Nate's Story
Published May 7, 2011

Written By



Page 1 / 40

This is a short story giving background on one of the characters from my story on the TSR forums, This Imperfect World. This story is independent from events in the longer story; you don't need to read the forum story for this short story to make sense, but if you enjoy this one, why not enjoy both!

Nate carried in a heavy armload of wood, and stacked it neatly near the stove, winning a smile of thanks from his mother as she prepared supper.

"Thank you, Nate," she said. "Please go find your sister, and tell her to set the table for me."

"Yes, ma'am," Nate said, and climbed up the ladder to the loft the two of them shared as a bedroom, to see if his little sister was up there. She wasn't, so he went back outside. He quickly spotted her footsteps in the snow, leading off around back of the cabin. Following them lead him to an old pine tree in back, its limbs drooping down nearly to the surrounding snow, protecting a tent-like space around its trunk from snow. Carefully he parted the branches and peered underneath. Sarah was there, playing with her current favourite doll, a Y-shaped bit of wood with a face inked in at the top end, and a scrap of cloth wrapped around it for clothing.

"Ma wants you to come set the table," he told her.

"All right," Sarah said, and put her doll to bed on a scraped-together heap of dry pine needles, whispering to it as she did so, before emerging to follow Nate back to the house.

This is a short story giving background on one of the characters from my story on the TSR forums, This Imperfect World. This story is independent from events in the longer story; you don't need to read the forum story for this short story to make sense, but if you enjoy this one, why not enjoy both!

Nate carried in a heavy armload of wood, and stacked it neatly near the stove, winning a smile of thanks from his mother as she prepared supper.

"Thank you, Nate," she said. "Please go find your sister, and tell her to set the table for me."

"Yes, ma'am," Nate said, and climbed up the ladder to the loft the two of them shared as a bedroom, to see if his little sister was up there. She wasn't, so he went back outside. He quickly spotted her footsteps in the snow, leading off around back of the cabin. Following them lead him to an old pine tree in back, its limbs drooping down nearly to the surrounding snow, protecting a tent-like space around its trunk from snow. Carefully he parted the branches and peered underneath. Sarah was there, playing with her current favourite doll, a Y-shaped bit of wood with a face inked in at the top end, and a scrap of cloth wrapped around it for clothing.

"Ma wants you to come set the table," he told her.

"All right," Sarah said, and put her doll to bed on a scraped-together heap of dry pine needles, whispering to it as she did so, before emerging to follow Nate back to the house.
Dinner that evening was enjoyable, the four of them sitting around and eating bowls full of the piping-hot bean dish that Mother had made. Father, as usual, complimented Mother on her cooking, while she gave part of the credit to Nate for a rabbit he'd snared the day before, which had provided the meat in the dish.

"And I set the table!" Sarah piped up.

Mother smiled. "Yes, Sarah set the table," she agreed gravely. "And seeing as Father bought the beans, and chopped the wood, why, we all contributed to the meal."

Father smiled, a twinkle in his eyes, and agreed.
After the meal, while the light lasted, Mother and Sarah did some sewing, Sarah learning how to turn sheets and sew a straight seam, while Mother worked on a more complicated repair to a torn shirt. Father got out his journal and worked over it, muttering occasionally as his pen scraped and sputtered on the rough paper. Nate worked on scraping and stretching to dry the skin from his rabbit. When he was done he showed it to Father, who nodded approval of a job well done.

Once it began to get dark, Mother lit several candles, and she and Father spent some time quietly talking while Nate read aloud from Aesop's Fables, Sarah listening attentively.
Eventually it grew late, and everyone retired to bed, Mother and Father in their room downstairs, and Nate and Sarah to the loft above it.

"Read me to sleep?" Sarah begged as she changed into her nightgown.

"Sure," Nate agreed, and slid back down the ladder to fetch the book. He sat on the floor by her bed, reading quietly, until she finally drifted off to sleep, then put away the book, changed into his own pyjamas, blew out the candle, and went to bed.
Nate was up first the next morning, and shivered as he hurriedly dressed in his clothes again, dancing from foot to foot on the small rag-rug that did little to protect bare feet from the night-chilled floorboards. The small window at one end of the loft was white with frost, a sprinkling of crystals even coating the window sill and glistening along some of the peeled logs that made up the cabin's walls.

