When Rufus awoke, he was lying spread-eagled on his bed with a dull ache in his head and most of his limbs. He heaved himself up and gingerly put his feet onto the floor. Finding he was ok to walk, he made his way down to the lab. Steven was already there, logging something into the computer.
Upon hearing Rufus’ voice he turned around, seemingly relieved to see his colleague up and about.
“Hey, you’re awake! Thank goodness, I thought you might need to go to hospital.”
“I’m ok,” said Rufus, sitting at a desk. “I just got into a bit of bother with the alpha. Shouldn’t have got so close, I was careless. Still, at least we know the pack is around.”
“A bit of bother?! Dude, you’ve been out all day. They would have torn you to shreds if I hadn’t driven the truck at them.”
“Oh… well, thanks. I guess I owe you,” he nodded. He could sense that Steven was looking at him suspiciously, but neither of them pushed the matter any further. He started trying to put together a report on his experience. Not one to lie in an official report, he recounted his experience as best he could. Then he read it back, and promptly screwed it into a ball. It sounded like the script from some cheesy B-movie (or at best the childish scribblings of a teenage ‘author’). Nobody would believe this, not even Steven, and he was there for the last bit. Rufus sighed. He had started to feel warm some time ago, and now he realised there were drops of sweat running down his neck. Film stills began to creep back into his mind again.
“Oh no, Rufus, get a hold of yourself,” he told himself firmly. “You’re just imagining things.” He walked over to the bathroom and stepped in the shower, trying to slow his breathing as the water ran over his face.
He stayed in there for ages, until the sun was beginning to set. If anything, he felt worse when he came out. It felt as if every atom in his body was burning, like his bones were melting and reforming under his skin. He panicked for a moment, almost tempted to hide under his bed. But then he stopped. From downstairs he could hear Steven whistling to himself as he walked to the kitchen. If this was what he thought, he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from hurting his friend. Slowly, limbs still shaking, he crept down the stairs and picked up a desk chair. He was astonished at how much strength he’d already gained. He came to the kitchen door and lifted the chair up high.
“I’m sorry, Steve,” he whispered. “But I can’t let you get caught up in this.” With a deep breath he swung the chair and knocked him to the ground.
With his last remnants of rational thought he managed to drag his unconscious friend out into the truck and sent it rolling down the hill, where with any luck someone would find him. Hopefully the head injury would keep him out of action long enough for Rufus to come up with a plan B. But there was no time for that now, as he watched his skin burst into light and thick brown hair sprout from it. Once again he found his mind swallowed in a black hole, echoing with the sound of his own growls.
When he came back to his senses, he was left with very little memory of the night before, and even less useable lab equipment. Both seemed to have been destroyed in a torrent of rage and hunger. He stood in the middle of his bedroom, clutching at his now human skin in shock. He almost sleepwalked over to the bookshelf and picked out his wolf book. Fingering the broken spine, Rufus opened the book and flipped through the pages, touching each of his and Jake’s shaky illustrations in turn. He reread his mother’s message for the millionth time.
“Time to be a big, brave boy,” he muttered under his breath. In one sweeping motion, he knocked his collection of photographs off the wall with a clatter. Wading through the torn remains of family holidays and college parties, he went into the living room. Taking the phone firmly in his hand, he dialled for home. Mercifully, no-one picked up. Swallowing hard, he let forth a tirade, drawing on any bit of trivial anger he could drum up. He accused them of everything he could think of, made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with them. It was the worst lie he’d ever told – in fact he wanted nothing more than to run from the wolf and dive under his mother’s blankets again. It would crush Jake; after all, he’d only just managed to convince him that he wasn’t abandoning them. But better crushed figuratively than devoured literally.
He hung up, and moved on to the computer where he sent a similar message to everyone else who might come looking for him, before walking outside and hacking the communication cable in two. Finally he took the book, held it to his mouth for a second, and hurled it off into the forest.
After a few ‘incidents’ with investigators from the firm, Rufus was left to pace the floors of the facility alone. As time passed the transformation became second nature to him, so much so the barriers between man and wolf started to blur, and some days he couldn’t have told you what state he was in. Perhaps he was in neither. The only certain thing was, by the time the smell of blood came on the wind, it was strong enough to reach him even in broad daylight. It was fresh blood, Sim blood, impossible for an isolated monster to resist. With one half of him craving rare prey and the other simply longing to see another face again, he started down the mountain as soon as the moon turned full.
Perhaps, by now, the scientist left in him suspected that at the bottom he would reach his doom.
Perhaps, by now, he almost wanted to.