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The Grey Wolf

Copyright 2017 Alistair Shand

Published by Alistair Shand at Smashwords

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Table of Contents

Going Up the Country

Back to the House

I'm an Urban Werewolf

Doctor, Doctor

Night Moves

Meet the Gang

Summer Holidays

The Journalist

The Lone Wolf

An Ending

Post Script

Going up the Country

As I stormed out of the flat, I remembered not to slam the door. I might have been in a terrible mood and have broken up yet again with Alan - but at least I was polite enough not to disturb our neighbours. That's Edinburgh morals for you! Gay marriage is one thing, they can accept that in a smug "aren't we modern" way, but slamming doors is another. I got into my car, closed the door gently and drove. I didn't know or care where. I just drove.

We were always rowing, so I knew this would probably not be terminal. Some time apart might help. We had both said things we would regret. I'd phone my work tomorrow and say I was ill. The restaurant could survive without one of its waiters for a few days.

After a few hours driving, the road ran out. I found myself in Maleish, a tiny village in the North West Highlands, far from civilisation and mobile phone coverage. The sun was slowly falling into the Atlantic in a picturesque way. In a better mood, I might have appreciated it. The next stop from here was probably Newfoundland. The place made a pleasant change from the city. The village had one street, one shop and a post box. I'd noticed a small house with a B&B sign on the road into the village, I tried there.

A tall slim grey haired man came to the door. I enquired about bed and breakfast. The crinkles on his face turned into a broad smile and he beckoned me in. He looked like one of those old men who wears a collar and tie to take out the bin. The house was austerely decorated and seemed as clean as a dentist's surgery. The price was very reasonable. "I do it for the company, son, not the money," he confided in a soft West Highland accent, handing me a set of keys. "Always nice to meet new people!"

I went into my temporary bedroom and wrote a note to Alan. Not an apology - I was still too angry for that- just a list of mundane housekeeping tasks he needed to be made aware of. As I went downstairs to post the letter, I met the landlord again. He was in the hall polishing an already gleaming table. "You cant go out! Not tonight!" When I asked why, he said it was the full moon. I must have looked confused. He asked, "Have you never heard of the Grey Wolf of Glen Maleish?" I shook my head. He led me through to the lounge and poured me a generous glass of Ardbeg. "Sit down, son." I did. "There are legends of a strange wolf around here. I know the last wolf in Scotland was supposed to be shot over 200 years ago... but there's something around here – every now and then it takes a lamb, a dog, a foal, a fawn. Some folk claim to have seen it - a big grey wolf they say! And always at the full moon. If you look out there," he pointed at the window, "the street is deserted. Folk are scared." He sounded like an Old Testament prophet in a particularly glum mood. Then, he smiled. His wrinkles exaggerated the V of his smile. "Maybe it's daft sounding, but maybe the letter could wait until the morning?"

I smiled and drank my whisky. I went back upstairs and tried to read an ancient Agatha Christie book I found in the room. After an hour or so, it went quiet downstairs. He must have gone to bed. I decided to post the letter anyway. Grey wolf, indeed!

The pillar box was a couple of hundred yards up the road, outside the village shop. The street was dark and deserted. I posted the letter and turned to go back. There was a gap between the village, where the streetlights stopped, and the house. On one side of the road there was sparse scruffy woodland, on the other the Atlantic. A chill wind was blowing in. I could smell the ocean and hear the waves crashing against the rocks on the beach. There were other noises coming from the wood; branches bending and breaking in the wind. A dog howled. I shivered, turned up my collar and increased my walking speed.

As I neared the house, I heard a soft growling noise behind me. I turned. And saw him in the light of the moon. A tall grey hairy creature, a vulpine face with blood dripping from the corners of his mouth. I could feel his breath, hot and with the odour of fresh meat. "I told you to stay in," he hissed. I recognised his voice. It was the owner of the B&B.

Back to the House

I turned and ran as fast as I could. As I ran, I groped in my pockets for my car keys - I thought I could just get in the car and drive... but no. I remembered I leaving the car keys in the room. So, instead, I ran for the house and into my room and locked the door behind me. I moved a dressing table to block the door. In the bedroom fireplace there was a poker – ornamental perhaps, but strong enough to inflict some damage. I waited - ready to defend myself.

