Authors: Carrie Vaughn
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For my family
Talking Heads, “And She Was”
Cyndi Lauper, “Romance in the Dark”
Shonen Knife, “Burning Farm”
Will Bradley and His Orchestra, “In the Hall of the Mountain King”
Abby Travis, “Chase Me”
Johnny Cash, “Cry! Cry! Cry!”
Big Mama Thornton, “Hound Dog”
Ruthie Foster, “Lord Remember Me”
Roxy Music, “Out of the Blue”
Pet Shop Boys, “I’m Not Scared”
R.E.M., “Try Not to Breathe”
David Bowie, “Oh! You Pretty Things”
was a mixed bag. I found the most insane conspiracy theories, essays, and propositions, which I could then use to incite heated debate on my radio show. Not just flat earth but
earth, or strawberry-ice-cream-eating aliens living at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, or a pseudoscientific study claiming that vampire strippers make more in tips than mortal strippers because of their hypnotic powers. (Vampire strippers? Really? And could I get one on the show for an interview?) Or I could click through useless links for hours and feel like I’ve wasted a day.
Sometimes, I typed in my search request and found treasure.
The image currently on my screen was a photograph of a statue called the
. The sculpture showed a rather primitive-looking wolf with stylized, patterned fur; a glaring, snarling expression; and a couple of human babies suckling at rows of impressively bulging nipples. Housed in a museum in Rome, the age of the wolf portion of the statue was under some debate. Historically, it had been assumed that it was old—pre-Roman, Etruscan even, because of its stocky shape and decidedly nonclassical features. Roman writers even made reference to a famous statue of a wolf that symbolized the founding of Rome. But modern dating techniques established the statue’s origin in the late medieval period. The babies—fat and cherubic, in Renaissance detail—had obviously been added later, in the fifteenth century. Wherever it came from, whenever it was made, the statue depicted the legend of the founding of Rome: the she-wolf who discovered the abandoned brothers, Romulus and Remus, and saved their lives. They went on to found the great city of Rome. The statue was so iconic that copies of it could be found all over the world.
That was the official, published, accepted story of the
However, I had my own ideas. Other details about the statue intrigued me. For example, the wolf wasn’t life size, but it was a bit larger than a female wolf living in that part of the world would be. An average female wolf would weigh about seventy-five pounds, give or take ten pounds. A wolf the size of this statue might weigh, oh, a hundred-ten pounds or so. The weight of a small woman.
Shape-shifters obeyed the law of conservation of mass. A two-hundred-pound man becomes a two-hundred-pound wolf. Hundred-and-thirty-pound me becomes a hundred-thirty-pound wolf. A two-hundred-pound were-bear becomes—a really small bear. I’d never actually seen a were-bear in bear form, so I didn’t know what that looked like. Whether I
to see what that looked like depended on the temperament of the bear. When I read about the
learned about the dimensions of the statue, made a mental comparison to the werewolves I’d met in both human and wolf form, my heart beat a little quicker. My journalistic instincts for a good story sang out. Because I wondered then if the story of Romulus and Remus had some basis in reality, and I wondered about the werewolf who’d rescued them.
This was all the fruit of a pointed line of research that steered me in the direction of the
I’d heard a phrase: Regina Luporum. Queen of the wolves. According to an ancient vampire I’d met, the story of Romulus and Remus was real—the mother werewolf was real. The Capitoline Wolf, the foster mother of the founders of Rome, had been the original queen of the wolves. I’d been told this label was used to describe werewolves who defended their kind when few others did. Who spoke out and stood up for what was right. A couple of times lately,
been called Regina Luporum. It wasn’t a title I claimed for myself or thought I deserved. I was half of the alpha pair of the Denver werewolf pack, which was small, unassuming, and generally sedate as werewolf packs went, because my husband, Ben, and I worked hard to keep it that way.
On the other hand, publicly and professionally, I had a big mouth. I talked too much. That didn’t make me queen of anything.
The statue might have been made in the thirteenth century, belying the tradition and ancient references that said it had stood watch in Rome from the beginning. But that didn’t mean it might not be a copy of an earlier piece that had been destroyed. Maybe copies of the statue had been made over and over to ensure that some memory of the events it memorialized lived on. To provide continuity, to create a tradition that might become muddled over time, but would still exist in one form or another.
