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Keeping Secrets
by Michael Bard
Michael Bard -- all rights reserved

Dimly he could hear the insects; dimly he could see the silver moon glittering through the trees; but all his attention was focussed on the rabbit fleeing from him. He couldn't dash and catch it, so he had to wear it out. He had marked where it's burrow was, so now all he had to do was to keep it away from the entrances. So far, he had succeeded. Enough time had passed so that the rabbit was tiring.

Just a few more moments, just a little closer...

He leapt and opened his jaws as far as any animal could, then he snapped them shut on the rabbit's head. Damn invaders.

There was a moment of resistance until the bones gave away. The rabbit didn't even have time to struggle.

He dropped the warm corpse and licked the blood from his lips and started wolfing down the meat. It was hot and salty, the droplets of blood that escaped his mouth peppering his stripped fur and turning black and cold. Finally it was done.

He leaned back and howled his triumph.

Then he noticed someone hiding in the brush nearby, a human, female. He heard a snap of a lens and a whirr of film.

Good God, how much had she seen!? He couldn't let her see any more.

He turned and fled into the woods, his tiger stripes quickly blending in with the stripes of moonlight through the leaves.

Eventually he calmed and turned and made his way back to his camp, quickly loping on all fours. He reached his trailer and leapt into the mountain stream nearby. It was cold, very cold, especially the few drops that slipped into his rudimentary pouch. He didn't stay long and soon bounded out onto the shore and violently shook the water out of his fur.

It was time to think.

He remembered being human and felt the change begin. Unlike american fiction, the change was not painful, and was very quick. There were no gradual sensations, just an orgasm of muscle and bone clenching and changing. The instant passed and his senses faded and he was back to human, still wet. He walked over to his trailer and pushed the door open, barely able to hear the creak of the hinges. There he grabbed a towel to finish drying himself, and finally sat down to think in the darkness.

He should have just killed her. It would have been quick and easy, but no, he had to panic. Now he would have to deal with her the hard way. He had to get her camera and her film and destroy it. His cousins in Europe had let themselves become too well known, and they were wiped out. Those who survived as what humans called Tasmanian Tigers were glad that the humans thought them extinct - it gave them peace and quiet. But it was becoming harder and harder to keep their existence hidden.

This time it was his fault, so this woman was his problem. He would have to take care of her, like he had his other problems.

He lit the kerosene lantern and adjusted its light. Then he dug through his bags and dug out his uniform. He actually was one of the wardens with the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. He smiled at the irony, here he was, supposedly looking for the Tasmanian Tiger, but instead working to keep its existence secret.

He grabbed a flashlight and went out and walked back through the wilderness to where he had eaten the rabbit. He looked around and recognized the brush she had hidden in. Unfortunately she knew how to move in the wilderness. Shining his light over and around the brush revealed nothing. He sniffed and could still faintly scent her - she had been there. He would have to do it the hard way.

He shone the light around and made sure there was no one else in sight. Then he carefully removed his clothes and hid them under a rock. He hid the flashlight nearby. Then he turned and looked up into the moon - it had never been needed for him to change, but looking at it seemed to help. He concentrated on his wolf, on his stripes and pouch, on his jaws and mouth. He remembered the scent and the smell and the taste of the rabbit. Then the change started, his muscles ecstasied and he felt himself become the wolf.

In a second his senses opened and he drank in the night air. Now her scent was clear, easy to follow. He crept through the brush and loped in the direction she had gone. There was something odd about her scent - probably some kind of insect repellent.

Her trail went down from the rugged highlands a short distance until it reached the dirt road that was the only way to get up into the wilderness preserve. He sniffed and smiled to himself - she had walked. She had to be close. He slunk back into the brush and followed the road in the direction she had gone. It wouldn't do to be seen by another car.

It wasn't long until the road branched off into a small campsite. He stayed in the brush and crept along it. Finally, some luck. All that was there was a single jeep and a single trailer. There were no other witnesses. The question now was how to get in? He crept into the clearing and circled around the trailer but there was only one door, and it was closed. He could smell her inside, alone. Except for that slight strangeness to her scent... No time, it was almost dawn.

