“This kind of YA has depth and resonance and significance…The experience of being an immigrant, the experience of being different, the experience of being treated unfairly by self-righteous authority and being powerless to do anything about it, are all here, beautifully depicted, unflinchingly described, shown with all their terrible consequences.” ~ Mike Reeves-McMillan
Vivian Ingram, the family caretaker and my babysitter, arrived just before
the ascent of the full Moon, as usual—locking everybody except me (including
poor Mal yet again) into their Turning rooms in the basement and making sure
everything was secure.
Charlie was with her.
The first time she’d brought him, he had been thirteen and I was only
eleven. You’d think that a newly-teenaged boy would have disdained the
company of a kid like me, but we somehow bucked the odds—we missed out on
the standard boy-from-girl-from-boy recoil in response to unnamed cooties, and
we had become buddies instead. Of course, he was going on sixteen now, and
he’d Turned—at his proper new-Moon trigger, only a few months before—into
a vampire bat, like the rest of his family. My older brother Mal had glowered at
Charlie as he was escorted into his Turning room in the hope that this time
would final y prove the charm. Mal, almost eighteen, stil un-Turned, was visibly
chafing at having to be marched off into yet another attempt at becoming an
official adult in the Were community and being watched by a boy two years his
junior who had already passed him on that road.
Charlie knew better than to of er any commentary while Mal was stil in
hearing range—but once my brother and his temper were safely locked away
behind the secured door he gave me one of his crooked smiles, half sympathy,
“Still no joy for him?”
“Nope. And he’s kind of running out of time. They’re not sure what they’re
going to do if he passes his eighteenth birthday and is still… like this. Is it even
possible for someone to un-Were?”
“What’s he trying for this time?”
“Still a weasel. It’s been quite a come-down, really. He started out all gung-
ho, with the wolverine, but after my folks had to keep hiring the wolverine for
months it got…a little expensive. So he’s had to bring his sights down some. He
wanted something with teeth, though, so—well—weasel.”
“And if that doesn’t work, what, a rat?” Charlie asked.
“Don’t be mean,” I said sanctimoniously.
“Shall we stay and see how he and the weasel are getting on? The Moon
ought to be up by now—or is about to be, anyway. It should be fun.”
I smacked him on the shoulder. “You know how he hated seeing us peering
in the last time.”
“We’ll be careful,” Charlie said. “Come on.”
Vivian was busy—one of her other sons fortuitously picked a perfect
moment to call her on the phone, and while she was talking to him she had
momentarily lost track of Charlie and me. We hadn’t really bothered to check
on the Moon’s status in the sky—it was close enough for our purposes. We
stood jostling outside the door of Mal’s room, and I stood on tiptoe to peer
inside through the glass window set into the door.
“What’s he doing?” Charlie asked, crowding in beside me, careful to keep
to the edges so he could duck away if Mal showed signs of looking up and seeing
“Nothing,” I said. “As usual.”
Mal was in fact sitting in the middle of the room, cross-legged and wrapped
in his Turning cloak, staring with smoldering eyes at the weasel which stood
with its back to the wall staring back at him. Other than the staring contest,
which was a sadly familiar outcome of locking Mal into the Turning room at the
advent of ful Moon, there was nothing of any interest going on inside that
room. It looked like Vivian would soon have to let him out, as she had done
every Turn so far since he was fifteen, and he’d still be… Mal. The full Moon
was in up the sky; if he hadn’t Turned by now, he probably (yet again) wasn’t
I had already lost interest—but for Charlie, this was a train wreck he could-
n’t stay away from. He was still staring into the room by the time I had turned
away—from Mal and his continued failure, from the annoyed weasel in the cor-
ner. I was actually looking at Charlie’s fascinated face when something began
to impinge itself on my consciousness.
There was nothing going on inside the room. But out here in the corridor,
outside… I was starting to feel distinctly strange. Il , even. There was some-
thing deep in the back of my throat, an odd sort of nausea, but it didn’t feel as
though I wanted to throw up—it was just… there… as though I had tried to
swallow something, either too big or too disgusting, that I shouldn’t have even
considered putting into my mouth, and now it was stuck halfway down my gul-
% . '
let and was making breathing difficult. My skin felt prickly and itchy and hot,
like I was about to spike a fever or suddenly sprout an exotic rash; my eyes were
watering and there was a tickle behind my nose not unlike those times when you
desperately want to sneeze but the sneeze just won’t come. My bones felt…
oddly liquid. It isn’t an easy sensation to describe but the closest I can come is
feeling like I was about to change phase, like my solid flesh wanted to melt into
a puddle, or evaporate into a gas; in a fanciful moment I imagined my hair going
up in literal smoke, dissolving strand by strand into a strange fog which was
swirling around me. It felt… well, the synonyms didn’t get any more helpful in
clarifying matters, It felt odd. Weird. Strange. I had never felt anything like it
I realized that I had started almost panting, trying to get air into my lungs
through my mouth, gasping mouthfuls of it—that my hands had closed con-
vulsively into fists against the door—that my knees were feeling decidedly weak,
and that if I did not sit down, right now, I would collapse into an undignified
heap or, perhaps, dissolve into that puddle that I had already considered be-
coming. And just as I realized it, so did Charlie. He turned sharply towards me,
dismissing Mal’s situation and sizing up my own instantly and completely.
“Oh, no,” he said unsteadily. “Oh, no, no, no, no, no! Not now. Hang on.
Don’t move.” He backed away from the door, from me, until he was at the foot
of the basement stairs and then, without letting his eyes leave my face for one
moment, angled his head just enough to yel urgently up the stairs for his
I pushed myself off the door, turning around, blinking rapidly at him, try-
ing to figure it out.
