There was a little girl standing on the lawn. Well, not so little; ten years old is a big age. She had blonde hair down to her shoulders, blue eyes, and was wearing a white nightgown. Her feet were bare, but she wore a blue-and-white windbreaker in concession to the chilly autumn weather.

Her name was Barbara Sheila Webster, and she was talking to a wolf.

A gigantic wolf, too. Wolves are always bigger in real life than they look on TV or in picture books, but this one was bigger than those, easily the size of a large calf and covered with shaggy grey-brown fur that made it look even bigger. It had an unusually large, broad skull for a wolf, with a relatively small muzzle, and remarkably un-wolflike eyes, the color of dark blue india ink. And also, it talked.

"Tony," Barbara whined. "You promised that when I turned eleven you'd let me run with you!"

"Okay, okay, maybe I did promise, but tonight's a school night. Mom'll kill me," said the wolf, who was, in fact, Barbara's seventeen-year old brother. He enunciated very well for something that does not, in fact, have a mouth suitable for human speech. But when the wolf opened its mouth, it was like something else was talking, something deep inside that did have lips and a voice box, like the wolf was merely a skin.

"You promised!" Barbara's voice rose to a shrill pitch, and the wolf actually winced, flattening his ears back.

"Not so loud, 'kay?" the wolf pleaded. "I can hear you just fine."

Barbara took a deep breath and scrunched up her face.

"All right, all right!" the wolf yelped hastily. "I'll give you a ride. But only until nine, okay? Then you've got to go to bed."

That was an hour-long ride, and so Barbara agreed. Tony loped off towards the woods at a slow trot; nice thing about the Midwest is that there's plenty of room for a werewolf to run, and lots of forest preserve that no one wanders around in late at night. When they got to the edge of the trees, he stopped and allowed Barbara to mount.

"Ow!" Tony whimpered as Barbara inadvertently kicked him in the ribs. "Take it easy, willya?"

"You're too big," Barbara muttered. Tony had to crouch so that she could get on.

"You ready?"

"Yeah."

"Hang on tight, okay? . . . gack. Not that tight."

There was a moment of breathlessness as all of the wolf's muscles tensed, and then they sprang forward into flight.

This was the part that Tony enjoyed about being a werewolf. Not the painful full moon nights, no, or how all the neighborhood animals were afraid of him, or crawling into the bathroom late at night and puking up raw meat. But he reveled in the power, when he changed of his own free will; sure, he couldn't see very well, but he had a nose and ears ten times better than any human being. He had a thirty mile per hour cruising speed and hardly touched the ground. As he sailed over a fallen tree trunk, he heard Barbara on his back shriek and giggle, arms clasped tightly around his ruff, he knew that his little sister was having fun, too.

Something flashed in front of his sight. The smell told him what it was--a rabbit. His mouth gaped open; he began to salivate, and his mind was suddenly loud and crowded with thoughts of blood and raw flesh. The wolf turned on a dime, pivoting on one foot and sending up a spray of fallen leaves, and was after the rabbit in a flash, a well-oiled running machine. He knew, instinctively, that it had no chance; the wolf could outrun anything in this forest.

"Tony!"

The wolf didn't think, it just ran, ears back and head low, absorbed in the hunt.

"Tony!"

Human? What human?

"TONY!"

Tony's head jerked up and he tried to stop in mid-stride, with the result that he nearly went head over tail. Barbara tumbled off his back, screeching, and Tony landed in an ungainly heap of fur and limbs a few feet away. He lay for a moment, dazed, before scrambling to his paws and dashing over to his sister. Fortunately, Barbara seemed all right; bruised and dazed, but unhurt.

"I'm so sorry," he said all at once. Her first night in the woods! He'd never forgive himself. "I'm so sorry. Are you okay? Are you hurt? Do you want to go back?"

"No!" she said, sitting up. "That was fun!"

Tony found himself completely at a loss for words. He watched his little sister get up, dust herself off--oh God, like their parents wouldn't be able to tell that she'd been out in the woods, not with stains like that on her nightgown--and demand to be let back on. Tony still stared, and Barbara stamped her foot and made her demand again, louder. It wasn't until she screamed in his face that her words began to make sense.

"Oh! Oh. Right." He crouched, and Barbara heaved herself up on his back again, with much more grace than the first time. Tony didn't get kneed in the kidneys again, at any rate.

"Do you chase rabbits a lot?" she asked, as Tony started forward in a slow trot.

Tony laid his ears back and grimaced, which looked very ferocious on a wolf. Fortunately, Barbara couldn't really see his expression from her angle. "Um. Sometimes."

"Do you eat rabbits?"

"Um. Not really."

"Not really?"

"Occasionally."

"Is that why I hear you throwing up in the bathroom sometimes?"

Tony stopped dead in his tracks. "You hear me throwing up in the bathroom?"

"Sometimes. Only once or twice. When I get up to pee."

Tony was silent. Then, "Did you tell Mom or Dad?" His mother knew of his nighttime excursions and allowed them only because Tony reassured her that he was in full control--which he clearly wasn't, if he was chasing rabbits and squirrels and mice and raccoons and bolting them down. His father, however, would throw a fit and lock Tony up in the basement forever if he found out about this.

"Nuh uh. I'd never tell Dad." Barbara kicked Tony in the side. "Let's goooooo!"