Nate dressed warmly, putting on both long underwear and a warm knitted top underneath his thick flannel shirt and heavy twill pants.

Dressed, he shook Sarah awake. "Time to get up, sleepyhead," he told her.

She groaned and protested, not wanting to leave the warm nest of her blankets.

"You have to be a good girl if you want to get something nice at Christmas," he reminded her.

That got her moving; seeing she was up, Nate headed down the ladder to the main room, and cleaned out the cold ashes from the stove. He laid a new fire and lit it before carrying the ashes and cinders out. By the time he returned, carrying in some more wood from the wood pile as he did, Mother was up and had started mixing batter for pancakes.
"Pancakes for breakfast!" Sarah exclaimed happily as she slid down the ladder from the loft, still in her nightgown.

"Yes, though there won't be any for little girls who aren't dressed yet," Mother said, her voice severe but a smile tugging at the corners of her lips as she looked at her daughter.
"I'm going to get dressed," Sarah said. "I just wanted to say good morning to everyone first," she said, and hugged Mother and Father before going back up to the loft to change into her day clothes.

"Put your stockings on this time!" Mother called after her.

"But they itch" she complained.

"Better itchy legs then frozen ones," Mother called back, as she started transferring cooked pancakes to a serving platter.
They were soon sitting down to a delicious meal of hot pancakes, covered in maple syrup and melting butter.

"Don't forget the syrup has to last until spring," Father said, looking askance at the amount of maple syrup Mother had used on the pancakes. He always said that, and Mother always gave him the same response.

"If it runs out before spring, I can always make some syrup with sugar and a little molasses to use instead. Oh, we're almost out of butter, see if you can pick up another block of it when you're in town later, Henry. And flour; we still have a good amount of that left, but better to get more now so you're not having to make another trip in too soon."

"Yes, dear," Father agreed. "Anything else I should get? Do any of you have any special Christmas wishes I should be considering?" Father asked.

"A real doll!" Sarah immediately piped up. "With a porcelain head, and curly gold hair, and a real silk dress. Like Maude has from her grandmother from back east," she added.

"Sarah!" Mother exclaimed, and frowned disapprovingly at her. "Don't wish for too much. Or you won't be happy with what you do get."

Father smiled and didn't say anything. Nate knew that he'd already purchased a doll for Sarah - with a porcelain head, but not blond - and that Mother was sewing a dress for it, of good plain calico.

"What about you, Nate - what would you like?" Father asked.

"A good skinning knife," Nate said. He had a knife, but it was only a small penknife, and now that he was trying his hand at trapping - and hunting soon, too, he hoped - he needed something better. "And some peppermint candy," he suddenly added, remembering a special treat from the year before, a gift from someone in town.

Father laughed and smiled. By the smile, Nate was sure he must have already purchased, or planned to purchase, one or the other of the items named. "What about you, dear?" he asked mother.

"Oh, anything you feel like," she said.
"Are you sure? I might bring you something like a side of bacon, and a clutch of eggs to hatch out," he said, eyes glinting with humour as he teased her.

"It's too late in the year for eggs; we'd never get the chicks through the winter, and you know it, Henry Arlington," Mother said severely. "And we have plenty of bacon already. Don't tease."

"Then make a proper wish, dear," Father said.

"Oh, well...," she hesitated, then flushed and answered. "I wouldn't turn up my nose at some good wool cloth for a new winter dress. A nice dark green, by preference."

"Good, I do believe I might be able to find something like that in town," Father said solemnly. "And perhaps some notions to go with it? Some little pearl buttons maybe?"

"Now Henry, you know I have no use for fripperies like pearl buttons... good plain bone or wood ones would do me just fine."

"But I like seeing you looking pretty, my dear. How about mother-of-pearl? Just as pretty, and not all that much more expensive then bone would be."

"Well... maybe," Mother said. Nate hid a smile of his own; he could tell, as no doubt Father could as well, that she'd enjoy having something pretty like that for a new dress. She'd grown up with pretty things, before she'd married Father - married down, according to the relations back east, which was why Mother no longer spoke to that side of the family - and moved west with him. Nate was sure mother-of-pearl buttons would be among father's purchases.
Nate made a point of catching father on his way out of the house later that day.

