The Early Years

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He could feel something warm, wet and smooth rubbing along his small furry body. His small blue eyes opened to the sight of a big, wet, black nose and a broad pink tongue. He closed his eyes quickly as the tongue washed over his whole furry face.

He was lying on a floor of dry, rotting wood with a shaft of light coming in from a hole, high on one side of the tunnel. The nose gently nudged him until he was forced unsteadily onto his feet. He stumbled and padded towards the shaft of light, following the other furry little bodies that were ahead of him. He clambered up the side of the tunnel, slipping several times until a head was pushed under his rear and pushed him up to the opening.

The glare of the bright light blinded him and forced him to squint. He could hear the whimpers and whines of his compatriots as they also adjusted to the brightness of the Outside. Even as his eyes adjusted to the light, he was assailed by all the smells and sounds.

He followed his nose through the leaves and pine needles that were littered all over the ground to a nearby tree and around the trunk, exploring all the various nooks and crannies and all they contained. He grabbed an interesting smelling stick and started to drag it around when several of his siblings came tumbling over and jumped on him or grabbed at the stick with their own mouths.

He scrambled out of the pile and pulled his stick out with him and started to run around with it while others chased him. He lost the stick to the bigger pup with black fur and a white spot running over the top of his head. He tried to get it back by tugging on the end when he could get a hold of it, but that tug of war quickly grew boring as he couldn’t seem to pull hard enough and kept getting swarmed by the others. He jumped on the black pup’s back to try and knock him down and got a bite to his back leg for his effort that hurt enough that he hobbled off to nurse the wound.

Eventually the adults herded them back together and nudged them into the sunken tree for the night. He pushed into the pup pile that they all formed, but tried to stay away from the black pup that had bit him.

Over the next several days they were allowed to roam around outside for more time and explore more of the place. He found lots of other interesting smells to chase down, but also found himself in more conflict with Black whenever he found something to play with. He found an ant wandering the clearing and followed it around and occasionally slapped it with one of his paws when Black came over and knocked him down and then stomped on the ant in his own excitement. It wasn’t moving anymore when he lifted his paw, so Black jumped on him and bit the back of his neck and ears and knocked him around some more before getting bored and going after one of the other pups.

Another time he found a small rodent down on the ground and he gave chase. Before he could even come close, Black bowled him over and went flopping after the rodent for himself. Black never even got close and came back to rough up him up some more.

A new day came and several of the adults herded the pups out of the trunk. He and one of his sisters, a little grey and tan furred pup, wandered off together. They found some new fallen leaves on the ground and played at ripping them apart when a strange thing happened.

At first it was just some strange sounds. Something big and heavy was plodding through the underbrush nearby. Then an odd smell came from the same direction as the sound. Before he could turn to run, something large on two feet came around a nearby tree and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. Another one came out and grabbed his sister and lifted her high into the air as well.

“So, this is where they went to have their litter this year” the one holding him said.

He heard some shouts and other noises and then several more two-footers joined the ones holding him and his sister.

“I think we got all of them” Another two-footer said after he pulled his bleeding hand from his mouth. “The black one was a little faster than I thought and took a bite out of me ‘fore I got a hold of him.”

“Alright, let’s get them in the cages and down to the station for check in” the one holding him said.

He was gently shoved inside a container that smelled faintly of other pups that he didn’t recognize. The metal door was shut and latched and handed off to someone else. He and his siblings whimpered and cried as the cages were jostled around.

Occasionally he caught a hint of the adults nearby, but they didn’t come out of the trees after the two-footers. They walked for a while and then came to a tall chain link fence with barbed wire leaning inwards on the top portion. Then they went through an opening into a tunnel made by the fence and into a building at the other end.

The cages were stacked up on a metal table and one by one the pups were pulled out. He was tossed into a small sack and suspended while the two-footers made noises and scratched at boards. Then one stuck him with several sharp needles that made him yelp and try to squirm. His head was pinned while they pulled his lips back to expose his teeth. His toes were spread apart and prodded. A light, brighter than the one he first experienced coming out of the trunk, was shined into his eyes while they were held open.

At the end of it he found himself along with his siblings in a large enclosed space on a hard, rough surface. He found a puddle of water in a moveable object and started to drink when Black jumped on him pushing his muzzle down into the water. He choked as water came up his nose and then snorted to clear it out even as he tried to push Black off him. In their tumbling the bowl got knocked over both of them leaving them drenched with water spreading around the enclosure. Black slunk off to another corner and shook himself.

