Chapter One

The Change

The shift-ending whistle blew inside the textile factory where Christopher Lynch toiled each day. Much to his delight another workday was over, and being Thursday, the weekend was a little bit closer. Only one more ten hour shift stood between him and the freedom of a couple of days without the timeclock's rule. As he left his station, falling in line with the rest of his fellow first-shifters in their cattle-like herd that migrated toward the release of punching their timecards, he wondered what the coming weekend might bring, hoping for an opportunity to catch up on some much needed rest.

Standing in the steadily moving line before the wall-mounted timeclock, his mind no longer bound by the demands of his hourly duties, Chris' thoughts drifted to where a strange and troubling dream that had been haunting his nights, leaving him awake for hours afterward, took him so often; to a beautiful yet terrified young girl. His late night spectre.

The girl, whose nightly visitation had become as sure as the dark of night itself, lived with such a vividness in Chris' mind that he was certain she had to be real. He could easily recount in his mind's eye every last detail of her appearance, from the raven-black hair that spilled over onto her shoulders, to the sleeves of her burgundy cardigan that pulled away from her wrists when she reached out to him with her pleading brown eyes.

She was always in the midst of some sinister force whose presence was always felt, but never seen. Surrounded by a thick darkness, she would reach for Chris and implore him with streaming tears to rescue her, but he was never allowed. Each time he tried and each time he was bound by claw-like fetters that sprang from the ground and took hold of his ankles with a sure grip that he could not break, no matter how much he snatched and beat against them.

Inevitably, the girl, against her will with sobs and outstretched arms that pulled at Chris' desire to save her, would be swallowed up by the dark force around her, leaving Chris with a final glimpse of her frightened eyes.

Chris' turn at the timeclock came, so he snapped into action, grabbing the card with his first initial and last name printed on it from it's slot in the adjacent cardholder, then sliding it down into the narrow mouth of the ticking machine until it stamped the proof of his shift onto the card with a mechanical thud. He returned the card to it's home in the holder and started on a direct path to the exit, throwing a few good-bye waves to some coworkers he passed along the way. The noise of the plant was too much for vebal good-byes unless they yelled.

Outside in the crisp air of a late fall afternoon with a cloudy sky, Chris shoved his hands into the warmth of his pants pockets and began his daily hike toward the apartment complex where he called apartment 2-C home. The complex was only a few blocks away, which aided his plans of saving up an escape fund by avoiding the unnecessary expenses that came with owning an automobile. Chris was determined to leave the small, eventless town of Torrell in his wake as soon as his carefully plotted, and often daydreamed escape could be afforded.

Torrell wasn't a bad place by any means, it just wasn't modern enough for a twenty-four year old with aspirations of connecting with the world to flourish. To the northeast, about one day's journey by bus, was the booming metropolis of Bergstad that the entire region was known for. Chris had never been that far from Torrell, but everything he'd ever heard about the place told him it was where he needed to be; not to mention a lurking feeling from the age of five, when he was adopted, that gave him an eerie sense of belonging there.

Since the first time Chris, as a young child, remembered hearing the name of the enormous city mentioned by his foster dad while on the phone one day, he'd felt an inner connection to the place which he could never shake, or explain. Bergstad simply called out him, and when his funds allowed, he intended to answer; hoping that the city could help solve the mystery of his origins, which he knew nothing about, but pondered diligently.

Chris' foster dad, a shrewd local business owner named Samuel Lynch, offered only one explanation to Chris as to why he was orphaned, one that Chris just never really bought into; that he had been abandoned by his birth parents who left no trace of their identities. That explanation was too simple for Chris, but the records at the orphanage seemed to confirm as much when he went there as a teenager, looking for answers. The only hint of something suspicious were the dates of his registration at the orphanage and the time of his adoption, which were only two days apart.

Samuel was another reason why Chris was adamant about leaving Torrell. His foster dad was more of a hard-nosed businessman than any kind of father, always putting the affairs of the inherited family business ahead of family, which was the one thing Chris desired most. He'd grown up an only child in the Lynch household, which also lacked any type of mother figure since Samuel never married, and rarely brought any female acquaintances home. That made the Lynch Mansion a very lonely place for a very lonely child.

Chris and Samuel often clashed over the direction of Chris' life, with Samuel pushing him toward the family business of running the multiple factories owned by Samuel in Torrell, but Chris had never been inclined to take those reins. He didn't want to be in Samuel's cold shadow, nor was he comfortable with the looming responsibilities of a last name that wasn't really his. The Lynch name loomed generously over the small town after generations of those bearing it became Torrell's most honored benefactors.

