I'm not afraid of the Big Bad Wolf. He happens to be a friend of mine. Well, the human he turns into during the day is my friend. I'm still working on the Wolf. It would help our friendship if I didn't have to keep him chained to a tree in the middle of the Oregon forest all night long. But seeing as how he'd probably try to eat me if I didn't, I'll have to work with what I've got.
“I'm not sure how much more of this I can take, Liam.” Todd sinks to the ground as I lock the shackle around his neck. The collar is so big, he could slip it right over his head, but once he turns into the Wolf it'll fit just right.
“There has to be another way.” Dry leaves crunch beneath him as he settles cross-legged into the dirt and drops his head into his hands. The sun sinks deeper behind the mountain, sending a chill creeping through the air. Goose bumps pop up all over my body, but Todd doesn’t even react to the cold. He doesn’t react to much of anything lately.
I zip my jacket and shove my hands in my pockets. “It'll be all right. We'll figure something out soon.” I take a deep breath and fill my senses with the woodsy aromas of pine and fir and earth. It's peaceful out here in the forest. Quiet. It won't be for long. “You've managed to control him for over a year now, so it's getting better, ain't it?”
Todd leans against the beech trunk he'll be chained to for the night and lets his head fall against the smooth bark. “I haven't done anything to control the monster. Once my body transforms, my mind is useless.” He rubs his forehead and squeezes his eyes shut. “Full moons always make it worse. Maybe I should go in the cage tonight.”
“Nah. You'll be fine.” I double-check the chain, making sure everything's secure. “I can see his soul better in the moonlight, so I'm betting it'll be easier for me to talk to him out here. Especially with the full moon since he'll be more powerful.”
“If you say so.” He runs a hand through his matted black hair and fiddles with the collar. “If I could kill myself and end this now, I'd do it. I'd have done it a long time ago, after what I did to your mom.”
A sharp pain shoots through my heart as I rest my hand on his shoulder and give it a squeeze. “Hey, now. You didn't do anything to my mom. I know that, and I think you know it, too.” I can’t imagine what it's like to live with all that guilt. To be forced to go along for the ride as the Wolf tears people apart. I shudder thinking about it. But it's not his fault. He killed the Wolf in self-defense, and he sure didn't ask to be possessed by it.
“Besides, if you die, his spirit will just move on to another body. The soul of the Wolf can never die, no matter how hard we try to kill it.”
“That's why I'm still here.” He lets out a long, frustrated sigh and closes his eyes. “But you're seventeen, Liam. You should be out with other kids your age, having fun, flirting with girls. This is no life for you.”
“Well, the only way for me to find other kids my age would be to go back to New Portland. And seeing as how I'd be killed on the spot if I stepped foot inside the walls, I'd say living here in the woods is the only life for me.”
“We're quite a pair, aren't we?”
“That we are.”
The sun dips behind the mountain, so he'll be shifting soon. I picked the strongest, thickest tree I could find to chain him to. We're far enough away from camp that even if he did get loose, everyone there would be safe. He'd head toward the city if he could break the chains anyway.
But he can't break the chains. I’m sure of that.
And the people in the city will be all cozy in their apartments, protected by the giant concrete wall surrounding the borders. There's nothing to worry about. Nothing to be afraid of.
I settle on the ground a good distance away—close enough to talk to him once he shifts, but far enough away that he can't eat me. Not that I think he could eat me. I've been working with the beast for two years, ever since we found Todd passed out in the woods near the mountain, and he hasn’t been able to eat me yet. Then again…I suppose there's a first time for everything.
Darkness creeps into the forest as the sun disappears behind the horizon. The moon hangs huge in the sky, a massive red coin floating above the mountain. Todd gasps as the Wolf takes hold, his body becoming a shimmering mist as he transforms from human to animal. The change never ceases to amaze me, the way the magic molds his body, taking the dormant soul on the inside, and bringing it forward, into control. Thick gray fur rolls over his massive body, and wicked-sharp claws extend from paws the size of dinner plates. He inhales deeply—his canine senses sharpened like razors—and flares his nostrils as he blows out a hard breath.
“Good evening, Makkapitew,” I say. “How are you this glorious night?”
The Wolf locks eyes with me and snarls. He lunges toward me, and my heart gallops, but I don't flinch. As soon as he reaches the end of the chain, his head snaps back, lifting his front legs off the ground. I laugh because he looks like a dog that's run to the end of its leash. A really big dog with huge, sharp teeth, but a dog all the same.
Makkapitew is a powerful spirit, and his soul glows an intense gold, even brighter today because of the full moon. Todd's soul is still in there, but it's a dim silvery light at the base of the Wolf's skull—silver because it's not active now. Once Todd becomes human, and in control of his body, his soul will be the gold one.
“You seem extra agitated tonight, Makka. Wanna talk about it?”
A growl of warning rumbles from his chest, probably threatening to kill me if I understood Wolf speak.
“Ya hungry? I brought you a rabbit.” I toss the carcass of a hare in front of him. Normally, the Wolf is starving and gobbles up whatever I give him. Sure, he wants human flesh, and he'd prefer to hunt than to be fed, but this will have to do.
Tonight, he paces back and forth, back and forth, ignoring the dinner I laid out for him. His lips are peeled over his massive teeth, and saliva drips from his incisors. He snarls and lunges for me again, only to be yanked back by the metal collar and chain.
Makka's soul glows so bright I have to avert my eyes. He strains with otherworldly strength against the chain, causing the tree to crack under the pressure. If he pulls much harder, I’m afraid the old trunk might snap in half.
My heart pounds a little harder. “Calm down now, Makka. You're going to hurt yourself.” Or me.
A creaking sound reverberates when he lunges again, the metal groaning against his strength. Lead weakens magic, but it's not strong enough on its own, so I used it as a coating on an iron chain. The two metals together should be enough to contain his magic. They've always contained him before.
He stops lunging and starts straining, using his body weight to pull on the chain, the collar cutting into his flesh as he leans into it. He spins around and ducks his head, trying to slip out of the shackle, but it's too tight. His nostrils flare as he blows out a hard breath and goes back to straining against the chain.
Another clanking sound, and I'm on my feet, my back pressed against a tree. A creak and a groan, and my heart lodges in my throat. This isn't right. His bulging eyes are fixed on me, his gaze piercing my heart like I'm sure he longs to do with his teeth. His paws slip on the dirt as he strains toward me, but he regains his footing, digging his claws into the earth for traction.
He lets out a strangled growl. The collar snaps at the hinges and drops to the ground with a thud. My body flushes with ice, freezing me to the spot as he leaps toward me, paws outstretched, and swipes his massive claws across my face.