Chapter 2: “Come give your big sister a hug!”
We all huddled together as she told us about humans and their christmas traditions. One of their traditions was a popular story for all ages about a red nosed reindeer with a weird name. Ma then went on to describe the movie, making sure to explain that the reindeer don't get eaten. The story was rather silly and fun up until the part with the abominable monster.
As the cougar stepped off the cliff's edge, I was reminded of that story. One of the main characters, a silly man with a beard, was fighting the monster next to a big ravine. The situations were eerily similar. Except in this version, the monster was a male cougar trying to eat me. He also wasn't nearly big enough to use as a trampoline when we reached the bottom. There was no way we would survive the fall.
All of my senses crashed into me as my wolf frantically gave over half control. We were both in the driver's seat now, working to combine our strengths to avoid a crash. Adrenaline coursed through my veins and my eyes were wide. In the split second where we began to fall, my mind seemed to wake up from a hibernated sleep. Strength I didn't know I possessed filled my limbs. Crackling electricity caused my fur to stand on end and I flattened my ears.
The predator beneath me roared in panic as our guts flew to our throats. In a surge of newfound strength and panic, I unhooked my claws and jumped. I used the big cat I was standing on as a kind of stepping stone. My back legs pushed off with great strength, sending the feline hurtling even faster to the river below.
I was airborne for a split second before colliding with the jagged cliffside. My still intact ribs cracked as the impact jarred and stabbed at the previous injuries and added more to my extensive collection. A sharp yelp as the equivalent reaction of a scream was my only response as I struggled to get a handhold.
The howls of my family were getting closer as I clawed at the rock. We began to slide down the incline, the sharp rocks cutting my soft underbelly. I howled loudly in a panic and when my back paws found a small ledge, I breathed heavily. Cracks filled the air as the rock beneath me began to break and crumble away under my weight.
My whole body was ablaze in pain. My ribs were cracked and broken and I was losing more blood by the second. New scratches had joined the ones on my side as I had slid down the cliff. It was all I could to focus on blocking out the pain destroying me from the inside out.
I was surprised when my wolf let out a loud growl that sent rocks falling through the dark of the night. She was notgoing to die at the hand of a weak rock ledge. She took over again and the rocks ahead were lit with an eerie glow as my eyes stared straight up.
The edge wasn't too far away. Maybe a good jump, but not impossible. Still, it wasn't going to be easy. The cracking of the ledge beneath my paws marked my time as up.
My wolf pushed off the ledge twice as hard as she had with the cougar. The ledge snapped off the cliffside as we were propelled upwards. As we neared the top, I tensed in anticipation of pulling myself onland.
Me and my wolf stopped our ascension far too soon. We weren't gonna make it. We were nearly there, just a small paw length above my outstretched legs. Before the edge got any farther away, my wolf bit down hard on a thick root growing out of the nearby rock.
My wolf was shaking with the combination of overwhelming fear and adrenaline as we dangled above the roaring river hundreds of feet below. We swayed slightly from the breeze blowing through the ravine and my jaw ached. My wolf clawed at the cliffside for purchase as the howling of my family filled my ears, joining the roaring of the river below.
Just as the root we were hanging from began to tear, my paw met a ledge. It was small, barely half the size of the paw it held. It may have been small, but it was enough. My wolf pushed off yet again to the top of the cliff while I maintained the pain block with the best of my ability.
I was given back full control as I stretched my paws and they curled against the edge at last. I carefully pulled myself up and pushed off the ledge. Soon, I hung off the edge of the cliff. My back legs were dangling in the air, threatening to pull me down into the dark expanse.
As I clawed at the ground, my back legs worked furiously to push me the rest of the way up. I clawed at the stone until faint marks mottled the relatively smooth surface. The howls and barks of my loved ones grew closer.
With my last bit of strength, I pulled myself over the edge and the rest of the way up. Now that I lay on even ground, I carefully crawled to a safe distance. As soon as I was at least ten feet away from my demise, I attempted to stand.
