Karl (louderback) wrote in louderprose,

Wolves of the world. A first installment

Warren Maxwell had been retired for almost two years when in the spring of 2007 opportunity knocked at his front door. The opportunity came in the unlikely guise of a man in plaid hunting shirt and baggy jeans. Warren took an instant dislike to the man, his nerves jangled in the guy’s presence. There was something “off” about him. He remained, nevertheless polite and asked the visitor’s business. “I am Bоўк Navitski. I have read your articles often and would like to speak to you.” “Speak to me about what?” “It will take considerable explanation. May I come in?” “No. Not until you explain more.” “You are feeling nervous in my presence, aren’t you? Do you think that is a little odd? Do you think the nervousness you feel is out of proportion?” “What has that to do with anything? If true…” Warren covered badly for his slip, admitting nervousness. “It commonly happens to me. I assure you I am not hostile in any way. I am actually a fan; I would like to talk to you for a while if you’ll permit.” “I still want a topic.” “Very well. You have been an advocate, even a champion of some of this state’s ethnic minorities. I would like to bring another minority to your attention.” “You must know that I am retired. I no longer write for the papers.” “That is not important to me. I want nothing from you.” Warren Maxwell made a decision that went completely against his grain. He opened the door and invited the man inside. As he passed, he looked at his visitor closely. He was some six inches shorter than Warren’s own six feet. He was broadly built, broad shouldered, but not bulky. He gave a vague impression of lean strength. He had a strong, but not offensive body odor. His hair was unkempt without appearing slovenly. He had facial hair. Warren searched his mind for a better description, but his visitor had not precisely a beard, a moustache, or any configuration of facial decoration that he could name, he just had facial hair. It ran high up on his cheeks, low on his neck, and while too long to be called stubble, it seemed not long enough to qualify as a beard. It was a bit sparse, but seemed more like the hair on one’s head than a beard. Warren jerked himself out of his musing when he noticed his visitor simply standing and looking at him. “This way, please. We’ll sit in my office. The chairs there are actually more comfortable than the living room.” “Thank you. That suits me.” “Your name, Mr.?” “Please call me Bоўк. My name is Bоўк Navitski.” They walked through Warren’s foyer and down a short hallway into the room Warren styled his office. The room was equal parts office, living room and breakfast nook. Warren lived in this room more than any other place in the house. This is where he wrote. When he waved toward a chair, Bоўк sat down. Warren took his own favorite chair, the big swivel behind his desk where he could reach the keyboard, the phone, and all the essentials for writing. It was his comfort zone. “Can I get you something to drink? Coffee? I have bottled water, but that’s about the limit of it… I’m not well stocked for visitors.” “Nothing, thank you. I appreciate the offer.” For his part, Mr. Bоўк Navitski looked comfortable. He sat in a stance that didn’t look relaxed. He was firmly seated in his chair, but he leaned forward. His arms rested on the arms of the chair, but it looked as though he could use them to propel him in a leap at any moment. His legs were spread wide and his feet firmly planted. Warren had been reading body language for decades. This man was an “alpha”, a man accustomed to leading rather than following. The forward stance indicated energy and strength. The spread legs were a dominance move, a statement something like “I’ve got a set so big I can’t close my legs”. Those feet planted firmly said, almost shouted, “I’m not moving until I get my way”. It was then Warren noticed something he had very rarely seen. Since he sat, Bоўк had not moved at all. He hadn’t adjusted himself, fidgeted, brushed his hair or dusted his clothes. These are all signs Warren saw in people who wanted something and were preparing themselves to explain what. Not Bоўк. He made no unnecessary movements at all. As he sat and looked at Bоўк, playing the “pressure of silence” game to make him speak first, Warren suddenly realized where he had seen that habit of stillness before. It shook him. The only other time he had seen someone so relentlessly controlled was when he interviewed Derek Wayne Goyne. Goyne was the world’s most prolific serial killer to date, a true sociopath, and an animal in human form, a monster. “What do you want?” The words came in a rush with a pleading tone that