I woke up with the taste of fresh deer in my mouth.
Lying naked in the middle of the forest might seem like a weird way to wake up to you, but I think I’m actually getting used to it. Leaves and mud matted my long auburn hair as I stood up, taking stock of my surroundings. I couldn’t recognize anything from here, but that didn’t mean much. My house could be anywhere from fifty feet to five miles away- at the very least.
I shivered as a cold wind blew between the trees, forming goosebumps on my naked flesh. It was early November, and the seasons were already beginning to change. It wouldn’t be long before I started waking up like this in the snow. I shivered just from the thought.
As I stood there, trying to get my bearings, I heard the low rumble of a car engine from behind me. The land sloped upwards for about thirty feet in that direction, and there was a road at the top. It was unlikely that anyone would happen to look down and see the naked seventeen year old girl standing at the bottom, but I didn’t feel like standing around and waiting for it to happen either. Picking a direction at random, I began walking, putting distance between myself and the road.
The forest floor was rough with sticks and small rocks, but my feet walked right over them as if they weren’t there. That’s one thing that was good about all this. The bottoms of my feet had become as thick as leather, so it didn’t matter if I wore shoes out here or not.
“AAAAAAAAmber!” I suddenly heard my mother’s voice call. “AAAAAAAAAmber!”
I was still a long ways away- at least half a mile. Any normal person wouldn’t have been able to hear her. Still, it gave me a clear direction where I should go. I changed direction to head towards her voice. Another cold wind hit me, and I decided it might be better to run.
My feet passed effortlessly over the ground, carrying me towards home like I was an Olympic runner. I’m sure I made quite a sight, had anyone seen me. Naked teenage girl streaking through the forest like it was a high school football game. Luckily, I didn’t have to cross any roads, and the few back yards I passed were deserted.
Before long, I began to recognize where I was and was able to make my way home without my mother’s calling. Soon I came walking out of the trees, into my back yard, where I found my mother waiting for me with a large quilt. Seeing me, she came running down and threw the quilt over my shoulders. I gratefully wrapped it around myself.
“Did anyone see you?” she asked frantically, hurrying me to the back door.
“I don’t think so,” I answered, though I could never be sure.
She shook her head, “I still say we should lock you in your room when this happens.”
“No,” I replied. “That will put me too close to you, and you know my bedroom door won’t hold me for long.”
My mother fell silent, and averted her gaze. I felt sorry for her, truth be told. Most parents think that raising a normal teenager is tough. They have no idea how easy their job is.
Admittedly, this has only been going on for about half a year now. Still, I could sense it wearing on my mom’s nerves. Ever since the wolf jumped me and my father on our way home from a movie that night, six months ago, she had never been the same. Father had been dragged away and never found, and I, well… Let’s just say it definitely came as a surprise for my mother when I suddenly turned into a giant dog the next full moon.
Okay, yeah, I said it. I’m a werewolf. Now you know. Deal with it.
My mother ushered my through the door, and I sat down at the kitchen table. She bustled away and came back with a wet rag, which she used to dab at my mouth and face. When it came away, I was surprised to see how much blood was on it. I could still taste the deer I’d caught last night…
After she’d wrung the rag out in the sink, Mom immediately began to get bowls and spoons out for breakfast.
“I’m not hungry,” I said, even though I knew what her response would be.
“I don’t care what you ate while you were out there,” she huffed. “You are going to eat a proper breakfast!”
With that, she poured a large bowl of Cheerios and milk and pushed it in front of me. I sighed. I wasn’t hungry, but I suppose eating what she put in front of me was the least I could do. Like I said, I wasn’t the easiest child to take care of. Doing this might make her feel a bit better about the whole thing.
As I spooned the cereal into my mouth, I couldn’t help but notice the pinched expression on her face. I looked down into my bowl, unable to meet her eyes. The first time I’d changed, I’d wrecked the house before managing to escape. When I came to the next morning, naked and having flashbacks of the night before, I’d been terrified- but not nearly as much as Mom. For all she knew, the animal that had killed her husband had come back to finish off her daughter that night.
And my dad… we didn’t even talk about him anymore. Back when it had first happened, we’d assumed it had just been a wild animal attack. Now we knew better, but that didn’t change the fact that my father was dead. I had never asked her, but I couldn’t help but feel like Mom held his death against me. Not because it had been my fault or anything, but because of what it turned me into. I mean, if your spouse had been mauled by a tiger, how eager would you be to let a tiger into your home? Of course, you wouldn’t have to deal with the tiger being your own daughter, but… you know what? I think you get the picture.
I hastily finished the rest of the cereal. I even tipped the bowl up and drank the milk, just to make Mom happy. Then I stood up and went to my bedroom.
“You need to go to bed,” Mom called after me. “You must be exhausted!”
“I’m going to school,” I called back.
“No, you’re not,” she said. “I’ll call them and tell them you’re sick.”
