On the surface of the water your reflection haunts. Yellowing fangs, crooked and protruding. Hair black and bristling and unkempt while you dream of glossiness, of smoothness, of moving unnoticed instead of tearing your way with fangs and claws.

You were born in the forest, a wide-eyed, innocent thing like all creatures new to the world. Curious. Wily. But it wasn’t safe outside, not for you, not yet. The dark, wet walls of the place you were made pressed in close around you, glimpses of outside few and far between. For a while, you longed for the clean air. For a while, you hoped there were others outside, others like you imagined you were. Beautiful, smooth-skinned, with eyes that sparkled in the light.

But before long the close quarters and the flesh and blood that fed you began to twist that hopeful vision into something monstrous. Made you aware of teeth and claws. Made you aware you were something other.

One day, you woke up alone, and the hunger gnawed at you. Outside was something you’d dreamed of, but the light hurt your eyes when you reached it and you stumbled, clumsily following the scent of blood on the air, lucky to get a scrap before you were chased back home.

After that, there was no one. Not the ones who had fed you in the beginning. Not the ones you’d dreamed of in the dark hours. Just predators on all sides, snarling things larger and more desperate than you. You lost your meager meals to them more than once, until you learned not to think of their hunger or look into their eyes, searching for something warm.

You were hungry until your fangs lengthened and your claws grew sharp and brutal. Until you discovered the only thing the world would let you be and became it, not knowing it would make the loneliness that much harder to bear.

When you finally found creatures like the ones you’d dreamed of, their faces didn’t fit. Covered with bristles, their voices hoarse and shouting as they chased your prey.

When they see you their eyes go wide. They struggle to place you, to mask their fear. Their uncertainty tears at your chest, the fear blooming like a toxic flower when they finally settle on it. You taste it on the air as you bare the teeth you’re ashamed of to keep them away. So their leaving can be your choice. You may have thick skin and tangled, snarled fur; you may be all-but-impenetrable. They might not be what you imagined. Not exactly.

Still, it hurts less this way, the sight of the backs of them.

Alone, again. Day after day. The darkness and the feathered edges of the trees against it are cold company, the bones of small creatures that scampered when you tried to speak. You thought maybe they could be kindred, these fuzzy things with their flitting eyes and quivering whiskers. But they run, and you have no choice. You follow on swifter legs made for catching up. For bringing about endings before their time.

With their blood on your tongue, you know: it’s not the way you wanted them to nourish you.

The years pass like water lapping at the shore, surging in, receding. You grow larger, but you long for changes beyond your size. The world is small, just your bodily weapons and what they can bring you. Just rustling sounds in the bushes. The things that run from you. The predators become prey. You seek refuge in quiet places, but the hunger always returns, sending you ranging, hoping this time will be different.

It always ends the same way.

It’s summertime when the change comes. A red scrap of something soft, torn, left like an offering on a low branch. Distracting you on the trail of something big.

The scrap smells of something sweet and sharp, and there are plenty of smells like that. But this is different. Different than juniper berries, or wild rose hips, or huckleberries, or the tiny pink-bellied fish that dart in the shallows. It smells like a place the night’s cold fingers can’t reach. Like a place where bellies are full and cheeks are rosy and everything is glossy and bright.

It smells like the hope you once felt as a small creature drowning in darkness, when ahead there was a glimpse of light. In teeth made for rending, you lift this red scrap gently, protect it, the hunt forgotten as that newborn’s curiosity you thought you’d left behind finds you longing.

Days follow, and nights. The forest’s creatures grow bolder as the bright spark of hope burns hot in your chest, eclipsing your hunger like a full, low moon passing before the sun. It has been so long since you wanted this way. Since you believed in something bright. Something more than just close walls and dark, twisted trees and the brutal cycle of tearing teeth and rending flesh. The endless, hot flow of blood behind your lips.

Your body grows weaker as you hunger for other things, things this scent promises in whispers long into the lengthening forest nights. That maybe beyond this world where you were born is another. One where there’s more to taste on the air than the sharp fear of creatures weaker than yourself.