"Father, could I ask you for a favour?" Nate asked.

"That depends on what it is, Nathaniel," Father said.

"My furs - could you take them into town, and sell them to buy gifts for Mother and Sarah from me?"

Father smiled. "Yes, I do believe I could. What would you like me to get them?" he asked.

"Well, if the furs will sell for enough for the cost of it... a bit of silk cloth for Sarah. Mother can help her make a dress out of it for her doll, and maybe something nice like a handkerchief or hair ribbon for herself out of it. And for mother... Well, something pretty. A brooch maybe; she's always talking about the one she used to have, before it got lost."

Father nodded. "I'll see what I can do," he agreed. "Though I hope you know that all your furs wouldn't be enough to buy something like the brooch she used to have; it was her godmother's cameo."

"And was real gold, yes... I've heard her describe it. But I'd like to give her something pretty, and even if it's just copper, or enamelled tin, so long as she liked it..."

Father smiled warmly. "I think she'd value pot metal and cut glass more then gold and fine gems, when it's a present from her son," he said gravely, and ruffled Nate's hair. "I'll see what I can find."
"Thank you, father!" Nate said, and gave his Father an impulsive embrace.

"You're a good boy, Nate," Father said. "Now, you look after your mother and sister while I'm gone. In snow this thick, I'll be lucky to make it to town before dark; I won't be back until some time late tomorrow at the earliest, more likely not until the day after since it will take me a while to get all the selling and shopping taken care of. You're the man of the house until I get back."

"Yes, sir!" Nate agreed.
"Good boy," Father repeated, and then glanced at the overcast sky. "I could have wished for better weather for travelling - oh well, at least snowy days tend to be warmer ones. I'd better get a move on; daylight isn't getting any longer," he said.

Nate watched him trudge away down the faint trail away from the house. Then he went back indoors, stopping by the wood pile on his way to fetch a few more sticks of wood.
Nate did his chores, and worked through some reading and math with Mother's help, then spent a while sharpening his penknife and plaiting a new snare out of some rawhide strips. Wire would be better - one of his friends used wire - but wire had to be bought in town, and was expensive. Rawhide would do.

"I'm going to go out for a while and check my snares," he told Mother.

"All right," she said. "Be sure to be back in time for supper. And find Sarah and send her back inside first; she still needs to do her schooling for today."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, and kissed her on the cheek before heading out.

Sarah was easily located, in her pine tree hideout in back of the cabin, and that taken care of, he set off into the woods west of the cabin.
It was almost an hour later that he reached one of his favourite places in the nearby woods, a cattail-edged pond set in a small clearing. In summer it was a beautiful sunny glade, a fine place to spend a summer's day swimming and fishing. In winter it was a still and quite place, the snow unbroken save by the isolated tracks of a few small animals.

As he came carefully down the steep slope into the meadow, he caught a glimpse of movement, and looked up to see a deer on the far side of the clearing, nosing around in the snow-covered ferns and grasses around the meadow's edge in search of food.

Nate caught his breath and stood still, watching the young buck. For a buck it was, sharp-tined horns crowning its head. If only Father had taught him how to hunt already; a buck like that, even skinny from the poor feeding it found in winter, would represent a lot of good meals to them. Though he didn't know if he'd have the heart to hunt something so beautiful.
He wasn't sure how long he'd stood there, watching it browse in the undergrowth, before it suddenly raised its head in alarm, ears flicking back and forth and legs tensing as it peered into the forest. For a moment Nate thought it was some sign of his own presence that had disturbed it - a noise, or his scent on the slight breeze that brew through the clearing - and then he caught a glimpse of motion in the forest beyond it. Something moved there, white on white, hard to pick out save for the darkness of its nose and eyes, and the faint clouds of powdery snow puffing away in its wake as it ran silently towards the deer. A white wolf, he realized as it drew closer. The deer snorted and danced in place, head lowering to point threatening tines toward the approaching menace. Nate watched in awe as the wolf lunged at the deer, the deer fending it off, an obscuring cloud of snow rising as the two struggled, momentarily hiding the pair from view. He heard a yelp, and caught a glimpse of the wolf plowing into the snow and tumbling end over end as the deer tossed it to the side. The deer stepped forward and lowered its head a second time, butting into the wolf and sending it flying with a practised twist of its powerful neck. What happened next was so incredible that Nate found himself not wanting to believe what he was seeing. Even as the wolf flew backward through the air, it changed, white fur vanishing, limbs lengthening, becoming a well-dressed young woman. She slammed heavily into a tree, her head rebounding off the trunk with a dull sound clearly audible from where Nate stood watching. She fell into a crumpled heap at the base of the tree as the deer, deciding it had had enough, turned and fled. Without even considering what he'd just witnessed, Nate flew across the clearing, dropping to his knee's at the woman's side. Her face was dreadfully pale. He lifted her head and shoulders clear of the enveloping snow, frightened by how limply she lay. For a moment he feared she was dead, then she groaned and twitched, eyes fluttering open briefly before closing again.