With a wince, Tony started forward again, feeling relieved. No, of course Barbara would never tell their father. He was The Enemy.

"Go faster!"

Tony accelerated easily into the easy lope wolves use to travel great distances. Their progress was strangely silent, with only the faintest of crunches from the leaves that littered the forest floor. The half-moon overhead illuminated the space between the trees in an eerie half-light, showering everything in shades of blue and silver. On and on the wolf went, the small girl pressed tightly to his back.

He screeched to a halt so fast that he almost sat down. Barbara shrieked a little, but it was mostly muffled in the wolf's fur.

There was a man before them, urinating against a tree.

Tony's mind whirled. What was the man doing here, so late at night? He smelled foul; Tony could tell, even from forty feet away. The wolf couldn't see well in the night, but Tony thought the man's clothing was ragged. He was a bum then, a hobo, one of those who ride the trains from city to city, looking for work. You got them sometimes in the woods, although Tony had never seen one personally. He had counted on that whenever he went out running in the wolf-shape. What was one doing so far from the city center, where it was easier to find work? That didn't matter, though, what mattered was getting away; he couldn't let the man see them--

As luck would have it, the man turned around. He froze in the act of zipping up his trousers, mouth agape. Tony was sure the man had never seen a wolf in his life, much less a werewolf with a little girl on its back. He began to back up, muscles tense; the man seemed paralyzed, jaw slack. Maybe he could get away. It wasn't as if anyone would believe a hobo who babbled on about giant wolves in the Illinois forest preserves.

But a throbbing had begun in the wolf's temples, a pulsing in the blood. It's part of the curse of the werewolf; the unending hunger, the need to hunt and hunt and hunt until everything is dead or worse--part of the pack. So far, Tony had been able to keep the wolf under control, and it was easier the farther they were from the full moon. He'd allowed his sister to come along tonight because he was that sure of himself, confident that the bonds of family were stronger than the wolf. But this man? This foregone man, part of the dregs of society, whom no one would miss? He could hunt him.

"Tony?" Barbara whispered. "Tony, what's wrong? Tony--" Tony realized he was shaking.

Barbara's voice must have broken some kind of spell, because the hobo began to back away. Tony's lip curled involuntarily, baring fangs bright in the moonlight, and the stranger uttered some kind of cry. If his bladder hadn't just been emptied, Tony was sure he would have wet his pants. It would have been funny if he hadn't been fighting the screaming in his head that wanted him to leap forward, fangs bared.

"Tony--"

He couldn't take it anymore. He sprang, tossing Barbara off his back, and something in his chest gave a howl of triumph. The man screamed and ran, but he couldn't run fast enough. The wolf caught up with the stranger in three bounds and slammed him into the ground with paws the size of soup bowls. The man twisted round, sobbing in fear and throwing up his arms as if that would somehow defend him, kicking his legs feebly. The wolf grinned wickedly.

But then suddenly Barbara was there, pounding on his shoulder and screaming his name. His name? Yes, that was his name--"Tony, Tony!" And there was a command in there, too--"Stop it! Stop it, Tony!" But the wolf didn't recognize any of those words, and he turned his head to bite her--

--to bite her--

And Tony stopped, eyes wide, and realized what he was doing. His little sister was crying, sobbing his name and beating uselessly at his side. He had a strange man that stank of fear pinned underneath him. Tony started to shake and backed away quickly, taking his weight off the stranger. The hobo stared for a moment, then clawed his way upright and took to his heels. Tony sank to the ground, feeling numb, until he realized that his sister was still weeping into his fur.

"Barbie," he called her name softly, using the nickname that she hated. Barbara looked up, her face smudged and dirty, streaked with tears. "It's okay. Really. It's okay."

Barbara stared up at him with wide, wet eyes, until her face crumpled and she flung her arms as best as she could around his neck, bawling. "Wa--what ha-happened?" she cried, hiccupping. "I--I was s-so s-s-scared, I--I thought--"

"It's okay," he said as soothingly as he could, wishing he could put his arms around her. He felt a little like crying himself, out of shock and loathing more than anything else, but boys--werewolves--didn't cry. He needed to be strong for his sister. Ten years old may not be such a big age after all. "It's okay. Shh, shh, it's okay."

It was a long time before Barbara stopped crying. After that, though, she was quickly on his back again, and they raced towards home. Unlike the beginning of their adventure, the journey back was silent, and it seemed like forever until the trees thinned and the house came into the sight, its golden windows warm and welcoming. Both of them felt chilled to the bone. Tony halted underneath a sycamore tree, whose branches reached out to his bedroom window. It wasn't until he was sure that Barbara was safely inside that he transformed, teeth chattering as the cold air struck his bare skin, now unprotected by thick fur. His clothes were hidden in the tree; he dressed quickly and swung himself upward into the branches with the ease and confidence of one who's done this three dozen times before. He tumbled into his room looking very much like any other teenager with brown hair, blue eyes, and the lanky, athletic build of a basketball player. Barbara was waiting for him.

"What're you doing here?" Tony asked, getting up and putting on his best big-brother scowl. "You should be getting ready for bed."

To his surprise, Barbara tackled him around the waist and squeezed, eyes tightly shut. "It's okay," she whispered. "You're still the best big brother in the world." Then she vanished with a pitter patter of little-girl feet as Tony stared. He found that he felt a little bit better.



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