“What would you do if I was a werewolf?”
Edgar glances up sharply at the question, instinctively looking around for prying ears. There are none. It is a Monday morning. Nobody comes into the Book O'Neer on a Monday morning. She isn't entirely sure what Edgar was doing there, if she is honest. He had started by looking through some old back issues, and slowly drifted over to the cash register where he now appears to be watching over her shoulder while she tries to decide what they need to order next month.
She turns to look at him. He appears to be focused intently on the order form. “If you found out I was a werewolf, what would you do?” She knows the question is dangerous, but it is one that has been burning in her for months. If she keeps it light, there is no reason to think alarm bells will be raised. After all, he saw her the night of the last full moon, and she had been wearing her human skin.
Edgar shrugs. “Werewolves are easy. Silver bullet to the heart.” He prods two fingers into his own chest as though to demonstrate.
Zoe shakes her head. “But what if it was me? What if you found out, right now, that I was a werewolf. What would you do?”
Edgar frowns. “Silver bullet?” he says. “I don't know.”
“Because your brother was a vampire and...”
“Half,” Edgar interrupts.
“Your brother was a half vampire, and you didn't stake him. I just wondered how far that extends. What if I was a vampire, then?”
Edgar shakes his head. “I don't know, Zoe. It's not as simple as that. Until something happens you don't know how you're going to react.”
Zoe nods, satisfied. “So I might get a reprieve?”
“Maybe. Probably. Why? Planning on going out and getting bitten by something?”
Zoe shakes her head, smiling. “Not tonight.” She puts down the pen and pushes the order form to one side. “Hey, how do you feel about hot chocolate?”
Edgar shrugs, “I have nothing against it.”
“Then, since you're hanging out here anyway, do you mind watching the place for a few minutes while I nip to the coffee shop? My treat.”
Edgar grunts his agreement.
Her muscles flex expertly, seemingly incapable of growing tired. She runs so quickly that she almost feels like she is flying. She has left the artificially lit streets and avenues of the city far behind her and escaped even the suburbs into the open space beyond. Mile by mile, the signs of civilization become more scarce, replaced by trees, dry empty ground, rocks.
Just a few more miles and she will be out in the true wilderness, or as close to it as it is possible to get now, in this age of rapidly expanding towns and cities encroaching on nature at their unstoppable pace. Soon, there will be nowhere left for people like her to go.
The moon is full tonight. She can feel it in the sky above her. It fills the night with its presence. She doesn’t need the full moon to change. She doesn’t need the moon at all, but it is so much better when it is there. There is something primal in its silvery light, something that speaks to her on an instinctive level. She has given herself over to it almost completely tonight, allowing the wolf instinct to take over to the point that there is little left in her that is human.
Sometimes, on nights like this, she wonders whether she should go back. Human life feels distant and far away, meaningless and empty. The world falls away and there is nothing but the night, the ground under her paws and the scent of her prey in her nostrils.
She slows as the signs start to appear; wooden boards hammered into the ground on spikes, adorned with words and pictures. The writing is unintelligible to her now, the wolf has no use for words. The pictures show faces, crossed through with red.
Near to here, there is a man living in a trailer. He scares her. She has never seen him, but she knows that he means her harm. She knows that if he had the chance, he would kill her. She skirts the edge of his property, sniffing the air. His scent is too faint, he is not there. Most likely he is out hunting, searching for creatures like her, and like the other ones, the monsters depicted in the signs. Satisfied that she is safe for now, she turns and runs into the wilderness, giving herself over entirely to the wolf.
If she had to guess, she would place him somewhere in his mid thirties, but there is something about him that makes her wonder whether he is in fact much older. There is a weariness to his stance, as though the weight of the world were pushing down on him.
He is dressed in black combat pants and a t-shirt, his longish hair is just a shade too dark to be called blond, a shade too light to be brown. He wears it tied back in an elastic band at the nape of his neck. He juts out his jaw as he stares around the store, first to the left, then to the right, taking in everything about the place. Eventually, he nods to himself, satisfied, as though the shop has passed some kind of test. Finally, he walks forward.
