If most families are like fudge–mostly sweet with a few nuts, as someone said–mine is just the opposite. Not tragically dysfunctional, yet unique in a way that makes me feel as if I’ve been sitting on a chair that has three legs instead of four but somehow holds balance.
What we can’t reach in real life, we can try to find in our imagination and dreams. In our stories, paintings, music, creative art… if we were fortunate enough to have a grain of talent and the courage to explore it.
My novels are as much about love as about families. Families that are not about blood, but about the people in your life who want you in theirs, as another quote says. Families who accept you. Families who would do anything to see you smile, and love you no matter what.
The Sisterhood of the Full Moon has been adapted from Ellida, Book II of the Red Cliffs Chronicles.
I woke up feverish, achy, and irritable. In less than twelve hours my human entity would go through an involuntary, quick, and terrifying transformation. Astrid the Wizardess would turn into Astrid the Bleithast, a huge and beautiful, but weak and helpless wolf. And she wouldn’t have any memories of it.
“You don’t remember because you’re fighting the werewolf inside you, Astrid,” Jack had said to me once. As the offspring of a wizard and a werewolf, you’re destined to become an Ellida, the powerful force of good and the ultimate authority of our clan. But first you must accept who you are …”
Well, nobody asked me if I wanted to become an Ellida, as noble as it sounded. Right now I only wished I could be an ordinary, mortal human girl. Not the wizardess who was not allowed to use her powers, nor the bleithast who had no control over her monthly shape shifting.
If only Jack was here, I thought miserably, curled up on the couch in my living room. But Jack was away, and my hope that he would be back before my transformation was slipping like sand through fingers.
Multiple voices in front of the house yanked me from my lethargy. The next moment my aunt Betty, my mentor, Ellida Morgaine, and my cousin Maggie burst in, laughing, their hands full of bags. Behind them stood a fourth woman, who gave me a wary smile and closed the door.
Peyton Kinkaid, my boyfriend’s former girlfriend.
“Silly girl! You didn’t think we’d let you do it alone, did you?” my aunt said and kissed my cheek.
In Jack’s absence that’s exactly what I had planned; I’d never liked witnesses to my weakness. But that didn’t seem like an option anymore.
As if she could read my mind, Ellida Morgaine smiled and squeezed my hand. “You have us. You’ll be all right.”
I nodded. I could ask my aunt, Maggie and Peyton to leave me alone, but I wouldn’t dream to tell that to an ellida, the highest ranking member of the werewolf realm.
“Look what I have here.” Maggie opened her tote bag and pulled out two bottles of wine, a stack of DVDs and several jars with creams and other cosmetic products. “But that’s not all. Ta-da! The newest facial treatment. It’s called Eternal Youth.”
“An appropriate name for a bunch of immortal women,” I said and laughed in spite of my gloomy state of mind.
“Are you hungry, Astrid?” my aunt asked. “I can grill steaks.”
“I am. Very.” My appetite increased before the change and I needed lots of protein. My mouth watered at the mere thought of thick, juicy beef. “May I help with anything?”
“You just sit and relax. Peyton will make the salad and Maggie can set the table.”
When we sat to eat, Maggie filled four glasses with wine and one with mineral water. I was already feeling lightheaded and out of sorts, and wine wouldn’t improve my overall condition.
She raised her glass and smiled. “I have a name for our little group. The Sisterhood of the Full Moon!”
“To the Sisterhood of the Full Moon!” We cheered in unison and clinked our glasses.
Later, we watched New Moon with our feet propped up on stools and our faces stiff under thick layers of white, creamy masks. I’d let Peyton apply it on my face in spite of my hyper-sensitivity. She’d put a few drops of mint oil into the mixture, and it soothed my hot skin.
While trying to minimize the movement of her facial muscles, Maggie murmured, “If only we could turn fast like those guys.” Then she turned to me. A chuckle slipped out, and the white crust cracked. “You can, can’t you?”
“Yes, but it hurts. I hope to learn how to slow it down,” I said, I cracked a smile that in return cracked my own mask. “I hope to learn how to slow it down. Besides, I don’t know how I do that. I don’t remember a thing.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing it. It must be spectacular.”
As the day progressed, my symptoms worsened. I reclined on the couch and wrapped myself in the blanket.