Chris wanted the name that was his birthright, whatever it may be, for better or worse; not the one synonymous with purchased honor. He wanted to know if the title of son would ever apply to him with the meaning of love behind it. He wanted to carve his own path in life instead of taking one already hewn for him, that's why he worked at the only factory in town not owned by Samuel. He wanted to be more than just an heir to someone, he wanted to matter. He craved a life outside of the confining boundries of Torrell, one with more purpose than just punching a timeclock day in and day out.

The apartment complex finally came into view, as did the convenience store across the street and the quaint little market/diner combo that provided Chris with his grocery needs. One advantage of living in the heart of a small town was that most anything needed was within walking distance, another plus for the escape fund. Chris made his way to the courtyard of the complex, where he waved at a couple of his neighbors' kids who were entertaining themselves on the swingset of the complex's playground, then he started the two story climb up the outside stairs to his upper unit.

Inside the apartment Chris flipped on the lights as he headed straight for the bathroom where a long, hot shower would cleanse the filth of work from him and give him a clean start on the evening at hand. He stared at his tired, poster-boy good looks in the mirror for a moment, noticing the bags under his expressive hazil eyes, the shadow of stubble along his narrow jaw, and the unkempt pose of his thick, semi-long black hair. He wearily combed through his hair with his fingers, holding it away from his forehead and revealing an unexplained scar near the hairline on his forehead. It wasn't very big and could only be seen when he pulled the hair away, but it was a permanent reminder that there were mysteries about himself he hoped to solve one day.

After a welcome shave, Chris stripped down for the shower and a few minutes later the small bathroom was filled with the humid steam of a hot shower as he washed the day away. The fatigue brought upon him by the hours of sleep stolen by his distressed spectre in that reoccuring dream would not wash away, so once he was dried and into the comfort of his favorite lounging clothes he retired to the couch in the living room for a moment of calm before rouding something up for supper.

In the relaxing embrace of the couch, Chris leaned his head back against it's cushiony headrest, closing his eyes and slouching unintentionally into sleep. The evening passed into the night with Chris' body sprawled across the couch in an unabashed display of exhaustion. His twisted, yet peaceful, form remained that way until the dream intruded, like it had been doing for weeks. His resting body soon began to suffer a series of twitches.

The dream started out the same as it always did, with the young girl reaching out to Chris with tears and a frightened expression, and the diabolical fetters rising from the ground to restrain his attempt at a rescue from the consuming darkness, but near the end it changed. Instead of the usual ending where the girl would be swallowed by the darkness, she ran from it this time, toward Chris who found himself stretching against the fetters to receive her with open arms.

Just as her extended fingertips neared his, more fetters like the ones around Chris' ankles shot out of the darkness behind her on endless chains, clamping themselves around her delicate wrists and ankles. For an agonizing second her tears and sobs were closer to Chris' saving intentions than ever before. He watched in anger as she was pulled slowly back into the darkness by the fetters. He beat against his restraints in an exasperated rage with a surge of strength he felt rising in his body.

To his suprise the fetters cracked and crumbled away from his ankles. Not wasting any time he broke into a full sprint toward the girl, who was now partially consumed by the darkness and fading into it faster that he could get there. As he pushed with everything he had to reach her before it was too late, she cried out to him with: "Seek shade in Ridgeville!" Then she and the darkness vanished as he screeched to a halt before it, stunned by the sound of her voice which was heard for the first time, and soured by his failure to rescue her.

Chris awoke on the couch with a start, gasping for breath as if his sprint in the dreamworld had actually happened. He assembled his sprawled form into a sitting position in the middle of the couch, then felt the same surge of strength from the dream pushing against his body from within. He doubled over with gritted teeth as he tried to contain it, but when he watched his nose and mouth pull away from his face into some kind of muzzle, he panicked and lost what feeble grip he had on restraining the growing force.

He sprang up from the couch, looking cross-eyed at the change to his face, unaware that his body was stretching toward the ceiling until he felt his pants sliding up his growing legs. He looked down to find his feet ripping through his socks with beak-shaped nails, then he noticed his hands expanding into huge claws as he held them up for examination. The clothes covering his changing body began to tear away from it's emerging muscular form. He traced the elongnated fangs that grew in his mouth with his tongue, then tried to reach around with his eyes to his ears, which he could feel growing away from his head into tall points that brushed against the ceiling above.

Again he looked down to the floor, past his newly changed arms and legs which were now inhumanly long and brawny. At his feet, a thick black pelt started creeping up his stretched, muscular body; covering every inch of it with a dense fur as he watched it climb up his legs, past his now blank groin, over his stomach, across his broad chest to his arms, and then to his neck and face. He clinched his eyes closed when it covered his snout, then made for his forehead. When he finally felt it's march on his body cease, he opened his eyes and saw through the keen, purple irises of the Beast.