Author's Notes: Written once again for Milo Murphy Appreciation Day, or as some people call it, Friday the 13th. Funnily enough, I didn't realize that there was a full moon tonight (albeit after midnight) until I had already decided to write this.
It was Saturday night, and the Underwoods had just finished unpacking after a week of living in Danville. Zack came outside with a stack of empty boxes, walking them to the trashcans at the side of the house. He sighed, taking a moment to lean against them and stare out at his new neighborhood.
"Pretty nice town, I guess. I hope school goes alright. And that nobody recognizes me from the Lumber—huh?"
The bushes in the corner of the yard were shaking, and then they started to growl, which Zack thought was even more worrisome.
Then the wolf slunk out. Zack decided that it was a wolf because it was way to big to be a normal dog—it must have been as large as Zack, though its raised hackles may have been augmenting its size a bit. Its brown fur shone in the dim moonlight and Zack could see drool dripping from its exposed fangs. It sauntered toward Zack, red eyes glowing maliciously.
For a few seconds Zack was unable to move. Then he let out an embarrassingly high-pitched scream and ran for the front door, just as the wolf snarled and leapt at him.
Zack fell onto his back, the beast pinning him down on the chest. It snarled, hot breath blasting Zack in the face, and he screamed even as the wolf froze in mid-bite, pulling its head back and shaking it roughly.
There was a brief second where Zack and the wolf's eyes met. Both of them gave a sort of full-body shiver, though at the time Zack attributed it to his abject terror.
The front door slammed open. "Zack?! Why the heck are you—AGH!"
His father only got a brief glimpse of the wolf as it ran off into the shadows, leaving his teenage son whimpering on the grass.
Zack was jumpy for the rest of the night, and it didn't help the next morning when his little brothers hid outside the kitchen door and barked loudly as he tried to eat breakfast. Still, his mother managed to convince him that the "wolf" was probably just a large dog. "It might have only been trying to play with you," she added.
He had to admit that that made sense—after all, in the end it had just tackled him, not bitten him or anything. Still, when he left for school Monday morning he gave a quick glance around before proceeding to the bus stop, just to make sure that it wasn't waiting for a rematch.
He met three new classmates at the bus stop, who introduced themselves as Chad, Bradley and Logan. A moment later they were joined by a pale boy with ridiculous cowlick.
Immediately the other three scurried over to the curb, putting seven or eight feet between them and the new kid.
Zack quirked an eye at them, then at the smiling kid beside him. "What's that all about?" he asked with a slight jerk of his head.
The boy, broken out of his thoughts, looked at Zack and said, "Oh, you're new here. I've got a bit of an...issue with some of the people from school."
He smiled like that had answered his question. Zack found himself strangely amused.
"So what are you? A tough guy?" The boy had a sweater vest, a lazy smile and a hundred-pound physique. Maybe he could have beat up Bradley, but he looked like he would have been apologizing while he did it.
"Oh, I don't think anyone's ever called me tough. I'm Milo."
"I'm Zack," he said, shaking his proffered hand.
"Have we met before?" Milo said, his brow furrowing. "You seem familiar somehow."
"I don't think so. We just moved here and I haven't really had a chance to meet anybody."
"So what exactly are these 'issues?'"
Bradley scoffed loudly; Zack turned to see that his arms were crossed and he was giving Milo a withering look. Chad and Logan just looked nervous.
"Well—" Milo began, but was quickly distracted by the approach of a girl with curly red hair.
"Oh, hi, Melissa."
"So, how was your weekend?"
"Yeah, I'll bet. Everything go alright Saturday night?"
"Well, actually, there was an...issue with that."
"There's that word again," muttered Bradley. His comment seemed to remind Milo that there were other people around, because he suddenly added, "Oh, Melissa, this is Zack! He just moved here."
The two introduced themselves, and then she and Milo began asking him how he liked Danville, telling him about the various places that they liked to hang out and so on. Zack was still dimly aware of the other boys huddled together at the curb, but he mostly forgot about them as Milo began to tell him about the teachers at their school.
Finally the bus arrived, and Zack was just climbing on when a barking noise made him jump. He quickly turned just in time to see Milo standing on the sidewalk, looking down at a small yellow-and-brown dog.
"No, Diogee, run home! I'm going to school. Silly dog," he added as it ran off. "You okay, Zack?"
"Yeah. The barking just kind of spooked me for a sec." He grinned wryly as the three of them took seats in the middle of the bus. "This big dog jumped me the other night when I was taking out the trash."
