I sat on my front porch late in the evening and stared out at the forest with a contemplative look on my face. I was unsure of exactly how long I'd been out here, but I came out shortly after dinner to watch the sun set. It had been a brilliant display, with many reds, oranges and pinks.

I had sighed and watched it with admiration and envy, the same look I gave my mother or brother, and sometimes even my younger sister. It had long since turned night, and now the outside world was the same dark that came every other night that slowly lulled me to sleep.

I cast my eyes downward at the thought of the long gone sunset. It made me feel sad to see it go so soon, but at least it would be back tomorrow. I shook my head and returned my thoughts toward the conversation my mother had brought up at the dinner table. We'd discussed the worst possible topic in the world: my specialization.

As if my mother could read my thoughts, she suddenly appeared next to me and gave me a concerned stare.

"Valarie..." she began, and I sent her a hard look that clearly meant this conversation was not welcome, but she ignored it and continued. "Sometimes it's just a little difficult to find the right one, you know?"

I stared at her stupidly.

"Are you giving me relationship advice?" I asked dryly, knowing very well that was not the case.

My mother gave me a warning look and I shut up, though.

"You shouldn't worry about it. It will come with time," my mother said, and this made my anger bubble through the surface.

"No it won't! It hasn't for 18 years and it never will," I snapped bitterly.

My mother looked at me for a long time as if she were studying my very soul, and I felt sorry for taking such a tone with her. Before I could apologize, though, she stood up and walked back inside, the screen door making a quiet click as she closed it.

I watched her walk to her room and shut the door, and then looked at my brother as he stared at me through the window. I winced and turned back around before I could upset anyone else.

My problem is pretty rare. My family was made of shape-shifters, and we lived in a town of nothing but shape-shifters. Humans were not welcome at all. When shape-shifters turn 14, they're supposed to 'find' the animal that they turn into, or in other words, they specialize. I still haven't found mine, and I'm 18.

Sometimes people are late, and that's okay. But no one has ever been four years late. I waited and waited, and when the time came I went on the spiritual quest that every shape-shifter undergoes in order to specialize. My parents were shocked when I came out of the three-day trance induced by the elders empty handed.

After a few months, people began to whisper and spread rumors about me being a half-breed. This hurt me very much. A half-breed was someone who was the result of a human and a shape-shifter procreating, and the freaks of nature were welcome in neither society, but worst of all the shape-shifters. Shape-shifters hated half-breeds with a passion, and they went so far as to kill them whenever they crossed paths.

My mother had sworn up and down that I was indeed pure-bred, and so did the rest of my family, but no one really believed them, no matter how adamant we were about it. It wasn't too bad at first, but when I called my best friend one day and she'd told me how much she hated me because I had tainted blood, I'd secluded myself from the rest of the world and given up all hope.

It had gotten so bad that I couldn't even go into town anymore to do anything because everyone hates me so much. I just kept wondering when it would ever end, if I should just kill myself, or if I should run away to the mountains and start anew.

I considered running away this very moment, and I went inside and grabbed all of my money and shoved it into my pocket. After some careful thought, though, I lost courage and laid down in my bed. I cried for a while, then after that finally stopped I lay on my back and stared up at the ceiling, thinking why the hell it even mattered who I was or what I did.

My entire life, I'd thought that just being who I am was the only thing that mattered. Turns out I was very wrong. You had to be pretty, you had to have style, blah blah blah... I used to have a lot of friends before everyone started hating me. I didn't really think of myself as anything special, just about normal.

I stood at a mere five feet tall, and weighed in at just one-hundred-and-five pounds even with my athletic build. My hair was curly and light-blonde, and my eyes a glowing amber. Like any other shape-shifter, I smelled of petrichor.

I was absolutely normal as far as I was concerned. But I guess people liked me because I was pretty before they thought I was a half-breed.

I lay there contemplating again about running away when I was distracted by the sound of many feet thudding around outside. I immediately got up to investigate, but had to duck when a brick came flying through my window, shattering it to thousands of teeny-tiny pieces.

I gaped at the mess on the floor, then gasped a a Molotov cocktail sailed through the now broken window and hit the wall behind me. I stared at it in horror, and then looked to my door for escape, but the fire had already spread to the door frame and was hungrily eating it up.

I pushed my feet into my shoes and jumped out the window, only to smack into a group of angry-looking shape-shifters. I slowly looked around, and the only sound was my erratic heartbeat and the flames licking at the dry wood of my house.

"What do you think you're doing?" she shouted at them, and one burly farmer stepped up.

"Only pure blood is welcome in this community, and you're Tainted. You're either gonna leave or die," he explained with a voice that was deadly and calm.

Tears came to my eyes as the family members in my house woke up and started screaming and crying. I could hear the back door opening, and knew that they would all make it out.

"I am not one of the Tainted! You're stupid idiots!" I shouted angrily, then ran away from them as fast as I could.

I heard roars, screeches, howls and more as they all shifted into animal form and began chasing me. I ran and ran, and the only way out was the woods. I finally made it into the forest, and in there I lost them. My legs ached and my lungs were burning, but I kept running until I reached a cliff.

Here, I collapsed onto the ground and began crying. I was angry and sad that everyone could hate someone else so much for unjustified reasons that I just wanted to curl up and die.

After a long time, I finally sat up and looked around. I wiped away the tears from my eyes and sniffed the air, and my eyes widened in realization. I could smell humans! I stood up on tired legs and peered over the cliff. Sure enough, there was a town strait below me that followed one of the rivers leading into the ocean from Lake Evermore. A human town.

I sat back down and thought for a while. My entire life, I'd been taught to never hang around humans because they were evil and unworthy. After several moments I had an epiphany. The other shape-shifters just chased me from the home I had lived in my entire life, and it was uncalled for.

Were shape-shifters really so different from humans after all?