He is holding a large box in both hands. He maneuvers it underneath his left arm as he approaches the desk. Zoe’s smile widens again as he nears.
“Hi there,” she says.
The man looks her up and down, not in a creepy way, more like in the same way he assessed the store. Apparently she passes too. He nods his head at her. “Hey,” he repeats.
“So,” Zoe licks her lips, not quite sure why she suddenly feels so nervous. “What can I interest you in this afternoon? No, actually, don’t tell me. Let me guess,” she says, “I’m good at this…”
She looks at him appraisingly, a passable imitation of the assessment he has just given her. He doesn’t look like their typical customer, but the rise of the superhero movie opened up the world of comics to a whole new crowd.
“Spiderman? No… Not Marvel. Batman?”
“I do read Marvel, actually,” he tells her. “I read everything.” The pride in his voice at that statement is betrayed by the smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. They look far too sad. He dumps his large cardboard box on the desk in front of her. The resulting bang reverberates around the room. “But today I’m here to sell.”
Zoe frowns. “It’s a comic shop, and we sell comics. How much more authentic than that can we be?”
“Yeah, okay, good point.” Edgar looks at her, almost looking through her. She can’t shake the feeling that he’s still assessing her for something. She has already been deemed worthy of buying his old comics, so whatever this is it’s something else.
After a few moments, he walks to the other side of the room and starts flicking through a box of back issues. Zoe turns to her computer and starts on the stock order. When she looks up again, Edgar is standing by her side.
He places a comic on the desk in front of her. “You ever read these?” he asks her.
She looks at the title. Destroy All Vampires. She shakes her head, wrinkling her nose in distaste. “Not my kinda thing.”
He places two fingers on the front cover of the book and slides it a little closer to her. “Why don’t you give it a go? You might be surprised. All kinds of interesting stuff in there.”
She shakes her head again. “I’m more of a superhero fan. Horror doesn’t really do it for me.” It’s too true to life, but she doesn’t say that part out loud.
Edgar leans a little closer. “What would you say if I told you there was information in this book that could potentially save your life?”
She looks up at him from her seated position behind the desk. She opens the comic at the first page, where a pale man with red glowing eyes has sunk his fangs into the throat of a young blonde woman who is screaming in agony. “Information?” she asks.
Edgar nods. She can see no joke in his expression, she can see nothing there but sincerity and determination. One of two things is happening here. Either Edgar knows the truth, or he is insane. He never struck her as the crazy type. Not even now. She decides to take a chance.
“I guess I’d say you know about the vampires,” she says.
"You get home to Santa Carla much?" she asks him.
It is a warm day and the air conditioning in the shop is faulty again. She has taken her lunch break outside, sitting on one of the many benches that overlook the ocean. Surfers are floating ineffectually on the too still water. Closer, on the beach, tourists gradually redden and brown under the unrelenting heat of the sun.
Edgar shakes his head. "What would be the point?"
He shakes his head again.
She falls into silence. They watch the sea together.
"It's all the same," Edgar tells her. “California. You see one surfer town, you've seen them all, and every single one smells of death.”
Zoe looks sideways at him. She grins, rolling her eyes. “Dramatic.”
He looks suitably abashed, then smiles back at her. “Shut up.”
Or maybe it's just her paranoia. She had never used to worry about being found out. The idea had been laughable up until this point. After all, who would ever believe in werewolves?
Her mind flicks back sometimes to the warnings her parents used to give her, begging her to be careful, reminding her of the family horror stories. She had laughed. There were no such thing as hunters. Maybe hundreds of years ago in the more superstitious lands of central and eastern Europe where their family had originated. But not today, and certainly not in California. People were more likely to believe in Xenu than werewolves. Then she had met Edgar and everything had changed.
She wonders sometimes whether it is too late to end their friendship. After all, she had signed up under false pretenses, she hadn't known that he was a vampire hunter, or that by extension he harbored a belief in and an instinctive terror of any and all types of supernatural creatures. She hadn’t known he was the man in the trailer.
Sometimes, she daydreams about telling him and of him shrugging like it makes no difference, or maybe even telling her that he already knows, or in her craziest daydreams, even that he too is like her. She knows he isn't of course. She has seen him during the full moon, and males don't have the luxury of choice. Of course, if he was like her, that would change his perspective on a whole lot of things.