But as the scent on the scrap fades, so does your hope. So does the dream of intelligent eyes meeting yours, voices tangling into something other than snarls and yelps and a final silence. The long, deep well of loneliness inside you yawns, the bright spot flickering and dying within it.

The smell is gone for good one morning when the brave red-crested birds chatter you awake. It’s like the decision has been made in the night. This treasure is not of the forest where you became, and sharpened, and honed your monstrous inclinations.

This treasure is from outside. Beyond. So that’s where you must go.

Go, or fall down the well for good, drowning in the blood that fills it.

Though it has never felt like home, the dark belly of the forest is reluctant to release you. The shadows cling to your limbs as you stretch them, running, small creatures scattering though they have nothing to fear from you. Not today.

By the time you reach the edge—leaping a gilded creek, the tree line just ahead—dusk is settling. But this is not the dusk you know. This dusk is bright, the unfiltered sky open and wide above you, letting every ounce of light in. Despite the lateness of the hour your eyes rebel against it, something new and clamoring in your chest insisting you return home.

It reminds you of the comfort of the treetop shadows slicing the forest into ribbons of light and dark. It reminds you of the closeness, the chatter, the way every sound is echoed and multiplied so you always know what’s coming…

So you always know what’s leaving you behind.

It’s that thought that urges you onward. Your lifetime of loneliness, the dark well you stare into every night more haunting than this strange open sky and all its failing light. You flee that past, that future, into the wide field, prey at last, only to be overwhelmed by your senses.

You’re born again, coughed up by the shadowed glades and twisted paths of the home you did not choose. Here, everything is new. The sharp scent of sagebrush in the air, the silence left by the rustling branches clear and cutting. A silence of emptiness, of vulnerability. A silence that says you can’t hide...

While also whispering of what you might find.

That hope clutches at you with greedy fingers, pulling you forward on your shaking legs though your instincts cry out that an open field means danger. But what greater danger is there, you ask the beast inside, than returning to that emptiness?

So you fight every sense, especially those born with twilight hunting in mind. Those that crave the safety of cover, those that haven’t fed in days. Your eyes dart, your feet stutter forward, then shift sideways, then lurch back. Where is your hunter’s grace? Where is the stalking confidence that hid your loneliness and the dying hope in your chest and made every flutter-hearted creature run for cover?

Go home, the beast in your chest whispers. You don’t belong here.

But you don’t belong alone, either. This much you know. This much you have always known. And going back means diving down into the well and inviting all its dark creatures into your heart. The ones that don’t flee from your fangs. The ones that make nests of your doubt and your fear and your longing.

You try to remember the scent of the scrap. The hope you felt, and the way it flared in the darkness like a shooting star. But you can’t recall it here, and you wonder what you’re doing. What you’re chasing. If it will be worth the risk.

That’s when you hear a sound. Something clear and resonant, like the starlight made audible. It’s the first thing in this strange place that brings you forward, rather than pressing you back. Another ray of starlight joins the first, and then another, and your unsure feet are moving more steadily now, closer and closer until they’re close enough.

Your predator’s senses take in the scene: three figures, skin smooth and glossy, limbs careless and splayed. They are laughing, unbothered by the empty sky and the sounds of the field that make your own heart beat in fearful stutter-step.

It’s enough to draw you closer still.

These, you now understand, are not prey. Not men with grizzled beards and fearful eyes swallowed in anger. Not disappointing, but a dream being realized.

Somewhere in the deep recesses of your mind you remember, like a dream you’ve lost, that these glossy things are girls. Alluring and smooth on the surface, fierce as hot metal underneath. They move like the reflection of the moon on water. They slip like smoke slips between teeth and tongues.

When the rumbling begins in your throat you barely notice the hunger, unsated for days as you plotted your escape. Neither do you notice the fear, though it lurks in your subconscious, monitoring the growing darkness, the flickering of fireflies as they flare to life at the edges of your vision.

