To my parents, I simply disappeared.
I stopped going to school, I moved out of my apartment and I didn’t tell them anything.
I wrote them a note and had Roxy send it from Cortez the day they gathered my meager belongings and brought them to me, here in Durango. It said not to worry, I was fine. I just needed a break.
I’m sure they’re worried, and I’m not fine.
But what else could I tell them? The me I used to be was dead. My future, the silly future I’d been dreaming of was over.
I grew up in Bar Nunn, Wyoming, a village a stone’s throw from Casper—the city, not the friendly ghost.
Mom and dad are still there, that’s why I’m not.
I can’t face them.
A few months ago I was a college student, waiting tables for extra money. Now I’m a freaking werewolf hiding out in the home of my best friend, who—since I had no idea she was a shifter, a puma—I didn’t actually know so well.
It hadn’t been her fault that a pack of crazed werewolves—god, it sounds so insane—had gone after her, and had used me as bait and a human shield.
And then that… that man bit me.
It hurt so much. It was like being burned alive from the inside.
I didn’t even notice the battle erupting all around me.
I just remembered a man’s voice and his hand holding mine while I…
Well, I pretty much screamed and writhed on the ground until I passed out.
Roxy’s family and friends called him Benny, but his name was Benjamin Wallace.
I liked the name, Benjamin.
I also liked that his last name was Wallace, like William Wallace of the Scottish Wars of Independence. My name is Chelsea Moray. Andrew Moray joined forces with Wallace to defeat the English armies of King Edward.
At least for a while.
But if you watched Braveheart you know it didn’t end well for either of them.
I’m a history major… well, at least I was.
Now I don’t know what I am, or who—but I do have new and exciting paranoia and panic attacks.
I’d tried waitressing again with Roxy and her sister, Stormy at their family’s bar and grille, but I didn’t last ten minutes before those newly found panic attacks sent me running into the back, locking myself in a broom closet, and then begging for Benjamin to come take me back to the house.
And that’s how I thought of the Ironclouds’ house.
As a house, not my home.
It was warm and safe feeling, but even though they were all super nice to me, it was just a house
I also had another problem.
I’ve been a shifter for three months now, and I haven’t shifted.
They said I would probably change into my wolf shortly after I woke up: that didn’t happen.
Then they said I’d shift on the full moon two weeks later: nada.
Benjamin and Roxy both tried to help me into my change on each of the three full moons since I was bitten, and besides some gruesome pain and agony, I didn’t even grow extra body hair.
I hated it.
I hated myself.
I’d been pretty worthless as I was before getting bitten—did I really think I could find a job with a degree in English History? But now, with a crazed monster locked up inside me, clawing me to shreds to get out, I couldn’t see much of a future for myself.
That’s why I needed to leave.
I told Roxy and her family it was because I thought I could learn to control my animal and get better—my skin was slowly turning gray on me, a little bit more mottled every day.
But truthfully, I wanted to go because I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it.
No, I’m not talking about killing myself; though I have thought it over some.
I’m saying that I don’t think my animal is like Roxy’s or Stormy’s or Benjamin’s. I think it was made defective.
The monster who bit me was defective, and I’ve always felt out of phase with… well, everything. So it makes a sort of sense that my wolf was defective too.
If she wasn’t screwed up I would have shifted by now.
No one had ever seen or heard of a shifter not having shifted.
Stormy’s mate hadn’t shifted in nine years because he’d lost all control and slaughtered the loupes that had murdered his parents. For a long time he’d lived in fear that if he let his bear free again he would lose himself, and become like the ravening monsters that had taken away his parents.
But he’d shifted into his bear a few times before that.
Stormy even tried using her medicine woman magic on me. She did cleansing rituals, had me attend a sweat, even had me fast and then lay in the middle of a medicine wheel her grandmother had built half a century ago.
But in the end, I just got dehydrated and spent the next day in bed with a big jug of orange Gatorade.
The problem had been I really had nowhere else to go.
I couldn’t face my parents—I was chicken—and even if I wasn’t, I couldn’t trust my wolf wouldn’t choose that moment to come out.
I had nightmares that I went to see them, and the moment they hugged me I started to change…
The dreams were bloody and horrifying, and I awoke gasping for breath and trembling.
I had to protect my family from that at all costs.
Then Maddox offered me the use of his grandmother’s house just outside a little town on the other side of the country called Grayslake. There was even an herb shop in town I could manage when I felt I could handle it.
The idea intrigued me, but if I couldn’t wait tables, how could I run a shop?
But going away, getting so far away—it was an answer to my prayers.
Whether I live or died, at least no one I cared about would have to see it or be hurt by it.
So I packed my bags, spent part of my life savings on a solid little 1997 Toyota Camry, and said my goodbyes.
Benjamin, to my distress, had disappeared in a puff of smoke when he heard I was leaving, so I didn’t get to tell him goodbye.
I would miss him most of all.
He was the rock that held me to the earth. Without him I would have perished, the fear and self-loathing would have been too much to bear.
The drive took nearly two weeks. I had to stop a few times and sleep, barricaded in cheap motels—it’s surprising how much movable furniture can be wedged against a motel room door.
But I did finally make it, passing the Welcome to Grayslake, population 5042 sign, and then once in town seeing the sign for Stone Herbs hanging in front of its storefront. I followed the hand-drawn map Maddox had made for me, driving out the twisting country roads until I was there.
House 430 on Rt. 37.
