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Chapter Forty

"Why you want get rid of me?"


My eyes shot open when I heard the mysterious voice.


"Who's there?" I asked.


I was standing in the middle of a dark forest.  Trees swayed back and forth in the distance, their movements ghostlike, blown by a breeze I couldn't feel.  A full moon looked down from the exact center of the night sky, shining a column of brilliant white light on me.  There were no stars.


Everything was silent.  I was all alone.  But, then who had...


"Stupid prey.  Blind prey.  Open your eyes!"


There was something familiar about that voice, except it... wasn't a voice.  It was more like a series of thoughts that were thinking themselves.  They weren't in my head, they were all around me, echoing out of a void of nothingness that I couldn't hear or feel, but could sense nonetheless.


"My eyes are open," I told it. "I can't see—"


Before I could finish my sentence, a wolf stepped out of the shadows.  My first instinct was to panic, and an icy bolt of fear shot up my spine.  But then I took a closer look.  I knew that wolf from somewhere.  Where had I seen it before?


"You're me!" I exclaimed, realization dawning on me.


"Stupid prey."


Then a second realization dawned on me, one that I don't think I'll ever be able to explain.  I wasn't just here, I was also there.  I was me, but I was the wolf too.  I could think with my human brain and see through my human eyes, but I could also see myself looking at me through the eyes of the wolf.


"Stupid, slow thinking prey," I thought in disgust at the weak, fleshy pink thing I was continually forced to become.  In truth, I was having just as hard a time grasping this as she was, but she didn't need to know that.


I already knew, though.  I was thinking with two brains simultaneously.  It was indescribable.  I was two completely separate beings and yet we were both the same.  We knew each other's every thought, but we didn't share them.


"So, if I'm actually talking to you like this," the human me said, "then I must be dreaming.  Right?"


I growled at her.  The prey inside my head's voice irritated me.  I should bite her.  Make her bleed.  Then she'd shut her mouth.


I folded my arms and looked defiantly at the wolf. "Why am I here?" I asked it. "This hasn't happened before, so you must want to talk to me about something."


I shook my head.  It was a human gesture, but I had to make myself clear to the slow witted prey somehow. "No," I thought at her.  In here, I could talk like a human, even if I didn't move my mouth to do it. "Not want talk.  Need talk!"


I smirked a little at the wolf's antics, which only made it growl at me again.  It didn't like me, but I was fine with that.  I wasn't exactly fond of it, either.


"Why not... fond?" I asked, struggling to think of the right words.  I'm not good with people words.  They're too complicated.  Animals get by just fine with the barest form of communication.  A growl, a lick, a bite. That's all you need to know what someone's thinking.  None of this ridiculous lip flapping and tongue twirling. "Why you want... make me gone?"


I blinked and uncrossed my arms.  Right.  My visit with Dex earlier.  He'd had the cures, and I'd...


"Because I promised Stark I'd protect Mom and Kimberly," I answered.


"Without me?" I spat, the fur on my back rising. "You weak!  No fight.  Only I fight."


I frowned. "But Majestic..."


"You no fight, I fight!  You no protect, I protect!"


"There's more than one way to protect them!" I yelled back at it. "If I'm not a Silverblood, Majestic will leave us alone!"


"Leave alone?" I barked out a laugh. "Leave alone is no win.  Kill them.  Eat them.  That is win!"


My face started to turn red.  How dense could this freaking animal be? "I don't care about beating them.  I just want to make them leave me alone!"


I took a step toward the prey, baring my teeth. "You think I stupid?  You think wolf you not smart enough to think?"


The wolf side of me was getting closer, but I didn't back away.  I stood my ground and looked it straight in the eye. "I know you're more likely to think with your teeth and your stomach than your brain," I told it. "At least I think things through instead of just picking a fight with everything."


I froze in my tracks.  Had... had that been an insult?  Had I just been insulted by my prey?  My temper skyrocketed and I pounced, jaws wide open to tear out her throat.


Every fiber of my being told me to flinch, but I stayed right where I was.  If I submitted, my wolf would hold it over me forever.  And I had a theory...


I snapped my teeth closed, but the prey's squishy pink flesh wasn't there!  I kept flying forward, but in my surprise I forgot what I was doing and crashed to the ground on my side, skidding a few feet before coming to rest.


"You can't touch me," I told it, turning around to look at it triumphantly. "We're the same person, and we're both in my head right now." I allowed myself a smug smile. "You couldn't hurt me if you tried."


