His wet nose pushed into her palm, an apology and a plea. He needed her forgiveness. Her red hair steamed across his back while she hugged onto him and hot tears scalded his skin. Stuck in wolf form, he couldn’t comfort her. Couldn’t tell her it’d be fine.
She’d always told him his quick temper and cutting tongue would get him into trouble. As usual, she was right. Who knew the witch wasn’t all hot air and actually had power to back up her words?
Cursed to walk this earth as a wolf until he performed an impossible task, but the witch hadn’t told him anything about the damn task.
A tiny shudder reminded him he wasn’t alone. Wallowing in pity wouldn’t help. Straightening his shoulders, he lifted his head and nudged her cheek. She lifted her head and sniffed. With a quick swipe at her eyes, she erased the evidence of her sorrow.
“Fix this,” she hissed at him, anger overtaking her normally sweet nature. “Fix this somehow. You can’t stay as a wolf.”
He sat down, ignoring the rocks poking into his backside.
Ozone tickled his now sensitive nose and he sneezed from the onslaught. His body tensed. The smell meant one thing.
“Why hello, little wolf. Are you enjoying your new form?” she snickered at him.
Cara stood and stalked towards the witch. “Change him back.”
He caught hold of her cape with his teeth and pulled her backwards. No sense in both of them irritating the other woman.
The witch’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Imagine that. You’ve learned something already.” Her expression turned sly. “Would you like me to remove the curse?”
Releasing his hold on Cara’s cape, he nodded and tried to look properly contrite. A difficult feat when he no longer had human features.
“Then I shall give you the way to break the curse. Your impossible task. Bring me a basket filled with lava.”
He cocked his head, unsure of how to accomplish this task. First, he was a wolf with no hands. How could he carry a basket, never mind one filled with hot liquid rock? And where would he find a volcano? There hasn’t been an active one around here in centuries.
It was an . . . impossible task.
Did he really think she’d go easy on him?
For thirty years he wandered, searching for some way to fulfill his end of the bargain. He avoided all civilization as none would accept a wolf in their midst, afraid he’d eat their livestock. And perhaps he would. Instinct had become harder to deny as each day passed.
Not once did he visit Cara, afraid of hurting her, or worse, giving up. She would’ve grown older, aging while he stayed in this magical form. A beautiful girl, now a mature woman, surely one who’d moved on with her life.
One day, feeling lost and hopeless, he climbed a large mountain and looked down. Before him spread out the lush beauty of the forest. A deep scar carved its way through the trees, dark rock making life all by impossible. Several centuries would need to pass before any vegetation would grow again.
Turning his back on the forest, he continued further up the mountain. Trees clung to the rock, skinny and sparse the higher he climbed until finally he reached the top. Expecting a peak of jagged rocks, instead he found a massive crater. Confused, he stared at it, wondering what had happened. Did an angry witch destroy it in a temper?
He settled back on his haunches, puzzling over this when it came to him. A volcano. An inactive one by the looks of it, but one nonetheless. He howled his frustration. To finally find one and it no longer had any lava. He dropped onto his belly and covered his snout with his forepaws. Maybe he should give up. Accept defeat. Even if he’d found lava, he still couldn’t carry it back to the witch.
Lifting his head, he clawed at the black rock. At least now he understood why a vicious scar ran through the forest. It must have erupted at some point and leaked the molten lava down the mountainside. Afterwards it would’ve cooled and formed into hard rock.
A tingle of excitement wormed up his spine and he jumped up. He wasn’t defeated yet. He’d found a volcano and soon he’d break this curse. Racing down, dodging trees and bushes as he went, he mentally mapped out where the nearest village lay. A few hours if he ran full speed. Hope lent him energy.
Soon the village came in sight and he slowed. Caution became the name of this little game. He couldn’t get caught. Not when he was so close to his end goal. All he needed now was a basket. A twinge of guilt poked him at stealing, but he refused to stop. This was his chance.
Moments later he spied what he needed. Slinking in on his belly, he wormed closer and closer towards the woven container. He snatched the handle between his teeth, elated it was empty and raced away. Shouts rang out behind him. They faded away, unable to keep up with him.
He scratched at the door and whined. He would’ve barked except he still had a firm grip on the handle between his teeth. Not once had he put it down, worried it’d disappear if he did.
The door swung up and the witch glared at him. “Eh, what’s this? What do you want?”
With a triumphant grin, or as much as a wolf could make, he placed the basket at her feet. She shook her head then gathered a bit of energy. Ozone curled through the air. “Mind-speak spell. Tell me what this is about.”
Your basket of lava. I’ve done your impossible task. Now please lift this curse.
“This isn’t lava. It’s rocks. You haven’t completed the task,” she argued.
You didn’t say it had to be molten lava. You said a basket filled with lava and that’s what you have. These rocks are hardened lava.
“Tricky, wolf. Really tricky. Fine, I’ll lift the curse. However, from now on your descendants will also learn from the error of your ways. As you spent thirty years as a wolf, they will get thirty years as a human. After that they will then change into wolf form. A small caveat, they can shift between forms at will. Perhaps they’ll learn not to be so hasty with their words when it comes to someone more powerful than them.”
“And that is how werewolves were made, Aaron,” his mother said while she smoothed the hair from his forehead. He loved this story and begged her to tell it every night. One day he’d change into a wolf, like his mother.
“Mean old witch,” he complained without any real heat.
His mother smiled. “They were both to blame. He should have been more respectful. Not because she was powerful, but because words can hurt. And she shouldn’t have reacted in anger. She used her magic to cause him pain.”
“What happened to Cara? You never tell me that part.”
“That’s a story for another day, when you’re older.”