Kellar ran and ran and ran. Jesus. He was a fucking wolf. How could this be happening? What did it mean, and what the hell was he going to do? He dodged trees and brush at breakneck speed, fueled by a disbelief that threatened to swamp him. Twisting and turning with no regard for safety, while traveling totally on unfamiliar instinct, he came upon a stream. The wolf didn’t or couldn’t slow, and with tremendous effort, hurtled over it. Unfortunately this new form somehow managed to land nose first, burying its most tender spot in soft sand before the rest tumbled and rolled. It was humiliating verification that Kellar didn’t know this body or how it worked, and it took a sneezing fit to blow his nostrils clear of the offensive grit. He was entirely out of his element, and that was almost as frightening as the excruciating change had been.
Lying there, trying to regroup from both the unexpected spill and residual shock, panting in sunlight, he soon felt vulnerable… extremely so. He was pretty sure wolves weren’t safe being in such an exposed setting in the middle of the day; actually he didn’t know all that much about them, period, but it was a safe bet he was right about this. He rose, wincing at newly-acquired rib pain, and crept off to the cover of a stand of red-twig dogwood mixed with small trees. Kellar needed a cool, safe place to hide while he tried to wrap his brain around this new reality.
Resting his massive head on still-unnerving front paws, he attempted to calm down. As weird as this shit was, the panic was beginning to retreat. With no thought involved, he scented the morning air. He could identify a myriad of odors… ones he’d never experienced before. How was such a thing possible? Really, how was any of this possible?
Curiosity made him rise as his nose picked up something metallic. It was a strange, new smell, yet the wolf caught it instantly, sparking an alarming sense of unease. Cautiously moving forward and pinpointing where it came from, Kellar heard a whine escape he wasn’t the conscious author of, and he pulled his leading paw back and away from a vicious-looking, steel trap. It was cruelly hidden in shadowy growth beside a fallen log, and a hated word filled his wolf-tuned mind. Hunters!
He was hammered with further reality, and it was almost too much. How many times had he heard gunshots in these woods over the five and a half years he lived with the Apsleys? It'd never registered with him before, but in hindsight, too fucking many. All those times, they’d seemed far away, but wasn’t he now in that distant territory? Fear crawled across his body, and he felt his thick neck ruff stand up as he slunk back to the stand of brush, mindful of each and every step taken. Looking around nervously, it became clear too that this forest was much thicker and could hide more things than the woods behind the house.
Back in the thicket, Kellar started to question whether he was camouflaged adequately. Great; he was a wolf with the same paranoia he’d suffered as a puny human. Sniffing the air again while using his phenomenally enhanced wolf vision and hearing, he began to relax, allowing himself to have confidence in these new natural defenses. His breathing deepened, and his ears flicked at the insects who constantly visited them. Before too long, his exhaustion caught up with him, and he napped, still able to hear the surrounding sounds.
Eventually, a slight rustle to the left caught his attention and brought him immediately awake. In a heartbeat, he was pouncing on a small brown rabbit who’d approached oblivious to any danger. Pure wolf took over and the ravenous part of Kellar made short work of the meal the little animal had gifted him with. It was only when he finished that it hit him… what he’d just done. He wanted to feel guilty… horrified, but his wolf was too pleased and satiated to let him. With a full belly, he went right back to contented dozing. This wolf business, while life-altering, wasn’t all that bad.
As the lupine part of him lightly slept, Kellar came to the fore. He was getting way too comfortable with all this. Shouldn’t he be freaking out? Sitting up on his haunches, he focused. What was the most important aspect of this fucked-up situation? Was he a werewolf? The evil one of legends? Was he destined to go on killing rampages? His mind rebelled in no uncertain terms at the thought. Not a fucking chance. He was still Kellar Haylan, little orphan boy. Shit, he was, wasn’t he? Oh God. Was he stuck like this forever? Rising, he paced in a tight circle, careful to stay under cover of the thick copse.
He had to know. Could his human form be reclaimed? He went inside himself and tried ordering his body to revert to its original state. Nothing. He tried pleading to the wolf, but that didn’t work either. Praying, too, brought no results. Maybe there needed to be a full moon? No, that didn’t make sense… this had happened during the day, and the full moon was not for weeks yet. Anger had seemed to be the trigger to becoming wolf in the first place, so maybe anger would change him back? He had no trouble getting angry, but the only effect was a low steady growl rumbling out of him.
Frustrated, he took a furtive trip to the stream and lapped up some water to quench his thirst. Returning to his little patch of refuge, he settled back down, eventually laying on his side to absorb the coolness beneath. A few minutes later the wolf decided it was a good time to meticulously clean his paws, so his long tongue went to work while Kellar watched from a place of detachment.
It was still disconcerting to be looking at a furry paw with sharp claws on toes rather than the arms and hands he’d always known. He pictured them clearly, with the new, dark hair on his muscular forearms and above his knuckles, the fingernails with their rounded cuticles at the end of long fingers, the prominent veins on the back of his hands… and just like that, fluid as an unstoppable wave of water, he became that guy again.
It happened so quickly he became disoriented. He was now a naked person lying on the dirt beneath the undergrowth? Christ, was he going crazy? Was this all some growing-pain induced dream? No. His clarity returned, and as much as he might wish otherwise, this shit was real. The ground beneath him was very real, and uncomfortable as hell. It was then it dawned on him there had been no real pain in the shift.
