“Did you just take your pill?”
“What’d it taste like?”
“Beef this time. But, it’s a lot chalkier than the chicken. I think when I get a refill, I’ll switch back.”
“So, it’s no good?”
“I didn’t say that,” I reply, popping another pill into my mouth.
“Don’t do that!”
“Because you can OD on those! That’s why they give you a limit and instructions with ’em,” Howl whines at me.
I roll my eyes. “It takes a lot to OD man. I won’t die that easily.”
“It’s not about dying, you dingbat. You can OD and throw up all your pills,” he explains. “Then you’ll…well, you know.”
I shrug at him. “If I throw up the pills after an hour, then some will still be in my system right? What’s it matter?”
I pop another chalky, beef flavored pill into my mouth.
Howl’s eyes nearly bug out of his head. It’s so comical that I can’t help but laugh. And then I know I have to explain myself.
“Relax, I’m prescribed this much,” I finally tell him.
At that, I could see his relief. “What the—say something sooner you jackass! I thought I was going to have to tackle you later or something.”
I scoffed a laugh. “Whatever man. I’m like six times bigger than you when we both lose it. You’d hit my knee cap and bounce off me.”
At that, my friend looked indignant. “So what? What I lack in size, I make up for in whits. I’d outsmart you easily. Plus, my brothers are all here. They’d hear the commotion and come running. Think you can take on six wolves at one?”
I think about it a moment.
“Probably not,” I concede.
Proudly, Howl nods once. “That’s what I thought.” Then, under his breath, I hear him say, “Damn cats. Always so proud. Always have to take it there.”
I scoff and pat his shoulder. “Time to get to class.”
He scoffs back. “Yeah, yeah. See you later.”
“And hey! Be careful with your suppressants. What I said still applies, you know,” he warns, his face serious.
I roll my eyes. “Sure thing pal. Just get to class. And worry about your own tail for once.”
He laughs, but walks off.
I shake my head.
It’s easier for the wolves. The species that aren’t part cat. Their suppressants are stronger on their bodies than they are on my kind’s. Our kind seems to flush the drugs out of our system quicker.
And then we loose it.
I think about it all the time. About this precarious balancing act we all do. About how it could go wrong at any second because life is so unpredictable. Because living beings aren’t an exact science. It could go wrong at the drop of a hat, and we wouldn’t know it until it was happening.
I think about it a lot.
In fact, those thoughts are still fresh in my mind when I feel the heat in my stomach. The burning pain that sits uncomfortably for a while, confusing me.
And then it spreads.
Slowly, it works its way up my chest in a most uncomfortable way. It’s like there’s burning hands under my skin. The heat works its way up, and up, and up. Up my stomach, up my chest, and it burrows deep into my skin then.
And when it hits my heart?
I feel it.
Like a flash fire, it spreads.
All over me.
The heat pours into my veins, into my bones, into my muscles. In one single motion, this fire demands everything from me.
And I give.
My muscles unwind from my bones, and my bones reject each other under my skin. They reconnect in ways that please the heat in my body. That make me cool down. As I give the heat what it wants, the cooling spreads. Like cold water running over a burn. The sting settles and ebbs away from my body. I can’t help but give in more when I feel that first bit of relief.
So I do.
I give more.
And my skin bursts with tiny flames. Tiny flames that demand, and when I give in they cool, and the tiny flames become fur. It covers all of me, this orange and black and white down. My nails burn, and when I give in, they split, parting to make way for something more primal, something sharper. And a feeling like I’ve just landed real hard on my ass takes me over for a moment before give in and it’s replaced with a tail.
And then I’m no longer me.
No longer the guy who can joke with his friend.
No longer someone who can pop a pill to keep the heat in check.
No longer someone who can sit in a classroom and be taught.
No longer human, actually.
I’ve lost it.
Right in the middle of class.
Looking down from my towering height, I can see the fear. I notice that seats have been emptied. Already, people are trying to escape me. And, with my head busting up into the ceiling tiles, I can’t blame them.
Because as the heat dies down, as I give it more and it dials back, it doesn’t go away. It merely settles.
Right in my throat.
And I know that there’s only one thing the heat wants.
Only one thing will stop the burning.
I let out a roar.
A giant, tearing sound that rocks the windows of the room I’m in.
A cry for help.
Whether Howl and his brothers will hear it is beyond me. Beyond my comprehension even, at this point.
Because there’s only the heat.
Only the heat.
It burns at the back of my throat.
It wants out.
Or to grow.
To spread again. To cover my body in flames and heat and fever until I shatter into a million pieces. To bring me to the boiling point so I can be distilled like water. The heat wants to spread, or be quenched. It wants, and it wants. The heat wants everything I have.
Unless I compromise.
It’ll take everything of someone else’s instead, if I let it.
The answer should be “no”.
A resounding rejection.
But as the heat fills my mind, my eyes gloss over. I can feel the red seeping in through my brain. It seeps right into my eyes, covers everything I know. It covers until there’s nothing left for me to see. I can only feel. And all I feel is that heat.
And when I do, I know.
I’m willing to compromise.