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Blackwood Peak

by TANIKA SMITH WHEATLEY 4 months ago in Short Story
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Tanika Smith Wheatley

Run With the Pack, or Follow the Flock

Blackwood Peak

By Tanika Smith-Wheatley

I don’t recall when I first heard it, an eerie howl drifting down on the light breeze in the cool of the night, and I don’t know what lured me to respond to the haunting sound…

*** *** ***

I believed that I was a human female who had retired for the night in my bed; in my mezzanine town house, yet – as if coming out of a deep slumber, I became aware of the bizarre fact that I was running – on all fours…

Bounding effortlessly and breathlessly – I was amazed at my supple sleekness (in human form I am fit enough, but I’ve never felt this nimble or athletic before) and untiring strength. I was acutely aware of every muscle in motion; in fact, I felt extremely swift and superior in every way – super fit – with superior strength – impossible to comprehend; these inhuman capabilities –

I marveled at the grace and ease I possessed; it was so invigorating running in the cool night air under the full moon (as a human I only run around the block, never across country, not even across the parklands) but as a (I’m not sure what I am, I must be some kind of) dog? In this form, I find sprinting over rocks, dashing through streams and darting and twisting among bushes and tearing branches effortless, and; oh; so; exhilarating – so exciting - that I hardly feel the bracken, thistles and thorns, ripping at my sleek – what is this exactly? On my skin? Is it fur?

I am enjoying myself so much that I hardly take the time to think. I realize I am more aware of things, rather than thinking about them – I mean; I am aware of what I’m doing, and how much I love it - the fresh air, the freedom - so much so, that I wish I could just keep on running like this forever – but there is a part of me; a small part of me, deep down inside, that wonders - aren’t I human? And if so; what happened, and how, and when? And what am I exactly? And why am I so confused? And where am I going? And that’s when I realized; I’m not running randomly, I actually seem to know where I’m going – or, I seem to know exactly, where I should be…

But – why do I feel as though I should be a human instead? Why can’t I remember some kind of life history in this animal form? Why do I have memories of a life as a human? A human who as far as I can recall; married, then lost my family - my children (a boy and a girl) were killed in an awful shooting incident by a crazed gunman in a family restaurant – my husband was shot as well but survived; however, we never recovered enough from what happened that fateful day, and divorced - I’m sure I’m a human; a human which, due to this tragic family loss, was forced to get a job – I did not have any qualifications (as far as I knew), so I took a computer course - and I was lucky enough to be hired by the firm that I did some ‘work experience’ with, as a part of the computer training. A human who now lived in the city; in a lovely little mezzanine town house with a large balcony overlooking the parklands and city lights at night, yet – with every bound or leap I took right now, with every mile I run, these thoughts were quickly receding – I try to hold onto them, but they are increasingly becoming fuzzier and harder to recall, as they fade from my mind – like trying to remember a dream while waking up – until; as I reach the foothills, the bottom of the high Blackwood Peak range, I start to suspect, was I ever a human at all? Impossible!

I try concentrating on what appears to be my real life instead, like – what kind of a dog am I? I know I’m not small, I think I might be an Alsatian, or – am I a wolf? And if I’m a wolf with hazy human memories, heaven forbid; am I a were-wolf? Do they truly exist after-all? Have I been living some kind of double life whereby the memories of the human existence fade when in wolf-form and vice-versa? And do I ask myself all these questions every time that I ‘change’?

Without even checking, I know I am female – I know I can run easily; tirelessly, for miles on end, and I know the looming peaks high above are my destination; as some animal memories finally start flickering in my mind, like – I know that there’s a pack up ahead – I have relatives up there…

I don’t know much about animals (I remember refusing to have any pets as a human, as I believe that preventing all species to live out their own natural lives with their own kind was unnatural); but now, I wonder if perhaps because of what is happening to me, what happens to me, is the real reason I would not allow my human family to have any animals in our home…

I stop to drink at a clear stream flowing down from the mountains, and I get a glimpse of my reflection in the pool because of the moonlight above, and I gasp at my appearance – and I’d guessed right; I really am some kind of husky, or wolf – with slinky, glistening hair and opal eyes that glinted back at me in the darkness of the cool, mesmerizing night…

Although all human memories are fading fast, and thinking is being overtaken by instincts, every now and then a thought still goes through my mind – like now; while examining my reflection, I think I’m quite beautiful, and I’m pleased (as a human I was not ugly, but I was not all that attractive either – I did ‘turn heads’, but that was because of my long, lustrous thick dark hair, my best asset, rather than being particularly pretty), and as mystifying as this strange metamorphosis is, a part of me hopes I will never change back to the female human I think I was, had been, or am, as well – I love being supple, swift and super fit and best of all, there’s something about running through the wild that makes me feel free – free of the sad memories of a human family that I had loved and lost – free of the pressures of a corporate career and having to appear so perfectly fresh and cosmetically attired no matter how busy – in this form I feel so alive - so fit and healthy - so wondrously free…

Free from bosses (it didn’t matter how many times I broke everyone else’s performance and productive records, including my own, they were never pleased and kept pushing for more) – free from the stress of meeting daily targets and deadlines – free from the mortgage, car loan and worrying about how to pay all the bills – free of traffic jams, filthy streets and over-crowded shopping malls - free of the ‘rat-race’…

I don’t mind at all if I completely forget that other human life; if, it ever really existed at all – do animals dream? Was that human life all just a hazy dream after all? But how could a wolf possibly know anything about mortgages, wearing secretarial suits and using computers? I shook my head; not sure if I wanted to remember anymore anyway - my loving husband, happy marriage and the wonder of motherhood had been such a brief period in my life - and at work, I was being used (forced to do the work of several staff and not even being paid fairly for the work of one, which tends to take the enthusiasm out of a job) and the wages barely covered the mortgage, power, water and phone, and every-time it appeared as though my savings were starting to grow, unexpected other costs soon took that away as well…

The times I asked for a raise were at first bluntly refused, then finally just ignored (human resources were not a priority with most employers, not when there are people willing and desperate enough to do the job for next to nothing) and being unqualified and inexperienced for anything else, I kept telling myself I was fortunate to have a job at all – it didn’t matter how skillful or how loyal, if one was lucky enough to find employment in this day and age, one did not complain…

So if that life really did exist, I hope I never wake up – I lapped up some more of the cool fresh water and by the time I decided to continue my journey, the long haired human girl of the city seemed only like a fuzzy blur in my mind and I looked up to the craggy dark peaks above with anticipation – but what am I anticipating? I had no idea – I just know that’s where I must go, and I took off again along – a familiar path? Have I been here before? I must have – do I do this regularly? I must do…

Going up-hill does not slow me down and I still wonder at the ease with which I run – leaping and bounding as effortlessly as I did below, before starting uphill, without panting, or gasping – and again, I am amazed at my super fitness and strength – even the water in my belly does not splash around causing any discomfit as it would if running after having just had a drink when human – those weird strange human thoughts haven’t yet vanished completely…

I am not going to admit to the fact that I am anything other than I am – although I haven’t remembered much about this life yet, I’m hoping those memories will return to me as fast as the human ones are fading – I love being a wolf; and I hope I continue my life in this amazing, wild, free, animal form…

I reach a plateau and for the first time during my run, I stop to look back – back to the city far below, the winding river flowing before it, the lights twinkling on the other side of the river, far away in the distance – there are no regrets, and I turn my back on the human settlement and dash across the undulating terrain as fast as I can, for I am still only half way up to my destination…

The howl of a wolf shatters the stillness of the night, coming from further up the peaks – my presence has been detected. I think I’m supposed to answer, but I’m feeling confused; I have to struggle to hang onto memories of a woman in the city, yet I’m not too perplexed if I forget that life altogether – I have to admit there is something human about me - somehow I’m still thinking like one, or are wolves capable of thought? I’m feeling anxious, I have a decision to make; I can return to my town house below, or continue on up the hills – I look up at the mesmerizing full moon high above the peaks – another wolf sings to the moon’s majestic splendor, and I am drawn to the wilderness ahead – this is not a tough decision. I don’t know what sort of reception I’ll get from real wolves; I hope they do not detect any humanness about me – I take a deep breath; and now I don’t glance backwards to the city far below as I start running even faster than before, in an eagerness to be as far away from that other life that I had left behind, as soon as possible…

