Brandy awoke with a smile on her face, it quickly faded though as her tail had emerged in her sleep. She normally didn't lose control of her transformation, but it was the blue moon.
'A full moon is bad enough, but a blue moon is ten times worse,' she thought. Then with a sigh she pulled her tail back in, and got up to get dressed. She hoped that the moon cycle would pass without any problems.
Captain Tony Benedetti watched over his troops as they trained. They were all reserve troops. In three days their training would be over. If nothing happened to activate them they would all go home at that time. This time Tony would join them. He was due for leave along with them, and he needed to consider his return. His enlistment period would soon be over, and had already been approached by an enlistment officer. He was unsure of his future with the military. He needed to make a decision, and it had to be final after his leave.
Miranda was having trouble concentrating at work. She kept daydreaming. She wanted to run; she wanted to be free. She was tired of being human. She knew some of it was the moon cycle, but most of it was her. She promised herself that when she was done with work she would take her days, and go into the woods. It helped her to concentrate a bit more knowing she would soon be free of her human body.
***Three days later***
Captain Tony Benedetti was bidding farewell to his reserved troops, when he received a call. He listened carefully, and then hung up his cell. "Company at attention!" He called over the discussions of his men. They all fell silent and assembled into formation. He surveyed them. He knew they wanted to go home, but he was thankful this happened so soon after training. "Men, we have been activated! Go call you friends or families and tell them you will not be returning home for a while."
"Sir, how long, sir?" One of the men, Corporal Ryan Acers, asked.
"If we're lucky a few days, however it could be more than a week." He saw some of the men's eyes widen. "Go, call your people, and be by the statue in half an hour." He turned and walked away. The only person he had to call was the woman whom walked his dog. That was one of the reasons he was considering leaving the military. He wanted friends, especially away from the military, but most of all he wanted a wife and family.
Brandy was grateful it was only a half day of work for her. It was her weekend, and she couldn't wait to have breakfast with Miranda. Miranda was like her, and together they had been trying to find others. They wanted a social group, but it was difficult to find their kind. Brandy had discovered Miranda's secret by luck and accident. Miranda had partially transformed when she had been wounded at Brandy's house. It wasn't severe, but in combination with the full moon it was enough to force her to reveal herself. Brandy managed to coax her back to human by transforming herself.
That night they formed an unbreakable friendship, and Brandy learned about another race. Brandy knew there were all kinds of races of her kind, of the Sphinxes, but she hadn't met many of them. Miranda was a P. Leo, an African lion. They were a wild sort, and had spent less than two generations living among humans. Because of that they were less able to control their transformations, and when moderately wounded they reverted to their feline form. It proved to be problematic for most, and consequently they stayed in smaller communities. Brandy and Miranda had a plan though. They had yet to use it, but it was reassuring to know it was there.
It was the first thing on Brandy's mind when Miranda's coworker said she hadn't called or showed for work. Brandy first dialed Miranda's home, then her cell, but neither was answered. She drove as quickly as she could to Miranda's home. A growing feeling of dread was consuming her. Miranda was reliable for a P. Leo, and this was completely unlike her. When Brandy got to Miranda's house, she automatically noticed there was no car in sight. Brandy knocked on the door, and when it brought no response pounded on it. Then she pulled out her keys, and let herself in. She searched the house, but found nothing out of the ordinary. She did see that Miranda had taken her day bag wherever she had gone. That meant she went somewhere that she could run free for a while.
Finally Brandy accepted defeat, and left the house. As she was locking up a neighbor called out, "She hasn't been home since Friday afternoon.
Brandy nodded in thanks, and quickly drove home. As she walked in the door to her own house she turned on the T.V. to the news. Then she set about the task of contacting Miranda's few family members. None of them had heard from her or were willing to come to the city to look.
As Brandy set down the phone feeling emotionally exhausted, the news went to a breaking news story. A lion had been spotted in the woods surrounding a nearby town, and several children were missing. The military was being called in to hunt down and capture the animal, with the hope that the children were still alive. Brandy was glued to the bulletin. When it was over she was up collecting various things around her house: Clothes, camping gear, food and water. The last thing she loaded was a cooler of ice containing vials of blood and syringes. It was carefully buckled into the passenger seat, and then Brandy got into her car. As she drove out of town she prayed she could track Miranda before the military did.
Tony checked over his men's camp and the perimeter on last time before reporting to the major in charge. Major Curtis Delmar approved of the progress, and then filled Tony in on what the plans were for the following day. Tony listened intently, and looked over the maps. His men, being the freshest in training, would be on the front line. He would be the main source of information of what was happening to the major. As plans were discussed Tony had to keep reminding himself that this wasn't a battle just a stray lion.
