We stopped at a Denny’s for breakfast, because there weren’t exactly a lot of places open at four in the morning. The morning rush would start soon, but right now there were only three other tables in the restaurant.
I waited until we’d ordered before I continued the conversation. It was bad enough I was telling Enrico this; I really didn’t want to tell the waitress too. “Look, Enrico,” I said, quietly enough that no one would overhear it unless they had ears at least as good as a werewolf. “I know you must have a lot of questions, but I really can’t tell you anything. I’m not going to lie to you, but there are things I can’t talk about. Even what I’ve already shown you could get us both killed if you start spreading it around.”
He didn’t look happy. “You think this is that serious?”
“No,” I said with a thin smile, “I know it’s that serious. Do you know anybody who believes, seriously believes, in werewolves?” I didn’t wait for him to answer. “You know they exist now. Have you thought about how hard it would be to keep that hidden? How much work it took them to make sure that everybody has assumed they’re just a myth for the past several hundred years?” I paused to let that sink in. “They take their privacy seriously, Enrico. If you start mentioning this to people, even if they don’t believe you, you’ll die. If they know that I told you then I die, too.”
He swore under his breath. I don’t think I was meant to hear it, but my hearing is quite a bit sharper than human average. “You’re sure that the pack will take care of it?”
I gave him a sharp look. “What gave you the idea that the werewolves are a pack?”
He grinned at me. “You did, just now. But it’s what they’re called in all the stories, so…” he shrugged.
I sighed. “All right. Yes, they run in packs, although the term comes from actual wolves, not stories. And yes, they’ll take care of the problem. Although you should still keep looking, I suppose, in case it isn’t a werewolf.”
He looked at his coffee for a long moment. “All right,” he said finally. “I don’t like it, but if it’s that dangerous to talk about, I’ll keep my mouth shut.” He smiled honestly for the first time since he saw Kyra transform. “Not that anybody would believe me if I didn’t.”
“What do you know about these deaths?” Kyra asked, leaning forward. It hadn’t taken her long to catch on.
Enrico shrugged. “Not much. This is the first one I really paid attention to. It started about a month ago. We had five deaths in four days, really nasty deaths. I know one of the guys who looked at them. He’s a solid fellow, been a cop for more than ten years and seen some ugly stuff. He says he just about threw up after he looked at the first body. It was worse than the one tonight, freaking ripped to pieces.”
I saw the waitress coming and waved him into silence. She arrayed plates of what could, charitably, be called food in front of us and refilled both Enrico’s coffee and my iced tea with a bright smile that seemed utterly inappropriate to both my state of mind and her obvious lack of job satisfaction. Kyra’s glass of water was still nearly full, but she attacked the food with the gusto of a hungry werewolf.
“So what did you do about it?” I asked, ignoring my own food for the time being.
“What could we do?” Enrico asked rhetorically. He took a bite before continuing, I think mostly to keep from seeming remarkable. He’s good at that. “I guess at first they thought it was a bear attack. Weird, so far into the city, but who knew, right? The next night there were two more deaths, some couple most of the way across town, and then two more. They knew it couldn’t be a bear by that point, but they didn’t have any better ideas.”
“What explanation did they come up with, then?” Now I did try the food, which was surprisingly edible. Either that or I was just really, really hungry.
“I think they were pretty much grasping at straws. By the time the fourth person died they gave up on blaming wild animals. Anyway, we told the newspaper about the deaths, but we didn’t give them any of the details. I think the people in charge were afraid of the headlines.”
“But then the deaths stopped, right?” Kyra said. She might look like she wasn’t paying attention to anything but the plate in front of her, but she was following the conversation very closely.
“Right,” Enrico said, nodding. “At first everybody was sure they’d find the next body in the morning, but after a couple of weeks we started to relax. We figured it was weird and we’d never know what happened, but so long as the deaths stopped who cares, right? We were actually about to tell the media what condition the bodies were in when we found that guy out in Manitou.”
“So where’d they get that idea you mentioned about it being a gang initiation?” I’d been wondering that for a while. It wasn’t a bad guess, but I don’t think it would have ever occurred to me.
“Full moon,” he replied promptly. “It didn’t take them long to catch on to that.” He hesitated, then reluctantly added, “He mentioned that they think these people might be imitating werewolves. You know, mutilated bodies under the full moon and all.”