He didn't seem to notice how Milo blanched, but Melissa did. Casually she asked, "How big was it?"
"A lot bigger than Milo's," he chuckled, as Milo slapped his forehead and groaned under his breath.
Overall Zack enjoyed his first day at Jefferson County Middle School. He was in most of the same classes as Milo and Melissa, and by the end of the day he already felt like he had known the two of them forever. Everyone else seemed nice, too, though Zack continued to notice the weird way that people acted around Milo. Some people seemed indifferent to him, but others seemed to deliberately sit as far away from him as they could. Even people who gave him friendly greetings tended to do it from at least five feet away.
"You know, you still haven't explained what's going on here," he said at the end of the school day.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, what is all of this?" Zack motioned around the corridor. Two girls named Lydia and Grace were huddling against the wall of avoid Milo as he passed, while a boy named Kris jumped into his open locker and closed the door.
"Oh. Well—it's kind of a long story. Which I guess I do need to tell you," he said, sharing a significantly look with Melissa. "You see, I'm—oof!"
Distracted, Milo failed to notice two of their classmates rounding the nearest corner. He bumped into Bradley, knocking him into Mort, and the three of them fell to the ground, with Bradley giving a strangled scream of frustration.
"Oops! I'm sorry," Milo said, pulling him to his feet. "I didn't see you guys there."
"Sorry?! Seriously, Milo?! You couldn't have gone five more minutes without ruining my month?!"
Mort put his hand on Bradley's shoulder. "Calm down, man. You knew our summer good luck streak was going to end eventually. Don't worry about it," he said to Milo. "See you tonight, I guess."
They left. Milo looked sheepish as Zack stared after them in confusion.
"Okay, I repeat: what?"
Melissa sighed. "We're about to miss our bus. We'll tell you about it on the way home."
"Actually, my parents are picking me up. We have some errands to do."
"Oh!" said Milo. "But—well, I really need to tell you—"
"Never mind. Whatever long, weird story you have can wait 'til tomorrow," Zack said, hefting his backpack and heading toward the front of the school. "See ya!"
"But we really—! Darn it," he said, as Zack rounded the corner and disappeared from sight.
"I assume that he's the 'issue' that you had Saturday night?"
"I think so. I hadn't even remembered running into anybody until he mentioned the 'dog.'" Milo frowned as the two of them headed with the rest of the crowd toward the buses. "I hate to ask, but could you take care of him tonight?"
"No sweat. Dad wanted to spend some father/daughter time tonight, and Zack really isn't our friend until he tries to kill one of us, right?"
The Underwood house was still missing a sofa, so the family went down to the furniture store to all pick one out. Afterwards they went for dinner, which was good, because Zack suddenly found himself ravenously hungry.
"Skip lunch today?" his father chuckled as Zack, having eaten three full plates from the buffet, finished off what was left of his dessert.
Zack began to regret his gluttony, as waves of nausea hit him on the ride home. He went to bed early when they didn't let up, only to find himself still awake hours later, moaning as he curled up under his sheets.
"I understand the stomach ache, but why do I feel so jittery?" he asked his ceiling. "Or hot," he added, throwing off his covers. He was aching all over, and somehow he just felt—wrong, like his body didn't fit right anymore. His head started to spin as he rose to his feet and crept down the stairs.
"Fresh air," he murmured as he passed his parents' room. "Maybe some fresh air will make me feel better."
He slipped out into the backyard, leaned against the house and took several deep breaths. The cool air was good on his skin and in his lungs, and he felt more clear-headed...kind of, except that he still felt jittery, fighting the urge to run laps around the house, or take off down the street on all fours. That strange thought barely had time to register before the ache in his bones turned into an agonizing pain, and he fell onto his hands and knees, whimpering.
"Mommy?" he said in a voice louder than a whisper. Looking up, his eyes were drawn to the moon like paper clips to a magnet. He breath caught in his throat as he stared at it, his eyes wide and glazed even as his mouth grimaced in agony.
"Yeah, I hear it really hurts, doesn't it?"
Zack spun around. Melissa was standing by the gate. She was wearing what looked like a weird assortment of sports equipment, padding and body armor, her face only half-visible through a hockey mask. Zack was barely able to assess how odd that seemed, instead finding himself enraged by her presence.
"You! Get—go away."
"No can do. I'm here to help you."
"I don't want your help. I want—I want to hurt you!" The thought hit him like a brick to the face, but all he could do was clench his fists in frustration. Without warning his whole body spasmed in pain, and he fell onto his face. His mouth hurt too much to speak anymore.
