When Pa told me that the big news report was about, basically, what happened to Royce I felt my blood run cold.
“I’ll call you later.” I turned off the phone before he could say anything else.
“Investigators from both the local and provincial police forces are searching for answers to this mystery, and whether or not this is actually happening or is just some sort of prank. Chief Bryant from Winter Hills has issued this statement…”
The video cut to a weary looking man. “I don’t think this is a joke. Werewolves are a problem! They are vermin and are spreading their plague like the rats did with the black death. Soon others will be spreading–vampires and who knows what else! I’m calling out for people to be on the lookout, to be wary of anyone who might be a werewolf. If you encounter one please inform your local police…”
I slid on the bed, gritting my teeth. When Noah took my hand I squeezed tightly back. The news cut back to the anchors and they explained the situation further. It seemed several people had gone missing over the past few years while a few others turned up as werewolves. One resident of Winter Hills told the chief of police that they had been knocked out in a dark alley and bitten by some man, turning them into a werewolf (of course this poor werewolf was sent to jail after explaining their story because that’s what you do with victims, right?).
“Just like Royce,” I said and Noah tightened his hold. “Royce said this guy said he was building an… army. Holy shit, he wasn’t joking.”
The news folk continue on, saying that as many as a dozen citizens in the area had been possibly changed. They listed some missing people they thought could be victims (Royce’s name wasn’t on there but he wasn’t exactly missing). Most the people were from Winter Hills but a couple were from Midnight Hollow and Moonlight Falls, and one from another nearby town. The anchors discussed what this could even mean. A prank, not a prank, who could be behind it, why they were doing this, etc, etc. They turned their attention on supernaturals in the local communities.
“Do you think others are behind it too?” asked someone who phoned in. “This could be a conspiracy to start something. The P.A.S. has told us about them wanting war and this is probably the start of it! Kill all the supernaturals before our children are taken and violently turned into these animals!”
Other people phoned in with similar thoughts. Nobody spoke up for supernaturals of course; nobody suggested it could be a rogue werewolf causing trouble. And I knew there would never be any discussion that it might be a mortal doing this. Royce had been injected and the man wasn’t a werewolf, so he was going this to others too. Why would he be starting an army when he wasn’t even a werewolf himself?
Finally I turned the TV off. Well. Noah turned the TV off because I began yelling obscenities at the news and tried to call them to properly shout at the anchors. He wrestled the phone from me and told me to get a cold shower to calm down. I glowered at him and stormed into the bathroom, getting in the shower obediently.
Someone is making an army of werewolves. Someone who is not a werewolf is doing this… and injecting them with insane amounts of lycanthropy. Or, was Royce just the first one? An experiment? It’s been more than a couple years…
After my shower I checked on Reeny and Arty, safely tucked in their beds, then returned to Noah, curling up against him. Before any comfort could start, though, the phone rang. At this point it was nearly eleven so it surprised me until I saw the name on the screen. Royce. I answered the call but to my surprise it was Max’s voice that spoke.
“Hey Zaidy-boy.” He sounded completely on edge. “Hey. Um. We think this house is being watched. Someone’s been sitting outside for a while. We think they’re watching this house and–and well, Royce is kinda… really…” Max’s voice dropped low. “Scared.” His voice then returned to normal pitch. “Could we stay over for tonight? I hate to ask.”
I double checked with Noah, getting his permission, then telling Max to come over with Royce and they were there very quickly. After Noah and I let them inside and locked the doors I saw a car pull up across the street. “That’s the one,” Royce said and grabbed Max’s arm. “We are being followed. What if it’s someone from the P.A.S.?!”
I studied the car closely. “It looks really fancy… not sure if it’s shabby enough for someone doing a following job, someone from that department, though it could be. I think it’s someone else.” Could it be the guy who injected him? “Did you guys see the news tonight?”
“No…” Max and Royce exchanged glances. “What’s going on?”
“Someone is turning people into werewolves,” Noah said with a deep frown. “Authorities say there are as many as a dozen victims from the province within the past couple of years. Someone went to the police with a story identical to yours, Royce.”
