Clean laundry mixed with dirty as Siobhan tossed clothing over her shoulder. No time to waste. How had she misplaced it today of all days?
“Looking for this?” Michael stormed in, holding out the ring. “I took it back when I learned your secret!” He sneered as he tucked the ring into his jacket pocket.
“What secret?” she asked with a far calmer voice than she expected.
“Old Lady Semple told me you know what that ring is worth now. You only want it because it’s valuable, not because of what it means to me!” Michael bristled.
“Aw honey,” cajoled Siobhan. “Mrs. Semple knew your grandmother. She told me how your grandma valued the ring, a gift from your grandfather’s mother.” Siobhan dared to brush a hand over Michael’s arm. When he didn’t jerk away, she smiled a little. “You gave a special family ring to me. You made me family. That’s valuable beyond measure.” She faked a gulp. “Does this mean you’re taking my family away?”
Michael wilted into a chair. Digging the ring out of his pocket, he held it up into the fading light. It glimmered, a silver band with a silver wire wrapped around it. Ancient symbols were inscribed inside. Michael thought it was Gaelic and full of romance. She knew better. Glancing at the window, she grit her teeth. She had to play this just right.
“Please, Michael, don’t do this. Let me be family again. It means so much to me to be part of you, to wear the symbol of your acceptance.” She eyed him. He nodded quietly in the dim room.
Swallowing a sigh, she held out her hand. As he reached out to her, proffering the coveted ring, she felt the too-familiar tingle in her belly, the strain on her cuticles. Siobhan snatched the ring from Michael’s palm and tried to jam it onto her finger, but it was too late.
She felt her dress shred as her spine lengthened and her body filled out. Her fingers grew with thick knuckles, claws at their tips. She retained enough humanity to catch a glance at Michael’s pale face, the whites of his eyes showing. His mouth was open. If he screamed, she couldn’t hear it above the Change.
Fever dreams, full of heavy scents and thick, rich textures, chased the beast through the night. Wanton destruction and a hunger nearly sated drove her on toward dawn, when the beast finally lay down. She rose from the makeshift bed, wincing as she moved. The fetid scents of mud, blood and viscera attacked her. Painted in them, she couldn’t get away from it, and her gorge rose. Spasms racked her body until it emptied itself of things she’d rather not try to name.
The overcast dawn clothed her in shadows. She picked her way through the woods behind Michael’s house, their home, and bustled up the back stairs. Shaking her head, trying to clear it of the night’s after effects, all she could think was the word “shower.” Padding down the hallway toward their room, she skidded on a damp spot. A pool of dark stickiness. Her hand flew to her mouth. She turned toward their room. Already knowing, she made herself look through the open door. What was left of Michael still sat in the chair. His head lay at an odd angle to his carved out body. Bits and shreds of skin and what looked like part of his liver sat in his lap along with tufts of chair stuffing. His heart had been chewed out. Siobhan ran to the bathroom and vomited until she dry heaved.
Mrs. Semple picked up immediately. “I didn’t get the ring back in time, Mary.” Silence on the other end. The old lady was going to make her say it. “It’s Michael. I need a cleaning team.”
“We’ll be along shortly, girl. Get yourself cleaned up and for heaven’s sake, put that ring on.”