11 years earlier
Bryn awoke from a dreamless sleep being carried by her father.
He set her down by the garage door, where her mother, Selene, slipped white snow shoes over her socked feet and zipped a pink parka over her faded butterfly pajamas. Bryn yawned as her mother smoothed her long black hair out of her face.
“One more thing,” she said softly and pulled heavy mittens over Bryn’s hands.
Bryn couldn’t help but rub at the sleep in her eyes as her father buckled her into the backseat and her mother climbed into the passenger. Lovell drove. Everything was hushed by the snow and her parents stayed silent. Her mother kept glancing over her shoulder and smiling close-lipped at Bryn who drifted in and out of consciousness, blinking to stay awake. She knew she was up past her bedtime and the curiosity of it pulled at her eyelids.
They rolled up to a familiar house which stood raging with yellow light against the darkness. There were many other vehicles parked in the round driveway in front.
“Why are we at Rowan’s house?” Bryn asked, although to say that she was not pleased would be a lie.
“You’ll see,” her father said, raising his gaze to the rearview mirror. His eyes were dark brown, except where the light hit them just right and slivers of amber lit up his irises—much like his wife’s, a lot like his daughter’s.
They were out of the car and tromping through the snow, around the side of Rowan’s house and past the heated pool—the smell of chlorine burning her nostrils. They moved around the jungle gym and soon were beyond the invisible line that Bryn was not allowed to cross whenever she played outside at her friend’s house. Her little heart thumped harder. They were on an adventure, she knew.
Lovell lifted her into his arms when they entered the forest. The trees were bare and shadowed, their limbs reaching into the full moon, seeming to pierce it. Bryn hugged her father close. It seemed to take them forever but they finally came to a stop. It was a circle where the trees didn’t grow and the snow glittered in the moonlight. Everyone was there, milling about—her parent’s friends, the older kids—everyone she recognized from holiday and birthday parties, from the restaurant that her parents owned where she sat in a booth and colored after school.
Her father set her on a large rock; it was cold beneath her pajama bottoms. But she was delighted to find Rowan there too. She hugged her friend who shivered.
“What are we doing here?” Rowan whispered.
“I don’t know, but I think it’s some grand adventure.” Bryn lifted her chin.
“Now,” Bryn’s mother grasped her mittened hands and stared into her daughter’s face. “Remember. Do not be afraid for this is your destiny, Bryndis.”
She turned away and stripped off her coat.
“What’s a ‘destiny’?” Bryn’s whisper was shrill, her eyes never leaving her mother’s back. To Bryn’s horror, she kept removing clothing until she stood naked up to her ankles in snow, her gray and black hair cascading down her spine. She looked like some kind of goddess, like in the stories she told Bryn before bedtime.
“What are they doing?”
Bryn glanced around the clearing and discovered that everyone was in some manner undress. She saw Rowan’s dad naked and clapped her palms over her eyes with a squeak.
“I don’t get it. What are they doing? Oh God, Bryn, look!”
She opened her fingers just a little and peered out between them, following the path at which Rowan pointed. Something was wrong with her mom. She was hunched over and clutching at her midsection. Bryn watched as the bones rolled beneath the surface of her ivory skin, distorting her mother’s face, her shape until, in under a minute, a great wolf burst forth, standing on all fours where her mother had been standing on two. She was bigger, much bigger than the wolves in Bryn’s textbooks and she turned yellow eyes that seemed to glow on the two girls. Her pelt was gray and black like her mother’s hair. Bryn had stopped breathing.
A howl cut through the night and the girls clamped their hands over their ears.
Everyone in the clearing had turned into a creature.
“What are they?” Rowan shouted as the people they had once known raised their muzzles to the sky and sang in canine voices.
Bryn could only come up with one explanation. “Monsters.”