I smelled bacon,eggs, sausages and fresh baked bread. I wasn’t the only one. All of our eyes turned to the door a moment before Elsie opened it. The children sat on the floor. The board game was completely forgotten. Molly ran to Elsie and bounced around the cart she wheeled. Gunnor quickly lost interest, but the rest of us couldn’t take our eyes off the food.
“Breakfast,” Elsie announced.
The werecats pounced – the children literally – on the food. One of the male werecats pulled one of the werecat children off the top of the cart. He set him down on the ground where the child then devoured the sausage he held eagerly.
Arthur, Darren and I hesitated. I didn’t want to be caught up in the horde around the cart. Elsie calmly, expertly, moved around the werecats and brought a tray of food to me, Arthur and Darren. Molly bounced happily along at her heels. Arthur took a sausage off the tray and gave it to Molly. Molly eagerly ate it up and then sat patiently by Arthur’s feet waiting for more.
I spread scrambled eggs and bacon on a piece of bread. The delicious taste of fresh food burst onto my tongue. I held it there a moment just enjoying the salty, hearty taste before I chewed and swallowed. Arthur grabbed a handful of the greasy sausages. For every one he ate, he gave one to Molly. Elsie sat on the arm of the couch and watched Darren eat.
“We’re in the same grade,” she said to Darren.
He alternated bites between the fresh baked bread – it was still hot – and the scrambled eggs.
“I know,” Darren said. “Where did you get fresh eggs, bacon and sausage? Aren’t all the meat and dairy expired in the stores by now?”
“We told you we are self-sufficient,” she said as she watched him. “We have chickens, pigs and cows. And we go hunting a lot for deer, moose, etc.”
“You grow your own garden too?” Darren asked. She nodded her head. “What do you do for fresh produce in the winter?”
“We can or dry the fruits and vegetables,” she said.
“I see,” he said. He went back to eating.
The werecats had backed off from the cart. They each had a large quantity of food they were working on spread out on trays on the floor in front of them. I noticed the metal pitcher and the metal cups left on the tray.
“What’s that in the pitcher?” I asked.
“Oh,” Elsie lightly jumped off the arm of the loveseat. “Apple juice from our apple orchard. We bottled them just a few weeks ago and made applesauce too.” She poured three glasses without asking if we wanted some and then handed them to us. I took a sip. It was cool, sweet and refreshing. I gulped it all down before I realized it.
“Does your house have chickens, pigs, gardens and orchards?” one of the female werecats asked Gunnor. Gunnor shook his head. “Didn’t think so,” the werecat said.
When the food was all eaten, Elsie collected the trays and cups and left with the cart. That was when I remembered my brother and Hunter back at the camp. And the others. “Do you think,” I asked Darren, “if we asked them for extra food, we could take some to the others back at camp? It seems wrong that they shouldn’t enjoy this too.” And my little sister, but there wasn’t a way to get it back to her quickly enough without it spoiling.
“Maybe,” Darren said. “If Elsie comes back, I’ll ask her.”
We waited another hour with the lingering smell of the food, the silence of Gunnor and the adult werecats. But the children, including Arthur, played the board game. Molly sprawled out next to Arthur with her head in his lap and a contented smile on her doggy lips. Arthur absently rubbed her side.
The door opened. The aura of the alpha filled the room before he even stepped in. The children scrambled back to their parents’ sides. Arthur squeezed between me and Darren on the loveseat. Molly ran up to Erik happily. He reached down and patted her head. Erik was followed by Salene and the other two men who had come in before.
“Have you made a decision?” he asked the werecats. He didn’t sit down this time.
“We have,” the female werecat who seemed to be their spokeswoman said. “We will stay here as you have so graciously offered.” I hadn’t heard them talk about this decision so I could only deduce they had some other means of communicating like the werewolves.
Erik nodded and started to turn to Gunnor, but the werecat said, “I, however, have decided to go with the vampire and his group to take out the venefici.”
“Mom, no,” the two oldest children cried out together just as one of the men said, “No, love. What about our children?”
She took a moment to smile at each of them. Her eyes fell lastly to the man. “The children have you,” she said. He started to shake his head, but she went on, “I’m doing this for our children. We already know the world is no longer safe for us. If by doing this, I can make the world even a little safer for them, I need to do it.”
“Then I’ll go with you,” the man said.
“No,” she said. “Our children need one of their parents with them.”
“I’ll go with you,” one of the other women in the group said. She looked like a slightly younger version of the first one.
The first one smiled. “Then I will go along with my sister.” She reached out her hand and her sister took it. They all turned their attention back to Erik.
“Very well,” Erik said easily. He turned his attention back to Gunnor. “I will send three of my werewolves with you. Elsie and the two back at your camp. They have orders if things don’t work out, or the venefici are too strong, to come back home. I can’t risk losing more of my werewolves. If your operation is successful, I will consider sending out more wolves.”
“That sounds fair,” Gunnor said.
“Then Elsie will be back shortly to show you out. I hope you are successful. And for those of you who are staying,” he said to the werecats, “Salene will show you to your new home.” Erik turned and left the room. The other two werewolves followed him.
“You better say your goodbyes,” Salene said gently to the werecats.
“Don’t go, mom,” the oldest child said and wrapped his arms around his mom’s waist.
“Don’t go,” the other two children said and also hugged her.
“It’s going to be okay,” she said. “I promise I’m not going to die.” She held them close to her.
The younger sister said awkward goodbyes to the other werecats. It didn’t seem like they were close. Only the family actually seemed close with each other. Maybe they had just met each other when the zombie apocalypse happened.
“Go say goodbye to your aunt now,” the mom said as she pulled away from the hug. All of the children had tears on their cheeks as they went to hug their aunt. The mom and dad stared lovingly at each other and I looked away. It felt too intimate even though they weren’t doing anything more than gazing into each other’s eyes.
