This is probably going to get more and more bizarre as you go, so for those who manage to bear with me . . . congratulations. Seriously, you deserve a medal. Hopefully some of the Toulon prison stuff will be more believable as this continues. Yeah.

Oh, by the way, if anyone is the least bit curious, I looked at the Wikipedia article for black wolves. The results proved quite interesting. Apparently, according to the sources it cites, black wolves are very rare in France but are more numerous in more southern European countries (e.g. Spain). And according to some experts, black wolves don't differ much in size from grey wolves but tend to be physically stronger. And, ironically, they tend to be less aggressive and more likely to breed with domestic dogs. But that could require more verification from more scholarly sources. Still, food for thought.

Enjoy. Feedback is much appreciated (and needed).

Toulon, 1784

Every movement of her hand and mouth, every gesture and facial expression she made, he observed. While she thought him a dumb creature, his gaze secretly took note of each little action. From his darkest memories in that cell, she was his only anchor. As a gosling follows the example of its mother, so did he shadow her steps and mentally record what she did. He would trail her to market, to the stream where she washed clothes, and to other places in town for work or amusement. She usually tried to ignore him; sometimes she would order him to return home. Lacking comprehension of language, however, he could not obey. And like a child, he was reluctant to wander on his own beyond her presence, even if she did not provide active protection.

When they were at home, she paid him only the barest amount of attention. She put out food at mealtimes in a corner next to the dresser. She didn't want him near the table and have him beg for food. He had no toys, so he found random objects around the house to entertain him. He had the good fortune of finding a mouse once, but after he trapped it under his paw, he was more interested in sniffing it and watching how its whiskers twitched and its tail wiggled frantically. Its squeaks of distress, though intriguing at first, eventually persuaded him to let the poor rodent free. And, to his delight, releasing the mouse made it possible to chase and capture it again. An entire hour passed before his mother came over with the broom – first to shoo the mouse out the door, then to shoo the whelp into his blanket-covered corner.

Aside from his acute attentions to her, he also observed the other creatures that inhabited the outside world. Most of them were like her – fur-less, two-legged, and dressed in those alien garments that he could not imagine to be comfortable. Some other creatures, he came to realize, looked like him – four-legged and covered in different colored fur; they walked either beside, past, or beneath the feet of the taller creatures. Many took refuge in allies and doorways while some followed their masters to homes. For one reason or another, a quiet fear and aversion stirred in him when he saw them. They would stare as he followed his mother with various degrees of curiosity and apprehension. He didn't know why they watched him, and he couldn't bring himself to trust them.

In fact, he experienced a world of uneasiness when he went into town, although natural inquisitiveness made him thirst for understanding. As well as worrying about being trampled, he did not like drawing the gazes of the tall creatures. When they passed by without turning their eyes on him, he was content to stare at them to his heart's desire. When one decided to look at him, though, he quickly dodged beneath his mother's skirt.

His mother's abuses, though perhaps harsh to an observer, did not inspire the kind of fear these strangers did. They awoke a vague memory from his early days when others of this kind tried to attack him. The only ones who did not frighten him as much were the ones who wore those especially bizarre clothes – jackets of dark blue and white with three-cornered hats on top. One of them rescued him that day and returned him to his mother. Although his mother would shake him or push him when he irritated her, such treatment seemed nothing to the horrors he could begin to imagine these titans capable of inflicting on him.

It was only in observing them at a distance he felt other emotions besides fear for them. Sometimes, when his mother washed linens, he would catch a glimpse of girls who were either washing or bathing a little ways away. They exchanged laughs or played in the water and lounged on the shore when the weather was favorable. The slightest twinge of envy came over him when he saw boys about his age – though he did not know it – running through the streets with wheels or balls and making sport without regard for anyone else. Whenever the boys lost their toy, he wished he could chase after it and return it to them. He was shy, though, and still too wary of the species in general to approach them. Instead he would watch with ears erect and tail slightly wagging.

As he approached his fifth year, both he and his mother noticed that the corner which had been his bed was shrinking in size. His appetite increased, too, and somehow he found himself getting in his mother's way more and more. His body grew more restless, especially when he tried to settle down for a night's sleep. His fears of the outside world began to abate while his yearnings for experience and wider space strengthened. He could also start comprehending the behaviors of others around him, even of that species he could now called 'man'. Yes, words started to carry meaning. Gestures were matched with harsh commands or terse words from his mother. Language took seed in his developing brain; however, his attempts at uttering the words he could now understand proved in vain. Somehow his jaws and mouth did not obey what his mind ordered. In one of his attempts, his mother only heard an interminable stream of yelps, growls and whimpers that might have resembled words if the listener had enough imagination and patience. His mother had enough of the first but too little of the second. So she finally locked him in the closet again – her choice method of discipline.

