Marilynn Byerly

 

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In Loving Memory

****

 

Trapped in wolf form, caged in an animal shelter, Gray, his human identity fading, has only one hope to escape neutering or death.

 

The Werewolf Whisperer

 

by

 

Marilynn Byerly

 

"It's a wolf!" Fred Duggans backed away from the open tailgate of the vet's station wagon.

 

Megan Winters stepped closer and peered inside at the great silver and gray beast sprawled in drugged abandon on its side. A cast covered its left front leg.

 

For a moment, her heart wrenching in her chest, she saw her Heidi, dead now almost ten years, then she noticed the animal's massive shoulders and other obvious evidence of its maleness.

 

The vet glanced at his watch. "It's a dog. Pick it up. I've got to get out of here."

 

"A wolf," Fred insisted.

 

"I had a dog like that when I was a little girl." She patted his arm in reassurance. "It's a Silver Shepherd. They're quite hard to find."

 

"Well, if you say so, Megan." Fred smiled trustingly down at her, then eased his huge hands under the dog's ribs and, grunting with effort, cradled the limp animal in his arms.

 

"Put him in the special run since he's hurt." She glanced worriedly at the dog and the attendant who seemed to be having problems with the animal's weight, then she turned her attention back to the vet. "What happened to him?"

 

"A car. Last night. He was chasing a rabbit. The guy who hit him brought him in, paid for the vet work, and left." The vet slammed his tailgate closed. "The usual routine."

 

"Where was he hit?"

 

"Does it matter?"

 

"If we know that, we may be able to find his owner. This is an animal shelter. That's what we do."

 

"Boy, do you have a lot to learn." The vet glanced down at the Moravia Animal Shelter volunteer badge on her breast. "Must be a new recruit."

 

"I've volunteered here a year. The location?"

 

"The wooded area near the airport. North of the Interstate 40 junction on Lake View. The middle of nowhere. Typical spot for someone to dump a dog they no longer want."

 

"Thank you."

 

She turned and walked back through the gate into the dog compound. Barely noticing all the barked greetings from the caged animals, she passed through the building to the special run.

Fred stood nervously just outside the open run door. The Silver Shepherd sprawled on a bed of shavings.

 

As she stepped in, Fred stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. "Big male doggies can be mean. Especially big male hurt doggies. He has big teeth!"

 

"I'll take care."

 

"All doggies like Megan. Even big, mean doggies." With a nod of decision, Fred lifted his hand from her shoulder and trudged away.

 

Touched by his concern, she smiled then went into the cage. Kneeling, she stroked the animal's head. Its tail thumped sleepily in response, and it whined.

 

"You are the biggest Shepherd I've ever seen." She ran her hand down its neck to its well-muscled shoulder and down to its flank. "What a beauty! Someone is certainly missing you."

 

The animal opened its sleepy yellow brown eyes and tried to sit up, but its cast-covered leg made it flounder a moment before it sank back down with a pained grunt.

 

Wincing, she stroked its head in sympathy. "That must hurt!"

 

"Like hell."

 

At the man's words, Megan glanced back toward the door, but she didn't see anyone. Except for Fred, no one was in the building, and Fred didn't have such a deep, rich, intensely male voice.

 

"Stroke the ears again, pretty lady. It feels good, and I'm so hung over from that dope the vet gave me."

 

Spinning, she gaped down at the dog. "You? Certainly.... No, I refuse to believe it."

 

The animal sat up abruptly and studied her with astonishment. "You heard me?"

 

Its lips didn't move, but the voice trembled through her nerve endings and echoed in her head.

She clutched her temples. "This is crazy."

 

"This is impossible." The dog twisted his head quizzically. "Are you of the pack?"

 

"What?" She backed away on her knees. "No, this isn't happening. Dogs don't talk like this."

 

"No, and neither do werewolves, but we are."

 

"Werewolves!" Sagging down, she sighed. "I am going crazy. Absolutely and completely crazy."

 

"Before you start babbling, could you get me some water. I'm about to die of thirst."

 

Lifting the water dish, she held it out for him.

 

When he had half-emptied it, he rested his head on his paws and gazed at her with intense, intelligent eyes. "Thank you."

 

"You're welcome." An hysterical giggle rose in her throat, but she forced it back down. "You can't be a werewolf. Beyond the fact they aren't real, it's daytime and not a full moon."

 

"How long since the full moon?"

 

"That was Tuesday. Six days."

