Darkness covered everything, like a thick layer of molasses.
Bethany Crescent stood in the middle of the empty street, staring up at the yellow half-moon in the stark black sky.
Her skin tingled, sensitive to the moonlight. The moonlust was strong, as she stood in the direct path of the moon’s light.
Bethany clutched at her arm, keeping her eyes from the moon. It was only a half-moon, no big deal. It couldn’t hurt her, as long as it was only a crescent shape in the sky. As if it disagreed, her heart constricted.
Bethany clenched her teeth. It wasn’t time! The moon was only a waning crescent— she had three more moon phases left!
Bethany’s skin felt raw and itchy. Her eyes ached. Her back was sore.
No, no, no! I still have the third quarter moon and a waning gibbous moon until it’s full again. This shouldn’t be happening… Yet, as Bethany stood in the abandoned street, pain blossomed in her chest, starting in her heart and expanding outward.
Bethany was dimly aware of someone suddenly touching her.
“I— can’t— stop— it,” Bethany panted, recognizing her sister’s scent.
“What’s happening?” Lilith asked.
“Run,” Bethany growled. “So I don’t hurt you.”
“But it’s not a full moon—”
“Run!” Bethany shouted. “I can’t control it…”
Lilith took off in a sprint, the immediate danger registering in her brain.
Bethany hoped desperately that Lilith would make it home before whatever was forcing her to change made her go after her sister. Why had Lilith come looking for her in the first place? She knew the streets weren’t safe at night, and it was half past midnight now. Even if the moon wasn’t full, Bethany wasn’t the only creature roaming the streets or lurking in the dark.
The moon floated innocently in the sky, unaware of the torture it caused. Agony lanced through Bethany’s skull as my bones and ligaments shifted, accommodating her new bone structure.
Bethany threw back her head and screamed, but it came out as a piercing, haunting wail.
A dog called back somewhere in the town, and the rest of the town’s canine population took up the call.
Bethany panted, trying to hold it back, hold her other form inside. But her other shape was too primal, too feral, that it burst out anyway.
Bethany growled as her vision turned red and she was filled with unquenchable bloodlust. Must be magic, was her last thought before the wolf took over.
Bethany prowled the empty street, following her nose. The street she was on might have been empty, but there were people nearby.
Stupid, unsuspecting humans. The perfect meal.
They were close. Bethany could smell them clearly. There were six of them. They were three streets over.
Bethany’s mouth salivated. Her ears swiveling, she caught their conversation.
From the smell and sound of it, there were two girls and four boys. They were young— they smelled fresh.
“Just one bite, George,” one of the girls said. “I just want a tiny bite.”
“No, it’s mine. Get your own.”
Bethany slunk down the street, unseen. She came across the street they were on and paused.
One of the girls, a pretty blonde, was smiling coyly at one of the boys, who was holding a churro. They must have been in high school— the oldest looked no older than seventeen.
“Just one bite,” the girl said again, batting her eyelashes at the boy who must have been George.
Bethany pressed her body up against the building, watching them. She felt the hunger burning in her stomach. Licking her chops, she crouched down, preparing to pounce on her prey.
Bethany’s thoughts were one-track as she fixated on the throat of the pretty blonde. Her jugular looked tasty from where she crouched.
The unsuspecting girl stepped closer to George, unknowingly bringing herself closer to where Bethany waited.
“Fine,” George said, giving up his churro to the blonde. “I give up. Have the whole damn thing, Charlotte.”
Charlotte… Bethany growled low in her throat, eyeing Charlotte’s neck. She could almost taste the blood flooding her mouth from the young girl’s body.
Six was a large group, but they were young and unarmed. Plus Bethany had surprise on her side. There weren’t any wolves in California— there hadn’t been for years. And these youngsters definitely weren’t expecting a Wolf to come charging at them.
Charlotte broke some of the churro off and offered it to the other girl. “Want some, Em?”
The other girl took the half of the churro.
Bethany leapt from her hiding place, her black fur camouflaging her well.
The sudden movement caught Charlotte’s attention. She screamed, drawing the attention of her friends.
Bethany bared her teeth, going for Charlotte first. Everything was awash in red. Bethany’s eyesight focused on her smooth, pale, pretty neck. She couldn’t wait any longer.
Her friends were screaming and shouting as Bethany went for Charlotte’s throat. She pounced, knocking the young girl over.
Charlotte screamed loudly. She had a set of lungs on her. She screamed and kicked, but Bethany was bigger and stronger. Bethany pinned Charlotte to the ground and then locked eyes with her.