Suddenly; I have reached the end of the thick forest but before I realize it, I have run out into the open, into a clearing – onto a snow (how do I know what this white stuff is called) covered mesa and I am a little surprised to find my feet sink into the soft blanket - a few inches and at first, I am cautious as I wade through the stuff – then another distant memory of happily running through snow with my wolf siblings comes to mind and I take off again, playfully (playfully?) as my feet (feet?) paws, sink and surface, spraying the snow all around me as I play…

But I no longer ponder on human expressions or thoughts as I know I am nearing the end of my journey, and I hope the fading human memories disappear completely by the time I reach my family (family?) – is that a human boy and girl in the back of my mind somewhere – am I their mother – I actually shake my head as if the movement could clear my mind of such strangeness – I am a wolf, with lots of dark fur, a long snout, and four legs – oh no, those are human descriptions, again – I have crossed the table shaped plateau and I’m on ascending terrain once more – here, the snow is not as deep and there are areas of uncovered, rocky ground – I try to keep to these because the snow slows my progress – I sniff the ground (more because I think that’s what we do) and smile (smile?) because…I am home…

I look upwards to sniff the air - my family must be here somewhere – the moon is large and full and so bright, that I can see all around me - but there is nothing; nothing to be seen on the blinding snow, no shadows moving among the precarious rocks - although I can detect faint, old stale odors, there are no recent scents and I wonder why – where are they – then another human realization dawns on me as I recollect it is the human’s hunting season – although they do not eat wolves, wolves are blamed for their disappearing livestock (although I know my family never go anywhere near the humans and their locations) it is more likely humans enjoy having real living and running targets and have convinced themselves that wolves take their animals, to justify their sport – but we hunt the fauna that come too close to our territory – this not only provides us with our food, it also protects our area from becoming overpopulated by other species. But because of the humans and their guns, we have been driven to the steepest slopes, where few humans with their heavy hunting gear, can go…

I move more confidently now as I follow the narrow pathway with ease, forged by the goats who also reside in these peaks, as far from humans as possible and we tolerate each other, because they provide the necessary tracks to be easily kept out of harm’s way, and the odor of our existence keeps their predators away – they eat the scrub that can be treacherously slippery on the paths, and we don’t hunt them because we need their tracks – and as far as I know, we’ve never been that desperately hungry to break that terrain rule – now that we’ve been forced to live up in the highest peaks these days, it is preferred we help each other live in as much harmony and balance as possible – it’s that simple…

Still; I do slip a little as I move along the tracks that are at times slippery pinnacles on jagged crests and at other times barely carved into the sides of icy rock and if I was going to visit family, as I have obviously headed out to do, I’m glad I decided to attempt the hilly treks during the night of the bright full moon – I think I’m nearly there - I just need to leap over onto the next ledge, I thought, when a squawk and a flurry of wings almost topples me over the edge – I gasp as some stones break away from my abrupt stop and fall from beneath my feet; but I’m safe, standing on a few inches of what is left of the rock that juts out of the cliff-side – it must be the ice that is holding what’s left of the treacherous pathway together – this prompts me to move a little faster to get out of danger, but I must have bounded too close to the bird’s nest because it flies back at me, as if hoping it could scare me so much I’d lose my balance and fall off the edge – I thought the irate bird was going to swipe at me with its wings, or jab at me with its sharp beak, or claws, but a sudden barking from above us, scares it away…

With a sigh of relief, I make a final few jumps to the end of the track, just as the last bit of rock and ice that I had been standing on a moment earlier breaks and with a loud cracking sound, falls away to the dark chasm below – now I’m safe, now I’m on wider terrain, but I am not alone…

Although I look in the direction of the barking, at first I see nothing, and I squint through the snowy mist and I know, and I sigh – I have reached my destination…

A large wolf looms before me through the mist – he must have been the one that barked and scared the bird away. I keep still as he investigates me – while this is going on, I concentrate on not being detected as a human, but a passive female and part of the pack – the inspection complete, he approves with some reluctance; I noticed, and moves aside to let me continue into the midst of the family lair.

I find myself in some kind of wolf den with icy pinnacles overhanging small dugout cave-like shelters – a flurry of furry movement in the one I passed first confirmed my suspicions that they probably contained babies – babies?!? I mean pups – little black eyes twinkled from one that was curious enough to sneak a peek at me, but none ventured out to examine the stranger. They had been taught well.

“Well; well well – if it isn’t Pippa…” a resentful voice beside me made me spin around in surprise – do we speak? Do we talk to each other? And do we have names? It took me a moment to realize that we didn’t actually verbally speak to each other, but we were able to communicate – in an instinctive, intuitive way – like sending thoughts to each other - and express feelings, even sarcasm - and we were referred to by various names, and mine was apparently; Pippa.

She was dark and sultry and my instincts warned me (the way it does of bitches in the office – office? Oh; why do these human thoughts persist?!?) that she was not a friend.

“Oh; don’t try pretending you’ve lost your memory,” she went on, “forgotten your family, although you have been away for quite a while this time; in fact,” she looked at me with scorn, “every trip away gets longer than the last time. I’d thought we’d seen the last of you.”

So I was right, I have been here before – several times, apparently. “You wish!” Wow! I answered! Not through speech, though - through thought – I’d better be careful of what I think – especially those persistent human thoughts.

“Where do you go anyway?” She was studying me intently, trying to pry the secrets from my mind.

I tried to make my mind a blank. I focused on studying her in return. Obviously, I knew her – but I couldn’t remember her name – and we were probably related. “Down in the valley, the other side of the river…”

“But that’s near the human’s settlement – what do they call it? Thornderry…”

“Berry! It’s Thornberry…”

She blinked at me as if she was delighted that she’d managed to get some information and/or reaction from me, which indeed, she had. “That’s rather dangerous; living in their vicinity - isn’t it?”

“They’ve never noticed me…” that wasn’t a lie; the city people had never seen me in wolf form. I strained to remember who this wolf I was having a discussion with, was. In desperation, a name started forming in my mind. “Zula,” I sighed with relief, “I live in their city,” I continued, “among them, and they don’t even know I’m there…” I let myself gloat at the stunned look in her eyes – and was it envy, disbelief, or unwanted admiration that I saw there as well?

“You’re weird!” She backed away from me, “why don’t you return to Thornderry, or Thornberry, whatever, and stay there!”

Even I wondered what I was doing here; why I was impelled to go where I was not welcomed – why do I feel as though this is my home, and why do I know anything about the human town down in the valley. And why do I feel saddened because I feel unwelcome here? I backed uncertainly; wondering if I should indeed return from whence I had come, when a friendlier voice came to my rescue.

“Welcome back sister,” this wolf approached me, and called me sister. With only a reflection in a pool earlier, I was never-the-less pleased to note that we looked similar – as I was trying to recall her name, she went on, “you don’t have to try too hard to remember; it always takes a while, but you always remember us - gradually – usually, before you leave us,” she sighed, “again…” She turned her attention to her pups. They were the pups I had first noticed. One was attempting to come to me, but their mother nudged him back – so she was friendly, but she did not trust me.

“You have babies?” I didn’t want to stop communicating with her just yet. Others were lounging around, but she was the only one so far who had been nice to me, and I had to find out why I felt as though I belonged, yet not, at the same time – I hoped to find out more about myself, and why I have trouble recalling my past as a wolf.

“Yes. A boy and a girl.” She looked at me with sad eyes. “And I’m so sorry about your pups…” I knew she wanted to say more, but she stopped.

I gasped. “My pups!?!”

