ana jiggled her crossed leg up and down as she sat on the plush, white sofa. She knew it wouldn't be long now. She was finally going to find out if everything she had been dreading for the last week and a half was going to happen after all, or if the night would pass uneventfully. In some corner of her mind, she hoped that Colin was right, that he had indeed passed this on to her, if for no other reason than to validate the anxiousness that had been torturing her this whole time.
Her eyes wandered around the house. For two people who looked so young, their home was well furnished. The living room was covered in a pale, yet colorful texture of paint, the pinks and oranges mingling together to create the feeling that the walls were made of cotton candy. A fireplace, dormant for the time being, presided over the room, with much of the furniture pointing towards it. A grayish-green armchair was across from her, where Kathryn, Colin's wife, sat calmly. In the far corner of the room was an entertainment cabinet, with its doors all shut for the night.
"So, when did he tell you?" Dana asked, fiddling with her hands.
"It was about three months into the relationship. He started saying those magic words. You know, 'I need to tell you something, I'm not like most guys,' that sort of thing. I actually thought he was going to come out of the closet, to tell you the truth. You know what they say: you find a guy who might be a keeper, and he's either married or gay."
Dana chuckled. "And how did you react?"
"Well, it took a while to sink in," Kathryn replied. "It was Halloween, you know; I thought maybe this was some sort of act he was trying to use in order to get me into bed or something. I kinda played along, too. After all, I was dressed like Red Riding Hood anyway. But he wasn't really being playful about it. He sounded serious. And then, he changed back into a human, right there in front of me. I almost wet myself."
"You didn't scream or anything, did you?"
"I would've if my mouth had let me," Kathryn replied. "But then I figured, hey, if he was going to eat me, he wouldn't have changed back to do it. It was weird - after a while, I actually started feeling sorry for him. I couldn't imagine how he could've managed keeping himself together. I've always been a sucker for sob stories."
"And all this time, he's never bitten you?"
"Yeah, he did, once. It was just a playful little nip, while we were... you know. It didn't even break the skin. But he panicked. He was afraid that the contact alone would be enough to pass the curse onto me. Since then, he's always made a promise to never bite anyone." Kathryn gave a sympathetic look to Dana. "So much for that, I guess."
"Tea's ready!" a voice shouted from the kitchen. Seconds later, in walked Colin, carrying a tray with three empty cups and saucers, spoons, a teapot, and a sugar shaker. He placed it on the coffee table and started pouring out the tea. "I hope you weren't telling any embarrasing stories, Kathryn."
"No, not really," Kathryn answered back. "She just wanted to know about when I first found out."
Colin shook a small amount of sugar into his tea, and stirred it a few times. "Oh, you should've seen the look on her face, Dana. I thought her eyes were going to pop out of her head." He finished stirring, tapping the edge of the spoon lightly against the rim of the cup. "Seems whenever someone finds out, they're always fainting, or screaming, or just standing there with their jaws on the floor." He chuckled to himself.
Dana looked out the window to her right. "How much time do we have left now?"
Colin looked out as well. The sun had finished setting a while ago and the sky was beginning to turn dark. "It looks like the sun's down, so I'd say we've got about 10 more minutes." He took a sip of his tea. "I worked it out some time ago, and it usually happens half an hour after sunset, give or take five."
"And how long will it last?"
"I don't know. It's your first time, so I'd be surprised if you didn't change back in an hour. It takes a little bit of time for your body to get acclimated to this condition. After a few shifts, you'll stay a wolf until sunrise."
"That long?" she asked, to which Colin answered with a nod. "Geez, what am I going to do all night?"
Colin took another sip of his tea. "There really isn't anything you couldn't do normally, as long as it's not out in public. Some nights, I just stay in here, catch up on some reading. Or I'll hook up with my pals and hang out in the park. Other times, Kathryn and I set the whole day aside and go up to the river. It's so beautiful there - seeing the moon's reflection on the water, with all the stars shining, the smell of the pine trees behind you. Believe me, that's something you have to try when you get used to your lycanthropy."
Dana pondered the idea. "Maybe I will." Dana slurped her tea. "What was it like your first time, Colin?"
"God, I have no idea. I must've been about two weeks old at the time."
"That young?" Dana asked, mildly shocked.
"What, you think this hits during puberty or something?" Colin snickered. "Actually, that's how my parents found out. They must've heard me wailing that night, they rushed in, and here's this little wolf cub in the crib where I was supposed to be. They went into the other room to call the police, but by the time they came back to the nursery, I was back to normal. Next month, it happened again, and that's when they started putting two and two together."
"You mean neither of your parents are werewolves?"
"Nope. And it's not like it skipped a generation or something; I mean, it is genetic, but the odds are very slim of it happening like this. It has to do with thirty or so different traits, and they all have to fall into place. If Kathryn and I ever decide to have kids, though, it will get passed down."
"So if I have a baby, they'll inherit this?"
"No, not from you," Colin replied. "You're a bit. I'm a birth."
"I'm a what?"
