“Hi, I'm Grace Charnow. Are you Ann?”
The woman's face looked weathered but kindly as it creased into a smile. “Yes. Welcome to the Wolf Conservatory. I understand you'd like to interview us for your college newspaper?”
Grace cleared her throat. She was nervous as this was her first assignment. The older students had pawned this unwanted story off on her because it was somewhat controversial. One of the biggest donors to the school, Mayor Landis, was fighting to have the center closed. He felt it did no good and it was a waste of tax dollars. Many of the students were fighting this looming decision, and it was up to Grace to report on the center itself.
The Wolf Conservatory was rumored to be run by a bunch of ex-hippies who were probably into drugs as well, but the woman before Grace was nothing like she had expected. She might have been a hippie in her former life, but she was neatly dressed and appeared quite happy that Grace was there to write about them.
“Want some coffee?” Ann indicated a coffee machine sitting on the counter nearest them.
The college student declined. She had never been a coffee drinker.
Ann's face fell momentarily, but suddenly perked back up. “We'll have to find you something else, then.”
“Oh, I'm fine. Not thirsty.”
Shrugging, the woman suggested, “Well, Grace, would you at least like a tour?”
Before Grace could answer, there was loud talking in one of the back rooms, and it grew in intensity as she listened. “What's going on back there?” she asked curiously.
Ann made a dismissive wave towards the sounds. “Not everyone supports us, as you know. Sometimes we try to win them over.” She paused, seeming as if she had more to say, but then deciding against it. “Now, come on with me.” She opened a side door, and Grace followed her into a small room. “This is our break room. We can talk here if you'd like.”
The conversation from the back had now elevated into yells, and Ann shut the door behind them. “Sorry about that,” she grimaced, then continued on. “Now, obviously, you have a pretty good idea what we do here. We try to inform the public all about wolves. We monitor their populations, even using twenty-four-hour cameras on them. People don't realize how important wolves are to the ecosystem. By hunting some, like the red wolf, almost to extinction, we're allowing other animal populations to thrive unchecked, causing incredible imbalances in nature.”
Grace was trying to write this all down on a yellow-lined note pad she had brought instead of her computer, but the shouting and screeching was becoming deafening. “What are they doing to that poor man?”
The woman seemed so laid back, it began to irk the young college student. “He's fine,” Ann smiled. “No worries.”
The door of the break room opened that very moment to reveal a rugged-looking man. His red plaid shirt only intensified his phenomenal similarity to Paul Bunyan.
Ann greeted him with a smirk. “Hey, Kevin. How's it going in there?”
“So sorry about the ruckus,” the man apologized directly to Grace. “You're the girl doing the article - Grace, right? Thanks so much. We really could use some good publicity. I hope we can repay you.”
Going past the pleasantries, Grace demanded, “Is that man okay?”
“Oh, he'll be fine.”
“Get the hell in here, you bastard!” erupted from behind him.
“That's my cue! Nice to meet you, Grace!” Kevin sidled out the door and it slammed shut behind him. Grace stood up, gaping at it. Did the man in there man need help? No one seemed too concerned about him.
By way of explanation, Ann offered, “Our guest is going to try our special tour. Would you like to also?”
Grace stared at the woman. Maybe she was on drugs after all. “Will the tour make me scream in pain like that?”
Ann rose, coming towards her with a maternal look. “Oh, no! He's not in pain. He's screaming because he's mad.”
“Because of the special tour?”
Ann chuckled. “Sort of. See, he's Kevin's uncle, and Kevin wants him to understand our cause a bit better, so he's given him some of our wolf serum.”
“Wolf serum. Uh...okay...”
“Yes, it changes the person into a wolf for twenty-four hours. Once I'm done with you, it's my turn to change today. You're welcome to join me if you have twenty-four hours free. Come learn about the wolves firsthand!”
The skeptical girl started to cough, but the woman seemed deadly serious, and Grace's suspicion of drug use, to her at least, was confirmed. Obviously Ann and her co-workers used hallucinogens to make themselves think they'd transformed into wolves. Gripping her notepad tightly in hand, Grace carefully moved towards the door. No wonder they had assigned her to this place. It was run by a bunch of crazy people! “Um, I don't think I have the time right now for tours. Maybe I'll come back...”
“I understand,” Ann made no move to prevent her from exiting.
Now outside of the room, Grace could hear more of the yelling. “You, stupid bastard, Kevin! I'm going to kill you after I...rrrr....can't stand up like this anymore...” The door to the other room was partly ajar, and Grace poked her head in. No one stopped her, and Kevin even invited her in.
