By the Light of the Velvet Moon


Cicadas sang their long awaited mating song, drowning out the other usual sounds of the night. The whisper of the wind, the hush of the stream, the chatter of the crickets and the frogs, all masked by the cacophony of the insects firmly set in finding a mate before the end of the summer and their ultimate deaths. That seemed to be fate of all the creatures of the forest: a fast, hurried life, brief moments of pleasure and procreation, and then death, either at the mouths of other beasts in search of a meal, or by the curse of a short life span.
I was bothered by none of this. I had no hunter, I was in no hurry to die, and a mate was not in the cards for me. No wolf would have a mate so queer. This was the very reason why I wandered these woods alone. The call of my brethren sang enticingly, even over the song of the cicadas. I whimpered, but did not respond. They would not welcome me into their packs, would not walk fur to fur with me through the woods as I longed to do. My scent was in harmony with theirs, but soon my voice would no longer be capable of the bittersweet song that I longed to sing.

Even if I were to join them, it would not be long before my presence was no longer welcome.

I turned my nose to the sky and inhaled the crisp night air. There was something different in its fragrance tonight, something that did not smell of fur or feathers, honey suckle or hickory. It was foreign. Odd.

Leading me away from the calls of the pack, the smell moved my cautious paws, driving them closer by curiosity. In a moment of self-awareness, my eyes scanned the blanket of stars. The moon was full, but still hidden by a mask of trees. My heart raced, conflicted between investigating the mysterious smell, and seeking shelter before the moon hit its apex.

I whimpered and pawed the ground nervously in my indecision. In the end, curiosity won. With a huff, I put my nose to the ground and air and sought out the object of my obsession. I found it near the edge of the woods, almost outside of my territory. If I had continued much farther, I would have crossed the black river. I was afraid of the black river. It often smelled of death.

The source of the scent was a discarded heap of colorful skins. They did not move, smell, or look like fur or scales, but they had the same disembodied movement of a snakeskin when I brushed them with my paws. A sound in the near distance snapped my ears to attention, like the snapping of a twig. It was followed by other sounds, familiar sounds, more snapping, accompanied by an anguished scream, like the final yell of a dying bear that morphed into the bitter howl of a pained wolf.

I panicked and ran, leaving the mysterious skins behind, racing through the woods to my secret spot. The unnatural howl followed me on the wind. It was lupine, but I had no desire to join it as I did the howls of the pack.

My private place was a small indention in an overhanging rock face, covered over by ivy and tall grass. It was low enough to the ground that someone could step over my hiding spot and be none the wiser, but also open enough that I could get in quickly and easily. I slid in quickly, pressing my belly as low as I could to the dirt. A feral howl rang out desperately. The cicadas no longer chirped. Everything was still but for the running of paws and the desperate call of the unnatural creature that seemed to be drawing ever nearer.

Seasons ago, when my mother called me Cana and nursed me through my pup stage, she told me of the ones who were different. They weren't born of the fur and traded pain for the freedom of the hunt. I could only guess that this creature was one of those wretched beasts. My mother had once given them a name, but I struggled to remember it. In the near distance, perhaps a mile from my secret place, I heard the final cry of a deer. Conriocht: that was the name of the cursed ones. Men-wolves.

My ears remained perked, twitching to the sounds of the forest. I heard the conriocht howl. His heady musk, wolf with remnant hints of the outside, still filled my nose, and I knew that he could smell me. He was a stranger to this forest, and he called to me to join him. He was like an infant, calling to the pack, and I was the nearest to his senses. I knew it would not be long before he stopped waiting and sought me out.

A worried whimper barely escaped my throat. I was conflicted. I had not known the ungrudging presence of another wolf since my mother left me the spring after my birth. The local pack would tolerate me, but only for so long. They warned their pups against me, and those pups grew, and warned their pups against me. I was lonely. I longed for a pack that would not have me. I stuck my nose out through the hanging ivies and gazed out into the forest.

The moon was now full and high above the trees, casting steady beams of soft light through the gaps in the trees, including one that fell just outside of my den. A moment of panic gripped me, and I noticed, probably too late, the fallen limb that had once filled in the gap in the treetops above my secret place. I retracted my head and backed as far as I could into my den, flattening my ears and tucking my tail as close to myself as I could without actually sitting on it. I was going to have to find a new den after this night was over.

