Equal parts women scorned, and running, and a kind of formulaic, conversational writing I've never tried before.
It was his fault, you know.
Imagine how amazing, how fantastic it feels when the guy of your dreams finally, finally notices that you're more than that gray-and-blue hoodie and a pair of Converse. He walks right up to you, comments on the purple streak in your hair, and then just like that, you're holding hands in the hallways and the pair of pink fuzzy handcuffs you hang on your rearview mirror actually mean something, you know?
That was me. But not anymore.
It should've just been a dinner date. I drove – I always drove; that should've been my first red flag – us to the restaurant, some Chinese buffet with wasp nests in the windows and a parking lot that jutted up against the movie theater. A stretch of trees deep as the ocean wrapped around the back, the underbrush tramped flat by junkies and kids from the high school hoping to get lucky.
It was stupid and cliché, but that night I wanted to be that kid.
We ate, and we left the restaurant, and we ditched the movies. When the trees called us, we answered with smiles and sideways glances and a feeling that we were doing something we shouldn't. The trees swallowed us easily, and the semi-darkness threw shadows sharp as knives as we tried to avoid them.
Except for the one shadow that wasn't.
He saw it first, and his eyes widened before he unhook the last clasp of my bra. When I turned, it was there, enormous and terrible and dark except for a pair of copper eyes. A series of wild, fleeting thoughts – rabid dog, figment of my imagination, coyote – flew through my head, but I barely had time to process them, because it was on me in half a heartbeat, mildewed fur burning my throat and eyes boring into mine. My back hit the rain-softened ground.
He shouted once, like he thought his voice would scare it away.
But it didn't. It curled its lips, and its teeth were white in the darkness. Too-long paws Its eyes shifted up at the sound of his voice, but then they were back on mine, and there was no doubt in my mind.
I barely felt its teeth.
They dug into my shoulder, deep enough to feel like death but too shallow to cause it. He screamed, his voice tinny in my ringing ears, and I knew any second he'd rush in with something – hell, a branch even, the woods are full of them – but the next thing I heard was his footsteps. He was running away.
He. Ran. Away.
I really started to panic then, because suddenly I was all alone with this thing tearing into my shoulder like it's Thanksgiving, and how am I supposed to know it won't just finish the job? And the whole time it was looking at me, like if it broke eye contact I'd vanish into thin air. What was even creepier, it wasn't making a sound. Not one. No snarling or growling, even though I was screaming bloody murder and thrashing around and trying my best to get away.
Then, just as fast as it appeared, it was gone.
I didn't even hear it leave. All I knew was, one second I had teeth the size of my pinkie dug into my collarbone, and the next I was alone in a puddle of blood, crying so hard it was just this gasping noise that hurt even worse than the bite. I stood up – I have no idea how, to this day – and I followed the trampled grass back to the parking lot.
My car was gone.
It didn't occur to me that he'd taken it, that my keys had fallen out of my pocket and he must've scooped them up in his mad dash for safety. But a couple – the girl was taller than the guy, I remember that – they saw me standing there bleeding, swaying on my feet, and they called an ambulance. I think I passed out after that, because I remember the girl's square-framed glasses and her worried face, and then nothing.
The fog came next.
I don't know how long I drifted, but it must have been days. They kept me so sedated I barely knew my own name, and I phased in and out of consciousness and coherence like the tide. My parents showed up, and so did a few friends, but he never came. I never asked where he was, and no one ever told me. Looking back, I'm glad for that.
It probably bought him an extra week or two.
They thought my shoulder would get infected – hell, I'm sure they pulled an entire forest worth of bark and dirt and leaves out of the wound – but it didn't. It healed more slowly than they would've liked, but it healed all the same. When the fog finally cleared, I found myself staring out the window at the full moon.
And then it happened.
All the movies, all the books that say the change is easy as breathing? That it's just melding from one body to another?
Every square inch of my skin bled and burned, and I jerked so hard my bones twisted and cracked. My throat swelled until I couldn't breathe, and when my knees changed direction I thought I was dying all over again.
But when my feet hit the floor, oh, it was glorious.
I barely felt the cold outside. All that mattered was the wind and the air and the feeling of running, running faster than I should have ever been able to. Streetlights flashed above me like stars, winking in and out of existance as I passed beneath them. The city glowed red beyond the horizon, and in that moment it seemed like the entire world was on fire.
Then something else, something insubstantial but concrete in my head, made itself known. It was a whisper, soft and low, but it left me huddled in an alleyway, shivering in the hospital gown and stumbling on my bloody feet.
In a heartbeat I was back on all fours, heart pounding and lungs blowing. But my steps had changed. They were measured, directed, a complete opposite of what they'd been before. I could sense him. I didn't know how, but I could. I threw back my head and screamed.
The moon was high, and it was mine.
Some long-buried instinct must have told him I was coming, because my feet didn't make a sound against the pavement, and I was invisible against the shadow-stippled trees. But he still knew. When I craned to see around the corner of his house I knew I was invisible in the darkness. But his lights were off, and the back door was open, and the grass reeked of dark cologne and terror. Despite myself, I smiled a snarl – or snarled a smile, I wasn't sure. He could hide.
But I could hear his heartbeat.
I raced through the city, the buildings jagged as broken teeth in the mouth of a skyline. He wasn't far, but he was gaining distance, and his heartbeat was growing softer with each shuddering beat. I pushed myself faster, until my lungs were raw and my legs ached.
He wasn't getting away from me again.
I didn't know why he chose the factory, with its rusting lines and broken windows and the gaping door that promised danger. I approached it carefully, shying toward the door and listening. A soft, desperate gasp echoed from inside. In that instant, I knew he was in there, huddled in some corner with his hands over his head and shivering so hard he might jerk out of his skin.
I stepped inside.
The factory's back door was barred and nailed shut. Rusty trails crept down the bolted iron, the color of dried blood in the yellowed moonlight. I crept along, every nerve on edge, and the sound of his breathing grew louder with each step. The air was heavy with the smell of mildew and rats.
Then he made a mistake.
Something round and shining – a disused canister, I guessed – hit the ground and rolled, loud as thunder in my ears as it clattered down the hall. I tensed. I half-expected him to rush me, make a run for it. But he just never came.
I rounded the corner and saw him.
His eyes widened when he saw me, like I was terrible and wonderful and just, just too much all at once. Like he saw a monster. He was wrong, though.
I was never the monster.
I smiled, and I felt my teeth bare in the moonlight. I took a step forward. He screamed, once.
But that was all.