"I think all those nightmares are finally gone," I heard my mom whisper from the doorway. I tried to stay still and silent under the blanket.
"Yeah. I was getting worried. What do you think happened that night?"
"I don't know. Maybe we'll find out eventually."
I doubted that. I'd sworn to never tell anyone about my "friend" attacking me that night in the woods. I guess it wasn't his fault, really. The wolf side had taken him over. I heard the door click shut and waited several seconds, then pushed the blanket back and stood up. I walked to the window, opened it, and breathed in the cool night air.
The full moon showed above the tops of the trees, shedding silver light over the yard. I saw the two black shapes pacing the edge of the forest, restlessly waiting. I felt my nails grow long and sharp, the velvety fur cover my body. I slipped out the window onto the overhanging roof. I padded silently across it, jumped down into the yard.
I landed on all fours, as quiet as if I were a ghost. By time I had landed, the change was complete. I stood as a slender pale gray wolf, small and fast and agile, but incredibly strong and fierce when I wanted to be.
Two dogs looked up as I approached, tails wagging happily. The bigger one was a black-and-brown German Sheppard, Vandal. The smaller one was a Border collie, Shep. I wagged my tail in greeting. Shep licked my cheek. Vandal barked softly. I looked into the thick trees that marked the edge of the backyard. Then I sat down, threw my head back and howled to the silver moon. Shep and Vandal waited a couple seconds before following, adding a chorus of mournful dog-like howls to my menacing human-like ones. The howls died down and we disappeared from sight into the shadows of the forest, off to explore the previously unexplored area.
I was the strongest, fastest, most menacing and feared creature out there. I was a creature that babysitters told horror stories about. I was a creature who killed and hunted. I was a creature that could never be imagined in the safe daylight.
I was a werewolf.
I stepped out into the soft grass of my backyard barefoot, wearing denim cutoffs and a white spaghetti strap top. Shep, my 2-year-old Border collie, ran up to me with a tennis ball in her mouth, her tail wagging so fast I could barely see it. She dropped the ball in my hand I threw it across the yard. I bounced and rolled into the forest. Shep shot off after it.
My parents and I—along with Shep and our ginger tabby kitten, Tigger—lived on the edge of a forest. We lived in one of only three houses in the area. It took about a half hour to drive to the closest tiny town. I used to hate it, but now that the horror of last month was over, it was pretty cool. My parents had been talking about this for years; they were scientists, and were doing studies on the animals in the area.
I saw Shep appear out of the forest, the ball in her mouth. Before she reached me, she curved and ran off, tail wagging. I knew this game. She would catch the ball, run almost to me, then turn and make me chase her. I ran after the black-and-white dog, but something stopped me. A second later, I was practically pushed over by a huge German Sheppard. I caught my balance and pushed the dog off. He sat in front of me, tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth. I rubbed his ears.
"Where's your owner, boy?" I looked up to see a guy about my age running to the dog. He had messy dark hair and denim-blue eyes, and wore jeans and a black-and-red t-shirt.
"Hi. Sorry about that. He likes people," the guy said as he stopped behind his dog. Just as he did, the dog stood and bounded off toward Shep. Shep met him halfway across the yard and they sniffed each other and started running and playing.
"It's fine," I said. I looked at the guy. "You're new, aren't you?" I hadn't seen him before, and one of the three houses was empty last I heard.
"Yeah. Ryan. And that's Vandal."
I had seen Vandal around before. "Vanessa." I moved just before Shep and Vandal ran into me, chasing the ball. "When'd you move in?"
"A few days ago."
I nodded. "You been into the forest yet?" I asked.
Ryan looked over at the trees. "Yeah, yesterday."
"You get lost?"
I nodded. "Not surprised. Most people do. They say it gets in your head, makes you turn without realizing it, gets you confused. A lot of people who go into the forest never come out." I walked to the trees and stopped at the edge of the yard. I looked over my shoulder at Ryan, who looked nervous, and raised an eyebrow. "You coming?"
"Uh…I thought a lot of people get lost and stuff."
I rolled my eyes. "Trust me. I know every inch of the forest. I don't get lost."