However, just as I stood on quaking legs, I collapsed. My muscles were burning and my fur was soaked in sweat and blood. That was nothing compared to the pain though. Now that I was on safe ground, the block fell. Fire licked it's way over every inch of my body and I wheezed with each breath. Black dots danced along my vision as I huffed and puffed semi successfully.
Once I caught my breath, I couldn't hold it in any longer. Me and my wolf screamed in agony. The sound was piercing and haunting to the ears. It echoed over miles as I watched the blood pool around me. My fur dripped red and I continued to howl, even as my vision faded in and out.
The howls had a tint of desperation now as my family heard my screams. They were steadily getting closer as I bled on the stone, watching the crimson liquid trail off to the edge. I waited patiently, my body numb at last.
Soon enough, the wind carried my loved ones scents to me. They were muted as the heavy iron of blood clouded my senses. Rapid paws beating against the ground grew closer and I smiled slightly. Just as they broke through the tree line, a formidable enemy of gray, brown, black and gold, I whimpered. I couldn't muster the strength for much else.
Ma led the way as she bolted towards me. She didn't care that her paws were stained a deep red when she stepped through my blood. Soon, she and the rest of my family surrounded me, whimpering in a disorderly chorus. I noticed Ace, Nolan, and Aldan searching the area with their hackles raised, on a hunt for blood. I lay panting on the ground, black spots coloring the edge of my vision as they whimpered endless questions.
Ma sat down beside me, rubbing her snout along the surface of my head. I closed my eyes for a second, but opened them when crackling sounded beside me. The bones were breaking in Ma's body yet she didn't seem to care. I watched with horrified fascination.
It started with the limbs. Each bone broke in half and the skin stretched as they moved around, reconstructing themselves into the shape of a human arm. The same was for her back legs as they formed long human ones. The fur began to recede as her snout caved in, only to form a heart shaped human head when her ears shifted to the sides. In another split second, I watched her tail recede, along with the movement under her skin as her ribs shifted, the organs beneath having already reorganized themselves during the limbs restructuring. It all took place in no more than three seconds.
Moon above, I hope it doesn't hurt as much as I think it does when I shift next week.
A final crack echoed in the air as her spine aligned and a beautiful woman crouched before me. Her rounded facial features were screwed in concern and tears welled in her familiar brown eyes. Matted wavy brown hair hung over her shoulders and cascaded over her breasts, the ends frayed and uneven. Even Ma's milky skin seemed distressed under the layer of dirt as she cupped my large cheek in one tiny hand. Her callused fingers threaded through my silky fur, unknowingly moistening the dark furs with warm blood.
A soft whine sounded from my throat as a single tear cleared a trail down her cheek. Ma smiled reassuringly with her thin lips but I didn't miss the twitching at the edges as they fought to climb down. I placed a soft exhausted lick on her cheek and once more ignored the pain, wanting to show her that I was alright even if I could feel my ribs stabbing at my skin. She smiled again but yet another tear trailed down as she turned her head to inspect my glistening hide, her hair cloaking her face in shadows.
Ma whispered in a language as familiar to me as the one frequented by wolves. The words were stern and worried.
“Paloma, I need to check your ribs. I promise I don't want to hurt you, sweetie, but we need to see how bad it is.”
I thumped my tail in response and screwed my eyes shut. My ears lay flat on my head in anticipation. When a finger prodded my side, I was not disappointed. The pain flared to life again and I yelped sharply. I could hear the silent sobs in Ma’s breaths as she continued to prod around my ribs.
When she finished, she lightly brushed the fur of my snout and counted under her breath to calm down as the tears stopped their descent on her face. Ma scooted over to my head before she sat with her legs folded beneath her and held my large head in her lap. She then motioned to my surrounding siblings to clean the wounds along my side and stomach. I watched them as they gingerly lay beside me, as to not bother my inflamed ribs, not even caring as they lay in the puddle of fresh, warm blood.
