The Last Starling
The shed door creaks as Dad swings it open. Heaving Jordy inside, I lay him on the dirt floor and peel off his covers. Heat rises from his body as I strip him down. I check his pulse—steady—and roll him onto his stomach, turning his face to one side. Balling up his sheets and clothing, I race outside and hand them to Mom.
She takes them in numb silence. The shed door closes with a bang, but she doesn’t flinch. She just turns and walks back to the house, Pip at her heels. My heart aches for her. She shouldn’t have to do this. Her life shouldn’t include leaving her disabled son naked in the dirt, alone, with a Shift coming and nothing to ease his pain.
“Jayce. It’s time.”
The strain in my dad’s voice knocks me back to reality. He’s kneeling beside the shed, fully undressed, his back arched. He groans, and I know what I have to do.
My heart pounds.
I shed the last of my clothing, then drop to my hands and knees. The wild thump of my heart initiates the process. Blood races through my body, activating the gene that jump-starts my transformation. Every inch of my skin tingles, itches, thickens.
Fine brown hair sprouts from my body. Claws force their way through my fingers and toes. My ears throb with pain as they widen, then extend into points. The cartilage in my nose bellows out. Elongates. Makes it hard to breathe. I open my mouth and suck in a lungful of cool air.
The exterior is done.
Now for the hellish part.
My back arches. I cry out as the bones in my spine crack. They start at the top of my neck and work their way down, breaking. Reforming. My tailbone fills out. It lengthens, piercing my skin, and I yelp. Dig my hands and knees into the grass.
Groan. Sweat profusely.
Muscles knot and twist. My body hitches as each bone in my ribcage expands, creating a chest cavity with room for bigger, stronger lungs. Arm bones break. Then the ones in my legs. They reshape, curving into limbs that can run like the wind. My hands and feet lengthen, my heels push up. Snout extends.
The morphing of my internal organs is excruciating. Liver, lungs, stomach, eyes—they go from human to canine in seconds. In those seconds, I can’t move or breathe. Time stops. The world blurs.
My existence reduces to one blinding pinpoint of pain.
I come out of it with a snort. Shake out my body, look around. The yard is different, ripe with colors I didn’t see before and smells that weren’t as strong. My ears twitch as they pick up the sound of an approaching vehicle. Dad is already loping for the house. I test my muscles, find them strong, and follow him.
We stop at the porch. Gramps is there, waiting on the truck that careens to a halt in the driveway. Two husky males—my uncle and cousin—jump out and race for us. They shuck their clothes.
Drop to the ground.
As they Shift, my wolf-eyes scan the trees for Boo. He’s always around for the hunt, and we understand each other better when I’m like this. Spying him in the tree line, I chuff softly at him. He hoots back a reply. He’s ready.
So are we.
Gramps projects a wolf-thought to bring us close. He sniffs the air, and we do the same. The smell of the Trespasser is still there. Dark and menacing. Something lurks in the Starling, a territory long forbidden to those who drink blood to survive. My pack growls in unison. For us, this is more than just a threat.
It’s an insult.
Tipping back his head, Gramps draws a deep breath. He expels it in one long, drawn-out howl. A howl that pierces the night, uniting us as a pack and sending a message to our enemy. We know you’re out there, it says. You’re not welcome here.
Dad sprints for the woods. We follow in pack hierarchy—my uncle, then me, my cousin last. Our minds link, connecting mentally to each other and Gramps.
As we break through the tree line, our Alpha howls again. One last time. A message to the creature roaming our hallowed ground.
We’re coming for you.