The white goat’s heart pounded with euphoria.
A forest, vast and untouched by humanity, spread before her as far as the eye could see. Perched atop a bluff that stood higher than the trees, she gazed out at the ocean of lush greens and browns. A cheerful sun looked down at her from a sky bluer than she had ever seen. Wonderful smells—fruits, flowers, and a whole plethora of wildlife—were like a song she could hear with her nose.
With an exhilarated bleat, the white goat leaped fearlessly from the bluff, landing in the middle of the woods. Then she ran. The wind was cool as it trailed playful fingers through her fur, the ground was soft beneath her hooves, and life—which had been so bleak and meaningless just minutes before—suddenly felt full of infinite possibilities.
The white goat wasn’t just home.
The white goat was fr—
A shrill beeping filled the air, and Fey Greenbriar’s eyes snapped open. For a few seconds, she wasn’t sure where she was. Where had the forest gone? And the sun, and the endless blue sky? In their place was a dark room, a table littered with books and papers, and a phone that was belting out the irritating noise that had awoken her.
Fey raised her head, sighing. She was home, but that home wasn’t the forest. Not anymore.
Shutting off the alarm, she looked around. Her homework was scattered haphazardly across the table in front of her. Three zoology textbooks sat open, but untouched. As for the dissertation about treating horses for broken bones that she’d been working on…Fey sighed when she saw the paper bare except for the opening sentences.
“Damn it,” she whispered. She had promised herself she’d write at least five pages last night. Just like she had promised herself every night for the past three weeks. And, just like every night, she’d said she was going to rest her eyes for a minute before getting to work, only to wake up the next morning, no farther along with her paper than the night before.
Well, she’d have to worry about that later. Right now, she needed to get ready for work. Pauline’s Pooch Emporium wasn’t going to open itself. Stretching and yawning, she scooted her chair back and stood—
Fey nearly jumped out of her skin at the sudden sound, until she realized it had just been her own foot touching the floor. But why would…
She looked down, and panic flooded her veins. Her leg seemed normal enough where it met her hip. But just above her knee, pure white hair began to sprout. It thickened the further down it went until her skin was completely obscured by it. And her foot…wasn’t a foot. Instead, her leg was capped with a solid black, cloven hoof.
Fey’s heart was racing. Sweat poured down her brow. How? Why?
“Just calm down,” she said, closing her eyes. “Breathe. In, and out. In, and…”
Gradually, her heartbeat slowed. She opened her eyes, looked down at the offending limb, and focused on it. Almost immediately, the white fur receded into her skin. Her hoof softened and, with a feeling almost like she was unclenching her entire foot, expanded back into the proper appendage. Fey gave her toes an experimental wiggle, then collapsed back into her chair.
They don't know. They don’t know. They don’t know!
She told herself this a hundred times, but the panic didn’t fade. Logically, she knew her old pack couldn’t possibly know. It wasn’t like they were spying on her. She doubted they even knew where she was living now.
But what if they did?
Afraid of what she might see, Fey hesitantly turned to her apartment window. How easy would it be for Skylar to perch right there on the sill and watch every move she made? How long would it take her to fly from here to Spokena to tell Glenn that Fey had broken the law and taken on her true form, even if only partially?
Fey was a skinwalker, one of the mythical shapeshifters spoken of in Native American stories. The face she wore now was only half of who she was. Three years ago, she had been presented with a choice: live in the Wild with her own kind, or as a human. She had chosen humanity. Tame. The life of a skinwalker was forbidden to her now, under pain of death. If Glenn found out that she had transformed…
“He won’t,” she said to herself with more determination than she felt. “You’re being paranoid. Skylar isn’t spying on you. The pack doesn’t know where you live. Stop scaring yourself and get ready for work!”
Steeling her nerves, she stepped outside, locked her apartment door behind her, and made her way to where her bike waited. She unchained it and hopped aboard, but then hesitated. To her left was the road that would take her to work. To her right was the forest. Not the forest she had spent half her life in, but a forest, nonetheless.
The urge to run in there, to abandon the human life she’d spent the last three years cultivating, was almost too strong to resist. Shed her human clothes, along with her human form, and embrace the simplicity of living in the Wild once again.
Instead, she faced the road and began to pedal.
This was her life now. Like it or not, there was no going back.