After a while, I heard some noises downstairs. Snuffling, growling and then silence. Then sobbing. Eventually there was silence. I slept with the poker within easy reach.

The next morning, I awoke to the smell of frying bacon. I moved the dressing table back and went nervously downstairs.

All seemed normal. The radio in the kitchen was blasting out the news. The landlord leaned out of the kitchen into the dining room and waved cheerfully at me. "Bacon, eggs, sausage and black pudding? That OK? Tea or coffee?"

"That would be fine! And coffee!" I sat at the table. He brought through some toast and a pot of coffee. It was as if the previous night hadn't happened. He was dressed impeccably with a shirt and tie and perfect hair.

After he brought through a huge plate of unhealthy but great smelling fried food, he asked "Mind if I join you?" I smiled and pointed at a seat. He sat down and poured himself a black coffee. "Now you know my secret," he started. He paused then frowned. I kept eating. "The films and the books. They have the curse all wrong. Yes, they are right about the full moon. But otherwise. All wrong. I don't attack humans. And the condition isn't passed on by biting! It seems to be congenital." I nodded to show I was listening, and ate some more toast.

He fell silent. "You don't attack humans?" I prompted.

He shook his head. "I never have. But I isolate myself in case of temptation." He sipped some coffee. "But I am the last of the line. It seems only men become werewolves. My father was an only child. I was his only son. And I have no children. The curse stops here!"

He told me of his life. Living in isolation. Not marrying. A solitary, lonely existence.

"I'm married," I interrupted, "to a man..." For some reason, I wanted to shock him. I failed.

"You're gay?" he chuckled. "We called it something else when I was young!" He smiled.

He was a wise man. And, as I discovered that night, a gentle lover.

He had assumed lycanthropy was passed only from father to son. He was wrong. It was also sexually transmitted.

I discovered that a month later when I was back in the city.

I'm an Urban Werewolf

When I returned to the city, I thought life would return to normal. And initially it did. Until the first full moon. I returned to the flat I shared with Alan and to my job. Alan and I returned more or less to normal. He remained a bit reserved and aloof, but I thought that would wear off. Deep down we were well-suited. But it was all to end in tears.

I was working the night of the full moon. The restaurant was busy, filled with young professionals ostentatiously disposing of their readies. I popped out for a break. I made myself a latte and stood at the backdoor of the kitchen, sniffing the cold night air. The latte seemed too sweet, too sickly. The restaurant was in one of those Edinburgh New Town basements. I was standing beside the bins, where the kitchen staff stood to smoke. The sky was just visible. And the moon was huge. I felt a shiver run down my spine.

I had to get away. It was dream like. I found myself running down the street laughing at the shocked faces of people I passed. Running isn't the done thing in Edinburgh, unless you are wearing expensive running clothes. I ended up in a park near the Zoo. I could hear the wolves howling and feel the wind on my face.

I returned home the next morning. Alan was there with a grim look on his face. He said he didn't care where I'd been or who with. Just pack up and go.

There was a similar message from my employers. "We gave you a second chance. You blew it."

So, becoming a werewolf had already had a severe impact on my life. It ended my marriage, derailed my career and added an extra hurdle to my social life. To be fair, my marriage was already rocky, my career as the maitre d's assistant was not proceeding at a fast pace and my social life was nothing spectacular.

Most werewolf films I have seen are set in rural environments. There are good reasons for that. Wolves are happier roaming the steppes or descending on sheepfolds. In the city, we lose all feeling for nature. We never see the sky, let alone the moon. The streetlights blind us to the natural world.

I moved flat, changed job and gathered a new circle of friends. My new flat was in the student quarter and was near a park; my new job as a barista didn't involve working at nights; my new friends led chaotic lifestyles - so didn't notice my monthly absences.

Being a werewolf is often described as a curse. Initially, I found it more like a dangerous addiction, like fast driving or base jumping. The freedom and excitement of running in the park, smelling the fear of a rabbit and hunting it down, ripping its throat and feeling the warm blood dripping. Always followed though with shame - then guilt, remorse and sneaking back home.

