Madam Pierce barked for Sadie to change again. She could barely hear her over both of her hearts. Ever since she spoken with the strange wolf, who she now knew was Jack, she’d been unable to ignore them. Now both were beating rapidly, forcing blood to pound around her body, washing against her ear drums. Sadie got on her hands and knees and slid into her wolf shape. She was quick at it now, the wolf was eager to come to the forefront but Madam Pierce never let her stay in that form very long. Shifting back to human got harder each time, the wolf nipping at her insides, wanting just a little longer on the outside.
“Enough,” Madam Pierce said. She hoisted the now-human Sadie to her feet and pulled out a stethoscope. The cold metal burned against Sadie’s bare chest and her lips pulled back, revealing sharp white teeth. Madam Pierce slapped her across the face so quickly Sadie couldn’t be sure she ever saw the woman move. “Under my roof you keep that beast in check.” Sadie nodded, feeling the wolf inside her bristle but back down.
Over the past few weeks the veneer of the kindly old woman had slipped away to the harsh master standing before her. She had given her less food and no longer talked about taking Sadie to her parents. Their days revolved around one another, the elder commanding the younger to change, throwing strange powders over her and restricting her food. Whenever Sadie complained about or questioned the treatment, Madam Pierce fixed her with a cold stare, grabbed a length of chain and wrapped it around Sadie’s neck. She’d leave her in the basement for hours. The wolf hated that – locked up and disconnected from the forest outside. The forest always called to her.
Sadie slunk to her room, her cheek still stinging but that wasn’t the pain that bothered her. Her chest ached, like someone was squeezing one of her hearts in a vice. She curled up on the bed, knees pulled tight to her chest and dozed fitfully, worried by all the uncertainty around her.
It hurts, Sadie said as she panted beside the other wolves. Jack sniffed her over, pausing to lick a small cut on her foreleg. No, inside. He rested his head against her chest and tried to hear past her laboured breathing. The short walk to find them had been enough to leave her gasping.
You can’t go back. She’s done enough.
What has she done? All she ever does is make me shift.
She’s changing your hearts. The wolf one. It’s withering.
But I’m in wolf form fifty times a day at least.
But not for long. She’s starving it.
Why? Sadie grunted as panic and adrenaline made her hearts beat faster, the wolf one, she now knew, ached with the extra effort.
It doesn’t matter. We need to go now.
Please, I just want to rest.
When we’re far from here, safe in our den.
Sadie watched the moon rise through the trees. She had spent most of the day asleep in the den, sheltered by other furry, warm bodies. Now her strength was returning and her heart ached a little less. A mournful howl cut through the stillness of the early night. The wolves around her leapt to their feet, hackles bristling. Jack pushed Sadie deeper into the den so she could no longer see the outside world.
Stay, he told her as he bolted towards the howl, other wolves following him. Only the older wolves stayed behind, their patchy fur showing deep scars and withering limbs. Sadie darted after Jack, preparing herself for the myriad of things that howl could have meant.
Sadie was not prepared for this though. Madam Pierce stood tall in the moonlight, pale skin nearly glowing. In her hands she held several lengths of chain, each attached to the neck of a dark wolf. The wolves were rangy and their eyes haunted, but their glinting teeth were as sharp as her own.
“Now Jack, give me my Sadie back,” Madam Pierce called, unperturbed to be addressing a pack of wolves. Jack growled but he backed away slightly, seeking shelter amongst the bodies of his followers. “I only want what’s best for Sadie – you know she’s too wild for you to handle. She’ll never follow you. You don’t have the strength.” With a flick of her wrist, she sent Jack sprawling through the air, never having touched him. Righting himself, Jack pounced, his pack in formation behind him. Madam Pierce released her own wolves and the forest was filled with growls, clashing teeth, and yelps. Sadie slunk further back into the shadows as blood sprayed across the ground.
The fight was short-lived, Jack and his pack could not rival the ferocity of the few wolves Madam Pierce had. Howling retreat, they ran back to the den. Sadie stayed hidden, fearful to breathe. Madam Pierce chained her wolves once more.
“Sadie,” she cooed to the forest around her, “I can’t always save you from Jack and his lies. Did he tell you the pack would welcome you with open arms? That he’d teach you to be a wolf?” She shook her head in mock disbelief, “Jack’s a charmer but he’ll use you, steal the wolf right out of you until you’re nothing more than a dog.” Sadie thought about the older-looking wolves, the ones who had refused to follow Jack. “I’ll be back tomorrow but it’ll be my final offer. A wolf that won’t follow is no good to any pack.”