This short fiction piece was my final piece for my first writing workshop in college. It was my first serious piece, and what encouraged me that getting a writing degree was really what I wanted to do. I like to use this piece when applying for writing positions to showcase my fiction writing style.
The only sound in the forest was the repetitive slap of powerful paws hitting the ground, matching with perfect rhythm the heavy pumping of their mutated hearts. In the cold morning air, the running pack’s collective breath formed a cloud around them, following them like an ominous fog rolling across open water. Spittle sloshed from their fanged mouths, their tongues falling from their open maws and flopping in the wind as they ran through the forest. There was a silence in the forest which penetrated every living soul with fear as the pack’s sight narrowed on a lone deer, wounded and left behind by its herd. Cornering it in a clearing, they lunged, becoming airborne for only moments, then the quiet calm of the morning was broken as they took down the deer and feasted viciously on its flesh.
Most people would hardly notice how the pack brothers were slightly bigger than the other wolves in the area. They certainly wouldn’t notice the way the pack acted, like a military corps company out on their daily run. Their eyes were big and round, colored blue, grey and brown instead of the usual wolf yellow. A human soul looked out back of their eyes, trapped and filled with woe.
Transformation was painful. At first, the pain was so great that Daniel would black out and remember nothing of changing his form. After a while, when he gained strength and became accustomed to the frequent call of the wild, he was aware of every sensation as his body ripped itself apart to take another form. It was like being awake during your own autopsy; he could feel everything his body was going through, but was unable to do anything but watch it happen.
It would start with a cold, unsettling tingling that ran up and down his spine. When Daniel felt the tingle, he would kiss Lily goodbye and run off into the nearby woods. There, hidden from the world, he became the animal. Alone, the beast inside of him ripped its way free of Daniel’s skin as a young child would rip through wrapping paper on Christmas morning. The sound of the crunching of his bones as they morphed into animal shapes reverberated through his body as the blood pounded in Daniel’s head, fueled with adrenaline. There was a fiery burn which flowed through his veins, causing Daniel to claw his skin off. Every cell in his body screamed out in horror as dark, coarse hair spilled out of every follicle, and claws shot out from his fingernails. Then, silence as the beast rose from sleep and took hold of his new, animal skin.
It was only when Daniel found his pack brothers did things get better. There were more men out there who suffered from the beast within like he did. Because of the danger that the beast could take over them completely, theymade a pact to travel together as nomads, to not risk forming an attachment to anyone to prevent hurting them. They could only risk affection for each other, since their beastly tendencies did grant them the beauty of being fast healers. The pack looked out for each other, cleaning the blood off from taking down their kill and licking their wounds. When they came together as animals, the pack became the family Daniel never had.
But, unlike his pack brothers, he had Lily. There was a deeper and unspoken understanding he had with them, which he could never have with her. But she was home. She was a bit of a strange girl, with her wild red hair flying about and bright blue eyes always curious, but her smile was magical. He believed the risk of loving her was worth it because every time he looked into Lily’s eyes, he knew no one could make him feel more accepted for his condition. For her, he would change his life to be with her because there was hope of leading a normal life.
Except, Lily didn’t know anything about his condition.
The door closed slowly behind Lily as she entered the musky motel room, all quiet except soft click of the lock sliding in to place. She picked her way through the piles of dirty clothes on the floor to the bathroom on the far side of the room. In one hand, she held the small plastic bag which she brought back to the motel with her.
A half an hour later, the door opened and she came out pacing. Back and forth, Lily tread hard enough to rub out the perpetual dirt in the wall-to-wall carpeting. She clenched a crumpled up cardboard box from a local drug store in one hand, and in the other, a white plastic stick. It had the shape and size of a tongue depressor, but slightly thicker and uneven in places. Especially where the surface dipped to form an simple screen with a colored symbol in the middle of it. When Lily discovered they were still in her hands, she tossed them hastily in the trash, along with several take-out cartons and old newspapers to bury them.
