Part 1 here:
I had the strangest dream. I was little again, and there was a wolf standing guard over me but I don’t know what it was guarding me against. I looked up ‘wolf in dreams’ meanings but they all seemed like bullshit to me. My wolf was a good one, I knew that, and he was somehow looking out for me. Sitting in my room doodling, I randomly wrote ‘Romulus’ surrounded by all sorts of squiggles and vines and stuff. I’d done it without really noticing, like daydreaming with a pencil in my hand. When I began paying attention I filled the page with rough drawings of what looked like an ancient city with a long trench around it and crops on the other side of that.
I was happily surprised to learn that Romulus was a historical figure. I knew I’d heard it or read about it before but I got confused, first with Cumulus, the cloud formation, and then with the Romulans from Star Trek, although I don’t know how I even knew of the second one. I tried drawing ‘my’ Romulus but it looked like shit, so I went off in search of a Google image instead. I found lots of wolf pictures and plenty of deviant art style creations, some of which were amazing, but I didn’t find Romulus. He didn’t look mean.
Romulus got me into trouble at school. Instead of taking notes about a frog I was never going to dissect again after I left school I daydreamed about my wolf and all the amazing adventures we’d have together. In your dreams you can be pretty courageous and tough, but when you’ve got a wolf you can be even tougher. I liked that.
For a seventeen-year old, or any year-old, I have really large boobs. They get me all the attention I don’t want, from everyone I don’t want attention from. I get really sick and tired of boys grabbing them and girls treating me as if I’ve done something slutty just by having them. They just grew that way; it’s not like I did it on purpose.
I asked my mum a few times if I could have a breast reduction but she has pretty small ones so she said I should count my blessings. Blessings? I can count my curses, and there’re two of them. Another ten years of gravity and I’ll be lifting them up to wash my belly button. So, I did what any determined teenager would do: I googled ‘breast reduction’ and I found a way to be more convincing, mildly complaining of back pain and occasionally asking mum for a different bra because the (perfectly comfortable) ones I had were digging into me. You’d think women would take girls seriously.
Well, I made it through school with only two dozen boob bruisings and a hundred unwanted fingerprints on them. Those years weren’t the best ones, but at least I got through them. I only had one real friend through those years, and Anne’s parents treated me like their own. They told me off, pushed me around and once they even grounded me. “How is that even going to be possible?” I laughed. They found a way. Anne’s dad called my mum and the two of them colluded – that’s the word he used – for me to stay at their place for the next two weeks. Anne and I were allowed an hour together after school and half an hour together at dinner. The rest of the time we were grounded in our rooms, mobile phones confiscated, no Internet access, and not even a common wall where we could invent and use a sort of Morse Code.
I used the time to daydream about all sorts of things, and Romulus was one of them. I began writing a story about him but it was pretty messed up so after a while I gave up. I’ve never heard of werewolves in space and Anne didn’t seem too convinced about them, either. She and I started making jokes about being in the ‘joint’ and how solitary confinement wasn’t so bad, until Anne’s mum said she could speak to the magistrate to see if our sentence could be increased. I wanted Romulus to come and save me right about then.
The impossible just happened! After years of torment, whining, more torment and more whining I finally had a breast reduction! Mum and dad had given into the inevitable reality that my boobs weren’t miraculously going to shrink all on their own, and my back pain had become real. The doctor, bless her, convinced my parents that it came from my heavy boobs and if left alone it could result in curvature of my spine. The operation didn’t hurt because I was out like a light, but when the lights came back on my chest hurt. A lot.
I was miserable for a week after, and uncomfortable for a month as the incisions healed. The upside was that while I was under the knife and later under more sedation so I could sleep, I dreamed of Romulus pacing back and forth outside, snuffing the ground and making a sort of small crying sound in his throat. Some people have to suffer through life with only a guardian angel to protect them. I have a guardian wolf.
My mum and dad took us on a holiday that was designed to be as boring as possible. Everyone loves the beach except for me; I prefer lakes. Finally, after years of tears and complaining we reached a compromise. We stayed in the Lakes Region and the nearest beach was only an hours’ drive away. I had six days of bliss for the price of one day of boredom. Dad said it was because the sea might be too rough for me, and I made sure I didn’t disagree with him.
There weren’t any locals where we stayed. There were twelve cabins dotted around a huge lake and they’d all been positioned for maximum privacy. The others didn’t suffer; after the first day everyone said they loved it here and they couldn’t understand why we hadn’t been here before. “Because you’re retards?” I said under my breath. Anne heard me and giggled a bit, mum looked at us sharply, and I thought for a second we were going to be grounded again.