But I realised the power of the curse when I killed my first human. It was October, the night of the full moon. I had been hunting in the park and had chased down and killed a rabbit. As I crept towards my house, I encountered old Mr Jenkins, a neighbour, walking his dog. The dog growled at me, knowing the truth. I tried to bluff saying "Halloween party!" He smiled but seemed unconvinced. We walked off in different directions. I followed him as he walked towards the park. I pounced. His death was instantaneous. I left his body and let his dog run off into the night. Then I returned home. I had done it all instinctively, without thought of the consequences.

The police were soon on the scene but were unable to solve the case. Police training doesn't allow for werewolves. Now that I had tasted human blood, I felt the power of the curse.

Doctor, Doctor

Gillian was an old friend of mine from my brief unhappy stay at university. Our friendship was based largely on the fact that I seemed to be the only male at university not obsessed by her. She was 6 foot tall, had long blonde hair and cheekbones you could use to cut cheese. That combination seemed to attract men like a picnic attracts wasps. In addition, she was witty, charming and exceptionally well-read. She had long since completed her medical degree and was now a lecturer in the medical faculty. Whereas I was now a barista, specialising in lattes. O, well.

When I met her in her office at the university, she had her hair tied back and was wearing a white lab coat and a concerned frown. I remembered her in more casual attire, but when she smiled I saw she hadn't really changed. Maybe a dearer perfume, that's all.

After a brief catch-up chat, she said "So, I take this isn't just a social call, as pleasant as this might be." She had developed a professional persona. I was impressed. A notebook was open on her desk, a pen poised in her hand.

"You specialise in blood disorders?" She nodded. I hesitated. Took a deep breath and continued. I told her everything. She was a good listener. She said nothing, just nodded, smiled and took the occasional note. I knew I could trust her.

"A werewolf" she said at last. "You're serious?" It was my turn to nod. "And you have killed someone?" A confirmatory nod. "There are legends and tales of werewolves from many cultures. But nothing ever really confirmed." She scratched her head with the top of her pen. I remembered her doing that when we were studying together.

"I could be your guinea pig. This could make your career. A big research project! Front page of Nature!" She smiled a tolerant smile. She put on her spectacles - a new addition to her look - and looked at her wall calendar.

"Full moon is next Friday. If you come to my cottage, I can observe you and make sure you stay safe. See what happens."

That Friday I arrived at her cottage. It was a beautifully restored cottage on a slight rise, just to the south of the city. You could see the bright lights but still smell the earth and the trees of the countryside. Gillian was dressed more casually. More as I remembered her, although the jeans were probably considerably more expensive than when she was a student.

The cottage was comfortably furnished with big easy chairs and a large fireplace. And it was terrifyingly tidy. Gillian had grown up, whereas I was still stuck at the student flat stage.

We shared a bottle of wine. Again, a lot dearer than before! A pleasant rioja. After a chat about old times and various failed romances, she took me through to her study. This was a clinically clean room with a desk and two chair and a large bookshelf. There was a window looking north towards the city. She sat me down in one of the chairs and produced a set of handcuffs. "Why, Gill, I never knew this side of you!"

She smiled her putting up with idiots smile. "Just in case you do transform!"

We both sat in our chairs and chatted, ignoring the handcuffs that kept me restrained in my chair. I could see the moon rising and feel its rays on my face. I felt my muscles relaxing and my senses becoming more acute. Gill talked on. About a holiday in Italy and a hotel manager who had tried to woo her without any success. I tried to listen but it was impossible. I stood up, leaned back my head and howled. The handcuffs snapped like liquorice belts. I could hear Gill screaming. I pounced. The screaming stopped.

I awoke the next morning back in my flat. How I got there was hazy. I had crashed through the window, I remembered that. And vague images of stealing through the city streets. I still had the remains of the handcuffs on my wrists. Of course, I felt guilty about the death of a friend. But the guilt lifted with the morning haze.

It was all over the news that day. Prominent scientist killed in a frenzied attack in her own home. I was right to trust her. She had told no-one about me. There were no mentions of werewolves.

