopped ungracefully into his armchair. Adelaide hurried outside, snatching the bucket for the well on her way out, and quickly drew a full bucket of cool water. When she returned inside, Garrett was splayed across the chesterfield, his left hand shielding his eyes from the sunlight entering through the windows. Adelaide placed the bucket beside him, grabbed a chair from the kitchen and a clean rag, and then placed the chair beside the chesterfield and soaked the rag in water.
"I can do it," Garrett insisted, reaching for the rag.
Adelaide kept it out of his reach. "You, sir, will relax while I take care of you. It will take far too long to get Quentin now, but I'm certain I can tend to you myself!"
Garrett's eyes were hazy as he looked at her, but he surrendered with a nod and did his best to relax for her. She wondered if he'd forgotten what he'd done the night he was attacked. But if he didn't, did he only see her kindness as friendship? Maybe he'd changed his stance on how he felt about her. She hoped that he hadn't, but if it came to that, she would remain his friend. She didn't want to lose him.
Hours passed before Adelaide had to return to the well and draw more water, but this time, when she entered the farmhouse, she handed the damp rag to Garrett.
"Your fever is subsiding," she informed him. "Father expects me back by midday, and I'll be too busy helping with the store to return tonight. Travellers, you know. But I'll come in the morning and we can have a proper breakfast together."
Garrett accepted the rag and let it sit idle on his forehead. His eyes watched her intently as she stood up to throw the food she'd brought over into the larder, and then she announced her departure. Before she could take a single step out the door, Garrett caught Adelaide by her wrist and pulled her close to him. He was impossibly warm, but it was more of a comfort to Adelaide and did not cause her worry.
Garrett rested his chin atop her head as he had the day he awakened. "Thank-you," he murmured, "for taking care of me."
Adelaide pulled away from him slightly and then stood on the tips of her toes to place a kiss on his cheek. The young man immediately went red, his shyness overtaking.
"You're welcome," she replied as she made her way out the door.
Adelaide entered the farmhouse, fully expecting to see Garrett up and about around his home upon realizing that he wasn't outside. She was surprised that he wasn't, but she thought nothing of it. He had likely over-worked himself once his fever had subsided and was still sleeping soundly.
Eventually, Adelaide poked her head inside of his room to inform him that their breakfast was almost ready. She received no answer, and so entered his room. Garrett was splayed across his bed, the sheets tangling around his body. He was covered in sweat from head to foot, as if he'd just run miles around the farmhouse. Adelaide circled around his bed to the other side and gently placed a hand on his forehead. Garrett was burning up, but his hands grasped the sheets tightly, as if he were freezing.
She began to stand, ready to run for Quentin, when Garrett's hand shot out and latched tightly around her wrist, halting her.
"Please... don't leave..." he gasped, his voice strained. "I-It hurts... everywhere...!"
Adelaide remained by Garrett's side throughout the day, drawing cool water from the well and tending to him to the best of her abilities. When Adelaide attempted to get him to eat something, Garrett had been unable to swallow, and anything that managed to get to his stomach was immediately retched up. He was weakened by the remorseless fever, and unable to walk anywhere without the aid of his childhood friend.
By nightfall, Garrett's condition improved, but only slightly. Adelaide, exhausted from the day, left Garrett for a moment to wash her face in some water she'd brought from the well. She wondered if she shouldn't just hurry and get the doctor, but it would simply be too much time that she would leave Garrett alone, especially since he was in dire need of her. Adelaide sighed heavily and hurried to put her thoughts in order. She would wait a while longer for Garrett's condition to improve, and then she would hurry to the village for Quentin. Perhaps the monster that attacked Garrett had some sort of disease that only then revealed itself? It seemed unlikely. So, what if Garrett had fallen ill with something from outside? Had Adelaide allowed him to wander around the farmhouse too soon?
She frantically spun around as she heard Garrett begin screaming, the pure, merciless agony ripping from his throat. Adelaide sprinted back to his room and planted her hands on the door, but her mighty shove would not open the door. As she began another attempt, then another, and another, it still refused to budge, like a dutiful guard.
