Chapter One

Have you ever kneeled in the tall grass of an abandoned field, the scents and sights and sounds assaulting you from every angle, while you waited for a wild boar to wander by so you could violently murder it?

 

If you haven't, you've never lived.

 

Of course, that probably only sounds remotely appealing if you're one of two types of people.  The first is a bloodthirsty psychopath who's gone too long without sticking a knife into something.  The other someone like me... although, I should probably add that I'm not exactly what you'd call a "person."

 

My name is Eve.  Just Eve.  I had a different name once, and another name to go after it, but it's long gone now.  In truth, I can't remember what my old name was.  Maybe I simply have no need for it anymore, so my mind has erased it.  Maybe the transformation wiped it from my mind.  Either way, my name is Eve now, so don't bother trying to call me anything else.

 

So, I was crouched there in the tall grass, my eyes scanning the field in front of me, my tail twitching eagerly behind me.  I unconsciously angled my ears up and down, trying to catch every little sound and locate where it had come from.  My right hand gripped my wooden spear, itching to put it to use.  There was no doubt, the Hunt had come over me.  I blamed the big hunk of mutton I had strategically placed on the ground twenty feet away from me.  The smell of meat drifted into my nose, making my mouth water.  I licked my lips, my tongue gliding over my thin, sharp teeth.  At the moment, I honestly wanted nothing more than to devour the succulent meat instead of wasting it on some stupid pig.

 

But I forced myself to remain still.  My tribe needed food, and a whole boar would feed more of them than a hunk of sheep meat would.  I wasn't exactly on good terms with them, so I couldn't risk their anger by eating the bait I was supposed to use to bring home food.  Maybe if I did this, they'd finally let me sleep close to the fire tonight, instead of out where the shadows crept and the cold bit my skin.  I'd thought that same thing every other time I went hunting, more times now than I could count.  But maybe, just maybe, this would be the time.  The thought did nothing to comfort my rumbling stomach, though.

 

A soft grunting noise came from the other side of the field.  Immediately, I went rigid and crouched even lower behind the grass.  My tail swished back and forth, gently rustling the grass behind me.

 

The boar lethargically made into the field, its big nose up in the air, sniffing out the mutton I had placed for it.  I had scouted this area frequently, and knew the boar came by this field almost daily.  I had set my trap so that the boar's path would be downwind of the meat, while I was far enough away to evade his sense of smell.  Slowly, agonizingly slowly, the giant pig bumbled in, completely unaware that I was watching its every move.  Finally, with a snort of satisfaction, it found the mutton and dug in.

 

I gave a shrill cry of excitement, and leaped from my hiding spot.  The boar, distracted by its free meal, was slow to react, and I immediately drove the tip of my spear into its hide.  The pig threw its head back and squealed in pain, whirling around and trying to gore me with its tusks.  I nimbly jumped backwards, ripping my spear out of its body.  With an angry snort, it hooved the ground and charged at me.  I did not move out of the way.  My instincts would not allow me to.  Instead, I waited until the last moment before darting forward, placing my foot on its face, and vaulted myself into the air.  I performed a graceful flip before plunging my spear into the boar's back.

 

As gravity brought me back to earth, I grabbed ahold of my spear, still embedded in the hog's body, and swung around to land directly on its back.  The massive pig reared up on its hind legs, trying to buck me off, but my balance was far greater than a human's, so keeping my footing was no challenge.  With a feral growl, I pulled my spear from the boar's back and plunged it into its neck, just above the spine.  I felt the spear's stone head connect with bone, plowing straight through it with little effort, and the pig immediately collapsed.  My eyes bulging with exhilaration, I leaned my head back and let out a cry of victory!

 

Finally pausing to catch my breath, I blinked a couple of times and put my hand to my chest, forcing my heart to beat slower.  It wasn't good for me to let my animal instincts take over, even if it felt oh, so good.  Pulling my spear from the boar once more, I kneeled down next to its corpse and pulled out my hunting knife.  Within minutes, I had carved out all the meat I could carry and was headed back to camp.  Later, I would return to collect the rest.  Assuming, that is, that the Ferals hadn't already found it.  If that was the case, then at least they would be too distracted enough for the night to come in search of the camp.

 

I traversed the miles between the camp and my hunting place with catlike speed.  My feet adapted to the terrain as if I were set on autopilot, guiding me over every hill, valley, and molehill without a single stumble.  Within half an hour, I could see the smoke rising from my tribe's fire.  As I drew nearer, though, I couldn't stop myself from lowering my head.  My tail unconsciously wrapped itself around my leg, as if doing so would hide it from view.

 

I walked into the camp, my spear slung over my shoulder and my arms laden with fresh meat, but it seemed as if nobody even noticed.  The adults continued on with their work, and the children that did not clear a path on their own were roughly yanked aside with a few chastising words.  I kept my eyes to the ground, fearful of making eye contact.  Before long, I found the man I had been looking for standing next to the fire, methodically feeding wood into it.

 

"Eve," he greeted me, with not a single emotion to be found. "What have you brought?"

 

"Boar meat, Orville," I answered softly, not making eye contact.  "Fresh.  I just killed it not an hour ago."

 

Orville was the chief of my tribe.  With a dismissive huff, he motioned towards the meat shed, "You know what to do with it.  Put it away, get yourself cleaned up, and then go see the doctor."  He was a grizzled old man.  His gray hair hung in long clumps from his head, and his wrinkled face was marred by a purple scar that ran from his right temple to his chin.

