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Raising his head from the pillow at the unmistakable sound of a far off whinny Wanderer was reminded of the old adage that living with horses was a curse because every time you felt the back of your neck tingle it was mandatory to go check up on them. Despite the fact that this was not his’s stable and its residents were not his horses, they were nevertheless his responsibility and it didn’t matter if he had just finished brushing his teeth and tucked into bed because something was wrong in the barn and it was his duty to investigate.
Rolling off of the fold out bed and pulling on his T-shirt and jeans, Wanderer peered out one of the windows. A full moon was out lighting up the outside such that one could see plainly without the aid of any sort of artificial illumination. At once two of his’s fears were allayed as the barn itself was not on fire nor had any of the horses escaped. Still, there were any number of less dramatic problems that required a human go to out and perform a careful inspection even if everything had seemed perfectly fine when he had made his last pass of the evening just 30 minutes before.
Wanderer had been staying at Amanda’s ranch shortly after arriving in the high desert community chasing a small role in a critically acclaimed television series all the way from LA. Amanda had been hired to provide some horses for the production and the two had hit it off, resulting in the offer of a couch to sleep on in exchange for doing chores and odd jobs at her stable. The aspiring actor had been enjoying the arrangement so much that even after production ended he decided that it was worth his while to stay in the area for as long as his lady friend would have him seeing that it was both cheaper than living in LA and he would face much less competition for what acting jobs did became available.
Leaving his small flashlight tucked in its belt pouch, Wander strode out of the house for the short walk over to the barn where the horses were housed when the nights got cooler. Unlike the animals with their thick blankets and fur the human was still dressed for LA and his shivering triggered another mental note to purchase something a little more substantial the next time he drove into town. Approaching the barn he saw that the large sliding door was open about a foot, but couldn’t remember if he had closed it all the way when he had last left. Pushing the door open a bit more he could hear that the horses were agitated, stomping around in their stalls and uttering the occasional alarmed whinny.
Wander knew that this was all part of the deal of managing a barn. He had seen Amanda venture out in the wee hours several times over his tenure on her couch only to return with a verdict of far away lightning or field drama. Reaching for the switch and expecting light, Wanderer cursed when the switch flopped uselessly without any corresponding change in illumination. The pitch black interior of the barn saw only the vaguest hint of the blue-white moonlight as Wanderer walked towards the only other switch was at the other end of the hallway, but novice horseman knew the building well and moved forward into the darkness while casually reaching for his small flashlight which would be useful in locating the other switch.
He had only gotten about a third of the way down the hall when a horse to his right let out a loud squeal. Spinning around and raising his flashlight, Wanderer had barely managed to click it on when a black bipedal figure, taller than himself, lept out the darkness and threw him up against the wall. Instantly thrust into fight or flight mode, Wanderer kicked, punched and clawed at whatever had grabbed ahold of him. The suddenly there was a sharp jolt of pain in his shoulder causing the human to let out a sharp scream followed by a string of angry curses. Partly intimidated by his loud, angry voice, whatever was holding Wanderer against the wall suddenly let go, the animal growls replaced by the sound of soft footfalls heading in the direction of the open door. His one arm hurting too badly to move, Wanderer used the other to feel around on the floor for his flashlight until the artificial moonlight from the LED’s lit up the interior space of the stable. His left hand was still grasping a clump of fur, but as his eyes moved up towards the shoulder Wanderer was alarmed by a growing dark stain on his white shirt.
“Oh you gotta be fucking kidding.”
Struggling to his feet the injured human hussled to the door of the barn, pulling the first aid kit off the wall as he passed , running to the house where he fumbled with the door briefly before bursting inside. As an infrequently employed actor with no insurance Wanderer was no stranger to self-administered medical treatment and made his way to the bathroom where he pulled off his shirt to get a better look at whatever the animal had done to him. Located on his shoulder were several round puncture wounds indicative of a carnivore’s bite mark. Breathing a slight sigh of relief as the blood flow seemed to be stopping on its own, he could tell that bite marks would probably not require stitches to close. Using some soap and paper towels to superficially clean away the blood and dirt from the wound, Wanderer followed up with an ample helping of antiseptic cream.
