Updated: Oct 30
8 Pages | Word Count: 3,591
Genre: Supernatural | Horror Elements
The sun kissed the tops of the forest trees as a final goodbye to the world it cherished. In that slow shift between day and night, the noise of the day—birds chirping, the scattering of woodland creatures, the hum of life—settled and made way for the lull of the night—owls hooting, frog songs, the clarity of rushing water, and deep in the forest, a heavy crunch of boot steps.
Samuel, a young man on the cusp of adulthood with life swirling in his brown eyes, trekked along the forest path, carrying his sister on his shoulders. “Remember Rio, Nana Milli will turn me into a frog if she knows I snuck you out for this.” His voice was low as it broke through the night’s song but carried an air of seasoned mischief. His grin, fanged and gentle, went up to the sky in his best attempt to get a good look at the girl. As he did, he let go of one of her legs to hold his pinky to her. “Super secret?”
Rio was no older than five with eyes that were an abyss of black but filled with wonder and newness. She held onto Samuel’s mess of long, curly brown hair like it was a lifeline, carefully removing one of her hands to lock her pinky with his. Even in the growing darkness, a pink and blue ribbon tied around her wrist glimmered, matching the ties that kept her long, black twin ponytails together. “Super werewolf secret.” Her voice was an excited whisper as if she and her brother were still silently creeping out of the creaky old house and to the freedom of the forest behind it. When she found confidence, she spoke a little louder. “How come Nana lets you transform, but not me? I’m a big kid now!” Samuel’s soft chuckle made Rio bounce on his shoulders and she held onto him with both hands again.
“Well, when she found us you were only a baby but I was thirteen. I already knew how to shift and she couldn’t stop me. But,” He paused to catch a scent on the breeze. When he determined it was nothing more than a prey animal, he carried on the path. “Since mom’s not here to teach you how to be a werewolf, I’m going to teach you instead. And any time I go out, you can come with me instead of being cooped up at home.”
There was a beat of silence, the sound of footsteps filling what words drifted through Samuel’s mind before Rio leaned against his head. “What was mom like?”
He feared that she could hear the somberness in his voice any time he talked about their mom, but he buried it inside and carried on with the air of a storyteller that had legends to share. “She was the bravest and the strongest werewolf around. No one could beat her. We lived in a town full of werewolves and vampires, ghosts and ghouls, even witches like Milli and she was one of the town’s protectors. She protected us from all kinds of creatures. Once there was a minotaur that wanted to steal from us,” He curled his fingers to mimic claws. “All it took was one swipe and they were out like a light!”
“...What’s a mini-tar?”
Sam scratched his cheek. “...We’ll get the big book of creatures tomorrow… Anyway, not all humans take kindly to the things they don’t understand so we lived away from them, free to roam and be ourselves. Everyone looked up to her and when I got old enough to start shifting, I wanted to be just like her.” The memory of it lurked at the edges of the story he weaved, waiting to lash out and clutch his heart. “She wasn’t just strong though. She was the nicest person in the world and she loved us both so much.” His voice grew quieter, gaze on the waning moon. “I know she’s watching over us and happy to know we’re safe.”
“What killed her?” There was an emptiness in Rio’s voice that created a vacuum of silence. The breeze shifted and the hair on Samuel’s arms stood on end. His heart stuttered at the question, legs suddenly too heavy to keep moving. In the small forest alcove they ended up in, the trees surrounding them felt more looming and threatening than Samuel remembered them to be on his trips to it. The memory at the edges of his thoughts sunk their claws into his chest, but with a brave face he endured it.
And he would continue to endure it so long as he drew breath because his sister didn’t deserve to bear the horrors he had been subjected to. “...It’s hard to remember,” Samuel offered with a steady voice as he removed Rio from his shoulders and crouched down on to the soft grass with her. “There are… beasts… far greater and much more dangerous than what anyone has seen. No one really knows much besides their… hunger.” Sam repressed a shudder. “When it attacked our home… mom locked us away and told me to protect you. And that’s what I’ve been doing all this time.” A nod punctuated the conversation, indicating that there was nothing more to be said about it. He couldn’t quite read Rio’s expression as she stared up at him, but something about it made the memory claw its way to the forefront of his mind.
