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"A man who seeks truth and loves it must be reckoned precious to any human society."

- Frederick the Great

Sunday 7 August 2011

Werewolf Fact and Fiction

“You’ve been coming here for several months now,” complained Brian the other day, “and I haven’t once seen you transform into a werewolf, not even at the full moon.  What good is having a werewolf friend if you never show me anything?  There’s nothing at all unusual about you, apart from your admittedly inhuman-looking yellow eyes – and those could simply be contact lenses.  How do I know that you haven’t been pulling my leg about this whole thing?”

I held my right hand in front of Brian’s face and willed my forearm to shift, just enough for him to see sufficient hair and claws to convince him of my sincerity.  He went white at the sight.

“It’s actually forbidden to allow humans to observe our transformations,” I said.  “If I show you any more, I will have to kill you.”

“That won’t be necessary,” he replied, wiping his brow.  “You’ve made your point.”

“A moment ago, you said something which reveals that you harbour a common misconception about us.  We don’t ‘transform into werewolves’ – we are werewolves.  My human form is just as lycanthropic as my other shapes.”

“Shapes, plural?  You have more than one?”

“Of course.  Haven’t you ever wondered why Hollywood cannot agree on how werewolves should look?”

“I supposed it was because – as you have said yourself – the movies always get everything wrong when it comes to lycanthropy.”

“Not quite everything,” I replied.  “Most werewolf films do have some basis in fact, though it’s mixed liberally with half-truths, legends, and a great deal of rubbish.  If Hollywood wants to get it right for once, they should hire me as a technical consultant.”

“OK then, let’s start with the basics,” said Brian.  “What do werewolves really look like?  The quadrupeds-on-steroids of Twilight, or the seven-foot monsters of Dog Soldiers?”

“Both, and neither.  First of all, there is no single werewolf shape.  We have three basic forms: human, wolf, and…something in between.  In our pure wolf shape, we are virtually indistinguishable from natural wolves in the wild.  Our male enemies – the Apostates – are generally somewhat larger, but nothing like Jacob and his muscle-bound friends from Twilight.”

“What about the ‘in between’ thing?  Is it like the Howling werewolves, big and ugly?”

“The Sisterhood actually prefers not to talk about it, as the subject is quite distasteful to us.  But if you must know, we refer to that state as the hybrid or wolf-woman shape.  The process of transformation – which is quick and painless, by the way – can be halted at any point between human and wolf, producing an amalgam of the two.  Depending on when it is stopped, the result might be closer to an animal or more human in appearance.”

“More human – you mean like Scott McCall in Teen Wolf?”

“That’s the general idea, though he looks more like a rock-and-roll musician from the 1950s.  Silly appearances aside, I actually like Scott’s character, since he reminds me a great deal of myself when I was young; if Allison were my girlfriend, I would want to eat her too.”

“Please don’t salivate on my carpet, Andronica.  But I’m curious.  Why don’t you like the hybrid form?  It seems cool to me.  Werewolves which simply look like ordinary wolves are boring.”

“We’re not here to provide you humans with entertainment,” I said.  “In point of fact, the hybrid state is extremely unpleasant in every respect.  As a wolf, I have the consciousness of a wolf – a creature fully in harmony with nature.  But in the hybrid form, I have both the instincts of a wolf (hunting and killing) and those of a human (cruelty and treachery).  Those human characteristics of which we are least proud – guile, rage, avarice, envy, lust – are amplified by the aggressiveness of the animal.  The hybrid form combines all that is worst in man and beast.  It is a thing wholly against nature.”

“It sounds like you are describing an Apostate.”

“Very perceptive.  In fact, the hybrid state is favoured by them for exactly these reasons.  It is an ideal killing machine, with an evil disposition and the ability to deal horrendous damage.  This has rightfully given rise to the popular image of the ‘big bad werewolf’.  Unfortunately, whenever we face Apostates in combat, we are also forced to take this form, for otherwise there is virtually no chance to defeat them.”

“Right, so now you’ve given me the facts about shape-shifting.  What about all the other legends – the full moon, wolfsbane, the pentagram?

