Becca leapt forward and bolted for the far end of the pasture. The sound of the engine's whine increased as she ran. The wind whipped past her. In the distance she saw the barbed wire floating above the tops of the grass. She raced toward it. The motorcycle engine roared just behind her. Becca surged forward. The rusted wire hovered just in front of her, flashing in the motorcycle's headlights. She dove under it, yelping as the barbs snagged on her dusky fur. She wriggled through and kept running. Behind her, the engine sputtered to a halt, then fall silent.
In the sudden stillness of the night, Becca heard a tiny click. The safety was off! She surged forward with all her remaining strength. She darted into the grass, trying to put as much distance as possible between herself and the figure on the motorcycle.
Suddenly, Becca heard a sharp crack behind her. Something burned her shoulder. She yelped, and tumbled over into the grass, whining in pain. She tried to burrow into the thick grass, out of the line of sight. Her ears pricked up. She struggled to listen over the rasping sound of her own breathing.
The rifle was silent.
"Damn coyotes," she heard the figure say. She lay still. The sound of the motorcycle engine faded into the distance. She lifted her head and licked gently at the wound on her shoulder. It still burned, but it wasn't deep. The bullet had only grazed her. Becca pushed herself to a standing position and tried walking. She limped slightly, but she could still move.
Becca moved slowly through the tall grass. The frigid wind nipped at her gray fur. The starlight had faded; thick clouds now covered the night sky. Becca's muscles ached and her shoulder burned. Fatigue began to settle in the pockets of her joints and her stomach snarled. A herd of deer floated past her, waif-like, but she no longer had the strength to hunt. A soft dusting of snow began to tumble around her. She sighed, and limped on.
In the back room of the convenience store, Becca had sat in a cold metal folding chair while the security guard filled out a report. "Name?" he asked her. She pulled out her student ID card and flicked it across the table at him. He glared at her and began to write. She tapped her foot irritably against the leg of the chair. The guard ignored her and continued writing.
Becca read the form upside down as he wrote. Name. Age. Physical description. Race/Ethnicity. She coughed suddenly. "That's wrong."
The guard looked up. "Excuse me?"
"There." Becca pointed to where he had written "Indian." "That's wrong."
The guard sighed. "Sorry. Did you prefer 'squaw'?" he said as he erased it.
"No!" Becca said sharply. The guard looked up again. She tried to keep the tears out of her voice. "I'm Sioux. Oglala Sioux," she snapped. She raised her chin slightly. "Man Afraid of His Horse clan."
The guard glared at her again and chewed his lip. Becca met his stare. The guard began to write again, and Becca leaned across the table to read it. "Race/Ethnicity: Indian." She dropped back in her chair and rolled her eyes. The guard looked at her wryly. "Another one of you Indians from Pine Ridge. Can't seem to stay out of trouble, huh?"
Becca glared at him but said nothing. The guard finished the report and picked up Becca's backpack. He emptied it on the table and watched as her books and pencils scattered across the table and hit the floor. "Hey!" Becca shouted. "What are you doing?"
The guard began to paw through her belongings. "Nothing. Just looking for your headdress," he smirked. "Nothing else stolen in here, is there?"
Becca seized the bag and began sweeping her belongings back inside. "I didn't steal anything," she snapped. "I didn't even take your stupid magazine."
The guard picked up the magazine on the table and fanned himself with it. "It's against store policy to take magazines into another aisle," he drawled. "Doing so is considered intention of theft. It's on a sign in the magazine stand. Didn't you see it?"
Becca bit her lip and said nothing. She stared fixedly at the table. She didn't know what to say. No, she hadn't seen it because the cashier following her around had unnerved her? The guard would just say she wouldn't have been nervous if she hadn't intended to do something illegal. The cashier would just say he was doing his job by monitoring the store to prevent shoplifting. She couldn't win. Becca felt suddenly tired. She lifted her eyes and stared at the guard. "Fine. You have your magazine and your stupid report. Can I leave now?"
The guard went to the phone then, and asked for her home number. Becca gave it to him without ever taking her eyes off his face.
