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Authors: Darrell Schweitzer,Martin Harry Greenberg,Lisa Tuttle,Gene Wolfe,Carrie Vaughn,Esther M. Friesner,Tanith Lee,Holly Phillips,Mike Resnick,P. D. Cacek,Holly Black,Ian Watson,Ron Goulart,Chelsea Quinn Yarbro,Gregory Frost,Peter S. Beagle

Tags: #thriller

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BOOK: Full MoonCity
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The Truth About Werewolves by Lisa Tuttle

T
he first meeting of the Lycanthropy Support Group came nowhere near Mel’s best fantasies; in fact, it barely missed disaster.

Besides herself, only seven people turned up, a number that made the classroom she’d reserved at the Town & Country campus of Houston Community College look ridiculously, over-optimistically large.

She watched them straggle in: two couples, two single men, one single woman. Mel took an immediate dislike to that one. She was pretty, in a blonde and doll-like manner, very petite, and way overdressed in a beige cashmere sweater, stiletto heels, and gold jewelry. None looked anything like Mel’s idea of a werewolf, but the woman was the worst of all, a designer-accessorized Chihuahua.

She was shopping, Mel decided; drawn by the lure of the supernatural to seek out something ahead of trend, not available in any store, soon to be a must-have bit of arm-candy: a werewolf boyfriend.

Just like me,
said the bitchy voice inside her head. You’re nothing special, just desperate to hook up with somebody who is.

Mel ignored that self-hating part of herself. It always cropped up when she got nervous-or when she might just be about to win. Her feelings about werewolves ran much deeper than idle curiosity. What she felt was more than interest; it was a compulsion. People talked about choice-about choosing what you did and how you lived and who you loved and what you wanted, as if life were a restaurant, and anyone who wasn’t happy with the menu must be sick. Well, after years of unhappy, failed relationships, and several months of therapy, she’d decided she needed to visit a different restaurant.

Some things just could not be changed, and it was a waste of time to try. Take homosexuality. Some would rather deny its existence, or treat it as an illness, but that never worked. Whether allowed to flourish or forced underground, by now it was obvious that homosexual desires were every bit as real as heterosexual, and no more amenable to a “cure.”

Her fascination with lycanthropy was like that; so deeply-rooted, so much a part of herself that she couldn’t have changed it if she’d wanted. Some things couldn’t be denied, and you ignored them at your peril. It wasn’t like she hadn’t tried; she was twenty-seven years old and had been dating since she was fifteen. But not one of the men she’d met had been right for her. There was always something missing, making true love impossible. Something that was not to do with personality or sexual technique; something that could not be fixed with good intentions.

She’d finally realized it was not her fault that her relationships never lasted-and it wasn’t the guy’s fault, either. It didn’t matter how physically attractive he appeared, no matter how kind or understanding he was at heart, no matter how clever, rich, or creative; she could never be satisfied with a man who was just a man. She wanted something else.

Mel remembered the magazine advice columns she’d read when she was younger, when she hadn’t yet figured out why none of the men she’d met made her happy. The first step to finding “the right man” was to put yourself in a position where you’d meet men-lots of men. Forget quality; think quantity. Sooner or later, amid all the disappointing strangers, there’d be one who suited you. That could never happen if you stayed home dreaming about Prince Charming. You had to get out there and hunt. In another evocative phrase: You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince.

Mel stood beside the coffee urn, which had seemed so necessary to create a hospitable ambiance that she’d paid extra for it, and regarded her potential prey through narrowed eyes. They were a disappointing bunch, and not simply because they appeared so indifferent to the presence of a hot, caffeinated beverage.

Not one had the faintest trace of anything lupine or feral in his or her demeanor. The two wives (judging by body language) were mere ordinary mortals like herself who’d come along to support (or keep hold of) their partners. Seeing as they were attached, Mel politely crossed the husbands off her mental list. The whiff of danger she hoped for in a sexual relationship had nothing to do with the boring clichés of adultery.

That left two guys in their late twenties, each one unattractive in his own way. One was fat and pale as a grub, with wet, too-red lips. He wore a dingy white button-down shirt, with a pocket protector beneath the pens that bristled from his swelling breast. The other was reasonably fit but filthy, and not in a sexy way: unshaven, hair long and greasy, he had black half-moons of dirt under his fingernails and crusty yellow stains on a baggy T-shirt advertising Galveston ’s Rain Forest Café.

