He went to sleep a man and awoke a jaguar. The feline form felt like coming home, and as soon as his eyes opened he could see that he was indeed back where he belonged. Sunlight filtered through the canopy of leaves above, splashing across his mottled coat in warm patches. He took in a breath of humid air, held it, savored it.
Nothing here but the buzz of insects and the call of monkeys. The time of searching had come. He swished his long tail back and forth behind him as he padded across the damp soil, reassured by its presence that he had entered that state of twilight reality where answers could be found.
His pink nose twitched, drawing in the jungle's rich scents. Under the earthy smell of decaying leaves was another, a distress call sent up by nature which he must answer. He followed it until he found the clearing.
It was a lifeless place, black and smoky but no longer dangerous after the passing of the fire. The game trail he trod opened into it accompanied by a pair of decorations that he took several moments to study. The skulls of the buck and doe were stark and clean, but there were no other traces of the bodies. He stepped onto the ash-laden soil, sending tiny black puffs of fine dust into the air with each pass of his massive paws.
A single cloven-hoofed trail led away from the living jungle. Deep tracks overlapped the delicate marks until his eyes rested upon his quarry at last. The soft brown eyes of the marsh doe regarded him for but a moment before she was off, embraced by the cloak of ash sent up by her hoofbeats. He pushed himself to follow her, knowing full well that this was the body of a sprinter while hers was designed to run a marathon.
Long-legged bounds took her to the bank of a rushing river. She balked, ears flicking and eyes rolling as she turned to face her pursuer. The land on the other side of the river was green and healthy, preserved from the wrath of the fire. He knew what he had to do. She must go there, where it was safe. He would use her fear to herd her away from this dead place.
The doe leapt out of reach before he was close enough to touch her, rising into the sky above him and hanging there suspended with her spindly legs outstretched like the crucified Christ. Blue feathers erupted from her body until they consumed it and he could see her no more in the storm of blue that surrounded her. When they fell away they revealed her reborn state, the gralha-azul with its brilliant sky-blue plumage and clever eyes masked in black. The bird beat its wings against the still air, soaring away from the place filled with life to head deeper into the charred wasteland. He followed.
She would not look down on him as he struggled to keep up. She only had eyes for the flock that lay ahead of her. She merged with them and was lost in the group of blue-and-black birds. Still he followed, setting a steady rhythmic pace with his short and powerful legs.
His tongue lolled from his mouth as his paws slammed into the ash again and again and again. Here there were no trees to block the sun's rays from striking his golden coat. The river at his back, there was nothing but flat black land up ahead. Flat land that terminated in a cliff's edge which the flock effortlessly soared past.
He watched them go. A village lay at the base of the cliff, a lively place untouched by the fire. The flock descended on the market where people walked and bought and sold, as they did on every other day. They touched ground in an explosion of feathers and grew until their forms towered over those of the people surrounding them. Monsters with the heads of caimans and the bodies of young men and women took their place and pounced hungrily on the villagers.
Screaming filled the air as the monsters stalked and killed the defenseless. The humans ran into their homes, and then the men stepped out with guns to protect their families and the tides turned. The monsters fled before them, or attacked in a desperate attempt to save themselves. They were cut down in a volley of bullets, few surviving to limp their way out of the village.
From his cliffside perch he felt a gentle breeze tickle his ear. A voice spoke to him.
Have you seen enough?
Reality flooded into Mateo's waking mind with such force that he gasped and sat up in bed, though exhaustion quickly pulled him back down. Deep calming breaths helped ease the transition. Worried that he may have disturbed his wife, he turned his head and was relieved to see her still sleeping beside him.
There would be no more sleep for him tonight. His mind was restless, picking the vision apart and trying to decode its various components. The room was cold, and the snowflakes fell outside like ashes spewed from an icy volcano. He did not need to see past the window blinds to know it was still snowing. It had snowed yesterday, it was snowing now, and it would snow tomorrow. Mateo missed the jungle, but his wife would miss her own home more and that was reason enough for him to stay here.
He had no doubt that the doe was the missing girl. She must still be alive, and in trouble, just as her parents feared. A pang of grief hit him as he thought again of the suffering his friends were going through. Many young werewolves lose their way when they first begin to experiment with their shapeshifting abilities. At sixteen the life of a rogue must seem liberating for some, especially those who feel isolated and wish to pull away from the grasp of their parents.
He hoped they would not ask him to recount the vision to them. He always warned the people he helped that these visions were complex and personal puzzles, but they usually wanted to hear them anyway. Then they would scratch their heads, ask him if he had the answer to the question they had brought him, and go away feeling disappointed with the vagueness of the interpretation. Sometimes he wondered if it would not be better to never have been given the shaman's gift.
Where was the girl? Who was she with? Could they help her before it was too late? The overall feeling he got from the vision was dire, and indeed he had told the parents that an answer, however clear, may not be enough to save her.
Mateo analyzed the symbols presented to him for days afterward, resting and meditating while the energy drained to summon the vision replenished itself. While the girl's father searched for her he provided her mother with the interpretation. She thanked him, tears in her eyes and prepared for the worst even as she hoped her daughter would be found before giving in to the wrong desires.
The girl's body was identified the next day. She was found in a small pack of young werewolves executed by the Pack's Hunters in a park, where they had hidden after savagely mauling a jogger. The gun is the only way out after a rogue exhibits such behavior. Very few are given second chances.
Mateo attended the joint funeral held for the wayward teens. Their ashes were released into the wind to mix with the snow and return to nature. He could not bring himself to look at the girl's parents for fear of seeing the disappointment in their eyes.
That night he lay awake in bed, asking God what use a vision was if it only revealed an unchangeable future.