almost embarrassed Warren. Bоўк missed none of Warren’s appraisal and was confident that he knew just what was running through the man’s mind. He had read Warren’s columns for thirty years. He had read both of Warren’s books and was confident he knew at least the basics of how he thought. “Please, Mr. Maxwell, please relax. I have said that I want nothing from you and that is the truth. I have read your writings, columns, books, for thirty years. I am genuinely a fan. It is because of what you have written that I wish to tell you my stories.” “Mr. Navitsky? Did I say it right?” “Yes, you did, but please – Bоўк.” “Bоўк then. So call me Warren. What is it you want to tell me? I get the sense that this is a serious matter to you.” “It is. It is quite serious. You see, my brother passed away some time ago and left some work unfinished. Until now, it has been impossible for me to go ahead with his wishes, but now the time has come. Because I have read your work for many years, I think you are the proper man to tell this story to. You can do with it what you will, write about it or not, but I know that if you write about this matter, it will be treated justly.” “That’s the second time you have said that you’ve read me for many years. You don’t appear to be more than thirty. Have you been reading me since your Elementary School days?” Bоўк barked a light laugh. It was an abrupt and slightly raucous sound. “I am older than I appear Mr… uh, Warren.” “Well, you have been polite. You have been courteous and responded to courtesy. You have flattered me. All the conventions have been observed. Why don’t you just tell me what it is you want to say.” “First, please, permit me to extract a promise.” “I will promise nothing unconditionally. If you don’t trust me with some knowledge you are about to share, then don’t tell me. I don’t work any other way.” “Nothing of that sort Mr… Warren. What I ask is that you keep an open mind. I am about to tell you something hard to believe. Please don’t reject what I say out of hand. I don’t insist you believe me at first hearing, but I ask you to promise me that you will remain willing to be convinced. If you reject me out of hand because what I have to say does not fit your preconceptions, then nothing I do or say will ever convince you I am telling the truth. Conversely if you remain open to proof… well, convictions yield to truth, prejudice does not.” “So this ethnic group you mentioned… you suspect I may be bigoted toward them?” “No, not that. I simply feel you are almost certainly predisposed to disbelief. Nearly everyone is. I just want your assurance that you will give my story the same consideration, the same sharp, insightful investigation you would give … say a crooked politician.” “Very well. That is a promise I will make. But, Bоўк, you do realize that I am no longer writing for the public? I have no connections with the news business. If you have a story that needs told, I am probably not the ideal person to set it before the public.” “I know, but I also know that a man such as you has resources. If you feel the matter important, the people who need to listen will listen to you.” “OK. That’s true. So hit me. What’s the shocker? What’s the big story?” “I’m a werewolf. One of thousands.” Warren facepalmed. “Bоўк, furries are not an ethnic group. Goth may be a lifestyle, but none of them are actually vampires. If you want to grow out your beard and growl at your buddies across a campfire on the weekends, it’s none of my business. It’s not a story.” “I remind you of your promise so recently given.” “Are you saying you are a real werewolf? Not a lycanthrophile? Not a member of a club? You are a real howl-at-the-moon change-into-a-Wolf-when-the-moon-is-full werewolf.” “I am saying precisely that. Will you look at my hands?” Bоўк stood and stepped toward Warren. Despite an effort at self control Warren skittered back in his rolling chair. Bоўк looked at him and stood his ground. “Do you see? You sense something from me. Please examine my hands.” Warren rolled forward and did so. Bоўк had perfectly normal hands in most respects. You might not think them odd unless you looked closely. The backs of Bоўк’s hands were hairy, furry in the way his facial hair didn’t precisely look like a beard, Bоўк’s body hair didn’t precisely look right. Bоўк’s fingers were short, unusually so. His nails were curved rather far around the fingertip and rather longer than looked comfortable. They were very much like claws. Warren turned Bоўк’s hand palm up and saw there muscle of a sort… pads of flesh, would, perhaps, better describe it. The man definitely had a hand with a close resemblance to a paw. Warren thought to himself “A handshake would