This is the second part of a two part story. If you have not yet read Across the Green Sea it is recommended that you do so.
Across the Green Sea - Part 2
Roy was cold and wet. His clothes were soaked through and the wind chilled him to the bone. He’d not be wearing them for much longer, but he liked the idea of having something dry to put on when he got back. He’d asked Alene about it but she’d just told him not to worry and that she’d take care of it. Then she’d given him a black plastic bag, a flashlight and a radio transmitter.
“Put your things in the bag along with the transmitter and then tie the bag up. Ross will collect it after we’ve left. Just don’t forget to turn on the transmitter or he’ll never find it.”
Ross was the train’s on-board shaman and according to Alene he could be trusted. Roy was beginning to really regret going along with the plan. Back on the train it had seemed like a good idea. Alene was strange and different in an intriguing and mysterious way. She was also very pretty and when she’d told him he was going running with her he’d made no objections. Now, with the unnatural winds of the plains slapping the rain in his face and tearing at his clothes the hard narrow bed in his coupe seemed a much better place to be.
This was as good a spot as any; he might as well strip down and change here. Alene had split off to the side about a minute ago, an unexpected sign of shyness. She’d yelled over the roaring wind that she’d find him once they’d shifted and not to worry. He wondered at that. The rain and the high wind would mess up scents and sounds and he knew that at least he would have a hard time tracking anything. Then again, it was on her shoulders; it was she who’d wanted to split up so it was her own fault if she got lost.
Roy wasn’t too worried. He’d run alone in unknown territory before and he knew he could handle it. He was big, strong and fast; he could fight. Back in the south he’d occasionally came across tigers and other large predators. He’d come away from a fight tattered and bleeding, but he’d be better off than the other guy - just like in the ring. You didn’t survive this long in the scene if you weren’t a good fighter.
He tore off his shirt, wrung the water out of it and chucked it in the plastic bag. The rest of his clothes - boots and socks, jeans and underwear - went the same way. He wrung what could be wrung but felt it a futile gesture. The rain had soaked him thoroughly and he suspected he’d have to throw the clothes away when he got back. Better do that than having them mold in his bag and stink everything up.
Slowly turning around in a circle he surveyed the land. They were only a few minutes by foot out of the little city, but its lights were already lost in the darkness. The grass around him was higher than it had looked from the train. Even bending to the rain and wind it reached above his waist. It scratched against his legs and hands where he stood turning.
Alene was nowhere to be seen, but then he couldn’t see very far at all, even with the flashlight. The night was pitch black. It’d be better once he’d changed; as a wolf his night-vision was far superior to that of his human form. Better get on with it - might as well do it now that he was here, stark naked in the pouring rain in the middle of the night. He bent down to tie up the plastic bag, remembered the transmitter, dug it out of the pockets of his jeans and turned it on.
After he’d tied up the bag and left it on the ground Roy walked a few steps away through the grass. It was part of his ritual; he liked to be walking while he changed, the movement made his transformation flow more easily. As he walked he stretched his arms out and screamed. He screamed at the dark night in challenge. He screamed at the wind and the rain in defiance. He screamed at the world in rage and he screamed at the pain that wracked his body as he changed from human into wolf.
Bones bent, stretched or shrunk. Muscles ripped and mended. Skin rippled and fur grew where not a hair had been before. Screaming all the while Roy slowly transformed. It came easy to him these days but it still hurt like no other pain. It felt like such a long time, but within a matter of seconds the transformation was complete.
Where moments ago a tall, muscular man had walked now strode the biggest wolf the plains had ever seen. Its fur was thick, shaggy and grey; it had been dry at first but was already getting soaked through and through. The wolf, barely visible in the darkness sniffed at the ground and the air as if searching for something and then it threw its head back and howled.
On a quiet night anyone who heard it would have said it was a sad sound, filled with loneliness and longing. This night the roaring wind mixed with the howl and for a few moments created a sound, wild and insane, filled with rage but also with joy and anticipation. That sound ringing in its ears the wolf howled louder and with more intensity. As it howled it started to move, rising up on its hind legs and tearing at the wind and the grass with its fore. The wolf made a few short leaps, back and forth, almost playfully, and then set off on all fours at full speed into the night.
A few moments later another creature came running through the grass. It was smaller, sleeker and it shimmered in the rain. It stopped to sniff for a second at the spot where the wolf had sat howling and then without a moment’s hesitation set off after it.
The wolf was running like it had not run for years, the sensation of freedom nearly unbearable. When it howled into the wind it could feel the wind howling back. There, beneath the roar, somewhere out there in the darkness, crawling in the dirt, padding through the grass, soaring through the air, was the spirit of the plains and it loved that the wolf was there.
The wind howled its challenge at the wolf and the wolf howled its own challenge back. The night was alive in a way it had never experienced it before and the wolf was filled with a frenzied joy unmatched by any other. It howled madly, it leapt and bounded, but mostly it just ran, faster than ever before, strong muscles pumping tirelessly, hunting. There was no prey ahead, there was no scent to follow but still it hunted. It was the spirit of the plain it was after. It was all around and inside and just in front, barely out of reach, taunting and leading.
