PRW Runner-up Tour: Look at What the Wolf Dragoned in by CC Dowling
Creative Writing Class
Ms. Pasternack, Period 2
MY FAMILY HISTORY
Thirteen years ago, the only exciting thing to ever happen to Ana and Felix Volkov did. I was born, screeching and howling according to my great-aunt Inga, who I don’t like because her fur is like rusted wire that always scratches my eyes when she licks my cheeks. Once upon a time, when the six moons of Straeder aligned, a pup was born, touched by the Great Spirit Itself. One Lampir to rule them all…one who would explore galaxies far, far away…one who is the most interesting teen-wolf in the world…
Lara Slovka, will you go out with me? Y or N ?
“Grf!” I crumple the second-to-last sheet of paper in my notebook and toss it toward my mostly empty trashcan. It doesn’t make it in, of course. Really, I’m surprised five of the fifty-seven wasted sheets I’ve thrown have made it. Well, in all fairness, I walked over and placed the first three in the bottom.
I stare at the last blank piece of paper in my notebook. I have a better chance of getting an A on this essay than I do at Lara going out with me.
“Aleksei!” Mom’s voice roars from the kitchen downstairs. When she isn’t yelling, her voice is actually pretty. At least, I think it’s pretty, from what I remember. Ever since I turned twelve, she mostly yells. “Get down here and take a bite out of your breakfast before the bus gets here. And hurry up. You’re going to be late.”
I slam my notebook into my backpack and step into the only pair of baggy jeans that fit. They’ve got just enough room for all the fur that sprouted on my legs over the summer. I wish someone would’ve warned me puberty was going to be such a pain in the…
I yank a comb through the thick, black fur covering my head, neck, and shoulders. Well, I try anyway. The stupid comb gets stuck on a tangle below my ear.
Shrugging, I offer a weak smile to the scrawny cub in the mirror. Sometimes, I like to pretend there’s another Lampir living in my mirror, and the kid in the reflection really isn’t me.
I trudge down the hall and take the stairs two at a time. I used to love the feel of our shag carpet between my clawed toes. Now, all I feel is fur. It’s everywhere. And I mean everywhere. It’s a wonder the drain in my shower still works.
The sound of clanging metal greets me when I enter the kitchen. My eyes find the wrought iron cage in the corner by the back door. Inside is our pet human. Mom says she’s at least fifty-years-old. Says she can tell by the lines on her face and the grey in her hair. I just think it’s strange they have hair and not fur.
“There you are.” Mom rushes over and licks her paw then strokes my head. “Ugh, it’s worse than your father’s. I don’t understand why you Volkov boys insist on wearing matted fur.” She yanks the comb from a tangled clump, practically ripping it out. I forgot it was there.
“Ouch, Mom.” I rub the tender spot on my neck and dart out of reach.
“Well, you don’t want to go to school with a comb stuck in your fur. That’s just…ridiculous.” She rolls her eyes and marches over to the cage, unlatching it. The human inside cowers. Pungent yellow liquid leaks from beneath her tattered dress.
“It’s the style now,” I say, the words dying on my lips. “What are you doing?” I rush over to the cage and try to close it, but mom’s foot is in the way.
“Look at this mess.” She clucks her tongue. “I told you, Aleksei, you have to let Dinner out of her cage at least twice a day to go potty. When’s the last time you walked her?”
I stare at Dinner’s shrunken cheeks and hunched shoulders, and shrug.
Dad thought it would be clever to name our pet human Dinner, since that’s mostly what she’s good for. The name doesn’t bother me. It’s the look of fear in her eyes, like at any moment each breath could be her last.
We’d rescued Dinner a few weeks ago from the Human Society when Tasty, our last pet, died. Dinner was the youngest looking one available. I’d asked Dad why there weren’t any kids, and where did humans come from anyway.
