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School Daze

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Author: White Lion

They say that your school days are the best days of your life. Mine weren’t. Most of my childhood was spent in fear and above all loneliness. My life was happy until my baby brother Jason was born – when I was six. I had been an only child up until then, but now I had to share my World with a demanding, crying, pink demon. Well, that was my selfish and childish feeling during the first year – but I soon changed my opinion when I realised what fun it was going to be to have a kid brother. Being an only child has benefits – such as getting spoilt by your parents (but my family never had much money); but it also can be very lonely. Now I had a friend.

My newfound hope began to fade. The extra cost of my baby brother was putting a strain on my parents. To the best of my knowledge, Jason had been an accident – for which my father blamed my mother. To compound matters – the firm my father worked for was relocating overseas. My father had agreed to go, but my mother refused to move. The pain and the anger began to increase day by day. Arguments were virtually a daily occurrence. Thankfully, violence never happened – at least not to my knowledge. Sure, I was spanked for misbehaving – but that’s all. Poor Jason was still a baby, unaware of the worsening situation. Some nights, my parents would be rowing for hours – and would not hear Jason’s crying in his cot. I tried to sleep, and ignore the sounds outside my bedroom door; but I just couldn’t. I would see what was wrong with Jason. Often he was just hungry, or tired, or needed his nappy changed. I had become a dab hand with nappies by my seventh birthday.

Other nights, I would sneak out of my room secretly, and pad across the landing to Jason. He used to get terribly upset when my parents shouted at each other. I used to lie by his bed at night and sing to him to drown out the sound downstairs. His favourite songs were Bright Eyes and Puff the Magic Dragon. Sometimes I’d fall asleep by his bedside – at which point he’d decide to wake up again and pull my hair through the bars of the cot.

‘Zing more! Zing more!’ he would say, and I’d have to sing my whole repertoire all over again. Mum or Dad would often find me fast asleep on the floor, and send me back to my own bedroom because I had school in the morning.

This situation carried on for almost two years. At last my father’s company had moved abroad – and this was the final nail in my parents marriage. They divorced when I was nine. My father moved away – and my mother, Jason and I had to move into a small house. Maintenance cheques came from my father – but these were not much. My mother had to work nights at a call centre to make ends meet, leaving me to fend for myself and Jason in the evenings.

For most of my childhood, Jason was my only friend. I did know others, but they didn’t want to get too close to me. This was in fear of being bullied like me. I and my brother were the only protestant children, and of divorced parents at a catholic boys’ school. We were on an assisted place scheme, having our fees paid for by the local council. I believe that it was part of a token gesture by the school to open its doors to the less fortunate members of the local community – and we were the guinea pigs.

In the beginning, the bullying was just taunts from the other boys, as well as the occasional fight – but nothing out of the ordinary for one’s schooldays. Thankfully, I took the brunt of their cruel boredom. They seemed to leave Jason alone. That was until a boy called Philip Miles joined. I’m not really sure how best to describe Philip. He was the sort of person who would tie a firework to a cat’s tail and laugh as it burnt the poor creature. Why he was like that, I still cannot say. He wasn’t even from a broken home. He had two parents, was well off and had no reason to be the way he was. Perhaps he was ill, but I don’t know. He was certainly sick in his attitude!

I knew this, and so I tried to avoid him. This he noticed, and so tried to taunt me into a reaction. A couple of times he would do things such as push my school books onto the floor, and shout “Pick those up Dog Boy” or something similar. Other times he would stamp on my feet with his football studs during games lessons. Gritting my teeth on most occasions – I refused to give him the satisfaction of a reaction. Once I finally lost my temper and tried to punch him, but he was bigger than I was, and quite easily overpowered my pathetic assault.

Then he noticed that the only thing that would make me react was a threat to Jason. He would do things like trip Jason over down the corridors, and steal his satchel from him – throwing it over the school wall. Usually this occurred when I was not around – and I would only hear about it at home. Most evenings I would return home with Jason on our own, make some dinner, wake my mother with a cup of tea, and then do my homework. Nowadays, my mother would be unfairly accused of neglecting us – but in truth she was working horrible hours in poor conditions to keep us in clothes and food. I remember saving all my pocket money for months, and managed to buy my mother a necklace for her birthday. Thinking back, it was not of any real quality – but she still wore it proudly to work every day.

Once Jason had told me of Philip’s actions, I would confront him the next day in class. He had, though, managed to assemble as well drilled gang of about half a dozen or more boys. I was powerless to do anything other than a token bout of fighting. I usually end the day with a bruise or sometimes even a black eye. I tried to tell my teacher, which only succeeded in getting Philip a detention, and making him even madder. It was not long before things started to get out of hand.

The first serious occasion I care to recall was one lunchtime. I was walking past a classroom window when I happened to chance upon one of Philip’s gang holding Jason by the throat. His hands were around Jason’s throat, crushing in on his windpipe. They couldn’t see me. Then I did something I have always deeply regretted – I hesitated!

I pondered, briefly, that perhaps it would be better for Jason to learn to protect himself. What if I wasn’t walking passed the window? What if something happened to me in the future? He would need to look after himself. However, that thought was only a few seconds. A few long, painful, guilty seconds. Finally, I came to my senses and raced into the classroom. Leaping onto the other boy I managed to pull Jason free. Putting myself between Jason and the thug I edged towards the door. Jason was crying and hurt; large bruises evident around his neck. I got him to relative safety, and stayed with him until the bell went for lessons. I have always hated myself for pausing – trying to be too clever for my own good. Thankfully he never knew I had waited – but what if that wait had caused Jason a serious injury?

The next incident was more serious. Somehow Philip had lured Jason into an empty classroom at break time, probably by snatching his bag or something. Anyway, whilst another kept the duty teacher busy talking, Philip sent one of his cronies to find me.

“We’ve got your brother Brookes, and if you don’t come now – he’s finished!” I rushed to the ambush site to be confronted by Philip having poor little Jason in a head-lock, with several henchmen around.

“Let him go!” I shouted but it was no use. I lunged at Philip, but was wrestled to the ground by his cronies.

“Brookes – you have a choice. Punch your brother in the face, and we’ll let you go. Or you both get smashed!”

I looked at Jason. He was grimacing with pain, but tried valiantly not to let Philip know he was hurt. They all taunted us, shouting “Punch him, punch him, punch him!” I turned and glared at Philip.

“Let him GO!” I bellowed again. Jason was now sobbing.

“Punch him hard – and we’ll never pick on you again!” smirked Philip, followed by chuckles from his pack of hyenas. It was no good. I had no choice. I got up and walked towards them. I raised my fist, and punched Philip!

In a flash, they released Jason and had set upon me. Philip – initially stunned by my action, then drew a pair of compasses from his pockets – and drove the point into my shoulder – then dragged it along to my arm. I bit my lip, refusing to cry. Without another word, they all fled. Shakily getting to my feet, I went over to Jason, who was crying. Putting my arm around him, we left the room. I told no one of this.

