The earliest memory he had of his mother was of her fangs; thick, elongated fangs that seemed as sharp and lethal as any knife. He hadn't been more than three years old at the time, but the image had remained imprinted in his mind, and never failed to evoke a certain amount of pride. He had hoped his fangs would become just as long and beautiful.
The only memory he had of his father was of him lying at the base of a broad, red buckeye, covered in blood.
Both of his parents had died before his sixth birthday, shot by huntsmen that had been tracking their activity for months. He couldn't recall much about what had taken place, but the clarity of one particular moment still haunted his dreams.
He remembered the blood gushing from the hole in his father's throat, his eyes wide and fearful as he grappled aimlessly for something that wasn't there.
He hadn't known what to do. But the loud snapping of a twig had triggered his survival instincts and injected his veins with adrenaline. And so he had turned and ran with his tail tucked firmly between his legs. When questioned by officials, he had pretended he hadn't seen anything and they'd put him and his little sister into the custody of their only living relative, grandfather Royce McMillan.
Perhaps he should have told the truth instead of internalizing the memory and feigning ignorance. But he couldn't allow them to find out about the family secret, or rather, curse. It was something he vaguely remembered vowing never to let slip, lest their entire pack be compromised. Regrettably someone had made the mishap for him, and tipped off the mercenaries, leading them straight for his family and taking away not only his parents, but uncles, aunts, and cousins as well. It had been a bloodbath that only he and his sister had escaped unscathed, physically at least.
The wind chimes hanging from the white, pergola rafters tinkled melodically as a breeze swept through the terrace. The sprawling, Verbena flowers positioned on either side colored the air with a light, teasing scent that lulled his senses, yet did nothing to abate the mild sense of despondency that seemed to always loom overhead.
Tyson sighed and looked out past the lavishly decorated veranda to the sizeable hills rolling majestically beyond the café. One of the things he loved about living here was the lack of urbaneness that polluted the rest of the East Coast. Bridgeport was a laid back suburb centered in the heart of the woodland just west of the Alleghany River.
An indescribable ache formed in the pit of his stomach.
God, what he would give to shed this human exterior and plunge into the forest at breakneck speed. His palms itched to feel the dew-slicked grass during a pre-dawn run; to bound past shrubberies and have the air pushing at him from all sides while vaulting over streams; to sprint so fast he couldn't separate sky from ground; to transcend to a realm of total oneness with nature.
But the impracticality of this human form denied him from everything except senses so dull it seemed as if his head had been submerged underwater. His olfactory system couldn't pick up anything but the muted smell of the blue rare, skirt steak on his plate. He could barely make out the pin stripes on the suit of a man that sat a couple of tables over to the left.
And Tyson definitely did not hear someone sneaking up on him. He jumped when a black case landed with a loud clank on the table and immediately turned to confront his provoker. The anger instantly drained from him when he saw the grinning form of his best friend and the only girl he'd ever loved.
"Jeez Ty, jumpy much?" Kim teased taking a seat.
Blushing, Tyson ducked his head and scratched his neck. "Um, I've had a stressful day," he said lamely, rejoining the table.
She rolled her eyes and stole one of his fries. "You're such a fraidy cat."
Tyson scowled at being compared to that particular animal. "Don't call me that." He hadn't realized how harshly it had come out until she gave him a weird look. He thought fast. "You know how much I hate those ugly things," he put on a mock pout, hoping that she'd take the bait.
The look gave way to a smile that sent his pulse into a frenzy. "I know. The first time you came to my house you flipped out when you saw my cats."
"Yeah, all seven of them. You're a regular hag in the making."
"Hey!" Kim kicked him from underneath the table. "My cats are great. Anyway, I brought your camera back." She gestured toward the black case. "Thanks for letting me borrow it."
"Don't mention it. How'd the shoot go?"
"Not too bad, though there was this one head shot I wanted to get from Casey. But she came down with the flu the day before yesterday and I haven't been able to get into touch with her. I'm actually on my way to her house to see if she's ok."
"Do you want to take the camera, just in case?"
"Really? The project is due in a couple, have you even started yet?"
"I can start tomorr-"
"No way," Kim cut him off, "you need to get started, asap. It took me forever to capture the right angle and the right amount of light and blah, blah, blah. How about after I stop by Case's I'll swing by your place and drop it off? I can even help you with some of the frames if you want."
Tyson's heart did a double back-flip. "That'd be cool," he said nonchalantly, trying not to seem too eager.
"You are amazing Ty." She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "You're going to make some lucky girl very happy someday."
I wish she were you. He forced a smile. "Considering the slump I've been for the past seventeen years, I doubt it."
