Monday, November 19, 2012

How Does a Werewolf Spend the Holidays?

A little holiday gift for my blogger friends who might not have read my novel, "When the Moon Is Gibbous and Waxing," yet:

Natalie hadn't realized how close the holidays were until Bobbie invited her to go home with her for Thanksgiving. She declined, but started to think about Christmas. She was saddened to realize that her Christmas list had only three entries: Bobbie, Mildred and Henry, and Dr. Persky and his wife. By the time she decided what to get each of them, the ink had started to run in the tears that kept falling on the paper. Christmas must be the worst time of year when you've lost someone. She thought of a dozen things she'd like to get Grammy, but Grammy wasn't going to be here this Christmas or any Christmas for the rest of Natalie's life.
When Natalie dropped off Dr. and Mrs. Persky's gift about a week before Christmas, they invited her to spend Christmas with them. “My sister has children just your age,” said Mrs. Persky, “and I know she'd love to have you.”
Natalie had turned down an invitation from Bobbie, and she turned this one down also. Her mood, she feared, would just ruin the holidays for anyone around her. She mailed a package to Mildred and Henry, then went home and sat alone in her apartment listening to the silence. Most of the other tenants had gone to visit family and friends. Even traffic sounds had diminished, since most of the people living in this area were students. She tried to study, but couldn't concentrate. Why am I so restless? “Because you're lonely, you idiot,” she said aloud. “See, you're even talking to yourself.” Finally she threw her books aside, “Oh, the hell with it.”
She went into the bedroom and got the metal box out from under the bed. Taking it into the living room, she dumped it in the middle of the floor. Then she put all the birth certificates, marriage licenses, and other legal papers together in one stack and the letters in another. She arranged the letters from earliest to latest postmarks and started to read.  
Most of the letters were chit-chat: births, deaths, marriages. Some of them sounded as if they were written in a kind of code, as if the writer feared someone besides Grammy was reading them, and occasionally it sounded as if one was missing. Not unlikely, coming out of Russia back then. Finally Natalie came to a letter not more than ten years old that seemed more than a little strange.

It is good that you raise your granddaughter so carefully, but I beg you, tell her soon of the Family. If she should come into the Inheritance without understanding what is happening, it could be very dangerous for her, you know this. She must be taught soon how to control its comings and goings so she can protect herself.
As for the questions you now ask, even I do not know much of these matters. I must recommend that you write to another cousin who is a Keeper of the Family. I regret that she does not know English, but she does know German, and I recall that you know that language also.

There followed an explanation of how to get in touch with the cousin who was Keeper of the Family. The whole thing about the Family and the Inheritance struck Natalie as melodramatic, but the letter that now interested Natalie was the thick envelope that came from the named cousin. It was, indeed, written in German, and while Grammy's German had been quite good, Natalie's was barely adequate. She went to her bookcase and found the German-English dictionary left from her undergraduate courses and started the struggle.

                 Ilona has written to me of your problem and your interest in the history of the Family. I first must say that I agree with her that you must soon tell your granddaughter of the Family lest she by accident discover the Inheritance. You have had good luck that it has not happened already. It is very important that she understand what she is. Beware especially the full moon.
How the Family came into the Inheritance is hidden in time. I heard different tales from different Keepers when I was young. Some say it just happened. Others say we have been here since the beginning of time. One story is that long ago our ancestor lived in Persia, where he angered an ancient king. The king ordered a witch to curse him and all his descendants. He fled into the savage lands to the north, but at the next full moon the curse afflicted him. Still, he married, some say to the daughter of the king who was the cause of the curse, and had many children, and for years it seemed that was the end of it. But when cousins married, several of their children inherited the curse. Many bands of marauders roamed that area then, but seldom did one attack their villages because of the stories of what happened to those who molested the villagers.
They say that for a long time the Family was feared but respected. Then, as Christianity spread across Europe, some called us Children of Satan, and many of us died at the hands of priests. There is another story about two young men of the Family in those times...

Natalie stood up and stretched. She was surprised to discover that she had been working for two hours. The hard work of translating was more than offset by the strange story that was unfolding. A curse that worked like a recessive gene, an Inheritance that helped the Family protect their neighbors, then was turned against them. Children of Satan. Well, people who had epilepsy used to be thought of as possessed by demons. Natalie picked the letter back up and continued.

