Authors: Brandon M. Herbert
Hallucinations ate at my sanity until I wasn’t sure if what I saw was real or not as I faded in and out. I smelled a hospital, but saw myself locked in a cage instead, terrified of the sterile white room that surrounded me as I turned in tight circles and gnawed on the bars.
I remembered people inspecting the wound on my hand, but my memory after that was blank until I snapped awake and ran up the stairs.
I barely made it into the bathroom before the bile rushed up my throat. I slumped by the toilet after the retches subsided, and the fever raged like a caged beast.
Could I be done with the puking now? Please?
The last dying rays of the sun squeezed through the bathroom’s tiny window to punish my eyes. Why did it always feel
so much worse
at night? I felt clammy and semi-undead, so I ran some hot water for a bath and heard a knock. “Jimmy? Are you alright in there?” The door muffled Mom’s voice.
“Dead.” And my voice reflected it, yikes…
“Well, if you feel like eating, there’s some leftover chicken in the fridge.” I listened to her footsteps as she walked away.
I undressed and it felt like I peeled off my first layer of skin, then I eased my aching body into the steaming water. I sniffed and laid my head down on the cool surround. The rational part of my brain insisted the nausea, irrational fever dreams, aches, and hypersensitive skin felt like the flu.
Pieces of half-forgotten conversations drifted through my head. John asking a doctor what was wrong. Mom telling me the shot wouldn’t hurt.
The shot. A rabies shot.
I looked at my hand, wrapped up with stained gauze and surgical tape. They thought I was bitten by a dog. I remembered that girl, Loki, saying that when John helped me inside. The girl’s face lingered above my other thoughts for a moment as I idly pulled at the tape on my bandage. The tape plucked hairs out as I peeled it away from my hand and lifted the gauze to inspect the damage.
The puckered pink troughs were barely recognizable, and the worst gouges had already healed. How many days had it been? I thought I was just missing a few hours…
Another dizzy spell swept over me and I sank into the agonizingly hot water. As my body adjusted the pain faded to a dull numb. My foggy mind drifted and my senses twitched out. My stomach ached for meat—preferably red—and tiny things like the smell of mold, or the sound of the TV in the living room, leapt to painful clarity.
I felt loose in my skin, and the feeling triggered a cold but subtle terror that slithered out of reach whenever I tried to pinpoint it. The ugly patch of scar tissue on my calf burned and I closed my eyes—
I ran. Bushes and trees rushed by as I flew over the ground, free and powerful.
I jerked out of the bath, splashing water all over the room. It felt like more than just my imagination—more like I’d left my body for a moment and entered something else’s—and it felt so
real! I could still feel the give of the soil under my paws and the tannic smell of the forest floor, before the scent of wet denim flooded it out.
My head swam and I pulled on my neck to ease the knots that clenched at the base of my skull. A strange sensation crawled up my spine and I shivered again, even as the water steamed around me. Light flickered brightly through the small square window as a breeze tousled the trees outside.
Claws scrabbled over polished rocks as I raced along the shore of an obsidian lake. The moon flickered as it played hide and seek behind the treetops.
I tried to stand, but my legs wouldn’t support me and I crashed back into the tub.
God, what the hell is wrong with me?
I crawled out of the bathtub on my hands and knees and dripped all over the bathroom rug. My skin felt like it was splitting, and a balloon was inflating inside my skull. My body shook harder as I lifted my feverish face and looked out the small bathroom window.
The light of the full moon spilled over me and I flashed back to that wooded path again as my senses overwhelmed me. The sound of water dripping off my body, Mom’s voice from across the house—so clear it was like she was in the room with me—and the smell of wet cloth. The bathroom light flickered erratically, too bright for my aching eyes. Disembodied voices yammered gibberish in an unfocused cloud of noise, and I thought I heard a bird cawing in the background. My thoughts forgot words, and processed in raw images and remembered sensations.