He’d told me all humans are bred in Criador Canil, a small, secluded town nestled in the mountains about an hour north of our house. Part of a government project to keep the Lampir of Straeder well fed, the only way in and out is by security clearance and hover craft.
“Have you ever been there?” I’d asked him. Felix Volkov, a.k.a. Dad, is one of Straeder’s top leading geneticists specializing in anomalies in our DNA that turn Lampir from wolf to vampyre. When people ask me what my dad does, I tell them he’s researching a cure for death.
Dad’s lips had pressed into a thin line at the question. The muscle in his mandible worked overtime. “No,” he’d said. Something about the tone in his voice made me drop it.
“Here.” Mom grabs hold of Dinner’s straggly hair and yanks her from the cage. She makes a mewling sound then falls silent. If she had a tongue, I’m sure she’d make more noises. But humans don’t have tongues. They’re born without them. Or something like that, not that anyone’s seen a human being born.
“Hurry up and drink her blood. You’ve got three minutes until the hover-bus shows up. Otherwise, you’ll be pawing it to school.” Mom pries Dinner’s arm away from her chest and holds it toward me. “I’ll clean up the mess this time, but you need to be more responsible in the future. How would you like it if I locked you in your room for a day without food or a tree to pee on?”
My gaze drifts from Dinner’s eyes—one yellow like our second sun, the other green like the trees behind our house—to the vein in the crook of her elbow. My stomach rumbles in response. I ignore it.
“I told you last night, I’m a vegetarian now.” I turn away from them and head toward the refrigerator, my insides lamenting the loss of Dinner for breakfast. I pull out the produce drawer and rummage around for a nice juicy beet.
Iron. Dad told me that all Lampir are iron deficient, a fault in our genetics. “We don’t have to drink blood, son. Anything high in iron will do. But let’s face it, drinking it is so damned efficient, and delicious.” He’d also said it’s those same genetics that allow us to live forever. Well, assuming no one kills us.
Dying is a death sentence for a Lampir. Once we die, we become vampyre. Everyone knows vampyres have one foot in the grave already.
Besides, I overheard Lara Slovka tell her girlfriends at lunch yesterday that she had a crush on a hippie Senior who never ate meat or drank live blood. I’d refused my cut of the steak last night, and now I’m refusing Dinner. How, in the Dark After, a Lampir stays a vegetarian I don’t know. But I’m willing to try. Anything to give me a shot with Lara.
I stuff the beet in my backpack and head out the door before mom can argue with me. The hover-bus is just about to pull away when I wave it down then drop to all fours to catch up. I keep my eyes firmly fixed on the floor as I pass my classmates, most of them older, and head toward the back.
“Hey Aleksei, watch any good chick flicks last night? Because it looks like you’re about to cry.” Lyov, a huge, tan wolf with muscles upon muscles, pushes me against an aisle seat. The metal of the chair cuts into my arm and ribs, but I don’t dare cry out.
Since freshman year started two weeks ago, Lyov and his cronies have harassed me. I’d informed mom and dad, but they just told me to suck it up. “In the real world, you’ll deal with people you don’t like all the time,” mom had said. I seriously doubt anyone in her scrapbooking club wants to beat her up.
Ignoring Lyov, I scuttle past the reach of his long arms and plop into an empty seat in the very back before he can do any more damage to my pride, or flesh. My stomach rumbles again, so I dig out my beet and take a bite. By the time we reach the school, my hands, and probably my face, are covered in red.
Great. All I need is something else to make me a target.
I wait for everyone to exit the bus before I do. Then I walk as fast as I can, without drawing too much attention to myself, to the boy’s bathroom. When the bell rings, I dash from the bathroom, leaving the sink looking like a murder scene. If vegetables can be murdered.
Lyov’s voice doesn’t give me enough warning. I bounce off his massive chest and hit the tiled floor with a thud, dropping the paper towel I’d used to wipe my hands. His cronies grab my backpack and yank me to my feet. I glance down the hall, both ways. It’s empty. Where’s a hall monitor when you need one?
