During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE. Selections for the anthology will be made in September, so get your story in now!
Sydney's story is a new and interesting take on the world of the supernatural, where "mythic-humanoids" must suppress their true selves in order to remain in society. And despite these efforts, they are still ostracized for who they are. This story was very fun to read; I hope that Sydney will continue the story and turn it into a novel. -Paige Gorman, Co-Publisher, Not a Pipe Publishing
by Sydney Culpepper
The flier screamed in tall red letters, “END THE OPPRESSION – HUMANOIDS ARE PEOPLE TOO!”
Anita’s mouth turned down in a frown as she retracted her hand from the box of pasta. She sighed and tried again, reaching for the box behind the first one, but it too had one of the rally fliers taped to the front of it. A quick scan revealed that all the other boxes had fliers taped to them as well. She turned and retreated down the aisle to leave the store, too annoyed to simply pull off a flier and buy the pasta.
She made her way to the front of the store, pushing her way past a vampire with a basket full of vamp-grade sunscreen and vegan blood packets. She turned the collar of her jacket up against the biting autumn wind that greeted her as she walked out of the automatic doors. Flares of annoyance shot up inside her as she crossed through the parking lot to the busy street the store faced. All she’d wanted to do was take a simple trip down the street to the Weremart (Your One Stop Shop For All Your Super Natural Needs!) to pick up some pasta for dinner, but she couldn’t even manage that without running into more propaganda.
The mythic-humanoids’ rights movement had really picked up speed these past few months ever since Senator Cordelia Irving came out as a selkie. Every news outlet covered the scandal for weeks afterwards. Despite calls for her resignation from the conservatives, Senator Irving began actively backing the then feeble movement. In an effort to seem “in with the times,” other politicians also joined the movement. This unprecedented amount of support for humanoids had been spurring rallies and marches to pop up all over the country, much like the one that was being advertised all over every inch of this city—including the pasta boxes.
Anita’s feelings toward the movement were conflicted for a number of reasons. The first was that she wasn’t particularly fond of humanoids seeing as her whole family was murdered by a werewolf when she was six. Another reason was that the rational side of her recognized that most humanoids weren’t violent in nature and just wanted to have basic rights. Like elves, for instance. Most of them either wanted to live in the woods and be left alone or open eclectic jewelry and clothing shops.
It was the dangerous humanoids that gave her caution, such as vampires, werewolves, and shape shifters. Most of the oppressive laws that were currently in existence had been created to keep the general human population safe. Still, many of the laws were unfair and invasive, and Anita was sympathetic to the humanoids that resisted their violent nature, but, at the same time, she knew firsthand how monstrous they could be. She was, after all, a werewolf herself.
Anita joined the crowd that stood at the street corner waiting for the lights to change. The cold air bit at her nose and burned her throat whenever she breathed in. She could feel the wolf inside her as it shivered and curled its tail more tightly around itself. Then it perked its ears and sniffed. Anita’s stomach grumbled as the smell of a hot dog cart three blocks up and two blocks right reached her nose. She thought back to the pasta she didn’t buy and sighed.
The lights turned, the traffic stopped, and she moved forward with the rest of the crowd.
Her being a werewolf added yet another layer of complication to her feelings about the movement. The werewolf that had killed her father, mother, and older brother had also tried to kill her, clawing her chest so deeply she had almost died. Instead, though, she was turned into a werewolf and bore the scars from the attack on her chest like a sigil. Thus, having been a werewolf from the age of six, Anita had spent nearly her entire life being the subject of ridicule and hatred. All humanoids had to register their “condition” with the government so proper precautions could be made. In Anita’s case, this meant daily dosages of the wolfsbane elixir that would keep the wolf inside her dormant. For all humanoids, it meant that anyone they worked with—teachers, bosses, landlords—had to be informed of their condition, or the humanoid would face legal consequences and charges of malintent. This ensured that everyone saw Anita first as a wolf, not a girl, and they’d never see her as anything else.
As a child, Anita was bullied often for being a werewolf. Every year her identity was announced to the class so other students could “keep themselves safe,” and it always ostracized her from anyone who could have been her friend if she hadn’t been a werewolf. Kids were cruel and called her “beast” and “wolfie,” and she was always picked last for teams. She’d been beaten up on numerous occasions, and not a single person had done anything to help her, not even her grandfather, who’d taken her in after the attack and raised her. He especially resented her for being a werewolf. She often thought that it stemmed from his hatred of the werewolf who had turned her, the one who had killed his only daughter.
Anita and her grandfather had moved almost every year due to her being a werewolf. The bullying would inevitably reach a high point, and she and her grandfather would be forced to move cities again. The reasons varied—a student would claim Anita threatened to bite them, parents would stage a protest against Anita’s presence in school, a teacher would fail her on purpose—but the result was always the same. Finally, she graduated high school and moved to this city for a fresh start, but life didn’t get better from there. It was hard to find anywhere that would hire a werewolf, and even harder to find a place that would keep her on longer than a few weeks. She had to endure glares and shifty looks from her neighbors, and she had to accept that there was nothing she could do about the fact that her landlord owned a gun loaded with the fatal silver bullets, and that he carried it whenever he had to interact with her. Still, she’d been here for nearly two years, which was the longest she’d ever stayed in one place since before the attack.
