by Krazy Daze
"Gathering" shape. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer
Circle of Trust
“This is where losers come to wait for death!” Cherlyn nodded at Steve’s under breath quip while flashing a coy smile. Taking a glance around the area, she had to agree. It was a ‘happnin’ place’ at night, but in the afternoon, this place was pathetic. Clubs should never be seen in the light of day. Walls yellowed from age and smoke. Washed out booths and a disgusting overused, sticky floor. The whole place looks like one of the elderly left behind in a home. Nothing more pathetic. Except maybe the poor slobs nursing drinks at the bar. In the afternoon, you have nowhere else to be?!
Steve’s thoughts were broken by Cherlyn, “I know what you’re thinking!”
Steve shook his daze loose, “And what is that?”
Cherlyn smiled wryly, glancing at the lost souls at the bar, “A couple of links down on the food chain, right?”
Steve’s pallor dropped a notch. He glanced nervously at the bar and then back to Cherlyn. “You said we didn’t…”
Cherlyn chuckled, “I’m just messing with you! But you do feel different, don’t you? Kind of Homo Sapien Plus. Or rather, Lupine Sapien!”
Steve nodded in agreement, with a wry smile of his own. He looked at the bar and again back to Cherlyn, nodding harder. He looked down at the bite on his hand. It still hurt, but the pain was subsiding. There was a burning that wouldn’t go away.
Cheryln snorted, “Oh stop! I didn’t bite you that hard!”
Steve smiled as he looked into here eyes. He was mesmerized. There was a fire in her eyes that would never be tamed. Her sandy hair had a silky sheen to it. She was a true creature of the wild.
“So what happens now? Do I need to learn to eat raw meat? Dodge silver?”
Cherlyn cut Steve off by standing, “No time now. We have to get to the woods before sundown.”
Steve glanced at his watch, “That’s not for four hours”
Cherlyn nodded in acknowledgement, “But you still have to meet the others. Let’s go.”
Steve watched her form slink through the club parking lot when his thought were slashed by something that could well have been a demon whispering in his ear. His heart skipped a beat at the sound of this soft shriek cutting through the air. Steve whirled around to see a small cat hissing at him. Every ounce of its fur seemed to stand on end. Its back was arched in a way that Steve hadn’t thought possible. Its eyes held a maniacal rage that shot daggers into Steve. It was more than fear. This animal hated Steve. It was enraged by his very presence. Steve suddenly felt shame. Shame at what he had done. Shame at what he had become. Shame in polluting the world with his existence. All this burned in the rage of this tiny cat screaming hisses at him. Steve felt his stomach tighten. Suddenly, a hand was on Steve’s shoulder as Cherlyn whispered in his ear, “It’s only a cat. Come on.”
Steve and Cherlyn took a drive to the edge of town; to the woods. Steve stayed quiet. Cherlyn snuck the occasional glance at him. They began into the woods when Cherlyn broke the silence, “It was just a cat.” She softened a bit when she caught Steve glaring at her. “Ok. You’ve learned one of the rules. Animals won’t like you.”
“Why?” Steve shot back.
Cherlyn shrugged. “What do you want to hear? You’re an unnatural creature now. You’re a part of their realm and you don’t belong. They know that.”
Steve sighed, “So that part’s real?”
“That part’s real.” Cherlyn echoed.
Cherlyn nodded, “Yeah, but no more than any other metal. It’s not kryptonite!”
Somehow, Steve took comfort in that. “But the moon”
Cherlyn smiled at him, “Of course the moon! That’s why were heading to the cabin. Tonight’s your first. The first is always a big one.”
Steve wasn’t sure why, but that made him a little uneasy, “So…what can I expect?”
Cherlyn cut him off again, “When you meet Jake. He’ll tell you what you need to know.”
Steve gave Cherlyn a teasing grin, “What kind of name is Jake for a leader anyway?!”
