Wild at Heart
includes Delilah’s story “The Bully in the Piney Woods”
Publisher: Story Ink
On Sale: October 1, 2012
This volume of short stories includes a wonderful variety of contemporary and paranormal tales, and was produced by the Diamond State Romance Authors as a project of love to benefit the residents of the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. All profits from this collection will go directly to the refuge to help with the care and feeding of the rescued animals.
The stories in this volume were inspired by the animals. If you enjoy them, we hope you’ll recommend the book to friends, and doesn’t everyone need to feel a little Wild at Heart?
Note for Readers: You must be of legal age in your country of origin to read this excerpt.
I’ve heard the whispers—the ones my classmates want me to hear. That I’m strange. That my eyes are too big and yellow, my ears a little pointed. My nose is flatter than most folks’ and my skin is an odd golden hue. But they haven’t a clue just how different I really am.
They know I live inside the Pinewood Coop and that marks me, too. Most of the townsfolk think it’s a religious compound, although we don’t dress any differently than anyone else and we don’t have a church inside our reserve. Still, parents warn their children to stay clear of the kids that matriculate from the compound’s home school center to the public high school.
Everyone’s heard the strange squalling sounds that echo across the canyon at night. They wonder if we’re raising wild animals or possibly being beaten. Since they never see the smaller children who live inside the coop, other stories, like those told to frighten children into behaving, abound. If you don’t clean your room, we’ll send you to the piney woods…
But what they don’t understand is that the reserve is the one place where my kind roam free.
High school is a test of sorts for the Pinewood teens. Our childhoods are spent behind twelve-foot-tall game fences. As young cubs, we’re allowed to spend time in whichever skin we feel most comfortable. For me, it was my soft cub’s fur. Learning to walk like a human took forever because I didn’t like the feeling of teetering on two feet. I quickly mastered four and learned to hunt mice and bugs in the barns and fields, safe beneath the watchful gazes of the nursery’s nannies.
But mastery of my human limbs was imperative. When I was old enough, my parents curbed my freedoms, dressed me in restrictive clothing, and hired a dance teacher so that I could learn to move with grace and confidence, upright like a human.
Weeks before high school began, a new tutor entered the compound, one familiar with our breed and unafraid. One who taught us how to slip into the society outside the walls and blend as best we could.
All I needed to do was keep silent. Sit at the back of the class. Answer when a teacher posed a question, but above all, stay away from conflict. My wild streak is a mile wide, the urge to protect and defend myself instinctual. A shove in the hallway might make me snarl and slip my fangs. Everyone in Pinewood depended on me to keep their secrets.
Too bad they hadn’t prepared me for Pandi Wilcox and her crowd of mean girls. Like laughing hyenas, they ravaged their classmates, stealing lunch money, pretty coats, and jewelry with impunity. Not that they needed anything they took. They stole and ridiculed because they could. They were the upper tier of our small high school. The private club everyone wanted to join. Because to be one of Pandi’s girls was to live without fear.
From the moment I drew their interested stares, every hackle rose. I sensed their evil intent, recognizing on a primal level the threat they posed to my freedom. My muscles quivered, my skin itched, but I fought the urge to morph and kept my fangs hidden.
I did as I’d been taught—walked away whenever I sensed a confrontation coming, to the point where they taunted my fleeing back.
“Fraidy cat,” Pandi would call.
I wasn’t afraid of her. I feared I’d lose control and show her she was half right.