Brandy was told she couldn't enter the national park at five in the evening. She turned around without asking why, and drove away. She drove for three hours backtracking then pursuing a new course. She knew several ways into the park, and went to the least know one hoping it would be unguarded. She was rewarded for her knowledge, and entered the park with no difficulties. She drove for another two hours in the dark, lights off, with ears and eyes of a feline. She found a good campsite that was slightly off the beaten path. She then fully transformed into her feline form. She scouted the same perimeter Tony had earlier, and found its weakest point. Then she returned to her car satisfied that it was far enough away from the army men, and setup a meager camp with no fire. She returned to the perimeter, and managed to penetrate it without difficulties. She spent about an hour poking around but found no trace of Miranda. She gave up around midnight and returned to camp. When she reached it she turned back into her human form, and fell into a light sleep with dreams of lions.
Tony's men attempted to track the beast, while he was following up on the missing person's reports. He currently was sitting with one woman whose adolescent son had been missing for three days. She was nervous and twitchy. Her eyes kept darting toward the back door as if she was afraid something or someone would come through it at any moment. Tony observed all of this and let it roll around in his mind. He was an excellent judge of character, and this woman was setting off alarms in his mind. While he thought over her behavior her asked,
"Ma'am, please tell me again why, when your son went missing, you made no mention of lion, or his disappearance for that matter?" He had his pen and note pad ready for her response, but he was watching her for stubble body language.
"I didn't think the lion had anything to do with it. He is a teenage boy. Some times when we fight he goes camping in the woods for a few days with his friends. So I thought nothing of it until he didn't come back, and I never received a call from one of the other moms." She paused, then added, "Corporal, please don't think of me as a bad mother. I do my best, and it is hard without help from his father. It's hard for both of us, but we do our best, and it's all we can do."
Sheila was lying. She knew the lion; Sheila knew what the lion was. She knew it was normally harmless. Her son often went to run with it. She was never bothered by it. She understood what it was like to deal with the wild inside. She had struggled herself. So she allowed it. She only reported her son missing because she knew it would look suspicious if she didn't. He always went for a day or two, but never more. He was responsible. At first he was treated as a runaway, he was a teenager after all, but then other children began to go missing too. All the parents had something to hide, and never spoke of the lion. That was until the nosy human Gladus spotted it. That was when the national park officials called the military, and got them involved.
Tony noted that she had called him a corporal, but dismissed it. "And the mountain lion, have you seen it before?" Tony asked baiting her. Tony knew she was lying about something; he just was sure about what yet. Tony was re-interviewing all of the mothers. Something wasn't adding up, there were too many holes, and he wanted to know why.
"Lion, as in African Lion. I know the difference between an African lion, and a Cougar. And no, I haven't seen it before." Sheila replied.
"As does everyone else in this town apparently." Tony muttered mainly to himself. So far every parent with a child missing made sure that he knew it was an African lion. Gladus, however, wasn't so sure.
"Have you seen it in the last day or two?" He asked Sheila. His baiting had worked, and confirmed to him something was odd here. Why else would all the parents make sure he knew that it was an African Lion and not a cougar? It was as if they didn't want any other animals mistaken for the lion.
"No." She said shortly. "I've already told this to the sheriff, and two other military men. It hasn't changed." Her face had taken on a hard mean look.
"Of course." He said standing. "I apologize for taking so much of your time. And thank you for your hospitality and cooperation." He headed toward the door with Sheila not too far behind. With his hand on the knob he turned and said, "We have found blood in the woods, and a man reported shooting a mountain lion. Was the African lion wounded when you last saw it?" Another bait Tony was basing on a hunch.
Sheila's eyes widened as her worst fears were realized. She managed to shrug not trusting her voice to be steady, and not betray her. Tony left, and Sheila flopped on the couch finally understanding recent events. Outside the door Tony had a smile on his face as he had confirmed his suspicions that something was going on, and the parents were covering something up. Tony was determined more than ever to find out what.
Major Delmar was angry at the lack of progress. He was even more infuriated that three of his men went missing last night on the perimeter. One had been found this morning. He had been knocked out by something or someone. He had been on the edge of the perimeter. Delmar thought that there was a possibility someone had snuck in. He assumed it was an overzealous media person. He ordered the forest to be searched for any civilians. The other two were discovered in the afternoon. Their bodies had been horribly mutilated. The only animals to feed on them were scavengers, but it was obvious a large cat had killed them both. It was looking as though the lion was trying to send a message.
It did worry Delmar that the two dead men were on the perimeter to protect the men, but thankfully the lions hadn't ravaged anyone inside the camp. Delmar had been insured that the men's deaths had been quick. He ordered more men to each perimeter. This was a simple seek and capture mission. He was dammed if one lion was going to evade him.
Around lunch time Brandy drove through the forest after packing up her camp. She found a new place to camp that was closer to the town. After several moments of hesitation she ventured into the town. She purchased more ice, and a few food items. She told anyone who asked that she was just passing through. She acted oblivious to what was going on in the town, but kept an ear open for any useful information. She heard nothing, but it didn't surprise her. Before she left the town for her camp she filled her car with gas. At the station she received several odd looks from another woman. As Brandy was about to leave the woman approached her.
"We don't want our affairs all over the news," the woman said rudely.
"Excuse me?" Brandy replied trying to look confused. She understood this woman had mistaken her for the media, and that was fine with Brandy.