"A bit. You were bitten. I've had it since birth. You only acquired this condition, so it hasn't affected your heredity. My lycanthropy is hard-wired in." Colin drank more of his tea. "At least, I think that's right. I'll have to ask Dr. Arrow next time I see him. I'm, like, 99 percent sure."
"And who's Dr. Arrow?"
"One of my buddies," Colin explained. "He's a pediatrician, but he's also the one who figured out most of the scientific stuff about us. Sort of a doctor of lycanthropy, I guess you could call him."
"Is he a werewolf, too?"
"Uh huh. There's about a dozen of us here in town."
Dana caught herself in the middle of the conversation. Two weeks ago, she was talking with friends about what movie they wanted to see, or comparing their bosses' tyranny; the most serious discussion they'd ever had was leading up to election day, with her siding with Bush and the others with Gore. In a way, she couldn't wait to break the news to her pals; no doubt they'd flip to find out that Dana Cooke, the homebody, the old lady of the bunch, was going to be growing fangs and a tail once a month. But she also dreaded their reaction, wondering if they would spread this around some way, and all of a sudden the whole neighborhood thinks there's a monster living in town. She knew, though, that she'd have to tell them sometime; holding the secret this long was hard enough.
Kathryn checked her watch. "Colin, I'd say you've got about 5 minutes. Did you want me to stay here or leave you and Dana alone?"
"Maybe now's a good time for you to wait outside. I don't think Dana really needs an audience."
"Is there anything I need to do beforehand?" Dana asked.
"Sort of," Colin replied. "It's not really necessary, but it'll make things a lot more comfortable. Kathryn made some special pants for you tonight. They're a normal pair, except they've got a hole in the back, to let the tail out. Believe me, you'll want that thing to have somewhere to go."
"Did you want me to change into those now?"
"You might want to. We don't have a whole lot of time left."
"All right, I'll be back." Dana got up from the sofa, walking out of the living room and into the master bedroom. As she walked, the images of the last ten days flew through her mind like a movie stuck on fast-forward. The night she got off at the wrong bus stop. The mugger. The blade of his knife catching her corrotid artery. The blood everywhere. The shadowy figure that had attacked the mugger, then started for her as she blacked out. She woke up in a hospital bed, where the doctors couldn't figure out how she managed to survive. In fact, everything looked fine - there wasn't even a scar where the knife had been.
After she had left the hospital, she returned to the house of the man who had dialed 911 - Colin's house. He told her everything. How he had seen the episode take place from his window. That he had saved her life, but in doing so he passed his curse onto her. All it took was the bite to her wrist, speeding up her metabolism just enough to heal her gash. There were symptoms, he said, signs to watch for if she had been cursed or if the effects were only temporary. The mood swings. The increased appetite. The dreamless sleep. One by one, they all happened, each one making Dana feel more and more scared. She must have called Colin at least a dozen times while those days passed. He kept telling her that there was nothing to worry about, that this wasn't the end of the world, and that she wasn't in any danger of harming herself or others. She had finally come to grips with her situation when the day of the full moon finally arrived. By then, she was more nervous about having had to wait so long to see what was going to happen than anything else.
Dana flipped on the bedroom light and walked in. There, lying on the king-size bed, were a pair of tan slacks. She turned them around, and saw a snipped-out hole in the seat. Sighing, she slipped off her skirt.
"Dana?" Colin called out from the living room. "Are you wearing stockings?"
"Uh, yeah," Dana answered back. "Why?"
"You should probably take those off, too."
"All right." She pulled off her pantyhose, shimmied on the slacks, and buttoned them. They were a little big, but she figured that she could probably use the extra room.
When she came out of the bedroom, Colin was standing in the hall. He had already transformed. His once soft face was now covered in a blend of brown and dark gray hairs, almost in the same pattern as the walls in his living room. His hands were ornamented with short, black claws, seemingly there only for show. He looked like a wolf, all right, but there was a gentle aura that emanated from him, making him seem more like a pet than a predator.
"You changed already?" Dana asked, her hopes beginning to rise. Maybe, just maybe...
"Yeah, but I like to do this to beat the moon. I've always found the compulsory shifts to be less enjoyable."
"Oh." An anvil landed on her hopes.
"Are you ready for this, now?" Colin asked. "You aren't going to go crazy or anything?"
"I hope not. If I don't have to watch it, I think I'll be OK."
Colin led her back to the living room. Kathryn was gone. "Now, this first time might be a little unnerving, especially since there are some instinctive effects to the change. So what I want you to do is close your eyes, and take some nice, deep breaths."
"All right." Dana shut her eyes, and began focusing on her breathing. She could feel her lungs expand and deflate as she inhaled and exhaled.
"Good. Keep doing that until I say stop. And make sure you keep your eyes closed."
Dana continued her breathing. In. Out. In. Out. She felt a strange, almost magnetic force begin to grow from some unlocatable region in body. It felt as if cactus needles were growing out of her skin. She concentrated on her breathing, noticing how it had sped up just a bit. She felt pushed and pulled from every direction all at once. It was an odd feeling, but not painful.
"You can stop now." The voice sounded as if it came from a fog.