“Hollywood hogwash.  I love howling at the moon, but it otherwise hasn’t the slightest effect – we can transform at any time, independent of sun, moon, or stars.  The legend does have some basis in fact, however.  Those of us who have reincarnated (like myself) experience our first involuntary transformation with the onset of menstruation at puberty, and shift again each month at the time of bleeding until we learn to control the changes.  Without guidance, the results can be quite disastrous for all involved, as I can tell you from personal experience.  Someday I might let you read my memoirs about my first transformations, though I warn you, it’s not for the squeamish.”

“Oh yes, I do look forward to that!”  Brian has no idea what he’s getting himself into.

“As for wolfsbane, also known as monkshood or aconitum, it’s a powerful sedative which can induce respiratory failure and cardiac arrest in animals.  It has the same effect on us, though we cannot be damaged by it.  On the contrary, wolfsbane can actually be very useful: there was an incident in 1754 when I feigned death by means of aconitum, which got me out of rather a scrape.  Reviving me from the paralytic state was quite a challenge for Sister Livia, however, since my heart had stopped and administering the antidote required opening the chest cavity…”

Brian had turned white again, with just a tinge of green.

“I don’t need the particulars,” he said, swallowing hard.  “But let’s get back to the legends.  What about the pentagram?”

“You’ve watched Lon Chaney in The Wolf Man too many times.  Utter nonsense, as is the entire business of a ‘curse’.  Nobody becomes a werewolf by being bitten – that’s just another Hollywood invention.  When we bite, there’s usually not enough left to become much of anything, except worm-food.  The only way to join the Sisterhood is by accepting the Wolf Spirit voluntarily during Initiation.  Even the Apostates have their own initiation rituals, and they cannot force anyone to join against their will.  I have only witnessed bite-induced transformation among the Wendigo tribe in Canada, who are also moon-worshippers, so perhaps they are the source of the film legends.  They’re a very nasty lot, the Wendigo – not to be tangled with unless one is properly armed.”

“Armed?  What, you mean with silver bullets?  I thought that would be the biggest Hollywood legend of all.”

“Unfortunately not.  Lycanthropes are extremely allergic to silver, a fact which we managed to keep secret for centuries, but which the film-makers have regrettably discovered and publicised widely.  In former times our only natural enemies were the Apostates, but since humans have learned that we can be killed by silver bullets, we have become something of an endangered species, as some have even taken to hunting us for sport.”

“On previous occasions, you have said that lycanthropes stop aging when you reach forty.  Is there no way for you to die except by silver?”

“We can also be harmed by fire – I myself was burned at the stake in 1648 – and by the tooth and claw of another werewolf.  Paw-to-paw combat with an Apostate is therefore to be avoided whenever possible.  That’s why I carry these.”

I put my twin Beretta Px4 Subcompacts on the table. 

“My, they’re small,” said Brian, examining the pistols.  “Loaded with silver, I presume?”

“Thirteen rounds each.  For general use, I also carry the new standard-issue Walther PPS, reserving the Berettas for my furry foes.”

“Just out of curiosity,” he asked, “what happens if you’re shot with ordinary lead bullets?”

“It hurts, but doesn’t do any damage.  I just need to shift back and forth a few times and the slugs simply fall out.”

“The same with machine-gun bullets?”

“More painful, but as long as they’re not silver – no problem.”

“What about something bigger, like an anti-tank missile?  I’m sure it would blast you into tiny bits, the same as the next person.  Would all the little bloody specks continue to live?”

“I’d rather not think about that.  Once I was hit by cannon-fire, during the Battle of Prague in 1757, and would not care to repeat the experience.”

“Oh, I’d love to hear about that.”  Brian would make a good Apostate, I thought.

Just then my mobile rang.  It was MI6 with a new assignment – Libya this time.  The Sisterhood’s own intelligence suggests that at least two Apostates are serving in Gaddafi’s entourage, so I double-checked my Berettas before heading for the door.

“Off to work,” I called over my shoulder.  “I’ll tell you about the cannon next time.”


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