Night Moves

I could feel the rays of the full moon hitting my shoulders as I climbed over the wire fence into the park. They relaxed my muscles and filled me with energy. I removed my jacket and shoes and placed them in the bin bag I had brought for the purpose, then placed them under a convenient rhododendron bush. The transformation enhanced my senses. I could hear the breeze rattle the leaves of the surrounding trees and it carried some interesting aromas. I could pick out traces of rabbit and squirrel. And something else. Something more exciting. I padded out onto the grass, raised my nose and sniffed the air again.

A human. Rabbits offered more sport but humans made more substantial eating. The scent was strong. I soon tracked him down. A young one. Late teens. Male. Unsteady on his feet. Ill or drunk. I edged closer. Drunk. Not very much sport. I had, of course, killed humans before - but only from self-defence. Not for fun or food. But the blood hunger was on me. When transformed, I lived only in the present. No thought of the past or concern for the future.

The tall skinny youth was ambling along the path, as it wound its way between the bushes. He whistled with nonchalance. Completely unaware of the danger tracking him down. Humans could learn so much from deer! I was downwind of him, treading carefully, avoiding branches and loose stones. Until I was close enough to touch him.

It was over in a second. He lay dead at my feet. The moon shone on my shoulders, I leaned back my head and howled in exuberant triumph. The noise echoed around the park. And then I heard a response. A howl, followed by two short yelps. I sniffed at the air, curious. I heard gentle footsteps coming towards me, then a warning yelp. It was another wolf. Smaller than me with darker coat. We sniffed at each other in greeting. A she-werewolf. Together we feasted on the dead prey.

We ate in silence. By the time, we had finished it was nearly dawn. "We better go," she said.

"I thought I was the only one in the city." The moon was going down.

"There's a small pack of us in the city. More than you would think! We often hunt together. We try to avoid killing humans, though... too much publicity. "

"I couldn't resist the temptation." We looked down at the remains. Not much left. A small mound of ripped clothes, shoes and a few gnawed bones. "Need to tidy up." We placed them in the bin bag, replacing my jacket and shoes. She, Claire was her name, suggested putting the bin bag in a sack with a weight and dumping it in the river.

"Its what we always do," she smiled. "Yet another missing person in the big city!" As we climbed back over the fence, I asked how I could contact her. ", that's my email."

In human form, she was a slim efficient looking woman. She said she was a junior manager. " she said. Trying to survive in the corporate jungle" she said. No-one would imagine her feasting on still warm human flesh. Awkwardly, we shook hands and said our goodbyes.

Meet the Gang

After swapping a few emails, I met Claire for lunch in a fashionable bistro. From a distance it must have looked like two young professionals chatting about nothing. She was dressed in a formal business suit and looked like an efficient young manager. I wore the black trousers and sharp white shirt of a clean cut barista, and, to be honest, I probably looked quite cool. We chatted about our lives and the tribulations of being a werewolf. She knew much more about the life than me; I was happy to learn all that I could over a bowl of minestrone and an espresso.

After a few more assignations, she arranged for me to meet the rest of the pack at one of their regular gatherings. Apparently, this was a big deal. I must have passed some kind of test.

I waited for her at a small café. It was noisy and the coffee was dreadful. I had forced down half a cup by the time she arrived. It was the first time I had seen her in non-work clothes. She wore skinny black jeans and an oversized black shirt. The only concession to conventional femininity were the rainbow laces in her black Doc Martins. But she still looked stunning. The clothes emphasized her lean strength. "What's the coffee like?" she tilted her head at my cup. I grimaced. "OK, we'll just go meet the gang."

Their meeting place was a small private dining room above one of the more up market bars in the city. The low rumble of discussion stopped when we entered. There were ten seats arranged around two tables that had been pushed together. Claire and I occupied the last two places.

