Werewolf Wednesday - this week you get a story, too.
The late November day dawned clear and unseasonably warm, but that didn't last long. Clouds began to drift in by the time she'd finished breakfast, woolly, dark heaps of them hurried along by a biting wind. They jumbled together and sealed off the sky, pressing low to the ground and turning midday dark as evening. By the time the sun set the first flakes of snow began to drift down.
It would have been a perfect night for curling up with a mug of cocoa and a book, but lycanthropy is never called on account of bad weather. She couldn't see the full moon through the curdled clot of clouds, but she imagined she could feel its presence, distant but ominous. Her joints swelled and ached, her stomach cramped, twinges of pain ran up and down her spine, there was a faint ringing in her ears and a tightness in the tips of her fingers and toes - the first symptoms of the coming change.
She paused in packing her overnight bag to massage her forehead, as if she could knead away the dull thump of her headache. Perhaps it wasn't such a good night to stay in, anyway. Her cozy fantasy would've been spoiled by thoughts of her lover - no, she corrected herself. Ex-lover. Sometime friend, sometime rival. Inspiration for a long time, challenge for longer. She would have said soul mate, if she believed in souls.
It had certainly been nice, for a while, to have someone hang on her every word, attend to her every need, attempt to satisfy her every desire. But love turned possessive, needy and inquiring, the three traits no lycanthrope's lover should display, not if they wanted a long and happy relationship.
She bared her teeth in a mirthless grin. Despite the accusations and recriminations, she'd taken no other lover. Lycanthropy was a lonely state of affairs. She had needs and desires alien to her human life, and no werewolf could give what her lover had finally demanded: the whole of her being.
She drove far out into the countryside that night, skidding and bumping along narrow lanes hemmed in by trees and slick with ice, picking her turns at random. She’d heard rumors of werewolf hunters, but had never encountered them herself. Even werewolves enjoy a little gossip, and she figured hunters were nothing more than a story too juicy not to pass around. Still, it was better to be safe than sorry and not develop patterns of habit that could be easily predicted.
None of the woods seemed thick enough, tonight, none of the fields empty enough. The glow of the distant town's lights rouged the bellies of the low-hanging clouds, and followed her no matter how far she drove.
Finally, though, her body made the decision for her. Her hands grew too stiff to clutch the steering wheel, and her skull felt like it was being squeezed in a vice, making her eyes water uncontrollably. She ended up in a narrow strip of forest bordering an apple orchard. She parked under the cover of the trees, covering her little hatchback with a camouflage tarp she’d bought at the army-navy surplus store. Then she stripped, having learned long ago that clothes did not rip off nearly as easily as they did in the movies. It was better to suffer a chill than to be nearly strangled by her own blouse collar.
The change was a few minutes off. She shivered, growling impatiently and rubbing her goose pimpled flesh, then began to walk briskly to keep warm.
Out here in the open the snow came down harder, in hard little chips of ice that stung her bare skin rather than gentle flakes. It wasn’t accumulating, though, as the ground retained the day’s heat.
She'd never been in an apple orchard at night. There was a fantastical quality about the squat trees with their dark, skeletal branches that seemed to reach and claw in the wind. Despite being in the open, she felt hemmed in, constricted, wrapped in a mesh of whipping tree limbs and blinding snow. She panted, puffing steam like a dragon. Her sharpening sense of smell detected the faint, fermented sweetness of rotten fruit.
Maybe it was just the emotional intensity she'd come to associate with her pre-transformation mindset, but something seemed unutterably sad about that. All that work and effort to grow a fruit that no one would ever enjoy. She reached out to run her hand along the rough bark of a tree trunk.
At the corner of her eye, something moved out of sync with the swaying branches. She froze, but at that moment all the little physical changes that had been accumulating throughout the day reached a critical threshold, and, like a cresting wave, crashed down on her and swept her human self away. She was thrown off-balance into a huddled crouch by the altered proportions of her legs. Her skin cracked under the strain of bulging, torquing muscle, splitting and peeling away to reveal the fur growing beneath. Her vision blurred as the plates of her skull ground together, collapsing and stretching out into a predatory shape to accommodate jaws filled with sharp new teeth.
She couldn’t make out the details of the tall, upright form moving toward her through the swaying branches and swirling snow. Frantically, she clawed at her own face, trying to hold back the transformation, to retain her human mind long enough to know if she was looking at a hunter or a lover, and what sort of end either one might bring.