Shifting Fortunes Ch. 06bysweeter_sensations©
Thank you for being so patient, Im sorry this has been a while in coming - I wanted to make sure it was how I wanted, but I hope you enjoy it. It has been a lot of fun developing their characters and seeing their stories unfold. Please comment and rate :o) - SS
Chapter 6. Some hard truths are learned.
Jake watched Sam lean in towards the crackling fire. She was nibbling almost daintily on a piece of perfectly cooked venison, knees tucked up inside the blanket she was shrouded in, seated as he was, on the floorboards of the small hunting hut. A tiny furrow between her brows marred an otherwise perfect complexion. He knew she wasn't shifting over any more. The bruises on her face were almost completely healed, but a tiny yellowing shadow of the last one on her neck was the only clue. If the blanket moved a bit though, it would reveal the pattern of cigarette burns that dotted up and down her arm. Just the thought was enough to bring a raging anger up within his soul.
A small sigh startled him out of his study of her. She was looking at him, licking her lips and he was instantly mesmerized by her mouth. He struggled to lift his eyes up to meet hers.
"Thanks for cooking that, Jake. I didn't realize just how starving I was," she frowned again, then quirked a corner of her mouth up as she realized she hadn't even gotten to breakfast the day before seeing as how Jake had suddenly grabbed her in the pantry. A quick ache in her loins distracted her and she tried hard not to look at him.
Jake wondered at the mischievous glint in her eye all of a sudden as she shifted her emerald gaze back to the flickering light of the fire. He actually wondered a lot about her, and it was definitely time to find out what was really going on. He needed to know everything so he could best figure a way to help protect her.
"Who is he?" Jake asked her gently, drawing his own blanket over his shoulders and crossing his legs in front of him. The old sweats he wore were brittle and protested at the stretch.
Sam darted a glance over at Jake and nervously wet her lips. She knew exactly what he was talking about. Her heart instantly jerked and started thudding in her chest. Locking it away in a corner of her mind had enabled her to function all day, and she had been hoping it would last a bit longer, but she knew she owed him an explanation. He was waiting patiently, sitting across from her just looking gorgeous and heart breaking. She longed to lean against him, but she needed to gather her own strength for this.
Furrowing her brow even more, she wondered how to start. The beginning, a thought whispered to her and she flinched inwardly. Yes, there was no help for it. She would start at the beginning. She began to speak, and as she spoke, she re-lived each painful detail.
When Samantha was born, her mother told her that she didn't even know who her father was. It could have been any of a handful of men. Watching her mother flit from man to man as she grew up, it wasn't hard to see why. Sam never tried to find her father, she simply accepted that he wasn't around - she never had a shortage of male role models, no matter how appalling and contemptible some of them may have been.
Oh, they weren't all bad - there was Alex the delicatessen owner, always buying her large print books and teaching her how to read when she was five. Then there was Richie, who had taken her out for ice cream whenever her mother had been on a late shift. Unfortunately those always seemed to be the relationships that fizzled out the quickest.
Her nutrition had certainly dwindled between men - some would allow her lots of healthy things to eat, some wouldn't even give her a scrap. In those times, Annie would always sneak her food to her room in the dead of the night, whispering apologies and stroking Sam's hair while her daughter had hungrily wolfed down whatever she had brought. Sam had been painfully thin more times than she could count on one hand.
The relationships, however, that lasted the longest were always the worst. Even now, Sam couldn't fathom why her mother chose the men she did or why she stayed with them. Eventually it had led to her death. Earl Rutherford had definitely had the meanest streak out of all of them. He wasn't content with just physically beating Annie, he also spent every minute of his day thinking of ways to tell Annie how she was so worthless that no other man would even dream of taking her, how he was the best she'd ever get. It killed Sam that Annie had died with such little self worth, when she had been so much better than that.
Samantha didn't blame her mother for the way she'd been brought up - she'd always been the one looking after her mother, not the other way around. This balance of care had unequivocally shifted the night Sam had first found out what she was. The first time she shifted, she had shifted from human to animal form. Sam had known that she could shift into animals before she ever dreamt that she could take on other human forms. That first time, she hadn't even known what happened.
