Authors: Kay D. Smith
The Dire Wolf's Mate
by Kay D. Smith
The Dire Wolf's Mate copyright
© 2014 Kay D. Smith
Published by Proserpina Press
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any print or electronic form.
The Dire Wolf's Mate
Rain had missed this: Appalachia.
She had missed the slow twang of voices, the way the mountains went on for days. She'd missed the hazy mist that hung in the air of a distance; she'd missed the fresh, clean scent that swayed on the breeze and the feel of the forest under her feet. Not that she was doing much walking herself. Her saddlebags packed full, she'd been perched atop Hiram's back for the better part of three hours and she thought it might just be time for a little rest and some lunch.
She'd been traveling for days. Well, for years, if she were honest. She'd left her family's home when she twelve, newly orphaned, come over the mountain to live with her Grammy. She'd left Grammy's home when she was eighteen, eager for adventure and the chance to see the world. She'd backpacked through Europe, waitressed through Idaho, and secretaried through Oregon. She'd had her picture taken in front of the Hollywood sign and lived with a band of nomads who careened at breakneck pace through the rodeo circuit.
She'd won Hiram in a card game with one of the richest men she knew; she tried her own hand at rodeoin', but it wasn't so much her speed. She preferred the lazy pace of getting from Point A to Point B, with plenty of time for breaks and watching the scenery.
So after a tearful goodbye with her good friend, Beth, she packed her bags and aimed Hiram's hooves towards home.
She just still wasn't sure exactly where home was, only that it was somewhere in those mountains.
She grimaced as she sat down on a felled tree stump and pulled out a bag of pemmican. The stump was damp. Probably it would seep through her pants if she sat down too long, but Hiram could use a chance to graze a little, get some water from the stream. She had an idea that she'd be coming into a town by evening; she'd seen the smoke from their houses from her campsite before she'd started off in the morning. Who knew? Maybe it would be just the town she was looking for.
She felt a little guilty, not going directly home to her grandmother, but something was calling her away. She wasn't sure what it was - some niggling sensation in the back of her mind, calling "Not yet, not yet," and Grammy didn't seem to mind too much. She spoke with her as often as she could; cell reception wasn't great in some areas, but she always made certain to keep her phone and computer tucked safe in plastic and hidden away in the bags, just in case she got rained on before she could seek cover, and when she was able, she tapped into wireless that let her do video calls.
Rain ate her pemmican and drank slowly from a bright green water bottle, sung a few verses of
, and whistled for Hiram. She was hoping for a roof over her head this sundown.
It was an ecovillage. At least, she presumed so, given the cob houses. There were timber frames, too, and one house dug into the side of a hill with a round door like a hobbit hole. There were fields just starting to be worked and some over winter crops with green sticking out of the earth like they promised a feast.
She rode by several homes still shadowed by the trees grown tall around them before she reached what she assumed to be the village proper, and she drew stares as she picked her way through the town, hoping to find an eatery, if they had one.
She was in luck. Miss May's General Store and Cafe had a nicely painted sign outside and there was even another horse tethered out front. Rain eyed her surroundings warily. She didn't usually like keeping her few valuables outside where anyone could happen by, but she also was used to places a bit larger than this one. Still, it would be a pain to disengage all of her straps and buckles and carry it all in, and she wasn't sure yet if she'd be staying more than a few moments - it didn't look like the store and cafe was an all inclusive bed and breakfast, too. At any rate, if she would have trouble rifling through her things, so would anyone else, and the windows were large and facing the horses.
The cafe was small and quiet, and there was only one other customer - a younger man who was scribbling furiously in a leather journal. She wondered what he was writing; the calculator he reached out to every few minutes didn't make her think "short story" or "diary entry."
"What can I get for you?" came the pleasant voice of an older lady.
Rain glanced up at the menu board. "Beef and barley soup?" she asked, and the woman nodded. "Just take a seat, dear. I'll have it right out."
Rain did as she asked, shrugging from her jacket and laying it over the back of her chair. The windows were large and lit the room; she grew bored with the small pattern of table and chairs and glanced out into the sunshine unseeingly.
Something was odd. It took a moment for her to realize what it was - the children across the way. They were normal, noisy children, kicking a ball back and forth, except that it seemed one of them had iridescent scales over half his face, and one seemed almost to have wings, but she blinked, and the image was gone.
The soup bowl slid in front of her startled her, and she looked up with a rueful grin. "Guess I've been spending too much time alone."
"It happens to the best of us," the woman said, holding out her hand to shake. "I'm Millie, one of the owner's here. Where are you from, dear?"