For a moment he considered driving himself to the hospital, but again his financial situation held him back not to mention the possibility of the dog or whatever it was returning again to attack the horses while he was away. He knew that Amanda kept a supply of rabies vaccine on hand for the animals and since there was no immediate rush to have the vaccine administered, any outpatient clinic could easily do the job. Either way Amanda would soon be back from her trip and with the bite properly dressed and bandaged Wanderer felt comfortable in waiting on her advice. Checking his arm for full range of motion Wanderer cleaned up the mess in the bathroom before returning back down the stairs.
“Ah, 10:30, that’s not too bad...considering,” Wanderer casually remarked as he went back down to where he had been sleeping on the couch.
Pulling another another extra-large T-Shirt from stock, Wanderer pulled it over his torso, carefully maneuvering the bandaged arm through the proper hole. Taking Amanda’s keys he next walked over to her gun cabinet and gingerly removed one of her pump shotguns and pushed a couple of rounds into a magazine. Walking out the front door once more he performed a thorough inspection of both the barn and the immediate grounds, securing all of the gates and doors and making sure that none of the horses had been bitten or injured themselves. Sure that all was as it should be, the ever vigilant actor retreated back into the house to get some sleep before the 5am feeding time.
Roused from his dreams, Wanderer found himself staring at the big red seven segment LEDs reading 2:03. It had not been the shrill beeping of the alarm that roused him, but instead an intense itching sensation coming from his shoulder where the bandage had been previously applied. After being thwarted by several casual attempts to relieve the itch through the bandage itself, Wanderer hauled himself out of bed and stumbled back to the bathroom to try to figure out what was the matter. Turning on the light he could see that there was no sign of additional bleeding, but as he carefully peeled back the tape and gauze Wanderer was shocked to find that instead of a series of nasty bite marks there were only some small red circles reminiscent of an insect bite.
"Well I'll be damned..."
Wiping away the antibiotic ointment that still covered the skin he could not even find a hint of a scar. It was like that attack hadn't happened at all, yet his ripped and bloody t-shirt stood as physical proof that it had. As he looked at himself in the mirror to see if his eyes showed any signs of concussion Wanderer noticed that despite having a full beard and mustache he looked like he needed a shave. Moving his face more into the light, the areas of his face and neck that was not covered by his normal compliment of facial hair now appeared to have a bit of a five o'clock shadow effect going on. Wanderer would have investigated the matter further, but the itching sensation had spread to his entire torso and upon pulling off his T-Shirt he discovered that the hair problem was no longer limited to his face as a soft grey fuzz was now sprouting from every square inch of skin. Pulling at the strange fuzz had only the effect of removing his existing body hair, which soon started falling out in clumps even without his own efforts to help it along.
"What? No! This can't be happening!" Wanderer pleaded with himself in the mirror as whole chunks of his beard began to fall off into the sink giving way to the increasingly thick grey fur and more animal-like whiskers. "Ahhhh, what the fuck!"
Wanderer's voice was sounding different now, a bit lower and with an odd lisp. Baring his teeth he saw that they too were changing, becoming more pointed in appearance as if his entire mouth was full of canines.
"Oh no...no fucking way. This is a dream, this has to be a dream!" Wanderer screamed as his nose began to turn black before a sharp pain in his gut drove him to the bathroom floor. The somewhat rotund actor had never been what one would call athletic, holding an extra 60 or so pounds around his midsection for the unlikely event of a famine, but in a bizarre turn of events his amble gut was somehow shrinking down as other parts of his torso and limbs choose to expand. Wanderer watched in a mix of pleasant surprise and horror as muscle tone and definition began to return to much of his body. He was only roused from his state of inaction by an increasing feeling of discomfort originating from his rear end and turning he was shocked to see that something was tenting his shorts the wrong way round. Pulling them down a few inches exposed what looked like a fur covered rat tail whose freedom only encouraged a more rapid expansion in both length and girth.
"Ah tail? Ah'm gooing ah tail?"
Wanderer's mouth now felt like it was filled with marshmallows and the reason soon became evident as his new black canine nose came into view without him needing to make any effort to cross his eyes. The feeling of his jaw reshaping into some sort of muzzle was highly uncomfortable as the bones and teeth rearranged themselves, but despite all the changes there was no appreciable sensations of pain as the man changed from one shape to another.