When Zale began to softly lick at the gashes in my soft underside, I whimpered. My blood soaked brother winced before continuing his careful administering of saliva on my wounds. Sage squeezed in beside the large black wolf, her grey fur flat and stained a crimson red below the shoulders as they worked on the cuts. Meanwhile our resident healer, Holland, stood above me with her head hunched over as she carefully licked a claw mark. Her golden coat was flattened against her skinny frame and stained crimson as she worked on one of the gashes trailing from my lower back and over my hips, ending just above my back leg. Ma continued to stroke the fur of my head in a soothing manner.
I tried to distract myself from the tingling and burning pain by focusing on my siblings. The three working on my gashes had relatively fluffy coats so it was strange to see their fur sticking to them as the blood weighed it down. Now that I could clearly see their build, I realized how incredibly skinny we all were. Struggling for food all our lives can do that I guess. It's hard enough to hunt for one wolf, not to mention thirteen.
I don't think I’ve ever had a full stomach before, not that I'd ever consider trading one of my siblings for something so unnecessary. As long as I could function as normal, I would never need more. I would rather die than give up one of my family.
Over by the cliffs edge, three tall wolves stood with their noses pressed to the stone. The bulky grey one noticed the faint claw marks and went to investigate. As Ace tread forward, the other grey fluff ball followed and Nolan began to investigate the marks beside his older brother. The bulky brown wolf watched them go and began to wander the surface of the surrounding stone. Aldan’s nose remained firmly pressed against the ground as he followed the fading scents.
At the treeline, four wolves stood with their hackles raised. The small brown she-wolf paced anxiously, watching the shadows surrounding the trees with increasing anger if the growing growl was any sign. Boris watched Dakota cautiously, ready to intervene if she decided to attack anyone. From the looks of his tense frame, even visible beneath the cloud of grey, he also needed a little wrestling to ease the nerves. A quiet grey form sat nearby with his brown eyes focused on Aldan as he walked in circles. Conroy may have looked relaxed, but a silent energy was brewing beneath his shiny coat.
Minnesota sat beside the silent giant but stood when my eyes met hers. She quickly bounded over and her brown coat bounced with each step, concealing her odd bulky frame. Her grey eyes glinted in the moonlight, worry brimming the edges as she neared. My older sister of a mere hour came to a stop in front of me. She began to energetically cover my head in saliva and I growled in displeasure, my eyes squeezing shut. When it suddenly stopped, I cautiously opened my eyes to see Ma scratching Minnie behind the ears. The latter was now sitting on her haunches, tongue hanging out and powerful tail beating up the stone.
I was about to question where my younger brother was when a tiny grey wolf stepped out of the forest. Otis’s coat shone a bright silver as the moon shone down on him. Conroys head swiveled around at the new addition before he relaxed fractionally. Dakota stopped in her tracks and her growl grew before she recognized her favorite brother. The growl actually cut off in her throat and she ran to meet him.
Otis was surprised to say the least when a brown blur barreled into him. He even let loose a rare growl before his favorite sister began to talk in hurried and short yaps.
“By the Moon. I can't believe we left you behind. We were just so worried about Paloma that-”
She cut herself off and shook her head. She seemed to recover her usual blunt attitude and continued speaking.
“Whatever. She decided to body-slam rocks. Come.”
Without warning the small shadow grabbed Otis by the scruff and he squeaked. Kota carted him over to our little group and dropped him rather abruptly in Ma’s lap. A furry rump slammed into my muzzle and I squeezed my eyes shut. I grumbled and sneezed into the grey lump, evoking a jump as he scooted aside. The motion sent a fiery pain through my slowly healing bones and I winced.
When I looked up, Minnie was curled around Ma, staring at me with watchful eyes. Dakota walked behind me and curled up before laying her head on mine, her sleek brown coat reflected the silvery light of the moon. I growled at her in slight annoyance. The three tending to my wounds were still grooming the gashes but they were mostly focusing on the large claw marks now. The wounds on my stomach had closed up but the large gashes were still trickling crimson liquid.