Royce’s jaw dropped. “I didn’t think going to the police would be a good idea. Maybe I should have–“
“The were got arrested,” I said, still eying the car. “Told their story of how they were attacked and they got put in jail, and now there is a lot of anger towards werewolves. Most people seem to be in agreement that it’s someone starting a war.”
Royce stepped closer to Max and Max put an arm around him. “They are, though. The man said he wanted to start an army,” Royce whispered. “He has been doing it to other people–wait, this happened tonight? Wh-what if this person has to do with that?” Royce began to look panicked and Max tightened his hold. “I can’t–I don’t–this isn’t–“
“Shhhh.” Max stroked Royce’s hair, sealing my suspicion of them being together as he did it in a much sweeter way than he ever had with me, more like Noah did with me. Royce turned, pressing his face into Max’s chest and Max’s arm went completely around him. Yep. Definitely together.
“You two can stay here tonight,” Noah said, jerking his thumb towards the hall. “We got the spare room set up.”
“If you two don’t mind sharing a room.” I couldn’t resist saying this.
Max glanced up and I gave him a knowing look. He sighed. “Yeah, he’s my boyfriend, Zaidy, all right? You got a problem with that?”
Royce blushed a bit and I tried not to laugh. “Why would I have a problem with that? It’s great. I’m happy for you both, the only thing I’m annoyed at is not being told sooner but it’s your business not mine so…” I grinned. “Congrats.”
Royce mumbled something that sounded like a muffled ‘thank you’ then Max pulled him towards the hall. I looked back outside at the car, getting a stupid idea. “Noah, you get Royce settled. Max… come on. We’re going to confront them.”
Noah and Royce both protested but Max agreed that it’d be a good idea. I got dressed then put my daggers in my boots. Max took a dagger too and we both loaded ourselves with vials of potions. Then we went outside, crossing the road to the car which remained idling though the person in the driver seat watched us with vague interest. Not a man but a woman who looked familiar; Max whispered to me that it was the woman who had been in the park talking to the guy who turned Royce into a werewolf. My fingers curled a bit, prepared to go for my daggers as she got out.
She was very tall, nearly matching my height, and very slim. I recalled her from the park and she had not looked anything like this. In the park she had, I sort of recalled, a simply ponytail and jogging suit. Now she wore a tailored dress suit, her hair sleekly coiffed, makeup immaculate. She looked like some sort of insanely wealth CEO of a company who had personal dressers and makeup artists or something to keep her looking perfect.
“Yes?” she asked coolly, as if we were the intruders. Her voice sounded like those socialites from old movies about the ‘gilded’ age or something. Real soft yet complete control. Uneasy goosebumps rose all over my skin.
“Is there a reason you’re sitting in front of my house?” I asked, sounding like a country bumpkin or something compared to her perfect, clipped tones.
She reached up to fiddle with one of her earrings, looking slightly bewildered–looking as if she had no idea what I meant, honestly. “I didn’t realize I’d need a permit,” she finally said, eyes darting towards my house.
“You don’t need a permit but it’s kinda weird to sit there outside my house at midnight.” I folded my arms and tried to look intimidating. I didn’t really need to try. I had muscles and easily settled my face into one of anger. But this woman didn’t seem phased at all. She just gave me the sweetest of smiles that sent chills down my spine. “So, I just wondered why you were–“
“I have my reasons.” She opened her car again and reached in. I tensed as she withdrew her arm, prepared to grab my daggers. She held a card between her manicured fingers and offered it with an innocent look. “This is for Royce.”
“And how do you know Royce?” Max hissed.
“I am in charge of a safehouse. For werewolves.” She held out her hand, the card inches from my face. I just stared past it, at her. “I believe in these troubling times they need a good, safe place to live.”
“How do you know Royce?” Max asked again, his voice laced with absolute hatred and anger that made me feel a bit afraid.