Everyone kept a clear distance from everyone else, the couples making still islands near the center, while the singletons prowled nervously, avoiding eye contact. Mel thought this might reflect wolf-like behavior, but maybe she was getting desperate, searching for scraps of faith.

She still believed werewolves were real-she just wasn’t sure there were any in this room.

Meeting werewolves didn’t seem like it would be that hard, at first. You could find anything on the Internet. There were chat groups and mailing lists dedicated to every precise and peculiar subdivision of the supernatural: transgendered vampires; gentle ghouls; bloodthirsty, cross-dressing fairies; elves with a fetish for whipping cream; werepanthers wanting to be bottle-fed by little people… It was in this otherworldly bazaar that she’d made contact with real, live werewolves-or, at least, with some men who said they were. They also claimed to live about as far away from her home in Houston as possible-Alaska, Calcutta, Newfoundland-even though when one gave her his phone number during their slow progression toward intimacy, it had a Kansas City area code.

Only one of these cyber relationships had progressed to an actual, face-to-face meeting. The vibes between them were good, and the sex wasn’t bad, and he had suggested that his next visit to Houston would fall around the time of the full moon… but she never heard from him again. She guessed he was married. She had no way of knowing if he’d also lied about being a werewolf.

You could be anyone, anything, on the Internet, and if you were careful, no one could catch you. She’d been honest herself, but when, after nearly two years, she was still no closer to attaining her desire, she took a cold, hard look at how she was presenting herself, and wondered if it could be her own fault.

So she tried something else: “Lonely werewolf, based in Houston, longs to run with a pack. It can’t be right to be all alone. Anyone else feel the same? Get in touch.”

She got a lot of responses. Most were not werewolves at all, as they readily admitted; just curious. Many were from elsewhere in the state, or even lived abroad. But she persisted, stressing the importance of area as much as lycanthropy, until, eventually, she had a core group of twenty she believed were genuine, Houston-resident werewolves, and she proposed a get-together.

LYCANTHROPY SUPPORT GROUP

FIRST MEETING: THURSDAY, MAY 15, 7:30

ROOM 203

HCC, TOWN & COUNTRY CAMPUS,

1010 WEST SAM HOUSTON PARKWAY, NORTH

 

In retrospect, looking with dismay at the small turnout, she wondered if she should have selected a more central location. The price of gas had gone through the roof recently; people were being more cautious about long journeys. But where in this enormous, sprawling city was central? She had started with the idea of staying inside the Loop, close to Memorial Park (which had always seemed to her the ideal place for a midnight wolf-pack gathering), but the prices of the few venues she’d investigated had put her off. Houston Community College was more accommodating, and although they had campuses dotted around the city, this was the one where she’d been a student, it was easy to find, and, maybe most important, it was in the northwest, her own territory, just ten minutes from her apartment in one direction, ten minutes to Memorial Park in another.

No, she decided, the location was not at fault. Some of those who’d responded lived out by the airport, some were closer to downtown, while others lived in the south, and there was at least one who’d mentioned Deer Park. This was a city of drivers, used to judging distances not in miles but in minutes by freeway. Those who had stayed away must have had other reasons. Maybe they’d never intended to come. Maybe they shared an occult, insider knowledge that let them know she was a fake. Maybe real werewolves didn’t use the Internet. Or maybe, unlike their wild brethren, they were naturally loners.

Mel continued to lurk and prowl, hoping the crowd would grow, hoping that one of the others would take charge, so she wouldn’t have to put herself on display. But no one made a move. Clearly, there were no alpha males in this sorry excuse for a pack, so at seven minutes to eight, Mel went to the front of the room, cleared her throat, and invited everyone to please take a seat.

Suddenly the little scattering of people, all so disparate they might have wandered in here by mistake rather than design, coalesced into her audience.

Under their collective gaze, Mel wondered why she’d ever thought this a good idea. She only wanted to meet one werewolf-not be stared at by a whole pack of them. And to have to go on pretending to be one! What had she been thinking? If she revealed her ignorance now, asked the wrong questions, let the mask slip, she’d be at their mercy. She clutched the edge of a table, feeling like Little Red Riding Hood as she stared at the gleam of their eyes.