"Please." The woman rolled her eyes, and looked exasperated. "You happen to show up in town right now, and know nothing of what is going on? You reek of media. Leave now." Sheila was tired of all the commotion and attention. She just wanted to get back to her semi-normal life.
"Look I don't want any trouble," Brandy said. The woman smelled odd to Brandy. She hoped it was just due to stress, but she didn't want to stay long enough to find out. She opened the door to get in her car, but was prevented from doing so.
Sheila had smelled blood the instant Brandy had opened her car door. It was faint, but there was no mistaking the smell. She latched a hand onto Brandy's wrist. Could this woman be one of them? Possibly here to help stop the lions rampage?
"Who are you?" She asked.
"No one." Brandy replied. She had to resist the growl that wanted to escape her throat.
An idea formed in Sheila's mind. She would 'form her eyes. If the woman freaked out then she was no one, and would most likely chalk it up to a small crazy town. She would probably never speak of it to anyone for fear of ridicule. Watching closely for a reaction, Sheila did just that, and 'formed her eyes. It was just a flash, where Sheila had cat eyes for no more than a few seconds.
Brandy saw and understood. The woman whom held her had smelled the blood. Brandy glanced around, and then looked at the woman holding her. She did the same with her own eyes. She nodded to the woman, and she released her. A low meow slipped from Brandy's throat. "Mother?"
Sheila nodded, and a meow came from her. "Family?"
Brandy shook her head, and another meow came from her. "Friend." The conversation was short, but the association was made. The whole thing took place so quietly that someone five feet away wouldn't have heard anything.
Brandy and Sheila parted ways there, but went to the same place. Sheila went home like normal, and Brandy drove away. She found a place to park her car where it wouldn't be seen or noticed, and then followed Sheila's sent. She found Sheila's house easily, and knocked on the back door. It was opened almost immediately. Once Brandy was inside she found several women, and even a few men gathered. They introduce themselves as the parents of all the missing children. They went to Sheila's living room where Tony had sat a few hours earlier that day.
As Sheila sat she asked Brandy, "May I ask what you are?"
"Tenth generation F. Concolor. You?" Brandy accepted the water that Sheila offered her, and sat herself.
"Fifth L. Rufus. Can you help the lion?"
"I think so. Miranda and I have a plan, but the military are complicating it. Do you know how long she's been hurt for?" Brandy didn't have time for small talk, and Sheila and everyone else present understood that.
"At least three days now, possibly more like four of five days. I've seen her with two younger male P. Leos. I've never seen them before, and when I attempted to talk to them they said they didn't socialize with domestics." Sheila wanted to help as much as she could. Not just because she wanted her son back, but because she cared about the lion. And she hope if anything like this ever happened to her that someone would care enough to help her. They were relatively alone in a sea of humans, and needed to stick together as much as possible. Sheila would even go out to help look if she thought she wouldn't be noticed, and could help, but Sheila knew it was impossible. Sheila and the other mothers and fathers were being watched, and Sheila's feline form was very small; she was only a bobcat. There would be too much of a chance of her getting hurt up against three African lions.
"Feral?" Brandy asked. They would be difficult to contend with if they were in fact feral. She did hope they hadn't gotten a taste for blood that would make them even harder to deal with.
"I think so. None of us believe our children are in any danger; we just worry about bringing them back from being in the wild for so long. It's a lure that's hard to resist." Sheila spoke for all the parents. They had met earlier, after Corporal Tony had departed that morning.
Brandy nodded in understanding. Even as a tenth generation she had a problem resisting the instinct to go wild. It was something that any Sphinx living among humans had to contend with. "Miranda and the two ferals will have to be eliminated as pack leaders before the children will return willingly."
"Even then…" Sheila trailed off not wanting to voice her worries for fear it might make them more likely. She feared the call of the wild would be too strong even for her son. The two women fell silent each considering the worst outcome. Sheila broke the silence by asking, "Can you defeat three lions?"
Brandy regarded her solemnly. "Miranda I can easily. The ferals… I will do my best. I hope they aren't too close to fully grown." Brandy knew if the two both attacked her at once she had no chance, and if she picked them off one by one she might not be able to do it. She set aside that thinking until the time came for it. "When and where was the last time Miranda was seen?"
Sheila retrieved a map of the area speckled with red, green, and blue dots. Sheila spread it out over the coffee table and explained, "We went over this morning. The red dots are where Miranda has been spotted, the blue are the males, and the green are the children missing. The dates are here," she pointed, "Next to the dots."
Brandy reviewed the map briefly, then folded it and stored it away. "Thank you." She said as she stood.
Sheila nodded, "Of course." Then before Brandy left she said, "There is one more thing. I'm not too sure how important it is, but one of the military men, Corporal Tony Benditti, I think he is suspicious."
"Of us and what we are?" Brandy asked.
"Not really, but I think he realizes there is more going on here than we are telling."
Brandy let this sink in, and she began to roll it around in her mind. She knew he could be dangerous, and it only made her task more difficult. Brandy nodded. "Thank you." She said again, and then left. She returned to her car, and disappeared into the woods surrounding the town.