Stories faded. The existence of werewolves was not openly acknowledged, so she became a wolf rather than a wolf-woman, because then the tale was just another animal fable harkening back to Aesop, or Ovid’s
and that somehow seemed safer, more legendary. Time changes stories, no matter how carefully they’re written down. Maybe the
existed in one form or another two thousand years ago, maybe it didn’t. Maybe the legend was true, or maybe it was a metaphor for something else entirely. Mostly, I looked at the alert and glaring expression of the statue, and saw the face of someone who must have been a hero.
Another thing I saw when I looked at the statue: the babies weren’t hers—they’d been added later. She’d found them and claimed them. Adopted them. This gave me hope. Women werewolves couldn’t bear children because embryos didn’t survive the trauma of shape-shifting. I couldn’t have children of my own—or maybe I could.
I printed out the image in full color. I wanted to be able to study the
whether my computer was on or off, by sunlight or by candlelight, not glowing in pixels on a screen. Kind of crazy, kind of romantic, but the picture in printed form seemed to have more dignity, more permanence. When the page emerged from the printer, I tacked it onto the corkboard on my office wall, right next to the full-page picture of another one of my heroes, General William T. Sherman. A couple of years ago, I followed up some
stories, some hunches, and determined that Sherman also had been a werewolf. Another one who stood up for what he believed. I wondered if history was in fact littered with werewolves.
I leaned back in my chair in my cramped and cozy office at KNOB, my desk filled with mail and newspaper clippings, internal memos, and a million notes on scratch paper, a radio in the corner humming softly with the station’s daytime alternative music format, and studied the pictures, my two werewolf heroes. They were smart, tough, savvy, and they’d made a difference in the world. They’d had battles to fight and had fought them, and lived on in song and story.
If they could do it, maybe I could do it, too.
* * *
for all this research: I was supposed to be writing my second book.
My first book had been a memoir—the life and times of America’s first celebrity werewolf. This one wasn’t going to be about me. It was going to be about history, stories, and the different ways of interpreting them, because they look different when you know that vampires and lycanthropes are real. I wasn’t the first person to suggest that Norse berserkers might have been werewolves, but I was going to take the idea and run with it. I was going to talk about the
and those Greek myths about people turning into something else. From the beginning, people told stories about the ways humans and animals interacted with each other—and the roles of each weren’t always clearly defined. Animals talked, people went mad and ran off to the woods, and maybe it wasn’t always a metaphor. Maybe Daniel survived the lion’s den because he knew how to talk to the lions.
I’d learned this once, but now I was being reminded in agonizing detail: announcing that you were writing a book was easy. Signing the contract and depositing the check were
easy. Actually doing it? Not as easy. Research, online or otherwise, was lots of fun and often yielded treasure, but it was also a deep, endless tunnel one could enter and never return from. I had stacks of notes that I needed to turn into text. Just wishing it would happen wasn’t working.
When writing at my office at KNOB didn’t work anymore, I rotated back home, to the office in the spare bedroom. I’d pinned up a photo of the
there as well and sometimes caught myself staring at it, my mind wandering.
Since Ben and I moved out of the condo and bought an honest-to-God house, we now had a home office, half mine and half his. Pretty swank. He was a lawyer with his own practice, mostly criminal defense, a job that involved a lot more paperwork and phone calls than the TV shows let on. I tried not to sprawl out of my half of the room, but with the piles of books and articles I’d collected for research, this was getting difficult. Not to mention outlines, abandoned outlines, rough drafts, and notes from editorial phone calls. If the amount of information I’d collected was any sign, I ought to have more than enough for a book, assuming I could put it all together. I felt good, looking at my masses of notes. Productive. I could finish and actually make those shiny new house payments.
The room wasn’t that big to begin with—ten feet or so on a side, with two desks and a couple of bookshelves shoehorned in. Ben and I could wheel our chairs back and run into each other if we aimed right. Fortunately, he spent as much time out of the office as in it, meeting with clients or appearing in court, so I could do what I wanted. Hence, the sprawl. It was so nice having the
After dark, I heard a familiar sedan engine hum from down the street, grow close, then stop. Ben’s car, parking in the driveway. A moment later, the front door opened and closed, and his scent touched the air. My nose flared, taking in the smell of my mate—male, paperwork, and coffee, the wolfish fur-and-skin of lycanthropy. I smiled. The house was nice, but it didn’t feel like home until Ben was here.
His footsteps approached, and I turned to greet him just as he appeared in the doorway.