|Paradise story universe|
|Works by Jetfire on Shifti|
Rex Greene called to the crew spread over the bloody ice. "Pack it in guys! There's a squall coming in. They want us back on board with the haul," he shouted over the rising wind. He did a headcount as the crew shifted their focus, bundling up the three kills they'd made to haul back to the ship.
The sealer frowned and redid the count, walking around a bit to make sure no one was hiding behind the ice. They were down one. He ran through the roster and figured out the missing man. "Where's Fred?" Rex shouted.
"Dunno. He was walking that way last I saw," someone shouted.
Rex walked over the ice to the one who spoke up. "You're looking with me. The rest of you, get those carcasses back to the ship."
Their search did not last long. At the edge of the bloodiest part of the ice, they found tracks. Large, bloody paw prints that sent chills down their spines. The younger sealer shifted his grip on his hakapik for the little reassurance it offered.
Rex gulped down his own fears and started following the tracks. "Did you see or hear anything? Any shouts?" he asked, picking up his pace as he noticed something dark on the ice in the direction the tracks lead.
"No sir, nothing at all.... Is that his hat?"
The crewman bent down and picked up the hat. "I think it is. I don't see any other tracks but the bear's, do you?"
The other man shook his head. "None at all. How could it have gotten him without us hearing or seeing anything?"
Rex shook his head. "I have no idea. But lets head back and let the others know. I don't want to be out in a squall with the Great Hunter on the hunt."
The investigation by the Mounties was brief, verifying that the sealers' stories were consistent. In the end, Fred Hayward was ruled dead by polar bear. The only physical remains of the man, the hat found on the ice, was delivered to the man's mourning sons. An empty coffin was buried next to his wife in the small village on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland.
"You're gonna catch your death of cold, standing out here like that," Rebeca chastised him.
Erik continued to scan the ice pack through binoculars. "No I'm not, I'm built for this type of weather," he answered.
"Well at least zip up your coat. You're drawing enough attention wearing such a light coat out here."
He sighed and dropped the glasses so they hung from the strap around his neck. He reached down and zipped up the jacket, making sure to not get the stiff white fur caught in the teeth.
"There, are you satisfied now?" he asked, turning to face Rebeca.
The ferret looked back at him, only the black fur of the mask visible through the hood of her parka, her hands buried deep in its pockets. Unlike his apparent bare paws, her feet had boots on them, specially ordered from Furgonomics for her paws.
"For now. You see anything?"
Erik shook his head and raised the glasses back up to his eyes. His muzzle forced him to keep them slightly away, but they worked well enough. "Not a thing. This is where the sitings came from, but I can't find any trace of him," he answered.
"Well, why don't you come inside? Cooky's almost got dinner ready."
"Give me another five minutes, I'm trying to make the best of the last of the daylight. I'll meet you inside."
The ferret nodded and leaned close to kiss his furry cheek. "Fine. See you soon."
A half hour later, Erik dropped the glasses again and rubbed his aching eyes. The edge of the ice was lit by lights from the ship, but anything deeper was lost in darkness now, no matter how hard he squinted. He padded across the deck and opened the hatch, the wave of hot air washing over him.
Tugging the jacket off, he followed his nose to the dining hall, where most of the rest of the crew crew was gathered. He grabbed a plate, loaded it with a few slices of roast beef from under the heat lamp and sat down next to Rebeca.
"It's about time you joined us. Find your snipe yet?" Richard, the crew's main biologist asked. He, like the rest of the crew, was an Unchanged human.
The wolf grinned and cut off a slice of beef. He chewed and swallowed the bite before answering. "Found that days ago. I'm still looking for my bear though." His hunt for polar bears this far south had earned him a bit of good natured ridicule from the rest of the crew. Only Rebeca knew what he was really after.
The crew whiled away the rest of the evening, playing cards and chatting. Eventually, the two furs excused themselves and made their way to their cabin. They weren't married yet, but they were engaged, and that was close enough, as far as the captain was concerned, to arrange for them to bunk together.
Rebeca sat on their bunk and leaned forward, beginning to unlace her boots and tug them. She sighed in relief and spread her clipped toe claws, running her fingers through the black fur. "Remind me to send a message to Furgonomics. The boots are plenty warm enough, but they still pinch horribly after a day in them," she grumbled, working on the second boot.
Erik chuckled and leaned against the wall, reaching down and tugging the air in front of his foot. A human looking boot appeared and soon fell off his foot. "Too bad you can't just use the shoe field like me."
She tossed a pillow at him. "I tried that remember? Damn near froze my claws off on the deck, and we were still in dock!"
He caught the pillow and tossed it back to her. "So have you heard if they've gotten skates working yet?"
"Last I heard they'll be doing some fittings this summer for paws and hooves, but they're still guessing we're still a year out from workable skates. Maybe you'll be lucky and the rest of the league will change this year, and your Leafs will finally have a chance at the Cup," she teased him.