Walking back into the bathroom, she tripped over the threshold and landed heavily upon the floor. As angry tears welled in her eyes, she removed her shoes and socks with enraged rough jerks. She looked down to see her bare toes on the chipped off-white linoleum of the bathroom floor. They looked so small as she stared at them, tiny and soft like an infant’s. Her eyes started to swim, and she held up her hands in front of her face. Lily knew that this was coming when she had felt suspiciously strange for the past week. Her hands shook, and looked so thin and delicate. She felt like if she moved even one finger, she would crumble like an bird’s abandoned eggshell when held in rough human hands, leaving her a sad and pathetic mess on the floor of the motel bathroom.
She climbed into the tub. First one foot, slowly placed firmly on the tub bottom, followed by her hands grasping the edge of the tub for support. She maintained a distance between her surroundings and her body, watching every element of the tiny bathroom for a harmful detail she could have missed in her hysteria. As her second foot was placed in the tub, she lowered herself into a crouch in the curve of the tub. It wrapped itself around her like two strong arms in an embrace, where she felt safe from her delicate nature.
Lily couldn’t tell Daniel about this. She didn’t mean for this to happen, neither of them did. It would change everything, and Daniel wasn’t really big on change. For almost eight years now he had worn the same brand of jeans, ate oatmeal everyday for breakfast, and always brushed his hair to the side. She had tried to get him a different pair of jeans, some cereal, or suggested he brush his hair back, but everything was met with a halting “no” and a sullen silence as Daniel closed himself off from her. She hated it when he became a turtle like that, and stubbornly pulled himself into his shell. There was no way to tell how he would handle the news she had for him; it was too big a change for even Lily to handle.
Reaching up, she turned on the shower. Water gushed down in multiple waterfall streams, and felt like the rain that swept the plains of South Dakota in the spring, a place and time she remembered fondly visiting. The water was piercingly cold, instantly numbing her body to her bones. Under its tumble from the shower head, Lily sat down and wrapped her arms around her legs to keep warm, and buried her head in the hollow her body made. There was no sound except the fall of the water into the tub and onto her head.
As she began to cry, she clutched her stomach in agony as each sob tore her apart. She cried for hours, alone in the tub. There were moments when the tears would subside a bit and she could see clearly. In these lucid moments, Lily would look down at her stomach in wonderment. She didn’t necessarily show yet, but she could see how in the past month or so her stomach had rounded out evenly and just began to protrude over her waistline. Laying a hand on her stomach, she could feel the beat of a heart pumping blood through her abdomen. But this only made the tears return, and seconds later she would be sobbing again.
Lily could not imagine herself in one place for the rest of her life, but lately that is all she wanted. She couldn’t tell Daniel that because he always insisted it was best for them to be on the road, and he wasn’t fond of change. All she wanted now was a house, simple in appearance and comfortable in feeling, perhaps on the beach. One floor, with a kitchen, living room, library, bathroom, and three bedrooms. She would paint the walls herself, regardless of her condition, in the soft colors that shone in her memory. She would paint the waves and sand of California, the rain from the plains of South Dakota, the forests of New York and Maine, and even the signs from her favorite motels. She would live happily, sleep peacefully, and love with all her heart.
But her life was living day-to-day on the road on whatever food was cheap and having the greatest pleasure be not having to sleep in the car at night. It was not the place where a child belonged.
There was nothing special about this room; it was uncanny how many motel rooms across the country could look the same despite their location. Lily had seen many motel rooms, so she knew for a fact they all looked so similar. The only things distinguishing one room from the other were the pattern of scratches on the windows and furniture, and the stains on the sheets.
