by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Werewolves Versus Fascism, May 2017
Rainal gripped the vial of moon dust tightly in her clawed hand. It was the only vial she had left. Without it… No, she wouldn’t think about that. She would find a new source of dust in this space station bazaar. Someone had to be selling it.
Rainal passed one shop after another: avian aliens with fearsome hooked beaks and massive talons sold specially tailored clothing; reptilian aliens with scaly hides that gleamed like finely polished armor sold tech upgrades for starhoppers; and ursine aliens that towered over everyone with their impressive furry bulk sold dishes of curry.
Rainal wouldn’t want to face any one them in her natural form. Without her moon dust. Even in her were-form, she felt like her claws were too small, her muzzle too cute, her teeth too demure. None of these aliens would fear or respect her naked-skinned, flat-toothed human form. She needed moon dust to protect herself. She needed moon dust to stay lupine.
“Excuse me,” Rainal barked with a flash of her sharp teeth. An alien with bright orange fur, long curling antennae, and multi-faceted eyes stopped to listen. “Do you know — is there an apothecary shop near here?”
The bright orange alien’s antennae unfurled, trembled and vibrated, then curled back up again. The alien buzzed, “There’s a Klai who deals in potions and rare minerals up ahead.” The bright orange alien pointed with a many-jointed arm.
Rainal thanked the alien, who was upsettingly similar to a gigantic bee, and hurried through the crowds. As Rainal darted between fearsome aliens of all stripes, her own gray-furred tail swished eagerly, hopefully behind her.
The apothecary shop had a glass window, and several geodes larger than Rainal’s head were on display. Their cracked-open innards sparkled with crystals. Brushes of sage-green leaves with tiny violet flowers hung, drying from above. Rainal rushed inside. Little bells rang on the door as it swung open and then shut behind her.
The werewolf perused the shelves, tapping stones with her claws in hopes that they’d vibrate with that special tingly resonance. She unstoppered vials, sniffed the dust inside them, and sighed when it smelled flat and musty with none of the strangely citrusy zing she was seeking.
“Can I help you?” a voice asked from behind.
Rainal whirled about in surprise, dropping her own vial. The glass cracked, and precious moon dust spilled out on the floor. “No!” Rainal cried, kneeling down. She clawed at the shimmery dust, trying to sweep it into a savable pile. Her paws grew shaggier and her claws sharper at the touch of the dust.
“Here, let me,” the voice said.
A pair of keratinous hoof-hands gently pushed Rainal’s shaggy paws aside, slipped a thin piece of paper under the dust, and then carefully poured it into a new, unbroken vial.
Rainal looked up to see a pair of doe-brown eyes staring at her from a long, fuzzy-brown, speckled face. Conical ears flipped fore and back at the top of the creature’s head in a nervous dance. This was the most unintimidating alien that Rainal had ever seen.
“Are you the Klai?” Rainal asked.
The deer-like creature answered, “Yes, my name is Orri.”
At least, this explained to Rainal how the Klai had sneaked up on her. In her werewolf form, very little escaped her sensitive, pointed ears. But this alien was a prey-based creature, designed for camouflage and stealth from those adorable speckles on her fur to the careful way she moved her long, slender limbs.
Rainal felt a quickening in her heart. She wasn’t sure if she felt excited by the presence of a creature weaker than her — someone that her sharp teeth and claws could rend to pieces — or by the presence of a creature similar to her, one who seemed fearful and hiding. Like Rainal felt, in spite of her bushy gray fur and sharp teeth and claws.
This was a chance for true connection, unlike anything she’d felt since fleeing Earth in her little starhopper. Rainal had hoped to escape her curse by getting as far away as possible from the lunar body that caused it — and the people who feared her when she changed. Instead, she found herself clinging to the curse in this bizarre universe of terrifying aliens. She missed her home, but at home she was a monster. Anyone who differed was a monster.
Out here, she was surrounded by monsters. And they were all different from each other. She didn’t know how to fit in.
“I’ll have to charge you for the replacement vial,” Orri said. “But I’ve never seen dust like this before, so I’d be willing to take my fee in the form of a small sample.”
“No!” Rainal barked again, grabbing the vial from Orri’s hoofish hands. Perhaps Rainal didn’t have to be a monster out here to fit in — but she was afraid not to be.
“It must be very valuable, for you to treasure it so.” Orri didn’t flinch, in spite of Rainal’s sudden viciousness.
Why wasn’t she afraid?
“Where did you get it?” Orri pressed.
Rainal felt her fur thinning, her shoulders narrowing, and her muzzle shortening. She was growing less fearsome by the moment. More human. More weak. More vulnerable. “It’s from the moon of the planet I came from. I can’t go back there. The government doesn’t tolerate people like me. People who change. They set up a ring of space-drones to shoot me down if I come back. They think I’ll infect others. But I need more dust to live out here.”
“You’re a lycanthrope,” Orri said.
Rainal touched her face in a panic, but her muzzle was still there. She looked at her paws — they were still paws, not hands. She was still in her lupine form, even if she was turning into a weak, scraggly werewolf.
“Are you afraid of your alternate form?” Orri asked. “What do you turn into?”
“A naked primate,” Rainal answered, flooded with shame and the rush of intimacy at the confession.
“We don’t get a lot of primatoid species here.”
“No kidding,” Rainal barked. “You’re the first creature I’ve seen without massive claws and teeth or a giant stinger on its butt since I started starhopping.”
Orri laughed. Her doe-brown eyes crinkled from her smile, and her voice sounded like tinkling bells. “They do look scary, don’t they?”
Rainal blinked her yellow eyes. They’d turn back to blue soon, if she didn’t sprinkle moon dust over herself. “I don’t always know. People told me I was scary. I started to believe them. But sometime I wonder if I was just different.”
Orri held out a keratinous hoof-hand and waited patiently until Rainal took hold of it with her furry — no longer shaggy — paw. “I don’t think you’re scary,” Orri said.
Rainal’s fingers grew longer, and her claws rounded into nails. Orri clasped her rough hoofish fingers tightly around Rainal’s as her werewolf paw reformed itself into a human hand.
When the transformation was complete, Rainal’s clothes hung loosely on her human body, no longer needing the extra space for fur. She knelt on the floor beside Orri, hand in hooves. Human girl and deer-like alien.
“When I’m not scary,” Rainal whispered, thinking of all the fearsome aliens just outside the apothecary shop, “I’m afraid.”
Orri squeezed her hand. “Freedom feels a lot like fear, when you’re not used to it. You’ll get used to it. Then it won’t be so bad.”
Rainal tilted the vial in her other hand and watched the moon dust shimmer. It wasn’t enough left for her to stay a werewolf all the time, but it would last much longer if she only used it occasionally. Only when she wanted the rush of living inside her other form. Rather than a shield to protect herself all the time.
“Can you tell me about the other aliens?” Rainal asked, her human voice quavering. “You live here; you must know about them.” Maybe the giant bees and bears and dragon-like reptiles would be less scary if she knew more about them. Maybe she was only afraid of them because all the humans back home had trained her to be afraid of anything that was different.
“I have some stock to rearrange in the back,” Orri said, rising on her slender legs. “Help me, and we can talk while we work.”
“Thank you,” Rainal said, following the deer-like woman toward the back of her apothecary shop. “I’d like that.”