The wolf was always hungry. The hunger was as persistent as a shadow and as tenacious as the trumpet vines climbing the trees, ripping him apart until he would soon only be a ravenous appetite. The hunger was the predator, he its prey.

No matter how many rabbits, deer, or foxes he devoured, the emptiness remained, a hollow hole demanding to be filled.

For some reason, the wolf knew that the only thing that could end this relentless hunger was the young woman walking along the path. She smelled like summer evenings and tenderness.

But he could never get close to her. The cloak she wore, the color of a slit throat, seared his eyes, and he had to flee, shame and desperation teasing him like the girl’s delicious scent.

The girl didn’t give chase, never even saw him. Her eyes were always on the path before her. Where it led, the wolf didn’t care. He only cared about filling this cavern inside him.


It felt almost like blasphemy to admit, even to herself, that Laurel didn’t want to walk into the forest to see her grandmother. Once, the jaunt had been the highlight of her week. The two would chat over her mother’s fresh-baked apple stack cake or buttermilk biscuits while sipping pine-needle tea.

Then her grandmother would show her the latest cat blanket she’d stitched or Laurel would help her weed the tomatoes or flowers, laughing at her grandmother’s terrible jokes.

But ever since her grandmother’s sickness, she hadn’t been the same. Her grandmother’s laughter had dried up, her temper shortening.

Laurel glanced at the painting of her grandmother and her great aunt Agnes that hung over the dining room table. Grandmother Gladys was laughing, her blue eyes wrinkled in laughter at some secret joke, hair escaping her bun, and a pang of longing for the laughing Grandmother shot through Laurel.

Gladys’ sister, Agnes, though similar in features, scowled, as if she couldn’t believe her sister dared smile for the painter. Grandmother stopped talking about her sister after the sisters had some kind of falling out a few years ago.

“Here you are, Laurel.” Her mother rolled into the dining room in her wheelchair and dumped some biscuits into a basket on the table. She handed the basket to Laurel. “Maybe these will make Mother feel better.”

The rolls smelled buttery, golden, and magical. Laurel wanted to shove one into her mouth, but instead closed the cloth over the biscuits to hold the heat in for as long as possible.

“You’ve been baking your healing herbs into these treats for three weeks now, and nothing has changed,” Laurel told her mother. Although grandmother was no longer sick, the illness had warped her like time mottles people’s skin with wrinkles and spots. Except these changes were worse because they were inside her.

Laurel glanced at her grandmother’s portrait again, a hunger for the days when her grandmother laughed quicker and smiled easier welling inside her.

“These are baked with a new concoction.” Mother nodded at a jar of purple powder on the kitchen counter. “Chrysanthemums and asters I picked from our garden under that full moon two nights ago.”

Laurel looked down at the biscuits. Thankfully they weren’t purple, but she’d eaten enough of her mother’s magical treats to know that they always tasted delicious, no matter what bizarre ingredients her mother put into them or what color they were.

She didn’t have high hopes for this latest experiment, but judging by the way her mother caressed the jar of purple powder and the way her eyes seemed to linger on the bread, she did. So Laurel kept her mouth shut.

She grabbed the red cloak hanging by the door that Grandmother had given her three weeks ago to protect her from wolves. She didn’t understand why Grandmother had just recently become concerned about them; they’d never roamed these mountains before that Laurel knew about, but Grandmother was apt to become as fiery as a dragon these days when her requests were denied, so Laurel put it on.

As she did, she told her mother, “When I get home, I’ll finish mending the table.” Because her father had died when Laurel had only been five, and her mother had been paralyzed from the waist down since Laurel had been a little girl—unable to get to her healing concoctions in time—most chores fell on Laurel’s shoulders. She didn’t mind; they made her feel useful and took her mind off the changes in Grandmother.

“No need to rush.” Mother waved her hand. “It’s still standing, which is what matters.” She wheeled over and handed Laurel the basket. “I’ll have soup ready when you return.”

Before Laurel walked out the door, Mother gave her daily mandate, “And stay on the path.”

The basket lowered in Laurel’s hands as guilt dropped stones into her stomach. She had never told Mother about the weeks she’d wandered off the path to indulge in long conversations with a young man. Another kind of hunger, deep and simmering and needy, rose to the surface, but she shut the door on it.

With the cloak on and the basket of magical treats on her arm, Laurel journeyed through town, its stone buildings rosy-red with the late afternoon May sunshine.

“Give my regards to your Grandmother,” Whitaker, the watchmaker, said as she passed the clock tower.

“I will,” Laurel lied. Grandmother didn’t care about anyone’s regards anymore, and the illness had taken much of her memory.

The first time she’d been well enough to hear and understand Laurel, she’d given their neighbor’s regards, and Grandmother had said, “She can keep her regards, and I’ll keep these.” She’d grabbed a blueberry muffin and took a large bite.

Laurel was the only one who knew how much the illness had taken from her grandmother. Not even Mother knew, for then Laurel would have to explain how she had skipped visiting Grandmother for three weeks in a row.

Laurel could already see the disappointment and shock filling her mother’s face—a sword she didn’t want to fall on yet. So she buried her secret deep inside where she buried her cravings for those too-short afternoons spent with a man who had butterfly-soft blue eyes and scratched hands that were somehow both rough and soft. She threw some dirt on the image. Good daughters and granddaughters didn’t chase after their own desires at the expense of those who needed them.

As soon as Laurel stepped into the woods, the bluebirds’ and sparrows’ singing stopped. A fog swirled around the trees, and though late spring had settled on the forest south of town with a warm embrace, leaves unfurling and daffodils blossoming, here it felt like winter. The trees threw naked, white branches into the air, and the ground was carpeted only in pine needles and mushrooms.

This was the other reason Laurel no longer enjoyed her jaunts into the forest. The woods weren’t her woods anymore; they belonged to some shadowy coldness, lost in a sleep that Laurel didn’t know how to waken them from.

She kept her gaze forward, trying to ignore the way the wind moaned through the trees, as if saying her name in a plea for help. There was nothing she could do. Besides, the last time she had helped someone, she had strayed off the path and lost her grandmother.