"Bah, they'll get it. Any decade now," he said, walking over to the desk.
A map of Anticosti island and the southern shore of the Labrador peninsula was pinned over the desk, various needles scattered around it. He dug another pin out of a container and pushed it into the map in the waters east of the big island. He unrolled a piece of string and looped it over the needle and the previous one.
"We'll reach the end of his territory tomorrow," Erik said glumly, studying the map.
Rebeca got up and put her arm around his shoulders. "Then we'll try somewhere else, closer to land maybe."
"No can do. Ben told me they got a radio call from the 'Krista Sullivan'. They're complaining that Greenpeace is getting too close again. We'll be making all speed to their position at dawn."
She tugged his paw gently. "Then we'll just keep with our plans. Search the ice when we can, and come spring, we'll start searching the land sightings. It's only the first year you've really looked, you can't expect to find him right away."
He sighed and let himself be lead. "I know, I know...."
"Now come on, if you're gonna be up at dawn, you need some rest," she murred and ran a claw under his muzzle. "And maybe a rubdown to help you relax to get that rest."
Erik scanned the ice again, his heart falling with each passing minute. He knew Rebeca was right; expecting to find him on the ice, especially on the first trip out, was extremely unlikely. Still, he had to do the search, just to say he did it.
The ship crested a wave and he caught a glimpse of something on the ice. He leaned forward, sniffing the salty air ineffectively and adjusted the binoculars. "ALL STOP!" he hollered. "ALL STOP!"
His shout was echoed by other crewmen, and soon the rumble of the engines quieted. He ran to a higher perch and tried to get a better view. The blood of the seal contrasted sharply on the white ice.
"What do you see Erik?" Captain Johanson asked, climbing up next to him.
"Over there, a seal carcass," Erik said, bringing it into focus in his glasses.
The captain raised his own pair of glasses and peered out. He studied the body, and then the ice around it. "Okay, the 'Krista Sullivan' and Greenpeace will have to wait," he said, not sounding like he needed much convincing to put off the encounter. He disappeared back inside and soon the engines were roaring again, the gulf ice breaker turning in the water to line up with the ice.
Erik stayed where he was, one hand gripping the railing, the other holding the glasses. The ship began to shudder, the air filling with the sound of popping and ice cracking under her hull. With the power of her engines, the CCGS James Lawrence embedded itself into the ice flow.
A team of six gathered on the lower deck, waiting for the clearance to go. Rebeca elbowed Erik and hissed 'jacket' to him. He sighed and zipped up again.
"I'm giving you an hour on the ice. That should be long enough to get to the carcass and see if it's Erik's polar bear or something else. Make sure your radios are on at all time, and always travel in pairs," the captain was saying, shouting over the grind of ice on metal. The team nodded to indicate they understood and climbed down to the ice.
The team approached the bloody carcass carefully, one member snapping pictures of it and the area around it.
"The body appears to be a harp seal, male, maybe a year or two old. No signs of human tracks around it, but lots of paw prints. Probably killed yesterday or last night," Richard spoke into a recorder, documenting the discovery. "I think we found your polar bear, Erik," he added, pausing the recording.
Erik barely heard him. His nose was moving a mile a minute, smelling the metallic scent of blood and something else. He crouched near one of the clearer paw prints and was certain. He started running.
"Erik! Wait!" Rebeca shouted, starting to run after him. The rest of the team looked confused and started to follow. "Wait! I'll get him. Finish the examination," she shouted back.
She chased him half a klick along the ice flow, before almost running right into his back.
"It's him," he said slowly, listening to her panting. "He was here, I know it. He took down that seal, did whatever, and came back here. He had a dingy or something in the water, tied to the piton over there," the wolf explained, pointing.
Rebeca could just make out a tiny spot of black against the ice near the waters edge. The tracks, with a few drips of blood, lead to the water.
"He was here," she gently corrected him. "But he isn't now. Come on, we better get back before they follow us."
The wolf looked longingly out at the cold sea, then reluctantly let her lead him back.
"What got into you?" Richard asked, seeing the pair return.
"I thought I saw something. It was just a snow gust though."
The biologist nodded and pointed down. "Well, I think we found your bear, but it didn't act like any bear I've ever seen before.
"The seal was clubbed, no doubt of that, a heavy blow to the head. And there are claw and tooth marks too, like I would expect.
"What I didn't expect was that over there." He pointed to a bloody spot a short distance away. "It looks like something was laid out there, and hunks of meat were cut off the body. And I do mean cut, those were knife marks, not claw marks on the bones. The weird thing is, there's no sign of any human around at all. Nothing. A human would have left boot prints right?"
Erik nodded and scuffed the paw prints he was leaving. "Right, they would," he agreed.
"So we've either got an invisible human, or a tool using polar bear. Sounds like something out of Lost," Rebeca commented.
"Yeah something like that." Richard shrugged. He called out to the photographer. "Time to wrap up, Ben. Erik, Becky, give me a hand bagging this up. I want to take a closer look at it in the lab."
