The Woods

It was hard to tell how big she got when it happened, but judging by the height of the bramble tunnel all around her, she got pretty big. 

The sun was weak where it filtered overhead, through the low mist of the morning, making the light grey. Cool and damp against her skin, against her body. 

Irene inhaled sharply, deeply, suddenly. Her heart shuddered inside of her, pounding. She fought for her breath, the cold air painful and hollow against her throat. She felt like she had not as much awoken as risen from the dead. 

The ground was cold and hard under her face and hands and hips and legs. It pressed into her, the moss seeping water where her body weight pressed it like a sponge. 

She was naked, she was wet, she was hyperventilating. 

Waking up the morning after was—it as nothing like a hangover, despite what her friends insisted. It was sharper and fuzzier, somehow. There was a terrible insistence to the world around her and a kind of woolly texture to her memories. The headache was generally worse, too. 

She counted herself lucky that the winter hadn’t been too bad. She could have gotten frostbite, if it hadn’t. She had gotten frostbite in earlier seasons. 

She yelped as her muscles ached and her joints popped back into place. Her thighs groaned and her calves screamed against the movement. It felt like every vertebra her spine popped and shifted. 

“Jesus Christ,” she murmured, hoarsely. Her throat ached. She had been howling. 

Something tugged at her long, white-blonde hair and she grunted at the pain. The silvery strands tugged out as she disentangled herself. She tried to brush the dirt and leaves from her thighs and ass, but her palms were skinned. 

“Fuck,” she swore, looking at her bloodied hands. 

Pre-morning light still hung grey in the emerald wood, dewy fog between the trees. Tufts of grey-white fur suspended in the thorns above. 

Irene walked out of the tunnel of brambles and thorns, leaving the wreckage behind her like the trail of a comet. 

Trails criss-crossed the park, and it wasn’t long before she came to a rough path paved with smooth, round stones. She looked in both directions before turning right. She shivered. It was still early spring, still chilly enough to pull up constellations of goosebumps over her arms and shoulders and chest. 

The birds weren’t back yet, and the only sound around her was the moving crunch of stones shifting under her feet. 

She had walked for about twenty minutes when she came to a trail marker, a simple arrow with a rough doodle of a wolf at the top. 

Irene brushed a lock of hair from her face and continued walking. 

The office was a squat, unpainted wooden building. A young woman sat at the window. She blew huge gum bubbles, mouth moving expressively to retrieve the popped gum back into her mouth. 

“Hi,” Irene said, clearing her throat. 

The young woman’s name tag read “Donnatella,” white letters engraved into the blue plastic. She pushed a clipboard toward Irene. “Fill out the forms. Give me the pink copy, keep the white and the yellow,” she said. Donnatella had green eyes marked heavily with thick eyeliner. 

“Pardon?” Irene asked. 

“Forms. Pink copy to me, keep the other two,” She repeated. 

“I’d-I’d just like my clothes,” Irene replied. 

Donnatella’s eyes rolled heavenward. She straightened her posture. “You new?” She asked. The gum in her mouth made a slurping sticky staccatto. 

“No,” Irene said. “I”d just like my clothes.” 

Donnatella sighed. “Protocol. You gotta fill out the forms before you get your clothes back,” she said. “Government procedure, yeah? Used to give you your clothes before the papers but too many of you doggies wandered off all looped up on the adrenaline.” She tapped the clipboard with a bright-red fingernail. “You wanna use public parks, you gotta fill out the forms, love.” 

Irene sighed and took the clipboard. She sat on a smooth wooden bench and haphazardly provided her information. 

Her name (Irene Parker), her age (21), her address, her social security number, her telephone number, her insurance provider, her caseworker- it all went on the form. She tore the pink form from the bottom and took the yellow and white copies. 

Donatella looked the form over before nodding and hitting a button on her desk “Head on in, love,” she said. “Hope you have a nice wash.” She tossed Irene a key. 

Irene always woke up early after it happened, so she was one of the first to the showers. The air was muggy, nonetheless, and warm. She turned on the spray and did a rudimentary wash, trying to pull some of the leaves and twigs from her waist-length hair. 

She was warmed up and satisfied soon enough and walked out of the bathroom just as another group of young women headed in after her, chattering like a flock of birds. 

Her clothes were in the locker she had left them in the night before. She slid into them before turning the key back in and walking out. 

The parking lot was about a ten minute walk from the office, and the walking came easier with shoes and a coat. Another small station, a checkout office stood at the edge of the lot. A well groomed young man sat behind the counter. 

“Hi there!” he said, too chipper. Too bright. “Can I see your 140D?” 

“Excuse me?” Irene murmured. She hoped she looked half as murderous as she felt. 

The young man leaned forward (Jonathan, his nametag read). “The white form,” he whispered, conspiratorially. 

She fished it out of her pocket, slapped it on the counter. 

Jonathan looked at it with some great show of official nature before he reached across the booth and grabbed her car keys. 

“Thank you, Miss Parker! We at the Bureau of Lupiform Affairs hope you had a pleasant moonrise and hope to see you next month!” 

She pocketed her keys with a dark look and loped off to her aging Volvo. Sat down in the front seat for a long, long minute. She closed her eyes. Tried to grab distance. 

Her caseworker had told her she needed to stop trying to separate the two. 

“Engage with it,” she’d urged. “Don’t let it run your life, but don’t hide it. Times have changed, Irene. People with CLL are in positions of real power and are visible. Maybe try talking to more people with your condition. Be a part of your community.” 

Her caseworker wore heavy silver rings on her left hand. Used the clinical term, Cyclical Lunar Lupimorphia. 

Irene listened to the sound of her breath in her small car. She clenched and unclenched her hands around the steering wheel. 

Breathe in. Breathe out. 

Claws and teeth and fur and- 

She opened her eyes and reached across the car to the glove compartment. Shook two pills out of a bottle of aspirin she kept stashed there. Shoved the key into the ignition until the thing ground to life and her stereo flared up, a Bob Dylan song wobbling unevenly out. 

The park changed as she started to drive towards the edges. The roads became paved. The trees became less dense, and the fence surrounding the park came into sight. Signs of parks purpose disappeared and signs of the public’s disapproval appeared. Low branches on the trees disappeared and litter sprung up. Some of the groups, they liked to scatter drugged meat and chocolate and broken glass through the area, and the rangers kept it out of the zones they used but along the edges, the traps popped up like tumors. Graffiti popped up over signs for the speed limit. Satan’s Dogs. Animals. Beasts. 

The car rumbled by a sign. Seaside State Park, it read, and scrawled over it in red letters, Go To Hell Werewolves. 

She flipped off the protesters as she drove by, turned up the radio to drown out their shouting.