“Is it too much if I ask for privacy when I change?” I said, even though I knew it was a rhetorical question.
“We can turn around,” Maggie said and winked. “I promise I won’t peek.”
“At least one of us should stay with you all the time,” Morgaine said. “You pick.”
I shrugged. One of them or all of them, what was the difference? “Oh, forget it. Enjoy the show.”
Every cell in my body hurt. The soft cotton blanket felt heavy and prickly. My skin was burning hot, my breathing ragged. The physical signs of transformation seemed more severe than the last time.
I sighed. Last time Jack had been with me. He’d held me, and that eased the pain. Where was he now? I closed my eyes and tried to locate him with my inner senses, but I couldn’t feel a thing. The image in my head looked like a flickering, static TV screen. I gave up. Successful or not, mental tracking required more energy than I could afford to spend right now.
And I could feel my wolf awakening. My two unlinked souls would soon start their battle for supremacy.
“Behave yourself,” I ordered silently. “Peyton’s here.”
“Why did you let her stay? Don’t tell me you two are trying to be friends.”
“She was raised by my uncle and aunt. She’s a part of our family. Yours and mine.”
“Sometimes I don’t understand you at all, Wizard.”
“Likewise, Wolf. But when you take over, don’t talk about Jack, do you hear me? I know you miss him, but just don’t talk about him. Okay? Miss him silently.”
My wolf growled. “This is the last time I’m doing this. Damn it, Astrid, we must connect. It’s getting dangerous to stay like this, in two parts. I’m not sure how long I can handle it.”
“You’re handling it fine. I would say better than ever.”
“I’m tired of keeping both of us under control.”
I rolled my eyes. My wolf had been keeping me under control. No kidding!
But I was too tired to argue with my other self. “This is the last time,” I said weakly, without realising that I’d vocalised my part of the conversation. “I promise. And you promise to behave.”
“What, Astrid?” Maggie asked, concerned.
“I’m talking to my wolf. I’ve just reminded her about ‘behavior expectations’ in the next two days. Ellida, don’t let her get carried away.”
“I don’t need your ‘code of conduct’, Wizard!”
“I’m sorry if I offended you. You’re the one who carries us both through the change every time. I know that.”
Peyton moved to the sofa and sat on the opposite end. “Let me hold your hand. That might help a bit.”
My wolf made a rude noise, which fortunately only I could hear. I was still in control of both of us. I managed a tiny smile and touched Peyton’s fingers. “Thank you.”
Peyton winced, but didn’t move her hand. “God, you’re burning! You sure that’s okay? Do you want some water?”
“No, thanks. I could eat, though.”
“Maggie and I will make you something, Astrid,” Aunt Betty said and stood up. “How about sautéed beef liver?”
“With lots of bacon and onions. Yes, please.”
“Is there anything else we can do for you?” Peyton asked, gently stroking my hand. “It doesn’t look like we’re much help here.”
“She’ll be fine, Peyton,” Morgaine said reassuringly. “I had similar experiences before my spirits became linked.”
“Tell me about it, Ellida,” I said quietly. “I can’t compare my symptoms with anyone else’s because no one else I know went through this.”
Morgaine smiled. “Only ellidas and only sometimes. It was relatively mild in my case. My spirits were connected shortly after only few involuntary transformations. You’ve been doing it for—how long?—three years? And it’s getting worse. You must have them linked as soon as possible.”
I closed my eyes and drifted into a shallow, unsettled doze.
Some time later I heard I Peyton’s voice. “What happens if they don’t connect?”
“That’s what we don’t know for sure,” Ellida said. “During the full moon, Astrid’s in an estrous phase. Among werevolves, estrus occurs once a year, during the mating season. Werewolves avoid it completely because they can control the transformation, so it doesn’t affect them. But Astrid is a half wizard, and for her that’s an involuntary process. She goes through it once a month. There’s an incredible amount of sexual energy in her body that requires immediate release. Yet she’s been accumulating it month after month, year after year. And she doesn’t even allow herself to feel it like sexual energy. She suppresses it because she doesn’t have a partner.”
“Is that why she’s in so much pain?”
“Yes. But fortunately, her bleithast is very strong and capable of coping with that.”