Aha, Black doesn’t like to get wet! He thought to himself.

One of the two-footers reached in and righted the bowl then refilled it from another container. It left then returned shortly, lowering a pile of something bright and colorful and smelling of the tree trunk. He plodded over and stuck his nose into the soft, warm pile and eventually found a comfortable place to lie down; His siblings, even Black, piled around him for the night.

The next morning he was awoken as a couple of two-footers picked up a couple of his siblings out of the pile and carried them off. He yawned and stretched out, then found a place to relieve himself. Black was still asleep, half on top of their two sisters. He wandered around the enclosure sniffing at the new objects that hadn’t been there when he went to sleep.

One was a large, multi-colored ball that was larger than himself. It smelled odd and rolled away when he tried to take a bite of it. He chased after the ball and tried to jump on top of it only to bounce off and land on his side. The ball rolled away, making an odd humming sound as it went. He chased after it and bumped it into the fence, making a loud racket in the process that woke up the other pups.

Black looked around sleepily until he saw that fun was being had and came to take over. Black bit at the ball also and it squeaked as his teeth rubbed along the surface while it was trapped against the fence.

Any time the other pups tried to get near the ball, Black would tackle them and bite at them until they either surrendered or were able to retreat to another part of the enclosure. That’s when he got a bright idea. He yipped for his sisters to come over to him and got behind the water bowl. Between the three of them they were able to push it over behind Black and the ball. He then went around to the other side and tried to get at the ball. Predictably, Black jumped at him and when they started to roll around on the ground the two sisters splashed them by upending the bowl. Black whimpered and ran off. The two-footers returned and grabbed him and Black and carried them off into another area.

“Looks like these two are the scrappers of the litter” said the two-footer holding Black. “Guess we’ll need to watch ‘em and make sure they don’t get too rough on each other or the other ones.”

They set down Black and him in separate enclosures and then brought them each a bowl of something that smelled interesting. He sniffed at it and then took a small mouthful and carried it to another part of the enclosure. It was warm and soft and tasted sweet and tangy and he quickly swallowed it down and then went back to the small bowl for more. After he’d finished it a two-footer came back and took the empty bowl away.

“Hungry little guy aren’t you.” He reached in and rubbed his head and then closed the door and carried him and Black out of the building. They were taken back through the fence tunnel to another gated enclosure where the first two pups were romping around already exploring. Their cages were set down and opened up allowing them out.

While he and the others learned their new surroundings, their sisters were finally brought out to join them. Their days fell into a routine of sleeping, eating, fighting (playfully unless Black joined in) and being visited by the two-footers (Humans as he learned they called themselves).

The more time he spent around the humans the more he understood what they were saying. They named him Nita. The sisters were named Ayla and Woha. Black was named Storm and the other two boys were named Orca and Ruedi. The humans brought them food and toys to play with, but they also brought instruments that hurt, at least briefly.

His fights with Black got worse as Black got larger. He was a bit of a runt, barely larger than his sisters at a year of age while Black was the largest of the pups. Surprisingly, he didn’t seem to suffer much injury for long when the two really went at it. Bruises, cuts, deep bites and such were usually gone after just a few days.

He started spending more time exploring the area that they were being kept in on his own to avoid Black and his bullying. He enjoyed watching the trees change colors and lose their leaves and found romping around in the new fallen snow to be entertaining. Occasionally he came across other critters and found it fun to chase them, and even managed to catch a few and eat them. They tasted kind of similar to the food the humans brought them.

The next spring the humans came in to the enclosure with food like normal. But something wasn’t quite the same. Several new humans were standing outside the fence of the enclosure with smaller cages with them. Black, as usual, pushed the other pups out of the way as he dove for the food. He wolfed down his share and tried to go after the others as well, but the humans intervened and actually managed to chase him off. They all dug in afterwards and then wandered off to play.

He didn’t make it far before he started to feel weird. The forest around him started to blur and swirl. His legs seemed to lose their coordination and his eyes felt heavy. He flopped onto the ground, nose first, and then felt hands grabbing and lifting him into the air. The last thing he saw before he blacked out was the door of a steel cage being closed with him inside.

He woke up in a new forest with his litter mates around him. The smell wasn’t much different from where they had been, but something was different. None of his litter mates stirred when he called out to them with a short, sharp whine. He got unsteadily to his feet and wandered over towards Ayla and Woha who were lying slightly apart from the boys. He licked their muzzles and gently nipped at their ears, but neither reacted.