I hoped that was going to be the end of it, and also that Jason would have learnt to stay away from the senior classrooms and stay in the playground, but I was to be disappointed on both. It was now just before Easter. Jason had got a plastic model aeroplane for his birthday, and despite my strong reservations, he took it to school to show his friends. This was too good an opportunity for Philip to miss. A chance to lure me to his final ambush. Once in the playground, Philip managed to snatch the plane from Jason’s grasp and ran off with it towards the cloakrooms.

“Come and get it!” cackled back Philip.

“Give it back!” cried Jason. He was only just eight, and no match for Philip and his crowd. He was also a junior, and was fearful of entering the senior boys’ cloakroom. Jason came running over to me in the playground, tears pouring from his eyes.

“T-they’ve t...t...taken my p..plane” he bawled.

“Who have?” I replied, putting my arm around him.

“Those b...b..boys in your c....class. That n....nasty one.”

My heart sank. Any initial thought of an easy retrieval from a bunch of jealous eight year olds was gone. It was Philip, and I knew that this was another trap. But I had no choice. I couldn’t let Jason down again.

“Where have they gone?” I asked.

“T-they’ve g-gone into t-the cloakroom” sobbed Jason.

“Right, stay here!” I said. “I’ll get it back. I promise.”

I walked slowly over to the cloakroom. Jason skulked behind me, disobeying my plea to remain outside. As I entered the cloakroom, I found Philip sitting on his haunches against the far wall. Around the room were his minions. As I entered the room, they cut off my retreat. I was terribly afraid, but I had to do it.

“Ah, Brookes. Come to sort out your no good brother!” he laughed.

“Give his plane back! It’s me your after. Leave him out of it.” I said as calmly as I could muster. Even as I said it, I felt it sounded rather corny. A bit too Hollywood.

“Beg!” snarled Philip.

“Fuck you!” I snapped.

“Beg you cock, or I’ll break it”. Philip put his hands on the wings of the plane, and began to twist the plastic. I turned to see Jason, who had wandered to the door. He sobbed quietly.

Spinning back to Philip, I quickly replied “Okay, okay. Just don’t break it.”

“On your knees!”

“What?” I said.

“Beg to me on your knees, you whore’s son!”

Those words burned. Ever since they had found out that my mother worked nights, they kept calling her a whore and a tart. Had I been me on my own, I would have struck at Philip and to hell with what they did to me – but I was not just responsible for me now. I had promised Jason. Burying what little self-esteem I had left deep inside, I got down on one knee.

“Lower!” shouted Philip, and with well-rehearsed precision, a boot from one of his henchmen in the middle of my back threw me to the floor; smacking my face into the concrete floor. My lip was bleeding, and I was stunned.

“G...give him back the plane. Please.........” I cried.

“Lick my boots, you son of a bitch!” he replied.

“Fuck you.....” I whispered. But then I heard the creak of plastic, and as if on cue – another whimper from Jason. I turned my head to look towards the door. I think Jason was more worried by my condition than by his plane, but I had promised him. I smiled softly at him. I did not want him to see me like this, but he wouldn’t leave me either. I moved my head towards Philip’s mud covered shoes. Shutting my eyes, I began to lick the putrid mud from them.

“Swallow!” ordered Philip. How I so wanted to strike back, but I couldn’t. I swallowed!

“Now bark like a dog!”

“W...w....what?” I coughed

“Bark!”

Tears began to fill my eyes. I could not let that pass. I wanted to have my revenge on Philip, once my promise had been kept. Trying fairly unsuccessfully to hold back my tears and the nausea of the mud in my stomach, I began to growl in my throat.

“Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!”

“That’s better,” smirked Philip, “Get him!”

With what I assume had been their plan all along, all of them swarmed around me. Kicking me in the stomach and the ribs. Philip just watched, smirking. Then they pinned down my arms and legs. I just managed to twist my head painfully towards Jason, and shout, “Run!”

That was the last thing I remember. I awoke in hospital with three broken ribs, concussion and too many cuts and bruises to recall. Thankfully, in his eagerness to attack me, Philip had actually dropped Jason’s plane undamaged. Before running away to get help, Jason, with the impeccable priorities of an eight year old, had picked up that bloody plane first. My promise had been kept. I had got broken instead.

Was this the end of things? No. Philip and two of his accomplices, Leo and Paul, had been suspended by the teacher who had eventually found me, lying unconscious on the cloakroom floor. Their suspension was to prove nearly fatal for me.

I went back to school after a week or so. I probably should have waited longer, but I didn’t want to leave Jason there alone. Before, they just used to pick on him to get to me, but now he was becoming a target in his own right. It was with some amazing irony that in our school’s passion play, I was cast as Jesus, because of my blond hair. (Why Jesus’ tend to be blond at school when he was Jewish I still haven’t quite understood). Philip and his gang were Romans. When I was hoisted onto the cross, with only a tatty loincloth and crown of thorns to protect my modesty – I had to mutter the words “Forgive them for they do not know what they do!” I even smiled to myself, thinking that they knew exactly what they were doing. They couldn’t even resist jabbing the wooden spear into my side with more force than was necessary at the climax of the play.

It was about a week after I returned that I was attacked again. I was walking home alone from school. Jason was staying at one of his friend’s houses. I had to pass a wooded coppice. It was still quite wintry, and it was dark. I had almost passed the wood when a pair of strong hands grabbed me from behind and pulled me into the bushes. This was probably the most terrifying experience of my life. I thought I was about to be raped. My arms were pulled tightly behind me, so much so that I could feel my shoulder blades pressing on my spine.

“Stop it, you’re hurting me!” I cried, which with hindsight was probably the worst thing to say as that was exactly what they wanted to do. They pushed down on my neck, forcing my head into the ground. I was then spun around onto my back, and a hand clasped around my throat. In the twilight I could just about distinguish three figures.

“Do you know what we do to little snitches? We cut them up!” hissed the man holding me down. I recognised the voice. It was Philip’s older brother, and I assumed his brother’s army buddies. The brother must have been at least nineteen, and against the three of them I had no means of fighting back.

“Please don’t hurt me” I cried.

“It’s too late for that. You’re going to die!” replied the silhouetted figure. From his pocket, I saw him pull out a large kitchen knife. The blade flashed in the moonlight. Agonising slowly, he brought it to rest on my face.

“Hey, shall we cut him a new mouth first?” taunted the brother. He stroked my cheeks and chin with the point of the knife. It almost tickled, but I wasn’t laughing.

“Nah,” replied one of his friends. “Just kill the bastard and we can go home”. I froze at those words. It is true that your whole life does flash before you. Mainly in a way of bitter-sweet memories. You think of the decisions you could have made differently, and that you will never make anymore. Philip’s brother raised the knife above my chest. I knew I was about to die. In a strange way, I almost felt like shouting for them to get on with it, rather than taunt me first. Then I thought of my Mother, and Jason. I couldn’t leave them. Then in an instant I saw the blade flash downwards. I shut my eyes, and probably squealed like a baby.