"Ma'am? Are you all right?" he asked anxiously.

Her only answer was a pained groan.
He propped her head on a protruding root of the tree, to keep it up out of the snow, and crouched there, unsure what to do. Evening was setting in; by the time he could return home for help, it would be full night, and he couldn't see dragging his mother and sister through the woods at night, to try and bring help to the woman. On the other hand, he had no way to bring her home with him; she was too big a burden for him to carry.

But maybe a travois would work, he suddenly realized; then most of her weight would be on the ground, rather then him, and the snow would make it easier to drag, more like a sled, or the sledge Father used for hauling...

He rose to his feet and looked around for suitable young saplings or heavy branches, something he could cut down with nothing more then his penknife to help him. He'd dug his penknife out of his pocket and taken a step towards the closest possible candidate when a threatening growl sounded from nearby.
He turned and saw a second wolf, a grey one this time, stalking stiff-legged through the snow towards him, lips pulled back from lethally sharp teeth in a fearsome expression as it growled. He backed away, dropping his penknife in the snow in his fright.

Its growl deepened, and it crouched, obviously preparing to lunge at him.
His nerve broke. Turning, he fled, knowing even as he did so that the attempt was futile; the wolf could run through the snow much faster then he. His breath sobbed in his throat as he ran, heart thudding painfully in his chest. He could hear its paws crunching in the snow behind him, closer and closer.

"Todd! No!" a female voice cried even as a heavy weight slammed into him, sending him crashing head-first into the snow, the wolf's jaws locked painfully in the flesh of his arm. His head impacted with something hidden under the snow - a branch, a rock, he never knew what - and darkness enveloped him.
"You fool, Todd, he was just trying to help me!" Eliza cried as she sank in a crouch beside the unconscious boy, checking him for signs of life. She felt like crying in relief when her fingers felt his pulse fluttering under her questing fingertips.

"He was standing over you with a knife! What was I to think!" Todd cried, angered and ashamed.

"Oh, Todd, that's just the problem, you didn't think. You just reacted! You're lucky he's not dead!"

Todd looked ashamed. "I just... I worry about you. After what happened to the Gainsburgh pack..."

"The Gainsburgh pack! Don't be stupid, you know as well as I do that they brought that on themselves; I don't like what happened to them any more then you do, but if you don't want to see things like that happening to more Weres, we need to learn to live together with the normal humans, not apart from them, and certainly not treating their livestock as easy hunting when game is scarce!"

"I know, you're right Eliza, but... I'm sorry, okay? I'm truly sorry for harming him, especially if as you say he meant you no harm."

"It's not me you need to apologize to, Todd - it's this boy. Now help he see if we can rouse him; I don't like his colour. I hope this blow to his head is his only real injury..."
"It's not," Todd said, sounding even more deeply ashamed. "By the time you called out... it was too late for me to stop myself. I... he... his arm will need bandaging."

"Oh gods, Todd!" Eliza exclaimed, appalled. "This close to the full moon?" she said, fearfully. "He may change, Todd."

"I know," Todd admitted, truly miserable now as what he'd unthinkingly done set in. "What are we going to do? It may be days, even weeks before we'd know one way or the other... and we don't have days. We have to be in Thornton by the end of the week, or..."
"I know," Eliza cut him off, looking angry - at him, at herself, he didn't know for sure. "And this is my fault as much as yours, I suppose - it was foolish of me to try and take on a deer single-handed, especially when we're not hurting for food."

"A deer? Is that what happened?" Todd asked.

