Libbellule Paquet loved England. It was similar enough to Vancouver that she didn’t feel totally lost when her parents waved goodbye to her from the train station on their way back to Heathrow Airport. She was registered at St. Hilda’s for the Michaelmas term and there was just enough time for her to explore the countryside. More importantly, the moors, where she could run.
The trip to Dartmoor had been a retreat back in time. Oxford was a sprawling city with just enough green space to make her comfortable. However, it gave her nowhere to run. Every clack of the rail cars carried her closer to a place where she could be just herself. After checking into her room at the inn, she changed into walking gear and headed out. She carried a copy of The Hounds of the Baskervilles in her pocket.
After an hour of walking, she felt she was alone enough to shift. She stood next to a kistvaen, and disrobed. Stuffing her pack under a bit of rock, she shifted.
She ran. It felt so good. The rabbit that crossed her path filled that empty spot, and she drank brackish water from a pool. The sky was getting dark as she ran towards the spot where the two legs clothing was hidden. As she ran across the moor, she picked up the scent of humans and did her best to stay out of sight.
“Harry! Did ya see that?” Maude pointed towards the ridge and the setting sun.
“That bloody huge dog!”
Harry looked up and saw the hindquarters of something disappear. “Guess I missed it.”
“I swear that was the biggest dog I’ve ever seen!”
“Oh give it up Maude. Just ’cause we’re up here on the moors and you’ve been reading that damned book doesn’t mean that the Hound really exists. Probably some poor bugger’s mastiff got loose is all.”
“Oh Harry. You have no romance. No sense of adventure in your soul.” Maude pouted as they packed up their picnic. She placed her copy of “Beasts of the Moors” carefully on the top of the basket.
Harry rolled his eyes and started walking down the hill.
Libellule dressed and headed for the inn. She was starving in spite of her ‘snack’ earlier. It had been a glorious run. When she got to the inn, the Public Room was abuzz with some sort of chatter. She could barely understand the local accent, and ignored it. When she came back down for supper, the room had quieted.
The next few days followed the same pattern. Libellule went for a hike, shifted and ran until she needed to head back. The last day she was a little late, and it was nearly dark by the time she had returned to the inn. Once more, the room was full of people all chatting about some ‘beast”.
The innkeeper’s wife was smiling at her as Libellule ordered a pint cider and a plate of dinner. “Oh miss! So glad you got in safe.”
“Haven’t you heard? There’s been sightings of the Beast of the Moor!”
“Beast of the Moor?”
“Oh aye! Right scary beast. Tall as a horse, fangs like razors and red glowing eyes.” The woman nodded the whole time she spoke.
“Well, I never saw anything more than a few ponies and rabbits.”
“Lucky you are miss. Very lucky. You know there’s always tales, but facts is at the base of them. Next thing we know, shepherds will be missing sheep and ponies will die with terrible wounds.”
“Ah. Sorry I’ll miss it then, as I head back to Oxford in the morning.” Libellule picked up her pint and headed towards a table. Luckily, the lights were dim enough to hid the blush on her face. Once the food arrived, she ate quickly. In her head, she could hear Granpere Buster talking about the stupid English, and their stories. She also thought of her uncle Henry and others who were running wild on the moors. Next vacation she would have to be more careful.
Libellule fell in love with university life. The Bodleian became her favourite haunt, and her friends shorted her name to Libby. She didn’t mind, and soon exchanged many of her stodgier pieces of clothing for bright and colorful pieces from OxFam. Her favourite blouse was blacks silk embroidered with multi-coloured dragonflies.
Letters flew back and forth across the Atlantic. Postcards from her parents, letters from Lewis, Ross and Rose. The family was branching out farther and farther. Uncle Quintus finally got Lizzybit and her family to move to Montana. Libby smiled at the thought of wolves running in Montana.
With no word from her parents that they were heading home to Vancouver or Portland, Libby made plans to stay in Hexham with her friends Gabby, Betsy and Joan. Joan’s parents had invited all of the girls up to their house for the holidays. The end of the Michalmas term saw the group boarding the train for Northumberland.
The house in Hexham was tucked up against Hadrian’s wall. Libby was entranced. She and Betsy spent most of their free time walking along bits of the wall and exploring what Roman ruins were nearby. Joan of course had grown up with the Wall, and thought of it as ‘old hat’. She and Gabby would take the train into Newcastle to shop.
“Libby, I’m cold. Do you mind if I head back?”
“No. I won’t be much longer.” Libby hoped.
“Alright. Don’t forget that tea is late tonight. Joan’s brother is due back from Cambridge at long last.”
“I’ll be home soon.” Libby waved as Betsy headed back to the house. Then, she slipped down on the northern side of the wall. She stripped, changed and headed out for a much needed run.
“Oh look! There’s been a sighting of a ‘beast’!” Jeffry said over breakfast. He held up a copy of the Guardian that had a grainy picture of something that could have been a cow, deer or dog.
Libby looked up and tried not to blush. She hadn’t seen or heard anyone as she ran yesterday, but she had discovered that England was a very crowded country. The rest of the family passed the paper around and eventually she too looked at the article and photo of the beast.
“Looks like someone was bored and took pics of their dog.” She handed the paper to Joan.
“Yeah. There was a bit of a panic down in Dartmoor in August. Same sort of blurry pics. Reminds me of all the fuss about Loch Ness.” Joan dismissed it and dropped the paper on the floor.
Christmas was busy, fun and very soon over. The girls headed down for the Hilary term. Classes, protests, and the rail strike in February kept them close to Oxford. Libby wrote her family, and wondered how her parents were doing. The last post card had mentioned them heading to an area deep in the Yukon. The area was known for the wolf packs. She wondered just how many of them were family, or shifters that just couldn’t cope with the modern world. Lewis wrote that he’d started a lumber business and had changed to night classes for his degree.
After her exams, Libby headed to Cardiff for a holiday. No girlfriends, no anxious parents, just time on the shore and exploring castles. She’d written Rose and asked for her to see if she could find her parents. So far, there had been no letter. She knew she shouldn’t be worried, but she was. After a week, she headed home to Oxford.
Libby had just finished preparations for Trinity term. St. Hilda’s had been a wonderful college for her, and perfect in other ways. Separated by Magdalen Bridge from the center of Oxford, it gave her a chance to escape the hectic noise of the High Street, and into the gardens and eventually the fields. She’d learned the trick of shifting and leaving no trail in the densely populated countryside.
Walking to the Bodleian, she was filled with apprehension. There was no reason for it. Well, maybe. The bombings in London were unsettling. Yet, she kept thinking of her parents. Settling into a reading nook in the grand library, she tried to keep her mind on her studies. It wasn’t helping.
The pain shot through her like a knife. She stiffled the scream, and looked down at her hand that was clenched to her side. No blood, but another searing pain knocked her out of her chair. A student next to her helped her to her feet.
“You alright?” he asked quietly.
“No. I’m… I’m ill. Stomach ache.” She gathered up her books and exited the library as fast as she could without making too much of a scene. When she reached the street, she ran.
By the time she got to her room, the pain had burned it’s way across her sight. Panting, she crawled into bed and curled up into a ball. An hour later, the howl of pain ripped out of her throat, as she felt her mother die.
Across the quad, heads turned at the sound of the first wolf heard in Oxford for centuries.