‘Morning everybody,’ said Olga brightly, walking into the sunny breakfast room. She took her place at the table and poured herself a glass of orange juice.
To describe the twenty year old Olga Baum would be to describe a wolf in human form. Her thick brown hair was almost the same walnut colour as her eyes, but already it was streaked with silver. When she smiled her teeth were perhaps just a bit too long, a bit too pointy, matching her nails, which she had coloured a bright red for the occasion. This morning she was wearing a short leather skirt that could only be described as medieval, and her knee-length leather boots gleamed with polish. Her dark make-up took the medieval look further.
Her father looked at her over his breakfast plate and muttered ‘Good morning’ in a way that said he rather wished it was going to be, but that he had serious reservations about it.
‘Morning dear,’ said her mother, looking at her father with just a hint of disapproval. She knew why Heinrich felt so grumpy, but there was nothing that could be done about the situation. The preparations had been made, the guests had been invited and the party was going to go ahead.
‘Morning Sis,’ said Hans and winked at her from across the table. Today was going to be her big day. It had taken Olga more than a year to organise the gathering that was going to take place today. Hans had helped, of course, but it could not be denied that the party was all down to Olga’s organizational skills. And her dark sense of humour.
Their parents had thoroughly disapproved of the idea right from the start, but Olga had a will they could bend steel around, and once she had set her mind on something, there was nothing in the world that could stop her.
‘Come on Daddy, stop being so grumpy!’ said Olga, giving her father a bright, toothy smile. ‘It’s going to be fine, it’s all just a bit of fun!’
A servant entered the breakfast room and placed a plate in front of her. Olga looked at the thick strips of raw steak on the plate and sniffed deeply. The wolf inside her wanted to dig right in, to lower her face to the plate and eat as fast as she could, but of course her mother and father so disliked that kind of behaviour, and the bloodstains never came out of the tablecloth.
Forcing herself to use self-control she picked up the knife and fork and started eating like the well-mannered daughter her parents so wished her to be. Out of the corner of her eye she saw her father give a faint nod of approval at her self-control, but she ignored him. She was only doing it to keep her father happy, because she knew he hated the idea of what would happen later during the day.
‘Lots to do today!’ said Hans brightly, trying to lighten the atmosphere.
‘Are all the guests’ bedrooms ready, dear?’ asked his mother.
‘Yes, the servants have done an excellent job,’ answered Hans. ‘The guests that could not be accommodated in the house have been put in the cottages, and a few preferred to book into the Royal in town.’
‘You let werewolves book into the hotel?’ asked his father, now thoroughly alarmed.
Hans shrugged. ‘They’re people dad, they have lives like everybody else, I’m sure they are quite used to staying in hotels and know perfectly well how to keep out of trouble.’
Heinrich rather doubted it, but kept quiet. If the fools had booked themselves into the hotel it had nothing to do with him, he had not made the arrangements. He angrily dragged a piece of bread through the blood on his plate, soaking up as much of it as he could, then stuffed the bread into his mouth with rather less self-control than his daughter had shown. When he’d swallowed the bread without chewing he pushed back his chair and stood up.
‘I’ll be in my study,’ he growled in a voice that suggested he did not want to be disturbed, and stalked out of the breakfast room.
‘He really does not think this is a good idea,’ said Hans, sighing and rolling his eyes at his sister.
‘He worries too much,’ said Olga calmly, dabbing a dribble of blood from her chin with a crispy white napkin.
‘He just doesn’t want any trouble,’ said her mother.
In his study, Heinrich sat in his easy chair with the big volume open on his lap, the volume containing the blood lines of all the werewolves since the original curse had been cast three hundred years ago. It was this damn book that had caused his daughter to come up with the idea of getting everybody together, so that all the werewolves could once again be a pack. He’d tried to explain the problem to her, of true blood and mixed blood, but she’d simply ignored him and followed her own head. And now there was going to be trouble, he knew it.
People today, Heinrich sat thinking, just had no idea about werewolves. They rented a movie from the DVD rental shop, or they saw a series on television, and what they saw was what they believed. It was all full-moon and fangs and gruesome killings, and it all ended with a silver bullet shot by the unlikely hero.
These were modern times, but somehow humans had never let their imaginations, or the truth, for that matter, catch up. When it came to werewolves, they were still living in the sixteenth century, when the werewolf had to be killed by a silver-tipped arrow shot from a crossbow.
