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Kitty Goes to Washington
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We have Beth from Tampa on the line. Hello.”
“Hi, Kitty, thanks for taking my call.”
“I have a question I’ve been wanting to ask for a long time. Do you think Dracula is still out there?”
I leaned on the arm of my chair and stared at the microphone. “Dracula. As in, the book? The character?”
Beth from Tampa sounded cheerful and earnest. “Yeah. I mean, he’s got to be the best-known vampire there is. He was so powerful, I can’t really believe that Van Helsing and the rest of them just finished him off.”
I tried to be polite. “Actually, they did. It’s just a book, Beth. Fiction. They’re characters.”
“But you sit there week after week telling everyone that vampires and werewolves are real. Surely a book like this must have been based on something that really happened. Maybe his name wasn’t actually Dracula, but Bram Stoker must have based him on a real vampire, don’t you think? Don’t you wonder who that vampire was?”
Stoker may have met a real vampire, may even have based Dracula on that vampire. But if that vampire was still around, I suspected he was in deep hiding out of embarrassment.
“Even if there is a real vampire who was Stoker’s inspiration, the events of the book are sheer fabrication. I say this because Dracula isn’t really about vampires, or vampire hunting, or the undead, or any of that. It’s about a lot of other things: sexuality, religion, reverse imperialism, and xenophobia. But what it’s really about is saving the world through superior office technology.” I waited half a beat for that to sink in. I loved this stuff. “Think about it. They make such a big deal about their typewriters, phonographs, stenography—this was like the techno-thriller of its day. They end up solving everything because Mina is really great at data entry and collating. What do you think?”
“Um . . . I think that may be a stretch.”
“Have you even read the book?”
“Um, no. But I’ve seen every movie version of it!” she ended brightly, as if that would save her.
I suppressed a growl. “All right. Which is your favorite?”
“The one with Keanu Reeves!”
“Why am I not surprised?” I clicked her off. “Moving on. Next caller, you’re on the air.”
“Kitty, hey! Longtime listener, first-time caller. I’m so glad you put me on.”
“No problem. What’s your story?”
“Well, I have sort of a question. Do you have any idea what kind of overlap there is between lycanthropes and the furry community?”
The monitor said this guy had a question about lycanthropes and alternative lifestyles. The producer screening calls was doing a good job of being vague.
I knew this topic would come up eventually. It seemed I’d avoided it for as long as I possibly could. Oh well. The folks in radioland expected honesty.
“You know, I’ve hosted this show for almost a year without anyone bringing up furries. Thank you for destroying that last little shred of dignity I possessed.”
“You don’t have to be so—”
“Look, seriously. I have absolutely no idea. They’re two different things—lycanthropy is a disease. Furry-ness is a . . . a predilection. Which I suppose means it’s possible to be both. And when you say furry, are you talking about the people who like cartoons with bipedal foxes, or are you talking about the people who dress up in animal suits to get it on? Maybe some of the people who call in wanting to know how to become werewolves happen to be furries and think that’s the next logical step. How many of the lycanthropes that I know are furries? That’s not something I generally ask people. Do you see how complicated this is?”
“Well, yeah. But I have to wonder, if someone really believes that they were meant to be, you know, a different species entirely—like the way some men really believe they were meant to be women and then go through a sex change operation—don’t you think it’s reasonable that—”
“No. No it isn’t reasonable. Tell me, do you think that you were meant to be a different species entirely?”
He gave a deep sigh, the kind that usually preceded a dark confession, the kind of thing that was a big draw for most of my audience.
“I have this recurring dream where I’m an alpaca.”
I did a little flinch, convinced I hadn’t heard him correctly. “Excuse me?”
“An alpaca. I keep having these dreams where I’m an alpaca. I’m in the Andes, high in the mountains. In the next valley over are the ruins of a great Incan city. Everything is so green.” He might have been describing the photos in an issue of National Geographic. “And the grass tastes so lovely.”
Okay, that probably wasn’t in National Geographic.
“Um . . . that’s interesting.”
“I’d love to travel there someday. To see the Andes for myself. Have—have you by any chance ever met any were-alpacas?”
If it weren’t so sad I’d have to laugh. “No, I haven’t. All the were-animals I’ve ever heard of are predators, so I really don’t think you’re likely to meet a were-alpaca.”
“Oh,” he said with a sigh. “Do you think maybe I was an alpaca in a past life?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I’m sorry I can’t be more help. I genuinely hope you find some answers to your questions someday. I think traveling there is a great idea.” Seeing the world never hurt, in my opinion. “Thanks for calling.”
I had no idea where the show could possibly go after that. I hit a line at random. “Next caller, what do you want to talk about?”
