(Commission for internmatt)
...Sometimes life imitates art. Only it's usually better.
My eighteenth party was awesome. I didn't even mind that my mom had invited every relative on her side known to man. And they all seemed so excited that I was turning eighteen! I think they were more into it than I was, truth be told.
The few people on my dad's side were not quite as upbeat. In fact, they seemed quite the opposite. My dad's mom kept sneaking these glances at me, and, honestly, it made me feel weird. So I went off and hung out with my friends. They had all managed to attend, and it seemed as if it would be one of those few nights that would linger in my memory as near-perfect.
But once everyone was gone, and I helped my parents clean up the house and yard, my father muttered, “Is it time?”
My mother stopped and looked up at the sky. The bright moon lit up the August night like daylight, and she inhaled the warm air deeply. “Ah, I can feel it...” her eyes fell to me, and there was something in them that I could not quite discern.
My father had seemed nervous all night. Now he just shook his head. “I'll leave you to it, then,” he turned away and went back into the house.
“Leave you to what?” I asked curiously. My mom was twisting a lock of her brown hair anxiously, and I began to do the same. I took after in her in many things: looks, nervous habits, personality – sometimes I wondered if I had any of my dad's genes at all.
She sat down on a chair and motioned me to do the same. “I'm not going to build this up. I'll say it, you won't believe it, and then you'll see for yourself tomorrow.”
Why did I suspect my night was about to no longer be perfect? “Mom, I'll believe you. I've never doubted you.”
“Good. You noticed the looks you were getting from the family, right?”
Ah, there was an explanation for that. I guess that was good. Or...maybe not...
She took a deep breath. “For the next year, you're going to turn into a wolf on the full moon.”
I broke out in laughter. My deep, rolling peals echoed through the night, and I was so tired I could barely contain them. “Mom, it's two in the morning. Please. Cut it out. I thought you had something serious to tell me.”
Glancing at me from the corner of her eye, she simply stated, “That.”
“Okay, so I'm a werewolf?” I chuckled. “You know I'm not into werewolf stuff. How about you tell me I'm a shape-shifter or something cool?”
“You are. But you can only become a wolf.”
Frustrated, I exclaimed, “Mom! Really, I don't–”
She sighed. “I'm so exhausted from preparing for the party that I don't have the strength for this now. You're not a werewolf. You will turn into a real, full, wolf.”
I simply stared. She was serious, and it was beginning to scare me. She rose, picking up a leftover beer bottle. “No questions?”
I couldn't answer her. Had she been drinking? But my mother never drank.
“Good. Let's go to bed.”
I grabbed her arm to keep her from going inside. “Mom, how can I sleep when you just said that to me? You're really serious? That's impossible.”
“No it's not. I've seen her.” My father had ventured back outside, and he approached us. He looked haggard and sorrowful at the same time. “No, Lena?”
“Oh, Tim, what, like she'd believe it? It's how we all learn. We go through it ourselves. I didn't believe my mom either. Maybe I'll go change alongside of her.”
So they both had been drinking, I decided angrily. Good way to end a great party – with crap about werewolves. Was this their drunken idea of a joke? I shook my head in annoyance, and went inside. I was so tired, that, despite the tinge of worry at the back of my mind, I fell into a deep sleep.
The next day, after sleeping half the morning away, I forced myself into the shower. My mind was awhirl, trying to dismiss last night's 'disclosure' as my parents fooling with me. But I hadn't seen them drink except for the one bottle of beer my dad had downed. They had seemed completely sober. And furthermore, the whole claim was so cliché – I could practically hear the dialog from any one of the old werewolf movies: “starting from your eighteenth birthday, on the night of the full moon, you will become a wolf”. Then the rest of the movie was all the teen angst coping with the whole wolf-thing. Couldn't they have been more original?
As I brushed my teeth, they were extremely sensitive. This was new to me; I'd never had even a cavity. I bared my incisors and peered at them. I could swear they weren't as flat as usual...and my canines...Damn, were my canines always so sharp? I actually cut my tongue on one as I drew it across the tooth's edge. Whatever. I guess it was time to get to the dentist.
In the shower, I picked up a razor to shave my legs. As I placed it to my skin, I was slightly horrified. I had just shaved yesterday. There was no way the thick dark stubble on me was one days' growth. And it was in places it shouldn't be at all – like between my toes...
And my toenails looked...thicker?
Quickly I shaved everything off. Even between my toes.