He turned and loped back to his clothes. He willed the change back to human and put them on. Then he changed back to wolf - he wanted his clothes ragged and torn. He rolled around in the dirt and the remnants of the rabbit to make sure his clothes were also dirty and bloody. Then he changed back. The actual change was such a wonderful experience that he often wished it would take longer, but not tonight. Then he was human again. He rolled around some more to make sure his skin was also bloodied and dirtied, then he ran back to her camper.

He reached it tired and gasping for air. Perfect. He banged on the door.

"Help!" There was no answer. So he banged and shouted louder.

Finally he stopped, for he could hear some sounds from inside. But they were strange sounds, a kind of shuffling and crackling. He called again: "Hello?!". Finally he could see the woman coming to the door, wrapped in a bathrobe.

She looked at him, wide awake.

"You have to help me! I was attacked by poachers. I have to call and report them so they don't escape." He let himself collapse against the door. He smiled to himself as she opened it. Fool!

The instant the door opened, he willed himself into the wolf. Ignoring the pleasure of the change, he leapt onto her and snapped his jaws and crushed her neck.

She didn't have time to scream.

He picked up the body and shook it. Then he dropped it and grabbed it by a shoulder and crunched down, shaking it some more. Eventually the arm came off and it rolled across the floor. He stopped and licked at the blood.

No!. He shook his head. Dawn was just beginning - he had to get the film. Then he would have to doctor the corpse some more to make it look like feral cats or something. He knew it would work, it had worked every other time he'd done this.

He willed himself back to human, the change this time a bit harder as the dawn light shone through the open door across the blood and gore. In his bare feet he walked over to her bed. He sniffed and followed her dim scent to the camera still in its case. He ripped the case open and grabbed the camera and banged it against the metal side of the bed. The case cracked and he banged it again. He wanted to make sure it looked damaged from her struggle. Finally the case shattered. He grabbed the film and pulled it all out of the roll to make sure it was well exposed to the dawn light. Later he would dump it in a stream just to make sure.

Almost done. Now to finish with the body.

He heard a low, rumbling growl behind him.

What?! He spun around. The woman was slowly pulling herself from the floor. Her head had reattached itself to her torso but was still hanging loose, held only by strips of muscle. Her one arm was holding her other arm to her shoulder and he could see muscle and bone growing together.

He just stared.

The muscle and bone grew and the body healed. Then it began to change. The head lengthened and flattened, growing a bigger mouth with its own fangs. The ears slid up the head and grew out on top; her entire body began to be covered by black fur. Soon all he could see was a silhouette in the dawning sun, and the two glowing eyes. The odd scent he had noticed before grew stronger.

He staggered backward and fell onto the bed.

She laughed, a horrible, sickening, growling sound. He watched her neck thicken and widen; watched the muscle and tissue regenerate and heal.

"You can't kill me," she whispered. "I'm like you, just a different species." She opened her jaws and let out a low rumbling roar that made his legs shake.

He just stared, petrified in fear. Nothing had ever threatened him before. Especially nothing like this.

Her body stopped healing and stopped changing. She had become a glorious thing of human dreams, half woman, half panther. Other than her upright stance, all that remained of her humanity was the black mane rippling down her back.

"That hurt. Really hurt. Now that you've seen me, I can't let you live to tell anybody."

"But..."

Step by step she moved towards him. She reached the tiny kitchen counter and pulled open a drawer. It scraped, wood against wood, loud in the dawn silence.

"Do you have any suggestions about how I can get rid of your body? Its probably more than I can eat at one sitting."

"I won't tell, I won't!"

"I know."

She pulled the trigger and the gun fired, the bang loud over his whimpering.

The silver bullet made sure he kept his secrets forever.

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Website Copyright 2004,2005 Michael Bard.  Please send any comments or questions to him at mwbard@transform.to