"Don't come in here!" Garrett hollered through laboured screams. "Don't come in here!"
"Garrett, open the door!" Adelaide pleaded as she tried to push the door open with the handle, now rendered useless.
"No!" She rammed her shoulder hard against the door. "Adelaide, don't—!"
Adelaide heard his body fall to the floor, but he still pressed himself against the door, unwilling to move. He hadn't stopped screaming. His voice was hoarse and rough, adding only to the terror that Adelaide felt. Tears brimmed at her eyes in frustration as she continued to hit the door, despite Garrett begging her to go. To run. Why run? Why run away from Garrett? She only knew that he was in pain, but why wouldn't he let her in? Why wouldn't he let her help him?!
Garrett's screaming ceased abruptly, reinvigorating Adelaide's panic. In a final effort, Adelaide slammed her shoulder against the door, and it finally gave way enough for her to look inside, but she couldn't see much besides the bed and a corner of the nightstand.
The door suddenly burst open, showering Adelaide and the hallway with all shapes and sizes of wooden splinters. Adelaide covered her face with her arms to shield her it against the volley and stumbled backwards, her back slamming hard against the wall of the hallway. Only a few minutes later did she dare to lower her arms, though, as she did, she wished she hadn't.
A massive brown beast slowly stalked towards her on all fours. Its teeth gnashed together, and its lips pulled back into a feral snarl. Its yellow eyes locked with hers, unmoving, as its curled black nails tapped against the wooden floors. By the time it exited Garrett's room, the monster stood on its digitigrade hind legs, easily towering over Adelaide's meagre form. Adelaide was too afraid to scream, the sound caught like a fly in a spider's web in her throat. Her eyes were wide with fear, and she shook in terror as the thing approached, every huge step closing the distance. One of its paws pressed up against the wall above Adelaide's head, though the paw resembled something closer to a hand, despite the pads, fur and claws. The beast opened its maw and brought it closer to her neck, readying itself to rip her throat out.
The beast stopped. Adelaide squeezed her eyes shut as it sniffed the air. She heard a cry of pain in the distance from a deer. She knew that Garrett had put traps around his land to stop bears from wandering too close, and a deer must have caught itself in one. Adelaide risked opening one of her eyes and saw the beast's ears flicking towards where the sound had come from. It chanced a look back at her, but then the deer cried out again and the monster barrelled through the door to the outside on all fours, leaving behind its would-be prey.
Adelaide sank to the floor, bittersweet relief coursing through her being. The beast's claws had dug into the wall above Adelaide's head when it began its hunt for the helpless, crying animal, and what remained of the door was irreparable. She could see very well into Garrett's room, now that there was no door to block her path. Everything, save for the shredded clothing on the floor and a few claw marks on the far wall, was exactly as Adelaide had left it minutes earlier.
Still shaking uncontrollably from terror, Adelaide brought her hands up to cover her face, and let her fear escape through tears.
She discovered Garrett in the early morning hours, naked and covered from head to foot in blood, not far from the last of the beast's victims. Each of the three deer slaughtered had their limbs ripped away from their bodies, and their guts had been only half devoured. One of the bodies was still warm. Adelaide, Garrett's overcoat in hand, had to stop herself several times when rousing him for fear of emptying her stomach from the sheer stench of the decaying bodies. When she finally managed to awaken him, he was groggy, but far from weak. She didn't let him turn to see the carnage behind him, and led him back to the farmhouse with only his overcoat covering his body.
Garrett asked her to leave the moment they arrived at the farmhouse. Adelaide insisted that she stay, but Garrett waved her off and shut what remained of the door in her face. Adelaide understood that he needed time to wrap his head around what had transpired. After all, she did too. So Adelaide returned home, trying to force the beast's wild, murderous eyes from her mind.
Adelaide visited Garrett a week afterwards, but Garrett wasn't in the farmhouse. The doors had been repaired, pictures hung on the walls where the claw marks were, but Garrett was nowhere to be seen. She returned to town to see him walking back to his farmhouse, carrying iron bars over his shoulder. He avoided her gaze and ignored her attempts at greeting him. In another few days, Adelaide tried again, this time catching him in the forest around his farmhouse. Garrett had installed the iron bars in-between the walls of an old wooden shack that he'd wanted to get rid of months earlier, but now it was fully repaired... and reinforced.
