Introducing Jake Wilkins, a 30-something trying to deal with life, love, and lycanthropy.
A Werewolf in Lewisham
Being a modern fable about things that go bump in the night
Chapter 1 - ??? Anonymous
"Hello. My name is Jake and I am a werewolf." There was a moment's hesitation before the response came; a murmured and somewhat uncertain chorus of "Hello, Jake!" from the half dozen others seated in the little circle of worn, plastic chairs. We were a sorry looking bunch. But then happy and satisfied-looking people don't generally feel much need to meet up with others in dingy, dirty and poorly heated community halls on rainy Thursday afternoons to talk about themselves and drink milky cups of tea and eat stale biscuits whilst they listen to people very much like them do the same. Granted, we weren't your usual bunch of addicts - a werewolf, a vampire and his girlfriend, a dead Scottish accountant, an immortal Anglo-Saxon lord and now-lich, another vampire, and Maggy. None of us were entirely sure who or what Maggy was but she attended every meeting, without fail, and sat happily in the corner, knitting a jumper that looked like it was designed for the grandson of some kind of ancient sea monster. Which may have been the case, for all I knew, or it might have just been that she wasn't very good at knitting. I cleared my throat and continued, trying not to look into those earnest - and in one case skeletal - faces as they stared at me, eyes (or eye sockets), full of encouragement. "It's been an entire month since my last involuntary change," another murmur of replies, and the bony clicking of Haraldr's fingers as he gave a light applause, "and nearly two since I tried to tear anyone's throat out with my teeth." The congratulations and encouragement came with a little more conviction that time, as the group started to warm up and come out of their shells a little. God I hated going first.
So I should probably introduce myself. I mean, to you. They already know who I am. But yes, as previously suggested, my name is indeed Jake and I am a werewolf. I'm not from Transylvania or Russia or anywhere exotic, I'm from Lewisham, in south London. I'm not descended from a cursed bloodline and my parents have never, to my knowledge, dabbled in the black arts. Although they did live in a hippy commune when they were younger, which explains a lot of things about them but not why their son has a tendency to turn into a wolf-like creature with a penchant for running around at night and killing things. No, as far as I'm aware, there's no interesting back story as to why I am what I am, it's just an unfortunate genetic quirk, like double-chins, premature balding and webbed feet. That's what they say, leastways. "They" being the doctors who specialise in people like me. There's not many of them because any professional who takes a career interest in werewolves, vampires, ghouls and other such "Creatures of the Night" is unlikely to be taken very seriously by his colleagues. We're halfway between a freak show and an unpopular minority group. Imagine a traffic warden who votes Tory... in Scotland. That's about where we rank on the popularity scale.
It all started - like so many other unpleasant life-altering physical changes - with puberty. When Dad told me that I was going to start growing hair in unusual places, I didn't think he meant all over *Pause for laughter*. Cheesy joke, I know. As I've said above, Mum and Dad (or Jennifer and Luke to their friends and other relatives) are pretty normal folks - sort of - and my change had nothing much to do with them, other than the recessive genes they were both carrying. Genes that lay dormant until the onset of puberty, when I suddenly started fancying girls, getting erections at inappropriate moments (and almost every other moment, too), getting spots on my face and having a strange desire to run naked through the woods and kill small furry animals. Though now I come to think on it, none of that's especially unusual for some of the kids round here. Bit of a bugger finding any woods to do it in, mind. Sitting on the tube to Charing Cross and then getting a train out past the M25 and into the Kent countryside kinda spoils the whole mythos of the werewolf. "Look! The savage beast! Getting a weekend return to Ashford!!" Yeah, doesn't really work. Anyway, I'm wandering off topic. Where was I? Oh yeah, school. School is... well, it's like a special form of hell. Really, you'd save a lot of grief if you home-schooled your kids and just gave them a light kicking every now and then and called them names. All the same, remember your school days? Were you one of those awkward, slightly nerdy kids who weren't quite smart enough for anyone to want to copy your work, but were a bit too smart to fit in socially? Yeah? So was I. And I was shit at sport and I had bad acne. Really, I was pretty much at the bottom of the school social heap. And just when I thought it couldn't get any worse... I wet myself at the school disco. No, not really. But that would probably have been easier to live down. Puberty and all the social games of girls and school are enough of a minefield without your teeth and nails growing to awkward lengths, and your hair becoming incredibly thick and dog-like. Bad hair days? Yeah, I had a few of them.