One would think that fellow humanoids would find support in each other, but that wasn’t the case. She certainly hadn’t been the only humanoid in the many schools she’d gone to as a child and a teenager, but humanoids that associated with each other were met with even more suspicion and hatred than lone humanoids. The most support they ever gave each other was perhaps a passing glance in the hall, and sometimes the understanding in the other humanoid’s eyes would be enough to get her through the day. It made her feel like she perhaps wasn’t as alone as she thought.
That isolation, however, was beginning to change. Now, humanoids stood together as a single group, not various races or individuals. It didn’t matter anymore if they were vampires, dwarves, elves, or centaurs. They were united under oppression, which was ironically one of the things the humans had been trying to prevent with the oppressive laws.
The wolf pricked its ears, and Anita lifted her eyes at the sound of people shouting up ahead of her. She saw a small group of people with signs and fliers that were advertising the rally that was taking place tomorrow. Senator Irving’s face was plastered on several signs, and one said that she was going to be the keynote speaker at the rally.
“Help us fight for our rights!” she heard one of the activists shout. “Come to our rally tomorrow night!”
“Go to hell!” a man yelled from across the street.
Anita slowed as she approached the group of activists. She really didn’t want to deal with more propaganda, but her apartment was just a couple blocks further. With a resigned sigh, she moved forward and hunched her shoulders, hoping she gave off a “Don’t bother me!” vibe.
Apparently she didn’t.
“Humanoids have the same wants and needs as humans do,” a girl said, stepping directly into Anita’s path. “Job security, insurance, marriage—help us fight for our rights!”
The fliers clutched in her hand declared, “WE DESERVE EQUALITY!”
Anita’s insides twisted uncomfortably, and she was about to offer a halfhearted excuse when the girl sniffed the crisp air and leaned in close to Anita.
“You might want to stay more hydrated,” she whispered, her eyes knowing and kind.
Anita cringed in shame and embarrassment at the familiar euphemism. The girl must be werewolf too if she could pick up on Anita’s wolf scent. Normally, her scent was suppressed by the elixir, but recently the drink had started wearing off sooner and sooner despite her taking the same dosage she had been for the past fourteen years. Not only did it mean that she was more susceptible to the wolf inside her, but government officials often performed surprise blood tests on registered werewolves to make sure they were taking their wolfsbane, and if she was caught with not enough elixir in her system…
“Thanks,” Anita mumbled, starting to move past.
“Wait,” the girl said, pinching Anita’s jacket sleeve. “If you’re alone, my friends and I have this place downtown. You could come by if you wanted.”
The girl’s smile was gentle, and it broke Anita’s heart. She was extending an offer for Anita to join her pack. The wolf pined for the companionship that a pack offered, but Anita couldn’t let it happen. There was a dark, secret part of her that wanted to accept the wolf and be part of a pack, but she was too afraid of what could happen if she did, too afraid of the wolf.
“I can’t, sorry,” Anita said, tugging her jacket out of the girl’s grip. She shouldered past the other activists and half-jogged down the sidewalk before darting into the closest alley.
Anita unzipped her jacket and reached into the inside pocket, pulling out a slim flask. Her nose wrinkled in distaste as she unscrewed the lid. The liquid inside was a deep violet color, and though it had no smell, she knew the taste was deeply bitter. It was the wolfsbane elixir she drank every day. Aconite, more commonly known as wolfsbane, was fatally toxic to everyone except werewolves, but on werewolves it still had an incredibly negative effect. If taken in too high a dosage, it could kill the werewolf. Anita took just enough to keep herself human, but it always left her feeling nauseous, tired, and had her mouth and throat tingling.
Unlike the stories people told decades ago, when creatures and humanoids were still thought of as myths and legends, werewolves didn’t only transform on the full moon. The urge to transform was much stronger during the full moon, for unknown yet probably magical reasons, but it could be resisted with the help of wolfsbane or with years of practiced control. But even with control, werewolves were always on the verge of slipping into the monster, and that was what made them dangerous.
Another thing that the stories got wrong was the idea that werewolves were mindless, murderous monsters when they were in their wolf form. If the change was provoked by anger or perception of danger, then they could certainly behave that way. If the werewolf chose to change, however, they remained largely in control. The thing that made transformed werewolves hazardous was that they had little to no concept of morality, no sense of what was right or wrong. There was only desire, and sometimes that desire would be to kill.
That was where packs came in handy. Packs had a strict hierarchy mirroring that of regular wolves, with alphas in charge of the pack. Alpha wolves had the ability to influence their pack members’ decisions, and could even force them out of transformation if necessary. Packs also offered support that werewolves didn’t get on their own, such as experienced wolves that could teach control. And more than that, they provided protection and a family.
For all of these reasons, werewolf packs were strictly illegal. There was no way for the government to be able to control alpha wolves and their packs, and they didn’t want werewolves learning how to control the transformation. They wanted werewolves to drink wolfsbane and stay as human as possible to make them less of a threat.
And if a werewolf didn’t conform to this, they would be eliminated. Anita had grown up hearing horror stories from her grandfather of werewolves going out one night and never returning. She’d seen news stories of werewolves strung up in trees and hunted like animals. She’d received threats of the same from classmates and neighbors, and even teachers on occasion. So she had to be human, or she would be dead.
After a deep breath, Anita steeled her resolve and took a swig of the awful drink. It burned as it went down, and she refrained from gagging on it only due to years of taking it.