The team finished their work and hauled the rest of the body back to the ship. Shortly after, the ice breaker was back in the water, heading to the main sealing grounds.
Richard studied his notes on the seal carcass and tried to make sense of it. Other duties had pushed the mystery away, but now that they were on their way back to Corner Brook, he had time to try and figure out how a polar bear could cause knife-like cuts. He frowned and flipped through the pictures on his computer screen looking for more clues.
"What the?" he mumbled to himself, sitting forward and checking time stamps. There was a nearly repeated picture of the tracks leading away from the body. One was taken early on, just as they had arrived at the scene. The other had been taken later. And somehow during that period, two new sets of tracks had appeared.
One pair of tracks were bare pawed, looking like a dog or wolf tracks. The other set were muffled; covered by something, but clearly not human. What animal could make them was yet another mystery.
Richard began to search the rest of the pictures; most didn't have the tracks, but the later the picture was taken, the more likely those strange tracks would appear. He stopped at one final shot, the team busy bagging the carcass. The tracks were in the blood, overlapping other bootprints. He zoomed in on some areas and furrowed his brow in confusion. The tracks lead right to Erik and Rebeca.
He leaned back and thought it over, but the pieces refused to fit together. Something was missing and he couldn't figure out what it was. Finally he got up and left the lab, looking for the couple.
He found Becky checking the SAR gear. "Rebeca, could you find Erik and meet me in the lab? I found some curiosities about his bear killed seal, and I'd like to talk to you two about it."
She looked up at him. "Sure, he's probably on deck if you want to fetch him. I need to finish with this rope and I'll be right down."
He nodded and stared at her feet a long moment. There didn't seem to be anything weird about them. He shook his head and stepped back out. "Thanks, I'll go grab him then."
As she had suspected, Richard found Erik on deck, standing at the bow. The man stood there, his jacket open in the cold, salty air, bare hands gripping the railing. Like Rebeca, there didn't seem to be anything wrong with his boots, but the fact that he was in the biting wind with little more than a windbreaker was very telling. Richard shivered in his own heavy jacket and moved up. "Erik!" he called out over the wind.
The man looked back and moved to meet Richard part way. "Hey Richard. What's up?"
"Could you follow me back to the lab? I've got some mysteries I'd like to talk to you about down there."
Richard thought he caught a brief moment of hesitation before Erik answered. "Sure, lead the way."
Richard lead them through the ship to the Lab, picking up Rebeca along the way. He sat down at his desk, careful not to disturb the computer and indicated the others to pull up chairs. There didn't seem to be anything strange about either of them.
"So what have you found?" Erik asked, as the silence drug on uncomfortably long.
Richard shrugged. "Honestly, I'm not sure. It looks like it was killed by natural means, but there's clear knife work involved. And there's the bear's tracks too."
He looked at the two of them watching him back. "Something's funny about them. There are only two distinct prints there. It's like the bear walked on two feet all the while he was dealing with the seal." He thought he caught a flash of nervousness in the pair, a certain tenseness that they tried to hide. He pushed on.
"There's another mystery too. One that happened after we got there. I didn't notice it at the time, but there were more tracks there. Not human. And somehow they appeared while we were there. Do you have any ideas how that might happen?"
There was no doubt this time; that caused a reaction. The pair exchanged looks and seemed to have a quick silent argument. Erik finally shook his head and looked back at Richard. "No, we have no idea how that could have happened," he answered carefully, clearly trying to hide something.
"Are you sure?," Richard asked, nudging the mouse. Beside him, the screen lit up with a picture of the two new tracks leading right to the pair now sitting in front of him.
The pair looked at the picture and seemed to forget he was there. "I told you we should have scuffed more," Rebeca accused Erik.
"That's easy for you to say. You've got actual boots. You could just hose off the bloody snow. *I* was out there bear pawed! You saw how long it took me to get that stuff out of my fur!"
"And because you didn't want to take some extra time cleaning, our cover is blown!" Rebeca snapped back and seemed to remember Richard was there. "Have you shown those to anyone else?"
He blinked in surprise at being brought back into the conversation so quickly. "No, no one else," he said, then realized he might be in danger. "But I've stashed copies. If anything happens to me, they will automatically spread out on the 'net."
The pair looked at him, then at each other and started laughing. "You've been watching too many movies, Richard," Rebeca giggled. "We aren't going to hurt you. We just need to know how many more we need to explain to."
"Explain our uncomfortable little secret you've stumbled upon," Erik explained.
Richard eyed the pair nervously and began to wish he had confronted someone else before them. "There's just me. I'm the only one who noticed so far."
"Good good. Well then, lets start with the Cole's Notes version," Rebeca started. "In a nutshell, we used to be human, but now we're no longer completely human. Erik is an arctic wolf, which explains why he'd like to go out in short sleeves so much, and I'm a black pawed ferret. Well human-like versions of them. We don't know how it happened, just that it has. It's been going on since the 80's and will keep going on. The reason you don't see us like we are is due to some other force in effect, that makes us mostly look normal to the unchanged."