Black fur was growing all over his body, which seemed to be expanding, making his clothes feel uncomfortably tight—he clawed at his shirt and was surprised at how easily the fabric ripped under his emerging claws, threw back his head and howled in pain as his face began to reshape itself—his spine extended from the small of his back, hair quickly covering the emerging tail—
"Well, you're gonna have to catch me first!" Melissa called, and ran through the gate and out of the backyard.
He spent another thirty seconds or so writhing in pain on the ground. Afterwards it was a huge black wolf that picked itself up. The beast gasped for breath for a moment, taking in remnants of the girl's scent. She had left the gate open as she escaped, and the beast didn't hesitate to take off after her.
Zack—if we can still call him that, because at the moment he had only the faintest memories of ever being a boy named Zack Underwood—barely had time to race into the front yard before he heard a "Yoo-hoo!" He snarled and looked up just in time to see Melissa standing on top of a fire truck that was parked in front of his house, along with a man who was holding some kind of gun—
Zack howled, more from anger than pain, and leapt at them. Unfortunately the truck was too tall, and after his third try Zack suddenly began to feel dizzy again. The man took this chance to fire a third dart into his side, at which point Zack turned and ran away, only managing to get halfway down the street before his legs collapsed under him.
Richard Chase sighed as he lowered his gun. "Have I told you how much I hate you volunteering us for these things?"
"Several times," Melissa said, climbing down from her perch. "Now hurry before he manages to burn through those tranquilizers."
Zack woke up to the smell of trees and dirt. He rose up on his four legs, shook his head and was only partly surprised to find himself in an unfamiliar forest. There were trees to one side and a tall wooden fence in front of him.
The presence of the fence made Zack's blood boil. He let out a snarl and tried to jump it, then smashed his shoulder against it repeatedly, but it held, keeping him locked inside this unknown prison.
He sat on his haunches for a moment, glaring at it, then leaned back his head and gave a long, sputtering howl.
A few seconds passed before he heard a response.
Instantly Zack's muscles tensed, his bodies shifting into a defensive posture. Other wolves! Two of them—they sounded close, and the next "AWOOOOOO!" that reached him was even closer. A few seconds later they emerged from the trees, one as dark as Zack but half his size, the other a russet color but far bigger.
Zack bared his teeth and growled. His two opponents did the same while sauntering forward. This wasn't good, but he crouched down and prepared to leap, eyeing each wolf as he debated which one to attack—
Two more wolves! They were brown and almost identical to each other, appearing on either side of Zack's opponents. Zack tensed even more, but was surprised to see that the newcomers were instead growling the first two wolves, all while slowly making their way to stand between them and Zack. The red wolf practically roared with indignation, but the larger of the brown wolves snapped at it and growled threateningly. A standoff ensued before the enemies chuffed, spun around and ran back into the trees.
Zack wasn't completely reassured, though, prepared for the possibility of these newcomers attacking. Instead the smaller one approached him cautiously and sniffed. Something about this one made Zack relax; his smell was familiar somehow, as well as the friendly whine that he gave when Zack allowed him to press their faces together.
The bigger wolf threw his head toward the trees, inviting Zack and the smaller wolf to follow.
The next few hours were a blur. The three separated at times but always remained close enough that they could hear and smell each other close by. They howled every few minutes, both calling to one another and warning their enemies to stay away. They raced and wrestled each other playfully. They hunted together, and Zack didn't hesitate to snatch up a passing rabbit and crush its neck in his jaws, crouching down with the others to tear into his prey.
As dawn approached Zack's new friends both laid down in a clearing, huddling close together and licking each other's faces. Zack didn't feel quite so tired or affectionate yet, so he headed off into the nearby bushes, hoping to find more food. He was beginning to feel uneasy, like his tail and paws didn't fit right anymore. That sensation seemed familiar, but like it came from another life.
The sky was turning gray at this point, and Zack looked up at the light with a mysterious dread. Suddenly he let out a cry of pain, which started like a wolf's snarl before morphing into a human scream. He fell on his face in the dirt, feeling his bones twist and his body reshape itself. Fur retracted into his skin as his clenched paws morphed into fingers and toes. His tail withered away and his snout shrank back into a human face.
After an agonizing minute he lay there on the ground, gasping for breath while the woods seemed to spin around him.
"Where am I?" he croaked, slowly climbing to his feet. "Why am I—AGH! Where the heck are my clothes?!"
