Guilt is a heavy burden for the one carrying it.
Jem Stonehouse is no exception to this rule.
What if she’d acted sooner? What if she’d fully recognised the threat? What if she hadn’t allowed the male pack members to head into the witches’ ambush?
For one, youngest pack member Josh Larsen wouldn’t be trapped in the sleep of the dead.
Now, Jem is convinced it’s her job to bring him back to life no matter what it takes— learning more about her heritage, risking pack exposure, or travelling to places she couldn’t have imagined possible.
Even if the journey endangers her soul.
HEREDITARY (Part III)
Life, as we had come to know it, pretty much continued, with Gabe’s ‘abnormalities’ becoming par for the course—especially as their frequency grew from the original fortnightly gap, to weekly, to half-weekly and, finally, to a daily occurrence.
The week when ‘the biggie’ happened, he’d lost three days from school: Tuesday, Wednesday, and then Thursday. Mia had visited every afternoon—nothing unusual—and she’d just left for her dinner on Thursday evening when ‘it’ began.
“Mum?” Another day, another attack, another plead of his eyes.
“Is it the cramps again?”
He shook his head. “Something’s happening.”
I put aside my magazine and pushed to my feet. “What is it?”
He stared down at his hands, twisting and turning them. “It’s everywhere.” A hint of alarm tinged his voice as he lifted his arms and peered at those. “Spreading.” He bent and rubbed at his legs, before he straightened and lifted a bare foot from the carpet, flexing his toes. “Spreading fast.” Bright blue eyes full of fear met mine.
I crossed to him, placed my hands on his shoulders. “What’s spreading, Gabe?” My calm voice sounded alien. I wasn’t composed. On the inside, I was screaming.
“Tingling. It’s everywhere.” He shrugged me away and brushed at his skin as though fighting it off. “Like pins and needles.”
“Tingling? What kind of tingling, Gabe?”
A sharp gasp united with the slap of his hand to his neck. Smaller gasps followed as he massaged the spot just below his right ear. Within seconds, his left hand did the same on the other side.
Taking hold of his fingers, I pried them away. Beneath, his pulse points throbbed, visible pulsations, as though something within banged for release. As I tugged at his hands his wrists came into view. The harsh boom-boom bounced against his flesh there, too, hastening in tempo as his breaths increased.
He whipped his hands from my grasp and rubbed at his thighs, his face twisting as his complaints evolved into low moans. Tugging up the legs of his shorts revealed that even his femoral artery had joined in the act.
The static buzz of anxiety swarmed inside my head. “Gabe, please let me call for help.”
No sound—other than the sweeping sound of friction and ragged breaths that sent his chest in a manic up and down dance.
“Gabe, this is bad.” Discouraging words in a panicked tone wouldn’t help anyone, I knew, but I’d pretty much lost control of my emotions.
Still, no answer.
“That’s it!” I headed for the phone. “I’m calling an ambulance this time. No argument.”
He grabbed my arm before I could reach it.
Trembling, I turned back to him.
His eyes shone bright, his brow had slicked wet, and … something was wrong with his face—something that pulled his expressions out of order, stretched the skin taut across his bones.
A shake of his head accompanied his, “No!”
He no longer sounded like my son. Gabe’s voice was deep for his age, but the word came out as a ragged guttural growl.
Despite the tremors weakening my legs, I reached up for him. The moment I did, he plummeted.
He hit the carpet on all fours. His body bucked and thrashed. Retches left his throat, yet no vomit arrived.
What I witnessed could never be described with accuracy. Something was happening to my son, something bad, unnatural, something … evil.
Bone crunched, and muscles stretched, distorted.
I took a step back, followed by another—until the wall faltered my escape and I stood staring in horror as my son became possessed from the inside.
Throughout the deformation, he grew even broader, shoulders expanding, tearing at the seams of his shirt. Even his shorts ripped as they became filled to capacity and beyond.
With each onslaught to his body, my son cried out—agonized screeches, beseeching shrieks.
He called for me, over and over.
My feet refused to take me nearer.
Vision blurred, abstracting the scene before me, my back slid down the wall, sobs shuddering my body to the point of convulsion.
I swiped away tears, and the clearing of my eyes revealed hair—Gabe’s bright blond—growing, lengthening, sprouting, covering his body in a dense golden coat.
His shrieks and cries became yelps and growls.
I reached out a hand but with no intention of approach, and more tears arrived, urged forward by my sobs of despair.
I remained that way until the room fell silent but for the sound of our breaths.
