Chapter Three

Heavy paws dug into the earth as the beast tore through the woods. Steam rose from its nostrils and snow went flying in the creature's wake. Pale eyes shone through the night, and a ragged howl made its way past jagged teeth. The noise was lonesome, but filled with all the fury of a tornado. That was all the creature felt, fury and pain. It howled for lack of a scream. It growled for lack of tears. It shredded any tree or shrub or creature stupid enough to cross its path, lashing out at the world for the hurt it felt. When there was nothing else the beast just ran, or attacked itself. Its own blood dripped from those long fangs and soaked into the thick fur.

Donnie shot forward, waking up with a shout that sounded more like a howl. He shook and shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. He shifted to pull his legs to his chest, but the rope around him halted the motion.

"Not 'til t'morrah, not 'til t'morrah," He rocked back and forth, breathing deeply and slowly to calm himself down after the nightmare. It wasn't a nightmare, though, not really. It was a memory. A small, sad sound escaped him and it made him frown. It sounded like a damned dog's whimpering, "I'm okay," He tried to force himself into believing it. He risked a look at the night sky, at the nearly full moon shining ominously.

It was a miracle he'd been able to get to sleep at all, with that thing staring down at him. He found himself staring right back, unable to look away. It was almost beautiful, the evil thing. He couldn't tear his eyes off it. One night away from being full and it was already driving him insane. Technically two nights until it was full. The unwelcome thought brought a new wave of shaking. The next three nights would be solid torture.

He wished it was like the movies. He wished there was a little screaming and boom, the wolf took over and ran the show until morning. Waking up confused and naked in the wilderness seemed amazing in comparison. Instead of the awareness. Each and every second hurt, and it wasn't some separate consciousness dealing with it, it was Donnie. Sunrise wasn't a relief, it was the agony's last hurrah as every cell of his being was yanked and torn back into human shape. When it was all finally over Donnie usually couldn't move for at least an hour. His freshly reformed bones felt fragile as glass. His abused muscles felt decimated. His skin stung and burned. The pain lasted all day, like some nuclear powered hangover.

It would happen tomorrow night, and again on the true full moon, and again the following night. A tear escaped him and ran down his cold cheek. That made him angry. He was a grown man, and he knew he'd survive it. He'd done it the last four months. He refused to be so useless about it, and his anger caused a low growl to erupt from his chest.

"Now that don't help," He frowned at the noise and placed a hand over his throat in surprise. It wasn't the first time he'd done that, but it never ceased to unnerve him. His skin was crawling and he felt like he'd downed a dozen energy drinks, twitchy and close to a heart attack. He would not be getting any more sleep.

He sighed and gathered his things before jumping out of the tree. He landed on his feet without his balance faltering. At least there were some small bonuses to the moonlight. He took off after the unending trail of the red-haired man, jogging through the woods. With the moon so big, he knew he'd be able to go for at least a few hours before needing to rest.

It was misery trailing that man. It was as if he knew Donnie was after him. The scent made a zigzagging path through the woodland, with Donnie always getting closer but never catching up. He was only a day behind it now at most, after months of searching the country, weeks spent circling the back ways of Duchess County. He'd wanted so badly to find the man before the full moon.

Donnie ran the rest of the night, never faltering or slowing down. He felt energized, but in the worst way. He felt manic; half out of his mind. It had started a few weeks ago, when he'd gone into that town by the state border where he'd found his new boots. Towns were too much, too noisy and too many things going on. Since this whole thing had started he'd hated towns, but not that one. Not any of them since then. He'd been in the woods too long. He'd been chasing ghosts for too long. He missed seeing people, and the intense loneliness was making him talk to himself. The moon was taking that problem and exacerbating it, and Donnie was starting to worry that if something didn't give he'd crack. He'd go full-crazy and not come back from it.

"I'd be a lunatic," The poor wordplay made him laugh despairingly up at the moon that was by then hanging low on the horizon. He was running out of time. He picked up his pace, desperate to catch the source of the scent before the moon returned to the sky.

