Into the Woods
I could feel it. I could feel the energy beneath my skin as I drove towards the woods. I couldn’t fight off the urge, but I tried. I could see the edge of the trees as I sped towards the woods. I could feel it in my arms now, as the skin began to stretch and fur sprouted. It reverted back to a human arm and I laughed.
It was a cold Boston night, and the winter made it colder. I didn’t feel it though. I had my windows open and still broke a sweat.
I finally reached the woods and parked my car next to my mother who was also there. I hopped out of my car, slamming the door shut. As soon as I saw her, all feelings of heat and pain disappeared.
“Mom!” I shouted.
“Josh, hush!” she scolded, still smiling though. Her black hair--all in one ponytail-- twirled wildly in the wind, yet the way she was dressed you would think she was on the way to a gym.
She stared at me, her green eyes glinting in the light of the full moon. She smiled, her eyes showing just a glimmer of sadness. My eyes, an odd mixture of green and grey, took in all of her sadness in a split second. I had moved out the year before, wanting to be closer to school. She had gotten used to the separation, but the fact that she was alone and that we barely saw each other anymore, me because of school and she because she had her own life apart from her child, sometimes made her sad. She drew me into a tight hug.
“All right, Mom, let go,” I said, laughing as the hug only became tighter. “You act like we haven’t seen each other in years, not just a few days.”
“I’ll never stop missing you,” she said, finally letting me go.
I ran my hands through my hair, black as hers, blushing and mumbling how I missed her too.
At that moment the feeling of uncomfortableness returned all at once, and from the look on her face, I knew it had hit my mom too. We both looked at each other, nodded, and ran into the woods.
The farther we ran into the woods, the more I felt the pain go away. I still felt it, but just barely, as it turned into a small ache in the pit of my stomach. My eyes focused and I could see every blade of grass, every leaf under the strong glow of the moonlight. Living in a city, you would think I was used to loud noises, but in a forest, it’s never quiet. At some point the city has to go to sleep, yet out here, once one thing goes to sleep, another awakens. I could hear rustling noises as some mouse or fox ran away. I could hear a soft hoo as an owl took flight, the soft shushing of its wings barely audible.
I heard them before I saw the fire of a camp. I ran faster, becoming excited. I finally saw the fire up ahead, and I burst into a clearing. Here they were. All of my friends, my Pack mates. I lowered the hood of my red sweater and let loose a howl. They were already looking at me and some were grinning, mostly the younger ones, the kids, while the older members looked mildly irritated by the sound I had made.
My mother, having entered the campsite a bit slower than I had, made the rounds of saying hello.
“Craig, how are you…is Natalie all right? Sprained ankle? Ouch….Hey, Sasha! How far along are you? Almost there!” I heard her asking others about their lives.
I stared at my watch….twenty minutes to midnight. I could hold out till then. I headed for the campfire, where I saw all the little kids crowded, as my girlfriend told them a legend about wolves.
“…and so they say, to this day, the Wolf Spirit gathered his son, and put him into the sky as a reminder of all the good deeds that we could do. If you look up,” and as she pointed all the kids craned their heads upward, “You can see it. There’s his snout, his legs, his tail.”
At that moment she saw me and her mouth split into the biggest grin. I was pretty sure that my face looked the same. She got up and in a few quick graceful lopes was in my face. I grinned even more, and I picked her up and twirled her, before sweeping her into a full on kiss.
Ignoring the hoots and whistles behind me, she looked at me. “You’re late,” she said with mock seriousness.
“Talia, you know why! I had to finish my project for my graphic design class!” I protested weakly.
She wasn’t buying it. She rolled her eyes and looked at me.
“Fiiiine, I was with Joel,” I half whispered.
“Don’t lie to me, Josh. I will kill you,” she laughed, her brown eyes sparking in the light of the fire. “You’re wearing the sweater I bought you.”
“Of course,” I said, chest swelling, “I’m your Red Riding Hood.”
I had gained the nickname Red Riding Hood when I was six. I had arrived at my first Pack meet, and the first thing I said when I got there was “Mama, why are their eyes so big?” Just like Little Red Riding Hood. And the name had stuck ever since.
“Little Red Riding Hood,” she reminded me, mirth in her eyes.
I groaned and turned my back on her. As she had implied, I was one of the shortest members of the Pack, and she never let me forget. Even she was taller than me. Anyways, as soon as I turned my back to her, a little body jumped on my back.
“Josh!” a familiar voice screamed in my ear.
“Calliope! How are you kid?” I asked her, swinging her around to my front.
Calliope was a thirteen year old girl that we had found abandoned in the woods a few years ago. When we--more specifically I-- had found her, she was a small wild thing, having been in the woods for about a year, animal instincts having taken over completely. Now she was clean, living with Talia in her small apartment in downtown Boston. Her blonde hair was no longer in ratty braids, but brushed with the loving attention that only a sister--or sister figure-- could give. Her blue eyes, wide with trust and adoration, lit up even more as we made eye contact.