give him away.” “Are your feet like this?” Bоўк kicked off his shoes and tugged at his socks. His feet were in every respect similar to his hands. Warren thought to himself that they could almost legitimately be called paws. Unbidden, Bоўк unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off. Bare-chested, Bоўк was hardly bare at all. Once again, his hair, his body hair, seemed not like body hair. It was longer, thicker. It looked softer – like fur. “Touch,” said Bоўк. Warren reached out reluctantly. He touched with a fingertip. Bоўк took Warren’s hand and pressed the palm flat against his chest, “See?” Warren retrieved his hand. “Well, you certainly have qualities I would expect in a werewolf, but these are simply explained as just qualities with which you were born.” “There are thousands like me. If it is a genetic trait it breeds true. And so what if it is a genetic quality. Does that make us not werewolves?” “Well, as I understand it, werewolves are supernatural creatures. They change under the full moon, can only be killed by silver bullets, that sort of thing…” “My brother and I argued long years about the nature of Wolves, supernatural or natural. I think we are simply a species that has developed parallel to humans, homo sapiens sapiens. We are perhaps canis lupus sapiens. But there are two things that seem unnatural, if not precisely supernatural. We are very hard to kill. Anything less severe than decapitation or consumption through fire or acid or some such drastic destruction of the entire body will be something from which we can recover. We heal very rapidly. Wounds, from silver weapons, though. Those heal slowly if at all and leave scars. But this could be natural to my species and seems unusual only in comparison to yours. Lizards re-grow tails; humans do not re-grow limbs. That doesn’t mean a reptile is supernatural.” “Well, that is true enough on the face of it. What do you mean by rapid healing, though?” “Bоўк reached across Warren’s desk and took hold of a letter opener. He plunged the tip an inch deep into his chest and dragged it upwards across his neck to a spot just under his ear. The gash was deep and bloody. Warren started out of his chair, seeking for something to stanch the blood. Bоўк took him by the arm and sat him back down in his chair. As Warren looked, Bоўк used his plaid hunting shirt to wipe away the blood. Beneath the blood, a fine white line vanished as Warren watched. “If that had been a silver knife I would be seriously injured.” “Well, you know how to make a dramatic presentation. But, I’m sorry, I can’t take this as proof. I can think of half a dozen stage magicians who could have done what you just did. “ “Please, keep an open mind. Please don’t assume that because a thing can be faked that I am faking it.” “You’re right. I promised.” “Would you care to stab me yourself? I just ask that you don’t stab me in the eye. I hate that.” “What?” “Stab me yourself. You will see there is no fakery.” “No. I can’t do that.” “It would prove my point. You really can’t reasonably hurt me.” Warren paused for a moment. Just what the Hell was actually going on here? He decided to call Bоўк’s bluff. “Come with me.” He led Bоўк to the kitchen. “Put your hand on that cutting board. What if I cut off a finger?” “A very good test! As long as the blood is still flowing I can just press it back on and everything will be fine.” Warren rummaged in a drawer and extracted a small cleaver he used for de-boning chickens. Bоўк stood with his hand on the board, fingers spread. Warren approached and raised the cleaver. Bоўк looked at him calmly. Warren raised the cleaver higher. Bоўк watched. “Damn you! You would let me do it!” “Yes. Do it! It is an excellent test. I couldn’t be faking it if it is your idea and you do it…” “You’re crazy.” Bоўк reached over and took the cleaver from Warren. He brought it down in a flashing arc and severed his thumb from his hand. Warren made an indescribable noise. Bоўк put down the cleaver, picked up the bloody thumb and pressed it into Warren’s hand. Warren looked at it in revulsion. Bоўк had his remaining thumb pressed over the stump that was spurting blood all over the cutting board. Warren looked at Bоўк wild eyed. “Here. Take it!” Bоўк did not. “You are convinced that is really my thumb?” “Yes! Just take it!” “No fakery?” “No! It’s real! Now take the damned thing!” Bоўк accepted the thumb. He calmly pressed it against his hand, aligning it carefully. The spurting blood began to slow. While Warren watched the skin re-grew around the cut. The thumb became re-attached. Bоўк raised his hand and wiggled his fingers, clenched his fist, moved the thumb quite naturally. Warren felt vaguely faint. “Do you