"Don't worry. All we have to do is bring you out of that shell of yours and you'll be set." Kim stood and picked up the camera's case. "I'll see you in a few hours ok?"
"K." Tyson watched as she walked away, his thoughts unable to focus on anything but the words she'd just spoken. Could it be that she knew of his secret? Is that why she wanted him to shed his shell?
He brought his fingers to touch the place on his cheek where her lips had been not moments ago. Was she worth telling? And if so, what would her reaction be? Maybe the drive home would help clear his mind.
The twenty minute drive back to his grandfather's ranch didn't do anything but add on to his doubts. Tyson's head whirled with so many probabilities and possibilities and pros and cons that he didn't notice his name being called until looking up and seeing the frown on his grandfather's face. "Did you say something?" he asked setting his car keys on the glass table.
The old man's frown only deepened. "Where've you been?"
"I only went into town, Royce," Tyson responded pulling out a glass from one of the cabinets.
Royce's expression eased as he leaned back in the chair. "Have you taken your medication today?"
Tyson let out a loud, irritant sigh. "Not yet."
"Make sure you do so," he said gruffly. "We wouldn't want to you to have another relapse."
Tyson clenched his teeth, his hold tightening on the glass. "Don't call it that."
"That's what it is boy," he said softly.
Tyson curbed the rising urge to growl. It rolled up from his diaphragm and settled beneath his ribcage, its source a growing presence from the depths of his being. The old man didn't know what he was talking about. He wasn't of his bloodline. He was only a human. He would never understand…
Tyson relaxed his grip and began filling the glass with water. "Where are they?"
"Above the toaster on the right."
He opened the cupboard and reached for the plastic container. An unnamed emotion constricted in his chest. Again, he would be suppressing his very nature, collaring it with magic and medicine to make sure It would never escape. Tyson could hear Its agitated pacing along the edge of his psyche with glaring clarity, down the steady click, click, click of Its claws hitting the invisible cage floor.
He winced when Royce whistled, the normally low-key sound resonating at such a pitch that it bordered on painful. A second later a large, black wolf-like animal trotted into the back door that he'd forgotten to close.
"Can you not whistle at her like she's some fucking dog?" Tyson glared at his grandfather and crouched down to scratch the animal behind her ears.
"Watch your tone with me boy," he said, his tone as hard as his steely, gray eyes.
He swallowed another retort, and merely bowed his head, silently conceding to the elder's authority.
"Besides she's just a…" Royce trailed off at the sharp glance his grandson sent him. Releasing a loud breath he struggled to his feet and shifted the majority of his weight onto a crutch. "Just take the damn pills."
"I will." Tyson watched the older male warily as he hobbled out of the kitchen. He wouldn't be doing too much more of that in a while. "So Reesa, what have you been up to?" he addressed his sister.
With a bushy tail that extended as far as his arm wagging furiously behind her, the huge, wolf-like creature grinned at him and slathered his face in a series of sisterly licks/kisses. "Aw I missed you too." Tyson planted a kiss of his own on her snout.
Although Reesa acted like an older, more matronly pack figure, she was actually a couple of years younger than he. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you looked at it, Reesa was unable to transform back into a human since she had gone so long in her wolf form. No amount of magic would be able to pull her back, not that she was complaining.
"So what do you think Reese? Should I let Kim know what I really am? What we really are? What if she calls me a freak?"
She snorted and shook her head.
Tyson laughed. "I know, I know bad choice of words. We're way cooler than freaks." His grin faded. "But I suppose I'll have to show her my true self. Only then will I be able to determine if she's truly worthy to become my mate. Who knows, maybe you'll become an aunt sooner than later." He ruffled her mane. "Come on and lets go make the rounds."
Feeling Its approval, Tyson walked out of the kitchen with his sister and left the container of pills untouched on the counter.
Kim squinted as she turned onto the dirt path that hopefully led to the ranch and prayed that this was the right driveway. She'd lived in Bridgeport for ten years and had yet to learn of the thousands of concealed, dirt roads that were all the rage in West Virginia.
"So I did get it right this time," she murmured recognizing the McMillan Ranch sign suspended above one of the wooden posts.
Kim pulled up in front of the two level Victorian house and cut the engine. "Hey McMillan! Get your ass out here so we can do some work!" she yelled stepping out of the car. This place was entirely too big for her to go searching for him; that and she loved pissing off his ill-tempered grandfather.
She waited for Tyson's response or Royce's customary "shut the hell up", but neither came. Frowning, Kim closed the Firebird's door and looked around, becoming aware of the lack of activity on the ranch. For the first time, she noticed the absence of horses grazing in the front. Usually Tyson didn't take them in until dusk.
