A Decent Summary
A young female werewolf who suspects she's also a witch is trying to leave her pack's misogynistic rules behind and go to art school but there are a few things standing in her way: the new alpha who seems out to get her, supernatural forces at large that hate werewolves and have a planned genocide and her own heritage, which brings with it a suspicion of "bad blood" that even her aristocratic blood can't cancel out. So will she do things their way or will she be part of the force that destroys them all?
Carry my soul into the night
May the stars guide my way
Saturday April 25, 1992; 2:13 pm Last Quarter Moon
Belorussky Rail Station, Moscow, Russia
"Cheburashka, Cheburashka, Cheburashka!" Mila cried in a war chant as she tugged at her mother's jacket but Lydie paid her no mind. She was hastily trying to read the board showing the departures. Fifteen years in this 'godforsaken country' and she still couldn't properly read Cyrillic. But it was hard enough getting out of Russia since the collapse even if you were a proper Russian. Luckily she knew someone who knew someone from the train depot and she had three tickets to Vilnius. Her eldest, Greg, was talking in rapid Russian to an old train worker whose shabby uniform and forlorn expression betrayed that he, like so many others, was not being paid for work anymore but had continued to show up anyways. No, he didn't know of any train leaving that day but Greg kept showing him the tickets. Finally the train worker rolled his eyes and walked away cursing under his breath.
"Lydie there's no train leaving today. We're going back." He picked up his sister after disengaging her death grip from Lydie's jacket. Greg had always called his mother by her first name. He saw Babushka Demkina as his mother.
"We speak English now, Greg and call me Mom or Maht if you must." She snapped. "We're not going back." She said the first part in Russian and the second part in English but Greg didn't know enough English to really understand her.
"We're not going back? We have to go back. There's no way out of here and Mila's tired and she has to go back to school tomorrow. This is stupid." Greg said, over Mila's wails. All she heard was 'we're not going back'.
"We'll have to bribe someone with Aunt Kitty's money but we need that for plane tickets." Lydie said under her breath trying to hide the bills in her hand by hunching over them.
"I'm calling Dad." Greg said setting Mila down. She might have been small for an eight year old but even Greg couldn't stand the wailing and kicking for too long. He jingled some change in his pocket and made for the phones but stopped halfway. The cords were cut. He couldn't call his father even if he wanted to.
Lydie gave him a victorious smile as he headed back. She ran a tired hand through her brown hair and said, "Listen…" there was a train grinding on its tracks in the distance. Greg shook his head.
"I'm not getting on." But he sounded unsure. Mila plopped down on the ground and wailed like someone half her age but Greg didn't blame her if he thought he could get away with it he'd join her.
"Fine. Try and get back to Malaya Vishera. But Mila's coming with me." Lydie tugged on her daughter's hand and pulled her up forcing the child to wail even louder. "Stop!" Lydie yelled in Mila's face. "We're going back. See the train." Mila immediately began nodding and her wails turned into sniffles.
"Lydie…" Greg said threateningly.
"Look either you're coming or you're staying but good luck getting anywhere you have no money and the trains aren't reliable." She joined the small crowd getting on the train. Lydie wasn't even sure where it was going but it was going somewhere-out of Moscow to a civilized place with a proper airport where things worked as they should and no bribes were needed.
Tuesday April 28, 1992; 8:00 am; Waning Crescent Moon
Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, France
They made it as far as Paris before Greg was able to call his father and let him know what happened. He didn't want to turn his mother in but she was talking crazy. About how she wasn't going back to that wasteland of Malaya Vishera to be with that crazy old wolf Natasha and the oppressive Vyeshehaya Zhena pack. Lydie, Greg and Mila were werewolves. And Lydie was committing a serious crime under werewolf law. Children were the property of their father not their mother so she was guilty of pup-napping and could be in serious trouble. His sister was scared and without any comfort. He could manage but it broke his heart to see Mila's puffy eyes and dirty clothes.