She turned her blue eyes to him, her smile never wavering. “Am I wrong? I have seen him at the office. His eyes are, unmistakably, those of one afflicted by lycanthropy.” She reached up to touch her earring once more. “I apologize if I caused any discomfort. I merely worried for his safety.”
“Stalking someone to their home ain’t a nice thing to do,” Max growled, the hair on his arms poofing up.
“I apologize. No offense meant. Perhaps my methods were less than savory.” She locked eyes with me and I felt absolute hatred. From her. Towards her. “If he needs me, have him call this number.” She tucked the card into my folded arms and then slid back into her car. She looked in the mirror, applied another coat of lipstick, then wiggled her fingers at us as she pulled out.
I took the card back inside of me, wanting to vomit. The card was very simple. White with slightly raised, gold lettering. Ms. Colette Addison’s Home For Lost Werewolves. No address, but a phone number with a Moonlight Falls area code. Immediately I got on Noah’s computer–since it was downstairs–and googled the phone number. It was a legitimate number but not connected to anything suspicious or strange. I googled the full title on the card and even Colette Addison. I got no hits for the name ‘home for lost werewolves’ involving an actual place, but of course many hits for the name.
I plugged in ‘Moonlight Falls’ and managed to narrow it down to who I assumed was the right person. I read a single article about a girl named Colette Addison, who helped bring MFHS to trivia victory about five years before Vilkas would have started high school. No information about her after though. But the picture staring back at me was, without a doubt, the same woman who had just given me the card.
After some more searching I found something else–something very weird. “Noah, c’mere,” I said, since Max had gone to sit with Royce and Noah now stood with me. “Look at this. I’m not seeing things am I?”
Noah leaned in and shook his head. “You’re not seeing things, bro.”
An article about the ghost hunting business my father had more or less inherited. EGHB. When it had just started. An article stating how important this sort of business was, to kill and destroy ghosts because the supernatural world was a twisted and evil place nobody should be subjected to. The writer of the article was someone named C. Addison however the picture included, while in black-and-white, was undoubtedly the same Colette Addison who went to Moonlight Falls High School nearly thirty years later and had just been standing outside my house a few minutes earlier.
“MAX!” I powered down the computer and went upstairs. He sat on the guest bed with Royce laying in his lap. “Max, was she a supernatural?” I asked, feeling stupid for not asking that earlier.
Max frowned and shook his head. “Nope. Not a whiff of supernatural about her.”
“Not a magic-user? Vampire? Anything?”
I swallowed, feeling scared. “She was mortal?”
“As mortal as you are, buddy boy.”
I slumped back, pressing my palm against my forehead, my fingers mingling with my hair. Either this Addison lady had a mother or grandmother identical to her in every way or… “She can move through time?” I whispered, feeling more than confused. Either way she didn’t have a home for werewolves and she had been talking to the man who had turned Royce into a werewolf so she had probably wanted him for the army.
But if she did write that article (IF she could go through time which sounded insane) then she was anti-supernatural, so why build a werewolf army? Unless, of course, she was only turning people into werewolves to make people think the supernaturals were starting a war, or to further promote hate.
But if that were the case then why come after Royce?
The girls were delighted to wake up and find Uncle Max and Royce there for breakfast. Arty didn’t really pick up on the tension but Reeny certainly did. When she asked I just shrugged, not wanting to talk about it. I mostly wanted to think. I couldn’t figure it out. Who she was, what she wanted… my mind went in circles then went in more circles.
Royce wanted to know everything we found out so I showed him the card and while he studied it I looked up all the info I had found the night before. “She’s the same person,” Royce said, studying the black-and-white picture. “Are you sure? You can’t tell by the high school photo…”
“She’s the same person I talked to last night,” I said, tapping the screen at the news article. “I’m finding no information about that so-called safe house either.”
Royce licked his lips, leaning back as Max wrapped his arms around him. “I’m going to call the number,” Royce said and Max scowled. “I mean, it can’t hurt to call… can it?”
“I guess not,” Max muttered rather unhappily.
