|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
"You can really smell winter in the air," Claudia said to me as we walked along the trail. I nodded in agreement; everywhere I looked the wind was sending wave after wave of yellow and orange leaves tumbling down to the ground. In the west the setting sun glowed bright red, almost the same color as the foliage on the dogwood trees.
"Let's head inside," I said, shivering as an icy gust brushed by. "It's getting cold already."
As we strolled further down the leaf-strewn path, she pointed to a small cabin. "Ben told my brother about this place last January. We needed a place to stay near Wolf Gap, and Henry didn't want to pitch our tents in the snow. Then we heard about this spot. It's really special."
"It must be. Ever since last winter, you've both been tireless at work. Just like Ben. Even though he's almost forty now, he's stronger than most teenagers."
As I looked at her clear, unwrinkled skin, I wondered if Claudia still got carded. She looked more like a teenager than a woman who was almost thirty. "You look more beautiful each time you return. When you come back to work, it's like you glow with renewed energy."
Looking to the north, she said, "It's really been great. I'm in better shape now than I was in college, thanks to Ben. He showed us the secret . . ."
Hesitating for a moment, she gazed deeply into my eyes, and then said, "To some, it's like the fountain of youth. They want to come back each month, to regain vigor and stamina. Ben's over in the next valley, with some family friends who also took leave for Wednesday and Thursday."
Looking at the old chimney, I asked, "Who owns it? Didn't Henry say it was a place for hunters? Wouldn't surprise me. There's a big herd of deer living up on that hill."
"Deer season doesn't start until mid-November, so no one will be here except us," she replied. "Our friends told us this spot was magical. They were right! I can remember the moon shining off the sheer cliffs, covering the fields of snow in a silver glow."
I glanced at the steep slope leading up to the cliff. The setting sun made the bare rock of the cliff glow blood-red, shimmering in the fading light. Shadows spread across the pinnacle, making it look like the walls of a medieval fortress. It seemed to be a castle set on the edge of a precipice.
Henry appeared in front of us, carrying a log. "I got some more wood for the fire. Not that we'll need much tonight. I plan to head up to the cliff as soon as the moon rises."
A pair of does stood at the edge of the woods, I realized suddenly. Not making a sound, they seemed to materialize out of the evening mist. Their big eyes followed Claudia's brother for a moment, but then both deer bolted into the woods with flag-tails flying high. At the sound of their fleeing hooves, Henry dropped the log he was carrying and turned, as if to follow. His eyes narrowed as he bared his teeth in something that was almost a grin. Then, with a self-conscious sigh he turned back to his work and began to open the latch to the cabin door.
As the door creaked open, I asked, "Did you bring extra flashlights? Even with moonlight, it's going to be dark in the forest. Remember what happened with Jerry last month?"
Claudia laughed, tossing her long hair to one side, "Isn't that the guy who fell in the canal? Harry told me all about it. He must have no sense of direction."
Furrowing his brow, Henry frowned briefly, and then replied, "I was going to invite Jerry here, but I decided he wouldn't be welcome. We need someone who can follow tracks through the woods. I'm sure he'd just get lost. But it doesn't matter. Yesterday, I heard Jerry was going to a Halloween party."
"Right, Harry," added Claudia. "He wanted to hang out with some trick-or-treaters. As if that could be fun. Jerry doesn't know what he's missing."
"He'd have to change a lot for me to reconsider. Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. That's why this place is special. You can change yourself, in more ways than one. We found our true selves last January. Tonight, you may find what you desire."
As Henry finally opened the cabin door, I smelled a musty odor. Looking inside, I could see racks of antlers mounted on the wall, only illuminated by a fire in the corner. I put my flashlight on a bench next to the door, and walked in, wondering where I would sleep.
"Where did you put your sleeping bags in January?" I asked Claudia, pushing aside some matted fur on the wooden floor. "There doesn't seem to be much free space here."
"We don't plan to spend much time sleeping tonight. It's the first full moon on Halloween in twenty-seven years. None of us has lived long enough to remember the last one. Let's go up on the ridge and be one with nature, on this mystical night. Harry's so eager, he's checking out the trail right now."