I rolled my eyes and threw the quilt onto my bed. She could never seem to understand this, but even after a full night of running around as a wolf I didn’t feel tired. It was like my human body was resting while the wolf was active. Either way, I thought as I pulled some clothes out of my dresser, I wasn’t going to miss school today. A free sick day might sound awesome to anyone else, but I felt like I could use a little normality in my life.
Ten minutes later, I had gotten dressed and brushed all the nasty forest gunk out of my hair as best I could. Swinging my backpack over my shoulder, I made my way to the front door.
“Amber,” my mother called sharply, “I said you were not going to school today!”
“And I’m ignoring you,” I replied, allowing the front door to swing closed behind me. I could still hear her shouting at me from inside- my supersensitive ears could even make out most of what she was saying- but I kept walking. I knew she would not come outside after me. In truth, I think she would be relieved to be without me for another few hours.
It was a quick walk out of my neighborhood, and the chilly November wind didn’t seem quite so harsh underneath a set of clothes and a jacket. My school was two miles away, so I pulled out my iPod and began to play some music as I walked, allowing my mind to drift off to easier thoughts. It wasn’t until I was halfway there that I noticed anything strange…
Rather, I was grabbed by it and pulled into a deserted alleyway.
It caught me completely off guard. With my music playing in my ears, I hadn’t been paying attention enough to notice that anybody was near me. A firm, strong hand was wrapped around my arm, just above the elbow. With a powerful swing, it flung me to the ground inside the alley. I rolled over on my back to see who had grabbed me. What I saw made my blood run cold.
An arm was growing from the wall, like somebody was reaching out of a pool of water. It was fleshy and very much human, and as I watched it retreated back into the wall, as if sinking below water.
An excited giggle came from behind me, and I spun around to see a man standing at the other end of the alleyway. He was bouncing on the balls of his feet in manic excitement.
“Gotcha!” he said in a high pitched voice. “Gotcha, girly!”
I got to my feet as he came closer to me. I began to make out things about him. He was wearing a long black coat, but that didn’t hide how grotesquely thin he was. And his skin was pasty white, as if he’d never spent a day in the sun in his life.
“Who are you?” I asked, trying to sound braver than I actually felt.
“Girly wants my name?” he asked, tilting his head to one side. “Girly doesn’t get my name. Shouldn’t know my name, no, no, no!”
He paused for a moment, and brought a finger to his lips in thought before announcing, “Girly can call me the Octopus!”
I began to back away from him, towards where the alley began. I couldn’t tell what it was about this guy that unnerved me so much. I was a werewolf, and that meant that I was stronger than any normal person, even in my human body. Surely I should be able to handle a twig like him, right?
Another giggle, and the man wagged his finger at me, a wild grin on his face, “Girly wants to go away? No, no, the Octopus has his orders!”
With that, he swung both of his arms upwards, and the ground came alive with arms. They grew straight out of the pavement, writhing and grabbing for anything they could catch. One of them grabbed my ankles. I tried to shake it off, but it was incredibly strong. Its grip was actually hurting me. I shot a glance at the man in the coat, and he was dancing an ecstatic little jig, giggling the whole time.
“Grab the girly, grab the girly!” he sang over and over again.
The arm jerked forward, pulling me off my feet. The other hands all began to grab at me then, pulling my hair, my clothes, my arms. I thrashed and fought, but could not break their hold. I was completely and utterly caught.
“Got the girly,” he said, as if marking off a checklist. “Now take her to the boss. Yes, yes, the boss.”
I didn’t know who the boss was, and I was certain that I didn’t want to find out. Still, the grips of those cold, clammy hands were unbreakable. The man took a step closer to me, grinning his sadistic grin.
“Let her go!” a voice came from the mouth of the alley. It wasn’t one I recognized, and I tried in vain to turn and see who it was, but the arms held me firmly in place.
For the first time, the Octopus seemed taken aback.
“You?” he asked in disbelief. “You are not supposed to be…”
Before he could finish, a green beam of light shot through the alley, narrowly missing the Octopus. He dodged to the side, squealing in fright.
“Get him!” he shouted, “Get him, get him, get him!”
Immediately, the hands holding me released their grip and sank back into the ground. I took advantage of this and got to my feet and spun around. A young man I’d never seen before stood in the alley behind me. He was thin and gangly, with neatly combed hair and a large pair of glasses. He was holding a silver scepter with a glowing green gem on top. And, at the moment, he was doing his best to fight off the Octopus’ disembodied arms. He hit them with the scepter, which caused them to retreat momentarily, and then attack him with renewed vigor. It may have looked heroic, if not for the terrified look on his face.
But, at the moment, none of that concerned me. I was free. I turned back around to face the opposite end of the alleyway.
“No, no, no!” the Octopus protested, coming to stand in my way. “Girly not be going anywhere!”
I pulled my fist back and punched him in the eye as hard as I could. He fell to the ground, grabbing his face and crying like a baby. Giving one last glance to the boy behind me, I took off running.
NEXT TIME: Looks like Amber’s been dragged into something dangerous. What’ll she do next? Run home? Run to the police? Or, maybe, go to school anyway like a complete idiot? (Hint: it’s the last one)