This (rather rough) excerpt started as a strange little character moment and morphed into something surprisingly relevant to the (ever so slowly) developing plot. Peter and Regina have just returned from a long night at Edgar Lake Park, a small, entirely fictional wilderness about 40 minutes outside Portland. They went to Edgar Lake to investigate the burial site where the partially eaten body of a young woman had been found earlier that evening, and Regina fears a werewolf may have been the killer.
At home the next morning, Regina is disturbed and sleep-deprived, Peter is acting as if he knows more than he's saying, and I'm trying to write as if I'm not 3,000 words behind schedule...
That morning found them at the kitchen table, Regina swimming in her third cup of coffee and Peter neck deep in maps of 1950s rural New England.
“So,” she said after the second hour of silence, “anything I can do to help?”
Peter looked up from a massive hardbound US atlas that smelled inexplicably of baked beans. He blinked owlishly at her. “You found the maps,” he said. “That helped.”
The man needed sleep, Regina decided. Or coffee – coffee was better than sleep. She lifted her mug to take a sip, realized it was empty, and then returned it to its place on the table, left slightly heartbroken by the entire process. “Do you need more maps?”
Peter thought carefully about this for a moment. Then mid-thought he seemed to forget what he was thinking about, and so he took a moment to think carefully about the thought that he’d forgotten. Regina saw the precise moment when the two thoughts collided in his mind, forming a third and returning him to reality. “Maybe,” he said. “I’ll let you know.”
Regina groaned and dropped her head to the table.
Peter turned a page in the atlas with his right hand and gave her elbow a comforting pat with his left. “You should get some sleep.”
“Don’t want to,” Regina said to the table. She lifted her mug. “Coffee.”
He took her mug from her hand, which was a terrible thing to do to a girl and not at all what that motion had been meant to imply. “I’m cutting you off.”
“Yes, probably.” He sighed. “Regina, I didn’t want to do this, but you’ve left me no choice. As your employer, I order you to go back to bed and get some sleep.”
She shook her head, and her nose rubbed uncomfortably against the tabletop. “Should sue you. Harassment.”
“Harassment would be if I ordered you to go back to my bed and sleep with me.”
Regina thought about this. Her thoughts were rather orderly, particularly in comparison to Peter’s, and it wasn’t very long at all before she arrived at an answer. “Okay.”
Peter laughed – which, again, not the reaction she was going for – and gave her another pat. On the head, this time.
“Listen,” he said, in a tone that set off every emotionally unavailable alarm bell she had, “I know we don’t usually talk about things—”
She lifted her head from the table and looked at him through narrowed eyes. “Things?”
“You know.” He looked uncomfortable, which normally she enjoyed very much, but just now made her nervous. “We talk about work and about who’s going to do the dishes—”
“You,” Regina said. “You’re going to do the dishes. That’s your punishment for trying to make me talk about my feelings.” She pointed an accusing finger at him. “It was a perfectly good unspoken rule, and you broke it.”
He leaned forward in his chair, a stubborn set to his chin. “I know you like to pretend these things don’t bother you, Regina, but what we saw last night—”
Regina stood up and started to take off her clothes.
Peter turned his head away so quickly his neck popped. “Dammit, Regina—”
She stripped off her t-shirt and bra and started on her jeans. “I haven’t slept, Peter, because we got home at four o’clock in the morning and since then I’ve drunk enough coffee to kill a small horse. I’m not traumatized, or haunted by what we saw, or in any other way mentally deficient.” Her underwear hit the floor with a slap. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take myself out for a walk.” She shifted, slipping free of her human skin and into the wolf, passing briefly through the nothingness between.
“If you leave the house without a collar, you’re going to end up at the humane society again,” Peter said, but she just showed him a flash of teeth and pushed through the dog door into the backyard.
She took a few minutes to walk the perimeter of the high wooden fence that circled the small property behind the house, letting the comforting routine clear her head. The neighbor’s tomcat had braved the hedges while they’d been away in Reno; she could smell traces of the cheap cat food he ate in the urine marking the bushes. Instinct dictated that she lift a leg herself and answer him with the wolf piss equivalent of a keep out sign, and her coffee-swollen bladder eagerly endorsed the plan.
She’d just finished when the dog door flapped open and an enormous timber wolf squeezed through the opening. As a man, Peter was six foot five, long-limbed, lanky and slouching; as a wolf, he was the infamous child-snatching monster of fairy tale and fable. Regina often passed as a dog among the uninformed because her subspecies bore little resemblance to the popular image of a wolf - she was too small, her fur too thin and her coloring too warm. People see what they expect to see, Claud had told her years before, and aside from the rare exception, Regina had found that to be true.
