“NINE one one. What is your emergency?”
“There’s blood everywhere. I’m trying to make it stop, but his throat’s cut. How do I make it stop?”
“What is your address? I’ll send an ambulance.”
“2425 Pine Tree Way. You gotta hurry! Please, there’s blood everywhere. It won’t stop… I can’t hold it together.”
“Police are en route and I have an ambulance on the way…. Stay on the line with me, okay?”
“Please hurry! I don’t think he’s breathing anymore! The blood’s everywhere…. How do I stop it? I can’t hold the wound together….”
I STOOD in the barn, my backpack filled with the items I’d found. Everything had a coating of dust, so I figured nobody would miss them; I’d return them when I was finished. I wasn’t stealing—just borrowing.
A man walked into the barn, on the opposite side from where I stood. I froze—unable to even breathe—caught with my hands quite literally in the cookie jar… a big ceramic Pooh bear full of nails, which I’d been adding to my bag of spoils.
He was tall, at least six feet, clearly older than me by a year or two. My breath caught, and not because of what I was doing…. I’d never seen a man so ruggedly handsome. He was bare-chested and his jeans hung low on his hips. His body was lean and muscular. His skin was a deep golden brown that stretched across a muscular chest and ripped abs. He had spiked black hair and large sky-blue eyes. Surprise flashed across his face as he saw me, and in that instant—I ran. Could have stared at him all day, I mused as my sneakers pounded the dirt. He seemed exotically beautiful with those blue eyes and black hair. Another day—another lifetime—I could get lost in him. Today—no time—gotta run. With my spoils in my duffel over my shoulder, I made for the tree line at a dead sprint. He gave chase—on my heels, calling after me. I didn’t turn around to see how far he’d follow. I just ran. The trees—the forest—they were my safety zone.
Where does he think he’s going? I thought as I ran, my breath coming in controlled pants. He didn’t stop at the trees. I could hear feet running after me. Crunch—crunch—pant—crunch—crunch—the rhythm of running and breathing, through the tree litter that muffled our footfalls. I’m fast; you learn to be fast when your life depends on how quickly you can disappear. He steadily fell behind despite being taller than me. In no time, I couldn’t hear him anymore. I kept going. It might’ve been the adrenaline from being seen, but the hair still stood up on the back of my neck as if I were being tracked or maybe hunted.
I put a couple miles between me and the ranch, following the animal trails I’d become familiar with. The Black Hills National Forest was thick and in this particular area, it was easy to lose your way if you couldn’t recognize the signs of the forest. I’d lost him, but I continued to run anyway. I could feel the thrill of the chase, the high from evading a pursuer, a feeling of invincibility. So I ran on. Panting hard, I reveled in the heady feeling. A part of me never wanted to stop. I felt like I could outrun anything—anytime—anywhere.
“Ah!” I screamed. Pain stronger than anything I’d ever felt hit my stomach like a sledgehammer, knocking the wind clear out of my lungs, ripping my guts from my body until I was sure they were scattered across the forest floor. I fell, tumbling to my hands and knees—duffel bag sliding to the ground.
I curled into a pain-filled fetal ball, trying to hold myself together through the intense cramping. For the first time it hit me how alone and vulnerable it was to live like this, but only for a second as the pain came again in an overwhelming wave. My insides boiled and my skin crawled. I clawed at my arms, wanting to peel the skin from my body in chunks. I couldn’t stand the scratchy, irritating touch of my clothes. I screamed in agony as I yanked on my shirt and pants, dragging them off, away from my oversensitive skin as quickly as I could. I struggled, trying to gasp for air, but I couldn’t breathe because the air wouldn’t go into my lungs.
I felt my bones turning to jelly and reshaping themselves. Joints were changing direction. My chest seemed to expand, getting larger and deeper. Fur. Fur? It seemed to force itself through my skin to cover my entire body. Claws and paws replaced fingers and hands, and I could see my nose… well, not my nose, but a large brown snout sticking out from my face. When the pain finally subsided and I could breathe again, I found myself standing on four legs and I had a tail. A thick chocolate-brown pelt covered my body, except for my stomach and feet, which were white. I walked in circles looking at my tail, in complete disbelief.
From all the parts I could see, I could only come up with one possible answer—I had gone completely nuts. What the fuck! WTF wasn’t strong enough for this hallucination. I must be certifiably insane… bound for a rubber room… or a dog pound. People didn’t just turn into animals. Somehow, I’d entered a Tim Allen movie and I’d become the Shaggy Dog…. No, something inside felt offended… not a dog—a wolf. Oh God, American Werewolf in London…. I was a monster. Well, no surprise there. Now the outside and inside match. People will see a monster when they look at me, as they should. Sometimes I hated my internal voice; I cringed and shivered at my own thoughts. After shoving the self-hatred back into a box in the corner of my mind and stomping on it hard, I shook my head, which became a whole body shake… fur twisting and flopping across my body all the way to the tip of my tail. It felt good.
I grabbed my clothes, what was left of them, with my mouth and buried them, along with my pack of treasures, under some bushes by a large tree. A part of me—there but separate—told me to hide everything. If I ever turned back into a person, I’d need to return and get my stuff. If… what the hell!
