I was woken by someone knocking on my bedroom door to tell me that dinner was ready. I pushed myself up from my bed, grunting like an old woman, and made my way out to the dining room.
"Hey kiddo," Dad greeted me in his overly cheerful way. "How was school?"
"Granddad decided to pop over and surprise us for dinner." Dad said, there was something tight about his voice as he said it, Dad didn't have a bad relationship with his father, but for some reason it was sometimes a little tense between them. He gestured to the other side of the room where Granddad was leaning against the wall.
"G'day Ava." Granddad said in his gruff voice, using the nickname he had given me when I was young, the one he continued to call me even when everyone else started calling me Ivy. My Grandfather had lived in Jarrahwood his whole life and it showed in the way that he spoke. He often greeted people with 'G'day' and called people mate, even women. I guess you could say that he was a typical aussie male. He wore a worn, blue flannelette shirt and old faded khaki shorts. On his feet were the same black and white thongs he always wore. He was a tall man, with the long, lean build that ran in our family. He was bald and his skin showed all of the years spent working under the Australian sun. On the outside you could see that he was an old man, but his eyes were sharp and lively and he held himself with an air of authority that could at times be threatening, even predatory.
"Hey Granddad." I said in a croaky voice.
"You look like hell Ava, you been sleepin?" He asked grasping my shoulders gently and inspecting my face. I couldn't be sure exactly, but I thought I saw his nostrils flare a little, as if he were smelling me. When I nodded groggily, he threw an odd look at my Dad, which he pretended not to notice.
"Alright it's ready, come get it." Jules called from over the kitchen counter and at that, the rest of my family materialised.
Once we were all seated at the table, the usual chatter started. Usually it consisted of Adam telling us about his day right down to the mediocre little details, or Charlie, my oldest step-brother, arguing with Adam about who's turning it was to clean the pool, or Caity talking about the latest Facebook bandwagon she'd hopped onto. Y'know, normal stuff. But tonight, since Granddad was here, he did most of the talking. Granddad owned the biggest of the jarrah plantations that Jarrahwood was known for, and he told us about how Ron Stevens was once again harassing him to sell it to him. Ron Stevens was Marnie's father and he owned all the other jarrah plantations in town. He wasn't like Granddad though, he liked to think of himself as kind of a corporate big-wig, he acted like he was the most important business man in the world, as opposed to the owner of a few plantations in a small country town in Australia's south-west. The frustrating thing was that this meant he liked to think that he could bully everyone in town into being intimidated by him, that he was invincible or something. Granddad wasn't intimidated by him though, I caught a smug glint in his eyes when he told us that there was no way he'd sell up to a 'snobby city kid who was too big for his boots.' Sometimes it seemed like it was more about pride than about the plantation, but I understood pride better than anyone.
As granddad was talking, I noticed how he kept eyeing me from across the table, throwing concerned, almost nervous glances at me as I leaned my head heavily on my hand and pushed the food around my plate.
The nausea in my stomach had gotten worse and my head felt like it was about to split in half. I stared down at my plate knowing without doubt that if I tried to force anymore food down, it would just come back up again. I was devising a plan to slip away from the table with as little argument from my parents as possible when my stomach gave a violent squeeze and I swallowed hard to keep its contents down. I could feel that it was about to heave again so I whipped my chair out and sprinted to the toilet. I just managed to get my head over the bowl before the bitter acid taste of bile spread through my mouth. I made a horrible retching noise as the little food I'd eaten that day stained the bowl. When my stomach was empty, I'd barely reached up to flush before a white hot flash of heat tore down my spine, ripping a strained scream from my chest. The scream sounded more like a groan though as my chest constricted and every muscle in my body convulsed. My vision blackened at the edges as pain tore through my body. It felt like my bones were being crushed, my muscles were on fire and my skin was being shredded. Every cell felt like it was being stabbed at with a white hot branding iron. I heard a sound that was caught somewhere between a human scream and an animal howl. It wasn't until later that I'd realise the sound had come from me.