Looking out the door, I realized that Henry was gone. Indeed, I could barely see him, running down the deer path at a frantic pace. "Isn't that dangerous?" I asked Claudia.
"We've come back to these hills every month since January. My brother's walked every trail - he could smell the cabin from a mile away. It's a wonderful feeling. You feel so much more free here than in the city."
"If I was moving that fast, I'd trip over a root for sure!" I exclaimed. His speed was amazing. It made me think of an Olympic athlete, truly remarkable for a man over thirty. Before January, Henry had been sluggish and somewhat overweight. But now, he was incredibly fit, with boundless energy.
"There will be plenty of light when the moon rises," noted Claudia. "Have something to eat first. Then we'll go up the hill together."
As I walked further inside the cabin, I spotted a lumpy orange bar. Was this the food she mentioned? My guess was confirmed as I heard, "Try it. I'm sure you'll like it." from the girl standing at the door.
I picked it up, smelling a pungent aroma coming from the mass. Taking a bite, I tasted something sweet, like honey, but then sensed the flavor of raw meat. "What is it?"
"Pemmican," she replied. "I made it with pumpkin and fresh venison."
"Fresh?" I asked, after finishing the bar. "I thought deer season wasn't for a few weeks."
"That's only for people who use guns. We have other ways of getting meat," Claudia answered. "You really should have something to drink as well."
"It's really tasty. I bet venison would be more popular, if it wasn't for those Bambi-lovers."
Apparently glad to hear that I didn't mind eating deer meat, she said, "They don't understand the balance of nature. Once, wolves kept the herds in check. Now that no wolves live here, men must play the part of wolves and harvest the excess deer. It's good for the herds too, saving them from disease and hunger."
"You look thirsty." She slowly handed me a flask, which felt oddly warm to the touch. I drank some of the liquid, and felt dizzy for a moment. "What is this? Beer? Something stronger?"
"No, it's not even alcoholic." The young woman smiled, displaying a nice set of dimples. "I made it with some very special herbs. It'll put hair on your chest, so to speak, and give you lots of energy!" Her smile grew wider.
"I sure hope so, because I'm getting sleepy," I said drinking more of Claudia's elixir. It seemed to have an intense odor, filled with smells from the forest. "This stuff is great. My nose was clogged earlier, but it's completely clear now. What did you use?"
"That's a secret," answered Claudia. "We might want to sell it some day. But there's something here that will interest you more. It will really surprise you."
As Claudia picked up a round object, a loud howl echoed across the hill. Could it be a coyote? I heard they had recently migrated into this valley. "What was that?" I yelled.
"Someone's dogs got loose," replied Claudia, dismissively.
"It sounded like a wolf at the zoo," I said, hearing another howl.
"They feel free up here, away from civilization," said Claudia, holding a circular amulet inscribed with a seven-pointed star. "Don't you want to get away from everything? My life changed after I first came here in January. I felt like a new person."
"Right now, I'm feeling really tired. Maybe I should go up to the cliffs later tonight."
"That's fine. I don't intend to leave until the hunters' moon is high. Besides, I want to show you how this amulet works. Its magic power is strongest on Halloween, between the solstice and equinox."
"Magic? Are you into wicca now? I didn't know you believed in it."
"Not before last January. But now, I know much about the power of the moon. The tides are strong tonight. They drew you to me."
She held the amulet next to my right hand, and began stroking the hair on my forearm. "We'll go out around midnight to meet Harry. But first you need to rest. Lie down here."
My head felt heavy, as I dropped to my side. As I stretched out on the floor, I noticed it was covered with fur. "What's this? A rug? It looks like some sort of skin."
Claudia placed the amulet around my neck, draping the chain lower. She then placed the star over my chest, and began to pull my shirt off. "It'll be warmer if you roll over next to the pelt. You'll need it when we hunt deer tonight."
"Hunt? With what?" I said, as Claudia continued to pull the shirt, sliding it off to one side. "I didn't see any weapons."