I let my head sag into Ma’s lap as the exhaustion of the past thirty minutes caught up to me. My lids slid shut and darkness settled. I wasn't even able to lift my head as the rest of my family approached. I felt the dominant presences of my brothers settle around us, encasing us in comfortable warmth. Eventually, my siblings stopped grooming the wound as I felt it seal shut. They all worked together to carefully drag me away from the puddle of blood and clean it from my fur. My wolf had already taken her leave so as I felt my family huddle close, I walked into the blissful darkness of sleep.
Before I even woke up fully, my head pounded. My muscles ached and I felt like I had been run over by one of those horses that humans liked to keep on their farms. It didn't help that the sunlight shone through my eyelids, adding a match to the flames of my headache.
When I slid open my eyes, I was met with the sun's blaring, blinding light. I growled faintly and ducked my head, covering my eyes with my paws. I grumbled under my breath before scoping out my surroundings through scent and sound.
I was laying in what seemed like a clearing. It was surrounded by trees with the occasional boulder and my sister's lay curled around me. I could feel their anxious excitement and fear. I wasn't sure what they could be anxiously excited about, but I did know the fear was due to my condition. They hadn't noticed my growl as they yipped among themselves. It was mainly random side chatter about the weather or the grazing patterns of various prey as they waited for me to wake.
I also sensed a male presence somewhere behind me. From the scent of huckleberries and pinecones, it was clearly Conroy. Our silent, even-tempered brother was standing guard with a watchful eye like he always does. My big brother of four hours and almost a foot may have looked like a scary mean-tempered brute with his bulky build and sleek outlining coat, but he was a softie. Conroy was the kindest wolf I knew and even took it upon himself to be the family guard dog.
So, I knew he knew that I was awake. I could feel his eyes on me as I rubbed mine. Meanwhile, Sage, Holland and Minnesota were blissfully ignorant. They continued to yip and right when I was about to announce my presence to the waking world, the conversation took an interesting turn.
“I wonder what our human forms will look like. I hope to the Moon above I'm at least half as pretty as Ma.”
Minnesota snorted softly at Holland's comment. Her usual enthusiasm was as unwavering as ever when she replied.
“Of course we will! We're the offspring of a beautiful lady and some apparently handsome bastard, of course we'll be beautiful!”
Minnie added on a last parting word in a hushed yip. She seemed to be paranoid about the following statement.
“We might even be as beautiful as the Moon Goddess.”
Sage gasped softly and I heard her shake her fur out. She had always been the softest heart of our pack and idolized the Moon more than most. She ignored Minnie's last comment as she commented shyly.
“Ma said our appearance is entirely based on our wolves. So, I'll probably have brown hair like Ma's. She said something about the opposite color.”
It was silent for a few moments as they mulled this over. Then Holland spoke up.
“So, opposite colors right? So that means I'll have red hair? And Loma will have white?”
Both Sage and Minnie yipped a confirmation. Minnie was practically bouncing in place. It seemed as if she'd been laying there for quite a bit.
I decided to make my presence known by adding on, “And I can't wait to look like the younger edition of an old lady. Why are we talking about this anyway?”
My previously oblivious sisters all jumped into the air. It was almost comical, the way their fur bristled in a very catlike fashion. They all growled in surprise and whipped around to stare at me as I lifted my paws from my eyes and peered at them. The three different colored wolves had their eyes widened and ears pinned back. Despite it being quite difficult to portray emotion on the canine face, their intelligent eyes betrayed them.
My words hung in the air for a second as they seemed to process my consciousness. I could feel Conroy's amusement from his place behind me. Then, Minnesota being Minnie, bounded forward and held my neck down with a single paw. What followed was a lot of unnecessary grooming as the excitement overpowered the rather large female. I heard a faint snort from Conroy as I hid beneath my paws once more.
I heard soft paw-steps coming closer before a yip sounded above me. “Oi, you big oversized fluff ball, get your fangs out of my fur this instant! Hey!”