Sunrise came and went, but he was still far from catching up. Donnie ran until his legs were numb and his breathing ragged, and even the frail winter sun felt hot on his neck. He fell in the snow, jumped up and kept running. The smell of his own sweat nearly drowned out the faint trail of his quarry, but he couldn't bring himself to stop.

Far too quickly, the sun dipped low against the mountains. The sight brought a furious, feral roar from Donnie as he dropped to his knees. Time was up. He had to move quickly. He hid his pack under a fallen tree and pulled off his jacket and gloves. He stashed the outerwear and his boots by the pack and pushed the snow into a mound to fully block his belongings from sight. Barefoot, in just a shirt and jeans, he walked as far from the hiding place as he could. In what felt like minutes the sun was completely gone and the moon was on the rise.

Donnie didn't possess the words to describe watching that perfect, silver sphere drift into the sky. It stopped him in his tracks and all he could do was gape at it, but this was not some religious moment. It wasn't appreciation or awe. It was a fever. It was a thousand electric shocks running under his skin, and ten-thousand hornet stings. It burned and cut and shook him deep into his bone marrow. It was pain that made coherent thought shatter, and it was a rage that consumed.

The sound of breaking bones echoed in the snow-filled hollow. The resulting scream bounced off the surrounding hills and returned for an encore. Donnie tried to force his convulsing arms into listening to him just a few moments longer as he pulled off his shirt and jeans. His fingers broke, snapped into a new shape. His back wrenched and he fell to the ground. His heart stopped as it twisted into a new size. His skin burned as it was invaded by fur, and his gums bled as his jaw stretched, his teeth cracking as they shifted into something sharper.

It went quickly, less than a minute, but the pain didn't fade. Every second of the night passed in slow torment. The wolf howled an accusation skyward and ran to escape the hurt.

He could smell the sunrise coming, and that fact cut through to his tortured mind. After hours without intent or thought, Donnie struggled to piece it together. Sunrise was mercy. He spun in place and ran toward it, barreling East. A sapling seemed to spring up in his way, and he tore it from the ground. He'd been heading West most of the night, running from the moon. He smelled the path he'd taken earlier and bounded back down it. He felt the fever spike as the moon hit the western horizon and knew that after a little more pain it would be over. He found the hollow where he'd started the night, and the low hills around it hid more of the moon. He collapsed in the snow and gave a low, mournful howl. He knew more pain was coming. He could feel the beginnings of the seizures about to overtake him.

Something was wrong. He smelled something on the edge of the clearing, and he growled at it. The ridge of fur on his neck and shoulders raised on end. There shouldn't be anyone here. The last rays of moonlight left the sky as the Eastern horizon began to turn pink. The wolf collapsed as every bone broke for the second time that night. He shook and howled, and the howl shifted into a scream. He was left in a twitching heap in the snow, tears streaming down his face.

He couldn't move, but he had to. His arm raised shakily as he reached for his clothes. They'd been flung randomly, but they couldn't be far. His hand touched the rough denim of his jeans, and the fabric seemed to tear at his raw skin but he forced himself to pull them on. His legs were useless, and the electrical signals running from his brain seemed to be misfiring before they reached his arms. He struggled, and once his lower half was covered he gave up without buttoning the jeans.

"Close enough," He muttered, wincing as the air moved through his throat like broken glass. His senses were all still burning, heightened to excruciating levels. He turned to see the edge of the clearing and his heart stopped for the third time that night.

People. Two people were watching him.

Donnie couldn't breathe. He stared without blinking. He needed to run. Could he run? He took off, but three steps were all he could manage before his muscles just gave out. He hit the ground with a grunt, the snow stinging against his bare chest. The people, the humans, would kill him after what they'd just seen. He couldn't pull himself back off the ground to run. He could barely keep conscious.

At least he wouldn't have to go through that again if they killed him.

"Fuck, Susannah, get back here!" A female voice. If his nose was right it was just the two of them, no one else hiding in the trees. Why couldn't his legs work as well as his nose?

"Are you alive?" Something struck Donnie in the back, not very hard but with his skin still recovering it stung horribly and made the air catch in his throat.

