In this excerpt from Chapter 6, Nadya experiences the Change from woman to wolf. The place is Missouri in the 1830s, the edge of the frontier, where Nadya lives with her mother and father on the family farm.
Preparing for the Change was not so different than their regular evening chores. They simply began the work early, so that they would be ready when the sun set. Nadya’s father milked the cow and fed the mule; Nadya called the hogs and chased the chickens into their coop for the night. Nadya’s mother prepared a simple meal of hoecake and ham; she thought it best to change with a little food in the belly — not too much, and not too little. She put the remaining food out of reach of any varmints that might come to the unoccupied cabin and carefully banked the fire so that she could easily revive it when they returned, weary and cold from the night in the forest.
When the sun dipped near the horizon, Nadya stood on the front porch, looking into the forest. The cabin faced east and the porch was already in shadow. Nadya had pulled off her dress, hung it from a peg beside the cabin door, and waited for her parents. She shivered in the early evening air, goose bumps rising on her bare skin. She could hear her parents murmuring inside the cabin, but the words were already starting to sound like meaningless babble. She could feel the moon rising, a tugging that she felt in her belly and her crotch.
Nadya rubbed her hands over the goose bumps on her naked arms and shivered again. The sky was clear except for a few clouds hanging low in the east. Her father said something and her mother laughed. Nadya heard the rustling of clothing.
“The sun is setting,” Nadya said, and she heard her mother’s hand on the doorlatch.
“We are here,” her mother said. Her hair was loose, falling in dark waves down her back.
Then the Change came.
You want to know how it feels, to go through the Change? It begins with warmth, as if the moonlight on your skin carried the heat of the tropical sun. But the warmth comes from within you, not from outside. You can feel your heart beating and your blood surging through your body, pounding in your veins and arteries. The moon pulls on your blood as it pulls on the ocean: you are caught in the tide, a riptide that you are powerless to resist. Your body burns with the heat and you breathe faster, moaning sometimes. There is something you want, something you need — you know that, though you cannot yet describe what that something is.
You cannot tell if this feeling is pleasure or pain. Those words do not apply. You feel a new intensity (surely it could not have felt like this on the last full moon). You feel like you might be dying or you might, at last, be coming to life. In this moment, the two seem much the same. And maybe you want to stop, you want to call out “No, no, no, this is too much. I can’t…, I won’t….” But what it is that you can’t or won’t do is lost in clouds and darkness, because no words come to you. Words are going away, rushing away from you, a babble that no longer has meaning or value. You are poised on the brink, on the knife’s edge, at the precipice of the mountain, at the edge of the cliff, and you are staring down at a new world, a world that you never imagined existed.
And when the Change comes at last, it comes with an inexorable rush, like the rush of orgasm. You cannot control it. Your body has made its decision, and the you that thinks and talks and plans and believes that it controls so much, that you is carried along, like a straw in the river’s current. The river is sweeping you away into the unknown. And there is no stopping the river, there is no turning back.
That is what the Change was like. And when it was over, Nadya stood on four legs instead of two; her body was covered with fur; her ears caught the rustling of a mouse under the porch. But all that was not important. What was important in that moment was the Change itself, the moment of shifting, the malleability of the flesh, the decision of the body.
The Change came and three wolves stood on the porch, gazing into the forest.
The wolf that had been Nadya stretched, extending her forelegs and lowering her chest to the ground so her back arched. She yawned, opening her jaws wide with a sound like a creaking gate. When she shook herself, her fur shimmered in the moonlight. She was a gray wolf, marked with black on her back and tail and face.
She lifted her head and breathed deeply. The air was alive with scents: the odor of crushed weeds and turned earth from the field, the warm breath of livestock in the barn, the lingering aroma of cornbread leftover from dinner. And there was another smell, an intriguing scent that clung to the handle of the bucket by the cabin door. She sniffed at the bucket, catching a warm man smell touched with tobacco and gunpowder. She did not know why the scent was so intriguing, but for some reason it made her whimper low in her throat.