Changes

So this week at News From Poughkeepsie is all about Werewolves and will be focusing on character rather than plot.

Day 126 is Werewolves I have known…

Zach says he doesn’t mind the change much anymore. Says he’s come to terms. We’ve all got our rows to hoe, he says, his isn’t any different. Old Roger Gilbert mutters something about his destroyed rabbit hutch and my he has to pay for Zach’s hoeing, but no ones pays him any mind.

Zach says he’s a changed man, but he didn’t need to say it. We can all see the return of Zach’s beard. He shaved it off right after he got bit, and it’s good to see it back. Zack said he didn’t want hair on his face, not while human. Good to see human nature–and probably a bit of sloth–win out.

“I’m okay,” he said, ordering another beer. “I’m a werewolf.”

“Naturally,” said the bartender. “You and everyone else in this town…”

He slid a frosty mug to the young man. “Now the question ya gotta ask yerself is what yer gonna do with it.”

Zach’s thick brows knit together in confusion. “What do ya mean Joe?”

It was my turn to put my two bits in. “What he means Zach, is that while you’ve come to terms with what you are, at least part of the time, you barely knew what you were all of the time, before the change.” Zach had only been eighteen when the bite happened. I’d say that was a shame, but that would be admitting that being a lycanthrope was somehow a bad thing. It’s not. “Now you need to rediscover what it is to be yourself.”

Zach now had a monobrow, his face was so squinched. “You talk too durn much Doc.”

I sighed and sipped my beer. “You denied your wolf half after the attack. That’s natural. Now you’re embracing it. But there is a whole that is greater than the sum…” No that was going to be too much. “You’re not just a man and you’re not just a wolf, you can be the best or the worst of both. What’s it going to be?”

Understanding dawned on his face like the moon breaking through the clouds on a crisp October evening. “I gotcha Doc. Pa used to say somethin’ like that about him and Ma. I got her looks and his brains, instead of the other way around.”

More’s the pity. Zach was a handsome enough boy, if rough around the edges. I nodded. “More or less. If you ever want to talk about it then you just need to come by my office any time.”

I made that offer more than once over the many years I’d been a doctor in the territory. After all everyone who lives here is here because they had “the curse” and were shipped off by the human world as a “humane” solution to our problem. Really it was their problem since while here, we were still what we were, and they are still bigots. So, as one of the few outcasts with real medical experience, I became physician, counselor, even alienist. I was able to help some of our people deal with the change and integrate into our society.

That night was not the first or the last time I’d made the offer to Zach either. Unfortunately he didn’t take me up on it. A month later I was in my office, consulting a few tomes on human and lupine physiognomy. There is no widely accepted scholarly work that tells us much about our form and I was determined to write the first. I had written extensively on the affects of wolfsbane on our change and examined the properties of silver and why it might be so toxic to us, but those were relatively speaking minor and there were larger fish to fry.

The loud knock on my door startled me out of my reverie and I went to answer. Lo and behold it was Sheriff Jeremiah with a body slung over one shoulder. I could smell the gunpowder clinging to them both and the unfortunate tang of silver underneath it all. Protocol and wisdom demanded that Jeremiah’s gun be loaded with the deadly metal. Thankfully over the years we determined how much of it was necessary to merely incapacitate, rather than kill.

I saw, to my chagrin, that he carried Zach. “Set the boy down over there.” I pointed to the table on one wall of my consulting chamber. The words weren’t needed since this was hardly our first time through this waltz.

He nodded and did as he was asked. “Caught him in the Miller’s sheep fold. He had too much ta drink earlier today and decided ta help himself.” He lowered the body to the table and strapped him down. The restraint system would do the trick, it always did. There was one wound in his right shoulder. He had also been beaten pretty badly. I held nothing against the sheriff for that. He had done what he had to do and the boy was still alive after all.

I took my bag and removed a scalpel, using it to cut away the shirt, already ripped in places due to the bulk put on by the change. Unconsciousness returned him to his God given form though and my cuts revealed pink skin. Silently I plied the tools of my trade and with little effort removed the offending slug. Thankfully it was in one piece. I dropped it in a steel tray, making sure to leave my instruments with it so they could be decontaminated.

A few stitches, fewer than a pure human would need, held the wound closed. It would be fully healed in a day or so. The silver contamination, which I refused to flush out in cases like this, would leave a scar. Hopefully it would serve as a reminder.

With the offending bullet removed, our amazing body’s ability to heal itself went to work. The external injuries would fade within hours. He began regaining consciousness in mere minutes. Eyelids fluttered open and the last actions that the body was undertaking were remembered first. He struggled against the bonds, but they were tested against the largest of our men in full transformation.

After a few minutes he remembered himself and lay still. His look went from angry to confused to sheepish. “Hey Doc.” The whiskey smell mixed with the sheep’s blood on his breath nearly gagged me. Separately the two odors were pleasing enough, but not so much when co-mingled.