“Yeah. Chemistry,” I say in the bravest voice I can muster. It still cracks. Traitor.
“You’re a sloppy eater, Volkovsky. Looks like you missed a spot.”
Lyov steps toward me and swipes a clawed finger at my chin. I yank my head back to avoid his touch. His grin widens. My heart plummets. Wrong move.
“I think the pup needs some help cleaning up. What do you say, boys?”
Matvey and Pasha, two wolves a year older and twice as tall as me, nod in agreement. They lift me off my feet by my arms and carry me back into the bathroom.
“This isn’t necessary, guys. I’m going to be late for class.” My voice jumps an octave. I’m surprised the terror in my gut lets me speak at all.
“Nonsense. What kind of friends would we be if we didn’t help you look presentable for class?” Lyov kicks open the door to a bathroom stall. His cronies laugh. Great Spirit, I at least hope they flush it before they dunk me in there.
They put me in the toilet so fast I don’t have time to register being upside down. Cold, disgusting water saturates my fur. I’d open my mouth to scream, but gross. Instead, I blow bubbles out of my nose and try to calm my heart, praying they’ll pull me out soon.
That’s when my lungs seize and my throat closes. Now is the worst time for my asthma to kick in.
I try and flail against my attackers, but they’re too strong. My efforts only make them laugh harder. This time, I have zero control over my mouth opening. Water rushes in, but stops at my throat. At least I won’t drown, but suffocating is practically the same thing.
Darkness creeps across my eyelids, even though I have them closed. One thought races across my mind, jumbled with the pain and panic lack of oxygen causes. If I die now, I’ll rise a vampyre, a second-class citizen of Straeder, a creature with a limited lifespan and even more limited options. Like a human.
I barely register the cold tile underneath me, or my tormentors with fear on their faces moments before they run from the bathroom. Finally free, my feet kick and spasm. My arms tear at my throat. But it’s too late. It won’t open up.
Now, Lara Slovka will never go out with me.
That’s my last thought before darkness consumes me.
Maybe it’s because I only ate a beet for breakfast. Or maybe it’s stress. Either way, my stomach growls.
No, wait. That’s me.
Habit or muscle memory forces me to gasp for air. My lungs rise and fall but it’s so much less satisfying than it used to be. Actually, it’s useless. I don’t understand why until my brain catches up.
I’m dead. And I had so much life to live. An eternity to look forward to. Now, I have a half un-life, like a decaying, undead, radioactive isotope.
I grit my teeth in anger. Only, I don’t really feel angry. I don’t really feel anything.
The scent of chemicals perfumes the air. It’s a smell I know well. I’m at the hospital where dad does his research. I flinch and bring my hand up to cover my nose, but punch myself in the face instead.
“Ouch.” I react before my pain receptors do. Only, they don’t.
I sit up, and almost fall out of bed. I catch myself against the metal railing, but my blanket and flimsy sheet fall to the floor.
Reflexes. Superhero fast reflexes. We learned about this in biology class last year. The more a vampyre exerts energy, the faster they move. And the faster they die…again. Permanently. The only thing that can prolong the un-life of a vamp is blood. Human or Lampir, doesn’t matter. But since it’s illegal for a vampyre to drain a Lampir, they tend to choose human.
Not they. We, I correct myself. So much for going vegetarian.
The skin on my legs glares white under the harsh fluorescent lighting. It hurts my eyes, both the light and how pale I am. I’d say I’ll get a tan, but roasting in the sunlight to a dark, burnt crisp doesn’t sound appealing. At least the fur’s gone. Now my clothes should fit again.
“Aleksei!” Mom’s voice closes the distance from her to the door slower than she does. Her arms clasp around my neck, strangling me. Well, if I needed to breathe. Good thing I don’t.
