Something hit me like a hot, furry freight train, and I was knocked backward- off my feet, and into the air- as if I weighed no more than a ragdoll. There was a single cardiac moment of free-flight, and then I slammed into a tree trunk with enough force to shake the hoary old oak at its base...And then something slammed into me.
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My eyes refocused and suddenly I was staring into a nightmare made flesh; a thing born of dreams turned sickly and terrible in the summer's heat. It resembled, in some capacity, a wolf, in much the same way that a domesticated dog resembles a wolf. Mangy, tufted ears stood at attention on the thing's head, attached to a fur-covered skein of muscle and flesh. Two eyes like twin coals burned brightly from beneath heavy, hooded lids filled with a hot, seething fury I had never seen before in a living creature. The snout protruded from the creature's head at just below eye-level. It was thick and ropy, coated with fur and short, thick whiskers. The nose was a wet black bulb. Beneath it, I could see row after row of pearly white teeth, all covered by a thin film of spittle. Each and every one of them was wickedly pointed- carnivore teeth, through and through. They filled the great maw so thoroughly that many of them had been pushed aside, and peeked out from beneath the snout even when the thing's maw was closed- which it was not.
This slavering, animal visage was attached to a massive neck like a tree trunk, which in turn was connected to a pair of broad, furry shoulders that squirmed with ropy tendons like electrical cables. Arms, each one twice as large as my own, grew from these shoulders like branches on a tree. They were tipped with hands that bore five fingers- fingers far too large and furry to ever operate a keyboard or a touch-tone telephone- on a hand that was half animal hair and half bare, calloused pad. The fingers were tipped with black claws. These claws were wrapped around my neck.
I could hear Morphine screaming, but it was vague and far away. My whole world was filled by the slathering, snarling beast before my eyes. I was eye-to-eye with it, as it had me pressed me up against the trunk of a tree, and its claws were rapidly digging into the flesh of my neck- no pain, not yet, but small rivulets of blood that looked strikingly black under the light of the moon.
I thrashed under the grip of the thing, but my efforts were in vain; it was incredibly strong- strong enough to crush a human skull with a single squeeze, I later learned- and between claws and teeth, I could neither escape nor fight back. I was being ground down between beast and the tree, and if my ribcage didn't collapse from the sheer pressure involved, the creature's claws would snap my neck like a twig in a matter of seconds. Panic was taking over, screaming at me to run, to get out. But I couldn't.
The beast snarled into my face, drenching me in spittle. It was warm and sticky, and it smelled like week-old feces. I was suddenly furious. I snarled back, threw my head forward, and sank my fangs into the monster's snout, scraping across gristle and bone as my teeth penetrated the thin layer of flesh. It yelped and drew back, tearing a wide gash along its mouth as flesh parted under the tension. Quite suddenly, it was shaken, frightened; uncertain of itself.
I, on the other hand, was alive in ways I had never even imagined, never dreamed possible. The beast's blood was on my lips, and a fire burned in my brain. I was invincible, indestructible, a thing born of shadow and moonlight, and I revelled in the mirth that bubbled up out of every crevice. I laughed, just to hear myself laugh, and grabbed hold of the creature's claws, pulling them away from my neck with ease.
The beast, surprised, flexed its arms and fought back. We locked hands, the monster and I, and in that brief, pitiful struggle, I saw the fear in its eyes and knew it for what it was. I knew...and I did nothing.
I pushed at it, and it stumbled backward, off-balance. As it did, I stepped forward and hit it as hard as I could in the ropy, undefined bundle of muscle I guessed to be the solar plexus. I guessed right. The beast gave out a choked wail and sank to the ground, gasping desperately for breath. It produced a ragged "AAARP!" sound, its chest heaving. I could see panic and fear- of death?- in its eyes. I considered feeling sorry for it, but the blood spoke to me of things cold and emotionless, and I found myself unable to feel anything but a vague sense of triumph and unfulfilled rage.
The beast's head sank forward, and I could see, underneath the fur, the pulsing, ropy arteries of its neck- so close to the surface...and beneath: Hot, sweet blood. Rivers of blood, flowing forever in darkness...
I bent down to drink, my lips brushing the creature's neck...
Morphine screamed, and the spell broke and flew away from me. The blood fell silent, and the rage was gone as quickly as it had risen. I felt myself to be myself again, and horrified at the act I was about to commit.
But there was no time to consider, and Morphine was still screaming. I looked up from my impending meal and saw her thrashing under the grip of a smaller beast with black fur and narrow, cat-like ears. The creature had her pinned beneath its bulk, and it was battering at her wildly with fists the size of Daisy canned hams.
Morphine screamed again and the rage flowed back into me. In an instant, I had covered the distance between us, and I lashed out, kicking the smaller creature hard in the gut. The blow sent it spinning sideways, its body actually leaving the ground and rolling over and over, until it came crashing back to earth some ten feet away. The beast struggled to its hands and knees, and I leapt to meet it, one hand raised to smash its snout to pieces.
A voice, behind me: "No, please!"
I turned, lowering my fist, and beheld the bearer of the voice. He was a young man- no more than twenty five, at my estimate- and very broad-shouldered. He was ostensibly naked, save for a shock of unruly brown hair that flowed out from his head in all directions like a lion's mane. There was a shallow cut across his upper lip, and an impressive bruise was blossoming just below the level of his ribcage. He seemed unaware or unconcerned about his own nudity, however, and his strange black eyes- evidence of his exotic heritage- were fixed solely and completely on me.
He held up a hand. "Please! Don't hurt her. I beg you."
I blinked. "Her? Her who?"
He motioned at the creature kneeling before me on the muddy ground. His voice was clear and calm: "Her," he said. "Her. My sister."
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.