Wanderer hadn't just fallen off the turnip truck. It was clear to him what was happening and clear what he was becoming. The last thing he wanted was for Amanda to come home from her trip and find a vicious wild wolf-man trapped in her downstairs bathroom so he began to make his way out of the house. He had only made it back to the living room and his couch when his legs gave out from under him as they began to reshape into a digitigrade stance. The need to get out of the house was now all the more urgent as Wanderer knew that any potential mental changes were sure to follow. Relying solely on his upper body he crawled an arm's length at a time toward the front door even as his human hands thickened into fully dexterous versions of a wolf's paw with his fingernails changing into the claws that he would use to catch his prey.
Reaching the door Wanderer pulled himself up to a standing position using the knob, wobbling on his new feet that made him feel like he was standing on tip toes. He didn't know where he would go or what he would do, but he had to get out and away before any twolegs showed up.
"Twolegs?" he thought to himself.
Wander was suddenly confused. He knew that wasn't the right term, but that was the only one that appeared in his mind when he thought of the pink skinned creatures that populated this world. The inability to think of the right word started to annoy him, it was only after he thought back to one of the television shows he watched that he came up with the "correct" term, human.
"That is such a silly name," Wanderer mumbled to himself, his voice sounding more intelligible now that his face had decided on a shape. "They walk on two legs, other animals work on four. That makes them twolegs."
The naming issue aside Wanderer opened the door and promptly fell to all fours himself as his two new legs realized that they didn't quite know what to do. For a moment the man-wolf thought he himself could give four-legged locomotion a try, but it didn't take long before he realized that his new body was no more capable of the feat than his old one. Using a nearby fence to get back to his feet Wanderer noticed that he had gained more than a few inches in height from a combination of his reshaped legs and a longer neck and torso. In fact standing fully erect invoked the same sensation as wearing drywall stilts. His rich thick pelt of grey fur appeared to glow in the white light of the full moon and performed a more than adequate job of keeping the desert chill at bay. With the demands of modesty no longer an issue, Wanderer proceeded to kick off his twoleg boxer shorts and thrust his muzzle high into the air with a triumphal howl.
With the fence acting as a third point of contact, Wanderer slowly made his way towards the dusty paddocks where the horses were turned out in the daytime. With each step his body gained confidence, new neural patterns being being exercised for the first time, integrating into his twoleg mind. By the time he ran out of fence the newly born were was able to stand and walk on his own. A few more steps later and he was able to run, and jump, over another fence and across the field. The freedom he felt from just running was like nothing he had ever experienced before. He was warm without clothes. Fast without a vehicle. His sight was as colorful and detailed as a twoleg's, as sharp as an eagle's and as sensitive as an owl's. Wander lost all track of time and distance, stopping only with the first rays of the dawn broke over the distant horizon. Looking around he found himself on a rise that give him a wide view of the surrounding valley. Turning he looked back at the stables. At this distance the buildings looked small, but he knew he could easily make it back to feed the hoofbeasts in five minutes.
"Oh no! The hoofbeasts!" Wanderer swore as he realized that it would be getting close to the time where he would normally wake up to feed and attend to the large hooved animals that the twoleg, Amanda, had trusted him to look after. However the thought of going back to the ranch made the man-wolf feel uneasy. Twolegs were often hostile against greyfurs and considered hybrids of the two a form of monster. Still, Wanderer didn't know where else he could go and a lone twoleg-greyfur would probably not be able to survive long with winter approaching. Reluctantly he turned and made his way back to the stables.
As Wanderer slid the door open and stepped into the barn he could instantly feel the uneasiness in the hoofbeasts. He didn't know if they would accept him and in all honesty leaving them alone until Amanda returned would not cause them any great harm, but deep down the man-half wanted some acknowledgement that he was not some monster and if a hoofbeast could accept him perhaps twolegs could as well. Cautiously he approached the first stall prompting the chestnut mare inside to flare her nostrils and move to the rear of the stall. Nevertheless, Wanderer was not deterred and slowly pushed his hands through the metal bars on the door and opened it to reveal a small brown pellet of compressed oats and molasses. Slowly the mare approached him, her ears flicking around and her body tensed up to bolt. She extended her upper lip and teased the treat into her mouth munching it eagerly then allowing the twoleg-greyfur to rub her long face with his hand-paw. Soon he was inside the stall with her, changing her water and putting down a flake of hay with the mare paying no more attention than she would to a human in a fursuit.