He left Lydie and Mila waiting on a bench in Charles de Gaulle on the pretense of finding the bathroom-which he couldn't do even if he wanted to because the Latin alphabet was beyond his comprehension. He managed earlier in the day to lift a wallet off an older French man and he took out a few Franc's then left it at customer service. It turns out that his father knew what had happened already, said he'd been expecting it for a while but while the country was in such turmoil he thought he'd be safe for a while. Sergei told Greg to sit tight for a while until Sergei could procure a plane ticket to the States.
18 Rue Stephenson, Goutte d'Or, Paris, France
Twenty miles away from Charles de Gaulle Airport at preciously 7:57 a.m. a man awoke with a start. It felt like someone was trailing a cold finger down his spine. He glanced over at the blonde sleeping next to him but she was clearly still asleep. Dirty early morning light was flooding its way past the sheets that served as curtains in the little apartment in Goutte d'Or. Breathing hard Tristan got up out of bed and walked around his apartment as though expecting to see someone else there-someone whose fingers were trailing down his back but there was no one. He laughed at himself and tried to go back to sleep but found that it escaped him. All day he couldn't shake the feeling that he was not where he was supposed to be. That somewhere out there was someone with cold fingers that could touch him even in his sleep.
April 30, 1992; 8:50 pm
Philadelphia International Airport
The plane landed at Philadelphia International Airport at 6:00 p.m. Katharine Friel was waiting nervously for her sister and a niece and nephew that she never met. Then she saw them. It was unmistakable. It didn't matter that she hadn't seen her sister for nearly thirteen years. Sisters recognize each other through all the layers of change that time and makeup create. She was practically dragging a small child with blonde hair and a surly looking teenager was dragging his feet behind her. They had the eyes of refugees. And Katharine reminded herself that in a way they were refugees. Her sister had said that it wasn't safe in the collapsed Soviet Union anymore and from all the news reports Katharine believed her.
The pack Lydie had left thirteen years previously to go with the love of her life-Sergei was ready to take her back in. That was the way packs worked. They were your family and even though Lydie left them for another pack they would always take her back. The children were another matter, they weren't Connachta, they were Vyeshehaya and many in the pack were already speaking out against them and the children hadn't even arrived yet.
Two weeks after we arrived in Hercynian Sergei appeared at the front door of the house. Lydie and Sergei had a huge argument in the kitchen of the house while Eric, Jane and Geoff's son, Greg and I listened in from the stairs. In the end it was Geoff who made the decision since they were both on his territory. Sergei by Russian Werewolf Pack Law had possession of both the children. He, however, wanted only Greg. I, he insisted, was Lydie's responsibility although he wanted me to go back to Russia to be raised by Babi Demkina.
Lydie said no to that and so I was forced to stay in Hercynian. But Greg had to go back with our father. Before he left though Lydie had terms of the separation, she wanted child support; $300.00, every month. Sergei didn't want the money going into her pocket and not to his child so he stipulated that his money went into an account and the only withdraws could come from a third party for the direct care of me until I was twenty-two (and supposedly out of college and able to take care of herself). Jane was the third party. Lydie wasn't happy about it but couldn't complain because then that would let them know that she really just wanted the money for herself. Terms were settled, contracts signed, and Sergei and Greg left for Russia. There are no words to describe how painful it was to separate us siblings. Greg didn't want to leave me but Lydie would not let me leave with them. And so they parted. Before Sergei left though he gave me my plush Cheburashka and an enamel Faberge egg pendent that Babushka wanted me to have.
I on the other hand had my own terms-private ones. I vowed never to speak English. In fact I almost stopped speaking entirely. Lydie could barely look at me and disappeared in a cloud of cigarette smoke and bad relationships. Aunt Katharine and Jane took a slightly different approach. They brought English-to-Russian dictionaries and tried to talk to me.