Well, at least I could think, so I was still me… sort of. I felt like me, but more, like something else lived in my head too. Wonderful. Multiple-personality disorder… yes, Doctor, my other self is a wolf… wanna see? I bet I couldn’t find a psychiatrist who allowed pets in their office.
My new senses practically overwhelmed me with information. My sense of smell—I could smell everything. The forest was unbelievably filled with the aromas of animals and trees. If scents were cars, I was downtown New York on the busiest day of the year, caught in midtown traffic. But it wasn’t my nose alerting me now, but my ears. Someone was still following me. My imagination hadn’t been playing tricks on me. I quickly tried to cover up my trail and hid in the bushes. I wanted to see if the handsome man from the barn had trailed me here.
Damn, but he’s hot! I couldn’t help thinking when he broke through the trees. The wolf seemed to be in agreement. He was beautiful, just as I remembered, only now I could see his sexy sky-blue eyes, rimmed in thick long black lashes. He had the kind of eyes that would see clear into a person’s soul. When he hit the end of my trail, to the point where my wolf paw tracks, which were huge, by the way, took over from the footprints of the person I used to be, he crouched down to look very closely at them. He looked around with a confused look on his face, and then he kind of smiled to himself. He stood up and began to circle around the area where the impressions changed over, as if he were looking for something. He went in ever-larger circles, widening his pattern, searching with a growing scowl on his face. It was obvious if I stayed, he’d find me in minutes. I had to leave. But before I could move, he walked past me and my new nose picked up his rich scent—thick musk, the deep woods, and the earth. He smelled heavenly. The wolf wanted to step right out of our hiding place and pant after him. He wanted to drop to the ground and show the man our white belly, with all four feet in the air, and give him our submission. He wanted to play and make the man chase after us through the woods. I told the wolf to just shut up and run. I darted off into the woods silently. I was hungry, thirsty, and I knew if I wanted, I could run like the wind. So I did, leaving the wonderful-smelling man behind.
I ran and ran and ran. The wind in my fur, the smell of the forest in my nostrils, pine needles and damp earth under my paws—it’s impossible to explain how exhilarating and peaceful everything became. I had no worries about the future, no thoughts of the past, only my immediate need and its fulfillment. The wolf wanted to hunt and I let it; he seemed to know how to take care of his hunger. The wolf knew where the deer were without thinking about them, and I headed on silent feet toward the herd sleeping in the tall grass.
I moved in tune with all the life that pulsed all around me. I crept up silently, had the doe in my teeth, and snapped her neck before I realized what the wolf intended. The wolf had totally taken over, ripping through the hide and inhaling large amounts of steaming flesh, relishing in the coppery goodness and warmth sating his hunger. Somewhere in the back of my mind, my human self screamed, Oh gross! But the wolf gloried in his kill, and he felt exultant, content. When I finished as much of the venison as my engorged stomach could hold, I was sure I’d never be able to eat again. Completely stuffed, I lay down in the grass and rolled over. I didn’t want to think about how much raw meat I’d just consumed. I’ll never be a vegan now. I laughed to myself, the sound that escaped me sounding like a bark.
I was officially a killer. No surprise there. My dreams had been reminding me of my failings for quite a while now. I rubbed my muzzle on the grass, then licked my huge paws, cleaning them. I decided to head for the stream I could hear trickling nearby. I felt extremely at ease and comfortable in my new furry hide. I was at peace for the first time in what felt like years. The wolf was blissful, I was happy, and I had no idea why.
I couldn’t get the vision of golden skin, black hair, and blue eyes out of my head. The memory of his scent and an unrealistic urge to have the man’s hands running through my fur made me want to curl up and lick my own balls. Yes, I could reach them… no, I refused to give in to the urge to do so.
Night crept up on me, and darkness started to fill the forest. I wasn’t sure when I decided to go looking for the young man, or maybe it was the wolf that decided. I found myself drifting back to where I’d stashed my stuff, the place where I’d last seen him. He was gone, of course, but his scent remained and it smelled so nice. Sniffing around, I could tell he’d headed back toward the ranch. I wondered what he thought about wolf tracks picking up where the human trail he’d followed had disappeared. The wolf didn’t care. He rolled in the hints of the man’s wonderful scent. So very tired, my muscles and joints ached from running and hunting. The wolf wanted to sleep, so I stretched my new muscles, curled up among the roots of a tree, and fell asleep.
Cool fall morning light filtered through the trees. I was lucky it was still closer to summer than winter, no frost, but there was still a slight chill in the air. I awoke. Human. Naked. And I had company. A huge mound of gray and white mottled fur had curled up alongside me, keeping me warm.
“Shit!” I screamed in a voice that sounded like a little girl—at least it did to me. I made a leap for the other side of the tree. My scream awoke the owner of the fur, the largest wolf I’d ever seen. He—yep, definitely a he—stood up and peered at me curiously. He could’ve been a pony. His shoulders reached well above my waist, and he could practically look me straight in the eyes—He had sky-blue eyes. Rare for a wolf to have blue eyes, I thought, but not unheard of. I kept the tree between us as I watched him closely for any sign of aggression. He yawned and stretched, cocked his head sideways at me, then looked down my previous trail back toward the ranch, growling softly.