He buried it back down with a clasp of his hands. “But now for the lessons! Milli can teach you all about school stuff, but you have your big brother here to teach you how to be a good werewolf. And a good werewolf knows how to use their most important senses -- which are?”
The light didn’t reflect completely in those pools of black but Rio’s excitement buried that thought away. “Nose and ears!” She pointed to them as she bounced on the balls of her feet. Still crouched in front of her, Samuel grinned.
“Alright then little wolf, what do you smell in this big, big forest?”
He watched as she inhaled till her lungs were filled, her nose tilted in the air for maximum reach. “Trees!” She exclaimed in triumph. The excitement settled and her eyes fluttered closed for maximum focus. “There’s squirrels over that way,” She pointed high up in the dense trees to her left. “And a deer over.. There!” Her point to the left caused a few distant bushes to rustle.
“Good, good. Anything else?” She plopped onto the grass and Samuel followed, both crossing their legs to get comfortable. Rio’s focus grew quiet and calm, much more serious than any other five year old Samuel had met, but he remained quiet anyway.
“Hmm… the town. It smells like animals… Or are they humans… They’re stinky, but they’re allll…” With eyes closed, she mulled over her words. Her little brow furrowed in thoughtfulness. “I can hear their hearts too. Slow and calm. Probably sleeping like Nana Milli.” Samuel’s surprise was not hidden. As a witch, Milli decided there was safety in seclusion, especially with two less than human children (child and adult, Samuel would correct) inhabiting her home. The town itself was a few miles out, farther than even his nose could reach and yet Rio calmly sat with eyes still closed as her ears pinched to a point and her teeth sharpened. He could even see a fang peeking below her top lip. “Yours is louder though. It’s going ba-dump, ba-dump real fast!”
Her giggle shook him out of his creeping curiosity and was replaced with excitement at her changes. The questions drifted away with the warm breeze and he reached out to examine her new, but not quite furry yet, claws. “You’re transitioning so much easier than I did when I was a kid. I’m impressed! And your senses-” Samuel’s voice caught in his throat as Rio’s eyes opened. Sclera and pupils were replaced by an endless void of black, pinpricks of the moon’s light were swallowed in their reflection. That same black ichor seeped into the veins in her eyes and cheeks until Rio looked sickly. Something dormant inside of him trembled and the hair on his arms raised as goosebumps followed. Something about it felt familiar and buried, but he swallowed it down as Rio looked up at him with the same childlike curiosity.
“What’s wrong Sammy? You smell… different?”
Brotherly instinct took over. He cupped her face, not realizing his own claws had come through until he saw the dirt fall off them. “Are you okay? Something isn’t…” He didn’t want to spook her. “How are you feeling?”
The look on her face was telling. To his relief, she didn’t question why he avoided answering her. Instead, she idly scratched at the ribbon on her wrist. “My bracelet is a little itchy. Feels tighter.” She raised it closer to her face, still waiting for Samuel to release her. “Smells kinda funny too. Kinda like Nana’s soups we’re not supposed to drink.”
The pink and blue gradient caught in the light just enough for Samuel to see a familiar shimmer of magic. Whatever fear that crept in him vanished as his hands went to her arm to inspect it. “A magic seal?” His thumb brushed across the bracelet as he searched for runes in between the stitching.
While his magic capabilities were next to null despite Milli’s teaching, he had grown accustomed to the scents and capabilities of her skill in abjuration and evocation. This however smelled eerily of death and warding. His brow furrowed even more when he remembered that this had been on her since Milli found them lost in the woods. “Why would she put something like this on you…” The question hung in the air as he attempted to tug the knot. It didn’t budge. “Is it hurting you? Can you try shifting more?” As he studied the bracelet, brown eyes turned amber, practically glowing in the dimly lit night. The magic was subtle, much like most of Milli’s, but he had lived with her long enough to notice the stitching alter into something binding.
“I can’t do it.” Rio whined in defeat.
“Of course not… Not with this thing on you. Stay still for me, I’m going to try and take this off.” He hooked a claw under it, careful not to scratch his sister.
“But I like my bracelet.” Her whine continued as she tried to pull her arm out of his grip.
“Yeah, I know Rio but something’s… something’s wrong with it. Mill’s must’ve accidentally put some magic into it. You’re not going to be able to shift if you keep it on.” He gave her an apologetic smile as she pouted. “I promise I’ll get you a new one. It can be in any color you like, even a rainbow one.” He spared another glance at the veins in her face, suppressing a worried look and tugging at the bracelet again.