A distinguished looking elderly man who seemed vaguely familiar greeted us. "Good evening! I'm the chairperson of our little group, my name is Alan McGlauchlin." Ah, that was why I recognised him. The lawyer that was always in the papers, fighting seemingly impossible cases. Any time he was involved in a case, you suspected the accused was guilty but would get off on a legal technicality. He was welcoming and relaxed. I looked around the table as he introduced all the other people - but, as in all such circumstances, their names were a blur. One, Brian Robertson, stood out. I recognised his name. He was a restaurant critic who had been the bane of my previous employer's life with his sarcastic reviews. He was around my age; younger than I expected. He had a vaguely Mediterranean look with an olive complexion and amazingly white teeth. "And, of course, you know Claire!" I smiled and nodded. It seemed appropriate. "Welcome to the group!" He shook my hand warmly. Then he took my hand to examine my palm. "Vulpus maximus!" He turned to the group, "Vulpus maximus!" he repeated softly, running his hand through his long grey hair.

Counting Claire and myself, there were six men and four women. The leader of the pack was obviously Alan. He had a quiet authority and all his suggestions were immediately adopted by the group. I looked to see if there was a physical type. We all seemed slim and dressed in a quietly stylishly fashion. All of us had fairly long hair - but well cut.

"You join us at an interesting time," Alan said. His voice was rich and reminded me of port wine. "The pack owns a hunting lodge. There, the pack can run free and hunt as nature intended! Venison!" He smiled round at the group. They all smiled back. "The next full moon coincides with the start of the stag hunting season. We are arranging a trip. I do hope you can join us."

I was eager to accept. I wanted to learn all I could and to mix with others of the same ilk. The remainder of the meeting was filled with arrangements for the trip - car-sharing, food shopping and pick-up times. Afterwards, Claire and I discussed the meeting and the pack members over a bowl of beef Chow Mein in a nearby restaurant. I asked her about Vulpus maximus.

"Not all werewolves are the same." She had adopted a lecturing tone. "It depends, it seems, on a lot of factors - as yet not researched. Interplay of your genetic background and the virus or whatever it is that causes us to be werewolves. Alan is a Vulpus maximus. That's part of the reason he is leader of the pack. You could be leader too. It shows up as moon shaped scar on your palm." She looked at my hand and pointed at a small line.

I chewed on my chow mein, waiting for more information, but she had stopped. "And you? Are you a vulpa maxima?" My Latin was rusty.

She smiled. "No, I'm just an ordinary pack member. Brian, the young guy who was sitting across from you - he is a maximus. Helen, the old woman who went on about catering arrangements - she is a maxima."

"So does Alan see me as a threat?"

She snorted. "Nah. He doesn't think like that. We are civilised!"

"No ripping of throats by the loch-side?"

"I suspect his only thought was a romance - between you and me!"

I had the good grace to blush. "He doesn't know..."

"Not yet!" She smiled. "He does know about Brian though!"

"Brian is..."

"Yes." She counted on her fingers. "You, Brian, Helen, Bill, me." She grinned. "I think our pack beats the national average. Maybe there's a link to our condition."

Summer Holidays

On the day of the July full moon, we drove north to the hunting lodge in a small convoy. Claire and I travelled as passengers in Alan's top of the range BMW, soon leaving the other cars behind. As we went, he gently interrogated me about my background, my job as a barista and the details of how I had become a werewolf. As you would expect from a senior lawyer, he had a variety of interviewing techniques. He would show a remarkable interest in the intricacies of coffee making, and then switch to questions on my transformations. He gently probed at some answers and sometimes fell silent - leaving me to fill the awkward space. I had soon told him everything. Satisfied, he drove in silence. Later, he volunteered some details about the lodge and its history. It was in a remote corner of the Highlands, approachable only by boat. It had been in the possession of the pack for almost a century. Previously, it belonged to Lord Drumry, a founder member of the pack. In those days, a private rail line ran to the head of the loch where a private steam yacht would take the passengers to the lodge. "Long ago," he smiled, "before even my time!" Now there was a narrow private road leading to a small jetty. The journey was completed in a dinghy with an outboard motor.

