The Secret Sellers

Once upon a time an old woman foretold a world where monsters ruled. And they did. The fairy tales from history seemed to foretell the mutations of the future. Forests grew large and dark and within them, creatures thrived. Avis Eldred is one of the few surviving humans; she should be grateful for that. But she's not grateful for killing in order to survive. Now she faces a choice - take a leap of faith and defy everything she ever knew, or keep being a murderer and a coward.

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9. The Strain

 

-8-

The Strain

Beck told her that they couldn’t leave straight away as she had hoped, in fact Avis was so eager to leave and start the mission that she was visibly vibrating with excitement and anticipation.

Beck reasoned that it would take some time for her to heal enough in order to risk an adventure. Avis pouted but did what he told her to and waited.

Waiting was torture.

Eventually it was one night where Avis was near at her wits end that things were finally starting to pull together.

“We should take your stitches out tonight.” He reached out and touched them gently.

“You think?”

He nodded.

“Should we do that now?” She scratched at the one at her shoulder. He nodded and went to the med kit. She looked worried, “Is it painful?”

He shook his head, “You won’t even feel it.”

She took a breath, “Where do you want me?”

He closed his eyes quickly as he felt as if they would flash with lust. Part of him wanted to embrace her and whisper, everywhere. He straightened himself. “In the chair is fine. If you want to lie down, we can go to the bedroom. It might take a few minutes.” See, he could be a gentleman.

She was looking at the options. Sit in the hard kitchen chair and let him hover over her, or lay on the bed, with him, letting him gently take care of her again. Stitches were gross and medical and should probably be removed in a med bay by a slightly hostile yet motherly nurse. She chose the bed. If she needed to take herself out of her body and wait until he was finished, the bed was the best place to do that.

He spread a clean cloth under her, he laid out tiny scissors, tweezers and various medical accoutrements. She laid down on her stomach and he started at the center of her back clipping and pulling out the stitches. She winced a few times,

“Where did you learn how to do this?”

He paused, “At home. We had a big family. One of my brothers liked to taunt wild animals and would often come home scratched.”

She frowned, “Sounds like he had issues.”

He nodded, “You could say that. Liked to prove himself tough.”

“Is he?” She asked.

He looked away and fidgeted with something, “He was.”

“How about we trade truths?” Avis suggested.

“I’m not one of the animals in your compounds, I am not a Secret Seller.” Beck said gruffly and refused to let a single word escape the prison of his lips.

Sensing the tension Avis compelled herself to go out of her body and be transported somewhere else. Somewhere like home, somewhere that made her heart ache and sing at the same time.

A few more days passed before Beck seemed comfortable enough to let them depart for their journey. Still Beck was like a rose, he may have appeared all nice and lovely with his eyes but the rest of him was a stem full of thorns. Although comparing Beck the furious wolf to a rose was almost preposterous.

“Do I have shoes?” She asked.

He looked up from making the bed. “You don’t have shoes?”

“I did when you found me. I don’t know if I still do. Did you burn them with my favorite pants?”

He exhaled, almost a laugh. “That you remember.” He muttered. “Your shoes are clean and waiting by the door. Are you going somewhere?”

She was still dressed in the nightshirt.  She walked to the door and saw her shoes lined up neatly next to his. She walked back to the bedroom. “I was thinking about maybe going home. But that hardly seems an option anymore.” She was of course talking about the mission and not her health holding her back. 

He paused, smoothing down the clean sheet on the bed.  “You’re not completely healed.”

She rolled her shoulder and tested her arm. “I think I can manage.” She fidgeted with her hair. “We have to do this, I have to do this.”

He walked out of the bedroom. She took several deep breaths. She could see that he was unhappy. She would trust that he would let her go.

She sorted through the few clothes that he had given her. She cursed the raccoon probably having kits on her second favorite pants right now.

“What?”

She flinched so hard she almost dropped her things. Beck was standing right behind her. “Oh, God! Please don’t sneak up on me.”

He smiled, a real smile. “I didn’t. I walked in and you were mumbling something about raccoon kits.”

She blushed and took a step back. “Was that out loud?” She fumbled with the shirt in her hands. “Just, miss my pants. Not that yours aren’t great. Roomy and soft. But mine were...” She swallowed “mine.”