“Just kill me quick” I thought. Thud! The knife plunged into the mud next to me. Laughing cruelly, the three men just walked off into the night. Rather than killing me, it was far more sporting to leave me living with this memory. I lay there for what seemed like hours, but was probably only a few minutes. Shaking and crying – I got to my feet, and stumbled the rest of my way home. The house was empty and dark. I opened the door, walked in, pushing the door behind me as I went. I stood momentarily in the dark hall, then after throwing my bag across the room I collapsed onto the carpet – screaming, crying and kicking the floor. Once I had got all the fear, pain and relief out of my system, I just laid there all night, gazing at the door in silence. My Mum found me in the morning. I couldn’t tell her the truth. I just said that I was picked on at school again, saving her the true details.

By now I was an emotional wreck. The only highlight was I had met a girl. Sarah hung around our local shop where her Mum worked, and we had been talking on and off for a few weeks. She finally agreed to go to the cinema with me. Alas, nemesis was not far away. Because of my mood swings and bruises, my school had informed the social services in the belief that my mother had been neglectful. I protested and said it was bullying at the school – but the headmaster was a close friend with the social services director – both being members of the local Masonic Lodge. They decided that I should be taken into care!

With this threat hanging over me, Sarah and I went to the seaside for a picnic to take my mind off it. We climbed up a hill to see the view. We eventually got to the top, and the view was great – in front of us was the sea and behind were miles and miles of beautiful hills, bathed in late afternoon sunlight. It is quite probably the most beautiful site I have ever scene. I was, at this period, in terrible mess. I barely remember much from this time. I was mixed up, depressed, drinking alcohol under-age, and was even suicidal. Sitting on this hill, gazing over the lovely scenery – it was all too much for me. Silent tears poured down my face.

Soon after this time, I was taken into care, sent to Ravenstower Young Persons’ Institute in Clayton. Jason was now left to fend for himself. My first day at the Institute arrived and I hurriedly tried to packed what few possessions I could into a suitcase to take with me. I said a sad farewell to my Mother and Jason, then walked to the bus stop. Little did we know that they would never see me again. Sarah had promised to visit me as often as possible. Clayton was only 15 miles from where she lived and bus was direct. I looked out of the bus window at the world flashing by, wondering what sort of life the rest of the world was living. I supposed that some were happy, while some were sad. There were probably many sad people out there, more miserable than me, perhaps?

I eventually reached our destination. There behind impressive iron gates was the main building – even though it was only a few years old, and built in an impressive location near the beach – it still had a bleak deadness to it. Impossible to describe exactly, just a feeling. It was also likely to be my home until I became an adult. Apparently it had been built on waste land by the council on the site of an old manor house, derelict and burnt to the ground a decade before. Not a good omen.

I entered the lobby and rang the bell. A tall and very thin woman slid out of an office at the far end of the corridor and glided towards me with a pair of old-fashioned pinching spectacles perched precariously on the end of her hawk-like nose.

"What is your name boy?" squawked the Hawk Lady.

"Curtis... Curtis Brookes." I replied nervously.

"Ah yes, young Brookes. We've been expecting you. Come with me and I will introduce you to the department head. Hurry up! Can't stand here all day!" and with that she grabbed my arm and pulled me along the passage towards a door at the far end. She rapped on the door, and I heard a muffled voice call out.

"Who's there?"

"It's Miss Gutteridge. I have the new boy here - Curtis Brookes. Can we come in?"

There was a grunt from behind the door, and slowly the Hawk Lady pushed it open to reveal a dark office that stank of musty old cigars. From behind a desk, piled high in papers peered a wizened old man, who spoke in the wheezing voice of a heavy smoker.

"What have we here? He's a fine young specimen. He'll be useful. Come closer boy."

As I approached his desk, I could see the hunched figure more clearly. I thought he looked more like an ape than a man.

“Hmmm.. this boy has potential. I’m glad he has come to our august institution. We will make a man of him!” exclaimed the man as he reached across his desk and patted me on the shoulder.

"Shall I show Brookes to his dorm now?" asked the Hawk Lady.

"Yes, yes all right then!" snapped the headmaster, who then turned to me, staring straight into my eyes, and spoke quietly.

"I welcome you to the Ravenstower Institution and I hope you will fit in here young Brookes. This is a proud establishment and I don't appreciate those boys who don't join in and who don't do as they are told. We have had pupils here who thought that life was one long game, but they have lived to regret that now, poor souls."

As he finished he looked mournfully out of the window towards the large woods that backed onto the school's grounds. I felt my heart thump in my throat and I longed to leave that creepy office. Thankfully, the Hawk Lady then led me out and back down the corridor.

I was dragged along winding stair cases and dark passages until finally we arrived at my dormitory. Inside were rows of beds; more reminiscent of a barrack block than a school.

"Here is your dorm. You can have that bed by the window. I'm afraid you've missed dinner and it's lights out at nine!" and with that the Hawk Lady promptly left, slamming the door behind her. The room was full of eyes, all of which were staring directly at me. For nearly a minute no one said anything until the silence was finally broken when one of the boys spoke.

"Whoever you are, you need to know the rules of this dorm. My name's Wesley, and this is my dorm. Everyone here does what I say, and that includes you!"

I didn't know what to say in reply, so I just shrugged my shoulders and walked briskly towards my bed. This was a huge mistake, as my lack of subservience to that adolescent despot was too much for his inflated ego to handle and I suddenly found myself under a scrum of his loyal cronies. My bag was pulled from me, and its contents poured all over the floor, whereupon everyone stole what they thought might be of some value. I was stopped from getting it back when the two tallest gang members grabbed my arms and forced me against the wall. The ring leader, Wesley, then began to repeatedly punch me in the stomach and face. I guess it was my lot in life to be bullied. After a few minutes Wesley grunted.

"I hope you've learnt your lesson!", and with that I was dropped on the ground.

I managed to crawl over and gather up what were left of my scattered belongings. I felt like crying, but I knew I dared not. That would only bring about another drubbing; but I cried inside. I had cried all my life - inside!

That was it for that day, and soon it was time to go to sleep. I climbed into my bed, from where I could see the large woods through the window, with the evening sun glistening on the sea beyond. I thought that it must be very spooky out there at night - the sort of place that Wesley and the Headmaster would be well suited. A place for demons, goblins and monsters.

I thought to myself that Wesley must be deranged in some way to have such a sadistic personality problem, much like Philip Miles had been – but I was to discover a whole new depth of pain at Wesley’s hand. It wasn't so much that he was a bully or a gang leader, but it was the way his eyes lit up when he was inflicting pain. When my lip was bleeding following his last punch, he seemed to overflow with ecstasy. It was only his thugs who persuaded him that I had been hurt enough, as further injuries would arouse the suspicions of the staff. It was something about Wesley's eyes that stuck in my mind. They seemed hollow and cold. The Headmaster had the same sort of sunken eyes. I decided to keep my distance from Wesley and the Headmaster from now on.