Kim turned and almost ran into a freakishly large wolf-dog. "Reesa are you trying to give me a heart attack?"
Reesa cocked her head to the side for a second before padding toward the wooded area off to the right of the house, then stopped and looked back when she noticed the girl wasn't following. "What? Do you want me to follow you Lassie? Is Timmy in trouble?" Despite her reservations and against her better judgment, Kim followed.
Like the ranch, the forest was equally silent in a way that called the hairs on her arm to attention. Her intuition warned her against going any further, that something was obviously off and no good would come of this venture.
Reesa emitted an animated yip and bounded eagerly through a dense thicket.
"Reesa, I swear," she huffed pushing away thick, thorny branches, "if I get mauled by a mountain lion, you and I are going to…" Kim froze mid-movement. "Oh my god."
They were both fighting over a mangled hare, growling and pushing and shoving for the spoils. Its intestines were hanging comically from its open belly and coated in filth from being dragged along the dirt. Kim coughed and clamped a hand over her mouth to keep the bile pushing into her throat from escaping.
The cough attracted their attention, momentarily putting an end to their game. Releasing her end, Reesa trotted to the small heap of organs that had fallen out and began gulping down the remains. He picked up the hare, proudly ambled over toward Kim, and dropped it in front of her.
She backed up slowly in frozen shock/horror/revulsion until her back met the trunk of a tree. Appearing confused and annoyed, he picked it up and came closer before dropping it on top of her foot.
Shrieking, Kim kicked, intending to fling the dead rabbit away, but somehow ended up smacking him in the process. He reared up and howled in pain. She bit her lip, torn between seeing if he was ok and running for her life.
All traces of affability disappeared. He snarled, baring teeth that he didn't seem to be afraid of using. Kim took the hint and bolted into the thicket. A high pitched wolf cry echoed throughout the noiseless forest and caused her to stumble over a fallen log. Swearing, she pressed on, her panic mounting when she heard his heavy panting behind her.
With a renewed burst of energy, Kim picked up the pace and cried in relief when see saw the house up ahead. She was almost there. But a scream tore from lungs before she could reach the break. He lunged onto her back, knocking her flat on the ground. She flailed desperately, and tried to use her hands to shove him away.
Enraged, he clamped his teeth onto her bicep and began dragging her deeper into the woods. Kim screamed, feeling the warmth of her own blood trickle down her arm.
All of a sudden, his efforts stilled and he slumped on top of her as if passed out. Sobbing, she pried her arm from his mouth, rolled him away, and stood quickly on shaky legs.
"Are you ok?" Tears blurred the form of her savior, but she could tell who it was by his hobble and his gruff voice.
"I'm fine now." She pressed a hand over her wound to stop the bleeding.
Royce set the tranquilizer rifle down and stared at the unconscious body of his grandson. "It wasn't supposed to be like this," the old man said tiredly.
"I knew something was wrong when I saw him, playing with her, playing with her like he was an animal," Kim shivered and hugged herself. "I mean, he was naked, and his mouth was covered in, in, in rabbit gore, like he'd been eating it, raw. I think he was eating it." She took a moment to collect herself. "What was wrong with him?"
"I told that idiot to make sure he took those pills every day," he muttered mopping the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt.
"What?" His head snapped towards her abruptly as if he'd forgotten she was standing there. "Oh. It's a form of schizophrenia; makes you see and believe in things that don't exist. He's had it since childhood. Guess I can't blame him after what he saw."
"What'd he see?"
He looked at her as if it were the obvious of answers. "His mother had the same illness. She thought she was a lycan, a werewolf. It got to the point where she would eat nothing but uncooked meat. During that time the medicine Tyson uses didn't exist. My son tried his hardest to help her, but she didn't want to be helped and in the end, tore out his throat," he said bitterly.
Kim gasped. "Oh my god. And Ty saw?"
Royce nodded grimly. "I believed him when he told me he hadn't seen anything. It wasn't until he reached age ten and began howling at every full moon that I knew something had triggered it. So I brought him to a psychologist and they prescribed him the Trilafon pills, a type of anti-psychotic medication." He picked up the gun. "Come on, lets get back. The authorities are on their way as we speak." Royce crouched down to pick Tyson up.
Reesa leapt in front of the boy's body and snapped at the old man until he backed off, her lips curling and a growl vibrating from her throat.
Royce scowled. "Fine, you can protect him for now, but after they put him away, I'll have animal control take you too."
Reesa's growl deepened and her hackles rose.
Sending the animal a resentful glare, Royce took hold of Kim's arm and guided her back to the ranch. "Lets head back. The asylum officials will be here to collect him soon."…