One minute she was sobbing her heart out, crushing her face into the neighbour's golden labrador as her mother was being beaten by another abusive partner, and the next minute she was experiencing the strange sensation of panting. The dog she'd been petting had yelped in fright and raced away into the night, while Sam was dumbstruck at how she was suddenly naked on the front doorstep, her clothes in rags around her.
She'd grasped those scraps against her and ran around the back of the house, hoping no one had seen and wondering what the hell had just happened. So scared and so afraid, Sam had been too shocked to even think about it. It took her several weeks before she was brave enough to touch the labrador again. She had been only ten.
The next few weeks after her second shift, she gloried in it, relishing the opportunity to melt away in the middle of the night, taking on the labrador's form, and padding around the neighbourhood. She quickly learnt that clothes couldn't shift with her, she'd even experimented with lycra but it still fell away every time.
The next few years followed the same pattern, only this time she had figured out she could touch any animal - a cat, dog, mouse - and she could change into any of them any time she wanted. Her awe started to subdue into despair as she knew she could tell no one of her second nature - who would understand? Who would welcome her? She'd watched enough television to understand that she'd be experimented on, pointed at, laughed at - a freak.
And then, a few months after she turned sixteen, The Great Reveal was announced to much confusion and hysteria worldwide. Sam had watched wide-eyed as a man on the local news team shifted his appearance to a blonde woman of about twenty. She immediately noted that his clothes stayed with him during his transformation, and was curious.
So many thoughts raced through her mind. She had thought she was a freak, that she was the only one - but there were others! Others like her! And she rejoiced, knowing she wasn't alone, and she was almost bursting with fear and excitement to tell her mother. But her plans were shattered. For as soon as the news bulletin faded away into another one, sounds of screaming and smashing glass erupted in the neighbourhood around them.
She had looked across at her mother, and saw deep fear welling in the green pools. She gathered Sam to her and took her upstairs, while Gareth, the current man of the moment grabbed a baseball bat and went to investigate. In the ensuing weeks, much violence and unrest occurred across the world - some wars were started - and ended violently, due to the expected backlash and fear that drove people to such extremes.
Politicians vied for rights for the dual natured, some vied for them all to be lined up and catalogued and some vied for them to be put down as unnatural freaks of nature. All had some support. And Sam knew there was absolutely no way she could tell her mother, there was just no way she could allow her to be persecuted or hurt because of what her daughter was.
The only good thing to come out of it, was that Sam had realized she could shift into human forms, too. And that the clothes she shifted in stayed with her too, so long as they weren't too small for the new shape she took - she mostly experimented with her mother's figure, and it comforted her. The animal forms were just not made for human clothes.
The interesting thing, was that out of all the types of shifters out there (some could just shift appearances such as hair and eye colour and even skin colour, some could produce scales or a diamond-like coating that made them bulletproof), there were none that came forward claiming to be animal shifters. Sam read everything she could get her hands on at news stands and second hand papers lying in the street, she'd even snuck onto a computer at an internet café where someone had left one unattended, but there was nothing to be found, and so she wondered.
Not long after the shifters revealed themselves, the others started to come out of the woodwork - telepaths, people who could turn invisible, some who could fly. It was incredible that these people had been living silently amongst the world for so long with no one noticing. Of course, that's why most people were so furious about it - some of their work colleagues had been able to turn invisible or fly, and here they were typing away at their computers all day and sharing a beer at the pub after work. Sam had only heard of the mind readers when she had been captured.
Sam watched and waited for another year, hoping that someone would come forward about animal shifting, to no avail. Then on the weekend before her seventeenth birthday, she heard a whisper that a woman had seen a man change into a wolf right before her very eyes. It was announced on a small local news channel, but with no evidence and much speculation, she was deemed to have been too inhibited by alcohol for her report to be accurate. Most just thought she was crazy, and the story melted away. Of course Sam instantly knew it must be the truth. The hysteria in the woman's voice as she related the incident was just too real.