"Yes - a young buck who decided on fight rather then flight. Flipped me right into a tree; I was lucky not to be killed outright. As it was, I think I had a couple broken ribs and a concussion until the Change healed me again; a good thing it was so close to nightfall anyway!"

Todd shook his head, and hugged Eliza close, feeling her shaking with after-reaction to the stress of recent events. She hugged him back, wordlessly, and they stood that way for a long moment, until finally she drew a long breath and stepped back, once more in control of herself.

"All right," she said decisively. "First we get this boy home; we'll have to dump him and run, we just can't risk getting caught up in lengthy explanations right now. The first pack we come across, and I hope to all gods that there's one in the near area, we let know about the boy, and have them send someone to check on him. If we haven't found anyone by the time we reach Thornton... well, we'll have to turn around and get back here as quickly as we can, once we've delivered the message. Let's just hope it doesn't come to that."

"Or that he doesn't change," Todd said miserably.

"Yes, or that... that would be by far the best outcome. Look at him - he's so young! Too young to be able to handle the physical and mental impact of a Change without a lot of help."

Todd nodded. "We'd better get moving; its almost full dark. His people will be worrying about him."

"And rightfully so," Eliza pointed out, and crouched down to see what she could do about bandaging his arm before they moved him.
Katherine sat and tried to read her book, but found it impossible to concentrate. Not with Nate lying there in her and Henry's bed, burning with fever and deathly pale.

She'd been frightened ever since the knock on the door two nights before. Answering it, wondering - and worried! - over who could be knocking on the door of their isolated cabin so late in the evening, and also worrying over her son's failure to return home at a reasonable hour, she'd been shocked to find his unconscious body on the ground before the door, and no one in sight. And appalled, once she got him indoors, to discover the swelling of a bad blow to his head, and the terrible injuries to his arm under the makeshift bandaging wrapping the torn flesh. Someone must have known what had happened to him to put him in this condition; the bandaging, unless she missed her guess, was a strip torn from the hem of someone's petticoat - but whomever it was had not lingered to make explanations.

She'd cleaned and redressed his wounds, and put a compress of clean snow on the goose egg on his head, Sarah fetching new snow for her as needed throughout the night, the girl as scared and worried about Nate as Katherine herself was.
She put aside her book and walked over to look down at him, adjusting the blankets as he turned over in his fevered sleep. The goose egg had gone down already, leaving nothing more then a nasty bruised area on his scalp; but the wounds on his arm - some kind of animal bite, she thought - had gone red and ugly, the flesh swollen and shiny. She prayed that continued care would help Nate to fight off the infection; it was a long way into town and the nearest doctor, if it went bad enough to need removal.

"Daddy!" she heard Sarah call out from the next room, and heard the front door open. She hurried out to the main room, tears of relief springing to her eyes. Finally, Henry was back; if things went poorly, at least they'd be able to cope with it together.
Henry looked down at his son. He leaned down, touching his hand to Nate's forehead, and frowned in concern as he straightened up.

"He's burning hot," he said.

"I know," Katherine said, fighting to keep her voice steady. "The wounds in his arm... they don't look good. I think that's what's causing it. I don't know what to try, to keep the fever down."

Henry put his arm around her, hugging her reassuringly. "Well, it being winter, we can try a cold pack of snow if nothing else, though I'd hate to risk giving him a chill on top of this. But... hmmmm... we could try willow bark tea. I've read that that's supposed to be good for fevers."
"I'll go gather some bark, while you get some water boiling, all right?" he said, keeping his own voice calm and measured to hide his own very real fears at seeing their son in this state.

Katherine nodded, then suddenly burst into tears. "Oh, Henry... I'm so glad you're finally home! I've been so frightened, trying to deal with this on my own..."

Henry gave her a reassuring hug. "We'll muddle through this somehow," he said, trying to sound as if he believed his own words. "He's young and strong, and he's always been healthy as a horse... this will pass."

Katherine nodded, and mopped the tears from her face with the hem of her apron before heading out to the main room to put the kettle on. Henry took a last, worried look at Nate, then hurried back out of the cabin in search of a stand of willows.
Sarah silently rose from her bed, looking across the loft to where Mother slept on Nate's bed, drained from having cared for him on her own for so long before Father had returned home.