“Sorry. You also had a boy and a girl. They were shot remember? Tyson tried so hard to save them – even when they’d shot him, he attacked the hunters and managed to kill one of them – he managed to crawl back – we didn’t think he’d make it, but he did - humans – who don’t even eat our flesh – they just love to kill us, even our young, probably, and cowardly, because they’re easier to kill…”

Was she reprimanding me; for living so close to and possibly among the humans? The enemy? And are they truly responsible for the deaths of my children? Her words made me flinch as a memory of my human children flicked through my mind. They also; had been shot – by a human – for no apparent reason…

“Sorry,” she continued, “I shouldn’t have said anything…”

I swallowed. “How long ago…”

“When you first left us – we thought you’d never return…”

“But I do…”

She nodded. “And I keep telling myself not to mention the children, but I do – it must seem insensitive of me, but it always helps bring your memory back…”

Sabu howled at the moon. He was the one who had inspected me – Anna, I remembered her name, was right, talking about the reason I left, helps me remember – I remember Sabu is the leader, and I remember he favored me once – but I had chosen another.

It was late, and he was calling for some-one – wolves usually return to the lair long before dark. Others who were lounging around and retiring for the night stirred as they looked around, to see who was not among them.

I also looked around at the others, and realized who was missing. “Tyson…”

Anna nodded and snuggled down with her pups. “You’re remembering…”

I got down in a sphinx position, facing her. “And you’re Anna…”

“Tyson’s been lost without you,” Anna whispered to me, “how could you leave when he needed you so much?”

I couldn’t answer.

“I can’t even imagine what you were going through, but you still had each other…you should have been comforting and helping each other, through that difficult time...”

I was beginning to realize why no-one was overjoyed to see me. I also; couldn’t fathom my actions - I was having difficulty handling fragments of blurred memories of two very different existences. Yet similar. I was a female in both of my co-existing lives. A son and daughter had been shot in both. And I no longer lived with their fathers…

Sabu was still calling in the night. It must have been his call that tempted me back to this place. No-one would go out looking for Tyson, that was the wolf way – if not everyone made it back before sunset, some might call for a while, but the late-comers were left to their own devices – the rule was to be back to safely together as a family before dark and no-one left the lair again until sunup.

I placed my snout in my paws, and sighed. Trust me to get back too late. My mate could be hurt somewhere. I may never see him again.

After a while, Sabu gave up and came in to rest. He settled next to Anna. So she was his favorite now, and the pups his. There were a few other mothers with pups. Most of them would be his. It was not forbidden for others to couple, but Sabu had proven to be the strongest; and as such, had first choice of the females – or rather, most females chose the strongest male to father their offspring and if other couples preferred to be together, they were still a part of the group, for the larger the family, the stronger the pack, but lived on the outskirts surrounding the main lair. It was a good arrangement – the outer sub families provided added security, protection and warnings to the main one. Sabu’s position would probably be challenged by a younger stronger male one day, and he might even fight for his rights for as long as he can - but he will gratefully retire his leadership sooner or later, and let someone else take over the responsibilities of ruling, so he can finally relax and spend his old age living the peaceful life he’d earned – so in this family, the male pups were not considered a threat – all babies were protectively cared for – when hunting, they’d take turns so a few could stay behind to babysit; albeit, puppies instinctively know to stay quiet and hidden until the adults return, but this family methodically and fiercely guarded their young, and their love and respect for each other was commendable. No wonder there were feelings of resentment towards me…

Ana was feeding. “It’s good to see you,” she said as she dozed with her pups and mate.

Zula looked over as if to disagree, but a silent forbidding look from Sabu stopped her. She was also feeding pups – and I now understood her disposition. She was not the alpha female; Anna was – so not everyone in this family was content with their status in the ranks…

I was at the entrance to the main cave-like shelter of smaller dens, and I was bathed in the light of the bright moon – I was lying on the white snow on a rocky ground, yet I did not feel the cold – I was surrounded by resentment, but I felt safe and secure – a memory of a soft Queen size quilted bed crossed my mind and I smiled to myself as I realized I preferred being up on an icy hill top with my family, instead of in a warm cozy town house alone.

Then a shadow crossed beneath the bright moonlight; and I smelled him before I looked up and saw him, standing on a ridge before us – did my heart miss a beat? I recognized the curling, white bushy tail that I loved so much, and the golden glint of his eyes - Tyson had finally come home...

He walked towards me uncertainly. Would he acknowledge my presence? He must have noticed me, in the brightness of the moon, but he walked right passed me. My heart sank. Perhaps he has a different mate now.

Sabu nodded to him. That would be the only sign to show he was pleased Tyson had returned safely.

Dare I say anything to him? I had no right to. I had no right to be here at all. I had just decided to try to get some sleep; when he turned, and came back to me. He put his nose to mine, then moved back outside and looked back at me. He was inviting me to follow him where we could be alone together. Anna’s expression was encouraging. I stood. My legs felt as though they were going to give way beneath me. I still loved this magnificent creature. I followed. We walked. In silence.

It seemed to me as though we’d walked for ages, and I felt mystified that Sabu let us leave again after calling for so long, but instincts informed me that the leader only calls until everyone returns – if they choose to leave again, that’s their decision, and no longer his responsibility. Then as we suddenly turned a bend, I was astonished at the view before us. A lot of my memory of this life had returned; but still, I couldn’t hide my awe at the breathtaking scene of another life – another life of mine, stretched out before me. From here, we were able to see the twinkling lights of the town far, far below, on the other side of the winding river. He headed for a ledge and sat beneath it, gazing at the human settlement in silence. He partly buried himself backwards in the snow – just the way he did it, made me realize that he did this often. I sat beside him and likewise, backed myself up into some snow. I didn’t have to ask him to know that this is where he’d spent most of his time, in my absence. And this is the reason Sabu spent so much time at night calling for him to return home. I wanted to lean in and breathe deeply of his musky smell, but I didn’t. I wanted to say I was sorry, but couldn’t. I wanted to ask why he hadn’t followed me there, far below, but I wouldn’t. We watched the lights in the distance. By midnight, most of them had gone out – but even from here, I could make out the main streets that would remain lit until daybreak. We did not sleep. The moon crept across the sky. I studied him. He had aged. He had collected a few scars. But he was still handsome. He was still strong.

He broke the silence at last. “You’re looking well – your ‘other world’ has been kind to you…”

A thought of collapsing in my sofa after a hard day’s working on schedules, meetings and dead-lines flashed through my mind. “I can’t complain; there’s always someone in a worse situation, isn’t there?” Damn! I scolded myself. That’s the sort of thing a human would say.

“You’re not staying; are you?” It was a statement, not a question.

“No…” I was surprised at my quick answer. I had not even considered any other option/s.

He was not.

“Do I…” I swallowed, “do I do this often?”

“Yes…but not often enough!”

“I’m bewildered – I don’t understand why…” why couldn’t I stay in the city – or rather; why couldn’t I resist the call of the wild? I love it here. I love Tyson. And some of those persistent city memories are not particularly happy ones, in fact, they’re just the opposite…”Tyson, why don’t you come and live with me below?”

He ignored that question. “Your mother was the same – apparently…”

I was stunned – I don’t remember my mother – then for a moment, I recalled a sight of a beautiful woman – a human woman – laughing and twirling flirtatiously in a lovely soft, flowing gown – long ivory hair swirling around her as she moved – large dark eyes – bright red lipstick – then the sight started fading - I shook my head in an attempt to keep the vision from vanishing completely. “You – knew her?”

“No – not really, I was still a pup - but we all know she lived a double life, and were not surprised that something like the loss of our children triggered the same ability in you – your sister probably has inherited the ability as well, but she’s content – however; if anything were to happen to Sabu, or their babies,” Tyson hesitated, “who knows?”

I felt a glint of hope. “It must be something we can all do, then - something we’re all capable of?”

Tyson shook his head. “I don’t think so…”

“Have you tried?”