Charlotte’s eyes widened and she seemed to stop breathing. She was holding her breath, waiting for the giant wolf’s next move.
Charlotte’s friends had scattered. Either to get help or to save themselves was unclear. Either way, they’d left Charlotte alone in the alleyway with a bloodthirsty wolf.
Bethany leaned down slightly, and Charlotte whimpered. Bethany pressed her cold, wet nose to Charlotte’s neck and breathed in. She smelled of vanilla, most likely her perfume. Her hair smelled of orange, her shampoo. Her skin smelled of cocoa butter, her lotion. The vanilla was the strongest, overpowering the other two scents so if one was merely standing near her it was only a whiff of vanilla they would smell.
It was an odd assortment of scents coming off her, but underneath them was her stark fear and the sweet coppery scent of blood.
Bethany bared her teeth and growled. Charlotte whined, sounding a lot like a wolf pup. Bethany stayed on top of the girl, watching her face.
Charlotte’s expression was one of complete terror, but her eyes were dead. Empty. Resigned. Almost as if she’d accepted that death was inevitable.
Something snapped inside Bethany. She froze. Nothing about this transformation was how it usually was. First, it wasn’t the full moon. Second, she was a lot more aware of herself than she usually was. Third, she felt more than she usually did.
Usually, when Bethany was forced into her wolf shape, she was driven by one thing— her instincts. She had no clear, distinct thoughts. The only thing she felt was hunger and an inconceivable rage.
But now, as Bethany stared down at Charlotte, she wasn’t seeing her through her wolf’s eyes. She was seeing her through her human eyes. She was still in wolf form, but her brain was her own.
Charlotte’s eyes widened. She must have seen the shift of the wolf’s eyes from yellow to Bethany’s blue.
Bethany stayed frozen on top of Charlotte. If her friends really had gone for help, Bethany knew she had to act quickly. Run or kill.
Bethany couldn’t kill the girl while she was thinking like a human. That would be murder. Granted, she still looked like a wolf, but she couldn’t do it.
I’m so sorry, she thought, even though Charlotte couldn’t hear her. Gingerly stepping off the girl’s chest, she turned and loped down the street. She melted into the shadows of a building, escaping the light of the street lamps, leaving the girl sobbing on the street.
Once out of sight, Bethany shifted back, surprised she could do it. She’d never shifted willingly before, to wolf or to human. It was always the moon and the sun that forced the change.
Breathing hard, Bethany braced herself on the wall of the building. Her heart was racing. Over and over, she kept seeing Charlotte’s face in her mind, scared but resigned. It took a lot for a person to accept death and this girl had been accepting, almost ready for it. As if she couldn’t bear to live her life any longer. What had this girl gone through to make her want to die?
Under the fear and resignation on her face and in her eyes, there had been something else in her eyes that bothered Bethany.
Relief, Bethany realized with a start.
Charlotte had been relieved at the thought of her imminent death.
Bethany’s head dropped into her hands. She rubbed at her sore, tired eyes. She felt a headache coming on and closed her eyes.
Bethany lifted her head to see Lilith standing in front of her in the alley. “What are you doing here? I told you to go home.”
“I did. But then I came looking for you.”
“Why? I could have killed you!”
Lilith looked over Bethany, eyes wide. Lilith’s eyes were light blue, the exact same color as Bethany’s. Their hair was the same shade of black, only Lilith wore hers cropped short where Bethany’s was long and hanging in two braids down her back. Other than hair length, there was nothing to tell them apart. They were twins, in every way, including style. Both girls wore mostly-black outfits with punk rock band logos on them.
“You’re human,” Lilith said in surprise.
“I don’t know,” Bethany said.
“My answer to your un-asked question. I don’t know why I shifted or how I shifted back.”
“A curse?” Lilith suggested.
Bethany hunched down and growled.
“Beth, what’s wrong?”
Bethany’s skin itched, hyper-sensitive again. “Get back,” she roared, her teeth elongating into fangs again. “It’s happ—” Bethany broke off, panting.
“Again?” Lilith asked worriedly.
Fur sprouted up on Bethany’s arms. “Run,” she hissed at her sister.
Fear reflected in her twin’s eyes, but Lilith put on a brave face. “I’m not leaving you.”
“I could kill you!” Bethany growled then broke off into panting again. She tried to hold the beast within back, but it desperately wanted out and Bethany wasn’t strong enough to contain it. “I don’t want to hurt you, Lili—” Bethany screamed, but it came out as an animalistic howl. The wolf was near the surface and Lilith wasn’t running.