Seeing her smile at me like that made my blood boil.  How dare she treat me like this?  After all I'd done for her, all I'd given her?


"Ungrateful," I accused her, getting back to my paws.  "I make you wolf... I make you not human... and this is... thanking?"


I took my own threatening step toward the wolf now. "Don't you give me that," I said, pointing at it. "Don't you pretend you're some kind of gift that I should be grateful for.  You are the worst thing that's ever happened to me.  You ruined my life!"




I balled my fist, even though I knew I wasn't able to hurt the wolf any more than the wolf was able to hurt me. "Shut up!  It's because of you that my dad is dead.  It's because of you that Kimberly can't see her parents.  It's because of you that I have a demon and a company full of psychopaths chasing me down.  Everything that's happened is your fault!"


I snarled at the human prey.  Why couldn't I bite her?  She acted like she knew something about all this that I didn't.  That made me mad, but I tried to push it back.  If the girl knew it but I didn't, it wasn't worth knowing.


"You... fun it," I told her instead.


I raised my eyebrow. "Say what now?"


"You... have fun... it," I said, my wolf brain failing to connect the worthless human words again. "You change, you become me, and you... fun."


A chill ran down my spine. "What the hell are you talking about?"


I growled, my hackles rising again.  Stupid, stupid, stupid prey!  How could she not understand?  How much clearer could I be?


"You change," I tried again. "You turn wolf.  You run, chase, hunt, eat.  You fun!  You... say it fun!"


Understanding dawned on me.  It was telling me I had fun whenever I changed.  And it wasn't wrong.  I did enjoy letting go of my humanity now and then.  Becoming an animal, hunting other animals, running free without the limitations of the human world... it was addicting, in its own weird way.


"I tried to make the best of a bad situation," I said in my defense. "What was I supposed to do?  Sit around and be miserable?"


"H... H..." I stammered.  This was a strange word, one that didn't exist in any form in the mind of an animal.  "Hippo.... critter."


My arms fell down to my sides in surprise. "Did you just call me a hypocrite?" I demanded.


I chuckled in dark satisfaction at finally seeing the pink girl's guard drop. "Hippo critter," I said again. "You use me, it fun, and then try make me gone?  Hippo critter.  Hippo critter!"


"I am not a hypocrite, you stupid animal!" I screamed at it.  For a few seconds, I lost control and swung at it, but of course my hand passed right through it like it was made of mist.


I snapped at the stupid prey's hand when she tried to hit me, but was once again denied the taste of blood and meat.


I took a deep breath and leveled my finger at the wolf. "You listen to me," I said, surprising myself by how much I sounded like Stark, "I was here first.  We may be the same—"


"Not same!" I snarled.


"— but we were born as me!  That means this is my body, my family, my life!  I don't care how wild and free you are," I waved my hands, making the wolf growl again, "I'm the real Amber.  You're nothing but a monster.  A monster that invaded my body without my permission and ruined everything.  Well, guess what?  It's my body, not yours, and if I say I want you gone, then you get the hell out!"


I wasn't sure exactly what I was expecting that outburst to do, but the wolf just sat there with a smug look on its canine face.  I took a step back, suddenly feeling out of breath.


I looked at the pathetic human in disgust.  To think something so frail and weak could control me.  It was insulting!


"Not matter what prey want," I sneered at her. "I here, not go.  You can't make me gone!"


I pushed my weariness aside and glared at the wolf again. "Oh, yes, I can." I said under my breath.


I started a little when I heard the prey's tone of voice.  That had been a threat, and even her nonsensical mouth noise couldn't hide it from me.


"Dex has the cure," I told it.  Was it just me, or did the wolf actually look intimidated?  It was a little hard to tell just by looking at it, but... I probed into its thoughts for a second.  Holy crap, I really had scared it!


"Not afraid!" I yapped at her.  How dare she talk to me like this?  How dare she read my thoughts?


"Dex has the cure," I said to it again, "and I'm going to steal one."


"Not a cure," I told her. "Alpha said no cure!"


"I don't care what Stark says!" I yelled back at it. "Stark is wrong!  Dex took one and he never became a werewolf.  If I can get one, and I can take it, you'll go away!"


I stood there for more than a minute, panting and staring at the brown furred creature, my head reeling after that outburst.  I don't know where all that anger had come from, but I felt good now that I had let it out.  Like I'd finally dropped a heavy backpack I hadn't even known I was carrying.