Rain smiled at her and took her hand. "Here and there, lately. But Pigeon Creek is probably where I'd call home, until I can find one of my own. It's a few hours outside of Winston Salem."
"That something you looking for, then? A new home?"
Rain shrugged. "I don't think I can wander around forever."
The door opened then, and in stepped an old, small little man wearing a green bowtie and red suspenders. He wore an old fashioned Bowler hat perched atop his head, and when he shut the door behind him, he nodded his head to Millie and pulled it off, placing it on a coat stand in the corner.
"Hello, Millie," he said.
Rain thought she looked just a little relieved. "Hey there, Jim," she answered.
"Cup of coffee?" he said hopefully, and Millie nodded.
"Coming right up."
Jim sat down beside her. "You're new," he said bluntly.
"Just passing through," Rain remarked.
"Where you headed?"
"I don't know," she said truthfully.
Jim's face broke into a broad grin. "Neither did we," he said, "when we settled here."
Rain ate her soup slowly, listening to the odd little man speak. He talked about the founding of the village, revealed himself as one of the elders there. He told her that they rarely had even a handful of visitors a year, and most of them they had were family members who lived elsewhere. He talked about his wife, Myra, who was Millie's sister, and how they had an epic pie making contest every few years when their sibling rivalry got too intense.
Rain found herself talking, too - about her travels, and Hiram, and her Grammy in her little cottage, miles away. Jim was a pleasant conversationalist, steering the conversation with ease around any uncomfortable subjects, and when Rain looked up and realized she needed to be going if she was going to find a decent campsite for the night, Jim offered her the use of the town's guest quarters. "It's not much," he said, "but the bed's good and soft and you can come eat supper with me and Myra."
A soft bed sounded like a good thing indeed, and Rain shrugged and agreed. After she settled her bill, Jim went back to the counter, delivering a recipe card from Myra, and she thought she overheard him say, "Sidhe, maybe." But that was nonsensical, so she shrugged and made her way over to Hiram to unhitch him from the post.
Hiram had access to a small barn for the night, and hay, and she left him contentedly crunching on the dry stalks.
Myra, she found when she knocked on Jim's door, was just as warm as her husband, and bustled around Rain like a mother hen, making sure she was warm and comfortable and had plenty of food on her plate. Jim would be inside in just a few minutes, she explained. He was making sure the chickens were all put up for the night.
"Jim," she said when the man finally came through the door. "Leave it open for a few minutes. Jamie isn't back yet."
They exchanged glances.
"Jamie?" Rain asked, and Jim took his seat at the table.
"You'll meet him later," Jim said, noncommittal.
Rain quickly found out while Myra seemed to be an excellent baker, she wasn't the best of cooks. The meat was just a tad overdone, the vegetables poorly seasoned. But the biscuits she served with them were rich and buttery and flaky, and the pie she served for dessert was downright decadent. "I'm glad you caught me on a pie making day," Myra confided. "It's always best warm from the oven."
All through supper, the door had remained open, and Rain wondered whether or not this was a frequent occurrence. She'd heard of country folk who didn't lock their doors; had lived with some of that ilk although she was a bit more private herself - she'd had one too many things nicked before. But she'd never heard of someone having their door standing open all through supper unless it had a screen on it. She wondered what was wrong with Jamie that he wasn't able to turn a doorknob.
And then she found out. Dark fur glided through the doorway; the mass of animal easily as tall as the table. She dropped her fork. It made a clang against the plate.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jim exchange another glance with Myra.
"This is Jamie, Rain. Jamie, this is Rain."
Jim got up to shut the door, and Rain noticed that the backside of the wood had a peculiar looking latch, hanging by a thin rope. It must be for Jamie, she thought. So he could get out the door on his own.
Her initial shock worn off, Rain picked up her fork again and resumed eating. Jamie looked at her warily, but he didn't seem aggressive. He jumped up onto an overlarge sofa in the corner and laid his head down on his front paws, his gaze never leaving her.
"I didn't know dogs could come that large," Rain said into the awkward silence.
"He's not a dog, dear," Myra said, offering her another scoop of pie.
Rain patted her stomach and had to refuse. "I'm completely stuffed. Thank you, Myra. It was delicious."
Myra nodded and smiled and put down the spoon. "He's a wolf."
"A dire wolf," Jim corrected, and from the corner, Jamie blew out a snort.
"A dire wolf," Myra agreed.
"But I thought - " Rain was confused.
"That they were extinct?" Jim supplied. "It's a bit of a common misconception. Incredibly rare."