The rest of you is consumed with longing. For kindred you have never been allowed to claim. For this glassy moment, like still water that can only be ruined, rippled, by your touch.

Hopelessness builds in your chest like a howl, and you know you cannot stay. That you will never be one of them, no matter how fiercely your heart burns to be. You run as you have always done, as you were born to do, feeling the sound on the edge of erupting in your throat, but then one of them stands and you see it. Her dress.


You have found what you came here for, but you don’t deserve the gift of this girl. This dress. This moment. You have found what you came here for, but you are still you, and so you return, the dark mouth of the well gaping, welcoming you home.

In your den it is dark, and you don’t notice the ache of hunger, the trading of dark for light outside, even when it changes twice. Three times. The red scrap that started it all lies abandoned, the magic of its scent long gone.

It’s not the hunger that eats at you, it’s the wondering. If she had heard the howl lodged in your chest. If she had known it was for her.

You’re weak-kneed and frenzied when you finally decide. It doesn’t matter if you belong. It doesn’t matter if the field and all its strange wonders are the end of you.

You cannot stay.

You were not born to stay.

This time, the journey takes longer. Your senses are less sharp. But the twilit stripes of your forest’s home are quicker to let you go. The path is worn in your mind, and your feet find their steps, not knowing what awaits them, barely caring, just needing to go. To be gone. To be forgotten by this place and everything that has run from you here.

In the field the girls are waiting, relaxed and loose, unaware of your presence. It’s better this way, you think, but this time you won’t run. No matter the danger, what awaits you is worse. You know now. You will transform, or you will cease to be. There is no other way.

You watch them, longing sitting like a stone in your throat until only one is left. Red dress skimming her knees. Red lips gone violet in the blue white of the moonlit night.

She is alone.

You are alone.

On the air you taste her heartbeat again and again.

It’s never.

It’s now.

Your feet carry you forward into a patch of moonlight, and you’re seized with the desire to be beheld by her, even though you know how this ends. How it always ends.

There will be the scent of her fear on the air between you. There will be your reluctant snarl, and her back as she turns away.

But then she sees you, and the air tastes like honey, not fear. And she steps closer.


In her gaze you feel your fangs shrink and straighten, your skin glow smooth. There’s a curious tilt to her smile as she stretches out her hand, wonder hidden in the crook of every beckoning finger.

Before she touches you, you wonder if you’ll catch fire. If there’ll be anything left in the ashes of the creature you were.

The moment, so long awaited, so torturously earned, never comes. A voice rings out instead, calls her bad girl, and you monster. Ugly. Dangerous. The woman is pale, pinched-face and sour. The girl pleads with her before the woman’s slapping hands send her retreating behind her own protective arms, the red dress fluttering behind her as she runs home.

Forgetting with every step.

Forgetting you.

For days you have ignored your hunger, longing to lose it beneath the smooth skin and even, white teeth the girl brought to your surface. But she is gone, and the hope of her is gone and the fangs tear through, and the hunger howls in your throat as the woman’s wide eyes swallow the girl you wanted to be.

The girl you will never be, unless she is gone.

This old woman’s bitter anger mingles with your saliva until there is no field, no red scrap of dress, no longing. Until there is no you, and you have to.

You’ve forgotten why you cannot.

When her bones are clean you still feel as though she has won. She has claimed a piece of you in the acid and the bloodstains and the acrid taste at the back of your throat. But she is gone, and you are here, her severe, woolen dress carefully laid across the grass, free of blood, still holding the shape of her. You can’t stand the reminder of it, of her, of the hunger. You fill it with your own shape, trying to pour into it like water, tearing through instead.

It was what you were born to do.

You wait all night. Until the moon kisses the horizon line, pure and remote, without judgment for your tatters or the red around your mouth. You wait, until the sun peeks over to see what you have done.

You wait until her voice floats across the field.


Red silk.

You wait until her heartbeat catches up with her footsteps. Until she draws close enough.

Now, you are hunger and longing. Now your coin is in the air, turning over and over and over as it falls.

Maybe, now, it is time.

{ Edited by Diane Telgen. }