Already, she could feel her senses dimming and returning to a more human level. The miniscule cracks and grains in the bricks in front of her blurred away. The woman chatting on a cellphone to her divorce attorney three blocks left faded into the typical city atmosphere. The hot dog cart she smelled earlier blended back into the overbearing scent of car exhaust and city grime. The wolf inside drowsed and curled up to sleep.
Once Anita was sure she wasn’t going to vomit, she slipped the flask back into her jacket and decided to head back out into the busy sidewalk. She knew the flier girl wouldn’t follow her or point her out; there was a sort of unspoken code that humanoids didn’t out other humanoids. Because of the stereotypes and negativity surrounding their kind, many tried to keep their true identities secret from people who didn’t have to know. Werewolves and elves had it easiest, since they looked human most of the time. Others, like nymphs and centaurs, didn’t have the ability to hide their identities since their physicality revealed them. They were always exposed.
Five minutes later, Anita was putting her key into her apartment door. The door across the hall opened a crack and old Mrs. Nedder glared her beady eyes at Anita, then scoffed and closed her door again. The snitch of locks latching was loud and purposeful, but Anita was used to Mrs. Nedder’s daily ritual of disapproval and paid it no mind. Mrs. Nedder she could deal with. She was just glad she didn’t run into Jeremy, the fifth grader that lived below her, who always tried to push her down the stairs while his mother laughed about how “boys will be boys,” or any of the other residents in the apartment building for that matter.
Anita closed the door behind her and walked into her tiny studio apartment. She paused in concern as she dropped her keys on the grimy kitchen counter. Something was off. The air smelled of mold and plaster, which was the apartment, and of dark spices, which was her scent, but somehow the spice scent was different, sharper.
A cold breeze washed over her and brought with it the smell of the city outside. The sounds of traffic on the street below met her ears, and she realized that she must have left the window open when she left. That was probably the source of the strange smell; it was the city bleeding into her apartment. She walked to the other side of the apartment, through the small living room with the bathroom on the left and her bed around the corner. She closed the window and sighed, then turned to face her bed but saw that someone was already on it.
“Hello, Anita,” the man said.
She inhaled, ready to scream, but he moved quickly off her bed and covered her mouth before she had the chance to.
“Don’t. Scream,” he said tersely, his lip curling.
The scream died in her throat but left her vocal cords tight with anxiety. She nodded dumbly, and the invader let her go and took a couple steps back from her. He was broad-shouldered and taller than her by several inches. His angular jaw was covered in stubble, and a long nose sat beneath deep set blue eyes that watched her sardonically. A smirk played at the edge of his lips, and a fang earring dangled from his left ear.
“You’re quite difficult to track down, did you know that?” the man said casually, as if this were all normal and he hadn’t broken into her apartment and told her not to scream.
“Who are you?” she asked through gritted teeth, clenching her fists at her sides and glancing around for anything she could possibly use as a weapon.
“Elijah Bennett,” he replied, watching her glance around. “Looking for something to fight me off with?”
She ignored the question, though her face burned with embarrassment.
“You don’t need to, you know. I’m not here to hurt you, Anita,” he said.
“How do you know my name?” she asked, feeling alarmed. After her grandfather had taken custody of her, they’d been put in a program similar to witness protection but was designed for survivors of creature attacks, and every time they moved they had to change identities. She’d been Maritza Atwell and Regina Caplin and Valeria May and many others, but she hadn’t been Anita Doyle in a very long time.
“We’re old friends,” Bennett said sarcastically. “We go way back. About fourteen years, in fact.”
Fourteen years. That was when—
“You—it’s you!” she shrieked, backing up a few steps. The strange scent in the air finally made sense: he was a werewolf too. “You killed my family! You turned me!” she shouted, terror and rage forming a dangerous cocktail. She could feel the wolf start to claw her insides, but that wasn’t right. She’d just taken the elixir; it shouldn’t be stirring for at least half a day.
“Wrong and wrong,” he replied with an impatient roll of his eyes. “I didn’t kill your family, and I didn’t turn you.”
“But—” Her fingers fumbled at her chest, feeling for the thick white scars that laid there.
“I am the one that clawed you, but you can’t be turned from a clawing,” he said tiredly. “Come on, tell me: how does the werewolf virus get spread?”
“Blood and saliva,” she answered robotically. It was a subject covered every year in school from kindergarten to senior year of high school: how to identify humanoids, and how to avoid becoming one if the state was transferable, like with werewolves and vampires.
“That’s right. It’s a blood disease, mutates your genetics, makes you a monster,” Bennett said with a derisive sneer. “Now tell me, how does blood or saliva come from claws?”
The look he was giving her was one of extreme condescension, and one she had encountered far too much while growing up. It had always been a longshot that she was changed by claws. The police had speculated that drool had accidentally gotten in her wound, or perhaps the werewolf had purposefully mingled its blood with hers, but that was unlikely as it had nearly clawed her to death. In the end, they concluded it was a freak accident, emphasis on the freak.
“It doesn’t,” she snapped through gritted teeth. “But then, how am I—”
“You were born a werewolf, like me,” he said grimly, “because you’re my daughter.”
Her mind hit a wall with that information. Even the wolf was stunned into immobility. She jumped instantly to the conclusion that he was lying; it was the only thing that made sense.
“You’re crazy,” she hissed.
“Perhaps,” he allowed, “but it’s true nonetheless.”
Anita shook her head in denial. “Why were you there that night?” she asked angrily.
