Drax surveyed his village home of Taka with his sixteenth birthday only three days away. Filled with embarrassment that he had yet to make the anticipated change and live up to the expectations of his peers to be a great leader, his thoughts clamped on the possibility of being an outcast. Change would be the only measure he had left to blend into his pack. Where the others were dark as the midnight sky, Drax had white hair and silver eyes.
Drax brooded at the breakfast table across from his mother, Aziza, as she drank her morning tea. “I don’t think I’m like you. What if I never change?”
“Drax, baby, don’t say that. Just give it time and try not to worry.”
Drax slouched further, “Time? Mom, you don’t understand. You don’t know what it’s like to be the town weirdo. The freak of nature with this hair and these eyes and still be nothing but human. I’m mocked daily, nobody wants me here and I feel it every single day.”
Drax’s father Badu walked into the kitchen and poured coffee. “Sit up, son.”
Drax sat up, but avoided his father’s eyes.
“Our son is worried that he’s not going to be able to join the pack,” said Aziza.
“It’ll happen when it happens, said Badu, nodding. “No more of this sulking Drax. You still have three days to see.”
“But Dad, everyone in our family changed before they were teens. The entire town changed before reaching sixteen; the few that didn’t change were kicked out. I was supposed to be some great pack leader, and now I’m a freak, just days from exile.”
“I understand why you’re worried, boy, I do, but worrying never fixed any problems. Focus on the things you can control. Your fighting. You’re the best fighter in the whole village.Why just last week you took on two fighters at once and won! I don’t even think you broke a sweat. I have faith in you, my son.”
Drax felt more assured, except for smelling a hint of fear in the air closest to Badu.
“You’ll be fine.” said Badu. “Never worry. I know what blood flows in your veins. He clapped Drax on the shoulders
Drax’s shoulders slumped, despair lingering in his heart, as the scent of fear from his father grew greater.
“The others were kicked out of the pack for weakness,” said Aziza. “They were unable to fend for themselves, which made the pack vulnerable. You are capable whether you change or not. Remember that.”
Drax turned away from his father’s hold.
“Drax I know you will, but let’s say you don’t change. I’ll talk to the chieftain and you’ll be tested. When you pass you can join yourself to the pack. Easy as liver pie. Not changing is not the end. Go and take care of your chores boy, it’s getting late.” He ran his big hands through the boy’s white hair.
Drax left the house carrying the weight of the world. His father’s words should have brought some relief but all he felt was more pressure.
I know they mean well, but no one knows what it feels like to be the only one not like the rest. I don’t belong here, I don’t see why I should stay. And a test! What kind of test? What if I have to kill someone? Or if I die? Drax’s breathing and heart rate intensified. He looked around, feeling paranoid, though he was alone. This is too much!
Ignoring his chores Drax ran into the woods, he needed to get away to clear his mind or outrun his troubles, whichever came first. Running as fast as his lean, muscular, brown body would take him, praying for his legs not to fail him, he came to a river and stopped. Looking around, “Where am I? I don’t think I’ve ever come this far.” Panting and out of breath he knelt at the river and brought water to his face and body. He looked deep into the water, “I wonder if I can do this on my own?”
“You’ll be dead in under a week,” a woman’s voice called out behind him.
Drax stood and looked around but all he saw was forest and trees. “Who’s there? Who said that?”
“Just what I mean, in under a week. You can’t see. Can’t smell. And you leave trails miles long. Dumb human, maybe I should put you out of your misery.”
Drax smirked, “Go ahead and try.”
A shiny silver female wolf stalked forward, seemingly appearing out of nowhere, as though she had just allowed herself to be seen.
“You’re beautiful!” Drax blurted out. “I mean, yeah, beautiful.” He gushed.
“Funny, I’ve never had my prey remark on my appearance.”
“Prey? I am Drax Silverhowl from Taka village. I am not prey but a formidable foe!”
“A Silverhowl that hasn’t had a ‘change’ by your age?.” She burst into laughter, taking on her human form. Dressed in snugly fit brown leather pants and top. Her braids flowed down her back, while shorter braids danced on her face. “What are you doing out this far with no werewolf to assist you? There are plenty of my kind here and trust me, they’re not so nice. Silverhowl or not they will kill you for being here uninvited.”
Drax straightened his back and talked with a little more girth, “You know my name, I failed to learn yours.”
“I am Noni Awoula of the Sickencumber village, forty miles south of Taka. You better hurry back before nightfall.” She quickly glanced at the darkening sky.
“I’m not going back. I’m heading further south, to the village of humans. I’m not meant to be in Taka. As you already pointed out, I haven’t ‘changed’ so I’ve run away. No one…nevermind. I just stopped for a drink, I’ll be on my way.”