Heinrich sighed as he looked down at the big volume he had been paging through. Back then, back in the sixteenth century, at the time when this book had only just begun to be written, werewolves had been true blood creatures, fresh from the curse that had created them. Each one had been a noble beast, strong and sleek and proud.
Three hundred years had been a long time. And despite their bloodthirsty reputation, the truth was that werewolves were, for all but three days of the month, human beings. Well, almost human. But they had thoughts, and feelings, and instead of there being an Alpha male and female, there were family units in which everybody were allowed to mate.
That, Heinrich mused, was where all the trouble had started.
In their human form, the werewolves of old had fallen prey to human shortcomings. Well, not shortcomings really, just generally being human. There had been love with other humans. Marriages that should never have happened had been tolerated. And when they had not been tolerated, the couple had simply disappeared together, to make a life for themselves in another village, or another country.
It must have come as a nasty surprise to some of the young men and woman to find that the lover they had chosen was not quite what they had appeared at first sight. Probably a few had never found out until the pups had been born. . .
The old mansion had been in the family for generations. It stood at the top of a hill, overlooking the moors to the south. Ivy clung to the walls and crawled in under the eaves, and in front of it sprawled immaculate lawns. Inside its walls twenty five guest bedrooms awaited the arrival of the guests, and the kitchens and sculleries bustled as it had not done for many years.
Servants were placing tables and chairs on the wide veranda, where the guests would be entertained for most of the day. From the gardens the smell of roses drifted in the air, mingling with the scent of pine from the forest that stood to the west.
A perfect setting, Olga thought, standing on the veranda and watching the final preparations being made. Next to her stood Morissa, head of the servants.
‘Now remember Morissa, when the sun sets tonight, I want all the servants to be either away from the property or securely locked up in their quarters, understand?’
‘Yes Miss,’ answered the head servant. ‘I’ve explained what tonight is about to all the servants, and besides, they know it is full moon, they will not be out tonight.’
‘Good,’ said Olga. ‘I don’t want a repeat of that incident when that stupid boy Oliver wanted to see what a werewolf looked like and uncle Horst got hold of him. Now, has all the food been prepared?’
‘Cook is busy with the final preparations, but everything will be ready. We will serve dinner just before sunset, but we will only clear the tables tomorrow morning.’
Hans ran up the steps from the lawns where he’d been checking preparations in the gardens. ‘Using ornamental water features as a place where they can have a drink later tonight was a nice touch,’ he said.
Hans wasn’t a big man, but he was built athletically. When he smiled he displayed a perfect set of teeth, right up to the pointy tips of the canines that most people who did not know his background found disconcertingly long. His eyes were the dark brown of most of his kind, and even this early in the morning his stubbly beard was starting to show. His thick brown hair hung loose over his shoulders, reminding those who saw him of the mane of a wild animal. A wolf, most thought.
‘Thank you, Hans. I will never forget the night we visited cousin Hubert and he put out dog-bowls, actual bloody dog-bowls, for us to drink out of. What an insult! I hope he thinks long and hard about why he didn’t crack an invite to this party.’
Hans laughed. ‘I’ve got to check that the sherry is ready, the first guests should be arriving any moment now. You might want to make sure that daddy remembers to come out of his study to greet the guests, some of them are family, after all.’
‘I think I’ll give mother that job!’ said Olga with an evil grin. ‘He’s not too fond of me right now. While you’re inside, please check that all the silverware has been put away, it would be so unpleasant if any of our guests should burn themselves.’
‘Good point,’ said Hans, and headed into the house, where things were starting to quiet down before the arrival of the guests. The rooms had been checked, the house was spotlessly clean and now the servants could catch a quick rest outside the kitchen in the sunny quart-yard until the first guests arrived. Of the silverware his sister had spoken of there was nothing to be seen, Morissa had done a good job of preparing the house.
In the large marble-floored foyer a table had been decked with bouquets of flowers surrounded by sherry glasses. A white-gloved butler called Robert was making a few final preparations, picking minute specks of dust from the tablecloth and making sure there were no fingerprints on the crystal glasses and finely cut decanters.
From outside came the low purr of a motor and the crunch of tyres on the gravel driveway. Hans stepped outside just as a sleek black Bentley pulled into the closest parking bay. Moments later the car door slammed as the first guest turned towards Hans.