"You'll find out. I can smell the deer already," said Claudia, placing my shirt to one side. "When you're ready, I'll come back to bring you to the hunt."
Feeling goosebumps on my skin, I pulled the fur closer, letting it slide across my hands. I felt something sharp brush against my finger, and realized that it felt like a dog's claw. But I didn't worry about what it was, as I was just glad it was warm. Soft hair rubbed on my ears, effortlessly dropping over the lobes, as if it belonged there.
As I drifted into sleep, I thought I heard Claudia chant something. But I paid it no heed, for I could feel the feeble heat from the fire dwindle. The last rays of the setting sun passed, plunging the cabin into twilight I drew the soft pelt closer to me, clutching the foot-pads against my hands. The warm fur covered the cold metal disc on my chest, as I draped it closer. Soon, I feel asleep, wrapped in a dense blanket of fur.
I was shivering hard when I woke up, feeling very cold as I lay on the bare cabin floor. Staggering to my feet, I felt a gust of icy air from the open door. The last dying embers of the fire illuminated my boots and shirt, which were lying neatly folded on a bench.
"We're waiting for you, Ralph. Come outside."
Where did that come from? It sounded like Claudia's. I walked toward the door, drawn to the light. Perhaps I could see her better outside. "Where are you?"
"Don't try to talk. We can feel your thoughts."
Where was the sound coming from? It sounded like her voice, but it was eerie, as if projected from very far away. Or was she on the other side of the door? I walked forward, feeling a strange attraction.
"We know you are like us. We share one blood. Join us tonight."
I felt a sudden burst of heat from my chest. Looking down, I saw a glowing red star with seven gold points, surrounded by a silver disc, reflecting the bright light of the moon. I abruptly pulled the chain from my neck, placing the amulet in my right hand.
"Do you ever dream of wolves?"
My hand suddenly felt as if it was on fire. I dropped the disc on a bench, my fingers clenching and unclenching spasmodically. I felt sweat dripping from my body, even though I had been cold only minutes before.
"We came here last winter for the Wolf Moon. That's when we found the amulet."
Placing my left hand against my chest, I felt dense fur. Thick, heavy fur, not just hair. A mass of gray fur was erupting in a circle, just below where I had worn the seven-pointed star.
"I was also afraid the first time it happened. Just let it flow. Feel the forest call you."
Glancing at my right hand, I saw my nails elongate and darken. Dark ridges formed underneath my fingers, like the pads on a dog's foot. How could she do this to me?
"We're waiting for you, Ralph. We'll wait for as long as it takes. Come with us, join our pack."
Feeling another surge of heat pulse through my body, I realized that Henry and Claudia must be werewolves. They had me under their spell! I focused my mind, trying to resist.
"Don't fight it. Let the change sweep you along. It's easier that way."
I tried to move away from the door, but felt my right leg cramp in place. Fur continued to spread over my torso, streaming down my arms in gray tendrils. Could I stop the transformation?
"We won't force you. Just let your desires show you the way."
What way? Then, my mind lost the thought, as it was abruptly filled with new sensations. Smells of squirrels, raccoons, deer. Many deer. Not far away. The pack needed me.
I heard Henry's voice in my head, "So many deer. The humans only hunt a few, so the woods fill each year with more deer. How lonely is the night without the howl of the wolf!"
A series of high-pitched barks cascaded down the hill, followed by a low and melodious howl. It was haunting, surreal, breaking the darkness like a knife. The sound penetrated my consciousness like the blade of a red-hot knife, then echoed over and over again through the chambers of my soul.
I felt the music of the night, causing me to shake, all the way to my toes. Or were they claws? My feet were stretching out, becoming more canine each second. My pants, drenched with sweat, started to slide off, as my heels lifted away from the ground.
Falling to my knees, I heard another howl from top of the mountain. It was so beautiful. I felt an intense desire to join the song. New teeth grew in my mouth, dropping blood on my tongue. The taste made me think of deer. Their smell was everywhere.
"It's time for the hunt. Join us on the mountain."
It was Claudia again. Her voice was so seductive, enticing. I no longer wanted to resist.
