By Adam Dixon
Andi strolled through the forest clearing, a filled satchel on her back and a bright smile on her face. Bathed in the pale glow of the full moon and soothed by the cool wind blowing through her dark hair, she was content as she collected the various flora which grew there. Her satchel was full to bursting with nettles, wildflowers and mushrooms, as well as with more valuable items such as blisterweed and Lady’s Folly posies. Already her mind raced with the potions she could brew from such a spectacular haul. She smiled and congratulated herself. Nice one, Andromeda, she thought, business is looking good!
But one item still eluded her, and it was the ingredient which had brought Andi so deep into the forest in the first place. It was the Moon-Spun Lily, a beautiful, delicate flower which only bloomed once a month; during the full moon, naturally. Andi had pinned down the area in which the flower would be likely to bloom and her collecting so far, although fortuitous, had simply been a way for her to waste time before the moon had risen. Now that it had, Andi could freely collect her prize. She strode eagerly towards her destination, her eyes flicking to the red compass point on her smartphone screen. She grinned at the device. How did the alchemists of old manage to find anything in the dark? She wondered, shaking her head at the thought. Thank the Maker for modern technology!
Andi passed through the clearing and penetrated the thickly wooded forest. The air smelled wonderful, with wafts of damp leaves, soil and the aroma of dozens of night-flowers filling her expectant nostrils. She breathed deeply as she walked, savouring the fresh air, the night sky and the freedom of being away from her laboratory. She lived for these excursions, and she refused to permit anyone else to undertake them on her behalf. This was what real alchemists did, and she was one of the best. She’d never catch her esteemed father taking the easy option! She imagined her father’s stern face observing her, just as he had done when she had stirred his bubbling cauldron as a child. Well, Dad, here I am! She thought triumphantly. Getting the job done properly, just like you! Her phone pinged, and she banished the image and looked around.
She gasped as she beheld the Moon-Spun Lily nestled between two small trees. Its milky white petals glowed with an inner luminescence, quivering as the breeze caressed it. Andi noticed the tiny droplets of pollen leaking from its flowers as they danced in the wind, only to be picked up and swirled off to another part of the forest. As well as being stunningly beautiful it also looked incredibly delicate. Andi raised her phone and snapped a picture of the flower; it was a poor substitute for the real thing, but she wanted desperately to capture the moment in her memory. She longed to stay and watch the flower as it swayed in the night, but she had work to do and a deadline to keep. Steeling herself, Andi withdrew a small pair of pruning shears and a silk bag from her satchel. Leaning forwards, she carefully snipped the stalk of the Lily and let it drop into the bag. Now that the flower was gone, the space between the two trees looked desolate, as if the life had faded from it. Andi felt a little sad, but she abruptly shook it off and turned to leave the forest.
A long, loud howl pierced the stillness of the night. Andi froze, her eyes widening. Every hair on her forearms stood on end and her heart hammered in her chest as the howl continued. The noise was answered by a similar howl, this one higher in pitch. Andi realised with terror that they were both close by. She slipped a hand into her jeans and pulled out a tiny vial filled with a gelatinous blue liquid. Her hands were shaking as she unstopped the vial and raised it to her lips. She threw her head back and downed the potion, feeling it burn as it slid down her throat. She crouched and leaned forwards, fighting the urge to choke and splutter. Oh man, I forgot how awful this one tastes! She thought, disgusted. The howls came again, nearer still. They were getting closer! Andi shuffled into the thickest section of trees, cursing the potion for not taking effect sooner. As she began to notice her hands and torso losing their definition, a huge shape crashed through the undergrowth and came to a halt where she had been standing moments before. Andi’s breath caught in her throat; it was a werewolf.
Standing on powerful hind legs it towered into the air, fully eight feet tall from its pointed ears to its claws. It gazed around the clearing with eyes of a deep red and saliva dripped from its gleaming yellow fangs. By the Maker¸ Andi thought to herself, transfixed. It’s beautiful! The creature possessed a savage beauty that Andi had never seen before, and the descriptions she had read about such beasts did it no justice whatsoever. It pawed at the ground impatiently and growled deeply from the back of its throat. A freshly-killed young doe was grasped in one if its giant paws, carried as if it were no heavier than an apple. A crash of branches announced the arrival of a second beast, this one just as majestic as the first and even larger. The two wolves faced one another in silence, crimson eyes locked together. Andi wiped a bead of sweat from her eye and realised that her potion had taken effect: she was invisible.