“Hello Zach.” I nodded down at him. “If I let you out there will be no more foolishness?”

He shook his head, hair tossed with enthusiasm. “No sir.”

I unbuckled the restraints, aware of Jeremiah’s presence behind me. “Sheriff I’ll return him to you, when we’re done if that’s okay?”

“Sure Doc. I’ll be down at tha jail.” I heard the door open and close behind me.

Satisfied that we were alone, I stepped back and gestured for him to get off the table. “Have a seat young man. This talk is long overdue.”

Zach climbed down, trying to arrange his ripped shirt to cover himself. “Thanks Doc, all the same to you I want to go home.” He climbed down and started to follow the law man.

My growl surprised even me. It’s not often I give voice to my lupine half. When I do it’s been said to cause some grown human men to faint.

He had the common sense to stop, though I could see the small hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

“Sit down young man.” My voice was firm rather than angry. This time he sat, picking the smaller of the two chairs in the space reserved for my counseling sessions.

“What do you want Doc?” His cheeks reddened and he was actually able to meet my eyes. He was angry, though at whom I couldn’t say.

I sat in my chair, keeping his gaze. “I want you to think about the talk we had in the bar. You are embracing the worst of our natures instead of the best. We don’t attack the animals that belong to others. We don’t drink more than we can handle and let that cause us to be foolish. It’s bad enough that we have to be here, we don’t have to give them the satisfaction of knowing that they’re right.” I nodded east in the general direction of what passed for civilizaiton.

The anger turned to petulance. “Yer tha one denyin’ who ya are Doc. Tha wolf takes what it wants and so do real men.”

I took a deep breath. It wasn’t the first time I had heard this sort of talk. Plenty of our young men were angry. They came here without family, without any resources, and banded together, teaching each other the ways of life. “Is that right? Tell me Zach, would your father approve of this?” I gestured encompassing his appearance.

“Ah Doc you know I didn’t know my father.” He looked at the clean pine floor.

“So instead of coming to me, you listen to a lot of useless whelps and drink too much and stir up trouble. Is that what you want to be? A drunken rabble rouser?” My words were colored by the anger I now felt coming on strong. I was in control though, always in control.

Not so much the boy across from me. “You don’t understand Doc.” His words became mushy as teeth crowded his jaw and his voice deepened. “You don’t know…” His eyes flashed red.

Before he could leave the chair my hand moved and gathered the silver headed cane that leaned against my reading table. I kept it there, head down, just in case. The weighted end came out and struck him in the jaw. Bone cracked and the smell of scorched hair and flesh filled the air. I was surprised to see that my own thick white pelt covered the skin of my hand. I hadn’t felt the change happen. My own anger had almost gotten the best of me. I willed the hair back in and saw it recede.

I placed the cane back on the floor and stood, looking at Zach. While he lay there, once again looking for all the world like a man, clutching his jaw and moaning I swiftly unbuttoned my shirt. “Oh I understand.” Even as a man I was uncommonly hirsute. White hair covered my chest and belly, except for the long double scar. They went from shoulder to hip crossing over my sternum. “My own father gave me this and left me to die in the woods. He rejected me. My wife rejected me. My life became nothing. I lost more than you can understand.”

I held out a hand to him, letting my shirt hang open. He took it and stood. “Sorry Doc.”

“I didn’t tell you that so you’d be sorry for me.” I clapped him on his shoulder. “And I don’t want you to waste time feeling sorry for yourself either. You are a wonderful creation. Luna loves you. I love you. I want to be a father to you, if you want me to.”

There was still a coal of anger in Zack’s eyes. Some of it was likely at me, but I knew that most of it was directed at himself. He hated what he was. We all did at first, unless we were unhinged. That anger changed to resolve as we stood looking at each other. I’m not a mind reader, but I could see familiar gears turning. He was probably thinking about those young men he had been associating with. I hoped he found their quality wanting.

He held out his hand. I took it. “Thanks Doc. I do.”

I nodded. “Good. First you need to go down to the jail. Then you need to do whatever Jeremiah tells you. The Millers are good people and you did them wrong. When you’ve done that, you can come back here and we’ll talk about what it means to truly change.”

He pulled himself into my arm and hugged me fiercely. We held the embrace for a moment and then he backed away and dropped his hands to his side. The place where I had clubbed him looked bad and it too would scar up. He needed those scars as I needed mine. We needed to know our weaknesses, earn our badges, before we could really be different.

Without another word he left. I buttoned my shirt and turned to the sideboard. There were the pictures of the boys and even a few girls that I had been a surrogate father to over the years. Jeremiah’s picture was there. Others hadn’t made the change and together I and my pack had to put them down. I had a good feeling about this one though. Zack could do it. It wouldn’t be easy, but with the good ones it never was.

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