“What’s going on…?”
“Did nobody tell you about this?” Charlie said desperately. “There’s a full
Moon in the sky—you’re Were-kind—work it out! “
He glanced up the stil -empty stairs, but there was no sign of Vivian.
“There’s an empty room back there, isn’t there? Can you get there? Quickly?
Mom! MOM! Now!”
It was starting to percolate through to my fogged brain. “Are you tel ing
me… I’m Turning?”
“Dammit—get into that room—I can’t handle—where is my mother? Go
on, back away—into the room—at least I can close the door and then we can
There was, in fact, a room behind me, a room that had been set aside specif-
ically for this moment, for me—but it had not been prepared. Not yet. And it
seemed as though it was too late for any of that. Way too late for that. That liq-
uid sensation that I felt building up in my bones suddenly turned into an ex-
quisitely sharp agony, as though I were pul ing my own body apart and trying to
reknit it back into a shape in which it didn’t belong—which, come to think of
it, was precisely what was going on. I tried to obey Charlie’s instructions, I did—
I took a precarious step in that direction, and my feet failed me completely. I
crumpled bonelessly on the basement floor, feeling the cold stab into my legs
and my butt from the bare concrete below the thin layer of linoleum , and then
I couldn’t seem to move at all anymore.
“But it’s… I’m… my fifteenth is stil …” I was finding it very dif icult to
speak, to form words with my lips, with my tongue.
I was Turning. I was Turning, and I was still two months shy of my fifteenth
birthday, the traditional age at which the Were first Turned. And nothing had
I whimpered and closed my eyes at last, allowing myself to fold into a lit-
tle heap of misery on the floor.
I was a Random. Adult Random Were-folk Turned into their primary form,
the animal they Turned into at their first Turning, if no outside stimulus had
been presented to change that, such as another warm-blooded creature wait-
ing to steal their form.
But I hadn’t Turned yet. I had no primary form. Nothing to fall back on. In
fact… whatever I Turned into right now, at this instant, that would remain my
primary form forever. I had thought about this, had planned to present myself
with an animal of my choice come my fifteenth birthday, to control this Random
thing as best I could—but there was nothing, nothing—unless someone simply
assumed that Mal was not going to Turn again and barged into his room and
stole his weasel—but I didn’t want to be a weasel—and anyway what if he
needed the thing—and did it count that I had actual y been watching the
weasel through the glass in the door just before this started happening? But was
the weasel the last thing that I had seen? What if some mouse had scuttled right
in front of me as I had turned away from the door—we were punctilious about
pest control in this house, for obvious reasons, but it wouldn’t be beyond the
realm of possibility that the occasional mouse did find its way down here, it was
a basement after all. Would I really be stuck with being a mouse? No, I hadn’t
seen, hadn’t recognized, hadn’t registered—did that count…?
And then the pain became so incandescent that I actually screamed—and
then it was all gone, as though it had never been. Wiped away. Wiped clean.
I sat there, my hands over my eyes, panting….
…my hands over my eyes…
% . '
…so I hadn’t Turned after all?
What was going on here?
I took my hands away from my face and then several things suddenly began
to clamor for my attention.
One, the hands that my eyes lighted on as they came away from my face
were not my hands. I should know, okay? I’d been living with my hands for nearly
fifteen years and had been observing them on a daily basis, and these weren’t it.
They were Somebody Else’s Hands.
Two, Charlie’s face wore an expression that was a cross between open-
mouthed astonishment and a rapt, wide-eyed fascination.
Three, more or less the same expression graced the face of his mother—Vi-
vian had come racing down the basement stairs in response to the urgency in
her son’s voice, but she had obviously been too late to prevent…
Something had happened. Something. Something was different.
“What…” I began, and then shut my mouth abruptly. The voice was not my
own, either. It was a voice that had a high note, but which then broke into a
lower register halfway through that single word I had tried to utter, like a
teenaged boy whose voice was in the middle of breaking.
“Oh, my giddy aunt,” Charlie said, his own voice very faint. “Jazz?”
I examined my hand. It was more… robust than I was used to. Slightly big-
ger. The fingers were longer, flatter, the nails almost spatulate. The hand
emerged from a wrist that seemed to be far too angular to belong to me, as if the
very bones were knit differently.
I lifted that hand, and touched my face.
I did not recognize anything that my new fingertips trailed across. The nose
was the wrong shape. My lower lip was ful er than I remembered it. My teeth felt
different under my tongue. My hair…
It was shorter. Much shorter. And not curly any more, like mine. Short, and
it felt straight.
More like Charlie’s hair than my own.
“There will,” Vivian said, her voice shaking ever so slightly, “be hell to pay
over this. Charlie, what were you thinking?”
“It wasn’t my fault!” Charlie said sharply. “How was I to know that…”
I tried not to think the wrongness of my voice—and chose to whisper, in-
stead, thinking that whispering at least would sound a little more like I thought
I should sound. “What’s going on?”
Vivian gave a helpless shrug. “Honey… you Turned. But it isn’t…”
I put out a hand, tried to struggle to my feet—which hurt, as if they had
been stuffed into shoes two sizes too small. My clothes felt strange on me, tight
in all the wrong places, constraining… and then, finally, something clicked.
The funny voice. The bigger-boned hands. My hair. The sense of a differ-
ent breadth of shoulder and of hip. The… oddness about my body.
I looked down at my crotch, and gave an inelegant yelp.
I had Turned, all right. But not into an animal. The weasel in Mal’s room
had not been the last thing I saw at the crucial moment. Neither had that myth-
ical mouse I had been briefly worried about.
The last warm-blooded creature I had set eyes on as I started to Turn…
Had been Charlie.
I had Turned… into a boy.
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