His look was of deep sadness. His expression, hopeless. “Why can’t you stop; why can’t you stay? I will love you, no matter what you look like…”

No matter what I look like. Then I do ‘change’. And I realized we’d had this conversation several times before. “I – don’t know, I wish I could – I really wish I could…” I sighed, stood, and shook the snow from me. “I am so sorry Tyson…so very, very sorry…”

And with the first rays of dawn appearing on the horizon, I headed for the old goat track down the hillside without looking back, before changing my mind…

*** *** ***

The alarm abruptly woke me and I almost broke it as I hit the clock radio much too hard while turning it off. Why had I woken in such a bad mood; as if disappointed? Then I realized it was Monday, the start of another busy week, and I would be wakened by that awful sound every day now until the weekend. I yawned and stretched between my sleek, silk sheets. What a weird dream I’d had. About running on all fours. Up and down the hilly Blackwood range on the other side of town, on the other side of the river. Through trees. Through snow. About - being some kind of a wolf, and loving it?!? I laughed at the absurdity of it all and sat up in bed. Ouch. I ached all over. As if I had in fact; been running all night. My legs hurt. My feet were sore as I swung them over the side of the bed. That’s when I frowned at the sight of them. My feet were dirty, and covered in grass stains. And on closer inspection; my whole body was covered in scratches and bruises.

I had no time to ponder the phenomenon though; as I stepped into the shower – I had to rush to get ready for work and by the time I’d toweled myself dry and was applying my make-up in front of the bathroom mirror, the dream and associated aches were already diminishing into that wondrous ability we have of forgetting about our dreams when the reality of our daily lives take over.

So it was with shock when a little later while making my coffee in the office kitchen that Sharon the receptionist raised her eyebrows and retorted, “WOW! You had a wild weekend!”

I blushed, and looked at the scratches and bruises on my arms that she was looking at. So I hadn’t imagined it this morning. I really did have some scratches. “I went running last night,” a vision of looking into a stream and seeing the reflection of a wolf looking back at me went through my mind, and I almost dropped my coffee. “Up to…” I stopped myself from saying Blackwood Peak in time, ”through the foothills...” I made a mental note to put my cardigan on when I got to my desk. That should cover the scratches.

“Yea; right…” she giggled, “you must give me his number when you’ve had enough of him…”

I rolled my eyes and made for my desk.

Like most workers I complained about annoying alarm clocks, ‘Monday-itis’, commuting, mundane workloads, and looking forward to the weekend already - but deep down; I enjoyed my job – throwing myself into the stacks of files on my desk kept me from thinking of my past, and what happened to my children, and marriage.

But today, I had trouble concentrating because of last night’s eerie dream – some dreams seem so real and creepy - and within an hour, I found myself making another coffee…

“You don’t look so well.” My boss Alan had come into the kitchen to also grab a coffee. “Are you OK?”

“Yes,” I nodded, “I just had a restless night…”

A snigger behind us alerted me that Sharon had also entered the small room. I grabbed my coffee and returned to my desk before she had a chance to say anything else – but a few minutes later when Alan passed with a stupid grin across his face, I knew Sharon hadn’t managed to keep quiet and for a few minutes I sat at my desk fuming and took a longer coffee break than I usually do and for the first time in ages; I let myself think – try to remember – well; remember what I can…

I have no memories of a childhood and parents – my earliest memory is of being found wandering naked along a country road not far from this town called Thornberry. Found by Terry – he took me to his home on the outskirts of town – he had a doctor, who was also a friend of his, examine me – he informed Terry I was suffering from amnesia – Terry decided it was his responsibility to look after me – he let me live in his home until my family could be found – but no-one answered the media enquiries; no-one came to claim me…

With no past, I didn’t have much to talk about. At first, he’d try to encourage conversation, and told me about his own past; but his had been a simple life, with no complications – he grew up on a little crop farm – he inherited the farm when his parents died in a car accident – he didn’t have any other relatives – he hadn’t found a girl he loved enough to marry yet – and soon, he’d also run out of things to say. So we quietly worked together in his gardens – he was a grower and supplier - we quietly cooked together in his kitchen – he was a very good cook - we quietly ate together at his table – and quietly watched television together in the evenings.

Then one evening a news story about having to cull some wolves because of the damage they were doing to the neighborhood livestock made me gasp in dismay.

He looked at me. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s not them!”

“What?”

“The wolves; it’s not them…”

He cleared his throat. “How – how do you know, what do you mean?”

“They don’t come anywhere near humans; in fact, as the human settlement’s been spreading, they’ve been forced to move further and further away, up in the most dangerous and precarious parts of…” I could tell he didn’t believe me, so I stopped. From a human’s point of view, I must have sounded quite crazed.

He softened. “They are lovely creatures, and it is such a pity - but no other animal could possibly break through fences and pens…”

I could list several that could, but didn’t – I couldn’t explain how I would believe such a thing myself; let alone attempt to convince others. I almost retorted that humans could be trying to sabotage their own competitors, I wanted to say that humans want to hunt and kill but having a reason makes it seem reasonable for them to do so, but Terry was looking at me strangely, so I got up to make a cup of tea instead of getting into an argument with him.

When I returned with the cups though, Terry went on, “I know how I’d feel if wolves damaged my crops,” he took a sip of his tea, “that’s my livelihood…”

I wanted to say that wolves weren’t vegetarian, but I nodded agreeably - I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I was right, though...

But since my outburst, we started discussing other news items and programs, books, movies and music – with some surprise; I realized I had some preferences and strong opinions; and apart from the wolf dispute, we had a lot in common – we laughed, and loved – we married – we had two children – and I learned to live again, and forget about the sad plight of the wolves up in the hills. For a while…

“I’m going to lunch,” Sharon called, interrupting my reverie.

“Oh; is it that time already?” I guiltily looked at the pile of work I’d hardly touched and grabbing a couple of files, went to work at her desk until Sharon returned – I was also the relief receptionist. After handling a few telephone calls I forgot about the dream; and my past, and even had a smile on my face by the time she returned, and it was my turn to go to lunch.

Catching up with friends who also worked in town over lunch put me in a much better mood and by the time I’d returned to the office, all signs of Mondayitis had disappeared, and I enthusiastically buried myself in my workload.

I managed to catch up with my work during the afternoon and when the first day of the working week was over, I almost sang as I let myself into my town house and poured myself a lovely glass of Sparkling Shiraz. I kicked my heels off, turned the television on to watch the evening news, then froze…

A wolf was on the news, being chased by the animal welfare patrol, and it was happening now, a live broadcast, it was not a news story that had happened earlier that day. A few men on foot, an impound vehicle following. Somehow a wolf had entered the city – but why did this news send a chill down my spine? Why did the wolf seem familiar to me? And why did I know that wolves wouldn’t have voluntarily come to the human settlement? As if I knew them, and their behaviors? Then the camera zoomed onto the animal, just as it helplessly turned its face to the camera – it looked petrified – it looked confused – it looked just like…Tyson?!?

I dropped my beautiful crystal wineglass – it smashed – why was I not concerned that the red wine soaked into my expensive fluffy white Flotika floor rug - why and how is it that I know this wolf? Why did I know its name? I shook my head in bewilderment – somehow, I knew that the wolf was looking for me – and I felt obligated to rescue it – I looked closely at the screen – where were they? North Street? That’s on the other side of the parklands – even if I took my car, with all the ‘no right turns’, and ‘no left turns’ on the outskirts of the city center, I’d have to circle around the vast park; and that would take a long time, especially at this ‘peak hour’ time of the evening when many will be still leaving work to go home – it would be much quicker if I ran through the park – I gulped – what was I thinking? I’m not a very fit runner, anymore, at nearing middle age, yet – something in my brain insisted I could be – I am - I could run – I actually could run – very fast, very swiftly…

I’m not sure what happened next, but I really was running – on all fours – just like in my dreams – desperation had forced me to ‘change’ – or had I gone to sleep on my sofa and was having yet another crazy dream?

Dream or not, I had to help Tyson – and this time as I ran, I forced my mind to keep thinking like a human – I didn’t want those human thoughts to start fading like they did the last time I ran, last night – if I was to save a wolf from humans, I had to think like a human…

I raced through the Botanical Gardens where I often (in human form) sit and read – then I startled people that were enjoying the parklands; strollers, joggers, cyclists – a skater swerved out of my way and rolled into a tree – but I couldn’t apologize in this fast, furry form…

It was getting dark when I reached the location I had recognized on the news. I kept to the shadows – I did not want to be caught by the patrol – imagine that – a naked woman found locked in the pound…

It wasn’t long before I picked up Tyson’s scent – then I remembered that we communicated through thought and I tried making contact; “I’m coming for you, Tyson…”

To my surprise, it worked.