"What are you doing here?" he asked when he saw her. When she didn't answer, he stared at the ground. "You should be... away from me."
Adelaide shook her head. "No. I've come to help, however I can."
"I don't think I can be helped."
"Then what are you doing here?" she prompted, gesturing to the shed.
Garrett frowned, his gaze lingering on the old building. "So I don't get out."
"You plan to lock yourself up whenever this happens?!"
Narrowing his eyes, Garrett stood at his full height. "Would you rather it be a person next time?! What if it's you?!"
Adelaide took a deep breath and sighed. Garrett's worries were more than understandable. She just couldn't bear to see him lock himself up like an animal. He was far from it. Garrett was only in this mess because she had insisted on returning home. She had already decided that she would help him shoulder the burden.
"Garrett," she said, "please. Let me help somehow."
The young man looked from Adelaide to the shed. His mind was quickly creating reasons why she should just leave him, but he wanted her near. He felt that he needed her. Garrett's shoulders slumped in defeat. He'd no way of addressing a problem that he had with the door made of iron bars, and it was something Adelaide could help with. He couldn't trust anyone else.
"I'll need you to lock the door," he murmured. Adelaide smiled, glad that he'd let her be with him, and wrapped her arms around Garrett. He returned the gesture. "I can't lock it and then throw away the key, else I'll have no way of getting out later, and there's no way to unlock it from the inside." Adelaide nodded in agreement. "Would you also help me finish building this? I won't finish in time by myself."
They spent the next few days together, rebuilding the shed and reinforcing it until not even a bear could break free. Garrett's strength had seemed to have increased, as it took much longer for him to tire, and he could lift many more things than he used to. Adelaide wondered how such a thing could impact the rest of his life, seeing that when he was still Garrett, he was far healthier than before. But then the sight of the monster would enter her mind's eye, and she would shiver. No, it was too cruel to have the monster take Garrett's body and use it for its own.
A long week passed after Garrett had accepted Adelaide's help, and she noticed that he was far more irritable as the date crawled ever closer to the full moon. Such a thing was odd for Garrett, so Adelaide was convinced that it wasn't his fault. If he snapped at her, he would be quick to apologize, but Adelaide wouldn't need to hear those words; he was forgiven from the moment he would get angry. Adelaide, however, was just as surprised as Garrett at how far her patience spanned.
Adelaide, at the request of Woodruff and Jetta, spent a day working at their shop before she could return to help Garrett. She leaned against the counter and pushed around bit of coin to keep herself entertained as she thought about Garrett and the beast. He was the only thing on her mind as of late, and it felt like her heart was tearing in two when she thought of how the situation could be avoided. Garrett, besides the scars he'd obtained, looked no different than he had two months ago.
But then, Adelaide would start thinking about the beast. The more she thought of it, and ignored the memory of seeing the bloodlust in its eyes, she realized that she saw it as less and less of a monster. Since her heart had calmed, she could remember more details. The brown of its fur was the exact shade of Garrett's own hair, and the tip of its tail, underbelly, neck, jaw, and forepaws were coloured white. She felt as though she imagined it, but she could even remember a bit of fear in its eyes. What would a beast have to fear from her? It even sported the diagonal scars across the right side of its lips, and Adelaide was sure that, if she sifted through its fur, she would find the rest of the scars Garrett obtained from being attacked.
"Coin for you thoughts, miss?" Adelaide's eyes rose to meet the stranger who appeared in front of her, as she was lost in her thoughts. But as she studied their features, she realized that he was no stranger at all.
"Kolby?" Adelaide asked, her eyes squinting as she tried to compare her memory of the boy to the young man before her.
He grinned, flashing white teeth. "Adelaide! You've grown up!"