Course, it's not all linked to the full moon (we just make reference to that as a sort of little joke that's not very funny). No, that would be far too bloody convenient and easy to plan around. It's not linked to much of anything beyond willpower, really. Every day is a constant struggle to not drop to all fours, grow fur and claws and go chasing after chickens. Some days are harder than others. When you're fourteen and some fat bastard who's been held back a year is holding your jacket over your head while his mate punches you in the guts it's harder still. Still, the good news is that they both made full recoveries with no significant lasting scars, except for a lifelong fear of dogs. And I got moved schools. The second time it happened, I was halfway through losing my virginity. Susie Markopf, was her name. And you know that with a name like that and a guy like me, she was a reeeeal winner. I've not heard from her since but I still keep in contact with her parents - lovely couple, the Markopfs - and they tell me that she's doing well and that the care home's very comfortable and all the nurses are very nice.
That time, I didn't move school. By then, there were enough people like me that the government had some idea as to what to do with us. They handed us over to the Army. No, no... not like that. As soldiers, not science experiments. There were still only a couple of dozen werewolves and a handful of other folks with unusual dining requirements by this point but we'd made the newspaper front pages enough times that the government had funded research into what we were and what we did. In a bygone age, we'd have just been executed - which probably explains why there's so few of us now - but this was Tony Blair's New Labour England and that sort of thing wasn't done. Too many pressure groups insisting on our human ("inhuman", surely?) rights and how it wasn't really our fault, we just needed some loving care and discipline. So the army seemed the natural environment for at least one of those two things. After all, if you've got a huge, slavering monster that eats people then giving it a gun is hardly going to make it any worse. Funny thing is, they were actually right. Discipline really did make a big difference. Couldn't get that at school - what kind of nut-job would a teacher need to be before he could tell off a seven-foot-tall werewolf? "You there! At the back! Put that boy down and stop shedding!" Nah. Army drill Sergeants, however? Christ, the one I had... you'd think he was old hat when it came to werewolves. Most people, when faced with three hundred pounds of snarling death, tend to soil themselves and scream. Slapping the aforementioned snarler across the chops and yelling at him to stand to attention is not what normally happens. And, weirdly, it worked. I don't know whether it was the human part or the dog part that responded better, but good ol' Sgt. Stanley "Shit" House never received anything worse than a withering look or a threatening snarl for any of us in the Informals. Any one of us could have ripped the man in two without even breaking a sweat, but none of would have dared for fear of incurring the wrath of his 120dB vocal chords and military-grade halitosis. But the discipline helped us. For the vamps and other unusual feeders, it helped them control their eating habits and keep them as socially-acceptable as possible. Very rare steaks, that sort of thing. And for those of us with "unstable morphology disorder", it gave us a lot more control over when we changed, and then more self-control once we'd changed. Accidents still happened - when you're tired, or stressed, or ill, it's harder to stay in control. But the old army treatment saved a lot of lives, both in ourselves and in the people who otherwise might have suffered the wrath of a frenzied werewolf.
But enough about me. I should probably introduce you to the rest of Altered States Anonymous. The fella sitting over there looking like an extra from a Medieval zombie movie is Harold, or "Haraldr" to give him his proper name. "Haraldr ece Dryhten" for his full title. Translates as something like "The Undying King". Hard to be exact because my Old English isn't so hot and dear old Harold never bothered learning modern English. Said he gave up with trying to keep up with the young'ns some time before the Bard made a name for himself. So the closest you get to an intelligible conversation from Harold sounds like something out of a Chaucer book, but if he's been drinking then you'll need to speak German or a Nordic language if you want to stand a chance.
"Ic grete ye. Mine nome is Haraldr, ant Ic ben liche," said Harold, with a voice as dusty as a tomb, aptly enough. There was the familiar chorused greeting, to which the old lord nodded before continuing. "Ic haffe notte haunted hin a gret hundred yeres." There was a smattering of applause. A bit more than I got. But then, Harold had been 'decent' the longest of all of us. Rather helped that he became the creature he is now several centuries before the rest of us were even born. But still, no hauntings since the late 19th century? Not bad, Harold, not bad at all. He was a pretty fascinating guy, once you got used to the accent and language. Harold had lived through the Civil War, the War of the Roses, and even the Norman conquest of Britain. He still referred to the French as "thoes Norman basterds", and you didn't want to get him started on the Scottish. Harold managed to get both the best and the worst of being supernatural - on the one hand, absolutely nobody bothered him, because even the most bigoted and hate-filled street thug would think twice before picking on a skeleton in chain mail armour with a broadsword strapped to his back. On the flip side, he didn't really have any friends outside of the group, and even we didn't spend too much time with him. It's not that he wasn't a decent enough guy in his own way, it's just that it's hard to find much common ground with someone who died before the printing press was invented. Still, he never had to worry about getting crammed in on public transport - it didn't matter how busy it was, people always left him plenty of space.