I raced out of the shower, desperate to get clothed. I could not bring myself to look at my naked figure. When I pulled on my shirt, I screeched. When my eyes trailed over my arms, they appeared hairier. I could swear it. And there was a huge growth of peach fuzz-like hairs on my face. “No, no,” I stuttered. “I can't accept it. I'm just taking too many vitamins. Too much biotin in the multivitamin...”
I shaved every inch of my body.
My mother must have heard my yelp in the bathroom because she was hovering nearby when I emerged. “Any changes?” she inquired quietly.
“What the hell, Mom?” I emitted, pushing rudely past her. “Nope. Nothing. Not sure what you're talking about.” I don't know why I couldn't tell her. But the whole thing was ludicrous. It could not be really happening. I was not turning into a wolf.
But as I sat down at the kitchen table, my mom pointed to my cheek. “You're bleeding, Rachel.”
I touched my finger to my skin and winced. My shaving job was not as expert as I had hoped.
“What did you do to yourself?” asked my dad. My mother gave him a knowing glance. “Oh.” he said, and finished up his meal silently.
“I'm fine,” I said, but my mom obviously picked up on my anxiety.
“The change is wonderful,” she whispered. She brushed her hand over her own arm, which I was certain was hairier as well. “Don't worry.”
I got up and left the room.
Flopping back on my bed, I picked up a book and tried to get lost in it. And I did, for a while, until I felt itchy. Everywhere. I pulled myself from my literary getaway to find the stubble was back. And worse than before.
I pulled at the fine silvery-gray hairs sprouting from my ankle. “Fur,” I said out loud. The word echoed ominously through the room.
For a moment, I simply sat there, staring ahead and stroking my silky arm. This could not happen. A human being could not become a wolf. How could all the bones and organs simply change, rearrange, grow smaller...
The waist of my pants sagged. Hey – had I lost weight?
As I stared at my now-exposed stomach, my lower spine tingled. Slowly, I reached down the back of my pants, expecting the worst.
And it was there. In addition to the omnipresent fur, there was a small bump. My tail. “Oh, holy...hell...” I murmured.
Fear was grabbing me, and I wanted to run to my mother, but I could not give in. Not yet.
I had my Saturday yoga class in an hour, and I considered not attending, but then my mother would know...
But she knew anyway...oh, this was horrible! I had to get away! I had to do something to jolt me back into reality! I ran back in and shaved my whole body once more, then re-donned my yoga pants and T-shirt. They both now seemed at least a size too big, but I didn't care. That could cover up a multitude of sins. Looking in the mirror, I could see the tail bump was pretty unnoticeable due to the bagginess of my dark pants and I prayed it would remain that way at least for the duration of the class.
I burst from my room, and again, my mom was nearby. Her eyes widened, and I could swear she was shorter... “Where are you going?”
“To yoga,” I said in the calmest voice I could muster.
“Why? You can't!”
“Whyever not?” I tossed flippantly over my shoulder on my way out the door. “I'm totally fine.”
“Rachel? Did you get...smaller?”
I flipped around to face Suzanne, my yoga instructor, and realized that now, instead of being at eye-level with her as usual, I was now only up to her neck. Abruptly, I sank down on the mat and inched away. “Just hunching over a bit,” I said as I made my way further back. “I'm really not feeling well today.”
I watched her eyes trail over me curiously. “Maybe you go home, then,” she suggested.
“No,” I insisted, perhaps with too much force. “I need this.”
The class started, and I stretched this way and that, but I found a particular itchiness on my soles and palms which I could not ignore. I peered at my hands to see a a dark shadowing on my palms. Oh, God...paw pads! My mind screamed. My bare feet had advanced far further. Black paw pads were breaking through the soles of my feet, the fur was coming back with a vengeance, and my toe nails could no longer be considered of the the human variety. They were thinning unnaturally while elongating and coming to a sharp point at the end. “Oh, no...oh, no,” I muttered aloud. Several of my classmates glanced at me, and I doubled over, clutching at my stomach to try to call everyone's attention from my wolf-feet. And hands. And... face? I ran my hand over my features to feel not just fur, but...the pressure around my mandible could not be good...Was I developing a snout? My nose felt funny, my teeth felt funny...Oh, God! My ears were getting pointy!
I jumped up. “I gotta go,” I yelped mid-exercise, fleeing before anyone could comment. I could only imagine what they had seen.