I think I healed faster in that week than at any other time in my life. Fresh air, cool lake water, and long walks where no one was going to grab my now-unremarkable boobs were all a big help. There was just one time I felt a bit weird. It was late afternoon and my boobs were hurting. No particular reason; they just were, so after a while I grabbed my phone and earplugs and said I wanted to go for a walk to take my mind off the pain. No one wanted to come, not even Anne, and I’m so un-athletic I wouldn’t be going far, anyway.
“Where are you?” As soon as my phone rang the volume on my music died and there was my mum. “I’m just down at the lake,” I said. “Well, its close to dinner time so come on home,” mum said. It was a nice evening, a little chilly, but I’d been so lost in my thoughts and the music I hadn’t really noticed the day was done and night was coming on. I began wandering home, up through the park and along the well-lit street that would feed off into the long driveway down to our cabin. This had to be about the safest place on Earth.
I walked for less than ten minutes back to our cabin, but the last five of them spooked me a little. Okay, they spooked me a lot. We all know I have an overactive imagination. Hell, I know that, but I can still freak myself the fuck out. I was looking down at my phone when I had the strange sense of being watched, but it didn’t feel like just being watched; it felt like being watched in a really bad way. I sort of froze in a half-step for a split second before putting a smile on my face and dialling mum. If anyone was watching I wanted them to see and hear me talking to mum. “At the top of the driveway, mum,” I said loudly, “and I’ll be there in about thirty seconds.”
Just then I had an overwhelming sense of Romulus. He was right behind me, like the last time, but this time he was sort of standing on his hind legs with his body towering over mine. I didn’t see him or his eyes but I felt him staring into the bushes to my left, and I felt him coiled and ready to spring at the least danger. I heard twigs cracking and odd thumping sounds, as if someone was running away through the underbrush, but I couldn’t see anyone. I looked around but there was no one there. Even though I felt this huge protection from Romulus, I ran the rest of the way home and I was pretty skittish for the rest of the night. The next day was uneventful and by the time we drove home I’d convinced myself that overactive imaginations aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
I have no idea what happened. I was in my office working as usual when I began feeling really nauseated. It didn’t budge, so I made my way to the bathroom just in case I was going to vomit. Feeling dizzy and disorientated, I sat in one of the stalls and tried taking deep breaths. Amy. I sensed out, and in a flash I was behind her, Transformed, and hyper-vigilant.
Rearing up, my body mass half curled around her back, I looked straight into the bushes by the road and my night vision showed me a hidden Human with vile intentions on his mind. I rose up, towering over Amy’s head, lips pulled back in a snarl that signalled my intention, and I flexed my paws so that my claws were fully extended. I had murder in my heart right then.
I saw his eyes go wide and he feebly stumbled away, crashing through the brush. Amy was safe. I sensed her turning but I was already gone, into the bushes and noiselessly tracking my prey. It didn’t take long. Claws retracted, I smashed a paw into his back and he rocketed forward, his skull caving in as it hit the tree before him. I sensed him and his dying thoughts. That rapist piece of shit was gone for good.
I circled widely through the underbrush, avoiding those parts where little but short grasses grew. Lights were on in Amy’s cabin, and I hunkered down to watch for her, my chin resting on my crossed forelegs. After a few minutes she came to the window, her eyes large and still a little freaked out. I saw her look back up the driveway and then, as if she had an internal radar, her eyes swung around and focussed directly on me. My tongue flicked out a little and I raised my head, looking back at her intently. “Amy,” I whispered. One of her hands went to the glass, resting there, and I saw-heard her whisper “Romulus.” Our eyes locked, and then I was back in the stall, the dizziness and disorientation gone.
I can’t tell you what happened because I don’t know. The child that I saw in the dream as Amy had aged by a decade. I went back to my office, trying to piece together the scant knowledge I had. I went into the Silence and recalled all I had seen and experienced. I sensed the healing wounds under her breasts and I sensed they did not come from harm. She saw me, and she knew me. I felt … loved. Whoever she was, and whoever she was to me, we had some sort of mystical link. I had no idea what it might be or what it might mean, but for the first time in a century I didn’t feel alone.
One of the difficulties of near-immortality is that I age very slowly. Because I’ve amassed vast amounts of knowledge of Human affairs and thought, I have to be very careful not to seem too smart ‘for my age’. I appeared to be around forty, so my rough rule of measurement was that I aged one Human year for every half-century of Human time. I’d made a lot of friends over all that time, and I’d seen them all grow old and die.