 

"That long!" The wolf shook his head like a human who couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Six days! No wonder I was almost lost until you touched me."

 

"How can you be almost lost? Either you are or you aren't."

 

"When we change, we hold onto our human selves as well as gaining our animal selves. The longer we stay animal, the more humanity we lose. Finally, we are totally animal and can no longer change back."

 

"So you stayed a wolf too long."

 

"Not intentionally. I'm not an idiot."

 

Megan considered all the lore she'd read about werewolves. "A gypsy curse?"

 

"No. A damned herbalist."

 

"She was cursed?"

 

"No, a cursed bad herbalist!" The wolf stretched back out. "Would you please rub my head again."

 

"My head's beginning to ache, too. This is just too much to take in." She sat down, cross-legged, by his shoulder and began to massage his ears and neck.

 

With a grunt of pleasure, he rested his massive, surprisingly heavy head in her lap.

 

Amazed at herself, she continued the massage. Somehow, she couldn't be afraid of a man with such a deep wonderful voice which vibrated through her with its textures of dry humor, tenderness, and caring. Textures of his soul. Even if that man was a werewolf.

 

A sigh of male happiness echoed through her brain, and the wolf wiggled comfortably. "You have wonderful hands. Smell good, too. Sweet and sexy."

 

"About the herbalist."

 

"Megan's a nice name. Suits you."

 

"What's your name?"

 

"Gray, I think it's Gray. Yes, call me Gray."

 

"About the herbalist."

 

"When you sniff a trail, you don't give up." His voice was more amused than annoyed. "Very well. We change once a month, but sometimes, it's inconvenient so we delay the change."

 

"With herbs."

 

"Exactly. When I took the delay herbal mixture, it didn't stop the change, and I couldn't change back. I still can't change back. Will you help me?"

 

"How?"

 

"Get me out of here."

 

"I can't. At least not for three days. That's so the owners can claim you. I mean claim strays."

 

"Then you'll free me?"

 

"I certainly won't let them gas you!"

 

A shiver ran through his frame.

 

"How do we change you back?"

 

"Miss Winters, what do you think you are doing with that new dog?"

 

The woman's shrill voice jerked Megan's attention back to her surroundings, and for a moment, she feared the other woman had heard Gray's voice, then she dismissed that worry. "I'm talking to him and rubbing him to ease his discomfort. He's waking up from the vet's drugs."

 

She glanced toward the door.

 

The short, stocky shelter director tapped her keys against the bars of the door and scowled down at her. "Get out of there immediately. That dog's a monster! He could take your hand off in an instant. Don't you have a lick of sense?"

 

"I'll be back," Megan thought and hoped the wolf could hear her as well as she could hear his silent speech.

 

He blinked understanding as any dog would and lifted his head slightly to let her slide out from under him. The sound of his thumping tail followed her out of the cage.

 

The director slammed and locked the gate behind her.

 

~*~

The whisper of wolves' paws padded through Megan's troubled dreams. Shards of moonlight through the foliage barely illuminating her surroundings, she wandered through a forest's darkness. Fallen leaves crunched under her bare feet, and the wind ruffled her cotton pajamas.

The odor of the death gas used to kill unwanted pets drifted by.

 

Moaning, she covered her nose and gagged. Only once had she been careless enough to be at the shelter when the filthy act was done, and she'd been spared the sight and the sounds, but the smell of the gas and the death....

 

She'd redoubled her efforts to save as many of the animals as she could after that day and had started a movement to open a no-kill shelter. She'd even been spending her summer break from teaching at the shelter.

 

Death gas! Had they gassed Gray? Her insides turned cold.

 

The whisper of a wolf's tread on leaves.

 

She turned.

 

His eyes glowing with moonlight, a wolf stared at her from a nearby rock outcropping. He was all raw primal energy and fierceness.

 

"Gray?"

 

The wolf bounded toward her.

 

Unafraid, she waited until he reached her.

 

Dropping to her knees, she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. "I was so afraid. I smelled the gas...."

 

"Not yet." He pulled away and licked the tears off her cheeks. "Not yet, pretty lady."

 

"What can I do?"

 

The wolf said nothing but stared at her with his yellow-brown eyes. The full moon was reflected within them, but it seemed to wan, growing smaller and smaller.

 

Mesmerized, she watched it disappear.

 

"Megan."

 

A man knelt where the wolf had been.

