Mated By The Panther

By: Riley Moreno

Chapter One

Intoxication





Diesel Wake was wasted. Not the mild-slurring-intoxication you get after a few bears but the full face-in-the-crapper-I-can’t-feel-my-face wasted. It had been a heck of a party but now Diesel was driving home alone. It’s strange how a wedding can make you feel like the loneliest sad sack on the planet. Congratulations, I’m very happy for you but now I’ve got to go back to my empty life. Thanks for having me at your lovefest!

Damn!

It was a typical Shifter Grove night, the sky was crowded with boundless stars and there was a mild wind. That was one of the first things Diesel had noticed about Shifter Grove, the wind. It never stopped, it got harsher through winter and as mild as an infrequent fart in the summer but it was ever present, whistling through the abundant woods and making ripples on the quiet part of the river.

Diesel’s car nearly crashed in to the side of his house but he braked just in time. Diesel looked around guiltily, hoping a cop hadn’t spotted him driving drunk then he laughed out loud when he remembered that he was the Sheriff.

“Bad Diesel,” he said slapping his wrist then lurched out of the car.

His home was a large cabin in the woods. Heck, everyone’s house was a cabin in the woods in Shifter Grove; it behooved the nature of the town to have homes in the middle of the wild woods for easier shifting and roaming about. The town had been founded centuries ago by Garrett Bloom, a white settler who had fallen in love with Ahawi, a Canibas Weredeer. He had married her and made the place sacred for all those who wanted to live with Shifters in perfect harmony and the town had flourished.

In fact it was Donald Bloom’s wedding Diesel had been to. The descendant of Garrett Bloom looked like a pig in pants, with his hairy chin and beady watery eyes. But surprisingly he didn’t have a Shifting bone in his body. His wife, Delia, was the Were, a nifty pine martin on moonless nights.

Shifter Grove was a haven and Diesel thanked his luck every day that he’d stumbled upon it. When most teenage boys hitting puberty had been worrying about wet dreams, morning wood and unexpected erections; Diesel had been worried about the hanks of hair that sprouted in odd places and went away the next day.

The day he’d transformed for the first time had been the worst day. He’d attacked his mother who had run for her room and locked it. He’d prowled the apartment, swiping at the couch, leaving deep gouges in the upholstery, sniffing for food then curling up on the couch and falling asleep. He’d woken up with no memory of turning in to a panther during the screening of Independence Day on TV. He was never able to watch that movie without feeling a sickening panic attack licking at his spine.

Now that’s what I call a close encounter.

His mother had told him about her father that night; the father who’d walked out on his mom long before there was even a whisper of a pregnancy. She’d hoped Diesel didn’t get his abnormality, that’s what she’d called it, but it looked like he had and she didn’t know what to tell him; whether it would be easy to control, would the transformations be sudden, would he never remember what he did during, what if he killed someone, what then?

She just didn’t know. And Diesel felt in that moment she loved him less than she had the night before.

All you need is love. John Lennon. Smart man. Shot in the back, very sad.

Diesel had promptly dropped out of high school and hit the streets looking for others like him and his mother didn’t protest or ask him to change his mind and stay; they both knew something irreparable had damaged their relationship and she would never feel safe with him again.

He’d lived in dilapidated warehouses, rundown churches and abandoned factories trying to stay as far away from people as it was possible, he stole food from supermarkets and mugged young kids on their way home from school. Then he made the mistake of mugging an army man in civilian clothes.

I picked a hell of a day to quit drinking.

A black eye and cut lip later Captain Jim Baker of the American Navy had bought Diesel dinner and his first beer. Diesel was a month shy of nineteen then and the frequency of the transformation was at its peak. A full stomach and his first beer buzz made Diesel a happy boy and he’d spilled his whole life story, panther claws and all. The Captain didn’t bat an eye.

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