Kolby and Garrett had found kinship together through Kolby's parents, who had invited an orphaned Garrett to live with them. Kolby and Garrett had been nearly inseparable, and Garrett was introduced to Adelaide through Kolby, who had known the latter as simply a boy from her village before she got to know Garrett, and then the three of them became friends. Kolby's parents died of pneumonia as the two reached adulthood, and so Kolby left the village in hopes of finding his own path. Kolby had been much like Garrett as a boy, but as a young man now, it was obvious that Kolby had taken on his father's physique. He looked to be a soldier, and the shiny armour glinting from under his green traveller's cloak only seemed to aid Adelaide's theory. However, Kolby did not bear the King's crest, over his chest, but another, stranger marking that Adelaide couldn't interoperate. His long, black hair was tied back out of his face, showing off the small beard he'd been growing. He carried a bow slung across his back, and a sword at his hip, and Adelaide had a sinking feeling that Kolby had more weapons somewhere on his being.
"Where have you been, Kolby?" she asked, eyeing the weaponry.
Kolby shrugged uselessly. "Around. I came back because I heard that there'd been a disturbance in the area, and my occupation allows me such freedom."
"And what, pray tell, occupation would that be?"
Kolby placed his hand on his bow. "I'm a hunter. A monster hunter."
Adelaide's heart plummeted, but she calmed as she realized that Kolby was likely only in the village to see the head of the monster, which had begun decomposing in the sun more than a month previous. But if Kolby found out about Garrett, would he kill him?
"There was a monster here a few months ago," Adelaide told her old friend, "but it was killed by our hunters here before anyone was hurt. They paraded into town with its head on a spear, and they stuck it into the ground a few feet from the entrance of the forest. You can see it if you'd like."
Kolby smiled in thanks. "Is the inn still open, by chance? The rains begin in a few days, and I'd rather not be travelling then."
She pointed him in the direction of the inn (which he already knew) and watched his retreating form. Surely, if Kolby was informed of Garrett's predicament, Kolby wouldn't try to take his life? Adelaide wondered if she shouldn't just tell Kolby, but she decided against it. Better not to drag anyone else into it, especially if that other person was a monster hunter. Garrett wasn't a monster, and no amount of fur on his body would change that.
A few days before the full moon, people began disappearing. At first, Adelaide wondered if Garrett had turned prematurely, but Adelaide had stayed with him in the farmhouse, and knew that he hadn't left. It was lucky that Kolby had arrived, considering that there may have been another monster out there that could change at will. The village employed his services to find the monster as swiftly as possible. No one wanted to have to leave because of it.
The rains had arrived, and the shed-turned-cage had just been completed beforehand. Garrett decided that the beast would be hungry when it came, so he purchased some venison and the haunch of a cow in hopes that it would be enough, and had two keys forged to the door of the shed; one for Adelaide, and one for himself, should she forget her own. Adelaide had to return to the village to purchase more meat when she realized that the month would yield two back-to-back full moons. Garrett had seemed downcast at the news, but he refused to show it. He was determined not to allow such a thing to rule his life.
Finally, it was the night of the first full moon. Adelaide was hurrying down the path in the forest to the farmhouse to meet Garrett, who had sent her back to the village to visit her parents before the night began. The sun was setting, and the clouds were rolling closer, with thunder rumbling behind. Adelaide had forgotten her cloak, but had luckily remembered to change into a shirt and trousers. Dresses weren't made for the rains. She rubbed her arms vigorously as the wind screamed through the trees and tried to ignore the biting cold. She couldn't imagine how Garrett would feel when he was in the shed, awaiting his fate. He would likely be colder than she.
"Adelaide!" She stopped, her heart pounding in terror. Kolby ran up beside her and sighed in disapproval. "What are you doing out here?! You can't be going to that old thing! That won't protect you from the rains!"
Kolby, it appeared, wasn't yet aware that Garrett had purchased it. "I'm meeting Garrett to fix it up," Adelaide lied. "It's not ready for the rains yet, and he'll need my help."
"Then I'll come along!" Adelaide glared at him incredulously. Despite their closeness, Kolby had never offered the other boy aid. His own father had treated him that way if Kolby requested help, so it was understandable, but what could have changed?