“Can I have one with bunnies on it!?”
“Any kind you like.” He held her arm up closer to him. “Ok. I need you to be very still. I’m gonna use my teeth.” He opened his mouth to show them sharpening. “I don’t wanna bite you by accident, okay?” With the promise of a new bracelet she nodded eagerly and stayed as still as a five year old could be. The moment the fabric was trapped between his teeth, he flinched at the sudden burning sensation that filled his mouth. The harder he tugged, which was a balancing act of trying to make sure he didn’t hurt his sister, the more his mouth was seared.
“Sammy?” Concerned filled her little voice as she watched him struggle. “Sam-”
“SAMUEL, no!” A different voice startled them both. The siblings tore away from each other, the younger one wide eyed like a deer caught and the other rubbing his jaw as if it would wipe away the heat. With wisps of eerie green light and wind, an older woman with black hair peppered with white hovered on top of a large oak staff. It was a twisted and mangled branch that possessed the same green lights that emanated from her eyes and fingertips. With practiced ease, the staff spun from under her and into her hand and with a wave, magic separated the two from each other. Her feet touched the ground and the wind kicked up causing her silvery embroidered cape and long dark curls to billow with it.
“What are you doing!?” The growl rumbled just beneath Samuel’s words, daring to lash out at the woman who raised him. But Milli stood between them, eyes on Rio, staff pointed and at the ready. “Mill, what are you doing!? That’s my sister!” He scrambled to his feet, ready to lunge at her only to pause in his tracks when an overwhelming scent of rot and decay filled his nose.
“I am… so sorry, Sam…” Milli’s voice was filled with remorse, but her eyes were locked on Rio as the girl slowly pushed herself onto her hands and knees. “This isn’t how I wanted you to find out.”
“What are you talking about?” He was at Milli’s side, everything in his being telling him to run towards his sister. The stench kept him still. The elongated shadows kept him close to Milli. That faded and buried memory sunk itself into his chest and then the edges of his mind as familiarity turned into fear. “What did you do?” He found himself hissing in a whisper, eyes glowing brighter as they grew wider with Rio’s swaying movements.
“I have to fix the seal.”
“Milli what’s wrong with my sister? What did you do?” As angry as he tried to be, desperation filled his voice. His clawed hands grabbed onto her cape like he was a child again holding onto his mom.
“That’s-” Milli inched closer, staff at the ready. “That’s not your sister… Not like you remember.” He started to tug her back, wanting- needing answers. It didn’t make sense. She didn’t make sense. And as far as he knew, Milli was the one that did this.
“S-Sammy? Sammy i-it hurts.”
If Samuel was a wolf his ears would have perked up. Rio’s cries made him abandon whatever was screaming in his mind telling him not to come closer.
He snarled as Milli grabbed his collar. He was older now, towering over the witch, but her strength was still a force to be reckoned with. “I promised mom that I’d protect Rio! And if that means protecting her from you-”
“Sa- aam…” From where they stood, those black veins had spread down her neck and arms. Rio was standing, swaying left and right as if her body was too heavy to carry. She repeated his name, but as Milli and Samuel stood the cries became a hollow, eerie echo. “I neEd yOur hELp… That’sss whAt big brothers are for?” Rio took a step forward, voidless eyes wide and trained on the two. Her mouth didn’t match the wavering words and each time it opened, pools of black spilled out.
“What… What was that seal?” Samuel could hear his heart in his ears. He blinked and he was a child again, tucked under the floorboards with his baby sister, watching the shadows overtake the room as his mom fought back. He was holding his mom’s bloody hand as she used all her strength to point to his crying sister. Protect her. He held a silent baby in his arms, running from panicked cries and wails of terror. The shadows chased after them.
That faded memory clawed its way to the surface, fragments of what it once was. But it hurt all the same. His breath was uneven and his heart was racing as he watched Rio stumble towards them. He wanted to run, unsure of the direction, but he couldn’t move.
“Rio’s…” Milli’s voice broke through Samuel’s stupor and he took a step backwards. “I couldn’t tell you. Not when it was your mother’s dying wish.” Her staff rose again, the green light growing brighter. The bracelet on Rio’s arm had fallen off, but the ribbons at her ponytails mimicked Milli’s magical glow and forced Rio to stop. “When I found you, your sister was… Rio was dead. I thought you were too.”