Had I missed something, maybe someone coming up the trail? My senses were at a distinct disadvantage as a human. I made a run for the bushes and dug up my clothes, what was left of them, and my duffel bag of scavenged tools from beneath the hedge. I quickly pulled my jeans on, but my underwear was missing, forcing me to go commando. At least the pants were still intact. The shirt would need to be mended. The buttons were all missing, and there were rips along the seams. My jacket remained whole, and I quickly slipped it over my tattered shirt. I grabbed my bag and cut across my previous trail, heading for the stream.
The cool water felt good against my bare feet—I’d been unable to find my shoes. I headed upstream, roughly in the direction of my place. It wasn’t a home or even that great of a shelter, really, but it was my sanctuary. If I could get there, I’d be safe. Looking through the trees, I realized he was following me. The white-gray wolf ran along with me—not at my feet, like a dog would, but parallel to me. He kept watching me as we ran. I’d see him turn toward me, keeping me in sight. He didn’t seem aggressive. I guess maybe my wolf self must’ve made a friend, although I didn’t remember any other wolves. I didn’t like the idea that I might’ve blacked out or lost time as a wolf. Not knowing what my wolf might have done was a horrible feeling. I needed to be in control of him. I might have become a monster, but it would be a cold day in hell before…. I didn’t want to think about it. Emotionally, I couldn’t even begin to process this new facet of my life. I prayed it wouldn’t happen again.
The white-gray wolf didn’t seem aggressive, so I decided not to complain. He’d take care of himself, and hopefully wouldn’t decide at lunchtime that I belonged on the menu. He’d go away eventually. I took my time circling back around toward my sanctuary—my cottage—and felt sure no one would be able to trail me. I ran straight into the dilapidated structure. Immediately, I felt safe. The wolf followed, right through the nonexistent door, and stood there looking around almost expectantly.
“What?” I looked at the wolf.
He shook himself, sat down, and looked at me, glancing out the doorway every now and then as if he expected someone. I ignored him. My sanctuary probably didn’t look like much. It was a one-room mining cabin that had been abandoned sometime in the 1800s after the gold rush, and it’d seen better days. With four crumbling walls, no windows, an entrance with no door and a thatched roof that was in the process of falling in, the building had clearly been devoid of human occupation for a very long time. But to me it was perfect; it had a working fireplace and, as every Realtor will tell you, the thing that makes the sale—location, location, location.
I got busy digging into my small stash of clothing in the corner of the cabin. I found socks and a pair of sneakers I’d scavenged along a riverbank earlier in the season. Some swimmer had left them behind, but they fit me fairly well. I began going through my duffel bag. I smiled at what I’d been able to scavenge. I promised myself I’d return the things I’d borrowed and I’d leave money for the twine and the nails.
The wolf growled as I pulled things from the bag and laid them out on the floor.
“I know stealing is wrong.” The wolf looked disgusted. “I’m going to return them. I just need to make a few improvements or I won’t survive the winter.” The wolf seemed to consider, looked up at the roof, shook his big head, and lay down with his head on his paws, watching me.
“I’m reasoning with a wolf…. I’m sooo headed for a rubber room,” I mumbled to myself. I stood up, went to the side of the cabin for firewood, and started a fire in the fireplace. Looking around, I found a place for each of my new tools, keeping them separate from the things I owned. I didn’t want to mix the two. I intended to return them to the barn when I was finished with them. The warmth from the fire took the chill out of the cottage, despite the lack of a door. I smiled and hummed to myself. I’d found a number of buckets and a couple pots during the summer, all abandoned by fishermen and campers vacationing in the national forest. I hung a bucket full of water over the fire to boil. I really wanted to wash up. I sang as I worked. I knew singing wasn’t considered very manly, but I missed having real music. A radio was a luxury I didn’t have. I’d discovered a couple of MP3 players, but they only held their charge for so long, then they became worthless except for the few bucks I could get at a pawn shop for them.
I took off my jacket and hung it on a nail. I replaced my tattered shirt with a clean one, and then I dug a sewing kit out of my backpack to repair the one I’d torn. I’d long ago learned how to sew, and I always kept the buttons from clothing that was no longer wearable.
As I waited for the water to boil, I looked around my sanctuary, trying to decide what needed to be repaired first. The hardest to fix would be the door. The water steamed and rolled. I carefully removed it from the fire and made a cup of tea from wild mint leaves. The wolf watched as I brewed the tea. I’d found the mint about three days ago in a patch that covered a large section of the forest floor. The tea warmed me from the inside out and I began to relax, the stress from the previous day finally fading. Even though the sun overhead declared it to be barely noon, I was exhausted. I decided on a nap.
I took off my jeans, pulled on a pair of shorts, and climbed into my sleeping bag. The wolf just continued to lie in front of the fireplace with his eyes closed; I guess he’d fallen asleep watching me. I stretched out and quickly joined him.