A lesson must be learned for gods and men to live in harmony. Atlantis shall descend to be hidden from god and men. Until the time the soul mates and willingly chooses to break, you shall be apart from your heart. Atlantis will join the ranks again when tears are freely given. Death created devastation and death shall be your preservation.
I was running; the waning crescent-moon my only companion. I knew my tigers’ body was not a form I should be in, running as I was; but it was currently my favorite. I liked the playful independence of the tiger, the way this body moved and the coloring of my pelt. I tried to stick to the shadows, keeping to the depths of the mountain forest to cover the bright orange stripes on my pelt. However, there was just something about the open fields that called to me. Tromping and leaping around the wildflowers seemed to ignite a childlike feeling of contentment. It was a feeling I'd been desperately seeking for weeks. I knew playing in the open field was dangerous; but right now I didn’t care about the consequences.
I decided to allow myself a few pounces before going back into the protection of the surrounding forest. Placing my front paws solidly on the ground, I eyed the perfect patch of undisturbed flowers. I hunkered down further, bringing my feline eyes level with the tops of the moon kissed leaves. Twitching my tail high in the air as a general sign of attack, I pounced. Petals, pollen and leaves flew everywhere. I rolled in the patch of displaced flowers, purring and sneezing in delight at the rainfall of petals.
In my own delirium of contentment I almost missed the sound of a gun safety being released. It was the faintest of clicks, yet it caused my movements to stop abruptly. I crouched, allowing the petals and leaves to cover my stripes as I listened for the gun over the thundering of my pulse. This was a mistake, one that reminded me that I did care about things; that I wanted to see what tomorrow brought.
Using my highly defined sense of smell, I discovered that there was a man with a freshly oiled gun across the field. I'd thought I was far enough away from the house I knew was there, that I wouldn’t wake anyone. Apparently, I was wrong. I figured there had to be at least a hundred yards between us, and if my nose was scenting things correctly, he'd been drinking. Unless he was a sharp shooter, I was positive I could make it to the protection of the forest before he could pull the trigger. Slowly, I raised my head so I could see where I needed to go. Peering over the broken flower stems, I searched for the forest. It wasn't far; only about two body lengths to my right. I could either crawl or make a run for it.
Listening for the man with the gun one last time, I leapt and ran. I heard his frightened exclamation just before the explosion of the gun. Tree bark splintered a foot from my head causing me to alter my escape. I zigzagged my way deeper into the forest’s protection, adrenaline pumping at the thought of how close the bullet was. Picking up my pace, I released control from my human nature, letting my animal side free reign to act as it should. Relying solely on my tiger’s natural agility to maneuver through the woods, I leapt, bound and pivoted around obstacles using movements that were second nature to this form. My whiskers received more input than my human brain could quickly catalog. My tail compensated my actions, counterbalancing me to keep my body upright and my movements’ fluid.
Adrenaline soared though my veins as I darted through the forest. I knew I'd lost the man, but the excitement of almost being shot and the joy of releasing control on my animal nature, thrilled through my veins. The thought of being pursued, being hunted, caused me to run faster. My muscles bunched and flexed, heating with exertion as I ran, subconsciously running from demons I would never escape.
All too soon, I found myself at the clearing I'd set up for my Change. I sat panting in exhaustion, sides heaving in attempts to get enough oxygen. I was exhausted and starving. I refused to hunt in this form, finding the act of physically destroying another life abhorrent. I've never completely let go of the humanity that defines me, never fully release control to my animal instincts. I forced myself to wait until I became human again to eat. It was a reward of sorts, congratulating myself on yet another successful Change. My breaths started slowing and I knew what had to happen next. I shuddered, dreading this far more than I feared the man with the gun. There was no way to escape what needed to happen now.
The Change hurt. Every time. I had to Change back, eat and return to the land of civilization. The only thing that sounded remotely good at the moment was the food. Between my panting breaths, I listened to the sounds of the forest. It was still and quiet, still reeling from the disturbance of my run. I was tempted, like always, to stay in the peaceful stillness the forest offered. It was always harder for me to become human than it was to become feline. I wondered, again, if this too was normal. I had so many questions; it was past time I sought answers.
I pictured my human form and the transformation started like usual, with nausea. My stomach rebelled, followed quickly by the rebellion of every other organ and muscle in my body. I tried in vane to relax as my muscles spasmed. My body seized and convulsed, throwing me on the ground in a writhing mass of fur, bones and guts. My vision went blurry, obscuring the view of my body turning itself inside out. I heard my bones cracking and restructuring, muscles straining with the tension of rearranging to fit my new shape. I no longer knew what my natural form was anymore. Was I more other, or did I still maintain my humanity? All I knew was that the pain was so intense, I had a second to wonder if I would die this time; and it was over.
I lay on the ground, naked, sweaty, panting and shivering. Small aftershocks of pain streaked through my veins causing my muscles to involuntarily twitch. I wanted to close my eyes and give into the pain and exhaustion of my body, but I knew from experience that I had to eat first. If I waited, I would end up killing the first thing that crossed my path and eating it raw. I hated that. I dressed slowly, cringing at how heavy and lethargic my limbs felt. Opening my backpack, my stomach growled in anticipation of the three double cheeseburgers inside.
It took until I started on the third cold burger to feel somewhat normal. I knew I’d have to stop at a drive through on my way home, but at least this way I wouldn’t hurt anyone. I’d make it home just in time to say goodbye to Ashlyn as she leaves for school and pass out in my bed.
I shook my head in denial at what my life had become since finding Raif, my soul mate, and turning into this fictional creature. Hiding out in the woods to avoid civilization, running at every chance I had in hopes that it would bring, I don't know-something. I couldn’t do this anymore. I needed answers to what was happening to me. I had to find someone who could provide guidance, understanding, and most of all, direction. As much as I hated to, I had to go back to the Krypt Keeper and see Stephan.
I gathered my garbage and cleaned my clearing, leaving no trace of my existence. I couldn't be discovered and sent to live the remaining days of my life in a lab. I knew firsthand the life those animals lived and shuddered in sympathy for their captivity as I started walking, breathing in the fresh, crisp mountain air. I had a quarter mile hike down the mountain to where I parked my motorcycle. I loved riding almost as much as I loved running. It was the human equivalent, but faster and less reliable than my animal shape. When I ran, I knew instinctively that my feline body would act and react to things, as it was meant to. When I rode, I had to hope that everything would work properly on the machine and that other drivers would see and avoid me. It was a thrill either way; one I usually enjoyed. I was so tired tonight though, that the thought of riding back home elicited a groan of frustration from my throat.
Even seeing the shiny blue sport bike waiting under the moonlit sky couldn't bring me out of my melancholy mood. I hopped on the bike, revving it to hear the happy purr, and was off. The chilly mountain air bit at my exposed skin, distracting me from painful memories. There were more days I wished I'd never gone to Bermuda, never stepped foot on Atlantis than there were days of joy at what I'd become.
I missed Raif. It was a pain that went bone deep. I wished we'd had more time together, that he could've been the one to explain and show me all of the things that were different now that we were mated. I was angry with him for not warning me, for abandoning me when I needed him the most. As angry as I was though, what I wanted most in this world was to be held by him. If I lived for eternity, I'd never get enough of him. He was everything to me, and I wanted him back!
I stopped by a 24-hour fast food place on my way home to get something else to eat. I craved protein more than ever since I got back. I could now easily put away three large steaks at a time and still be hungry. It amazed me daily that I looked so good; in fact, I'd never looked better than I did now. I was all lean muscle, defined and toned. My change in appearance was yet another in the long list of questions I had. I sighed, placing the bag into my backpack, I rode home in relative peace and quiet. The ride was uneventful and quick. Knowing that I had warm food in my bag, waiting to be eaten, spurred me to faster than normal speeds.
Katie’s light was still on when I pulled into the drive. She was waiting for me. I felt a twinge of apprehension at this knowledge, followed quickly by irritation that she was still up. I just wanted to scarf down my chicken sandwiches and pass out. I snuck into the kitchen, leaving all the lights off, as I didn’t need them anyway. My night vision, like so much else, had increased exponentially. Sneaking in was also pointless; Katie had already heard the bike.
“You’re home late,” she said as she flicked on the light, ruining my vision. I closed my eyes against the bright kitchen lights, waiting for them to adjust.
I grunted an indecipherable response, hoping she would leave and I could continue to avoid this conversation. I plopped down in one of the kitchen chairs to start eating my sandwiches.
“I think we need to talk. There's been something bothering you since you got back from Bermuda three months ago. You’ve been distant and angry. I know there are things going on that I'll never understand, but you used to talk to me. I want to help.” She was pleading, her eyes filling with impotent tears of frustration at my continual avoidance. I had a pang of guilt, quickly extinguished by my hurt and anger.
“When were you going to tell me?” My voice was even rougher than I'd intended. I'd hoped to avoid this conversation, the pain of her lies hurt almost as much as my Changes did. How she could've deceived me for so long hurt my pride; crushed the illusions I had of the open, honest, and loving relationship that I thought we had.
She looked at me; fear and surprise clearly evident in her tear filled eyes. She fidgeted, her pulse quickening in obvious regret with her decision to confront me. She plopped down into the chair across from me, her legs shaking too much to hold her. The smell of her distress was an aphrodisiac to my carnal nature, although I was relieved to still feel pain with the knowledge that she was afraid of me. I must still have a shred of humanity left after all.
“Tell you what?” She asked innocently, her voice quavering in fear and denial. I almost believed her innocent act, as I had for years. However, there was no hiding or denying it anymore. I knew the depth of her betrayal, knew it the first time I Changed and scented Ashlyn.
“When were you going to tell me that Keith is Ash’s father?” I asked as if I was asking her to pass the salt. I reined in my hurt and temper in a final attempt to allow her to deny the truth, cursing myself at the pang of hope I had that I was mistaken, that somehow my senses were wrong. I knew Keith, the man I was engaged to eight years ago, was Ashlyn's father the first time I Changed; she smelled so much like him. After I figured it out, it was clearly obvious in other ways.
Katie's eyes went wide with surprise just before she hung her head in shame and my hopes were shattered.
“I wanted to tell you, so many times; but I knew it would hurt you. I didn’t know how to say it, and after a while it just didn’t seem important. We'd moved past that. We were happy. I couldn’t destroy that.” Her voice was quiet and meek; even with my advanced hearing, I almost didn’t hear her.
“How about, ‘Tash, I’m the reason that your fiancé left you. By the way, we’re having a baby?’ You could have said something, anything to me in the past eight years! Instead you continued to lie and cover it up, pretending that it never happened, when the proof of your betrayal is curled up in her bed!” I was yelling. My skin tingled in anticipation for another Change. It was always harder to control it when my emotions were high. I had to calm down. I took a few calming breaths, reigning in my anger at her deceit. She waited quietly for me to continue, knowing I had more to say and accepting my anger.
“The weird thing is, I don’t even care that you two were together. It might have bothered me in the past, but now I just hope that things work out for the two of you, for Ashlyn’s sake. What really hurts, what kills me, was that you lied to me. For eight years you lied! You’re my sister, the only family that I have! I should be able to trust you completely, without question, yet I can't! How could you do that to me?” My heart was breaking. It was a physical pain in my chest at finally stating my hurt. If I still had tears, I'd be crying.
“I’m so sorry Tash.” She looked up at me, tears streaming down her face in remorse. She looked so pitiful and forlorn that I knew she truly was sorry. The trouble was, I just didn’t care anymore. She broke something in me that could never be repaired. Our relationship as we had known it was destroyed. I could forgive her for the affair, but I could never forgive the deceit.
“Does he know?” I said quietly, her tears deflating me of my righteous anger.
“Does who know what?” She was confused and embarrassed that she even had to clarify my question.
“Does Keith know that he has a daughter?” Before she could respond, another thought occurred to me. “Alex knew, didn’t he? That’s why he left.”
Her face flushed in shame, breaking my heart even further. I felt guilt at the years of disrespect and anger I had built up toward her ex leaving so suddenly. Now I understood.
“He figured it out and confronted me. I asked him not to tell you about it. I wanted to tell you myself. Keith didn’t even know until three months ago. I knew I had to tell him when I saw you two at the airport. I was telling him when you had your first episode. We thought it best for him to stay away until I could talk to you and you had time to adjust. I’ve wanted to talk to you about this, I just didn’t know where to start. You’ve had so much to deal with lately; I didn’t want to add to it. I'm so sorry Tash.”
We sat in silence for what felt like hours, but was really only minutes. Neither one of us knew where to go from here.
“I hope you do the right thing from now on. Ash and Keith deserve to know each other. You both deserve a chance at happiness. If he can forgive you for hiding his daughter from him for the past eight years, I think you'll be very good for each other.” My voice was quiet, firm with resignation. Just because I couldn’t forgive her, didn’t mean I wanted her to be miserable.
“You’re okay with this? You want us to be a family?” The shock and hope in her voice was plainly evident. It caused a bitter smile to curve on my lips.
“I've always wanted what's best for you, for you to be happy. Ash is going to need someone new to torment when I leave anyway.”
“Leave? Where are you going?”
“I've needed to talk to you too. I have to get some help with my Changes. What's happening to me doesn't feel right. I have to find out what's going on. There's someone in Miami that can help me figure this all out. I’m leaving tomorrow and don’t know when, or if, I'll be back.”
“So, you really aren’t okay with this. You’re just going to run and hide.” I was shocked to hear the anger coating her words. She sat with her arms crossed, tears drying in streaks down her cheeks, angry with me. I bristled. My animal instincts clouded my better judgment and I started to growl. I allowed my animal nature freedom to surface so that Katie would fully understand why I had to leave. I stood, placing my hands next to her so that she was trapped within the circle of my arms. I leaned into her personal space, body trembling while suppressing the urge to transform. My other form still didn't understand the complexity of human emotions and it wanted to protect me from the perceived threat that was my sister. I would never, could never hurt her- but she didn't know that, I simply wanted to intimidate her, gain her undivided attention. Her eyes grew wide at my aggressiveness, fear rolling off her in waves. She was finally getting it.“Katie, I honestly don’t care what you do anymore. You've made it perfectly clear to me how little love and respect you hold for me. I truly want you to be happy, even if that means you create a family with Keith. I need help. I have a problem that no one here is capable of dealing with. I have to figure out what’s wrong with me, and how to control my Changes. I can’t stay here anymore.” I stalked out of the kitchen and into my room, leaving Katie fumbling for a response. I was done talking. It was time for answers.