"Um. Hi! I'm, uh, Geoff. I'm a vampire." That's Geoff, he's a vampire. "It's only been, um, a week since my last change, but I'm doing much better on, uh, with my 'drinking' problem, heh." Geoff's a nice guy, and he means well, but he suffers from chronic self-confidence issues and, to be honest, his B.O. can get a bit ripe sometimes. "I've, uh, I've been clean on that front for a whole year, now," the group applauded heartily - a year was a pretty big milestone for a vamp - and the girl to his left, his long-time girlfriend, Jennifer, squeezed his hand encouragingly. Jenny's not a vampire, or a werewolf, or anything else. She's just an amazingly patient and understanding young woman, and one of the most genuinely decent people that you could ever hope to meet. Her and Geoff had met at college, and had only been going out for a few months when she discovered that his night owl lifestyle was down to a lot more than just his body clock. But she'd stuck by him, and even changed her career path, switching from biology to medicine, so that she could get a job that would support his needs. They'd been together ever since, through thick and thin, and everyone in the group except for Jenny knew that Geoff was trying to build up the courage to pop the question to her.
"Yeah, things are, ah, they're going pretty well, really. I mean," he turned to look to Jennifer, clasping her hand in his, "we've had a few 'tricky' moments and it's not been easy but I'm getting there, one night at a time." The couple smiled lovingly at each other, while we all chorused our approval and encouragement. Everyone liked Geoff and Jennifer, even if Geoff was a bit whiffy at times. It was hard not to like them; they were just so nice.
"Well done, Geoff, and thank you for sharing. And well done and thank you to Haraldr and Jake, too." Meet Emily, the other vampire in our group, and the unofficial 'leader' of the meetings. Emily's bossy, anally-retentive, and has almost no recognisable sense of humour, but she's also seriously organised and she really believes in the group, both as a whole and in each of us as individuals. Picture your stereotypical female vampire - pale, dramatic hair and make-up, elegant in a gossamer-like nightgown... yeah, that's not Emily. Emily's short, a little bit overweight - I hesitate to use the word "chubby" because it seems unfair to be negative about someone's waistline when they have more important things to worry about, like not drinking people's blood - and she's more likely to be found in jeans and trainers than evening wear. "Stephen sends his apologies for not being here tonight," Stephen's a wraith - a vengeful shade doomed to walk the Earth till the end of time - and a former accountant. Of all of us, he's the only one whose change had almost zero impact on his life. With no girlfriend, no friends in general, and no social life, he found that dying didn't really do much except reduce his overheads. He even managed to wrangle a pay rise out of his employer - though they successfully argued against paying out on his death in service policy - on account of not needing to leave the office for lunch or sleep. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure that these weekly meetings represent almost 50% of the time he spends outside of his place of work. "Apparently his murderer was up for parole today, and as part of his healing process Stephen wanted to drive down and offer him a lift." I had to bite back a laugh. I could see what Stephen had been thinking, but I'm not sure being greeted by the ghost of the guy he'd killed was going to do much to help the fella's rehabilitation into society. "However," continued Emily, "we do have a new member! Can we all please extend a warm welcome to Dawn!" Emily turned to the young girl sitting across from me in our little circle, as we all greeted her. "Dawn, as it's your first meeting, you don't have to speak if you don't want to, but know that we've all stood where you are right now and absolutely nobody will judge you." The girl - she must have been about fifteen, sixteen tops - stood up and gave a bright but nervous smile to everyone. There was something really familiar about her eyes, but I couldn't quite place it.
"Um, hello everyone. And thank you for the friendly welcome. As Emily said, my name's Dawn, and I'm new here. New to the whole," she waved her hands vaguely, "lifestyle... thing. But, yeah, I'm Dawn and I'm a werewolf." And then she looked right at me, and it clicked. Oh, fuuuuuuuck.