It was a busy week last week, a busier weekend, but I’ve come out of it with a child who is now six years old, a houseful of groceries, the new Beauty and the Beast movie watched and enjoyed, a lesson learned that I should not give my three-year-old son M&Ms at any movie theatre for the foreseeable future, and too much ice cream cake and pizza consumed in the last 36 hours.
And here I am, trying to get back into the usual Monday routine. Dishes, schoolwork with the kids (we learned about clouds and condensation today, and Freja wrote a “commercial” for her latest favorite book, Penguin and Pinecone), and baths for everyone (and hopefully a quick shower for me).
I have a few more in-depth posts slated for later in the week, but to make sure I don’t slip away and forget to leave my mark here, I’m going to post the third werewolf short story I wrote recently. The prompt for this one was to focus on the transformation into a werewolf, and the word count limit was cut from 2000 words to 1500, so I had to be fierce in cutting out what wasn’t necessary. I have another story set in the same world in the works for the weeks ahead, and with a longer word count (2k-5k) so I should be diving into that one before the end of today or tomorrow.
For now, enjoy Pale for Weariness, and I’ll be back soon.
Pale for Weariness
At the bottom of the stairs, the candle gutters and nearly goes out. I turn my head in anticipation of a noise that will lead me onwards. But there is nothing. The thump that pulled me from my bed is proving itself an aberration, and I fear I’ve come all this way to find a mop slid down from its place or one of the children tucked into the housekeeper’s room, sneaking a midnight helping of jam.
I could return to my room. My feet are bare, the marble floor that leads a checkered path towards the vestibule like a block of ice against my skin. But curiosity will be my downfall. The candle sheltered behind my cupped hand, I scurry further along the corridor, chasing shadows that remain always a few paces beyond my reach.
Several steps more and the gun room lies ahead, along with the doorway that will lead me down to the kitchen and the laundry rooms at the rear of the building. Still, I hear nothing aside from the pulse of my own blood through my ears, the click of my jaw as I swallow over a lump of apprehension that wasn’t there moments ago. I steer myself towards the gun room. Like a fool, I’ve left all manner of weaponry upstairs. If I’m to venture further, a defense greater than a dripping candle will be needed to lend some manner of self-assurance to my search.
I open the door and step inside. My gaze dances across shadows that I recognize, the polished wood of shelves and the shine of glass in cabinet doors. I could arm a legion of men with the armaments on display, but they’re all beyond my reach. For between myself and the nearest pistol or sword or mace, lies a figure sprawled across the rug.
The candle trembles in my hand as I rear backwards, spilling hot wax on my wrist. I hiss at the pain, and the intruder reacts to my voice, crawling towards a table in the corner of the room and the shelter it must provide. I steady myself enough to glimpse the bare skin of a man’s hip and long, muscled legs.
They should be the words that I speak, mistress of the house as I am. But instead I’m the one being told to leave a room in my own home, and by a man struggling to hide his nakedness from me. And though his voice is rough, the two words coming out on something of a cough, it’s still familiar, altered as it is.
“Mr. Muir.” My own voice falters, and I take another step forward. At my progress, he retreats further, until I see nothing but the edge of a foot withdrawing from view.
“Please,” he says, quieter now. “Leave me.”
I hear him breathing, each inhalation an effort. I cannot pause to question how he came to be in my home, in the middle of the night, and in a particularly advanced state of undress, but I also cannot bring myself to turn around and leave him here in such a state.
“Mr. Muir, what—”
The candle drops from my hand, clattering on the floor at my feet as a wisp of smoke marks the flame’s sudden demise. My eyes squeeze shut in anticipation of the darkness, but when I dare to open them again, there is a soft glow of illumination from the window, a pale light that lends a chill to the room in contrast to the warm glow the candle provided.
A noise from beneath the table draws my gaze there again. With careful slowness, I drop down to my haunches, tugging at the hem of my nightdress so it doesn’t catch at my knees. At this level, I see his silhouette, the shadow of limbs and torso and a head purposefully tilted so that I cannot see his face.
He turns at that. His eyes stare out at me from beneath the table, the green I expect to see there overwhelmed by yellow and gold. His dark hair curls around his head, sticking out in some places and even boasting a few fragments of dead leaves and other debris. His shoulders rise and fall as he breathes, and in the moonlight, I catch sight of his mouth. His lips parted, his teeth bared.
I know what is happening, what is about to happen. Another glance at the window shows me a moon waxed to its fullest, feathery clouds streaked across a star-pricked sky.
“Callum,” I say again. Each time I pronounce his name, his gaze flicks back to mine, as if it were a tether keeping some part of him present. “Can you fight it?”
He shakes his head, an almost futile movement as so much of his body is overtaken by tremors. And I realize that he’s already in the midst of the battle, every muscle taut against the inclination to change into something that is no longer himself.
I’m in danger here, I know. But I cannot leave him just yet. Instead, I move closer, an awkward crawl across the rug until another push would have me tucked beneath the table with him.
Nearer to him, and it’s no longer only the mingled aromas of brass and oil to overwhelm my senses, but I smell him. His skin is slick with perspiration, and even in the poor light I can make out streaks of dried mud on his legs and abdomen. My hand shakes as I reach towards him, and I satisfy the need to touch him by placing the tips of my fingers on his knee. The heat that radiates from his skin reminds me of my children the last time a fever swept through the nursery.
“Am I in danger?” I seek out his eyes again as I speak. “My family?”
A muscle in his jaw twitches. “Always.”
He places his hand over my own, his fingers scraping up mine in a grip that could shatter my bones, should he desire it.
“I’ve no wish for you to see this.” He speaks through gritted teeth, a drop of saliva at the corner of his mouth catching the moonlight from the window.
I nod and begin to pull away, but he holds me there for the length of another breath, a shudder coursing through his frame. And then he releases me, nearly shoving me away as he retreats beneath the table, twisting so that I’m dismissed with a show of his back, his shoulders hunched forward as another shiver overwhelms him.
I shuffle backwards until I run into the edge of the still-open door. My head is full of too many things, my movements driven by both a need to stay with him and a fear that has me wanting to run until I cannot breathe from the effort. I slip through the door, pulling it closed without a creak to announce my departure. But I hesitate, my hand on the knob. Against my better judgement, against every bit of knowledge and wisdom I’ve gleaned from the last few years of my life, I push the door open again. Only an inch, a gap that leaves me with no recourse but to press my face against the wood, my breath reflecting off the doorframe and blasting back into my face as I peer through the crack.
It happens quickly. Whether because he’s more skilled at controlling it, or because it’s simply his way, I do not know. He moves until he is only partially beneath the table, his head and shoulders and torso exposed to the light. Without his clothes, I see his skin ripple as the muscles beneath shift, as the bones break and grate against one another. His spine lengthens, or perhaps it’s only an illusion as his limbs—his legs in particular—seem to shorten.
His cries, I realize, are what have me pressing my forehead against the wood with such force that my face begins to throb. Neither a howl nor a whine, and yet they contain all the rage of a lifetime. A lifetime of humanity snatched away from him, a curse laid across him in a tangible, corporeal design.
It’s the transformation of his head that most mesmerizes me. Everything I recognize about him disappears as his nose and jaw elongate, his ears ripping from their previous position to push upwards as they lengthen. And his hair… It comes out the same color as what decorates his head, sprouting from his skin as it roils across his newly-formed body.
Teeth and fur and claws… They are all there now, and I do not stop to ponder how much of my Mr. Muir remains. A click of the door as I close it again, the turn of the key in the lock, and I race away from him, back through the shadowed corridors, up the stairs, and into the rooms where I pray my children still slumber.