I turn to run but I slam into another boy, they are blocking all my avenues of escape now. They’re closing in, and with them, a sense of dread.’Not again, why can’t they just leave me alone?’ I think hopelessly.  I can guess exactly how this will go. If I fight they will beat me. If I run they will catch me. If I attempt to reason with them they will ignore me.
I can see all roads leading to the same outcome, I will hear their laughter as I groan and lay in the dirt until they get bored and leave. My mind is wandering off as the first knee hits me in the stomach. They don’t even punch me anymore, I think my ribs must be uncomfortable on their fists. I notice the pain spiraling out from the impact but I barely react. I don’t stop my body from convulsing or trying to shield itself. I just don’t do anything else, it doesn’t seem to matter what I do. It always hurts, it can’t be stopped.
The last time I tried to fight I couldn’t even make it home my eyes were so swollen, I just curled up at of the first tree I found. Each time I lose more of my self respect, each time I feel more pathetic. It doesn’t help that each time I come home bruised and bleeding my mom asks me how I can be such a wimp.

Another knee hit me, several more and they will let me fall to the ground before running off to the full tables of food set out by two parents for supper. They will be asked about their day and later tucked into bed with a pat on the head or a kiss. I will not. I’ll go home, nursing my injuries silently as I chop wood and make dinner for my mom as she complains about what a burden I am.

A slap to the face brought me back. “Are you in there freak?” one of the boys asked with his face close to mine. I don’t respond, they wanted a different reaction. “I guess we’ll have to find out for ourselves then” The same boy sneered. This is means they are bored, the sense of dread came back. “My dad says you’re cursed, he says you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near our village.”
I know what boredom does to kids like these. I winced as the boys holding me tried to twist my arms further behind my back. The boy leading the group pulls something out of his pocket “I don’t know why the adults let you live.”
“I say we should see if you’re even human under that skin” he flips open the blade of a small knife. Strangely I can feel the grip of the two boys that are holding me loosen a bit. “Tom, maybe we should go, its almost dinner time” another boy says quietly. “Don’t worry, this wont take long”. He is gripping the knife so tight that his knuckles are white.
He brings it up to my wrist, I can see a grim determination in his eyes. He takes a quick breathe like he is about to dive underwater. Deep inside my chest something breaks.
In a sound like wildfire, I hear an inner voice roar “No!”.
There is a flash of red.
The first thing I see is my bare feet covered in blood.
The second thing I see is a black shape like smoke in between me and the bully.
I’m confused, ‘Why don’t I feel anything?’ I ask myself.
Suddenly my mind catches up to speed as if the last moments were in slow motion. I look at my arm to see how badly I was hurt but I saw no cut. ‘But the blood’ I thought and then I saw the bully cradling his arm. But no, he was cradling the place where his arm used to be. “Get that thing away from me!” he screams, backing away. I see one of the boys fall over backwards and one of them runs, the rest follow. They disappear into the trees on the far end of the little clearing before I look down at the dark shape in front of me.
I’m shaking and my mind is wrestling with what I just saw. The shape turns to face me and the first thing I notice is a little flash of dark pink as its tongue cleans the blood from its lips.  Its teeth stand out in stark contrast to the dark of its raven colored fur. Its ears and paws tell me its some kind of dog, nothing like the village dogs but still a canine. It could be a wolf but I’ve never heard of a black wolf in this area. I’m expecting fear but it doesn’t come. Maybe its the relaxed posture of the dark dog or maybe my emotions were fried. Whatever the reason, I feel no fear when I kneel and stretch my arm out for the wolf to smell me.

I’ve always felt close to animals, they seemed to make sense in a world where not many things did. I could understand their body language better than I could understand spoken words and they never hurt me except for when there was a good reason, a natural reason. Like if I accidentally stepped on a paw or a tail.
It looks at my hand and then raises  from its sitting position to sniff me. “Good dog” I whisper. I feel my hand quivering from the adrenaline still in my body. ‘Bad things are about to happen’ I think. I knew that the villagers wouldn’t stand idle by when one of their kids lost their arm. I felt bad that I didn’t care about the bullies arm ‘Maybe I am a freak like they say’.  The dog walks over to me and sits close enough for me to feel its coarse hair against my side. Its comforting to feel the big animal close to me.
“Why did you help me? Where did you come from?” I ask aloud. He licks my face lovingly and then walks a few paces away before stopping to face me again. He stares at me until I meet his gaze. I’m struck by how familiar his eyes are, but his stare unnerves me so I look away. I’m trying to shake the feeling when I say “Well, I better get back before it gets dark. Take care dog”