Things eased off slightly for the next few days, but Wesley still held sway in my dorm, and apparently in some of the other dorms as well. He somehow had the ability to frighten the other boys into doing what he wanted. He was the leader of the pack, the alpha male. He wasn't especially tall or stocky. He was only my age, and had thick brown hair. His only distinguishing features were his eyes. They were horrible, and they had a manner of cold hardness that infected the other boys as if he could hypnotise them. I hated Wesley. He was evil. He was a beast!

It was a bright, autumn day. The morning lessons had just finished and we had an hour-long lunch break before the afternoon session. Whilst the other boys were playing football over on the playground, I was walking alone on the field near the dark woods. We had been told not to go anywhere near there under any circumstances, even during Games lessons when a teacher was present!

This edict was too much for any self-respecting teenage boy to endure. When the teacher on duty wasn't looking, I managed to sneak up to the edge of the woods and peer through the trees. I could just make out a six foot high wooden fence about hundred yards away. Behind it were even more trees, eventually leading into open moorlands up Clayton Hill to the left – and the sea to the right. There was nothing else to do that lunch time, so when no one was looking I managed to sneak out to have a look around.

I had always lived in towns before, so the experience of the woods was new for me. All the new smells and noises were fascinating. Even the beams of sunlight dancing through the yellow leaves were magic. I know that may sound rather over the top somewhat, but it really was a terrific new experience for me. I didn't want to leave, I felt at home there - far more than in my old home. It didn't feel at all scary during the day, unlike at night.

After about ten minutes of wandering aimlessly around daydreaming, I heard the sound of crunching twigs. I turned around, and saw a crouched figure loping along about twenty feet in front of me. It looked like the accursed Wesley, and he appeared to be in a hurry, so I bounded after him, sure that he was up to no good as usual.

I tried to keep up with him but he disappeared behind a small clump of trees. When I reached the bushes there was no sign of him. I was sure that he had spotted me and had doubled back. I pondered what I should do, and decided to have it just one last look. Was that him rustling that nearby bush? As I bounded over to investigate I tripped over a stump and cut my hand on a sharp stone. Blood poured from the surprisingly deep wound. I thought that it might get infected so I reluctantly left my new found paradise and wandered back to the cloakroom to wash my hands.

What had Wesley been doing in the woods? Perhaps he had a hide-out there where he stashed fags or alcohol he had stolen from the mentor and teacher's common room. Nothing would have surprised me. He was capable of anything!

I washed the clotted blood and mud from my hands. My hand still hurt, and wouldn't stop bleeding. I bound it in a handkerchief, and shoved it in my pocket. The lunch break had just finished, and my next lesson was about to start. Being right handed I could keep my cut left hand concealed under the desk, away from the teacher's gaze. By doing this I managed to get through the last two lessons of the day without it being noticed, and it was time to go back to the dorms for the evening.

Wesley was there with his gang of thugs, but they seemed not to notice me. They were discussing something between themselves, something that seemed to make them quite excited. Wesley didn't even mention his encounter with me in the woods. Perhaps he hadn't seen me? Perhaps it hadn't been him out there at all?

I scribbled down my homework, and then read a book for about an hour or two before going to bed. My hand had slightly healed, but a thin trickle of blood still seeped from the wound. My once white handkerchief was now sodden with blood, so I hid it under the bed. From biology I knew that saliva could make blood clot, so I sucked my hand hoping that it would dry up before I fell asleep. If I got blood on my bedclothes then the teasing about it being my "time of the month" and "why didn't I wear women's panties?" would be insufferable.

I had never tasted blood in this quantity before. Sure I have had cut lips and the like, but this was a constant flow. I kept on sucking and licking it. It was warm and sweet. I enjoyed it. To my surprise and even shock, I found myself biting my hand to keep the wound open. I almost felt a feeling of disappointment when it finally healed up around midnight. By now my mouth was ruby red, and I rather fancied myself as Dracula or Nosferatu. If I was a true vampire then I could really scare Wesley. He would probably wet himself or better, and then everyone would laugh at him. His authority would be left in tatters. I could have my revenge.

My normal school day consisted off standard lessons of the main curriculum, games lessons and also what were termed corrective measures. This was primarily being sat on the floor in a large empty room and being shown videos on a projection screen about the evils of anit-social behaviour, drugs, alcohol, sex - you name it, it was there. Why we were subjected to chastisement when many of us were not delinquents but simply victims of others aggression seemed to escape the minds of the power that be, but I soon discovered a darker methodology at work there.

I was convinced that the educational videos held subliminal messages, too fast to read, but occasionally were glimpsed. These sessions were always immediately preceded by lunch and proceeded by physical education. Lunch was always a revolting, Dickensian slop. Apparently it was packed full of vitamins and other healthy additives. I suspected this was just the tip of iceberg.

Games lessons normally revolved around punishing circuit training and body building. No team sports. I preferred the indoor lessons, at least we were out of the damp air and all the mosquitoes. Some boys had been bitten raw by them, living in the marshy land between Ravenstower and the sea.

The next few days passed without serious incident, except that Wesley continued to taunt me. He also seemed hyped up about something else. He would sit up in bed at night just looking out of the window. I think I was the only one who noticed this. Everyone else was usually asleep. Only Wesley and I couldn't sleep properly. Our beds both faced the window and the bright moonlight streamed in, casting long shadows and highlighting every crack in the wall. There were no curtains, not since previous pupils had set fire to them. Wesley never looked at me, but only out of the window, so I don't think he knew that I was watching him. But I was, every night, planning my revenge.

How I hated him! He was a tyrant. Kicking chairs over and smashing cups. He even urinated over me once when we were both in the lavatory. It was also him who had ended up with most of my stolen most of my possessions on the first day, and there was no way I could get them back. But I would get him and he was going to be very sorry.

The following night, Wesley seemed especially restless. He sat for a couple of hours, even after lights out, not paying attention to anyone. But when everyone else was asleep, he quietly climbed out of bed, still fully dressed, and opened the window. Using the old drainpipe that ran next to our dorm's wall, he managed to climb to the ground and ran of into the night. Once I had heard him drop to the ground, I crept out of bed and looked out of the window to see where he was going. The moon was bright, almost full, so it was not too difficult to make out his lumbering shape heading towards the woods.

I thought to myself that he must be heading for his shack, to get a quick fix of alcohol, wacky baccy or porn. Whatever it was, it wasn't my problem. I climbed back into bed, and wondered why anyone would willingly go into the woods at night. During the daylight was fine, but at night - who knows what was out there? I settled back into bed, and soon was asleep.

The next day, a strange procession creaked its way into town. At least ten assorted caravans and trucks, some mechanised, some horse-drawn rambled their way along. I peered out of the dorm window through the rain and gloom at the faded signs on the sides of the vehicles and his heart thumped in excitement. The circus had come to town! It was Saturday, and we were allowed a limited freedom to venture into town. I was not going to miss this opportunity.