“I love you, Beth,” Lilith said. “Whatever you are, whatever you do.”
“If you’re dead, you won’t be able to love me.” Bethany implored. “Please, go.”
“You’re not a killer, Beth.”
“I’m not, maybe, but I’m also not me when I’m in my other form.” Bethany gave Lilith a shove away from her. Panic set in as Lilith refused to budge. The wolf was ripping its way out of her and Lilith was standing too close, an easy target. “Please,” she begged, tears streaking down her cheeks. “Go. Run. Get away from me.”
Lilith shook her head.
Bethany wanted to scream, wanted to swear, wanted to hit her sister until she saw reason. Instead, she bawled her hands into fists and glared at her. Her eyes were already wolfish yellow, while her sister’s stayed pale blue.
Lilith’s eyes filled with terror, but she held her ground.
You’ll die, Bethany thought desperately, unable to form words around the fangs forming in her mouth. Get out of here, Lilith, she silently urged.
Her back arching as her spine realigned, Bethany dropped to all fours. She felt her nails get longer and sharper, her hands and feet forming paws.
Run, damn it!
Scratching her claws along the pavement, Bethany felt the transformation coming to an end.
Throwing back her head, Bethany let loose a howl.
Lilith backed away from Bethany, looking a cross between terrified and concerned. But the concern wasn’t for herself— it was for Bethany.
Bethany bared her teeth, letting out a guttural snarl.
Lilith, finally coming to her senses, turned and ran down the street.
In hunting mode, Bethany took off after her prey. She smelled the fear wafting off Lilith.
Faster than Lilith, Bethany caught up easily. Crouching low, she pounced, knocking Lilith to the ground.
Bethany turned Lilith over with her nose, then climbed onto Lilith’s stomach. Placing her front paws on Lilith’s chest, she stared into the girl’s light blue eyes.
“Beth, please. I know you’re in there…” Lilith’s voice wavered.
Awakened by my sister’s small, scared voice, Bethany fought against the primal urges that accompanied the wolf.
The bloodlust was strong. Bethany struggled with herself. If I can let Charlotte go, I can break this urge to kill, as well.
Lilith stared back, her lip quivering. Her blue eyes were watery with unshed tears.
Bethany managed to step off of Lilith. She was panting hard, and it was causing her immeasurable pain to fight off the stronger half of herself.
Lilith sat up slowly, eyeing me cautiously.
You can do this, Bethany encouraged herself. Bethany growled in frustration. She refused to kill her sister. Her precious sister, who meant the world to her. Who was the only person Bethany cared about in this world. Bethany wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she killed her sister.
Grinding her canines, Bethany growled again. She was strong. She would do this— she had to do this. For Lilith’s sake.
Bethany hunched down, dragging herself away from Lilith, who sat frozen in the middle of the street. Lilith watched her, not daring to move. She seemed petrified of drawing Bethany’s attention back to herself, so she just sat silently, staring.
Bethany dug her claws into her leg, trying to shock herself back into shifting. Bethany stared hard at her paws, willing them into hands. Finally, the fur disappeared and her claws retracted.
“Beth!” Lilith cried and ran to Bethany, kneeling by her side, the second she saw Bethany returning to her human form.
“You should leave,” Bethany said once her teeth weren’t fangs and added silently, I’m a monster.
“I could shift again.” And this time kill you.
“I know it wasn’t your fault,” Lilith said as if guessing Bethany’s train of thought. “I know you didn’t want to hurt me.”
“But I would have.” Bethany said seriously. “Human me doesn’t want to hurt you. Wolf me has no problem tearing you to bits. I’m not me when I’m in wolf form, Lilith. It’s not my brain that I’m using— it’s a primal, bloodthirsty wolf brain. A predator’s brain. A hungry predator’s brain. In wolf form, I want to hurt you. I want to kill you. You need to understand how dangerous being around me is, Lilith. I could kill you easily, without even meaning to.”
Lilith smoothed down my hair, her other hand moving in soothing circles on my back. Giving my shoulder a quick squeeze, she stood up. Taking my arm, she pulled me with her.
“It’s not safe for you to be anywhere near me.” Bethany added quietly, glancing up at the sky, “Even when it’s not a full moon.”
“You know what you need?” Lilith asked suddenly, looking thoughtful. “Werewolf friends. To teach you how to control the beast, maybe even curb your bloodlust.”
“I don’t know any other werewolves.”
“We can find some.”