We arrived at the head of the loch. The other cars still trailed a good few miles behind. We carried our luggage down to the waterside. The boat was approaching, the gamekeeper standing at the stern. "Sandy! He's one of us, a member of the pack!" Alan had told me. The water lapped gently at the jetty, and the aroma of the land filled our nostrils. We looked around at the view. The hillsides were thickly wooded at the water level - but the trees gave out after about a thousand feet. The loch was long and narrow. The steep hills felt oppressive. "I love the view here," Alan said. "My wife loved it too." He hadn't mentioned her before. I used his silence technique. It worked. "She was one of the pack. One full moon, she was here. I was stuck in Edinburgh - a complex trial. She hunted alone." He paused briefly. "A farmer shot her. All hushed up of course. Her ashes were scattered over the loch." He shrugged his shoulders. "A long time ago. We had no children." He paused. "I could never decide if that was a good or bad thing."

The boat arrived and took the three of us and our luggage up the loch. Sandy, the gamekeeper was the strong silent type. He stood at the stern, tall and gaunt, saying little, other than remarking on the stags he had selected for the hunt.

The lodge was larger than I expected. It was stone built and the design reminded me of black and white pictures of Shimla during the Raj. There was a large communal lounge and dining area downstairs and five bedrooms upstairs, all furnished in an old-fashioned heavy style. The overwhelming smell was of furniture polish and the only sound was the ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall. I had been allocated a room with Brian, which was good. I dumped my stuff on a bed, and then joined the others on the jetty, waiting for the boat to return with the next batch.

After a meal of thick broth and several loaves of home-made bread, prepared by the multi-talented gamekeeper, Alan laid out his plan for the hunt. He used the table and the cruets and left-over cutlery to produce his battle plan. "The stag herd is here. It's summer - so they are high on the hillside." He used a loaf end for the herd and then picked up the cruet set. "And here are the two stags we are looking for. Messrs. Salt and Pepper! Behind them, there is a gully. It has a complex Gaelic name, but we can call it the killing field." He smiled. "We will operate in three units. One, the larger part of us, to drive the herd towards the gully. Another, our three youngest members, to split the herd and isolate the selected stags. And finally, Bill and I will bring them down." He illustrated these directions with sweeping hand gestures, finally toppling the salt and pepper with a contemptuous sweep of his hand.

With the setting of the sun, we left the lodge and trudged through the trees and then the heather up the hill. As the moon took control of the night sky, we transformed. I watched the others as they changed. It was the first time I had seen others go through the process. In some, it seemed agony. In others it seemed painless. And I marveled at how their wolf personas mirrored their human characters. Alan was a sleek alert wolf, with a grey streak of hair. Brian was an enthusiastic black wolf dancing in the moonlight. Bill was a large calm wolf, quietly watching. Sandy was an inquisitive wiry black wolf. Transformed, we ran through the cooling night air to the plateau where the deer stood. I could see the deer snuffling at the breeze, their limbs twitching, ready to flee. The sun had set, but enough light remained to see clearly. Or maybe that was my enhanced senses.

We followed the plan. Without an audible or visible signal, the pack arranged itself into three columns that went their different ways. Claire, Brian and I split off, climbed a slight incline and hid behind a gorse bush at the entrance to the killing field. Alan and Bill ran off in the opposite direction.

The main column led by Sandy stalked the deer. They slowly approached on their haunches until, in unison, they stood up. The deer stared at them, froze for a second and then panicked, turned and ran. Some of the stags stood at bay while the others fled, then they joined in the stampede. I watched as the wolves herded them like sheep towards the gully. Once they were there, the wolves halted, just preventing them from leaving. The stags again stood at bay, close to the snarling wolves. This was our signal. We attacked the selected stags from the flank. Distracted, they turned, uncertain of what was the bigger danger. They were isolated from the rest of the herd. Alan and Bill seized the opportunity and each brought down one of the selected stags. The rest of us helped to ensure the stags were killed, and, snarling, we feasted.

As we gnawed and ripped and ate the still warm flesh, the remainder of the deer ran past us, unmolested. Soon they were grazing; some unconcerned, some lying on the grass, others cautiously watching us eat.

The festivities lasted all night. With the dawn, we returned to the lodge, back in human form. After a latte, Brian and I returned to the killing field with Sandy the gamekeeper to clean up the mess. The antlers, he said, would make a good display in the lodge and there was enough venison left on the bones for a decent pot of soup.

