What you see (at first) is not what you get in this collection of nine previously published tales of shape shifting and transformation. An Alaskan student of wildlife biology finds it difficult to write convincingly about what she knows. A proud and beautiful princess loses her popularity when cursed (in a way probably familiar to many readers) by a wicked enchanter. A lonely Cajun fiddler has a close encounter with his royal but scaly ancestor. In the secret story of the railroad that transformed the American West, Chinese and Irish workers compete to complete the job with a little help from supernatural friends. A lowly jeweler creates a wondrous bauble for the sultan's favorite, but his reward, an exalted royal elephant, eats him out of house and home until he unlocks her secret. An Irish nurse discovers the identity of the lone fiddler who plays at the bedside of a critically ill patient. A middle-aged woman, suddenly invisible, improves her love and social life during Mardi Gras. And a predatory bill collector meets his match in a story so dark that the author even changed her name. In these shifty stories, you'll be wondering who happens next!
I wrote this story for Werewolves, an anthology edited by Jane Yolen. I was attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks at the time, as you can probably tell from the content. Later in the book is another story that was published under a very similar title so I kept the title for this one and changed the title of the other one.
“Come in, Ms.—um—Garou,” Professor Forrest said, checking the name on his appointment calendar. “Have a seat. I could have left your paper with the secretary, but she said something about you wanting to talk about your future.”
“Right!” the girl said as she bounded in and pounced on an unsuspecting chair. “I’ve wanted desperately to talk to you about it for just the longest time. And, oh yeah, of course, I want to talk to you about my paper, too.” She shot him a sly look. Her brown eyes looked like dark holes in her fair-skinned face. Her eyelashes and brows were both almost white, lending her an expression of bald astonishment.
He was somewhat taken aback. She seemed insufficiently nervous about her term paper, which was the one and only basis for her grade. And he didn’t remember her as being one of his brighter students, the sort who had nothing to worry about. In fact, he barely remembered her at all. But then, his classes were large and full and his memory for two-footed vertebrates was not as keen as it was for the four-footed variety. Still, those startling white braids should have caught his eye at some point.
“Ms. Garou, perhaps you’ll refresh my memory. Which of my classes did you attend?”
“Life Cycle of the Wolf,” she said. “I was there the first two classes and got the assignment and when I saw it, I rushed right out and started my research. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Professor Forrest. You’re supposed to be the best furbearer biologist in the state of Alaska. And I just have to be the very best wolf biologist there ever was.”
This last announcement was accompanied by a rise in the pitch of her voice that elevated it to an irritating whine. “I sort of figure you could be, like, my sponsor.”
“That’s what you figure, is it?” Forrest really had no time for this, not now. He had already put in a long day and was ready for his Christmas vacation. He was not spending this one in the field as he had found necessary to do early in his career. No, this Christmas he would be studying on the beaches of Hawaii, where he would forget the cold (25 below zero!), the darkness (it was scarcely four p.m. but already the full moon was the only illumination in a pitch-dark sky and he would have a long, cold, dark walk to his car on lower campus), the University of Alaska, and students like this girl.
The biology department was full of earnest young persons who lived in wood-heated, waterless cabins on the outskirts of town. Like this one, they all dressed like lumberjacks and smelled like forest fires.
As he shuffled through his stack of unclaimed papers, the girl pulled off her ratty, duct-tape-patched parka with the matted fake fur ruff. Sparks of static electricity jumped between it and the chair. Underneath, she wore overalls over a multi-colored wool sweater that spoke less of good taste than Goodwill. Her blue and white stocking cap remained pulled tightly over the tops of her ears, covering her brow and making her long, plain face look even longer. A blonde, yes, but hardly a glamorous one, he thought. A bit of a dog, really.
He wasn’t finding the paper. “What—uh—what makes you so interested in our department and in wolves particularly, Ms.—?” he asked, stalling while he continued to hunt.
“Just call me Lucy, sir. I guess you could say my whole family has always been into wolves. Why, I remember even when I was little, Mama couldn’t bear to read me fairy tales without changing the endings. The other youngsters used to think I was strange when I’d do book reports about ‘Little Red Riding Hood and the Big, Beautiful Wolf.’”