"It only hurts if you try to think. Let your emotions take over. It took me an hour to change in January. But with each full moon, it's taken less time."
I watched my left hand twist into the form of a wolf's paw as I fell forward. My jaw was thrusting forward, turning into a muzzle. Could I stop this? No! I wanted it to continue.
"Unleash the power. Feel the energy course through you. My brother hunted deer many times as a human, but never knew the true joy of the hunt until he did it on four legs."
Again, I caught the scent of the deer. They were up there, high on the slope. My pack was waiting for me. The hair on the tips of my ears stood in the air as I heard two barks. We must feed. I felt an urge to rush up the rocky hill.
"From the wolf comes the strength of the pack. From the pack comes the strength of the wolf."
It was the leader of my pack, calling me. I pushed my legs back, shoving the human clothes against the cabin door. Their stench bothered me, reminding me of something I would much rather forget. Feeling the wind fan the fur on my tail, I rushed up the hill.
The scent of deer flooded the forest, flowing down from the rocks above. Smelling a doe nearby, I raised my muzzle and howled. The joyful sound surged out of my lungs, filling the frosty air. The other wolves joined my song, eager to pursue the prey.
Charging up the incline, I felt the leaves crunch under my paws. The terrified doe leaped from rock to rock, sending pebbles flying down the slope. I pursued it, running faster and faster.
Wispy clouds scudded across the sky, barely dimming the brilliant light from the moon which now stood high above the valley. I saw the other wolves on the slope, driving the herd toward the summit. One scrawny doe seemed slower than the others, so I gave chase.
Reaching the top of the hill, I saw several deer flee behind a pile of boulders. The female wolf, approaching from the other direction, greeted me with a howl. I quickly knew what it meant.
"The strength of the pack lies in its leader."
We waited for the pack leader to arrive, panting from our pursuit of the deer. Sniffing a thick rope, I could smell humans often held onto it. A strange path lay ahead of me, its surface hard and alien. It reeked of humans, and part of my mind recogniized it as a bridge. But that part was faint and distant now, buried deep under the need for tearing and for blood. I snarled at the alien intrusion into our forest, then struck across the wooden planks.
A crisp breeze whistled between the gaps in the wood, rising from far below. We heard something rustle in the bushes on the far side of the bridge. I heard the thoughts of my pack leader, urging me onward: "The wolf is fed by his feet."
I rushed ahead to investigate. Just before I reached the end of the bridge, heavy antlers swept down in front of me, just missing my muzzle. I backed away, dodging the attack of the mad deer. His eyes glared across the chasm in a deranged stare, daring the pack to face him.
The buck snorted once and stomped a front hoof on the last plank of the bridge. Bits of mud dropped off his legs as he paced. As does bleated behind him, the buck began to scrape his antlers against a pine tree, prying off a few scraggly clumps of velvet which still clung to them.
Seeing the distraction, the pack leader pressed forward, snapping at the buck's heels. The surprised deer banged his head into a tree while turning to strike, then retreated back into the rocks. I growled deep in my throat, exposed my fangs, and leapt forward towards the mad buck. The snarling female wolf moved next to me, forcing the does to run away. But they didn't go far, for the edge of the cliff was only yards away.
The buck now stood on a turret of rock, snorting defiance. How could we separate him from the rest of the herd? I moved straight ahead, while the other wolves approached from the left and right. The demented buck stared at us, acting as aggressive as before.
A few yards from the cliff, my nose brushed against a piece of metal on the ground. A chain? No, it was a railing. Not far away a sign said, "Stay Back From Cliff, Loose Rock." Knowing human words could help the pack now.
I ran toward the buck, but abruptly turned back. As I swerved, the female wolf howled, setting off in pursuit of a doe on the far side of the rock ledge. The startled buck leapt into the air. In a second, his hooves landed on a pile of unstable gravel. The underlying rock, full of cracks, collapsed under his feet. As the does scattered, the buck plunged into the abyss.