I parked in the gravel driveway and sat there for a little while, listening to the wind blow through the trees, scenting the air—that still freaked me out, how well I could smell and see and hear now. My glasses were a thing of the past. The bad thing was I could smell everything, but I didn’t know what I was smelling.
I got out of the car, grabbed one of my bags and walked up to the house.
It was stone, and tall, and made me think of an old English country house. Kind of Victorian, fashioned from weathered red brick, but the lines of the building were still crisp and severe. The wooden window settings and the front door were a glossy black, the glass leaded and imperfect. The cornices at the eves of the roof were painted the same black.
Maybe a witch lived here…
That thought skittered through my mind and I pushed it aside.
But I was a werewolf, and there were werebears and werepumas and weregorillas and werebison… Roxy’s sister was a medicine woman for her tribe.
I couldn’t believe I hadn’t asked Roxy about witches.
A chill ran up my back.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph… tell me there weren’t really vampires.
I’d just gotten here and already I was freaking out about movie monsters.
Am I a movie monster now?
I gripped my bag harder and headed for that glossy black door, the key to it in my hand.
My shaking hand.
Count to ten.
Think about every number.
Think of nothing but those numbers.
Five haunted houses…
I shoved the key in the lock, turned the doorknob and pushed until the darn door sprung open with a low, metallic whine.
Dust motes danced through the sunbeams coming in through the various windows in the foyer, leading up the staircase to the second floor.
It smelled musty, and a little of blood.
Okay, I could smell blood. Gross…
I walked into the front room and saw more light and dust waltzing through the air.
The woodwork was dark, the ceilings impossibly high, and the walls were wallpapered in a gray and silver striped pattern that I saw echoed in the two sitting chairs that bookended the sitting area. The sofa was a splash of color, sky blue silk with white and blue throw pillows.
It was beautiful, and yet cluttered enough to look lived in.
That was if everything hadn’t been covered in a fine layer of dust.
I went to the kitchen and turned on the faucet. A few shuddering gasps later and murky brown water sputtered out, more gasps and jerks, and then the water started coming out steadier, and bit by bit clearer.
I left the tap on while I went out through the kitchen, opening the door to the pantry—it had a gorgeous cut glass doorknob—and then unlocked the back door.
I opened it and left it open.
I opened some of the windows too, to air the place out.
The kitchen window over the sink was tough, but my new shifter strength was really coming in handy.
I didn’t think I’d meet a jar I couldn’t open again.
I opened a window in the living room too.
In the dining room, there was one of those picture windows you can sit in. I unlocked it and pulled it up. It was the kind that had weights on ropes to help hold them open, and you could see the ropes. It opened so easily, and I stood there as the sweet afternoon breeze came through the window.
This might be my new favorite place.
I could just see myself reading one of my history texts here.
I envisioned a little dog curled up at my feet.
I’d always wanted a little dog.
Could I have a dog now that I was a werewolf?
Would the poor thing die of fright just at the sight of me?
I walked up the stairs and looked through the bedroom—didn’t know which one I’d stake claim to until I saw a gentle green light filtering out of a doorway at the end of the hall. The walls were painted a mint green that made me think of the rooms of a house in the Bahamas I saw once on TV.
This was it.
There was a full sized bed and a dresser, and a comfy looking chair by the window with a reading lamp standing just behind it.
Okay, bedroom check.
I scoped out the bathroom.
The toilet was a little old looking, and the step in shower was an unattractive glass box, but I squealed with joy when I saw a claw-footed tub. Cream colored porcelain on the inside, lacquered dark blue on the outside. And black lacquered clawed feet that matched the wood outside.
I flicked on the overhead light and it came to life.
Maddox had said he’d called to get all the utilities turned back on.
He’d said the water heater was electric, but to run the cold water for a while before trying the hot. After I’d seen the brown water, I understood.
I opened all the windows that would open upstairs: all but the bathroom window. The sucker wouldn’t budge. It was one of those foam bubble glassed numbers installed for privacy. It had dots of faded color all over it as if someone had tinted the bubbles by hand at some point.
I really liked the window, but you needed air in a bathroom.
I’d give it another try later.
I traipsed downstairs and out to the car, grabbing my other bag and one of the lighter boxes.
After about five trips I had all my belongings inside the house.
I took my second bag upstairs and pulled out the bed linens I’d bought. I’d gotten one set in full, one in queen and one in single size.
Single beds always made me feel crowded. Queen sized beds made me feel lonely.
So I was glad to find the bed I would sleep in was a full.
I shook my head as I looked at my newly made bed.
I sounded like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
I turned off the upstairs faucet, and then the downstairs, and then turned on the hot. After a minute the cloudy water turned hot. I let it run while I unpacked my clothes into the empty dresser.
The room smelled faintly of licorice and chamomile tea… I think.
I thought about starting on the cleaning—I’d brought a mop and pail, a broom and various dusting apparatuses.
But my stomach growled.
Before I was bitten I ate like a bird: a nibble here, a donut-hole there—and gummy bears.
But now I ate like…
A ravening wolf?
I closed my eyes on that thought and shuddered.
I really liked meat. And carbs. I couldn’t get enough of those.
And yet I’d lost ten pounds.
I think part of it was I felt self-conscious about eating so much.
And part of it was I felt like… like an animal.
Every time I sank my teeth into meat I felt a deep, visceral thrill.
I’d never felt that before about anything.
I hated it.
I turned off the water, grabbed my purse and my car keys and got back in my car. I backed out of my new driveway and head back into town.
Time to meet some of the townsfolk.
Hope they wouldn’t realize I was a wolf in geek-girl clothing.