Become a Fan
Walking Wolf Road - Chapter 23
By Brandon M Herbert
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
Jimmy tries to research the recent revelations.
Walking Wolf Road
By: Brandon Herbert
Halloween had been the last day of the first quarter and my P.E. class with it. The liberating new quarter had begun after a three day weekend. My P.E. class was traded for an English credit course on Myths and Legends, quite easily the best trade I’d made in my life! Jack and Malcolm had been denied a chance to lash out at me in retribution yet, and I was rather pleased to leave their ideal opportunity behind. I walked into the new classroom that afternoon, and was instantly dismayed to find that I had not managed to escape Bo; we apparently shared an interest in mythology… oh dandy… However, in overly fair compensation, Loki dashed into the room just before the bell rang. Both of our faces split into wide grins when we saw each other, and I risked relocating a little bit closer to Bo to take a seat by her.
Of course, the irony of two werewolves attending a class on Myths and Legends was enough to keep a stupid grin on our faces all period regardless!
Once the weather grew too miserable to allow us outside, we were forced to move our lunches indoors. At first we claimed one of the large circular tables in the lunch room as our own, but we were miserable there; we had to yell to be heard and we couldn’t express ourselves openly like we could out in the privacy of that little wooded patch. Eventually; I had the bright idea to ask Mrs. Ashcroft if we could stay in her room during lunch; Fen and I could work on our assignments, and we’d promise to be good! She agreed, but we had to keep everything clean, and not do anything against the school rules. She told us she always ate in the teacher’s lounge anyway, so it was fine by her so long as someone got there to open the door for the others before she left. Hey, nobody ever said brown-nosing didn’t work…
Later that week, the report card had arrived as a gray envelope of carbon paper; and I folded and opened it with a sinking knot of fear in my gut. My barking cough of a laugh startled my mother, who had handed me the envelope. I had achieved an A in Mrs. Ashcroft’s class, no surprise there; but I went on to read that I had somehow wormed out an A- in Creative writing and a B in P.E… A freaking B in my worst class ever! I was on the verge of dancing, even able to overlook the threat of my C in math. John, predictably, only commented on the C, and launched into another grade lecture that I tuned out with a practiced ear. Regardless of what he said; I was on cloud nine as far as the grades were concerned. I’d managed to pull a win out of a no-win class!
That weekend I walked down to the public library, a massive masonry building just a few blocks down from my house, off Main Street. The streets were wet from the gently falling sleet, and reflected the warm glow of the amber streetlights as I crossed the street in the cold, and made my way up to the entrance. The thick scent of aging paper and elderly patrons greeted my nostrils as I pushed open the dark wooden door and stepped inside. A brief period of searching yielded me what I was looking for. Most libraries possessed a machine that contained the archives of past newspapers. I began scanning through; intent on my search; but not really having a date to go by. Loki was a junior, so that meant that what I was looking for had probably transpired within the last three years… That helped… a little… I swore quietly as the machine’s record ran dry about two and a half years ago. I sat back a moment to think and then went to check out a computer. After quickly filling out an application; I was given a little cardstock library card with a barcode on it that I could use to log onto a computer. The connection was slower than sin, but the sleet was coming down heavier now and I wanted to regain some body heat before I headed back home.
I looked up the website of the local newspaper I had been looking at in the library’s machine; and after snooping a while found my way to the archive section; housing articles as far back as five years. As I was searching I noticed a familiar scent in the air and impulsively closed the window with the search results in it.
“What’s up pup? What’re you doing here?” Fen’s voice came from behind and startled me.
“Oh, not much, just killing some time to warm up before I go home.” Had he seen what I was doing? I smiled disarmingly at him, then sniffed. “You smell like wet dog…”
He laughed and growled, “You jackass…”
“Hey, I just tell it like I smell it…” and I stuck my tongue out at him and we both chuckled.
“Hey, do you have a minute? There are a couple things I’d like to show you since you’re here.”
“Sure, I guess…” Fen hopped onto the library’s card-catalogue computer, and with practiced ease he pulled up results. One of the books was in the library; another could be transferred in from the Colorado Springs public library. Fen soared through the order before I even realized that he had ordered it, and then he stood and led me away from the terminal. He didn’t write down the filing number, apparently he didn’t need to; he knew exactly where the section was and who wrote the book he was looking for. Within seconds, it was in his hand and he handed it over to me. It was a book called “The Book of Werewolves” by Sabine Baring-Gould, and the spine had been fixed at least twice that I could tell, the corners of the covers were tattered and rounded off by the years.