Vaguely I remember feeling strong hands grab me by the shoulders and yank me up off the ground. Then I was being shoved outside through the laundry door. Someone continued to shove me from behind until I was in the yard. But by then I couldn't stay on my feet and I collapsed screaming and growling into a writhing, convulsing heap on the back lawn. The breaking, ripping, burning sensation building until finally it exploded. I honestly thought that I had exploded, it was like something bursting through my skin.
Just as quickly as the agony had come on, it subsided. I stood up gingerly and looked around me. Even though I was sure that it was dark outside, I could make out everything around me with an icy clarity, I could see things that I never would have been able to before even in the daylight. I could hear sounds and detect smells I couldn't before as well. My first thought was, 'What am I?' Or, at least it would have been, if I was able to form coherent thoughts. But I found thoughts and memories coming to me, not in words but in flashes of colour, scents, emotions and only vaguely familiar sounds.
From my right side, there was a babble of sounds and an overwhelming wall of scents hit me. I looked toward where it was coming from and saw bodies moving toward me. I could see the faces, but none of them meant anything to me anymore. I could hear the words they said, but I couldn't understand any of them. Their smells told me I knew them, but their voices were high pitched and panicked, it frightened me. Something had taken over control of me, something primal, something animal. I made a noise that warned the bodies to stay away from me, but their voices only grew higher and more panicked, they huddled together in a group. Something told me that I didn't want to hurt them but I would if I had they got too close. I growled louder and snapped hoping they would get the message, but another form blocked my view of them. This form was so alien and yet more familiar to me than the small scared bodies behind it. It turned to face me and made a noise that I heard as a command, one I found myself unable to refuse. If he had been able to form words, and if I had been able to understand them, I would have heard, "Run, now!"
Obediently, I darted from behind him and sprinted on all fours for whatever exit I could find. An obstacle became visible in front of me but before I even thought about it, my body was poised to spring. I cleared the obstacle easily and continued to run, instinctively following my nose to find a place that was safe.
A gust of wind ruffled my fur and on it I caught hold of a scent that I'd never smelled before, yet it was strangely familiar to me, as if I'd known it all my life. I followed it eagerly.
After some time, (I couldn't say how much, the concept of time seemed to have lost all meaning to me, there was just day and night) I came to where the familiar scent was at its strongest. I stood hidden by trees and I watched, my sharp new eyes assessing whether it was safe. Beyond the trees, there was bare ground, a clearing and in the middle was a large building. Lights shone from the inside of it and there were more of the small bodies standing around a fire. Something was familiar about them too. I could hear their voices but that wasn't it. It was the smell that drifted over from them that called to me. Beneath the strong, smoky scent of the fire was the smell that had lead me here. I couldn't describe exactly what it was like, all I can say is that it smelled like home.
Just as I was about to step out from the protection of the trees, the same white-hot flash of heat shot down my spine, like someone had replaced my spinal cord with a searing hot poker. I whimpered and howled as the pain once again tore me to pieces. It drove me to the ground and turned my animal screams back into human ones.
When it was over, I heard shouting and running footsteps coming my way. Someone wrapped something soft around my bare shoulders and pulled me naked and shivering out of the dirt. Strong arms carried me toward the light.
"Hey, is that-"
"Yup." The man who was carrying me cut the woman off before she could finish.
"Well look at that, she's a wolf after all." She continued.
"Despite her Dad's best efforts."
"And much to her Granddad's delight."
There was a bright light and my eyes took a few seconds to focus. We were inside a large, open building. It looked like the inside of a barn. A few cots and couches were scattered around, but that was more or less it in the way of furnishing. The man who was carrying me put me down on my feet but held onto my shoulders. I leaned on him gratefully as I didn't think I could stand on my own.
