I dream of wolves every night.
There are times when I simply watch them race through cold, shrouded forests. When I stretch out a trembling hand and silently beg one of them to place their muzzle against my fingers so that I may feel true strength with my own skin. When my heart pounds louder than a summer storm as they sprint together in one pack, their breaths stirring together in savage harmony. When I long to run alongside them, my soul more free than I could ever possibly imagine.
And then there are times where I am one of them. I can taste the crisp moonlight on my tongue as my paws kick up half-frozen mud; I can smell the fervor of the pack as we hunt, a scent so rich that the first time I experienced it, I felt as if I would go mad. I can hear everything from the exhaling of the wolf bounding beside me to the scrambling of a squirrel desperate to flee as it scampers up a tree fifteen feet away. The darkness of the night is just a pale curtain when I have the eyes of the wolf. I see it all - the forest as we travel deeper and deeper towards its whispering heart and the wolves who allow me to be one of them, even if it is only for a few hours.
When I awake from these vivid dreams the fresh, unbroken flavor of the night's game still lingers on my tongue. My bare skin itches and yearns for the thick fur that protected me from the winter's bite. My now-human senses mourn for their loss and I want nothing more than to close my eyes once more and find my way back to them; to the pack, where I can truly be who I should have originally been.
My mother fears me.
The nights where I am the wolf make themselves known in my eyes, she says. If it were just one of the times when I observed them like some god watching from a divine realm then there would be no evidence. But when I am one of them - when I am the wolf - my mother says that my eyes are like the brightest star hanging in the darkest of skies. I have always had these dreams. I remember the wolves before I remember seeing my mother's face and realizing she was my mother for the first time.
My village fears me.
The hunting dogs cower each time I pass them by. The mothers grab their children and hold them to their breasts, glaring at me as if their eyes were daggers and they would pierce me through the heart before I could snatch their babes up with jaws I only possess in the realm of dreams. The men look at me as if I am a beast they wish to skin and hang my hide above their fireplaces, a trophy to be gossipped about after one too many mugs of mead.
They do not need to worry about me. I have never seen a wolf while the sun shines in the pale grey sky. It is only when the moon and my soul travels in my dreams that I meet with them. Never has there been a wolf prowling close to the village in all my sixteen years - save for the one that howls in anguish in my chest each time my eyes reopen. The eternal winter of these northern lands keeps them all far away where the hunts are not to be spoiled by humans. I've told my mother this frequently but, of course, neither has she truly listened nor has she dared to care. I am just her devil of a daughter, brought to her by the seed of a stranger one night whilst a blizzard wailed outside the walls; a stranger whose eyes shone just like a freezing star.
I know not why I haven't left the village. I would be lying if I said their unease did not bother me - in truth, it troubles me a great deal, but I do know that I can do nothing about it. Perhaps it is because I know that on my own this body would never make it very far out in the cold, unforgiving forest. If I were to stumble upon the pack, none would recognize me. This body is not the body that at times runs free and hunts by their side, nor is it the body that wordlessly watches them from afar. It is only the bodies that accompany me in my dreams that they would know, and so it is only in my dreams where I wander from the confines of this place as I please.
Once, when I was very young, my mother called upon a man from another, more populous village than our own to examine me. She knew that the wild thing dwelling in my soul was not human. Even though I had not been the wolf, nor had I just awoken from being her, I could smell the death clinging to the man's skin the way lichen adheres itself to a boulder. He was there to kill the monster inside me and make it so I could be fully human, she told me in a hushed voice, the fear so thick in her words that I could feel the wolf resting within me rise her head and take one long sniff. She reveled in that fear. She wanted to take advantage of that fear. And I did too.
But I could not.
For this woman was still my mother. Even though she feared me, despised me even, she had cared for me up until this moment. I would not repay that kindness with my desire to allow the wolf to experience the thrill of the hunt in my non-dreaming body.