Before the buck hit the bottom of the cliff, we began a frenzied hunt of the remaining deer. In a panic, some of the does leaped off the cliff to their doom. I chased the other deer with the female wolf, while the pack leader howled from the highest point on the mountain. A chorus of howls soon answered his call. After that, I only recall running faster and faster, in headlong pursuit of the prey.
I woke the next morning, as sun streamed through the cabin door. A young woman had her arm around me and was stroking my hair. "Put your pants on. We'll meet the others soon."
What happened? Was it a dream? I pulled strings of red meat from between my teeth, tasting the strong flavor of raw venison again.
She rubbed my arm, and exclaimed, "You were even better than I expected! We were great together last night!" Pulling on my jeans, I wondered what Claudia meant. Had I been drunk? I wasn't sure what I had been doing with her, as my memory was so foggy.
As I got dressed, her brother arrived, carrying a new trophy for the wall. He smiled at me, as he lifted the antlers. "It's yours. An eight-point buck! Normally, I wouldn't be happy if you tried to hunt one, but that deer was insane! He must have that disease from Ohio . . ."
As Henry mounted the antlers on the cabin wall, his sister joked to me, "Deer are only supposed to fly on Christmas Eve. One tried to soar off the cliff last night, and found he wasn't a magic reindeer."
Briefly annoyed by this comment, our pack leader muttered, "Deer don't attack when hunted, even during the rut. That buck had gone crazy! I got rid of his brains at dawn, so nothing else will catch his sickness. It's too bad about the does, as I'm sure they weren't ill. Still, the deer won't go to waste, as I've invited our friends. They'll be here soon."
As I walked to the door, my legs ached. Had I been running all night? Looking at my fingers, I saw that the nails were oddly smooth. Sore muscles throbbed along my arms in odd positions, but I somehow felt very energized as well. My stomach rumbled, as if I just had eaten a full meal, even though I couldn't recall much after midnight.
Though my memory was confused, my senses had become very acute. I could smell the diesel from a truck on the distant road, and discern other people approaching the cabin, picking out their individual odors. Claudia beckoned to me, "You'll get used to it, Ralph. Just pay attention to what we do. Live with wolves, and you learn to howl."
Walking outside, my boots crunched on the frosty ground. Looking east, I spotted Ben walking down the path. Others followed him, keeping a careful distance.
Henry soon greeted Ben, pointing to deer carcasses piled next to a tree. "We've got much more meat than we expected, so we're happy to share. You are all very welcome."
"Invite one wolf and the whole pack will come," said the older man. "It's good to see that you're doing so well. I was sure you'd be able to make it on your own, but this is really impressive."
Ben's companions arrived, eager to join the feast. I recognized some of them as people from work. Some were even senior managers at the office.
Ben suddenly shook my hand, and declared, "You're a real team player, Ralph. I've heard a lot about you from Harry and Claudia. Someone like you would be great for the new project we're starting at the company. I'll introduce you to the design leaders on Monday."
As Ben and his friends ambled away, I felt a bit disoriented. What had happened? I could recall bits and pieces of the previous night, but didn't believe my own thoughts.
Buttoning his jacket as he stepped outside, Henry carried a deer skull. Seeing me, he said, "You're part of the family now. You did so well last night, that Ben even arranged for us to get Friday off. It's going to take us both days to get everything cleaned up."
His sister seductively blew me a kiss, and said, "You'll get to know everyone soon. I'm making more pemmican, while the others are starting to field dress the deer. Nothing's thrown away; we use everything from the deer. One of Ben's friends said he'll show you how to tan leather with the brains."
I caught a whiff of venison on the breeze, and felt invigorated. Glancing at Claudia, I winked, "I'll race you up the hill. Then, we can return to work on the deer. But right now, I just feel like running. It's great! I haven't had this much energy since I was a teenager. "
Henry nodded his approval and said, "No matter how much you feed a wolf, he will always return to the forest." We dashed off into the trees, smelling the fresh morning air. I felt incredibly alive, full of vitality. As she smiled back, I knew I had found my secret desire.
Hunterís Moon copyright 2003 by Volk-Oboroten.
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