“To take you back,” he said firmly, jaw clenched. “Your bitch mother was a standard one night only while I was travelling cross-country. Six years later, I ran into her again by chance. Tried to hit her up for another round, but she refused ‘cause apparently I got her knocked up the last time, and she had to give up the thing to a nice family across town. Poor girl had no idea what I was, or what you might be.”
The gears in her mind were turning agonizingly slowly. Her mouth was agape.
“You think you’re surprised?” he said. “Imagine how I felt finding out I had pup.”
“What, you never dreamed of having kids?” she asked sarcastically.
“Hell no,” he said, wrinkling his nose in disgust. “Do I look like daddy material?”
“Then why come for me?” she exclaimed. “It had been six years. You could’ve let me be! Why did you track me down if you didn’t want me?!”
“Because we are pack,” Bennett said, a righteous fire flaring in his pale eyes. “Wolves stick together, and I had to know if my mutation passed on to you. Us born wolves are different; the change comes at a different time for each of us. At the latest, the wolf awakens at puberty, but it can wake in times of danger and high stress. Your so-called family wouldn’t have been able to teach you control once you first transformed. They’d have shot you up full of the ‘bane and kicked you to the curb.”
“That’s not true,” she said, although that was almost exactly what her grandfather did.
“It is true,” he insisted. “It happens all the time. It happened to me after my first change, it would’ve happened to you. It happens to the bitten, too. Sooner or later, you gotta learn that the only people who care about werewolves are other werewolves. That’s why we have to stick together. That’s why I came for you, why I’ve been trying to find you since then.” He stared at her and she tried not to shrink under his intense gaze. “I want you to come with me.”
“So we can, what, form some sort of pack?” she asked, disgust squashing down the yearning that the wolf felt.
“I can help you,” Bennett said, taking a step toward her. “I can teach you control. The wolfsbane is a band aid, a crutch. It’s either going to stop working, or it’s going to kill you.”
The wolf paced circles inside her, and never before had she hated it so much.
His eyebrows raised. “It’s already stopped working, hasn’t it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said quickly, her voice shooting up an octave.
“One of these days, they’re going to do a test on you, and you’re going to have too little of the drug in your system, and they’re going to drag you away, and nobody will ever hear from you again,” Bennett said, his voice dark and bitter. “There’s a reason werewolves are only expected to live a max of twenty years after their first change. But if you come with me, you have a chance. You can be a werewolf, Anita, not just a wolf in human’s clothing.”
“No. No way,” she said, shaking her head. “You’re lying, about everything. You were there that night. You killed my family, and you tried to kill me.”
“I didn’t kill your family,” he said impatiently, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“But you did try to kill me,” she said almost triumphantly, glad that she had at least one detail right. That was, if he was telling the truth, which he probably wasn’t.
“I was trying to stop you,” he replied.
“Stop me?” she repeated. “From what?”
“From killing me, too.”
“Too?” Her brow furrowed, and then understanding oozed through her body like a sick poison, locking her limbs and stopping her heart.
“You think I killed my family,” she whispered, appalled at the mere thought.
For the first time, something like pity entered Bennett’s blue eyes.
“I watched you kill your family,” he responded.
She took stumbling steps away from him, tripped on the edge of the rug, and fell to her knees. Bennett made no move to help her, only watched. She was glad he stayed away; she didn’t know what she would do if he tried approaching her right now. The wolf was bristling, its hackles raised.
“Your emotions are pretty high right now; I could probably smell your anxiety from two blocks away,” he said, slowly backing away from her. “So I’m gonna give you a chance to calm down and think rationally about joining me. I’m heading out of town tomorrow. Gonna stop by that rally before I go. If you’re in, if you want to stop playing human, then come find me, and we’ll go together. If you don’t find me, well…” He sighed. “See you around, kid.”
Bennett turned and headed toward the front door. She’d half-expected him to go through the window again. He paused and looked back at her. “You know, lone wolves are always the first ones to get picked off by the hunters.”
“Then why are you alone?” she growled at him. “Where’s your pack?”
He gave her a long, hard look, then opened the door and left.
The door clicked closed and exhaustion hit her like a ton of bricks. She stayed down on the floor, overcome with thoughts and the struggle to keep the bile from rising in her throat. Standing would be too much of an effort right now.
Whenever Anita had heard others talk about traumatic events, they always said they could remember it so clearly, as if it had happened yesterday. Now more than ever, Anita wished that she could remember exactly what had happened. But it was like somebody had written her early memories down on a white board and then shoddily erased them, leaving only bits and pieces.
The only solid details were that it was night, and her family had been gathered in the living room, about to watch a movie. Her parents were snuggled on the couch, her older brother Teo sitting beside them, while Anita sat on the floor in a nest of blankets. Teo kept stealing handfuls of her popcorn despite having his own bowl. She couldn’t remember the name of the movie or even what it was about, and for some reason that little detail drove her crazy, because there was nobody to ask. The only people who knew were six feet under in a plot two states over. They’d just started the movie, whatever it was, when the doorbell rang.
After that, Anita’s memories were as jumbled and fragmented as a kaleidoscope. There was Papa’s scream. A horrible gurgle. Mama’s dead eyes. Red and blue lights flashing outside the window. Teo crumpled on the floor beside blood-speckled popcorn. The dark smell of musk. Spit dribbling down Anita’s chin, her mouth stretched wide and screaming. A voice like bitter dark chocolate saying, “Hush, Anita,” and then a terrible pain before it all went black.
