A woman has an unusual solution for her town's werewolf problem.
Charlotte was going hunting. She waited until an hour after sundown and then set out, taking only her heaviest cloak and her sturdiest pair of boots.
The cottage door closed behind her as the wind whipped down the side of the mountain. The trunks of the trees stirred and groaned, as though their sleep had been disturbed. It was late autumn and Charlotte felt the cold down deep in her bones. She wanted to turn around and go back inside, to just sit by the fireplace and wait for the morning. But she couldn't.
There were no stars in the sky. A pale yellow moon drifted in and out of the clouds as they passed. A full moon meant danger, it meant fear and anger and horror, and more often than not it meant death. Every month on the night of the full moon the people down in the village barred their doors and prayed that the morning wouldn't find one of them missing. Many were already talking of leaving, and Charlotte guessed that within a year the town would be abandoned.
She lived alone in her cottage in the woods. The entire village knew her and she knew each of them, but she wasn't one of them. Even so, she had always felt they were her responsibility, and this danger they faced now was special. It was something wild and vicious and untamed, something from her world, but it was one of their own too. It was a being that lived on both sides, human and animal, and she was the only other thing that lived the way it did, halfway between one world and the next.
She waited until the wind shifted and then she made her way to the banks of the river, the soles of her boots crunching brittle leaves and dry grass with each step. Following the river to the narrowest part, she dropped to her knees to examine the ground, and there in the mud she found the paw prints, just as she expected. From the looks of them, they were less than an hour old.
Her quarry had stopped here, probably to drink from the brook, but it had gone back to the forest rather than follow the river all the way to the town. For now it would hunt wild game in a fruitless effort to slake its bloodlust on animals. When it found that nothing it could catch in the woods would satisfy its hunger, then it would go hunting for other prey. The last time she had visited the village she had seen too many frightened, grieving faces, and too many fresh markers in the church graveyard. This time she would intervene, even if all she accomplished was to get herself killed instead.
She followed the tracks into the forest. There was no use trying to move quietly, it would smell her long before it could hear her anyway. Even in the dead of night and amidst the grim torpor of autumn the forest was more familiar to her than the inside of her own cottage. She knew the placement of every rock and stump for miles, knew every twist and turn in the river, every field and clearing. Her mother had taught her the forest from the day she was born. She had always been grateful for it, but tonight more than ever. She could never have hoped to do what she was about to attempt otherwise.
The tracks were deep and easy to follow. It was such an obvious trail that she wondered if it had been on purpose. Could the beast know she was hunting it? Was she following it exactly where it wanted her to go? Perhaps it didn’t bother to cover its tracks because it thought that nothing could hunt it, that no one could threaten it, that it was impervious. She hoped that was the case..
There was nothing else moving in the forest but her. Even the animals were staying in their dens. They knew what night it was as well as the villagers did. Nothing would voluntarily show its face in the forest, nothing except the thing she was looking for. And her of course.
The trail was leading in the direction of monument field. That was good. It was where she had counted on the beast going, where she had intended to lead it if didn't. It was following the same path as the previous month, the one she had painstakingly retraced the next morning. She quickened her pace, almost running. She would have to catch up to the creature as it came into the field or just before. If it was moving at full speed she wouldn't stand a chance, but if it hadn't yet scented game, and if it didn't realize it was being followed, then it would be taking its time, and she could intercept it.
Charlotte moved fast to keep pace with her prey, but also to avoid letting fear catch up with her. Action meant less time for thought, and doubt. She was committed now. It was further to return home than to go on ahead, and equally as dangerous either way now that she had left such an easy trail through the forest that even a blind man could have found her. Whether her plan was good or not, there were no longer any other options. Her heart beat fast inside her ribcage, but she didn't let herself feel it. Her mind shut out everything that wasn't the next step.
It was hard to say when she noticed the change. The forest was still silent, the moon still full, the trail still there at her feet as plain as day. But something was wrong. She should be catching up by now, but the tracks didn't look any fresher. They were uniform and regular, the impressions nearly identical, every broken branch and bent blade of grass leaning at nearly the same angle. The creeping tingle on the back of her neck confirmed what she was thinking. Her prey had left these tracks in this direction to lead her on and had doubled back. Now it was behind her, following her as she followed it. It would let her go as far the field, and then...