Noni grabbed his hand and a spark lit in his heart, “Don’t run away just yet. I can show you how to hide, blend with your surroundings, and know when you’re being watched. But you need to mask your scent and by all means, COVER YOUR TRAIL!” she said in a rumble bordering on a growl.
“I know how to cover my trail,” Drax snapped back, kicking at leaves. “I was just angry.” He lowered his voice. “I’m ashamed that I haven’t ‘changed’ and I’m running out of time.”
“Well,” Noni said, with her fists on her hips. “What if you go to the humans and ‘change’ there? Did you think of that?”
“No, I guess I didn’t. Why do you care so much anyway?”
“Well, at first I thought you were just some dumb human I would kill or scare away. But after talking to you I can relate. I know what it feels like to not be like everyone else. To have others stare at you and talk about you. To judge you and think the worst. I changed late too, a few days before my sixteenth birthday.”
“Really? I’ve never talked to anyone who went through the change so late. What made it finally happen?”
“There’s nothing anyone can do to help it happen, but I know once I accepted me for me –wolf or human–I’d be ok. Everything seemed to calm down and I began to hear differently, see clearer and feel in ways I’ve never known. A few days later, my change came on.”
“So, how long do you have?”
“Exactly three days.”
Noni squatted to observe a bright red flower. “That must be terrifying.” She looked up at him. “Don’t give up though.”
“Easy for you to say,” said Drax, tearing the bark off a twig.
Noni stood again and stepped closer to him. “I tell you what, stay with me for the next three days. If you don’t turn into a wolf, I’ll escort you to the human village myself.”
He considered his options and her offer. The villagers of Taka would disown him if his body didn’t cooperate in time. He wouldn’t be safe, and his family would be split. At least, with Noni’s protection, he stood a chance of escaping the humiliation of being ordinary. He went with her to Sickencumber village.
He slept that night in fits and starts. Over the following days, she showed him around the forest encircling the human village as well as herbs and medicinal plants on the outskirts of Sickencumber. Drax appreciated her stealth. She kept them both out of sight.
“Okay Drax, this is the third day. Do you feel any different?”
He hung his head. “No! It’s just closer to being over. I can’t stop thinking about if it’ll happen and if it does will it hurt?”
“There’s no way to sugarcoat it. It’s going to be extremely painful, like nothing you’ve ever felt before.”
Drax hung his head in anticipation of the pain, but the questions kept falling from his mouth. “Will I have control?
Noni sat proud and attentive, “Some were able to control the crave but not all. I can’t answer that for you. Each change is different. When it happens nothing else in life will matter. If you can remember that when it happens, you’ll have a chance to control it.”
“Will I be what they think I will? Will I be enough?”
“Enough for who? Them? Or you?”
Drax walked with Noni to the lake, the night sky overhead. Looking at his reflection in the mirror-like water with resentment, he asked, “Did you know my mother is as dark as these waters and my father as this midnight sky yet I was born brown as an autumn leaf with white hair and silver eyes?”
Noni remained silent.
“All my siblings resemble them, I’m the only one that looks different. Everyone assumed that made me special, that I would be some great leader.”
“You still could be. The day isn’t over.”
He scoffed. “I went from being praised as a child, to being ridiculed as an ‘unchanged’ adolescent. My father taught me how to fight and I became the best. My mother gave me every other skill; hunting, stalking, blending, hiding, tracking and I absorbed it all like a sponge, except if you squeezed I tightened up. I pushed myself all the time, without letting up. Still, without the ‘change’ I was never enough, not for myself, not for anyone. The older I got the more people sneered and gossiped, one by one they all began to turn on me. Even my brothers stopped talking to me. My sisters wouldn’t acknowledge me in town. But I understood, it was their life or mine, why wouldn’t they choose themselves?”
“So all this time you knew how to track, and blend and you just let me go out on a limb to hide you?” Noni paced angrily.
“No, wait, let me explain.”
“You didn’t need a friend, you needed someone to stroke your ego.”
“Noni, no. It’s not like that.”
“I thought you needed a friend, but you just wanted attention. I can’t believe I ever felt sorry for you.”
“No! Noni, I have no one, except you. Please listen.”
Noni ran off in the woods.
“I know you’re still there Noni, I can smell you. I didn’t mean to hide what I knew. I just wanted more time with you and honestly, there were tons you taught me that I didn’t know. I swear. Please don’t give up on me. I’m not lying when I say I need you. You’re the only one in this great big world who knows what it feels like to be me.”
His heart raced awaiting her response.
Footsteps crunching on leaves broke his thoughts. A haggard witch holding Noni bound and gagged approached him.
Drax screamed out, “What is the meaning of this? Noni change, kill her!”
The witch laughed, “Aw, ain’t he sweet. Handsome too, I can see why your insides tingle but baby he’s as dumb as a deck of cards. Sugar,” The witch glared at Drax, “If she could turn and kill me, trust me, she would’ve done it without you having to tell her to okay.”