So many feelings and instincts spoke to him at once. He could not begin to sort them out. Time passed as a constant struggle to grasp what he was undergoing and what it meant. He had no guide, not even a companion to understand his agony. Again and again he turned to his mother, and though the pained expression on his face could soften her heart now and then, she was equally helpless and unable to deal with the phenomenon.

The day on which both gained a better understanding of his condition came unexpectedly, as such days often do. At market that morning, she browsed through the day's selections of fruit when, in a moment of innocent thoughtless, she let a berry drop from her fingers. Alert but calm, the pup watched the berry bounce once and roll toward the feet of a boy about two years his junior. The child immediately reached for the morsel with a chubby hand, but another, larger hand reached down to stop him.

He watched, then, as the boy was lifted from the ground into the arms of she whom he logically concluded to be the child's mother. She gave the boy's hand a squeeze, told him that he shouldn't eat food off the ground, and gave him a kiss on the forehead. The epiphany that overtook the wolf pup's mind came like a storm. Here he witnessed a loving exchange between a mother and son. The resemblance between them was clear with their light eyes and curly hair. He suddenly observed the biological connection between them. Same eyes, same hair, same skin. Same species.

He whipped his head around. Were their other examples of this relationship? Yes. On the opposite side of the street stood another woman with a child in her arms. Next to her stood a man. The two bore enough differences in the smaller details that when he observed the child, he could see an amalgam of the varied features. He looked around again. Children with grown-ups. Children with children. What of the other creatures? Did they share the same natural bond with their human masters as these children did?

His young mind could only grasp the very tip of the branch that sprang from a tree he could not begin to see. But the connection came to him. There was a hierarchy – men stood over the other beasts. Children were small, too, but they looked enough like the grown-ups. In fact, if they were growing like him, would they someday turn into grown-ups?

And if so, where did that leave him? He thought of the woman who was raising him as if she were his mother; he had known no other. But they did not look at all alike. What would he turn into as he grew? Would he become, instead, like the animals that infested the streets, ate scraps from the gutter, and stared at him in that unsettling way?

To tread beneath men for the rest of his life . . . the more he thought of it, the more it disturbed him. He longed to be among those boys at play: to be their equal. He wanted his mother to see him as her son, and to hold him as that other mother held her boy. But was he? Was he her son?

He looked up at her and tried to say 'maman'. He worked his jowls and lips as best he could. Still they would not be obedient.

"Be quiet," she commanded in response to his odd-sounding yips and barks. She turned back down the street to indicate her wish to return home. Distressed and confused, he followed without another sound.

He made another attempt at communication when they reached the meager room that was their abode. She turned around sharply and put her finger to her lips. "I said enough! Or it's the closet again." She pointed to the hateful chamber for emphasis.

The whelp, who in truth had nearly grown to the size of the average housedog, had no choice but to continue turning these unhappy thoughts in his head. Morning turned to afternoon before she departed for 'work'. That is, to set up her usual station at the corner of the two main avenues in the town and lure various people to her table to read their cards and palms. For these excursions he recently resolved to remain at home – at least the walks to the market provided him with exercise. So again did he choose to stay in their flat, but it was a tortuous period. Again and again he tried to understand what his discovery meant. She had to be his mother. Yet she, by all accounts, seemed to detest him for some reason. He had assumed for most of his life that she was simply that way. But he observed recently that while she was not very forward or friendly with other people during her outings, she was civil and courteous. She rarely raised her voice to another person unless seriously provoked. On the occasions he did come with her to her stall, she engaged the people with such energy and vivacity that she seemed a wholly different person. When she had to confront people, she never let a cross word pass her lips.

With just him, it seemed her deeper frustrations found an outlet for release. The broom had become an extension of her body and power; her eyes humbled him when he behaved unruly. He could never please her. And as much as her severity lowed him repeatedly, he could not yet despise her. He accepted her actions as natural and just. When he ran around the house wildly and disturbed her either in the midst of chores or a nap, and she rebuked him, he could understand why.