He spun around, quickly covering himself in case there was anyone around to see him. He tried to remember how he got there and nearly had a panic attack at the half-formed memories that his brain provided.
He was equally horrified when he heard a familiar voice calling.
"I think I hear him over here! He's probably—oh, hey, Zack."
It was Milo, hopping on one foot as he put on one of his slippers. He was dirty and disheveled and smiling a bit awkwardly, but otherwise seemed completely unfazed to find his new friend standing there without any clothes on.
"Milo?! What are you—where are we?!"
"Right in the middle of Coyote Woods.
"Coyote Woods?!" Zack gave a sound that was trying to be a nervous chuckle but came out closer to a sob.
"Oh, don't worry, there are no coyotes here! Actually, the woods was named after actor Peter Coyote. He donated all this land to the city as a, uh..." Milo scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. "Werewolf preserve."
Just then, a man who was clearly related to Milo appeared. If anything he seemed even more insouciant, buttoning up his shirt as he strode forward.
"Hi there! You must be Zack. I'm Milo's dad. Put 'er there!"
He reached out his hand as though expecting Zack to shake it. Zack just stared, as he was currently using his hands for something far more important.
"Oh, you'll probably be needing some clothes." Milo shrugged off his backpack and began to pull out clothes identical to what he was wearing. "Let's see, I've got—shorts, and a shirt, and unopened undergarments! I always carry a few packages of these around! What are you, a nine, nine-and-a-half?"
He threw the clothes to Zack, who caught them, sputtered incoherently for a few seconds and then turned around to start pulling them on.
"So...this is probably a bit of a shock for you," Mr. Murphy said as Zack buttoned up the pants. "What exactly do you remember about last night?"
"Nothing. I don't remember anything because what I do remember must have been a nightmare because it's like something out of a werewolf movie and oh my gosh Milo mentioned werewolves a minute ago you've got to be kidding me I—!"
"Whoa! Calm down!" Milo grabbed Zack's shoulders and shook him lightly, causing his rant to give way to hyperventilation. "It's not that big a deal! In fact, it's pretty common around here."
"Common?! What, how many other werewolves do you know, Milo?!"
As if on cue, there was another rustling in the bushes before Bradley and Mort stepped into view.
"Oh, hey, Zack!" said Mort, as though only mildly surprised to see him standing there with Milo and his father. "See, I told you it was him. I could just tell."
"Congratulations," Bradley drawled as they walked by. "You've set a new record for how fast Milo can ruin a person's life."
"Dude, don't freak him out more. And hey, sorry about last night," Mort added, stopping for just a moment to address the gaping Zack. "You know, when we almost attacked each other? Neither of us were really ourselves, so no hard feelings, right?"
He flashed a thumbs-up and followed Bradley back into the trees.
"Either of you boys need a ride?!" Mr. Murphy called.
"Nah, my mom's picking us up, thanks!"
"Okay! I'll go get the car," he added to Milo. "Are you two gonna be alright?"
"Yeah, I think I can explain things."
"Alright. Good luck."
He followed after the others, leaving the two boys alone. Zack took several deep breaths, pulled on the shirt he was holding and, as calmly as he could, asked "You were the dog that attacked me the other day, weren't you?"
"And you turned me into a werewolf." He took another deep breath. "But you didn't even bite me."
"Oh, that's just a myth made up for the movies," Milo chuckled, waving his hand. "Lycanthropy actually passes when you look a werewolf in the eyes."
"Yeah! It's an old legend that nobody seems to know about these days. I'm really sorry that I passed it to you. My dad and I were born werewolves, so we change all the time, not just change on the full moon. It's unpredictable, and sometimes I don't have enough warning to get here before it happens. I've trained myself enough to never actually hurt anyone, but..."
"Not enough to keep yourself from jumping them and getting them cursed too?"
"I don't like to think of it as a curse..."
"Milo, I almost ate Melissa last night!"
He chuckled again, though Zack's reaction had cost him much of his bravado. "You may have tried, but she has a lot of experience with people like us! I've known her for years and she's still not a werewolf."
"Lucky her," Zack snapped.
Milo looked away.
"Well. If it makes you feel better, there's a way to make sure that you never transform again."
"There is?" Zack spun around and grabbed Milo by the shoulders. "What is it?! Wear silver? Eat garlic? Something with wolfsbane? Out with it!"
He shook Milo, who waited for him to finish before answering. "You have to stay away from me."