“Huh,” I said, eating some more. “Why would they think people would be imitating werewolves?”
“Beats the hell out of me why anybody would,” he said cheerfully. “I guess there are some psychos who do that with vampires, though. Makes sense eventually somebody would do the same thing with werewolves.” He paused a beat, then said, “Makes sense to cops, anyway.”
Well, that wasn’t good. It wasn’t terrible either, though; with a bit of luck we could make sure the cops found something to confirm their imitation-werewolf theory. At any rate it would keep them from looking for actual werewolves, no matter how obvious it became. That could only be a good thing.
“How’d you know about this death so soon?” Kyra asked suddenly. “That body wasn’t two hours old.”
Enrico grinned. “Funny story, actually. Apparently this woman’s neighbor was a Peeping Tom of the first order, although I doubt he’ll be keeping up the habit after tonight. Anyway, he claims he wasn’t looking at her, said she usually stays up later than him and he doesn’t have a view of her window, anyway. But one of the other ladies in the housing complex works the night shift, and he was up waiting for her to get home when he saw that his other neighbor’s back door was hanging open. She didn’t answer when he called, and he decided he should call the police.”
I blinked, because although I’d heard a lot of very strange stories I’d never heard a story even close to that one. “That is possibly the most messed up thing I’ve heard all week,” I told him.
“Agreed,” Kyra said fervently. “Now, if you don’t mind, could we get moving? I’d really like another couple hours of sleep before I have to clock in.”
“Right,” Enrico said. He paid for the food, in cash. I didn’t object; he made more than Kyra or I by a long shot. If he was willing to buy me food I wasn’t averse to the idea.
I did add a couple dollars to the tip behind his back, because I’d heard so many stories of horrible customers from Kyra. Oddly enough they seem to affect me more than her. Enrico didn’t notice. The waitress did, and gave me a smile with significantly more honesty in it as we left.
By the time we made it back to my house it was about five in the morning and the sky was just starting to get light to the east. Enrico had offered to drive Kyra home, but she said she’d just as soon walk from my house. The truth, of course, was that she didn’t want him to know where she lived. I’m sure he knew it, too, but he didn’t say anything.
We stood out front and watched him drive away until his car blended in to the early-morning traffic. It was still raining, the same light drizzle as earlier, but not enough to bother either of us; Kyra was a werewolf, and it takes a great deal to make me cold. By which I mean that I could wear a T-shirt and shorts in the middle of the night in Colorado in November and not even really feel chilly. It was another of the meager blessings, or curses, which I inherited with my magic.
I expected Kyra to leave immediately, but instead she leaned against my trailer and said, “It wasn’t smart to tell him all that, Winter.”
I sighed. “I know, but what else could I do? He’d have been pissed if I didn’t tell him anything, and he’d have been sure I was hiding something from him. It’s not like I had a convenient story, either.”
“Yeah. Still, though. I know you like him, and I can see why and everything, but would you rather lose his friendship or get him killed?”
“I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that.”
Kyra grunted noncommittally. We stood there and watched the beginnings of the sunrise for a while. Eventually Kyra pushed herself off the wall and turned to face me. “You were wrong, you know,” she said quietly.
“The pack won’t kill him if he talks. They’ll tell you to.” She nodded goodbye to me and then slipped around the corner of the building. The overland route was shorter than the highway for walking, and the difficulty of the terrain didn’t mean much to a werewolf.
I stood in the rain for a while and thought about what she said. She was probably right, I concluded eventually. The werewolves discourage telling people about them rather strongly, but it was inevitable that sometimes word got out. Usually it was a slip of the tongue, or somebody seeing or overhearing something they shouldn’t have, but it isn’t unheard of for someone to be told deliberately. Regardless, the pack’s response is the same. If they don’t make trouble, and they don’t tell anyone, and the werewolf in question doesn’t slip up very often, it’s overlooked.
When they do become a problem the pack Alpha has two options. One is to kill the offending werewolf—and the human, of course. I didn’t think Christopher would take that option unless he really had to.