A chill crept over her like a sweeping mist when she realized that the voice in her memories was the same as the voice that belonged to Bennett.
Anita got slowly to her feet and went over to her desk. She wrenched open the bottom drawer and pulled out a bunch of papers and newspaper clippings. Familiar headlines stared up at her: Vicious Werewolf Attack Leaves Three Dead, Daughter Orphaned; Doyle Daughter Turned by Family’s Killer; Doyle Homicide Investigations Cease as Case Turns Cold. The trail for the murderer had gone dead quick, as there was no motive for any werewolves to target the Doyles, and there wasn’t any evidence that pointed to a culprit. The only quirk about the case was that the claw marks on Anita’s chest were deep, but the claw marks on the rest of the family were much smaller…
Nausea wrapped its fingers around Anita’s throat, and she was forced to sit down again. The wolf was pacing circles inside of her, but she couldn’t even imagine taking more wolfsbane right now with how queasy she already felt. A headache raged at her temples, shouting out all the questions she had, but there was nobody to answer them.
Her breath caught in her throat as she remembered the one person who might possibly know something: her grandfather.
Anita shifted her weight and pulled her cellphone out of her back jeans pocket. Her fingers trembled slightly over the touch screen, which mocked her indecision by reflecting her conflicted face in its blackness. She swallowed down her nerves and called her grandfather.
She waited with bated breath to see if he would pick up. The wolf perked its ears in anticipation. Each ring drove another nail into her skull, further enraging her already furious headache. She’d regretted calling him the moment she’d pressed the button, not wanting to face his quiet disappointment even just through a speaker, but her call would have already registered in his phone, so there was no going back.
By the fifth ring, she was beginning to hope she would only have to leave a voicemail, but, because this was her life and nothing ever went right, he picked up.
“¿Qué quieres?” her grandfather growled.
Ramiro Moralez had wanted nothing to do with his only daughter Daria once she’d performed her final disobedience against him and ran off with Keelan Doyle. The minute they’d eloped, he cut all contact, so one could imagine his surprise when the police contacted him ten years later and said he had to take custody of his granddaughter since a werewolf had killed her parents and brother, and she had no other kin.
“¿Qué?” he barked again. “What?”
“I…I’m coming over,” she said, suddenly having an urge to not have this conversation over the phone. “I need to talk to you.”
There was a weighty pause, and then he grunted, followed by the click of hanging up.
Anita let out a breath and sagged for a moment before getting up from the floor. She grabbed her keys and walked down to the parking garage to drive out to her grandfather’s house.
Life with her grandfather had been complicated to say the least. She’d never felt settled due to the constant moving around, and she had no support from him or anyone in her life. He’d always kept her at a distance despite her desire for some form of affection. He hated the fact that she was a werewolf, and, aside from when he was monitoring her wolfsbane intake, pretended that she was fully human. The way he had raised her was more like a warden than a grandfather, but she had to be grateful to him. If he hadn’t taken her in, she could’ve gone into the foster system, and that was bad enough for human children. She often thought that the only reason he took her in was because she reminded him of her mother, but he rarely, if ever, talked about her. From what she could gather, their relationship had been tumultuous, since she had been a free spirit, and he was rather strict. Still, Anita had always been jealous of her classmates and their happy, loving human families. There was nothing she wanted more than that.
The drive to her grandfather’s house was only half an hour long, since he lived just on the outskirts of the city in order to keep an eye on her, but her anticipation made the minutes drag on. Despite the close proximity, they hardly had any contact. He called randomly every few months or so to check if she’d been taking the elixir, but that was about it. For her to call him, let alone to drive over, was unprecedented, and Anita was very nervous about it. She hadn’t seen her grandfather in person in over a year.
By the time she finally pulled into the short driveway of her grandfather’s house, it felt like almost an entire day had passed. She stepped out of the car into the evening air, took a swig of wolfsbane to be sure, and let herself in to the one story house with the quaint garden in front.
“¿Abuelo?” she called shakily as she closed the door behind her, her voice slightly higher than usual.
“Living room,” his gruff voice replied.
Her heart beat steadily increased in tempo with every step she took down the seemingly endless hall that led to the living room.
“Hello,” she said shakily.
Her grandfather looked up at her from where he sat in his armchair. The skin on his grizzled face had started to sag more in the months that she hadn’t seen him, but his eyes still held the same calculated disappointment that they always had. She swallowed resolutely and tried not to feel like she was eight years old again.
“Have you been taking your elixir?” he asked predictably.
Anita repressed a sigh. “Yes.”
“Bueno. What did you need to talk about?”
“Am I adopted?” she blurted.
What she’d meant to ask first was how much he knew about the night of the attack, how much he knew about the mysterious werewolf that had killed her family, but this turned out to be the question at the front of her mind.
The corners of his thin mouth turned down in suspicion. “Sí.”
The urge to vomit returned as her thoughts spun dizzily in her head. Bennett had at least been telling the truth about that. If she truly was adopted, then maybe she really was his daughter, and maybe he was telling the truth about what—
“I found out when I received your records after assuming custody. I chose not to tell you in an effort to not take away the family you had already lost,” her grandfather elaborated. “How did you find out?”
Bennett’s face flashed in her mind’s eye.
“Did you ever try to track down my birth parents?” she asked instead of answering.
He sighed. “Sí.”
Her heart pounded heavily. “And?”