She mirrored his grin, “Is he supposed to be some Lithuanian prince? He’s not royalty, but he is the leader.” Her voice had taken an earnest tone. “Alpha male. Remember that.”
Steve gave her a quizzical look.
“Wolves travel in packs. All packs have an alpha male. The undisputed leader. He doesn’t get questioned. He doesn’t get challenged. He says, you do! Keep that in your head and you’ll be ok.”
Steve wanted to know more about the nuances of his new life, but Cherlyn had other plans, “Ok, so there’s Jake, the leader. He’s a good leader. A little intense at times, but he’s someone you know you can trust. He’s very much like a king. You see it in the way the rest of the pack look at him.” Steve couldn’t help but notice the light in her eyes when talked about Jake. Steve could see he didn’t have a chance. “Then there’s Seth, Jakes go to guy. He’s ferociously loyal to Jake. He’s the muscle of the pack. No one gets to Jake without Seth’s say-so.”
At length they reached the cabin. Didn’t look like much to Steve. They were the first to arrive. Steve looked around. Cherlyn snickered at the disappointed look on his face.
“Were you expecting some sort of gothic hall or something? A procession in robes? That sort of thing? It’s not like that. You guys just need help in the first transition.”
Steve did a double take, “Guys?”
“Yeah. There’s someone else having their first tonight.” She caught him eyeing her. “And no I didn’t bite him too! He was an accident. He was a near kill that got away.”
Steve blanched a bit “You said we don’t…”
Cherlyn gave an exasperated look. “We don’t eat people! But at the same time, we can’t leave witnesses. He was hiking through the woods when he saw one of us in mid-change. That’s why he was able to get away. It’ll happen to you from time to time if you’re not careful. We don’t want attention drawn. Trust me, you’ll get used to it.”
Steve was bewildered, “So he was a near-kill, and now he’s being brought into the fold?”
Cherlyn shrugged, “Well he’s one of us now. It’s how the pack works. When you join, you’re family.”
By then Steve heard people approaching; one of his new found gifts, heightened senses. A few minutes later, others started to file in. There was a tall, thin guy with long black hair and deep, solemn eyes. Steve could tell by the flash in Cherlyn’s eyes that this was Jake. He didn’t need to be told that the shorter, wiry guy that followed Jake was Seth. There was a definite fire in his eyes, peering out through a mop of chestnut hair and sharp cheekbones. More than anyone else present, he looked like a wolf. Several others filed in; a rag tag bunch. There was a somewhat trashy looking red head sauntering in with a rather stoic Aryan looking blond that was clearly ‘her guy’. Three guys followed that looked like they should have been in a football frat house. There was a textbook ‘Rebel without a cause’ who bolted in next, beer in hand; to complete the look. Then there was this granola looking college type that came in last. Steve knew right away this was the new guy; Ben. He was trying too hard to look comfortable. Steve glanced over at Jake and Cherlyn having a quiet conversation in the corner. His attempt to not listento their whispers was broken by a hard slap on his back.
“Not for you pal!” Seth sort of whispered to Steve. He wore a smirk, but his eyes were burning a clear warning for Steve. The sentiment was echoed in the eyes of the football frat trio being introduced to him by Seth. The red head and the soldier were engaging the other new guy while Mr. Rebel sat on the worn sofa making time with his beer. Intros continued to circulate until the chat was broken by Jake securing everyone’s attention. Jake walked up to the other newbie with Cherlyn en tow. He then turned to Steve. He stared at him for an eternal second, then coldly extended his hand.
“Name’s Jake. You’re Steve” He spoke in a soft but firm voice. And his eyes had a look of cold steel. Steve shook his hand and could feel the reverence he saw in the eyes of the group; well, the red head, blond and rebel anyway. The others seemed to share Seth’s general smirk.
