He was a scrawny looking kid, busy picking scabs from the knee he had scraped a few days ago from changing. It was an uncontrolled transformation, something that was still cute to look at as he was still a child after all. It was a good thing his father had seen him transform, lest the other normal humans see him turn into a bear cub of sorts. It wasn’t anything new to him. He had been transforming into one since he could remember, and his parents gave him all the love and support they could.
“Ryker!” a voice called from below. “It’s dinner time. And I hope you aren’t doing what I think you’re doing!”
He opened the door and yelled back, “I don’t know what you mean!”
“Come down to dinner!” his mother repeated again.
“Alright!” he huffed, disliking the fact that his concentration had been cut short by dinner. He was getting hungry, though, which was probably the only saving grace of it.
He lumbered down, hearing his footsteps echo ever so slightly. The last step creaked loudly.
“Phil,” his mother began as soon as he came into the dining area, “we need to have that step fixed. Don’t want any accidents anymore.”
Philip Locklear smiled good-naturedly as he sat down in between his wife and son. “Yes, I will. Tomorrow.”
Raven looked at her husband and shook her head. Then she looked at Ryker. “You hungry?” she asked him, passing a bowl of mashed potatoes to the boy.
Ryker nodded and smiled.
“Did you change today?” she asked him.
Ryker nodded again, this time shyly. “I was careful. I changed in the woods. No one was there.”“And your clothes?” she asked him.
“I took them off,” he replied.
“Any new wounds I should know about?” she asked with a raised brow. “Or old ones that are about to reopen?”
“None,” he replied with a grin.
“You sure no one saw you?” Phil asked Ryker again.
“Positive,” Ryker replied.
“I’ll take your word for it, champ,” his father said.
Phil ruffled his son’s hair and he smiled. Ryker couldn’t control his shifting yet, and it had become more frequent as of late. He was glad that summer had set in, and he and Raven had planned to homeschool the boy until he could learn to control his transformations. He blamed it on school pressure and bullying. To Philip, Ryker was their son through and through.
Philip and his wife had longed for children of their own, and when they had found him searching in their garbage can as a little boy, their whole world had changed. There were a few like him in their small town (population of 800), but none were bears. He was the only bear, and Philip wanted to keep it a secret for as long as possible.
Ryker was already bullied for being adopted. He in no way resembled his parents’ features, with their black hair and beak-like noses and reddish skin. Ryker was pale, with blue eyes and blond hair, which, in his school, was already a good enough target for ridicule. It was a good thing he hadn’t shifted at school, or Phil and Raven would never hear the end of it.
Their town was largely composed of Native American Indians, and they took secret pride in having a few members of the community that were able to transform into werebeings. Oregon was still an idyllic place to live in, despite the growing oppression from the government. In the capital, violent protests had already erupted with the proposal of a mandatory werebeing registry to augment the country’s nearly hundred year old fascination for Ryker’s kind.
The WereGames had started a little over fifty years ago, with the first discovered youths pitted against each other in a gladiator-like environment, not of their own accord. The children had been abandoned by their families and then rounded up by the regime upon the discovery of their existence. Fast forward many years later, werebeings were now signing up for games if they could. They were a mutation that was welcomed, and yet reviled, at the same time.
Those who won were welcomed in the capital with open arms, provided with material wealth to last them a lifetime. There were rumors, however, that victory meant an exchange, a life for a good life. Some of the winners were still in the media, adored by many, especially kids, for their skills.
It was a brutal sport, if it was even considered a sport, and Philip wanted Ryker safe from the prying eyes of everyone. They were a normal couple, with a minor history of shifting into werebeings. Ryker was a gift from heaven, a gift from their ancient gods.
Dinner was like any normal night, something that the small family enjoyed. After dessert, Ryker asked if he could go outside and walk a bit. Raven was hesitant.
“What harm will a breath of fresh air do?” Philip said good-naturedly.
“No shifting,” Raven sighed, looking at Ryker. He had grown up fast, even if he was still scrawny. Ryker grinned.
“I won’t, mom,” the boy said to her. “I don’t have stressors. Is that the right word?”