 

"Yes, Orville," I bowed my head and turned to leave.  I walked slowly, though, hoping against hope that he would call me back.

 

"Hey, Eve," he would say.  "Thank you for the meat!  It's going to be cold outside tonight.  Do you want to sleep by the fire?"

 

He didn't, though, of course.  He never did.  Most likely, he never would.  And so I placed the meat in the shed, locking the door behind me.  Get cleaned up, he'd said.  Of course, I was covered in blood now.  Such a thing didn't bother me in the slightest, but these humans would throw a fit if I were to walk around camp like this, so I turned and made my way to the nearby stream.

 

I paused at the water's edge, and turned to look both ways, making sure there was nobody in sight before quickly stripping my clothes off.  Bathing in the stream was not something that my tribe hid, but I was different.  My tail swayed behind me, and my ears turned flat against my head at the thought of having to reveal my body to someone like this.  It was bad enough that my tail and ears were plainly visible, I couldn't imagine what they would say if they could see the dusting of short black fur that climbed up my back.  It was more like fuzz, and my skin could be clearly seen beneath it, but... the others didn't have it.  I banished these thoughts from my head, though, and hastily dunked my head under the water.

 

I suppose I should probably explain what's going on here.  It's the year 2047, and things have changed drastically from the world we used to know.  In the year 2021, a strange virus broke out.  At least, everyone assumes it was a virus, seeing as how there were no other logical explanations.  To put it simply, people randomly began transforming into animals.  This process could take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, but the end result was always that the human they used to be vanished, and was replaced by an animal.  There was no way to tell what sort of animal someone would become, it seemed to happen completely at random.  These people-turned-animals were unofficially dubbed "Ferals."  If you were bitten by a feral, or if you killed and ate one, or if you even came into contact with one for too long, you caught the disease as well.  What's more, Ferals were hostile to humans, and I don't mean in an "if you come into my territory, I'll drive you out," sort of way.  I mean in an "if I even so much as SMELL you, I will go into a murderous rage and stop at nothing to rip you limb from limb," sort of hostile.

 

Before long, the Ferals were everywhere.  No cure was ever found, and people soon became scared.  The army tried to wipe the Ferals out, but the resulting chaos only helped the virus to spread faster.  Within a year, the virus had spread over the whole world, and the human population was drastically lowering. Now, more than twenty years later, the world we once knew is in ruins.  Ferals are now the dominant species, and humans live in the wilds, hiding from them.

 

Now, when I said that no cure was ever found, that was only halfway true.  Eventually, people found a way to slow the transformation down indefinitely.  If somebody was infected, they were able to take doses of this newfound medicine to prolong their time left as human beings before they inevitably lost their minds and became animals.

 

This, as I'm sure you've guessed, is what happened to me.  I don't remember much about my life as a human, not even my old name.  The thing I remember most clearly is being attacked by a cheetah Feral when I was only eighteen years old.  Naturally, I was infected, but a sympathetic doctor managed to supply me with enough medicine that I've managed to stay human for almost six years now.  Almost, being the key word here, seeing as how the medicine wasn't enough to prevent me from growing a tail, new ears, and altering my senses and agility to be more like the panther I was eventually going to turn into.

 

As I surfaced for air, I couldn't help but shudder.  Not a night goes by that I don't have nightmares about my future.  Losing my mind, being forced to crawl around on all fours for the rest of my life...  it terrified me.  Orville's tribe was even more frightened, though.  They never knew if I would wake up one morning and decide to maul one of them.  That was why they forced me to sleep apart from everyone else.  They allowed me to stay only because of my hunting skills, though some of the tribe members were vocal about their distrust for me.  If they had their way, they would have killed me long ago, just to be safe.  Because I'm what people these days call a Hybrid.  Not entirely human, not entirely Feral, I'm considered a freak.  A dangerous freak.

 

And the worst part about it is that they're right.

 

With a sigh, I emerged from the water and quickly dried myself before slipping my clothes back on, hiding what I could of my treacherous body.  Then, as ordered, I came went straight to the doctor's tent.

 

"Hmm," he said in his throat.  I've never been able to tell if this was in disapproval or just a habit.  "Come for your medicine, hmm?"

 

"Yes, Evan," I answered respectfully, not meeting his gaze either.  I held out my hand as the middle aged man turned and went into his tent for a moment, emerging with a small wad of stuff.  I've never really known what was in the medicine, and frankly I don't care.  All that matters is that it helps me stay human.

 

"Thank you," I said as he placed the medicine in my hand.  I immediately put the foul tasting pill into my mouth and swallowed it.

 

The tantalizing smell of meat caught my attention, and I turned to see Orville approaching with a piece of boar meat.  Handing it to me, he said, "Here, now you know the drill."

 

The chunk of meat was small, and would certainly leave my stomach growling long into the night, but I knew better than to ask for more.  Nodding obediently, I turned and made my way to the camp's borders, just beyond the fire's light.  The sun was already setting behind the horizon, and I wasted no time in gobbling down my meager meal.  The meager meal that I had brought to Orville in the first place.  Steeling my emotions against the injustice of it all, I licked my hand clean before lying down on the cold, hard ground, wrapping my tail around myself and hugging my spear to me- the closest thing I had to a companion.  As predicted, my stomach gave a loud growl, begging for more food, but I forced myself to ignore it.  I sighed again as I closed my eyes.

 

It was going to be a long night.

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