“You didn’t say hi!” she said, scoring each word with a punch. “You only had eyes for Tali!”
“I would never look you over! You’re my muse!” I laughed, as Calliope blushed, “Anyways, c’mon. It looks as if the Meet is about to start.” I pointed to where everyone was gathering, and as we headed there, Calliope kept up a running commentary about what she had learned in class today.
Mom had taken center stage, and as she did, everyone grew silent. The kids (with the exception of Calliope) went inside the numerous tents and Mom cleared her throat.
“Welcome to another Pack Meeting!” she said.
As we all shouted our greeting, Talia looked over at me. Her eyes betrayed the excitement that she felt, the excitement that I had felt bubbling in my chest these past couple of weeks.
“As you all know, I’ve been Alpha for the past two decades. I have given blood and sweat for this Pack. I have loved this Pack for my entire life. But as time goes along, it’s time for a change. I am stepping down as Alpha.”
All around me I heard shushed whispers, and even a couple of poorly concealed sobs.
“Carol, it’s about time.”
I whipped my head around and stared at the person who had dared to speak.
I let loose a small growl, and began making my way towards him. I stopped when I felt Calliope’s hand wrap around mine. I looked at her, and she was also baring her teeth at Connor. I took a deep breath and looked away from him, cutting Calli’s vision of him.
“As I was saying,” Mom began again, “I am stepping down as Alpha. You all know who has been my Alpha Elect for a while now.” She scanned the sea of faces in front of her.
I made my way up the platform, feeling hands clapping my back, my earlier entrance forgotten, as the sea of people parted in front of me. At thirty members, the Pack was at its highest number. It was all thanks to Mom. I would keep it this way.
After what seemed like forever, I reached Mom. She smiled at me, tears glistening in her eyes, turning them into a warm emerald color. She embraced me again, and let me go as quickly.
new Alpha. My son. Josh Scarlet. Our Red Riding Hood.”
She moved off to the side, giving me center stage. I looked out into my audience, and I opened my mouth.
Connor had spoken. I stared at him.
“I am challenging you to the right for Alpha. Just because you are your mother’s whelp doesn’t mean you get to automatically become Alpha,” he drawled in his southern accent. He moved closer to the fire, the fire showing off his pale features.
The rest of the Pack was silent, rapt with attention. Nobody breathed.
Calliope and Talia rushed forward, one on either side of me. They were stating their allegiance to me. The rightful Alpha.
My watch beeped. It was midnight. Everyone, including myself, began to take off their clothes, throwing them onto the floor. I also threw most of my clothes on the floor except for the sweater which I placed on a log where it would be safer from ticks.
As I stared Connor down, I felt the Change take over.
All around me, I heard groans and gasps as the Change took effect everywhere.
My Pack began to change.
We were becoming werewolves.
Hollywood often portrayed werewolf changes as something that isn’t painful. Somehow the body can just meld into a werewolf shape, no pain, no fuss. Real Change is nowhere near that.
I looked into the sea of trees in front of me, gasping as the Change began slowly. I waited for my wolf to appear, to guide my body through this terrible, yet incredible, transformation. I saw him, a jet black wolf, watching me from the shadows. I extended my hand, waiting for him to approach me. I looked at Talia face contorted in pain, gazing intently into the trees, and even though I couldn’t see her, I knew her wolf was there.
My wolf was finally close enough to touch, and as I laid my hand on his fur, I began hearing drums. Changing was a sacred ritual, one that I had accomplished when I was fifteen. I never knew what everyone else heard, as each Change was different for every person. As the drums got louder, my wolf leapt, teeth bared, and disappeared into my body.
Instantly, I felt my soul rejoice as human and wolf spirit melded into one, and began the Change towards a full wolf. I heard my bones stretching, and I let loose a scream of agony. I could feel the wolf trying to soothe the pain, filling my head with memories of running through the grass, chasing deer and rabbits, anything to take my mind off of the pain. Nothing worked, but I had accepted this pain as natural long ago. I could feel the wolf begin to emerge, as the world darkened into a red and black haze of pain.
Becoming a werewolf wasn’t easy. This was beyond the normal realms of pain. The body was making a complete shift from human being to an actual wolf. I couldn’t stop, no matter how much my body protested. I gritted my teeth, swallowing another howl of pain, as my wolf lead my body into forming paws. Just like with pregnancy, I knew that there was a reward at the end, one that I could only attain through pain.
I could feel my spine pop and crack as I fell on all fours. I felt my muscles moving, saw them shift as I neared the end of the Change. The muzzle formed last, and finally it was over. I fell on all fours, shaking off the final vestiges of pain. I blinked, acclimating myself to my new body.
I was a wolf.