I pulled a towel around myself and dragged my corpse downstairs to my bedroom. I’d claimed the basement’s blank concrete walls and high windows for my bedroom as soon as I saw it. Mom jokingly called it my ‘Dungeon’, and the title seemed rather appropriate. My dirty clothes sprawled all over the cold concrete floor while my bookcase loomed against the wall, loaded close to critical mass.
I moaned and collapsed into my bed. I buried my head in the soft flesh of my arm and whimpered, panting for air. The fever pounded in my superheated face as blood roared in my ears and temples. I slipped in and out of abstract dreams with my sheets tangled around me, like I’d been running in my sleep. Aching, I curled up in my sweat-soaked covers and held my head.
I’ve completely lost my mind, or at least what pathetic little was left of it.
As I lay there I felt muscles in my back relax and I felt… disconnected. I slipped out of my skin—out of the world.
I opened my eyes and stared at the full moon, looming within a silhouetted circle of towering pines. I sat across from a Native American woman with long white hair, a blazing bonfire between us. Her image swam in the heat from the dancing flames; her face was painted with three thin red triangles drawn down below each eye. Despite her alabaster white hair, she looked young.
She watched me with hooded amber eyes as she hummed a tune in a haunting minor key.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“A part of you,” she answered slowly and smiled, revealing small fangs. “A part of what you’re destined to become.” She hummed her song in between sentences.
“Okay then, what’s your name?”
She grinned, showing her sharp white teeth, and looked up into the sky as she thought. “Oh, there have been so many over the years, so many… But I think my favorite has always been Lupa.”
“And…just what are you supposed to be?”
“Don’t you remember?” she asked, and I answered her with an empty stare. “I am the spirit of all wolves, the memory and essence of our species. Our totem, you could say.”
Black birds appeared out of the darkness of the trees and circled down around us. Crows and ravens whirled around the fire like a curtain of iridescent wings, and yet the only sound they made was the dry rustling of their feathers. Some of them landed and stared at me, switching their heads side to side to look.
The wind from their wings fanned the fire and it rose higher as bright yellow sparks reached for the moon. Overhead, the shadow of a huge raven blocked out the moon for a moment as it circled over us all.
Something was very wrong, this didn’t feel like a dream. I
felt the wind and the heat from the fire around my face. I smelled the smoke and the tang of pinesap. I felt…
“You will change, and so will your mind…” The woman—spirit—whatever; stood and walked around the fire. “When you accept me into your life, you will fulfill your dreams.” The fire flared up and blocked her from view, and when the flames receded the woman was gone. A porcelain white wolf walked where the woman had been and continued around the fire. My heart sped up, and it spoke in my mind with the woman’s voice.
“I am a part of you, a part of your destiny. You were marked by Brother Raven; you don’t have a choice anymore.” Even though I wanted to ignore the creepy words, I felt a strange feeling of longing curl inside me. I reached out and touched the wolf’s coat, which flickered red and gold in the firelight. It was coarse, but soft, and I buried my fingers in the thickness of it. She pushed her ear into my hand and looked into my eyes. The ethereal dreamscape blurred and grew foggy as I focused on her eyes, so familiar…
“Go to him, he will teach you…” And she sunk her teeth into my hand.
I dozed in delirium, and the pounding in my head seemed almost audible as voices echoed in the darkness. I floated though the abyss until something cool wrapped itself around me. Slowly, the fog cleared and I felt the oppressive weight of my body again.
I cracked my eyes open and realized that I was curled up on the pile of dirty clothes on the floor with my hand buried in the pocket of my jeans. I pulled my hand out and a silver necklace slipped through
my fingers, a five pointed star dangling from the chain. The cool soothing sensation evaporated as soon as the necklace left my grasp, and I quickly retrieved it as the fever tried to ramp back up.
“What the hel
l?” I remembered that boy from art class, Fen, slipped something into my pocket while he was carrying me to the nurse’s office. He’d said, ‘The silver should help’. I struggled to remember what else he’d said. I remembered those creepy amber eyes, just like the woman in my dream. Fen had said something about changing very fast and… somebody recognizing him?
