In Which Heartache Keeps Me Awake
I couldn’t sleep that night, kept awake by what I can only describe as strange heartache. Desperate for escape, I picked up my phone and called Holly. “Hey,” I said when she picked up. “You awake?”
“Am now,” she muttered. “Wha’dya want?”
“I can’t sleep, Holly,” I said.
“You woke me up just to tell me you were awake?”
“Awesome,” she replied. “This is how I know we’re best friends.”
“Keep it down,” she said warningly. “Someone’ll throw a hissy fit if Aunt June or Lucy get woken up. So, what’s keeping you up?”
“Have you been tracking the lunar calendar?”
“Um, no. Astronomy was eighth grade. I assume you have, though.”
“Yeah, it’s kinda something I have to do.”
“Like a girl tracking her period.”
"Um, yeah, let’s go with that.” I could hear her on the other end laughing, and that made me want to laugh too. But I didn’t. “The half-moon is tomorrow night. That’s the second Change. It’s not as powerful as full, but still enough. I’m a little anxious. I suppose it’s natural. Also, I think I may have bitten Mark Prosper.”
“Yes, yes, you did. I was there. The schoolyard looked like the set of a bad horror movie. I’m pretty sure someone’s put it on Youtube by now.”
“No, no. You know what I mean.”
“Um....” “Kelley Armstrong, Holly.”
“Oh!” She exclaimed. “Riiiiiight. That. What?”
“You didn’t see the whole thing. He started it all by punching me in the gums. My mouth was full of blood when I decided to bite him. That’s a tiny sample of my DNA transferred to him. If you put two and two together....”
Holly let out a long, low whistle. “Geez. Oh, I remember now! He said. ‘If you’ve infected me, I’ll kill you.’ He meant....”
I nodded, then remembered this conversation was happening over phone and said, “Yeah. That.”
“So, you think you may have accidentally infected the biggest a-hole jock in school, also possibly an enemy agent, with lycanthropy.”
“Yeesh, of all the things I never expected to say to my friend outside the context of an online MMORPG.”
“Isn’t saying, ‘online MMORPG’ redundant? Since that’s what the O stands for anyway?”
“Fine, but, ‘online MMRPG’ just doesn’t have the same ring. Plus, then I can no longer use ‘morpeg’ as a viable pronunciation.”
Now I laughed. Holly Starbuck being Holly Starbuck, as always. We talked for hours, the way two friends should, until she fell asleep on the phone. When her voice faded into steady, low breathing, I hung up the phone, rolling onto my side. Moments later, I finally fell asleep myself.
Gram woke me up the next morning, rapping repeatedly on my door. “It’s locked from out there, genius,” I yelled, miffed at being woken up. I had only slept three or four hours last night. The lock clicked, and Gram walked in.
“Hailee,” she said, “Principal Lester called. You’re suspended for the rest of the week, but’s that all the action they’re going to take, unless Moira Prosper decides to press charges, which I hope she won’t. I’m sure she won’t; Moira was always a nice woman. She didn’t really deserve the son she got, if you ask me.”
“Great,” I replied, pulling the covers over my head. “If I’m off school, can I sleep now?”
She sighed. “Go ahead. Take a shower when you get up.”
“It’s seven in the morning.”
She smiled, and shut the door.
I rolled over on my side and glanced out the window. It was the twenty-first, I realized. Half-moon night. I wondered how Jason was dealing. I wondered if he was even still with the pack, or if he had caved and gone back to his family. Or been caught. A lot of other terrible things that could have happened to him ran through my mind, but I chose not to dwell on any of them.
What I had to worry about now was figuring out a way to escape. If worse came to worse, I figured, I could shatter the window. However, I preferred not to go that far. If I could find some way to slip out quietly, that would be far preferable. Even if I could convince Gram to leave my door unlocked, the outside doors would still be locked.
Honestly, it looked like force was going to be the only way out of the house. It wasn’t like I was any kind of stranger to force. I searched through my room for any kind of sharp object I could as a lockpick and scoured the closet for suitable blunt instruments. Nothing, zilch, nada. Gram really had all her bases covered. All of them.
I scowled. I would figure out a way, I swore internally. Gram could cover her bases if she wanted. I could get around them. “You remember how I always used to beat you at Risk?” I muttered. “Hopefully, you haven’t stopped falling for my tricks.”
Morning passed. Then noon. Then one, two, three, four. Finally, the sun started setting, and I started getting nervous. As soon as seven o’clock hit, I stood up from the sofa. “I’m going to bed early,” I announced.
Gram gave me a sideways glance. “Okay.”
The door shut behind me. Taking a deep breath, I stripped out of my sweater and pulled the ring off my finger, hiding it under my pillow. It wouldn’t do to lose it. Then I steeled myself, and, with a great heave, pulled the curtain rod from the top of the wall...and drove the end through the window.
The sound of shattering glass could be heard throughout the house, reverberating down the hallways. I could hear Gram abruptly switch off the television and jump to her feet, running. I wasted no time in climbing out the window, and disappearing into the night.
