Sunday, August 14, 2011
The Werewolf Solution: An Excerpt
It was the kind of night horror movies are made of.
Full moon? Check.
Dense woods? Check.
Heavy shadows? Check.
A rustling in the bushes that may or may not be the wind? Double-check.
But at the edge of the woods, the nightmare turned into something of a puzzle, if you didn’t know where you were.
Specifically, a werewolf resort.
A werewolf resort has, by law, two standard blockades. The inside layer is a twelve-foot fence made of electrified barbed wire. Built up around the fence is a twenty-five-foot-high, three-feet-thick wall made out of brick. It is impossible to scale from the inside and you’d have to be a fool to want to scale it from the outside.
Steve and Earl were fools, though they were well-prepared ones.
With a pair of matching clunks, their ladders struck the top of the brick wall. They ascended, glanced around, nodded to each other, and two sets of chains and bars unrolled to the ground. These were hanging ladders, which would allow them to descend on the other side.
Moments later Steve and Earl were on the ground and standing in front of one of the compound’s gates. Near the gate was a yellow metal box on top of a pole. As Earl opened the box, its hinges emitted a rusty shriek.
“Shhhhhhh,” said Steve.
Earl glanced at Steve. “Not my fault.”
“The woods have ears.”
Glancing around to assure himself that they hadn’t been spotted, Steve slipped off his lightweight pack and pulled a couple of items out of it.
The box had a keypad on the inside right. Steve stuck the first item out of his pack, a red LED display, above it. It flashed twice, beeped softly, and displayed 081499. Steve punched the code into the keypad.
On the left side of the box, a one-inch hole lit up. Steve placed the second object, a rubber replica of a thumb, into the hole.
“Maybe you got a defective thumbprint,” observed Earl.
“It’s not just a thumbprint. There’s a needle in there, which takes a DNA sample. The sample has to come from a member in good standing.”
“Where’d you get it?”
Steve restrained himself from adding the word “stupid” to the end of his statement. He jerked the pseudo-thumb out of the hole and jammed it back in. No go.
“Maybe it’s bad DNA.”
“For a quarter mil, it better not be.”
Steve jiggled the thumb. He was starting to sweat.
So was Earl. “This was a bad idea. Let’s bail.”
The lock on the gate clanged open, and the gate turned on well-oiled hinges.
“You were saying?”
Steve dropped his equipment back into his pack and pulled down his night-vision goggles. From his belt he yanked a compact-but-dangerous-looking gun. Earl did the same.
Steve took the lead, stepping into the compound with the brazen assurance of a guy who has done this kind of thing before. His eyes tracked the horizon for movement, his gun at the ready.
Earl, on the other hand, had the faintest of twitches – the kind a man gets when he’s new to a situation and can’t ask a steady stream of questions. His nerves kept him looking everywhere at once, instead of at the spot that would have kept him alive: A set of yellow eyes a few yards away.
He didn’t get a look at the fangs just below the glowing orbs, either.
Steve was a little more attuned. He tapped Earl on the shoulder, and pointed a little behind himself. In one smooth motion they spun, guns at the ready.
There was nothing there anymore.
Steve was starting to regret bringing Earl along on a poaching so soon. Earl was too jumpy, and unprepared for what might be out there. But it was too late now. Steve rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck.
An echoing crack sounded nearby.
As one, Steve and Earl crept towards it. They had reached the edge of a clearing. Inside the woods, two wolves pulled at a deer carcass.
“Is that-” said Earl, with more volume than was safe. Steve cut him off with a look.
Earl stared like a kid at Christmas. Anyone looking at him would have known he was seeing his very first living, breathing werewolf. Steve had the head of one mounted above his fireplace, though if anyone in authority ever asked what it was, it was, in Steve’s words, “Just a regular ol’ wolf.”
Steve smiled to himself. “Grandma, what valuable teeth you have.”
“What?” said Earl.
“Aim for the heart. Head, teeth, paws ‘n claws are the easiest to sell.”
Both guns came up, each aiming for a different wolf. Fingers started to squeeze their respective triggers.
Something seven feet tall raked its two-inch claws through Earl’s back. Earl spun involuntarily, a matching set of claws sliced through his throat, and that was all she wrote for Earl.
Steve spun and attempted to aim at his assailant, but he was too close to the beast to bring the gun into a shooting position. A now-bloody paw swung for his head, and only his military reflexes dropped him into a rolling crouch before it was too late.
