This story is by Laura Eiras and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I stand buck naked in the mountain glade. My breath puffs in the cold air. That should explain the shivers I can’t quite keep under control or the way my balls are trying to climb inside my body. Unfortunately, the real reason stands in front of me gently waving its tail in the moonlight, jaws open in a lupine grin. I take a step back and the huge silver-gray wolf growls. The message is clear; don’t leave the glade. I freeze. The moon has risen. What do I do now?
The smell of bacon lures me awake. I inhale deeper and savor the sweet scent of maple syrup with just a hint of butter. Hmm, hotcakes and bacon, my favorite! Mom’s certainly sending me off right.
It’s finally time. The signs are there. The same dream again: The wolf’s chasing me. It’s almost got me. I know when it catches me everything will change. I run into the clearing and turn . . . . That’s when I always wake up, but this time it seems like there was more . . . I shake my head as the elusive, almost memory dissipates.
Mom’s voice drifts up the stairs, “I can hear you, you know. Adain Michael Savard, get your lazy butt out of bed and come downstairs. Just because this is your Day doesn’t mean that you get out of doing your chores.”
I grin, hearing the smile behind the growl. Mom’s bark is always worse than her bite. Well not really, but in this case, the saying fits. I find an almost clean t-shirt and pair of jeans in the pile of clothes at the foot of my bed. Casual is fine, but no one sits down at Mom’s table wearing only skin. I pull them on and hurry down. I’m hungry, and Mom’s hotcakes, while good cold, are best eaten hot.
Breakfast is a distant memory. The brief pause for lunch only a grace note. My head aches from the blazing sun, sweat trickles down my back and my feet are sore. The silver-grey haired man a few paces ahead looks just as fresh as when we left.
“Uncle,” I begin without thinking.
The man stops and looks back at me with a cool stare. I remember too late that today he’s not genial Uncle Tore. Today it’s his duty as my Symboulos to prepare me—a small voice in my head whispers or kill me if things go wrong—for what’s to happen at moonrise.
“Symboulos,” I say instead, “will we stop soon?”
“When we reach il Cuore,” he replies. “Hurry. Time grows short. We must be there before moonrise.”
We reach the forest. Symboulos does not hesitate, striding into the gloom between the trees without a hitch in his step. I follow, the cool shade a welcome relief after the unrelenting sun.
Symboulos wends his way through the trees, seeming to follow a path that only he can see; one that leads ever deeper into the forest that enfolds me in its cool embrace. The rustle of leaves is the only sound. Even our footsteps are muffled by the thick layer of humus on the ground.
My headache is worse and now I feel like I have the flu. I pant for breath and my muscles twitch. The ground levels off abruptly and we step out into a glade. The sun had set as we climbed and the twilight is almost indistinguishable from the cool darkness of the forest. The mountain glade is exquisite, a small green gem protected by the ancient forest. We have reached il Cuore, the Heart of the Forest.
Symboulos crouches and drinks from the tiny pool at the base of the outcrop centered in the glade. He motions me forward to drink. The water is cold enough to make my teeth ache, and tastes of rock and moss. Nothing has ever tasted so good.
A cool hand touches my forehead. “The Change Fever has begun. Moonrise approaches and we must be ready.” He removes soap, a washcloth and a small copper basin from a niche hidden in the outcrop. “Purify yourself.”
I shed my clothes quickly. The cold washcloth feels good against my fevered skin. I dump and refill the basin more than once before I finish.
Symboulos has been busy while I washed. He sits naked a few feet away from me. “Center yourself.”
I sit and take several deep cleansing breaths, finding that quiet place inside. The questions come.
“Have you dreamt, my protégé?”
“I have dreamt, Symboulos.”
“I have dreamt of a wolf. It pursues me. Soon it will catch me and I will be devoured.”
“Who is the Wolf?”
Put that way, I examine the dream again. Perception shifts and my eyes open wide in surprised realization, “I’m the Wolf! I flee from myself. The Wolf is me!”
The questions that follow are relentless. “What is the Wolf? What is the Beast? What is the danger?”
Everything gels at this moment. I understand! I’ve heard the ancient words many times, but they never made sense until now. I know their truth and speak them, “The Wolf is me and yet not me. It is my Brother. We are Hunger and Thirst controlled, Terror and Awe entwined. We feel the need to protect that which is ours and crave the death of that which threatens those we love. We are Wolf in Man and Man in Wolf, each accepting the other.”
I gasp in fear as I finally, really understand the true danger and continue, “The Beast is the worst of Man consumed by the Wolf and the worst of Wolf consumed by the Man to become the ravening Beast—intellect without conscience or mercy that destroys. It is desire uncontrolled and a craving that can never be satisfied, Death and Hunger personified and Power embraced without limit or boundaries.”
“Who rules, the Beast or You?”
My answer is triumphant, “I rule. I am not the Beast! I am the Wolf and we are one.” I’m panting, as if I’ve just completed a race. My joints ache and my skin feels too tight. I look up and realize that the moon has risen. Symboulos’ silver-grey hair glistens in its light.
He stands and cries, “It is time! Feel me with your Wolf and follow.” The moonlight seems to swirl around him. Where there was only man, now there is also wolf. I see man and wolf superimposed over each other, together yet separate. Then the man fades and there is only a silver-gray wolf.
I jump to my feet and stand there shivering. Although my breath puffs in the cold air of the glade, that is not why I shiver or why my balls are trying to climb inside my body. I stare at the wolf in front of me. He gently waves his tail and opens his jaw in a lupine grin. I take a step back and he growls. The message is clear; don’t leave the glade. I must Change. Here. Now. I freeze. I’m not ready, I silently wail. I thought I was, but all the dreams and questions have not really prepared me for this moment. I eye the wolf standing in the moonlight and shiver again. What do I do now?
The wolf growls impatiently. Judge, jury and perhaps executioner. He watches me, merciless, ready to pounce.
I’ve accepted the Wolf in the Man, but once I Change would the Wolf want to remember the Man or would the Wolf forget the Man? We could become the ravening Beast! I grab my courage in both hands as I remember Brother Wolf and step into the moonlight.
Electric tingles dance across my skin. The muscles beneath twitch uncontrollably. I close my eyes and turn to face . . . Myself. The Wolf sleeping inside has awoken and stares back at me. I feel its fierce joy as we embrace. We become one, the Wolf a part of me and I a part of the Wolf. Never alone again. Together always. The moonlight shines through us and we Change. Our body stretches and twists as muscles writhe and joints pop. Pleasure-pain builds to a crescendo. My human part steps back while Brother Wolf steps forward. The world spins for a timeless moment, then settles.
I open my eyes. Everything is different. The night is bright and full of enticing scents. Each one distinct, each one tells a story. I look down at my black paws and feel my tail sway back and forth. I have done it! I have Changed. I am Wolf, but I’m still me, just more. Not a Beast! I raise my muzzle to the sky and howl with joy.
The silver-grey wolf greets me and looks deep into my eyes. Finding what he seeks, he nods his head. Judge no more, Uncle Tore lifts his muzzle and there are two voices rising in chorus.