The double bed with sand brown blankets and multiple lumpy pillows stood unmade, the tan colored sheets thrown in all directions in twists and bunches. It looked like a large sand dune in the wide desert that was the motel room. Everything in the small room was a neutral color, a different shade of brown, tan or white. Its emptiness made Lily believe she was actually in a dessert, and feel abandoned and alone in the middle of nowhere. There was something not quite right about the room which Lily could not quite put her finger on. It persisted like the nagging suspicion of being followed when walking alone late at night.
Here the Blue Moon Motel in Hillside, Nebraska, she couldn’t sleep, like most nights when Daniel was gone. After crying for hours in the tub, Lily crawled out and into the bed, where she traced the patterns on the blankets, memorized the scratches on the side of the bedside table, and inhaled the sharp scent of the uneven pillows. She remained awake all night, thinking about being pregnant, never resting her eyes until she heard the howling roar of the old car’s muffler-less engine.
Once Daniel returned to the motel room, exhausted, everything would be alright, and she could sleep again. He returned when it was too late to be called night and too early to be morning. He unceremoniously dumped his bag on the floor next to the door and threw his coat and keys on the table. Crossing the room, he dropped down on to the bed, struggling to remain upright. From under the covers, she pretended to be asleep while watching him secretly as he removed his large brown boots and his clothes.
He did this systematically and with great care, despite how his shoulders drooped and his hands shook from having been overused and worn down. It was the only thing that was constant and controllable in his life, one thing that never changed. His back straightened as he crossed his arms to grab the hem of his shirt and lift it over his head. In the moonlight that shone through the cracks in the curtains, she could see the sweat rolling down his back, flowing like a rivers delta over the scars which covered his shoulders.
Lily usually didn’t mind that Daniel was a man of few words, but it was when the gruesome scars started appearing that she hated how Daniel was so tight-lipped and only responded with one-syllable words. Lily buried her head deep in the pillows, inhaling the smell of starched cotton to clear her head of the worrisome images of his back. Her fingers subconsciously traced the patterns on the blankets as she lifted her head from the pillows to see if he noticed her move. The scuffs and gouges in the bedside table caught her eye instead, mirroring his scars. Both looked like someone had taken their long, claw-like fingernails, and dug them with such violent ferocity into the surface. When she could not stand the similarity any longer, Lily buried her head again in the pillows and blanket patterns.
After slipping out of his jeans and throwing his clothes into a heap on the floor, Daniel slipped in next to her between the sheets of the motel bed. He lay down on his back, taking several deep breaths in a calm manner. The slow inhales and exhales he made sounded like the ocean waves of the Californian coast, which soothed Lily. They had spent at least a month next to the sea because the waves soothed her. Daniel had found her fast asleep on the beach one night on a thin blanket, between the tiny sand mounds created from the imprints of footfalls. Carefully, he had scooped her up into his arms and carried her back to their hotel. The next morning, Lily had asked if they could stay by the sea for a while longer, but Daniel, in a clipped tone, said no and forced her into the car. Pouting and frowning, she defiantly let him and they moved on to the next city.
When he felt her un-clench her body and begin to relax, Daniel flipped onto his side, facing her curled back. He slipped his arm around her midsection, pulling her close to the matching shape of his own body. They fit together like two puzzle pieces, despite the great height difference between them. He nuzzled her, pitting his nose deep into her mess of red hair. After kissing her lightly on the shoulder, he would tuck her head under his chin. He fell asleep like that, his deep breaths grew longer as he slipped into a deep slumber, as she tried to comfort herself by thinking of the ocean waves.
Lily had to tell him. And all the waves in the world couldn’t make her sleep right until she did.
They did everything possible to find money. Daniel took the crappiest jobs in the towns they stopped in, working tirelessly as a bus boy in dinners, or as a temporary janitor at an office building or school until he would disappear for days on end. Lily worked vigorously at menial and hard labor jobs as a laundress or maid, taking long hours and multiple jobs at one time. They would not stay more than a week or two in any one town. Many people thought this odd, but neither Daniel or Lily noticed the weird stares or under-the-breath comments they got because they were too tired from working.
