Chapter Thirty Eight
You know what can make any crappy day better?
A happy little girl.
"Amber and Stark, sitting in a tree," she was singing as we headed home from the bus stop. She kicked her knees up with every step like she was on her way to see the Wizard of Oz, and she gave me a wicked grin when I looked down at her. "K-I-S-S-I-N-G!"
I rolled my eyes. "I bet you don't even know what that spells."
"Yeah I do," she cackled. "It spells you're in loooove!"
I turned my nose up at her. "Okay, fine! Be that way. I'll keep Stark all to myself, and I won't let you so much as hug him!"
"I don't want to hug him. He's old and he smells like crusty old people!"
I laughed and shook my head. "Yeah, right. You can't trick me. You're just as in love with him as I am!"
"Ew!" she squealed before doubling over in a fit of giggles. "I am not!"
I started skipping too, throwing up snow with every kick. "Kimberly and Stark, sitting in a tree—"
"I am not in love with him!"
"Yes you are!"
"No I'm not!"
"You're gonna get married to him!"
"He's got old guy cooties!"
I stopped and gave her the scariest smile I could muster. "You know what you need?"
Kimberly giggled and took a step back. "What?"
"Kissing lessons!" I yelled, and charged at her.
Kimberly screamed and ran the other way. I chased after her, arms stretched out, making kissy noises as we plowed our way through the snow towards Stark's cabin.
"Come on," I teased her. "You need to know how to do it right!"
"I'm gonna kick you!" she hollered between laughs.
"Well, I'm gonna kiss you!"
With that, I tackled her just as we reached the cabin's front yard. We went rolling through the snow, getting our hair and clothes soaked. When we came to a rest, I grabbed Kimberly by her shoulders and pinned her to the ground before planting a big, wet kiss on her forehead.
"Mwah!" I smacked my lips as loudly as possible while the five year old squirmed beneath me.
"No, now I've cooties too!" she whined as I got off of her. She rolled over and got to her hands and knees.
"Don't worry, you'll grow to love them in a year or two," I said, and then shoved her face down in the snow. She yelled something, but I couldn't hear her with her voice muffled, so I jumped to my feet. "Race you inside! Winner gets all the cookies my mom made yesterday!"
I ran for the door, but just as I put my hand on the doorknob I was bowled over from behind by a tiny cannonball of energy. I landed on the door, my cheek pressed against the cold hard wood, and then turned around to see...
"Hey, you changed on your own!" I exclaimed.
Kimberly, now in her wolf form, wagged her butt and yipped at me. She shuffled in the snow, and then fell over when her clothes, too small for her new body, wouldn't let her move correctly, and then rolled onto her back, looking up at me like a dog hoping for belly rubs.
"You shouldn't change with clothes on," I said, kneeling down next to her to scratch behind her ears. "You know that!"
I hesitated for a second, thinking, and then grabbed her shirt. It was awkward, taking a shirt off of something that wasn't built for wearing shirts, but after a couple minutes of struggling I managed to pull it over her head. Kimberly, still on her back, barked happily and licked my nose.
"Now who's giving who cooties?" I teased her. A minute later I slipped her pants off, and was rewarded with a solid whack in the face with her tail, leaving her in nothing but her fur.
Like a wolf should be, the animal inside me growled with approval.
Kimberly didn't waste any time in getting back to her paws and chasing her tail. I watched her play for a minute, digging shallow trenches into the snow as she ran, and then jumped a little when I felt a tear run down my cheek.
She liked me again. She really, actually liked me. Now that she'd had her Silverblood meltdown, whatever had been keeping her pissed at me was gone and it was like nothing had ever happened at all. We were like sisters again, just like I'd wanted. Life might suck, but as long as this little girl was able to look at me with anything besides hate and loathing, then how bad could it really be?
And I didn't want to waste another minute of it.
Without another moment's hesitation, I ran to the door and opened it a crack. "Mom? Stark?" I called inside. "Kimberly and I are going out for a little bit, okay?"
"Out where?" Mom's voice called back to me.
"Into the woods. We'll be careful."
"Do you have any homework?"
"No," I lied.
"All right," she finally consented, but it didn't matter because I was already halfway stripped. "Dinner will be ready in a couple of hours, so be back by then all right?"
"Okay," I said, throwing our clothes just inside the entryway, and shut the door. The chill winds nipped my bare skin, so I hurried and shifted, stretching luxuriously as my body reshaped itself. Kimberly stopped her crazed prancing for a moment to look at me in my wolf body, and then yipped and took off into the woods.
