I dropped to my knees, panting. What the hell was wrong with me? A walk in the park to get rid of my headache and bad temper clearly wasn’t going to work.
My bones ached. My skin was too tight, like I had sunburn. I wanted to cry and scream and hit someone. This was more than just PMT. I had run from the house irritable and angry; now I felt ill. Maybe I should go back. What if it was something serious? I hunted in my pockets for my mobile phone. Damn, I had left it behind. That showed what a state I was in – I was surgically attached to that phone.
Okay, calm down, I admonished myself. I spotted a bench and staggered towards it. God, if anyone saw me they’d believe I was drunk – or high. That would be a reasonable assumption for the presence of a dishevelled young woman in the town park at night. The gates were locked, but I’d always known how to sneak in. Trouble was, so did the underage drinkers and the substance abusers. The police came through and rounded them up every so often. It was a Tuesday night, though, so I was probably safe – from the lawbreakers and the authorities.
I fell over onto the bench and tried to collect my scattered thoughts. Maybe I was coming down with a particularly virulent form of flu? It was December, perfect time of year for it. At least I’d had the sense to grab a coat before marching out of the house. No gloves, though. I rubbed my hands together, realising how cold it was. I was feeling a little better now that I’d sat down. What time was it? I pushed my sleeve back, wincing a little as my nails caught the scar on my hand. My watch read quarter to midnight. I looked around for signs of anyone else, but the park was deserted. I tucked my hands into my sleeves. The night air was crisp, just the odd breath of wind causing clouds to scud across the stars. Looking up made my neck ache, so I stared at the sky’s reflection in the boating lake instead.
‘You’re such an idiot, Lucy,’ I muttered to myself. I definitely felt better, though. I was also peckish. Unless I was on a night out, I was usually having a hot chocolate and a bedtime snack round about now.
I wasn’t looking forward to apologising to my housemates. Okay, there were always going to be arguments with three girls sharing, but I’d completely flown off the handle. Maybe I could make up a fight with my boyfriend to explain my mood away? The girls knew I had a temper, but it usually took more than a disagreement over our cleaning rota to make me lose it. Even with the fact that I’d had a sore hand for the last couple of weeks.
I rubbed the scar on the back of my hand – god, it was itchy. Mind you, that meant that it was healing, didn’t it? Trust me to get bitten on the run up to Christmas, just when I wanted to be wearing sparkly nail polish and bright rings. Instead, I had an ugly red line from the base of my index finger to my wrist. At least the stitches were out.
I was still sorry for the dog. It had been brought into the vet terrified and injured after being hit by a car. It was in such a state the only thing to do had been to put it to sleep. The bite had been unexpected. Like many animals, it had seemed to sense that we were trying to help. I had been stroking it while the vet prepared the injection, then – wham! The dog’s head whipped up and its teeth closed on my hand. Then, it had laid its head back on the table as the lethal dose entered its bloodstream. Its emerald eyes had been fixed on mine as the light went out of them. I could have sworn it was trying to tell me something, but I must have just been doolally from the pain. The vet rushed me off to hospital, where I was cleaned and stitched. Due to working as an animal nurse, all my vaccinations were up to date, so there were no worries about tetanus or rabies. I took a few days off work, and busied myself trying to find the dog’s owner. There had been no microchip. Someone must be missing such a beautiful animal? It had been a gorgeous dog: something like a German Shepherd/Husky cross. But no-one had come forward.
I ran my fingers over the scar again, trying not to scratch. It looked different tonight, almost as if it were turning white, instead of red. That shouldn’t happen yet, should it? Maybe it was due to the cold, like how my mum’s finger ends went white. I pulled my sleeves over my hands again and tried to take stock of how I was, now that I’d sat down for a while. I was less achy and shaky. Sitting still was allowing the chill to creep in, though. I tentatively stood up, and walked back the way I had come, round the lake, towards the gap in the fence.
Ah, that was better. Whether just from moving around or because whatever had hit me was receding, I felt much more human. I picked up my pace. I passed the jetty where the boats were moored in high season – all locked up in the shed now, of course. I had been coming to the park for as long as I remembered. As a child, in the school holidays, to play on the swings and eat ice cream. With my friends, as I got older, to stalk boys we fancied – and yes, we still played on the swings. And on my own, when I was sad or annoyed, to get some time and space to myself. Although I’d never been as out of sorts as I was tonight.
The noticeboard, which in the summer was plastered with posters for fairs, fetes and other days out, stood sadly naked. There was one sign pinned to it. A missing girl – well, young woman, to be more exact. She hadn’t come home from a night out, a couple of weeks ago. The police were appealing for any information, however insignificant it might seem. The posters were all around town. I stopped and stared at the sign, racking my brains for the umpteenth time, but I didn’t know her or anything of use. I was suddenly sad. She had been pretty – a mass of light hair framing a pointed face and huge green eyes.
‘So what happened to you?’ I wondered aloud. ‘Did you just run away? With some guy you knew no-one would approve of?’ I tended to go for those guys, so that was something I understood.