“Alright,” Salene said gently. “Let’s go.”
The dad quickly took a few things out of his pack and put it into his wife’s. Then he guided his children out of the room. The other werecats followed them. Salene gave us a nod goodbye and then she too left.
Almost immediately, Elsie came back carrying three large packs.
“Let me help you,” Darren said. He tried to take a pack, but it was so heavy he ended up just guiding it to the floor.
Elsie smirked at him. “No worries,” she said. “I’ve got it.” She easily picked it up again.
“Do you think it would be possible to take some of the scrambled egg breakfast to the rest of our group?” I asked.
Elsie patted one of the bags. “Already taken care of,” she said.
We followed her back out of the mansion and through the little town. Two werewolves I hadn’t seen before waited at the iron gates. “Be careful,” one of them said to Elsie.
“Always,” she said.
She led us back through the woods.
“Before we get back to camp,” I said to Gunnor, “I think you should drink from me.”
“It’s going to hurt,” Darren reminded me as if that would stop me.
“I know,” I said. To Gunnor I said, “But we agreed we would all take turns and it’s been a few days since you first drank from Darren. I can’t have the communication between you and Jin break. I need to know what is happening with my sister. I think it will be easier for my brother if you drink from me without him being able to see it.”
“Alright then,” Gunnor said.
I held out my wrist, but it was Darren who grabbed my wrist. “Are you sure about this, Lily? You don’t have to do this.”
“I’m sure, Darren,” I said. I waited. He didn’t let go of my wrist at first, but he did eventually let go. I held my wrist out to Gunnor. He watched me carefully as he took my forearm in his cold fingers. Maybe he expected me to protest once it was actually happening, but I remained silent as his canines elongated slightly. He brought his teeth to the flesh of my wrist. They settled there with the teeth just barely pressing my skin, but not actually puncturing. He waited for me to protest. I didn’t. His teeth sunk in like two large needles digging into my wrist. It hurt, but no more than getting a shot at the doctor’s office. Or more like getting two shots simultaneously right next to each other. His teeth retracted, but his cold lips met my skin. He sucked and the blood pumped from my veins to the wounds. It was a strange sensation. The puncture holes pricked and stung.
His lips left my wrist, but his hand still held my forearm in place. He licked the two puncture wounds. Stinging pain shot up my arm. I pulled back and held my wrist up to my chest. I held my wrist slightly away from me so I could see the damage and figure out why it hurt so much. Already the pain was subsiding. Where the two holes had been, only red marks remained.
“But magic doesn’t work on me,” I said and held up my wrist to Gunnor.
“That isn’t magic,” he said. “Just think of our spit as having medicinal properties.”
“Weird,” I said.
“Are you okay?” Darren asked me. He put a hand on my shoulder.
“I’m fine,” I said. And I was. It didn’t hurt anymore. “Let’s go.”
We continued our journey through the woods.
“You’re back,” Tanner rushed to me when he saw me. I returned his hug.
“How’d it go?” Hunter asked.
“You didn’t tell them yet?” Elsie asked Mason. She handed him and Alex a pack each.
“I thought they’d want to hear it from their own group,” Mason said.
“Tell us what?” Mike asked. “And who are these other two people?”
“Werecats,” Alex said with no emotion in his voice.
“Cool,” Monica said with admiration in her tone.
“I’m Zoe,” the mom werecat said, “and this is my little sister Callie.”
“These three werewolves and two werefelines are going to help us against the venefici,” Gunnor said. “Erik said he might send more if we are successful.”
“We should head out then,” Hunter said.
I nudged Elsie.
“Oh right,” she said. “First, breakfast.” She reached into her backpack and brought out tupperware filled with the eggs, bacon and sausage and another tupperware filled with the homemade bread.
“Really?” Tanner grabbed the tupperware filled with scrambled eggs and meat and took it to the fire. Grace took the tupperware with the bread.
I watched the rest of our group as they eagerly devoured the food. They each slipped Molly food as she happily went to each one. I found myself watching Hunter more often than not. He smiled as he ate and even joked with his sister. I felt eyes on me. I looked around. Darren turned his head quickly away from me.
It would be better if I could get over Hunter. He could never return my feelings. Could I ever look at Darren as more than a friend? At least one of our unrequited loves should have a happy ending, right? I examined my true feelings for Darren. I tried to find him attractive. Searched for any kind of spark, but the more I looked inward, the more I realized I saw him as nothing more than a little brother.
I sighed and looked back to the group. The food was almost completely gone now. It was clear to me I couldn’t return Darren’s feelings. But I still needed to get over Hunter. I needed to start seeing him as a good friend or even a brother if that was possible.
“We saw Grant,” Monica said as she stuffed the rest of the bread into her mouth.
“What? When?” I asked. My hand already tightened around the handle of my axe.
“Earlier,” Tanner said.
“He’s joined that group of men in the woods,” Monica said.
“They are trying to find our homes,” Mason said. “They think we are small in number and don’t realize we are werewolves and can easily crush them.”
“Should we go show them before we leave then?” Gunnor asked.
Mason, Alex and Elsie looked at each other and then at Gunnor but they didn’t respond.
“They don’t know there are other creatures other than zombies in this world,” Gunnor said. “Let’s go show them.”
A slow smile crept onto Mason’s lips. “Alright,” he said. “Let’s go.”
“Wait,” Elsie said and grabbed her brother’s arm as he tried to stand. “We need Erik’s permission.”
“Then get his permission,” Gunnor said.
The three werewolves looked at each other and then they looked at nothing as their eyes unfocused. There was a pause before their eyes refocused.
“Let’s go,” Mason said again and stood. This time Elsie and Alex stood with him.