“N-” Samuel’s breath was heavy. He took another step back, not daring to take his eyes off Rio. “No… I saved her. We- I ran. We escaped. We escaped and you found us.”
“The thing that tried to kill you,” Milli’s voice wavered. “The thing that killed your mom, i-it needed a host and buried itself in Rio. I couldn’t remove it. Not without taking whatever was left of your sister. And I couldn’t do that. Not to you.” The magic glowed brighter as Rio’s head tilted, eyes still on them as she fiddled with the ribbons on the ends of her hair. They were not so easy to remove. “You were a baby yourself and had lost so much already… You would have broken.” Her voice was softer. “Your mom sacrificed herself because she wanted you to live.”
“That’s… That’s not true. I-I watched her grow up.” Tears welled in his eyes. “Milli, it's been five years. You can’t tell me all of that was a lie??” Five years of making sure she was safe. Five years of not knowing that he failed his mom’s dying wish.
“Sa- aammyy don’t cry…” The voice called out. “I caa-n turn inTo a wErewoLf jussst like. You.” The black ooze tried to wrap itself around Rio, but cowered away at the ribbons’ light.
“The seal is necromantic. I tried to grab whatever was left of her - to bury whatever this creature is but… I-I don’t know. It changed into something else.”
“This… This isn’t right.”
“Sammy!” Rio’s voice, the voice he had known for the last five years, cried out to him. “Sammy! She’s hurting me! Make her stop!” His eyes shut tight. “You said you would protect me! Mom told you too!”
“I can’t… I can’t smell her. I can’t hear her heartbeat anymore.” Every word was an unsteady shake. Every word felt like an ice pick through his chest. The tears flowed freely when he looked at Milli. “I killed her.”
“No, Samuel. You didn’t.” She broke her stance, reaching to pull him into her. He was that thirteen year old again, crying into her shoulder as she did everything in her power to soothe him. “I can- I can seal this back. We can figure this out. Rio’s- She could still-” The assuredness in her voice died in her throat. He felt her tears fall on him. “Sammy I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry.” She chanted the apology like an incantation and Sam wanted it to be enough to fix this.
“She’s not there anymore, Milli.” His voice was a whisper, flinching every time he heard his sister’s voice calling to him. “She was a baby. I… I don’t think…” The words tore through him as he straightened up again. “If the only thing that was keeping her together was the seal… that’s not - that’s not what my mom would’ve wanted. Rio isn’t-” Milli’s staff recoiled roughly and Samuel caught them both.
A single pink ribbon fell from Rio’s hair, leaving one remaining. The free ponytail spilled into the inky black, coiling around the left side of her body. It wrapped around her hand, creating a large three fingered claw, one Samuel remembered leaving a mark on the door to what was once his home. “The witch did this. The witch must. Go.” Those eyes were empty but they shifted to Samuel all the same. “The witch did this. Save me, Sammy!”
The large claw expanded with the shadows and Samuel lunged in front of Milli to take the brunt of the hit. Milli’s gasp and Rio’s shriek melded into nothing but bad news. The blood on his arms was enough of an indication that this would only get worse. He couldn’t let this get worse.
“Do… Do you know how to stop this?”
“Of course I do. Once I can get the seals back on her, I can-!”
“No…” Samuel stood at Milli’s side, forcing his voice steady. “Do you know how to stop this… permanently.”
Horror reflected in Milli’s eyes as Samuel stared down the creature that inhabited- that he thought was his sister. Her staff faltered and she started to pull away in refusal. “But Rio could still-”
“If she is in there… I can’t let my sister suffer like this… Thank you, Milli. For everything… but… You have to.” He put on a brave face, taking a hesitant step forward. One was all his instinct would allow. “You know I’d do anything for you, right Rio?” His hands rose in surrender, the claw marks deep in his arm. “I am… so, sorry that I didn’t know. But… you have to go with mom now, okay? She’s been waiting for you.” The creature flexed its claws, silently watching and poised to strike again. “I love you so, so much. You know that right?” The wind picked up again, howling a sorrowful song. “And you are the best little sister I could ever have… but you have to rest now.” As magic light filled his vision, his eyes closed and he turned his head away.