Wolf is a Four-letter Word|
(Book Two of the Eternal Spring, Invisible Forest series)
by Carrie Newberry
Copyright © 2022 by Carrie Newberry
A tail brushed across my nose. It wasnít my tail. I knew that even through the bleariness of being mostly asleep. I could smell that it was my dog, Galenís. The long, wiry hair tickled my nostrils and made me sneeze. Galen was like my brother, so even though my sister, Mal, thought it was weird that I shared my bed with my dog when I was in wolf form ó
Mal. As I came awake, the name stabbed through me like a giant icicle. I pushed her out of my mind before she could take hold. Thinking about Mal wasnít how I wanted to start my day. Except it was how I started every day, for the last three months. Since she almost killed me.
I stretched myself, front legs first, then left rear leg, then right rear. I raised my nose to the air. The cabin was dark. It was late. No, early. The sun wasnít up yet, but I could smell the impending dawn. It smelled fresh, like ice water on a hot day.
Galen rolled over, glared at me with one half-open eye, and then turned his back to me. Galen didnít like to wake up before the sun. I guess I couldnít blame him.
After shaking myself, I leapt down from the bed. I preferred to shape-shift on the floor. Sometimes, body fluids leaked in the process, fluids that were a bitch to get out of sheets. I bowed my head and tucked my tail close to my legs, before I started the change.
My tail drew back into my tailbone like a retractable leash. It felt like someone was compressing my vertebrae like a sadistic accordion player. My paws unfolded, stretched into fingers, palms, size eight feet. My elbows and knees cracked, hips sliding in and out of joint, as my ribcage opened like butterfly wings, became the flat ribs of a human rather than the folded ribs of a canine. Skin sucked fur back under the surface. My face was the last to change, the bones of the muzzle rearranging themselves to form cheekbones, chin, jawline and nose. It all happened so fast that the pain didnít hit until it was almost over, so my howl was a purely human shriek. Nothing wolfish about it.
Galen raised his head to make sure I wasnít in danger, then settled back on the bed. I stayed on my hands and knees, panting. The pain always seemed worse, going from wolf to human. Changing into a wolf felt like setting myself free. Changing back into a human was like watching the cage door slam shut in my face.
I lowered myself to the cool hardwood, glad that the floor was dry. No messy clean-up this morning. Just as I was beginning to settle into my body, the phone shrilled.
I sat up, my muscles protesting like I just ran a marathon in high heels, and I pulled myself back onto the bed. My cell phone was somewhere in the tangle of sheets. I located it under one of the pillows. "What?"
"Good morniní to you, too, buttercup." A deep, rumbly bass voice vibrated through the phone.
Annoyance at the stupid name flared and died quickly. I had a hard time staying annoyed at Tony. "Why the fuck are you calling me?" I said. "The sun heard the phone ring and gave me the finger before rolling over and going back to sleep."
The only response was a rumbly chuckle that matched the voice. He was a fairly good guy, relatively speaking, and him being in South Dakota the last three months gave me an opportunity for absence to make theÖwell, I missed him.
"Iím bored," he said.
I rolled over onto my back and closed my eyes. A breeze drifted through the window over the bed, drying the sweat that shape-shifting left on my skin. "And this is my problem becauseÖ?"
"Because I called and you answered."
The simple truth of his statement made it that much more irritating. I grunted and felt sleep tugging at me. Not good. I didnít want to fall asleep. Perchance to dream. The nightmares were always worse in the drifting of almost-sleep. I sat up and leaned my back against the wall.
"You just shift back?"
"No, Iím still in wolf form."
He ignored the sarcasm. "So I didnít wake you?"
"If you woke me, I wouldnítíve answered. I canít shapeshift that fast." This wasnít our first meander down this conversational path. Several times, he called while I was still in wolf form, and the call went to voicemail while I shifted. But when he was homesick, he got sentimental and mushy. Which seemed to lead to inane questions.
He was quiet for a while and my head became too heavy to hold up. His voice jolted me awake again. "I think these cattle deaths are the work of some wild animal. I donít think itís anything sinister."
Tony was investigating the death of a bunch of cows. Our bosses thought the cattle were killed by something supernatural. Even demons liked a good mouthful of Angus every now and then. "Thanks for calling me to state the obvious. Next, youíll tell me itís dark at night there."
"Your warmth and charm lack a certain something. Like warmth and charm."
"Yeah, well, lucky for me Iím cute." I paused as the sounds of the morning began to totter around outside my cabin window. I shifted my weight, trying to keep my butt from falling asleep. "Younglings are awake."
"Yeah? What do you hear?"
We had this conversation before, too, but I was more willing to indulge him here. If I was stuck in South Dakota, Iíd want to hear about home, too. "Home" was Madison, capitol of Wisconsin and proud home to bike paths, Montyís Blue Plate diner, rabid liberals, invisible forests. On the edge of the city, on the edge of a business park, stood what appeared to be a vacant lot that stretched for several acres. It looked like it was home only to a messy marsh and maybe some rodents. If you wandered very far into that vacant lot, however, you would find yourself in the middle of a forest. And if you continued to wander, you would probably find yourself shot by one of us.
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