Thursday, August 6, 2009

Unleashing the Jaguar by Michelle Houston

For the hundredth time, Michael cursed himself for being seven kinds of a fool as he paced the length of his cage. The sounds of the zoo settled into a nighttime rhythm as the last of the attendants left, leaving the animals alone for the night with just a few guards.

During the day he tried to ignore his situation, preferring to nap and avoid looking at all of the people who embraced their freedom without even being truly aware of it. They had no idea, thinking about their job and family lives as being trapped, but at any moment they could walk away. He had once felt the same way, feeling trapped by his nature, frustrated that he couldn’t allow himself to shift when his beast felt like it. Instead he had to keep it on a tight chain, forcing half of his soul into a dormant state unless the situation was right.

Now, trapped in his jaguar form and in a zoo, he knew what true enslavement felt like. The complete loss of will, the inability to change a damn thing about his situation, without damning thousands of his kind to potential extermination was a heavy burden to bear. Almost as heavy as the loss of his mate.

Growling his frustration, he tried to figure a way out of the cage. As a jaguar, he couldn’t open the cage door; there was no way he could as a human. Worse, he couldn’t risk the chaos that would ensue if he were caught on camera shifting, so that he could try to escape. Flopping down on the cool ground, he laid his head on his front legs and huffed out a sigh.

There was no way out.

For the rest of his life he was stuck in his animal form, and behind bars. Thankfully the zoo hadn’t brought in a mate for him yet. As much as he got along with his animal kin, there was no way he was going to be mating with a non-shifter jaguar. The very idea repulsed; despite his animal nature, true jaguars were non-sentient at a human level.

Which meant that in addition to being trapped in a cage, he would be alone. Having thought himself alone after Danny left, he hadn’t realized what he still had in his family and friends.

His only alternative would be to expose the existence of his kind and potentially cause the loss of thousands of shifters after the panic set in. As much as their human kin had progressed, they weren’t yet ready to embrace someone so alien to them.

Growling softly, he tried to settle his mind and catch sleep while he could. After almost three months, he was bored out of his mind. The only news he caught was hearing people talk as they walked past his enclosure. He hadn’t realized before just how much he depended on radio, TV, and his books to keep him company. Solitary by nature, he didn’t have much need for interaction with others, yet he couldn’t stand being cut off from the world around him.

Being alone, without distractions, he had done more than his share of thinking and dwelling. It was the dwelling that was starting to get to him - the what ifs and self-doubts as he examined his life. Especially the events that had led to his being captured.

Having decided living without his mate wasn’t going to work, he had finally gathered his courage, faced the potential ultimate rejection, and had gone to find Danny.

He wanted to rail against the fates but knew he only had himself to blame. First for falling in love with someone he knew probably wasn’t capable of settling down, then for going off alone to lick his wounded heart, and finally for shifting into a jaguar before chasing down his mate. His worst mistake of all though was forgetting everything he had been taught about being aware of his surroundings when in animal form. At the top of the food chain he hadn’t worried about being dinner.

Unfortunately, he forgot to keep an eye out for humans, until it was too late.
The creak of his cage door startled him and had him rising to his feet before he really thought about it. As a dark form slipped into his enclosure, a soft growl welled within him. The scent wasn’t altogether unfamiliar, yet completely unexpected.

“Mike? Damn it, man, what have you gone and done this time?”