Steve popped to his feet like a kung-fu master, dropping his gun in the process. There was no time to grab it. He ran back towards the edge of the compound he’d just come from. The blood pounded in his ears, and he could hear ragged breathing. But he couldn’t tell if it was his own or that of the nightmare he was trying to leave behind.
He was smart enough not to turn around and find out.
Steve reached the gate a minute later, grateful that he was still in the habit of running five miles every morning. He was less grateful when he realized that the gate was once again latched shut and electricity crackled through the barbed wire.
He reached into his boot and yanked out a ten-inch knife. He tried to slow his breathing, but five miles a day or not, the adrenaline shot the biped werewolf had given him was still singing its way through his veins.
He spun around, putting the fence to his back, and considered his options. The nearby trees had been trimmed back to prevent wolves from jumping the electric fence, but perhaps he could still climb one? Keep the wolves at bay with his knife?
Steve felt his tracking mode kick in – something was nearby. He glanced around. To his left, nothing. To his right, nothing. Up in the trees?
Steve’s last thought as the claws and fangs that had brought him so much profit in the past sought his most vulnerable flesh was, “Hundred thousand a claw, easy, for a biped.”
It took Ted Grave a few seconds to realize his intercom was buzzing. It wasn’t that he was lost in thought, though he was, but his previous receptionist, Rachel, had been more of a knock-on-the-door kind of woman.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. What happened was, Ted had gotten a new phone system installed, and his intercom system had become part of his phone system. The man who sold it to him claimed his installer would explain how it worked.
The installer, however, said that there was a separate trainer who would come in and give Ted an hour’s worth of instruction on how to use his new equipment.
A week went by, and Ted waited for someone to call him and talk about training times. It didn’t happen.
Ted made a half-dozen phone calls to the company that installed his intercom system, trying to get someone to train him on how to use it. First, his sales rep was on vacation. Then his sales rep didn’t work there any more. Then Ted started speaking to managers, who assured him that the installer had trained him, and it said as much in their files.
When Ted insisted that he had received no training, he was told that he could return the phone system for a full refund. The manager claimed that this was all he could do.
Meanwhile, Ted’s receptionist and Ted had gotten used to polite knocking and personal introductions for each of Ted’s clients. And they decided they sort of liked it. So Ted threw his hands up in the air and began a new, more personalized approach to customer service.
Then it had all fallen apart. Rachel had come to him one day with a smile on her face, and tears in her eyes, and she had told him that she was adopting a child.
She hadn’t needed to inform him. Because she was the first known werewolf allowed to adopt in the United States, it was a landmark case that was the top story on every blog and newspaper in the world.
With all the controversy surrounding her expanded family, Rachel had, with much regret, told Ted that she needed to be a stay-at-home parent for a while. Ted understood.
Together, they had read their way through hundreds of resumes and interviewed dozens of candidates for Rachel’s replacement, finally settling on Jean.
Jean, who was good with people, better with technology, and still a little flustered during this, her first week on the job.
Ted located what he hoped was the right button, and pressed it.
“Doctor Grave?” said Jean, through the intercom speaker.
“Ted. My patients call me Ted.”
“Well, um, Ted, in five minutes you’re going to be five minutes late for the council meeting that was moved to today.”
“Terrific. Thanks, Jean.”
Ted slid open a nearby drawer and pulled out a mirror, checking to make sure he was presentable for a council meeting.
Generally, he used it in his sessions as an exercise, a “when you look in the mirror, what do you see” game, but it sometimes came in handy for such occasions.
“What do I see?” he said mentally. “I see a guy in his mid-thirties who needs a haircut because he’s a child psychiatrist and he should look more professional in the office. I see a guy who always gets the knot in his tie a little wrong, even though he’s been knotting his tie every weekday for ten years now. I see a guy who always manages to be late for these stupid council meetings-”
The intercom buzzed again. “Doctor Grave?”
“Ted,” replied Ted, grabbing his keys off his desk.
“Your next patient is here.”
“Didn’t I cancel that appointment?”
“Sorry. No answering machine, no answer. Should I have him reschedule now?”
“Yes. No. Hold him there a minute.”
Ted closed his laptop, jammed it into his bag, and walked out into the lobby.
While his office had become a collection of piles over the years, his previous receptionist had kept the lobby looking smartly professional. A great deal of that had to do with the fact that Rachel’s husband was the head janitor of the building, and he always made sure that everything was dust-free and the trash cans were emptied.
Since Ted had been, in Rachel’s words, “instrumental” in their adoption process, Rachel’s husband kept the lobby extra spic and span, with the notable exception of Jean’s desk – which, over the course of her first week, had become a collection of paper piles rivaling Ted’s own.