He shrugged. "Okay." He walked over next to me. I pushed a tree branch out of the way and walked in, like I had hundreds of times before.
The forest was beautiful; trees grew taller than I could see, the tops blocked from view by thick bunches of leaves. Ferns and other plants grew among the tall grass. Nearby was the sound of water from a stream. Several mosquitoes and gnats and other bugs I didn't recognize zipped through the air. I heard the snap of a twig and looked up to see a pale brown deer and her long-legged fawn dart away, white tails bobbing. We stepped over a fallen tree. A dark brown rabbit darted in front of us, chased by two creatures, one black and white, one brown and black.
It didn't take Ryan and me long to realize that the creatures in pursuit were Vandal and Shep. I whistled and the two dogs ran to us, before running ahead in zigzag patterns. The trees here were so thick that barely any sunlight shone through, and all that did was tinted green. The area was all shadows, giving it an eerie feeling. Everything was quiet, and even the dogs' barking and crashing through the plants had silenced. "This is kinda creepy," I whispered. Ryan nodded. There was something about being in a silent dark forest that made you whisper. It was silent for several more second before I screamed.
Something had crashed through the undergrowth next to me and jumped on me, nearly pushing me into Ryan. Shep licked my face. I pushed her down and wiped dog slobber of my cheeks. "Sit," I commanded. Shep sat, tail drooped and head down like she thought she was in trouble. After a wiped off all the dog slobber, I rubbed her ears and said, "its okay, girl." Shep jumped up and started wagging her tail again. After a final look at me, she ran off after Vandal.
"Did you hear the howls?" Ryan asked.
I shrugged. "When?"
"Last night. It was really weird. They weren't like animal howls. Too human. But not exactly human, either."
"Weird," I said again. "I didn't hear them."
We started walking again. After a minute or so, I heard barking. Frantic barking. Ryan and I ran forward. Ryan reached the dogs first. They both stood at the top of a huge dip in the ground. In the center of the dip was a rotted-looking wooden shack. On the opposite side of the dip as us, the ground sloped up to a cliff-like overhang.
"Whoa," Ryan breathed, starting to climb down to the shack. I stopped him.
"Are you crazy? The hermit lives there. Nobody goes to hermit's shack! He's totally nuts!"
Ryan rolled his eyes. "Oh, there's forest that gets you lost in it, and now a hermit? Yeah right. "
I looked nervously at the shack. "I'm serious! He's crazy. He's lived out here for longer than anyone can remember. He never goes into town; he never even leaves the forest. He tells anyone that he finds out here that he's seen the werewolf."
Ryan actually looked up at that. "'Werewolf'?"
I nodded. "He talks about the wolf that people say lives out here. A light gray wolf. He says that he's seen her run through the forest at night with two dogs. He says that they're big dogs, one that's a Border collie, and one that's a German Sheppard. But he says he's only seen the German Sheppard the past couple nights."
Ryan snorted. "Oh, now you're just making it up. I mean, c'mon. A Border collie and German Sheppard?"
"I've seen him! I'm not making it up! There's this legend that a werewolf lives around here, someone who seems totally normal and even their family doesn't know. The hermit says that the gray wolf is the werewolf."
"If there is a wolf out here, it doesn't mean it's a werewolf. Maybe it only comes out at night or something."
"Then how do you explain why anyone's only ever seen her during the full moon? Or why anyone's ever seen any wolf around here during the full moon?"
I could tell Ryan had no answer for that. "Well…maybe…"
"Exactly. Because these woods are filled with werewolves." I looked at the shack and saw the old man dressed in rags emerge from it. I backed up. "Run."
Ryan looked confused. "Huh? Why?"
"Run," I repeated, still backing away.
"Why? What's—" He was cut off by an angry cry. He looked over his shoulder at the hermit walking up the slope toward us. Ryan took off, right behind me. I was still barefoot, and twigs snapped and poked my feet as I ran. The dogs ran beside us, thinking this was all a game. I looked over my shoulder. The hermit was just steps behind Ryan. I sped up. I had never run that fast in my life.