“I found your birth mother,” he replied. “She lived across town, worked as a waitress. The father was never in the picture. She only knew his first name, Eli. You were an accident.”
Worry tangled itself in her stomach. Eli could have been short for Elijah, an alias to keep his identity private.
“¿Abuelo,” she said, “how was I turned?”
His eyes darkened the way they always did when she brought up her being a werewolf. The topic had always been forbidden in their household, aside from when he was asking about the wolfsbane or lecturing her about werewolves gone astray.
“The werewolf who killed your family clawed and turned you,” he said, just as he had all her life.
“Except you don’t believe that,” she said slowly, amazed at her daring, “do you?”
His eyes narrowed. “What are you getting at?”
“Is it possible that I was born a werewolf?” she asked.
“I suppose,” he answered.
“Am I…am I the one?” she asked, her throat seizing up. “The one who—”
Her grandfather’s eyes watched her for a very long time. Anita could remember looking into those eyes and waiting to see a smile in them, waiting for some form of caring.
“Creo que sí,” he said finally. "I believe so."
Her heart dropped into her stomach, and the wolf sat up. Tears burned in her eyes and she raised shaking hands to her head, pressing at her temples in an effort to try to regain some focus.
“You knew—you knew—” she stammered, swaying heavily on her feet.
“I had my suspicions,” he corrected, watching her carefully, “but there was no way to be sure. So I made it my mission to eradicate the wolf inside you. I tried to make you human, so you would never kill again—”
“But I’m not human!” she screamed. “You can’t kill the wolf! Wolfsbane isn’t a cure, it’s a band aid!” Dimly, she realized she was echoing Bennett’s words.
“Where is this coming from?” he demanded angrily as he rose to his feet. “What’s gotten into you?”
“You were so unfair to me,” she hissed, “expecting me to be something I couldn’t. Why couldn’t you accept me as I was?”
“Accept you? You, la niña del diablo?” he snarled, disgust curling his lip as he used his favorite nickname for her. “You are una monstruo! You killed your own family, my only daughter! I tried to save you, tried to—”
“There’s no saving me!” she exclaimed, her voice shrill. “There’s no changing what I am, Abuelo!”
The wolf was growling, pawing the edges, waiting to be released. Anita could feel bloodlust humming in her fingertips, fueled by all this resentment she’d held in for years. She felt the desire to crush her grandfather’s skull and see his blood soak the carpet.
She wrenched herself out of that mindset, shocked at herself.
“I-I need to go,” she said quickly, then turned and ran.
“Anita, get back here!” he shouted, moving after her. “Anita!”
Anita threw the front door open and jumped into her car, fingers fumbling with getting the key in the ignition. The wolf snarled and barked, mad and foaming with violent rage, and she could feel it scratching at the surface.
“Anita, stop! ¡Para!” her grandfather yelled, approaching her car.
She finally started the car and peeled out of the driveway, speeding down the street and around the corner back toward the heart of the city. The wolf was howling furiously now, and she could feel the control slipping from her. Her vision was going fuzzy at the edges, and her skin kept itching like it was about to sprout fur. Hurriedly, she wrenched the steering wheel and pulled over to the side of the road. With shaking fingers she grabbed her flask and guzzled the rest of the elixir that was in it.
Anita pressed her forehead against the steering wheel and squeezed her eyes shut, then focused on breathing slowly and calming her emotions down as the wolfsbane coursed through her system. The anger disappeared more quickly than she thought it would, and it left her exhausted and weak. The wolf curled up reluctantly, but its ears were still perked.
Bennett was right: the wolfsbane wasn’t working anymore, and Anita was terrified to imagine what would happen the next time she got angry. She had just been on the verge of killing her own grandfather. If she could do that, what else was she capable of? Who else would she hurt? Who else would she kill?
Hot tears slid down her cheeks. She had to learn control, but how? From Bennett? And what if she was never able to learn control? What if the wolf—the monster—was untamable?
Anita sat in her car and cried until the last rays of sunlight left the sky. Numbly, she started the car again and drove the rest of the way back, but when she arrived in the parking garage, she couldn’t even remember the drive. Her mind was so frazzled from everything that had happened that day that it couldn’t focus on anything. A tightness had spread through her body, making it hard to move and breathe, let alone think. How had it only been mere hours since Bennett showed up in her apartment?
When she finally managed to drag her weary feet up the stairs to her apartment, she spied something stuck to her door.
It was a rally flier, declaring that “WE ARE ALL EQUAL.”
She ripped it off and crumpled it into a ball, then slammed her door behind her.
Anita spent the rest of the night and most of the next day curled up in a lump on her bed. She drifted in and out of consciousness, lost in a haze of confusion. Dreams were interspersed throughout the blackness, scattered memories of the night of her family’s murder coming back to her. There was a pair of hands on each of her arms, pulling her in two different directions. Bennett standing in the living room, purple with rage and yelling in Papa’s face. Mama on the floor, staring up in horror, with Teo’s body lying next to her. A reflection in the polished wood of their piano of a small werewolf with bloodied claws—
Anita woke in a cold sweat, sitting up instantly. There were dried tear tracks on her puffy face, and she felt utterly ragged, like fabric that had been stretched too thin. A glance at the clock on her bedside table told her it was almost eight at night. The rally would be starting soon.
She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes and tried not to panic at the choice that was now looming directly before her. Would she go to the rally and go with Bennett? Or would she stay and let him leave without her?
