Five heavily-armed guards sit across from me warily, fingers tense, ready to flick the safeties off and suppress any werewolf that dares to twitch so much as a muscle. The military had forced me and the other wolves to transform into our feral selves and then injected us with a drug designed to prohibit returning to human state for up to twenty-four hours. I'd received no food or drink since then, and with the heightened metabolism of my wolf form eating away at the insides, I'm left feeling weak and sickened. The more innocent among my party might call it torture, but in Haven I'd witnessed true torment, and my current condition pales by comparison.
Dozens of werewolves had been lined up and led into long-haul animal trailers one by one, each of us fastened to the wall by a thick set of chains. Thin window-slits line the trailer's metal walls to let in light and air, though I assume the accommodations were made with my guards in mind, not for the comfort of their cargo. I thought I'd known dehumanization in my earlier life, but while not as physically painful as what I experienced in Haven, this is certainly more humiliating. Perhaps that was their intention all along. I pull back from the grim reality and play through memories of the path that brought me here. It seems like so long ago….
"Werewolves of the Liberation Army!" Sonoma called out in a deep, booming voice. "The time to free your brothers and sisters from bondage is at hand!" She scanned the crowd keenly, picking up on the tone of the assembly. "I know that many are concerned with the immediacy of our action, but as those of you who took part in the Haven liberation know, we need to be fast on our feet, ready to move at any time when prospects appear and opportunities align. Let me introduce you to General Rivera." She indicated the old woman.
"The good general is one of our deepest operatives in the human government. She's spent over a decade arranging a military coup that will begin this very day, when we take control of the prison where our fellow werewolves are being held. Once our numbers have swelled by the hundreds, we'll have the power to forge our own destinies, free from the fear of a government strike or human interference!"
A wolf to my left raised her fist to the air and howled a prelude to war, a chorus of wolf-song erupting immediately after. The revolution had begun!
"Got a minute?" he asked between panting huffs.
"Sure," I replied, welcoming the distraction.
"Mind if I sit?" He plopped down in the grass before I could answer. "Sorry, Soren. I may not look it, but I'm not as young as I used to be."
"It was kind of you to say, though. You, though, you're just coming into the prime of your life. Sonoma's only sending in the strongest and the smartest wolves, so she must think highly of you to put you in the forefront of her squad. It's going to be dangerous, Soren. You know that, right? Things could go off without a hitch…or it could make the Battle of Haven look like a walk in the park."
"Well, I'm glad you approve of me at the very least," Sonoma said with a grim chuckle from over Ahote's shoulder.
The elder winced.
"Soren," she said. "Time for you to get ready to head out. We won't be getting another shot at this so I need you prepared." She tapped her forehead. "In here too. Clear your mind of doubt. We'll be saving our race from extinction. That's worth fighting for."
The Memory Fades
"Who the hell you growling at, dog?" He points the rifle at me, stepping forward to grind the gun's muzzle against the leather strap restraining my forehead. I wince. "I asked you a question, you piece of shit!"
"That's what I thought," the man says, his upper lip curled back in disgust. "You're all growl and teeth until someone shows you who's boss."
I sniff the air. The earthy smell of pine is a welcome change, but it isn't enough to cover up the sharp scent of well-oiled machinery and gasoline fumes. My convoy must have turned off the highway not long ago. I try to shake off thoughts of being lined up and shot here in the middle of nowhere and buried in an unmarked grave. "They wouldn't do that," I think to myself. "Why waste all the time to bring us out here just to kill us?" I know that my logic is sound, but that doesn't stop the animal inside me from screaming.
"My name is Warden John Washburn. The prisoners of the Nail call me 'Sir.' That's sir with a capital 'S,' for those of you with book learning. Proper noun; you get me?"
No one says a thing. The grammar lesson seems utterly incongruous with being treated like animals during the mostly-silent hours of transportation.
The warden remains silent, waiting.
"Yes, Sir!" I reply boldly, my words muffled by the muzzle, but still understandable.
The warden walks over and glares at me. "You've got moxie, kid. I'll give you that. What's your name, boy?"
One of the wolves further down lurches out of the line and growls in a low rumble. I try to glance over without being noticed. It's Sonoma! The rebellion's packleader had experienced difficulty keeping her feral side in check during her transportation. Her rational mind knew the importance of the mission, but rationality doesn't always win out against the fire of the beast within.
Warden Washburn slinks up to the packleader and looks her up and down. "Some balls on you." He feigns an obvious squint. "Ah, my mistake. Nothing between your legs but a tuft of fur and a bristling tail."
Two things happen then almost in unison. Sonoma growls, and before the rumbling fury so much as exits her throat, Washburn's hand snaps down to his right side like a whip-crack and comes up again with a gleaming revolver. Sonoma's growl turns into a howl of pain as her knee blossoms with a spattering flower of blood. The warden steps forward into melee range, frowning as he holds his weapon to Sonoma's temple and thumbs back the hammer. He looks up and down the line of werewolves as the other soldiers behind him twitch uncomfortably.
"I'm only going to say this once," Washburn announces coldly. "From here on out I am your God. You eat when I tell you to eat. You shit when I tell you to shit. If I tell you to clean the floor with your tongue the only thing I want to hear from you is 'Yes, Sir!'" He looks back at Sonoma. "We understand each other?"
Her only vocal response is a groan of pain, but I can almost hear her unspoken promise of revenge.
The warden lowers his revolver and makes a casual display of de-cocking it by feel, his left hand easing the hammer back into place while his eyes stay locked with Sonoma's. I've only ever seen a weapon like that in old history books that the humans left to rot in Haven; the man must be some kind of eccentric.
I breathe deep. "I'm focusing on pointless minutiae to avoid thinking about what he said. What the hell have I gotten myself into?"
"Well then," the warden says, turning his back on his victim. "Now that we've developed an understanding, I'd like to welcome you to your new home."
The soldiers converge around me and push the line of reluctant werewolves toward the hole in the ground.
"Welcome to the Nail."