Chapter One

A strange dissonance had plagued Donnie for months, between how he still thought of himself and how he really was. It was almost funny, in a sick way, how things had turned out. The whirl of events that had twisted his entire world on end and left him standing in the wreckage. Funny.

Not that he'd had much of a life to begin with, so it was no loss there. Not in the grand scheme. He wasn't some rising star of a kid on their way to bigger and better things. He'd been a loser, so if there was an upside that was it. If this had to happen to someone, then why not the twenty year old busboy? Why not the functioning pothead? He almost let out a nervous sigh at the thought. He severely missed smoking. He missed his smelly old apartment and his grumpy roommates. He missed his Nintendo 64 and his WoW account. He even missed busing tables on a daily basis, but what he really missed was weed. How it used to be. How it had once drifted into his brain and made everything in life perfect and warm. It didn't do that anymore; lately it just burned his nose and made him sick. He couldn't stand what it had become any more than he could stand what he had become, but that was a train of thought he wouldn't allow himself.

Last time he'd let his mind wander in that direction he'd broken into a horrified, hysterical giggle-fit in the middle of the street. The memory was very nearly one of Donnie's worst, and that was saying something. All the people walking past stopped and stared, or hurried to get far, far away from the crazy man howling in the street. The looks they'd given him were still seared into his memory and all he could do at the time was laugh, because wasn't it just so ridiculous? The fear and confusion, the accusation and distaste those strangers held in their eyes, all of it directed at him. He realized that he deserved it, being what he was, and that thought was enough to trigger a rage that had no place in a good world. His laughter was strangled by an inhuman growl and he'd run as fast as his feet would carry him until he was well away from any sign of humanity.

He couldn't afford to lose it like that again. There was a very real possibility of hurting someone, and the constant awareness of that made his nerves fizzle like pop rocks. He'd never held up well under pressure. In retrospect it was no wonder he'd been such an underachiever. It was nice to blame his failures on his nervous constitution, and he put all of his effort into focusing on his shortcomings as he walked through the frozen night. Self-flagellation was a great distraction from imminent frostbite.

It was particularly cold that night as he shuffled through the snow, his sneakers long-since soaked through. It was the first New York December he'd ever seen, and it was fittingly alien to his South Georgia eyes. His first winter as... whatever he was now, so it should feel foreign. Whatever he was. Again, he found himself close to laughter. He had a pretty good idea of the word for it. That's what made this all so funny. He refused to think about the word, though, until he found who he was looking for. He had to have it confirmed. Needed to hear it spelled out. Donnie needed some God-damned answers, even if he had to trek across the entire continent to find the man who had them.

Hence his horrible road trip. He was very nearly three months in. The thought caused a panicked look up at the night sky, but there was no need for panic yet. The barren trees around him gave a good view through their dead branches. The sky was dark, just like he knew it would be. No silvery light had managed to sneak up on him unawares. He had weeks left before he needed to worry. That fact didn't stop him from casting a final dubious look heavenwards, half-expecting the moon to jump from behind a stray cloud and shout 'surprise'.

This was getting crazy. He needed to sleep. He looked around the empty woods and picked the widest tree he could see. He adjusted the heavy pack on his shoulders and made quick work of shimmying up to the lower branches. It may not have been graceful, but he made it without falling. He carefully pulled his pack from his shoulders and laid it over his lap, grabbing the length of rope looped around one of the many buckles. Once the rope had the pack secured to the large tree limb Donnie removed his shoes and tied the laces together. He left them suspended over a nearby branch to dry out in the night. His wet socks followed suit.

He looked down at his soggy, purple-tinged toes and huffed. He used his teeth to pull off his gloves and gingerly placed cold fingers against freezing feet.

"Don't even think 'bout fallin' off," He grumbled to his toes as he used his numb hands to forcibly massage some semblance of life back into the discolored digits. Once he was satisfied that blood flow had returned he pulled his spare socks from his jeans pocket. A quick, careful plunder of his pack brought forth a blanket and another length of rope. With his pack as his pillow, the rope around his middle to keep him from falling, and the blanket wrapped as tightly as possible, he laid down for sleep.

This was becoming far too easy a procedure, but practice makes perfect.

His body didn't ache anymore, not after months of this. Hiking through the Appalachians, climbing trees, running any time he got too near people in the wilderness. It was the closest he'd ever come to his New Year's resolution physique. The soft bulges on his torso had faded away, and the awkwardly gangling limbs had gained lean muscle. He couldn't be proud of the change because he couldn't bring himself to care. What did it matter what he looked like at this point? He was at best a vagrant and at worst a monster.

The enormity of his situation dawned on him for the thousandth time and he shivered from more than the cold. He was a monster. There was a lot he didn't know about it, and even more he didn't understand, but he knew he wasn't human anymore. He couldn't wallow in misery until after his search was over.

The icy air stung his nose and Donnie buried his face a little deeper into the side of his pack. The give of the rough canvas made his insides sink. His pack was far too empty. He would have to find a town and pick up supplies. He'd need food, maybe a thicker jacket. He stifled a discontented grumble. He hated towns. They wreaked havoc on his nose and ears. They made him feel exposed, like every person on the street could see right through to what he was. Towns were a sharp reminder that he was horribly, irreparably different from everyone else and it made the strange temper that had taken root in him flare wildly. Donald Holzer had never had a temper. A tendency toward panic attacks, yes. A minor case of pollen allergies, definitely. A temper, however, had never been one of his many failings.

His stomach made angry noises at the night, but it was not a good time for food. Digestion meant lowered circulation to the extremities, and that was something Donnie couldn't afford at the moment. He'd eat when he woke up, he decided, when he had plenty of walking to keep his fingers and toes from succumbing to the elements.

A final, nearly silent whimper slipped past his chapped lips as he let sleep calm his mind. He knew he was getting close, and it made drifting off easier. The trail was old, but fresher than on previous nights. He was catching up to the beast that did this to him. He smiled with a predatory satisfaction that he was too tired to be scared of.

The woods were quiet, the animals all in hiding from the werewolf in the tree.