Dave awoke in the middle of the forest, bloody and dazed. His clothes were ragged and every muscle that didn’t cramp deeply ached.
He could not quite remember the night before. He had been drinking. Then he had been yelling. His friends had tried to quieten him, but having started drinking at dawn, dusk found him feeling invincible.
His friends sat around the campfire, telling stories about monsters and ghosts. Dave had settled in to heckle, his friends finding this to be enough of an improvement to not put much energy into quietening him. None of them knew who had invited Dave, so when he declared that it was his turn to tell a story, each of them expected someone else to rein him in.
It was a drunken slur of words, but the gist was “fuckin’ werewolves, they’re the coolest“. Dave then showed off the bitemark on his shin, claiming that he had been bitten by something on a forest path weeks ago. It did not look cursed to anyone there. It looked infected, but Dave insisted he had put enough vodka on it to keep it clean. Once he had heard enough murmured appreciation, Dave returned his attention to finishing the beer he had brought for the group.
There were howls in the distance that night. There was also the imitation of howling in the campsite as Dave stomped around the campsite, pausing to tell his sleepless and frustrated friends that he was communing with nature.
It was still dark where Dave lay. The ground around him had a thin covering of leaves, but not enough of a cushion to keep sleeping there. He sat up, looking around for a sign of camp. He saw trampled bushes and broken branches, forming a haphazard path in one direction. Something huge had come from that direction, into this clearing.
Shakily, Dave stood and walked towards the makeshift path. There were massive footprints there. Bestial and heavy. They led to the clearing, the deepest set scuffed and planted right beside where he had been sleeping.
In that moment, Dave knew he was special. The encounter he had rewritten in his mind happened exactly as he told it to his friends. It was not the bite of some lost dog he had kicked, it was the mark of the beast. He wondered if he had attacked any of them after his transformation. It would serve them right, forgetting to invite him again.
He stared at the large footprints in the clearing. Blearily realising that there were other footprints between them. Smaller. The imprints of shoes.
He heard the branches shaking overhead, despite the stillness of the pre-dawn air.
Dave remembered running in the night. Running away from the sounds of crashing foliage and heavy, keen breathing.
Above him, the creature that had waited so patiently to restart the chase prepared for the moment he looked up.