A sharp snap came from the forest and he jumped and looked for the source. From out of the trees and downwind of him came an older wolf with a scarred and battered face and slight limp in his left foreleg. He slowly came towards the pups and Nita moved to block his path. They sniffed at each other and Nita was surprised to realize he recognized the scent, though he couldn’t recall from where. The older wolf’s tail wagged excitedly and he lifted his head up and howled into the air. It was shortly answered by other howls near and far off. Nita approached the older wolf cautiously, not really sure what to expect. He sniffed the muzzle and was rewarded with a lick to the face that encouraged him.

While they were sniffing and licking each other more wolves started to arrive from around the trees. They came up to the various pups and sniffed and licked each of them in greeting.

His siblings slowly started to stir from all the activity around them, but were groggy and lethargic. Several of the younger adults started to roughhouse with the yearlings which helped them recover from whatever had happened to them. Black tried to pull off some of his normal antics, but was overpowered by the older wolves and sent yipping to a corner of the clearing with his tail between his legs.

Slowly the pack settled down and then, with encouragement, led their newest members out into the woods. Nita and a few other pups ranged out from the pack to explore and learn as they went; sniffing at trees, scaring the small wildlife they encountered. Several of the adults followed after them and kept them all going in the same direction.

They soon arrived at another small clearing deeper in the woods with a large fallen tree crossing it. Nita was surprised to recognize it as the place the humans had found him and his siblings and taken them away. This was their den; their home for the first few weeks of their lives. Over the next several months the yearlings followed the various adults around and learned how to hunt small animals for a bit of nourishment and occasionally watched as the pack worked to bring down larger animals that wandered into their territory.

At least once a week Nita ran across a small group of humans that seemed to be watching him and the others. The adults didn’t fear them and usually went to them to get treats and rub downs, so Nita didn’t feel bad to go over and greet them as well. He recognized them by their smells and their voices as some of the ones that had cared for him in the other place. And then the pain came. Nita was now a year and a half old and still growing, albeit much slower, and was wandering around the woods on his own. He’d picked up the scent of a small critter, probably a marten from the odor, and was tracking it down when an itching came and started creeping up his spine. He ignored it at first and kept following the trail, but it slowly spread out until he could feel an ache in his ribs. Then a slow, dull, burning sensation spread down his legs and he stumbled face first into the ground as they stopped responding to his thoughts. The burning grew to a sharp pain and even as he whimpered in response he saw his front paws start to change. The claws faded as the digits spread and grew. His dewclaw vanished as a new digit pushed out from the side of his paw. The pads softened and broadened into one large area as the foreleg thickened and forced his paws to twist until they rested pad to pad. His back paws also shifted. The long lower joint shorted and thickened as the bones inside shifted and spread out creating a long, broad foot. The claws retracted back into the toes. The mid-leg stretched and shifted out even as the upper thigh painfully pushed out from his body, lengthening and thickening with new found muscle. His chest broadened and forced his front legs more to his side even as the shoulders popped and shifted around. The burning in his spine suddenly raced up to his neck and then out to his skull. His nose faded from a nice black to an odd pinkish tone and then shifted, pushing out from his snout which had begun to retract back towards his eyes until the nostrils were pointed down instead of out. The last thing he saw before the pain finally caused him to black out was his fur retracting into his skin, leaving him naked and pink all over. He came to with grass tickling his nose. He swatted at his face with a paw, but it was odd; No claws, just long, pink, furless digits. He twitched it and watched as the digits flexed closed and then open again. When he ran them over his face he found fur only above his eyes and atop his head. He shifted his head and found himself looking down at a pink, furless body that seemed to be built like the humans lying on the ground with grass poking him in various places. He put his hands down on the ground and levered his body up until he was sitting on just his legs. He shifted one leg so the foot was down and tried to push himself up. He got partway there and then lost his balance and went down face first. He spat the grass out of his mouth and tried again to stand up like the humans. He got further up this time, but lost his balance again and landed on his ass with his hands down and keeping him from going over backwards. After several more tries, he was able to get unsteadily to his feet with a hand against a nearby tree trunk to help him balance. He took an unsteady step forward, away from the tree, and lost his balance again. This time the fall was more painful as his leg went out from under him sending him to the ground. He felt a jab of pain from his left hand as it shot out to save him from landing on his head. When he straightened himself out and lifted it up he found a stick jammed in through the palm with blood slowly leaking out around it. He pulled it out and massaged the palm to try and get the pain to go away. It took some doing, but he was, eventually, able to get upright and walking back towards where the pack normally gathered. By this time the sun had set and night had started to settle in. His hearing and sense of smell wasn’t as acute as he was used to and he started to get cold in the cool night air without his normal covering of fur. It would still be hours before he got back to the pack and wasn’t looking like he’d be able to make it this night. So, he found a spot on the ground and buried himself in the leaves that were still littering the ground. He awoke the next morning to a burning sensation coming from his left hand. He turned it over and saw that the skin around his wound was a bright red and the palm itself was swollen and leaking a white, viscous fluid. He tried to get up, but the sudden change in position made him nauseated and dizzy and he quickly fell back down as he lost his balance. He started again, but slower this time and was able to reach his feet while keeping his eyes shut tight against the feeling in his stomach. He opened them slowly and after his vision stopped wandering on him he started on towards home. He plodded on for what seemed like days, bouncing from tree to tree. He heard voices coming from around him, but couldn’t pin point them with his vision spinning. He came around a large tree that smelled familiar to him and ran smack into a person on the other side. Before he could catch himself or the person could react, he fell to his knees and retched before passing out.