There, on all floors, was a strange chimera – a half-man, half-wolf.
“Oh my God!” Grace shrieked in fright.
“Don't be afraid, Grace, it's just my Uncle George,” murmured Kevin from the side of the room.
“What is he–” She looked to Kevin for an explanation, only to gain a fresh scare.
Kevin was growing fur and pointy ears.
Rendered speechless, she shifted her gaze to “Uncle George”. Were these costumes? They seemed quite real, and she could swear she could actually see the fur increasing as she watched...
“Look what my sister's own...arrgghh...son did to me!” the transforming man on the floor screamed, turning his face to Grace. “Turning me into a goddamned animal to punish me for retracting their funding!”
Uncle George was none other than Mayor George Landis himself.
“Mayor!” Grace cried, jumping toward him to help, but his face was pushing out into a snoutful of sharp teeth, and he growled at her.
Taken aback, she noted that the man was also restrained. “He's chained to the wall!” she gasped.
Kevin chuckled, wagging a tail that hadn't been there before. “That's so he doesn't rip me to pieces before I finish changing myself. Yes, I'm going to accompany him on his little trip.”
“Argh!” Mayor Landis groaned, flapping his own tail angrily.
For the first time, Ann spoke from behind her. “Come, Grace. Let them change in peace.” She pulled the shocked girl away and led her into the break room once more.
“That...that's impossible!” Grace managed to exclaim.
“Nope. Not at all. You saw it with your very eyes. Now I'm going to start changing too, if you don't mind. I can still give you a tour while I transform. Question is, would you like to join me?”
Would it hurt? Would it damage her body? Questions flooded Grace's head, but as she watched Ann prepare what looked like a cup of coffee, she replied without hesitation, “Okay.”
It surprised her that she would answer to the affirmative so quickly, but after all, how could she turn this chance down? Who knew this was even possible?
Ann handed her the cup. “This is a secret, obviously. Nothing of this goes in your article. And yes, it's in the coffee. So sorry, you'll have to drink it.”
Grace held the cup, regarding it for a moment. Was she really going to do this?
As Grace deliberated her next move, a loud wolf howl echoed through the office. “Oh, that's Kevin, the show-off," said Ann. "He's telling me they're both fully changed and they're leaving.” The far-off sound of a door closing served to reinforce Ann's point.
“Usually one of us goes out at a time, but Kevin managed to get Mayor Landis in last minute, so Erin's going to watch the office today. Drink up so I can take my serum soon. I'd like you to start changing first so I can guide you through.” She prepared another cup of coffee and placed a lid onto it.
Grace closed her eyes, opened her mouth, and gulped down her beverage.
“I drank it,” she uttered, looking down at herself with anxiety. Nothing was happening. She wondered if she somehow had been fooled, and disappointment flirted with her.
“Good job.” Ann approached her. “Listen, you might want to take off your clothes if you don't want them destroyed.”
“Um,” Grace blushed. “I'd rather not.” Especially if nothing was going to happen, she thought.
“You don't have to right away. Just do it before you're all wolf. It's harder to get them off with paws. Now let's get going.”
Grace followed Ann to the front desk where a red-headed woman sat typing at a computer. “You changing yet, Ann?” she asked without looking up.
“Soon. You're changing tomorrow, Erin?”
“Yup. Have fun. Kevin left already with his idiot uncle. I have to say, Mayor Landis made a beautiful wolf. He doesn't deserve it, honestly.”
“Yes. Kevin's one too. Keep an eye out for them. Just wait until you see how this experience changes the mayor, Grace. He'll soon be begging to fund us!” Erin gave a wave and went back to her work.
Following Ann outside, Grace reveled in the smell of the forest. It was teeming with odors she had never smelled before... Decaying vegetation, insects, animals...But she was beginning to feel odd. She scratched at her belly, but this did not seem to alleviate the immensely irritating itch that was building up all over her skin. A burst of hope welled up inside of her. “Maybe...it's really happening,” she murmured. "Oh, please..."
“Sure you don't want to take anything off?” Ann asked with an amused grin.
Grace shook her head no, so Ann continued. “Okay, well, here's where we start our tour. This is where we release any rehabilitated wolves back into the wild. They have acres and acres to roam, and we have several types of wolves in our forest. We're turning into red wolves today. There's only about three hundred of them at last count that we know of, and we're happy to boast some of them as our own.” She raised an eyebrow. “We've even contributed to the population ourselves.”
“You... Is it possible?” Grace breathed. She wasn't sure she wanted to hear about this - real or not.