There was no mistaking the figure of General Harms, Hans’s favourite uncle.
‘Hans you old fox, how are you?’ he said in his loud booming voice as he climbed the stairs to the front door.
‘I am great, Uncle, how are you?’ asked Hans, shaking his uncle by the hand.
‘Doing fine, lad, doing fine.’ He dropped his voice. ‘Between us, your father did not sound very happy about this whole party idea, but I think it’s excellent!’ he said in a loud whisper.
‘I’m sure it’s going to be a great party,’ agreed Hans as a servant appeared behind him, no doubt ordered there by the butler. ‘But hand your case to young Clarence here and head on in, mother will be delighted to see you.’
‘Thank you Hans, I will chat to you later, I see more of your guests are arriving, You’re going to be a busy lad for a while.’ With a heavy handed pat to the shoulder he left Hans standing on the front porch, looking on as a small Toyota pulled into the yard.
When the invitations had gone out, there had been no consideration of class or creed. They had simply contacted as many of the old families as they could, and found out who would be interested in joining the party. Tonight it might well be rich sitting next to rags, bound in history by the ancient curse of the werewolf.
The lady that alighted from the Toyota was neatly dressed in a blue skirt and matching shirt, and immediately Hans saw the first signs of what would make tonight’s party unique. Her hair was blond, not the brown that most true-blood werewolves had. By the time she had opened the boot of her car a servant was on hand to help her with her luggage, and moments later she had climbed the steps and he could see her eyes. Blue eyes, as blue as the sky above, looked at him from behind a neat pair of spectacles.
‘You must be Hans, I am Margaret Willow,’ she said, handing him the blue invitation card that Olga had sent to all the guests.
‘Welcome to our home, Margaret,’ said Hans, smiling his most welcoming smile. ‘I hope you had a good journey here?’
‘No problems whatsoever,’ she said, smiling back at him. ‘Thank you so much for the invitation. It really is not often that I get to mingle with people who have the same condition as I have.’
From behind Hans his mother emerged through the front door and introduced herself to Margaret Willow, while Hans turned to face the arrival of the next person. His mother had barely taken Margaret inside when the young man was standing in front of him, holding out the invitation card bearing the Baum family crest. Hans made a quick assessment of the man’s features. He had almost black hair, with light-brown eyes. Not a true werewolf then, Hans thought, although the man did display the overlarge canines when he smiled broadly. Hans welcomed him and smoothly handed him over to the next servant waiting in line to take his luggage.
Hans noted that Robert had moved in behind him. Officially, it was Robert’s job to welcome the guests, but for now Hans stood at his post, his curiosity about the appearance of the guests keeping him there.
The first couple to arrive was almost certainly purebred werewolves, they had the shaggy brown hair streaked with silver and the brown eyes of the classic werewolf in human shape. After them came an elderly lady with hair so red that Hans immediately guessed it must have been coloured, no woman of her age would have a head of hair so devoid of grey, especially not a werewolf.
A beaten up old Volkswagen beetle coughed and spluttered its way into the yard, followed closely by the lowest Ferrari Hans had seen in his life, purring in a voice that suggested it could growl at the merest touch of a pedal. When the owners of the cars got out though, all difference in class was forgotten in a moment. They were not here to show how rich or poor they were, they were here to make new friends, to meet people who had the same affliction as they had.
As the guests were shown to their rooms in ones and twos, Hans could smell the nervousness of the servants. They knew what these people were, and it made them anxious. They were used to being around werewolves, but usually it was just the Baum family and a few of their closest friends or family. Today though, the whole house was filling up with werewolves and Olga had invited more than seventy of them. But the servants had been in the service of the Baum family for generations, and they trusted their masters to take care of them. It was a good deal, the werewolves got people to serve them, and the servants could go home in the knowledge that their families would be safe from attack.
Today though, many of them had already started waiting for sunset, promising themselves to get as far away and be as securely locked up as it would be humanly possible to be. What would happen to any unwary villagers who might stray close to the property tonight did not bear thinking of, but the servants knew better than to voice their thoughts. For them, it was better to keep their heads down, do their work, take their wages, and be glad that they and theirs could walk in safety.
Tonight, they would keep their families locked up inside.
The sun had moved past its zenith when Olga emerged from the house. She had changed into jeans and a T-shirt in an effort to appear less formal. For this occasion she was wearing a T-shirt sporting a howling wolf.