I carefully lifted my paws and watched as Conroy dragged the energetic brown wolf away by her scruff. He seemed to struggle a bit as she was somehow bouncing and digging her claws into the dirt at the same time. Minnie continued to cuss him out as they left a trail through the dirt. The grey wolf looked to be holding back a grin.
I looked over at my sisters and they grinned at me, tails wagging excitedly. They both stepped forward and peppered my face in light kisses. Then they popped down and fired endless questions and statements my way with several yaps.
“By the Moon, are you okay?”
“How are your ribs?”
“How are you feeling?”
From where she stood, held in place by Conroy, Minnie added in her two cents. “Come give your big sister a hug!”
When Conroy dragged her further away, she barked indignantly. “And get this big oaf to unhand me!”
I ignored her and lifted my head at my golden and grey sisters. “Before I answer any of your questions, why were you talking about our human forms?”
They shared a quick look as they sat. A bark came from Minnesota's direction when Conroy tackled her to the ground. Before they could respond, a form came out of the surrounding trees and answered me.
“Tomorrow's our eighteenth birthday, sleeping beauty. That's why.”
I stared at Dakota as she casually revealed something so important. She didn't seem fazed by my shock as she sat beside the other grey she-wolf. Kota didn't even bat an eye at Conroy as he pinned Minnie.
My mind took a moment to wrap around the fact. I yipped incredulously.
“I've been asleep for three days?”
She nodded and reached over to lick my cheek. Holland spoke up as we sat in silence yet again.
“How are your ribs?”
I started and glanced down. I hadn't moved much so I didn't know. In fact, I had even forgotten they were broken. I told her that and Hol stood, shaking out her thick coat. All the blood from a few days ago was gone, not even a drop. No sign of what had happened. I realized that mine was still coated in dry, sticky blood. Luckily, it was nearly invisible against the dark color.
I need a bath, I smell like a freaking corpse.
Holland gestured for me to get up and I nodded. As I shakily got to my paws, my ribs twinged in pain. They were sore and didn't appreciate movement, but other than that they were fine. The long sleep seemed to have helped my wolf converge her energy to heal the shattered bones. It was strange.
Often, before the first shift, it took days for a single bone to mend. Even if they did fall into a short coma, the bones would only heal after a week. I had healed much faster than was normal. Sure my ribs still hurt, but considering that they should still be broken, it was barely concerning.
While I stood, I only winced slightly. I could tell that my sisters were expecting more screams by the look in their eyes. When I didn't deliver, they merely looked confused. Holland had a curious look in her intelligent dark eyes and she prodded my side with her nose. I only winced again.
How are my ribs healed?
My wolf sat with a smug presence in the back of my mind, even if there was an underlying fear. She knew something I didn't. She wanted me to figure it out. If anything, it just annoyed me. I was terrible at riddles or any kind of guessing game.
Holland began to circle around me, prodding my ribs every so often. The others sat by and watched with open curiosity. After the slightly taller wolf completed two full circles, she planted her haunches in the dirt.
Before she could question me, running paws approached from the forest. They slowed down when nearing the clearing. Sure enough, Ma and the rest of my siblings entered the clearing. Each of my siblings held two small animals in their jaws, clearly coming back from a hunting trip. Ma only held a single rabbit that she promptly dropped when she saw me up and standing.
Ma rushed across the clearing and began to yap rapidly.
“You're awake! What are you doing standing up? Sit! Sit before you hurt your ribs!”
I huffed grumpily at the word choice. Ma, being a werewolf herself, should've known that using the word ‘sit’ in a command ruffled our fur. It sounded so degrading. Like we were mere housepets with small brains that only just understood the three letter word.
She promptly tried to shove me to the ground, completely avoiding my ribs. She pushed down on my shoulders and I sunk into the dirt. Ma hovered over me, panicked. She licked every patch of black fur and whined of either relief or fear. She then rounded on Holland who sat nearby, looking amused at my ambush from Ma's maternal nature. The amusement was washed away by a wave of fear as she realized the level of hysteria drowning our mother.