“When we're wolves, we're wolves. We have a human mind, but it becomes more wolf-like the longer we're in a wolf body. When we use a longer-acting serum, we sometimes...succumb to the wolf impulses.”
“No, that's nature. Erin has both fathered and mothered pups,” Ann said proudly, entering the woods.
So supposedly there was a serum that would change one's sex as a wolf, too? Grace only wished she could do an article on whatever science was behind this supposed formula they used!
She wanted this to be real, but other than feeling itchy, nothing else out of the ordinary was occurring. Finally, she yanked up her shirt to find that there was thick reddish fur growing down her chest. “Oh!” she cried in delight. It really was happening, and it didn't hurt at all! "It's real! It's not a trick! My God, I can't believe I'm turning into a wolf!"
Ann was laughing at her outburst. “Yes, yes," she smiled. "I love seeing a person on their first change. I know how wonderful that feeling is – when you see the fur for the first time! Look – it's on the back of your hands too. That's kind of a pattern the potion follows. Next up you'll grow paw pads and nails–”
Yes, her nails had already taken on a thicker appearance, and it excited the girl to no end. This was going to be amazing! Something made her force out a feeble howl, and Ann chuckled. “You're starting to feel it, huh? By the way, take off your shoes. If nothing else, I strongly suggest you at least do that. You're going to to have trouble walking in them when your feet become paws.”
Grace was more than willing to heed Ann's suggestion. She was finding it incredibly uncomfortable to have footwear on. As she bent down to remove her shoes, out of curiosity she rolled up her pants to see that her leg hair had grown in and was looking abnormally bushy. In fact, it had a reddish hue, and as she watched, it thickened into fur. With a fascinated giggle, she took off her shoes and placed them down near the side of the path.
“You're changing, so it's my turn now.” Ann lifted the lid on her coffee cup and gulped down the liquid. “We'll pick your shoes up tomorrow.” She placed the cup down next to Grace's shoes. They began to walk. “It's uncomfortable being barefoot like this. I keep stepping on rocks,” commented Grace.
Ann glanced down at Grace's thickening, sharp toenails in silent approval. “You'll be more and more comfortable as your feet change to paws.” She pointed to the left where the path forked and indicated Grace to follow. “See, we use the serum to keep tabs on our wolves. We infiltrate our packs, and make sure all the animals are healthy and uninjured...”
“Sure beats a vet.”
“I am a vet,” Ann chuckled. “I specialize in wolves. That's why I'm here. Also a great way to do research like this.” She scratched at her arm. “Your tail should be coming in soon. Feel it?”
Obviously Ann was an expert in wolf metamorphoses. She was right; there most definitely was a dull ache at the back of Grace's spine. Something gave way, and she could feel pressure against her underwear.
“Undo your pants.”
But she couldn't. They'd fall down, she'd be mortified...And yet the pressure was getting unbearable...
Just as she unbuttoned her pants, her tail ripped through her underwear. Instead of being irritated, however, she grabbed the tail in joy. “Oh, it's beautiful, and I can wave it, and...oh,wow!”
Ann examined it. “Yes, and you're getting a nice lush coat. Good. But you're down a pair of underwear. Told you. Oh, my fur's starting in already. I'm going quick today. Good.”
“There's different speeds?” Grace ventured, probing her teeth with her tongue. They were definitely growing sharper.
“Yes. All kinds of things affect the serum's progress. Have it on an empty stomach, like me, and you transform much faster than if you've eaten, for example.”
Grace had had a huge breakfast, so she assumed she'd be in for a slower change. But it didn't seemed to matter. She took off her pants, reveling in her furry legs, but she did not remove the ripped panties. There were places that still had to be covered. She did notice her feet had shrunk somewhat, and now resembled paws. It was even more comfortable to walk now as her paw pads were almost completely formed. She stopped to study them gleefully, then hugged her fuzzy arms to her chest in anticipation of her further changes.
“Some of these areas are fenced in, forming enclosures. This keeps other animals and packs out. It kind of creates territories too so we can house more wolves than normally would be around each other in the wild.”
A howl went up far off, and Ann hardly reacted. “That's Kevin. I know his call anywhere.”
Another different howl arose, and Ann began to laugh. “Uncle George is already having the time of his life. That didn't take too long!”
“Where are the other wolves?” Grace asked.
“Some are sleeping. Most sense us and are hiding right now. They'll more likely to come out when we're really wolves. Our very scent changes when we're transformed. It's truly amazing.” Ann pointed out more landmarks. Noting how far along Grace's metamorphosis had gotten, she uttered, “We better hurry up. You won't be able to talk much longer. But we'll have all night to explore. By the way, you really don't need to stay covered up anymore.” With that, Ann removed all of her clothes right there.