“I know you, you’re Dravana, the most powerful witch in the world.”
She hacked and spit and a green glob of acid mucous that began to eat the ground as soon as it fell out of her mouth. “That’s right deary, and I’ve come for you.”
“For me? Why me?”
“Oh, I heard you whining and crying to this one here, and let me tell you. You are special. That white hair and those silver eyes mean more than you’ll ever get the chance to experience.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know you don’t dummy, I’ll talk slower.”
“Your birth was prophesied a hundred years ago by a very powerful wizard who fell in love with a werewolf. My sisters and I killed the werewolf. She, the wizard, delved into ancient magic mixing blood and bone. She said ‘one day a child would wear her glory and his sight would forever see, the child would cleanse the world of evil and set captives free.’
Drax eyes opened wide with wonder.
“You’re the first of your kind, a were-wizard. You are so special in fact that your ‘change’ will only occur on the very day down to the second you were born, no other way.”
The witch sneered at the sky, “Another four hours and twenty-seven seconds.”
“Damn boy, are there any tools in the shed. Yes, a were-wizard. Part werewolf, part wizard. You were born to rid the world of evil.”
“Why are you telling me all of this? Why don’t you just kill me?”
“Ah…ta…boy! If I could just kill you I would’ve done so. I’m telling you all this so you can feel what you could’ve been before I snatch it all away from you.”
“What are you going to do to me if I surrender?”
“When you surrender, I’m going to slit your throat.”
Drax held his throat, his mind racing a mile a minute. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Simple, simpleton, you’re life for hers.”
He looked at Noni, but she hid her face from him. Why wouldn’t she look at him, he needed to know what to do.
“Tick-tock young man, I don’t have all night.” The witch sauntered, slicing Noni’s arm.
Noni screamed. Writhing in pain, she hit the ground.
Drax stepped forward, “Okay! What do I have to do?”
“First smart thing you asked all night. First, let me start a fire.” Dravana dropped her hold on Noni briefly to gather her items for the sacrifice.
Noni was able to spit out her gag. “Don’t do this for me,” she whispered to Drax
Drax kept his eyes on Dravana hoping she wouldn’t hear, “Why wouldn’t I help you?”
“Because I don’t deserve it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I’m with her, that’s what I mean!”
“She raised me. The plan was always to get close to you so you would surrender yourself. That’s the only way she can kill you. You’re more powerful than you know.”
Dravana appeared over Noni and bound her to a tree. “Come here, boy! It’s time, I’m ready. Drax walked towards Dravana.
“Why?” screamed Noni. “Why are you still doing it?”
“Cause I can’t watch you die.”
A familiar voice cried from the woods, “And I can’t watch you die!” Badu leapt forward and grabbed Davana by the neck, “Run Drax, get out of here!”
“Dad? How’d you get here?”
“Just go, boy!”
His eyes burning with the intensity of a hundred suns, he shouted, “GO! Run!”
Drax cut Noni’s ties and they ran into the woods. Drax stopped, “Okay, keep running and don’t look back. I have to go back to help my father.”
“Drax, I’m sorry, I should’ve told you. Let me help!”
“It doesn’t matter now, you’re free, just get as far away from here as you can.”
He ran back to his dad only to arrive just as Devana was rolling his body into the river.
“Is he dead?”
Devana chuckled, “No, just going for a midnight swim. Looks like I’ll have to do this the hard way.” She cut her forehead letting the blood drip down her face. Her eyes went white and she summoned her powers from the darkest of magic.
Drax looked to the sky, his eyes locked on the full moon, “It’s time, it’s my time!”
He fell into a darkness as if he was taken out of this world, suddenly thrusted into a blinding light. He felt as if he were being reborn, his bones shattering only to merge again, stronger than ever before. He stood as a beautifully gold wolf, stalking his prey, Devana.
The witch’s body shook near the fire, using her dark powers, called demon-like creatures from the ground and black lightning from the sky, Drax was struck in the heart as he approached her, slowly. The creatures latched to him, his power sending each back to the dirt from which they came. He never broke his stride, his eyes stayed on her. Again she struck him with lightning this time more powerful than before. He was unmoved,
“You have no power here!”
Releasing a deafening howl that brought the witch to her knees, he stood on his hind legs lifting Devana in the air, “All those years you put into killing me. All that planning and you got my time of birth wrong. Goodbye, you dumb witch!” He snapped her in half, and threw her remains into the fire.
Running to the lake, he let out a low howl. After searching for several minutes, he found his father and brought his body home. “If anyone loved me as I am, it was you, Dad. I’m sorry I didn’t see it sooner.”
After making peace he buried Badu and started his new journey, cleansing the world of evil.