“Annie,” her brother says, still and calm, utterly unlike himself. He was her little brother, once, with bright blue eyes and round cheeks that turned red when he was angry, and redder when he was happy, and a smile she’d happily kill to see on his face again. He’s taller than her now, towering over her with the beginnings of a new beard on his chin, hard eyes and a sterner line on his mouth.
His hands are taking the shape of fists, and Annie shakes her head, dropping the gun on the kitchen table.
“This isn’t the sort of thing you can pretend doesn’t exist once you know about it,” he says, and somewhere deep down, she knows that, she does. But there’s a child in her belly, and a man waiting outside on the front steps, and the three of them are leaving this city and its secrets and its terrors behind them.
“Beacon Hills,” John had told her on their first date, coffee and donuts at two o’clock in the morning after she’d nearly been killed, chasing a wolf into a dead-end alley. She’d have caught the damn thing too, bloody shin or not, if John hadn’t run in after her, all courage and no idea what he was doing.
She hadn’t been mad when he’d barreled right into the wolf, and she hadn’t even been able to yell when it had jumped over the fence, when she lost it, because this man, a boy, practically, was sprawled on the ground with mud on his face, asking her if she was alright, if they should call animal control. She’d just laughed, and when he’d asked her for coffee, she’d said yes. “I’m from a little place in California, called Beacon Hills. It’s a good town,” he’d smiled, excited.
“I’m from here,” she’d said back, and then, “Do you have trees in Beacon Hills?”
There were no trees in the city, no fields, and no flowers. There were parks, but that’s not what she was asking, and he seemed to know it, and told her about the miles and miles of woodland, of forest and field that surrounded his little town.
They went to a movie the next night, and she’d gone back to his apartment the night after that, slipping under his sheets with rough hands and hot breath, with laughs and a bit too much whiskey to bother with climbing out afterward, when the city was cold and John was warm.
She was pregnant two months later, and for the first time in six years, she cried.
She was born to a Hunter, like her brother before her, and the brother after her. She was nineteen, and all she’d ever know was the hunt. Wolves are everywhere, she’d been taught. They lurk and they wait, they move in packs and they don’t go down easily. A hunter without a weapon was as good as any meal, and she could shoot the center of a target by the time she was old enough to go the shooting range with her father.
She’d never thought of it before, but suddenly she knew she never wanted a gun in her child’s hands. She never wanted him to wake up in the middle of the night and grab for the knife first thing; she never wanted her to dream about fangs and red eyes in the dark. She wanted to shield her child from the cruelties of the world, wanted fairy tale princesses and princes who could slay the dragons all in one safe, fantasy story, wrapped up in fifteen pages of pretty color.
She wanted to be able to hold her baby when he cried, tell him the monsters weren’t real.
She didn’t want her child to know the truth, and when John asked her to marry him, she said yes.
She laid the gun down, looked her brother in the eye, and said goodbye, because when a Hunter leaves the family, she doesn’t come back. But she was a hunter, born to a hunter and raised with a gun in her hands. She left the hunter’s life behind her, but the wolves followed her nonetheless.
John’s home was small, and he was running around with a sheepish smile on his face, asking her what she thought, what she’d like to do to make it hers. She’d pulled him down to their new bed and made love to him, and in the morning the windows were open and it was fresh air that came into the house, not the noises of people yelling, cars driving past, sirens blaring three blocks down.
She’d say she heard a bird singing, but John would laugh at her and say, “You lived too long in the city, Annie.” And then it got harder. She couldn’t keep her food down, couldn’t seem to breathe. John held her when she cried, when the blood had come and seemed to never stop. She’d thought she’d lost him then, and John had cried too. The doctors wouldn’t stop saying they were sorry, so sorry, and she wanted to bury them and plead with them and tell them to stop talking. “I wanted to name him Genim,” she said, sobbing hysterically. It was a week later when the nurse looked at her, stunned, and said, “He’s still there.”
“My little man’s a trooper,” John said, warm, rough hand on her stomach. “He’ll have to be, with a name like Genim.”
He came early, too early. John was next to her when the ambulance came, and stayed with her even as the paramedics yelled and Annie’s eyes closed. She could still see the bright lights, and hear the loud sound of the siren, and feel Genim kicking her with every turn. She could feel John’s hand in hers, and she could even see her father’s face, and her mother’s, and brother’s. She wasn’t sure if they were angry, disappointed, or maybe proud.
They would never see their grandson; their nephew. Annie had left. She couldn’t go back.
She woke up in the hospital, soft bed under her, and soft sheets covering her legs. She was hazy at first, and the beep of the heart monitoring machine sounded like the click of a shotgun, and the little boy with bright blue eyes terrified her as he just stared in unhidden amazement at the bundle in John’s arms.
“Wolf,” she cried, “get it out, get it out, give me my gun, John, protect Genim, oh God,” and she’d been back to sleep before she could move, before they could tell her she wasn’t made for this, wasn’t made for giving birth.