All of this she knew in less than a second, and then she was running, legs pumping, hair flying behind her, arms clutched tightly around her sides to prevent the cloak from billowing and snagging. She was running and she knew, without seeing or hearing it, that it was chasing her, that it was right at her heels, and that no matter how hard she tried she could never outrun it. It would overtake her in seconds. But a few more seconds were all she needed. The trees were thinning up ahead, the grass was taller and dotted with clover, and as the moonlight broke through the clouds she finally saw what she was running toward.
In the center of the field on this, the highest level point on the mountain, was a single jagged piece of stone, eight feet tall, standing on its end and jutting upward, put here for a reason no one could now fathom by people whose descendants had long since turned to dust in the ground. Creeping vines entangled it, and whatever its intent it was now simply “the monument” to the villagers, the place where it rested being monument field.
Charlotte ran toward the shadow of this strange, blank obelisk, and then she turned to confront the thing following close behind, the one she had been hunting all night and that had, in turn, been hunting her. Through the trees a shape emerged, trotting along on all fours, its leisurely pace more than enough to keep up with her half-panicked sprint.
It was huge and black, as tall as a man at the shoulder and as long as two from nose to tail. It kept its head low to the ground, sniffing the dirt, its dark blue eyes fixed on her, ears laid back on its head and twitching in anticipation. Its pointed muzzle was wet and she could see the flash of fangs behind the lips. The shift in the wind brought a strong animal scent to her, along with the smell of fresh blood.
For a while it only watched her. It was in no hurry. She was out in the open, unarmed, and she had no hope of outrunning it. It paced back and forth, crushing the grass under its enormous paws. In another few seconds it would have lunged, knocking her to the ground and seizing her neck in its powerful jaws, and that would have been the end, but Charlotte did something then that took the beast by surprise. Rather than try to run, or even stand her ground, she advanced on it. She took calm, measured, confident strides forward, and when she was within arm's length of the monster, she reached out and touched it.
Bewildered, the beast only stared at her, unsure of what she was attempting. Charlotte placed her palm flat between its shoulder blades and pushed down with all her strength, feeling the muscles of the creature's body tense and contract. She didn't touch it gently or soothingly, she didn't caress or even pet the creature, instead she put all the strength she could muster into her touch, as though she were trying to drive it straight into the ground. She felt its warm, thick fur under her hand, and fiery heat radiating from its body.
The monster's confusion lasted only for a second. Its lips curled back over long fangs and it growled so deep that Charlotte could have sworn she felt the ground shake under her feet. She responded by imitating the noise, as best as she could, making a rumbling in her throat that matched the pitch of the monster. She dropped down to her knees, staring into the creature's eyes only a few inches from hers. When it moved, she moved too, trying to mirror its body language. She shed her cloak and then she was sitting there, stark naked, the pale moonlight gleaming off of her bare skin.
Fighting the beast was futile. The villagers had tried to harm it with traps and weapons for years to no avail. Charlotte had decided that human tools were useless against it, and her only hope was to confront the creature on its own terms; naked, unarmed, and unafraid. There was more than an animal here, she knew, it was a man too. She thought she could separate the man from the animal. If she lead, it would follow, but she had to be where it was to start with. So she matched its movements and its demeanor as best she could. She tried to shut all thought out of her mind, concentrating only on the physicality of the moment, the way an animal would.
The beast seemed intrigued. It pushed its muzzle forward until it was within an inch of her naked body. She crouched on her haunches, back straight, long hair spilling over her shoulders, barely suppressing the urge to shudder or scream as it drew in her scent. Any moment now she expected it to spring at her, but she couldn't let herself panic. Any glimmer of fear would give the game away. There was no room for doubt, or for error.
The creature paced around her, its head low, sniffing at her bare legs, trying to comprehend her behavior. She watched it out the corner of her eye, but remained still, stoic, barely breathing. It was behind her now, and she could smell its hot breath still reeking of blood and feel the heat radiating from its body along with the sting of a few coarse bristles of hair grazing her bare back.
Charlotte held her breath. She couldn't hear the steady padding paws of the beast anymore. It was right behind her, unmoving. Despite the chill of the late autumn night, cold sweat broke out on her body. If she moved, she knew, it would kill her, but the longer it watched her without doing anything the more afraid she became.