I attempted to run past my mom while trying to cover the parts of me that were not clothed. “You're home early. I take it your pads are coming in?” she displayed her own bare foot, which looked very much like mine. “You want lunch?” she asked without much surprise in her voice.
“No!” I yelled and slammed my bedroom door behind me. I could hear her footsteps approach my door...hell, I could hear her very heartbeat... This led me to pull at what were now elongated furry wolf ears... Then my hand found my growing snout... “Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God.” I threw myself to the bed, trying to hold back my tears.
The gentle knock on my door scared me even though I was completely aware that my mom was standing there. “Rachel, do you need me?”
“No!” I shrieked.
“It's okay. I'll do whatever you need me to do. I'm guessing you're really progressing now. The fear makes the changes go faster.”
Calm down. Calm down, I urged myself. Maybe it'll go away.
But, as if reading my mind, my mom called, “But it won't stop the transformation. By tonight, you'll be a wolf.”
No. No I won't.
“I could join you, but I won't bother you now. I know I wanted to be left alone on my first change. But if you need me, I'm here. Remember. I've gone through it all. I can guide you if you want.”
Guide? Who needed a guide? I was turning into a wolf, not going on a sight-seeing tour!
My mother walked away, and finally my tears all came out in a gush.
I'm not sure how long I lay on my bed sobbing, but by the time I was done, it seemed half the afternoon was gone, and I had a full-fledged wolf tail, which oddly, I could wag.
I watched it for a while, fascinated with the movement and the feeling of moving it. Then my eyes traveled down to my feet. Except they weren't feet anymore.
They were basically paws. My toes were gone, and I could not move these bizarre appendages the same way I could when I had toes. They were still elongated like my feet, but I could seriously feel them shortening. And my skin was gone. These paw-feet were covered in the glossy, silvery-gray fur. The bottoms were adorned with soft black pads. I tapped my claws against the floor and it felt...weird.
My arms were furry. My fingers were gone, and my hands were closer to paw-size than my feet. I tried to stand up, but tottered, the mixture of paw and feet not meant to carry whatever my weight was now.
I stumbled over to my mirror, holding furniture wherever I could so I would not fall over, and what met my eyes made me scream.
A furry wolf-face met my gaze. I was more wolf than human now. A long fuzzy snout, glistening long teeth, and a black nose stared back at me. In fact, face-wise, the only thing that betrayed my humanity was that my head was still human-sized and...
I gazed deep into the depths of my brown eyes. It was as if they were fighting the changes, but as I watched, I saw the wolf win, and everything darkened. In an instant, my sight was dramatically improved.
And for some reason, this was the last straw. Watching that bit of humanity leave me...
I collapsed to the floor in tears once again.
The light tap at my door was now welcome. I pulled myself up and staggered across the room. Opening the door, I collapsed into my mother's arms. I was only half her size now, and thus was grateful that she had bent down to allow me this. Because I needed her. More than anything else.
But she was shorter too, and furry.
I stared at the tail that hung over the top of her pants, but could not speak.
It wagged. “Oh, Rachel, you're becoming beautiful!” she stroked my head as I sobbed. I could feel myself changing even more as I did. But now it was okay. She was here. And she was changing with me.
And being petted was strangely calming too, I had to admit.
“You're getting a lovely coat. Even nicer than mine, I daresay,” she smiled down at her furry arm. "I was trying to change slowly through the day to make you feel like you weren't alone, but I should have realized you wouldn't want me to be around. Come, I'll stay with you for the rest. You're almost there.”
For the first time in years, she picked me up, and it didn't seem to be much of a strain for her. She placed me on my bed and started to disentangle me from the clothing that dangled off my shrinking form. “You won't need these now,” she pointed out, having a bit of trouble with her changing fingers. She was gaining a snout too, and it all seemed so peculiar...
When she removed my bra and underwear, there was nothing to be embarrassed about. I was all furry, and, everything had either shrunk or was covered in fur.
“Now get on your side,” she gently encouraged. “Your arms and legs are going to become the same size.”
“You know...the..stages...” I pushed out, but my words were slurring together, as my mouth was almost completely wolf now.
“Don't be alarmed, but you're not going to be able to speak soon.”
“Right on schedule.”
Before I could react, my whole body began to shudder uncontrollably. My arms and legs shifted into wolf-legs, and something I did not understand was coursing through me...
“That's the last bits of the changes working their way through you. It's kind of nice, I think. It's the best part of the transformation.”
And, once I pushed my uneasiness slightly away, I had to admit, it was rather...pleasant.
