Chapter Fourteen: Werewolf, Go Home!
Carline decided that the best way to make it through to the hospital doors was to play it "casual" and bore the reporter with unsubstantiated gossip. She began to chat up a storm, expressing her "opinion" that Howell was just an actor wearing amazing make-up.
"Howell's always been a fan of werewolf movies," Carline told the reporter, Rina Ross, "and he gets fake "scientists" to come out and say that he's half-human and half-wolf, but really, he's nothing more than a simple human. He's told me that it's impossible to combine a human and a wolf, but he likes to joke around and scare people. I've known him since we were kids, and he's just a normal guy underneath that wolfy head of his."
"Our experts are real scientists," Rina countered, "and they say his genetic make-up consists of not only human material but also that of a wolf or perhaps a hybrid wolf-dog."
"Oh, a wolf-dog?" Carline scoffed, "Howell won't like that...after all, how scary is a domesticated were-dog?"
Carline's banter was having the desired effect. A few people in the crowd chortled sarcastically. One man, with a notebook and pen in hand, stepped over to join the interview.
"I'm David Dornoch, reporting for the Mullhagen Trumpeter," he announced, "and your name is?"
"Uh...Carline Rothmel," she admitted unenthusiastically.
Carline knew that the local newspaper reporter, David Dornoch, went bowling on Tuesday nights—the same night that her father Rocco bowled. She did not particularly wish to be exposed as a liar, but she was worried about the public reaction if it was revealed that Howell was a true "chimera".
"Ah, yes, Rocco's daughter," David identified her, to her consternation.
It was at times problematic living in the small rural town of Mullhagen, because everyone knew everyone else. Nonetheless, Rocco was known in town for his honesty; and so it was likely that people would expect that particular trait in her. Normally, she always preferred to tell the truth, but in this case it might have serious consequences to confirm the findings of Rina's sources. And so, she began to dig herself deeper into the hole of falsehoods.
"Ms. Rothmel, is it your belief, then, that this so-called "chimera" is nothing more than a trickster?"
"Well...I wouldn't call him a trickster," Carline replied, "He often gets so into the role of wolf-man that he believes he actually is one."
"My sources are quite legitimate," Rina Ross said in an aside to David Dornoch, once she had gestured to the camera-man to stop filming.
"Your show is devoted to gossip and fact-altering superstition," Dornoch replied icily, "I'd like to get the real story here...not the one pedaled to us by local lunatics like Jerry Jenkins and his ilk."
"Hey!" retorted Rina, "Jerry Jenkins is a friend of mine, I'll have you know...and I trust his judgment."
"I rest my case," David responded sarcastically, "You and he are birds of a feather."
While David Dornoch and Rina Ross were arguing, Carline spotted an opening in the crowd. Before anyone could ask her another question, she darted through into the hospital, where Officer O'Hara was waiting in order to discourage any "undesirables" from coming in and bothering the patients and staff.
"I'm here to see my boyfriend, Officer O'Hara," she greeted him respectfully, hoping that he would let her in.
"All right, my dear," the affable police-man told her, "Go straight to the desk and ask the hospital staff if you can see them."
Carline gave O'Hara a grateful smile and hurried along before he changed his mind. Howell was not her boyfriend, of course, but she needed an excuse to be given special access to Mullhaven's newest celebrity.
The hospital staff was reluctant to permit her entry, but as yet there had been no verified reason not to let her see Forrest and Howell. She traveled up the elevator to the fourth floor, and as she exited she was relieved to see Una.
"Una!" she cried, "How are Forrest and Howell?"
"Forrest will be all right," she replied softly, "and I'm very relieved about that; but there's another problem, Carline. This reporter, Rina Ross, has begun making Howell's genetic make-up known to the public. This could cause him terrible problems, and to make things worse he doesn't want to come back to Knowledge Quest House."
"Wolfhowl Manor, you mean," Carline corrected her, before realizing that it was not helpful to do so, "I mean, Knowledge Quest House. He doesn't want to go back. He wants his freedom."
"What freedom will it be if he's dead?" Una argued, "These pitchfork people won't rest until they've killed him."
"They did stop their crusade long enough to take Howell and Forrest to the hospital," Carline countered, "They were willing to put aside their pitchforks in order to help. That has to be a good sign!"
Una sighed, her face lined with the wrinkles of worry.
"This group decided to go with their better natures," she said, "but there will be other mobs which will not be so forgiving. Human nature can be very ruthless, Carline. I know that from my own school days—I was harassed mercilessly because I was different, and a rumor had gone around that I was a witch. It was utter nonsense, of course. I was interested in supernatural things when I was a teen, but it was just a phase. It passed after Forrest took over my upbringing. When our parents passed away, he arranged for me to receive my education through private tutoring. Since then, I have rarely ventured outside of the property. I go to town only when absolutely necessary."
"But Una, Howell doesn't want to live his life that way," Carline told her, placing a hand on her shoulder to reassure her, "He's an adventurer. Isn't there some way he could live in society without being ostracized? I mean, even Jerry Jenkins has grown up since high school. I know it's scary out there; but even if you take him back, Howell will just find another way to escape."
At that moment, the subject of their conversation decided to stick his wolf-head into the mix.
"Talking about me as usual, ladies?" he announced in a cavalier fashion.
"Howell, this is serious," Una chided him, "These people who were hunting you...or perhaps others like them...could be very dangerous. You need to return to Wolfhowl...that is, Knowledge Quest House."
"No, Ma, you had it right the first time," Howell corrected her, "Wolfhowl Manor. And no, I ain't goin' back. I told you about a million times."
"Don't you get smart with me, Mister!" Una exploded, raising her normally quiet tone of voice, "You are going to come back with us as soon as Forrest is ready to leave the hospital—maybe even sooner, if I can get you out of here."
"Fat chance of that," Howell muttered, "with all those reporters around. I saw them from the window."
"Howell, what would you do if you didn't go back?" Carline asked, hoping to encourage him to think realistically, "Where would you stay?"
"Maybe I could stay at your place, Carline," Howell answered without any apparent irony.
"That wouldn't work," Carline countered, "my parents would never allow it."
"Well, then I'll just have to become a vagabond, traveling by night and hiding by day. Then, maybe I'll turn into a real werewolf!"
"Or maybe you could invite people over to Wolfhowl Manor," Carline suggested, "You could charge admission and let folks 'step right up and see the werewolf'."
Howell grunted, and Carline could tell that he did not think much of that suggestion; but what else could he do besides go back home?
As Carline tried in vain to think of a solution to Howell's problem, they heard a commotion outside. The three of them walked over to a nearby window in the waiting room. As Howell opened a window, they could hear the chanting of the crowd: "Werewolf, go home! Werewolf, go home!"
"Oh, no!" Carline exclaimed, slapping her forehead in consternation.
The word was obviously out that Howell was a "chimera", but he seemed not to care. He waved at the crowd, growling defiantly at them.
"I'm not going back in the box," he told them bluntly, "no matter what they do to me."