I step into the comfort of the ancient woods. I push deeper into their tangled darkness. I need to be lost, to be far away from the world, my home, my family. Somewhere I cannot be found, somewhere I can do them no harm. I think I have travelled far enough to forget them now. They should be safe. They know to lock the door, to stay inside tonight. With any luck I will not find them, they will not see me as I really am.
I will meet her tonight. I will glimpse her light through the branches and she will take me. Surrender and dominion, captivity and freedom, they are coming for me. All of my goodness will die and I will remember nothing, only blood and the moon. I crouch below the darkening boughs and wait in silence.
Anna was sick of it. It was always the same. “We must not go out tonight,” said her mother. “We’ll all sleep in the lounge in front of the fire, it’ll be fun. But stay away from the windows.”
“Why?” Anna asked.
“It’s not safe sweetheart.”
“Why? Where is Daddy?”
“He’ll be away tonight.”
“Isn’t it dangerous for him too?”
“He’ll be alright. We’ll see him soon.”
The rising pitch in her mother’s voice betrayed the fear behind her calm exterior. Anna knew to ask no more questions but it wasn’t fair. She was old enough to be told what was happening. She knew the pattern by now. Her father would be gone for a few days and then return, pale-faced and guilt-ridden. Her mother would wrap her arms around him and sob. Sometimes he would cry too and whisper, “I’m sorry,” into her mother’s neck. Anna had asked him about it once.
“Why do you leave us sometimes?”
Her father had flinched like a whipped dog and Anna had regretted her question immediately. His kind, grey eyes had held her gaze for a moment and then he had simply gathered her up in his powerful arms and hugged her.
“I’m sorry sweetheart, I can’t tell you. I’m not even sure if I know myself.”
“Can’t you take me with you?”
Nestling into his comforting strength she had left her question unanswered. ‘Next time,’ she thought, ‘I will find out for myself.’
It always starts in the shoulder. There is an itch under the skin above the left shoulder blade. Then there is a loud crack and a white hot pain as molten marrow melts my bones. Tendons resist, creaking like taught wires, before stretching to let remodelled limbs settle onto shifting cartilage. Lunar light touches my retinas triggering this agony that, nevertheless, feels like home.
I fight to keep the faces of my family in my mind’s eye, to remember not to touch them whilst I am wild. But, as the series of exploding cracks alter my spine and forces my distending snout towards the earth, all human memories are lost. My mind grows dark. I desire nothing but blood and the moon.
Anna didn’t see the tree root. It caught her foot midstep and she fell forward, the rough bark scraping the skin from her shin as she fell. She stayed on the ground only a few moments, sucking air between her teeth and clutching her leg with both hands as she felt blood moisten her fingers. Then she pressed on, determined to find him. Her mother hadn’t stirred as she’d crept from her place by the fire and slipped out of her bedroom window, grabbing the pre-packed rucksack from under the bed as she went. She was twelve now; old enough for an adventure; old enough to know the truth.
She pressed further into the woods. The sound of the oak leaves whispered overhead. She stopped, ears straining. Somewhere in the darkness she heard the sound of an animal running. She felt the vibrations of heavy paws striking the ground. The beast was large. She could hear its breath. It was close. Anna held her breath. Could it smell her? What was it?
I smell the blood even before my metamorphosis is complete. With bones still cracking into place I begin the hunt. As I crash through low branches and leap over fallen logs the hot scent becomes stronger. I long to taste warm flesh again. I am close now. I see my prey. I stop. She is motionless. I step towards her. Her throat is bare, vulnerable. I long for the taste of warm blood to fill my mouth again.
She looks towards me. I pause. Her eyes! Her eyes remind me of something I cannot remember. I can smell her fear. It smells good. But there is something else. She smells of a place I can’t remember. Some distant fragile corner of my past that I cannot grasp. I step closer. She makes a whimpering sound but does not run. She is frozen by her fear. I salivate. The moon, immortal and merciless in her beauty, presses me to strike.
The wolf’s eyes were terrible. Alight with human sentience. They knew too much. But, worse than that, she knew the soul behind those sad, grey eyes. She knew him but he did not know her. He walked slowly towards her and she closed her eyes. There was a deep, low growl before he struck.
Anna opened her eyes, blood pouring from her arm. The wolf stood motionless, silently watching. The moon shone through the dark branches. She gasped at the wonder of it. She had never seen it look so beautiful. It called to her. She felt an itch under the skin above her left shoulder blade.
John Biglands lives in Yorkshire, England with his wife and children. He is a writer of short stories, even shorter folk songs and very long ‘to do’ lists. Due to his inability to make decisions he has qualifications in physics, machine perception and drumming and a PhD in medical imaging. He divides his week between working as a scientist, teaching drums and educating his two children. His favorite time of day is 6am when he can be found sitting by the fire drinking strong black coffee and writing stories that feel true and make the world a little bit lighter.