“I am sick and tired of coping with it! Tell them that, Wizard!”
“You know what? It’s a blessing that I forget everything that happens to me during the change . Who would like to remember your silly remarks and comments?”
My wolf chuckled. “Oh, I think you would. And you can, only if you want to.”
I turned to Peyton and concentrated on her voice. “Astrid needs a werewolf partner to get her spirits united, right?” she asked Morgaine.
Ellida nodded. “And she needs to do that soon.”
Keeping my eyes closed, I said, “We are not having this conversation. Please.”
Inside her head, I heard my wolf’s throaty laugh. “Why? It just started getting interesting.”
“Oh, you shut up!”
Peyton squeezed her hand. “It’s okay, Astrid. I know who you’re going to do that with, and I’m still sitting beside you and holding your hand.”
Morgaine chuckled. “Ah, I see! A conflict of interest. In that case, you’re doing great, Peyton Kincaid. Fortunately, Ellidas cannot foresee the time to come, but since I’ve met you I have a feeling that a great future’s awaiting you. And it’s going to happen soon, mark my words.”
While Peyton pondered that, Betty and Maggie came back with my meal. Food usually made me feel temporarily better, but not this time. I hardly managed a few bites before I pushed the plate aside.
The pain increased. I kept my eyes closed and my lips pressed tight. A few more hours and the wolf would take over. The next time… the next time, my hazed mind chanted. There wouldn’t be a next time. Jack would come back, we would make love before the next full moon, and my wandering spirits would unite.
Another gush of pain ripped through me, taking my breath away. A string of tiny sweat beads broke out on my forehead.
“Please, help me,” I pleaded silently to my wolf.
A moment later, a soft growl erupted from my chest. I exhaled with a relief and opened my eyes. I knew they weren’t blue anymore, but golden-amber and bright. The eyes of my bleithast.
“She’s sleeping now,” I said in my deep, velvety, wolf voice. “The pain was too strong for her.”
The Sisterhood looked at me in amusement, mixed with worry.
“Astrid’s under new management,” I said and smiled.
I repositioned myself on the sofa and reached for my plate. “I’ll finish my supper now.”
Morgaine, Betty and Maggie moved their chairs, making a semi-circle around the sofa. Peyton remained beside me.
“How are you feeling now?” she said softly and glanced at me.
I tilted my head as my gaze swept over Jack’s former lover sitting beside me. “You’re still here, huh?”
“I’m not going anywhere, whether you like it or not.”
“You’re looking exactly at the part of me you’re supposed to hate, Peyton: my jealous, selfish, possessive side.”
Peyton smiled. “I don’t hate you. I never have. There was a time when I wished you’d never come, but not anymore. I like to think things happen for a reason.”
The other women sat quietly, listening to Peyton’s and my exchange.
“You don’t need to worry about me anymore,” Peyton continued. “I’m smart enough to know when to cut my losses.”
I blinked several times to ease the sudden stinging in my eyes. “You’re a better friend than I deserve. The other Astrid is more like you, generous and understanding, but I’m not such a noble creature.”
“There is something to work on, then,” Peyton said lightly.
I moved an inch closer to her. “Do you mind holding my hand? I can cope with the pain better than her, but it still hurts.”
Every time another rush of pain swept through me, I would shut my eyes and tighten her grip around Peyton’s small hand.
“Things change, don’t they?” I murmured and smiled weakly.
“Do you shift as soon as the moon appears or closer to midnight?” Maggie asked.
“When the moon rises. What time is it?”
Peyton glanced at her wrist watch. “Six-thirty.”
“I want to take a shower now.”
“I’ll go with you,” Maggie offered.
Astrid lifted her hand up, stopping her. “No, Maggie. Nobody’s going with me to the bathroom. I’ll be fine.”
Through the sound of running water I heard my phone ringing. Jack! My heart gave a strong thump, angry and happy at the same time. I hurried out.
But it wasn’t Jack.
“Your friend Ingmar,” Peyton said. “Can you talk to him?”
I nodded and took the phone. Like myself, Ingmar was a wizard and a doctor. He was also one of my closest friends.
“Hi, love. How are you?”
“Within the usual parameters for this stage.”
“Let me see you.”
“I’m not switching to video, Ingmar.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve gotten stuck between two shapes,” he said, teasing me.