The first summer passed excruciatingly slow for me. I barely understood what anyone said even when they spoke Russian. My mother the only one who spoke Russian refused to speak that 'horrid language' and went from bad temp job to bad temp job. Lydie took me to my first day of school though. I sat in a little less surly silence that day because I had put paint on my mothers' chair before breakfast so she had a neon green splatter on her poly-blend skirt and had yet to notice it. I was plopped into Mrs. Campbell's second grade and struggled to do anything as I was told because I barely understand anything the teacher said. I just thought they were mad at me the way they yelled and singled me out.
Gradually English and schoolwork began to make sense and I settled into a normal routine. I didn't get along with the human kids but found a niche in among the pack kids. My aggressiveness and attractiveness made sure I wasn't the omega so I settled in around the middle. My father continued to send money into the account, Greg sent me birthday cards and the occasional letter.
The families of Connachta Pack would have the world believe that they had been together as a family since the time of Brian Ború. The truth is less certain but together they moved from Ireland in 1912 and together they started a lumber business in the mountainous hills of western Maryland and there they prospered. No one ever suspecting that the forty or so people who always seemed a little too courteous and a little too beautiful were a little less than human and the pack preferred it that way.
On the outside they were pleasant people who looked mostly like everyone else. They were taller than even the basketball stars at Hercynian High School even the women who wouldn't look twice at any other man but the ones that were like them. They men looked like body builders though the small gym on a side street from Main was never visited by them. They knew how to stare at a woman and make her feel like a purely sexual being- something primeval in the blood but they also knew how to tear someone down with just a glance at the wrong time. The PTA was never graced by any of these creatures nor the Rotary Club nor the VFW Hall on Fleet Street. But they weren't outwardly rude, just kept to themselves most people decided. But every now and then if you knew what to look for you'd see a claw extended, a shadow of a pelt behind a dilated eye or, on the nights of the full moon, hear a howl in the distance.
We lived in perfect anonymity through both World Wars and it wasn't until after the Cold War that our world went a little sideways down a steep slope that no supernatural could recover from. It was now both expedient and inconvenient that we let no one know what we really were for our enemies now included vampires, who seemed hell-bent on destroying every last family of werewolves even if it killed them all too. But Connachta, like so many other North American packs, lucked out and the genocide started in Europe and for a while we were safe. But we all wondered how long could we go on with borrowed time?
In some dark region of the brain there's a hopeful imagining. It begins when we are young and have imaginary playmates, or we think that there are ghosts and ghouls underneath the bed. When you lose these beliefs they call it getting older; becoming an adult. All the time though, people misunderstand what is real and what is not.
I wish I misunderstood.
There are polite terminology for things like us; werewolf, loup-garoux, voldavolk. What we really as is more complex. Usually it is. Labels serve only those that make them. It's a way of life and death, a peripheral sideshow that we live day in and day out. The ringleader was Geoff; the alpha, supposed to be the strongest of us, the five families plus dependents that ran the local parks surrounding Hercynian City, Maryland. But when his family turned up dead one morning after the full moon-silver plated bullets to the foreheads-he was the one who buckled and broke until he changed into his fur and ran howling for the hills in agony leaving twenty-five hostile creatures without leadership.
And we needed a leader during these times. Other supernatural's were after our pelts. The vampire dictator whose name I've never learned was pushing packs out of Virginia and they came scratching at our door begging for refuge. Geoff made the generous decision and let them stay in Hercynian, as long as their alpha Rex Morton would accept his leadership. His people were scared and still had ash from the burnt houses on their faces he would have taken any deal. But it didn't take him long to lust over our businesses and over the power he had ceded to Geoff. When Jane, Amy and Eric Owens showed up dead in that clearing all fingers pointed at Luna Pack, but Rex swore they were not responsible but who would have believed that?
It didn't matter if we believed it though. Geoff cracked and turned during the funeral, his old suit fell off of him in tatters as he jumped over the cake. Rex was kind. He didn't kill us all on spot and he could have. As soon as trouble started many of the pack left to go stay with family where it was quieter, we were outnumbered but he gave us a choice; stay with him and accept his leadership or leave everything behind. We left everything behind and made for the large town of Palatine Mills, Maryland, a place where many of our family had already resettled.