The chase was on and nothing else mattered. The whipping rain was like a thin mist and the roaring wind a mild breeze. The wolf was all alone rushing through the darkness and more alive than ever it was before. The spirit, its prey and partner, howled with mad glee. It was not a sound the wolf could hear but it felt it reverberating through its body and its soul, its entire being. There was no way to tell how long it lasted, expressions like minutes and hours were beyond sense. Each moment was one that ought never end, but of course they all did and much too soon those moments were gone.
The big wolf came to a sudden halt. Something was wrong. Something had changed. The wind still howled, the rain still fell and the night was as dark as ever. The spirit was still there, but it was playing a different game. There was something else out there. The wolf was being watched; hidden in the grass, just out of sight something was out there. It was too dark for it to be seen, but the wolf’s instincts hinted that it was there, watching, waiting.
The wolf started moving again. Head swinging from side to side it padded through the tall grass trying to pick up a scent or distinguish a sound that would lead it to the other. All the while the wolf could feel eyes watching it. Sometimes they were in front, sometimes behind. The thing out there was good, skilled, silent, quiet; it left no trace other than an uncertain knowledge it was there. A new hunt was on; this one slow, tense and quiet, like two fencers circling around each other waiting to strike, one of them invisible.
The wolf waited and bided its time. It was old and experienced and most of all, when it came to hunting, incredibly patient. The thing out there was fast, but it would eventually make a mistake and then the wolf would be on it. The wolf didn’t need to hide, it knew it had been seen and now it just waited for the other to make its move. It would have to and eventually it did.
When the move came it wasn’t as expected. The wolf was padding slowly forward, ever muscle tense and ready to pounce at a moments notice. The other was somewhere in front of it. It had been on the left a moment ago, but now it was dead ahead, close.
Then suddenly, there it was, just sitting there in the grass looking straight at the wolf. It’s large black eyes starring in fear, defiance and admiration. The creature wasn’t small, but its features were delicate. Everything about it was long, slim and muscular; long legs, long neck, long snout and long pointy ears. The tail was at least as long as the entire creature itself, if not more. It was built for speed and not for combat. The only things that were round and stubby were the two small horns that protruded from its brow above the eyes.
Its most remarkable feature wasn’t its build or even the horns; it was the scales that covered it. Where most mammals were covered in some skin or fur, the other was covered in scales, like a fish. It shimmered in the darkness. There was no light to speak of and even with its superior night vision the wolf barely saw a few yards ahead. Still, the creature’s scales lit up and shimmered in a myriad of colors where the raindrops hit it and where water ran across its flanks.
The creature, with its delicate frame, its large black eyes and its shimmering scales was a mesmerizing and beautiful sight, wholly unexpected in the dark night. It was also an unnatural abomination. It was a freak of nature and it shouldn’t have been able to exist. It had no smell and there was a wrongness about it that could neither be explained nor denied. It needed to die.
The wolf’s immediate instinct was to kill the creature then and there. This thing had no right to live. Yet live it did. It sat there, right in front of the wolf, starring at it with big pleading eyes, trembling in fear. The wolf padded closer, barring its fangs in a growl. There’s no way the creature could have heard it over the wind, but with a huge angry wolf standing over it with its teeth bared, there was no mistaking the threat.
The freak did not flinch, it sat still as a statue and as its trembling subsided a hint of defiance crept into its eyes. It reared its head, poking its snout up in the air as if about to howl, barring its throat. It was not a sign of submission as such things usually are. It was a challenge: “kill me and be done with it.”
The wolf’s head lashed out and its fangs closed on the creature’s bared throat. Its maw was enormous around the freak’s slim neck and had the wolf bit down it would have severed the head from the body. But the wolf did not bite down. It’s fangs crushed scales and pierced flesh. It drew blood, tasted it on its tongue and recoiled in horror.
The blood was cold and had no taste. The wolf jumped back, away from the creature and made to run off. The freak rose from its sitting position as if to follow when the wolf stopped and looked back at it. A memory was stirring deep inside its consciousness. It remembered something from when it had been a man walking upright and wearing clothes. There had been a female. It had joined the man in the night to run but had not been seen since. It too had been without a scent. The train had been sweltering hot and as a man the wolf had been sweating until it stank. The female hadn’t and the man had not registered any scent from it all.
The wolf turned back and padded around the creature; inspecting it from all sides and taking care to step on its tail to show who was the boss; who was in control. The freak’s eyes flashed in anger and it barred its teeth but quickly hid them again after the wolf growled, barring his.
Finally, after having looked over the creature from every angle the wolf once again came and stood in front of it. The two beasts locked eyes and stared at each other, one in challenge and one in defiance. After a few long moments acceptance dawned on the wolf and the challenge disappeared from its eyes. The look that replaced it was one of revulsion and suffered betrayal and the female instantly broke eye contact. For the first time the abomination showed a sign of submission as it rolled over on its back and bared its throat.
The wolf raised its head and howled into the wind. This time there was no joy in it, no anticipation. The howl was one sadness and disappointment. It rose high and went long and the wind didn’t mix with it but amplified it and carried it on; long after the wolf had fallen silent, long after the wolf turned and ran.
