|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
I loped through the underbrush, relishing the crisp bite of winter in the air. The wind smelled brisk, fresh and promising. I watched the flurries lift from my paws as I ran and rolled in the snow as a pup. Tiny drops of crimson from the mark on my shoulder left pink stains in the fresh blanket that covered the earth, but the pain was insignificant compared with the warmth I felt from within. I raised my voice to signal the others. I had found food.
The snows had come early this year, and game had been scarce in the times before. Alpha had taken us far from our territory in search of new herds, but we had barely enough to feed the cubs. When the first few flakes came down almost half a turn of the moon before we had planned, Alpha had grimly taken us back to our home to die. Every full turn of the seasons, there had been fewer deer. Some of us would have likely not seen the next thaw. So in desparation, Alpha sent us our separate ways to hunt. We could cover more ground that way, and all who found food were to call the pack together.
For three days, I found nothing. Snow piled on the ground in a thick damp blanket that stifled the sounds. No twig snapped as I walked, no brush rustled as I moved. All I could smell in the air was ice and the stark wind that brought it. No deer, no rabbits. Not even mice. The only tracks I found were my own. For three days, I thought I would die, hungry and alone.
And then, I found food. Enough to feed the pack, and all the cubs. And it was so, so easy. There were two of them, plump and ready. They were walking together, making more noise than a herd of deer. Their scent carried easily on the wind. I thought briefly of a single mad dash to take them, but even the lamest game can still lash out in panic. Approaching them from upwind was far too simple; they never knew I was there until I leapt. The smaller one screamed and turned to ran, but she stumbled and fell. The larger backed away and stood guard over her. When I leapt again, he grazed my shoulder with a claw but the pain was nothing compared to my hunger and anticipation. We fell in a tangle but I had speed on my side. Before the larger could lash out at me again, I took his life with a tearing bite into his neck. Steam and blood poured from the wound while the smaller one, stinking of fear, shrieked and tried to scramble away on all fours, but a bite to one leg and then a second to her throat silenced her scream.
Though they were weaker than crippled stags, I was more concerned over the food than the hunt. I lapped at the blood that drained from their wounds and then began to feast. The meat was tough and gamey, but it was young doe to my tastebuds and I savoured every bite as I ate. When I could hold no more, I covered my kill and ran back to where Alpha had sent us away, howling as I went.
A dusting of white sparkles covered the meeting rock, the spot from which Alpha had sent us away. I paced anxiously, waiting for the others to return. I raised my voice in another howl, begging Alpha and the others to hurry. I wanted to return to my kill and watch as the pack fed. The pups needed food, and I had found it for them. I sniffed at the base of the rock, at the scents of the pack we had made, claiming this place for our own. I hoped they returned soon.
One by one, the pack returned. They approached the meeting rock, but then they stopped, all of them. They paced around the edge of the ring, at times looking inwards at me, other times glancing at each other. The scent of their anxiety, their fear, carried to me on the icy wind. None of them would meet my gaze. I called out to them all, but they acted as if they hadn't heard. My heart began to pound in my chest. Why would they not answer me? I had found them food enough to feed us all! Again I asked them to join me at the rock, but they remained at the edge of the clearing, restlessly circling.
As answer to my wishes, a howl rang out in the distance, and all of us turned as one to face it. Alpha, telling us he was coming. I fidgeted by the rock, while the others hesitantly came into the circle. Still none of them would respond to me, look at me. They sat away from me, on their haunches, eyes flickering to me and then quickly away, back to the rock or off in the distance, waiting for Alpha.
One cub approached me, nose wrinkling. He was Alpha's eldest and would one day lead the pack. The oldest of us, with yellowed watery eyes and dull teeth, hobbled hastily between us and started to nudge the cub away. I snapped irritably at the old one, but he only stared through me, as if not seeing me.
"He smells sick, teacher," the young one said quietly, as though not for my ears.
I glanced at the cub, then at his mentor, but neither of them said another word. Before I could inquire, Alpha again called to us, then entered the circle, leaping onto the icy rock and landing. He was the largest of us, taller than me at the shoulder and more solidly built. His coat was thick and dark, covering lean muscles. He seemed too thin for his fur, but none of had eaten well, at least until I had found food. I smiled inwardly; Alpha would be so proud.
He turned his muzzle to me, his grey eyes penetrating. His nose twitched as if irritated, but no insect would dare come out in this weather just to die. "You called us," he said. It was a question and a statement.
"Yes, Alpha. I found food," I lowered my head in deference to the leader, then turned to show him the way. "Follow me, everyone."
"Hold." Alpha's voice was sharp, harsh. He leapt lightly from the rock to my side and pressed his cold nose into my flank, breathing deep. Twice, three times he inhaled and exhaled, taking in my scent. I waited, fighting to stand still, fighting the urge to return to my kill and drag it back to show the others.
"You've been among the Lost Ones," he said at last. He sounded... disgusted? Disappointed? Something in his words suggested displeasure, but he kept his tone carefully level.
"Lost Ones?" I barked once and shook my head, protesting. "No, Alpha! I've been nowhere near their territory! I--"
"You have their scent in your fur. You stink of them. This... food. Where did you find it?" His cool grey eyes flashed like lightning.