“Take a picture, it’ll last longer,” muttered the Chihuahua.

“What?” Dislike stiffened her spine; Mel glared. “Would you mind speaking up? I’m not sure everyone heard you.”

The tiny nose wrinkled disdainfully. “I wondered if you were going to tell us why you called this meeting. What you hope to accomplish.”

“I hoped you would tell me. I mean,” she amended hastily, “all of us. Maybe we could each say what we hope to get out of this meeting. That’s really all… I thought… it seemed like a good idea just to get together and talk,” she finished rather lamely.

The Chihuahua shrugged. “You start.”

“It doesn’t have to be me first.” But as no one else volunteered, she took the plunge. “I guess, like I said online, I felt lonely. I wanted to meet others in the same situation.”

“Why?”

“Why? Well… we are pack animals. Aren’t we? I think so, anyway. It’s not natural to be alone.”

“It’s not natural to be like this!” cried one of the wives. Her husband ducked his head as she spoke. “I don’t see how getting together with others is going to make anything better. I don’t want him to be part of a pack; why should he? He’s not a wild animal; he’s my husband!”

“Is he allowed to cross the street by himself?” It was the dirty man who replied. “Chrissake, he’s your husband the rest of the time. What’s wrong with you? You can’t let loose, can’t let him be something else, for just one night a month? What about you, man, how do you feel? You totally whipped? You let your woman talk for you?”

The husband’s head jerked up, and, even though she wasn’t the target, Mel took an instinctive step back.

“She knows how I feel,” he said softly. “I feel like she does. I don’t like it. I didn’t ask for it to happen. I want to be a man all the time, not lose control, lose myself, when the moon is full.” He sneered suddenly. “You like it?”

The other man shrugged. “Like, dislike, it just is. It’s part of who I am. I don’t have a problem with that.”

“No problem. Well, aren’t you the lucky one.” He moved suddenly in his seat as if about to rise. “It’s a disease, pea-brain! And I don’t accept that some disease is part of me-like my-my nose. I mean, if my nose was deformed, like a pig’s snout, I wouldn’t feel like, oh, I got no problem, that’s just me-hell, I’d go to a doctor and get it fixed! Who wouldn’t?”

“So go to a doctor.”

“You think I haven’t? Seriously, you think a doctor can fix what we’ve got?”

“I already told you. I don’t think it needs fixing.”

“The doctors think it’s in our heads. In my head. They think I’m crazy. I go to the doctor, and all he can do is give me pills, make me sleepy and dumb-they don’t change anything. They just make me feel stupid. I tried to show him-”

“You tried?”

The other man made a low groaning sound. “I showed him, all right? I got him to check me into a hospital and keep me overnight.”

There was a collective catching of the breath. The dirty man tensed, and for a moment Mel, her skin tingling, thought he would attack his adversary. Then he relaxed a little and slowly, slowly shook his head. “Man, you are… something else.”

“But the doctor didn’t think so. Still thinks I’m crazy. He offered to run some tests-which by the way my insurance wouldn’t cover-but all he could advise was I should keep taking the happy pills and also talk to a psychiatrist.”

“None so blind as he who will not see,” said his wife.

She must have seen, thought Mel, breathless. She must watch her husband transform from man into wolf every single month. And still she thought it not a wonder but a disability. But how could she appreciate what she had in him if he didn’t want it? And how could a doctor not realize what he was seeing? She supposed there must be people, even very smart people, who denied the evidence of their senses if it conflicted with what was supposed to be possible. How else could werewolves have survived into modern times without being recognized by science?

The dirty man shrugged. “My advice to you-”

“I don’t want your stupid advice,” the married man snapped back. “All I want-the only reason we came here tonight-is to hear somebody say there is a way out, there is a cure.” He swiveled around in his chair to fix his gaze on Mel. She tried not to flinch. “I thought you were talking in code,” he said. “Your ads. First you say you wanted to join a pack, then you advertise this support group.”

“Lyncanthropy,” said the Chihuahua, her mouth twisting into a smile that might have been pained, or mocking.

“That, too. A medical term, right? So, see, I thought there might be a drug, a new drug, to repress the symptoms-maybe even gene therapy…?”

BOOK: Full MoonCity
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ads

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