Royce turned in Max’s arms and kissed him. Max kissed back and I averted my gaze a bit, trying not to smile too much as the sight of them enjoying one another. At Max actually being with someone. It made me so happy for my friend. “I’ll use a payphone though. I know they–uh, she followed us here last night,” Royce said, “but I’d feel better using a payphone instead of my cell phone or like, the house phone here.”
“You’ll feel safe going to a payphone?” I inquired. “I’ll go with you and I’m sure Max will too.” Max nodded at those words. “It’s your decision.”
Half an hour later the three of us were at the spa, the closest payphone I knew of. Max and I waited by the car while Royce went to call. Max paced around, looking over at Royce constantly then making unhappy cat sounds. Finally he flopped against me, making louder unhappy cat sounds. I just stood there and didn’t look away from Royce. He leaned into the payphone with very uncomfortable body language. He kept his free arm folded over his belly and continually crossed and uncrossed his ankles. Five minutes passed then five more. He put more coins into the phone and Max didn’t stop making those sounds.
Finally after sixteen minutes Royce hung up the phone. Max perked up as he came over but Royce just chewed at his thumbnail, looking distracted. “Roycie?” Max asked.
Royce just kept looking down, eyes dull. “Yeah, I’m all right. Let’s go.”
Max tried to talk to Royce during the trip back but Royce just mumbled, never really saying what had been said. Finally Max went quiet. Back at our house Royce just went up to the spare room. Max followed but soon came back downstairs since Royce didn’t seem to want company.
“I’m so worried,” Max whined, curling up on the couch. “Think he’s mad at me?”
“No. I just think he’s upset about something,” I replied. “If he wants to be alone right now just give him some time.” I turned on the TV switching to the news station to try and find out more about the werewolf thing. Every news station was talking about it. They showed pictures of the victim who had been arrested for talking about it, showed pictures of all the missing people from the past two years from the area… showed pictures of known werewolves in the area…
I held my breath in fear of seeing Vilkas’s face but thankfully his picture never came up although I felt sure they mentioned him. The anchors talked about the possible ‘feral werewolves’ who lived in the woods. “Hiding from the public eye, hiding their secrets,” one guest woman said, her lips curled back baring her teeth. “Who knows how many of the monsters live out there. We need to tag them.”
That sparked an argument over tagging supernaturals and one of those online votes was held. By the time they got back to it 81% had said to tag supernaturals, 10% said they weren’t sure, 9% said not to tag. I shook my head, gritting my teeth, figuring a new law might try to be enacted. Tagging supernaturals wasn’t anything new but this was the first time so many people seemed for it. I switched to another news station and thankfully they weren’t talking about the tagging thing though they were going on about dangerous weres.
Shaking my head, I turned the TV off. “Sometimes I’m just so sick of this world. All the hate.” I fiddled with the remote, moaning a bit. “I’m scared. For Reeny.” Max looked up at that and I raised my eyebrows. “Goose hid his ears all the time in public. I’m wondering…”
“If you should have Reeny do the same?” he asked. “Well, I dunno. You want her to live in fear or be proud of who she is?”
“Goose was proud of who he was,” I snapped. “And I want Reeny to proud of herself. But there’s a point when… her ears could be… a…”
Just hearing that word made my blood run cold. Like ice, pure ice, pumping through my veins. A liability for my baby girl. “You think it could be? I don’t want her to live in fear. I know what that’s like and it’s not nice. But I… I don’t know. I want her to be safe. This world…” I looked at the blank TV, heart sinking down. “This world isn’t safe.”
Reeny looked up at me from beneath the brim of her hat, lips twisted in a scowl. “Dad, everyone at school knows I have pointed ears.” She ripped the hat off and threw it to the side. “Kinda stupid to hide them now.”
Four days had passed since the tagging news and I had brooded on this decision long enough. “Just when you’re out. Like with me at the store or park,” I said, fetching the hat and holding it out towards her. Reeny arched her eyebrows at that. “Sweetheart, please.”
