Read Full MoonCity Online

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

Full MoonCity (4 page)

BOOK: Full MoonCity
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It was very late-or very early-when she left the island. She’d just come off the bridge on the mainland and was powering across the flat, empty marshland bordering Jones Bay when she saw the pack. Seven or eight large, doglike creatures loped along, parallel to the road-empty except for her-their fur gleaming softly in the moonlight.

Wolves, she thought, and then immediately sneered at herself. She had wolves on the brain. Obviously it would take a while before the truth about werewolves seeped through to her unconscious mind. That these might be real wolves was just as unlikely, since that species had been hunted to extinction in Texas many decades before she was born. These animals must be something else-coyotes, most likely, or maybe a new coyote-dog hybrid, which would explain why they looked so big.

She remembered an item on a local news program about the urban coyote. As its traditional habitats were built over, instead of being pushed farther out into increasingly smaller, less hospitable territories, the coyote had adapted to the urban environment. This was not such good news for the small pets that got preyed upon, and because of the plentiful and rich diet offered by people’s trash, not to mention cross-breeding with stray dogs, the new breed of urban coyote was not only bigger and stronger but more dangerous, being less shy of people than their wild ancestors had been.

Even as she recalled the serious face of the newscaster, warning Houstonians that these animals were a threat, Mel felt no fear. She could easily outrun them on her bike, and in any case, the pack showed no interest in her. Soon enough they vanished into the distance behind her and she was alone again in the moonlit night, with nothing to prove she’d ever seen them at all.

The road did not stay hers for long. After she passed League City, traffic began to trickle onto the highway, until, by the time she’d entered Houston city limits, there was a light but steady flow of vehicles. Because traffic was so light, most of the people on the road were driving faster than usual. Ordinary cars and trucks zoomed past Mel at speeds much higher than her bike could manage. She couldn’t help but find this annoying-she was used to being the one doing the zooming and zipping through heavy traffic-but since there was nothing she could do about it, she slowed down. There was no hurry for her to get home.

She’d just left 45 and filtered onto 610 going north when she saw the wolf.

This time, there was no chance of convincing herself it was a big coyote, rare breed of dog, or anything except a fully grown northern gray wolf. The hairs rose on her arms and the back of her neck as her awed gaze locked onto the creature. She eased off on the gas.

The wolf was far enough ahead that her bike was no threat to it, especially not at this speed. At the moment that it began to cross the freeway, all four lanes were empty of traffic. It should have been perfectly safe. But then, with shocking suddenness, a car appeared, coming out of nowhere, it seemed, and hurtling past Mel at nearly a hundred miles an hour.

It was a stupidly big car-one of those overpowered tanks designed for people who thought of themselves as road warriors, in need of protection-going stupidly fast, and the bare, unarmored creature trotting along so smoothly never had a chance.

The SUV just clipped the wolf as it was crossing the road; a quick, brutal touch that barely impacted on the machine (it kept on going without pause or wobble) but knocked the animal off its feet, lifted it, and flung it across two lanes, smack into the concrete barrier.

Did the driver even see what he had done? If so, he gave no sign as he roared away. The wolf subsided into a shrunken heap of fur and bones.

Mel felt as if she’d been struck herself. Not giving a thought to the dangers of stopping on the inside lane of a major freeway, she pulled in and dismounted.

Even though it seemed clear death must have been immediate, she couldn’t help hoping there was still something she could do to help.

Close up, she saw no blood, but the magnificent head was twisted around in a way that told her the neck was broken, the spine snapped. One open eye-the only one visible-was already glazed in death. She peeled off one of her gloves and touched the still-damp nose, from which no breath issued. She laid her hand on the thick fur, feeling the body heat that hadn’t yet had time to dissipate. Tears pricked behind her eyes, and she blinked rapidly and swallowed hard.

But along with the sorrow she felt at this senseless, brutal, accidental death came a rising excitement, a sense of awe at what it meant.

A wolf had died. A wolf, on the Houston freeway.

That pack she’d seen down by the coast-not coyotes at all.

How many others were there, loping across shadowed suburban lawns or through the wild, wooded acres of Memorial Park at this very moment? Twenty, thirty, maybe even more? Most of them would be smart enough to avoid spending much time out in the open, where they might be seen, and especially to avoid the freeways with their killer cars.