Richard stared at her.
She smiled. "I said it was the Cole's Notes version. Just keep it in mind. Erik, why don't you explain further. Tell him about your father."
The wolf reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He pulled out a photograph and showed it to Richard. "This is the last picture of my dad. That's my brother Jeff, dad and me," he explained, pointing to the two young men being hugged around the shoulders by a larger white haired older man.
Richard looked at the picture, then at Erik. "Your family must go gray early," he said, noting Erik's own white hair in contrast to the brown haired man in the picture.
Erik grinned. "You could say that. That picture was taken seven years ago, just before he set out on a sealing ship. He disappeared on the ice that very trip. The official story is that a bear got him. All that was found was bear tracks and his hat. It was the only explanation they had.
"I have to back up a bit, tell you about Da. He was a good man, a wild man but a good one. Taught Jeff and me to hunt from early on and do other nature things. Mom didn't like that as much, but she tolerated it, just like he tolerated her attempts to 'civilize' him. They were a great couple, and when she died, in her memory he tried to do what she would have done, making sure we balanced the wild with our education and the town life.
"August of 2000, he took sick. Just a flu he said then. But a few days later he started acting strangely, hiding in his room. He tried to hide from us as much as possible, but eventually we saw him; or rather he saw us seeing him. He was surprised at the time, but he wouldn't explain why. It wouldn't be until a few years later that I would discover why he acted that way.
"Anyways after that day he started acting differently. We still went hunting that year and spent time together, but he became more distant, more cautious. Still, he was dad, so Jeff and I overlooked it.
"That March, he surprised all of us by deciding to go on the seal hunt. He'd never gone before, but this year he said he wanted to go. It's good money if you can stand the work and make the haul. He contacted some friends, got on a ship that sailed out. Jeff and I saw him off at the docks. It was the last time I saw him.
"A few days later, word came in that he had died on the ice, body missing. We mourned him, hell the entire village mourned him, and life went on. I graduated, and between the insurance, orphan scholarships and other means, got into Memorial over in Saint John's. I had to move Jeff to a high school down there for his last few years, which didn't make him happy, but we didn't have a choice really. Neither of us particularly cared much for the city, but we pushed through.
"Life went on, I met Becky here at MUN, and we took a shining to each other."
The wolf paused and smiled at the ferret. Richard watched on, confused but silent.
"Then, in August of '06, I took sick like Da did way back then. I woke up a few days later, sweltering under the sheets, the wolf morph you can't see now.
"Like dad, I tried to hide it at first, but Becky soon kicked my tail in gear. She didn't know what I was then, but she refused to let me mope around the house. It was shocking at first to find out that people couldn't see me as the wolf, and I admit, I felt more than a little crazy then, until I found another.
"Dad was actually the first Changed I saw. Not in person, but in this picture. You see in there what I used to see; three guys on the docks. But after I changed, I can now see what dad really was then. A big polar bear morph, his arms around our shoulders. Scary if you think about it, but believe me, we never noticed at the time.
"I started looking at other pictures, looking for other changed. I couldn't find many, but I found one, in the pictures from my graduation. One of my profs was a Labrador retriever.
"I tracked him down, and he explained as best as he knew what had happened, much like I'm explaining now in my roundabout way. Sadly the years since haven't really yielded much more information. Sure we have a better idea now WHAT is happening, but we still don't know why or how it's happening.
"In any case, I barely noticed most of the explanation. I was busy putting together the pieces and coming to a realization. Da wasn't killed by a polar bear. He WAS the polar bear.
"That realization gave me the post-university push I needed to set my life on track. I began to travel the shore of the Gulf, looking for signs of dad. Becky didn't know, couldn't know what I was looking for, and we nearly broke up, but we got through it somehow. It was the first, and ONLY time I kept something secret from her."
Erik smiled ruefully towards Rebeca. She reached out and squeezed his thigh.
"For the most part, my search was fruitless. Sure I would find some sightings or rumors of a man living in the forest, or polar bear sitings and signs left after the fact, but nothing significant. Becky and I signed up with the Guard, and continued searching, contacting people in the communities up north and over in Labrador for any signs of a bear, or a hermit.
"Last August, it was her turn. She took sick and I hoped against hope that It would happen; that I could finally stop lying to her. My prayers were answered. I took it as a sign, and proposed to her even before she fully realized what she became."
Erik shrugged and looked Richard over. "There isn't much more to say. I filled her in more fully on the search for Da, and we agreed to hold off on the wedding until we found him. Or until she gets sick of the search, whichever comes first. We signed up on board here, hoping that our patrol would take us near what I think is Da's territory, and we've continued searching."
Richard blinked and stared, not sure he believed them. They sounded so truthful and sure of themselves, but it was so impossible to believe. He thought back to the scene that had put him on to them in the first place. "The seal... you think your father?"
