It was the strangest dream Kevin had ever experienced. The moon, blood-faced and shrieking, rose above the tree line, and he was filled with an instant urge to scream. He screamed, but it was not a scream of fear or triumph; it was a primal howl of agony. Long and piercing, it matched the pain he felt as every muscle, every tendon, every bone was stretched to the breaking point, twisting and contorting his body into impossible angles. He saw weird, unearthly shapes and leaped at them, slashed at them, bit them, tore them to pieces; he ran blindly through the moonlit night, striking out at everything in his path, his unbearable torture tempered only by the releasing of the destructive power he wielded against his vaporous, inconsequential foes. His mind was filled with pure, unadulterated hatred. His nostrils stank of blood and offal. On his tongue was a glorious mixture of sweetness and spice, tingling and tantalizingly delicious, but completely unknown to him; a taste sensation unlike any he had ever experienced, but one to which he was wholly addicted, body and soul.
He ran and ran and ran, as though by running he could escape the molten beams of moonlight which pierced his skin and etched canyons of pain into his flesh. Hide! urged the voice in his head. Shelter! Darkness! Peace! But there was no place to hide, no shelter to be found, no darkness deep enough to hide him from the eye of his enemy. There was no peace, only the neverending war for his soul.
And then ... a moment's respite. A darkness, a cave, a hidng place into which he stumbled, mad with the relief which washed over him when the burning stopped. He collapsed to the floor, panting with overexertion. The floor was cold and comforting, soothing like a balm of sweetest honey which filled his mouth. He felt the heat of his exhaustion lifting, borne away bya gentle breeze which wafted through the darkness like a trickling creek. He lay still, basking in the pleasure of not-feeling: muscles relaxing, hands and feet unclenching, jaws slackening, eyes closing. He slept within his dream, deeply, darkly, soundly.
He awoke from the sleep-within-a-dream, not knowing whether he was truly awake or merely dreaming-awake. Nothing was familiar. He lay on a bare concrete floor in a room which was neither familiar nor well-lite. He was naked. And there was blood. On his hands, on his chest, in his mouth. He could taste it, smell it, feel it.
His stomach churned. He threw up. Blood. Even more blood. And chunks of ... something. Meat? Raw, dripping, translucent flesh. He couldn't stop. More offal spewed from his mouth as he leaned over the floor and felt it surging up from his gut, up through his throat, into his mouth and out onto the ground. What was happening? Was this still a dream? Why couldn't he wake up?
And then the urge stopped, the gagging and coughing subsided. He wiped his eyes, thinking to himself: wake up wake up wake up wake up. But he did not wake up. And then his eyes fell upon an object lying in the middle of the pool of blood and flesh which froze his heart and head into solid stone:
A finger, complete with nail. A silver circle wound tightly around one knuckle. A ring. A silver ring.
And a great fear enveloped him like a funeral shroud. Oh, my ... What have I done?
Later, looking in the bathroom mirror at his uncovered torso, he peered at the reddened scar across his shoulder and remembered the night of the bonfire, when the beast had emerged from the woods behind the school without warning, eyes blazing with hunger, teeth bared and dripping, claws tearing up the ground as it raced toward the crowd of teenagers. He remembered the yelling, the pointing, the screaming. And he remembered running towards it without thinking, terrified that it might hurt the one he loved, yet terrified as well that he would not survive the encounter. It was just a big dog, one of those Dobermans or Rottweilers or Pit Bulls, the ones who were always appearing in the news after having mauled a child or attacked a postman. Running away from it never occurred to him. Coming between it and the one he loved - that was his only thought, his only motivation. He must stop it.
And stop it, he did. Although, were it not for the unregistered, unlicensed .45 pistol which was pulled from the pocket of his best friend, Mitch, it might have ended quite differently. They leaped at each other like long-lost lovers, meeting mid-air in a deadly embrace which knocked the wind out of him; and though he felt the dog's teeth ripping into his shoulder while he struggled to wrap his arms around its neck in a stranglehold, he did not let go. And then the sound of Mitch's gun filled his ears, shot after shot after shot emptying into the body of the beast until it stopped moving and lay still. And then the crying and wailing of his friends, the sirens of the ambulance, the curtain of shock which fell over him, the smell of rubbing alcohol, and then the oblivion of blessed unconsciousness.
It wasn't a dog after all, they had said. It was a wolf. A starving, pitiful wolf who had obviously tried to stake out a claim in suburbia after being edged out of its woodland habitat, and had fallen afoul of the laws of Nature. Only the strong survive. And it wasn't strong enough to defend against Man.
Kevin was a hero, the Boy who Saved His Friends. The attention was gratifying, the notoriety short-lived. His fame had come quickly and ended almost as quickly. There were plenty of other things to talk about on the nightly news. But he didn't care. His friends knew that he cared more for them than he cared for himself, and that was enough for him.
Now he was a werewolf.
Now they were in danger.