“It nearly killed you,” John told her, crying, when they finally made it home. They’d put her on a three-month watch. “Just in case of... any problems,” the doctor had said, a pitying smile on his face, but it wasn’t that that they were worried about. Post-partum depression is common amongst first-time mothers, the counselor had told her, especially with such difficult pregnancies. Don’t be afraid to talk about it, Annie, with us or...
But it wasn’t Genim she was scared of hurting. It was Genim and John that she needed to protect. The wolves were everywhere, now that she knew to look. Why hadn’t she looked before? She’d let Beacon Hills distract her, let the fields and forest lull her into believing her own fairy tales: that there were places where evil didn’t stretch their filthy hands.
She’d been wrong, and the Hale pack was large. And it was everywhere. The English teacher at the high school: beta, the accountant who did John’s taxes: beta, the three children at the elementary school: betas, the woman she’d spoken to in the grocery store twice now: alpha female, and a doctor at the hospital: alpha male.
And, of course, the little boy whose eyes had glowed blue when he looked at her son.
“He was a sweet kid,” John had said, frown on his face. “Apparently he fell off his roof playing with some of his cousins, and when he woke up in the hospital he wandered off and found me and Genim. All he wanted to do was play, I think. Genim liked him.”
It didn’t make sense: wolves, even children, don’t fall off roofs. And if they do, they aren’t hurt badly enough for hospital visits. It made her wary; it made her nervous. She jumped, and couldn’t sleep soundly, constantly agitated, looking for a threat that was seemingly everywhere. The pocketknife she’d left in the kitchen her second week in Beacon Hills moved back to her pillow, and Genim cried often at night, providing the excuses she needed to look through the house, to check the outside.
In some way, she knew she was losing her mind. John watched her closely, and rarely left her alone with the baby. Genim cried when she held him too tightly, and the doctors shared nervous frowns and worse smiles.
The wolf who disguised himself as a doctor came in during her third month, when her councilor recommended her for an overnight watch. Annie had refused, but even John was asking her to do it, telling her that he loved her, wanted her to get better. She was better, she knew, she was fine.
It was the wolves, howling in her dreams as they came for her son’s throat, that needed to be fixed.
He’d let her stab him with a needle, holding her arms as his eyes flashed blue, and then calmed back down, relaxing into the hazel brown that reminded her of John’s. She stopped fighting, too exhausted to lift her arms and try. There were so many wolves, so many, how could she fight them, she’d left her family, left the Hunters behind her. She’d exiled this life, and it had followed her anyway, grasping at her son and husband like wind picks up the dirt on an unpaved road.
“We don’t hurt people,” the man said, quietly, “we’ve been in this town for years now. These people are our neighbors, our husbands and wives and children; our friends. You don’t have to be afraid of us, Annie.”
She wept when she looked in the mirror and saw her hair a mess of tangles. She doesn’t know when she’d last brushed it, if she’d washed it at all. Her eyes are blotchy and red from the constant tears, and she angrily wiped at her face, stopping herself. She breathes long and carefully, and stops hunting for wolves on every corner, and keeps one of John’s guns in a holster around her waist, just in case.
Derek comes by, the little boy with the bright blue eyes, though they’re a dark brown, filled with uncertainty and fear as he clenches his little fists on her porch. “Can I see—can I see Genim?” he asks, and Annie is so surprised that when John says yes, she doesn’t stop Derek from walking through the front door and dropping down next to the playpen where Genim is lying face up, staring at the new boy come to play with him.
Annie doesn’t know what to do.
She puts the gun on the table, where her husband will see it; will take it.
Derek comes by often, always to see Genim. When Annie finally asks, the third visit, Derek shrugs as if it isn’t important, as if it doesn’t set Annie’s heartbeat to frantic, to terror: “I like him. I can hear his heartbeat clear over by my house. It helps me sleep at night, until he wakes up, and then I can’t get back to bed for ages.”
The Hale house must be at least twenty miles from her own, she thinks, and a child—there’s only one way a wolf could hear that well, one specific heartbeat. She remembers the story of him falling from his roof, the same day that Genim had been born. She remembers, and she sinks to the floor. Derek panics, yelling loudly for John, who runs down the stairs and grabs her, wraps her in his arms, talking about emergencies and hospitals. She pushes back weakly, and says, “No, it’s fine, John, please.”
Her son’s first smile goes to a little boy with bright blue eyes that she was taught to hate since before she can remember. She doesn’t smile back, but her husband does.
In the end, it’s two months before Genim’s twelfth birthday when Annie dies, standing in front of Derek as a hunter’s round of wolfs bane-poisoned darts pierce her chest four times. In the end, she dies by a hunter’s bullet. It’s ironic, she thinks, as she lies on the ground, that wolfs bane will kill a hunter faster than a wolf. It’s ironic that a hunter would protect a wolf, in hopes that the wolf will protect her son. It’s ironic that she left the world of hunters to show her child that the world is bright and colorful and kind, and that fairy tales don’t exist, when the exact opposite is true.
The world is dark, and filled with monsters.
But fairy tales do exist.
She closes her eyes.
Please, she thinks, let Stiles’ stay safe, let him be happy.
There’s no blood until the hunter shoots her point-blank, to make sure she’s dead.