"Go back to the inn!" she hollered as the wind increased. "It will be fine!"
Adelaide continued on the path, hoping that Kolby would have retreated back to the village. When she glanced back, he wasn't there. She sighed in relief, and hurried to the farmhouse. Garrett was waiting at the door, his overcoat tucked under his arm. She could see the perspiration on his forehead as he met her halfway. His fever had already begun.
"Here," he said, slipping his overcoat around her shoulders. "You'd forget your head if it weren't connected to your neck."
Adelaide smiled shyly, and walked beside Garrett to the shed. The sun had set, and the darkness was beginning to show itself. They walked for several minutes in silence before the shed came into view. Garrett stopped abruptly as soon as it did, and Adelaide soon realized why. Kolby was leaning against the shed, his arms crossed over his chest and his eyes narrowing at the sight of the two.
"Fixing up the farmhouse, then?" he growled. "Surely you can see that this is not it?" The two didn't answer. Kolby sighed and strode towards them, uncrossing his arms and placing his left hand on the grip of his sword. "So, what is this, Garrett?"
Garrett brushed past his friend. "Go back to the inn, Kolby. The rains are coming."
"And what about Adelaide?" Kolby inquired, following after Garrett. "You had the poor girl come all the way out here for nothing."
"Kolby!" Adelaide grabbed onto his cloak. "Please, just go!"
Kolby slapped her hand away and ignored the dirty look he received from Garrett. "Open this," he said, gesturing to the iron bars that made up the door. "By my authority as a monster hunter, open it!"
The King, many years ago, had granted monster hunters leniency when it came to tracking down monsters. Anyone suspected of harbouring one or being as such would surely have something to hide, therefore, monster hunters were allowed into any area they pleased. Refusing them meant the dungeon, or death. At the mention of Kolby's "authority", Garrett straightened and paled. He strode over to Adelaide and reached into his overcoat's pocket. He couldn't seem to find the key, so Adelaide handed him hers, and then he stuck the key into the lock and opened the door. Kolby gestured for Garrett to enter, and then followed in after him. Adelaide stood at the entrance, pulling Garrett's overcoat closer to her body as Kolby received the key to the shed.
"Meat in this corner," Kolby observed aloud, "meat in that corner, reinforced walls, iron door... This looks to be a cage, Garrett." Adelaide's heart hammered in her chest as she saw Garrett wipe some sweat from his forehead and he shivered. It was already beginning. "A cage for a monster, no doubt," Kolby continued. "So, Garrett, how much longer can you hold out?"
So Kolby knew. "Kolby, it isn't what it looks like!" Adelaide pleaded. "Garrett didn't kill those people! I was with him—!"
"I know," Kolby muttered. "I know that he didn't kill the travellers."
Garrett gestured to the whole of the shed. "I built this so nothing would happen to anyone. I've been doing this to protect people!"
Kolby turned away from his friend and toward Adelaide. "But you'll slip, one day. You'll forget something, or something will fall into disrepair. And then what? If Adelaide stays out here with you, won't she be the first person you kill?"
"I won't do that!" Garrett shouted. "I would never—!"
"But would Adelaide's parents believe you, Garrett, when you stand over her bloody, half-eaten corpse?" Kolby shook his head. "No, I don't suppose they will. And I doubt that they will believe your words when you insist upon your innocence with the fate of the travellers."
Adelaide's eyes widened. "But you said—!"
"It looks like I need your help, Garrett," Kolby said as he roughly grabbed Adelaide's arm. "And you'll be perfect for it. After all, once I kill you and show your head to the village, you won't be able to defend your case in the death of Adelaide and the travellers, now will you? It is easier to believe that a monster has killed innocents, rather than a monster hunter."
"Kolby!" Garrett roared as he lunged for his friend. Kolby stepped out of the way and tossed Adelaide at him, the two colliding before the door. "No! Stop!"
Kolby slammed the iron door and locked it behind him, tossing the key into the depths of the forest. "I'll be back for your head. I need to leave you some time to properly kill her."
