Like I said, after Wrogan left I slept through the rest of that day, and most of the next. In fact, I probably wouldn't have woken up at all if the full moon hadn't risen. As soon as it crested the horizon, I awoke with a gasp like I'd been holding my breath underwater. I couldn't see it, but by God I could feel it. I felt it hovering in the sky outside the house, big, round, and full of the sweet, sweet moonlight my body craved. It was calling me, demanding I go outside where I could see it, bathe myself in its light, and release the animal I had chained inside me.
Want to run, want to hunt, I found myself thinking as I swept the covers off of me. I hadn't even begun to change yet, and my thoughts had already become like those of a wolf. I grinned, ready and eager to sink my teeth into some unfortunate piece of prey, and made for the door. My right arm was still numb, but I found I could move it a lot more than I'd been able to the last time I'd woken up. It'd probably be fine once I'd soaked up the moonlight for a couple of hours.
"You feel it too?" I heard someone ask as I stepped into the hall. I turned and saw Kimberly emerging from her room as well. She was breathing heavily.
I nodded. "I feel it, Kimmie. It feels good, doesn't it?"
"Y- Yeah," she answered.
"I want more."
She gulped. "Me too."
She was still resisting, I thought as I led the way into the living room. Just a little bit. She was clinging to that last shred of humanity, afraid of what would happen if she let it go. That was okay. Her will to fight was crumbling. By the end of this full moon, she would probably be ready and willing to accept that she was a werewolf now, and everything that came with it.
I found Mom and Stark waiting for us in the living room. Stark was pacing back and forth agitatedly, but he was moving stiffly, like he was trying to keep from bending his back more than he needed to. If his movements were stiff, then Mom's posture as she sat on the couch was as rigid as a piece of petrified wood. Her back was straight as a ruler, and her hands were curled into fists on her lap.
"Good, you're here," Stark said as soon as he saw us. "Let's get going."
He made for the door, but Mom stopped him. "Wait!"
Stark froze, his hand halfway to the doorknob, and winced. "What is it?" he demanded.
"Is it safe out there?" Mom demanded, rising from the couch. "What if that man is still out there?"
"I told you, Wrogan said there was no sign of the Slayer or Victor anywhere in the area," Stark said, his irritated voice devolving into a canine growl for half a second. "There haven't been any more Slayer sightings in town. We're safe."
Mom stepped forward, passing me and putting her hand on Stark's shoulder. "What about Hendricks, then? Or that monster of his?"
There was a surprised grunt behind us, and I turned to see Rebecca standing in the hallway. As soon as she saw me looking at her, her expression darkened and she withdrew back into our room.
"The wards will stop them," Stark promised her. "If they even try to get close to us, we'll know about it."
"Jennifer, we are as safe tonight as we'll ever be!"
Mom hesitated, but then nodded. She backed away, and Stark unlocked the door. Just before he opened it, though...
"I'm going out with you," Mom blurted out, stopping him again. Stark paused, and when he turned to look at her, her face turned as red as a Christmas light.
"What are you talking about, Jennifer?"
Mom took a couple of deep breaths, her body trembling. "I said... I'm..."
"Mom," I said, forgetting the moon's call for a moment and stepping forward to put my hand on her arm, "what's going on?"
Mom drew herself up and took one more deep breath. "Let me go outside first," she said. "Then you'll see."
Slowly, Stark drew back from the door. "Jennifer..."
She stepped up and opened the door. The cold wind blew inside, carrying a few snowflakes with it, but we all ignored it and watched my mom. The full moon was up, I could feel its tantalizing rays coming in, but since we couldn't see it from the doorway it wasn't enough to make anyone change. It was enough to make Kimberly whine anxiously, though. Mom took one hesitant step out the door, her legs moving as slowly as if she were wading through water. Her heart was pounding so hard in her chest that I could hear it all the way from here. What was going on? Why would Mom want to go with us on the night of the full moon? And what would make her so nervous about just going... out... side...
Oh, crap, I thought, just as realization dawned on me. "Mom, don't!"
Nobody was listening to me, though. Mom walked to the end of the porch, where the house's shadow ended, and stopped. Her body trembled, but I couldn't tell if it was from fear or the beginnings of... no, it couldn't be! She stayed there for a few seconds, gathering her courage, and then extended her hand out into the moonlight.
She froze as soon as the moonlight touched her. I felt like I stood there in the doorway watching her for an eternity. Had she really... but when? How?
And why? I thought. Why would she want this?
Mom began to shake again, and I instinctively stepped forward to go help her. Stark caught me by my shoulder, though, bringing me to a halt before I could set foot out the door. When I looked at him, his eyes were trained on Mom with steely intensity. My own breathing was coming out in ragged gasps now. If Mom was really going to change, then we needed to be out there to help her! The first change was always painful, even dangerous if the new werewolf wasn't strong enough to do it alone. If we didn't help it could kill her, or drive her insane.
