Today’s scene is from my latest novella, Sheepsquatch:
Surprise stopped Mina when she stepped into the stockroom of Rita’s bar. It had been transformed into a makeshift clinic. Pallets of beer had been covered with thin, snowy-white blankets.
A boy with shaggy, pale hair and a soccer uniform stood by one. The impromptu table held a bowl of steaming water, a few threaded needles, and a mortar and pestle. Jeff tied a red string around a cheesecloth bag before dropping it in the bowl. Then he bothered looked down at her.
“I’m glad you didn’t change. You heal faster this way.” He stuck a finger in the bowl. Jeff was seventeen, looked like he was fifteen, and happened to be the best hedge doctor in Pittsburgh. There were times when Mina wanted to throttle his self-righteous ass, but he healed her family for free these days, so she held her temper.
He dipped a finger in the bowl again. “Finally.” He pulled out the bag and put the bowl on the floor.
Mina lapped up the bitter liquid. Warmth surged through her, and tight muscles relaxed a little.
“Now you said this was a reaver bite?” Jeff’s normal arrogance quavered.
“Yeah, but don’t worry. We’re immune to most poisons.” Matty shrugged. “As wolves anyway. She’s perfectly safe.”
The hedge doctor swallowed, snapped on rubber gloves, then took a deep breath. Her wound burned when he lifted Sam’s bandage. “This needs stitches. She’s going to have to turn.”
Mina shivered and a whimper escaped.
Matty put a hand on her neck. “Changing with a serious injury is bad.”
“How bad is it?” For a moment, Jeff looked like the kid he was. The pretentious expression faded from his pale face, and his bright green eyes grew wide.
Matty patted her neck. “She’ll need to be held down during her change for our safety, and she’ll be screaming when it’s over. Can you sew her up as a wolf?”
Jeff shrugged. “I mean technically, but the muscle structure of her arms are different. If she needs to be a hum-”
When her brother glanced at her, she jerked her head towards Sam.
Matty frowned. “You sure?”
She stretched out on the ground, determined to be calm and rational.
Sam waved Rick over. “Hold down her chest. Jeff, stand back.” Her Speaker pulled a few bungees out of his backpack. He tossed one to Rick before tying her hind legs together.
Mina took a deep breath, forcing down her fear. Sam and Rick were her family. They didn’t want to hurt her.
No matter what I said to Rick, they are nothing like the old Speakers.
She pushed away guilty memories of Rick’s pain-filled gray eyes as the scent of her brother grew stronger.
Matty grabbed her head. “You’re such a fucking drama queen. Like once a year, we have to go through this. I can read that smug, self-sacrifice right through your fur.”
She wished wolves could laugh.
His smile was stiff, as he gripped the thick fur on her neck. “I’ll have a beer waiting for you.”
The weight of Rick and Sam made it hard to breathe as they leaned on her.
Sam pulled in a long breath and said, “Okay, Mina, let’s get this over with.”
Her body went numb as it always did when a Speaker ordered a change, but she howled anyway. The plaintive cry filled the room with high pitched keening that never seemed to die away.
Blood gushed from the bubbling, shifting rent on her limb. She fought on instinct, trying to run from pain that she couldn’t feel as her organs and bones rearranged under her skin.
Once her human shape solidified, the howl turned to screams. The Speaker’s magic faded, pain rushing in behind it. Tortured nerves burned and the abused muscles pulsed.
Tears streamed down her face; her throat ached, but she couldn’t stop screaming.
Matty said something, but his words were just a buzz near her head. The tension on her limbs disappeared, making the pain something close to bearable. She pulled in a sharp breath, letting out one last, whimpering cry.
“I got you, Sis.” Matty held her against his chest. “It’s okay, it’s over, it’s all over.”
A large wet leaf pressed against her bare arm. The pain faded, and her body relaxed, taking the worst of the change with it.
Jeff pulled the leaf away. “Next time we have to go through this, can I try to numb the wound first?”
Matty snorted. “If something like that worked, we would have mentioned it.”
Blood suffused the hedge doctor’s pale face as he picked up a short, curved needle with a dangling white silk thread. “Sorry, but that… was horrifying.”
Matty held her tighter. “You have no idea.”
Jeff examined the wound again. “This is bad, right to the bone. I think that change aggravated it.”
She couldn’t quite open her mouth completely, but the words skittered out anyway. “Then how about you sew it up already?”