‘Or are you…’ I couldn’t say it, even to myself. I suddenly realised that by wandering the park at this hour, I was inviting the very thing that had likely happened to her. Mentally kicking myself, I set off again.
The wind picked up as I followed the path beside the water. The clouds covering the moon were blown away, leaving a dazzling path of moonlight on the black surface of the lake. I stopped as though I had slammed into an invisible wall. Try as I might, I couldn’t move, forward or back.
I didn’t have time to panic before the pain hit me.
I was shaking again, worse, this time. Every muscle and bone inside me felt like it was stretching and contracting. I fell to my hands and knees, the gravel from the path digging into my palms. I barely registered it, as my mind was consumed with the pain twisting through me. The scar on my hand glowed fiery white in the moonlight. I threw back my head and screamed for help, confused and terrified. Only the full moon heard me as I curled into a ball, squeezing my eyes tight shut. I had broken my ankle once, and that had bloody hurt. This felt like every bone in my body was breaking all at once.
I suppose I must have blacked out for a moment. Suddenly, the pain was gone. I was still too scared to try to move. This had happened earlier, and then it had come back with a vengeance. I lay on the path, hoping against hope that the police would come through the park and take responsibility for me, even if that meant arresting me. But I heard no footfalls, no sounds of vehicles. In the distance, the town hall clock chimed midnight. I could hear a million rustles in the grass and the trees. I could hear small pops and fizzles from the lake – insects? Birds? How strange. And what was that smell? It was like the vet’s on a bad day – animal fear, fur standing on end, pads sweating…wait a minute. How could I smell that? What was I even thinking about? I opened my eyes.
Oh hell. My vision was weird. The colours were all odd. Something was definitely wrong. I still wasn’t sore anymore. Maybe I should get up and get home as fast as possible, while the going was good. Phone NHS 24. Or 999. Or my mum. I struggled to all fours, my claws scrabbling on the tarmac, and…
My second scream of the night cut through the air. Except it wasn’t a scream. It was a howl.
The human part of my brain screamed inside my head, saying it wasn’t possible, you’re dreaming, wake up, wake up! A tiny rational part of me said: this is how the people in the stories must feel. The animal on the outside howled and howled. Gradually the two parts of me started communicating. I forced myself to stop howling and look down. At my paws. My paws. I took a few tentative steps. Four legs. I was walking on four legs. And it felt right. That’s because you’re now in a shape that walks on four legs, my annoying rational voice said. I wondered if it would be easier just to go mad.
I staggered towards the edge of the water. Why did I need to see it to believe it? My reflection gazed back at me. A large dog. Kind of like a German Shepherd, with bits of large Husky. You’re a wolf. A wolf. A WOLF!
Well, this explains a lot, the human part of me said. No wonder you were feeling so bloody awful, if this was what your body was working up to.
The animal part of me said: I’m hungry.
I smelled prey. I sensed prey. I knew what all those rustles and squeaks and smells were. They were food. I wanted them. I wanted to hunt them.
It’s a good job you’re not vegetarian, piped up rational brain. Maybe I had actually gone mad, without noticing. Surely it wasn’t normal to be thinking sarcastic thoughts at a time like this?
You’re a human mind in an animal’s body, my internal voice lectured. You can think logically. You have the senses of the animal. That’s why you can hear and smell so well, but your vision’s gone a bit funny. Think. Think! You know what you are. You love all those stories. You just never thought they might be true.
I sat down at the lake’s edge. Then, tentatively, I leaned down and lapped some water. Brr, it was cold! But good. Fascinated, I tried to watch myself lapping, but my animal self didn’t seem to like that. I stopped drinking, thirst satisfied. But another need was asserting itself.
Oh God. There was no denying my hunger. Then a horrible thought struck me. If I didn’t eat – something – in the park, some animal or other, what would I eat? I couldn’t go back to the house like this, but even if I did – what if I hurt my friends?
Hurt? You mean eat them! My human voice screamed. My wolf voice howled. And howled. And howled.
When would I change back? Would I change back? I howled at the full moon. Oh God.
I knew the name in the stories for what I had become, but I couldn’t bring myself to even think it.
What would happen to me? What was I going to do?
What was I?
‘God, I wish that bloody mutt would be quiet. Shut up, you stupid dog!’
The words jarred me out of my howling. I crouched, all senses on alert. I heard footsteps, and the smell – I supposed that must be what humans smelled like, now that I was a wolf. But where were they? I realised with a shock that someone was walking the path round the outside of the park. But that was miles away – well, not miles, but pretty far from where I was. Yet I could hear and smell them clearly. No wonder my senses were so overwhelmed by the nearby animals.
‘Must have heard me. Thank fuck. That stupid howling was going right through me.’
There was a laugh, and the two men walking home from the pub continued on their way. Beer, sweat, cigarettes…but underneath a delicious scent of something I couldn’t define for a moment. Wait – it was similar to a good steak, or maybe a pork chop. Oh yuk – I was drooling! Over the smell of human flesh, my animal senses telling my brain that a tasty meal was walking by! Oh God.