“Who is he?” a female voice spoke from a short distance away.

“I don’t know, but he was running around in the enclosure” a gruff male voice responded from the other side of him.

He felt someone lift up his left arm and turn it over. “Bad infection, but the Penicillin should knock it down.” Said the male. “I think he’s coming around.”

Something under him squeaked and his weight shifted slightly to his right as someone sat down near him. He cracked his eyes and squinted up through the light to see a woman leaning over him. She reached out a hand and laid it gently down on his forehead.

“He’s feeling a little cooler than when you first brought him in.” She said. “What were you doing in the reserve and without any clothes?”

He muttered and made some odd noises from his throat and then closed his eyes.

“Let him rest, Cheryl. Looks like he’s had a rough night.” The male said as he guided the woman from the room.

He slept for a while and when he came awake again the room was dark. His vision was clear again, but his hand itched like mad. He brought it up to his mouth to scratch it with his teeth and found it covered in a thick bandage. Even with it covered he found that he could still get at the itch under it. He gnawed at it for a bit and slowly the ache dulled. He tossed the blankets off him and got up slowly. He was covered in clothes like he’d seen all other humans in. There were odd noises that he vaguely recalled from when he and his siblings were being raised by the humans before being reintroduced to the pack. He crossed the room to the door and listened at it, but didn’t hear anything that sounded like someone moving around. He cracked it open and poked his head out into the hallway beyond. A faint light was coming out from under a door further up the hall and the other direction lead to a dead end. He crept quietly up the hall and passed the door with light coming under it. The hall turned a corner and he found himself at the top of a staircase. The stairs creaked as he headed down them, but no change came from the door at his back. He got to the bottom of the steps and turned right into a room in front of him and almost collided with someone coming towards the stairs.

“Whoa there, young man. Where do you think you’re off to?” The man reached out and grabbed him by the shoulders as he tried to push by. He opened his mouth, and then closed it again as he thought about a response.

“I… I just want to go back to the woods…” he whispered.

“Well, you aren’t going out there tonight.”

He was turned around and gently pushed back towards the stairs.

“Maybe after you talk to me in the morning, I’ll see about showing you around.”

He started back up the stairs when an itch started up his spine. He was able to make it to the top of the stairs and turn the corner before the itching spread out into his chest and a burning sensation crept down into his legs. He stumbled and almost fell as he passed the door with the light under it, but was caught by the man behind him.

“Not quite as strong as you thought, eh?” the man asked, but Nita wasn’t listening.

The burning sensation raced outwards down his arms.

“Cheryl, I need your help out here” the man yelled as he lowered Nita to the ground.

Fur pushed out from the skin along his arms towards his body. Bones popping, his fingers shortened; the fingernails pushed out and formed claws. The palms of his hands darkened, split and shrunk, reforming the pads. His feet narrowed and stretched; the toes bunching up and growing claws. The door to the room opened and the woman stepped out, concern on her face.

“What’s the matter?” she asked as she knelt down beside the man.