“Help me, Pippa…” Tyson sounded terrified. Then I realized, I’d never known him to be scared before. “Pippa,” he frantically continued, “I jumped some kind of barrier and managed to give them the slip; but I know they’re still after me…”

I loved this telepathic way of communicating. Humans seemed to have lost the ability, perhaps they never had it.

A barrier – he must mean the construction site fence on the next corner. “I know where you are – can you see the bins?”

“Bins?!?”

I’d hoped to lead him through the site but of course, Tyson would not know what a bin is, or any of the other things at the site - I wanted to ask if he could see the grader, but he wouldn’t know what that was either. I had to get in there as well, to show him a safe way out of the place. But the patrol was between me and the site. They would get there first. I would have to distract them.

The street lights were starting to come on. I stood under one of them and let out a long, wailing wolf howl. It worked. The patrol turned back in my direction. Hopefully they’d believe the wolf that they were after had managed to circle them – hopefully, they wouldn’t realize that there were two of us.

“Over there!” One of them had seen me, and they all came running in my direction.

‘Good!’ I thought, immediately followed by ‘Shit!’ They had rifles. I took off down the street and rounded a corner. Then I concentrated on my human form. I hoped it worked. If it didn’t, I’d be shot. But I changed back to a human female. It seemed to take forever to me, but maybe it didn’t – I’d changed back Just before they came running around the same corner. They stopped in their tracks as they gawked at me standing there in the nude, trying to cover as much of myself as possible with my long hair. Their vehicle had followed; so had the news crew, and they also all stopped at the edge of the footpath, gaping...

I pointed down another street that would take them in the opposite direction to where Tyson waited for me. “The dog ran down there…”

They looked perplexed, as if trying to decide to go after the wolf, or to try to help me.

“Are you alright?” One called to me.

I smiled coyly. “Yes. I’m a sleep-walker. The huge dog running passed woke me up. I often wake up in the weirdest locations. I live just across the park. I’ll go back home straight away, keeping to the shadows of the trees.”

“Are you sure?” Asked another, “perhaps we should make sure you get home safely…”

I answered too quickly. “I’m sure!” I tried smiling again. “You have to rescue that poor animal…” emphasizing the word rescue, “and hopefully find its owner…”

“We think it’s a wolf, and keeping wolves as pets is prohibited around here – but if you’re sure you’re OK?!?”

I knew that no-one could keep wolves as pets, otherwise I would have let Tyson get caught, then simply go and claim him. “I’m sure…” I started moving towards the park, as if I was on my way home. I had to walk around the news crew to do so. I could hear some amused giggles as I passed, holding my hair close to my body.

“Maybe you should wear pajamas to bed, if you’re a sleep-walker,” one of them called after me.

“Good idea,” I called back over my shoulder.

After they’d disappeared down the road, I changed back to my wolf form. I couldn’t be seen walking around town naked. Then slinking closely to the shadows of the building walls; I made my way towards the construction site, using dark alleys that were hardly used. For fear of being mugged; most kept to the main, well lit streets. I had more chance of not drawing any attention to myself scrounging the alleys like a stray dog, than a nude woman. Poor Tyson was not used to human ways, and would not have known to be as discreet as possible. He would have simply strolled in, walked over one of the bridges over the river, believing that if I was welcome here, all wolves must be. What a fright it must have been for him to have people chase after him. Brandishing nets, batons, and tranquilizer guns. At least I hoped that they were tranquilizer guns, and not real rifles.

“Tyson” I called softly as I reached the fence. “Where are you?”

He appeared from behind the very bins that I’d asked him about moments before.

I sighed with relief. “Are you hurt? Did they shoot you?” I didn’t have to explain guns to a wolf.

“I’m fine – they tried, but they missed…”

“Tyson, we have to get out of here! Quickly, before they return…”

He deftly and gracefully cleared the fence. I doubted I could jump that high, but I remembered while watching the news earlier, at that time, I’d also doubted I could run right across the vast parklands…

“Come on,” I commanded, “we have two busy streets to cross…”

“Streets?”

This wasn’t going to be easy. “Keep by my side. When I stop, you stop – when I run, you run!”

He did as he was told. I felt safer when we were racing across the park, but I didn’t allow myself to breathe easy until we got to my town house. Luckily I’d changed from human to wolf before leaving the town house and wouldn’t have been able to close the door behind me, with the lock bolt still in place and the keys inside. I’d been in such a rush that closing the door wouldn’t have been a priority anyway.

Once we were safely inside, I nudged the door closed behind us with a paw. I led Tyson up a flight of stairs above the garage, to the living level, then changed back. And picked up the clothes I’d thrown on the floor before changing into wolf form earlier and racing out to Tyson’s aid, as if embarrassed for bringing Tyson to an untidy home. Then I dressed myself, wondering why I felt self-conscious at being naked in human form in front a wolf. After all; wolves don’t wear clothes, had no concept of modesty. We’d had a litter in the past. He’d been my mate. He still was…

“Mind the broken glass…” I pointed, for he wouldn’t know what I referred to. Did I sound annoyed? I suppose I was. Within an hour I had broken an exquisite glass, stained an expensive rug, I was forced to accept the fact that those weird dreams were not dreams, that I actually do have the ability to change from a human to a wolf, I had to save Tyson by pretending to be a naked sleep-walker, and I had to bring him safely home. I took a few deep breaths and tried to calm down. The television was still on, and the wolf story still on air. It seemed like hundreds had joined in the search and were looking for the wolf now. All, with guns. I grabbed the remote and turned it off. Then I screamed at Tyson. “What the hell are you doing!!!”

He backed from me. I slumped on the sofa. I wondered if he could understand my verbal human voice.

“I can.” He looked at me. “And you did ask why I couldn’t come to be here with you – well; this time, I followed…”

I softened, “yes, you did…” then cleared my throat, “but you also know that humans kill wolves!”

“Some humans kill some wolves. You, are welcome here…”

“They don’t know that I’m a wolf!” I swallowed. “I didn’t know that I was a wolf!” In the past hour or so, I’d realized that I truly am a wolf. That running on all fours had not been dreams. That I had the ability to change – and when conscious of it, oh, how that hurts! Like shoving fracturing limbs around.

Realization was a bit of a shock, so I cleaned the broken glass and spilled wine while wondering what I was going to do with Tyson. I asked if he was hungry. Just as well he wasn’t, because in human form, I am a vegetarian – well; Terry was a vegetarian, and we ate what we grew, and since the divorce, I remained a vegetarian – or rather, I kept to the familiar human traditions that I had experienced, since becoming one. “I’ll get something for you to eat tomorrow…”

“But I’m a better hunter than you are…” he attempted a joke; hopefully, to put me in a better frame of mind. A vision of him overtaking me in the wild crossed my mind. So did a few other fleeting memories of us playing in the snow. Females were the main providers, as pups learned at an early age, mother’s instincts were to feed their young – but in times of necessity, when food supplies were scarce (it seemed as though all species were being driven further away from the humans, not just wolves), hunger, necessity, cunning and teamwork, were the entire pack’s responsibility.

“I’m sorry.” I apologized for my bad behavior, “but that was all just a little bit scary, this evening…” I wasn’t sure if I was referring to the adventure we’d just had, or the fact that those dreams were not dreams and I had been finally forced to accept that fact…

“I should have known if they hunt us in the hills, they’d hunt us in their own settlement – but they don’t mind you living here?!?”

“I told you Tyson, they don’t know I’m a wolf,” I shook my head, “until an hour or so ago, I hadn’t known either…!”

“Really?!?”

“Humans don’t believe we could ‘change’. So naturally - I didn’t believe that possibility either – I thought I was having weird dreams...”