It ran without joy. The spirit was still there, but it was no longer part of the wolf, it was distant and separate. There was no hunt. The wolf just ran. It ran to shake the memories of the abominations tasteless blood. It ran from the sad and frightened eyes of the freak it now knew to be its man’s friend. It ran to get away. It couldn’t.
The eyes of the freak were staring out of the depths of the wolf’s soul. They drove it on, pushed it to run ever faster, until every muscle in its body ached, until its paws bleed and its mouth filled with bile. The wolf ran and still it couldn’t get away. It caught up with other memories and passed them by; creatures it had fought, packs it had ran with, friends it had killed. It put those memories behind, left them to rot and die in the darkness and the rain until there was nothing left but those eyes - those eyes and the other female.
The memory of the other female stood out clear and merciless in its mind and the wolf stopped dead in its tracks. The image of the other female slowly and mercilessly replaced that of the abomination’s eyes.
It was a scene from nightmare. The other female was standing before the wolf’s man. It was bruised and bleeding. It was crying and its clothes were torn. It was screaming in pain and in anger and it was the man’s fault. The wolf stood still, unable to move. The image of the other female transfixed in its mind. The wolf started to shake; a gust of wind pushed at it and without even trying to catch its balance the wolf fell over on the side. It twitched a few times, howled in agony and then started changing back into its human form.
The transformation back to man was quick and painful, just like the one into wolf had been. Roy lay in the grass, unable to get rid of the image of Toivo, mangled and bruised, beaten by his own hands. He tried to stand up, got to his knees, vomited violently and then fell back into the grass. Roy cried, for the first time in years tears filled his eyes. Shaking with grief and self-resentment he laid on the grass, each tear washed away by the rain.
The abomination sat nearby. Just a few steps away it watched, confused and worried. It was used to being humiliated the way it had been earlier. It knew how others reacted to its presence. Some got over it after the first few times, others didn’t. Horrible as it knew they found its presence no one had ever reacted like this.
It didn’t know what to do. One part of it wanted to slip away into the night and leave the human on its own. Another part wanted to close its jaws around the male’s throat and taste it’s blood, just like the male had earlier. Yet another part wanted to do more. It wanted revenge for a life of humiliation, of loneliness and of being a revolting freak. It wanted revenge, it wanted blood; it wanted to be on top, to win, to kill, to live. It wanted a lot of things but in the end the freak sat still waiting.
The rain fell, the wind roared and wailed, the man cried and the rainbow coyote shimmered and waited. The night was as dark as ever. The man stopped first. It ceased its sobbing, wiped its eyes and sat up. It looked around, searching for something and rose to its feet. It was impressive, large, hairy and muscular. The creature’s female form would have approved. It may have had a powerful body, but the man’s eyes were weak and the night would still be dark for a long time yet. Its steps were slow and unsteady, its body still tired from the running. The man stumbled and nearly fell. A step closer and it saw the rainbow coyote at its feet.
It stopped and stared down at it. The earlier revulsion in its eyes replaced with sadness and pity. This was good; it was as it should be. It was familiar and it meant safety. The creature changed. It made no sound as it transformed. Had the night been perfectly quiet still nothing would have been heard. The rainbow coyote had no sound. It was in its nature and it was one of the reasons other creatures hated it. It was always perfectly silent.
The woman it changed to had no such limitations. When the transformation was complete she cursed at the night at the top of her lungs, slapped the man across the face with an open palm, cursed at the pain in her hand and then slapped him again with her other hand.
“Don’t ever treat me like that again.” She yelled at him. Her rage was fearsome and Roy, still reeling from two unexpected blows could do nothing but cower in disbelief.
“What the fuck is up with you anyway, crying like a child? Am I that revolting? Why didn’t you kill me when you had the chance if I’m that horrible? What is wrong with you?” She made as if to slap him again, but when he didn’t move to stop her or protect himself she hesitated and the blow never fell. Two blows would be enough.
She always slapped her partners after the first run, hard and without mercy. They could handle it and it was necessary. There was no way they would treat her with respect while they were in their animal aspects. None of them had killed her so far but it had been close a few times. She wasn’t sure while she still brought others along. What she could do was prevent them from treating her like shit in their human forms and she’d found that a good slap in the face was a great first step towards achieving just that.
The extra yelling wasn’t part of the usual performance though. It was real. She had no idea why he’d reacted like that and she found it unsettling. He tried to say something, but he was mumbling and it was difficult to make out the sound over the howling wind.
Either way, this was no time to dawdle around being sorry. They needed to get moving before she lost the sense of direction. Her animal aspect had enough sense of the land to know where Forest lay but her human had not. She still had a memory of the sense though and if they got going she’d be able to keep the course even in the dark. They could transform back into their aspects and she’d know right away where the town was, but she wasn’t too keen on shifting again so soon and she very much doubted Roy would be able to handle it at all.
She grabbed his hand and pulling him along started walking. She was pretty sure she got the angle right, but as long as they had the wind at their backs they’d at least be heading towards the railroad.