Erik nodded. "Not think, I know. It had to be him. As you said, it was a mix of bear clawing and knife work. Even changed, I recognized his style." The wolf sighed. "But he's long gone now, and we aren't going anywhere near that region again."
"Don't you go mopey on me, Erik. We know a lot more now than we did before. We know he is alive, and we've got a better bead on his territory. We'll head out in the spring and find his home, where ever that is," Rebeca comforted him.
"So uhm... you've told me and now I know. What are you going to do to me now? Change me into one of you?" Richard asked, not quite believing it, but worried about being alone with them.
Rebeca chuckled. "We couldn't even if we wanted to. Your number will come up sometime in the next ten years or so, but nothing we can do can affect that." She shrugged and leaned back, crossing her legs. "What you do now is up to you. Tell people if you want and try to convince them to believe you. Of you can try to pretend you never heard any of this and just forget it. Or try to help us if you want. It's up to you."
"Help you? What can I do?"
"Whatever you want. For us personally, we can always use another set of eyes helping with the search. Or you can just watch for other signs of the Changed, especially next August. It's all up to you."
Richard rubbed his forehead and shook his head. "I need to think on this. Please leave... if you trust me that is," he looked up suspiciously.
Rebeca stood up. "As I said, it's your choice about what to do next. Give us a shout if you have any questions or anything."
Erik stood as well and they left the lab, walking down the corridor. "Well, that went surprisingly well," Erik commented.
"Yeah, we'll see which way he goes. I doubt he'll start blabbing, but maybe we should plan to lay low for a bit."
"How about a camping trip to Labrador?"
"Labrador?... Why Lab... You think you know where he is?"
The wolf nodded. "Friend of mine emailed me this morning. Said he had rumors of a hermit living on the coast in the area we've been narrowing down to."
She hugged him and kissed his muzzle. "That's wonderful news! We can go as soon as we dock."
He kissed her back and grinned. "Nah, we don't need to rush that fast. He's hunting on the flows, it'll be weeks, if not months before he's ashore again. We'll head out in May, when things are dryer. I've waited this long, a few more months won't hurt right?"
"Mmmm right," she said nuzzling under his muzzle. She sighed and pulled away. "I've gotta go finish the equipment check. See you for dinner."
He let her paws slide from his own. "Will do. I love you."
"Love yah too."
"It's starting to get dark, maybe we should start looking for a camp site," Richard called out as the group trudged through the forest. He paused and adjusted his pack and tried to ease his aching legs.
"Just a bit further, I think there's a good spot up ahead," Erik called out, moving on without pausing.
Richard looked enviously towards his friend. The wolf carried an even larger pack than he had, but most of it was Richard and Sherry's gear. The wolf himself was in a light shirt and shorts and wasn't even wearing shoes. And he seemed to have the energy of the Energizer bunny.
Richard sighed. "You said that thirty minutes ago," he grumbled, causing the girls to giggle.
Rebeca walked past him first, like Erik, dressed entirely inappropriately for the backwoods in May. There was still snow on the ground in many areas, and yet she was walking barefoot in pants and short sleeves.
After getting past the awkward stage on the ship, Richard and the two furs had become real friends. At first he hadn't been sure how to act around them in public, but he quickly got used to treating them like he would anyone else.
His biggest challenge had been when his girlfriend came down to visit him one weekend. He didn't want to lie to her, but he wasn't sure how to explain some of the idiosyncrasies his friends had. It turned out he needn't have worried about it.
"Ah good, they're already here," Richard said, pulling into the pool hall's parking lot. "As I said, you'll like them. They can be a bit strange at times, but they're good people."
"I'm sure I will. Just relax. It's not like when you took me to meet your parents," his girlfriend, Sherry said.
He blushed and opened the door quickly. Sherry was visiting that weekend from St John's, and meeting his new friends for the first time. He saw the doors of another car nearby open and Erik's familiar white haired head coming up. He walked around the car and escorted Sherry towards the other two.
"Sherry, I'd like you to meet my friends Erik and Rebeca. Guys, this is my girlfriend, Sherry."
She held out her hand and shook Erik's hand. "Good to meet you. Richard's told me a lot about you. But not everything I see. A white wolf and... what are you deary? A raccoon or something?"
Richard heard three thuds as three jaws hit the ground at once. He looked at his girlfriend, then tossed an inquiring look to Erik. The man shook his head, clearly as confused as Richard was feeling.
"A fuh-ferret actually. Black pawed. It's endangered," Rebeca stammered out. "How?"
Sherry laughed cheerfully. "Sorry, I shouldn't do that; but I love the expressions on your faces when I do that. I knew from how Richard talked about you two that he was hiding something, and I had a good idea what. Seeing you guys only confirmed it."
"But how?" Erik asked, refinding his voice.