I push my way through the dense edge of the clearing into the more open forest. I smell the hearth fire long before I see the little house. I don’t go inside, instead I go over to the wood shed and sit in the darkness inside. I usually think better in the dark and this was a situation I didn’t want to face. I couldn’t believe my bad luck. I thought about how the village would react and how my mother would react, something told me neither would be understanding. The boys who attacked me were just a representation of how the village feels about me, they think I’m cursed based on some rumor spread in the early years when my mom first arrived outside the village. She never told me what it was and made it clear that I wasn’t to ask about it. I barely even go to the village anymore, only when mother needs something. She doesn’t leave the cabin and makes me care for that kind of errand, well, all kinds of errands. Maybe part of why I’ve always loved dogs so much is because of everyone treating me like one my whole life. There is a scratching at the door, when I open it I find those some familiar eyes staring back at me. “How can you seem so calm at a time like this?” I ask the wolf. He just walks over and begins to lick the blood off my feet.
“Get in here!” a shrill voice cried. “Stay out here” I whisper.

I pushed open the door and saw her sitting in her chair by the fire. “I thought I heard something out there” She said almost to herself “I’m out of wood”. She didn’t even bother to ask for more wood, she knew I was trained well. I hate myself for being so meek. I went for a load of wood and set it down next to the fire. “You smell awful” she said finally raising her gaze slightly. “What is that filth you’re tracking in? Why do I keep you around when all you do is muddy up my life?”.
I know not to respond with anything but agreement. She’s not really speaking to me as much as commiserating with herself anyways. She couldn’t commiserate with me since, as she put it, I was the source of all her woes. She never lets me forget how the village hates me and how that makes it impossible for her to have a normal life.
“Is that blood?” her lips were curling in disgust “What kind of filth have you broad upon me now?”. This time I answer “A wolf or some kind of wild dog attacked one of the village boys.”, I knew there was no need to explain how the boys were attacking me before that happened. She ignored anytime I mentioned the attacks or said something like “Serves you right for being late with my supper”.
“So some wild beast came out of no where when you were with those boys and bloodied one of them up without laying a hair on you?” She mocked “How idiotic do you think I am you rotten, worthless mutt?”.

Before I can say anything I’m distracted by a glow growing in the room. I look through the window and see a crowd of flickering torches. “They actually came up here.’ I thought. The village had always avoided this cabin. I thought they’d just wait till the next time I came to town. “Ah, I see they’ve come for you.” She said with a wicked look “Get your useless ass out there and deal with the mess you made.”
“I know you’re in there!” one of the torch bearers yelled “Come out, we know you’re in there.” I could fill the panic filling my chest and running into my arms and legs. There was no shelter in the cabin, my mother wouldn’t help me. She hated me for causing her isolation and the village hated me for god knows what reason. There wasn’t any safety in the world for me, and I wasn’t even sure if I deserved to be safe. I had been a burden my whole life to everyone around me. ‘Maybe the world is a better place without me’
“I know what you’re thinking, you think I love you and if you hide in here until they come in for you that I will protect you.” she said in a low voice “You’re crazy if you think I care, I never wanted you. Your father was a worthless beast and you’ve proven to be even more of a waste of space than he was.”. I felt so empty, I had no fight in me. There was no where to go except out the front door. “I won’t burden you anymore” I said before opening the door.

Immediately two men grabbed my arms and dragged me away from the house. I didn’t care where they took me, I stared at the ground and waited. “Your monster ripped my sons arm off!” one man yelled. ‘My monster, I wish it was mine’ I thought. The smoke from the torches hung in the air making it hard to see in the darkness. “There’s only one way to get rid of a monster.” another man yelled. ‘Couldn’t they just get it over with’ I just wanted to turn into dust. They were pulling me along the path towards town. ‘Whatever they are going to do will happen when we get to town’ I reasoned. Something made me look up and through all that smoke I saw two piercing eyes staring back at me. It was like time slowed as I stared into those fierce loving eyes. I was seeing through a gap in the crowd, and just before it closed the wolf winked. ‘Is this real? and if it is real, why would the wolf be here?’ I could feel sparks of some faint hope finding tiny homes in my mind.