When they first became nomads, Lily was drawn to Daniel’s desire for the open road and to feel the wind on his face, and she went with him with the promise that he’d take her to places she had never been to before. But, most of the time, they would end up in some backwater town, and the only new place she would ever see was a different half-decent hotel.
When he disappeared, she quit most if not all her jobs, and holed up inside a motel room. Lily did not know where he disappeared to; Daniel had told her that he was out hunting in the forest. He had a shotgun that he kept in the trunk of the car, but it seemed to remained jammed up against the back of the trunk and untouched, and there were never any buck shot rounds. He would sometimes return home with his clothes in shreds, like he had gotten run over by a lawn mower. His new boots he got a month ago, had been dyed a darker brown than the original color with something different then regular wear and tear. And, most of all, the scars on his back were always claw-shaped, multiplying and fresh, making her squirm in empathetic pain.
Daniel knew she suspected something. Most women would jump to thinking he was part of a gang, or got into bar fights often due to heavy alcoholism or drug abuse. But Lily wouldn’t draw those conclusions; he knew her vivid imagination and curiosity would come up with something more creative, and worse. She probably thought he was a serial murderer. However, she could have never guessed in a million years what he really did out in the forests.
The truth was he did hunt. He hunted deer, wild boar, turkey, quail… whatever was out there to hunt, just not with a gun. He hunted with his brothers for days on end, tracking prey over many miles of land. He wrestled and played with them in their spare time, collecting many scratches from that and hunting. After making the final kill and eating his portion of it, he left and ran until he reached Lily, safe in bed.
Daniel had started hunting only eight years ago. He and Lily had grown up together in upstate New York, and after high school ended were determined to start a life together. They had wanted to travel the country on a never ending road trip to escape responsibility while they were still young, but reality prevented any such dream. He got a job with the local lumber company, and made a fair amount of money chopping down forests. One day on the job, a large rabid dog had stumbled onto their work site, and bit Daniel when he reached for his shotgun.
After being bit, he blacked out and awoke naked in the middle of the forest, covered in blood. He straggled back into town to find it had been days since he had been bit, and an official search party had been put together to find him. He didn’t know how to explain what happened exactly to the police, his friends and family, or Lily, so he just let the rabid dog for itself. He thought he would just get a rabies shot and it would be all a thing of the past. But when he started blacking out and waking up in the forest over and over again, he realized that it wasn’t rabies causing it.
Soon, the black outs became regular enough that Daniel could recognize when they were coming and plan ahead. That’s when he began to remember what happened during the black outs: the running, the hunting, his brothers… his prey. He worried for the safety of the townsfolk, that the beast would take over his life and he would hurt them. That’s when he made the pact with his brothers, and abandoned all possibilities of a normal life, and resolved to live on the road, like they wanted. Lily had gotten used to a settled life, but agreed to recapture their youth; she believed that as long as they had each other, they were happy.
They had been together for almost eight years as a result of Daniel’s dislike of change and Lily’s desire to see the world, and were still in love. He never worried that it could change, but at times he and Lily did have their rough patches where she’d ask him about hunting and he wouldn’t tell her a thing. Ultimately, life was too short, and he wanted to make the most of it with the woman he loved by marrying her. He would have to tell her first. If she truly loved him, it wouldn’t matter; things wouldn’t change. It would probably make her stop poking her nose into everything.
Daniel decided to tell her in morning at breakfast. He would tell her about the hunting, then ask her to marry him. It would be simple. Very simple.
The diner breakfast was a luxury that Lily did not have often. Out of the blue, Daniel had treated them to a nice breakfast. The fluffy stack of blueberry pancakes she ordered had arrived at the table topped with whipped cream and a single perfect strawberry. She would have marveled at how gracefully the whipped cream had curled around the vibrant berry like a miniature cloud, but Lily couldn’t bring herself to do it that morning. She kept getting stares from their waitress, and the people sitting at the counter, but she didn’t care. People always thought she and Daniel were a little off, for their inability to stay put for very long didn’t win them many friends.
