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The October wind kicked up the leaves that had been falling all month, making them skitter and scatter across the cracked pavements of Shady Grove, so many that there seemed to be a leaf for every trick-or-treater making their way around town.
Kate O’Donnell raised her head to the wind; she loved the smell of fall, and nothing would have stopped her from coming out, tonight of all nights. Her father said that, at sixteen, she was too old for trick-or-treating, but her mother had a soft heart and let her go out as always. As long as she stuck to curfew, she would be fine. She didn’t look sixteen, anyway. She was small for her age, and looked fourteen at most.
She made her way down the street in her punk Red Riding Hood costume, her loose black skirt flapping around her legs and fingerless leather gloves crinkling as she curled and uncurled her hands; the studs on them were imitation silver, of course. She didn’t need any burns, tonight especially.
She wished Tysis, her boyfriend, could have come out tonight with her, but he had begged off, saying he wasn’t feeling good. He hadn’t been looking well lately, either; Kate hoped it was nothing serious.
A group of children ran by her and Kate smiled, lifting her own heavy sack of candy over her shoulder. She had been at it for an hour already, and soon it would be time to stop traveling from door to door like a backwards salesman, taking instead of giving, but she wouldn’t go home--no, not then. Her real fun would start then.
Time flew by like the crows she saw once or twice swooping overhead, and then twilight began gathering, and Kate smiled and walked to the edge of the woods. Within them, she knew, was Rachel’s Circle, where the witchcraft had gone on that had shaped Shady Grove into the town it was today. Unlike others, Kate knew that the witchcraft had really happened, that Rachel Blackstone had in fact cast spells on her friends and neighbors and it hadn’t been just panic leftover from the Salem fiasco spreading like a bad fire.
But she wasn’t going to the Circle today. She never did. She had enough problems without possibly being assaulted by the leftover energy from a hex or something.
Instead, she wandered in just far enough to hide her bag of candy in the fork of an old, lightning-damaged tree; she was about to have more fun, yes, but there was no way she was giving up the candy she had just walked all over town for. That was, she believed, called having her fun and eating it too.
The full moon had fallen on Halloween this year, which made everything happen even faster; soon her red cloak had been shed, and with her huge silver snout she nudged it over a branch, shading her candy. Tail whisking merrily across the ground, she took off.
The woods were rich with autumn scents: dead and decaying leaves, the last holdovers of summer berries, animals and people, some doing things they shouldn’t have. When she got too close to the area where the Circle lay hidden beneath the brush, she skirted it, her limbs tingling and thick silver fur standing on edge.
She couldn’t keep from howling as she dashed between trees, forever chasing the moon as it moved in its wheel across the rich, deep blue sky. She wondered how many people back in town heard her--and how many of them actually cared. After all, Shady Grove was quite a strange little town, and most people who lived there had come to grips with that awhile ago.
Something made her halt, though, her clawed paws digging deep into the damp earth to slow herself. She rested on her haunches in tight confusion, ears up high to catch any sudden noise and nose flared for any sudden scents. Her tail waved back in forth in a warning flag--don’t come any closer.
But there was nothing there that she could see, and she wondered why she had stopped.
The wind whisked across her face and, buried beneath the smell of crunched leaves and night she caught the briefest scent of something--else was the only way she could describe it, something foreign to her. She would not deem it “unnatural” yet, as she and her kind were unnatural to many, but it was not recognizable. It drifted lazily by her face again, and she made up her mind to follow it.
She jumped up from her crouch and set off, her four powerful legs carrying her briskly across the forest floor. It was growing stronger, and her nose itched with it. It was another animal, she was sure of that, but as for another wolf...could it be? What would another wolf be doing, though, in the territory she had so clearly marked for her own?
It was male. That much she could scent out as well.
And then she saw it.
He was hunched in a clearing, the moonlight spilling down around his muscular shoulders. It was another wolf, and a huge one at that. One of its paws alone seemed like it was large enough to cleave her head off with one swipe.
He was not gray like Kate; he was a lighter, almost sandy color, and he reeked of mud and sickness. It was one of his first changes; she could sense it. He was growling and snarling in a low, vicious undertone the way an angry person would mutter to themselves; thankfully Kate was downwind and he had not caught her scent yet.
Having to confront this beast was not the fun she had been planning on having; she doubted it would be fun at all. But this was a creature in the more unhinged stage of its transformations: the first few. If she let it go and wander her territory and then hurt or killed somebody, she would be, in a way, responsible.