She shrugged. "No idea. Mary, she's my twin sister, changed into a cougar last August, and for some reason I found I could see Changed. Weird I know."
The furs looked at her strangely then shook their heads. "Well, lets head in. Claws vs nails, loser buys the round?" Erik said, grinning at last.
"Fair enough. No moving the balls with your tails though. I've got eyes on you," Richard taunted back, pointing back to Sherry.
The group laughed and headed into the hall.
"Come on slowpoke, get the lead out," Sherry taunted him as she walked past. She was dressed normally at least, in hiking boots and spring weather gear.
Richard grumbled and brought up the rear of the group. "I like the view back here better," he mumbled, earning a butt wiggle from Sherry.
A half hour later, Erik lead them into a clearing and they started setting up camp. He compared a GPS unit to the maps. "We're right on the edge of his territory I think. Not that I've smelled anything yet. There's a cave ahead somewhere that he supposedly lives in. With luck we'll get there in the early afternoon."
"Sounds good," Richard said, dropping another load of firewood next to the pit they'd made. He slumped down next to his emptied pack and pulled his boots off. "So what's for dinner tonight?"
"Same thing we had last night. Franks and Beans and Trail Mix," Sherry said.
"Mmmm good. Anything I can do to help?"
Rebeca tapped his legs. "Move your feet away from the cooking area. Some of us have more refined noses than you."
"Fine fine. I'm moving."
The group settled down for the evening, chatting and telling stories for a bit before retiring to their tents.
Early in the morning, Richard woke up, feeling the call of nature. Being careful not to wake Sherry, he climbed out of his sleeping bag and shivered. He pulled on his boots, not tying them up, and crawled out of the tent. The moon was bright enough to not need more light, but he tucked a flashlight under his arm just in case. He moved out of the camp and began to relieve himself behind a tree.
A twig snapped behind him. Before he could react, a large hand grabbed the back of his head and shoved him against the tree. He had the impression of white hair out of the corner of his eye as the man leaned close.
"Yer in private territory. Leave!" the man growled.
Richard felt himself shoved harder against the trunk before the pressure released. He stumbled back and fell down, stunned. There was a wetness on his face that his fingers soon confirmed was blood. The figure had disappeared as quickly as it appeared.
"ERIK!" he shouted.
The tents shook while the three campers woke up and scrambled out. Erik sniffed the air and ran towards Richard.
"He was here! He was here!" Richard called out,turning to face his friend. He watched the human-nose twitch and a mix of expressions go over his friend's face.
"I've got it. Are you okay? I smell blood."
Richard touched the side of his face and winced. "I'm fine. It's just a scratch. He gave me a shove against the tree and told me to get us out of here. I don't think he's in the mood for visitors."
Erik frowned. "Lets go back to the camp. Try to get some sleep and we'll go on in the morning. I've got his scent now, it won't take me long to find him tomorrow."
Richard nodded and took his friends hand to stand back up. They made their way back to the campsite where the girls had stoked the fire back to life.
"Richard! What happened!" Sherry shouted, grabbing for the first aid kit.
He eased himself down next to the fire. "I'm fine. Dad came visiting is all. I guess we're on the right track."
Erik nodded and stood near the fire. "Right. You guys should get what rest you can for the rest of the night. In the morning, we'll pack up camp and you'll start heading back out."
"Back out? Why?"
"Because I don't know what Da will do. He's been alone a long time and may not be all there in the head."
Richard frowned.. "Seems like a waste to come all this distance and just run away."
Erik shook his head. "We aren't running away. You guys are. I'm gonna follow him." He held up his hand to silence their protests. "Look, he's a polar bear as much as he's a man. None of you really stand much chance against him. Especially not you Richard. You can't even see how big he really is. I don't know if you heard any of the stories, but out west, there's another polar bear. He actually KILLED a normal robber in his house with a swipe of his hand. I don't want you to get hurt. Any of you."
Rebeca stood up and glared at her fiance. "Don't even THINK you can go on by yourself. I can track just as well as you can. We WILL follow you. Now can we stop with those Hollywood heroics and get some rest?"
The wolf sighed and sat down next to the fire. "Fine. Just stay well out reach of him when we get close and I'll try to talk to him. How are you Richard?"
Sherry looked up from tending the wound. "Just a bark scratch. Not claws."
Richard winced. "That's good at least. Think he's still out there?"
"No. I'm not smelling him anywhere around at least. I think he just happened across us and waited until he could get one of us alone. He may not even have realized some of us are Changed."
The camp fell into an uneasy silence, followed by an uneasy sleep. Morning arrived and they ate breakfast and broke camp.
"Travel light; we'll come back for the rest after we get Da," Erik ordered, helping repack the backpacks. They set off through the forest, following Erik's nose.
The groups nervousness increased the deeper they got into the bear's territory. Every crack of a branch caused one of them to jump and look around. Finally Erik held up his hand. "We're here. His scent's almost too strong to track now," he whispered.