And as they roamed, wherever they went, their human bodies would be lying unconscious in their beds, waiting for their souls to return after a night existing in the forms of wolves. This very physical form. She touched the rapidly cooling body again, assuring herself of its reality. This was no dream. She understood now how, through so many centuries, werewolves could be real yet remain hidden from scientific enquiry. It was easy to see why doctors and hospital staff had been blind to the truth, just as she had been herself.

But how did it work? Suddenly, she had more questions than ever. And what happened to the wolf bodies after the sun came up? She wondered if anyone knew.

Gazing down at the dead wolf, she thought that at this moment, in some house or apartment, a human being must be lying dead. One of those mysterious, sudden deaths you sometimes heard about: no suspicious circumstances, a man in the prime of life…

All at once she thought of Ari.

She looked down at the crumpled heap of flesh and bone, and went cold. What if… what if she’d somehow been responsible? What if, instead of staying safe in his usual haunts, he’d ventured out across the city in search of her?

She was shaking as she got back on her bike. She had to force herself to take it slow and easy-it would just be too stupid, too Romeo and Juliet, if she managed to get herself killed, and all along he was still safe where she’d left him, slumbering away.

It was one of the most difficult rides of her life. She arrived back at his house, soaked in sweat, her muscles achingly tight. As she dismounted on his driveway, she noticed that her bell was missing. This struck an ominous note. The little brass bell had been a token given to her by the man who’d taught her to ride. It was meant to protect her from the evil spirits of the road, and even though she didn’t really believe it-not literally-still, that it should be absent now was sinister.

When she left, Mel hadn’t been intending to return, so she was relieved to find that the door hadn’t locked automatically behind her.

Ari lay in bed just as she had left him, motionless, on his back, naked beneath the dark brown sheet. She sank to her knees at the bedside and laid her head on his chest. At first, through the rushing of blood in her ears and her own, too rapid breathing, she couldn’t hear or feel anything else, but gradually, forcing herself to calm, she became aware of the steady beat of his heart inside his warm chest, and then of his faint, shallow breathing. He was safe.

Tears filled her eyes. She wept a little, for release. She’d imagined keeping a wakeful vigil over him for what remained of the night, but a wave of tiredness washed over her, and not bothering to undress, she lay down beside him and slept.

When she awoke, the room was light with morning, and she was alone. She sat up quickly and followed the scent of fresh coffee to the kitchen.

“Good morning,” she said cheerily, but froze at his baleful stare. “What’s wrong?”

He made a show of considering. “Nothing, I guess, if you don’t think it’s wrong to lie.” His brows came together. “Did you think I wouldn’t know? That you could get away with it? But, wait, why should you care? You got what you wanted: a night with the freak. Tell me, Miss Melly: did it live up to your expectations? Was it as exciting as you’d hoped?”

“It was good for me,” she said, feeling her cheeks get hot. “I thought you seemed to be enjoying yourself, too.”

“Don’t change the subject. If this was just about sex you could have told me the truth.”

“Oh, really? If I’d told you over barbecue that I wasn’t a werewolf, would you still have invited me back here?” She saw him wince. “What? Oh, the W-word. You don’t use it. I didn’t know.”

“Obviously.”

“An easy way to weed out the groupies and other liars?”

He shrugged.

“Okay, so you don’t like people like me. But you came to my meeting.”

“Um. Well-I just wasn’t quite sure. I didn’t want to prejudge, just in case. You know what that guy said-Mr. It’s-a-disease-about a code? That’s what I wondered. I thought it was just possible somebody else, one of my own kind, was trying to find me.”

She thought of the pack she’d seen when she was out riding. “But can’t you find each other when you’re, you know… I mean, you must meet each other all the time.”