I was still looking over my shoulder at the hermit chasing us when I hit the fallen tree. I fell, landing on my shoulder in a pile of dead leaves and twigs. I looked up to see that I had tripped over the fallen tree we had seen before. Ryan and the dogs had stopped. Shep was licking my arm, where there were several scratches from the branches and twigs. Ryan grabbed my hand, helping me up.
"You okay?" he asked. I nodded, lifting up my foot to pull out several burs that had stuck in my skin.
"Last time I go in the forest without shoes," I groaned. I looked up, remembering why we had been running, but the hermit was gone. "Weird," I muttered.
Ryan shrugged. "Let's go." We headed back to the yard. The dogs ran ahead, chasing squirrels and rabbits but never going too far. Just as we entered the yard, I heard a hiss and yelping.
I flipped around to see Vandal shaking his head, blood drops flying into the grass. Tigger, our ginger tabby kitten, was streaking around the side of the house, fur puffed up. Vandal saw us and trotted over, whimpering. I saw the scratches across his nose. "Tigger got ya, huh?" I rubbed Vandal's ears and he licked my hand. I gathered my long blond hair up, tying it into a ponytail with a hair tie that was around my wrist. I heard a phone beep, and Ryan pulled out a cell phone. He pressed a couple buttons and looked up.
"I gotta go. See ya."
He whistled to Vandal and walked off. Shep followed them for a little bit, and then, when she saw that Vandal wasn't coming back to play, she trotted back.
That night, I stood at the open window, watching the full moon rise over the tree tops. As the last streak of red disappeared from the sky, I slipped out onto the overhanging roof. When I reached the end, I jumped down, landing silently on all fours in the yard. Shep and Vandal trotted over to me happily. Shep licked my cheek. Vandal barked softly. I now stood as a sleek, slender pale gray wolf. Muscles rippled under the velvety fur that shone pure silver in the moonshine. Two sharp fangs grew among two rows of razor-sharp teeth. My claws could rip through almost anything. I moved into the shadows of the forest, Shep and Vandal following just inches behind me to either side. The three of us moved past dark silhouettes of trees and plants that swayed in the cool breeze ruffling my fur. Small animals rustled in the grass, but we ignored them. We had a goal.
We leapt over the fallen tree that I had tripped over earlier. We came to the dip in the ground that held the hermit's shack. We ran along the edge of the dip until we came to the overhang. I led Shep and Vandal up the slope, stopping right at the top; the highest point we could get to in the forest. The overhang broke through the trees, giving us a clear view of the full moon. Shep and Vandal settled themselves on either side of me, slightly back, sitting as I was.
I threw my head back, closed my eyes, and uttered a long, piercing howl. Shep and Vandal followed after a few seconds. The howls created a chilling chorus that woke the animals all through the forest and made the birds fly into the night sky cawing loudly. I saw the hermit exit his shack, and flicked my tail. This was the sign to let the howls die out. As Vandal and Shep quieted, I let out a single, final howl, louder and more menacing than the others, before bunching the muscles in my back legs and leaping down to meet the hermit in the clearing. I walked slowly, calmly up to him, sky-blue eyes flashing in the dark. Shep and Vandal trotted down the slope and sat next to me. The clearing was bathed in moonlight, making it practically as bright as day, but with a cold feeling to it.
"I knew you would come again tonight," the hermit said in his hoarse, gruff voice. "I knew you would change as long as the moon stays full. But I want to know who you are. Who you are in daylight."
I stayed silent, watching him. "You are not like that last wolf, the black one," he continued. "You do not kill or attack." He crouched in front of me, fingering the rhinestone-studded V on the silver chain around my neck. My necklace. The only thing that I had with me always, whether I was human or not. "But who are you, wolf?" he dropped the necklace. "Who are you?"
The moon was still high when I entered the yard; I was bored, which was very unlike me, and I felt something weird here. I wanted to check it out. Vandal left as we came out of the forest, and Shep headed to her white doghouse in the corner of the yard. I looked around, looking for what would be causing the prickles under my fur. I thought I saw a movement at the edge of the forest, but when I looked back nothing was there.
I yelped when a bag was thrown over my head and strong arms wrapped around me.