I frowned. “You caught my wolf in her human form, if you know what I mean.”
“That must be exciting,” he said with a chuckle and then his voice sobered. “Who is with you, Astrid?”
My aunt came closer and said, “She’s among her own kin. She’ll be fine.”
“My Sisterhood of the Full Moon,” I said and smiled. “My family.” From the corner of my eye I caught Peyton’s smile. “Uncle James and my cousin Eamon are around the corner, not including roughly five thousand Red Cliffs residents with my best interests at heart. I’m well protected.”
“Where’s Jack? He stopped by this morning but left in a rush to get there in time.”
“I have no idea,” I said in a huff. “Now it’s too late anyway. This time it’s a girls’ party.”
“Astrid, if you need—”
I didn’t hear the end of his sentence. A sharp pain slashed across my abdomen and I moaned. I pushed the phone into Peyton’s hand and curled up on the couch.
“Astrid’s about to shift and she needs some privacy now. Goodbye, Ingmar,” Peyton said and unceremoniously ended the call.
The women gathered closer to me, as if they were trying to shield me from the pain. But they couldn’t help. I gritted my teeth and waited for the first sight of the silver orb on the horizon.
The pain alternately increased and subsided. With a great effort, I pushed back my lustful thoughts about Jack. Next time he’d better be around or I’d throttle him. Otherwise I might ask someone else to help me out. Sid Brandon, for example; he was handsome and had a nice sense of humor, I thought, or I said, I wasn’t sure which. I was caught up in the twisting and ripping last stage before I would change shape.
With trembling fingers I unclasped my necklace and, after pressing the cold metal of the silver wolf-head to my burning cheeks, gave it to Maggie. “Keep it safe,” I whispered. The room started spinning, first slowly, then faster and faster. I undressed and crouched on the sofa, moaning and breathing laboriously. “Move the table and armchairs,” I ordered. “I need more room.”
And then it happened. In a split second my human form exploded into a wolf.
One by one, the other members of the Sisterhood of the Full Moon came out of the shock caused by my spectacular transformation.
My first thought was that I’d missed a small segment of time, and then I realized that one sequence of the transformation hadn’t happened: the between-moment after losing my human shape and before turning into a wolf. It was always brief yet the most horrible part of the whole process. It was a truly terrifying sensation of being completely inverted, as if an invisible, burning hand had reached inside me and ripped out my internal organs, blood vessels, muscles, and wrapped that bloody mass around my skin. The erupting into wolf form that followed immediately always came as an immense relief. My greatest horror ever was that I would somehow get stuck in that short yet indescribably painful stage.
With all my heart, I fervently hoped to never go through the same process again.
Something else was different. I didn’t feel exhausted, but strong, powerful and filled with energy. This time I didn’t need to crouch on the floor and whimper like a wounded animal. I wanted to go outside and run, run, faster and faster, to the top of the nearest mountain, and howl at the moon.
One full moon ago I was happy to be with Jack, happy that Astrid the Wizard had finally acknowledged her wolf side. This time, she had gone even further. For the first time in our life, she was happy being who she was: unlinked and pretty much mixed up, still in pain, yet happy with her other part. The same way I, her bleithast, had always been happy with her, even when she let her boring, logical side get the better of us.
I looked at my mesmerised friends, my faithful guard, standing in front of me. Ellida Morgaine looked completely taken by surprise. Aunt Betty blinked several times as if she’d just woken up from a trance. Peyton’s deep-blue eyes were fixed on me as if I were going to disappear if she but blinked.
My young cousin recovered first. “And we thought those guys in the movie did it fast?”
“I’ve never seen anything like it!” Morgaine added, impressed.
“Are you okay, Astrid?” Aunt Betty came closer, hesitantly touching my fur.
“You are huge, Astrid! God, you’re one of the biggest wolves I’ve ever seen,” Peyton said, shaking her head in disbelief. Her pretty auburn curls danced around her heart shaped face. “Your wolf size greatly outmatches your human size!”
“What are we going to do tonight?” I asked them telepathically, knowing that they could hear me as clearly as if I was talking.
“What do you want to do?” Betty asked. “It’s your night, you choose.”