Many emotions flooded through Sam as she read through the tiny write-up the following day in the local newspaper. Eventually her eyes flickered over the words, not really seeing any more as she sifted through them. Shock, fear, elation, curiosity, revulsion and a clear, euphoric rush of relief. The description of the wolf had also set a smoldering thought within her mind. It had her wondering if she had been playing it too safe with her animal choices - all domestic pets.
The following weekend, her mother had asked her what she wanted to do on her birthday and Sam's immediate answer was to go to the zoo. Surprised, but always agreeable, Annie had asked Brendon to take them. Brendon had been one of the good guys. She'd been seeing him for a month and Sam was waiting for the moment when Annie would get bored and leave him. Sam never got too attached to any of the men Annie saw - it never ended well.
When they'd arrived at the zoo, Sam's eyes had lit on the welcoming poster that she had been looking for - a few weeks ago some wolf pups had been born, and the zoo was holding a promotion for a chance to hold one of the fluffy cubs. Sam hoped desperately that the mother would be there with the pups. She didn't want to change into a tiny, baby wolf - she would be defenseless - there was just no point.
The line to see the wolf pups rounded around the corner of the hall where the pups were, and so she impatiently lined up while Brendon and Annie had wandered away to look at the siamangs nearby. Eventually, with a thudding heart, Sam finally made it into the hall and strained to look around the shortening queue to look for the wolves. Her heart sank as she took in the zoo staff holding just one little cub, while his litter mates slept in a heated enclosure at their feet.
The little black wolf pup was endearing and sweet, but just not big enough for what Sam wanted. She sighed - it had been a long shot anyway - but she resolved to stay to pat the cute thing. She had waited in the line for so long anyway. When her turn finally came, she gingerly stretched a hand out towards the small black thing, smiling as its small jaws opened in a loud yawn. A few people in the crowd tittered and murmured at its cute-ness.
Sighing again, Sam reluctantly moved away and met up with her mother, unsure if she would get another opportunity to touch another animal here at the zoo. Spending another couple hours at the zoo was actually rather pleasant, and she found herself relaxing and laughing with her mother like she hadn't done in a long time. She felt comfortable there, amongst all those animals.
It was only later that evening in her bedroom, that she stripped down in front of her mirror and grinned to herself as she willed the little black wolf pup to mind. When her eyes opened, she leapt back in surprise and let out a sharp whine. She instantly snapped her jaws shut, but taking an incredulous step forward towards the mirror, Sam discovered something stunning. Her reflection showed a full grown, huge black wolf in the prime of his life. His glossy coat glowed the deepest ebony in the dim lighting of her room, and a slight lifting of her lips showed long, sharp, well-developed teeth.
Sam went to laugh in delight and was startled when a chuffing noise erupted from her instead. This caused a few more quiet chuffs to occur before she calmed her excitement down enough to remain quiet. Turning this way and that, waving the long, bushy tail, Sam couldn't get enough of this exquisite wolf's features. It was unbelievable.
Thoughts flickering slower now, Sam thought back to the first labrador she'd touched - he had been older and frail - but her labrador was strong and young, and she made her second huge discovery. No matter what the age of the animal she touched, she believed she would absorb only the animal's strongest traits, becoming what they would in their prime of life.
Finally, she just sat in front of the mirror and gazed at the wolf that was now her own.
And not long after that, was when her life changed for the worse. Brendon disappeared as she knew he would, but as soon as he had gone, one was in his place. This time his name was Earl Rutherford, and the second Sam met him, she was alarmed and watchful. He treated her mother kindly at first, but Sam noticed how his smile never reached his cold, black eyes. There was something wrong with him, with his demeanor that she couldn't pin point, but it sat like a pit in her stomach for the first few weeks.