At a shuffle to my left, I brushed away droplets and turned to see Mia.
Standing just within the room, she fixated on what was before her, staring for seconds before another footstep brushed over the carpet.
How much she’d seen, I didn’t know.
No answer. She seemed entranced, unable to turn away from what captivated her so.
I turned my head, followed her gaze.
Gabe was as I feared—some kind of creature, coated in thick shagginess. He’d yet to raise his head. Only his deep shuddering breaths announced his existence.
Another few steps and Mia lowered to her knees.
As though sensing her presence, my son’s head lifted.
That was when I knew he was still inside there somewhere. There could be no mistaking the intelligence of his eyes. The blue of them sparkled as they connected with Mia’s.
Stretching her fingers toward him, she whispered, “Gabe?”
Breath snorted from his nostrils.
I studied him harder. Not just some kind of creature, not a beast. My son had become a wolf—a huge freaking wolf.
Mia swung around to me, accusation in her stare. “Why?”
“Why didn’t you tell me? Why wasn’t I told?” She spun back to Gabe. “I thought I meant something to you, Gabe. How could you keep something like this from me?”
I found my voice. “We didn’t know.”
Gabe took a step forward, pushed his muzzle against Mia’s hand.
She whipped it away. “What the hell is he? What are you, Gabe? What are you, a … werewolf?” Her piercing tone penetrated my heart. “This is insane. Werewolves aren’t supposed to be real.” Her breaths came quicker as her pitch heightened. “There’s no such thing as werewolves. What is this, some kind of sick joke?”
“Mia, please, we didn’t know,” I said, my sense seeming to return in a rush.
Pushing to my feet, I raised my palms in request for her understanding—though, how could I ask a sixteen year old girl to understand something I could barely grasp myself?
“No!” she screeched, shoving to a stand and taking a step back. Her finger pointed at me. “No, Shelley!”
She almost stumbled as she whirled, throwing herself to the door she’d come through, hysterics bubbling into her uttering’s that, ‘this wasn’t right’, ‘we’d lied to her’.
A howl stabbed through her words.
At the long, deafening, soul-destroying tune, she slapped her hands over her ears and she spun back, as I covered my own.
Gabe’s cry faded away, evaporating into a series of low whimpers. His gaze seemed to hold Mia steady as he approached her.
She didn’t move. She didn’t even flinch when he nudged her lowered hand with his black nose. As though sensing his need for her, she dropped to back to her knees, whatever apprehension she had vanishing as her arms embraced his bulk. Her fingers slid into his coat, emanating a rough purr that vibrated within his chest.
They remained that way for hours.
Now, six months later, Gabe no longer changes in the house.
The transformations mostly come fortnightly, but occasionally his body will dictate they arrive sooner.
Each time, as tonight, we head to Haughmond Hill.
Mia is with me. At the weekends, she’s permitted to ‘sleepover’—though, none other than the three of us know the true reason why.
Gabe has headed off to the brush, to claim his natural fur blanket, as the two of us shiver in sleeping bags, leaning against the makeshift support of a fallen trunk. It’s dark, apart from the moon seeping through naked overhead limbs. But for the wind’s taunting icy whisper, only quiet meets my ears.
A rustle ahead reveals Gabe’s position as he crosses bracken and leaves that decorate the ground in an autumnal shroud. His eyes glint as he comes into sight and the air condensates as his breath merges with the coolness.
A low whimper is sent our way.
“Go on,” Mia tells him. “We’re fine.”
A second whimper and deep inhalations into his upturned nostrils precedes a final step toward us as though to double check—before he takes off into the woods.
Watching his flight, I take a sip of my flask and send Mia a reassuring smile through the dimness.
The expression is returned and she takes my free hand.
We already know it could be a long night. Last time, we were here until dawn.
We don’t mind, though.
Gabe has yet to master the art of timekeeping whilst as wolf, so he isn’t to blame.
The only one to blame for all this is me.
One day, a character and scene popped into J. A. Belfield’s head, and she started controlling the little people inside her imagination, as though she were the puppet master and they her toys. Questions arose: What would happen if …? How would they react if …? Who would they meet if …? Before she knew it, a singular scene had become an entire movie. The characters she controlled began to hold conversations. Their actions reflected the personalities she bestowed upon them. Within no time, they had a life, a lover, a foe, family … they had Become.
One day, she wrote down her thoughts. She’s yet to stop.
J. A. Belfield lives in Solihull, England, with her husband, two children, three cats and a dog. She writes paranormal romance, with a second love for urban fantasy.