Dana opened her eyes. The world in front of her had lost most of its color, and she thought her field of vision had stretched outwards somewhat. She blinked a few times, noticing how much sharper everything looked. She could smell the nuances of the tea still sitting in their nearby cups, and hear the cacophony of crickets chirping from outside.
"It's all over," Colin whispered. "You made it through."
The realization sinking in, Dana looked down at her hands, and saw them covered in the same rusty-brown hair she had as a human. Each finger was accented by a short, black claw. Her left hand moved its way up the right sleeve of her blouse to her shoulder, then went up to her face, sliding along her newly-grown muzzle. She lifted her lips a little, feeling the teeth inside her mouth. The incisors had become sharper, carnivorous but not overly threatening. She reached behind her, finding a long, bushy tail coming from the hole in the slacks. Tears welled up in her eyes.
"Oh, God," sighed Dana. "I did it."
Colin hugged the new werewolf, stroking her back. "Looks like you're going to be OK."
Dana smiled. Even smiling felt unusual now. "Thanks."
"How do you feel?" Colin asked, slowly breaking the embrace.
"It's... strange," she replied. "It's hard to describe. Everything looks different now. It's like one of those old movies, where it's all in black in white. But it's all in browns and tans and... different shades of the same color. And everything's so crisp." Dana blinked a few more times. "I can see the wood grain of the TV cabinet from across the room. It's amazing."
"But how do you feel," Colin restated. "What's going through your mind right now?"
Dana concentrated for a moment. "It's weird. There's some sort of extra presence, in the back of my mind somewhere. Like another sense of balance, almost, or another ego."
"That's the wolf in you now," Colin explained. "That's the instinct I was talking about. It'll stay there, in the background, helping you sense things. Don't worry, it's not going to make you snap on anyone. It's not evil. It's just there to help you sense things better than other humans. It's kind of an amplifier. Your conscience, your senses, your intuition; they all get a little stronger when that wolf instinct is there. If you're ever confused, you can always fall back on it for guidance. That's what I did when I first saw you."
"Your instinct told you to bite me?" Dana asked.
"Not directly. It just told me to do whatever I had to in order to keep you alive that night. The first thing that came to mind was the bite." Colin smiled coyly. "And my instincts have never been wrong." Dana made a small laugh.
"Can I come in now?" Kathryn asked through the front door.
"Yeah, everything's all right now," Colin answered back.
Kathryn opened the door and walked back into the living room to meet the others. "Times like this I almost wish you had bitten me," she remarked. "I've always wondered what it must be like."
The three of them sat back down around the coffee table, Kathryn refilling the cups with tea. "Now Dana," Colin explained, "you have to realize - your life is never going to be the same. You're a completely different person than you were a couple weeks ago. This is a curse, but not in a negative sense. It's just something you'll have to consider, every moment of every day. You'll never have to change if you don't want to - except for the full moons, of course - but you do have to get used to this new part of you. Do you understand?"
Dana nodded slowly. "I think so. You'll be here to help me, right?"
"I will, sometimes. I can help you if you want to learn how to change at will, for instance, or if you want to meet with others around here like us. But some of this you'll have to do yourself. I can't tell you whether or not to tell your family, or your friends, or anyone else. I can't make you comfortable with all the new information coming in. These are things you'll have to do on your own. Like I said - use that instinct. It's there for a reason. It'll help you get used to everything. Don't run away from it. Embrace it. Embrace your lycanthropy."
"Thank you, Colin," she said, feeling her eyes well up again. "I'll try."
"You'll be all right," Kathryn added, almost tearing up herself. "I know you will."
"Thanks." Dana looked out the window once again, the full moon now visible in the sky, stars sprinkled liberally around it. She closed her eyes, smiling. Her body felt fresh, new, unadulterated. "Can I go outside?" she asked. "I want to take all of this in."
"Sure, go ahead," Kathryn replied, showing her the sliding door to their backyard.
As Dana stepped out onto the back porch, a cool breeze sneaked through her fur pelt. She stood there, watching the sky, hearing the sounds of distant insects, smelling the green grass in front of her. It felt like a symphony was performing in her mind, all of her senses playing a different instrument. Almost in a reflex, she tilted her head up, pursed her lips, and made a soft, low-pitched howl, making her own contribution to the symphony. She was there for only half an hour, but it felt like a year had passed before her eyes.
Dana soon found herself shivering in the wind. She came out of her trance and looked at herself. She had returned to human form. Her arms were pale and smooth in the moonlight. Colors had come back to her vision. The crickets that sounded so loud only minutes ago were now barely audible. She turned around and came back into Colin's house, where a fire was now burning in the fireplace.
"Enjoy your first night?" Colin asked, still in lupine form.
The word "Yes" couldn't have possibly encapsulated all that she felt. She simply gave a dull smile, sitting back down on the white sofa.
"You can stay here for the night if you want," Kathryn offered. "We'll drive you home tomorrow."
"That'd be fine," Dana replied. She snuggled up against the cushions of the sofa, letting a soft grunt of comfort as she drifted off into another dreamless sleep.