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.
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 she kept there. She undressed, wishing she were not 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 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 changed.
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 human she took a small measure of courage, but she had found a deeper pleasure in these times where she could be who she 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 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. 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 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 which impedes 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. Skin turning to pale greasy flakes. You dig your claws into the skin between your breasts and 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 did not understand, but 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. Kelly was ballerina costumes and trainers with lights in the soles but in time, she might change.
Bette hoped she would know when the time came.