Before returning to the city, we tidied up the lodge, ready for the next guests, a group of German businessmen with expensive rifles. Sandy thought they would have less success. He would make sure of it. He disapproved of guns.

The Journalist

At the next meeting, Alan announced in his usual measured tones that the pack was being tracked by a journalist. A policeman had told him that. Jane Fisher was the journalist investigating us. For a young reporter, she had achieved a degree of notoriety with her in-depth investigations. The implications were huge - both for us and for the rest of the werewolf community. She was linking disappearances in the city with full moons and reported sightings of wolves.

Alan, ever practical, proposed a sub-committee to take care of the matter. As the journalist concerned was young, he suggested in his usual persuasive tones, "the younger members of the pack." That was, Brian, Claire and me. We agreed. "Good. Do what you have to do." He gave us a brief smile and then moved effortlessly onto the next item on the agenda.

And so, we tracked her down. Sitting in Claire's flat, we googled her. Poured over her social media accounts and the newspaper website. She had a blog with extended versions of her stories especially her recent expose of the health food industry. Her photo on the newspaper website showed a studious looking and youthful woman, wearing large spectacles. "Trying to look like a grown-up." was Brian's bitchy opinion. "Like the Head girl at the school prize-giving!"

We all seemed to have a power to attract strangers. Brian especially had a natural charm. So he was charged with befriending her. He e-mailed her to compliment her on the Health food story and gave her some leads on potential scandals in the restaurant business. She recognised his name as some of his restaurant reviews were published in her newspaper. They met for lunch and a few days later he introduced her to Claire and me. We met in a good coffee shop in the city centre.

All the journalists I had met previously were old loud men who stank of cigarette smoke and spent their days planted in bars complaining about being over-worked. She was different. She was reserved, almost shy, hiding behind her over-sized cappuccino cup. Her appearance was completely different from the photo on the internet. Her blonde hair had been cropped short and was now red. Her spectacles were gone too - replaced by contact lenses that gave her the look of a doe watching for danger. She was dressed, like Claire, completely in black. I noticed Claire studying her clothes.

We stuck to her health food expose and then suggested ideas for an article on some of the unsavoury practices Brian and I were aware of in the restaurant trade. She told us a series of anecdotes about her experiences as a journalist. I could tell Claire was impressed. She was smiling more often than usual.

After Jane left, saying she had an early morning press conference, the three of us had a meeting. Brian summarised the situation. He always loved doing that. "As I see it, we have two choices. Dispose of her or else bring her into the pack."

Claire spoke up. "Did you see her palm? She's a Vulpa maxima. I say we bring her into the pack."

"How do we do that?" I asked.

Claire smiled. "Did you notice on her Facebook account, in all her pictures, there was one thing missing. Lots of friends; but no men. Leave it to me, boys."

The full moon was the following week. Claire phoned Jane to tell her there were strange goings on every full moon in the woods near her flat in Corstorphine. Howling of wolves, she said. Jane agreed to meet her. They had dinner at Claire's, shared a bottle of red, then went into the woods. At the top of the hill, there is a tower, surrounded by a clearing. There the moon was visible in all its glory. There you can hear the wolves howling from the zoo only yards away. There was no look of fear on Jane's face when Claire transformed. It was as if she had known already.

That night the pack gained another member.

The Lone Wolf

I may have given the impression of the pack as a cheery bunch of happy-go-lucky hunters. This isn't completely accurate. There was, inevitably, a darker side. All of us had killed humans at one time or another. The pack was adept at concealing these crimes. There was Alan, a Q.C., he had contacts throughout the justice system. And Sylvia, a journalist, who was adept at telling her colleagues that there was nothing to a story - and putting them on a different trail.

There were other wolves in the city - who were not members of the pack. And sometimes paths crossed. Usually these were quiet individuals who maintained a low profile, preferring to keep themselves to themselves in an old-fashioned way. But sometimes there was trouble,

At a pack meeting, Alan said he had been contacted by a senior police officer - in his usual lawyer way, he didn't give any names - he had been told a woman had been attacked in a park by what appeared to be a violent animal. The police officer had asked "One of your lot?" He enquired around the table. It was none of us. There was nothing to gain from keeping silent.