But not breathing doesn’t prevent me from scenting her. Iron, red, and the smell of dirt after a rain flood my veins, elongating my teeth. Her neck, it’s right there. I don’t see any good reason not to bite her.
Except, she’s my mom. And I love her. Or she was, and I did. Nothing about being dead is clear.
“Ana, step away from him,” My father says from the open doorway. The quiver in his voice doesn’t match the stern expression on his face.
My mom obeys then covers her mouth with a gasp. “Aleksei, your teeth. Put those away. What is wrong with you? I’m your mother!”
She backs away, horror widening her eyes. Or is it sadness? Disappointment? Anger? Hard to tell.
“Sorry, mom.” I lisp the words around my fangs. “Can’t help it. I’m starving. Did you bring anyone to eat?”
Her hands fly to her hips, and she rolls her eyes. “I thought you said you were a vegetarian?”
I smile. Not because she’s right, but because, even if it’s only for a moment, she forgot to be mad at me for being dead.
Dad’s paw finds mom’s shoulder. “Ana, would you give us a moment?” Mom glances from me to dad, her eyes filling with tears. Finally, she nods. After hugging me one last time, she leaves. Dad closes the door behind her.
“What’s going to happen to me?” I ask.
While vampyres have a place in our society, they never last long. And it isn’t because of the whole death thing. My fifth grade teacher was a vampyre, the nicest one I ever met. Half way through the school year he vanished. No warning. No explanation. Nothing.
When I’d asked, dad explained that vampyres eventually get too sick to continue living in our society. There’s supposed to be some island resort where they all go to die. I always imagined them sitting on the beach somewhere, with little umbrella drinks and lounge chairs, just waiting to greet our two suns.
“Am I going to disappear like the others?”
His shoulders scrunch to his ears. “Not if I can help it.” He sticks his head out the door, like he’s checking to make sure it’s clear, and then beckons me with his clawed finger. I hop off the bed and join him.
Both his hands find my shoulders as he looks me in the eyes. “I need you to trust me, Aleksei. Can you do that?” I nod. I should feel scared, but I’m curious instead. “Here.” He grabs a bag of clothes from under the chair by the door and thrusts it into my hands. “Put these on.”
A long sleeved trench coat and wide brimmed hat fall to the floor when I dump out the contents. I put them on. “You know, dad, you could’ve given me something cooler to wear. This style was so eighteen hundreds, and it’s hot out.”
He runs his fingers through his matted fur, just like I do. Mom’s right. We’re a lot alike.
“Would you rather fry to a crisp in the sun?” His sarcastic tone catches me off guard. At least I come by it honest.
“Good point.” I put the hat on and wait. “What now?”
Dad wraps his arms around me in a hug. “Now, we try and cheat death.”
I don’t know how long I’ve been screaming. Feels like forever. But I don’t have that anymore.
“I’m sorry, Aleksei.” I look into dad’s eyes. He means it. “We have to wait for the medicine to run its course. Here.” He offers me a bag of blood. I take a sip then spit it out all over his white lab coat. Poison. It tastes like poison.
My body convulses. My wrists and ankles yank at the leather straps trapping me on this table. Wires run from my head to a computer. An I.V. line connects my arm to a bag half-filled with marsh-green liquid. The toilet water that killed me was cleaner than the looks of this stuff.
“Make it stop,” I beg through the pain, even though I know he can’t. He’s done everything he can.
Sharp, metal blades scrape out the insides of my bones. White hot needles pierce every vertebra. Sandpaper rakes at the backs of my eyeballs. At least, that’s what it feels like. Dad’s cure. I’d rather stay dead, but it’s too late now.
Dad glances at a computer monitor. A smile lifts the corners of his mouth. “Your DNA is almost completely rewritten. See?”
He turns the monitor towards me. Lines and letters race across the screen. Even if I did understand advanced genetic sequencing, my blurry vision and pounding head would keep me from making anything of it.