Think you can outrun me, little pup? I thought, and went after her.
The sun was already setting behind the hills as we raced through the trees, a light brown blur tailed by a smaller, darker one. Snow flew in our wake, and our breath made clouds in the cold air, quickly left behind as we loped further and further away from the cabin. The snow wasn't as high as the last time we'd done this, so Kimberly managed to keep up a lot more easily. I still had to slow down for her, but...
Normally when I shifted, I wanted to go all out. I wanted to sprint as fast as I possibly could and not stop until either I caught a tantalizing scent, or collapsed from exhaustion. Tonight, however, I reigned myself in. I wasn't being an animal, I was playing with my smaller packmate. Perhaps most strange of all was the fact that my wolf side didn't object to this. I could feel it urging me to let loose and go wild like it always did, but when I told it to back off it did so without complaint.
Ten minutes later, I dug my paws into the wet powder and slid a stop. Kimberly attempted to do the same, but her tiny paws weren't able to get enough traction and she ended up sliding right into me. I growled playfully and gave her a gentle nip on the neck, to which she responded by licking my nose. She looked up at me eagerly, waiting for directions while I scanned the area. She danced a little in the snow, already itching to get moving again.
I closed my eyes and breathed in the frigid air, my nose painting a picture of the forest in my mind just as vivid as any my eyes would have been able to see. While my eyes were constrained to the present, though, my nose was able to travel back in time. Scents that had been laid hours, days, or even weeks ago were still there, layered on top of one another in a way only an animal could ever understand. With my eyes still closed, I was even able to follow one of the trails I'd left the other day when I'd hunted the deer. I turned my head from right to left, practically able to see myself tearing through the snow, the elusive buck barely out of my reach.
An anxious whine came from below me, and I snapped my eyes open to see Kimberly growing even more jittery. I'd say she had ants in her pants, if not for the fact that she wasn't wearing any. When she saw me looking, she wagged her tail and trotted away a few steps before stopping and glancing back at me for approval. I cocked my head, playing dumb, and Kimberly growled at me in frustration
This is way too fun, I thought, cackling inside my head. Letting my tongue hang out of my mouth, I flopped over onto my side and closed my eyes again, like I was taking a nap. A second later, I felt Kimberly's nose poking the side of my neck, whining pitifully.
Nope, sorry! I wanted to tease her. No more running today. Let's just go to sleep
I rolled over onto my back, letting my paws kick idly in the air. Growling, Kimberly backed away a few steps and then came charging back, headbutting me in the stomach. I grunted, but managed to keep my eyes shut and turn the grunt in a loud snore.
I chuckled to myself inside my head. I'll just tease her for a few more seconds, and then I'll—
A sharp pain shot through my tail, and I let out a very undignified yelp of pain. My eyes shot open to see Kimberly biting down on it like some kind of chew toy.
Why you little... I growled warningly at her, but that was cut off when she gave a firm pull on it. Did your parents ever have to tell you not to pull your dog's tail when you were little? Well, you should freaking listen to them!
After another whine I'm not proud to say came from me, I finally gave in and rolled over. To my relief, she let go. I winced as I got back to my paws, looking back at my poor tail. How was that going to feel when I changed back? Would the pain go away as soon as my tail did, or would I have to deal with a lingering sting just above my butt?
Kimberly rushed around to stand by my side, and I raised my paw and shoved her into a snowdrift. You want to play rough, huh? I thought at her as she scrambled to get free, shaking herself. Well, let's see if you can keep up with—
"Amber!" my mom's voice rang through the forest. "Kimberly! Supper's ready. Come on back!"
My stomach growled at her words, and my tail wagged, its pain forgotten. Glancing back at the smaller wolf, I jerked my head in the direction of the cabin. Come on, I'll race you!
We took off running again. Despite my unspoken challenge, I hung back again, and even let Kimberly take the lead once we got close to the backyard. Panting far harder than I really needed to, I bowed my head in respect to her and led the way up Stark's porch. The clothes we'd been wearing lay in neatly folded bundles, just out of reach of the snow. Shaking the last bit of the snow out of our fur, we shifted back. Holy crap, it was too cold for hairless pink things like us to be naked out here! I couldn't wait for spring, when it would be warm enough that I could... actually, never mind.
"I beat you," Kimberly giggled as soon as she'd gotten her voice back.