“Stand up, Rachel.”
I jumped down to all fours, teetering slightly.
My mother looked down at me proudly. “You are even more beautiful than I could imagine.”
Shivering in my new form, I carefully made my way to the mirror once more. After the initial shock wore off, I had to agree. I truly was a magnificent animal. My silver-gray coat was glossy and thick, and I was the picture of health.
“You feel wonderful, don't you?”
I had to agree with that too. I wanted to run, and play, and...it was amazing.
She ran her hand down my back. Yes, I wagged my tail, which made her chuckle. “Would you like to go out into the night? I'll finish up my changes and come with you, if you want.”
I shook my head no. I needed to stay in the safety of my room. For as long as I was like this.
“Whatever you want. But soon your wolf instincts will kick in. Then you'll crave it.”
I needed to run, I needed to hunt, I needed to get out...
I trotted to the front door and made a whining sound.
My dad was sitting on the couch, and he watched me mournfully. He was not surprised in the least that his daughter was now a wolf. “Rachel, your mom is right. You are beautiful like that. Wait a sec, and I'll let you out.”
What we were waiting for, I didn't know - until my parents' bedroom door pushed open, and a beautiful she-wolf scampered out. She raced over to my dad, and rubbed her head against him. He patted her with tears in his eyes. “Go, you two. Don't kill anything,” he stood up and opened the front door. My mom and I ran into the night, free at last.
The night was full of sights and adventures that were never quite repeated on my subsequent changes, but the running, and the howling at the moon... It was truly a freedom I had never encountered before, and I knew I could never be without it again.
I woke up the next morning laying beside my mom in a pile of brush. We were both naked.
Now I was embarrassed.
“Don't worry.” She walked behind a tree and pulled out a waterproof bag packed with clothes. “I always have this here in case I need it. I try to end up here if I need to rest.” We hastily clothed ourselves and then snacked on some crackers she had packed. Apparently the changes had a side effect of making one ravenously hungry the day after.
Neither of us were ready to go back home, and my mother explained this was normal too. The wolf instincts seemed to hang on a bit longer than the physical changes.
“Now do you want to hear about this all?” she asked, crunching hungrily into a cracker.
“So it's a curse?”
“Well, over the years, I've come to see it as a blessing as well. You can't tell me you didn't enjoy it.”
And I couldn't. But it was an inconvenience. What if you had plans? “How'd you change so quick, Mom?”
“You learn to control it. It's all practice. Right now, get used to it, and just don't make any plans on the night of the full moon. But when you get where I am, you can control it better. Yes, I do find that if I don't change at all on the full moon, I get kind of antsy and nasty the rest of the month. So I usually set aside some time to run.”
“How does Dad feel about that?”
“Dad used to watch me. He'd plead with me to change and stay that way. He found it incredibly sexy.”
“Oh, Rachel. Grow up.”
I couldn't believe I was going to ask this but, “Did you guys...”
“Okay, don't go any further. I'm still your mother.”
I blushed. I couldn't ask.
“So how long has this been going on? You're really talking magic? It's not like a genetic abnormality or something?”
She smiled. “It's a curse. Yes, a real-live curse. The story is that my great-great-whatever-great grandfather heard something late at night by his farm. He saw wolves, and he was scared that they would go after his livestock. He grabbed his gun and shot at them. The one he wounded fell to the ground while the others ran away. When he went to help it, its eyes glowed red, and it became a glowing ball of red fire. As he turned to run away, something hit him, and he himself started to glow. When he faced back around, the fire had become a man.
“A man?” I asked.
“Great. Now I have to believe in wizards too.”
“The wizard had very powerful transformation magic, and often masqueraded as forest animals. His favorite was a wolf, and my ancestor had unknowingly wounded him.”
“So he placed a curse on him.”
“Yes. He placed a curse on him and his descendants. We would take wolf form each full moon to remember my grandfather's wrongdoing.”
“Nasty bastard. Normally I'd say this is all ridiculous, but considering I just was a wolf, well... Does it ever end?”
“I don't know. I really don't.”
Each full moon I got better and better accustomed to transforming to the point that I looked forward to my forest runs. My mother always came with me, protecting me when we encountered other wolves or animals. She constantly warned me to stay away from humans. “Above all, avoid humans like the plague,” she would repeat.
And I was slowly learning to control my changes. I could speed or slow them according to will, and my mother was showing me how to delay them for longer and longer periods of time.