That was two years ago. Things hadn't improved much for my people. We had no leader. There was no one in the pack in Palatine that could tie us all together again so the elders decreed us a democracy and we voted for the first time in four hundred years. It didn't work. No one could decide if we should stay or if we should go, if we should accept the authority of the Supernatural Network or if we should shove it back in their faces. I watched them tear each other down with words and the close knit relationships moved farther and farther away. It would take an outside force to unite us but I wasn't sure I could submit to anyone. I was too used to having my own way.
We like to pretend that we are so superior to homo-sapiens. And while it's true that we have two skins and can heal faster and are stronger, these traits make us all the more fragile. We don't know when to stop, where the animal ends and the human begins. We are still fragile creatures just as scared and wide eyed as our humanoid ancestors.
Thursday December 16, 2004; 6:26 pm Waxing Crescent
On Pointe Ballet Studio
"Fomenkova, focus!" Madam Tara snapped at Mila. She was daydreaming at the barre and had no idea what Tara just said.
"Sorry." Mila said getting her feet back into fifth position. Inhaling deeply she let the bad thoughts of her past exhale with her breath and broke into step with the girl in front of her to the tune of Swan Lake Op. 20 Scéne. It was just hard to focus on ballet when Mila knew that in less than an hour a man was going to die and she was going to watch it happen and perhaps even get a sense of vindication from it.
Friday December 17, 2004; 12:01 am Waxing Crescent
The Hell House, Owella Maryland, USA
Mila had seen the pack kill people a dozen times, so it didn't strike her as odd anymore. The prisoner-the offender, Johnny Rand, was kneeling with his hands clasped as if in prayer. His whole body shook as if there was an earthquake just below him. Big fat drops of sweat dripped from his nose and billowed out dark stains on his dress shirt even though it was twenty degrees outside. The elders stood in front of him, Tommy, Aunt Gilli, Aunt Bili, and John, cloaked in priestly robes their voice barely raised above a whisper were muttering an incantation that had no rhyme or reason but made the bones of the wolves circled around hum pleasantly.
Mila shifted her weight from one foot to the other. It was getting boring. She had gotten there late and had to stand at the back of the crowd only getting a glimpse or two between heads of what was happening. Ballet class had held her up and Madame Tara wanted to know what was breaking her concentration so much. Tara didn't want to see her star ballerina loose her talent too early.
It wasn't like Mila really wanted to see it- she knew what was going to happen but it was like a train wreck; there was beauty in the breakdown. But really her mind was miles away. There was an Algebra final tomorrow and she was going over Chemistry notes in her mind. Her nose wrinkled in thought. Her mother standing on her left elbowed her sharply and her green eyes gave a pointed look. Mila rolled her own green eyes that exactly mirrored her mother's but turned her attention back towards the shaking figure.
Naked bodies were quivering in delight and anticipation but the elders held up their hands. The message was clear-wait. All those who could change at will were invited to take their bites after the offender was suffocated until they passed out. Even out in the middle of the woods in the wreckage of an old school that all the locals thought was haunted they could never be too careful. The pack never knew who could hear the screaming. Mila couldn't change at will and neither could anyone she was standing around. It was a skill that took a lifetime to get right and some never did. Hydrogen, Helium, Sodium…Mila was interrupted mid-thought by Aunt Bili's booming voice. She was head elder and presided over the affair because there was no alpha.
"Jonathan Rand have you last words?" Her voice was large and disproportionate to her small, wrinkled face. The condemned looked up at her trying to find mercy or a sign that this was all just a dream.
His voice quivered as his body, "Wha-wha-what did-d I do?" He held his head in his hands and sobbed in dry heaves. Aunt Bili gave a sigh of exasperation. The quivers in the naked bodies tensed for just a second as if they could laugh. What did he do? How dare he ask? It was truly pathetic. Mila thought it was sad when you died and didn't know what for, but she couldn't sympathize with the victim-if that was even what he was. A betrayer was reserved for the last circle in Hell according to Signor Alighieri, and while she didn't believe in Hell she was pretty sure that being surrounded by a pack of naked, quivering werewolves was a good representation of what it would be like.