A breeze wafted through the ivies, carrying the scent of the kill on the wind. I knew better than to attempt to hunt amongst the moonlight and therefore had hunted before the sun left the sky. Nevertheless, my ears perked to the aroma, even if it was accompanied by the nearing musk of the conriocht.

Leaves crunched outside my den, and I pressed further to the inside. I was trapped. I could not escape into the moonlight. My only hope was the shadows of my shallow cave. A grey muzzle, tinged with the ocher of remnant blood, poked in through the tall grass and ivies and rudely intruded into my space. He whimpered at me, chastising me for not answering him while he rubbed his sides against mine.

Once I realized that I was safe from the moon for the time being, I found myself annoyed with the intruder. A low growl rumbled in my chest, but it was half-hearted. For an unfamiliar wolf to intrude upon another's den without welcome was impertinent, but it did not take me long to recognize the reason behind this conriocht's behavior. He considered himself an alpha. He nuzzled my side and then plopped down beside me, knocking down the tall grass and pulling down a plug of ivy while he did. He was quickly asleep.

I was given to believe that this was often the case with his kind. They embraced the wolf and the hunt for a few brief hours during the full moon, only to fall prone once their hunger and curiosity had been sated. I attempted to rouse him with a nudge of my muzzle, but he remained unresponsive. I huffed through my nose and laid my head on my paws, watching the cursed one sleep.

The moon crept through the sky, and I watched the moonbeams shift with it, inching closer to my paws. The conriocht slept on, as I knew he probably would until morning, and I was thankful for it. The gentle glow crept over his sleeping fur, and touched mine. I sighed in resignation and embraced it as the moonlight pooled, pouring over my skin, enveloping me like a moth's cocoon. My fur melted away into smooth skin as I metamorphosed painlessly and gently. The glow faded away into the normal shallow rays of wispy moonbeams.

A tear ran down my woman-face, and I whimpered while I ran my reshaped paws through his fur. The sound was odd from my reshaped throat, but his fur was warm and comforting. I hated this new shape. Every sense was dulled, and I felt ungainly. At least I had no need to move for some time. I remembered from experience that my legs would feel as unsteady as a newly calved deer. I laughed, which was probably one of the few human actions that I had a firm grasp on, at the irony of a conriocht curling up next to a faoladh on the night of a full moon.

He slept until well after dawn, and I feared for him. We had both regained our original forms shortly before the rise of the sun. I was thankful that his curse did not cause him to suffer twice in one night, as he slept soundly through the whole process. The sound of snapping bones and ripping stayed with me, however, and I was thankful that the nature of my being kept me from such pain.

I sat back on my haunches outside of my small unhidden den, and guarded the man-wolf. As a wolf, he had been arrogant, definitely, but also handsome. Where I was lithe, he was muscular and half again my size. Where my fur was a pale tan buried in white pelt, his had been a thick, tawny brown. He had been everything that I wasn't. He looked like the other wolves, for a few hours at least, and I did not. We had another major difference; he was lost, or at least he soon would be when he awoke.

Where he was ignorant to his nature, I was not. I was young and inexperienced, but I knew what I was: a faoladh, spirit wolf, a guide to the lost, and protector of the young. Those are the things that my mother had whispered into my ear during the days of my weaning. I never understood her words, but looking upon the furless form of the man in my den, I understood. Understanding came in the form of a tugging at my heart and the knowledge that I could not leave the cursed one alone.

I was not an expert on men. To be honest, this was the first one that I had ever seen up close. I had seen the shiny beasts that carried them down the black river, but they frightened me so I had never approached closely enough for a good look. He did not seem impressive to me at all. His fur was reduced to a messy mass on top of his head. It was short and needed grooming. At least my woman-form had long thick hair that covered my back, providing me with some warmth. He was almost as bare and just as thin as a maple tree in the winter.

I examined him closely, drawing in his scent. There were remnants of the wolf to his skin, and it barely masked the scent of other. Had I been looking at him with my nose instead of my eyes, I may have mistaken him for wolf instead of man. As that thought crossed my mind, a strong whiff of something sickly spicy assaulted my nose and I sneezed, waking the conriocht.