Even between full moons, I took to roaming the forests I knew so well from my nighttime jaunts. I would bring dates or friends with me, just to enjoy what I felt to be my second home.
And so, when I was forced by my mom to go on a date with her friend's son, Ted, I suggested a simple walk in the woods. Ted, who was in all honesty the worst person I had ever met in my life, answered that I was a 'tree-hugger'.
“Do you even know what that means?” I'd asked as we crunched through last year's leaves.
“It means you like trees,” was his answer.
First and last date all rolled into one, I told myself. Meanwhile I still had to get through it.
We came to a particularly nice leafy hollow where my mom and I often rested, and I wished I were curled up there right now, my fur all thick, my tail coiled around me...
“Damn! Look! That's a big-ass wolf! And its mate!” Two wolves peered at us from the underbrush on the hollow's edge, and I wondered why they were out right now.
Before I knew what was happening, Ted had pulled a beebee gun from his pocket.
“Ted! What the hell!” I gasped.
But he was running at the animals and taking aim...
“No!” I screamed, and shifted into full wolf form. Ignoring my own shock at this, I lunged at him, knocking him to the ground, but not before he fired.
The beebee met the larger wolf with a sickening thud and a cry.
All my wolf poured out from me, and my anger led me to rip and claw at Ted's throat. Tearing, and pulling... You bastard! You bastard! Who brings a beebee gun on a date! You can't kill us! Killing for fun? You need to die!
“Easy! Easy, Rachel!” a deep, calming male voice said from above me, and I was being stroked. I backed down, letting out a purr of content, then turned to the strange man above me.
I have to help the wolf! I cried in my head, and darted around. But both wolves were gone. Only a spatter of blood remained.
“I'll be fine,” said the strange man. He was apparently telepathic, which freaked me out, to say the least. Too bad I wasn't like that with my mom when we were transformed. I studied the man. He wore old-fashioned garments, as if from another era, and although he did not have the requisite long white beard and sparkly, pointy hat, I had a feeling I knew who it was.
The other wolf...? I asked him in my mind.
“She's a real wolf. She ran off.” He stroked me again, and now I was weirded out. I backed up a bit. “It's okay, Rachel. I won't hurt you. I think you know who I am.”
I nodded hesitantly.
He walked over to where Ted lay, bleeding and unconscious. “What should we do with you, you bastard? The things you've done over the years...I should put the curse on you, but you don't deserve it.” He looked back at me. “Why don't you take human form so we can talk? I think you've got the hang of it now.”
Indeed, I found changing back easier than it ever had been. “Don't put the curse on him. Why should he get to experience...that?” I said it lovingly, and I meant it. Such an awful person did not deserve to run with the wind, to feel the freedom of no burdens...
“I think you gave him a good goring. The scare should hold him a bit. But I'll keep an eye on him. Any more of this beebee rubbish and I'll turn him into a tree or something.” His eyes twinkled. “Or I'll just set you on him again. You're some impressive wolfess!”
I blushed. “He's okay?” I asked grudgingly.
“He'll be fine. I'd heal him, but it would kind of defeat the purpose. He'll wake up soon and be able to walk out of here. That's about as much as I'll allow him.”
He grew silent, and I knew it was time for questions. “How did I change if it's not the full moon?” were the next words that came to my lips.
“You were doing a kindness.”
“Ah, my dear. Let me explain...see, well, even before that, I have to say that watching your family all these years, you come from such lovely, thoughtful women...I grew very guilty of my actions.”
“So why did you leave the curse on us?”
“Because you enjoy it,” he said quietly. “Just like I do.”
He was right. Now that I could be a wolf, I could not imagine my life without it. “But what's this kindness thing?”
Sighing, he replied, “That's the part of the curse you don't hear about. I decreed that when someone in your line does a kindness to the wolves, the curse will be dropped. And here we are.”
Dropped? On one hand, I'd be normal again, but on the other...
“What if I want to stay this way?”
He smiled. “That can be arranged. You'd like that?”
“How about you can do it whenever you want? Not just the full moon?”
I jumped at this. “As long as I can control it.”
“Your mom too?”
“And my descendants!” I cried, then thought better of it. “Well, if they want it.”
He stood up, laughing. “Well, we can always talk about that later. Would you like to run with me now, Rachel?” He shrank down, becoming perfect and lupine.
I studied the beautiful animal gazing up at me. “Hell, yes.”
I changed, and we ran off.