In Which Many Changes Come
Thursday afternoon rolled around quickly. At three, an hour before I was meeting Levi and Thalia and whoever else was to meet with me, I left the house. Gram thought nothing of it, which I was glad for. If she was going to trust me, I had to give her a reason, and it seemed I was doing that.
I walked down to the church, which at the time I arrived (around three-twenty), was empty. I sat down on the bench by the door, looking over my shoulder to read the schedule of events posted on the building’s front.
One event posted, taking place the prior Saturday, was a funeral. A funeral for Sadie Powers.
Maybe I would never know who her killer was. I would always suspect it had been me, for hadn’t I been the one to awaken beside the body? Her death would always be a black mark on me, haunting me for all my days. Such was the nature of my affliction, the thing that made it truly a curse. I rose, walking the short distance over to the graves. A newly erected cross, carven gray stone, rose from the ground at the very front, still-fresh flowers set before it. The nameplate below read Sadie T. Powers, 1989-2014.
I shifted uncomfortably on my feet, unsure of what to say or do. How do you pay respects to a stranger whose death you were responsible for? In the end, I simply pulled a few wildflowers from where they grew abundantly nearby. They were beautiful things, white that faded into gray with a touch of purple in the center. I set the tiny bundle in the center of the nameplate, brushing my fingers over the raised letters.
“I’m sorry,” I said, hoping her spirit would hear. “There’s nothing I can do that will make this better. Flowers and apologies won’t even come close, I know. But trust me, I will do whatever I can to atone. That, I swear.” The rational part of my mind argued that it was stupid to seek absolution from a dead woman, but as usual, the rational part of my mind lost out. As I often did, I was doing what felt right, not caring about the reason.
I quickly finished offering my strange respects when I saw Levi, Thalia and Jason arrive at the church door. I ran up, jumping the three small stairs. “Ahoy!”
“What ho!” Jason answered smoothly.
Thalia had a slightly more relaxed appearance, baseball cap pulled over her eyes, a slouching bun tied behind it. The bandages had been removed, showing the thin scar on her forearm. She leaned on the porch railing, making a well, go on then, talk! gesture with her hand.
“You must be wondering why I called you all here today.”
“We are,” Jason said. “So tell us.”
“I would,” I replied. “Except that I’m wondering the same thing.”
“Is everything going okay with your grandmother?” Levi asked.
“Yeah, things with Gram are going pretty well. I haven’t told her everything yet, but....” I didn’t finish the sentence.
“Will you?” he prodded.
“Probably.” I scrambled to offer an explanation before he could protest. “I don’t see why I shouldn’t, what with us being public knowledge now. There’s no way she hasn’t heard, and I’d rather be honest with her than let her wonder and suspect.”
“Honesty,” Thalia nodded. “I value that in a leader.”
After the obligatory inquiries into each other’s well-being were out of the way, our conversation turned to the coming night. Explaining to Thalia what to expect, Jason didn’t sugarcoat his descriptions at all. Neither did I, for while his memories were fresher than mine, the pain of a first Change was something I could very much identify with. Being a young and very scared thirteen-year-old at the time, my memories were amplified and distorted by that fear.
Thalia, however, seemed totally unfazed. In fact, she shrugged the warnings off. “Sure,” she said, “it’ll hurt. I know it’ll hurt, and a lot. But you don’t have to worry, Hailee. I’m ready.” She sounded so confident about it, I couldn’t have doubted her if I tried.
“You are a soldier, Thalia,” I said. “A soldier through and through.”
The sun had begun to fall into the west by the time we parted ways, readying ourselves for the night. Gram, it seemed, truly did trust me more now, as all the windows and doors were now unlocked. I spent the evening with her, talking about unimportant things, and occasionally even important things, between whatever was on the History Channel. Eventually, we settled into silent relaxation.
With the credits of Ancient Impossible rolling, Gram retrieved the remote and began flipping channels. She stopped abruptly on a news channel, and guess what was on? The footage of the convention center shootout startled me out of my thoughts. My heartbeat spiked as I watched, eye-strainingly close, to see if any cameras captured my image. If they had, they weren’t showing it on the news, and so I relaxed sightly, continuing to pray Gram wouldn’t bring it up.
The cameras focused in on a tall, businesslike woman, with several microphones shoved in her face. White letters on the screen identified her as “Rosemarie Swaim,” with no title, or any other ID besides a name. She provided that ID herself, stating that she was a member of the Paranormal Defenders, close with Director Tyrone, and she would speak for him in his absence. She paused on that final word, drawing the sentence out for emphasis, “in his...absence.”
Of course, the interviewers jumped on that. “Absence? What sort of absence? Is the Director injured?”
She folded her arms across her chest, relishing another long pause. “Yes.” The crowd goes crazy, swarming for information like sharks to a kill. “I’m not at leave to...I’M NOT AT LEAVE TO SAY ANYTHING MORE.” The decibels-raised voices quieted the crowd. “I absolutely cannot say anything more than that,” Swaim said firmly. “Yes, Director Tyrone is injured, and yes, he’s in the hospital. I can’t say what hospital. I can’t say how he was injured, I can’t go into any details about our suspicions, I am absolutely not at liberty to say any more,” she said, with an air of total finality.