The room suddenly seemed too small for all of us. I had to walk carefully not to bump into the furniture. It didn’t seem natural to stay inside.
“I want to run!”
“Great!” Morgaine said. “We’ll all shift, and then we can hunt.”
I stopped dead. “Wait a second! Hunt what? I don’t want to hunt!”
“Oh, yes, you do. That’s why you want to run. It’s in your blood. We’ll hunt deer. If you want to turn it into a safari trip, that’s fine, too. But you have to come close to the animals to learn to sniff them, track them, find them, and kill them, if necessary.”
“Is that a part of my apprenticeship, Ellida?”
“It is, Astrid.”
Maggie and Peyton walked to the door. “We’re going outside to change,” Maggie said. “You two, are you coming?”
“I have to call James first,” my aunt said. “They’ll join us in the forest.”
Oh, how could I even think the whole adventure would happen without my uncle taking part in it?
Their shape-shifting was quick, easy and fun. They took off their clothes and piled them neatly on the porch. As their transformations started, from their feet up, like Jack’s, they giggled and wiggled as if an invisible hand tickled them. It looked as if they were putting on Halloween costumes. Morgaine and Betty followed suit.
“Lead us, Astrid,” Ellida Morgaine said.
For a moment I was unsure of what to do, and then my instincts kicked in.
I walked to the backyard and across the street, gradually increasing speed until we came to the clearing at the edge of the forest. The moment we reached the first trees, I started running.
The blood rushed through my body, supplying my muscles with energy I didn’t know I possessed. There was a completely new kind of force that soared inside me. The trees blended into a dark blur speeding toward me, and yet at every single moment I knew where my body was and that I would never crash into anything.
My senses sharpened and my mind was crystal-clear. I heard my pack half a step behind me. The Ellida and Maggie were on my left side, Aunt Betty and Peyton on my right.
I heard the sounds of the night—wind in the trees and grass, the distant soft rumble of the nearby creek, frogs and birds. My nose detected many different scents that surrounded us: earth, snow, water, pine and other werewolves. I could see every shape, sharp and clear, every color and every movement.
The faster I ran, the more energy I seemed to have. I could hear the crunching sound of my paws on the crusty surface of granulated snow, and the rush of blood in my head.
Would I ever be able to stop?
I did, as my nose detected the scent of prey, unknown and familiar at the same time. Deer. A small herd a mile down toward the creek.
I continued running until I led my pack close enough for a swift attack. Without thinking too much, I picked my prey. A healthy male, strong and fast, but not the leader.
The chase was short. We separated the animal from the rest of its small herd and drove it into the open. We corralled it, keeping the same, symmetric V-shaped formation as before.
In a few long, fast leaps I closed the distance between my game and me. My full body weight crashed into the animal, knocking it down. My jaws closed around its exposed neck. The grip was deadly; there was no escape.
Yet I didn’t increase the pressure. I stopped myself before my teeth broke the skin.
I heard two sets of heartbeats—one delirious with excitement, another one frantic with the horror of a certain death. A predator and its prey. I sniffed the animal. It smelled mouth-watering, and my stomach rumbled in approval. It also smelled of fear.
I listened to our hearts until the two erratic beats blended into one indistinguishable sound.
I released my firm grip around its neck and stepped back.
“Go,” I ordered it silently.
The animal certainly couldn’t understand my soundless language, but it perfectly caught the meaning of my movement. It rose swiftly to its feet and ran toward the woods.
I turned around and looked at my companions.
Ellida Morgaine took a few steps forward.
“Ellida Astrid,” she said and bowed her head.
I bowed back.
I’d been aware of the other wolves around when we started the chase, and my nose had identified them as Jack, Uncle James, and Eamon. Now I could see them. They stood on the edge of the meadow, silvery-gray under the moonlight. They had watched the hunt without interfering, but now they came toward us. My heart swelled. My family. My pack. My mighty bodyguards, here with me tonight so that I could play safely.
I also sensed more werewolves around. I recognized them too: the leaders of the eleven Red Cliffs families, who had come to greet me a few days ago in my human form. Tonight my uncle had invited them to meet me as a bleithast.
“And where have you been?” I growled at Jack as he came closer. All I wanted was to launch myself at him, but kept a good distance between us, circling around him instead.