She took a breath. She let it out. She got out of bed.
Ten minutes later, Anita’s breath formed clouds in front of her face and she found herself approaching the city square that sat directly in front of the city hall building. It was a large square, the size of two city blocks, with a playground and a grassy area specifically for dogs. The center of it was wide and paved and lined with trees. A stage was set up at the far end with City Hall behind it, the domed stone building making an impressive backdrop. Two tall banners with Senator Irving’s face and the saying “EQUALITY NOW” were on either side of the stage, and a podium sat in the middle. Floodlights cast a harsh light into the autumn darkness.
The crowd was impressively large, and the atmosphere felt tense and full of fervent activism. Anita briefly wondered what would happen if that tension spilled over. She’d never seen so many humanoids gathered in one place before. The scent of werewolves was heavy on the air, making it impossible for Anita to pick out Bennett. A small coven of vampires stood together holding a sign that said “We don’t suck – YOU do.” She spied a group of wood nymphs that had gathered together, their skin like tree bark. There were several centaurs that stood on the edge of the crowd, pawing nervously at the ground. Anita hadn’t seen a centaur since she’d gone to the fair when she was nine and there was one forced into giving “pony rides.” Sprites glittered in the air like multicolored fireflies. Every now and then they spelled out words like “equality” or “rights for all.” All these and more were gathered tonight.
The bell tower in City Hall chimed eight, and Senator Irving stepped onto the stage.
As Irving walked up to the podium everybody started screaming and clapping and stomping their excitement. Several different chants started up, the conflicting beats and words creating nothing but chaotic shouting.
“Quite the commotion here, isn’t it?”
Anita whirled around in terror and found Bennett standing behind her, his mouth twisted in a wolfish grin. Irving raised her hand to silence the crowd, and then her voice floated over the crowd.
“Never before has our kind been so united!” Irving declared. “I don’t see vampires, selkies, and fairies out here tonight. I see my siblings who have struggled alongside me under the humans’ oppression!”
The crowd gave a mighty cheer, and Bennett rolled his eyes. Anita was too panicked and conflicted to pay attention to the speech.
“So, do you wanna stick around for the rest of this or skip out now?” Bennett asked. “Probably best if we go now. Beat the traffic and all.”
“I-I’m not going with you,” she said, clenching her fists.
Bennett raised his eyebrows.
“I was five years old when my seal skin was stolen from me,” Irving continued over them, “preventing me from ever returning to the ocean I called home…”
“Then why come?” he asked. “Unless you really wanted to hear the speech.”
“I wanted to see you one last time,” she replied. She licked her lips and swallowed. “For, uh, closure and all that. To…to look you in the face and tell you no.”
“Too long have we been hated for what we cannot control, generalized and grouped under the label “dangerous”!” Irving shouted, and resounding cheers came up from the crowd.
Bennett nodded slowly. “Right. You want to know what I think?”
She shook her head fearfully.
“I think you really do want to come with me,” he said. “You’re just too scared.”
Alarm gripped her as denial flooded her senses. “No, no, that’s not—”
“This is for the sirens, with their vocal cords removed! For the werewolves, forced to drink their poison! For the fairies, shackled in iron! For the centaurs, treated as cattle! This is for all of us! We will be silent no more! You will hear us! You will know us!”
“Anita, you have to understand,” Bennett said. “Control isn’t an option, it’s a necessity.”
“I’ve been managing fine,” she replied shakily, but the wolf was grinning.
“We demand equality!” Irving bellowed.
The crowd started chanting. “Equality! Equality! Equality!”
Bennett opened his mouth to speak, but was drowned out by police sirens.
“This is the city police!” said a voice on a megaphone. “Disband and go home immediately or face legal consequences.”
A wall of police officers with riot shields started to surround the crowd.
“We are here peacefully protesting,” Irving said tersely into the microphone.
Anita couldn’t tell if she was upset that the police were here or upset that they had interrupted her speech.
“You are ordered to leave now,” the voice replied.
Suddenly, the line of police started charging the crowd. The centaurs scattered in terror, and people scrambled to get out of their way and to escape the approaching police force. The pushing and shoving caused people to fall to the ground and get trampled. Anita’s heart jumped in her throat as she was shoved to the side into more passing bodies, and the wolf tensed its muscles. She had no choice but to move with the crowd.
People started screaming in terrible pain, and Anita strained her neck to see the cause. The police were armed with what looked like iron and silver batons. She saw one threatening a vampire with a wooden stake. Handcuffs glinted all over the place as people were dragged off. One centaur was on its back and hogtied. Something exploded in the air, and from the taste and lack of smell, Anita could tell it was an aconite gas bomb.
“Anita!” Bennett called, pushing his way toward her. “Let’s—”
The people near her scattered, and she ran into a hard body. She looked up and met the hateful eyes of one of the police officers. He grabbed her roughly.
“You’re under arrest for unlawful assembly and interference with police authority,” he announced.
“Get off of me!” Anita shouted, pulling herself out of his grip.
The officer raised his baton—she recognized it as silver—and struck her across the face with it. The silver burned her skin in addition to the crushing pain of the blow, and without warning, the wolf exploded out of her. Fur burst up along her arms and her clothes ripped as her body morphed. Pain lit her up from the inside out, and her bones snapped and grew.