As he moved from stall to stall Wanderer became increasingly aware of his new sense of smell. If he had been asked as a two leg what hoofbeasts smelled like his answer would have been "horse", but now he could tell that each had a rich and unique aroma that made identification easier than by looking at the color of their fur. It got to the point that upon greeting one of the horses he would mirror the hoofbeast's olfactory investigation of him with a few deep breaths through his own nose as it pressed up against the it's fur. He also realized that he was much more aware of the thoughts and feelings of the hoofbeasts, an awareness that had previously eluded him. Every flick of their ears or movement of their eyes registered with him as if they had made plain vocalizations and he soon discovered that his own ears, now sitting atop his head and possessing the same flexibility as theirs', could be used to communicate his own feelings to the hoofbeasts as well. What had once taken many minutes of awkwardly pulling at halters and ropes Wanderer found he could now accomplish with a few flicks of his own ears, backed up with the occasional growl.
His morning chores soon finished and with a scent picture of every horse at the barn now firmly etched into his mind, Wander walked up the door and slid it open to reveal the bright morning sunlight. He had not gone two steps when once again he had a nagging suspicion that he was forgetting something.
"The nightsun!" Wanderer cried out in alarm. "The daysun is up and I am still half greyfur." He blinked. "But aren't twoleg-greyfurs supposed to change back when the nightsun is gone?"
The only one there to answer was the wind. Looking around to make sure no other twolegs were snooping around to see him, Wanderer quickly made his way back into the house. He knew that the computer thing would be able to tell him what he had become and, more importantly, how he could change back...that was IF he could change back that was.
"Hey Charlie, I'm back from my aunt's and I brought you come cake. Are you in here?" Amanda called out as she walked in the door.
There was a rather extended pause before an unfamiliar voice emerged from the back room.
"Yeah, I'm here."
"Charlie? Are you ok? You don't sound too good."
"I ran into a little difficulty last night," said Wanderer. "You should probably just come back and see for yourself, but you have to promise me you won't freak out."
"You know that's not really something you can ask someone to do," replied Amanda as she turned the knob and pushed the door open to reveal a six and a half foot tall werewolf laying lengthwise on the couch, a comically small laptop computer perched on his lap.
"There was...an incident."
"Ahhhhhhhh!" Amanda screamed, dropping the white box as her hands instinctively reached for something to defend herself with.
"Please...don't be scared! It's me...Charlie. I just have a bit more hair."
"You have a lot more than just hair!" Amanda shouted in disbelief as she continued to edge back into the hallway as a classic creature from horror fiction looked up at her from the couch. "What the hell happened to you?! Is that some sort of costume?"
"I wish it were a costume. As far as I can tell it's 100% real." Wanderer sighed. "So yeah...according to the internet I have lycanthropy."
"You mean you're a werewolf!? That's ridiculous! Those...those aren't real!"
Suddenly Adamda seemed to relax as she bent over and picked up the cake.
"Alright, ha ha, you got me. I guess this is you way of telling me how you got a job on one of those new chick lit movies. Congradulations. You can have some cake if you can eat with the prosthetic on."
Wanderer set and laptop aside and stood up demonstrating his full height as his shaggy head almost hit the ceiling.
"It's real! I got bit last night by something hiding in the barn and I changed a few hours later. Here, I can prove it."
Wanderer turned around and wagged his tail.
"I'm not falling for it Charlie. Where is the camera? I know you're making a YouTube video or something, but I just hope you don't get fired for taking the animatronic wolf-suit home with you."
Wanderer then turned so that Amanda could see him from the side.
"Then you tell me how I got a flat chest and abs in the 5 days since you were gone."
"Flat or not that chest is still as thick as your old one and that's even assuming you are who you say you are. I mean your voice is completely different. Come on, stop trying to convince me. I'm not that gullible."
Wanderer growled. "Come on, you meet a real life werewolf in the flesh and you can't tell the difference between it and a costume?"
"I've honestly seen better at Comic Con. The fur is all matted and full of twigs. Did you drop it on the ground taking it out of the trunk? Still, I'll play your game. Close your eyes and turn around."