Exactly two months to the day that Annie had been with Earl, her mother came home one day without his favourite brand of bacon - the store hadn't had any in stock. He gave her a black eye for that, and Sam's horror story came to life. Annie had been beaten before, worse than just a black eye, but still Sam couldn't fight down the feeling that they needed to just get out right now. She begged and pleaded with her mother to leave him, but of course Annie said that she had deserved it, that she'd do better next time and this wouldn't happen again.
The next time however it was a couple weeks later and Annie had been seen talking to the local pastor. Earl was furious that she was talking to another man, no matter how innocent. He gave her four broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder that time. And still, Annie would not hear anything of it. Sam stayed low, keeping out of his way, always begging her mother to leave. She desperately wanted to run away, but she couldn't leave her mother there alone.
Earl was also quite clear on one point - that any of those freaks of natures should be shot dead on the spot - and he kept a loaded gun on him at all times in case he met one. Sam had shivered as he'd pulled his jacket open to show her. He had seemed to enjoy her discomfort, leering at her and chuckling as he closed his jacket again, patting the bulge it made. It terrified her that he might find out.
And so for months it went on, past Sam's eighteenth birthday which had no celebration, it was not even mentioned. And then one day, Rutherford hit Sam, quite by accident. He had been moving towards Annie to lay into her, and Sam had been unable to see it happen again. She moved into his way, to protect her, to do something - anything.
He didn't even notice. Blind in his rage, he just stumbled past her, knocking her out the way his fist connecting with her cheek. Sam herself stumbled back away from him, holding her hand to her cheek in shock. She could feel her face already start to swell, still numb with shock. Everything blurred and dulled - she wanted to remove herself as he placed a hard kick in Annie's side.
Racing up to her room, unwilling to witness her mother's beating and unable to stop him, she couldn't even shed a tear. Locking her door swiftly behind her, she turned and looked straight in the mirror. She brought her fingers back up to the swelling on her face and for the first time felt the pain. She winced as her fingertips dusted over her cheek bone, redness already flushing it out, closing her eye up.
Panicking, she stared at herself, willing it away, wanting it not to have happened. She had never been hit before. Not even with all he abusive people her mother had been with before. Tears finally welled into her eyes as she glared at her reflection, hating it, wanting to look like she had before. And then suddenly she did.
Astonished, the tears instantly evaporated in shock. She took a step closer to the mirror, incredulous. The throbbing and pain was still there, but her reflection was the same. The fingers probed and were met with a lancing of pain so sharp that she winced, but her skin felt smooth, her eye felt whole. She felt a shimmery feeling cross her skin where the bruise had been spreading. She experimented, and let it fall away - her injury instantly reappeared. Startled, she concentrated and willed it back to normal, marveling at the light fluttering whispering across her skin, and she was whole once more.
She noticed that it was silent downstairs - the beating had obviously stopped - perhaps he had passed out drunk in the middle of it. Sam quietly tiptoed to her door, unlocked it and peeked out. Only the low buzzing of the television on downstairs could be heard. Creeping down the stairs back into the living room where they had been before, she saw Rutherford lying face down on the sofa, snoring softly. Her mother was curled in a ball, shaking silently with soul-wrenching sobs.
Her own eyes filling with tears for her mother, she gently placed a hand on Annie's shoulder, prepared for the wince and the expected whimper. She helped her to the bathroom where they washed away the blood and placed an ice pack on the worst of the bruises. It didn't look too bad this time, but he'd kicked her in the ribs again and she had barely healed from the last kick he'd placed there.
The next week, Sam had come home early from the latest school she'd been enrolled in, only to hear loud cursing, muttering and angry crashing noises coming from in the kitchen. She knew that her mother wasn't home - her car wasn't in the drive. Instantly alert, she went to the side of the house where no one could see her. She stripped quickly and quietly, shivering in the frigid air, eyes on the alert for anyone who could come round the corner. Folding her clothes up neatly and putting them under a paver she'd found to be very handy, she shifted into a ginger tabby cat. Quickly she padded around to the kitchen window and gracefully jumped up onto the ledge, looking in.