His First Change

 Okay, we're past the dead of the moon. I think it's safe to post this now.

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Youngest was of age and the time of his change had come upon him, and he was excited but also afraid.

Will it hurt? he asked his mother, and Mother said yes it, will hurt, but you will learn to bear the pain. Eat well and make yourself strong. So he ate well to strengthen his flesh and bones. Will I hurt others? he asked his father, and Father said yes, you will hurt others, but only if you are careless. We have a place, far away from the others, where they know not to go and from which we cannot escape while the change is upon us. His father showed him the place, far beyond the forest on an island in the middle of a fast flowing river. When will it happen? he asked his brothers and sister, for he was Youngest and they had all been through their first change. They said Watch the moon. So he watched the moon as it dipped from the bright glory of its fullness, becoming a little darker each night. When it was three nights away from full dark and nothing more than a claw’s edge slicing the night sky, Father gathered them together and said It is time now for us to hide away from the others that they may be protected from the curse of our affliction.

So for the first time Youngest went with his family far beyond the forest to the island in the middle of the fast flowing river, where they waited as the moon died.

When his change began he thought Oh this isn’t so bad. There was an itching in his limbs that was easily cured by some vigorous scratching, but he found that the scratching took not just the itch but most of his fur with it. Soon it was falling out in clumps on its own until it was entirely gone and he was naked and pale as a worm from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. I am cold! he howled to his brother Eldest, who just barked a laugh in reply, as naked as himself.

Then his flesh filled with fire and the spasms began, and he screamed. His limbs convulsed as they twisted, sinews snapping, bones elongating with his muscles stretched and spasming along them. His tail retreated and the pads of his paws became long, squirming, grub-like things. His muzzle shrank back into his skull with a horrific grinding of bone and his entire head swelled until he was certain that his brain was about to explode. Through his torment he watched Mother and Father and Sister and his brothers all change, and totter up onto their hind legs to laugh and jabber at each other with their blunt round faces. He tried to stand on his hind legs too, but could not get his balance and fell like a newborn deer, clumsy and wet.

Mother smiled and placed something large and flat and soft and warm over him. He thought it might have been a bear’s hide but he couldn’t smell it to be sure. He could smell virtually nothing! His hearing was muffled too, and he could see little more than shadows in the dark. Blind, deaf, and bereft of the glorious rainbow scents of the world, he whimpered ‘What has happened to me?’

‘It is your change,’ said Mother, using the jabber of her mouth.

‘Let him lie and find his strength,’ said Father. ‘There is work to be done and not much time.’

Youngest lay and and watched them crack stones together and fire flowered. He had only ever seen it in the dry summer storms, and it had terrified him and he had run from it, but here he found its warmth comforting. He watched as his family took long sticks and went into the woods of the island’s interior, and come back later with a deer that they threw down by the fire – but instead of falling upon it with teeth and claws they took it apart with sharp rocks, and he found himself marvelling at their skill. He flexed the long grubs that grew out of his paws – hands, he must remember to call them hands – and wondered if he would be that skilful.

Then Sister passed him a large, flat stone, a smaller and rounder and harder stone that fit comfortably in his hand, and one of the deer’s long bones. ‘Here,’ she said. ‘As long as you’re lying there you might as well make yourself useful. Get the marrow out of that.’

Ordinarily he would have seized it in his powerful jaws and cracked it open with his teeth, but his teeth were just square, blunt pegs, useless for anything like the rest of him – except for those hands. He placed the long bone on the flat stone, took the hammer stone in his fist and brought it down hard. The wet bone splintered with a delicious crunch! and he was rewarded with the ooze of sticky pink marrow. He dipped a fingertip in it and tasted, and his mouth came alive. He laughed and pounded again and again and again, pulverising the bone, crushing it to fragments, loving the sound and the force of his blows vibrating up through his arm.

After the meal his family turned to the work that Father had said they had little time for. Three nights of the dead moon each month was not much with which to make progress on the large structure that they dragged out from the protective cover of leaves and bushes. It looked like a bundle of tree trunks tangled together with twisted vines and he couldn’t understand how such a thing had grown until he saw his family working on it and he realised that it had not grown this way but had been made with the cleverness of hands. Father called it "boat" and told him that when it was finished they would use it to cross the fast flowing river to the wider forest where they would be able to hunt whatever they wished and use their stones to smash the world into shapes that pleased them. They laughed and sang as they worked, and on the second night, when Youngest was feeling stronger and had got his balance, he joined them.

And the wolves of the deep forest, hearing their laughter, cowered deeper in their dens, afraid.





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