This was the first time they had seen each other in at least a week. They were both used to not seeing each other for several days, but it had been a hard and long week. With reports and sightings of a pack of large, savage and starving wolves hunting deer the forest surrounding the little town of Hillside, many of the locals took it upon themselves to hunt them, for sport or out of fear. Lily always worried for Daniel’s safety while he was gone, but the worry this time had turned into stomach-dropping fear and choking apprehension. He never wore a hunter’s bright orange vest, though she had begged him many times to wear one. She did sleep when he returned, after many nights spent awake with fear, but her dreams were fitful and disturbing.
Lily took up her fork and cut into the stack of pancakes, trying to fit it all on the fork at once as she brought the food to her mouth. The syrup flowed like liquid gold over her tongue, but she was too worried about telling him about the baby to enjoy it.
“Good, hon?” he asked, pushing his own breakfast passively around on his plate.
She nodded. “The best ever,” she replied, trying to keep her voice level.
He raised an eyebrow. “Really? You said the same things about the pancakes in Springdale, Georgia.”
She took another bite. “Those were good, too” she murmured distractedly. “But that was a year ago; it’s awfully hard to judge which is the best when I’ve tasted them a year apart.”
He chuckled, raising his hand to wipe some whipped cream from her cheek. “Alright, just checking,” he said.
As she chewed slowly to try to convince him everything was fine, she watched Daniel carefully from across the table. Keeping her eyes lowered, she snuck peaks at him through her lashes, and watched him look up from his breakfast to gaze in admiration at her. They were still together after all this time in their shitty life on the road. Sometimes she thought that they were still together because Daniel couldn’t stand changing a habit once started, but the way his hand lingered when it brushed against hers accidentally on purpose showed that his love was still as pure as the day they met. It was there as the spark which ignited every time he looked at her as she entered the room, whether covered in grime and exhausted after work, or raw and pink from talking a shower. Lily was the only one with whom he had ever been close. Though nervous and twitchy this morning, Daniel still glowed as he sat across the table from her, and it made her blush, like it did all those years ago.
But, the blush faded when she remembered the white plastic tube, sitting hidden at the bottom of the wastebasket. The little pink plus sign that had materialized on its surface was emblazoned in her mind, and haunted her more than worrying about his safety. It screamed at her all night in her dreams and, while awake, crept on the edges of her thoughts.
“Baby,” Daniel said, breaking their silence. She jumped slightly, cringing at the word. “I was wondering if I could tell you something. And before I say anything, I want you to know that I love you very much, and I’m only telling you this because I love you and--”
Lily didn’t hear a thing he said after the word “baby.” She had to tell him. He would find out eventually, whether when they returned to the room to clean and pack up, or in another small motel room in several weeks. It wouldn’t be right for him to find out on his own.
He stopped talking and looked up at her. He made eye contact with her, and became sullen at her haunted and fearful expression.
Lily struggled with forming the right words and their order. She started to say something several times, then would stop, squeezing her eyes shut and twisting her mouth in pain. Dropping her fork, she finally gave up and covered her face with her hands. He reached across the table, taking one of her small hands in his giant one.
“What is it, Lily?” he asked, his voice growing deep and fearful. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end, his senses heightened as he took in every possible threat around them.
She looked up into his eyes, tears welling up in her own.
“I’m pregnant, Daniel.”
The shock of Lily’s sudden confession made Daniel’s heart stop. He stopped breathing and froze in his seat, his spoon of oatmeal stuck halfway to his mouth. All of his motor functions shut down instantaneously, leaving him blind, deaf and dumb. There was a slight cold tingling running up his spine, but he barely felt it as everything went numb. And, in his most un-masculine display of emotion, he fainted in the booth.
