Something is happening.
I am running.
I don’t know what led up to this.
It was a cloudless night. The sun had fallen and the stars were out. The moon was nearly full and cast a white glow upon all that lay below. On all that shifted in the wind. On all that moved.
And I was on the move.
I was running, hard and fast. The wind whipped at my face even though it was a relatively calm night. I dipped and dodged the undergrowth and low-hanging branches like it was second nature. I didn’t remember just how long I had been running for, or when I had entered this part of the city. The ground was lush and green beneath my feet. There were distant lights of street lamps, blinking between the trees as I moved.
What was going on with me? I couldn’t even fathom an answer. I was lost. Not physically, really; if I had actually thought about it I would know just about where I was. My mind was numb. Not blank, just paralyzed. I could hear the wind rushing, I could smell the forest musk and the scent of mulch from manicured lawns nearby. I was scared. Of what, I couldn’t remember. I was moving entirely on adrenaline, or so it seemed- tense and yet agile, rigid and yet in fluid motion.
I had no physical awareness of my body, other than the knowledge of its movement.
The forest opened up beside me as I ran, thinning out until I could see between trees and bush a clearing. It was immense considering it was within the city, stretching out to form what I could only call a field. There was a woman coming into view, outside with two frolicking children. Her back was facing the line of trees in which I was contained. One of the young ones looked up, ears perked towards me in the woods. Then I noticed. The woman had a tail. An extension of her body, outside of her skirt, covered in thick grey fur.
She had a tail!
I don’t know what drove me to do it, but I suddenly leapt to my left, clearing the last of the forest and heading straight up the field. I knew I had their full attention by now, and yet I ran right past them. Up the lazy slope of the grassy expanse until it leveled out and a large building came into view. What was drawing my body into such action? Surely this was a government building, for it was on private land and large enough to cast such a formidable shadow. The Roman columns made shadows like teeth in a beast’s mouth. In bocca al lupo.
In the mouth of the wolf.
That’s where I was headed.
Past the columns stood a great pair of wooden doors, elaborately carved with gilded vines around the trim, set into the glass face of the outer wall. And the doors were opened.
I bounded straight through the doors, landing on the slick marble floor of the foyer. The main hall opened up before me, wide and beckoning, and I noticed my gait. I was no longer running on two legs, but four. When had his happened? I hadn’t once felt awkward running like this. Had I been this way the whole time? However long that was.
Every now and again I encountered staggered men in black suits with stern faces. Only the first took a half-step towards me out of surprise.
I don’t know how far I had navigated through the mansion, or how many twists and turns I had taken. But there was a deep incarnadine door ahead of me, closed, foreboding, but calling out to something deep inside of my being.
I leapt, knocking hard against the door that begrudgingly opened under the pressure of my body. This was the only time I had stopped to look around, for the dimly-lit room was filled with people, both male and female of varying ages. Every eye was trained on me, wide with shock but none of fear or anger at my intrusion. I turned my gaze to one final door and began forward, an older man calling out,”We do not enter that room! Only—“.
I did not hear the rest of his words. I was already in contact with the heavy door, opening it just as I had the one before. I landed in a completely different kind of room, the ground hard, rough stone beneath my feet, a ledge in front of them. So I jumped— moving over the beginning of a large square body of water. My feet met with a small pillar and immediately propelled me forward again, towards the center of the pool. I landed on all fours on a rounded platform, just large enough to fit comfortably.
My actions set something in motion.
There could be heard the sounds of machinery of some sort; the movement of cogs and whatever else lay unseen beneath the floors.
The platform below my feet began to ascend, reaching an ornate carved stone beast jutting out of the wall’s face. It was a wolf.
I don’t know exactly what happened next. It was even more of a blur than the rest of the night had been.
Everything was blindingly white, and the next I knew, I was back in the outer room filled with people. I may have been still, on some sort of low bedding, but everyone else was in motion. The children had been removed from the room, as well as most of the others. All who were left were older men, one of their wives, and a young man with a determined look on his face. They were packing hand-written leather bound books and swaths of different colored cloths into bags, clearing out what seemed to be the oldest of the room’s contents as it quaked and rumbled. The wife of one of the older men was sitting close by my side on a large square cushion, a worried look on her face. A handful of the older men were running in and out of the inner room, bringing back what seemed to be personal belongings, tattered and worn from use long ago.
The young man came to me with a packed bag, lifting me up from my roost and sliding it over my head and under one of my arms. He turned me around to face him, my legs swinging over the side of the bedding, and began adorning my feet with worn in boots. “These are from four or five generations ago, when we last had a younger one” he said to me, sliding my feet into the smaller of the two pairs he had brought over to me.
I heard a scream, undoubtedly from the wife beside me. I followed her gaze to the inner doors, which were being closed by three of the older men. One of them was missing.
They were struggling against the weight of the door, or perhaps, the force behind it?
The man before me grabbed my hands and hefted me onto my feet. My legs were unsteady and threatened to buckle beneath me. He grabbed my arm and pulled it around his shoulder, taking most of my weight onto himself, telling me in a low voice, “Once a new one is chosen, the former is taken back. That is the only way for them to die“.
I was confused, but still groggy and without my bearings from whatever had happened earlier. The edges of my vision grew dark. Everything blurred. I heard the woman wail in mourning as another of the men lifted her and guided her out of the room.
The last thing I remember was my weight shifting completely into the young man’s arms.