Crazy laughter bubbled up as relief washed over him. Kellar was still himself. Yup… that was his dick… not some weird wolf dong he’d refused to acknowledge earlier. All he’d done was picture his human form, and the transition back had occurred.
Sitting up after the slightly maniacal laughter had died down, Kellar got down to the business of sorting out what he needed to do. First off, Warren had seen him change, and that was not good. He didn’t know much right now, but people finding out he could change into an animal had to be dangerous. Slapping at mosquitoes who could now enjoy him as a feast, he realized maybe even more important was the fact he was naked in the woods. That had to be rectified, and quickly, before he got eaten alive by insects, or worse, discovered by some hikers or hunters. He wished now he'd never seen “Deliverance.”
It was of uppermost importance he get back to the house. His foster parents were eight hours away at Karen’s older sister’s little farm, so the only one he need be concerned with was Warren. What would the asshole do? There was only one way to find out, and that was to scope the house out from the treeline.
He vaguely remembered the scratches he’d inflicted on his brother… it had all happened in a blur, and he shut down the memory when he recalled the horrible feeling of being trapped. One thing for certain; Warren was such a wimp he’d head for the hospital thinking he was dying. It gave him a satisfying feeling, one he did allow himself to savor briefly. He’d be able to tell if the jerk’s car was gone by climbing a tree and peering down the side of the house. He shuddered at the thought of doing such a thing with no clothing to protect his skin… or his junk… and felt his balls pull upward in fear for their safety. Unfortunately, try as they might, they were too big to hide themselves away.
Logistically, he was a long way from Turtle Dove Lane. He wasn’t sure how far he’d run, but he’d never heard of a stream in these woods in all the time he’d spent exploring the section behind the Apsley house. Over the years, he had ranged pretty far… much farther than his foster-parents had ever suspected. If they’d known, Karen for sure would have put a stop to it.
He’d always had a strange affinity for plants, and had spent a lot of hours searching out new ones to identify and research on the internet. As Kellar looked at the different types of vegetation throughout this section of forest, he saw them in a new way. If he focused, he could see patterns belonging to each of them. They were literally made up of colors, similar to what he saw in the mirror earlier, and around Warren in the hallway. He wondered what that was about. Maybe a remnant of his wolf vision… or was it something permanent? As soon as he stopped paying attention, those auras disappeared, and the plants appeared as they always had. That’s interesting.
The amount of ground he’d covered in his mad dash could have been substantial… he was running full out for a time… at least ten minutes, and it could possibly be double that and more. There was nothing to base it on, but it seemed to him as well that he was a bloody fast wolf. He’d been out of his mind with panic at the strangeness of it all, and had let the animal decide their path. Now, he needed to go home one more time.
Kellar knew what the best course of action was, but was reluctant to consider it. Maybe his feet would hold up, and maybe no one would spot him walking naked as he made his way back to where he started. Regaining human form had not cancelled out his enhanced senses at least.
Who was he kidding? He didn’t know if it was possible, but becoming wolf again would give him the best chance of returning undetected and unmolested, by insects or anything else. The pain had been excruciating the first time, though, and Kellar didn’t think he could let go enough to chance handling it once more. Still, switching to human form had been a breeze.
Kellar lay back down on the hard ground, now able to focus on the fact he could become a wolf in the first place. Were there more out there like him, or was he a complete freak of nature? All the questions he’d had about his deceased mother and father over the years, had just quadrupled.
What in God’s name had his mysterious parents been? Was this a hereditary thing? The automobile crash he’d survived at the age of four, had incinerated them completely, and the only way they were identified was through the vehicle registration. There wasn’t any other car involved, and police concluded they’d hit a moose, but there was no moose either. It was a miracle, the police said, he was thrown clear. No one understood at the time how he could be quietly sitting in the tall grass, strapped into a car-seat, sixty feet from the burned shell of the Jeep Cherokee. Other than a few tear-streaks on his cheeks, he was perfectly fine. Fortunately, his name was sewn inside his jacket, and that led the authorities to his birth certificate.
Kellar Haylan, born in Northumberland County, New Brunswick, in a doctor’s office, to Roland and Gisla Haylan. And that was all he knew. His parents had apparently lived off the grid, and no relatives could be tracked down. They had driver’s licenses with inaccurate addresses, but impossibly, there were no birth certificates for his parents… not ones that could be found in any database, and not under those names. No proof of their marriage was ever located either.
Delaying was getting him nowhere. Sitting back up and wiping the sweat from his brow, he brought a hand to the front of his face, and allowed a memory of the paw to superimpose over it. It was surprisingly easy to picture it in perfect detail. One semi-painful spasm, and the same walloping wave took effect, shifting him much more easily to the physically familiar form. The initial change must be the worst, he thought, as he raised a hind leg to scratch behind his ear, automatically using his tail for balance.
The knowledge reverting to either form proved to be almost effortless now, certainly helped his state of mind. Slowly but surely, Kellar was coming to grips with who and what he was. His life had never been a bed of roses anyway, even though he’d always played by others’ stringent rules.
He had no clue what it looked like on this new face, but he could feel the smile as he accepted playing and living within those confines was a thing of the past. It was terrifying, but there was a sense of freedom too. Yes, his life was in an upheaval of the worst proportions, but Kellar was determined to be a survivor. He was, after all, a wolf.
Thanks to my editor, Timothy M., and thanks to those who read this. Please 'like' and review, if you can. Any discussion of the story can take place in the COTT thread of the promising author forum: