Chapter 8:

Chapter Eight


Chapter Eight

Zave’s mouth was hanging open, but all that came out of it was a strangled squeak.

Fey’s transformation hadn’t been as horrifying as the one back at the old woman’s house. Compared to what he had witnessed there, this one somehow seemed more natural. But the sight of a cute girl so nonchalantly turning into a monster, as if this was something she did every day, was putting more pressure on his sanity than he wanted to admit. After everything else he had been through today, how much more could his little mind take before it snapped and turned him into a gibbering idiot?

“H- H- H- H-,” he stammered, his entire body shaking. “How…What…What…How…”

“It’s like I just said,” Fey snapped, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “I’m a skinwalker.”

“W- What…the h- hell…is a skinwalker?” he managed to ask through his chattering teeth.

She rolled her goatlike eyes. “Finally, a halfway intelligent question.”

Despite the situation, Zave couldn’t help but glare at her. This was all hard enough to process as it was. Did she really have to make fun of him on top of everything else?

“Skinwalkers are the people of the Wilds,” she explained. “While you humans cut down forests to build your cities and roads, skinwalkers live in and alongside nature.”

“But you live—”

“Shut up!” she snapped, her eyes flashing. Zave didn’t know how, but it was clear he had struck a nerve. Fey took a deep breath, then continued, “Skinwalkers are both human and animal, but at the same time, we’re neither.”

With that, she took the hem of her shirt and whipped it over her head.

“Hey, whoa!” Zave yelled, jumping to his feet as she undid her pants. “What are you doing?”

Fey gave him a sneer, kicking her jeans over to join her shirt. “This is where you decide things are getting weird? Me taking off my clothes?”

Zave blushed. “No! I- I just…”

Before he could finish, she bent over and got on all fours. He opened his mouth to ask what was going on, but then he noticed how her body was shrinking. Her hands became hooves that matched the ones on her back legs, and her face—which before had retained enough humanity for Zave to recognize her facial expressions—became wholly animalistic. Fey, now looking like nothing more than a common goat, gave her tail a flick and looked at Zave expectantly. He sat back down, feeling the strain on his sanity again. He wasn’t sure why, though. After everything else he’d seen, this was practically expected at this point.

Fey shifted back into her half-human form and stood up again. “Every skinwalker has an animal inside them. We’re able to shift back and forth between human and animal forms at will. We consider this, an equal mix between the two, to be our true form, though.”

“And there…” Zave paused to gulp. “There are more of you?”

“Thousands more,” Fey confirmed. “We’ve always been here, living right under your noses, but you humans have no idea we exist. That’s exactly how we like it—and it’s exactly how it’s going to stay, understand?”

“Y- Yes, I understand,” Zave agreed meekly. “Now, could you…you know…put some clothes on?”

Fey snorted. “You humans and your obsession with clothes. You know, most skinwalkers spend their whole lives naked and don’t think a thing about it. From when I was nine to the day I turned eighteen, I never wore a scrap of clothing. What do you think of that?”

Zave did his best not to think about it, but he could still feel his face burning with embarrassment. With a sigh, Fey retrieved her clothes and got dressed again. It took a couple tries to get the shirt on without poking her horns through the fabric, but as soon as she’d tugged it down over her head, she looked at Zave again.

“So, now what?” he asked, already dreading the answer. “You’ve told me your secret. Are you going to kill me?”

“Kill you?” Fey asked in shock. “Zave, I’m not a monster! As long as you don’t go around blabbing about us, you’ll be fine.”

Zave sighed in relief.

“But I am going to take your dog.”

He sat up straight. “What?”

Fey patted her leg, and Clueless jumped up to stand before her, wagging her tail. “You don’t know this, but Clueless is a skinwalker just like me.”

“She’s a what?” Zave asked in disbelief. “But…But she’s never…”

“Never turned into this?” Fey motioned to herself. “That’s because she’s unAwakened. Skinwalkers aren’t born like this. They take the form of whatever race gives birth to them. If their mother is human, they’re human. If she’s an animal, so are they. And they’ll stay that way until another skinwalker finds them and Awakens their power to change shape. Clueless is a skinwalker, but she’s never had anyone to Awaken her.”

Zave took a minute to absorb all of this. “Okay, fine. She’s like you. Why does that mean you have to take her away from me? And where are you taking her?”

To his surprise, Fey actually shivered. “Because those…things…from before are obviously hunting skinwalkers. I killed one of them, but there are still more out there. If you want Clueless to be safe, I have to get her far away from here.”

“Things?” Zave echoed. “So, you don’t know what they are either?”

Fey hesitated, then shook her head.

“And you’ll have to, what did you call it, Awaken her?”

“Now that someone knows what she is, it would be cruel not to. She’s only living half of her potential life right now.”

“And I…” his voice trailed off.

“…would stay here,” Fey finished for him. “You’re not a skinwalker, so whatever those things are, they’ll leave you alone once Clueless and I are gone. This is the safest option for all three of us.”

“But you can’t just kidnap my dog!”

Fey’s eyes flashed, and she walked over and slapped her palm down on the table, making Zave jump.

“First of all,” she spat, “Clueless is not a dog! That’s another reason I need to get her away from you: so she can be around other skinwalkers who will treat her like a person and not a damn animal!”

“I didn’t say—”

“Secondly, if you actually cared about Clueless at all, you’d want what was best for her!” She curled her goatlike lip at him. “But then, you did name her Clueless, didn’t you? Maybe you don’t want what’s best for her.”

Zave opened his mouth, but there was nothing to say. He had never meant the name as an insult. But if Fey was right, and Clueless was a real, sentient person and not just a dog…suddenly, he felt ashamed.

“A- All right,” he finally said, feeling like a hole was opening up in his chest. “Okay. If you promise she’ll be safe with you, then you can take her.”

Fey looked like she was going to make another sharp remark, but seemed to recognize the pain he was feeling, and decided against it. Getting on his knees, Zave gave his dog one last hug. Clueless’ tail drummed happily on the floor, and she licked his face. For once, he didn’t protest. With tears running down his face, he released her, and let Fey lead her away.

“You won’t need this anymore,” she said, unclipping the collar from Clueless’ neck and tossing it away. “It’s a symbol of being someone else’s property. From now on, the only person you belong to is you.”

Zave scrambled over to grab the collar. If nothing else, he could have this to remember her by.

Then Fey got to her hands and knees and looked Clueless in the eye. Clueless stepped forward to lick her face, but then, to Zave’s surprise, seemed to think better of it and sat down. Suddenly, Fey’s eyes began to glow. It was as if a fire had ignited inside her, and the only place for the light to go was out through her eyes and into Clueless’. It streamed out of Fey, into the dog’s soft brown eyes, making them light up as well. Then the light began to spread, first across Clueless’ face, then down her neck, and then the rest of her body. Within seconds, Clueless was shining brighter than the moon, and Zave had to shield his eyes just to look at her.

“Now, Awaken!” Fey commanded her. “Become what you truly are!”

Clueless obeyed. Her body lengthened, as did her limbs. Soon, instead of four legs, she had two legs and two arms, complete with human hands. The rest of her body seemed to churn for a moment, some parts of it narrowing while others broadened. There was a final flash of light that blinded Zave entirely, but once he’d blinked enough times to restore his vision, he gasped at what he saw.

The creature that stood before him was still Clueless, but it also wasn’t. She still had the same thick, golden fur she’d always had, but now she stood on two legs. She was holding her arms out in front of herself, inspecting her newly grown hands, slowly flexing each finger in turn. Her face was like Fey’s, an equal mix between human and canine, and on top of her head her fur lengthened in what was almost a human haircut. She still had her tail, but the rest of her body was human as well.

And then she spoke.

“I…I can…words?” she asked tentatively. She looked over at Zave. “Zave? I am…us?”

“No,” Fey corrected her, drawing Clueless’ attention back to her, “Zave is a human. You are a skinwalker, like me.”

Clueless cocked her head in confusion.

“Look, we don’t have much time,” Fey said, taking Clueless’ hand. “We need to get going. Now!”

Clueless’ tail began to wag. “Go? Go on walk?”

Fey sighed. “Yes, we’re going to go for a walk.”

“Walk!” A smile spread across Clueless’ face. “Zave, go walk!”

Zave gritted his teeth, trying his best not to cry. “No, Clueless. I’m not going.”

Clueless tilted her head again. “Not go walk?”

“You’re going with her.” Zave pointed to Fey. “I’m staying here.”

Despite his efforts, tears began to roll down his cheeks. Clueless’ tail abruptly stopped wagging. She looked at Zave, then Fey, then back at Zave again.

“Not going,” she finally said.

“You have to go!” Fey argued. “Do you remember those monsters from earlier? If you stay here, they’ll find you!”

“Then I protect!” Clueless bared her teeth. “I bite! Bite them very much!”

Fey groaned. “That’s not—”

But she was too late, because Clueless had already dashed over to wrap Zave in a hug.

“Not go walk without Zave!” she insisted. “No, no, no! Bad girl!”

Fey glared at Zave as if this was his fault. Part of Zave was ecstatic that Clueless was refusing to leave him, but he also knew this was bad. Fey was right, Clueless did need to leave town before those monsters came back for her. But short of tying her up and dragging her, he didn’t see how to make her go with Fey.


“Clueless,” he said hesitantly, “will you go with her if I come with you?”

Clueless nodded wildly. “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! Good girl!”

Zave looked at Fey, who threw up her hands. “Whatever! It’s your damn funeral. But if that’s what it takes to get her away from here, then fine!”

She ducked into her bedroom for a second, then came back out carrying two backpacks, one of which she threw at Zave. Then, without turning back to her human form, she threw open the door.

“You’d better hope you can keep up, human!”

Then, with the speed and grace only a wild animal could achieve, she charged out into the forest.