Werewolves were much larger than regular wolves, standing close to seven feet tall when on their hind legs. Everything was longer and sharper and deadlier. Their fangs and claws were inches long and sharper than knives. Strength poured from every tensed muscle. Senses were tripled from sharp eyes, sharp ears, and an even sharper nose.
Anita’s mind went blank as the wolf took over, seething with fury. She faced the man, who was cowering before her, holding the silver baton above his head in fear.
She took a breath and roared in his face, spittle flying from her gums. Her vision was tinged red, and she raised her paw to strike him like he’d struck her—
Suddenly, the present left her. She was six years old and her parents were about to watch a movie. The Wizard of Oz, the television screen read. Bennett was there, barging into the living room. He grabbed Anita by the arm and tried dragging her out of the house, but her dad grabbed her too. Something in her was scratching its way out, and she had no way to stop it. It got the better of her and jumped out, then—
Anita gasped and wrenched her body back away from the police officer. The wolf whined in disgruntled surprise and immediately tried to resume control. She stumbled away, breathing heavily, trying to fight the desire to tear something’s throat out.
“No!” Bennett shouted suddenly.
A shot went off, and two bodies hit the ground as screams went up all around them. Anita turned, her werewolf eyes allowing her to easily see what was happening in the night air. Bennett was on top of the officer, wrestling the man’s gun out of his hands. He punched the man hard, and the officer went still. Bennett thrust the gun into his jeans and got up, approaching Anita slowly.
She growled instinctively, but he reached up and grabbed her muzzle, baring his human teeth at her. The wolf struggled for a moment, then met Bennett’s eyes and started to calm down. The transformation released her, and she was human again in moments.
“Come on,” Bennett said. He grabbed her arm and began shoving his way through the still panicking though severely diminished crowd. Anita was too dizzy and drained from her recent transformation to do anything but clutch her torn clothes and run.
A few blocks later they spun around a corner and into the doorway of an abandoned hotel. Together they crouched in their hiding place, trying to catch their breath.
“You were going to kill that man,” Bennett said after a moment.
Anita flinched, and shame burned a hole in her chest. She put her head down and wrapped her arms around her knees. She felt a jacket settle around her shoulders and a hand press lightly on her arm.
“You were going to kill him, but you didn’t,” he amended. “You stopped yourself.”
“Barely,” she gasped, heaving sobs shaking her body. “I…I remembered that n-night, I remembered…I-I remember the g-goddamn movie…,” she cried. “I remember w-wanting to kill my f-family, just like I wanted to k-kill that officer.”
“You didn’t want to kill that man,” he said, “the wolf did.”
“What’s the difference?” she snapped, raising her head to glare tearfully at him.
“It’s all the difference in the world,” he replied firmly. “That’s what the humans don’t understand about us. Control isn’t about choosing the human over the wolf. It’s about accepting both, about finding the balance between them.”
“But it’s a monster,” she countered, shaking her head. “I’m a monster.”
“We’re all capable of being monsters,” he declared, eyes flashing. “Even the humans. Especially the humans. The wolf isn’t a monster, Anita. It’s just a wolf.”
She looked up at him.
He watched her steadily. “And I can help you to control it. You don’t need to be scared of it anymore.”
Anita closed her eyes and pursed her lips. She thought of all the years she’d lived in fear. Fear of being killed, fear of killing, fear of the monster that lived inside her. Fear was no way to live, and she was more terrified now than she ever had been. And it seemed the only solution was the brusque man that was sitting before her. She could either stay in the city downing wolfsbane till she died or the government took her, or she could leave with Bennett and have a chance at finally controlling the wolf. And if there was any chance at all, even a slim one, didn’t she have to take it?
A memory came back to her, a long-forgotten dream of what it would be like to run wild and free. She wondered what it would be like to live without fear of others, without fear of herself. She dreamed of meeting other werewolves and forming a pack. She would be loved and accepted for who she was—wolf and all—but that dream had long since been discarded.
Bennett sighed in frustrated aggravation at her silence. “Dammit! I’m not good at this stuff, but I’m your fucking father, Anita, and I’m not going to let you keep living like this! I know you’re scared right now, but learning control is worth it. It’s the only way. Listen, we can stay in the city if you want, but it’ll be easier if we’re isolated. Less people to possibly hurt. We could live in the woods, or I can track down the pack that taught me, or—”
He paused. “What?”
“Okay,” she repeated, looking up. She took a deep breath. “I’ll go with you.”
Bennett sagged with relief and his grin was back. “Good. We should—”
“I’ll go with you, but you’re not my father,” she said firmly. “My…my father was Keelan Doyle, not you.”
“That’s fine,” he replied, nodding. “But we are blood.”
She raised her chin, and he leaned forward, moonlight hitting the side of his pale face.
“We are pack.”
There was something about the way he said it that made her shiver. It sounded like something sacred.
Pack. The word entered her chest and settled heavily in her stomach, sending warmth throughout her body. It gave her a sense of grounding she’d never felt before. The wolf rose to its feet, and for the first time, she didn’t feel as if it were working against her. Anita sat up a little taller and looked Bennett straight in the eye.
She nodded. “We are pack.”
The wolf tipped its head back and howled.
Sydney Culpepper self-published her first novel, Pagetown, as part of her high school senior project. She is a recent graduate of Western Oregon University and spends her days trying to balance her many passions and hobbies, including working on her next book. She' also does marvelous work as an editor for Not a Pipe Publishing and will be compiling the anthology of women's short stories due to hit shelves in December!