“But . . . I don’t want to change,” Anrin said. “Why can’t I remain as I am?”
The wolf’s hands paused. “Because innocence never lasts.” Abruptly the wolf rose and went over to crouch by the fire, apparently losing interest. “But perhaps you are not yet ready.”
Anrin sat up and pulled his shirt closed, his hair tumbling disheveled about his face and shoulders. The wolf spoke in riddles, and yet Anrin thought he understood. The answers he wanted were here, if he could only grasp them. If only he dared.
“What should I do?” he asked the wolf.
“That is for you to say—for now,” the wolf said. “If you want to return to your village, follow the sun east. Take the bearskin in the corner since you have so little fur of your own.”
So Anrin rose, wrapped himself in the bearskin, and went to the thick oiled-hide curtain which served as the cave’s door. He paused at the threshold, but the wolf did not turn from the fire, and so Anrin stepped out into the light.
“When you grow tired of playing sheep,” the wolf called as the flap closed behind him, “come back to me.”
With his mind full of thoughts he had never pondered before, Anrin returned to the village.
But the smell of death was on the wind as Anrin stepped out of the trees.
It came from the barn, where the half-hinged door swayed like a drunkard in the noontime breeze. The creak of the hinge stuttered now and again as the door stopped against something lying across the threshold. A pitchfork, its tines dark and red at the tips. Beyond that lay Old Baba.
After gazing down at her body for a very long while, Anrin left the cottage and went back into the woods.
The sun had just set when Anrin found the wolf’s den again. The wolf crouched beside the fire as if he had not moved since Anrin left. Anrin walked up to him and stopped, his fists clenched at his sides.
“Old Baba taught me there are secrets in the forest,” Anrin said.
“That has ever been true,” the wolf agreed.
“She told me there are things in the forest that eat fools like me.”
“There are indeed,” the wolf replied.
“Make me one of them,” said Anrin, and the wolf turned to him and smiled.
When the wolf stood, Anrin saw that his body was different: still as muscular and powerful as before, but this time a part of the wolf had grown and now stood forth from his body unsupported. It was not the first time Anrin had seen such a thing—for his own body had done the same at times—but now at last he understood the why of the phenomenon, and what it implied for the immediate future. And this understanding in turn clarified the past: the smith’s offer of the strawberry, and Old Baba’s anger, and even the circumstances of Anrin’s birth. Both the villagers and the wolf had been right all along: some things were inevitable, natural. Blood always told.
“You are still beautiful,” he told the wolf.
“As are you,” said the wolf, who then took Anrin’s hand and laid him down on the bearskin and tore his clothing away. He caressed Anrin again with his down-furred palms, and licked Anrin with a long pink tongue, and finally lifted Anrin’s legs up and back, bracing them both to proceed.
“You’re certain?” the wolf asked. The smoke-hole was above them; a shaft of moonlight shone into Anrin’s eyes. In silhouette only the wolf’s teeth were visible.
“Of course not,” Anrin whispered, shivering with ten thousand fears and desires. “But you must continue anyhow.”
At this, the wolf smiled. That smile grew as his mouth opened impossibly wide, the canines flashing. He leaned down and Anrin trembled as those teeth touched the skin of his shoulder, then pressed, warning of what was to come.
Then the teeth pierced Anrin’s flesh, hard, burning like fire. In the same moment something else pierced him, just as hard but larger, just as painful but stranger, and Anrin cried out as his body was invaded twice over. The wolf growled and worked his jaws around the wounds, as if to make absolutely certain that the wolf-essence would pass properly. His teeth slid out, then in again—a little deeper, a little harder. And again. And again. And between Anrin’s thighs, the wolf’s hips mirrored his jaws.
And then Anrin was writhing as the change began somewhere deep within him, in his belly, in his veins, spreading outward like fire and consuming every part of him. Somewhere amid the searing waves the pain became pleasure and fear turned to savage delight. And as the wolf tore free to turn his bloodied face up to the moonlight, so too Anrin arched with him, and clawed him back down, and howled over and over for more.