The wolves growled and padded closer, neither one breaking eye contact. Mottled brown fur swayed in the wind as it sighed through the forest, and fallen leaves crunched underneath massive paws. The wolves stopped within an arm’s length of each other and continued their rumbling observations. Suddenly, a gravelly voice issued forth from the maw of the first creature.
“Evenin’, Moon-Sister,” it growled. “A fine night for a hunt, eh?”
“Too right, Moon-Brother!” the larger werewolf said, its eyes tightening and a coughing sound racking its body. Andi looked on in amazement. It’s laughing! She could hardly believe what she was seeing. The first werewolf tossed its head and lowered itself into a crouch. It still stood over six feet tall even then.
“Ahh, but it’s nice to see another of my kind!” it said, the growl in its voice sounding pleased. “As much as I enjoy these evenings, they can be lonely.”
“That’s never bothered me, to be honest,” the female werewolf said as she joined him in a crouch. “My other life is always noisy, so I enjoy the peace, but I am pleased to meet you! It makes for a refreshing change.” The first werewolf acknowledged the gesture with a nod of his great head.
“Have some of my catch, if you like,” he offered the doe to his companion. The female laughed again, the strange guttural sound sending a shiver up Andi’s spine.
“Don’t mind if I do, Moon-Brother! Thanks!” She accepted the bounty and tore off a large piece of flesh with her razor-sharp fangs. Andi felt her stomach perform a somersault inside her. Oh, the poor thing! She thought, turning her face away from the scene. The sound of ripping meat and crunching bones assaulted her ears, and she fought hard to keep from retching.
“We know you’re there, human,” the female’s voice growled. “You may as well join us.”
Andi’s heart plummeted in her chest and an icy shock hit her in waves. She began to tremble and slowly turned to look back. Two pairs of blood-red eyes were looking straight in her direction. She gulped and tried to respond.
“How…how can you see me?” Andi managed to squeak.
“We can’t,” the male werewolf answered, his pink tongue lapping blood from his jaws. “But you reek of fear and excitement. We could point in your direction from a mile away.”
“Come and join us.” The female repeated. It did not sound like a request. Petrified, Andi made her way towards them on legs which threatened to buckle under her at any moment. She stood before the two creatures, clasping her satchel with both hands in an effort to compose herself. The female leaned forward and inhaled deeply through her wet nostrils.
“You smell like a garden centre,” she said, amusement in her tone. “Have you been rolling around in the meadows?”
“No…no, I’m collecting wild flora,” Andi replied, still struggling with her sentences. “You see…I’m…an al-alchemist.”
“Ahhh, one of those!” the male guffawed and chomped down on another piece of the doe. “That explains it, then! What’s your name, alchemist?”
“I’m…Andromeda….Andi, for short.” Andi replied, unsure where the conversation was going. “Do you…erm…do you have names?” She nearly bolted from the forest as the two wolves threw their heads back and howled in unison. She stood shaking, hoping desperately that she hadn’t offended them.
“No, Andi the alchemist, we don’t,” the female said with good humour. “Of course, we do as humans, but we don’t use those names during the Blessed Night. That would be wrong.”
“This is the one night we can forget about those lives of weakness and boredom; we can truly be free.” The male werewolf added, gazing up at the moon with a sigh. Andi thought about this, her fear lessened by this information.
“I see…” she said, rubbing her invisible chin. “So you enjoy being werewolves? I always thought it was a curse.”
“Some people will see it that way, obviously,” the male answered, shaking his head. “But for me, this is when I’m really alive. As a human, I’m weak, unfulfilled and miserable. Getting bitten by a Moon-Sister was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“It’s the same with me,” the female snarled in agreement, tossing the remainder of the doe away into the trees. “My other life would seem complete to some, but I’m not valued as an individual. These evenings are my own, and I love them dearly. They make me feel alive!”