Raven’s eyes widened. “Have you been eavesdropping?”
“Be back by nine,” Ryker grinned with a wave.
“Ryker’s been listening,” Raven said, looking at her husband of over twenty years.
“Well, he needs to learn about shifting. God knows it must be hard, at least that’s what grandpa said to me once.”
Philip was watching television while Raven bustled about cleaning after dinner, when the doorbell rang. He grunted, sitting up properly, about to stand up when Raven stopped him.
“I’ll get it,” she told him. “I wonder who it is,” she added, wiping her wet hands on her apron. She peered through the hole and saw a young gentleman, someone who worked with the tribal council of the town.
“Elan,” Raven said, opening the door. Elan looked troubled, she noticed. Elan had been one of Ryker’s few friends, despite the fact that Elan was ten years older. “Something the matter?” she asked.
Elan took a breath. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Locklear.”
Raven’s eyed widened. “Where’s Ryker?” she gasped, her eyes widening.
She didn’t notice someone else behind the young man. There was a quiet shot, and she thudded to the ground. “Philip!” she screamed. “They’re here for him!”
Philip bolted up and found his wife on the floor, a gaping bullet wound on her chest. There were fifteen men behind Elan, and the young boy was shaking and pale against the light of the porch. Philip gasped and cradled his wife in his arms.
“Elan, what have you done?”
Another shot rang out, and the bullet exited Elan’s forehead. Elan fell face forward, blood pooling underneath him. Raven was gurgling as Philip held her, and he looked up to see one man in a black silk suit walking up to the porch.
“Mr. Locklear?” he began. “I’m Dr. Wallace. I’d like to speak to your son.”
“What did you do to my wife?” he cried.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Dr. Wallace said, motioning a finger to someone behind him. The man barged in and shot Raven five more times, and her body shook from the hail of bullets.
Philip’s face was splattered with blood, his wife’s blood. He didn’t feel a bullet pierce his shoulder blade from the shock of it all.
“He isn’t here. We sent him away,” Philip croaked.
His hands were shaking as he still held onto his now dead wife. Was she really gone? That was it? He had thought they would grow old together… and Ryker. What would become of Ryker? Philip knew he was a dead man, and he was suddenly glad his son had decided to take a walk in the woods…
“Come now, Mr. Locklear, Elan just saw the boy late this afternoon.”
“Elan’s dead…” Philip intoned, his eyes wide open.
“Yes, he is, Mr. Locklear, and soon, you will be too, unless you tell us where he is.”
“He’s no longer here,” Philip spat out, embracing his wife’s body while he looked at the man who called himself Dr. Wallace.
So, they were finally here. The rumors had circulated all the way to the capital – the rumors of a boy who could turn into a werebear in a town with werewolves and werefoxes in its present population.
“Well, then, we shouldn’t waste time,” Dr. Wallace said, motioning for three men to surround him.
A hail of bullets cascaded on the husband and wife, and in seconds, Philip slumped to the ground, his wife lying beside him, glassy-eyed.
From across the field and inside the woods, Ryker’s ears perked up. Those were bullets, a sound he would never forget. His first instinct was to run back. He knew the guns that went off had come from inside their home. His feet stayed put as he strained to hear more. He could smell them, their different scents, the sweat from the men, the blood spilled…
He didn’t notice the tears falling from his eyes as he stared into the darkness around him; there were the tiniest twinkling lights that came from his home. He could smell them, hear them move. They were out to find him. His heart pounded.
This was a stressor, wasn’t it? He could feel bile rise up his throat, and he clenched his hands, determined to stop the shifting from happening. Not here. Papa said not anywhere where they can see…
There was a persistent pain at the base of his skull, and he knew he was going to change, no matter his efforts. He had to get as far, far away as possible, into the mountains, into that cave where he had fallen asleep one time… no one would find him there… it felt like his brain had begun to split apart. He had no other clothes… what would his mother think? He felt his jaw unhinge and his saliva thicken… his knuckles began to feel bruised…
He picked up his pace, willing himself to stay human for as long as possible…