I never stayed in a job for more than five years, no matter how much I liked it, because sooner or later people would begin mentioning that I never seemed to look a day older than when I started work there. It was for the same reason I moved cities, states, and even countries. No matter how much affection I had for someone, in the end I had to leave them, except for the three I had turned. They had each intuited who I am, and they completely accepted it. In turn, I learned how to love; I learned how to recognise that strangest of feelings.
There are snippets of my childhood I remember, just as a Human child might. Remus and I, puppies together, rolling around and mock-fighting outside of our den. I don’t recall a mother or father, but they must have been there or we’d have died soon after birth, if we were truly ‘born’ at all. I remember snatches of myself as a boy, looking Human, and wandering in fields with Remus. We learned the hunt, and we experienced the Hunger. I remember myself as a teenager, both as Human and Were, and how well I remember Transforming before I killed my brother.
I believe there is some deep part of me that knows what I need and when I need it. I do not always live my life looking as a Human does. I’ve spent fairly equal time living as both Human-looking and as a natural Were. When contact with Humans sours me my soul seems to know the time has arrived, and the Wanderlust takes me. It has always come at a time when Humans are in mass turmoil, and so I think the Presence must have a plan for me. I have retreated into the wildernesses of many countries at times when your species is intent on killing itself, and I remain there, usually blissfully ignorant of your doings until once again I feel compelled to rejoin what is left of you.
I left Europe before the first time it tried to tear itself apart, settling in rural China until the rise of Mao threatened my territory as the people starved and pushed further out into the wilds. I moved back, only to have the Japanese come. Myths accuse my kind of monstrosity and carnage, but the Were have never committed so much mindless violence on such as scale as your Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, Chiang, Hitler, Pot, and others of their ilk.
A million Were, for I think that is how we’re numbered, have killed perhaps ten thousand humans in all of our shared history. In the last 150 years your kind have killed over a hundred and fifty million of your own species, and yet you dare to call us cursed animals? I can feel my anger rising, which is usually an early signal that I’ll be leaving soon enough to once again live as a Were.
Madeleine, the first of my three great loves, was intrigued by the Were and our history. Why, she asked, had evidence of us never been found? We resembled wolves but we were so much larger. It’s a good question with a complicated answer. The first part is that we are very long-lived. Secondly, when we sense the Time is coming we retreat to places inhospitable to Humans, and so we’re unlikely to be found. And finally, when the Presence takes us, the shell we leave behind goes through a unique chemical transformation that leaves almost nothing behind. There will not be a time when Humans discover the fossilised or other remains of a Were; we just don’t die that way.
How strong is a Were? It was another of her excellent questions. When she was alive we had precious little way to measure it, but my own Knowing tells me that our tendons are to spiders’ web what spiders’ web is to steel. Our tensile strength allows us to bend metal pylons that only large-scale Human machinery could otherwise do. “Strong enough,” was the only answer I could give her.
Now here we are, living in an Age where there exists ground-piercing radar, heat-seeking equipment, and laser-guided ammunition, and yet none of these affect our secretive species. We can lower and raise our body temperature quickly. If ever we sensed Humans were trying to track us, we’d simply blend into our environment so completely the only signal coming back would be a false one. We can, and do at times, hibernate for months that can become decades if needed, taking as little as one short half-breath every year or so. Our blood can both freeze and boil and still we will live.
We’re hard to kill, but we’re impossible to catch. Indeed, any Were who is caught has a plan, and being caught was part of it. Before Marconi discovered radio waves and learned how to harness them, there were a few times when Were allowed themselves to be caught so that they could travel the seas in ships without taking on Human form. After the advent of powerful radio, the Were stopped using transport this way, which was just as well for those who would otherwise have died aboard to preserve the Were’s anonymity.
Some of the Were are as fundamentalist as any Human zealot. When the Changing comes upon them and they begin taking on a Human form they will resist, up to and including killing themselves. Others treat it as a sickness and a curse, just as if the opposite had happened to a Human. Some have nothing but loathing for Humans and they spend their entire life, in Were and Human forms, in complete isolation. I have wondered on occasion what will become of them when the frontiers of the world’s jungles are so pushed back that the Were population will have to starve or fight for their survival. Many Humans will not see this in their short lifetime, but I think it’s almost inevitable that I’ll see it in mine. Human activity is building toward something and I don’t think the Humans will be ready for it when it comes.