"I think we're in the botanical gardens. And that ..." Veelo points to a large road crossing the river. "I think that's the Tasman Highway. And that's the Croax River. Yes, that's right. They renamed it ages ago. It was the Derwood or Derbunt or something."
"Yeah, that's it. How'd you know?"
"Just stuff I heard around the orphanage."
"Oh." Veelo bows her head. "Anyway, we have to follow the highway to get to Freycinet, I think. We'll have to get a tourist bus."
"Wait a second ... I'm no geography expert, but aren't we going to Launceston?"
Veelo's expression tenses a little, but then relaxes again. "I think we need to go to Freycinet. Because Jay is there. He can help us."
"Who is Jay?"
"Wait, so how many of us are there?"
"A lot. They were all sent here disguised as humans to locate you. Right now, we need you to get home. A vampire's running Fantesia and I'm pretty sure that Vaxel is planning a rebellion ..."
"Whoa, whoa whoa. A rebellion? Vaxel???"
"Oh, right." Veelo stops. "Yes, Vaxel is a troll, planning on rebelling against Ploxeth, the vampire."
I lie down. This is a lot to take in. I sit back up and look around. The gardens are still in bloom. Gardens of pansies stare up at me like a sea of faces. I feel lost. Different. Helpless.
Veelo is still murmuring Fantesian stuff to herself. When I get there, I'm going to reclaim this throne, kill this 'Vaxel', and hopefully, restore order in my life.
Veelo has walked over to some trees, but is on her way back. "All right Wolf. I think the best thing to do is find Jay at Freycinet and then work from there. He might know the fastest route to Launceston. So hopefully, he will shorten our journey. But we have a long hike ahead of us."
Veelo smirks a bit. "A lot far ..."
"Funny." I roll my eyes and continue. "Shall we put the food and ice in the icebox?"
She nods and helps me transfer the bananas and butter, the ham and the jam and finally the water into the cooler. We toss the bags and start our route along the Tasman Highway.
But before we leave, I ask Veelo a question."Hey, got anything sharp?"
She nods and procures a pocketknife from her pack. I pull my wooden wolf from my pocket and etch my name into its front left paw. It's very small, but it's still legible. I thank Veelo and give her the pocketknife back. Then we start the long journey up the Tasman Highway.
We had taken longer than we had anticipated in the gardens, so it's already night when we reached our waypoint. Well, it's Veelo's waypoint, because I have no idea where we are. Anyway, we're here, hiding in the Meehan range. It's quite deep into the night. An owl hoots outside our cave. I don't see it, because huge ferns cover the entrance to our hideout. So we're pretty safe. Safe enough for one, or maybe two nights,
Veelo has laid out our sleeping quarters. I crawl over, and she looks at me. "You know, it's not that late. The park's closed. Go outside. It's good for you."
So that's what I do. I go outside. I sit at the edge of the lake and howl and howl until my lungs are sore. I'm confused. Alone. Helpless. Veelo can't even explain what I need to do. I don't know who can. Maybe Jay. Maybe Ploxeth. I don't know. I howl again and Veelo comes out. "Hey ..." she starts. "What's the matter?"
"It's fine. Go for a run. You can come back whenever you want."
"Nah, I'm too tired."
"Ha, and here I was thinking wolves never got tired,"
I gaze into my reflection in the lake and watch as the moon rises behind me.
"Yes, but I'm not wolf, I'm human."
Veelo shoots me a puzzled glance. "What?"
"You heard. I'm not a wolf."
"What the hell do you mean? You mean I've told everything to a perfect stranger? Someone who's not even Fantesian? Come on Wolf, you're kidding, right?"
"No, I'm not a wolf."
"Yes! You are! Take your hat off. You must be! Unless ..."
I stare at her.
She says, "You, you don't know ... do you? You don't know ..."
"What don't I know? I love wolves and I always pretend to be one, but just to scare people. I'm not really one."
Veelo looks at me and her eyes twinkle. "Go over to the lake and pull your hat off your head. Then tell me what you see."
I do it. I walk over to the lake and kneel down beside it. All I can see is myself, staring back at me. Same brown eyes. Same caramel hair. Same everything. But still, I take my hat off.
It's then I see it. My brown eyes glow to an amber. My ears move up my head and position themselves there. My face is stretched into a muzzle. Fur grows around my eyes in a grey and white colour. My muzzle turns grey. My face is reshaped and recoloured. My legs stretch out behind me. I feel myself getting stronger. Finally, I watch as my hands disappear and are replaced with paws. A long, grey and white tail appears behind me. I am a wolf.
"I knew it."
I turn and see Veelo smiling. I realize that she has changed. She's wearing a long, pink dress and a floral headpiece. I smile.
"Now, go. Enjoy yourself before the real hardships begin."
© Sophie Szecsodi