“You thought I was…just a dream?”

I was somewhat surprised he knew about dreams. Then I remembered watching Anna’s pups wriggling as they slept as though they were dreaming about running playfully. Of course, everything must dream. I nodded, then continued. “We don’t go hunting for our food down here, Tyson – we go to the supermarket and exchange food for money...” I groaned to myself. I had a lot of things to teach him.

He came over to me. “So – this is what you look like, when…” he stopped.

“When human,” I completed for him. “Do you like what you see?”

“No…” he sat. Wolves had not yet learned how to lie, either.

“Does that mean you’re staying?”

“We were meant to be together, Pippa…”

I stood. “Then I’d better show you around…”

“Balcony,” I pointed to the glass sliding door, “Kitchen,” I pointed towards the back, “laundry beyond that, garage and courtyard beneath us…” I sighed, “you have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

“All this; just for you?”

“That’s not all…” I started going up another flight of stairs.

He effortlessly bounded past me and sat quietly until I’d also reached the top.

“Show off,” I muttered to myself, then out loud, “mezzanine bedroom, wardrobe and bathroom to the far side.”

He cocked his head to a side and looked at me as if to say in wolf language, OMG...

I sat on the bed. “This is where I sleep...”

“It does look - soft and cozy…”

I grabbed a remote from the bedside table and turned the heating on. “And warm…”

“Humans are so…clever…”

I thought of their lack of instincts and senses. “Yes - and yet, generally closed and narrow-minded…”

He looked through the mezzanine railings, and out the tall windows that served both floors on the opposite side of the town house – it was completely dark now, and across the park-lands the city lights sparkled in the distance – and beyond them, loomed the rugged and rocky silhouette of the dark hills – the black hills – Blackwood Peak, the view that I loved to gaze at every evening while sipping my wine…

He didn’t seem impressed. “You’d rather be here, than…”

“It appears as though I left there because I was distraught over the loss of our pups…”

“Yet - you didn’t leave here after the loss of your human children?!?”

I’d obviously told him about them during one of my visits to the hills. “It’s not that simple…” I sighed. “As I mentioned earlier, I really thought those experiences with you in the hills were…dreams…”

“And now that you know the truth, do you love me enough to come back to the hills with me?”

I thought of my job, mortgage, town house, car, and other belongings. The few friends I lunched with, the pub we work colleagues went to on Fridays after work for an end of the working week drink; housework and shopping at the supermarket on Saturdays, and lazy relaxing Sundays – when did I get into such a boring yet secure routine? How do I explain to a wolf that I had a rather mundane yet nice little life here?

“I can ask you the same thing, Tyson – do you love me enough to stay here with me?”

“But they hate me here!”

I looked towards the hills and swallowed. “And I don’t feel all that welcome up there…”

“They – the humans – they tried to kill me…”

“Yea…unfortunately, they try to kill us, no matter where we are…”

*** *** ***

I bought a collar and lead, and we tried to live the life of a woman and her pet dog. But we had to be careful. It wasn’t possible to register a wolf. I took him for runs in the park at night, but I knew that could not possibly compensate for running in the wild. Sometimes I’d make myself ‘change’ and run with him. But only sometimes. It was excruciatingly painful to ‘change’. It was a similar pain to that of breaking bones – I exaggerate; of dislocating joints which, I suppose, was exactly what was happening. I’d never noticed the pain before when changing while sleeping, in a semi-conscious state, or what I’d believed was dreaming, previously. Although, I did remember waking up with aches and pains. And when rescuing Tyson from the patrol I’d been too desperate, too panicked, to realize just how much it had hurt to ‘change’. So I ran mostly in human form – at first I had to soak in a warm bath afterwards, or use an anti-inflammatory cream, but within weeks I was passing other joggers in the park – I had always kept myself fit enough, but never this fit, and I discovered that even as a human, how much I really, loved to run…

My few friends accepted my explanation that Tyson was some kind of a Malamute dog, so one day they invited me to a nearby dog friendly café and to bring him along as well. I did. He turned out to be popular with the proprietors, staff and patrons, so the café became our regular jaunt. And I’d started settling back into my routine again; my nice, safe, little lifestyle. And for a while, life was good…

Now that I’d finally accepted my abnormal ability, my memory returned in full. I remembered the life as a wolf with Tyson up in the hills, and I remembered my life as a human with Terry down on his homestead. I also remembered my mother. When her mate; my father, was shot and killed, she’d left – just like I had after having my pups shot and killed. Anna and I were looked after by the rest of the pack. Soon after, she came back, and took Anna and I down to Thornberry – she had a nice little apartment there, and as soon as we’d entered it, she turned into a human woman. She thought she could live her life with a couple of pet pups – but because of the townspeople’s hatred for wolves, she realized it was a mistake, and took us back to the lair. Along with acceptance and full memories, my wolf senses were enhanced, even in human form. It was quite easy reading people’s thoughts. This is how pets understand their owners. I am more attuned to other creatures as well, and they with me. I suspect this is how everyone and everything of this earth is supposed to be; and wondered why it was now dormant in humans.

One day in my office I was so amused by the real thoughts and feelings of those around me that I hadn’t realized I was sitting at my desk with a stupid grin on my face. I couldn’t help but compare my colleagues with the wolves up in the hills. There were some extraordinary coincidences. We have a woman in the office that is dark and sultry, just like Zula, and just as jealously ambitious. But Alan, quite tall and large, with a booming voice like Sabu, preferred his secretary, a fair, friendly girl, like Anna. Well; after he’d realized that I wasn’t interested, just like Sabu. And curious Sharon, reminded me of one of the young wolves in the pack who loved to pry and tease. In some ways we’re not all that different, in our little territories or corporations, with various ranks and titles. I stifled a laugh.

Alan was passing my desk; and noticed. “You seem a lot happier these days,” he said to me, “is there a new guy in your life?”

“No!” I retorted, “Sharon’s a gossip. Don’t believe anything she says. Besides…who would be interested in an old hag like me?”

Thankfully, he didn’t mention that he had always been interested. “You’re not old; in fact, you’re really quite pretty – you should smile more often…”

“Thanks…”

“But there is something quite different about you lately…”

I didn’t bother explaining that my dog preferred my hair hanging loose and not pulled up and pinned out of the way as was my usual style. Nor did I explain that the dog and I loved to run through the parklands at night, so I’d become fitter and toned. Others in the office noticed the changes also; and to the chagrin of some of the other office females, I was suddenly quite popular – even the younger men flirted with me. Had I subconsciously made myself unattractive previously to prevent the possibility of going through the heartache of losing yet another family again? I did not know. But I do know; that my new contented glow, was entirely due to Tyson.

When I return home from work though, I could not ignore Tyson’s boredom. To his credit he tried hard to hide it, but my senses have been sharpened. At first, I convinced myself that he would adjust to his new life, and I tried to ignore his anxiety. He hated having to wear a collar. He hated the city. He hated my warm but lonely lair. He hated having to run only at night – it was against his instincts to do so. But most of all; he hated only being allowed to run in the parklands. Although they were sizable, and surrounded the entire city center, they were still limited, for a wolf. Sometimes we’d cross a bridge and run in the foothills, but that also, was much too close to civilization for Tyson to feel wild and free for an hour or two.

Then one day while at our café with friends; and Tyson was dozing at my feet, I noticed a man sitting at the next table staring at Tyson. The man did not look happy.

The frowning man noticed I’d noticed his scrutiny and pointed to Tyson. “That’s a wolf!”

One of my friends came to Tyson’s defense. “Excuse me,” he said to the accusing man, “this dog’s a Malamute.”

The man sniggered. “Malamutes, Samoyeds - are just fancy names for wolves!”

Another patron decided to join in. “Huskies are definitely descended from wolves!”

Tyson looked hopelessly up at me. He silently asked me if I could let him off his lead so he could run for the hills. That’s when I realized our lifestyle really was doomed. Just like my mother had realized it was too dangerous for my sister and I to live here as pets. And I made the exact same mistake as she had. I’d made Tyson live in a community of wolf haters and hunters.

