One of four novellas in The Secret She Keeps Anthology
This is the moment Gary first shifts into a grizzly bear. Neither he nor Margaret know anything about shifters. And here’s the kicker: in his human form, he’s a paraplegic.
If he’d had the breath Gary would have screamed too, but the flash-flow of lava started in his head then rolled lightning-fast down the rest of his body.
His back arched, and strength pulsed through his arms, which levered him upright. He felt his body lift off the couch, and then the pain hit. Bursts through his mind and body. His mouth—agony. Arms throbbing. Legs on fire.
Hard to breathe. Hard to move.
Another scream. A high-pitched wail of terror.
He looked at Margaret. Her eyes bulged, and her skin was white. Her mouth opened in a scream he didn’t process. There was only agony.
New sounds filled his ears: An animal yowl harsh with pain and terror. A crash. Furniture? Fabric ripped. But he could only focus Margaret’s fear.
What nightmare weapon had hit him? What was attacking them? He didn’t know, but he would stand between it and Margaret. He twisted, intending to do just that. His agony was lessening, but his mind was still sluggish. It was hard to focus on anything but the bursts of stabbing pain in his hips and legs. Unpredictable. Unrelenting. He convulsed.
He gathered his strength, which was an impossible task, but he did it. And yet, he didn’t see any threat, just his loft and destroyed furniture at his feet. At his… Wait. What the hell was he seeing?
Massive paws. Fur. Claws, each the length of his phone. All right there, inches away.
He jumped backward—actually jumped—then half scrambled, half crawled until the couch got in the way. It toppled beneath him. Unfortunately, the paws moved too. Frantically flapping, they were a bizarre flurry of motion.
What the hell? The paws were faced outward. As if…
He looked down, feeling his head about to explode. The claws were definitely where his hands were supposed to be. And his arms were massive, with coarse fur of brown and tan.
Another animalistic sound cut through the air. It held panic and terror, and the smells… God, there were a thousand of them: The food they’d eaten. Chocolate. Margaret’s perfume. And the acrid scent of her fear.
He heard her soft whimper. She wasn’t behind him anymore. She was to the side, plastered against the wall, caught between his desk and the window. She was shaking and pale, her hands outstretched as if to ward him off.
He opened his mouth to reassure her, but when he spoke he didn’t hear words. He heard a kind of bark. Not like a dog. Deeper. Weirder. And the sound rose on the end, a yip of surprise.
What the hell? He couldn’t talk? His mouth felt weird, and he reached up to touch it but a paw came at his face with huge, sharp claws. He jerked backwards, his body thick and clumsy, like he had double his weight in muscle. Each movement had immense power, but nothing felt right. Nothing was right.
Then he saw the mirror to his right, a large one hung beside the loft door. In it, he saw fur and a body. A bear. But—
He swallowed and heard another plaintive whimper. Had he made that sound? He couldn’t have. It was the anguish of a terrified animal. He took a step forward, closer to the mirror.