He made a sound like a growling bear and woke up like a frightened squirrel. He twisted his head and saw me sitting in front of him. My ears perked and I cocked my head to the side as I considered him.

"Holy shit!" he yelped and sprang back, hitting his head on the rock of what had been the opening of my little den. He hissed and rubbed his head, scooting back with his eyes on me. They were honey brown, like his wolf's had been.

I whimpered and lowered my head down onto my forepaws, looking up at him. I didn't want to scare him further.

His eyes darted around like a prey animal in search of the hunter. Finally, his eyes fell on me and he licked his lips. "Nice doggy," he said, holding his hand tentatively out to me. "Those are some pretty blue eyes. You part husky?"

His voice was gentle and nervous, but his words offended me. I sat up and pulled my ears back, giving him a nice growl.

He sat back down and held up both hands. "Okay, okay, not a husky. I get it. Nice wolf?" he asked. I stopped my snarl and recomposed myself, sitting tall.

He looked around the small den and then back at me and cleared his throat. "Uh, whatever happened last night wasn't me, okay?" His skin started to change color. It was intriguing. I had seen lizards do the same thing but they usually turned brown or green, not red. I wasn't aware that humans had the same ability, and I wondered why he did it. I had never experienced such a change in my woman-form. Perhaps I did not share the ability.

I will admit to a small amount of satisfaction that he seemed to be the one who was frightened this time, and not the other way around.

I moved away from the entrance and let him stand, since he seemed be looking for a way of escape. Following me out, he stood up in the sunlight and looked around. "Damn it," he whispered. "How am I supposed to get back to the road? Didn't think about this part…" For a moment I thought he was talking to me, but then I realized that he was speaking to himself. His voice went a pitch higher. "'Let's drop you off at the nature preserve, nobody will be there! You'll have plenty of woods to run in before you see a single person!'" He tripped a bit over the fallen ivy and hissed something that I couldn't understand. "Great idea, Ryan!" he said sarcastically once he regained his balance.

I stepped over to him and tried to take his wrist in my mouth. I planned to lead him to the black river where his things were. "Woah, what do you think you're doing?" he yelped, pulling his hand back and holding it to his chest. I whined and took a few steps in the direction that I wanted to go and let out a small bark. I'm not a dog, but he was familiar with the concept. I met a dog once, and all he did was bark and whine. It was very annoying, and I found him to be extremely rude.

The conriocht took the hint and followed me. "What is it, Lassie? Timmy fell down the well?" he asked.

I stopped and looked at him inquisitively. Perhaps becoming cursed rendered one insane as well. He shook his head and laughed. "Do you know the way back to the road? Is that where you are taking me?" I gave him another small bark. "Okay, sorry. Lead the way, Ivy." I whimpered and sat down, cocking my head to the side. He named me? "You smell like ivy, okay?" he defended himself. I had a name, Cana, but since I could not convey that to him in words he would understand, I let it slide.

It wasn't a log walk through the woods before we found the place near the black river, or the road as the conriocht called it, where the colorful skins had been left. I could see a silver glint through the trees, and it drew my wary attention. It was one of those shiny monsters, only this one stood still. Another man stood behind it and called out from the road.

"Hey, Rich! Where you been, man? I don't have all day to stand here waiting on werewolves, you know."

The conriocht -or what did the other call him? Rich? - picked up the skins and examined them. "Shut up and just bring me the bag. My old clothes are ruined."

I heard the other man open the monster. I took the opportunity to hide.

"I'm impressed you managed to find them. I had a thought after I dropped you off last night that you might get lost out here. So, how did your first night as a werewolf go?"

Rich snarled. "Could you please stop saying that word?" He reached into the bag and pulled out a new set of… clothes. I watched him pull them on in fascination. It answered my question of how he could stand having so little fur. "And I don't remember," he continued answering. "I probably did some things that I would've regretted this morning if I had remembered them. Plus, I think I might have eaten something."

"Man, that's just gross," his friend laughed.

Rich looked around. "Did you see a wolf around here?"

The other shook his head. "You mean besides you? No. Why?"

He sighed. "Nothing, let's go."

They left, and I watched from the woods. This was not the last that I would see of Rich the Werewolf. I felt it in my soul.