It was late, the cabin eerily silent except for the muted crackling of embers in the wood stove. Pulling on her dress - it was warmer then her nightgown - she slipped quietly down the ladder.

Father was sleeping on the bench seat, snoring quietly, a quilt draped over him to keep him warm. Sarah shivered; the fire in the stove had burned low enough that it was throwing very little heat. On impulse, she opened the door and carefully added another log. She wasn't supposed to touch the stove, but Father looked so cold... it was a good deed to do, she told herself, and added a second log before closing the door. She looked around carefully on the floor to make sure she hadn't let an ember drop out; fire was dangerous, and always looking for a way to escape, Ma said. You had to be very careful with it, especially in winter when everything was so dry, and water hard to come by.

Satisfied that the fire was safely locked away in the stove, Sarah slipped quietly through the door into her parents' bedroom. She went over and hoisted herself up onto the bed, peering at Nate.
She hadn't seen him since the night when Mother had her help with him by bringing in snow for a cold compress for his head. He looked much the same as always, apart from an ugly spot on the right side of his head, almost hidden by his hair, and the paleness of his face. She sat watching him for a while, feeling scared by his stillness.

"Nate?" she whispered, and cautiously reached out to touch his face, snatching her hand back as if burned when she felt how hot it was.
Something cold on his face. A whisper of sound. Sarah's voice. She sounded scared.

Worried, he forced his eyes open. Why was Sarah scared?

He frowned, wondering why the room looked wrong, before figuring out that he wasn't in his own bed; for some reason, he was in Mother and Father's bed instead. Sarah was sitting on the bedspread beside him; as he looked at her, the look of fright on her face was replaced by one of relief. "Nate? Are you okay?" she asked, voice trembling. "I've been so scared..."

He tried to answer her, but raising his head a little first turned out to be a mistake; stabbing pain shot through his head and arm, and a wave of dizziness almost sent him back into unconsciousness.

He whimpered, then forced himself upright. Sarah was scared, and something was wrong with him. What was going on?
A look of relief came to Sarah's face as he sat upright. "Oh, Nate, are you better?" she asked, and scrambled across the bed to his side, helping him to his feet.

He gave her a hug, wincing as the motion made his arm and head throb even worse. "What happened? Where are Mother and Father?"

"Sleeping," Sarah said. "I should be in bed too, but I was so worried about you... I came to see if you were okay. Are you feeling better?"

"I don't know," he said, and winced. His head was spinning again. And something felt... odd. Different. Wrong, very wrong, in some way he couldn't understand.

He looked around, trying to make sense of the feeling of wrongness. He didn't see anything out of place - apart from him being in the wrong bed - and with the bright light of a full moon streaming in the nearby window adding to the faint glow of the oil lantern on the table beside the bed, he could see quite clearly.

He took a step or two, just to see if he could, suppressing a moan of pain as his arm throbbed again.

"Something is... wrong," he rasped, suddenly feeling scared. "Sarah, get Father or Mother... something's wrong," he gasped out, then cried out as the pain in his arm flared, worse then before, worse then anything he'd ever felt, the pain spreading from there to everywhere.
His very bones ached, and he cried out in pain as his body contorted, stretching and twisting in unnatural ways as a strange firey glow burst out of him, accompanied by a fierce itching and a weird, goose-pimply feeling, as it every hair on his body was standing up at once.

Somewhere nearby, Sarah was screaming in terror, but lost in his own pain as he was, he couldn't spare more then a fleeting worry for her.
He collapsed to the floor, limbs jerking spasmodically as the terrible pain faded. He levered himself up, leaning weakly on the bed, hands holding onto handfuls of the sheets as he tried to pull himself upright. Sarah scrambled across the bed to get past him, voice still wailing in fear, and landed on the floor on the far side of the bed, running out of the room.

He lost his grip on the sheets and fell over sideways, grunting in pain as he knocked into the small table beside the bed. The oil lantern rocked, once, twice, then tipped over, rolling off the table and crashing to the floor, sending oil spraying everywhere as it shattered.
Nate scrambled away, nose burning from the sharp scent of the oil fumes. How had he never noticed how foul the lamp oil smelled before? The stink of it seemed to fill his nose and lungs, making it hard to breathe.