It was also for his own good, too; the sooner a wolf got help with changes, the quicker he was able to stay “himself,” in a way, when he changed. And if a wolf went vicious and hurt or killed somebody without knowing what they were doing, and then put the pieces together when they regained themselves, that could be damage that the person may never be able to overcome.
Cautiously Kate moved closer, tail held in a friendly gesture but hackles up. She didn’t want to provoke the wolf into attacking her; as strong as she was, the other one was clearly stronger. He was, in a way, the classic Big Bad Wolf, and she was terrified of him.
Another strong gust of wind swept her scent towards him, and a growl issued from between his teeth that Kate didn’t like hearing. Slowly he began to move, and she moved slowly back, away from him.
His angry voice rang in her head, echoing so badly and clearly that her ears began to buzz. She shook her head and shot back, No. I can help you. Let me.
I don’t take orders very well, stranger.
Neither did I. I learned. And now I can help you.
I DON’T WANT YOUR HELP. GO AWAY.
He snarled and lunged towards her; he had the power, but Kate had speed, and she nimbly skidded out of his way. His massive paws dug deep treads into the ground, and she winced as the scent coming from him grew ever more riled. Evidently she hadn’t learned enough--what wolves to avoid, for example.
Please let me--
He didn’t let her finish, though, howling and tearing through the rest of her prepared sentence like tissue paper. He lunged again, going for her jugular this time, and she had no choice but to fight back, wheeling around and locking her own teeth into the fur at the scruff of his neck, trying to hold him back.
The larger wolf would clearly be the victor of the fight; Kate had supernatural strength from her change, but the problem was that the sandy wolf had that strength as well, and even more of it. She could only hope that she would be going home tonight with all her limbs intact.
As the furious, sandy wolf dove down towards the stomach she had momentarily exposed, she took the opportunity to swipe at his face. Her paw connected and her claws raked deep across skin; his next howl was one of pain, not just fury.
She managed to wriggle away before he could perform too disastrous a retaliation, and with her breath rasping violently through her lungs she raced back towards her tree, ignoring the residual magic from Rachel’s Circle now, hearing the angry snarls and mutterings of the sandy wolf fading away behind her in the distance. He wasn’t leaving. He was simply sitting there, where he had been wounded.
He spoke to her one final time before his presence disappeared completely from her senses, and now he sounded more pathetic and depressed than anything: I’m sorry, stranger. I know what you were trying to do, and I swear I will not harm the town or the people within it.
Somehow, she sensed that he was telling the truth. The wolf was new, large, angry, and bitter. But he was not a liar.
She did not stay out much longer after that; being attacked by a second werewolf had a way of putting a damper on somebody’s Halloween fun. Kate had not known exactly how much of a damper until right now.
Her mother and father had gone out, she saw as she walked by her house, human again. She kept walking, swinging her sack of candy and unbelievably sore, headed now to Tysis’s house. She would check on him, give him some of her candy. Tysis didn’t know about her transformation. There was nobody she would rather have know than Tysis, but she didn’t want to worry him. If the large wolf had killed her today, she supposed that would have made for an awkward funeral, but at least she didn’t have to worry about it...
She shook her head to clear it as she came up to Tysis’s front step; his parents’ car was gone, as well. She quickened her pace slightly, wolf-senses spiking, and when she went to ring the doorbell she found that the front door was unlocked and open slightly.
“Tysis?” she called as she cautiously headed in, tense. “Are you okay?”
There was a slight groaning from within. She sprinted into the living room, and there she stopped dead. Her boyfriend was lying on the floor, in front of the raging fireplace, facing away from her.
I swear I will not harm the town or the people within it....
Tysis groaned again and Kate’s heart soared with relief; at least he was still alive. She could smell no wound on him, either, but as the October wind drifted in the open door behind her it carried a familiar scent up to her nose, and her entire body gave a single twitch of recognition.
Slowly Tysis rolled over to face her, and Kate dropped her bag, stepping on Snickers and Hershey bars as she slowly moved to kneel at his side. She took his hand and he squeezed it softly, trying to smile up at her but failing. With her free hand she stroked the claw marks on his cheek, and he gulped and winced.
“I’m sorry, Kate,” he whispered, deep blue eyes sorrowful. “I didn’t know it was you....”
“It’s all right,” she reassured him, leaning down and kissing his wound. “I didn’t know, either.”