Embarrassed, Grace peeked under her own panties to see that everything was now covered by a thick coat of fur. She pulled the shredded material away.
“Leave it on the ground. We'll get it tomorrow when we get your shoes.” Ann instructed.
As they trudged through the woods, they came upon a large chunk of granite. “This is Lika's rock. She's the matriarch of the red wolf pack, and she's kind of my friend when I'm a wolf. I've learned a lot about female red wolves from spending time with her. You'll meet her when you've changed.”
Grace suddenly felt a jolt, and she seemed shorter. Her look of amazement led Ann to point out, “Yes, you're starting to shrink.”
Ann herself was changing swiftly, now sporting her own tail. She sniffed at the air and sprinted over to a tree. “I knew it. They made a kill last night.”
“You can smell that from far off?” Grace said, but as she inhaled deeply, she could detect the deer carcass quite plainly. As she came around to view it, she felt a hint of sadness for the animal, but she knew that was nature, cruel as she could be.
As if in answer to her thoughts, Ann, who was now bending on all fours and smelling at the carcass, explained, “We have to eat, Grace. Everything must eat.” Her stomach growled. “This is even starting to smell so good to me.”
“Ew. Dead meat?”
“We're hunters, Grace.”
“This kind of thing will make Mayor Landis change his mind?” Without thinking, Grace pulled off her shirt in annoyance, leaving her furry chest covered only in her bra.
“Tonight will make him a different man. Look, I changed Kevin's mind with the serum. He used to hunt. Now he's more against hunting than any animal rights activist. The only hunting he does is when he turns into a wolf!”
With another drop in her height, Grace hunched over, feeling a greater and greater urge to get on all fours, but she tried to ignore it. For some reason, the thought of going onto all fours while still human and having Ann looking on was shameful to her. Her ears blossomed into wolf ears, and she tried to scratch at them, but as her hands were now paws, she was not very successful. Ann smiled at this, going over to the changing girl and relieving her itch. Grace made a grateful groan deep in her throat.
“Let me get your bra off too. You won't be able to unhook it.” Ann's own hands were almost paws, so she had some trouble undoing the garment, but Grace was quite appreciative when she was released from its iron-like grip.
Going past a puddle, Grace paused to look down at herself. A beautiful wolf-like face stared back at her with round, golden eyes. She was more wolf than human, and the distinct ache in her spine was now forcing her onto all fours. She fell to the ground, only to push herself back up onto two legs. Ann shook her head. “Don't resist the changes, Grace,” she murmured.
When Grace surrendered, she wondered why she had fought, for the end of the transforming process seemed more stimulating than anything else. It was also rather amusing that Ann, only minutes behind on her changes, simply sat by watching her metamorphosis with approval.
A loud growl escaped Grace's snout, and she knew she wouldn't be speaking again for twenty-four hours. She remained frozen, feeling her very insides become wolf, and then all was still.
Ann, now perhaps ninety-nine percent changed, came up and nudged her, making encouraging sounds, but Grace was too entranced with her new body to move. How different it felt to be an animal! Her coat was smooth and beautiful! Her hearing was beyond what any human could hear, her sight was so clear, her sense of smell...
The deer carcass odor was in the air, and it didn't smell half bad...
Ann emitted a howl of victory into the air, and Grace did too. And this time, Grace's howl was strong, proud, and completely lupine.
They spent the next twenty-four hours exploring every nook and cranny of the woods. Ann knew where to go and what areas to avoid. They saw creatures that Grace had never seen in the wild – cougars, skunks, owls – they were all visible with a wolf's eye.
And a whole secret world had been opened to Grace. As a human, traipsing through the night woods would scare everything away. As a wolf, however, more creatures were about. Ann led them to a wolf's den, and they were welcomed in by a beautiful red she-wolf, who had just given birth to four beautiful kits.
This must have been Lika, for she invited Ann in like a sister. She gave a small growl at Grace, but Ann communicated somehow that Grace was no threat, and Lika allowed her inside.
Ann inspected the kits with the eye of a veterinarian, and, seeing that all were healthy, she made another grunt to Lika and exited the den. Grace followed, loath to leave the breathtaking sight, but she awaited her further adventures with great anticipation.
There was a scuffle ahead. Ann nudged Grace into the underbrush with her paw and listened. Then a set of joyous howls met their ears, and Ann rolled her eyes. She picked up a stick and traced “Kevin” in the dirt. They entered a clearing where two impressive male Mexican grays tussled playfully with each other. Ann made a howl which raised the hackles on both males' backs until Kevin recognized them. He then raced over to Ann, batted at her like a kitten, then darted off.
