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It’s near, he can feel it. The faint thrumming of blood on his veins; the subtle surging of power deep in his bones.

Tomorrow is the full moon.

He retreats to his basement, stocked floor to ceiling with cured meat and half-dead game. The former he’ll eat until he can’t anymore, until his body shifts and his jaws elongate and he starts to hunger for the latter, for something raw and bloody.

The half dozen or so deers he has crippled stare at him with big round eyes. He thinks they’re pleading him to end their pain, but he can’t just yet. When the moon rises to its peak, he changes and becomes It, a beast. And the only thing It knows is to hunt. To hunt live prey. If It doesn’t find what it wants here, in this enclosed space locked under a heavy steel door, It will do everything to get out. And as long as the full moon is high in the sky, It has boundless energy, a voracious appetite. It can hunt for hours, over miles of land.

There’s a village at the bottom of the mountain. A few gentle elderly folks, mostly hard-working middle-aged farmers, a lot of lively children. He needs them, when he goes down there once in a while to maintain some semblance of companionship, of humanity, but It… It wants them. To feed on them. To rip apart skin and break bones, to lap at their blood and chew on their flesh.

So no, he can’t kill the deer, even though he knows they are hurting. He has decided long ago that he’s willing to let a few animals suffer once every month, in exchange for the certainty that the people he has grown attached to stay that way people , not mere food.

That mistake has happened once, many many years ago.

He sits in the dark and wraps a hand around the two rings hanging on his neck.

“Never again,” he whispers, and the only reply he gets is the pained whines of the animals.

From then on there’s only silence and quiet resignation of what is to come.

 


 

Many many years ago

 

 

Taiga woke up to the feeling of the soft forest floor against his bare back. He blinked his eyes open, squinting at the ray of sunlight shining through the canopy of leaves above.

He was in the forest. He didn’t know how he got here. He should be on his bed, in their house, with Alex and Tatsuya.

A strange feeling of foreboding stirred in his gut.

He tried to move, but his body ached, from the top of his head to the balls of his feet. It was hard to breathe. To swallow. Like his throat was swollen, like something was

He tasted blood on his tongue. He scrambled upright, ignoring the protests of his muscles, and looked down at himself.

Blood.

Blood everywhere.

On his torn pants. On his hands. On his skin. All over the ground. On his mouth, bitter and sharp and nauseating

He fell to his knees with a strangled moan, the impact jarring his bones.

He retched. Dread churning on his stomach. Bile burning at the back his throat.

He retched. Blood on his vomit. Tears on his face. A lump on his throat.

He retched. Strips of skin. Chunks of flesh. Strands of dark hair.

He retched. Bloodbloodbloodmeatfleshskinmeatfingermeatfood

 

‘Don’t stay out too late, both of you. Understand?’

‘C’mon, just one more game brother! Or are you afraid you’ll lose again?’

‘It’s a shortcut, see! We’ll be home by midnight, no problem.’

‘But it’s d-dark here, Tatsu.’

‘Look, the full moon will guide us home tonight. Look!’

‘Whoa, it’s really big tonight!’

‘Yeah, so don’t be scared, Taiga! Here, I’ll even hold your hand.’

Then --

Heat. Ache on the top of his head, the base of his spine, his gums and jaw. Heat. So much heat. On his limbs. Inside him.

Pain. Skin tearing. Bones cracking, dislocating, bending with a snap. His flesh burning, shifting and pulling over his newly-mended bones. Hair bursting from his skin, all over his body.

A growl from his muzzle, spit dripping from his fangs.

Cries. Screams.

 

Handhandfeetfingerstoesfingerstoesfingersmeatskinfoodbloodmetal 

 

**

 

He lay curled on the blood-soaked forest floor, wrecked in sobs and fear and gut-wrenching despair.

His hands clenched. The bloodied ring within it biting into the skin of his palm until his own blood flowed from between his fingers.

He hardly felt the pain.

 

**

 

The next day, hunters found a mangled corpse along the forest path. Police declared it a vicious attack from wild animals and cordoned off the area. No one thought otherwise. No one had the stomach to go through the scene twice.

They started a search for him, on the demands of a hysterical Alex.

But by then, Taiga had already been long gone.