Out on the prairie, Becca plodded on through the darkness. The wind was beginning to chill her, but at least the cold numbed her to the ache in her legs. The snowdrifts piled up around her as fine as powdered sugar. Her wounded leg dragged gashes in the snow alongside her paw prints. The icy darkness began to pale along the horizon.
Finally she raised her head, and stopped. In the distance she could see tiny lights flashing through the snow. The street lights of Rapid City flashed on the snowy horizon like tiny sprinkles on a frosted cake. Becca pulled herself up to the crest of a small hill and sat back on her haunches. She had made it, but she began to wonder if it meant anything. She thought of what Charlie had said right after Deanna's baby was born: "Babies having babies. I don't mean just Deanna, I mean all of them out at the high school. It's just- they can't get a break, you know? No one's looking out for them. Their parents are either trying to make rent or post bail. And what the hell else are they going to do after school? Practice their jump shots? They just can't win. We," he had corrected himself sharply, "we just can't win."
Becca felt a lump rise in her throat. She blinked back tears, and admitted to herself that Charlie might never come back, even if she told him the truth. She, Deanna, Joseph, even Deanna's baby...they were all just "those Indians from Pine Ridge," as far as Charlie was concerned. They stole things, they got pregnant - it didn't matter what they did. He saw all of it as just another way to keep him here - away from Ellsworth, away from what he really wanted. Becca closed her eyes against the throbbing lump in her throat. Charlie didn't want this. He didn't want to sit here on the reservation and watch Deanna's baby grow, knowing the downy-cheeked infant would eventually turn into another of "those Indians from Pine Ridge," and believing he could do nothing to prevent it.
He had to leave, because he simply wasn't strong enough to stay.
Suddenly overcome with fatigue, Becca threw back her head and let out a long, lugubrious howl. Her throat poured out all the ache of hours of travel, of cold, of Charlie, of the security guard, of knowing that after all she might still lose everything. She longed to be at home, where it was safe and she knew her mother and grandfather would help her and protect her. She wailed for Deanna and her baby, for all her friends, for the ones who couldn't leave the reservation and the ones who couldn't leave themselves. Because they were still all just "those Indians from Pine Ridge." Becca howled again and again, listening as the last notes were torn away by the wind and carried off into the distance.
The sky was in full blush and the streetlights had faded by the time she limped into the city. She nosed along the perimeter for Charlie's scent, taking care to stay out of view of the few cars already chugging on the highway. She knew the figure in the pasture somewhere behind her was not the only one who carried a rifle.
Just as the sun burst over the horizon, Becca dragged her sore paws up the snow-powdered walkway of a cheap motel. The changement hit her as she froze outside the door to a room that reeked of Charlie. She collapsed against the door, not caring if anyone saw her. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply until she felt the warm sun against her bare skin. She opened them, shivering, wrapped a tattered newspaper sheet around herself for warmth, and then knocked on the door.
The motel room door swung open. Becca was too tired to lift her head, but she recognized Charlie's boots and smiled weakly. "Hey," she murmured.
"Becca?!" Charlie fell to his knees and grasped her shoulders. "What the- How did you get here? How the hell did you find us? Grandpa!" he called into the room. "Get out here! It's Becca!"
Becca heard her grandfather's step on the walkway and looked up. "Hey," she said again. Her grandfather pulled off his parka and draped it over her shoulders. She zipped up the front, then discreetly peeled off a strip of newspaper and wedged it under her thigh.
Charlie was flabbergasted. "How the hell did you get here?" he repeated. "Where are all your clothes? Oh my God!" He seized her wounded arm, and she cried out in pain. "What happened? Did someone hurt you?" He glanced at the trail of pawprints in the snow. "Did something attack you, Becca?"
Her grandfather leaned over and gently touched her wound. Becca winced. "It's fine," she said. "Someone took a shot at me, is all. They didn't see me clearly in the dark. The bullet didn't go in, though. It just hurts a little."
Her grandfather nodded. "Brave girl," he said.
He suddenly put a hand on Charlie's shoulder. Charlie fell silent. Becca lowered her head. She knew her grandfather was reading the prints in the snow.