She turned a shoulder to the crowd, and was instantly accosted with cries of, “Wait, wait, Ms Swaim, Ms Swaim!” She stopped, a disdainful look on her face, allowing for one final question. A reporter pushed a blue-and-red microphone through the thick of mics and recording devices to her. “Can you speak, for the Defenders or for yourself, on the information recently revealed?”
“You mean, is it true or not? Is that what you’re asking?”
The reporter answered in the affirmative.
“It’s true,” Swaim said, brusquely and simply. “And yeah, we know what everyone’s thinking, what we never said.” My throat catches a bit, fingers digging into the faux-leather sofa’s arm, as she speaks the word as I think it. Werewolves.
“Yes,” I whisper along with her. “It’s all real.”
Gram shook her head, switching off the television. “Unbelievable,” she said. She stood, carried her coffee cup into the kitchen. “I’m going to turn in,” she announced.
“Okay,” I said, not moving from my spot. So much the better for me.
As the moon rose higher, I felt the twitching in my muscles begin to signal the Change. Careful not to make a sound, I pulled open the sliding glass door and crept out onto the wooden back porch. The porch had two small gates at either end, one of which is directly under the bluish window of Gram’s bathroom. The window was covered in steam, presumably from the shower, and I watched the dimly visible light vanish. I sighed with relief, thinking Gram must be going to sleep. I’d be back before she woke again.
I jumped over the gate, into the grass, and ran for the woods. Again, there were gray clouds covering the rising moon, keeping me in check.
Running through the trees, I spotted a figure sitting cross-legged at the edge of the creek. Starlight fell on the figure, revealing a woman, dark hair spilling down her half-bare back. Thalia.
I stopped beside her. She looked up, pulling the hair out of her face. Her eyes, for the first time I’d seen, were yellow. She didn’t say anything, just smiled at me, a cocky smile I’m sure I myself used many times before.
I returned the smile, and continued running, deeper and deeper into the trees. My heart raced, my mind with it, and I ran on until I felt the moonlight sweeping over me. My knees hit the dirt, my hands after, and I raised my head to the sky and howled.
Before the sun was completely up, I was awake, and back to lucidity. Back to humanity. I picked myself off the ground, and walked back towards Gram’s house. I stopped at the top of the hill, by the old watchman oak, looking out over the road with memories and feelings mixing in my head.
A dinged-up, dirty car drove past, kicking up dust. I ducked quickly behind the tree, heartbeat spiking. The fear of being discovered still remained, but it was different now, now that people knew of us. Before, I was afraid of being discovered simply because, well, what would any normal person make of me, bedraggled and unclothed, stumbling out of the woods? I wouldn’t risk being discovered.
Now, it was the same fear, but a very different feeling. Anyone who saw me stumbling from the woods now would know. They would think, “lycan.” And then what? Either they would help me, or (more likely, I thought) shoot me.
I still wouldn’t risk being discovered. Not until I found who, among the humans, I could trust.
I slipped into Gram’s house the same way I left, over the gate and in the back door. Thankfully, she wasn’t awake yet, so I hurried quietly, undetected, back to my room. Washed and dressed, I lingered in front of the mirror. I’d tried to clean up as well as I could, hide where I’d been, but there were small things I noticed that weren’t so easy to fix: the dirt under my nails, the marks of sleeplessness on my face, the stiff way that I moved my sore muscles.
But, there was nothing I could do about that. I stretched, put on a bold face, and walked into the kitchen. Gram was up early, tapping her fingers on the counter as the teapot shrieked. “Good morning, Hailee.”
“You look pretty tired.”
“I...had a funny dream last night.” It wasn’t entirely untrue. Blurry images from the previous night filled my head, feeling rather like dreams. I knew they would fade, as they always did. Evanescent flashes came and went from my mind’s eye.
“Oh, well,” she said, “just get more sleep tomorrow.”
“Sure,” I agreed.
I had my day planned out -- at some point I would have to leave again, to return to the pack house. I needed to check up on Thalia. Sure, she said she’d be okay, but whether she truly was was another thing entirely.
So, once dressed, I asked Gram’s permission and left. Rainclouds were gathering in the sky, a deep cadet blue color, that rolled with thunder. I pulled my jacket over my head and ducked under the cover of the trees. Taking dirt side paths (and some that weren’t paths at all), I found the back way to the house quicker than by taking the main road.
Thalia was sitting on the front porch steps, sipping a cup of black coffee. The tiredness in her eyes looked like the result of a punch to the face. A thin red line, a single scratch, crossed her cheek, and her hair hung messily around her face. She raised her hand, waving hello as I sat down beside her.
“Doing okay?” I asked.
She groaned. “Everything’s sore,” she said. “Like, really effing painful. Even PT-ing with the Gunnery Sargent never left me hurting this much.”
“But I’m okay,” she assured me. “I don’t regret my choice for a second.”