want me to clean this up, Warren? You look like you need to sit.” “Sit. Yes.” Warren turned to the refrigerator, reached inside and grabbed a bottle of water. He walked straight to his office chair, sat and chugged about a third of the bottle of ice-cold water. “Well if that wasn’t supernatural, it was certainly unnatural.” “Unnatural to your species, not to mine.” “We’re not talking lizard tails here.” “No, but I have a hard time thinking that my skin re-growing at a rapid rate, my muscle tissue and bone matter re-generating swiftly is a matter of divine intervention.” “Well, when you put it that way, so do I, maybe. What was the other thing?” Bоўк looked questioningly at him. “You said you and your brother argued about two things. What is the other one?” “Oh. The full moon.” “You mean to tell me you really change during the full moon?” “Yes. Not into a four-legged Wolf.” “Then what?” “Well, you have noticed that I have a lot of fur.” “Well, yes. I’ve seen men with a lot of body hair, as much as you.” “I have fur.” “Well, yes, you do. I guess that is the right word.” “It is not usually this way, but the moon will be full tonight and tomorrow night. My fur gets thicker at those times. It will be getting thicker still tonight. My teeth will change when the moon rises tonight. That is rather painful. My paws will change too. The nails will curve still more and get a little longer. My brother argued that this could not be natural. Moonlight simply does not have this sort of effect; it is just reflected sunlight. The position of the moon might affect the tides, but not the physical make up of a select group of creatures on the planet. I could never refute him, but I still do not think the changes supernatural.” “If not supernatural then what?” “I don’t know. Given the opportunity, some geneticist might find an explanation. But no such person has ever been given the chance. We could never take the chance.” “What do you mean?” “Well, think about it. ‘Capturing’ a real live werewolf would be like bagging a live bigfoot. It would be studied literally to death and dissected in incredible detail. More would be sought and found and dissected. My people stay hidden for just this reason.” “Your people. You spoke of an ethnic group. Is that how you regard yourselves? A community of werewolves? A tribe perhaps or nation of werewolves?” “Well yes, more or less, but I want to ask a favor. We dislike the word werewolf and prefer just to be called Wolves. Werewolf brings up stereotypes, characters from an Abbot and Costello movie. Calling a Wolf a werewolf is a bit like calling a Jew a Yid or someone from Japan a Jap. If not precisely an ethnic slur, werewolf summons images we all find distasteful.” “Oh. Sorry.” “You couldn’t know. But to answer your question. There is a very loose affiliation of Wolf packs that you could call a community. We rarely communicate between packs. We are very territorial and our only contact with another pack is often when they stray into our territory and must be rebuffed.” “Rebuffed?” “Fought. We defend our territories, as do our wild brethren. We fight. We fight literally tooth and nail.” Warren watched Bоўк for a moment, thinking. Bоўк exhibited no impatience. He was immobile in his seat. “So. Your decision to reveal yourself to me, and to expose your brother Wolves was purely your own? A unilateral decision?” “No. I didn’t mean to imply that there was no communication at all. The decision to reveal ourselves was made about thirty years ago. It has taken this much time to get the agreement of what we think is a majority of packs to go ahead.” “Thirty years to make a decision? And I thought Congress was glacial.” Both men, or man and Wolf, smiled at the slight jest. “We live a long time, Warren. We don’t rush to decision as quickly as men, and we are spread across the world, few in numbers and shy about meeting even our own kind.” “How long?” “About four times as long as a man. Three hundred years is about the limit.” “So when you said you are older than you look…” “I was born in 1799,” seeing Warren trying to do the math in his head, Bоўк added, “That makes me two-hundred eleven years old. “You said few in numbers…” “Almost literally one in a million. With seven billion people in the world, that leaves about seven thousand Wolves. I think the number might be a little higher. Certainly there are fewer than ten thousand of us.” “Why certainly?” “It is a matter of territory size. Our territories are large. In the Canadian Rockies, there is just one pack. In the US, Montana and the Dakotas are home to just one pack, perhaps two. New York City has just one pack of Wolves in the entire city.
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