Bethany shook her head. What she needed was to be far, far away from her sister. “I couldn’t bear it if I hurt you, Lilith— accidental or otherwise.”
“Don’t leave,” Lilith begged. “I’ll miss you.”
I can live with that, if it keeps you alive. “I’ll miss you too, Lilith. But maybe it’s for the best.”
Lilith gave Bethany a sad look. “If you think that’s what you need.”
“I think I just need to go away for a while. Collect my thoughts, think. Practice my self-control. Learn to control the beast inside me. If Oz can do it, so can I.”
“From Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Willow’s ex-boyfriend. He learned how to stay calm during a full moon and stay human. Maybe there’s a way for me to do that.”
“It’s worth a shot,” Lilith said, still looking said.
“You should go, now, in case I shift again.”
Lilith hesitated briefly, then nodded. Bethany was glad she didn’t argue, but also saddened by the events that made Lilith realize the seriousness and danger of the situation, causing her to agree without a fight. With a single glance backwards, Lilith ran down the street, turning left towards home.
Bethany grunted, worn out from the changes. Usually after one shift, she was so tired out that when she shifted back in the morning after a hunt, she was usually passed out. Two changes in one night? Less than five minutes from each other? What on earth was going on? Either someone was using magic or whatever it was that made her a werewolf was glitching, but Bethany was sure that wasn’t possible.
Bethany glanced to the dark sky again, where the half-moon hung, mocking her.
Shaking her head, Bethany rubbed at her tingling skin. Not again, she thought despairingly.
Surprisingly, the tingling went away on its own with no changes to Bethany’s body.
Looking up again, Bethany saw that a cloud had inched in front of the moon. Frowning, she studied the sky. Nothing about this night was normal.
But if a cloud had stopped the shift, that mean that the unscheduled shifting was moon-related and nothing to do with magic.
But the moon’s not full! Bethany screamed mentally, directing her anger toward the sky. How is this even possible?
Bethany saw the look on Charlotte’s face in her mind, then remembered the scent of terror on her sister. I’m a monster, Bethany thought, not for the first time and definitely not for the last.
The moon was slowly floating lower, gradually moving towards its daytime resting place, to shine somewhere else and call on werewolves on the other side of the world.
The effects of the moon lingered. Bethany’s breathing was labored, her skin itchy and sensitive like she was recovering from a bad sunburn without the redness or peeling skin. Her knuckles were hairier than usual and her nails sharper and longer than usual, not having shifted completely back yet.
Bethany sat on the street, drawing her knees up to her chest. She was shivering, but not from the cool night breeze.
Reality slammed into her, not that she hadn’t noticed it before, but it was still a shock. She had almost murdered her sister tonight. Her only family left. Her precious twin.
Looking into Lilith’s face as she attacked, Bethany had felt as if she were attacking herself. She had felt the fear and panic and pain that Lilith had felt. She felt the sadness and desperation and terror that had been reflected in Lilith’s eyes. Only, she also felt the self-loathing that accompanied being an unwillingly murderous beast.
Bethany had never asked for this. One night, she’d taken a short cut on her way home from a friend’s house, and been attacked. She hadn’t seen the animal very well, it being dark and her being scared and all, but it only bit her once and then fled. Bethany hadn’t given it much thought to why it’d just left her there after one bite, but the doglike creature had loped off and left her bleeding in the middle of the park. By the time she’d dragged herself home, she was soaked in blood, but there was no wound to show for it. So she’d cleaned up the blood and pretended nothing had happened— no need to worry Lilith— until the next full moon, when she’d gone full wolf and killed her best friend’s baby brother. Thankfully, the police had ruled it an animal killing and no one suspected Bethany, but she’d felt so guilty that she’d avoided Gina until she eventually stopped trying to talk to her. Bethany had no memory of killing the boy, but the morning after his death, she’d woken up with blood on her face and clothes, clutching one of the boy’s shoes. A trophy, Lilith had called it after Bethany had told her what happened and much research.
Lilith had been surprisingly supportive through this. Most people would have freaked if their sibling came to them and confessed to murdering a young child. Lilith hadn’t believed Bethany at first, to be expected, but once Bethany had proven she wasn’t crazy Lilith had agreed to help her.
I’m a monster, Bethany thought again, for the third time that night.
Forcing herself to stand, Bethany rubbed her temples. Satisfied she could stand on two feet without falling over, Bethany headed towards home, deciding the moon was far enough down in the sky as to not force another shift. The first rays of light were peaking over the horizon, washing the town in golds and reds.