He grimaced. “Hardly ‘all the time.’ Once a month, in our other forms. It’s rarely planned, although when you find a good place to roam, you tend to go back again and again. Is that territoriality? Or just common sense? I don’t know. I mean, you want to be able to roam around freely, maybe hunt, definitely play, and you don’t want to be seen by the-by anyone. Memorial Park is great. I can’t remember how many square miles of land that covers, lots of places to run, easy to get lost in, and after dark, there really is just nobody else around. And right smack dab in the middle of town. But even so, this is a big city, and a short hop in the car translates into a damn long run on four legs. And leaving your car overnight, somewhere it shouldn’t be, even just once a month, is risky.”

There were so many questions she wanted to ask: why hadn’t his wolf materialized inside the house? Where did it appear, and could he control that location at all? How did it work? How much did he remember? But even if he’d lightened up a little, she didn’t think he’d put up with her questions for long. She watched as he poured himself a cup of coffee without offering her any or indicating that she should help herself.

She spoke as neutrally as she could. “If two people are in the same place, together, when the moon rises, their wolves will be in the same place.”

“Seems you know all about it.”

“No, I don’t, but I want to.”

“Oh, and I’m supposed to be grateful for your curiosity?” With a jerky movement suggesting he was repressing a more violent response, he set his mug down hard on the counter. “I’m not here to be your personal freak-show!”

Seeing the strong fingers of his empty hands, she felt a thrill of fear. “I don’t think you’re a freak. I think… I think you’re wonderful. I’ve never met anyone more… more… oh, please, Ari, I love you!”

She hadn’t meant to say it so soon or so bluntly, but there it was, her final throw of the dice; she had nothing else to offer.

His shoulders sagged, and he was unable to meet her gaze. “That’s a little dramatic, isn’t it?”

“It’s true.”

“You hardly know me.”

“What about last night? Doesn’t that count?”

She felt more confident now, knowing she’d disarmed him. Of course he didn’t love her yet, but he might come around to it in time. She already knew his secret, and, far from a barrier between them, it had brought them closer. It was true she’d lied to him at first, but since it had brought them together, surely that was forgivable?

She had been hovering in the doorway, but now she took a step forward. “You don’t have to share anything you don’t want to. I’m not asking for a big commitment, just a chance. I mean, why not? You can’t pretend you don’t like me-I mean, you asked me out.”

His eyes flashed. “Only because I thought you were someone else.”

That hurt a little. “Well, okay, but who’s being prejudiced now? Is that fair? You thought I was… like you. I’m not, but I’m still a nice person-”

He shook his head savagely. “I don’t mean I thought you were different-I thought you might be someone else. Someone I’d already met-just once-and really, really wanted to find again.”

She flashed on the “missed connect” classifieds in the weekly press: You were the blue-eyed princess in tight blue jeans at Hooters’ Happy Hour who made me spill my beer…

Her chest felt hollow as she understood. He was in love with someone else. “You thought maybe she was looking for you, too, and might use the same language I did: ‘Lonely werewolf, longs to run with pack.’ Not a code, because you don’t have a code, but almost.”

He nodded slowly. “I knew how unlikely it was, and I was pretty sure, really, as soon as I saw you that you weren’t… her… but… well, I’d been looking for her for so long, and you’re an attractive woman, and, let’s be frank, I was horny.” He shrugged. “Well, we’re both grown-ups. No need to apologize.”

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” she said, a bit hopelessly.

“I don’t love you, Mel.”

“And I don’t love you, either,” she snapped. “As you helpfully pointed out, I hardly know you. I could say the same about your lost love. You don’t even know her name or what she looks like. We’re both in love with fantasy figures.”

“Mine is real.”

“So is mine; I just haven’t met him yet.” She tried a gentler approach, softening her tone. “But look-we could still have fun together.”

“Like last night? I’m sorry, Mel, but even if it doesn’t creep you out, the idea-”

“So change me,” she said quickly. “I mean it! Make me like you. It’s what I want. Next month, you could bite me…”

He recoiled. “No!”

“Why not? If I ask you to-and then we could be together-”

“It doesn’t work like that! We’re not vampires, you know.”

“How does it work?”

But it was clear, from the hard look on his face, that he was not going to share any more secrets with her. “Forget it,” he said. “I’m not trying to make you feel worse, but there’s no future for us. It’s not your fault. Even if I could do it-even if you managed to change some other way-it wouldn’t change the way I feel. I’m sorry.”

BOOK: Full MoonCity
2.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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