Wanderer blinked his eyes for a moment and turned around. Amanda set the cake box down and then softly walked up behind the large anthro wolf before grabbing his tail and bending the end up.
"RRRRWWWOOOOUUCHH!" Wanderer snarled as he spun around to confront the suddenly terrified Amanda with teeth bared. "WHAT WAS THAT FOR?!"
"Y-you could feel that?"
"YES I COULD FEEL THAT! IT"S MY TAIL!"
"It-it's just a fake...a prosthetic..."
Wanderer grabbed Amada by the shoulders and pulled her close so that she was staring directly into his eyes.
"Do these look fake to you?"
Seeing the organic detail and fine movement of the greyfur's large yellow eyes Amanda shook her head no prompting Wanderer to let go of her and sit down on the couch.
"Ok, so, you're a werewolf now," said Amanda, mostly to herself as she tried to reconcile what was happening. "So if you really have, and I can't believe I am saying this, lycanthropy, then why are you still a giant wolf? Isn't it supposed to wear off when the moon goes away?"
"According to everything I could find online it is, but here I am."
"So you've been this way since last night," said Amanda nodding slightly. "Did you feed and water the horses this morning?"
"Yes, the hoofbeasts are fine. They did not seem to mind my presence any more than usual."
"Why you just call the horses "hoofbeasts"."
Wanderer got a frustrated look on his face. "Because all these words keep getting replaced in my mind! I want to say h-h-horse, but if I don't concentrate it comes out hoofbeast. Besides," grumbled Wander, lowering his voice, "it makes more sense that way."
"You'd better not start callin me lunch," Amanda said wryly.
"Twolegs are bad to eat. They are either too stringy or too fat not to mention they tend to be the most dangerous prey."
"How the hell do you know all that?"
"Isn't it obvious?" replied Wanderer looking up at Amanda. "Ah...I guess it isn't."
"Is it safe for you to stay here with me?"
"As far as I can tell. I haven't have an unnecessarily violent impulse all day. According to what I have read most stories of wolves attacking people were isolated incidents and have no basis in reality."
"Well then what bit you then? Was it a wolf or a person?"
"I don't think it was either because it seemed to be standing on two legs like myself and the clump of hair I pulled out also matches my own."
"Do you know where it came from or where it went off to?" Amanda asked, looking a bit uneasy again.
"No, at the time I thought it was just some feral or rabid dog. It ran off into the scrub."
"Do you think it got away from that animal sanctuary over the hill?"
"I don't know, but I'm not sure how we could find out short of knockin on the door and at that point I am sure that I would become the featured part of their collection."
"Well we need to somebody. You can't just live in here for the rest of your life," Amanda insisted.
"Figuring out who we can trust with my condition here will take careful thought. One wrong move and I'm certain to end up in some sort of government lab."
"If we could find the werewolf that bit you perhaps it might know how to change you back. I mean it's probably not a cure, but being human 27 nights out of thirty isn't that bad of a deal."
"Why don't we take a little break. That strawberry shortcake is making my mouth water."
"How did you know it was a...."
Wanderer smiled as he taped his black nose with a claw tip.
"You know they say one should never feed dogs from the table," Amanda giggled.
"Can I please request that you not make any jokes like that? It might make some people feel better, but I can feel it just sort of ticking me off. I...I don't mean to be a killjoy, but I'm just not ready. This....this really isn't a situation I can laugh at yet."
Amanda sighed. "I understand. I'm sorry I didn't believe you earlier."
"Don't sweat it, I didn't quite believe it myself earlier and I was the one growing fur and extra appendages.
"Do you mind if I touch you? I mean...touch your....your fur," stammered Amanda.
Wanderer nodded. "Go right ahead. Trust me I am not looking forward to taking a shower later."
"Make sure you use hair screen on the drain," said Amanda as she reached out and carefully ran her hand through the thick winter fur on Wanderer's arm. "Did you have anything to eat yet?"
"Yeah and by the way you're sort of out of meat. You can remind me to repay you the next time we're at the store," Wanderer mentioned. "Hmmm, I should do some experiments to see what sorts of human food I can handle. I think dogs are able to eat most things except for like chocolate and such."