The caravans arrived at the empty field at the top end of town, on a slight rise overlooking the bay and the town itself. Clayton was the epitome of a small town at the end of a railway line, except that even trains stopped going there now. The town was drab and tired, nestled between the sea and the towering Claw Hill behind. Most of the buildings were in poor repair and half the shops had closed since the last factory went bust in the recent economic recession and unemployment was high. The circus would be a welcome distraction. I signed out from the dorm register and went to the public phone box at the end of the lane.

“Hi Curtis” said Sarah, picking up the phone.

“Hi Honey” I replied “The circus is in Clayton, just down the road from me. Want to go?”

“No thanks. I’m against them, they are cruel to their animals. They should be banned!”

“Oh no, it’s a people only circus. I asked one of the people as they were setting up camp. He reassured me that they no animals at all, and their show was just human performers and volunteers from the audience.” I stated.

“Still sounds a bit corny. Can we go to the cinema afterwards then?” asked Sarah.

“If you want…” I replied in resignation. “Can I ring Jason and ask him to come…?”

“NO! Why do you always have to try and take your kid brother with us? You know what they say, two’s company, three is….” She said sternly.

“Ok, ok, I just feel responsible for him since Dad left. Meet you at 6.30. Luv ya.” And I replaced the receiver.

That afternoon, Sarah arrived on the bus and we wandered down to the circus field. The area was packed. Most of Clayton seemed to be there, jostling about to look at the attractions. It wasn’t just the main tent to see, but a number of caravan and stalls. It really looked like some Victorian freak show; but in the 21st century such things were the preserve of Hollywood Horror. The circus fair reflected Clayton very well. It was shabby and crumbling. Paint peeled off the caravans and most of the staff looked as if they needed a shave and a bath, and that was just the women!

“What happened to your hand?” said Sarah, concerned, pointing to my bandage.

“Oh, I just cut it during games.” I said nonchalantly.

We walked over to one of the stalls, where a small crowd was gathering. It was a new take on the coconut throwing game, but instead of coconuts there were rubber skulls on the spikes.

“A bit weird.” I thought.

Then my heart skipped a beat. Three of Wesley’s cronies, dressed in hooded tops and acting the fools, turned up at the same stall. They started chucking the wooden balls at the skulls. After repeated strikes, the skulls still refused to shift. Angrily, they complained to the stall holder.

“This is fixed. Those bloody things are glued.”

“No sir, this is a fair game” replied the stall holder as he effortlessly lifted each skull to show there was no glue. “perhaps you would care to discuss this with the manager”.

“Nah, crummy fair anyway.” Replied the youth and walked off. However, the stall holder called after him.

“Sir, we don’t want any bad feelings here. If you see the manager I’m sure he will give you some free tickets for the circus.”

“Yeah, why not!” replied the youth, and he and his companions followed the stall holder behind the tent into one of the caravans. After only a few seconds, the stall holder re-emerged smiling. The youths obviously were still inside, discussing things with the manager.

“Curtis, I bet you could win a prize.” flattered Sarah.

“Three balls please.” I said to the stall holder, handing him the requisite fee.

“Thank you sir!”

I took aim, and threw the balls in rapid succession. The first missed, the second struck the base but the third connected sweetly and the skull wobbled, teetered for a moment and then fell to the ground.

“Well done sir. Here’s your prize.”

He handed me a large cuddly toy gorilla, which I promptly thrust to Sarah.

“Happy now?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” she replied “and he looks just like you.”

We continued to look around the fair and circus. The acrobatic display was impressive, but the clowns were more sinister than funny. The Sun was setting over the brow of Clayton Hill (or Claw Hill as the locals called it) casting a shadow, both physical and spiritual, over the village of Clayton. For centuries the curse of Claw Hill had blighted the lives of the villagers, but it was always assumed that in the modern technological world, the wand of science would have banished the terrors of myth and legend; but this was far from the truth.

It was evening, and I was walking back to Ravenstower from the bus stop, having seen Sarah safely on to the bus. Curfew was 9pm, so I had to walk briskly. The walk back took me across the edge of the fields at the foot of Claw Hill. Creepy though this route was, I was far less bothered by ancient legends than by the groups of drunks that hung around the Old Hermit pub in Clayton, which my alternative route would have taken me past. The moon was bright and the sky cloudless, so the path was easy to follow, and I walked confidently albeit briskly. The legend of the Evil Gnome of Claw Hill was common knowledge in local folklore. The rhyme went:

“On this long and lonely lane, you will find the Evil Gnome, and when you finally see him, you will wish you staid at home… On this long and lonely lane, you will find the Evil Gnome, and when you finally meet him, you will wish you died alone!”

This was the creepy story was about the infamous ‘Evil Gnome’ – the ghost of Orak, a deformed hermit who’s ghost had terrorised Clayton after he had been burnt alive by the villagers for suspected witchcraft in the 17th century. Since his ‘execution’, the ghost on Claw Hill started abducting children who strayed too far from home at night, draining their souls and leaving their bodies lifeless husks. Any adults caught on Claw Hill after dark were simply driven insane by his appearance, fleeing in terror over the hill. They were usually found the next day, lying dead in a ditch, their necks broken. I didn’t believe the stories, but thought it would make a good movie one day.

The twigs cracked under my trainers as I continued on. I was now at the highest point of the path on Claw Hill slopes, and it was thickly wooded, obscuring the moonlight and making the way ahead difficult to discern. There was rustling in the undergrowth to my left. It sounded like the type of noise made by a poorly paid horror movie sound technician to imitate some sort of demon waiting to pounce. I was unmoved, assuming it was a badger or something equally innocent. I did quicken my pace however. I was nearing the light again, and soon the lights of the village would guide me back.

“Ouch!” I cried.

Something small and sharp struck me in the neck. It felt like a wasp sting, but at night? I reached up, and pulled a small thorn from my skin. It was impossible to make out clearly what it was in the dark, so I flicked it away and rubbed my neck. There was small lump where the thorn had pierced the flesh, but no significant pain.

“Bloody mosquitoes” I moaned, and trotted on.

The next morning, I overslept until mid-morning – feeling quite lethargic. Fortunately it was Sunday, but for me it was unusual. The dorm was empty. I crawled out of bed and wandered into the washroom. My jaw dropped when I looked into the mirror. The lump on my neck had turned black and was now about two inches in diameter. It was also numb to the touch. After splashing my face, I raced back to his room and dressed. My hand had also started bleeding again, which didn't help. I was starting to think that I was more of a stigmatic than a vampire.

When I got downstairs, I could hear the buzz of excited discussion. Apparently the three hooded boys who I had seen at the circus had not come back last night – and gone on the run. The police had been informed but so far they had eluded capture. Wesley was already in the dining room, grinning from ear to ear, and looking straight at me. I tried to ignore him, and sat down in a corner. I hadn't any friends to talk to, but I didn't care. They were all scum like Wesley! For a change, Wesley said and did nothing to me for the whole day - until early that evening.