I was both saddened and angry at the realization. I could feel the pain in my joints as the ‘change’ threatened to take over. I fought against it. I could not become a wolf in public. In front of my friends. My nose twitched. I hoped I was still human as I stood up and glowered over the man who started this. I yelled at him. “All dogs are descended from wolves!”

“Wolf!” someone else there called out hatefully.

My fingers seemed to be hardening but I managed to throw some money on the table and led Tyson out of there. Thankfully, I was still walking on two feet. My friends followed. We left to a cruel chant behind us of “Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!”

My friends stopped. They were blinking at me as if they couldn’t believe their eyes.

“Are we being followed?” I asked them.

One of them managed to answer. “No…”

I turned to them. They were backing away from me. A glance at my reflection in the glass of a nearby shop window revealed I was in human form. But some ripped areas of my dress though made me realize an attempt (perhaps several) at ‘change’ had been made. I’d presumed I could control the ‘change’. Now I knew that anger, or fear, might have the ability to activate it. Just like extreme sorrow had originally done so.

“See you later…” I said to them, but I knew I’d never see them again. And as we ran home, I also knew we could not return to that café.

That night I asked him to try changing. I sounded petulant, like a spoiled brat, even to my own ears. But I wasn’t in the mood for apologizing.

He turned his wretched eyes to mine. “What?!?”

I almost melted at the look of his woeful eyes. But I couldn’t. If we were going to be successful with this life, he had to ‘change’. “You know what I mean. Try changing! Become a human! Become a man!”

“I – I can’t…”

“Have you ever tried?”

He didn’t answer.

“I am proof that it’s possible, Tyson – now change!?!”

“Even if I could Pippa, I wouldn’t! I could tell that man in the café wanted to kill me. I think all of them there wanted to. Humans enjoy killing us. We do not kill anything unless we intend eating it. Yet they love to kill us for no reason at all. I couldn’t be a part of such…such hatred and cruelty; I couldn’t hate, or hunt my family up in the hills - I don’t want to be a man!”

I felt frustrated. I felt confused. I felt sad. I felt angry. I threw a cushion at him.

He was also angry. He went out onto the balcony and looked longingly towards the dark hills. Blackwood Peak. The Mountain Range beyond the river. I considered locking him out there for the night. Of course, I didn’t.

I went into the shower and let the tears of frustration and sadness flow with the steaming water. I had only been trying to hang onto a life that I was familiar with. After all these years living in the city, I doubted I knew how to live like an animal out in the wild. But something had to change. And I knew. That something had to be me…

But by the time I’d finished toweling myself dry, putting on my robe and wrapping my hair in a towel, and eagerly sought him out to tell him we were leaving, Tyson had gone. At first I ran to the front door thinking ‘impossible’ as I ran. Not with paws. I was right. The door was still closed. And locked. He had not left that way. I ran back to the balcony and peered over the side, thinking ‘surely not’ – but he had – there was no sign of an injured animal lying on the ground below – he had risked death by leaping for freedom and I knew he was running away as fast as he could - back to the safety of Blackwood Peak…

‘Oh Tyson…” I cried from my balcony, “but I am a wolf too – I know that now…”

My first impulse was to throw off my robe, ‘change’, and follow – but my behavior and words had hurt him deeply – so much so, that he’d risked injury and death to leave the woman and life he despised. He couldn’t bear to be around me and my chosen life any longer. I don’t think he will ever forgive me. Sadly, neither will I…

*** *** ***

At the office, I was my old self – hair pinned back tightly, conservative suits – everyone kept out of my way and there were no more compliments – just as I prefer – I was cold, business-like, professional, and productive.

My friends were afraid of me, but that was acceptable with me – I didn’t feel like socializing, I didn’t feel like laughing. Nor did I feel like telling anyone that my beautiful dog had run away…

I try not to think of him burrowing backwards into the snow under the ledge, the snow not quite covering his thick bushy tail - watching the sunset, watching the city lights, watching the moon cruise slowly but purposely cross the night sky. I try not to think of the few good times we had shared in the city, like the time we were at our favorite café when a woman came in with a poodle – both the woman and her dog had white fluffy hair, both wore pink ribbons – I’d almost choked on the piece of cake I’d been enjoying when Tyson joked, “I don’t like my collar, but I’m glad you don’t make me wear those…” he didn’t know what they were called…

“Ribbon bows,” I finished his sentence for him.

I’d resumed my rather mundane yet familiar life alone – then one afternoon when I was sitting on my balcony, watching the hills, wondering if he was sitting under the ledge up in the hills up there watching the city below, a woman came walking down the street – something about the way she moved seemed familiar to me - she turned into my little yard - a graceful woman – a pretty woman – “Mother!?!”

She looked up at me on my balcony. Her long glorious hair flowed around her as she did so. I recognized the large, dark eyes – I recognized her favored bright red lipstick. She smiled up at me. “Aren’t you going to let me in?”

After the polite small talk at my table and a few sips of Sparkling Shiraz, I decided I needed some answers. I sat on the edge of my seat nervously and demanded. “Why did you leave us?”

She didn’t hesitate. “Same reason as you!”

I sighed. “Why didn’t you return?”

“Same reason as you…” she took a sip of her wine “…humans don’t believe it might be possible to ‘change’ – so for a long time I thought I’d suffered some sort of amnesia, and I believed…running with the wolves in the dark hills were just dreams…weird, and exhilarating, but just…dreams…”

I couldn’t argue with that. “Same as me…” But I shook my head anyway. “So where have you been all this time?”

“Just down the road…”

I sat back in my chair and frowned at her. “What?!?”

“When I first saw you in the neighborhood; I felt as though I recognized you, but I couldn’t…couldn’t…”

My expression was one of disbelief. “Couldn’t what?”

“Can’t you imagine what it was like for me? I couldn’t exactly approach you and say ‘Hi - I think you’re one of my pups’ now; could I?!?”

For a moment we just glared at each other. Then we both giggled.

“It wasn’t until I saw you on the news…” she started...

But I interrupted. “I was on the news?!?”

She grinned, “in the nude!”

Damn! That news camera crew had kept the camera rolling, that night that I was rescuing Tyson. Now I knew the real reason I had suddenly become popular with the male staff at work.

“Apparently - Sleepwalking!” She raised an eyebrow. “Now we both know you weren’t sleepwalking. Don’t worry; you managed to keep your private parts covered by your hair…”

“Well; that’s a relief!” I’m known for my sarcasm.

“Next thing I notice, you have a dog…” she smiled wickedly, “that looked very much like the wolf that that animal patrol were after - but I knew he was NOT a dog…”

“No,” I sighed as I refilled our glasses, “he wasn’t…”

“And now he’s gone…”

I nodded. “Yup!” I concentrated on twirling the wine around in my glass. I was afraid that if I looked at her, I’d cry…

“That’s why I’m here…”

I forced myself to look at her. Tears welled up in my eyes.

She reached out and took my hands in hers. “I think it’s time we both went home…”

*** *** ***

Running on all fours with my mother, this time I knew I was not dreaming, I knew my past, both wolf and human, and I finally knew where I…correction, where we both…belonged.

We stopped at the stream to drink and rest a while.

“Are we…” I still had questions, “are we werewolves?”

She blinked. “No! You don’t believe in werewolves do you?”

“No, but – until recently, I didn’t believe that I was a wolf…and…the ‘change’ always seems to happen when it’s a…full moon…”

She sighed. “I am not an expert. I don’t have the answers. Full moon, coincidence. But I do have a theory…”

“Theory? Did you study at university or something while being a human?” That sounded silly even as I said it.

“No – but I did date a professor for awhile…” she lapped up some more water.

“Go on,” I prompted her.

“You must have realized how ‘tuned in’ we are to our surroundings, it didn’t take long to understand them enough to speak their own language with them, did it?”

I hadn’t given it that much thought, before.

She continued. “Think about it. How did you manage to get a job?”

“Computer course…”

“How did you manage to do a computer course if you hadn’t known enough of their language, including numbers?”