The other way is for the werewolf to kill the security risk himself. It shows that he can still make the hard choices, that he still puts the pack first. It also conveniently serves as punishment for the accident—nobody likes killing their friends. Especially not werewolves, who tend not to have many and to value them highly. Werewolves don’t, as a rule, have many virtues that a human would recognize as such. Loyalty is an exception.
Would I be able to do it? I wasn’t sure. Enrico was one of my best friends. I didn’t know if I could bring myself to kill him, but…by that point he would be doomed anyway. Refusing wouldn’t do anything but make sure I was too.
I didn’t think I wanted to know whether I could kill Enrico. Either answer would be devastating, I thought, and not just because one of them would mean my death. I was raised to value loyalty as much as the next werewolf, and knowing that I could violate that loyalty would be a blow. But I was also raised to make hard choices, and knowing that I couldn’t anymore would almost be worse.
Best to keep it from going that far, then.
I stood outside until the sun had fully risen above the horizon. The high clouds continued to sprinkle dismally, and somehow the sunrise had made the world seem more depressing rather than less.
Then I went inside and went back to bed, because I’d only had three hours of sleep and somehow I didn’t think the next day would be any better.
I didn’t sleep well. My rest was disturbed by dreams—actually, that’s a bad word for it, because dreams aren’t real and what I was experiencing undeniably was. It wasn’t the first time, not by a long shot. It’s just one more of the burdens my heritage forces me to deal with.
Everybody has things that come easily to them, and things that just don’t. Everybody. That’s true no matter what you’re talking about. Every single person in the world is practically guaranteed to be an expert on at least one thing, and absolutely worthless at something else. Well, that goes for magic too; everyone with any skill at magic has something that just comes naturally. For me it’s animals, and predators in particular. Oh, I could force my power to work on werewolves as well, but it doesn’t come naturally. With genuine animals I didn’t have to think about it for the magic to happen; I had to work to keep it from happening.
Before I learned to control my own power I had visions almost every night, intrusions on my mind by the sensations of other beings. By the time I was twelve years old I had experienced the vision of a hawk, the nose of a coyote, the ears of a fox, and the pressure of so much sensation had made significant inroads on my sanity.
These days I was a lot better. But, this morning, my magic was already restless with the full moon, and I had stirred it up further examining the corpse. It was inevitable that it would react. I was just glad I got to be the cat this time rather than the mouse.
Finally, around eight o’clock, after waking up three times in confusion about what body I was actually in, I gave up and got out of bed, feeling not significantly better than before I laid down.
I knew something more than I had before. I knew that there was a demon, or something that left the same energy signature, involved. Unfortunately that left me about as confused as I had been before.
When people in the know talk about demons, they don’t mean it in any religious sense. Some people call them tulpas instead, which leads to a lot less confusion, but I was raised to think of them as demons. It wasn’t hard to see why, either, considering the stench in that room. Anything that smelled that evil deserved the name.
Anyways, the point is that demons aren’t native to this world. Whether they’re native to any world is more a question of philosophy than magic, but it isn’t really important. What matters is that they don’t exist in a physical sense. I suspected that a demon would be only too happy to kill half a dozen people, for any reason or none at all, but it couldn’t do so without someone providing the means.
The problem, I reflected, was that I didn’t know enough. I had encountered precisely one demon in my life, for less than five minutes. My knowledge of them was spotty to say the least. I knew the basics, but I had no definite idea about what exactly a demon might be capable of doing.
I knew what I should do, had known it even before I left the room where the woman had died, but I was still trying to think of another way forward. Finally I was forced to admit defeat. I gave up and picked up the phone to call my…what, exactly? Foster father, I guess you might call him.
I was raised by my aunt, but she was younger than her sister by a wide margin. When I was born she was barely nineteen years old and struggling to put herself through college. She could never have afforded a child.
The Alpha of my mother’s pack stepped in to make up the difference. He wasn’t phenomenally rich, but he owned a sizable ranch in northern Wyoming and the pack had a certain amount of wealth as well. So, when I was young, it was Edward Frodsham who made sure I was doing well in school and had plenty to eat. He came to visit occasionally; as I got older, more often I travelled to Wyoming to visit the pack.