The party was starting to liven up. A large group of people who had never met each other before had congregated on the veranda, and loud howls of laughter emanated from this group in regular bouts as stories and jokes were shared. Instead of a served lunch, Morissa had made the cook prepare a buffet of raw meats to which the guests could help themselves. Just as an in-case, a small selection of cooked meat was also available. This, Olga noticed, had not been touched.
She approached a young girl who was talking to a man of about the same age and introduced herself, carefully studying both of their features. It was true what Hans had told her, some of the people who were at this party were definitely not true bloods. But then nobody had expected them to be, the book had made it quite clear that the original werewolf blood was rather thin these days.
The girl had curly white hair, with a smooth and very pale complexion. Most werewolves had brown hair streaked with silver, and they had much darker skins. She was also built smaller than most werewolves, and it was only a very slight lengthening of her canines that suggested there might be something wolfish about her.
The boy who she was speaking to, and whom she had only met at the party, was even worse.
He had curly brown hair, and he was built small, much smaller than most werewolves. Smaller than most humans, Olga reflected, with a slight sense of unease. She hoped he really did have some werewolf in him, because if not, then tonight’s rising moon would see the last of him.
She left the couple so they could get better acquainted and moved off to watch a young man who was looking slightly out of place. He was sitting in the circle where most of the action seemed to be happening, but not partaking in any of the conversation. This guy she could only describe as an odd bunch. He had one or two features that might be wolfish, but then again he had lots of features that were anything but wolfish. His nose was short and flat, his lower jaw seemed to be sticking past his upper jaw and his legs were so bandy they might have been wrapped around a barrel.
Olga scolded herself for thinking such negative thoughts about her guests and moved towards the man, determined to make sure he was feeling welcome.
On the other side of the veranda, her mother and father were also mingling with the guests, although with some reserve on the side of her father. Heinrich was stiff and courteous, and his wife was starting to think it might be better to get him back in his study before he did himself a disfavour. She was about to do just this when her brother saved her the trouble by greeting Heinrich warmly. At least here was one friendship that had grown over the years, and she left the two to talk over old adventures and plan some new ones, while she herself moved once again between the guests to make sure everybody was well looked after and having a good time.
The sun had dropped to the western horizon when Morissa rang the small but clear bell, indicating that dinner was about to be served. The old dancehall had been set with tables and chairs, the tables decked with bouquets of flowers, crystal glasses and the finest of eating utensils, conspicuous only by the total absence of silverware. All the knives, forks and spoons were made from solid stainless steel.
‘I think it’s working,’ said Hans, appearing at Olga’s shoulder where she was watching the guests taking their places at the tables.
‘Oh yeah, what do you mean?’ asked Olga.
‘I welcomed many of them personally when they got here this morning, and there are definitely a lot of new friendships forming. I even introduced some of them to each other.’
‘That is good news,’ said Olga, smiling brightly. ‘Shall we go sit? I’m starving, and the blood on that rump-steak is making me salivate.’
Hans laughed and led the way to their table. ‘Just don’t drool,’ he said.
Alone in his study, Heinrich could hear the scrape of chairs as the guests took their seats at the dinner tables. He had the book open on his lap again, but was staring out of the window at the last rays of sunlight leaving the grounds. Pretty soon it would be dark, and in a few hours the moon would rise. At that time, if her timing was correct, Olga would have all the guests out on the lawn, and the moon would once again reveal the curse of the werewolf, as it had done for three hundred years.
He sighed again.
Silence descended on the lawns as the guests turned towards the eastern horizon. Dinner had been served and well received, and then Olga had led the guests out of the house and onto the lawns, to await the rising of the full-moon. At the moment it was dark, but pretty soon the moon was going to come over that hill, the moment they had all been waiting for would arrive.
Standing on the veranda and joined by Hans, Olga watched as the first thin slither of silver crested the hill, and felt the hair stand up all over her body as the curse awakened. It started as a tingling, an itch she felt she had to scratch, but pretty soon the burning started at the base of her spine, moving up and taking control of her body. Now the hair was growing all over her body, brown streaked with silver. Before her hands could start changing she ripped the T-shirt over her head and, with a snarl, started undoing her jeans. It was always so bloody awkward to do these things once the wolf inside had come out.