Icy terror flooded my veins as I watched the weak prey recover from yelling at me.  How pathetic did you have to be for yelling to tire you out?  I could howl from sundown to sunrise and still have enough energy to take down ten, no, a hundred strong bucks.  And yet, those loud noises frightened me more than anything I'd ever faced before.  More than Majestic, more than Becky, even more than Hendricks.


I could see fear in the wolf's eyes, and suddenly, I felt bad for shouting at it.  I mean, yeah, it had destroyed my entire freaking life, but it wasn't like it'd done it on purpose.  Everything had happened just because it existed, not because of anything it'd done.


"Don't you care about Kimberly and my mom?" I asked it, speaking softly now. "Our mom?"


I gave the girl a tentative nod.


"When you're gone," I explained as gently as I could, "they'll leave us alone.  Majestic, Hendricks, Becky, all of them.  If we keep trying to fight, they might get hurt.  This way they'd be safe.  Isn't that worth it?"


"Worth it?" I growled at the girl. "I die, you not die.  Worth it only you!"


I bit my lip.  It was right.  By curing my lycanthropy I might very well be killing the creature in front of me.


"That's just the way it has to be," I insisted, drawing myself up to stand taller. "I'm sorry, but..."


"No!" I cut her off. "Not be sorry!  Be strong!  Not take easy way, stand and fight like wolf!"


A storm of harsh emotions came hurtling at me, almost powerful enough to knock me over.  I got the feeling those were like wolf swears.


"I'm doing it," I insisted. "I'm taking the cure, and—"


"No," the wolf cut me off again.


Suddenly, I was overcome by that indescribable feeling again, except this time it was reversed.  In the space of a moment, I was torn away from my wolf side, and I was just Amber again.  The wolf rose to its paws, the shadows growing darker around it.  Its eyes began to glow red.


"Not take cure," it told me.  Its voice-that-wasn't-a-voice had deepened, so it sounded like an earthquake. "Not take cure."


It took a step toward me, and I took a step back, forgetting my determination not to show any fear around it.  Something was happening.  Not only had I been separated from my wolf, but now it looked different somehow.  It convulsed in the shadows like a liquid, and then began to get bigger.


"Not take cure," it said, and its growl shook the ground beneath my feet, "if I... take... YOOOU!"


That last word came out as a howl, so loud I had to cover my ears with my hands, and I stumbled backwards until I tripped and landed on my butt, looking up at the monster wolf made of shadows.


"BODY... NOT... YOURS..." it said, narrowing its glowing red eyes at me. "LIFE... NOT YOURS.  MINE NOW.  I TAKE.  I MAKE... STRONGER.  I... MAKE FASTER.  I... MAKE... BIGGERRRR!"


It advanced on me again.


"You can't hurt me," I said under my breath, more to myself than to it. "You can't hurt me, you can't hurt me, you can't—"


The wolf raised a giant shadowy paw and brought it down on top of me.  For half a second I felt it on top of me, it's strength crushing me down into the ground, and then—


I sat up.  I was back in my room, lying in my sleeping bag.  Rebecca was snoring softly from my bed.  I raised a hand and put it over my beating heart.  My skin was coated with sweat, and I was gasping for breath like I'd just run a marathon.


I'm fine, I told myself.  It was just a dream.  I'm safe now.  The dark forest was gone, the full moon was gone, the wolf was—


STILL HERE, the low, rumbling voice spoke from inside me.


I let out a little squeak of fright.  For a minute I just lay there, pale and trembling.  Then, eventually, I got up and went to my closet.  After a few seconds of rooting around, and I lay back down with a deformed stuffed animal in my arms.  I'd given Blister to Kimberly, but she'd given it back after Stark had bought her some of her own stuffed animals.  That was good, I thought as I lay down on my side, clutching him to my chest, because I needed him tonight.


"He's a special stuffed animal," my dad had told him the night he'd given him to me, almost fifteen years ago. “He can scare away all the monsters in your closet and under your bed!"


But what about the monster inside me?


Well, I thought, closing my eyes to wait out a sleepless night, it's better than nothing.


A tear rolled down my cheek, staining Blister's patchwork fur.



NEXT TIME: I’m sure it’s nothing.  Just puberty, right?  Little Amber’s about to become a beautiful… something.

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