 

She glanced down at him, realized he was naked, and hastily lifted her gaze to his face with its high cheekbones, aquiline nose, and full lips. His hair was straight and black with silver around the temples although he couldn't be much older than her twenty-five.

 

He smiled tenderly, cupped her cheeks in her hands, and kissed her, his lips just caressing hers. "You taste sweet and sexy. Just like you smell."

 

"Hello, Gray. It's nice to finally meet you."

 

"Your hair is as red as I imagined." His fingers tangled in her long hair as he stroked down to her shoulder.

 

"Irish Setter red?" She grinned mischievously at him.

 

"Absolutely. And eyes as green as Ireland. Full color is the only human sense I miss as a wolf. All the other senses are heightened."

 

"This isn't a dream, is it?"

 

"I don't think so although I'm sleeping in a cage in that shelter deathtrap."

 

"And I'm sleeping in my apartment."

 

"Our minds are touching as they touched in waking when we were together."

 

"But the boundaries are loosened because we sleep so you can show yourself."

 

He glanced down at his bare body and grinned wickedly. "Showing considerably more of myself than I'd like. Fur does have its advantages for a modest soul."

 

"How did you become a werewolf?"

 

"Sorry to disappoint you, but no gypsy curses. I was born with this as my parents were born with it as their parents were born with it."

 

"A genetic mutation."

 

"Yes, and over thousands of years we've found those with the change genes, and they've joined the pack."

 

Bending, he nuzzled her neck. "I've discovered something else I lack as a wolf."

 

Goose bumps spread across her, and she wrapped her arms around his neck. "What?"

 

"I can't do this." He kissed her again, his lips more demanding, and pulled her against his frame.

Moaning, she answered his kiss and melted into him.

 

Finally, gasping, he straightened. "You call me, Megan. You call me like the moon calls. But I'm trapped in my wolf self. I may be trapped forever."

 

~*~

"I want to adopt the Silver Shepherd."

 

The shelter director looked up from the paperwork on her desk. "I expected as much. You've spent every spare minute with him since he was brought in."

 

Clasping her hands tightly in front of her, Megan wondered what the director would think if she discovered that Megan spent her nights with him as well in a forest of dreams and passion where she'd fallen in love with him. "He's officially been here three days as of five minutes ago, and no one's claimed him."

 

"Very well. Give me a check for his adoption fee, shots, and neutering expenses, and I'll do the paperwork."

 

"I don't want him neutered."

 

Pursing her lips, the director glowered at her. "You know the rules. All adoptions must be neutered."

 

"I know the rules, but Silver Shepherds are extremely rare, and he looks like a show dog. It would be wrong to neuter such a perfect sire. Think of all the silver puppies!"

 

"Think of all the unwanted puppies we have to gas every week here."

 

"I won't let him roam. I swear!"

 

"We have him because he was roaming." The director tapped her pen on the desk in front of her. "Besides, a dog, even a Silver Shepherd, is worthless as a sire without his pedigree papers."

 

"I know. But I think I know how to find his owners."

 

"And why haven't you done so?"

 

"It will take time. I want him safe with me while I look."

 

The director lifted an inquisitive eyebrow.

 

"The vet told me he was hit close to the airport. I believe he was being shipped somewhere and got loose in transit."

 

"That has happened."

 

Megan nodded. "I have started inquiries."

 

"And if they want their dog back?"

 

"As long as he's safe...." She blinked tears realizing Gray hadn't promised her he would stay. "That doesn't matter as long as he's safe."

 

"That's all very noble, Miss Winters, and you are one of the finest volunteers we've ever had, but rules are rules. I'm sorry."

 

~*~

 

"It's hopeless! She just wouldn't listen." Megan brushed away tears with her sleeve and slumped down beside Gray in his cage.

 

"Damn!" The wolf growled and limped around the cage for a minute until his anger cooled, then he lay down beside Megan and rested his chin on her knee.

 

"Are you certain they won't return?"

 

"My broken leg will heal when I change, but I've never heard of a lost limb or other important piece of anatomy ever returning. Body mass remains the same, or it loses a bit in the change, but it never grows."

 

"I was afraid of that. What else can we do?"

 

"Escape?"

 

"How? This place is locked up tight at night with a guard."

 

"Do you think Fred would look the other way?"

 

"If it were only Fred.... He'd help me, but none of the other staff members would. And we can't make a fast escape with that cast on your leg."

 

"Damn." Gray's sigh shook through her head. "Being neutered or being gassed? What a choice."