We were almost out in the open, almost to town when there was an enormous sound, it shook the trees such that a shower of pine needles drifted down.The men gasped and spun around searching for the source of their terror. I could even feel the men near me shaking as they continued to grip my arms tightly. The pine needles started to catch fire as they drifted down onto the torches. The light illuminated a dark shape sitting quietly in the middle of the path. It was hard to tell at first what it was but it was blocking the path to town. The men moved closer hesitantly, holding their torches out above their heads to see more clearly. First their was a flash of fiery eyes and then for a moment the shape was clear, the glistening fangs smiled back under pointed ears. “Wolf! the monster’s here!” they men yelled as they brandished their torches. Someone threw a torch but in front of everyone’s eyes the wolf melted into smoke and flew through the men towards me. Half physical, half smoke the wolf would slide around one man as smoke and push aside the next with a punch of his paw.

He was circling me as the wolf in seconds, the men backed away and I felt my heart soaring. I didn’t know what I expected to happen but the feeling was ecstatic. I ran a hand into the wolfs thick fur and thanked him for giving me such hope, I still didn’t quite believe I would live but it was enough to know that someone cared for me.
The men seemed too scared to do anything. “Kill the monsters!” someone yelled and I knew it was over. “Run now friend, you may still live” I whispered. In response the wolf said “Get on my back”, the words were clear as day despite the chaos around us. I didn’t know how a wolf could possibly carry me anywhere but as I swung my leg over his back I could feel us lifting up. In one long moment I was sitting on top of a massive beast, he jumped over the ring of torches and ran wildly through the woods. The wind whipped my face as tears began to stream from my eyes. “Thank you” the words sounded empty compared to what I felt. Someone cares whether I lie or die! and that changes everything.

The shouts of the men disappeared into the distance but the wolf kept running, for hours he ran. Finally he deposited me on a mossy bed in a dark forest. I threw my hands around his neck and hugged him tight, “Thank you, no one has ever done such a thing for me. I love you.”. The words came clearly again “What if I told you that there is only one person here in this clearing?”.
“What do you mean?”
“Who do you really think I am? Do you think I am but a wolf, or a monster like those men were yelling? Think about it.” He said staring down with his now gentle eyes.
“Are you a monster?” I said with hesitation.
“Are you? I cannot be anything that you are not.”He said patiently.
I wondered what he meant.
“Why do you think I saved you? Why didn’t I run away and leave you to die in their hands?”
“I don’t know, no one has ever protected me.” I said still grasping at his meaning.
“Each one of us has to protect our self” he smiled down at me “No one outside of our selves can help us until we ask. To ask, we must want to survive and if we don’t love our selves enough to want to survive… Well we almost found out what happens in that case.” he said with a chuckle.
“Are you trying to say we are somehow connected like the men in the village said?”
“No, not just connected. How do you think we’re talking right now?”
I paused for a second before replying “Your mouth doesn’t move, I could hear you in the mob just as clearly as I can in this clearing.
It can’t be sound, so it must be in my mind” I reasoned.
“Who has access to your mind like that?” He asked.
“Ah, I do? are you trying to say that you are part of me?” I said with a growing sense of certainty. It was starting to make sense.
“Yes, I am you, that is why I would do anything to protect you.”
Tears were forming in my eyes “I love you too, how could I have not heard you sooner?”
“I am the part of you that loves you no matter what. There is no way you could have given up on yourself so completely without ignoring me so completely.
I will protect you against any enemy, even from the other parts of you that diminish you.
I tried to speak to you and love you from within. I spent years trying to reach you. Your life was yelling your worthlessness so loudly that you chose to hear them over me. Eventually there was no other voice you could hear, that’s why I became more than a voice. The old stories about someone being half man, half wolf were not fantasies. I think most people just assumed that meant only one body.”
“So am I a werewolf?”
“I will always be with you but not in this form.”
“How can I ever thank you?” I asked with my watery eyes.
“Love me and accept me as part of you, I am you and all I have ever wished is to be accepted as part of you.”
I hug him tighter, my tears running like rivers down my cheeks “I do, you are welcome with me always.”

With that the body that was once all black fur and fangs dissolved into the same black smoke he had taken the form of in order to rescue me from the mob. This time I knew what to do. ‘I am you, I accept you’ I thought while taking a deep breathe. I took in the smoke and as it filled me I began to feel more whole than I had in years. It was like drinking a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter’s day. I felt warmer and more in love with each breathe until all the smoke was gone, there was only me in that little clearing.
The sun was poking through the trees. I held my hand in one of the beams of light, checking to see if I had any darker hair or sharper claws. Nothing.
As I walked out of the clearing I felt a new sense of confidence in myself.
‘I am smoke, fire and fangs. I am man and wolf.”
There was no going back now.