This story is by J.L. Brandt and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Kailyn stumbled over logs and brush as she made her way to the edge of the cliff. Her only light, the silver orb just above the horizon, reflecting its glow across the landscape below. Taking another step towards her destination, pain shot up her leg, a jagged stick having lain in wait. Cursing under her breath, she clenched her fist, knowing that the wound and the pain, would eventually fade away.
She had left her clothing a hundred paces back, hidden among the brush, knowing she would return for them, when the sun took its rightful place. Her favored place for a night like tonight, was as far away from people as she could find. Two miles off the nearest trail, another three from the nearest trailhead. A mile from the nearest country road, and at least ten miles from the nearest interstate. She was easily fifty miles from the nearest signs of habitation.
Not knowing what she had become on that fateful night twenty moons ago, she was unprepared for the horror when the full moon rose once more. It was her mistake to atone for, when she remembered the blood and gore, a sight that would remain in her dreams, forevermore.
For the last eighteen moons, she’s sought out the remotest of regions, so the same horrible scene would not repeat. She did not wish to pass on the curse to anyone. Did not want others to suffer as she had. Did not want the responsibility of knowing there was another of her kind.
Appearing as a ghostly image from the trees, her pale skin bathed in the glow of the rising moon. Twenty feet away the cliffside awaited her, like an old friend. The tops of the untouched trees, swayed in the breeze, hundreds of feet below. She felt exposed, all alone, but she preferred it that way.
Her breath caught, her nerves wrought, as she approached the crumbling edge. Looking down the sheer drop, vertigo surrounded her, memories of her accidental slip over the edge, on her fifth moon, flooded back with a roar.
Stepping a few paces away from the edge, kneeling as she had on previous nights, she gazed up at the rising moon. It would soon be full, the beast within would come once more. She could already feel its faint tug at her, and no matter where she was, she would always feel its pull. Not even the depths of a long forgotten mineshaft would hide her from its might.
She glanced over the edge and pondered once more, the thought that she had, many times before. Should she just throw herself off? Try to end it? She had always wondered if it had been the way she fell, fifteen moons ago. Barely surviving as a tangled wreck on the rocks below. Bruised, bloody and broken; pain her only companion.
Recovery from the fall had taken all night; her bones eventually healed, her muscles repaired, and her skin knit itself back together. Denied an end to her existence, though thankfully it was the only full moon where the beast chose not to show. Would it be different if she tried it a second time, jump with intention, or would it purely be, insanity.
Twenty moons ago, on a night like tonight, driving alone after a late night, an animal ran onto the road, she swerved but not in time. By the crunch that it had made, she thought it was dead, only for it to bite her when she checked on it. When the adrenaline had calmed, slipping back to her car, it had risen and limped away. Leaving her alone, not a trace remained, other than fur and a bloodstain.
Everyone she told about it, thought it was nothing more than a rabid animal, in its final throes, but she knew it was worse. Far worse, for it conveyed a curse that few knew anything about.
Her twentieth full moon happened to be her twentieth human birthday, and she should have been happy. She sighed once more as celebrations like these, mattered little to her anymore. What was one day, once a year compared to twelve nights of losing oneself each year? Each time the full moon would rise, she would count another night, of savagery.
She once had hope for the future. Go to school, become a doctor or lawyer, but the animal attack had changed all that. Ceasing to care what would happen in the following year. Ruled by the moon, her life would never be the same. Her boyfriend had been the first casualty, of her new priority.
She didn’t know if she could pass the curse in her human form, whether through a bite, a kiss, or more intimate passions. She closed her eyes and wished for the tears to come, but she had long become numb to the pain, numb to the anger, numb to her situation. Caught in an endless cycle she could see no escape from, no one to confide in, no shoulder to cry on.
She glanced back up at the sky, as the moon rose ever higher. The pull of the moon was stronger now, the beast beginning to stir. She glanced down once more, willing herself to slip over the edge, though she felt herself rooted in place, instead. The beast had other ideas.
In the time between moons, she had devoted herself to learning of her curse, but much of what she read was little more than hearsay. No one had an answer, no one had an explanation, no one had a cure, there was only the final solution. Silver to the head or to the heart was one way, and once upon a time she had even considered it. Not now though, she was cowardly as the lion. As much as she might beg for an end, not wanting to live as she was; in the end, she couldn’t bear dying.
Her only choice in this dilemma of hers, was to accept her fate. Too late for a hero or hunter to matter; they only wanted to kill her.
Her bones began to creak, and the tension in her muscles increased, as the moon climbed ever higher. She felt a silver thread wrapped around her beating heart, being tugged up with the rising moon, to pull the beast from its room. All she knew, all she could think of was to resist, though as they say, ‘resistance is futile’.
She felt her muscles spasm, she stretched her arms out, another tugging by the moon, out into the open sky. Exhausted from the struggle, she fell back on her heels, and caught what little breath was hers.
Pain shot through her back, she flung her arms out, fingers digging into packed dirt. Catching her breath, she looked around to see, the many same scratch marks, creating debris. Evidence that she had been here before, done this dance, with nary a t-shirt to show for it.
Pain shot through her legs, and she tried to dull it by dragging her fingers through the dirt, but it mattered little. Pain was pain, no matter where on the body it lingered.
With the moon rising ever higher, she knew the time was near, when the beast would rise up, and seek to be freed. She twisted in agony and cried out in pain, as her body began its first shift, the first tremors so near. Pain shot through her arms, down her shoulders, along her back, and further down through her legs. Another ripple spread from her neck, along her spine, down into her groin. She grunted in agony, knowing her internal organs were reorganizing.
She heard the snap of bones, felt the twisting of her limbs, the torture of her muscles, it felt so grim. And though the cool crisp air of the moonlit sky had chilled her to her core, she began to feel the warmth of thick fur, knowing that her skin would be bare no more.
It wouldn’t take long for the change to complete. Each time it became easier, became quicker, but not pain free.
Her human mind began to recede, began to fade away as bestial thoughts began to take over. Hunger came to the surface, even though she had already gorged herself on plates of blood-red meats.
She smelt the faint scent of something living out there. A rabbit perhaps? A groundhog? Perhaps a deer? The beast within wanted to give chase, bring it down to feast. She twisted on the ground, desperately fighting to retain a shred of her humanity.
As the final painful stage of her transformation came to the fore, she arched her back, as she screamed at the moon. And though it began as a human sounding scream, it ended in a howl.
Kailyn was no more. Only a Wolf stood in her place.
A howl in the distance signaled to the wolf that she was not alone.
Time. To. Hunt.