“I see…” Andi said again, shocked at their frankness. She was fairly sure by now that they were not going to eat her, but she didn’t want to risk upsetting them. She began speaking, addressing them very cautiously.
“So, erm…you don’t want to stop being werewolves then? You wouldn’t want to find a cure?” The professional in Andi was considering how a potion might be brewed to that effect, but both beasts shook their heads.
“Not unless I find something in my human life which makes me feel so free,” the male wolf shrugged. He fixed his frightening eyes in Andi’s direction, and she saw the pain within them. “But I really doubt that’ll happen. Nothing completes me like this change. Nothing.” Andi stood still, absorbing this information. The wolf regarded her, silently crouching in the moonlight.
“So, what happens after tonight?” Andi asked tentatively. The wolves looked at each other, and Andi felt a spark of understanding pass between them.
“We return to our other lives,” the female said sadly. “We go back to being human.”
“Back to wishing the days away until Blessed Night comes around again,” the male added, his ears drooping. Andi was moved by their profound misery and was at a loss as to what to say.
“Stay with us whilst we enjoy the last few hours of moonlight, Andi the alchemist,” the female said. “We will not harm you.”
“Are-are you sure?” Andi asked, brightening at the idea. “Wouldn’t I be interrupting your solitude?”
“Nah, not at all,” the male werewolf replied. He patted the ground next to him with his blood-stained claws. “It’s nice to have company for a change.”
“Oh, alright then.” Andi smiled and sat down between the two hulking creatures, her fascination returning and her fears vanishing. She considered asking the beasts if she could take a selfie with them to preserve the moment, but she quashed the idea as quickly as it came to her. Best not push it, girl! She thought
Andi sat with the werewolves for several hours, listening to them describe the freedom of prowling the night as its ultimate predator, of how the soaring wind felt on their fur or how the moon called to them prior to their transformation. Andi was mesmerised, mentally noting down all of the information they provided. She was almost certain that her situation was unprecedented in human-monster interaction and so she intended to remember as much as possible. She gradually pieced together that the male werewolf was an undervalued, underpaid accountant whose wife had left him penniless. It also turned that the female was the wife of an extremely successful business tycoon, and by being so found herself in a constant state of near-invisibility. Andi in turn told them about her alchemy business, and her initial struggle to get out from underneath her father’s shadow as a potion-brewer. She even shared some of her more scandalous business requests, at which the wolves howled into the night once again and laughed. She found herself enjoying their company immensely, and as the light began to return she felt sadness at the inevitable ending approaching. The female stood up, stretching her long, hairy legs as the sky began to change to a pinky-grey hue.
“It’s almost time,” she announced with resignation in her voice. “I’ve enjoyed sharing Blessed Night with you, Andi the alchemist, and with you, Moon-Brother. Let’s all meet again some time, the Maker willing.”
“I’ve enjoyed it too!” Andi said, leaping up. “I’ve learned so much from both of you! And thank you again for your gifts.” She patted a pocket in her satchel, where a tuft of werewolf hair and a vial of saliva could been seen poking out of the folds.
“It’s a pleasure, Andi,” the male wolf bowed his shaggy head in her direction. “Thanks for a pleasant evening. Now, I’d better head home. Moon-Sister, may we meet again.” With that, the male bounded off into the trees, his heavy footsteps echoing around the rapidly lightening forest. Andi turned to speak to the female, but she was also out of sight. Andi felt very alone in the large forest, despite the sounds of its denizens waking all around her. She looked up at the sky and saw that the sun was rising sleepily in the horizon. She sighed heavily and looked at her feet, noticing then that she was not invisible anymore. She stooped to pick up the silk bag she had rested on the floor, and her thoughts turned back to her delicate treasure. The Lily is just like the two of them, she thought sadly, beautiful and fleeting. She turned wandered despondently out of the forest, her heart going out to the two poor souls who lived their lives perpetually wanting to be something else. She found herself wondering how many other people felt the same way, but didn’t have the brief luxury of a magical transformation to escape their misery. She shook her head, a single tear running down her face.
“Goodbye, my new friends,” she whispered. “Until we meet again on Blessed Night.”
If you enjoyed this story, why not check out Andi’s introductory tale?