I think Edward initially wanted to keep his nature a secret from me. He quickly found that this was a wasted effort; I was born with the ability to smell magic, and it’s hard to conceal lycanthropy from someone with that talent. By the time I was ten he’d given up completely and formally introduced me to the pack. When I was twelve years old, and more than half insane, and my aunt had finally been forced to admit that she couldn’t help me and she was afraid for my life, it was Edward who took me in and kept me safe until I learned to control my developing power. He was the closest thing I ever really had to a father, I suppose.
Growing up in the pack it was only natural that I assumed I would someday be a werewolf. Actually, that’s not quite right; I didn’t assume anything. It never occurred to me that I should. It was more like the possibility that I might not become a wolf never even crossed my mind. I knew it with such certainty that it might as well already have happened.
As it turned out, that certainty was misplaced. You see, although lycanthropy is contagious, it isn’t a disease as some versions of the legend claim. It’s more like a blueprint.
Everyone has magic, even ordinary people like Enrico. It hangs about them like a cloud, which is why I can smell a person’s magic even if they aren’t using it. A werewolf infects humans through that medium, not by any physical mechanism. If you get a lycanthropic power, it spreads through your magic like mold through cheese.
Most of the time your own magic won’t let that happen. While the average person doesn’t have much power, that power does have a sort of home field advantage, and it acts like a metaphysical immune system. If you want to make a werewolf, you have to disable that system. The simplest way is the traditional one—massive physical damage will weaken a person’s native magic until the wolf magic can spread faster than you remove it.
Where you run into problems is when the person being converted isn’t human to start with. Their magic reacts differently to the contagion. Sometimes it fights it off successfully, and the change never happens no matter how hard they try for it. Other times the struggle remains even, and the combating magics rip their host to pieces between them. Even if somebody like that manages to become a werewolf, the pack has to kill them, because the person they were doesn’t make it through.
I didn’t have those problems. Instead, my change was much too easy. My magic affected the wolf like gasoline affects a fire. That first change happened far too swiftly. The werewolf friend who’d agreed to help me proved unable to control me, and of course I had no hope to control myself. He was very young, for a werewolf, not even five years past his change; an older one would have known better.
I killed four people that night, before the pack found me and brought me to bay. Edward made me look at the corpses, the next day, standing in the harsh morning light with a phenomenal headache and the taste of blood in my mouth, unwilling to leave no matter how much mouthwash I used. They had been savaged far more horribly than the corpse we’d looked at tonight.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that morning.
It turned out that not even Edward could keep me under control when the full moon came around. Both the wolf and my native magic grew more powerful then, reinforcing each other in a vicious cycle. I didn’t kill anyone that time, but only through sheer luck. He really should have killed me then, but he liked me and he felt like he owed my mother so, instead, he asked his superior for help.
The Khan is, theoretically, the unquestioned master of all the werewolves in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Greenland, Iceland, the Caribbean, assorted Pacific islands, and Japan. In practice that’s a whole lot of werewolves, and, impressive though he is, he can’t keep up on the details of that many wolves. So, for the most part, he lets his Alphas rule their own packs and only steps in when things go wrong. That’s why Roland could get away with what he was doing for so long; most of his wolves didn’t know to call the Khan, and the rest were prevented.
The Khan should also have killed me, but apparently he also liked my mother (I don’t plan on asking for the details), so instead he locked me up until I was no longer a hazard to myself and others. It took three months, and at the end of it I wasn’t a werewolf any more. It left me with some interesting residue, including superhuman senses and several of a werewolf’s abilities. If I concentrated and I was willing to make the effort, I could do pretty much anything a wolf could do, except actually changing shape.
When I found out the hard way that I could never be a werewolf, never really be one of the pack, it hurt. A lot. When I realized that Edward had known all along, and never told me, it was so much worse. In fact, it hurt so much that I couldn’t make myself go back to Wyoming, and instead I lived in the Khan’s pack for three years before I moved to Colorado.
I’d spoken with Edward fewer than a dozen times since then. I wasn’t sure whether I avoided him more because I was angry at him for lying, or ashamed at myself for my inability to become a werewolf. Illogical, I know, but then that seldom matters to guilty feelings, does it?
I wasn’t quite self-centered enough to prioritize that over dealing with this, though. So I sighed, swallowed my pride, and picked up the phone.
