THE bus screeched to a metallic halt just in front of Travis. Curb water splashed and dampened his jeans and tennis shoes as he heard the squeal of the opening doors. Travis hesitated, and people pushed past from behind him to rush up the stairs and onto the bus. Clutching his ticket in one hand and his walking stick in the other, he made his way up the steps, his bag weighing heavily on his arm. He saw nothing but black, yet the rest of his senses were sharp and overwhelming. Body odor was the most pungent, but there was also flowery perfume that drifted toward him from the left. Someone had a baby because he could smell baby powder and spit-up. He could also smell leather, and old rubber with gasoline topped off the list of acrid scents. His inner cougar rebelled at being in close confines with such creatures, but Travis knew he had no choice.
People rustled and fidgeted as they took their seats, causing the bus to sway slightly. Their heavy stomps up and down the aisle were irritating to his ears. Humans made such a ruckus. They didn’t know how to step lightly, how to avoid disturbing their surroundings. Travis did—he had been taught well by his parents.
Travis held out his ticket in the direction he supposed the bus driver was, and felt it taken from his hand.
“There’s a free seat four rows back and to your right,” the bus driver said. Travis judged that the driver was a man, if his smooth tenor was any indication. “It’s an aisle seat.”
Travis smiled. “Thank you.” He followed the driver’s directions and, true to his word, there was a free seat. He sat down and placed his bag on his lap and his stick between his legs. The passenger beside him smelled like a woman—the scent of perfume, hairspray, and heavily applied make-up was his evidence—and she moved her leg away from his, probably hugging the wall to make sure she didn’t touch him. He didn’t mind; he didn’t want to be touched either. The bus jerked into motion a moment later.
He’d been meeting kind people like the bus driver since he’d had his vision stolen from him. Stolen by those godless devils, that shifter-hating lynch mob. He didn’t know what they called themselves or what their individual names were. They hadn’t just stolen his sight either; they had stolen his family. The last sight burned into his memory was his family’s mutilated bodies, carved and sliced open on slabs like frogs in a high school biology class. They had been experimented on, tortured, just as he had been. His father, mother, his sisters and brothers, all treated like lab rats.
Travis touched the dark glasses that hid his eyes from the sight of strangers. He didn’t know what the scars looked like, of course, but he could feel them on his skin, the burns from the acid the devils had slathered on his eyes. Afterward, the ones who had poured it on told him they wanted to know about the physiology of shifters, and the only way to do so was to experiment. Cold and clinical voices had spoken to him, and the pain had been indescribable. He had prayed for death, but it never came. Instead, he’d escaped, shifting and clawing anyone who got in his way. He’d bitten and shredded and blood had matted his fur. And he had enjoyed it.
After his escape he’d lived as a cougar, hiding during the day and stealing food at night. He’d realized he had nowhere to go and no one to help him. He didn’t know any other shifters, and he had been scared to search them out. But he couldn’t live as a cougar in a place populated with humans. He’d scented the humans everywhere, and only constant vigilance had kept him from being discovered. He hadn’t even known what city or state he had been in. Barely a week had passed when he’d scented a group of fox shifters. It had been night, and being hungry and wretched, Travis had approached them. They had been afraid at first, but once Travis shifted and lay helpless on the sidewalk, the fox shifters had helped him and nursed him back to health. One of them, the female alpha, Trixie, had asked questions but Travis never answered them. He’d stayed for a month, but Travis knew he couldn’t live with them permanently. Revenge had never been far from his mind, and he had sensed that they would not go to war. And he needed an army, not a ragtag group of peaceful shifters, no matter how kind they were.
There was only one place where he would find that army and where he would feel some ounce of safety. A place where he might find a home.
A town made up of shifters, the location hidden, even from most shifters. And those in the know didn’t tell just anyone. But his parents had known, and they had told him. He now had a long journey ahead of him. Alone. A journey to Montana.
While part of him felt like a coward and hated himself because he felt he was running away, the other part knew it was the only logical action to take. He had no advantage over the shifter-haters, and he was vulnerable without his sight. Before he could take them on, he had to learn how to live without that vital tool.
His parents also would have wanted him to go there. They always told their children about the town of Haven and that if anything ever happened to them, the children were to go there. Travis considered this their dying wish.
Travis’s throat closed and he dug his fingernails into the palm of his other hand, trying to stop the tears that burned his destroyed eyes. He’d already shed tears for his family, and no amount of crying would help him or bring them back, Tears were an indulgence he could not afford; they were useless and made him weak.
Travis was on his own, and he could only pray that perhaps, someday, he would get justice for his family.