Not that she ever would, of course, but something like that could be arranged.
She dismisses the thought. It is only idle imagination, not intended for public consumption. Ever.
She looks up at the moon, large and full in the clear sky above. She itches to change, to run under its light. She may not need the moon to change or be at the mercy of its waxing and waning, but when it is full it is all she wants to do.
"Ready to go?" Edgar appears by her side, a red bandanna tied tightly around his head. Around one thigh he wears a holster containing three dangerous looking stakes. Several bulbs of garlic are tied together with string and slung over his shoulder.
Zoe nods and starts walking, falling into an easy rhythm by his side.
Edgar glances up at the night sky. She sees his gaze pass briefly over the moon, pausing to take in the sight of it, then he looks back to her. He nods, apparently satisfied.
If Edgar ever learns that not all lycanthropes are at the mercy of the lunar cycle, she wonders whether she's going to be in trouble.
“Rough night?” she asks him.
Edgar rests an elbow on the table and leans his head on the palm of his hand. He stares down at his plate and shrugs his shoulders. “Sam, he…” he says. He pauses, shakes his head. “No. Just put another monster down.”
Something bad has happened. She chews on her bottom lip thoughtfully, trying to decide whether she should pursue it. Edgar's body language is completely closed. A discussion for another time then. She slides the strawberry syrup in his direction across the smooth surface of the table. He screws up his face in distaste and reaches for the maple. With his free hand, he pours until the stack of pancakes are drowning in it.
“I thought you liked the strawberry,” Zoe says.
Edgar shakes his head, still resting in his hand. “Looks too much like blood right now.”
“Oh.” She reaches across the table and touches his arm.
He flinches at the unexpected contact, relaxes when he realizes it is only her, then looks up and smiles. “I’m fine,” he tells her.
She watches as he stabs at his meal with a fork, picking up a whole pancake and then tearing it apart with his teeth.
The boat moves slowly through the calm water. Edgar reclines on a bench, half slumped against the bulwark. One hand presses tightly against the wound sustained during the fight, every few minutes his face clenches in pain forgotten during the heat of battle. Their first stop when they get back to the mainland will have to be a hospital.
Zoe sits next to him and touches his hand with hers. “Are you okay?”
Edgar nods. He grins, and it is not an unconvincing attempt to smile through the pain as she had expected, but an expression of pure joy. He looks over at his brother. Alan is standing on the deck, staring over the ocean to the city, that is growing quickly larger as they approach.
The brother seems nice, sort of. She doesn’t like making snap judgements, but she isn’t sure that she likes him. There is something about him that feels almost malevolent underneath the pleasant surface. She can’t help but wonder whether it has always been there or whether it is a result of his years as a half vampire. Edgar had managed to keep that little detail quiet, hadn’t he? Of course, that hadn’t been difficult, he had barely mentioned his brother up to this point. Now, he can’t take his eyes off him.
They don’t look much alike. While Edgar’s hair is almost blond, Alan’s is as dark as her own. It hangs straggly and unkempt from under the beret that somehow manages to look both out of place and completely natural on his head. He appears to be very pale, and although the night and the moonlight could account for some of that, most has to be down, again, to the fact that he has probably not seen the sun in a very long time. A half vampire. She really can’t get over that fact. If Edgar can forgive his brother that, maybe there is hope for her too.
As though he senses the scrutiny, Alan turns around and looks at them. He smiles. There appears to be very little humanity in the expression. She smiles back.
Five years. She hadn’t even known that was possible. It had to change a person.
They are all exhausted, filthy, stinking of vampires, blood and battle. Emotions are running high. Maybe in the morning things will be different.
His eyes settle on a painting on the wall above the faux fireplace, a large full moon in a dark night sky. It isn’t a particularly masterful painting, it is not even what she would call beautiful, especially not in comparison to the real thing, but her mother painted it, and so she keeps it.
“Nice place,” Edgar says. He wiggles his toes into the plush rug and takes a sip of his coffee. Zoe curls deeper into her armchair and sips her hot chocolate. It’s not a date. It’s just two friends relaxing together, watching a movie and ordering takeout.