Jean sat behind her desk and looked nervous, something she’d been very good at doing since he’d hired her.
In a couple of worn-but-cozy chairs sat Ted’s new client, who worriedly bounced his gangly thirteen-year-old legs while his even-more-worried-looking mother glanced around like she was scared someone might see them.
Ted flipped through the Rolodex of his mind. He always had been good with names, a genetic gift of sorts from his father. “Ben?”
Ben looked up. “Yeah?”
“C’mere for a second.”
Ben looked to his mother, who nodded. Ben got up from his chair and slunk over to Ted. They looked at each other.
“You want to tell me about it?” said Ted.
Ben shook his head: No.
“That’s probably not going to make your mom too happy, seeing as how she’s paying all this money for me to listen to you.”
Ben gave Ted a look only teenage boys who suspect they are being patronized can give. A rough approximation of a smile that says, in its own quiet way, that he isn’t buying it.
Ted knew the look all too well. “You know what I do, right?”
“You’re a shrink.”
“I’m a psychiatrist.”
“Like I said, a shrink.”
Ted resisted the urge to glance at his watch. He knew he was late for the council meeting already, and that he didn’t really have time for this. He also knew that sometimes you only got one shot with a patient.
“We seem to be getting off on the wrong foot here, Ben,” he said.
“Let’s try again, shall we?” Ted extended a hand.
“I’m Ted. I don’t play a doctor on TV, because I’m a doctor in real life. I decided to get a job listening all the time because I never get tired of hearing people talk. You?”
Ben considered for a second, then shook Ted’s hand.
“You like girls, Ben?”
“I like ‘em too. Especially with ranch sauce.”
Ben didn’t crack a smile.
“And a dash of sea salt,” said Ted.
Ben started to laugh, but stopped himself. His mom hated jokes like that, and Ben refused to pick sides just yet.
“See, that’s called a joke,” continued Ted. “You were supposed to laugh, and that would make us friends, which means you could talk to me about what the problem was.”
Ben looked away.
“First timer,” said Ted.
“Where’d it happen?”
“Slumber party - I wanted to have some friends over, it was my birthday.”
“I’m guessing Dad’s the carrier of the family.”
“He travels a lot.” The answers were coming a little faster now.
“So he didn’t have the talk with you?”
“He said he wanted to be sure.”
“There are tests. Your dad-”
Ted stopped speaking as tears formed at the corners of Ben’s eyes. Stupid dad. Stupid dad, not telling him.
Ted looked at Ben’s glassy eyes. “Scared a few people?”
“I didn’t know. I didn’t know that I’m a freak, that I’m a-”
“Kid, you’re not a freak, okay? You weren’t the first, you won’t be the last, it’s something you can deal with. It’s who you are. Lots of people live with it for their whole lives, and they all turn out fine, okay? Look at me. I’m practically a productive member of society.”
Ben’s throat had closed up. Ted could see that the kid was ready to talk. Needed to talk. But first Ben was going to need to cry this out, and come back without a lump in his throat choking off all his words.
“This is where you have to say okay,” said Ted.
Ben got himself under control just enough to say, “Okay.”
“I’m not convinced, but I’m running late so that’s going to have to do. Now talk to my receptionist here, she’ll get you set up with another appointment and you and I will have a long discussion about this in the very near future.”
Ted grabbed a tissue out of his pocket and handed it to Ben. As they touched hands, Ben stepped forward and locked Ted into a hug. Ben’s face flooded with tears.
As many times as this had happened, Ted was never quite sure what to do. Close his eyes and really hug Ben? Stare at the wall? Mentally count the seconds? He settled for giving Ben’s mom a reassuring smile.
After a minute, Ben got himself under control and stepped back from Ted. Ted looked into Ben’s face, wanting to reassure him without sounding cliché.
“I’ll see you soon.” It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to suffice.
Ted picked up his bag and walked towards the front door. At the last possible second, he thought of a better closing line, and turned around.
“Hey, if it makes you feel any better, I was camping with the Scouts my first time. It’s still part of campfire lore in my old troop.”
The council room was part of the main office building at the local werewolf resort. It was standard issue, with several gray-and-white-templed council members surrounding a large oblong table so unexceptional that one would be led to suspect that the standard issue table came with a standard issue council as part of a kit.
This was not far from the truth.
Most towns had only a handful of werewolves, which meant people who would rather be watching football at home frequently ended up in hour-long meetings they’d rather have skipped. They sat restlessly at a table covered with open manila folders.
