By J. L. Ender
The world turns cold, leaving me drained and human. I lie in a patch of mud, my head pounding. A parting gift from the transformation. I lift a hand to rub my temples, and the glitter of my chipped nail polish catches weak starlight.
The tattered remains of a dirty yellow sweater cling to my shoulders. My favorite sweater… ruined. Ugh. The rest of my clothes are filthy but intact. Except the shoes. I never wake up with shoes. It’s a problem.
My stomach turns. Where am I this time?
A forest in deep gloom surrounds me. The moon has set, and clouds rule the sky, leaving the world a profound gray that will linger until dawn. A book—an enormous collegiate thesaurus from the library—rests on the ground beside me. I pick it up and do my best to wipe away the grime.
I start walking, and realize I know these woods. A few minutes later, I stumble onto Main Street, between Reels Movie Theater and the Murkwood Public Library. I check the parking lot, but there’s no sign of my car.
Great. I probably ate it.
I’ll have to walk home. Where else can I go without car, shoes, purse, phone, or wallet? At least I’ve got pants this time.
I pass Old Man McFryer’s grocery. Rattling resounds through a short alley to the right of the big, glass double doors. A dangerous silhouette noses around the trash cans a few yards away. A big, wolfish silhouette.
I duck behind a light pole just as golden eyes turn my direction. Good thing I’m skinny.
Another werewolf. In my town? I can’t allow that. I tell myself it’s not about territory, that I want my little corner of the world to stay safe.
But what can I do? I can’t control the change. The wolf inside feeds off me, uses my body, and I get nothing in return. I changed back when the moon set, so why is he still… wolf-y?
The werewolf lumbers off like a freight train gaining momentum. Deciding to hurry home, I turn—
And find the wolf inches from my nose.
“Who are you?” the beast growls. He hunches to lock eyes with me, then straightens, rising to three feet taller than my scant five feet and three inches. “This is my territory.”
I clear my throat and lock my knees so they won’t tremble. “No. It’s mine. Go away.”
The werewolf chuckles, a throaty sound like a garbage disposal. “So fight me for it.”
“Gone?” The werewolf laughs again. “So you’re still parasitic. Beat it. You’re not worthy of my time. I’m after less stringy game.”
I force steel into my voice. “If you hurt anyone in my t-t-town, you’ll have me to answer to.”
I suppress a groan. Did I seriously just stammer like Porky Pig?
The werewolf laughs at my empty threat. He throws back his head and howls, then puts a catcher’s mitt-sized claw against my chest and pushes. I fall backward into the gutter, dropping the thesaurus, then stagger to my feet, straining for the wolf. My wolf. Out of reach.
The werewolf towers over me. “You know, suddenly stringy isn’t sounding half bad.”
I call for the wolf again. Obey me.
The werewolf raises his paw, claws out. This time I’ll be torn open—
Fur ripples across my body, and muscle follows. In a half-second, I gain two feet of height and nearly a hundred pounds of muscle. I strike the werewolf like a battering ram. He slams into the brick wall of the alley, shattering blocks.
With a roar, he darts up and swipes at me. I duck, raking my claws across his chest as I shove him. He roars again—in pain this time. Before he can recover, I pick up a loose brick and clock him. The block shatters against his forehead.
The werewolf swings at my gut with one paw, then the other, then bites at my arm. I dodge everything, his attacks whiffing empty air.
I leap backward, pick up my fallen book, and swing it in an upward arc as the werewolf lunges toward me. It connects with his chin.
His fangs click. “Oof!” He flies back and hits the wall again.
And then his eyes turn blue.
“No,” he groans.
He’s… shrinking. Fur and claws slide away. I rock backward, landing in the street, which smells of still-warm asphalt.
I hop to my feet, but there’s no threat. A skinny, naked man wobbles on knobby knees and takes off, squealing and crying as he runs.
That’s just embarrassing.
I will my humanity back, and it comes, leaving me cold and tired. Could I…?
It hurts a little, and I feel more tired than ever, but I turn into the wolf and back. I have control. Somehow.
Parasite? Not anymore.
The library’s overhead lights hurt. Swallowing two aspirin dry, I settle into my seat at the counter with a cup of coffee. Everything from the night drop needs to be checked in. The giant stack of books doesn’t care about my headache or respect my werewolf powers.
Including a rather filthy thesaurus. I’ll have to clean that to boot.
Sighing, I pick up the top book. The Werewolf in Lore and Legend.
I glance around. The only other librarian on shift is stocking books in some distant wing of the rambling old library. I start to read.
The morning’s first customer slaps a book on my counter. The skinny werewolf. In human form, he’s barely taller than my counter. I read the title. Workout Regimens for Dummies.
He blinks. “Ma’am?”
He doesn’t recognize me.
I plaster on a smile. “Sure thing.” I check him out and hand him the book. “Have a nice day.” My grin stretches into something wolfish. “And good luck.”