Then it clicked.
‘He recognizes me’—Fen’s eyes—‘Who?’—the silhouette from my dream in the park—‘Your wolf’— two eyes blazed with feral amber fire, intense and alien in a human face.
“You’ve got to be kidding me…” I muttered. Now I knew who bit me, but I had no idea why. This was starting to sound like some B-rate monster movie.
I felt a tug inside my chest again, like I had that night in the woods. I staggered to my feet, dizzy, and gripped my bookcase to hold myself up as I looked out the small window high on my wall. Outside, the moon crawled into the sky beyond the jagged mountain skyline.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I said again as war broke out inside my head. I looked down at the silver pentagram necklace in the dim twilight of my dungeon and laughed. “Impossible.” I glanced at the moon outside the window, and finally crawled back into bed as I slipped the necklace over my head.
I couldn’t think. Or maybe I just didn’t want to…
In the morning, rational thought returned. I threw my sheets back and sat on the edge of the bed while I held my head. I still didn’t feel one-hundred percent, but I felt leagues better. I also felt claustrophobic and restless.
While I sat there, I thought about the night before while shame and anger rotted inside me. I couldn’t believe I’d actually believed that shit, even for a moment.
Werewolves? Really? That’s pathetic, even for you.
Guess I’d have to lay off the late-night novel reading for a while to remember what the real world was. I also had to go back to school and deal with the asshole that bit me, but at least I’d be out of the house. I wasn’t happy about having to play catch-up right off the bat either, but I didn’t have a hell of a lot of control over that.
I really wanted school to work out. Just once in my life, I wanted to actually do something right.
I went upstairs, showered, and brushed my teeth. I looked at my hand where the wolf in the dream bit me. The wounds had already closed
over with shiny new scar tissue. Not even a scab remained. The flesh around the wounds looked puffy and flushed but otherwise healthy.
On a masochistic whim, I pulled out the scale stashed beneath the sink and stepped on it. My mood darkened even more when I realized that I’d gained weight since the last time I measured. Just skippy.
I threw the scale back in the cabinet and Fen’s necklace bumped against my chest. I grabbed it in my fist to tear it off, and some whispered thought I couldn’t quite grasp stayed my hand. Grumbling, I grabbed my backpack and headed out with Jake into the painful morning sunshine, the necklace hidden under my shirt.
If my brain had been working right it would have clicked sooner, but now it all made perfect sense
. It was a new town, at an obscenely new altitude, with new bugs. I’d probably already had the damn flu brewing, and then passing out after that delusional freak attacked me in the middle of the night just gave it a foothold. The fact that he happened to be nuts—and decided to
on me—was nothing more than coincidence.
I sat as far from him as I could in the art room and refused to look at him even though I could feel his stare. The bell rang and I felt his hand touch my shoulder as I stood to leave. I ground my teeth and turned to face him. “What do you want?”
“Your wolf is waking up. I want to help you—”
“Help me what? Become a ‘wolf’? Really? Wow. So, what, we’re going to transform under the full moon and run around howling and eating babies?” I snapped.
Fen blinked at me, confused. Apparently the thought that I
buy into his game hadn’t even crossed his mind. The guy just didn’t take a hint did he?
“I can’t believe this shit. First, you chowed down on my hand in the middle of the night. Then, you stuffed a pentagram into my pocket—which was creepy enough on its own—and now you’re spouting this crap? Werewolves are just a Dark Age superstition from when the world was flat and tomatoes were poisonous. They’re. Not.
And eventually you might just grow up, pull your head out of your little fantasy world, and join the rest of the twenty-first century.” I blinked as I realized just how much I sounded like John. “Just leave me the fuck alone Fen. I’m not as dumb as I look…” I turned and left him, rubbing the back of my hand. Better to just leave him to his little werewolf fantasies.