When she finally felt something touch her the shock was so great that she nearly fainted. She felt a hard pressure between her shoulder blades, something pushing with all of its strength, a mirror of her gesture of a few moments ago, an acknowledgment. But what surprised her was not the touch, but that it came from a distinctly human hand. She could feel the strong fingers and the hard, calloused palm. Had the beast changed back? She nearly turned her head but stopped herself at the last instant, afraid that slavering, hungry jaws would be there to greet her if she did.
Instead she remained frozen in place as the hand traced the curve of her spine downward, exploring. The fingers were spread wide as they moved over the smooth plane of her body, and wherever it touched she felt a tiny, hot thrill. She shuddered and her breath quickened. She wanted more than anything to turn around and face it, but fear still coiled inside of her. She wasn't sure what was happening, but she was certain she was still in danger. But the touch of that mysterious presence was gentle, and the heat of its body made her skin tingle. Her head was swimming with a mixture of curiosity and fear.
She felt strong arms slide around her from behind, embracing her. Hands cupped the underside of her breasts and she gasped audibly, leaning her head back and closing her eyes. Underneath her terror there was another feeling growing, a dark thrill that welled up from some hidden, animal recess of her being. She felt fingers gently but firmly kneading her soft flesh, and in the cold her nipples stood out hard and erect, gilded by moonlight.
Seconds ago she had been shivering in the cold air, but now she was hot, hot all over, her skin burning. The touch frightened her, but she wanted more. Through her half-closed eyelids she glimpsed the pale yellow eye of the moon watching them, and she felt that the moonlight had somehow woken up a part of her that had been sleeping for a long time.
Something pushed her from behind. Charlotte let out a tiny yelp of surprise as she fell forward, putting her hands out to catch herself. The brittle grass felt rough against her palms and she now stood on all fours, back arched, head low, long dark hair spilling out onto the ground. Behind her, she could hear a low animal growl, a sound of truly inhuman want.
What was it that had her now, the animal or the man? She couldn't be sure. Whatever it was, it had her trapped, but didn't want to escape anymore. The rapid beat of her heart was now from excitement rather than fear. Even with her eyes closed she could see the moon, and she thought that somehow she could feel its light on her. It was doing something strange to her, something she didn't understand, but she didn't want it to stop.
Charlotte she felt wet lips on her bare skin. A man's lips, but with the furious hunger of the beast driving them. Hot breath and hotter kisses trailed along the backs of her thighs, the tip of a rough tongue darting out to lick the sweat off her skin. Her body shook and she shifted in place, spreading her legs wider. Something sultry and eager had settled over her. When its lips reached the crux of her thighs, her whole body lit on fire. When she moaned it was a growl, and her body heaved, breath panting raw in her throat. Maybe there is no difference, she thought, between the man and the animal. Maybe we're all animals.
Charlotte thrashed and gyrated her hips as she felt a hot lapping mouth between her thighs, coarse tongue teasing her swollen outer lips. It was underneath her now, gripping her splayed thighs in its hands, mouth pressed upwards against her, kissing her sex. She could hear her blood pounding in her ears as her heart quickened. She clenched her hands, tearing at the grass, bucking her hips in encouragement.
She could feel herself starting to lose control, sliding into a state of wild, heated lust. Her throat was raw from panting and she didn't even recognize the throaty growls coming from her mouth. She had meant to lure the man out of the animal, but instead they were both going to a place where the line between man and animal didn't exist, to a place where there was no thought, only action, no want, only need, no desire, only hunger, a place where there was nothing but a raw primal urge, all-encompassing and intractable.
She pushed down with her hips, grinding herself against the parted lips and eagerly licking tongue. Fingers gripped her thighs tight, almost hard enough to bruise. She felt the moonlight washing over them both, painting them in silver, dappling her bare skin. Every drop of sweat on her body reflected the light back, so that she seemed to glow. Her head was spinning so fast she couldn't see the field, the stone, the trees, the sky. Nothing but the moon.
