Running with the Pack
by Joseph E. Arechavala
He stood in the doorway, leaning against it with arms crossed, and simply said, "So, how's the open house going? Any bites?" His impish, wolfish smile dazzled me.
There hadn't been much traffic this day, but I put on my best sincerest salesperson smile and answered, "Not too bad." I extended my hand. "Cassie, Cassie Stemple."
He smiled again and took it firmly. "Craig Gaspar."
"So, you're looking for a house?"
"No," he answered with a grin. "Not really."
Of course, we wound up going out for coffee, which led to a dinner, which led to dating. And it didn't take me long, despite my promise to myself after Kyle, to quickly fall in love with him.
The first time it happened, Craig told me had to go out of town on business. It became a regular thing, his monthly disappearance for a few days. When I asked, he told me about his incredibly boring monthly regional staff meetings.
We'd been going out for almost four months when I got his call. "I'd like to take you to lunch. Meet me at Giovanni's at twelve?"
"Ah...Craig, today's not such a good day. My boss...anyway, can I take a raincheck?"
"This is really important, Cassie. I don't want to have to wait another month."
Another month? What was he talking about? "Craig, I don't understand. Isn't this the time of month you have to go to your regional meeting --"
"This is more important, Cassie."
"Look it's really a bad day for me. I've got a closing in just a bit and...can't we make it dinner?" I answered, unsure of what could be making him so uncharacteristically nervous.
"No, it has to be lunch. Please."
"Okay, Craig," I answered, still perplexed. "I'll be there."
"Giovanni's at twelve. Be there. Please. Love you."
"I will Craig. I promise. Love you too. Bye." I hung up, still puzzling over what could be making him act so strangely.
I made it, late but I made it, still uneasy about what made this lunch so important. "Craig," I said as I sat, "I'm sorry I'm late." I sat and put my hands on the table. "I'd really like to know what's so important about this."
He shifted in his chair. I'd never seen him this nervous. I'd never seem him nervous, period.
"Honey," I said as I placed my hand on his arm, "whatever it is, it's okay." I hoped.
He responded with a fading smile. "There's something I want you to have." He fumbled around in his pocket and pulled out a silver necklace that looked hundreds of years old, a small silver wolf's head dangling from it with what looked like diamond eyes. "I think it's time for me to give you this."
I gasped. It was truly beautiful, in a predatory, fiendish way. "Oh, wow, Craig, that's...beautiful."
"Can I put it on you?" His eyes showed his anxiety.
He gingerly put it around my neck. I heard the click of the clasp closing and I felt this...rush of, I don't know, power or something. I gasped.
He put a comforting arm around me, leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. "Don't be afraid. It's all right. I know you feel it."
I gulped. "What...what is it?"
He sat and took my hands in his so gently. He gave a quiet sigh and said, "I can't tell you. Not now. But tonight you'll understand completely. And I'll be there. I promise. Okay?"
"Um...okay. I guess."
"I love you, Cassie."
I smiled. "I love you too, Craig."
In a flash he was back to his smiling, confident self. "Great. Let's eat."
The rest of our lunch had been fine, like every other meal we'd shared, and with a busy afternoon full of appointments, I'd quickly put the oddness of the start of it towards the back of my head.
I got home around seven and once in the door, kicked off my heels and headed straight for the wine cabinet, intending to put up my feet on the couch, and relax with a glass of pinot grigio, intent on calling Craig after I'd had a chance to chill a bit for a satisfactory explanation of his midday strangeness. The sky was pink with sunset, and relaxation on the couch quickly turned into dozing.
But I woke up with a start when I felt something strange. My entire body felt like it was tingling. For some reason I looked out the front bay window and saw the full moon hanging low in the sky. I looked down at my hands, pouring the wine on the carpet. Oh my God! They were sprouting -- hair! My nails looked almost an inch long! I dropped the glass and screeched, but it came out as a howl.
In panic I ran into my bedroom and saw my face in the mirror. It was sprouting fur too. "Oh my God! What is this?" Suddenly I felt my bones cracking and I yelled in agony as I collapsed to the floor, my entire body on fire. It hurt so damn much!
I lay there writhing for what seemed like an eternity. Finally it stopped. After God only knows how long, the pain at last fading, I tried to stand, succeeding only in toppling over. I looked down to see paws instead of feet. Unsteadily, I crawled my way to the mirror, pulled myself up and mustered up the courage to look.