"Is he actually here?" Rebeca asked, sniffing the air as well. Ahead of them was a clearing and an opening into a rocky hillside. A fire pit, long extinguished was near the entrance.
"I think so. Stay back here in the woods, and stay low. I'll go in first."
Erik dropped his pack and took a deep breath, his nervousness showing. He glanced around to make sure his companions were ready, and dropped his pack. He pulled something out of his pocket and padded out into the clearing.
"D-Dad?... Fred?... Fred Hayward? I know you're here," he shouted out. He tensed and waited for a reaction. The cave stayed silent.
Erik stood up straighter and tried to put more force in his voice. "Fred Hayward, we know you are in there, and we know what happened to you. Please, come out so we can talk."
The group tensed as a rumble came from the depths of the cave. "Fred gone. Been gone a long time," a deep voice growled out from it.
The wolf smiled. "No he isn't. He's in there. He is you."
The growl got louder, moving towards the entrance. "He gone. Just the beast remains."
"The beast wouldn't speak. You're talking. Come on dad, pull it together."
Richard watched and whispered to the girls. "I'm pretty sure I saw this in a movie once."
"Sshhh," Sherry hissed back. It was unneeded.
The source of the growling voice came into view. Richard saw a large muscular man, with white hair over his body. He was naked, other than a leather belt tied around his arm holding a knife sheath. He didn't have a hard time imagining the figure as a polar bear.
Erik took half a step back, and tried to keep the quiver out of his voice. He lifted his hand, revealing the picture. "Dad?"
The figure didn't seem to see the picture at first. "I warned ya friend ta get out. This my territory."
Erik growled. "Damn it Dad! Look at me! Look at this! I've been looking for you for two years now, and I'm not giving up now that I found you."
The man finally took a closer look at Erik and paused. "Yer a beast. Like me. This my land! Get lost!"
"Yes, I'm a beast. A Beast man like you. I'm your son. It's Erik. Don't you recognize the picture? We took it before you left. Before we knew what we know now."
The bear took a few more steps into the open and peered at the photo. "Erik?... No you not him. He not a beast man."
"I am dad. I changed, just like you did. Two years ago I changed, and that's when I realized you weren't dead."
"Jeffrey?" the bear stammered out, his body beginning to shake.
Erik shook his head. "Jeff hasn't changed yet and I haven't told him about my search. Didn't want to get his hopes up too much. He's doing great at MUN though."
Fred dropped down to his knees and held his face in his paws. His body shook, as emotions were jarred loose, words stumbling out of a throat not used to speaking. "Erik.... I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't want you to catch what I had. I tried to keep away. And then out on the ice, it felt so natural... after the first kill, I was scared of what I could do. I couldn't stay, couldn't put you two at risk."
The wolf moved in closer and touched the bear's shoulder. "It's okay. I understand now. I wouldn't have back then, but I know now."
He looked up at his son. "What happened to us? What is happening to us? Why... why did I become this?"
"I'll tell what I know. Just a second though." Erik stood up and looked back to the forest. "Guys, I think we're fine here. Why don't you go back and bring the rest of our stuff here before it gets dark?"
Rebeca stood up. "Good idea, come on you two. Lets give them some privacy."
Richard backed away a bit and followed the ferret. "Very good idea. Think we could make a toga or something out of a ground sheet? I dunno what you guys see, but frankly, I'll be just a bit uncomfortable walking back to the road with a big naked guy near me."
The ceremony was small; only about forty people, ten of them furred like the bridge and groom. The roar of the surf echoed up from the base of the bluff as they exchanged their vows.
Though the bride and groom were exquisite looking (in both ghost and furred modes), it was the large man standing to one side, flanked by Jeffrey and Richard, that kept getting looked at. His story of survival, both the real one and the cooked up version for the unknown public, had made the bear a bit of a star in the region. It made the man's reintroduction to society much more difficult. Thankfully for Fred, the distance their village was from any place major, along with the large provincial park next to the village, made it easy to avoid the press.
By the end of the ceremony, he apologized to Erik and Rebeca and excused himself. The crowd, small though it was, was too much for him. With great relief he returned to the cabin he was building and let the new couple have their time together.
"That was Bob. Jeff's roommate. He says Jeff's sick with the flu," Rebeca said, hanging up the phone.
Erik mumbled to himself, skimming through a book of regulations. "Mmm-hmm. Hope he gets better soon."
She smiled and wrapped her arms around the wolf's shoulders, closing the book. "I'm sure he will. Did you forget the day?"
"Sure, it's Saturday, and I've got the recertification test on Monday.... OH!. Should I get dad?"
She ruffled his ears and grinned. "You should. You know how long it takes for him to brace himself for the city. Richard is in St John's right? I'll call him and see if he and Sherry can swing by and check on Jeff before we leave."
"Yeah, he is. Be right back." He kissed his wife and jogged out of the kitchen, not even bothering with shoes.