I looked back outside as Mom tentatively brought one foot out of the house's shadow, and then the other, leaving her completely exposed to the full moon's light. She tensed up, cringing as she waited for the pain to start, and then...
I blinked. Why wasn't anything happening? The first change was slow, but it should have started as soon as she stepped out into the moonlight. I squinted my eyes, wondering if I was missing something, but no, I wasn't. She wasn't changing.
"Jennifer," Stark called out to her, "get in here."
Looking completely stunned, Mom turned around and came back into the cabin. She kept staring at her hands, as if she couldn't believe they were still hands and not paws. As soon as she was in, Stark shut the door behind her.
"Do you want to explain what that was about?" he asked, his brow furrowed.
"I- I'm sorry," she said, breathless. Reluctantly, she lowered her hands and looked up at Stark. "I thought I was..."
"You thought you were a werewolf," Stark finished for her. "What in the world made you think that?"
Mom swallowed. "The night Amber went out to get that medicine, she... when she came back, I helped her give it to Kimberly. While I had my hand in her mouth, I... I..."
"What did you do, Jennifer?" Stark asked darkly.
She took a deep breath. "I scraped my finger on one of her teeth. It wasn't hard, just... just enough to make me bleed a little."
I gasped, and took a step back. Suddenly, I remembered how she'd wrapped her finger in her shirt as soon as she'd given the pill to Kimberly. Why hadn't I figured it out it before? How could I have been so blind?
"So," said Stark, "you tried to turn yourself into a werewolf. Lucky for you, it takes more than a little scratch to pass lycanthropy to another person.”
"I just wanted to be with my daughter again!" Mom exclaimed. There were tears running down her cheeks now. "I just... I wanted to be with her!"
"Mom, we're already together!" I yelled.
"Do you have any idea what you were trying to do?" Stark demanded. Veins were popping up on his forehead.
"You don't understand!" Mom wailed, rounding on him. "My daughter and I might be living in the same house again, but we're not the same! I'm still a human, and she's a werewolf. You don't understand how that feels. I only wanted to share this with my daughter!"
She paused, gasping for breath, and looked at Stark with pleading eyes. "And... and with the man I love."
Stark, who had been glaring daggers at her, sucked in a quick breath. Slowly, his expression melted from one of anger to disappointment.
"You don't understand what you were trying to do," he said, shaking his head. "Jennifer, you could have been killed."
"I'm sorry," she replied. "I just..."
Stark sighed. "I know. You wanted to be with Amber again. Dagnabbit, woman, you should have talked to me about it!"
"But what if you'd said no?"
"Then I would have had a very good reason for it. This isn't a decision you should make on the spur of the moment. Becoming a werewolf has lifelong consequences. Look at Amber! Have you seen what's she's been going through?"
Mom turned to look at me, her eyes red with tears, and I felt my heart melt a little.
"Mom," I said, "why do you think you have to be a werewolf to be with me?"
"Because you're so different than me now," she answered. "I don't understand you anymore. How can I be your mother if I don't know what it is you're going through?"
We all stood in stunned silence, looking at her. I could feel tears prickling my own eyes now.
"You freaking idiot," I said at last.
Mom gave a surprised hiccup when I said this, but before she could reply I came in and wrapped her in a big hug.
"You are the best mother in the world!" I yelled, pressing my face into her shoulder. "You don't care that I'm a werewolf. You've stuck with me through everything, even the dangerous stuff. You changed for me, and you never complained once about it. Mom, I could never, ever ask for a better mom than you!"
Mom hesitated, and then wrapped her arms around me too. She pulled me closer, crying even harder than I was.
"I love you, Amber. You know that, right?"
"I've always known," I answered. "And I love you too, Mom."
We stayed like that for a few minutes, crying into each other’s shoulders, before we finally managed to pull ourselves together.
"And I love you too, Jennifer," Stark said, putting his hand on her shoulder. "If you want to become a werewolf, that's your choice. But let's take it slow, all right? No split second decisions."
Mom nodded. "Okay. I'll think about it. And we'll talk it over. All of us!"
I nodded. Then, before I knew what was happening, Stark took her by the arms and pulled her into a kiss. My eyes went wide, and I looked away. Kimberly was standing beside me with a similar look of shock on her face. I opened my mouth and pointed into it, sticking my tongue out. She giggled and nodded her agreement.
"All right, everyone," Stark said, pulling away from her. "It's still a full moon, and I don't want to let it go to waste. Let's head outside! Jennifer," he turned back to her and took one of her hands in his, "I'll see you this morning, all right?"
"See you then," she agreed, wiping the last few tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand.
Stark turned and opened the door again. He motioned for Kimberly to go on out, but when I tried to follow her he stopped me again.
"Do you have your pins?" he asked.
I slapped my forehead. "Crap! I forgot all about them. They're in my room."
"Go get them," Stark said, nodding his head toward the hallway. "You need to get used to wearing them everywhere."
I nodded and headed for my room. He was right, I thought as I passed the open door to his bedroom. Wearing those pins would make things...