At the end of the table sat Lewis Pine, head of the local council. His face was etched with the wrinkles of one who has just crossed the threshold of fifty, his smile giving the accurate impression that he was the type of man who would sell ice to Eskimos, all the while assuring them that it was finely graded mineral ice.
“Sitting in front of you, gentlemen, are the facts, in plain black and white. These men were poaching, they spent a lot of money to do so-” orated Lewis.
The double doors clunked open as Ted huffed in.
“Doctor Grave,” said Lewis.
“Lewis.” Ted had learned very quickly once he joined the council that referring to Lewis Pine as anything other than “councilman” irked Pine to no end. Ted took every advantage of that opportunity.
“You’re late. Again.”
“Well, perhaps if someone bothered to inform me before ten this morning that the council meeting was moved to today-”
“We tried to reach you. You were unavailable.”
Ted took his seat.
“Despite the fact that I have a home number and an office number? Both of which have voice mail? And a cell phone, and a pager, and an e-mail address, and three separate mailing addresses?”
“And are they all on file?”
“Indeed they are, Lewis.”
“Well, I’ll talk to my secretary about it, then.” Lewis turned to address the room. “So hard to find good help these days.”
The council laughed politely.
“You could say the same of politicians,” added Ted.
The laughter came to an abrupt halt.
Lewis returned his attention to the matter at hand. “Well, Doctor Grave, it seems you’ve managed to catch the end of the meeting. We were just wrapping up.”
“Did the council discuss the resort incident?” asked Ted.
“We just covered that.”
“And what did the council decide?”
“There’s nothing to decide. The punishment fit the crime, I’d say. Open and shut.”
The council murmured its approval. There was television to be watched.
“Absolutely not!” Ted wasn’t normally one to raise his voice, a fact that his fellow council members knew. They braced themselves.
“Lewis, this is the exact opposite of an open-and-shut case. We need to get outside authorities involved.”
“It happened at the resort. Period. That’s as close as you can get to another country without crossing a border.” Lewis was taking a tone with Ted that was just off from “What are you, five?”
“They got into the complex,” said Ted. “That means they got a DNA sample from a member in good standing. They also brought in a code-breaking device, which means someone told them how to crack the gate’s randomized password,” said Ted.
“They no longer pose any threat to us.”
“Yes, but whoever provided the technology does, and whoever provided the money to buy that technology-”
The double doors swung open again.
Lewis looked at the doorway, momentarily distracted from trying to shut Ted up and bring an end to the meeting. “Who are you?”
A petite brunette slapped her miniature tape recorder on the table, pressed record, pulled a notebook and pen from her bag and flipped her notebook to a blank page.
“Wendy Nix. Gazette,” said Wendy.
“And what are you doing here?” said Lewis.
“I’m a reporter. I’m reporting.”
An uncomfortable silence permeated the room. Wendy shifted from one foot to the other, trying to break the pin-drop quiet. “These council meetings are open to the public. State statutes.”
“Is that right?”
Ted grinned, inwardly and outwardly. “Yes. It is,” he said.
“Well, perhaps it’s time to reexamine the bylaws,” said Lewis.
“Perhaps it’s time to reexamine the security measures at the resort your brother is running,” said Ted.
“I won’t involve outside forces,” said Lewis.
“That’s fine. But we’ve had multiple break-ins, and if your brother doesn’t up security and investigate this attempted poaching, then I and the rest of this council will see to it that he’s replaced.”
Lewis stared long and hard at Ted. After a moment, his gaze shifted to the tape recorder on the table. He’d been railroaded, and there was no way out of it as long as the recorder’s little red record light was lit.
He looked back to the council at large. “All approved?”
“Aye!” said the council, as one.
A quiet anticipation filled the room. Everyone knew they were seconds from being released.
“Good,” said Lewis. “Meeting adjourned.”
The council moved like first graders at last bell.
Ted stood up, but held back a moment. “Lewis-”
“Adjourned means go home, Ted.”
The council was practically out the door.
“You said we would discuss my father’s research at the next meeting,” said Ted.
“And we will.”
There was a sharp click as Wendy snapped off her tape recorder. Ted looked at her.
“Do me a favor and quote him on that.” Ted grabbed his bag, heading for the door.
Wendy looked up. “Actually, I was wondering-”
Ted was already gone.
This book is currently publishing, and should be available either August 15 or August 16. Keep checking!
To read the rest of this novella:
On the Kindle
On the nook
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