“And just what is she doing standing up, young lady? She just woke up for Moons sake!”
Ma didn't wait for an answer and turned back to me. As she lowered herself to the ground, her bones rearranged themselves. When she finally sunk into the dirt, she was in her skin. Ma wrapped her arms around my neck and shoved my head over her shoulder. As she sobbed into my neck, I glared at my siblings behind her back. They all looked amused besides Dakota who just looked bored and Boris who seemed confused. Minnesota was squirming as Conroy lay on top of her, watching the scene.
“My poor baby girl!”
I sighed heavily as she murmured into my neck. After the top layer of my fur was thoroughly soaked, she leaned away. Ma held my face in her small palms and kissed my forehead. I licked her chin as she pulled back.
Ma stared into my eyes, the ones that matched her own. She studied me and I held her gaze, reassuring her that I was okay. I was going to be fine.
Ma sighed and wiped her cheeks. She collected herself for a moment before turning and calling for my siblings to pile the kill and come lay down. After a few minutes in which they piled our dinner nearby, they settled next to us. Every single one of them gave me a look-over before laying down, tensing beneath their fur.
When all eleven of us lay in a circle, with Conroy and Minnesota nearby, Ma leaned back on Nolan. Her naked skin was enveloped by his soft, fluffy grey fur as Otis hopped into her lap. My brothers and sisters pressed together around her, determined to cover all bare skin. It was normal for us to turn so overprotective when Ma was at her most vulnerable. Even Minnie and Conroy stopped fighting to join the protective huddle. My own muscles tensed as my wolf crawled forward to watch our surroundings.
Ma threaded her fingers through Boris and Zale's fur, relaxing as we spiraled into paranoia, guided down the path by our wolves. She locked her eyes on me and a small smile curved her lips. She began to speak in a human language she had once referred to as English.
“Now that we're all here, can you tell us what happened, Paloma? It can't have been a simple walk in the woods that gave you that nasty scar.”
I started at the last sentence and reflexively turned to look at the cuts. They had already finished healing before I went to sleep, courtesy of werewolf saliva. But, as I looked at it now, I realized what she was talking about. Four pale lines raked through my fur. They ran across the back half of my body, over my hips and ending just before my legs.
The new scars stood out against my sleek black fur. They were huge. Each line was at least a centimeter thick, marking the right side of my body. Instead of being terrified or embarrassed like I maybe should have been, I was oddly proud.
Seeing the marks on my coat excited me. My wolf puffed up her chest at the sight. Personally, I thought it looked bad ass. The scars also symbolized three things.
The first: I would do anything for my family. If I saved them from a burning fire and got mutilated beyond recognition, I wouldn't care as long as they were safe. The second: I was strong. I fought a cougar at least three times my size and survived. And the third: I had a family that would never stray from my side and I theirs. They tended to my wounds and then stayed with me for three days even when they didn't know the cause.
Loyalty is the best policy in our little rogue group. Nothing is more important. Probably since there was so little of it when our father left our mother in a cold den with twelve newborn pups to look after. Some people say honesty is the best policy and that may be true, but loyalty also means no lies, no deceit and no trickery.
Loyalty means sticking together and never betraying one another. In our family, we recognize this and live our lives by it. Loyalty is much more powerful than honesty because it is simply that and more.
I loved my new scars. Even if they had been dealt by a monster looking to kill a member of my family. They added a certain flair to my midnight coat that said, ‘Don't mess with me.’ I was looking forward to seeing the looks on peoples faces as I ran past. When they realized I wasn't quite as small and weak as I seemed.
So, at my mothers subtle demand, I grinned. My posture was tense and my senses alert to any danger that could possibly come to my Ma as my heart filled with warmth. It was both from the pride and the love of my newfound realizations. So with warm, loving eyes, I shared the full detailed story of what happened that night.