In the morning Anrin slept, for it was the nature of wolves to shun the day. Toward evening he awoke hungry, and the wolf took him outside and taught him to read scents and to hunt for good, hot, fresh meat. When night fell the wolves ran together through the forest, traveling east to the edge of the village.
Old Baba had been wrong, Anrin understood now. The forest had its dangers, but so did the paths of men; in the end, it was simply a matter of choice. Sometimes it was better to charge roaring into the shadows than be dragged helpless and broken through the light.
He smiled to himself, wishing Old Baba could see him. What big teeth you have, she would have said.
All the better to eat men, Anrin would have replied.
Then with his packmate at his side, he slipped into the village to do just that.
ARE YOU A VAMPIRE OR A GOBLIN?
GEOFFREY H. GOODWIN
Once again, Yvette startled awake from the nightmare where she was devouring the twelve-year-old boy from down the street. And the day-old daffodils on her nightstand had turned rotten. She checked the small clock above the room’s door. She’d been asleep for nineteen minutes.
The first few times, the recurring dream—and how it had the capacity to turn fresh-cut flowers into black lumps of rot in the waking world—freaked her out. The last few times, the dream was becoming a form of personal exploration. Yvette was uncertain whether this was good or not, but the transformation from freaky dream to prismatic memoir was worth noting.
She couldn’t shake the belief that if she paid enough attention, was observant and clever enough, she would solve her mysterious recurring nightmare.
The Institute let her stay for longer periods of time and she was grasping the basics of lucid dreaming. Yvette had accepted that controlling these bizarre dreams was the most important facet of her personalized treatment plan. She’d learned how to flip light switches, how to see colors that didn’t exist in nature and, a new favorite, she was learning how to cut off the fingers of her right hand, one by one with pruning shears, to prove she was having a dream and that the evil visions—like the boy from down the street, and the fork, knife and dinner napkin—were not real.
Or these events were real, but not occurring the way they did in dreams. Her doctors stressed that she’d make a better decision if she mustered a few granules of serenity and inner peace. Her recurring nightmare got in the way of most forms of mustering.
Yvette was afraid she’d cut off her actual fingers but hoped that the Institute wouldn’t leave dangerous shears lying around. Over time, through astute observation, she concluded that pruning shears were rarely found lying around in the waking world’s incarnation of the Institute.
The cannibalistic dream didn’t happen every night. That was the worst. Before proving that she really needed long-term professional help and thereby earning a free pass to stay in the Institute whenever she wanted, Yvette had tried everything: stuffing her face, exercise regimes, dozing on the couch, drinking a glass of warm milk, drinking seven glasses of ice cold brandy. She’d called psychic hotlines, worn a glowing lightmask over her eyes that was supposed to stabilize her beta waves but was pure quackery, and she’d even tried sleeping every other night to see if that would make her tired enough that she wouldn’t dream of eating the boy. It distressed her that she kept dreaming of chewing his flesh and couldn’t control her nightmares.
She didn’t know him at all well and sometimes couldn’t even remember that his name was Timothy.
She was certain that she’d never been particularly drawn to blood-drinking or soul-slurping. So the phenomenon, until these minor breakthroughs, had remained quite a mystery.
The process, of healing or of “learning to embrace her true preponderance of selfhood” or whatever it was she was trying to do—whatever it was she was trying to accept now that she was finally chipping through her grungy patina of self-resignation—began when she consulted the family physician at her yearly checkup.
Yvette hadn’t wanted to schedule a special appointment just to discuss her nightmare of devouring Timothy.
Dr. Burningheart squiggled several notes on his clipboard before eventually chuckling and saying, “I’ve known your parents for almost twenty-six years and we didn’t want to pressure you or tell you before you were ready, but you’re going to have to choose between being a vampire or a goblin.”
Yvette hadn’t liked the sound of either choice, but her dreams had cost her several jobs—including hostessing at a lovely supper club—so she asked, “Will that make the nightmare go away?”