Daniel vaguely heard screams of the waitress, who had come to check on him and Lily, and the breaking of dishes as she dropped them on the floor at the sight of him. There was some shouting and heavy footsteps making a quick escape out the front door, the little bell above the door ringing like church bells on Sunday as the door banged into it a million times. As soon as there was a long enough period of silence, he tried to sit up to look if Lily was still there.
She was, and with the weirdest look on her face. Daniel puzzled over it; the expression was halfway between a confused and disbelieving stare, and a surprised yet horrified frozen look.
“What?” he tried to say.
All that came out of him and made sense to anyone was “Woof?”
His eyes went wide and he looked down to see his body was covered in fur. Quickly, he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to become a human again. When the fur, claws, muzzle and fangs receded, he opened his eyes and stared in horror at Lily. They stared at each other with complete terror in their eyes for several minutes in complete silence.
It was a miracle that they were able to get out of the diner unnoticed. Everyone that still remained when the police came were unconscious when he slipped out the door with Lily in his arms. At the motel, Daniel laid her down on the bed and waited for her to wake up. When she sat up, rubbing her eyes, and started mumbling about a crazy dream she had, he told her everything. Everything about the black outs, the beast, the hunting and his pack brothers. Lily listened patiently, but he could tell she didn’t believe him; she kept staring at him intensely, and shaking her head as everything bubbled up inside her. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore and exploded.
“What the hell are you saying?” Lily said, giving him a strange look. “Are you a werewolf or something?” Her brows furrowed as she became frustrated trying to sort out everything Daniel told her. “That’s a load of crap. People can’t turn into animals!” She shook her head and wiped the tears that were forming in her eyes. “I don’t believe this, Daniel. I just told you that I’m pregnant with your kid, and you go and make up some bullshit story about how you turn into a wolf and run around with a bunch of other guys just like you because you are afraid of having your life change while it’s out of your hands. I’m trying to be serious here.”
“I am serious!” Daniel shouted. “Everything is changing, and for once I want to give you a reason for why things can’t be different. Even though you never say anything, I know you have never been quite alright with being nomads for so long. And I don’t even know where to begin to explain to you about this if I didn’t tell you now, and then you’d go and give birth to a bunch of puppies or something.”
At the mention of giving birth to a litter, Lily’s eyes grew wide with horror, and she clutched her stomach. He paced about the room, running his hands through his hair and pulling at his face. His eyes were filled with fitful anxiousness and frustration, while hers were glassy with tears. Lily just sat there, not saying a word and staring up at him with a expression of disgrace on her face. She searched his eyes, trying to figure out if what Daniel was saying was true. She didn’t want it to be; it sounded utterly ridiculous to her. But, in all the years they had been together, he had never lied to Lily about anything, even though he remained tight-lipped on certain tender subjects. The pain she saw in Daniel’s eyes were real, that much she could tell.
“I just want to be honest with you, so we can figure this out,” Daniel said when the silence became deafening.“Please say something.”
Lily looked away, shrugging her shoulders and wrapping her arms around her. He was telling the truth, as crazy as it sounded. She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t know what to say.”
He knelt down in front of her, taking her hands in his. “Tell me you believe me. Tell me it doesn’t change a thing. Say you love me despite it all.”
Lily removed her hands from his slowly and gently wrapped them around his face. “I want to believe you because I do love you.” She sighed, swallowing her tears. “But, despite whatever you are, our lives are going to change anyways, because of the baby.”
Daniel sighed, looking down at the floor. “The baby.” He bit his lip, and looked back up at her.
Lily gave a weak smile and brushed the hair out of his face. The warm glow of love still shone in his eyes, but fear clouded them like the dense fog of Maine’s coast. She felt like they were lost inside the fog, unable to see anything, even each other when they held hands. Lily leaned her forehead against his, and Daniel placed his hands on her shoulders in comfort.
“What are we going to do?”