In Which It Was a Very Octobery Night
It was exactly the kind of night you expect in October.
The leaves that once adorned the trees had long since fallen, and they made a satisfying crunching noise underneath my feet. A mild wind whipped through the trees’ bare branches, carrying the scent of chimney smoke and earth. The air was snappishly cold, and wisps of cloud blew about in the sky. The forest was very empty. This wasn’t a city, with wild Friday night parties and late-night fast food places. The area within a several-mile radius of me had gone quiet as every resident slept peacefully. Every resident, except me, and three others. Three others I was ashamed not to be with.
And tonight, in true scary October fashion, there was a full moon. The glorious white orb shining amongst the stars like a king walking among his subjects. Every now and then, a ray of whitish moonlight would pierce through the branches. I stepped around them, careful not to let the rays touch me, not yet. It wasn’t time. Soon, I told myself, coaxing my other side into temporary submission. First thing is to be away. Away from anyone you could hurt...or anyone who might wish to hurt you. Away from them.
I thought that, and I was ashamed of thinking it. I despised being referred to, and my people being referred to, as “them,” as if we are something to be feared. As if humans were right all along. Yet I think the same of humankind themselves.
Pulling my hood tighter over my head, steeled against the cold, I made my way to the clearing, as far from civilization as I could be. If this place could even be called “civilization.” I had toyed with the idea of the caves, but even after so long, the memories that place held, the stench of death that lingered around them, were too painful to face.
I could see the clearing ahead of me now, bathed in spectral light. I pulled back my hood and took a deep breath, steeling my heart against the fear. I couldn’t explain the fear; I was used to the transformation. It didn’t hurt, the way it had at first. But there was something inherently terrifying about the idea, especially if you were conscious of it’s inevitability, of waking up at sunrise, covered in blood, with no memory of the night before.
The moon was at it’s highest right then, as I strode into the clearing. My muscles had begun to spasm, and my heart was racing, far faster than would normally be healthy. Now. Now was the time. No more waiting.
I stripped off my clothes, making a quick mental note of where I left them, and knelt in the center of the clearing. I wondered what Gram would think if she saw this, and the thought brought a grim smile to my face. My eyes closed for a brief second, just long enough to change color. When I closed them, they were deep brown. When I opened them, they were a shade of yellow like straw spun into gold.
My muscles spasmed harder, contracted, and disgusting cracking sounds rang in my ears as my bones dislocated and shifted. I dug my hands into the earth, and sharp claws shot from my fingernails, making clefts in the dirt. I groaned and gnashed my teeth, which had grown into canine fangs, and a yell rose in my throat -- a yell which worked it’s way out as an animal’s howl.
For a moment, my senses heightened to a dreamlike fever pitch. I could see every line and curve of every shape before me. I could smell the water of the river from miles off, and from just as far away I could hear the ringing howls that responded to my own.
This was the best part. The moment right before I lost myself, when I could fully enjoy being a wolf. I only wished the animal feeling could last longer....
And then my mind went blank.
I groaned and rolled over onto my side. “Ow.” I was lying by the side of a creek, so close to the water that my hair was getting wet, and it was freezing. No wonder -- it was early morning in autumn, after all, and I wasn’t wearing anything at all. My head was buzzing, and every joint in my body ached from Changing. Joints I didn’t know I had ached. I stood up, going to find my clothes. Once I was dressed, I began the walk home.
The forest was every bit as empty as it had been the previous night. I imagined everyone was still sleeping -- after all, it was Saturday morning in the country. It wasn’t like anyone had anywhere to go.
I came up a tall hill that was always green in summer and crackly and brown in October. The local old lonesome oak stood like a watchman at the hill’s top. I leaned against it and acted winded, not because I was, but because I wanted an excuse to stop. I wanted an excuse to look both ways down the road, and wonder where to go. East, or west? East would lead me to a quintessential “grandma’s house” where one old woman slept, blissfully ignorant of what went on around her, ready to wake up to granddaughter’s face and continue living her life. West would take me to a ranshakle deserted house, not so deserted after all, where the three other people in all this town who didn’t sleep last night were returning. Did they wonder where I was? Did they wonder if the last member of their part would finally return?
Did they miss me?
I sighed, and took the east road. What choice did I have? There was nothing I wanted more in the world then to return to the pack, to feel like I could be me again. But Gram had fought tooth and nail for custody of me, and she was going to hold onto me with tooth and nail, too. If I ran away, she would rip the forest apart to find me. I tried to accept that everything she did was out of love, but that thought didn’t stop me from constantly feeling like Rapunzel, locked away in a tower.
Walking around the back of the house, I found my bedroom window open, just as it had been. I pulled myself up and hoisted myself through the window. The sound of clambering outside the door indicated Gram was awake. I quickly ducked into the bathroom just as she knocked on my bedroom door. “Hailee? Hailee, are you up?”