Everyone took a seat as Jake addressed the newcomers, “Forget what you’ve read. Forget what you’ve seen in the movies. Parts of your new life, you’ll learn along the way. But to night is your first transition. And make no mistake gentlemen, it will be painful.” His address was broken by snickering in the corner; the frat brothers. Laughing to themselves, the flashed a sadistic grin to Bens, then back to Jake who was eyeing them coldly. Caught in his gaze, they stifled for a second, but then continued under breath. Then they caught a glimpse of Seth who was also grinning, but staring intently at them. Then all was quiet again. Jake flashed a quick look at Seth, then back to the frat brothers before continuing. “As I was saying, the transition will be painful and slow. It’s not like in the movies where you change in a flash. Morphing takes time. Your bones stretch and bend; particularly your face and teeth. It takes time and hurts like hell.” More snickering came from the football camp; quieter this time. “You change slowly, starting with sundown then gradually as the moon starts to rise. When it is fully in the sky, you will be changed. You’ll stay that way until the moon starts to set. Then you take the slow journey back. In time, you’ll be able to control the change somewhat; morphing at will. But you always change when the moon is full. The first time is the hardest. But some of us will be near.” He exchanged a glance with the rebel, blond and redhead. “The rest of us will be on the hunt. You join that later, when you’re ready.
“Much later!” one of the frat boys chuckled. Seth’s gaze grew a little darker and the snickering promptly stopped.
Jake ignored it this time. Instead he rose. The rest followed his lead; eventually the frat boys did. “It’s time to go. Seth will be leading you to a clearing in the woods. It’s a special place for us. Good luck.” With that, people began to file out of the cabin. Steve caught the glare of contempt from the red head at the other new guy. Seth saw it too and smiled sardonically, almost to himself.
Outside the cabin, Seth and the frat boys gathered together; talking amongst themselves for a bit too long Steve thought. The others stayed back except for Cherlyn. Seemed she was going with the newbie group. They were about to set off when Jake called Cherlyn back for a last talk. Steve couldn’t help watching. It didn’t look like a nice conversation. Seth moved next to Steve and watched as well.
“It’s nothing personal, but she shouldn’t have done what she did.” Seth barely acknowledged Steve’s glance. “Biting you. She shouldn’t have done that without asking Jake first. It’s kinda like a betrayal. Wolves mate for life. She’s his mate. Bringing a new guy in is kind of a challenge to Jake. She screwed up.” Seth could feel Steve glaring at him. Finally, he returned the look with a smirk. “It’s nothing personal. She’s just catching a little hell for it. Jake won’t do anything to her.” Seth slapped Steve on the back again, “Come on. The sun’s starting to set. We gotta go”
Steve looked back to see Cherlyn catching up with a sour look on her face. Watching her, he missed the last look shared between Seth and Jake. So they made their way up the hill and into the deep of the woods. Seth flanked Steve. The frat boys had the other new guy engaged. Cherlyn had the rear. She didn’t even look at Steve. Maybe that’s the talk she got, stay away from Steve. Made sense as Seth was keeping Steve so close to him. Seth continued to instruct Steve on how things would go, how they’d join the hunt after they changed. But Steve was distracted, first by Cherlyn, but then by the other new guy. He had grown more and more agitated. Steve felt it too. Something was coming. He could feel a gentle rumble and hear barely audible sounds. And he could smell something coming. Before he knew it, the underbrush exploded. A single deer came seemingly out of nowhere and went straight for the other new guy. Steve had always considered deer to be noble, gentile animals. This was a creature of vengeance. It was snorting and squealing; sounding something like a horny demon. And it led antlers first. Like a multi-pronged sword, it tore into Ben’s chest, flinging blood and innards everywhere. There was an angry desperation that just didn’t befit a deer. It had an insatiable need to teat him apart. Steve stood there stunned, unable to move. The others stood as well, more unwilling to move. When the blood feast ended, the deer looked up. Suddenly cognizant of the fact it was being watched, it stood and stare. Seth simply stared back with a sardonic contempt. Steve glanced back at the deer. He had never seen such an expression on an animal. It looked like a child caught in the cookie jar; eyes wide, mouth open, entrails dripping from its mouth and antlers.