"Are you suicidal? Get the fuck away from it!" The first voice sounded so scared.

"Lauren, I'm going to need your help! He'll freeze out here!" The one standing so close, the one who'd poked Donnie with what he was guessing to be a stick.

"Not a flipping chance in Hell!"

"Lauren!" She sounded scared, but angry as well, "He's hurt or something, and... just freaking help me!" Donnie felt small hands on his arms as he passed out.

Consciousness returned with a terrible sinking feeling and a wonderful warmth. Donnie didn't move, afraid of what he'd see if he opened his eyes. He was definitely inside, and it was definitely a female domain. He could smell several different perfumes and flowery soaps. He smelled paper and graphite in pencils and stale pizza.

He heard the shuffling of light footsteps as someone paced back and forth. The smell was the same as the girl in the clearing, the one who'd poked him with a stick, "Oh, this was a bad idea," She muttered, "Please don't die," He could hear the worry and it was enough to make him open his eyes. She gave a frightened squeak and jumped backwards onto a bed. She brandished a pink baseball bat at him.

Donnie didn't bother moving. Every inch of his body right down to his core was sore, but it felt like he'd slept off most of the worst part. He was lying on a bed and his hands were in his lap, shackled by sturdy handcuffs. He nodded. It was smart of the girl to restrain him after what she'd seen. He looked back to her, still holding her pink bat as she stood on the foot of her bed.

"You're not going to attack, right?" She tried valiantly to keep her voice steady. Donnie smiled at her gumption, then frowned at himself for scaring her.

"'Course not," he shut his eyes in defeat, "Are you?"

"Am I what?" She lowered the bat in confusion.

"Gon' attack me? I wouldn't hold it against you," He sat up and really looked at the blonde girl, sizing her up to make any guess at how much danger he was in, "However, I'd take it personal if you turnt me in,"

"What?" Her face shifted further into amused confusion with every word he spoke, "Turned you in? To animal control?" She laughed, but a low growl slipped from Donnie's chest before he could stop it. Her expression dropped into amazement, "How'd you do that?"

"Please don' make dog jokes," He sighed, "I didn't mean to... growl at you," He felt shame rise in his face as he said it, "So are you gon' call the... gov'rnment on me?"

"I hadn't thought of that," She shrugged and set the bat down, stepping off the bed, "I didn't really think this through very far. I'm Susannah, by the way," She gave a nervous wave that made Donnie smile.

"I'm Donnie," He almost had to think about it for a moment. He hadn't heard his name out loud in months, "Why'd you bring me here?"

"We couldn't let you freeze to death out there, and you would have, especially..." Her face flushed pink, "without any clothes," She muttered the last bit.

"Oh," Donnie felt his ears burn with embarrassment. He looked down and saw that he was still in only his ragged jeans. Someone had buttoned them while he was unconscious, "I did have some clothes wit' me. Jus' not... my jacket was a little ways away. I wadn't gon' freeze,"

"Oh," She turned a deeper shade of pink, practically matching her baseball bat.

"Is it alright if I leave?" Donnie peeked at the midday sun streaming in the window.

"What?" She looked a little surprised, "Don't you want... a hospital? Or to call someone? Do you even know where you are?" She furrowed her little eyebrows at him.

"I know 'round abouts where I am, and I don't need a doctor," He shrugged.

"Susannah!" An excited whisper came through the door, followed by an intricate knock, "Lemme in!"

Susannah sighed and went to the door, "Quick, he's awake,"

"Wow, he really is," The girl who entered was the polar opposite of Susannah. This girl was tall and curving, where Susannah was petite and narrow. She was dark featured, with cascading waves of black hair instead of Susannah's shoulder-length, straight blonde. Her eyes were dark, their almond shape highlighted with makeup. Susannah's round eyes were free of any cosmetics, and a bright blue. Both were undeniably prettier than any woman who'd ever spoken to Donnie on purpose, but he was itching to be far away from them. It may have been smart of them to handcuff him, but he didn't like the caged feeling the restraints inspired, and he didn't trust his temper.