Let him chew on somebody else next time…
As I walked away, I remembered I was wearing his necklace. I thought of giving it back to him for half a second, but decided to keep it instead to spite him.
The doorway to the locker room loomed like the gaping maw of my own personal hell. Instead of sulfur, the damp stench of mildew and body odor matched the jaundiced yellow lights and tiles. I followed some other students into the classroom beside it and took my customary chair in the back corner. I warily observed the other kids as they took seats around the room, and sure enough, my class hosted a parasitic infection of neck-less meat-heads. It looked like I was going to share the class with about fifteen teenage Johns… Why, God;
did we have to take gym classes?
Mr. Parkman took roll while his assistant Jeremy wheeled in a TV cart. Nutrition and hydration was the topic of the week. While they were preoccupied, a muscular guy a couple inches taller than me with short peroxide-blonde hair, and a stocky redhead with severely freckled skin, leaned in toward each other conspiratorially, whispering and pointing at some of the other students in the class.
I recognized the tall one from the assembly; he seemed to love being the center of attention. He caught me watching them and I looked away. I swallowed against the sick feeling in my stomach, and when I glanced back, they were both looking at me. They looked away and chuckled at some inside joke I had a horrible feeling that I’d find out about someday.
I hunkered down lower in my seat and wished I could make myself invisible while the teachers got the program rolling. I thought torture was illegal in the United States, but the film that wasted the next forty-five minutes of my life proved me wrong. The animated food pyramid that hopped around with a pointing stick through most of the vintage seventies program made me want to crawl into my backpack and die. Where art class virtually flew by, the hour and fifteen minutes of P.E. hell crawled like a legless zombie. Near the end of class, Mr. Parkman assigned me a padlock and funneled the class into the locker room until the bell.
I kept my eyes glued to the floor as I walked past the other guys changing out of their gym clothes. I felt my face heat and hoped nobody saw it. I found a locker in the corner at the far end of the room in the most private location I could find. Something sticky on the latch smeared on my hand, and I went to the sink to wash it off while I tried not to think about what it could’ve been.
I deftly avoided my reflection in the mirror. I knew what I’d see; an overweight loser with spiky black hair and dusky skin. Flabby, ugly, and stained by the genetics of a deadbeat father; I looked like a trainwreck of German and First Nations genetics. The only things I’d obviously inherited from my mom were her dark blue eyes, which looked weird against my genetically tan skin. Mom, John, and Jake all shared Nordic blonde hair and blue eyes; leaving me the literal black sheep.
I ground my teeth together while I scrubbed my hands and struggled to shove my dark emotions deep inside where nobody could see. Even then, as I looked at the pigment in the creases and lines of my hands, all I wanted to do was smash them into the mirror and cut off all that hideous skin and fat with the shards.
Movement drew my attention to the reflection over my shoulder. Some of the guys from class prowled down the locker block, poking jokes and mocking as they went, the tall blonde at the lead.
They were just like the kids who’d cornered me on the playground in grade school. The ones who’d sent me home from middle school bruised and black-eyed in Miami. Same model, just different colors.
Fortunately—at least for me—one of the kids in the locker block before mine caught their attention. The blonde and the stocky redhead crowded a slim boy with mouse-brown hair over his eyes. The familiar display made my heart thud in my chest. I glanced up toward the front of the room to see Mr. Parkman talking to another student, oblivious.
My hand gripped the strap of my backpack as I watched them out of the corner of my eye. They laughed at the poor guy’s stuttered protests when they messed up his hair and took his backpack. They played keep-away with it until one of the guys toward the back stepped up and pulled the bag out of the blonde’s hand.
“That’s enough Jack, give him his bag back,” he muttered as the blond, Jack, turned and gave him an annoyed look.
“What’s’a matter Bo, we’re just having some fun with our little friend Doug-y-pooh here,” Jack replied as he smiled and put an arm around the kid’s shoulders while the others sniggered.