And then, as he pushed himself to his feet, he caught a glimpse of his hands; hands that looked nothing like he was used to seeing, and wouldn't have believed were his if not for their presence at the end of arms that were clearly connected to his body. Hands covered in a rich brown pelt of fine fur.

"No..." he exclaimed in shock, staring at his hands. He must be imagining things, or this was some weird fever dream, or maybe he was just going insane...
He tore his attention away from his furred skin, and realized he was surrounded by flame, the bedding and carpet having caught as well by now as burning oil ran everywhere across the rough-planed floorboards.

The door to the bedroom slammed open, his parents rushing into the room. His mother screamed at the sight of him - whether in terror of or for him he would never know - and fainted. His father caught her and began to drag her out of the room, shouting to Sarah to get out of the cabin as he did so.

Nate considered scrambling over the bed to follow them and escape, but the roar of flames as the winter-dry grass-stuffed mattress flared up dissuaded him. He cried out in pain from the searing heat, panicking in his fear and confusion, unable to understand what had happened to him, or how to escape the trap of the flames closing inexorably in on him. A wave of dizziness overwhelmed him, and he dropped to his knees.

Something rose to its feet again mere moments later, something with few of Nate's memories. But it had a desperate desire to live that made it take the only escape at hand, plunging through the nearby window and out into the cold winter's night, crying out in pain as shattered glass tore through its clothes and scored its hide. It ran for a very long time before its terror receded enough to allow conscious thought to resume.
He didn't know where he was. In the forest, somewhere. Nothing in sight was at all familiar. He didn't know how he'd gotten here; his last memories were of flames and fear and pain. He was shivering with cold; his brown-furred skin provided inadequate protection from a bitterly cold night, and at some point he'd lost what little clothing he'd been wearing, save for a pair of briefs that did nothing to shield him from the cold wind blowing through the trees.

He didn't even know how long he'd been out here; he'd waken collapsed in the snow, any trace of his footsteps drifted over.

He stumbled through the forest for what felt like hours, shivering convulsively, hoping to come across something familiar, but never saw anything that he knew. He heard and saw no trace of man; only trees, and occasional wildlife. After a while, as the unremitting cold dulled his thoughts, his consciousness receded a second time, giving way to the creature inside.
The creature knew it was a bad sign when he grew so cold and tired that he stopped shivering. He curled up against the trunk of a tree, whimpering in fear and despair. In desperation it heaped snow over itself, vaguely remembering someone talking about how snow could be a good insulator, that you could survive being lost outside if you stayed in a snow-cave, your own trapped body-heat serving to keep you alive.

Except, cold as he was, he had almost no body heat left, and with his fur slicked to his skin from meltwater and sweat, what little he had left was rapidly being leeched away by the frigid night; fur had to be dry to provide insulation.

Exhausted as the creature was, it slipped into unconsciousness very quickly.
Even in extremity, the body will fight for survival. Implicit in his furred shape was another form; something better suited to surviving the extreme cold. With the last energy in his freezing body, a further change passed haltingly over him, bones shortening, face distorting, body thickening, fur lengthening.

A form rose haltingly up on four legs, staggering at first, then steadying. It was ravenously hungry, so much so that it lapped hungrily at the snow around it, just to have something in its stomach.

Its sharp nose found a nest of leaves in the base of a hollow tree; probing with a paw found something warm and alive, a mere mouthful, but enough to give the beast some much-needed energy.

It sniffed around for any other easy prey, failing to find any, then shook itself, loose snow spraying away from its thick coat. It looked around, ears pricking attentively, then picked a direction and moved off. There'd be food somewhere; a sleeping squirrel, an unwary rabbit, maybe even a snow-trapped deer if it was very lucky.

Somewhere in the darkness, far away, the last embers of what had once been a home crumbled into ash.

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flowrDec 14, 2012

Wonderful story,very pioneer-style,
I love the setting,the storyline,characters.Great story!This can be made into a movie!\:\)

tristen_love23Aug 25, 2011

wow that was cool.. i really enjoyed it.. but how did u get so much scenery and the deer? the deer was excellent. the whole staory was awesome =) especially all the description \:\)

martoeleMay 16, 2011

Great story! Congratulations on the feature \:cool\:

fabrizioammolloMay 15, 2011

It's fantastic.

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