He left, despite Garrett's pleas. Garrett shook the bars, hoping to pry them apart, but it was no use. Adelaide stared at Kolby's retreating form and wondered what could have possessed him to become so merciless and cruel, but when she found no answer, she shut her eyes tight and brought her knees to her chest. Garrett eventually crumpled to the ground, still desperately trying to open the door. His body was shaking and convulsing, but he wasn't giving up. If Adelaide had to die, then she was happy that she'd be by Garrett's side.
"Let it be, Garrett," Adelaide whispered. "Let it be. There's no way out."
Garrett looked ready to argue, but then he began screaming. They echoed loudly in the tiny shed, and Adelaide covered her ears to smother the sound. She watched on helplessly as Garrett rolled on the ground, cradling his stomach as if it were on fire. His teeth slowly lengthened into fangs, his ears began to point, and Adelaide could see brown fur begin to push out from his body.
"Adelaide...!" he gasped. "I remembered... in my pocket... the other key...!" She swiftly checked the pockets of his overcoat, but it wasn't there. She could hear his bones snapping, reforming into thicker, larger ones. Curled black nails broke out from under his own, and pads were already forming on his hands and feet. "In my... trousers!"
He attempted to reach into his pocket for the key, but his massive, paw-like hands were too large. His clothes began tearing as he grew larger. Adelaide crept closer to him and reached towards his pocket, but recoiled when he snarled at her. His face distorted as it began pushing outwards to form a muzzle. Adelaide stood up slowly as his turquoise eyes changed to yellow, and she quickly decided to wait until his clothes came off to grab the key. Garrett wasn't entirely himself any longer, and wouldn't let her near him. The hairs that sprouted over his body thickened, covering and obscuring his skin beneath. His heels stretched upwards to form digitigrade legs, and a tail quickly sprouted along the base of his spine, covering itself in thick fur. Garrett had almost fully transformed before his trousers burst. The key flew towards the door, clanged against the bars, and then came to a stop just outside.
Adelaide groped for it through the bars as Garrett's screams ceased for a moment, though his mouth was still agape, and soon the deafening silence was replaced with animalistic grunts and growls. Adelaide's hand finally rested on the key, and she hurried to put it into the keyhole. She heard the satisfying click of the lock just as the beast howled, a long, melodious sound. She scrambled outside just as the rain began to pour and tripped, her foot hitting the wall, and the key flew from her grasp. She desperately searched the ground for it to lock the beast in the cage, but it was already swallowed up by the rain and mud. Thinking quickly, Adelaide grabbed the cow's haunch and sprinted away, stopping randomly to rip some fat from the meat and rub it vigorously against a tree or swerving around others in hopes that the beast would take its time in following the scent. She would lead it further and further from the village, and hopefully, the chase would preoccupy the beast for a time.
But Adelaide quickly became confused in her direction, and found herself in the clearing by the farmhouse. She dropped the haunch in the tall grass that hadn't been tended to for years and ran for the barn, where the second level would be difficult to reach. The rain soaked through Garrett's overcoat and her own clothes, freezing her bones as she stumbled all the way to the barn. Her toes, frozen from the mud coating her boots, gave way and she tripped into the mud once more. She clenched her fists and pushed herself to her knees, and then her eyes spotted Kolby's boots.
Kolby had his hood up to protect him from the rain, and his weapons were gone, likely discarded until later, though with the shadows of the night, the thunder in the distance and the lightning flashing, Kolby's towering form inspired nothing but fear within Adelaide.
"Why?!" she gasped, tears brimming. "Why would you do this, Kolby?! You're our friend!"
Kolby reached down and yanked Adelaide up by her hair. She screamed in pain, temporarily forgetting the danger of the beast. "I was, once. But time changes things. I'll not be associated with a monster and a witch!"
He led her through the grass by her hair. She shivered from the shrill cold. The entirety of her body felt like ice, especially so once Kolby had ripped Garrett's overcoat from her form and discarded it like a piece of garbage.
"Why?!" she repeated, bolder this time.