In a heartbeat, the deer charged back in the woods. Seth and the others just stood and stared; all wearing the same sadistic grin as Seth, except for Steve and Cherlyn. At least she had some depth. Seth’s grin faded. He looked down at Ben. He looked up at the frat brothers, “Bury him.” He looked over at Steve and spoke in the same soft cold voice that reminded him of Jake, “It’s getting late. We better hurry.”
The hike to the clearing was quiet. Steve had questions, but none he was willing to voice. Seth sensed the main one, “Newborns are the most vulnerable.” Steve gave Seth a quizzical look. Seth returned with that same sardonic half smile, “it’s the same in all animal groups. Newborns are vulnerable to everything; the elements, disease, animals. You and Ben were newborns. Other animals hate us because we’re unnatural. It was dumb luck that Ben was nearest to the deer. It could’ve just as easily been you.” Steve found Seth’s matter of fact ness unsettling, but didn’t voice that either. “Don’t worry,” Seth continued, “as soon as you make your first change, you’ll be in the clear.” He chuckled under his breath, “We just gotta get you to the clearing.”.
Steve felt a tightening in his stomach, “What about Ben?”
Seth shrugged, “He didn’t belong anyway. He was an accident, a red-headed step child.” Seth smiled a little wider, but just as cold, “Ruby’ll be glad to hear he’s not coming back. He got away from her. He caught her in mid change. Got her with a lucky swipe with a log and ran away. Man was she pissed!” Steve’s stomach didn’t loosen any with Seth’s amusement. He looked at Cherlyn. She kept glancing behind her. She wasn’t up for talking.
Just after dusk, they reached the clearing. The frat boys had caught up by then. Seth slapped a hand on Steve’s shoulder grinning, “Lighten up, soon you’ll forget about Ben. You got other things to worry about at the moment. Go into the clearing and take off your cloths.” One of the frat boys snickered. Seth looked at him for a fast second, then back to Steve. His voice was softer now, with a hint of sympathy, “This is gonna be tough. It’s gonna hurt. And you have to face it alone. We’ve all been there. And we’ll be here when you change. Come back out and join us.” The others mimicked his tiny grin. Even Cherlyn smiled, though she still wouldn’t look Steve in the eyes. Seth clapped a hand on Steve’s back, “Go on. We’ll be waiting.”
Steve left the group and went into the clearing. Somehow, this area looked the most ceremonial of anything he had seen thus far. There was a definite sacred feel about the place. Steve did as he was told; removed his cloths and stood in the center of the clearing. He was alone with his thoughts. He searched the sky for the moon. He thought he could see some light peaking through the trees. He closed his eyes. The night air made his skin feel alive. There was a gentle breeze wafting by. It carried scents of the forest that Steve had never picked up on before. He could smell the inhabitants. He could feel them moving around; gentle vibrations on the ground. He could the blood start to rush in his veins.
Alone, Steve stood waiting; alone with his thoughts. He considered this tight knit group that Cherlyn described. How they take in new ones as family. Steve didn’t see it. There were clearly two camps, Jake’s and Seth’s. Jake’s camp remained to be seen, but Seth’s was clear. They were very tight knit, and loyal to Seth. Steve felt more of an Alpha male sense from Seth than he did from Jake. He definitely had his own ideas about the pack. And they certainly didn’t like Ben. “Red-headed step child” That’s what Seth had called him. Yes. That’s how Steve felt. An unintentional newcomer. An accident. All these thought buzzed in his head and drowned out the noises of the many animals approaching. Then other thoughts entered Steve’s head. There was no growing pain. Nothing was happening. With that, Steve opened his eyes and saw himself immersed in moonlight. He wasn’t changing. But how? Why not? Then Steve took a closer look at the moon. Waxing gibbous. Not full yet. Then it was all clear. He and Ben were to become new animals, but not wolves. They were to be sacrificial lambs. A notion that was echoed in the many eyes that now surrounded him; these eyes of the forest preparing to feast.