"Lauren, he asked to leave," Susannah whispered it, but Donnie's ears picked up the sound.

"What?" Lauren didn't bother with whispering, "No," She turned to Donnie, "We drag your ass, which is heavy as fuck by the way, out of the snow and you try to dip out first thing? We've got some questions for you, mister," She put a hand on her hip, but the gruffness was an act. A good one, but Donnie could smell the twinge of fear behind the words.

"What can I say? Y'all saw it. There ain't much more t' explain,"

"Oh, my God!" Lauren's face lit up and the fear dissipated, "You didn't tell me he was a redneck!" She turned to Susannah, laughing, "Oh, sweetheart," She turned back to Donnie, "I've got a lot of questions and you're going to answer them. Firstly, the way you're talking... would that be considered a drawl or a twang? 'Cause I've heard both terms and, well, are they the same thing? Is there a diff-"

"Lauren. Focus," Susannah interrupted.

"Right," Lauren clapped her hands together, her nails painted a cautionary orange against dark skin, "Mr. Werewolf... how old are you?"

"What?" Not the sort of question Donnie was expecting.

"He didn't deny it," Lauren whispered into Susannah's ear.

"Deny what?" Donnie sat forward, completely lost.

"Ew, so hearing's also a check," Lauren waved at Susannah, who was scribbling into a tiny notebook she'd pulled from the pocket of her sweater.

"How long ago were you bitten?" Susannah looked up from her notebook, her eyes grazing over the massive scarring on Donnie's bare shoulder. At least they couldn't see his back, where the claws had left further damage.

"I'd rather not talk 'bout it," He mumbled and stood up, holding his handcuffed wrists out, "Will y'all please jus' take these off me so I can go?"

"Cool it, cowboy, we've got a few more questions," Lauren pursed her lips at him, "And those are my best handcuffs so unless you've got super-strength to go with your super-hearing you're shit out of luck," She raised a goading eyebrow, as if asking him to try it.

"Why?" Donnie sat back down on the bed behind him, "Why do y'all care? Who's gon' git this stuff? Are you reportin' it, or are you jus' gon' post it on the computer an' let the world think you're crazy?" He could break through the handcuffs, but the thought of the two girls gathering information on him was upsetting and he wanted to keep them as much in the dark as possible.

"We just want to know," Susannah gave him a serious look, "It's not for anyone else, or for show. We just want as many answers as we can get. Is that such an inconvenience? We did save your life," She relented to Donnie's argumentative look, "Okay, so we thought we were saving your life. That counts for something,"

"Look," Donnie stared out the window again as he searched for words. Judging by the smells coming through the glass they were smack in the middle of a town. There was no telling how long it'd take him to get back to the woods, back to his pack that contained everything he owned in the world. It could take the rest of the day, and with the full moon coming there was no way he'd be staying in town. These girls might just be curious, with no villainous motives, but they were putting themselves and everyone in the area in danger.

"Look at what? The window?" Lauren gave him a calculating stare. There was a lot going on behind those eyes, and Donnie didn't like it. She made him feel like he was under a microscope.

"I ain't got much time, and I got even less answers. Please jus' let me walk outta here without a fight," He tried not to let the panic show.

"One last thing," Lauren stepped forward and removed a shiny bracelet.

"Lauren, I said don't do that!" Susannah stepped forward, but it was too late. Lauren dropped the bracelet and it hit Donnie's arm on its way to the floor. It touched his skin for barely an instant, but it didn't matter. Donnie let out a howl of pain and grabbed his arm with his other hand, snapping the chain of the handcuffs without a thought. He looked at the blistered skin and then at the suddenly cowering girls before him.

"Holy crap, I'm sorry!" Lauren was backing up, terror and regret on her face, "I just always thought the whole silver thing was ridiculous! I didn't think it'd really... I'm so sorry!"

Donnie took a deep breath and composed himself as best he could, "Ma'am, there ain't one part a this that's anythin' but ridiculous," He nodded through stinging eyes and swept out of the room, nearly breaking the door as he slammed it behind him.