"I asked around," Kolby explained. "You lied to me. You said that thing was killed before it could hurt anyone. And yet, here we are. How did you escape?" Adelaide remained silent, despite how he thrashed her around. She would only allow a cry of pain to escape her lips. "No? Very well then. Not that it matters. I'll just kill you now, and—!" Kolby suddenly screamed as a bear trap bit deep into his leg. He released Adelaide, and she scrambled away from him, only to trigger another trap with her arm. She hollered in agony as the metal dug deep into her forearm.
Kolby was already trying to find a way to open it, and was grunting still in pain. Adelaide remembered that Garrett had once shown her the traps when he'd first purchased the farmhouse, and she painfully turned over, the prongs dragging across her skin, and pressed the release. Burning hot tears of pain clouded her vision as she cradled her bloodied arm close to her chest. Kolby was still frantically searching for the button. He stopped suddenly as a deep, low growling penetrated the night, just barely audible over the wind and thunder. The beast slowly crawled towards the young monster hunter through the tall grass, its eyes fixed on its prey.
He laughed hysterically, but Adelaide could see the tears and the fear in his eyes. "I-It wasn't supposed to be like this! I... I...!" He locked gazes with Adelaide, and saw that her arm was free of the trap. "Please, help! Adelaide, help me!"
Adelaide tore her eyes from Kolby. He screamed at her, insulted her, and then begged her for aid. The beast slunk ever closer to him, its lips pulled back in a terrifying snarl. Kolby screamed and hollered, but his pleas were drowned out by the thunder. The beast barked, and then lunged at Kolby; his screams were no more as the beast tore his throat out, killing him instantly. Adelaide squeezed her eyes shut, tears running down her face and mixing with the raindrops, and when she opened them again, the beast was making its way towards her on all fours, eyeing the blood on her arm. It stepped over her, its muzzle level with her face, and its snarl still prominent. Fresh blood dripped from its maw in small droplets to either the ground or Adelaide's face.
Her heart was calm as she reached her good arm upwards. The beast eyed it for a time before she gently rested it on the fur beside its pointed ear. She curled the tufts in-between her fingers, smiling as she did so, and met the beast's eyes with hers.
"Garrett," she murmured, "I love you."
Garrett's snarl slowly subsided, and his gaze found Adelaide's arm once more. She shivered from the cold rain under him and turned her face away to sneeze. Garrett's tongue lolled out of his mouth, and he gently licked at Adelaide's wound. He whined as she sneezed again, and then bounded away to the farmhouse. He slammed his massive body against the door to open it, and then he returned to her side and gently prodded her stomach with his nose. Her eyes were dangerously near closing, but she managed to get to her knees. Garrett positioned himself beside her, and Adelaide grasped hold of his fur. He half-guided, half-dragged her to the farmhouse, and then he took her to the guest room and laid her on the bed. After pulling the sheets over her, Garrett snuck one arm under her, the other over her and the sheets, and then pulled her small body close to his fur. Garrett whined a final time before he closed his turquoise eyes, his body offering her tired and freezing body the heat it needed, and joined her in slumber.
Adelaide had been beyond lucky that she only had a slight fever rather than pneumonia when she awoke in the morning. Garrett, once the sunlight had streaked the sky, left her side to get dressed and begin digging a grave for his old friend in the forest. With his strength, he finished the grave in only an hour, though the small rivers made by the rain were quickly filling it. Garrett unceremoniously dumped Kolby's body into it and filled the grave, and then he returned to Adelaide and tended to her.
As the day turned to night, Garrett turned from man to beast outside of the farmhouse, but he found his way inside and laid at the foot of Adelaide's bed as her dutiful guard. In the morning, when Adelaide was well again, Garrett told her what he'd told the villagers: Kolby had been the monster, but he'd been caught in the trap Garrett had laid for the bears and died of blood loss, and Garrett buried him. The monster wouldn't worry the villagers again.
Finished with his explanation, Garrett allowed a few minutes for Adelaide to wrap her mind around it, and then he smiled at her. "I love you, too," he whispered, before he wrapped her in a tight hug.
With the blessing of Woodruff and Jetta, Adelaide returned to her parents' home weeks later to gather her things, ready and willing to spend the rest of her life with her childhood friend and fiancé, Garrett.