Bette took off from the house at a brisk pace, headphones on and trying not to force herself to go back and see what was up with Kelly, trusting that Dave could handle things for the time it took her to get her walk in.
The woods invited her in and she came to them. Her heart pounded with excitement. She looked over her shoulder, trusting that there was enough light to guide her. She knew the way by heart, but she did not want to risk twisting an ankle or falling over.
Not that it would hurt for long.
She slipped off her headphones and switched off her phone. The air still held the bite of winter so she bit back a shiver as she undid her jacket. She knelt down, raking the leaves with her fingers to uncover the holdall, lined with clear plastic that she kept there. She undressed quickly, wishing she were not quite so pale before she zipped it up and slid it back into place.
She looked around, giddy with the thrill of being naked out here. In nature, she felt seen by everything and nothing. They had conceived Kelly on a camping trip, which Dave put down to neither of them looking at their phones and the fact that he’d been taking a zinc supplement, but Bette knew the truth of herself.
She dropped to a squat and raised her head to the purple sky and the red sun. It began as a shiver, like the onset of a delicious flu. Her sense of self went askew, then righted herself as she began to change.
She clawed at her skin. It came away, ragged and bloody, revealing the furred muscle beneath as her bones knitted themselves into new shapes. Her fingers split open, the razored claws pushing like the alleviation of a deep cramp as she arched her back.
Dislocating her jaw was the worst part. Relinquishing the woman she was had taken a small measure of courage, but she had found a deeper pleasure in these times where she could be who she truly was. The unspoken parts of her that had accommodations made.
Her jaw hung open and she pushed with the last vestiges of her conscious mind.
She let the animal within her take over.
Your lungs are furnaces. Every muscle and nerve in your body sings with the pleasure of strength and use. The woods blaze by you as you gallop, inhaling all the colours of this other world that you inhabit.
A short run from your other life.
You sense the rabbit, turning your nose to breathe deep of it’s spiced, greasy fur. You charge after it, catch it between your teeth and tear into it. The explosion of blood and fur slides down your throat and you keep going, burning it for fuel as you charge forward.
You’ve killed larger prey too. You’ve been selective about it. The guy who lived in the woods and kept exposing himself to the kids at the elementary school. He might have made some questionable life choices, but he tasted pretty good, right?
They blamed it on a bear; you read.
Here you have the throat of the world beneath your paw, and you piss on anything that gets in the way of that.
You are alive. You are the terrible beauty of the animal that knows itself and does not apologise for it. There are predators and prey. You know who you are.
Your instinct for survival is such that you return to where you changed. The skin has turned to pale greasy flakes that are tossed around by the breeze. You dig your claws into the skin between your breasts and start to pull.
Bette shuddered her way through the ritual of dressing. It returned her to herself, stopped her growling at people or wanting to smell Kelly’s head, lose herself in the heightened olfactory bond, where your offspring became your drug.
She wondered about Kelly. Dave had no idea, but her condition was known to her and she wanted to know if it had passed to her daughter before she did. Still, the time had granted her a measure of serenity again. She could deal with anything so long as she allowed herself these walks.