My tail sought refuge between my legs and I snarled at my own cowardice. "In the woods. Just the two of them."
For a moment, the only sound was my heartbeat and a few fresh flakes of snow falling. Then, I spoke, struggling not to snap at this so-called leader. "I find food for our pack and now you wish to deny it to them? You want us to starve?"
Alpha said nothing to me; he turned to the eldest among us, the teacher, the reciter of the ways. His was the job of instructing the cubs to lead, until he returned to the earth. His was the job of remembering. In his cracking, thin voice, he began to recite. "In the beginning, all hearts knew their part in the circle. We lived, we died, and we were reborn as part of the circle. Hunter and prey living in understanding. And so it was.
"But in time, some forgot their place in the circle. Instead of a voice within it, they thought they could lead. They stopped listening to the voices of others, and in time forgot how to understand. They came to fear what they had forgotten. They learned to kill, not for food, but for the sake of killing. They became the Lost Ones. Like orphaned pups who never learn to hunt as a pack, they have lost their way, forgotten the circle.
"Some among us, from all voices in the circle, walk among the Lost Ones and seek to lead them back to their past. Some among the Lost Ones can understand us or wish to learn to do so. But most among them do not hear and do not wish to hear. They are beyond us, neither hunter nor prey."
Teacher closed his muzzle and turned away, ancient stick-like bones rattling as he padded back to Alpha's pups. Alpha sat unmoving, facing me. His mate approached his side and sat on her haunches next to him. "You know the law," she said quietly. "We all do. The Lost Ones are to be left alone. We defend if they attack us, and we leave if they invade. It is our way. It is the law."
The others began to approach now, all facing me, behind Alpha and his mate. Even the cubs and the eldest, who would die without food, stood in judgment. "You will die if you do not eat! They are weak! They are meat!" I felt warm, despite my shivering, and began to pant.
Alpha finally spoke, solemnly. "You would condemn us all to die for the sake of your stomach. Did you think nothing of the pack?"
"I DID IT FOR THE PACK!" I howled frantically. My fur began to itch, as if I had suddenly been infested with fleas. "You will DIE without food!"
"Death is as much a part of nature as life. But the Lost Ones are beyond nature's call. If we had starved, we alone would have died. By killing them, you may well have brought them down onto all of our kind. Now perhaps all those who would have lived to see the thaw will be killed."
I began to shake. My stomach, heavy with food, threatened to turn inside out. I dropped to the ground and rolled in the snow, desparately seeking anything that would rid me of the fire that was consuming me. I whimpered like a sick pup, begging for help from Alpha and the others, but they merely sat watching, all eyes on me.
"You have taken two of their number. They will take all of ours in retribution unless we act to protect ourselves. You have broken the cycle; it is therefore your job to repair it."
The burning, itching madness reached a crescendo. My tail writhed and spasmed. My fur crawled, skin melting. My muzzle warped, pulled inwards. My centre of gravity twisted. My feet bent, stretched. I curled into a ball and whimpered, wishing I could die and end the pain. My stomach rebelled and I threw up over and over, until dry heaves wracked me. I smelled the sour sweetness of the flesh I had consumed and it made me gag. I pushed it away feebly, trying to wipe the slimy rancid remains from my arms and face.
Eventually, after some unknown time, the pain vanished, fading like fog under sunlight. The first thing I felt when my senses cleared was cold. The ground under me was freezing and hard. I tried to rise onto all fours but wobbled uncertainly and fell, landing painfully on my side. As I fought to get back to my feet, I caught a glimpse of my foreleg.
It was furless, naked pink skin showing with a light scattering of darker hair, far too little to stop the wind and the cold from seeping into my bones. The digits at the end of my paw were longer, clawless. The tips had short hard surfaces on their backs but they looked more decorative than functional. Looking down, my sheath was gone, replaced by a patch of thin dark fur and a loose covering for my penis. My legs were similarly bare.
I was human.
My next realisation was the emptiness of the air. I breathed in through my nose, but all I could smell was snow. I turned to Alpha and the rest of those who were my pack. My old leader hung his head, not meeting my gaze.
"It is done," he said, in a language I knew, but could no longer speak.
My tongue felt thick in my mouth as I tried to make some sound that could plead with him. Nothing came forth.
"You will never be as they are," Alpha continued sadly. "We can not take from you the language of your birth, and so you will always hear things that they cannot. You are not Lost, as they are. You are merely confused. You have broken the circle, but it was hunger that drove you to it, not cruelty or evil. The first Lost Ones who speak to you will give you their language, and so you will not be cut off from them. You must stop them from taking out their anger on those of us who have not wronged them. When you have repaired the circle, then you can return."
The others turned and ran into the forest. My eyes followed them until they disappeared, one by one, into the shadows of trees. Alpha and his mate stood a few moments longer, then followed their pack, leaving me alone with the snow and the pit in my stomach, whether it was from nerves or just hunger, I didn't know.
As I stumbled out of the woods, towards the Lost Ones, my new pack, a howl started behind me in the distance. Long, low and painful. My lost brothers, grieving. Crystal tears froze to my cheeks as I made my way towards what the two humans I killed would have called "civilisation", trying to escape my pack's farewell.
Exile copyright 1999 by Kristina Davis.
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