She fixed her gaze on the hat then slowly wrapped her fingers around the material. “Is it that bad, Daddy?”
I knelt down, hands on her arms. “I don’t know. That’s the problem. They’re saying awful things on the news. I think it’s best if we’re a bit more prudent about safety.” I reached up to tuck a few braids behind one of her ears. “Midnight Hollow is probably the safest city in this country for supernaturals but there’s danger for us even here.”
“Am I gonna be tagged?”
I jerked back, startled. “Who told you about that?” Reeny shrugged, averting her gaze. “If someone told you–“
“Nobody said anything like that! I’m just not STUPID!” she snapped and threw the hat at me. “I don’t wanna hide my ears! I just wanna be a normal girl!” She turned and ran from the room, the door slamming behind her.
The rest of the summer went by without much other incident. Nobody went missing though the whole world buzzed about the werewolf thing. I was asked for multiple interviews by reporters or from news anchors but I just told them all no comment. Clay actually got arrested for being in a protest. He got off very quickly though, thankfully. I felt proud of him. A few years before he would have been shaking his head at the protestors in the paper instead of being arrested for one.
During this time Royce seemed very distracted by things. Max constantly whined about it and asked me to talk to Royce but I did not want to get involved. Whatever their problem was, they needed to work it out themselves. I didn’t think Royce’s problem had anything to do with Max and instead had to do with whatever he heard during that phone call to Addison’s ‘safe house’. Interesting thing, though, I called about a week after Royce only to find the number had been disconnected. When I mentioned this to Royce he mumbled something about not being surprised and continued looking distracted.
My third anniversary with Noah passed by and we discussed our next kid more than we did before. We had planned on waiting till Arty was two but we began to think about moving it up by a month… or two… or more. A lot more.
“D’you think it’s too soon?” I asked Noah one evening at the end of August. Then, “Do you think it’s… safe to do this?”
“The red light, you mean?” he inquired and I nodded. “Mmm, that does make things difficult. The tagging thing–all the controversy. But there’s always controversy, isn’t there? There’s always something? I mean, bro, I agree with you that right now it’s scary but who’s to say that next summer will be easier or nicer? Plus Reeny…” I couldn’t help but laugh at that, as Reeny had been asking yet again for little siblings as if she knew what we were thinking about.
So, after some more discussing, we agreed to talk to Gladdy the next day and when we did she said she’d be fine with one more surrogacy. We set up the appointments for early September, figuring it would take some time to get everything settled. Maybe by November, though, she’d have the fertilized eggs put in. Maybe before our fourth anniversary we’d have a third (and final) kid.
“Excited?” Noah asked near the end of August, just after school started again. Reeny was in school, Arty was taking a nap, and both of us had the day off–well, I had the day off and he took the day off.
“Oh yes.” I took his hand. “Another baby is really exciting. We could turn the spare room into a nursery… maybe we could get a foldout couch for the downstairs hall or something, for when people–uh… visit…” I trailed off as the doorbell rang. Noah snorted with laughter and I hopped to my feet. “What a coincidence!”
I stuck my tongue out and he kept laughing as I went to answer the door. Max and Royce. Before I could say anything or even invite them inside Max marched past me dragging Royce with him. “GO ON!’ Max yelled and I realized his eyes were puffy and red from crying. “TELL THEM!”
“DON’T FUCKING YELL AT ME!” Royce screamed back then clamped his hand over his mouth. “Sorry for swearing, Mr. Da–“
“Just tell them, tell Zaid, look into Zaid’s eyes and tell him what a brilliant idea you’ve just had!” Max snarled.
Royce grit his teeth. “Don’t you dare order me around.”
“It’s your idea, not mine!” Max threw his hands in the air. “You seemed to think it was such a good idea half an hour ago when you were telling me, why are you so stiff about saying it now, hmm?”
“FINE!” Royce turned to look at me and I could tell he had been crying too. “I’m going.” I stared at him then looked past him at Max who looked like he might cry again. “I’m going to that safe house.”