Forever Maggie Stiefvater
For those who chose
Ach der geworfene, ach der gewagte Ball,
füllt er die Hände nicht anders mit Wiederkehr:
rein um sein Heimgewicht ist er mehr.
Oh, the ball that’s thrown, the ball that dared,
Does it not fill your hands differently when it returns:
made weightier, merely by coming home.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
• SHELBY •
I can be so, so quiet.
Haste ruins the silence. Impatience squanders the hunt.
I take my time.
I am silent as I move through the darkness. Dust hangs in the air of the nighttime wood; the moonlight makes constellations of the particles where it creeps through the branches overhead.
The only sound is my breath, inhaled slowly through my bared teeth. The pads of my feet are noiseless in the damp underbrush. My nostrils flare. I listen to the beat of my heart over the sound of the muttering gurgle of a nearby creek.
A dry stick begins to pop under my foot.
I go slowly. I take a long time to lift my paw from the stick. I am thinking, Quiet. My breath is cold over my incisors. I hear a live, rustling sound nearby; it catches my attention and holds it. My stomach is tight and empty.
I push farther into the darkness. My ears prick; the panicked animal is close by. A deer? A night insect fills a long moment with clicking sounds before I move again. My heart beats rapidly in between the clicks. How large is the animal? If it’s injured, it won’t matter that I’m hunting alone.
Something brushes my shoulder. Soft. Tender.
I want to flinch.
I want to turn and snap it between my teeth.
But I am too quiet. I freeze for a long, long moment, and then I turn my head to see what is still brushing my ear with a feather touch.
It is a something that I can’t name, floating in the air, drifting in the breeze. It touches my ear again and again and again. My mind burns and bends, struggling to name it.
I don’t understand why it is there, hanging like a leaf in the branch when it is not a leaf. It makes me uneasy. Beyond it, scattered on the ground, there are items imbued with an unfamiliar, hostile smell. The skin of some dangerous animal, shed and left behind. I shy away from them, lip curled, and there, suddenly, is my prey.
Only it is not a deer.
It is a girl, twisting in the dirt, hands gripping soil, whimpering. Where the moonlight touches her, she’s stark white against the black ground. Fear ripples off her. My nostrils are full of it. Already uneasy, I feel the fur at the back of my neck prickle and rise. She is not a wolf, but she smells like one.
I am so quiet.
The girl doesn’t see me coming.
When she opens her eyes, I am right in front of her, my nose nearly touching her. She was panting soft, heated breaths onto my face, but when she sees me, they stop.
We look at each other.
Every second that her eyes stay on mine, more fur raises along my neck and spine.
Her fingers curl in the dirt. When she moves, she smells less wolf and more human. Danger hisses in my ears.
I show her my teeth; I ease backward. All I can think of is retreating, getting only trees around me, putting space between us. Suddenly I remember the paper hanging in the tree and the shed skin on the ground. I feel fenced in — this strange girl in front of me, that alien leaf behind me. My belly touches underbrush as I crouch, tail tucked between my legs.
My growl starts so