 

~*~

Megan walked wearily toward the dog compound. Five days had passed, and she and Gray were no closer to finding a way out of their dilemma than before. Her hopes of finding the herbalist who had caused this mess and could cure it had been dashed last night when she'd contacted the woman's home and discovered she was out in the middle of nowhere on a herb-finding expedition and completely out of touch for another three days. By then, Gray would be dead or mutilated.

 

Fake owners were an impossibility because she had no way to falsify the kinds of documents needed to prove ownership, and elementary school teachers like herself weren't exactly in touch with criminals who could provide them.

 

She couldn't even prove the truth because no one would believe her if she told them Gray was a werewolf since she was the only one who could hear his human voice. His human memory was so foggy from being a wolf for so long that he hadn't been able to give her any contacts among the pack who could aid them.

 

It had been incredibly lucky that he'd even been able to give her the herbalist's name. More of that human memory was fading every day even with her presence.

 

He was also having more and more trouble becoming human in the dream forest each night so that even if she could get him out of this shelter alive, he would soon lose so much of his humanity he would be lost to her forever except as a beloved pet.

 

A cacophony of barks, howls, and frantic scratching at cage doors greeted her as she entered the dog compound. Many of the dogs lunged at their cage doors as if trying to push them open.

Covering her ears, she ran to Gray's cage to see if he were infected with this madness.

 

His head on his paws, he lay in his bed of shavings.

 

"Gray?"

 

With a toothy smile, he looked up at her and thumped his tail in greeting.

 

"What's wrong with them?"

 

"A bitch in heat. The attendants haven't taken her out yet. Fred's looking for her now."

 

"It doesn't bother you?"

 

"I'm not a dog, and the only human female who attracts my human half just arrived."

 

"Oh." Inspiration hit her in a flash of brightness so intense she could only gape for a moment. "Oh!"

 

"What's wrong, pretty lady?"

 

"Gray, whatever happens, don't pretend you're like the dogs. Just keep doing what you're doing. Do you understand?"

 

"Sure. What?"

 

"Later."

 

She practically dragged the shelter director out of her office and toward the dog compound.

 

"This had better be an emergency, Miss Winters," the woman grumbled as they entered the dog compound.

 

The volume of the male dogs had increased to the point of being physically painful. "You have to see this."

 

"What in the world?"

 

"A bitch in heat," Megan shouted.

 

"Tell the attendants to...."

 

"Fred's trying to find her now." Megan tugged the woman toward Gray's cage. "I want you to see this."

 

Gray greeted them with a thumping tail, but he remained down, his head on his paws.

 

"Look!" Megan pointed at the wolf.

 

"So?"

 

"He's male!"

 

"So?"

 

A greater frenzy of barking erupted nearby.

 

Megan glanced backward at Fred who was tugging along a small brown mixed breed on a leash. She motioned to Fred. "Bring her here."

 

The attendant glanced worriedly at the shelter director and at the nearby cages where male dogs were launching themselves at their cage doors, but he obeyed her.

 

When he reached them, Megan pointed to the disinterested wolf. "See! See! He isn't reacting."

 

"So?"

 

"He's an unneutered male, and he isn't reacting. He doesn't have to be neutered because he won't cause unwanted puppies." She flourished dramatically. "Gray is gay!"

 

~*~

 

Fred Duggans smoothed his new uniform then stood at attention as the dignitaries moved past him toward the ribbon strung across the entrance to the new no-kill animal shelter.

 

Megan winked at him as she passed on the arm of her husband of a year.

 

If it were possible, she was becoming even more beautiful because she glowed with life and happiness. She obviously loved Adam Grayson, and he seemed to return that love. He was good and kind, too. Just like Megan.

 

And he loved doggies as much as she did. He was also rich enough to build this shelter for her.

 

Grinning secretly to himself, Fred remembered how she and Adam had talked to him earlier and shared a secret. Megan was going to have a baby!

 

With his strangely familiar yellow-brown eyes twinkling, Adam had joked that he'd finally proven certain "aspersions to his manhood" wrong. Fred hadn't a clue what that meant, but he had smiled anyway.

 

That didn't matter. All that mattered was that kind, sweet Megan was happy, he had a new job playing with doggies instead of locking them up, and most importantly, no doggie would ever die here because some human didn't want him. That was the happiest of all endings.

 

THE END

Copyright 2000

 

This story may not be reproduced in whole or part without the author's permission.

 

 

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