“Hi, Kitty, yeah. Um, thanks. I—I think I have a problem.” He was male, with a tired-sounding tenor voice. I always listened closely to the ones who seemed tired; their problems were usually doozies.
“Then let’s see what we can do with it. What’s wrong?”
“It all started when these two guys moved to town, a werewolf and a vampire. They’re a couple, you know?”
“These are two guys. Men, right?”
“And the problem is . . .”
“Well, nothing at this point. But then this vampire hunter started going after the vampire, I guess he’d been hired by the vampire’s former human servant.”
“The vampire’s human servant didn’t travel with him?”
“No, he dumped her to run off with the werewolf.”
There couldn’t possibly be more. Bracing, I said, “Then what?”
“Another werewolf, who used to be the alpha female mate of the werewolf before he hooked up with the vampire, showed up. She wanted to get back together with him, saying this stuff about wolves mating for life and all, but he didn’t want anything to do with her, so he hired the same hunter to go after her—”
“This hunter, his name wasn’t Cormac by any chance, was it?” I knew a vampire and werewolf hunting Cormac, and this sounded like something he might do.
Phew. “Just checking.”
The story only went downhill from there. Just when I thought the last knot had been tied in the tangled web of this town’s supernatural soap opera, the caller added a new one.
Finally, I was able to ask, “And what’s your place in all this?”
He gave a massive sigh. “I’m the human servant of the local vampire Master. They make me deliver messages. ‘Tell them they have to leave town.’ ‘Tell your Master we don’t want to leave town!’ ‘Tell the hunter we’ll pay him to call off the contract!’ ‘Tell him if he doesn’t come back to me I’ll kill myself!’ It never ends! And all I want to know is—”
Maybe he just wanted to vent. That was what I was here for. Maybe he wouldn’t ask me to sort out his drama for him. Fingers crossed. “Yes?”
“Why can’t we all just get along?”
Oy. It was one of those nights. “That, my friend, is the million-dollar question. You know what? Screw ’em. They’re all being selfish and putting you in the middle. Make them deliver their own messages.”
“I—I can’t do that.”
“Yes you can. They’ve got to realize how ridiculous this all looks.”
“Well, I mean, yeah, I’ve told them, but—”
“I guess I’m used to doing what I’m told.”
“Then maybe you should learn to say no. When they act surprised that you’ve said no, tell them it’s for their own good. You’ve basically been enabling all their snotty behavior, right?”
“Maybe . . .”
“Because if they had to start talking to each other they might actually solve some of their problems, right?”
“Or rip each other’s throats out. They’re not exactly human, remember.”
Taking a deep breath and trying not to sound chronically frustrated, I said, “I may very well be the only person in the supernatural underworld who feels this way, but I don’t think that should make a difference. Crappy behavior is still crappy behavior, and letting yourself succumb to unsavory monstrous instincts isn’t a good excuse. So, stand up for yourself, okay?”
“O-okay,” he said, not sounding convinced.
“Call me back and let me know how it goes.”
The producer gave me a warning signal, waving from the other side of the booth window, pointing at his watch, and making a slicing motion across his throat. Um, maybe he was trying to tell me something.
I sighed, then leaned up to the mike. “I’m sorry, folks, but that looks like all the time we have this week. I want to thank you for spending the last couple of hours with me and invite you to come back next week, when I talk with the lead singer of the punk metal band Plague of Locusts, who says their bass player is possessed by a demon, and that’s the secret of their success. This is The Midnight Hour, and I’m Kitty Norville, voice of the night.”
The ON AIR sign dimmed, and the show’s closing credits, which included a recording of a wolf howl—my wolf howl—as a backdrop, played. I pulled the headset off and ran my fingers through my blond hair, hoping it didn’t look too squished.
The producer’s name was Jim something. I forgot his last name. Rather, I didn’t bother remembering. I’d be at a different radio station next week, working with a different set of people. For the better part of a year, most of the show’s run, I’d broadcast out of Denver. But a month ago, I left town. Or was chased out. It depended on who you talked to.
Rather than find a new base of operations, I decided to travel. It kept me from getting into trouble with the locals, and it made me harder to find. The radio audience wouldn’t know the difference. I was in Flagstaff this week.
I leaned on the doorway leading to the control booth and smiled a thanks to Jim. Like a lot of guys stuck manning the control board over the graveyard shift, he was impossibly young, college age, maybe even an intern, or at most a junior associate producer of some kind. He was sweating. He probably hadn’t expected to handle this many calls on a talk show that ran at midnight.
Most of my audience stayed up late.
