Part 3:

Later that evening


Ezra wished he’d been able to get farther away.  Chaucer had picked up a stone and needed to recuperate.  His plans to make it far into the desert were foiled this night.  His best hope lay in the caves ahead.  For a human, he was quite some distance from Four Corners.  But for the creature he would become, such a distance was but a small piece of the territory he would claim tonight.  Ezra could not allow that.


Once at the mouth of one of the caves, the gambler released his horse.  He knew that Chaucer would leave in fear when he smelled the change upon his master, returning in the morning.  This was a ritual the two of them went through every month.  Chaucer always came back.  He was a remarkable animal to overcome his instinctive fear of a fierce predator in order to assist his master.


The horse stayed outside the cave, stamping his feet nervously as Ezra went in with a torch.  Already, the animal sensed something different about him.  Ezra found a small alcove, perfect for his needs.  He hurried to gather as many large and small rocks as he could, feeling a prickle along his skin as moonrise approached.  He soon had a large pile that should do the job nicely.


The gambler stripped off all his clothes, folding them neatly and laying them in the corridor.  He couldn’t help but smile at that little vanity.  That was one of his most favorite shirts.  To see it shredded beyond repair would have been another in a growing list of misfortunes.  He had so little control over his life that even this small act allowed him something, however small, to cling to.  He then proceeded to wall himself into the tiny alcove, carefully placing the rocks in a tight, thick formation that anyone would be hard-pressed to knock down.


When he’d finished, he sat down on the cave floor to wait.  He didn’t have to wait long.  The burning had become unbearable, crawling up and down under his skin like sharp, hot, living glass.  This was the worst part—the state between.  When all his muscles and bones stretched and pulled in impossible ways, tearing and breaking and healing over and over again as they reformed.  He could feel his heart pounding in his ears under the stress of the change.  He screamed and screamed, begging for it to stop.  But it would not until the man was gone, replace by the wolf that keened to get out.  The wolf was wild, untamed.  Its thoughts pushed aside the logical, human mind.  The wolf sometimes remembered the man in the dim hours of morning when Ezra was starting to come back to himself.  But the man always remembered the wolf.  When Ezra awoke, he would remember everything he’d done when control was lost to him.  Those memories were at times brutal, at other times seductive.  He never knew which was worse. 


With one final scream it was over.  The wolf stood where once was a man.  For hours it howled with frustration, desperately scratching at the rocks to get out.  But it was trapped, forced to circle its cage, howling pitifully throughout the night.  Somewhere a ways away, six men heard the mournful cry and wondered at the loneliness of it.