Wait a minute.
I stopped and turned to look at his bedroom. Sure enough, the door was standing wide open. That was weird. He always kept his door closed. Well, I'd close it for him, I thought. It would only take a second, and I'm sure he would appreciate it.
I reached into his room and grabbed the doorknob, but froze when I realized I wasn't alone.
"I finally found it, Amber," Rebecca giggled. She was sitting on Stark's bed, and in her fist was clutched the syringe he had taken from her. She looked up at me with wild eyes. "I found it!"
"Oh, crap," I said under my breath. More loudly, I said, "Uh, hey, you really shouldn't be in here, Rebecca. Why don't you give me that, and then go back to—"
I stepped into the room, and Rebecca immediately pointed the needle at her arm. I don't know why, but I froze. Why was this freaking me out so much? So what if she wanted to get high while we were all out of the house? I should just leave her alone and let Stark deal with her in the morning. When I tried to move, though, I found my feet rooted to the floor.
Rebecca giggled manically and took a deep breath. "He said it was the perfect plan," she muttered. "We couldn't get to you in the forest, so we'd have to get inside the house instead."
I swallowed. "What are you talking about?"
"We'll play pretend, he said," she went on. I don't even know if she was still talking to me or not. She already looked completely out of her mind. "I'll pretend to hold you hostage, and they'll come out and save you. Then they'll let you into the house. When they do, you'll... you'll..." she broke down into a mess of giggles again.
"Amber?" Stark called from the living room. "What's taking so long?"
I didn't answer him. I don't think I could have if I tried. I just stood there watching Rebecca as she squirmed with glee on top Stark's bed. Then, suddenly, she went still as a statue. Slowly, her head swiveled to look at me again, and a grin spread across her face.
"Hey, Amber," she said. "Remember when I told you my drugs made me stronger? You wanna see what I meant?" She stood up, the needle still pressed against the skin of her arm. "Huh? Do you?"
I took another step into the room. "Rebecca, don't!"
"Well, check it out!" she yelled, and drove the needle into her arm. Before I could do anything, she pushed down on the plunger, shooting whatever was in the syringe into her body.
Then she went still again. Her hand let go of the syringe, and it slid out of her arm and landed on the carpet. She started breathing heavily, and her head rolled back to look at the ceiling. I could see her muscles tensing up over and over again, but what...
Suddenly, she gave a strangled cry and fell forward. She landed face down on the floor, her body writhing like she was possessed.
"Yessss!" she moaned, her voice sounding deeper than it had before. The arm she had injected shot out at an angle from her body, and I saw the muscles and veins standing out so much they looked as hard as rocks. Then it pulsed, growing larger, and she raised it off the floor and slammed it back down again.
"What the hell?" I breathed as I stood there, frozen with fear.
"You watching?" Rebecca asked, her voice strained and sounding deeper than a man's now. She turned her head up to look at me, and when she opened her eyes they were a deep golden color. "You... watching me?" She opened her mouth, revealing a jaw filled with sharp teeth. "Goooood!"
Her left arm started to swell now too. What began as little more than skin and bones quickly grew into a muscle bound limb that only kept getting bigger by the second. Breathing heavily, Rebecca put both arms beneath her and arched her back. A loud rrrrip filled the room as the back of her shirt tore open, unable to contain the growing body inside it. She ran one of her hands across the carpet, shredding it as claws sprouted from her fingertips.
"I... told you," she growled, her voice barely recognizable as human anymore. "I told you but you... didn't... believe me!"
She got up onto her knees. The rest of her body was swollen with muscles now, like one of those body builders you see in magazines. With a snarl, she brought her new claws up and drew them down across her body, slicing her shirt and pants open in one go. They practically exploded off of her, letting me see the rippled muscles all over her body.
This is bad, I thought, but I still couldn't move.
She threw herself forward onto all fours again just as a series of gruesome pops came from her body. She jerked and twitched, and moans of pain escaped her mouth with every spasm. Her fingers withdrew one by one into her hands, leaving her with paws, and her back legs crunched as her knees reversed themselves to let her walk on all fours. And all the while, she was still getting bigger.
Rebecca looked at me again and tried to say something, but her human voice was all but gone, and I couldn't hear anything but the grunts and growls of an animal. She stood up on her new paws as yellow hair began to sprout all over her. Within seconds, she was completely covered with it. She fixed me with a gaze that spoke of bloodlust and insanity just as the final changes began to overtake her. Her skull pushed her mouth and nose outward from inside her, almost looking like it was going to split her face open. Now she was so big that her back brushed the ceiling just by standing up. I couldn't do anything but watch as her face changed, making the drug addicted girl I thought I'd known disappear, until...
Becky the Nandi Bear, her transformation finally complete, looked down at me like a predator that had cornered its prey, and drew back her lips in a savage grin.
The scream I'd been holding in all this time finally tore free from my throat. "STAAAARK!"
NEXT TIME: *ahem* CRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAP! That is all.