They both watched as fur rippled out over his face and his nose and mouth stretched and merged into a muzzle. His ears stretched out and then folded and pulled flat back against his skull as a whimper escaped from him. His legs shortened and the muscles shifted and reformed up near the body. His spine lengthened as his pelvis shifted. The tail bones pushed out from the body and went down the pant leg. He didn’t pass out this time and the change seemed to go much faster.

“Neill!” Cheryl exclaimed.

She stood up and backed towards the room and then paused.

“Is… Is that Nita?”

She stepped back to her husband’s side and knelt again by the wolf that was now lying on the floor. Nita tried to wag his tail, but it was too confined by the pants still wrapped about his body. He perked up his ears and licked his jowls as he lifted his head to look at them. He tried to rise, but the clothes confined him too much

“Looks like he’s stuck” Neill said.

He carefully reached out and pulled on the sweatpants, freeing Nita’s tail and legs. Then he started to remove the shirt from Nita’s body. Nita thumped his tail and licked the hand as the shirt was pulled over his head. His nerves still tingled from the change, but he was still able to get unstably to his feet.

“Uh, come on, Nita” Neill said as he edged around Nita towards the room that he had started the night in.

“Over here, boy” Neill whispered as he pushed the door open and Nita walked slowly with his head down towards the room. He stopped in the doorway and looked back at the two of them before continuing in. The door was closed behind him and he could hear them as they loudly whispered to each other.

“Wh…What was that…” Cheryl asked.

“I’m not really sure. I’ve heard stories of shifters, but Nita… if that is Nita, has been with us since he was a pup.”

This continued back and forth for a bit with Neill opening the door and looking in at one point to find him calmly lying on the floor with his head on top of his crossed paws. He heard a door shut and again Neill opened the door to his room. He slowly came in and sat down on the edge of the bed nearest the door and looked down on Nita. Nita sat up and cocked his head to one side as they both considered each other.

“So, what are you?” Neill asked.

He folded back one of his ears and stared back at Neill. A faint whimper escaped from him and then he focused on trying to make the change happen under his own control. He thought about his paws changing into hands, his muzzle shrinking, being furless, but none of it worked. Neill got up from the bed and started towards the door. Finally he changed tack and focused on the feeling of the change itself. His spine started to itch and this time the sensation rippled out more rapidly through his limbs. The change came over him quickly and, while muscles rippled and bones popped, there was almost no pain this time. Neill stood at the door staring down at him with his jaw hanging open.

“I’m…not really sure” he said with a voice hoarse from not having used it.

He shifted his legs so they were under him and sat up so he was sitting on his heels. Neill hesitated and then came back and grabbed one of the blankets off the bed and dropped it over Nita’s shoulders. He squatted down in front of Nita and looked him in the eyes which made Nita uncomfortable. He averted his gaze and waited while he could feel Neill’s eyes on him.

“Why don’t you try and get some sleep.” Neill said as he reached out and gently squeezed one of Nita’s shoulders. “We’ll talk in the morning.”

Neill got up and left the room, closing the door behind him. Nita lay back on the floor and wrapped the blanket about himself and fell asleep. He awoke to the sunlight streaming into the room. The door was still closed and he couldn’t hear anything from beyond it. He got up, shed the blanket onto the floor, and walked across the room to look out the window. Looking down he could see the fence that surrounded the area his pack lived in as well as a single story building that was attached to the enclosure. There weren’t any trees near either side of the fence and a small clearing was on the far side of the fence from the building. As he watched, someone came out of the building and walked through an area of the fence into the enclosure and headed off into the woods. He turned from the window and crossed to the door and opened it a crack. The hallway was empty, but he could pick up the faint sounds of movement down the stairs at the end. He padded down the hall and went down the creaky stairs to the ground level. The stairs ended and he turned right into a large room with furniture placed around. He could smell food cooking from an area off to the left. He followed his nose and found Cheryl and Neill in this new area with their backs to him.

“What are we going to do with him?” Cheryl asked. “I don’t think we can just put him back in the reserve with the others.”

“I’ve been thinking.” Neill said and then bit into the food in front of him and chewed for a minute.

“We can’t put him back. I don’t think we can turn him over to CPS.” He paused took a sip from his cup.

“We could give him a few days out here in the house and see how he behaves. He understands us already and doesn’t seem particularly violent, probably because he, like the other pups, was raised by us.” He stood up and turned towards Cheryl and spotted Nita standing there.

“Of course we might need to teach him about clothes.”

Cheryl turned and nearly dropped the plate in her hand, but recovered from the shock.