Nikolai and Alexei were members of the Family who had the Inheritance. They were raised on neighboring farms and were very close. When they were youths and had just come into the Inheritance, they ran together in the forests near their homes. As young men, Nikolai married a young woman of the Family who did not have the Inheritance, Alexei fell in love with one of the village girls, and she loved him in return though she knew what he was.
Then one night Alexei was running alone and was seen by a farmer who was a follower of the priests. The farmer made the mistake of attacking Alexei with his scythe. In defending himself, Alexei killed the farmer. Alexei was heartsick. This was proof, he thought, that he was, indeed, a Child of Satan as the priests said. If his soul had not been lost when he was born or the first time he changed, it most certainly was lost now. He could not take his own life, so he decided that the only way to atone for his sin was to spend the rest of his life in a nearby monastery. The monks there were as much of the old religion as the new, and they would protect him. He said good-bye to his beloved Katerina.
But when he went to say good-bye to Nikolai, his boyhood companion told him he was a fool, that he had only been protecting himself. “Katerina's father will give her to some rich, old farmer and she will spend her life bearing children for a man she does not love.” He told Alexei that his newborn son had been born early and with hair on his body and that he would raise him to be proud of the Inheritance. And he said, “We are as much creations of God as mankind is. But if the priests will not let us serve God, I and my family will surely serve Satan.”
The legend says that Alexei spent the rest of his life in the monastery and lived to be very old. Katerina was given to a rich farmer and bore many children. She was a dutiful wife and a good mother, but very sad, especially when there was a full moon. Nikolai and his wife had many children also, but because of his pride, he let himself be seen one night by a priest, who gathered the villagers and hunted him and his son and killed them and burned their bodies. Then they gathered the rest of the family and burned them. As the flames caught around her skirts, the oldest daughter cursed them in the names of God and Satan. Within a year, the plague swept across Europe and everyone in the village died.

Natalie put down the letter. Gooseflesh played up and down her arms. She had been born early and covered with hair. She remembered Grammy saying that. Natalie had thought nothing of it because premature babies are sometimes born fuzzy. The hair falls off in a few weeks. But this Inheritance was serious enough to have gotten an entire family murdered by fear-crazed villagers. What could it be? Whatever it was made Alexei powerful enough to kill a man who was armed with a scythe and the villagers frightened enough to burn women and children at the stake. Alexei thought his soul might have been lost the first time he changed. They talked about the villagers as mankind, as if they were something different. And at the beginning of the letter, the Keeper had said, “Beware especially the full moon.”
Natalie suppressed a giggle. No, it couldn't be what she was thinking. That was a silly story to frighten children, not something a modern young woman would even consider. This “Family” had played a cruel joke on Grammy. In anger, she swept the papers and letters up and threw them into the box. But as she did, a paper folded in a small square dropped out of them onto the floor. Natalie stared at it. On the outside was written “by Ursula Kisel.” Natalie's hands trembled as she picked it up. It was old and fragile, and she unfolded it carefully to discover a short poem written in a small, neat hand:

The midnight moon, icy white,
Rides the clouds across the night.
Its leering face is full tonight
Above a world misty bright.

The whimpering wind is damp and cold,
Laden with stench of leafy mold.
Brown leaves race across the stone,
Chased by demons of their own.

In those of us who bear the curse,
Again awakes the ancient thirst.
The changing swells within our breasts
As, howling, were-men turn to beasts.

            In a kind of collage, the events of the last couple of months flashed through her mind, and she remembered. She remembered climbing out the window at Grammy’s house and running under the full moon, and she remembered leaving the lab that first night under the full moon. She remembered the two men stalking her across the parking lot, reaching for her as she shook with terror, and her satisfied rage as she turned and attacked. And she knew what the figure beside her name meant.
              Natalie rose weakly and stumbled to her desk. Somewhere, she remembered, she had a calendar that showed the phases of the moon. She dumped the desk drawer onto the floor.
The calendar wasn't there. She started emptying the bookshelves, casting the books onto the sofa, the coffee table, the floor. Finally she found it and flipped through the pages until she found December and the next full moon. It would be tomorrow night.

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