“Be careful with this one, it’s seen more than its share…” Fen said.
“How old is it?” I asked as I flipped to the back of the title page to find the print date.
“Well, Reverend Baring-Gould wrote it in the late 19th century… but this particular copy’s about a decade old. It’s been circulated all over the state.”
“How do you know it’s the same copy?”
Fen took the book from me and opened the back cover, where the word ‘Fen’ had been written in calligraphy, as though in mockery of the French word for ‘end’. “I know because I’ve had to get it transferred in each time I needed it from spots all over the state. It’s the only copy here, so anybody in Colorado who’s interested in werewolf legends gets this one transferred to them. Even being so old, and biased by church opinion; it’s still probably the best single volume of werewolf legends ever written. Montogue Summers is often referenced by others, but most of his book is just repetition of the same material in this one, albeit with a far more radical religious prejudice.”
“I take it you don’t like him then…?”
Fen grimaced as though he had a bad taste in his mouth, “Not especially, no… But, this should help you understand some of where we come from. Our history, factually accurate or not; is detailed fairly well within those pages. As well as the reasons why we don’t openly advertise what we are; folks who do that don’t tend to live very long…”
“Yeah, I’d imagine…” I flipped through the pages, words broken only rarely by an illustration or two, copies of old woodcuts. “So, this is where all the baby-eating stories come from…?” I asked kidding.
“What is it with you and eating babies?” he shot me a strange look, “Should I be worried?”
“I dunno… You’re a little old, but you look pretty scrumptious to me…” I looked him up and down and licked my lips theatrically.
“Stop it, you’re making me blush!” he exclaimed with an exaggerated lilt to his voice. I looked around at the other books in an attempt to hide my own slight shading. Even if it was just pretending…
“Well, I’ve gotta take off, I don’t want to be late for dinner. Thanks for the book Fen!”
He looked really down all of a sudden, “Yeah, sure thing; see you at school…”
I puzzled over that while I checked out at the door and stepped back out under the slate gray sky, covering the book with my jacket. I felt really bad when it hit me that he was probably lonely; he seemed to spend a lot of time at the library; but he didn’t have any friends that I knew of outside the pack. He probably felt very lonely, and had gotten all excited to finally be able to share that with me, and I’d just shrugged him off. I felt bad and thought briefly about turning around and heading back; but the prospect of a warm plate of tuna casserole and clean dry clothes kept me from doing more than stopping momentarily in the sleet.
I’d make it up to him later; besides, I had another engagement after dinner…
* * * *
I was nervous, there was no denying it. It wasn’t like a date or anything, but… still… When I’d gotten home, I’d spent nearly ten minutes trying to pick out which clothes to wear, and then at dinner I’d barely picked at a single helping of food. I was nervous, so nervous, and I was being very silly, and… yeah…
A cold rush of nerves shot through me when the doorbell rang and I froze like a hunted rabbit, my heart pounding, before I bolted up the stairs two at a time. John had already let Loki in through the door, and I nervously greeted her and collected my guitar and amp, which had been waiting by the door for this, and an old backpack stuffed with tab-books and other guitar-y stuff. She’d thankfully had the forethought to bring a large umbrella to protect us and my gear from the frigid drizzle.
A crew-cab pickup was idling at the curb in front of the house, its headlights igniting the splotches of slushy snow that fell in their beams. Loki led me up to it, and opened the back door for me to put my stuff in and I set my amp and backpack down on the floor on the other side, and balanced my guitar on the seat while I climbed in.
“Hiya Jimmy, it’s nice to finally meet you!” A big man in a cowboy hat twisted around in his seat to extend his hand, his face shadowed from the dome light by the wide brim. I smiled warmly and reached for his hand, hoping I would find that perfect balance in the squeeze that I would imagine fathers of teenage daughters would look for.
“Pleasure to meet you too sir!” His had was warm and firm, well practiced at the shake with none of the uncertainty that I possessed, rough bits of callous scraped my skin, working hands. I pressed as firmly as I dared, and he nodded and released me to turn back to the wheel. Loki slipped into the passenger seat and we started moving, I reached out and steadied my guitar on the seat.