"You would have betrayed our position to the highest bidder. You would have seen us destroyed. And for this we will destroy you." Aunt Bili's voice echoed on the burnt out plaster walls of the Hell House. She took a deep breath. "Now have you last words?"
"Please-please- I have a family. I wasn't going to I swear. Please." His buggy eyes dripped out fat tears and he crawled towards Aunt Bili like a rat, clutching the bottom of her robes. Mila stood on tip toe to see. Bili swept her skirts about her and said, "Tommy." The largest man in robes beside her stepped forward and lifted Johnny by his neck. There was a horrible squelching sound as his airway collapsed and then he stopped moving. "Dinner." He said grinning wide so that the light of the crescent moon bounded off his fangs.
Six male bodies built like action super stars stepped forward and the air around them seemed to glimmer as they did. There was a pop of sinew and bone and they leaned forward on all fours. Hair spurted out and grew like grass along their backs. Limbs shortened and jaws extended, popping and crackling sounds continued like rice crispy cereal until there were six fully grown wolves were men used to be. Tommy let the body of Johnny drop and then cautiously backed away as the wolves circled the meat. A large red wolf stepped on his back and let out a long ear splitting howl that was like music to the ears of those that could not change. Mila, even though she'd die than admit it, was excited to see them rip into flesh, see the muscles move under the fur and hear them howl again for it was a sweet sound.
The crowd edged around even closer and Mila had a better view as they tore into his flank reveling rips and a still beating heart which a brown wolf ripped from the cavity and chewed in his mouth. Mila was sure it was still beating even between two rows of fangs. Her eyes glowed and power came unbidden to her fingertips. No, no, she thought frantically, not here. Think of something else, primary colors: blue, yellow, red-god my feet really fucking hurt. She gave a self-satisfied smile and half a laugh which got her mother's sharp look. At her feet what used to be a man was just a few crushed bones and matted hair. But what did it matter? She would do well on her tests in the morning.
The ride back was quiet and solemn. They had come close to destruction that time and everyone knew it. Ever since they had been chased from their rightful home in western Maryland the pack had been without any form of leadership. No alpha within their ranks could hold them together for more than a season and no one was ready for a challenge among themselves for it would surely be their destruction. The elders ruled but within the pack there were factions that were not so pliant and they would destroy them as quickly as any other outside force.
"We need an alpha." Aunt Kitty said for the umpteenth time it seemed. Mila's mother, Lydie was driving a cigarette in her mouth. Mila was riding all the way in the back of the van squished between Theo, her cousin and Casey Mulloy who was asleep on her shoulder. Mila shrugged hard so the younger girl woke up and growled but shifted her weight against the window and plunged back into sleep.
"No one in this pack has the balls or the brains to hold us together." Lydie said expertly maneuvering the cigarette as she spoke so she wouldn't have to take it from her mouth.
"We need a challenge." Theo said lowly his voice like thunder.
"Yes. Yes. Let's rip each other apart. It's just what those vamper's want." Tommy Friel growled from the middle row. He was Aunt Kitty's father and a grizzled old wolf past his prime. It had the stink of an old argument but Mila still perked up and listened. The betrayer tonight had been a warning they were spinning on borrowed wheels and without leadership.
"The elders will decide." Mila said quietly taking off her shoe to look at the blisters on her feet. She was certain one had popped during the ceremony. No one seemed to hear her. "They always do." She whispered to herself.
And this is the rewrite of the prologue. I know most of it is a perhaps boring monologue but it's all important to understand Mila and her story. If you want to skip it go for it but you might be lost later down the line. As always I love being on peoples favorite lists and on their alerts but I'd really like reviews. I want to know what I'm doing right (or wrong). I will return the favor in kind of course. Best, KM