The man brought many strange poultices and powders with him. To draw the beast forth and slay it, he explained when I questioned what they were for. The wolf stirred again and I could feel her indignance surge through me at such a suggestion. The death-smelling man would never lure her into the waking world. She lived only during the night; no amount of secret elixirs would change that.
I do not remember everything that happened when the man came. I remember cooperating up to the point where he was about to make an incision in my wrist to sprinkle some of his powders inside my flesh just to please my poor mother, but the events after that are nothing but a blur.
According to my mother, the wolf awoke inside my day body and scared the man away. I had grown fangs, she recounted when I came to my senses. Fangs that glittered in the candlelight and eyes that belong only in the winter sky. The man had left and labelled me as cursed. And after that day my mother's panic would grow ever so slightly more, the villagers' eyes would constantly murder me every moment they were upon me, and my longing to run with the pack became more of a frantic need.
Tonight, however, I have decided that it may be best for me to remain in the realm of dreams from this point onward.
I grow tired of wishing for the sun to set and the day to end just so that I may close my eyes and rejoin the wolves. It is time for me to run with them for all time. And, once I do, then my mother and the village will finally be free of the girl with the beast who sleeps inside her.
When the moon climbs into the sable sky and the embers resting in the fire of our hut crackle softly, my eyes slide shut. The delicate sense of my soul dragging itself from my human body and soaring through the realm of dreams is a comfort unlike any other. A frigid winter's kiss brushes against my dreamself as I descend upon the familiar stretch of snow-dusted forest; therein lay the pack, muzzles raised and tongues tasting the air as they become aware of my proximity. The moment my soul touches down on the layer of permafrost coating the ground, the wolf tears through my soul and claims her rightful place.
The pack immediately swarms around me, tails wagging as various shades of fur brush against my sides. Their affection rolls off of them in waves of soothing warmth as if winter did not even exist. Noses press themselves to me from all angles as the pack familiarizes themselves with my scent as they do each time I return - it is here where I belong, and it is here where I will stay.
They must have been preparing for a hunt for I can hear their hearts beating in a ravenous, impatient rhythm. Glittering eyes all gaze at me curiously - as if they are uncertain whether or not I wish to join them - but with one affirmative whine I let them know that after this hunt I will not be disappearing when the sun reawakens.
The pack's reaction is one I did not expect but it is one I cherish nonetheless.
Elated yips meet my ears and the aura surrounding us surges with glee. Each of them rush forward to give me a lick or shove their muzzle to my own. I know that though I am the wolf, I am grinning something fierce. But suddenly, one-by-one, each member of the pack go quiet and they move away from me as a single wolf mutedly steps towards me.
I have never met the alpha but the moment he is before me I know it is him.
And, when his eyes meet my own, I know who else he is.
Two pairs of stars ripped from the heavens and placed into the skulls of wolves gaze at one another in utter silence. His fur is the winter's moon made flesh; silver and white, reflecting the glimmer of the snowflakes that slowly fall around us. I do not know what his human form would have looked like to my mother, but as the wolf he is everything that I yearned for. He is my father.
My heart is trembling under the weight of it all. Out of respect I lower my head so that my nose touches the bitter cold of the frozen ground for while I have been travelling with the pack my entire life, I know not whether my father considers me a worthy addition.
After what feels like an eternity of his eyes tearing a hole in my chest, he gives one gentle growl and I raise my head again. He gives me a single nod - just a slight movement of his neck - and turns away from me. My father returns to the forest, leaving the rest of the pack behind, and I know.
I am home.
Each member of the pack raises their snouts to the moon and opens their jaws. The harmony of their mournful yet proud song is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard and before I can stop myself, I join in. I am certain that the village can hear us despite how far north we must be; I am certain that my mother will stumble across my cold, still human body in the morning and know that I finally embraced the beast once and for all. But I do not mind. I am where I belong. At last, I am with my family.
And when my father's noble howl cuts through the winter's night, the hunt begins.