My face was completely covered with reddish brown fur! My nose now had a brown tip and I saw my canines had turned into fangs. My auburn hair stuck out, wild and untamed. So did my now triangular ears. I looked down at my body. My clothes were half-shredded and I seemed to be covered in fur! "Jesus! I look like a...a..."
I spun around to see someone standing in the doorway. My new nose picked up his scent and I knew in an instant who it was. "...Craig?"
He noisily sighed. "I'm sorry Cassie, I couldn't get here in time. There was a jackknifed tractor trailer on 42. They closed the damn road and I had to sit there for two hours. I wound up running here. I'm so sorry. I so wanted to be here when you transformed. The first change is very painful. I remember mine. But after that it gets much easier."
I growled, "After that?! What have you done to me?" I jumped at hearing myself. "Oh my God." I put my hands up to my face.
He walked over and hugged me to him. Despite how angry I was, I breathed in his scent and smiled at how wonderful, how primal, like freshly turned earth and bark and moss and crystal streams, my love -- no, my mate -- smelled. I understood immediately. No! This was wrong! How could he...but it felt so... "Craig...am I...a werewolf?"
"Yes, you are. The necklace I gave you transformed you." He released me, and gently took my chin in his furry paw. "That's why I gave it to you and had you wear it tonight. It's the full moon."
"Dammit Craig!" I pulled away. "How could you do this to me? You've turned me into a werewolf?!"
Craig took a step toward me. I backed away with another growl. This time I meant it.
"Please," he pleaded. "I wanted you to know. I couldn't hide the truth from you. I love you Cassie. From the moment I met you. But I'm a werewolf. We can't take human mates. It's impossible. You don't know how much I had to go through to get my pack to agree to this. It took weeks. Bringing a human into our pack hasn't been done in almost a century. I wanted to give you the choice of being with me. To be my mate."
I stood frozen. "Mate?"
Glen folded his paws together and looked down, collecting himself, an oddly bizarre gesture for someone who looked like he did. I could smell his apprehension.
I tried to do the same. "Craig, please just explain what you mean."
He straightened himself. "I love you Cassie. I want to marry you."
I reached back to grab the something and luckily my hand found the bureau to steady myself. "Marry me?"
"Yes." He moved towards me again. This time I didn't move as he took me in his arms. "This isn't exactly the way I wanted to do it. But I couldn't ask you before you knew the truth. And had a chance to make your choice."
"Choice? What choice?"
"It's not like the movies, Cassie. Werewolves aren't crazed beasts who rip humans apart. In fact, werewolves avoid interacting with them at all if we can. We run under the beautiful moon, Cassie. And we're free. I know you can see it now, feel it, even taste it now that you're like us."
He was right; I could. Such freedom.
He smiled and ran a paw through my wild hair. "We're free, for those few nights of the month, Cassie, so free. Free to run, free to hunt." He leaned in and whispered, "Free to mate."
I gazed up at him, suddenly breathing hard as he continued.
"The change isn't permanent unless you decide you want it to be. If you take the necklace off, if you don't want to be with me, to be one of us, you'll go back to normal and never have to worry about changing again. And I'd understand. But if you decide to join me, to marry me, to become my mate, it can't be undone. You have to choose, Cassie. I love you. I want to be with you. But I won't force myself on you." He released me, and stepped back. "It's your choice, Cassie."
How could this be? "But...werewolves aren't...aren't real. This...this is a dream." I turned to gaze back into the mirror. "No. No, I'm dreaming this." I turned back to face him. "Right?"
Craig chuckled. "No, this is real. Do you want me to stay here? Should I leave? I'll do whatever you want, Cassie."
"No!" I rushed up to him, tripping over my new legs and falling; Craig caught me. "Please, stay. Don't leave me alone like this."
"I won't." He smiled as he stroked my head. "I promise. I love you so much, Cassie. Please...don't ever leave me." Looking up at him, in that moment, feeling his body next to mine, breathing in his scent, that wonderful scent, I knew.
We'll run tonight, the two of us, with the pack. I was nervous at first, but thanks to Craig they accepted me right away. They've been wonderful to me.
We'll run, free and unfettered of any care in this world. And we'll hunt. The blood of deer and elk is the best thing I've ever tasted. After the kill we'll howl at the moon, our lovely moon. And then we'll make animal love till the dawn.
I love being a werewolf.
© 2012 Joseph E. Arechavala
Bio: A number of Joseph Arechavala's essays, short stories, and poems have appeared online and in Philadelphia-area publications. His most recent appearance in Aphelion was Thrall, in the April 2012 edition.
E-mail: Joseph E. Arechavala
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