“So you’re gunna teach Jessica how to play that guitar she’s been collecting dust-bunnies with?” It took me a moment to remember that Jessica was Loki’s real name… It didn’t’ suit her any better now than it did the first time…
“That’s the plan anyway. I’ve never taught anyone but myself to play; so I hope I don’t end up making her worse!”
“I don’t really think that’s possible…” Loki chirped in, “I think you would be safer just pretending I’d never laid eyes on a guitar before tonight!”
“Oh come on, I bet you’re better than you admit!”
Her Dad coughed into his hand, just discernable as “worse!”
Loki slapped her dad on the arm, “Dad! You’re horrible!” she cried.
“Look who’s horrible here!? I’m just an old guy clearing his throat; you’re the one physically assaulting me!” He and I both burst out laughing, while she turned in her seat to glare at me.
“You’re awful! Both of you!”
“Oh come on Jesse, we’re just having a little fun!” He said innocently, but I could hear the smile in his voice.
“Yeah, at my expense!”
“Precisely” I said.
I caught sight of a pair of bright blue eyes in the rearview mirror, set in a smiling but sun-worn face; crow’s feet held the corners of his jewel blue eyes like the fittings on a piece of sapphire jewelry. We chatted a little more until we pulled down the long driveway that let to Loki’s home. We trudged through the slush to the back door, and Loki and I removed our muddy shoes back in the pantry; it wasn’t that her parents were clean-freaks; it was just that Loki didn’t want us dripping mud and slush all over her room, and the clothing that carpeted the floor. We carried my gear over the floor and fumbled around for a power outlet to power our amplifiers.
In the process, my eyes fell on a pile of discarded clothes and affixed themselves on a bit of crimson and black lace sticking out of the pile. The sight triggered a strong memory of seeing her wearing that same piece of lace, and then not… Suddenly I became very aware of the fact that we were a boy and a girl, all alone, in said girl’s bedroom.
I felt the blush creep up my face, and managed to wrench my eyes away from her bra with some difficulty. I suddenly felt all the more awkward and uncertain; not just because I didn’t know where to start with her lesson, but because she had a gender again, she wasn’t just my friend Loki, she was a beautiful budding woman.
I shook my head to try and clear it, and my voice almost broke when I said; “So, shall we get started?”
“Yeah, what’s first Sensei?” she said, her emerald eyes sparkled with enthusiasm, and were disastrously mesmerizing…
What the hell did come first…?
“Um, well I basically taught myself by learning to play my favorite songs. What are some of your favorite songs, the ones you have completely memorized?”
She started listing them off, one after another; ranging from death-metal to hair-metal to even pop-y alternative. As she listed them out I was keeping a mental tally, sorting through them to the ones which I knew I had brought the tabs with me; and then selecting out of those which ones would probably be easier for a beginner to play. When she mentioned “Of Wolf and Man” by Metallica though; I latched onto it; partly because it wasn’t too hard and I had taught myself out of the Black Album in the first place, and the other part was…well… obvious… She was excited by my choice when I pulled out my tablature book and flipped to the page where “Of Wolf and Man” started.
“Okay, we’ll start with how to make a ‘power chord’...” I showed her how, and then blushed a little bit as I took her hand and helped her move her fingers into place, then told her to strum the strings with her pick. The resulting sound was horrendous and excruciating to a practiced ear. Now it was her turn to turn beet red.
“Okay! Maybe we should back up a bit and start by tuning; something I forgot to do too. You’re supposed to always tune before each time you play so that you can tell when you’re making a mistake, instead of just writing it off to the instrument.” I walked her through tuning and we started again; I showed her how to move her fingers, and how to mute the strings with the palm of her hand for that chugging sound Metallica favored.
We practiced the opening riff for quite a while, and she picked up on the verse even easier since she’d already started to get the hang of the opening. Eventually we took a break, and she rubbed her fingertips absently while we talked.
“It doesn’t seem like it should hurt to play, but I feel like I sanded off my fingertips; does it always hurt but you just get used to it?”
“No, after a while of wearing at the skin like that; eventually the body responds and thickens the skin on your fingertips. It’ll hurt at first, but after a while it won’t; just like how your hand will get used to making the chord shapes after you’ve played them enough; eventually your body catches up with you.”