But Peter was easily twice her size, with a dark, shaggy gray pelt and a wolf’s unmistakable staring yellow eyes, and only a human being without the slightest lingering shred of ancestral survival instinct could look at him and see anything but a predator.
He loped over to her, snatched up a stick in his alarmingly large teeth, and bonked her over the head with it.
Clearly, this meant war.
Peter may have been twice her size, but she was twice as fast – she ran circles around him, and he danced away from her snapping teeth, using his height and the considerable length of his neck and muzzle to keep the stick well out of her reach. Once she had him herded against the fence, she reared onto her hind legs and half-climbed onto his shoulders, turning his own height against him and lunging for the stick. It would have worked if Peter hadn’t been a dirty cheat; he dropped suddenly to the ground, and she went rolling over his head, across the grass. But he underestimated her recovery time – she sprang back up and yanked the stick from between his teeth.
It wasn’t dignified to gloat – but then again, it wasn’t terribly dignified to tussle over a stick like a pair of pups, either. Regina darted off toward the pear tree at the far side of the yard, and when she looked back to see if Peter was giving chase, a midnight black blur slammed hard into her side and knocked her to the ground. Regina yipped in surprise and pain before she could stop herself, and a heart’s beat later Peter stood snarling with hackles raised between her and a black wolf with laughing blue eyes and the stick between her teeth.
Jane cracked the stick with molars made for breaking open bone, and in moments she reduced it to splinters. Then she walked up to Peter and gave his nose a long, slurping lick.
Peter snorted hard and sat on his haunches, giving Jane a baleful look. It was a thoroughly human expression, somehow, and Regina couldn’t help but huff a laugh. She stood and sniffed Jane’s muzzle in greeting, and her friend replied in kind. Jane had shifted in the house and come out through the dog door while they were embarrassing themselves; she still smelled like the piece of toast she’d stolen from Peter’s plate at the kitchen table. Regina nipped at her ear, and Jane grinned, her tongue lolling from her mouth like a dog’s.
Peter sighed and went off to walk the fence, scenting the air with a level of intent that made Regina wonder if he expected something rather more serious than the usual tomcat incursion.
Jane bumped Regina with her hip, demanding her attention. Jane’s pelage was pure black, and in wolf skin she was nearly as tall as Peter, though not as solidly built. She passed as a dog easily enough, but it took more than an owner’s collar or a cheerful bandana tied around her neck to convince the average human of her harmlessness. She bumped Regina again, harder, and then led her back through the dog door and into the house.
Jane was already shifting when Regina came through the door into the kitchen. As natural as shifting felt, it was a strange thing to watch from the outside – or more, accurately, to try to watch. Regina and Peter had tested this particular piece of popular wisdom many times, and it truly was impossible for anyone – human or werewolf – to look directly at a shifting. The eye slipped away from the shifter every time, and the most the observer could see was a brief, shadowy blur at the edge of her vision. It was an unpleasant, uncanny sensation, but Regina couldn’t help herself. She needed to look.
When Regina shifted, Jane didn’t even try to watch.
“I hate that tiny fucking yard,” Jane said, sliding casually into the underwear she’d tossed onto one of Peter’s maps. “I don’t know how you stand it – makes me feel like I’m locked in a goddamn kennel.” She snatched Regina’s t-shirt from the floor and started to put it on; Regina snatched it back.
“Have you ever actually been in a kennel?” Regina asked, tugging the t-shirt over her head. Her hair caught in the collar, and she pulled it free. “‘Cause I have, and believe me, our backyard is more comfortable.”
“Poor Gina. Do you still have nightmares?” She hopped up onto the table and leaned in close, her face a study in mock sympathy. “Do you yip in your sleep?”
Regina threw Jane’s thrift store knit top at her friend’s still naked chest. “Put some clothes on, would you? You’re going to make Peter blush if he comes in.” She stepped into her trousers and pulled them up to her waist. “And don’t call me Gina.”
“What about Ginny? Can I call you Ginny? Reggie? Gins? Gin n’ Tonic? Ginonimo?”
“Shut up, Jane.”
“Yes, boss,” Jane said, and got dressed in silence, grinning all the while.
In human skin, Jane was as fair as Regina was dark – she dyed her hair a blond so pale it was almost white, and her eyes were a watery, near colorless blue that turned eerie in some lights and dull in others. Her build was boyish, short and flat chested and slim, and her fashion sense was capricious at best. Today she’d gone slightly preppy, with a pleated navy skirt and a blood red knit top; Regina was surprised at the lack of knee socks.