The part of me that was – whatever I now was – wanted to hunt those men. It was threatening to overwhelm the human part. I had to deal with my hunger, fast. There were plenty of other creatures in the park that I could eat.
I forced my attention away from the men and onto the other tantalising scents around me. There was something…several somethings. Small, but with a delicious, gamey smell. Rabbits! They were at the edge of the trees, quite far away, and they were nervous. They’d heard my earlier howling. Now I’d stopped, they were emerging, nibbling grass but hyper-alert to everything around them. How was I supposed to catch one?
My posture had changed. I was standing, compact and still, scenting the air, some new part of me working out the best route to my prey and how long it would take to reach it. If I let the beast – I was already thinking of the new part of me as the beast – take over, she would know what to do, I was sure of it. Could I do that? What if the beast’s attention wandered onto a human instead? Still, the men had gone, and I couldn’t smell anything similar nearby. My stomach growled, and so did I. If I didn’t satisfy my hunger, something bad would happen. I closed my eyes for a moment, and let the human in me disappear.
The wolf ran silently, circling the park, keeping downwind from the warren. On her own, hunting wasn’t as easy as with a pack, but it was perfectly possible. She couldn’t bring down anything huge – but there was nothing big in the park, anyway. Her keen hearing and smell told her what she needed to know. A fat, juicy rabbit had wandered a little further from the trees than the others. The wolf paused. Her prey was still unaware of her. Homing in on her target, she covered the last few metres in the blink of an eye. Before the unfortunate bunny knew what was happening, the wolf’s jaws had closed over its neck and snapped it. The other rabbits bolted back to the burrows, but the wolf had what she wanted. She checked round to make sure nothing else was a threat to her or her meal, then settled down to enjoy the results of her first hunt. She ate the whole rabbit, her digestive system designed to cope with fur and bones. It was important to eat as much as possible when large prey was scarce – or forbidden.
I can’t describe that first taste of meat as the beast. I suppose it was like eating a tender, juicy piece of meat as a human – except this was raw, body temperature, and sweeter than anything I’d ever tasted in a restaurant. My teeth, designed for the task, made short work of the rabbit. It was as I was finishing up that the human me decided to reassert herself – by being grossed out at what the wolf had just done. I stared down at the few scraps that were left, and shuddered. I had killed and eaten another animal. I spent my days saving animals’ lives: now I would have to kill them to feed this new me. Uurgh.
Logic told me it was much better to eat a few rabbits than a human being. It was scary how much I had wanted to hunt the men who had passed by earlier. But what was I to do now? I gazed up at the full moon. That had been the trigger, hadn’t it? At least that bit of the stories was right. So would I change back when the sun rose? I felt myself panicking again, and forced it down. Then another thought struck me. Clothes! I trotted back round the park to the lake. Yes, there they were, all over the path, shredded by the change. I gazed at my ruined jeans and top. My coat had split in two, but by some miracle was otherwise intact. And it was a long coat. I was obviously going to be naked if – when – I changed back. I spotted a rhododendron thicket nearby; a good place to hide. I seized the two halves of my coat in my jaws, dragged them into the bushes, then curled up on top of them. Exhausted by the night’s events, I fell asleep.
I woke, shivering, and being prodded by something sharp. Everything was dappled light and dark, which didn’t seem like my bedroom. For a moment I didn’t know where I was. Then I remembered, and sat up, clutching my head as a branch poked me in the ear.
I sat up! I clutched my head!!
I was human shaped again. I was just about together enough to realise that the town clock was striking. Eight o’clock. It was light, but if I hurried I’d make it home before too many people were about. I gathered up the pieces of my once-beautiful coat, and put them on. It would have to do. I emerged from my hiding place cautiously. The park gates weren’t unlocked until nine, but there were always people like me who sneaked through. No-one about. I wrapped my arms around myself in an attempt to stay decent, and hurried for the gap in the fence.
I didn’t know what I’d say to my housemates if they saw me. I didn’t have my key, but there was a hidden spare. Too many incidents of one of us coming home drunk, keyless and having to be let into the house in the small hours. Fortunately no-one was up when I got back. I had scurried past a couple of people on the way, but they weren’t looking at me properly, thank goodness – probably thought I was on my way home from a wild night out. Ha!
Safely in my room, I shed my coat rags and threw on a dressing gown. I wanted a shower, but first of all… I booted up my laptop. Clearly, once I was clean, I needed to do some research.
That was twenty years ago, almost to the day.
I’ve learned a lot since then. About what I am, what I’m capable of, and how to live this life.
I know what you want to ask – have I ever killed a human? Well, that’s a story for another time.
That’s the thing, you see. There’s no support group for me to go to. Others of my kind…well, I’ll tell you about them in due course, too.
So you can be my support group.
My name is Lucy, and I’m a werewolf.