Zoe smiles at the complement.
“How’s your brother doing?” she asks. She can’t help but feel a little guilty at not having invited him, but only a little. Maybe when she knows him better, if she ever does. “Still going to the beach every day?”
Edgar reaches for the carrier bag by his feet and places it on his knee. He peers inside. “Yeah, took a day off today though. Went shopping.” He sneers as though this is such an unusual and bizarre thing to do that he no longer even knows who his brother is any more.
“Surely not!” Zoe exclaims in mock horror. “Why would a person do something like that?”
He scowls at her, then appears to realize what he has said. He rolls his eyes. “Yeah, okay. Not shopping for normal things though. He bought a goddamn dining table! We never even had a dining table when we were kids. And he’s still refusing to move out of the hovel of death.”
Zoe smiles. Edgar’s not so affectionate name for Alan’s home has become a common term recently. He doesn’t like the place, but for some reason Alan clings to it like a security blanket.
“It’s got to be quite an adjustment,” she says. “Maybe he wants to stay there for now because it’s familiar.”
“It’s a constant reminder of what happened to him. He needs to leave.”
Zoe stirs a spoon around the top of her hot chocolate, scoops out a clump of cream and marshmallow, and pops it in her mouth. “Maybe that’s it,” she suggests. “Maybe he wants to make sure he doesn’t forget.”
Edgar raises an eyebrow. “Funny, thats exactly what he said. How the hell could you forget being a bloodsucker for five years? Anyway, I’d want to forget about it if it was me. The sooner the better.”
Of course Edgar has, deliberately or otherwise, misunderstood. Alan doesn’t stay in order to reminisce about his blood drinking days, but because he doesn’t want to get complacent and start taking his humanity for granted. She takes a deep breath thinking about what best to say. “Maybe that’s the problem.”
He looks at her, curious. Zoe takes a breath, trying to decide how best to phrase what she wants to say. Edgar has hit the problem right on the head himself, and he doesn’t even realize it. “You’re the one =that wants to forget. You don’t want to be reminded that you lost him for five years.”
“Yeah, well.” Edgar rubs his eyes with the fingers of one hand, then shrugs. “My own fault. He came back after two, I’m the one that didn’t want to see him. Couldn’t look past what he was. I won’t make that mistake again.”
“That’s good.” She picks up the remote control and switches on the TV. “So, what are we watching?”
Edgar reaches into his carrier bag. He pulls out a large bag of popcorn and places it on the floor by his feet then retrieves the DVDs underneath. He hands them over. “I didn’t know what you liked, so I got a selection.”
Zoe takes the rented disks from him and glances at the titles. There are five of them, and every single one is a werewolf movie.
Edgar is looking intently at her, watching for her reaction. She laughs.
The light of the full moon shines above her again. She is in her other form, and as it always does in this light, it feels so much more natural that her human self. She reaches the edge of Edgar’s property again, this time she does not slow. Instead she pushes on past the first sign and into the land beyond.
The trailer sits alone, surrounded by the circle of salt in the middle of nowhere. The lights are switched on and burning brightly, illuminating the area, blocking some of the intensity of the moonlight.
She has no concept of time, but she knows that the night will not last much longer. Soon, the sun will rise and banish the moonlight. She prowls the edge of the salt circle. It is designed for vampires and will not keep her out, but she respects the boundary enough not to violate it.
Inside the trailer, a shadow moves, passing the window, temporarily blocking the light. She freezes for a moment, muscles tensing, ready to flee, or to attack. The sound of a lock turning, adrenaline floods her system as the door swings open and he appears silhouetted in the doorway.
She hadn't expected this. She is without a pack; a lone wolf. Her instinct is to leave first, fight only in necessary; if the human becomes a threat. She fights her nature, forcing herself to stand still, allowing him to look at her. He makes no sudden movements, barely any movements at all. He understands that she is no ordinary animal and that he is not in danger so long as he is not a threat.
Finally, when she can stand it no longer, she turns and sprints away into the night, leaving the trailer and the man who lives there far behind her.