“Why did you start me on this one? Why didn’t you choose something easier like ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ or ‘Iron Man’?” She whined halfheartedly.
“Well, first off, you don’t want to pick easy songs because they’re easy; you’ll never get better that way; you always have to push yourself if you expect to get anything. Also; it’s easier to learn how to play a song you already know; so that way you know you’re getting the rhythm right and you can reference the CD whenever you want… That’s how I taught myself anyway…”
I set my guitar on the floor and slid down the side of Loki’s bed so that I was sitting by her legs. I didn’t want her to think I was as uncertain… well, as I was… Was I teaching her wrong? Did I give her more than she could handle right off the bat? Aw, crap; what if she got discouraged right away and gave up?
She tried playing the riffs again; and it was starting to sound better and better, the timing was still awful, but I guess mine wasn’t exactly metronome-perfect in the beginning either… Or currently for that matter…
She sighed and set down her guitar, “Damn; I’ll get it eventually…” She pulled her legs up onto her bed, and I heard the scrape of her clothes on her bedding. I nearly jumped when I felt her arm come over my shoulder and across my chest. Blushing and unsure, I crossed my arms and hugged her arm against me; thrilling in the warmth and scent of her.
“Can I ask you something Jimmy?” Her voice came from right behind my ear and it felt velvety and very personal, I secretly savored her invasion of my space.
“Sure…” I whispered it, as though expecting my voice to crack like a freshman’s if I spoke any louder. My mind whirred in roulette trying to anticipate her question.
“What do you think of Fen?”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“Like, as a person; do you like him?” she clarified.
What did she suspect? “Well, yeah I like him. He’s probably the best friend I’ve ever had, and he helped my find my inner animal, helped me find a place where I can finally belong…” I squeezed her arm as I said this last. “Is that what you meant?”
She sighed, “Yeah, I guess…”
I patted her arm, “Hey, what’s bugging you?”
“It’s just…” she sighed again, “I dunno, it’s Fen… Sometimes it just feels like there’s something not right about him.”
“You mean aside from the lycanthropy, right?”
“We’re therianthropes, not lycanthropes. And… yeah, aside from that. He makes me feel really uncomfortable when we’re alone together; he always tries to be there whenever I hang out with anybody else.”
“Well, what does he do to make you uncomfortable? I’ve never seen him touch or speak to you inappropriately, but that could just be around me.”
“No, he doesn’t do anything like that; but it’s like he gets this… hungry look in his eyes… it scares me… When he knows no one else can see him doing it, it feels like I’m prey. Like he’s hunting me and intends to fulfill his hunger someday.”
“Wow, that’s really messed up! That’s like, the sorta logic my dreams have!”
“Really? That’s just sorta the way I think all the time…”
“Cool, that mean you’re like, the woman of my dreams!” I turned around to look at her face.
“Oh God! Jimmy, you’re a dork! Here I am trying to be all serious…”
“Well there’s your problem!” I laughed while I pounced on top of her and tickled her sides. “Loki’s is not supposeded to be all seriousness!”
She laughed until tears leaked out of her eyes, and then cried out for me to stop.
“Loki… Do I ever make you feel like that?”
“What?” She knocked me off of her and I flopped down on her mattress beside her.
“Do I ever make you feel uncomfortable?”
“Well, merciless jumper-cables are hardly the pinnacle of relaxation!”
“You know what I mean… Do I?”
“No! Jimmy, I love hanging out with you, I’ve really enjoyed tonight. You have no idea how nice it is to get away from big brother for a change!”
“So, I don’t make you feel uncomfortable?”
“No… Actually, I feel really relaxed around you; like I don’t have to hold up the tough-girl façade and can just be myself with you. It’s not that I think less of you it’s just… it’s like I know you don’t judge me like everybody else. You know how much it hurts to be judged unfairly… You know, I think most other people forget that I’m a girl, and expect me to act according to their misconception. I don’t feel like that with you, I don’t have to be a tough tom-boy; I can just be me.”
I slid my arms loosely around her shoulders and held her, “I’m glad…”
A soft rap at the door, and Loki shifted to look at the clock; it was almost 10 o’clock and time for me to go. Damn…
“Yeah?” I answered.
“Don’t tell Fen about this…” she looked up into my eyes, the emeralds shining in her face.