At dinner time, I was sitting in the corner on my own again, gulping down my soup, when Wesley stood up and walked straight up to my table without any provocation. I tried to ignore him, but he picked up my glass and poured the contents into my soup. I sprang out of my chair to punch him, but he just pushed me back down. There were no teachers in the hall, and everyone else were too scared of Wesley and his cronies to call out. Wesley then leaned down towards me and whispered in my ear.

"I will make you wish that you had never been born!" and he raised his hand and brought it down on my face, slashing my cheek with his fingernails. He drew blood and I yelped in pain. He then stood up, smiled, turned on his heels and walked calmly back to his table. The room was silent! I was shaken, but said nothing. I ran to the toilet, so that they wouldn't see me cry... How could my life get any worse? But my most shameful experience still lay in store. Confined with Wesley and all in a dormitory, with no means of escape – was beyond terror. Previously I had only been beaten, now I was to be tortured.

It was after dinner, and all the teachers were on the terrace smoking and drinking. So much for being role models? I was left alone in my dorm with my tormentors. On the stroke of eight, when they knew the teachers’ movement patterns, virtually the whole dorm of hormone pumped teenage boys encircled my bed. I was sitting there, trying to ignore them.

Without a word, Wesley’s usual cronies rushed forward and pulled me onto the floor. Someone yanked off my shoes, whilst numerous hands grabbed my t-shirt and forcibly ripped it off me in pieces. I was dragged to one of the empty bunks, and my wrists and ankles were tied with parcel tape to the bedposts, impossible to break. Wesley strode forward, and grabbing my hair – yanked my head back, straining me to look up at him. Without saying a word, he spat in my face, and then let go. He then produced a broom handle that had been hidden behind one of the bunks. Putting it behind my back, he said coldly, “Whore boy is going to get buggered.” and he forced the end of the broom handle into the seat of my jeans. The pain grew as my jeans began to push in and split. I could not believe what was happening. I begged the other boys to help – but they all stood there; apparently enjoying the show. Just as the unthinkable was about to happen, Wesley pulled the broom back out. Walking around to look me in the face, he muttered:

“Repeat after me: My mother is a fucking whore!”

I did not reply. How did he know about my mother working nights? It was so unfair, all over again.

“Repeat after me: My mother is a fucking whore!”

Still I didn’t reply. Then, out of his jacket pocket, he produced a petrol cigarette lighter. Igniting it, he moved it towards my face. For the third time, he said

“Repeat after me: My mother is a fucking whore!”

I spat back in his face and shouted “Your mother is a fucking whore!”

Suddenly, he thrust the flame under my left arm. I screamed and squirmed as my skin blistered. The rest of boys I think were becoming unnerved by now. He had gone beyond the pale. Wesley was mad. Whilst still holding the flame under my arm, he said coldly and calmly “Repeat after me: My mother is a fucking whore!”

The pain was intense, even nauseous. I could not take it any more. Sobbing, I whimpered “My mother is a fucking whore....”

I still feel ashamed for giving in, but what else could I do? I was eventually cut free by the guilty faced crowd. Of course I went to the teachers. The huge blistered burn on my arm and my torn clothing was proof enough but they still did nothing. It was useless, I had to take matters into my own hands!

I had planned what my revenge would be. I decided that I would follow Wesley into the woods one night, and discover what he was up to. I would then tell the Headmaster and the Hawk Lady, and hopefully he would be expelled, and be out of my life forever!

It was late, and the warden called for lights out. I pretended to be already asleep, but I was still dressed, in preparation for my confrontation with Wesley in the woods. At about quarter to midnight, Wesley slowly clambered out of his bed, walked to the window, and was soon away down the drain pipe. Once he was gone, I got up and followed him. It was a full moon tonight, so I could easily find my way down to ground. I was worried about leaving blood stains on the whitewashed walls from my bandaged hand. It still hadn't healed dammit!

Gingerly, I picked my way across the sports field, following Wesley towards the woods. It wasn't long before I was close to him. He had stopped in a clearing a few yards into the woods, and was bathed in moonlight. I crouched down and watched to see what he would do. Clumsily, I trod on a twig and made the loudest 'quiet' sound I had ever heard. Wesley spun round. “Who’s there?” he cried, in a hoarse voice that I almost didn’t recognise. I didn’t reply, so he walked deeper into the woods. I followed!

My eagerness out did me. Before I knew what I was doing, I was crashing through the undergrowth, and straight into Wesley, who had stopped walking. He jumped in fright, and then looked to see what had hit him. When he saw it was me, his eyes burned with rage and fear. “Curtis! Why are you...[Cough]...out here?”

“Following you. Seeing what you’re up to.” I replied. I could see that Wesley looked in pain, and his voice was definitely different - as if he had a sore throat.

“So...you’re not here because of the Urge?” wheezed Wesley. “What urge? What are you talking about?”

“Haven’t you noticed? Haven’t you felt strange sensations you’ve never felt before? [Cough] I was like you when I first arrived here, but now look at me. I’m an animal - disliked by everyone!”

This wasn’t the Wesley I knew and hated. He was different; frightened!

“It.. it must be the headmaster. I’m sure he’s put something in the [Cough] water, or our food, or even the air - to change us! First it’s just a feeling of restlessness... but then the urge builds and builds. [Cough] I often come out here to try and ease the pain. It sometimes works but not tonight! I tried to tell my parents, but they just laughed. No one’s parents believe them either. Their too busy to care anyway. Other boys have disappeared before now, and no one’s said anything! Didn’t you hear about them at the circus? They are all in on it. Perhaps the govern..[Cough]..ment is involved.”

“What planet are you on?” I replied coolly, “You’re making this up.”

“I’m not!” roared Wesley, but as the words slipped out of his mouth, he fell to the ground and started to shake violently.

“Stop play acting” I said, “You’re not impressing anyone!”

My manner altered upon looking at the crouching figure. I could see that something was wrong, different. Wesley was changing, growing! I stared in horror. All sense of reality was draining from my mind. After a minute or so, what had once been a boy was now something quite different. Something terrible!

I began to run, as the creature that had once been Wesley sniffed the air. Was it the blood from my hand that was attracting it. The scratches on my face, the lump on my neck and blister on my arm all burned and itched terribly.

A few seconds later the beast gave chase, running faster than I could ever hope to match. At that time I had no idea of what I had just seen, but I knew that it was after my blood. Just as I thought I couldn’t run any further, I noticed a sharp branch lying on the ground. Thinking it could be a possible weapon, I picked it up and prepared to face my pursuer. Moments later the creature burst out of the undergrowth, and leapt straight at me. I raised the stick – by sheer luck striking the beast in the side of the neck. Its own momentum jerked the stick out of my hands, ripping the wound wide open.