"They're fresh," he muttered to himself. "Within the last hour. Some kind of large dog, too big for a coyote. Looks almost like a wolf. One leg is wounded, but not severely – it was able to put a leg down, just not with full weight. Also," he said with a sudden glance at Becca, "there's no sign of human prints anywhere."
Charlie stared at her. She saw him glance at the prints in the snow, then turn back to her. She saw realization dawning over his face. "No," he said finally. He shook his head. "It's impossible. It's just a story."
Becca pushed herself up and leaned against the door frame. She stared Charlie in the eyes. "No," she said simply. "It's not just a story. It's true. I've had it for months. I came to tell you that. And also, that the arrest- it's not true. I mean, I did get arrested, but I didn't steal anything. The security guard...and the cashier...and this old lady in the store..." Suddenly she was crying, and she couldn't stop. "I didn't steal anything! They said I did, they just looked at me and said I did, but I didn't, I just didn't see their stupid sign!"
Charlie put his arm around her. "Shhh, it's okay," he said softly. "I believe you. It's okay. I know how you feel." He folded his arms around her. "We'll fix this. We'll get you out of here," he added. "Once I get posted, I'll send for you so you don't have to stay here anymore."
Becca suddenly jerked out of his grasp. "No!" she said sharply. "I don't want to leave. I love it here. I want to stay here, with Mom and Grandpa. You can go. You go!" she shouted suddenly, pushing him away. "You can go, you can get your posting, and then come back. Or don't come back. I don't care. But I'm staying. And Mom, and Grandpa, and Joseph, and...and...Deanna and her baby, we're all staying. You can leave, but we'll stay. We'll look out for the kids at the high school. I can use this, this...my changement, my "becoming," I can use it. To help them. To find those kids, go to them wherever they are, all over Pine Ridge, and show them how to be washtay. And I'll find others, other loup-garou like me, and get them to help, too. And we'll change things, we'll make them better, because the kids will finally have someone looking out for them. So they don't have to give up. So you can go, you can run, if you want to. But I'm staying."
Charlie stared at her in shock. She didn't care; she was crying too hard to breathe. Her grandfather pulled her close and she buried her face in his chest. She breathed deeply his thick scent of tobacco. Her grandfather's powerful arms held her, and gradually she felt calm again.
"You can go," she said again, turning to Charlie. "I'll miss you. We'll all miss you. But we'll be here waiting when you come back. And then you can help us make the tribe stronger."
Charlie nodded mutely and put a hand on her back. Becca felt her grandfather's gentle kiss on the top of her head, and smiled. "Washtay, Becca," she heard her grandfather murmur. "It's good."
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Just to avoid any confusion, I would like to add a quick caveat explaining what is real in this story and what is my own invention. Pine Ridge Reservation, the Badlands, Rapid City and Ellsworth are all real locations in South Dakota. "Washtay" is a real word that, according to my interpretation based on news articles where it appeared, means "good" or "harmonious." However, it is a Lakota Sioux term, so its use among the Oglala may not be entirely accurate. If anyone knows of a more appropriate term, please let me know and I will adapt the story to reflect that.
The myths mentioned in this story are all real, but they are also Lakota, so (again) their use here among the Oglala may not be entirely accurate. Some readers may wonder why I chose to make Becca an Oglala Sioux given the limited information available - the answer is that the only military base in South Dakota is Ellsworth, and wolves can only travel up to 30 miles a day, so getting Becca from the Rosebud Reservation (where the Lakota live) to Rapid City in a day and a half would have been unrealistic, and extending her travel time would have added a lot of unnecessary complications to the story.
Historically, there were French trappers in South Dakota, and they may have intermarried with the Oglala Sioux, but whether any of them were werewolves is anyone's guess, so that part is my own invention. The anecdotes included here, specifically Charlie's comment to the driver, Deanna's surprise pregnancy, and Becca's experiences at the convenience store, are all based on real events involving Native Americans. It is out of respect for the many Native Americans working to maintain their own cultures that I felt it necessary to delineate what is real here, and what is fiction.