Except for my steps on the damp pine needles, the forest was silent. We didn’t have much wildlife in our camp because, well, we tended to eat it.
As I ran, the straight trees flashed in my peripherals against the moonlight like a strobe light. Just enough for me to see Jen when she waved a pale hand to get my attention. I froze, and she smiled, raising an arm to grasp the lowest branch of misfit aspen. All the muscles of my lower abdomen tightened as her tee-shirt lifted enough so that I could see exactly where her boxers hung on her hipbones.
“Hey.” I ran my fingers into my hair and made a fist. The pain cleared my head a little. I tried to shrug, but I’m sure it was jerkier than it was sexy. I wasn’t dressed in much more than Jen, since we’d both snuck out of our respective cabins in the middle of the night.
Before I could say anything else, Jen’s chin twitched up. “Do you hear that?”
I listened. A muffled yell, splashing, then laughter that sounded like it came from a box. One look at Jen and we took off for the beach where the old boat house floated on orange pontoons. We skidded to a halt at the edge of the trees and watched the dock bob violently. A light was on in the boat house. I sniffed the air. “Greg, and probably Aaron and Kyle.” Third year pack.
“And a human,” Jen whispered. She slid forward, in front of me, and I matched myself to her stride, just behind her so I could touch her if I’d needed to. We tiptoed over the slick boards of the dock, barely disturbing the ripples of water lapping at the floats.
I caught Jen’s wrist, holding her back so that we went in together.
The third year guys had shuttered the windows with old crates and hung a lantern from the rickety rafters. Greg was there in his jean jacket and spiky hair, grinning while his boys growled and splashed water on their toy. It was a human kid with tufts of blond hair sticking through layers of duct tape gagging him and covering his head like a muzzle. His shirt was half-torn off his heaving chest and blood trickled from shallow cuts zigzagging over his ribs.
I bared my teeth, not because I was angry, but because it was just bad news. Jen said, “Greg, you asshole, what are you doing?”
“Teaching this kid a lesson,” Greg said. His fingers were curled like talons and I saw his nails had blackened into claws. He grinned at me, and his canines pressed against his bottom lip. “Hey, Jason. C’mere.”
“No way,” I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned back, as relaxed as I could be. “Let the kid go. You know you’ll get expelled if Joe and Jeannie find out about this.”
Greg bent his knees, shoved his face forward with a growl. I had a hard time not doing the same.
“The kid,” Greg’s sub Aaron said, from his perch atop a barrel, “was torturing a dog in town. We thought we’d teach him a little about that.”
“Nice idea,” Jen said, rolling her eyes. “You’re such a hero.” She leapt in one smooth motion into the rowboat tied up in the water, and hopped from there to the kid. He struggled, and as she reached to peel off the tape at his mouth, Greg slammed his fist into her face and she toppled back into the black water.
I was on Greg so fast I don’t remember moving.
There were yells and a sharp crack of glass, splashing and the sulfurous smell of the change, but I was focused on keeping Greg’s claws away from my throat and trying to get him into a headlock. He was stronger than me, but smelled like beer, and I had three older brothers so knew how to play to my advantages. I pulled on his greasy hair and he grabbed my neck. I clutched at him, kicking, and shoved my thumb into one of his wrists between the ulna and radius as hard as I could. He shifted and I felt the tremors of the change in his muscles. All against me he shuddered. The boat house was so tiny, and if I pushed him away, he’d be on me before I could change, too – I’d seem him, he was messier than me, but faster. His wolf-jaws could destroy me in one snap. I knew, like I knew my own wolf wanted out so fucking bad so we could wrestle and tear at each other like we were meant to, I knew that if I let go of Greg or ran he wouldn’t be able to control his instincts.
So I held on.
I fastened my arms around him, gripped my own hands and I squeezed. I held my breath, turned my cheek away from his grinding, lengthening teeth. Greg shuddered and twitched, and the smell – the reek – of his sweat and transformation soaked into me and I held on so tight, not just to him, but to the lust twisting about in my guts, in my lungs, to let go and give in and explode with him into the wolf. But it terrified me, because I didn’t know what would happen – I didn’t want to LET it happen.
I held on.
And Greg’s flesh sucked at mine, trying to draw me into the change. He didn’t have room, his bones didn’t have room, and his muscles couldn’t expand in the right places because I was in the way. He screamed and we both rocked with shuddered, and then he was still.
It was dark in the boathouse, and I smelled Jenna. She touched my face. “Jason?”
I breathed her in, and choked on a mouthful of rank used-to-be-Greg. He was a silent weight on my chest. I pushed him away and his half-shifted body clung to me. A wet, slurping tear accompanied the separation.
Through the cracks in the ceiling, moonlight shone in pale stripes. I struggled to me feet.
He was dead. Malformed.
I held out my sticky hands. They were perfectly human, with no ripples or fast-healing welts from an aborted change. I was alive. But I fell to my knees, vomiting into the choppy black lake.