The creature momentarily roared in pain and then fell down dead. I also dropped to my knees, trying to catch my breath. As I looked across at the creature, I could see that it was much larger than a man, and covered in hair? No, fur! Its ghastly features twisted further by its violent death. There is only one description I can use for it - a werewolf!

As I looked on, I could see it mutating slowly, back into the familiar form of Wesley, only naked, bloody and dead. I have to admit now that I was terrified.

The whole scene was bathed in moonlight, and I suddenly felt wonderful. Even better than during my first saunter into the woods. I raised my head, tears pouring from my eyes, arched my back and gave out a loud cry of joy, totally oblivious to anyone who might hear me.

I looked down again, and saw the crumpled shape of Wesley, my fallen opponent; my prey, helpless infront of me. I sensed the blood and longed for its sweet taste on my lips. However, I suddenly became aware of approaching footsteps. Someone must have heard us fighting, and had come to investigate. Then from behind a tree, a figure appeared. It was the headmaster; he must have followed us out.

“Brookes - is that you? I never expected one of our newest students to show such early promise!” he said in a jovial tone, but when he saw the fallen figure at my feet his voice became icy.

“You killed it! You killed it!” he screamed, “My boy - you killed my boy. All my hard work has gone to waste.”

I was horrified by his words. Could Wesley have been right all the time? Was the headmaster really behind the strange sensations that we had been experiencing - turning the boys into bullies and then beasts? Was he using the cover of a care home to perfect his vile experiments on boys who would not be missed?

“Stay where you are Brookes! By the process of natural selection, you have proved yourself to be a worthy successor.”

I didn't really hear his words, they didn't interest me anymore. I turned back to look at Wesley lying on the ground. Out of the side of his torn neck protruded the stick that had saved my life. The warm, sticky blood seeped from the wound, and trickled into the mud. How I so wanted to taste it, to be one with it - the ecstasy that it would give me!

I could now feel the urge growing inside me. I had never felt like this before. It was a strange feeling, but I wasn’t sure for what. Blood? Hatred? Sex? Freedom? Revenge? I just couldn't be certain.

The headmaster had now been joined by some teachers. He had started laughing, and beckoning me to come to him. How dare he! He was evil, and had to be stopped. Who knows what he had planned for me?

I ran towards him, arms out stretched. He must have thought I was submitting - but at the last moment I sprang in the air, landing upon him and knocking him over. Before I knew what I was doing, I had thumped my fist into his throat. I kept doing it until I heard his neck crack. He groaned for a moment, and then lay still. He had deserved it - he was a monster! I was simply the avenging angel.

I knew that I must get away from there; from the scene of my revenge, or otherwise I would be punished! I had been punished enough! I had been punished everyday since my parents divorced! I was never going through that again.

With animal instinct I turned on my heels and fled towards the nearby moors. I ran and ran, never looking back. Soon I was deep in the woods, and the teachers had lost sight of me. I crouched behind a small bush and growled quietly to myself.

I wasn't Curtis Brookes any more. I never wanted to be that puny boy ever again. His existence had crushed my true being and I wanted out! I longed to rid myself of his legacy forever! I could see that the humans had detected my position and were running towards where I was hiding. I had to flee, and in one bound I had cleared the wooden fence that marked the border with the moors and the wilderness beyond. Now I was free of humanity and its many cruelties. I was free!

It was very, very dark. Only the strange orange moon cast any light upon my surroundings. In front of me I could see what looked like a dense, gloomy forest – stretching away into the infinite distance, totally obliterating the horizon beyond. On all sides, its mass of twisted branches and knotted trunks wreaked of foreboding and unhappiness. Yet, for some deep unknown reason, I felt drawn towards it; compelled by my own subconscious! The forest looked so familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it exactly. It was as if I saw that forest every day, but I was sure I had never been there before.

“You are confused my child.” came a calm voice from behind me.

I spun around to see a small, ugly dwarf – dressed in black, with a strange, pale face. His eyes were red and slanted, and his teeth pointed.

“W.....who are you?” I stammered, feeling a little scared.

“Oh, I’m nobody Curtis. A bit like you really. Just a figment of a fantastic imagination.” replied the strange dwarf menacingly.

“What?” I asked.

“You’ll understand in time – my boy. You have been selected and you have a task to perform.”

“Leave me alone.” I cried, beginning to tentatively step backwards.

“Don’t worry Curtis. You’ll understand in time.” repeated the demonic dwarf. “Just walk deeper into the forest. That’s all.”

My clothes suddenly began to feel too tight. My jeans choked my legs as if they were swelling, but I tried to ignore the discomfort.

“Go on, tell me more.” I said to the old dwarf.

“First you must eat.” Replied the old man, and threw a chunk of raw meat to me. Without hesitation, I began to bite into the dripping flesh. It made my stomach gurgle and bloat. I pulled up my sweatshirt and gasped. The pale skin on my stomach was stretched and translucent. Underneath, my muscles rippled and writhed. Huge dark veins pulsed and slithered visibly below the surface. I felt sick. It was as if my torso resembled a giant maggot. My stomach bulged against my belt and jeans, dilating with every heartbeat. I tucked my t-shirt back into my jeans and continued to eat.

My feet really ached. I sat down on a tree stump and pulled off my shoes and socks. Rubbing my feet, they felt swollen and numb. With great difficulty I pulled my socks and shoes back on and shook my head. I could not bring any words to my lips. I turned away from the dwarf’s blazing red eyes, to look once again at the dark forest. It was so terrifying, yet spellbindingly beautiful at the same time.

“Go on Curtis. Go on.” spoke the red-eyed man softly.

Hearing the words resonate through my skull - I began to tentatively step towards the forest, not noticing the brown sticky mud and knotted grass all around. It was only another few steps when I came to a stop. I had finally noticed the sticky mud on my shoes, but now my way was blocked by a wide pool, or was it a river, of oozing black mud. Although I felt no heat, the mud bubbled and spat like a volcanic vent. I looked around for the strange dwarf, but he was gone. Turning back, I looked across the mud towards the forest....... My forest, my home! This accursed river of mud, this restraint on my true being was blocking me, choking me, crushing me! I raised my foot from the bank, lifting it towards the oozing river. It was then that the grass around me grew quickly, spurting from the ground like tentacles, grabbing around my calf, pulling my leg back.

“Nooo! I want to go!” I cried, snatching at the grassy vines. I continued to struggle until the vines snapped. Once broken, they faded away, and as they did – so did the sky behind me, leaving nothing but blackness. I had to go on! Letting out a deep, guttural roar – I dived into the mud.

The mud was slightly warm after all. It soothed me, caressed me, held me. It flowed slowly inside my sodden clothes, and caressed my skin. I felt wonderful. Never before had I experienced love and tenderness on this level before. I didn’t want to leave. It was safe here. It was home now. I didn’t care that the mud was filling my mouth, my ears and my nostrils. I could still breath quite happily. The mud wouldn’t let me come to harm.