He handed me a phone handset. I said into it, “Hi, Matt.”
Matt had worked the board for the show when I was in Denver. These days, he coached the local crew. I couldn’t do this without him.
“Hey, Kitty. It’s a wrap, looks like.”
“Was it okay?”
“You always say that,” I said with a little bit of a whine.
“What can I say? You’re consistent.”
“Thanks. I think.”
“Tomorrow’s full moon, right? You going to be okay?”
It was nice that he remembered, even nicer that he was worried about me, but I didn’t like to talk about it. He was an outsider. “Yeah, I have a good place all checked out.”
“Take care of yourself, Kitty.”
I wrapped things up at the station and went to my hotel to sleep off the rest of the night. Locked the door, hung out the DO NOT DISTURB sign. Couldn’t sleep, of course. I’d become nocturnal, doing the show. I’d gotten used to not sleeping until dawn, then waking at noon. It was even easier now that I was on my own. No one checked up on me, no one was meeting me for lunch. It was just me, the road, the show once a week. An isolated forest somewhere once a month. A lonely life.
My next evening was spoken for. Full moon nights were always spoken for.
I found the place a couple of days ago: a remote trailhead at the end of a dirt road in the interior of a state park. I could leave the car parked in a secluded turn-out behind a tree. Real wolves didn’t get this far south, so I only had to worry about intruding on any local werewolves who might have marked out this territory. I spent an afternoon walking around, watching, smelling. Giving the locals a chance to see me, let them know I was here. I didn’t smell anything unexpected, just the usual forest scents of deer, fox, rabbits. Good hunting here. It looked like I’d have it all to myself.
A couple of hours from midnight, I parked the car at the far end of the trailhead, where it couldn’t be seen from the road. I didn’t want to give any hint that I was out here. I didn’t want anyone, especially not the police, to come snooping. I didn’t want anyone I might hurt to come within miles of me.
I’d done this before. This was my second full moon night alone, as a rogue. The first time had been uneventful, except that I woke up hours before dawn, hours before I was ready, shivering in the cold and crying because I couldn’t remember how I’d gotten to be naked in the middle of the woods. That never happened when I had other werewolves there to remind me.
My stomach felt like ice. This was never going to get easier. I used to have a pack of my own. I’d been surrounded by friends, people I could trust to protect me. A wolf wasn’t meant to run on her own.
You’ll be okay. You can take care of yourself.
I sat in the car, gripping the steering wheel, and squeezed shut my eyes to keep from crying. I had acquired a voice. It was an inner monologue, like a part of my conscience. It reassured me, told me I wasn’t crazy, admonished me when I was being silly, convinced me I was going to be okay when I started to doubt myself. The voice sounded like my best friend, T.J. He died protecting me, six weeks ago today. The alpha male of our pack killed him, and I had to leave Denver to keep from getting killed, too. Whenever I started to doubt, I heard T.J.’s voice telling me I was going to be okay.
His death sat strangely with me. For the first week or two, I thought I was handling it pretty well. I was thinking straight and moving on. People call that stage denial. Then on the highway, I saw a couple on a motorcycle: neither of them wore helmets, her blond hair tangled in the wind, and she clung to his leather jacket. Just like I used to ride with T.J. The hole that he’d left behind gaped open, and I had to pull off at the next exit because I was crying so hard. After that, I felt like a zombie. I went through the motions of a life that wasn’t mine. This new life I had acquired felt like it had been this way forever, and like it or not, I had to adapt. I used to have an apartment, a wolf pack, and a best friend. But that life had vanished.
I locked the car, put the keys in my jeans pocket, and walked away from the parking lot, away from the trail, and into the wild. The night was clear and sharp. Every touch of air, every scent, blazed clear. The moon, swollen, bursting with light, edged above the trees on the horizon. It touched me, I could feel the light brushing my skin. Gooseflesh rose on my arms. Inside, the creature thrashed. It made me feel both drunk and nauseous. I’d think I was throwing up, but the Wolf would burst out of me instead.
I kept my breathing slow and regular. I’d let her out when I wanted her out, and not a second earlier.
The forest was silver, the trees shadows. Fallen leaves rustled as nighttime animals foraged. I ignored the noises, the awareness of the life surrounding me. I pulled off my T-shirt, felt the moonlight touch my skin.
I put my clothes in the hollow formed by a fallen tree and a boulder. The space was big enough to sleep in when I was finished. I backed away, naked, every pore tingling.
I could do this alone. I’d be safe.
I counted down from five—
One came out as a wolf’s howl.
Excerpted from Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn. Copyright © 2006 by Carrie Vaughn. All rights reserved. Excerpted by permission of the publisher. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.