“It doesn’t look like ‘Doug-y-pooh’ is having much fun to me,” Bo replied in a surprisingly deep voice, and handed the bag back to the relieved looking kid who squirmed past them to wait at the front of the room near Mr. Parkman.
“What the fuck is your problem man?” Jack demanded as he puffed out his chest and got in the taller guy’s face.
To his credit, Bo didn’t back down. “Just trying to keep your ass out of trouble Jack, you know your dad; you don’t have many chances left…”
Jack snarled and shoved Bo into one of his buddies. “Mind your own fucking business bro…” Jack spat and stormed away as the bell rang. “Malcolm, c’mon!” Jack snapped and the redhead hustled to catch up. The guy who caught Bo pushed him upright again, but then joined Jack and Malcolm with a venomous glance behind him at Bo.
“Whatever you say,
…” Bo muttered as he collected his own backpack and headed out, alone. I kept a safe distance as we filed out of that foul room and plunged into the hallway’s human current. I passed the elaborate woodwork of the auditorium doors, and got mired down in the mass of students that clogged senior hall like a blocked artery.
My final class was right down the hall from my locker. The English teacher, Mr. Decker, looked like a skinny, bookwormish, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Windows lined one wall of the cramped classroom and tormented me with a bright blue sky, warm sun, and flying birds just outside the windows of my cage. I took a seat toward the back corner of the room and yawned as Mr. Decker droned on about poetry, and then laid my head down on my arms until the bell rang.
After the bell, I stopped by my locker to pick up my algebra textbook. I noticed Fen watching me down senior hall and I turned to leave as a wall of flesh slammed into me like a wrecking ball. I tried to backpedal but my feet tangled and I fell while my papers and books spilled all over the hall.
“Watch where you’re going, fatass,” Jack
snapped and kicked my textbook. Kids laughed all the way down the hall as his posse walked past. I kept my face down as I turned beet red and tried to pick up my papers before they got scattered and trampled. My dragon rolled inside me as destructive images flitted through my head, I knew I’d just made it onto Jack’s radar. Someone walked up behind me and I gritted my teeth, waiting to hear Fen’s voice.
“Hey, you hurt?” Bo had picked up my book, and his concern took me off guard.
“Um, mostly just my pride.” I muttered as I glanced around to make sure there wasn’t anyone else with him. When you’re overweight and antisocial, High School is a warzone. If you’re not constantly on guard, you’re upside down in a trash can.
“My name’s Bo,” He said as he offered a hand to help me up. “Are you all right?”
No, I’m not…
I slid my fingertips under my glasses and pressed them into my eyes as I sighed. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude. I’m just—” Embarrassed, insecure, socially incompetent, afraid to trust anyone, pissed off at the world in general? “—tired. It’s been a shitty day.”
“Yeah, I totally hear ya there. You just moved here didn’t you?” The way he said it, it sounded more like a statement than a question.
“Uh, yeah about a week ago.”
“Ouch,” he winced, “talk about short notice.” He handed me my textbook and I loaded it into my backpack. “Well, I’ll see you around man.”
Bo turned and trotted after Jack, and my eyes found Fen. He noticed me looking at him, and he knit his eyebrows and tilted his head to the side. It was an odd gesture; like something a dog would do.
I frowned and scratched the itch in my hand as I turned and left to pick Jake up from school.
The next day I ignored Fen completely, though I could tell he couldn’t ignore me. I caught him watching me in the lunch line, and then he said something to that girl Loki, who glanced at me. Of
they knew each other. Why else would she be out in the woods in the middle of the night? The other students gave them a wide berth; Fen’s reputation was understandably
There’d been kids in my old school who thought they were vampires, they smoked clove cigarettes across the street and read Anne Rice novels in class. We’d nurtured a successful relationship by mutually ignoring each other.
Werewolf wannabes were a new one though.
Weeks passed in much the same way. Fen watched me from a distance as though waiting for something. I felt desperately lonely, especially when the flyers for Homecoming popped up all over the halls. What was one more dance completely voided by social isolation?