"My dad and I can make people susceptible to lycanthropy, but it comes from us. That's why most people at school avoid me. Because I've...accidentally infected them in the past," he admitted. "Bradley and Mort only changed this month because I bumped into them yesterday. So if you avoid me from now on...don't come near me or touch me after today..."
"I'll stay human? Even on the full moon?"
Zack's hands fell from Milo's shoulders. Without thinking he took a step back.
"Yeah. I don't know why you thought it'd be garlic—that's vampires. Silver is another thing that the movies made up, and wolfsbane's just poisonous to everybody."
An awkward silence fell. Milo smiled, though Zack couldn't help but think that it looked a bit forced.
"Hey, don't worry about it! We can still be friends. I mean, we won't be able to hang out as much—but it's not like we can never talk to each other. We could text or video chat..."
Zack stared down at his bare feet.
"I think I ate a bunny last night."
"That'll happen. But you also had a ham sandwich for lunch yesterday. Meat is meat, right?"
"I used to have a pet bunny. His name was Pinky."
Silence reigned again.
"Anyway. We can give you a lift home if you want. My dad can explain everything to your parents."
Zack scoffed. "I doubt my dad will believe it."
"Oh, don't worry about that. Melissa took a video of you transforming! Which we'll give to you so that you can delete it before anyone else sees it," he added in response to Zack's horrified expression. "We learned our lesson after what happened with Bradley."
Somehow the talk with his parents was the most surreal thing that Zack experienced that morning. He cringed at the video, which Melissa had left in the Murphy car along with a basket of chocolate muffins. ("She's such a softie," Milo had laughed.) Mr. Murphy apologized and explained everything as the Underwoods sat there in stunned silence. Milo waited in the car, as if he didn't want to tell them that he was the one who had infected their son.
Zack's parents let him take the day off from school, which was good, because as soon as he laid down in bed he was out like a light. He woke up a few hours later, blinking at the basket of muffins now sitting on his bedside table. He was still dressed in the clothes that Milo had lent him, and wondered vaguely if he was expected to return them.
"Sure. Do I mail them, or throw them at him from across the hallway?" he mumbled to the dark room.
He laid back down and stared at his ceiling, just as he had done before his transformation the previous night. He shivered as the memories came flooding back. The actual change, the overwhelming fury, the feel of a rabbit dying in his teeth...
For a few seconds he hated Milo for doing this to him, but that hatred turned to guilt almost instantly. It's not like he had done it on purpose—even if he had apparently done it many times before. Still, Zack had legitimately wanted to kill Melissa, so he wasn't going to start blaming people for what they did when they lost control of themselves.
And this happened to Milo and his dad all the time, he reminded himself. At least Zack would only have to do this once per month, and never if he could stay away from him.
"I move to a new town, make two cool new friends really easily, and now I can't be around them without turning into a bloodthirsty monster. How is that fair?"
After a moment he thought about it another way—how unfair it was for Milo, having everyone at school avoid him so that they didn't turn into bloodthirsty monsters. Even though he had to no matter what.
Zack gave that a lot of thought as he decided what he would do the next day.
Milo arrived at the bus stop on Wednesday morning and watched Bradley, Chad and Logan scoot toward the curb. He smiled and tried to ignore them, especially as Bradley started to give him the stink eye. He was always bitter after a transformation.
He jumped and turned. Zack had managed to sneak up right beside him, casually dropping his backpack onto the ground.
"Oh! Hi, Zack. How are you?"
"Fine. I mean...still a little freaked out, but fine."
"Cool. Um..." He motioned vaguely. "You might want to take a few steps back, though. Remember what I told you?"
"Yeah, I remember," Zack said without moving. "But I'd still only change on the full moon, right?"
"And I can just—what? Go down to the woods before nightfall and lock myself inside the fence?"
A slow, hopeful smile was crawling across Milo's face. "That's usually how we do it!"
"Hi, Milo," said Melissa, though she was eyeing Zack as she took her place to his left. "You sticking around?"
He hesitated for half a second. "Yeah, I think so. What's one night a month between friends, right?"
She gave him a playful punch on the arm, and the three of them exchanged wide smiles before making plans to get pizza after school that day.
A/N: If you're curious, the "look into a werewolf's eyes" thing is based on the rougarou, one of the few folkloric werewolves that can actually spread lycanthropy (in some stories, to anyone who sees one). The changing-based-on-proximity thing is something that I invented to make Milo's condition closer to Murphy's Law.
I hope that you enjoyed, and please review/fave/etc.!