You may ask how we knew we were werewolves
yet like many young girls we were already familiar with the linger of blood
between our teeth, and tufts of misplaced fur – for instance I used to get teased
for flossing with my own hair. We couldn’t transform at her house
but out on my parents’ farm we practised our howls
from the tallest firewood pine stump while the dogs
looked on uncertainly. We met in the sportsfield treeline at morning tea
collecting spiny nodes of cypress and calling them dragon eggs.
We sat on our clutches through class and reported back at lunch. I swore
I’d seen one hatch, a tiny dragonet prising open woody scales
and spreading its wet wings to dry on my desk. She immediately met this
with her own five hatchlings flying up from between her legs
to set fire to the blobby self-portraits her class had painted earlier
and then pegged from the ceiling. She said the flames smelled just like tree sap and
I said well why didn’t the smoke alarms go off. She went quiet.
I felt mean. We were meant to be the protectors of the realm.
We had sacred duties only our werewolf powers could fulfil. Although over time
we began to question some things. There weren’t even wolves where we grew up.
We needed to evolve like our favourite cartoon monsters. So she was a weregryphon,
I a werefox, until I looked up fox-person art on the family computer and found
perhaps too young that that anthropomorphic foxes had a reputation
rendered in specific and instructive detail by certain dedicated online arts forums.
So for a time I stuck to werehyena, bold and confusing, a butch choice
that still toyed with a sashaying feline lineage. By then my friend
and I met every day at school to talk about the secret wars we fought all night
in our true shapes, except when she was hanging out with her other friends
and instead I would climb as high as I could in the cypresses and read
until a ringing bell or teacher coaxed me down. I spent this time considering other bodies,
still longing to writhe off my own skin and slink outdoors at midnight
as something altogether sleeker Something with so much power
and grace all forces of evil would fall before me. It so happened
I had more and more lunchtimes to myself. I worked through the animal
encyclopaedia in the library. It was there the snow leopard came to me.
That very night I padded silent through sugared hoarfrost
in the world’s most opulent fur. I savoured my own endangeredness
all weekend, eager to report my findings, my perfect body. I located my co-conspirator
sitting with her other friends eating sandwiches under the big oak. Like, whatever,
she said to me, turning to them. There’s no such a thing as a weresnowleopard.
But there is, I insisted, nearly not crying. And I’ve got wings. The blood was in my face
as I fled, and I knew all anyone could see was regular girl blood pumping through a girl body
even while the other body inside mine sped up, footsteps becoming four paws on the wet turf,
faster and faster until we slashed our tail and we spread our wings and were lifted.
Listen to Rebecca Hawkes read The Protagonists
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