"Good thing I decided against "Death By Chocolate". That would have been an ironic cake choice," Amanda mused as she turned back to get the box and proceed into the kitchen. "You know, with that nose of yours did you think about trying to track the wolf that bit you? I know it's been a while since you were bitten, but perhaps there is still something you can pick up. Wolves are supposed to be good at that sort of thing aren't they?"
Wanderer followed her and carefully sat down at the table, making sure his tail fit through the space in the back of the chair which creaked a bit under his weight.. After cutting a piece for herself Amanda slide the remainder of the cake over to Wanderer who proceeded to carefully slice a piece off with a fork and maneuver it into his long lupine muzzle.
"What?" asked Wanderer as Amanda giggled.
"It's just you look so ridiculous eating that way."
"Do you expect me to just push my face into it and go "Am nom nom"? Just because I'm a werewolf and use strange vocabulary for things doesn't mean I'm not civilized."
"So after you're finished you plan to just go out there and track down whatever infected you?"
Wanderer nodded, his mouth full of cake.
"Well you can't go out like that."
"In what manner do you propose I should go out?"
"I have a rain poncho. It will cover most of your upper body and has a hood. If anyone happens to see you from far away they won't instantly call animal control or the Weekly World News."
Wanderer nodded, swallowing the last of what he considered a reasonable portion. "I guess that should work. Do you mind if I take one of your shotguns? I am not sure what I will find out there."
"Only if you allow me to come with you. I don't want you going after this thing alone."
"You should have more concern for yourself trying to track down a twoleg-greyfur....I mean a werewolf. I can't ask you to put yourself in danger like that."
"You mean the way I didn't ask you to put yourself in danger looking after my horses? Your situation is a direct result of you attempting to do the job I asked of you. I owe you for that and furthermore this isn't just your problem. That creature could come back next month or the month after. This isn't exactly a problem I can just make a few calls to fix."
"Alright," Wanderer sighed. "Get me the poncho and we'll go out, together."
Amanda nodded and up to clear the table while the large furry biped shifted around uncomfortably in the chair.
"I really hope I can change back into a twoleg. I can't really complain about being larger and warmer and stronger and fitter, but if I'm stuck like this full time it is going to cause a lot of problems like with doors or driving a car...not to mention the whole government capture squad thing."
"There has got to be a way to change back," said Amanda as she walked back to give Wanderer a friendly hug. "Just do the math. In the age of camera phones there would be no way for these creatures to remain undetected if they couldn't effectively hide somehow."
Wanderer's ears perked up as Amanda buried her face in his mane. "You know, I guess you're right. There has to be something we're missing and finding the greyfur that bit me is the surest way to find out."
"I found another track over here," Amanda called over to the hulking werewolf that was trying to look small under a blue rain poncho, "but it looks like it is heading in the opposite direction."
Wanderer walked over and inspected the track.
"You're right. This one is headed toward the barn. In fact...the two sets of tracks merge right over there. That means the creature wasn't just wandering aimlessly, but was going out and back from somewhere."
Wanderer turned and headed out of the dry creekbed and up over a small rise. It wasn't long before he got confirmation of his suspicion in the form of a long running barbed wire fence.
"Posted, no hunting. Property of Sage Canyon Animal Sanctuary," Amanda read off one of the signs.
"Looks like it got over the fence right here using that rock as a booster step," Wanderer observed.
"Why would it need to climb the fence? You could practically step over something that high."
Wanderer bent down and plucked a tuft of hair off one of the barbs.
"Forget about climbing, it looks more like it fell over the fence. Looks how the ground is all disturbed around here. Hmmm." Wanderer bent down and examined the scene a little before standing back up. "Well, I didn't come this far to turn back. Do you still want to come with me?"
"Can you give me a hand getting over the barbed wire?"
Wanderer nodded and wrapped the twoleg woman up in his large furry arms, easily lifting her up and over the obstacle before passing across the two firearms and vaulting over the topmost wine with plenty of room to spare.
"I've been over here several times on trail rides and I can show you the way to the Sanctuary directly, but I suspect you'll want to just keep following the tracks."
"Yeah, but I don’t think that really matters since the tracks are now heading along that game trail there."
The two continued on and soon spotted the low squat buildings and outdoor chain link cages of the animal sanctuary.
"I've heard nothing but good things about this place," Amanda noted. "It mostly takes in what people find in their back yards and release them onto their property."