Her thoughts solely on Lilith, Bethany walked slowly so that she wouldn’t shift close to home and kill her sister in case the moon had one last wolf-change in it.
Bethany got to her house just as the sun was finished cresting the horizon. There was now enough sun to prevent another shift. Staring at the door, Bethany sighed and stepped onto the porch.
Lilith opened the door before Bethany could even reach for the knob. “Welcome home, sister.”
That late afternoon, Lilith remained in the house. She refused to leave. Bethany tried to reason with her, but Lilith wouldn’t listen. She refused to believe that Bethany would hurt her, despite it already having happened. Lilith seemed to have blocked Bethany’s attack out of her head.
It pained Bethany, the thought of harming her sister, but there was no logic that would work on her, apparently. Finally, Bethany came to a decision. “Lilith,” she said, looking her twin directly in the eyes. “One final attempt—”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Bethany sighed. “I know. That’s why I am.”
“If you won’t leave, then I have no choice but to move out.”
“I’m doing this because I love you, Lilith. I couldn’t live with myself if I hurt you… or worse.”
By nightfall, Bethany was locked in her bedroom with a firm grip on the headboard of her bed. Her skin was itching and fur was starting to grow on the backs of her arms and hands. Fur sprang up on the back of her neck. Her teeth elongated. Claws tore forth from her fingertips and toes, ripping her shoes to shreds.
It still wasn’t a full moon. Bethany knew it wasn’t. She could feel the phase.
She dug her claws into the headboard, gritting her growing canines. Pain lanced through her head. She squinted at the oncoming headache as pointed, furry ears sprouted from her head. The pain spread, reverberating through her entire body as it shifted.
Bethany tried to hold the shift back, but of course it was useless. She had hoped she could at least get out of the house before the moon took control, but her sister was still happily oblivious downstairs.
Get out! Bethany screamed mentally, but Lilith couldn’t hear her. Bethany growled loudly, hoping Lilith would hear it and run. She tried to form a shout to warn her, but she was beyond words. Bethany threw back her head and howled. Come on, Lilith! You’re smarter than this… Figure it out…
Bethany roared as her spine broke and realigned, arching into a horizontal line instead of a vertical human one. Bethany dropped to her hands and knees. Her hands and feet soon became paws and a bristly tail unfurled from her hindquarters.
Bethany tried to force the shift to slow, but she was full-wolf before she could think help!
Bethany, her bloodthirsty wolf eyes seeing only red, tore downstairs. She could smell her sister’s warm, juicy body.
When Bethany stood, panting and salivating, in the living room, she realized she was alone. Lilith had heard her warnings and taken off. Bethany’s relief clouded the wolf’s hunger.
Unfortunately, Lilith’s scent lingered. Bethany stuck up her nose, unable to stop the wolf’s primal nature, and followed the scent out the door. The wolf in her loved the chase. With a sinking heart, Bethany realized Lilith might have been safer just locking herself in the basement or the attic.
Bethany sprinted down the street, her nose leading her after her helpless, terrified sister.
Tell me Lilith remembered to grab something silver on her way out… Bethany thought before the wolf part of her dragged the human part to the back of her mind. Their house was covered in silver. They almost never bought anything if it wasn’t silver, as a safeguard. Maybe Lilith would have been safer in the house.
Had Bethany just inadvertently murdered her sister? a little voice asked her.
Caught up in the chase, Bethany kept running. She knew she was close, because Lilith’s smell was stronger along this path.
With dread and panic, Bethany finally caught up to Lilith.
Lilith realized she wasn’t alone and stopped running. Turning slowly, she stared straight into Bethany’s eyes. “Please, Beth…” she pleaded, but it wasn’t her sister she was talking to. She was talking only to the wolf, all traces of Bethany’s humanity vanishing at the mouthwatering scent of Lilith’s fear and the hot, coppery blood pumping through her veins.
Lilith screamed, in the hopes that there was someone near who could hear her.
Save her, the last part of Bethany that was still conscious thought before she blacked out and left the hungry wolf alone with her sister.
It was chaotic for a while. The only way to explain it was with the color red. Red, everywhere. Lilith’s blood and insides were splattered all over the street. The body was where the wolf had dragged it, in a back alley behind a little coffeeshop.
The wolf munched happily on the liver and bones she’d ripped from the dead girl’s body. The wolf puzzled over the corpse looked so familiar. She glanced, unconcerned, at the carcass before turning her attention back to the meat in front of her.
When the first tendrils of dawn graced the sky and the wolf retreated, Bethany walked numbly home and put the gun in her mouth.