The sound of my hammering heart resounded over and over in my ears. Every breath I took was short and ragged, and with each that I drew less and less oxygen would enter my lungs, yet with each second I felt stronger. That was the work of the Change taking hold.
I had barely lost sight of the crossroad when my foot slipped, sending me flying rather ungracefully down the old oak’s hill. I landed hard on my back, the skin of my upper body scraped, shredded, by sticks and rocks and thorns. I didn’t move, simply shutting my eyes and surrendering.
The contractions came on strong; my back arched and my head snapped backwards. I could hear my spine, and the bones in my limbs, cracking as they shifted into positions not allowed by the human skeleton. For the first time in years, I was conscious of pain, real pain. It was an unexpected, and unpleasant, shock. A great groan racked me. Just black out, I thought, fervently urging my subconscious. Just black out and make it stop.
I bit my tongue, breathing hard, my eyes watering with the terrible discomfort. I groaned again, then opened my mouth and howled. It seemed finally as if unconsciousness was about to take me, and it did...but not before, for one glorious moment, I could see everything through my wolf’s eyes.
Not just eyes either; sight, smell, hearing, every sense I had, had suddenly shot up several levels, even from where they normally stood on a level that could be called superhuman. This was truly superhuman, supernatural. This was as close to feeling all-powerful as I would ever come; the knife-sharp edges of my vision, the fevered pitch of my very psyche, the strength coursing like fire through my veins. This was power, and power, as forbidden as the thought was, felt good.
And with power came bloodlust. With power like this came the basest of instinct; to run, to escape, to hunt, to destroy. The alien desire for destruction, even for bloodshed, had ignited me in my very core. I howled again, a powerful, imposing sound that would shake the ground. A sound that inspired fear, sending one simple message to any who might wish to stand against me -- run for your life.
Then, like drowning in a wave of black ink, I fell under, and knew nothing after.
When I stirred again, it felt like waking from a dream, the sort of dream one has when you get sick to your stomach and your temperature is 104 degrees. I was exhausted, aching, my head buzzing. I licked my lips, and tasted blood. I was used to this after Changing -- sometimes the blood was my own, sometimes it belonged to some forest animal.
I sat up. It only took a quick, sweeping glance to see that the whole of my bare chest was covered in the stuff. I pushed myself onto my feet and shambled forward a few steps, falling into the creek, letting the biting water rush over my skin. As they swept over me, the waters ran red. I plunged my head under the shallow flow, attempting to rinse out my mouth, repeatedly forcing myself to swallow.
Then I saw it. No -- not it. Her. A woman.
My heart stopped. My knees felt weak, and my stomach turned over. Slowly, weighted down by disgust and horror, I forced myself to walk towards her. Up close, the scene was even more horrific. She was dressed in hiker’s gear from her crimson-splattered orange scarf down to her knockoff brand boots, and her right hand clutched an inexpensive flash camera. A photographer? I reached into her pocket and discovered a business card. The woman’s name was Sadie Powers, her occupation unspecified.
Slowly, my eyes wandered upwards. It was her upper body that was truly repulsive. Part of her throat had been torn out, laying bare the bones in her neck, and a quickly spreading pool of blood surrounded her fallen body. I didn’t want to look at her face. It would be so much easier to dismiss Sadie Powers as meaningless, a background event, if I didn’t. If she was anonymous, faceless, nothing.
Somehow, I forced myself. She looked to be in her mid-twenties, short, athletically built, brunette. Her grey eyes were still half-open, a final expression of dismay frozen for eternity to her youthful face.
There was an old legend that said if you looked into the eyes of one recently dead, you could see trapped in their pupils the image of the last thing they saw before the Fates snapped the thread of their life. I didn’t have to look into Sadie Powers’ eyes to know what had killed her. I could see it in the surrounding scene, even feel it in the atmosphere. Her killer had been a werewolf.
A shock struck my heart like an ice shard driven through my chest. I had been the one to wake up beside the body. Had her killer been me?
I couldn’t breathe. I felt choked, asphyxiated. I keeled over onto my hands and knees beside the water and vomited in the dirt on the banks. When I finished, I was trembling, my vision blurred.
I stared into the eyes of my reflection on the creek’s surface. Everything about the image suddenly repulsed me. I had once asked Holly if she was afraid of me, but never did I expect that I would be afraid of myself. Feeling like I was being torn apart inside, I ran. I didn’t care where I was running too, but somehow I ended up at Gram’s. The window that I had broken was wide open, and I climbed back inside.
The first thing I saw was the last thing I wanted to see, the mirror on the wall. In a sudden, uncontrollable rage, I crashed my fist into the reflective panel. “No!” I screamed, letting the word fall from my tongue as quickly as the shards of glass fell to the floor. “No! No! No, no, no!”
The door flew open. And that was how my grandmother found me: half-naked, surrounded by broken glass, head in my hands, knuckles bloodied. She was too shocked for words.
I pulled my sweater back on, and replaced the ring on my finger. “I’m sorry, Gram. You shouldn’t have to see me like this.” “What happened to you?”
“I can’t explain. Not now.” She sighed, resigned. “Whatever happened, Hailee, I’m sorry.”
I stood, biting back tears. “I’m going for a run.”