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Curse of the Harvest Moon
The harvest moon hung golden in the sky, beckoning, calling. Not tonight. The trees whispered forgotten secrets on the wind, and the chill autumn air gusted, making branches creak and moan. Everything was perfect. Oh, God, please not tonight. The little blue farmhouse’s windows glowed and jaunty laughter could be heard from within. The sound of family and friends gathered around a table, merrily telling tall tales over mugs of ale. Too close. She remembered.
Torches, fire, smoke burning her nostrils, the smell of singed hair and burnt flesh. Limping, bleeding, pain. Men, yelling shouting, higher reasoning lost in primordial fear. Kill. Running, waiting, then freedom. Too close. Not tonight. But it wasn’t something to be denied. It was an ache, a hunger. Denying it would be like starving herself. Pain. Which was worse? Pain by men? Or this pain? Choose. So hard to choose. She snorted. Just forget. Easier.
But still, pain. Clawing in her gut, all senses strained toward the harvest moon. Slowly into the trees. There was no denying it. But must get far away from men. Stealthily among the trees, slippered feet noiseless among the crackling leaves. Away from men.
Bare branches reached toward the stars, cold fingers blindly grasping. Rough bark comforting under her palm. No men here, her domain, hers only. Walking through the bare forest, until the trees opened up in a silent ring, a stretch of bare ground, hidden by the skeletal remains of undergrowth. Good. Lying on the ground, bracing, feeding the hunger. Blindly grasping for the moonlight, drinking it in, triggering it. Changes. Things sprouting, appendages, parts migrating, pain, unbelievable pain. Growing, changing, morphing. Skin stretching, bones twisting, muscles lengthening.
The hunger feeding. Bathing in the pain, feeding off of it. Luxuriating in it. Cursed. The hunger satiated, protesting as she continued. It was fed, stop. Can’t stop. Halfway. Men, torches, call her evil when she’s this way. All the way she must go. The parasite wriggling and thrashing in protest. Stop. No. Pain, horrible, but bearable. One last burst of agony, and freedom.
A red wolf stood in the clearing where the woman had been. It shook itself, and loped out of the clearing, intent on the faded scent trail of a rabbit. Any higher thinking had been shed along with human form, but memories remained, and on an instinctual level, it knew to avoid humans. Aside from the memories, she was extremely and wholly wolf.
The scent trail led her to a warren, fresher trails to and from the burrow. Deep inside was the musky-sweet scent of prey. Had it possessed higher thinking, it may have been depressed by the lack of a chase, but her gut was too intent on food. Lying in wait, until the faintest shuffling within. A twitching nose protruding from the burrow upwind. Slowly hopping out. Lighting-fast strike.
The metallic tang rich in her mouth, the innards warm. Feasting. Tearing, ripping. Memories….
There had been a strange man in town that day. He was dark and mysterious, making all girlish hearts flutter as he paced down the cobblestone streets. Crowds parting in front of him, men turning an angry eye. The noon sun bright on his face, features that thrummed heartstrings. A shop girl. Her. She had been sweeping dust off of the front stoop of the shop, and the stranger had turned a wink her way. She turned an aloof eye to him, and continued sweeping. His heart wrenching face breaking into a feral smile, and he breezed up the street. Later, there was no sign of the man, and she had gone home. The moon had been full, and she had gone to dump the slop pale in the woods. There had been a blur of shadow darker than the others. On the ground. A pain on her shoulder. Change.
A flood of memories enveloped the beast’s mind, but, being unable to understand or act on any of them, it cast them aside. All that mattered was the prey. It gulped down the entire rabbit, fur and bones included. She lay on her side and licked her chops. The night was still young, and it had yet to satisfy its needs for the chase. In time. The parasite struggled in her mind. It was fed. Change back to halfway. Stay there.
This form. Something was wrong with the wolf. Slowly, slowly, changes had been happening. The memories of the human ways and its world were filling its mind, driving it mad, unable to act upon these foreign impulses. It was a fight to return to the human side of her, like rolling a boulder up a hill that was ever increasing in size. But soon naked skin replaced fur, and feet rested upon the ground instead of paws. Change was encroaching in this form too. The wolf side was asserting itself, the instincts, the behavioral patterns. It had been so slow until now, barely worth noticing, but now it came upon her in such a rush that she was flung to her knees.
She looked up into the sky, and cursed the harvest moon. When she had been wolf, it had merely been the mind that was changing, but as human, the wolf was stronger. Her hair, once a thin, shining wing of light orange, had only reached to just below her shoulder blades. But now it was a thick, coarse, tangled mat that hung below the backs of her knees, flaming red. She felt encouraged to get down on all fours, as if it would be a more natural position. Crouching on the ground, her hair hung around her, a crude semblance of fur.
The wolf had become human. The human had become wolf. This was her curse. That night when the bite had seared her shoulder blade, the parasite had been implanted. The curse had begun to grow. The parasite wiggled gleefully inside. Seek out the middle ground, the perfect balance. For only then will the wolf no longer be human, the human no longer wolf, but the perfect between.
She had been lucky to have lasted this long. She had been so good at resisting until now. That one time, the fire, the men, the smoke burning into her nostrils, and burning itself into her memory forever, had implanted a fear so deep, it had kept the parasite in check. But no more. The fear itself now seemed miniscule in comparison with the utter pain her mind and body were suffering. The thoughts of the mind did not pair up with the body it inhabited, causing her to thrash in pain. Between. It sounded not like the utter height of her curse, but the balance she now desperately needed between her two selves.
She once again subjected herself to the pure, writhing agony of the change, the transformation. The parasite no longer seemed so…parasitic. It had become a friend. It no longer set a barrier between her two selves, but rather stood as a destination. The halfway was now the whole way, and when she reached that point, she felt her half-changed muscles relax, and observed her new form. Any sane human would have thought her hideous, and they had a right to do so: She retained a half-crouching position, maintained by grossly distended forearms that allowed paw-hands to rest on the ground. There was a short, thick red coating of fur over her body, and a plumed tail hung limply. But it was her face that created nightmares: Her eyes, human eyes, looked over a blunted muzzle that looked capable of clumsy human speech. It was in her face that the melding was most horrible, and most complete.
Her mind had also entered into the half-completed metamorphosis. She was intelligent and cunning as she had always been, but now a deep undercurrent of instinct and behavior underlay. She turned her terrible form to the moon, and let loose a howl so deep and broad, that it was heard for miles and miles.
The people in the little blue house abruptly stopped speaking, mugs stopping halfway to their mouths.
The wolf-woman ran away into the night, to live out the rest of its days with her bazaar symbiosis between the lupine and the human, to become a spirit of the night.