I nodded as I remembered that I hadn’t been with Terry long before I was reading and discussing his books with him. And I was informed that no-one else had ever passed the computer course 100% before. There was one question that I guessed, and had apparently guessed correctly, and I didn’t tell them that. I even answered, “really?” As if I was surprised. And when I started my job, I only needed to be shown something once to know it, and soon, I was the relief worker for several various employees and was asked to train all new staff. They; however, I found, processes had to be repeated several times before they were familiar with their tasks, so I typed out some procedures for all the various roles, and informed them all where to find them on their computers, so they’d have something to refer to, especially if I wasn’t close by, to help – I also noticed that those who supposedly were educated and had degrees were the most difficult to teach – I’d presumed that being exposed to ‘knowledge’ and ‘information’ would have broadened and ‘opened’ their minds, but it seemed as though the opposite happens, as though the human brain had a limited capacity and at some stage would ‘close’ to broader horizons. It was the simpler workers, who had no ‘further education’, like me, whose minds were still fully awake to infinite possibilities, and were eager to be taught.

My mother must have been ‘reading my mind’. “No, It’s not that they have limited capacity, they get a few initials after their names and believe that they then know everything. And when humans think that they know everything, that’s when they become unteachable. And they resent being taught because they believe that they know more than anyone else…”

I remembered the resentment. I remember being told in a frustrated manner that they knew what to do. And I remembered how a few hours later they’d come to me with a humble little smile on their face, asking for help, and how I would retort, “so you’re ready for some training now?” I turned to my mother. “Is that what happened with your professor?”

“Yes. He was a teacher, but he was…unteachable…” then more to herself, “that’s why they marry a stupid young student instead…”

“Is that what happened to you>”

“Yes…”

“And the theory?”

“On this planet, all species are connected. Many of us mammals are basically all the same. Similar skeleton, similar muscles. I think that we all have the possibility, and some know it. Most don’t.”

“Now that doesn’t sound like something a Professor, would say…”

“No, I also dated a Shaman…”

“A witchdoctor?!?”

“That term incorrectly conjures up evil curses, so I prefer to use the term Shaman, which makes one think of a wise man…anyway, he thinks that the possibility has been lost. One cannot do what one believes is impossible to do. Unless…”

“Unless?”

“Being exposed to horror and deep sorrow…”

I related to that, and nodded. “Well, I suppose we have been…”

“I don’t know if I believe that though, as I mentioned, it’s just a theory, just a thought, one of the many musings of a Shaman, a thinker…”

“What happened to him?”

“We were going to marry, and I thought it fair that he should know…” she swallowed, “about me - he asked me to prove it. I did. I could immediately tell that he no longer wanted to be anywhere near me. He mumbled his theory, more in an attempt to convince himself, rather than me, and…I never saw him again…”

“Oh…sorry…”

“Don’t be. It obviously wasn’t meant to be…”

“So the educated stop thinking, and the thinkers overthink...”

“Obviously, humans and wolves are not meant to live together…” She looked towards the peaks, and started running again.

I sighed. I’d attempted to get to know my mother. But I had only bought back memories of two lost loves. I followed.

Nearing the plateau, we slowed and glanced back down to Thornberry. The human life that we were leaving behind.

“Will you miss it?” It came out before I could stop it.

“Mmmm…I did like my lipstick…”

“That’s silly…” but I was pleased with her answer. If she had only something as trivial as that to be sad about, she had no real concerns at all…she was already looking towards our future.

Then she looked towards the setting sun. “We’d better keep going, or it’ll be dark by the time we get there…”

That was her way of saying enough interrogation on our first day together again. Fair enough. So I answered, “Yes; wolves are supposed to get to their lairs before sunset…”

So we ran in silence for awhile. Then about half way up, she asked, “did you have a will?”

“No…I don’t give a damn about that life, and my things anymore. I guess Terry will inherit the car, town house, or should I say mortgage and loan – just joking – they’re almost freehold now. If he sells everything, he’ll make a small profit.” After a few more steps, I added, “what about you?”

“Yes – I’m leaving everything to the wolf preservation society…”

“Will it do much good do you think?”

“Probably not in our lifetime; but it’s a start…”

Soon after, at the further end of the snow plateau, I headed for the goat track.

“Not that way,” she called to me, “it’s too treacherous – follow me – this way is longer, but safer…”

I remembered the bird that had been nesting up there; trying to scare me away. I remembered the rocks falling away from under my feet at that time. I remembered how I’d managed to leap across the fallen area when I was on my way back down again. And I remembered that if I was nearing middle age, she’d be ageing – we took the longer, safer, and easier route.

Soon after, I asked, "do you go up there regularly?”

“Sometimes; Sabu would approach me, and he’d always let me return – still; I didn’t feel comfortable…”

“Me too,” I admitted, “I no longer know how to be a wolf…”

“But I’m old now, and no longer care what others think – besides – there are two of us returning…”

“Safety in numbers,” I agreed, but I was glad we had each other for support.

I marveled at her agile suppleness as I followed. “You’ve kept fit…”

“I love running…”

I guiltily thought of how I’d stopped running again since Tyson had left. “Even as a human?”

“Even as a human…”

“Were you one of those joggers in the park?”

“Yes – and I saw you and…”

“Tyson…”

“I saw you both running in the park – often…”

I wanted to ask why she hadn’t approached us, but I knew the answer. She had been dealing with her own uncertainties – we both had – we’re both still trying to come to terms with what we had believed to be incredible dreams, and how they turned out to be actual fact, reality…

Then she suddenly stopped, and sniffed the air. I did the same. We smelled them. We looked at each other. Our earlier confidence left us. We were both afraid.

“You first,” I teased.

“Grrrrrrrrrrrr!” Was her answer, but she led the way.

The first one that noticed us was Sabu. He approached. We bowed our heads and waited. He took his time with his routine inspection.

“Like bandits,” I whispered to my mum, “I feel as though we’re criminals, or something...”

“I wonder if we need a password,” was her mischievous reply.

We stifled our giggles. Which was not difficult. We found we wolves could sneer, but not quite giggle. We knew that he could ‘hear’ us, the way wolves were capable of doing, but we also knew that he had no idea what we were discussing – he wouldn’t understand what criminals or passwords would be.

He led us into the lair.

Why is it that Zula’s always the first to stand in our way, block our entrance. “Well, well well…” she started….

“Yea, yea, yea…” I interrupted, before she could say something spiteful.

We pushed passed her and went immediately to Anna. The three of us huddled closely together. There was no need for words. Her pups were weaned now, and were dozing nearby with their friends.

Soon after Sabu went out and howled to the rising moon. Everyone looked around to see who was missing. I did not have to look. I knew who he was calling for. And the same fears went through my mind again. I might have returned too late. He might be hurt out there somewhere.

I was so afraid for him that I shivered. Then his form appeared over the ridge. And as he always does, he passed me as if to find some place to retire, changed his mind, came back, and nudged my nose - I mean snout - with his, then go back out again. And as always, I followed…

We silently went to his ledge. He backed himself in, blanketed in snow. I copied. We watched the last rays of the sun set. We watched the lights of the town coming on and flickering in the distance, far below us. We watched the moon crawl across the clear, night sky.

Finally, he stated. “You’re back for good, now…”

“Yes…”

“You’re afraid…”

“Apart from the odd occasion that we’ve sat together like this, I’ve been gone a long time…”

“You’ll probably miss that other life…”

“I don’t think so…”

He looked at me uncertainly.

On our way up, my mother had admitted that she’d miss her red lipstick, and at the time I had thought, how trivial. But now in my mind I laughed as I realized how trivial my own answer to that question would be.

I looked at the bushy tail that the snow could not quite cover. I studied the golden flecks in the beautiful eyes that I loved so much. “Well; maybe I’ll miss - the Sparkling Shiraz…”

END

Short Story

About the author

TANIKA SMITH WHEATLEY

When I was a young child, I would wake up in the night screaming because of nightmares. As time went on, I realized that I was looking forward to my dreams. They were much more exciting than my real life. So now, I write about my dreams...

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