"You sure did," I replied, already pulling my pants back on. "But if you bite my tail like that again, I'll kick you into next week."
"Fine. It tasted like crusty old guy cooties, anyway."
I smirked. "You've got a way with words, kids."
I winced a little. Looks like I had been right to worry. Even with my tail gone, the base of my spine still hurt a little. Great, now I was going to have to keep reminding myself not to go around rubbing my butt at school tomorrow.
Looking up, I saw the clouds part way just enough to let a beam of moonlight shine down on the forest. Perfect. Closing my eyes like I was meditating, I felt the sweet silver light all around me, and I absorbed it. I can't really describe what that feels like to someone who's never done it. It's like drinking water... through your skin... except it feels nothing like water, it's moonlight. You see what I mean? Anyway, after soaking up Luna's rays for a few seconds, the pain faded away.
"That's better," I said, turning around to face the cabin again. "What do you say we go in and see what my Mom made for—"
To my surprise, I found Kimberly with her back pressed against the wooden wall of Stark's cabin, looking up at the moon in terror.
"Kimberly?" I asked, taking a tentative step toward her. "Sweetie, what's wrong?"
"I don't want it to touch me," she whispered, as if she were afraid the moon would overhear her.
I looked back up at the glowing hunk of rock hanging in the sky, and almost laughed. "You don't want the moon to touch you? What's that supposed to..."
My voice trailed off as comprehension dawned on me. Only now did I notice that the overhanging part of Stark's roof gave her a bit of shadow where she could stand without the moonlight shining on her. She had her back pressed up against the wall, looking out at the softly glistening snow as if it were lava creeping up towards her, ready to burn her little toes off at the slightest touch.
"I don't want to get big again," she said. Her voice was hiccupping with fright, and when she looked at me her eyes were pleading. "I don't want to be a monster!"
I closed the distance between us with two long steps and knelt down in the snow to wrap her in a hug.
"You won't, I promise," I said, brushing her hair out of her face. "Look, it's not even full!"
It wasn't full last time, either, I realized with a shudder, but I didn't mention that to her. There were tears running down her cheeks now as she stood still as a statue, staring unblinkingly up at the moon. Gently, I took her by her chin and turned her head to look at me.
"Listen to me," I said, somehow managing to sound stern and gentle at the same time, "you are not a monster. No matter how big you get," I poked her in the belly, "no matter how hairy you get," I poked her again, "no matter how much you smell like Stark's bathroom," another poke, "you're not a monster. Got it?"
I poked her a fourth time, and this one brought a giggle and a tiny smile to her face.
"You're Kimberly Newman," I said, putting my hands reassuringly on her shoulders, "and if you're Kimberly Newman, how can you be a monster? You're too busy being Kimberly Newman to be anything as stupid as a monster!"
"But what if I hurt you next time?"
"You won't, I promise."
"Kimberly, I promise!"
She drew in a shaky breath, and finally gave me a brave nod, her lips pressed together into a thin line.
"Good girl," I said, mussing her hair. "Now come on, let's grab some supper."
I made sure to stand between Kimberly and the moon as we headed for the door, but I felt better. It was good to know that just being in the moonlight wasn't enough to trigger her full Silverblood transformation. Would the full moon do it? Maybe. I didn't know, but I wasn't going to worry about it right now. Kimberly and I were finally getting along again, and I didn't want to spoil that by worrying about whether or not she was going to kill me. That could wait at least one more night.
I ushered her through the door, but hesitated before stepping inside myself. Slowly, I turned to look at the moon again. It floated above the forest like a gigantic stone eye, not fully open, but getting closer by the night.
You're not a monster. You won't hurt me. I promise.
My stomach did a flip inside me. I'd made Kimberly two promises tonight, but I was only sure I could keep one of them. She wasn't a monster. She wasn't. Call me, Stark, or whoever else whatever you want, but Kimberly is not a monster. She's a poor little girl pulled into a terrible situation against her will. If anything, I was the monster here. But as for her hurting me... if she did change, and her Silverblood side took over again, how was I going to stop her from hurting me? She was bigger, stronger, and faster than I could ever hope to be? What could I do?
Staring up at the moon, I heard a voice inside me rise up and say, BECOME... BIGGER... BECOME STRONGERRRR...
Suddenly, the temperature seemed to drop another fifty degrees. Pulling my eyes away from the moon, with some difficulty, I stepped inside and shut the door behind me.
NEXT TIME: … oh dear.