The phone had rung almost a dozen times, and I was on the verge of giving up and calling back later, when Edward finally answered. “Hey there,” he drawled casually, sounding a bit like a cowboy off of an old Western. It helps that he basically is a cowboy off of an old Western.
“Hello, Edward,” I said. That was the closest I could come to informal at the moment.
“Winter,” he said, his voice suspiciously calm. Edward wasn’t the calm type; if he wasn’t in good humor, he skipped calm entirely and proceeded to raging, although he’d never directed that anger toward me. “What’s the crisis, boy?”
“Hey,” I protested. “It’s not always a crisis when I call you.”
“Isn’t it?” he asked mildly.
“I called you on Christmas,” I reminded him.
“Ah, yes. So if it’s not a crisis, why are you calling?”
I cleared my throat. “Um. Well, it’s sort of a crisis.”
My only answer was a pointed silence. “Oh shut up,” I snapped, embarrassed.
Edward just laughed at me. “What did you need, then?”
“I had a question about demons.”
“And why might you want to know about those godforsaken monsters?” Edward’s voice was calm again.
“Not because I want to summon one,” I said hastily. It’s not a good sign when Edward says something like that in a calm tone. “I need to know if it’s possible for a werewolf to be possessed by a demon.” It had occurred to me that this was the most likely explanation for the demon signature combined with the marks of a werewolf kill.
“Hm. You know, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of such a thing.” There was a long, thoughtful pause. “I don’t know all that much about demons. I’ve never heard of one possessing a wolf, but I can’t think of why it wouldn’t be possible.”
“Thanks,” I said, disappointed. I had known it was a long shot, but I’d hoped Edward might be able to solve my problem then and there.
“Listen,” Edward said, sounding more like his usual self. “How’s about I ask around? There are people who know more about demons than me. One of them might be able to help you.”
“Just don’t tell the Khan,” I said. I always felt uncomfortable around the Khan. Part of it’s that I feel like I owe him, ever since he allowed me to live. More of it is because of who and what he is. He’s not a bad man, or an unfriendly one, but he’s possibly the most dominant werewolf in the world, certainly more than any other in the area he controls, and that can make him hard to deal with sometimes. Apart from that, part of being Khan is living with the knowledge that you’re the one who makes the hard choices. Usually he doesn’t show that, but when he does it reminds you forcibly of exactly what he is.
Edward laughed again. “Don’t worry, Winter; I won’t tell him you were asking.” He knew how I felt about the Khan. It helped that pretty much everyone felt that way.
“Thanks again, Edward.”
“Anytime. Don’t be a stranger, eh?”
The rest of the day was mercifully uneventful. I went to work, where I finished the chessboard and made a good start on the pieces. Lunch was a peanut butter sandwich, unexciting but adequate.
Neither Enrico nor Kyra called me. I took that to be a good sign. Enrico would have called if they’d found another corpse, or any evidence; Kyra would have called if I were in trouble with the pack.
Edward didn’t call either, which probably meant that he was still gathering information. Actually, he might not have even started yet. Edward might well have decided to finish all of his—quite numerous—chores with the ranch and the pack before he started looking into things. Werewolves don’t always assign things the same kind of importance that humans do.
It’s kind of hard to learn about werewolves, because most of the information available is false. Part of that’s the natural accumulation of false accounts and mistaken identity (you wouldn’t believe how many supposed “werewolves” were actually something completely different). A great deal of it, though, is the result of the werewolves’ own efforts.
The reasoning behind this is simple. Back in the day, when people actually believed in werewolves, it was dangerous for people to think you were one. They tended to burn suspected werewolves alive, or kill them in other, equally unpleasant ways. Needless to say, the actual werewolves tended not to like that very much.
So, being cunning critters, they arranged for people to believe in completely inaccurate identification methods. My favorite is the traditional method of injuring it and then watching for someone to show a similar injury the next day. It’s not a bad idea, conceptually. Unfortunately for the werewolf hunters, werewolves can heal so much injury in that time that you could never catch one that way.
Elderly people, on the other hand, were often so arthritic and had been dealt so many wounds by life that few parts of their bodies didn’t hurt at any given time. It was never hard to find a crone that was limping on the appropriate foot, so mostly the people convicted of lycanthropy were innocent of any crime except bad luck. That was probably the most blatantly worthless technique, but none of them were reliable.