Regina took after her mother, brown-skinned and full in the hips with a heart-shaped face and a slightly beaky nose. She wore her dark hair long, though she often spoke of cutting it. Jane had offered to do the job more than once, but Regina had politely declined. She knew better than to let Jane anywhere near her with a pair of scissors.
“So,” Jane said after only five minutes silence – which, to be fair, was probably a personal best. “Did you hear about that body they found in Hillsboro?”
“Yeah, actually,” Regina said, pouring herself another cup of coffee. “Peter and I were called out there last night. A friend of mine at the ODFW wanted us to see the burial site.”
Jane laughed. “Only you would have a parks service pig for a friend.”
“He’s not that bad,” Regina said, feeling oddly protective of Eric. Disillusioned anti-establishment type that he was, he would probably be pretty horrified to learn that anyone would consider him a ‘pig.’ “Anyway, he found out what I am and he’s still talking to me, so—”
“He what?” Jane’s expression was fierce. “When did this happen, Regina? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Regina turned cool. “Because it had nothing to do with you, Jane. We were looking into some suspicious predation of livestock in Roseville, and he saw me shift through the window in the van. He promised not to tell anyone.”
“Oh well, as long as he promised.” Jane took the coffee mug from her hand and sat in Peter’s chair at the table. “You can be so naïve sometimes; it fucking amazes me. You were in Roseville, what – two months ago? Now a half-digested dead girl turns up in a shallow grave less than two miles from Peter’s cabin—”
“Eric doesn’t know about the cabin. He doesn’t know where we spend the moon.”
“You think he can’t find out? Your furry Boy Scout of a boss follows human law to the letter – do you really think this Eric guy doesn’t have a file filled with every piddling detail of both your lives? He probably called you up to that burial site because you were his prime suspects!”
Peter chose that moment to shove himself somewhat less than gracefully through the dog door. He wiped his massive paws delicately on the mat, and then sauntered through the kitchen and into the downstairs bathroom. A moment later he emerged in trousers and his rumpled shirt from the day before, padding barefoot across the kitchen floor.
“Jane, even if you’re right and Eric does suspect us,” Peter said as casually as if he’d been part of the conversation all along, “what can he do about it? He can’t tell the police about his suspicions. They’d think he’d lost his mind, and he’d probably lose his job.”
“He doesn’t have to tell the police,” Jane said, gripping the coffee mug in white-knuckled hands. “He could tell the Kind.”
Peter and Regina exchanged a carefully neutral look. In their years of searching out other werewolves, they’d heard plenty of whispers and paranoid ramblings about the Kind – occasionally called the Kindly, the Kinder, or the Kind Men, depending on who you asked. But the Kind were nothing more than bogeymen, and the only evidence of their existence were stories about bloodthirsty human hunters that mothers of born-werewolves told their pups to keep them from wandering the forests alone at night. It was a laughable suggestion, but Jane wasn’t laughing.
Peter stood behind Regina’s chair, his hand resting on the back. “Jane, if an organization like the Kinder ever existed, it was disbanded centuries ago. There’s no human authority Eric could go to who would believe him.” He shrugged, one hand in his pocket. “And anyway, he doesn’t suspect us. He’s too fond of Regina to even consider the possibility.”
Regina rolled her eyes. “Yes, he’s madly in love with me. Well spotted, Peter.”
He ignored her. “That young woman’s death may have had nothing to do with werewolves. She could have died of natural causes while hiking in the park and been fed on as carrion by large scavengers. Mountain lion sightings are increasing in the area – Regina caught a male’s scent last time we were running up at the cabin. That would explain the feeding pattern.”
“But not the paw prints,” Regina said. Peter hadn’t said anything explicit the night before, but she knew him too well to miss the signs – the silence, the single-minded focus, even his attempt at play in the yard earlier; he was certain a werewolf had murdered the woman, and he thought he already knew who had done it. She didn’t understand why he’d argue in favor of another theory now.
Jane raised an eyebrow. “They found wolf prints by the grave?”
“A large husky or malamute makes prints almost indistinguishable from a wolf’s,” Peter said. “Plenty of people hike with their dogs in that park. We can’t be certain of anything until the autopsy is complete. Now, if you ladies don’t mind—” He moved to the table and gathered up the maps in his arms. “I have work to do. Regina, I’ll let you know if I need that Boston topographic from ‘61. Otherwise, take the day off.” He shuffled out of the kitchen, ducking slightly to avoid the hanging lamp in the hall.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” Jane said, “but he’s a weirdo.”
“Shut up, Jane,” Regina said, and stole her coffee back.