Claire’s first night as a wolf had been over four years ago, and since then the change had become easier each time. Now the transformation felt natural to her, almost as simple as smiling or blinking. She could change at will, and change back just as easily. That first night, after the initial insanity of the situation had died down a bit, Claire’s father had told her the most important story she would ever hear.
Claire’s late mother, Isabelle, had also had the wolf inside her. And her mother before her, and her great grandmother – it stretched as far back in the family as anyone could remember. As far as anyone had known, it wasn’t a curse, or a demonic influence, or the result of being bitten by another creature, as it happens in the movies. In fact, no one in the family had ever known how it had started, or why – it was just innate, and it passed through the generations, occasionally skipping a few. The ones affected were always women, though, and only women of the family could pass on this strange trait. Apparently, two of Claire’s ancestors had been killed in the Salem Witch Trials because someone had discovered their secret.
Claire’s mother Isabelle had died of cancer when Claire was 10 years old. She had told her husband of her family’s secret after they had already been married for two years. Jackson had been…well, finding out your wife is also a wolf a few nights a week isn’t an easy concept to grasp. But Jackson loved Isabelle deeply, and he had accepted it soon enough. When they had first decided to have children, they had carefully considered the fact that if they had a daughter, she may inherit the family "strangeness," but they both wanted children badly. And besides, both had come to realize that being a wolf wasn’t such a bad thing.
When Isabelle died, Jackson had been grateful that neither of his daughters had been affected, so they wouldn’t have to go through it without their mother to guide them. Normally, the first change happened sooner, by age eight or nine, so when Claire had become the wolf at thirteen, Jackson hadn’t been prepared.
Those first few months were hell. Claire’s body would ache with the need to shift, and she had tried to resist at first, but she had eventually given in due to her overwhelming desire to see again. Soon, Claire looked forward to the change and she would go out and explore every night, just looking, marveling at the beauty of the sky and the trees and the lake. And people. She loved being able to see her father’s face, and her sister’s, and even pictures of herself. Before the wolf, Claire hadn’t even known what she looked like. She would sometimes just change and sit around the cabin with them, just staring. Whenever it came time for her to change back, she was so deeply saddened to have to fall back into darkness again, and it was always a bit difficult to readjust to blindness.
Claire loved being the wolf because it granted her the temporary gift of sight, but sometimes it was a frightening experience. As the wolf, she was still her. Her mind, her thought, her memories, emotions, her conscience – all there, but so too were the impulses and desires of a wolf. As the wolf she could see like a human, think like a human, but she had a wolf’s instinct to hunt and run and, sometimes, eat. Most nights, Claire would chase down rabbits or deer or pretty much anything that ran wild in the woods near the cabin. She would stalk them and creep up and full on give chase, then she’d pounce and then –
Then, Claire would stop herself. She was not the type of person who would ever hurt an animal, but wolves were meant to hunt, so she would let the thrill of it take her over, but most of the time she could regain control.
Not always, though. There had been a few instances over the last four years where the wolf had refused to succumb to her human conscience, and she had taken it all the way. It made her sick just to think about it. But was she really to blame? Was it her fault that she let it happen, or was it alright because it’s in a wolf’s nature to do so?
Would God punish her?
Claire wondered every time she changed if she was committing some sort of sin, and if her birthright had come from evil. Her father had always been a religious man, and the family had gone to church every Sunday that she could remember. The first time she had accidentally let herself go as far as to kill a deer, when she was fourteen, Claire had been so convinced that she was an evil girl that she had gone to confession and consulted Father Boyd about it. He hadn’t known it was her, of course, and she hadn’t stated outright the details of her odd condition, but she had still managed to broach the topic of her concern.
"Father, is it wrong for one animal to kill another?" she had asked through the concealing grate of the confessional booth.
"Well, my child," he had responded, in his deep, righteous voice, "it is a natural thing for wild animals to kill one another, as a means of survival. It’s instinct, it’s all they know. So no, it’s not wrong, it’s just their way."
"Right, but people are animals too. I mean, we’re made of the same stuff, so why is it a sin for one person to kill another person or a wild animal, but it’s not wrong for other animals?"
"Because, my dear, we know better."
Claire had come out of the church completely conflicted, and even now, years later, every time she became the wolf she felt like she was doing something God would condemn.
She loved being the wolf because it allowed her to roam free, without handicap. She had gotten so used to being able to see every night that she wished she could just be the wolf all the time, so she wouldn’t have to remain in darkness. Sometimes at school – Claire had attended the Michigan School for the Blind all her life – she’d be talking to someone and something would slip out like "Oh, the moon last night was spectacular," and she’d quickly have to cover by adding "or so I heard…" Claire had come to look forward to the change every evening, yearning to see all she could possibly take in for the brief period she was able to.
At the same time, though, she had this underlying feeling of wrongness. As Father Boyd had told her, "she knew better" than to be out chasing and hurting other animals, and she alone was responsible for the deer or rabbit she would occasionally kill. But could she really help it? It was completely natural for the wolf to do such things, but for Claire the person it was wicked.
Even so, Claire went out every night with the gift of sight lifting her up and the burden of her humanity weighing her down. She prayed every night for God to forgive her for being such an evil person. Claire always wondered what others would think of her if they knew the truth about who she was – or rather, what she was. She was quite certain that, aside from her family, who already knew, anyone she told would think she had gone mad. And if she showed them, if they saw it happen, they would think she was some kind of demon or witch and try to burn her at the stake, or whatever the modern version of that was.
But she would never tell. Not even Lauren, her best friend in the whole world. Lauren was also blind, and she and Claire had been inseparable since they met in Kindergarten. Claire had thought about telling her, but "Guess what, I’m a wolf" would make Lauren laugh. She couldn’t prove it either, not to Lauren or any of her close friends, because, like her, they were blind.
Her only confidantes when it came to her activities as the wolf were her father and her sister Catherine. Well, mostly Catherine – their father was the captain of a fishing boat, the Bella Luna, and was sometimes gone for weeks at a time. When he was away, it was Catherine who drove Claire to school and made her dinner. It was Catherine who sat with her for hours and listened to Claire’s tales of chasing animals and spying in on people from the trees. And it was Catherine, once again, who listened to her sister obsess over Grant Truman.
Grant was an assistant teacher at the School for the Blind, and had been working in Claire’s class for almost two years. He wasn’t much older than her now, at 21, and he, unlike the majority of the people she associated with, was not blind. He would describe everything to her – oceans, mountains, lightening, the full moon. Grant had always made her feel so normal, like there was nothing wrong with her. He made her feel special, and she had a feeling that he had a crush on her.
Claire was completely infatuated with him. It was Catherine who had encouraged her to go out and see him – he did live just on the other side of the lake, after all, Catherine had pointed out.
When she first saw him, Claire had discovered the true meaning of "animal attraction." It felt like she was in heat. She had never seen anything more beautiful than Grant Truman, with his bright blue eyes and luxurious jet black hair. And that smile…Oh God, she had fallen so hard. And it wasn’t just his looks – Claire was blind, after all – she had liked him for a year before her sister had prompted her to sneak a peek. He was the kindest, most understanding person she had ever met. She didn’t feel blind with him, she felt like she could see into his soul, could see the world – she felt like she could do anything with Grant by her side.