"Certainly has a lot of outdoor cages..."
As they approached the facility the pair encountered an eerie sense of inactivity as the smell of animals and animal byproducts became apparent, but sounds or movement from either the animals themselves or the twolegs that were supposed to be taking care of them. Stepping out of the brush Wanderer and Amanda came upon a row of dog kennels. All of them were empty, all of them except for one. Approaching the last cage on the left Wanderer took in deep breaths of air through his nose, confirming the smell that he had first identified on the clump of hair he had pulled from his attacker the night before. Inside the cage a female greyfur got up and backed away from front, ears laid back in fear.
"What did you do to me!" Wanderer yelled, pulling down the poncho hood to expose his lupine head before raising up his shotgun. "Tell me how to change back!"
The she-greyfur let out a whimper, her eyes darting around as if she expected to see somebody.
"Maybe she can't understand you," Amanda offered. "Maybe it doesn't work that way for the wolves."
"Oh, she can understand me. She knows exactly what I am and who I am. I can see it in her eyes," Wanderer snarled.
Suddenly there was a noise off to the side as a human wearing a blue "SCAS Volunteer" T-shirt walked around the corner with a bucket full of meat.
"Oh shit!" he exclaimed, dropping the bucket as Wanderer raised his gun.
"Don't move!" Wanderer commanded in vain as the speedy little twoleg darted back and around the corner.
"We have to get out of here Charlie. They're going to call the cops. It's not like you're going to shoot anyone."
Suddenly a voice with low tones and deep notes matching Wanderer’s emerged from behind them.
"Please...lower your weapons. We mean you no harm."
Turning together even Amada raised her rifle slightly as the pair was suddenly confronted by a group of five other twoleg-greyfurs of similar size and stature to Wanderer.
"My name is Korrin, I am the alpha of this pack," the twoleg-greyfur in front continued as he tried to appear non-threatening.
"Pleased to meet you, everyone just calls me Wanderer,” he said, keeping his own shotgun at the ready. “Now that the formalities are over with perhaps you can explain why your friend bit me and how I can go back to being a twoleg!" Wanderer growled.
"I am afraid there is no known cure for the infection Wanderer. You will always be what the twolegs call a werewolf although your species perception of the condition is somewhat flawed. We greyfurs actually see it as a benefit since it provides us with some of the gifts that your kind enjoys from birth."
Wanderer nodded, not at all surprised by the pronouncement. "I assume the female in the cage is the one that bit me?"
"Yes, her name is Lana. This nightsun marked her first change and she indulged a bit too heavily in the spiritwater. She slipped away without anyone noticing and when she returned the next morning it was clear to us there had been some sort of incident, but we were unaware of its extent. To infect a twoleg is considered a serious crime among our people and as you can see Lana is currently being punished for her irresponsible behavior."
Wanderer lowered his shotgun and looked back and Lana looking pitiful in her cage. "You should get her out of here," he signed. "What she did was wrong, but there is no sense ruining two lives over a youthful mistake. This isn't the worst fate that could befall a twoleg, but you need to show me how I can change back."
Korrin blinked for a moment. "I am unsure what you mean by that."
"Change back, like change back into a twoleg until the nightsun is bright again. You're not saying that my choices are to be like this or...or take the shape of a greyfur are you?"
"Do not be silly, such an outcome would defy belief! If you wish to return to being a twoleg why do you not just do so? Have you not even so much as bothered to try?"
Now it was Wanderer's turn to look confused. "Wikipedia said that the change would happen automatically upon the setting of the nightsun."
With that the entire group of twoleg-greyfurs burst out in canine laughter.
"Oh...please, forgive us," said Korrin wiping his eyes, "we mean no disrespect, but what would an article written by twolegs known about being a greyfur? You may change back anytime you wish as long as the nightsun is not bright."