He was so tall. Had she missed that before? She tried to think of all the times they had stood this close. She was suddenly nervous. He was dangerous. She should never forget that.

“I need to stop and check in with a friend. He’ll be able to help us out with some gear.” He took the clothes from her and walked out of the room. Her thoughts caught up with what he said a minute or two later.

“Wait, what?” She followed him.  “I don’t need anything else. I’m sorry, I can get by with that pair. Can I have them back?” “

No.” He continued walking away. She felt it like she couldn’t breathe.

“Wait!” She was panting and shaking. “Please,” The tone was the same as her night terrors and he froze. She looked like she was going to collapse on the floor. He walked slowly back to her. She reached out and took the clothes from his hands. “I need...” She ran to the bedroom.

He followed slowly. “Avis, are you okay?” He heard her things clatter to the floor.

She was grasping at the bag and trying to shove everything in it. “You took my clothes away. I need those. I’m not your girl. I’m free to go.” She was gasping and talking at the same time. “You said I could.” He tried to reach out to her. She flinched.

“Please tell me what’s going on.”

She took a deep breath and held it. “I need to leave. I need the pants. If you take away the clothes, then I’m...”

He saw her struggling even to say what she feared. “I was going to wash those. There are other pants that might work better for traveling. You can leave whenever you’re ready.” He reassured her. He knelt down. “I’m sorry I scared you.”

Nothing more was said because Beck was afraid that making the wrong move was going to upset her more. He didn’t want that. Again, he hated emotions, they were utterly confusing. It was so that because he wanted to appease her he agreed to at least somewhat search for her sister.

By the time Beck and Avis reached the bottom of the mountain, the sun was just cresting behind them. She was relieved. He seemed to know every rock and stick but she was faltering and clumsy in the dark. She prided herself at being able to walk silently through the trees but he was keeping a pace that pushed her past stealth. “Nothing will hurt you here. You don’t need to tiptoe.”

She huffed out her disagreement. “Yeah, no wolves here,” she taunted sarcastically.

He pushed along. “Not today.”

He trusted in his abilities too much for the wolf to escape his control. However, Avis was still grasping on to what she knew about these kind of monsters, they could snap at any moment. Avis knew on some level that Beck wouldn’t hurt her but there was still some chance that he could.

They wound around the backside of one mountain and the path opened into a valley. A small pond at the center was surrounded by a cluster of houses. They all looked to have been built by the same person, white brick and tall pitched roofs, flowers in the small gardens. Avis stopped and scowled at the scene. “How is this here?”

He answered, “I built it.” Beck coaxed her forward.

“I thought that you wouldn’t build out here, too busy staying in your den.” He nodded and raised an eyebrow in a smirk.

“You’ll be surprised at what I’m capable of.”

But to Avis there was something missing. The place felt empty, deserted and abandoned. Beck truly didn’t have a pack. Those back in the dome called this type of wolf an omega, they were dangerous untied by pack bonds and doing anything in order to survive. They were the ones that were most likely to become feral; they were truly the nightmares that others told stories about around a campfire.

“There are animals out here that know about you,” Beck once said when they were walking.

“Like who?”

“Not those that are able to talk back,” Beck’s words saddened her further, “Nevertheless they were surprised that you really killed that bear.”

Avis looked nervous, “Yes.” She scuffed her toes on the floor, “Victory would have been short lived. The bear was on its way to crushing me to death with its carcass when The Handsome Prince found me.” Avis used a truly sarcastic tone but felt guilty doing it. Beck pressed his lips into a line like disapproval. Avis wasn’t sure what she said wrong. Probably everything.

Eventually they came to a gate, this signified the end of the wolf’s complex. Beyond that gate they would encounter things that they never knew. Well, things that Avis never knew, she suspected that Beck probably did somewhat.

 “Describe your sister again?” Beck asked.

“Tallish, black hair, blue eyes, slim but strong. She was wearing traveling clothes.”

He made a frustrated face, “That describes most people walking around the wild. That’s super helpful.”

Avis laughed, “That’s how you do sarcastic.” She waved her finger at him, she hadn’t even thought of it from him. 

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