“I’m in the shower, Gram!” I yelled, turning the Hot knob all the way up. The piping-hot water seemed even more scalding as a foil to the cold air outside. I could only take about two minutes of this, then I switched on the Cold knob. The water washed away the dirt and grime left on my skin from the night before, and ran into the open cuts on my limbs and stung. But the stinging soon vanished as the cuts faded into scars. Makes one thankful to have accelerated healing. I tried to strategically cover the scars as I got dressed, knowing there was no way Gram wouldn’t notice mysterious wounds.
“Hailee!” She rapped on the door again. “Breakfast!”
“Coming!” Before I left the room, I purposefully messed up the covers and sheets on the bed. Like most fifteen-year-olds, I never made my bed. If it didn’t look slept in, Gram would immediately suspect that it hadn’t been. I carelessly rumpled the rather ugly quilt, which I thought with amusement looked exactly like the ground outside, and moved the book I’d been reading (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) from the pillow where I had left it onto the nightstand. Satisfied with my handiwork, I went down the hallway to breakfast.
“Good morning, Hailee.”
“Good morning, Gram.” I made myself a cup of coffee and milk and leaned against the counter, sipping thoughtfully.
“Did you sleep okay? You look exhausted.”
“I slept fine,” I lied.
“Did you hear the wolves?”
I lied again. “No.”
“It’s funny; I only seem to hear them when the moon is full, or half-full Makes me almost believe what your father used to say about werewolves.”
Werewolves, like him. Like me. I stared down into the swirly top of my drink, trying to muster up the courage to talk to her. Standing at the crossroads again had bothered me, and I realized I couldn’t wait any longer. “Gram,” I finally said, “we need to talk.”
“About me. Gram, I’m going to be sixteen next month” -- and sixteen was of age among my race -- “and I think it’s about time I start running my own life, don’t you think?”
She turned to face me. “Don’t beat around the bush, Hailee, what is this about? What do you want to talk about?”
I took a deep breath. “I wanted to talk about seeing Levi again. Maybe moving out for a while, going to stay with him just for a few weeks.”
She shook her head fervently. “Absolutely not.”
“Gram, it would only be a few weeks, a month maybe....”
“I said no, Hailee, unequivocally, without clause, no! You are not leaving this house until you are an adult, and I’m not sure about that!” she burst out. Then she sighed. “Look, I don’t want you to feel like a prisoner here.”
“Well, you’ve failed on that front,” I muttered.
“I just...I honestly don’t know what to do with you.”
“Do you not trust me?”
“Hailee, don’t take this the wrong way, but no, I don’t.”
“Why? Do you think I’m hiding something from you? Because there’s nothing!” Nothing, except everything.
“You ran around in the woods for years with a gang of strangers, for God’s sake!”
“For the last time, Dad’s friends are not a gang! And they’re not strangers!” I exclaimed. “Dad said in his will that he wanted Levi to be my guardian.”
“I don’t care what he left in his will, Hailee. That man was more than a bit batty if you ask me. I don’t think he knew what was best for you. It’s not right for a young girl like you to grow up off the grid in the middle of nowhere, without guidance and without a family!”
Woman, Levi and Fred and Victoria are more my family than you will ever be. I kept that thought a thought. “I grew up fine! I went to school, I never got in trouble! Come on, Gram, I want to see my godfather, why is that too much to ask?”
She raised an eyebrow at me. “Really? You never got in trouble? All the fights you got into, the things you vandalized at school....”
I sighed. “Gram, that was one time. I was twelve. Let it go! Yes, I got into a lot of fights, okay, but so do other kids! With the guys, it happens every day!”
“Those are guys, Hailee. You’re a young lady, I expect you to behave differently.”
“I am not a lady,” I spat back. I slammed down my cup. Milky coffee sloshed onto the granite countertops. “What I am is leaving, and what this conversation is, is over.”
“I didn’t start this conversation,” Gram muttered as I stormed back to my room.
I slammed the door behind me. Once safely sealed in my own room, I gave my reflection in the mirror above my dresser a good hard stare. My eyes were yellow. Eye color is always the first thing to Change, and the hardest tic to control. I blinked, and they went back to brown. I wondered if Gram had seen it.
I sighed. I hated lying, I realized. I hated it so much, yet it was such a fundamental part of my life, since I was a child. It ran in my blood. Gram had talked about Dad with such ease, like she knew the real him; she didn’t. She never liked him much, though she put up with him for my sake. I think she was sort of relieved that it didn’t work out between him and Mom in the end. Gram’s family was one of the last Cherokee bloodlines in the area, and she didn’t approve of her daughter marrying a young white guy.
Mom had lied, too, lied about the reason she left Dad. She knew exactly what he was, and she was afraid of him, and she was afraid of me. Afraid I would be “like him.” I gave the mirror another look, changing my eyes back to yellow. Well, her fears weren’t unfounded, were they?
And there was yet another thing Gram didn’t know. Hidden in the back of my closet was a small black box I had smuggled from Levi’s home to hers. Inside the box was a handgun, a revolver made in the seventies, and a case of bullets with -- if I remembered correctly -- twelve bullets left in it, enough to fire from each chamber twice. She didn’t know that I owned that, or that I’d trained with it. That I knew how to kill.
And I was going to.
I was going to kill the man who murdered my father.