Looking a bit bashful Wanderer closed his eyes and going by various fantasy novels pictures his own human body in his mind and willed himself to become it. At first nothing seemed to be happening and he could feel the judgement, either real or imagined, coming from the other twoleg-greyfurs. When, he felt his body begins to tingle all over which was followed by a shrinking sensation. As before there was no pain, but the feeling bone and sinew reforming itself inside his body was highly disconcerting. Slowly the monstrous were-form shrank down, the digitigrade legs forming into a typically twoleg shape. The elongated canine muzzle began to pull into Wanderer's face as his ears shortened and relocated to the sides of his head. His eyes still shut to the sights of the transformation Wanderer felt a chill as his thick fur began to melt back into his body leaving certain bits between his legs particularly exposed. He felt a degree of dexterity return to his hands as his fingers became more refined and delicate, the sharp claws flattening out into fingernails. Finally, when he could feel no more changes he opened his eyes and took in the familiar "twoleg" perspective. Still, when he turned back to look at Amanda she looked surprised.
"Wow, I wasn't expecting that."
"What?" asked Wanderer, getting worried.
"Well, your..." she said, reaching up to touch her own face.
Wanderer did the same and found that his facial hair had completely disappeared and, as if in some last minute attempt to make up for it, he found that his regular hair extended some ways down his neck and upper back.
"It's grey you know," Amanda offered as Wanderer tried to look around at his own backside.
"All of it?" he asked.
"Yeah, but it makes you look distinguished."
"The transformation process does not do well at "remembering" ephemeral details such as hair style," Korrin remarked.
Wanderer suddenly gasped and pulled the blue poncho tight around his midsection revealing not a middle aged paunch, but a flat chest with washboard abs. "It's...it's...I can't believe it." Wanderer perked up, suddenly realizing something. "My vision...and my hearing. It all stays with me, even in human form."
Korrin nodded. "Of course, but so does the mindset...and the appetite, especially if you change frequently."
"So...um...what do I do now," asked Wanderer, just stomach already rumbling a bit.
"You are part of a worldwide brotherhood that has done an impeccable job of keeping its secrets for millennia," said Korrin. "Needless to say there are rules and responsibilities, but they are nothing overly burdensome. After you have learned what we have to teach you are free to go where you will and do what you wish, but...perhaps you will find it is the time to stop wandering and join a pack. We are always looking for new blood, greyfur and twoleg alike."
"T-thank you," Wanderer stammered, just beginning to grasp the momentous change that was falling upon him. "Do you mind if I had a moment with Lana?"
"Go right ahead and take all the time you need," said Korrin. "We will see to your friend's refreshment."
Wanderer handed Amanda his shotgun and made his way back to the chain link enclosure where Lana had been confined. Waiting a moment for the others to leave he undid the latch and opened the gate.
"Can you understand me?" he asked of the greyfur who was still hanging at the rear of the cage.
Lana's body language indicated that she could and Wanderer bent down to her level. I assume you heard that I asked Korrin to let you go free. I wanted to tell you that while I do understand that you meant me no harm and that I forgive you...I still expect you to make amends by helping me become a member of your pack."
Lana hesitantly came forward and laid her chin on top of Wanderer's bended knee. The twoleg-shape smiled and dug his fingers in deep around Lana's neck, pushing through the fur and down to her skin where he uses his rather limited twoleg "claws" to give her a proper scratching. Lana stood there and quivered as the twoleg-shape provided an exceptional act of kindness.
"There you go, I know how itchy that thick pelt of yours can get. Now if you'd like to get to know the hoofbeasts in the proper manner why don't you stop by tomorrow around the setting of the daysun and I'll introduce you. You can help me clean up after them."
Lana displayed a submissive posture indicating that she would do as he wished.
"Alright, you can go see your friends now."
Lana began to trot out of the enclosure before she stopped and looked back.
//Thank you Wanderer. I knew you would make a fine addition to our pack.
Lana ran off as Wanderer fell back on his rear, unable to tell if she had spoken into his mind or if his mind was simply able to translate her non-verbal cues. Shaking his head in disbelief at yet another revelation, Wanderer dusted himself off and headed back to find the others sharing a drink in the volunteer lounge.
"So, Korrin, do you think you could help me get a job?"
"I don't know, what is your profession?"
"I am an actor."
Once again Wanderer was subjected to a round of canine laughter.
"What's so funny?" he asked.
"It just happens that quite a few of our kind are involved in the entertainment industry. In fact a world renowned artist in special effects makeup is a very close friend of mine and I'm certain he can get you any role you want...provided its a werewolf."
Wanderer rolled his eyes back as both the assembled pack and Amanda had a good chuckle at his expense. Still, he had to admit that it wasn't the worst method one could use to jumpstart a career.