Slowly, my senses faded in and out. I saw mud, then a forest, then a strange yet familiar room, and furniture, then I saw my mother, and Jason, then Sarah! But then just mud again. I felt sad.

I realised that I was swimming. Swimming in the mud – towards the far bank. Towards the forest. My forest. My real home. Increasingly, the feelings I had for this muddy haven ebbed away. It was the forest I must get to – not this accursed brown slime. I continued to squirm and wriggle my way to the far side.

I felt my body burn hot and cold. I felt strange tingling sensations up and down my arms and legs. I felt constrained by the things around me – pulling him back, squeezing me tight, reminding me of what I once was. Then in a flash – they were gone, and I was there! I had reached the far bank!

I raised my muddy hand up to grabbed onto a branch that jutted out from the river bank. Hauling myself up and out of the mud, onto the grassy bank, I was sure that something felt different. In fact I felt quite strange. My perspective had altered. I smelt things, saw things, heard things that I had never experienced before. Also, my body felt funny – things bent in a strange way and my clothes pulled tightly around my arms and legs. I looked down, to see the mud covering my body begin to dissolve. Underneath, to my shock and sheer wonder – was a layer of shimmering, dark fur poking out of the collar and cuffs of my sweatshirt! Instinctively I pulled at my tight clothes. I was finally renouncing humanity with all its evils; and letting the Wilderness take me! Suddenly a terrible pain hit me and I fell to the ground. My shoulders broadened still further, huge muscles bulking up on my back and chest. My shoes became incredibly tight, then they exploded off my feet as they became clawed paws! I scratched the ground with them, enjoying the power they now possessed. The pressure was building in my jeans, the strong blue denim creaking as my body expanded inside. My massive growing thighs and buttocks were cramming my jeans like a second skin!

I licked my lips in anticipation of what happening. The animal urge was growing in me, pulsing through my veins. Every heartbeat and every breath brought more growth, more fur, more muscle, more pressure, more pleasure! My expanding body was pulling my hooded blue sweatshirt snugly under my arms and around my chest. The collar started to choke me a bit. I tried to put my hands up to my collar to pull it wider to allow my neck room to grow, but my hands were already growing into stubby claws and I couldn’t get a good grip of the fabric. I settled back to all fours to await events as my body continued to swell like a balloon, the pressure and pain increasing with every breath.

I could feel my clothes pull even tighter about me. How much longer would they hold out? My astonishing muscle growth then began to accelerate, causing the fabric of my clothes to groan in agony. The sweatshirt stitching under my arms began to give way very slowly stitch by stitch. Pop, pop, pop, pop. The ripping sound was like sweet music to my ears. My metamorphosis was beautiful and slow. New muscles bulged all over my expanding frame. The mighty growth was going too fast for the exhausted stitching to keep up and the cotton fabric itself splintered and exploded off my upper body. This latest surge of growth carried on down my body to my thighs and buttocks. With a slow, delicious cracking sound – my huge legs began to prise apart the blue denim of my jeans, inch by inch running down each leg.

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With a sudden boom, the back of the jeans burst open and they fell to the ground in a crumpled heap of rags. I roared in delight. Checking out the rest of my new body was equally wonderful. It was all there. Fangs, claws, fur – the works! I was at last the werewolf I had dreamed of. Exactly as I had dreamed it. Exactly! Well, not exactly - I think I may have been more were-gorilla than werewolf but who cared now.

I fell forwards onto all fours, which now felt much more comfortable. My immense bulk cast a huge shadow in the moonlight over the oddly green grass around me. Raising my head towards the sky, I let out another roar – and loped off into the dark forest.

After a while, I sniffed the air. There were strange sounds in the distance. I was unsure what they signified. They were not like the calls of any bird I knew. Loud cracks, like wood clattering against branches. Then distant cries. I dug my claws into the damp soil, and snarled. I didn’t like what I couldn’t understand – and I couldn’t understand strange noises. I padded deeper into the forest, fearful of what these things meant.

I found himself in a clearing, bathed in moonlight. The strange sounds continued, getting closer, and closer. Out of the undergrowth loped a strange figure. It was larger than me, but similarly formed – arched back, fur and sharp claws. It bared its teeth, and snarled. Instinctively, I snarled back – and turned to face my assailant. Just then, another figure appeared, and another, and another, and another. Soon, I was totally surrounded by the pack. I spun around, trying to find an escape route – but all were blocked! They moved closer and closer, eyes fixed on me. I returned my gaze towards the original opponent, and prepared to strike.

“Do not fear my child.” said the lead beast, “We are not your enemy.”

I shook his head. The voice sounded eerily human for such a creature.

“Grrrrrr..... What do you want?” I growled, not yet use to my changed voice.

“Your fellowship.” replied the lead beast. “You are one of us. One of the free. One of the chosen. Now you’ve come to join us.”

“Whaaat? I don’t know you.” I grumbled, still aching to pounce.

“No Curtis, you don’t know us – but we know you.” replied the leader, “My name is Charger, and we are the Pax Lycana.”

“Huh?” I muttered.

“The Pax Lycana!” repeated Charger, “This is now the Wyrm Age! The Earth is falling to the dark laws of the Magi, we were amongst the first to be torn from our families, our homes and warped into these forms – but our minds remained pure. We are the Brotherhood of Fenrir, the last hope of humanity.”

“Grrrrr... humans suck!” I growled.

“I understand my child.” said Charger, “It is part of their mutation process, to undo your thoughts as well as your body. You are forced to believe the magi and their lies – but we know the truth. Is that not right, Club?” Another creature moved into the clearing, about the same size as me. It looked up towards Charger, and then turned to face me.

“He tells the truth.” spoke Club softly, “I too was changed early in the war, but I never surrendered my soul. My name was Jack, and I was at a school run by a mage. He was trying to form a tribe of slaves out of his children before the invasion, but I killed him first.” Club howled with pride.

“Wazza gotta do with me?” I asked.

“You are not Wyrm at heart,” replied Charger. “You can still help your family, and end this curse of the Wyrm. We are the only hope. Will you join us?”

“Who’s the Verm? I gotta fink!” I hissed. I still couldn’t figure what was going on. War? Wyrm? Magi? The Earth falling? I remembered a river, a forest, feeling wonderful – and now this meeting. I vaguely remembered things called families, things I had done as a boy – but it was all so vague now.

“Time is of the essence. Even now the forces of the magi continue their march on our homes. They are even close to us now.” said Charger. “You, my son, are our latest comrade. Join us – and you will be saved. Alone, and you will die. I share your fears. I myself tried to end my life when I realised my fate – but I was saved. I regret nothing. Join us!”

I pondered for a moment. “Awww, I gonna come with you.” I growled, knowing I had little choice.

“Well done my son.” said Charger, “Join with us – Blade!”

“Hmmmm, Blade – I like that name.” I thought and roared into the air. The pack roared too. They had gained a brother, and I had gained a sense of belonging and a hope of survival. The War had begun!