It was a clever move, and it kept a great many werewolves safe. Unfortunately for the casual interest, however, it also ensured that the few accurate scraps of knowledge were buried in an avalanche of misinformation. Trying to sort out the one from the other is almost impossible if you don’t already know something about werewolves.
Some things are pretty easy to recognize, though. The funny thing about magic is that, a surprising amount of the time, it actually makes perfect sense. Werewolves, for example, can turn into a wolf. It’s pretty hard for any misinformation to mask that, since it’s, you know, a definitional statement.
Think about that for a second. I’m talking about completely reshaping your body. Mammals all share a certain body structure, the bones and muscles and such, but still. Imagine simultaneously changing the shape, size, and positioning of every single bone in your body, while at the same time converting your organs, your hair, the wiring of your nervous system. Imagine doing all that without killing yourself, too.
Compared to that kind of alteration, a cut’s nothing. Less than nothing, really. Even a broken bone isn’t that impressive. When she makes an effort, Kyra can literally seal a cut before it starts bleeding, and she’s barely average as werewolves go.
As a werewolf becomes more experienced, better able to control their power, they start getting other abilities too. Most of them, like the inhuman strength, are directly related to their body, unlike my primarily nonphysical magic. But, like mine, they don’t generally require a lot of thought to function. They might be able to focus their magic so that they heal faster, or increase their strength even further, at the cost of efficiency. But they don’t have to concentrate to heal faster than human, or be stronger.
Here’s an interesting fact about aging: mostly it’s the accumulation of damage. Part of that damage occurs on the molecular level, as the DNA is replicated. Part of it consists of the cumulative minor injuries you sustain throughout your life, stress fractures and microscopic tears in the tendons and ligaments, general wear and tear on the cartilage and bone, not to mention more severe injuries. They’re all cumulative, and they add up fast.
Another interesting fact about aging is that werewolves heal this damage.
They aren’t immortal. Death, as Edward likes to say, is how you recognize life. If you’re alive, then you will die, period. Werewolves are very much alive, and therefore as tightly bound by death as anyone else.
They can take longer about it than most, though. Edward was close to two hundred years old, and he looked young enough that they carded him at bars. He wasn’t the oldest werewolf I’d met, either, not by a long shot. In that length of time, it was inevitable that he became a little bit…strange by the standards of a modern human. It says a lot about his character that he had been living in the same small town in northern Wyoming for over a hundred years, always using a variant of his own name (currently Teddy, I believe). This isn’t because he couldn’t move or change his name, or even his appearance; he just thinks it’s funny to make himself as obvious as possible without actually giving himself away. If that’s not enough for you, the town his pack lives in is called Wolf.
Seriously. I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried.
Unfortunately for me, he also has little sense of urgency. I guess when you’ve lived that long, there just isn’t that much that can make you feel the need to rush. So I probably couldn’t expect to hear from him until tomorrow.
That didn’t keep me from brooding about it all morning. I tried, but I couldn’t think of any explanation other than a possessed wolf, and I also couldn’t think of even one mention of such a monster in any story I’d heard.
Which, come to think of it, was a little strange. I mean, I’d grown up among werewolves and I’d heard a lot of stories. You’d think that at least one of them would include a demon-infested werewolf whether they existed or not, right?
Fortunately for me, after lunch I’d finished the chess board and started work on the pieces. This was intricate enough work that I had to focus on it, and as a result I could stop obsessing over the deaths.
Like I said, work makes me feel better. It wasn’t just because I needed the money that I was in the shop on a Sunday.
By the time I closed up and left it was getting late, and the sun was just dipping below the horizon. It was a beautiful sunset, and I got to watch it all the way home, the clouds over the mountains turning a beautiful golden color touched with crimson. The colors were just fading out to violet and amber when I unlocked the front door.
I love sunsets.
The rest of the night was equally mundane. Dinner was half of a frozen pizza and the last of the brownies. After I ate I spent a while reading. I have an inexplicable but persistent fascination with exotic cookbooks, and I’d recently found a book about Czechoslovakian cooking at an used bookstore.
No, I don’t actually make any of the food. Yes, I’m aware that this is sort of weird.