But now, after seeing that mother and son and realizing the connection between them that went beyond caretaker and charge . . . what was he to do? He could picture the dogs from the alleys with their lice-ridden fur and uncouth stares. No, he didn't want to turn into them. Panic rose in his chest. He thought of the way men would push them aside with their feet or chase them away with a cane. No, he didn't want to be the beasts. He didn't want to be afraid of the titans, however intimidating they were. He didn't want to hesitate in joining the other boys. He wanted to be able to endure men's stares and let them see that there was nothing shameful about him.

Perhaps . . . perhaps she was ashamed of him. Perhaps that was the problem. If he was her son, then something must be wrong with him. He did not look like her as sons should. He could not say if he was at fault, but it was certainly a reasonable cause for her displeasure.

With this new hypothesis in mind, he rose from the place where he had lain in thought and walked over the full-length mirror his mother kept next to the bed. He studied the face he beheld: long snout, flat nose, pointed ears, grey-blue eyes, and black fur. The fur color seemed the only feasible connection between himself and the woman he called his mother. His visage again reminded him of the dogs, only their eyes were dark and dull.

He snapped his shut. No! I won't be like them! I want to be like Mother. I want to look like Mother!

His throat tightened as his silent chant became a desperate plea. He thought he might cry, but his eyes did not work like humans' did. They merely ached. He lowered his body to the floor and pressed his chin into the wood.

I want to look like Mother. I have to look like Mother. I have to . . . I have to . . .

This mantra continued until twilight crept into the flat. There still lingered enough light to see without candles or lamps. Still, when he opened his eyes an hour later, he did not trust what he saw.

As he chanted, he had stretched his body in an awkward way, as if to break out of the prison that was his canine form. The movements had been gradual, though, so after an hour he felt that he hadn't moved that much. When he looked at himself, though, he could see that his forelegs were nearly perpendicular to the rest of him.

He gasped and stood up on all fours. His forelegs came in rather easily, although the muscles connecting the limbs to his shoulders from underneath hurt a little. He stared at his paws for several moments. What was going on? Why did they look strange? They still had fur and claws. They were still . . . no. They weren't. There weren't really like paws. They looked like . . . hands?

He then noticed his hindlegs felt strange, too. He bent his head forward and looked at them upside-down. Fur? Yes. Claws? Yes. Paws?

No. He saw five separate toes. And his knees were much more prominent. And his torso, or what he could see of it, was more clearly defined from his pelvis. His tail? No, that was still there. But what had happened to his limbs?

He lifted his head up again and gazed into the mirror. He gasped again. His snout! It was shorter! His ears were a bit smaller. He still had all his fur, but there clearly had been a change.

Then another thought came to him. Could it be he . . . he could try it, at least. He started to rock himself backward and forward on his new hands and feet until, with enough momentum, he could gently push himself from the floor and onto his haunches. Carefully, with a scientific attention to procedure, he attempted the feat and succeeded not in crouching on his haunches, but falling backwards and landing on his arse. And his tail. Which hurt. He groaned at the pain but quickly rolled himself over a little to relieve his tail of the pressure. Yes, indeed, he was sitting like a human. He looked in the mirror again and saw that, despite the fur, claws and fangs, his general anatomy had somehow morphed into that of a man.

His jaw hung open as he stared. How had he done it? Was this really possible? He returned to his thought from before. Mother. He wanted to look like his mother. Now, somehow, he was halfway there.

"Mother," he whispered. His mouth! It started to work, although the word was still muffled by teeth and stiff lips. He immediately shut his eyes and concentrated. Images of his mother and the other humans he encountered nearly every day in this town passed in front of him. He became more aware of the changes his body underwent. When he opened his eyes again, he saw a creature that nearly looked like a boy, but was still covered in quite a bit of fur. His ears were still pointed, his canines still sharp, and his claws were still too pointed and hard to pass as human nails. Yet everything else came closer and closer to resembling a human's features. He was so close. He could even see skin: dark like his mother's.

A sudden gasp sounded behind him. He whipped his head around to see his mother drop her purse. The bag of coins hit the floor with a loud clang, but neither person moved from their poses. Her hand covered her mouth while her eyes popped out and took in the grotesque visage. The wolf-boy, for his part, also stared in shock. For a minute neither spoke or budged.

The shock was unsurprising, he understood. But what would come after? Did she even know the child she saw? The wolfish features might have told her enough, but he couldn't be sure. After a brief internal debate, he dared to whisper with as clear diction as he could manage:


She whispered from behind her mouth: "Merde."

I know this isn't clever, but I still like it. I tried to look up Romani swears, but that proved unsuccessful. So this is what I have for now.