I heard him laugh. “Good to see you, too, Astrid! It doesn’t look like you missed me much.”
Uncle James stepped between us. He was a big wolf, strong and bulky, although not as big as my favorite canine specimen. “Nice hunt, Astrid. How are you feeling?”
“Free, Uncle. I feel free.”
I heard Maggie from behind. “It was scary, Dad. Astrid was in a great deal of pain, but once she shifted, everything seemed okay. We’re having lots of fun.”
My aunt turned to her husband. “You didn’t believe me, James, did you?” Then back to me, “I told your uncle you are almost Jack’s size.”
“Did you see how she knocked the deer down?” Excited, Eamon was jumping around me. “I’m surprised the poor animal didn’t die out of sheer terror before Astrid even touched it.”
I smiled and walked to Peyton, who stood nearby.
“Are you okay, Peyton?” I asked.
“I’m okay. They spoiled our fun a bit, didn’t they?”
“They did. Men! But we can go back to my house, and stay there until I shift back.”
“This could be your last involuntary change. Consider it as a sort of bachelorette party.”
“Your friendship means the world to me, Peyton.”
“And yours to me,” she said quietly. “First I thought it would be impossible to be a friend to you, but it turned out not to be difficult at all. It’s satisfying and fulfilling. I know something good shall come out of this … And you, don’t be bitchy with Jack now, or he’ll think I’m a bad influence.”
“I was angry with him because he wasn’t here when I needed him most.”
“But you had us.”
“And that’s why I’m not angry at him anymore.”
“Is it going to hurt again? When you shift back?”
“A little bit, but the worst is over.”
Soon Jack joined us. He came close to me, pressing the length of his body against mine. The hot jolt of our bond shot straight through me. I wanted to tuck my head under his neck, sniff him, lick his muzzle, and kiss him wolf-style, whatever that was. I wanted to tell him how much I loved him and how much I’d missed him. I wanted to beg him not to leave me ever again.
“How was it this time?” he said, nuzzling behind my ears.
I glanced toward Peyton and gently broke free from Jack’s embrace. I knew how fragile Peyton’s new confidence must be, and I didn’t want to challenge it. I didn’t want to see her hurt, not tonight, not ever again.
“I skipped that horrible mid-phase.”
“You did? What happened?”
“Maybe because my friends were with me. Maybe because I’ve finally accepted who I am. I’m not sure why, but I’m glad. That part always hurt like hell.”
Peyton raised her head. “Don’t tell me there is something that hurts you even more! It was terrible, Jack. She was in such horrible pain almost all the time.”
I smiled. “I don’t mind. I’ve acquired a friend in the process.”
Jack shifted his eyes from me to Peyton and back, smiling.
I quickly changed the topic. “Ingmar told me you left this morning. How come you didn’t make it in time?”
“My flight was delayed. I did arrive an hour before the moon rose, though, but James wouldn’t let me see you. Betty’s orders, he said.”
“Better stay around next time,” Peyton said. “I think you should know, Astrid was talking about Plan B.”
I burst into laughter, remembering my vengeful thoughts.
“Why do I have the feeling I’m not going to like your plan B?” Jack said, tilting his magnificent head and narrowing his eyes at me.
I tried to sound serious. “Ahem, I think I mentioned Sid Brandon. He’s quite eye-catching.”
I heard a low rumble coming out of Jack’s chest.
Peyton turned to me. ”When are you coming back?”
“I’ll see you, later then. Now I want to run. The night’s so beautiful. Come on, Eamon,” she called to my cousin, “I’ll race you to the top of the hill!”
One by one, the wolves disappeared from our sight, leaving Jack and I to ourselves.
The indigo-blue sky twinkled with countless tiny diamonds. The snow sparkled under the bluish light of the cold, pale moon. I wasn’t cold. My blood was hot, my fur was thick and Jack’s warm, firm body stayed close to mine.
We played in the snow and ran through the wood. We sniffed, licked, chased each other, growled and barked playfully. I gently bit his neck, and he nipped behind my ears and on my belly.
Later we found a small spot of dry grass and pine needles under a tree and rested there. I placed my head across Jack’s shoulder. My heart was filled with a sense of belonging.
I found my place. I found myself. I found love.
I closed my eyes and feel asleep.