“About him making you uncomfortable; that’s really not my place, you should tell him.”
“Not just that, about the lessons too. I really like having this time to choose who I want to be with.”
“Sure thing Loki…” I smiled at her and she smiled back.
I gathered my things and Loki’s dad drove me back home with her. I hugged her goodbye when they dropped me off, and I slipped inside as quietly as I could. I stashed my stuff down in the dungeon, and then climbed back up the stairs again to get ready for bed. As I brushed my teeth, I kept finding myself staring at my canines. Was it just the foam, or did they actually look different? I spit and started poking and prodding the tips of my teeth. My teeth had come in mostly straight, with nothing unusual besides a fluoride deficiency; I had been seeing them and touching them for years, and my tongue especially knew the inside of my mouth very well. My canines before had been slightly pointed, but mostly rounded off and flat level with their neighbors, but now I felt dominant peaks on not only them, but the teeth right behind them as well. They were slightly higher than the other teeth, and my tongue confirmed that their former soft roundness was now much more sharply pointed.
I smiled with excitement; fangs would be so cool! Part of me poo-poo’d myself, saying that I was just wanting it to be true so badly that I was fooling myself into believing it. Regardless, I went on with my nightly routine; and began to take off my clothes to shower. I lifted my shirt over my head and accidentally caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. But at first, I didn’t… recognize myself…
Long ago as a small child, I used to stare at my reflection in the mirror. The other kids didn’t like me, didn’t want to hang around with me; so I thought I must be ugly… And I looked at myself long enough and hard enough until I could see every way in which I was ugly; and I’d seen myself as ugly since that day. So, when I came to accept my ugliness, I tried to be friends with the other kids that were ‘ugly’, but they didn’t like me either. So I figured I must be fat, and I stared into a mirror and watched the weight build on, and on, and on… Eventually, I became so ugly and so fat that I couldn’t bear to see myself in the mirror. I went from obsessively staring into mirrors to deftly detouring my eyes to avoid them, and having to consciously choose to look into them when I needed to.
But there was someone else in the mirror now… Instead of the pudgy paleness I had grown accustomed to, I was pale still, yes, but now my shoulders were wider than my midsection. My stomach no longer protruded like a premature beer belly, and my pecks were not buried behind pads of mush. I ran my hands down my chest, feeling instead of an unknown thickness of pudge, only a small margin of give before I felt muscle and bone underneath.
A small dark line I didn’t remember having before traced a line from my belly button down to the hem of my pants. That was new… There was a lot that was new… I snarled at my reflection, still noticing the slightly more prominent points of my fangs, my eyes swept down over a set of shoulders that had never seemed broad before because of the perspective of my waistline. My torso, instead of being shaped like a pear, was now starting to resemble an upside down triangle, and my new ‘happy trail’ had all only just come since… Since Fen bit me…
It dawned on me, that once I finally welcomed my wolf spirit, that my body had finally begun to manifest my other self as well. Fangs and fur…
‘I wonder if Loki would like this…’ flitted through my mind as I brushed my fingers through the emerging black curls on my abdomen. I instantly blushed and I watched the flush fill not only my face, but my neck and down into my upper chest as well… Damn, I needed to get some sun! I tried to distract myself and avoided the mirror again… I finished disrobing and stepped into the shower. But still, once I couldn’t see myself being embarrassed, thoughts of Loki returned. They slid through my imagination like red satin ribbons, and I didn’t try to stop them. My heart beat faster, and my body tensed… but those fleeting thoughts were all I would allow myself. Loki was not only out of my league… she was forbidden because she was pack.
I felt a shift in the dragon’s lair inside me, the sadness of another thing I wanted but could never have found room to dwell there. I pulled back the curtain and stepped out, seeing myself in the mirror again, edged in fog. But for the first time in longer than I could remember, I did not think ‘ugly’ when I saw myself, I did not think ‘fat’… Instead, in that faint reflection obscured by condensation, I saw a man with ebony hair, a faint shade to my skin from my father’s side, and I saw someone who was not ugly or misshapen. I was not what I used to be anymore.
The dragon tried to slam the door to its cavern closed again, but it was too late; something slipped out and escaped. A little piece of my self-loathing died… I could almost feel the dragon roiling and thrashing in the empty space now vacated; but it didn’t feel painful… this fluttering in my stomach was quite welcome.
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