Moments later, where Olga and Hans had been, two silver-backed werewolves stood looking down at what was taking place on the lawns below the veranda.
The moon had almost completely crested the hill, revealing what three hundred years of cross breading had done to the original werewolf curse.
Olga watched the man closest to her. He was the one who had looked like such an odd person before, with his sticky-out lower jaw, bandy legs and flat nose. Now, in the silver light of the moon, she saw what was going on. The man started changing, and as the change happened and he got rid of his clothes, she could see what had happened in his past. Where a funny looking man had stood was now an ugly dog, a British Bulldog. She could still see the flat nose, bandy legs and the elongated lower jaw. The dog looked at her, whined, and walked over to the nearest tree, where it peed against the tree trunk, marking its territory, becoming the first of the were-dogs to give its scent to the night.
Next to Olga, Hans was watching the neat blond woman who had arrived in the Toyota transform into what could never, ever be described as a werewolf, but could definitely be described as a Labrador. It stood looking at the melee of changing going on around it for a second or two, then bounded off, jumping and running through the crowd in absolute joy of being a dog under the full moon.
Somewhere to their right, the man with the black hair and brown eyes had turned into a Rottweiler, and even though he was not at present appearing to be dangerous or aggressive, some of the smaller breed of canine that were suddenly present on the lawn backed away from him nervously. They needn’t have bothered. A young cocker spaniel bitch who had come into heat just that afternoon was taking up all his interest. It soon became clear that yet another cross-breed of were-mutt was going to be brought into the fold within a few months.
By now the moon had completely cleared the brow of the hill to the east, and brother and sister watched in fascination as the lady with the curly white hair changed into a poodle, who immediately started yapping excitedly at the dogs around her, arched her back and had a shit on the perfectly tended lawn. Hans heard Olga give a low whine of disapproval. Well, what had she expected, that they should go find a place in the woods?
It was, however, the man standing next to the curly haired woman that came as the biggest surprise. Here was the man with the small build, who had not looked like any kind of werewolf they had ever seen before. As the moon rose above the hill there stood, amidst the discarded clothing of the werewolves, one small and terrified Yorkshire Terrier. It looked around, took note of its size amongst the creatures that now surrounded it, and pissed in fear, then shot off around the house, ears flat against its head, tail drawn between its legs, a brown ball of frightened fur.
Hans watched it go, hoping that the poor man, or rather dog, would have enough presence of mind not to venture into the village, or at least to come back before the moon set and he turned back into a human.
On the lawn, moving among the dogs that were now sniffing each other from behind in that strange greeting that dogs all around the globe has, a few werewolves were also moving. Olga noticed how they were using just a bit of self-control. They knew they were guests here, and it would be bad manners to start fights with the dogs. They also knew these dogs were different from normal domestic dogs. They were werewolves, even if somewhere in the past something had gone wrong with their breeding.
Somewhere inside the pack now gathered on the lawns, instinct took over and a howl went up, rising into the night and calling something out of all the dogs gathered there. It was quickly taken up by more and more howls, until the air was thick with the deafening howls of more than seventy werewolves and dogs alike. On the veranda, Olga and Hans looked at each other with wolfish grins, turned their heads to the moon and let their howls join the rest of the pack.
In his study in the house behind them, in a comfortable chair, Heinrich lay with his face on his paws, looking down at the volume that was now lying on the carpet.
Humans were not all the werewolves had mated with. Driven from villages, towns and cities, they had sought a life of their own, had joined each other to form little packs that would roam the forest. But sometimes a wolf had been alone, there had been no other wolves. And then the urge to mate would become too big, and liaisons would be formed with some of the domestic village dogs.
And if anybody had thought that the curse of the werewolf had brought an abomination, it had been as nothing to what the offspring of the werewolves and the dogs had been. Tonight, three hundred years after the original curse, on his very front lawn, there stood the end result of the breeding. Heinrich knew that the mixing of breeds would never stop, in fact he was sure that tonight’s party would just make things worse.
Soon, he knew, there would be new entries in the book, new bloodlines and breeding. But from now on, the werewolves would not frown upon it. They would think it normal, natural that dog and dog should come together. And it would all be Olga’s fault.
He growled softly.
When the howling started he looked up, but managed to stop himself from joining in. Tonight, instead of the proud howl he had always given, the moon could only draw a sad grunt out of him.