She knew then at that moment why the beast hunted every full moon, knew the feeling of an all-powerful desire that only one thing could satisfy, the sort of need that cut down into the core of her. It was as though she had gone her entire life without food but had never noticed she was hungry until now. The desire loomed so great that she was afraid it would crush her if it went unsatisfied for another instant. She spread her legs even further apart, writhing on the ground in the field, tearing at the grass in frenzied impatience. She trembled in anticipation as it mounted her from behind, every fiber of her being trembling in anticipation of the moment when their two bodies would join.
Charlotte howled in pleasure as she felt it enter her. Her sex was wet and hot, the penetrating shaft sliding past her outer lips in one solid thrust, burying itself all the way up to the hilt. She bit her lip and tasted blood as it began to move inside of her. She reveled in the delicious, wanton indulgence of the moment, the hot carnal gratification of total abandonment, their bodies twisting and writhing together as it penetrated her again and again.
Time flew by in a blur. The position of the moon was constant and there was no other way to mark the passing of hours. Charlotte could barely grasp the notion of time anymore. She had been pushed to the limit and over it, becoming totally subordinate to animal lust. She forgot who she was, where she was, what she was doing, everything except the single-minded pursuit of pleasure. Her body was throbbing and trembling all over, sweat drenching her skin, her hair a tangled mass. Her head was low to the ground, cheek pressed to the ground, knuckles white as her fingers gouged deep furrows in the dirt. Her knees shook and almost gave out. Her lover showed no signs of stopping. She could feel something building up inside of her, a wave preparing to break, a force threatening to overflow. It would come soon. She ached for it harder than ever.
But even as they both luxuriated in their coupling, Charlotte couldn't gratify her aching need. Ultimate satisfaction remained just out of her reach, teasing her, evading her every effort to grasp it. She pushed back onto each thrust, encouraging it to go harder and faster, but no matter what it wasn't enough. The need increased proportionally to the gratification. It was a constantly empty vessel and the more that was poured in, the deeper it became, never filling, always wanting more, more, more.
She poured her entire self into the last few seconds of rough, coarse rutting. Her jaw clenched and her body shook with the power of everything pent up inside of her. The pressure built. There was no containing it. She wasn’t sure what would happen when it broke, but she couldn’t stop it now. Closer, a little closer, closer still, each of the wild, bucking, frenzied thrusts edged her toward her limit. She was too small of a vessel for the feeling that was filling her, soon it would break out and overflow. In just a few seconds more, a few seconds more, a few seconds more...
In that instant Charlotte lost herself completely. The overpowering tide of her finally gratified need washed her away, and she threw herself uncaring into the torrent as she felt it surge and then burst inside her. The moon loomed so large in her eyes that it blocked out everything else in the world, and she felt like she was falling into it. For a few seconds, nothing existed, not even her.
A voiceless, shapeless moan was her only acknowledgement as her body went limp, collapsing as much from relief as from sheer exhaustion. She was barely conscious of anything else, but she felt strong arms catch her and hold her. She lay her cheek onto a bare shoulder and there were fingers in her hair, caressing her, but she felt it only in passing.
In the last few, dim hours before dawn, the animal slept.
Charlotte couldn’t say how much time had passed before she was awake again. It was not yet morning, but light was appearing on the horizon. There were sounds nearby, movement in the trees, the entire world coming out of its hiding place, satisfied that danger had passed. She heard a voice.
“Where am I?”
She looked up into a tanned face, dark blue eyes staring at her, dumbfounded. She put a finger to his lips.
The grass rustled as he moved, looking up and around. “The monument? You...brought me here, didn’t you?”
“The place we first met. I knew you’d remember, no matter how far gone you were. I knew in this place I could make you listen.”
He was quiet for a moment. “Then you knew it was me? All along?”
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t stop myself. There wasn’t any-”
“I know, I know. It’s not your fault. It wasn’t you. The animal takes over. I know what that’s like now. But it’s alright. It’s over.”
He said nothing, and she knew he was trying to decide if he believed what she said. She wasn’t sure either. There was no driving the beast away, that much she was sure of. But maybe she could hold it back.
Down in the village they’d all still be awake after a sleepless night, but for the first time they’d find none of their number missing. The night was over and death hadn’t come. There would be excitement and celebration, and for now, at least, she could hope that it really was over. That this had been the last full moon.