Ann shook her head in disdain, rolling her eyes at Grace again.
The other wolf, obviously the Mayor, didn't seem to know what to make of the females until Ann traced “Hi Uncle George” in the dirt. Then he started to make an odd grunting sound. Ann eyed him strangely until he traced “I'm laughing” in the dirt.
“Like being wolf?” Ann traced back.
“Amazing” was his answer.
Kevin darted back. “Let's run!” he traced. And with a collective yowl, all four wolves darted into the night.
Near morning, Kevin and his uncle brought down a deer and invited the females to dine. Ann joined them without a thought. Grace was hesitant, but her wolf instincts made her yearn for the fresh meat, and she was so hungry...
Wiping her mind of any human thought, she allowed her wolf-self to take over, and she ate with zest.
After a long nap in the strengthening sun, Ann roused her, pointing to the dirt. “Changing back”, she had scratched into it. She held up her front leg, which was beginning to lose fur. Grace's spirits fell; she could see her own changes were farther ahead than Ann's.
But she was very grateful for this experience – she had never felt so free. Being among the wolves and learning of their lives made her want to help them; what would the world be if there were no more red wolves?
Grace resolved to be a volunteer.
They made their way back to the conservatory, changing with each step. They picked up Grace's shoes, her shredded underwear, and the rest of their clothing, which was wet from the morning dew. When they were able to speak once more, Ann queried, “Was it all you thought it would be?”
Grace's snout was shortening, her mouth and throat were becoming human... “Yes....it was unimaginable...I want to help. I want to get involved with you guys! I want to do everything!”
Ann laughed at Grace's enthusiasm. This experience seemed to have pulled the college girl out of her shell a bit too. “Be a volunteer!”
“Where do I sign up?!”
When they entered the building, Grace was human, and Ann was a rather hirsute woman with pointy ears and a nub left where her tail had been. Neither seemed to care much that they were naked.
Nonchalantly, Ann pulled two robes from a hook by the door. She threw one to Grace and draped one over herself. “I usually get back here before I'm completely human so I don't have the naked problem.”
Grace's eyes bulged out as she looked down at herself. “Oh, I forgot!” she cried, swiftly and clumsily pulling on the robe. “Gosh, I have no underwear! Mine was shredded!”
“We're totally prepared for this. We've got plenty,” Ann said, ruffling through a closet and pulling out a brand-new wrapped packet marked 'size 6'. “Looks like these should fit you.” She tossed them to Grace.
The back room door opened, and Mayor Landis and Kevin entered, both fully human. “So that was you guys, huh?” bellowed the mayor in a deeply joyous voice. “What beautiful females! Had I been in that body much longer, I might have–”
“Hey, enough of that, Uncle George!” Kevin winked at them and guided Mayor Landis away from them.
“I'm going to contribute two million to you guys, and we'll start up a fund, and you should get more publicity...” The front door slammed behind them, and Ann made a thumbs-up sign.
“I think we accomplished what we set out to do. Too bad it took so long to get Mayor Landis over here for it!” She tossed a Wolf Conservatory T-shirt at Grace. “Souvenir for you,” she said.
Grace inhaled deeply, fingering the shirt. The mayor was truly like a new man. No longer was he the gruff, nasty politician she knew from local news broadcasts. He seemed reborn, a nature-lover all the way. “You guys are amazing. Where did you get this serum stuff?” she questioned, pulling on her own shirt. It was surprisingly large on her, and she frowned in frustration.
“Oh, you're still not up to your full height yet. Sometimes that lags a bit, I notice. It'll come.” Ann drew closer to her. “Listen, as I said, you can write about whatever you want, but nothing about being a wolf. Don't mention it to anyone.”
As Grace drew on her still-baggy pants, she continued to thank Ann profusely. “I want to do more than volunteer. Can I work here? What can I do?”
“Well, we give all kinds of classes and lectures to teach people about wolves. You can lead one of those, although you'll need some more wolf experiences for that.”
“That's fine. I have all summer to be a wolf, if you want.”
Ann raised her eyebrows. “Are you volunteering?”
“A longer-acting serum?”
Grace jumped up excitedly. “I can be one all summer?”
“There's one thing with that, though.”
“You might end up with kits.”
Grace hesitated only seconds. “I'd love that. And the sooner, the better.”
As Grace forced herself to leave, she noticed Erin was sipping at a mug. “How's the coffee?” she tossed off airily to the girl.
“Fine,” uttered Erin, scratching her arm with gusto.
Grace smiled. Nature was calling its next wolf.