The keys click under the weight of his fingers. “And here.” He points at the same repeating letters—A, T, G, C. “I’ve even managed to fix the mutation of our hemoglobin gene. After this treatment, you’ll be a new wolf.”
Maybe it’s morbid curiosity. Or maybe I want to get my mind off the pain. Either way, I ask dad, “What would’ve happened to me, if…you know? What happens to the other vampyres?”
The smile fades from his face. Replacing it is the same look he wore in the pet store the day we got Dinner.
“I can’t—I’m not supposed to tell you that.” He rubs his paws against his lab coat, smearing the blood I’d spit out. He doesn’t notice.
“Dad?” I sit up as much as the straps allow. “What happens to us?”
“Them!” He slams his fist against the keyboard. The computer beeps at him. “You’re not one of them anymore, Aleksei. You’ll never be Dinner.”
He gasps then bites his lower lip, his canines touching his chin.
An icy spike stabs my heart, and it isn’t the medicine. At least, I don’t think it is. “What did you say?” My cold voice matches the chill in my veins.
He rubs his face with his paws, smearing blood over his fur. It turns my stomach, the sight of it, especially now I know where it comes from.
“There is no Criador Canil, Aleksei, not in the way our society thinks there is. Humans aren’t bred or born. They’re made from dying vampyres.” He plops down in his chair, his face in his paws. “It was our ancestor’s way of dealing with starvation and the demands of a burgeoning population.”
One thought races through my mind. Lampir are people.
“We’ve”—I gulp around the knot in my throat—“been eating ourselves?”
He lifts his head to meet my gaze. He looks so tired, and heavy. “Nothing goes to waste.”
I turn my head and empty out the contents of my stomach on the brown tiled floor. Luckily, there isn’t much in my system. I haven’t eaten since I died. What comes up matches the color of the tile beneath my prison bed.
In prison here, or in a Lampir’s kitchen. Right now, it doesn’t feel much different. It is. I won’t die as someone’s midnight snack. But what I’ll be when I get up from this table won’t be Lampir either. I’ll never be one of them again.
“What happens to their tongues?” I ask when mine finally works.
Dad stares at the computer screen, a frown creasing his forehead. He might not want to answer, but there’s no reason to leave out any of the truth now.
Dad leans closer to the screen and types furiously. “They’re removed so they can’t tell others what they are.”
I pull against my restraints. “What? Making them human isn’t cruel enough?”
“It’s not like that, Aleksei. Most of them don’t remember what they were. The reprogramming rewires their neural circuits, erasing most of their memories. It’s a precaution.”
He grunts and hits the side of the computer. Running his paws through his fur, he stands and paces.
I want to press him for more information, but the fire burning under every inch of my skin distracts me. Rather, it makes me scream some more.
“I don’t understand. Something’s wrong. Your DNA is mutating beyond the reprogramming. You’re becoming more reptilian.” Dad examines the empty I.V. bag then pulls the needle from my arm. It doesn’t do anything to stop the pain.
No. Not pain. Transformation.
Just when I think my skin will burst into flames, scales grow under my black fur. An axe splits my skull in half, making room for two horns to grow just above my ears. My spine splinters then pushes out from my shoulders in two gruesome looking wings. And when my tail grows between my legs, not even my thirteen-year-old mind can make a joke of it.
My screams die in my throat, trapped like the rest of me.
When I can finally see again, I take in my surroundings. Sterile walls and beeping equipment surround the table I’m on. Leather straps bind my wrists and feet. I pull against them. They give easily.
I push off the table and land on taloned feet. The scent of wet dog and blood crash against my chest and twist my stomach. The dog cowering in the corner is covered in it.
The wolf opens its mouth to howl, but I’m there before it gets a chance.
“Mmmm. Dinner,” I say before ripping its head off and stuffing it down my gullet.
Eat first and ask questions later. That’s the kind of dragon I am.
At least, I think that’s who I am. I can’t remember.
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