"A lone wolf!" Alan decided. "And one who is attacking humans." He took a decision. "We need to find him. It needs to stop."

He was easy to track down. The police had found a number of clues pointing to his identity. Alan ensured that they didn't follow them up. Instead, Alan found him. He had recently moved to the city to work in a bank. Alan and Brian arranged to meet him over lunch. Alan was unimpressed. The new wolf seemed content to operate as a loner - despite Alan's insistence that he was putting the pack in jeopardy. Even if he was caught, the knowledge of the existence of werewolves would put us all at risk.

At the next meeting of the pack, it was decided he needed "taken care of". They took him out of the city to a piece of post-industrial wasteland. He was offered one last chance to join the pack. No. Leave the city? No. His fate was sealed. The best way of disposing of a werewolf - not as in the movies - is beheading followed by incineration of the body.

The fire burned for hours.

Happily, I wasn't there. Brian told me bits of it. More and more came out over the following weeks. The wolf hadn't thought they would do it - that they were just trying to frighten him. Even seeing the axe hadn't fazed him, or the pile of brushwood for the pyre. It was when they put a sheet down to catch the blood he finally realised they were serious. He started crying and begging for mercy. Then they killed him. Brian kept trying to justify it - how we couldn't conceal unexpected deaths across the city and so on. I don't think he ever convinced himself.

I was just glad I was part of the pack!

An Ending

I was at home with Brian. He was gleefully typing a caustic review of an upmarket Italian restaurant, while I sat on the couch watching TV, sipping a glass of wine. The domestic peace was disturbed when Claire phoned. Before I started with the usual jokes or light hearted banter, she interrupted me. "It's bad news. Very bad news. Alan is dead." From my face, Brian could tell there was something wrong. I held up my hand to stop him asking so I could find out more from Claire.

"What happened?" I asked Claire.

"He killed himself. Threw himself off the Salisbury Crags. The police are investigating."

"But why would he do that?"

"I think he was being chased by wolf-hunters." I had heard rumours of wolf-hunters from Brian. He had dismissed them lightly.

"I thought they were just a scary story!"

"Not if there were enough of them! Anyway - that's just a guess."

We never found out the real reason. It was all hushed up, down to Alan's legal reputation and contacts in high places. It was officially recorded as suicide. Lonely widower, recently retired, no children, sees no point in carrying on. Same old, same old. I wondered how much of the news I read was manipulated and how much was true.

As you might have expected, Alan's affairs were in perfect order. The hunting lodge had been left to the pack, to be administered by Brian. There were several large bequests to charities.

The funeral was huge. There were lots of obituaries in the newspapers and testimonials to his legal knowledge. No mention of his secret life.

According to his wishes, we travelled to the lodge then as the sun slowly vanished behind the mountains, we scattered his ashes over the loch from a boat to the sound of a piper on the shore played "Floo'ers of the Forest." Then we toasted his memory with a glass of Ardbeg, his favourite malt and swapped stories of his life.

Without Alan, there was no focus to the pack. His personality had somehow bound us together. Brian did his best. He kept a mailing list to keep everyone in contact - and there was an annual visit to the hunting lodge to keep us together. But it was trying to preserve a fading memory. The pack had died with Alan.

Post Script

A few months later, Brian was off in London, reviewing a number of up-market eateries for a glossy magazine. His career had taken off.; he was always off somewhere, becoming famous.

It was the full moon. Claire and I went hunting together in a park near her flat. The night was cold with scarcely a breath of wind. An ideal night. We were successful and came back with a haul of several rabbits.

We chatted for hours over a couple of bottles of cheap red wine. That, or perhaps the blood lust still in us, led us into bed. Entirely predictable and reprehensible. Something neither of us would be proud of. Or ashamed of to be honest.

And, inevitability, she became pregnant.

So my relationship with Brian ended, it was becoming strained anyway. Claire and I are still good friends, but not couple material! But we will bring up our child together. A new cub.

The End.

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