Their house was on the outskirts of a small village, at the end of a long road. The back of the lot abutted against a provincial park, granting them, especially Fred, the privacy they wanted. The wolf jogged down a well worn path to a log cabin.
"Hey Da, It's Erik," he called out as he got in easy shouting distance of it, spying the mountain of white fur hunched over a workbench on the outside wall of the cabin.
The white furred figure straightened up and looked his way, setting down the knife and the wood block. He brushed curls of wood off his forearms and waited.
"We just got a call from Bob. Jeff's sick. It might be Time," Erik explained.
"Are you sure?" the bear asked.
Erik shook his head. "Not yet. Becky's calling Richard to go check. But we'll probably head down tonight. Do you want to come?"
Fred contemplated the offer carefully, looking around at the trees around his little cabin. "Yes... I'll come. When you're ready come and get me, I'll be ready too."
"Good, we'll see you then dad," Erik waved and started back down the path, leaving his father to do what he needed to do.
"Just got off the horn with Richard. He says Sherry's sick too. Says she's saying it's about damn time too. He's going to swing by Jeff's place and check on him, and try and get Bob out of the way so we'll have some privacy," Rebeca greeted him.
Erik nodded and looked longingly at the manual on the table. "Dad's going to come to. How much time do you need to get ready?"
"Not long. Lets wait for Richard's confirmation before we leave in any case."
"Great. Then you can quiz me while we pack," Erik tossed the book to her and headed to their bedroom.
An hour later, Richard called back.
"Bob's clear, and I'm pretty sure it's the Change Flu your brother's got," he reported after the introductions.
"Why's that?" Erik asked.
"He's sweating up a storm, complaining it is too damn hot. And he says he keeps seeing white fur in your pictures and stuff."
"Okay, tell him the three of us are coming down, and to not panic. We'll be there as fast as we can. You should head back and be with Sherry."
"No, I'll wait here for you guys. She understands. Hell! She told me to stay here anyways. She knows what she's going through after all, but Jeff doesn't have a clue. You guys really should have told him sooner."
"It's been a busy few months. We never had the chance. How do you feel anyways?"
"Not even a sniffle." Erik couldn't tell if there was relief or disappointment in Richard's voice. "Guess I lucked out this year."
"Fair 'nough. We'll see you in a few hours. Thanks Richard."
The van pulled up to the house just as false dawn was lighting up the horizon. A light was on in the front room. Three furry bodies climbed out and walked to the front door. The wolf stopped the ferret from ringing the door bell, and tried the door knob. The door opened quietly.
The three walked into the hall, noses twitching, picking up the smells of university bachelor living, and a new smell. They smiled.
"Like father like son it seems," the wolf whispered. He pointed to the living room, and the sleeping man on the couch. "Who wants to do the honors?"
"Oh let me please," the ferret whispered, an evil grin going over her muzzle. She walked silently into the living room until she stood right in front of the sleeping figure. She held one paw over his arm and leaned in close to his face. Eyes glittering in amusement behind her black furred mask, she spoke loudly and pressed her claws against the man's flesh. "BOO!"
"YEARGH!" the man shouted, jumping awake and pulling his arm away. The ferret leaped away, giggling.
"Now we're even for the birthday party," Rebeca taunted him.
Richard rubbed his arm and blinked the sleep from his eyes. "I told you! That dye was supposed to be temporary!"
Erik chuckled and nodded his head upstairs. "How's he doing?"
"Damn! I think you scratched me.... Jeff? His fever broke a couple of hours ago. Don't think he's changing yet. Want me to be here when you wake him?"
"Nah, this is a family affair. Go be with Sherry. She'll want a friendly face, no matter what she claims."
"Fair enough. I'll check in with you guys later. Have I ever told you how nice that mask looks on you Beck-ster? I can't wait until I can see it without you shocking the hell out of me."
Erik and Rebeca waited while Richard gathered his stuff, still yawning, and made his exit. The headed upstairs where their father was waiting, standing outside a closed door.
"He's awake. Been awake for a bit from the sounds of it. I don't think he's showing much yet," the bear rumbled quietly. He tapped on the door.
"Jeff? It's your dad. We're all here for you."
A weak voice came from the other side of the door. "Dad? What are you doing here?... why do you sound so growly?... and why is it so damn hot in here?"
"Sounds like the Field's gone from him," Rebeca mumbled.
Erik nodded and called out, "Bob and Richard told us you were sick. Something is going to be happening to you. You need to stay calm, and not fight it. It's nat.. err it's nor... well it's not bad what is happening."
"Erik? What's wrong with your voice? What's happening?"
"Dad, stay back. Becky and I are a bit less threatening for him to see at first," Erik whispered, squeezing against the wall for his father to step back. "You'll see shortly. We're going to come in. We'll look differently from what you remember, but it is still us. Just stay calm and listen to us and we'll help get you through this."
The wolf didn't give his brother time to answer. He put a hand on the door knob and opened the door, introducing his brother to the new world.