As I took in the room, I saw that it was filled with about ten people. They were all watching me with knowing smiles. I knew that I should have been embarrassed to be standing in front of them covered with nothing but an old blanket, I couldn't find it in me. As I took in the faces around me I realised that I'd seen most of them around town before, but I'd never formally met any of them. It didn't matter though, somehow I knew them all.
There was a noise from behind me. Someone had pushed the huge roller door that we'd come in through open roughly. A familiar scent filled the air and before I could identify where I'd smelled it before, I saw him. The wolf that is.
He walked leisurely around the group so that he stood behind them, facing me from directly across the room. Everyone turned to face him, almost expectantly.
He wasn't a normal wolf, that much was obvious. He stood on his hind legs and his arms hung by his sides. His hands were almost like human hands except for the sharp, black claws that ended his fingers. He was huge, standing at least eight feet tall with dusty brown fur covering his entire body. His huge shoulders and torso were almost human but his legs looked wolf-like. He had no tail and his head was like that of a normal wolf, pointed ears, long snout, sharp teeth. His eyes were the only thing there that stood out there. They held a certain depth, a sharpness, a kind of human quality that I couldn't explain that I couldn't explain as anything other than intelligent. They looked at me knowingly, as if they'd known me my whole life. It was then I realised that those eyes had known me my whole life, they'd watched me grow up.
The person closest to him, a woman who worked at the local library I realised, grabbed a blanket that was folded at the end of one of the cots. She brought the blanket closer to the wolf, seeming only a little cautious, the way that a squire might have approached a king. When he caught sight of the blanket, he lowered himself onto all fours so that the woman could throw it over his haunches. After she did, she stepped away. I was so busy watching her that I almost missed it. It only took a second, the thing that had taken me what had felt like years. His skin seemed to shiver once, a ripple that ran from his head down his body to his feet, and as it did the fur was gone, all that marked him as anything other than human disappeared, and all in that second he was a man. The man wrapped the blanket around himself quickly before he stood up. I recognised him immediately, though I'd already known who he was. The wolf was my Granddad.
. . . . . .
I was a werewolf. That's what they told me anyway. They also told me that we're not like the ones you hear about in stories. Our lycanthropy comes from our DNA, instead of a virus. If you're a wolf, then you were born that way. You can't become a wolf from a bite.
They told me all of this because I am one of them. Because it's what I was always meant to be. One of the pack.
"You're one of us now." Granddad had said. I turned the words over in my mind again and again. One of us, the words suggest belonging, something I have never really felt before. For the first time in my life I belonged somewhere. Somehow that was the thing that felt most important to me, the thing that stuck in my mind while I half listened to Granddad explain what was happening to me, what would happen over the next few weeks. It was the thing that shocked me the most. The werewolf thing, that still didn't feel real, the more time I spent thinking about it, the more I felt like everything that had happened tonight was a dream, that it hadn't really happened. But the pack, the people around me that looked at me like I was one of them without question, not like I was a freak, not like I was something they scraped off the bottom of their shoe, not with scorn or malice or even pity, but like I was an equal, a person who belonged.
. . . . . .
Jules wasn't there when Granddad brought me home the next day. Dad said that her and the kids had packed up and left after what happened last night. There was no accusation in his voice when he said it, but I felt like it was my fault anyway. I felt even worse when Granddad said that he wanted me to come live with him at his house for a few months, and stay off school too. They argued about it for hours, Granddad saying that I couldn't go back to school until I learned to control the wolf, Dad flinching every time he said that word. Finally they compromised, I would stay with Granddad for one month, away from school while learning to control the wolf.
I hated the idea of staying away from school that long. There would probably be some vicious rumours waiting for me when I got back, along with a whole lot more taunting. Somehow though, it didn't fill me with dread as much as it would have before. I was a part of something bigger than them, bigger than school itself. That knowledge filled me with a strength that made me feel like I could face anything my peers could throw at me. It didn't matter what they thought, they weren't important, they weren't the pack.