He slept until well after dawn, and I feared for him. We had both regained our original forms shortly before the rise of the sun. I was thankful that his curse did not cause him to suffer twice in one night, as he slept soundly through the whole process. The sound of snapping bones and ripping stayed with me, however, and I was thankful that the nature of my being kept me from such pain.
I sat back on my haunches outside of my small unhidden den, and guarded the man-wolf. As a wolf, he had been arrogant, definitely, but also handsome. Where I was lithe, he was muscular and half again my size. Where my fur was a pale tan buried in white pelt, his had been a thick, tawny brown. He had been everything that I wasn’t. He looked like the other wolves, for a few hours at least, and I did not. We had another major difference; he was lost, or at least he soon would be when he awoke.
Where he was ignorant to his nature, I was not. I was young and inexperienced, but I knew what I was: a faoladh, spirit wolf, a guide to the lost, and protector of the young. Those are the things that my mother had whispered into my ear during the days of my weaning. I never understood her words, but looking upon the furless form of the man in my den, I understood. Understanding came in the form of a tugging at my heart and the knowledge that I could not leave the cursed one alone.
I was not an expert on men. To be honest, this was the first one that I had ever seen up close. I had seen the shiny beasts that carried them down the black river, but they frightened me so I had never approached closely enough for a good look. He did not seem impressive to me at all. His fur was reduced to a messy mass on top of his head. It was short and needed grooming. At least my woman-form had long thick hair that covered my back, providing me with some warmth. He was almost as bare and just as thin as a maple tree in the winter.
I examined him closely, drawing in his scent. There were remnants of the wolf to his skin, and it barely masked the scent of other. Had I been looking at him with my nose instead of my eyes, I may have mistaken him for wolf instead of man. As that thought crossed my mind, a strong whiff of something sickly spicy assaulted my nose and I sneezed, waking the conriocht.
He made a sound like a growling bear and woke up like a frightened squirrel. He twisted his head and saw me sitting in front of him. My ears perked and I cocked my head to the side as I considered him.
“Holy shit!” he yelped and sprang back, hitting his head on the rock of what had been the opening of my little den. He hissed and rubbed his head, scooting back with his eyes on me. They were honey brown, like his wolf’s had been.
I whimpered and lowered my head down onto my forepaws, looking up at him. I didn’t want to scare him further.
His eyes darted around like a prey animal in search of the hunter. Finally, his eyes fell on me and he licked his lips. “Nice doggy,” he said, holding his hand tentatively out to me. “Those are some pretty blue eyes. You part husky?”
His voice was gentle and nervous, but his words offended me. I sat up and pulled my ears back, giving him a nice growl.
He sat back down and held up both hands. “Okay, okay, not a husky. I get it. Nice wolf?” he asked. I stopped my snarl and recomposed myself, sitting tall.
He looked around the small den and then back at me and cleared his throat. “Uh, whatever happened last night wasn’t me, okay?” His skin started to change color. It was intriguing. I had seen lizards do the same thing but they usually turned brown or green, not red. I wasn’t aware that humans had the same ability, and I wondered why he did it. I had never experienced such a change in my woman-form. Perhaps I did not share the ability.
I will admit to a small amount of satisfaction that he seemed to be the one who was frightened this time, and not the other way around.
I moved away from the entrance and let him stand, since he seemed be looking for a way of escape. Following me out, he stood up in the sunlight and looked around. “Damn it,” he whispered. “How am I supposed to get back to the road? Didn’t think about this part…” For a moment I thought he was talking to me, but then I realized that he was speaking to himself. His voice went a pitch higher. “‘Let’s drop you off at the nature preserve, nobody will be there! You’ll have plenty of woods to run in before you see a single person!’” He tripped a bit over the fallen ivy and hissed something that I couldn’t understand. “Great idea, Ryan!” he said sarcastically once he regained his balance.
I stepped over to him and tried to take his wrist in my mouth. I planned to lead him to the black river where his things were. “Woah, what do you think you’re doing?” he yelped, pulling his hand back and holding it to his chest. I whined and took a few steps in the direction that I wanted to go and let out a small bark. I’m not a dog, but he was familiar with the concept. I met a dog once, and all he did was bark and whine. It was very annoying, and I found him to be extremely rude.
The conriocht took the hint and followed me. “What is it, Lassie? Timmy fell down the well?” he asked.
I stopped and looked at him inquisitively. Perhaps becoming cursed rendered one insane as well. He shook his head and laughed. “Do you know the way back to the road? Is that where you are taking me?” I gave him another small bark. “Okay, sorry. Lead the way, Ivy.” I whimpered and sat down, cocking my head to the side. He named me? “You smell like ivy, okay?” he defended himself. I had a name, Cana, but since I could not convey that to him in words he would understand, I let it slide.
It wasn’t a log walk through the woods before we found the place near the black river, or the road as the conriocht called it, where the colorful skins had been left. I could see a silver glint through the trees, and it drew my wary attention. It was one of those shiny monsters, only this one stood still. Another man stood behind it and called out from the road.
“Hey, Rick! Where you been, man? I don’t have all day to stand here waiting on werewolves, you know.”
The conriocht -or what did the other call him? Rick? – picked up the skins and examined them. “Shut up and just bring me the bag. My old clothes are ruined.”
I heard the other man open the monster. I took the opportunity to hide.
“I’m impressed you managed to find them. I had a thought after I dropped you off last night that you might get lost out here. So, how did your first night as a werewolf go?”
Rick snarled. “Could you please stop saying that word?” He reached into the bag and pulled out a new set of… clothes. I watched him pull them on in fascination. It answered my question of how he could stand having so little fur. “And I don’t remember,” he continued answering. “I probably did some things that I would’ve regretted this morning if I had remembered them. Plus, I think I might have eaten something.”
“Man, that’s just gross,” his friend laughed.
Rick looked around. “Did you see a wolf around here?”
The other shook his head. “You mean besides you? No. Why?”
He sighed. “Nothing, let’s go.”
They left, and I watched from the woods. This was not the last that I would see of Rick the Werewolf. I felt it in my soul.
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