8 am, June 14th, 2008
Charlie’s alarm clock issued it summons in its typically annoying, insistent fashion.
After dragging himself out of bed, he wandered into the bathroom, brushed his teeth and spat once. Then his sink burbled. Charlie eyed the uncharacteristically vocal stainless steel bowl set in his shining black marble bathroom counter. He was certain it wasn’t supposed to do that.
It burbled again and filthy water backed up into the sink, nearly splashing him. As he watched, it seemed to make a wet, sucking noise, and then he thought he saw something shimmer in there for just a moment. He had to lean closer to see what it was. A hairy tendril appeared, rising from the drain and, much to his horrors, slapped the side of the bowl of his sink. Another joined it, as if it was some kind of muck-ridden tentacle, and slapped another side of the sink. With a wet, sucking sound, an improbably huge, soft-ball sized clog hauled itself out of a drain far to small for it to have fit in there.
It began creeping up the sink toward Charlie.
Charlie had always seen himself as a warrior. As a boy he always kept the Indians from his blanket fort with his trusty six shooting cap gun. As a young adult, he found himself one of the toughest elf warriors Warcrack had to offer… So the day came when he truly found himself facing, what seemed a minor threat compared to the computer monstrosities he usually faced, a real life beast from the bowls of his plumbing…
Reaching for anything he could grab, which would have been easier if his screaming did make his eyes close half way, he finally he felt the grip of a wooden handle… “HA!” a weapon he thought… Of course he could not make this triumphant sound since he was still screaming at a pitch any little girl would make at the sight of a large furry spider. The horror from the sink suddenly lurched forward, barely keeping itself from slipping free. Charlie forced himself forward with his weapon in had. Striking down before it seemed to struggle free, Charlie heard “SPRUSHOUINK!” At first the plunger seemed a fruitless weapon… But, it was the only weapon he had and the constant screaming was starting to make him light headed. He had no time to waste! Violently pushing down and pulling up he looked like a dehydrated man at the last wet well. Up and down he went! “SPLURG!” “SPLORK!” “SLURGSPLORKSPLUGSPLORKSLURGSPLORKSPLUGSPLORK!” At one point during this epic battle a tendril touched Charlie’s hand. This threw his rythum back a bit with a sudden shiver and even higher pitched bark! But it allowed Charlie to see the fruits of his efforts…
The plunger suddenly broke free with a thunk! and the sink emitted a burbling sigh. Mysteriously, there was no sign of the strangely mobile lump of matted hair. As Charlie left the bathroom to find some clothes, his reflection gazed after him for a long moment before fading away.
Charlie dressed himself slowly trying to figure out what drink last night might have made him experience the recent attack of the Hair Drain Monster. After shaking it off he called the door man and told him to have the buildings repair man check his plumbing before the end of the day. Looking out to the sunny morning he decided it was a great day for a drive. Grabbing his keys and taking the elevator to the parking garage, Charlie hit the button on his key chain to illuminate the lights of his restored, black 1964 Lincoln Continental. The sudden flicker of lights from the alarm trigger almost sounded like a familiar voice which comforted Charlie as he hit the button to the convertible top and sped away with a somewhat nervous smile on his face.
It was confusing, really. The way he’d somehow gotten lost on a stretch of mountain road that not only had he traveled a hundred times, but there was only one way to go! Nonetheless he somehow made it back to Denver. It was well after dark and he was hungry. Tired, and more than a little disturbed at the hallucinations he seemed to be plagued with, Charlie settled in at his favorite restaurant for a nice supper.
Not that he was able to enjoy it. Maybe there was something with the wine but every time he stabbed his fork into his meat he could swear he heard it scream. Yet, when looking around the restaurant clearly he was only one hearing the screaming of the lamb chops.
As he made one last attempt to shove a screaming mass into his mouth his cell phone chirped at him.
“Mr. Thomas?” said an obviously nervous female voice.
“This is Charlie…”
“It’s Betsy over at American Investments. Sir, I’m very sorry but there has been a problem with one of your investments today. It seems there was something of a… scandal and the stock of one of the companies you invested in is predicted to be, well to be blunt to be next to worthless as of the opening of trade tomorrow. Sir, I was hoping that if it wasn’t too late, perhaps you could stop in tonight and we could discuss a strategy to move those funds to a safe investment. It’s… quite a large some of money, sir.”
“I’ll be there around 8pm. Keep me posted on anything else that may come up… And Betsy, Make sure you get something to eat… It may be a long night.”
“I will, Mr. Thomas. We’ll all be here at the office and we’ll let security know to expect you. See you soon, sir.”
With that, the conversation was over.
Charlie went home to freshen up (avoiding the sink), then called for his limo driver to take him in his black SUV limo downtown.
It was sun down, Cerai noted, and the moon had already risen. It was a half moon tonight. From her vantage point hidden in a narrow alcove in an alley across from the building she felt sure Charlie Thomas would enter, she had a good view of the entrance. But, if her vision held true, he wasn’t due to arrive for two days. It would be a long wait.
Then huge limo arrived. Or SUV. Well, it was expensive. She knew that for certain. The driver strode around to the side of the vehicle opposite her, opened a door and let out a black haired man. Cerai’s senses focused in on the man. He turned as he got out, showing a profile. It was quite enough to verify with certainty this was the man from her vision. Then the driver closed his door, returned to the driver’s seat and drove the car down toward the parking ramp. The man swept his gaze around him as more of a habit than anything, then started toward the building. That’s when Cerai caught a glimpse of his face.
It was him! And it was time. In Urhan form, she ran out of the alley and across the street as quickly and quietly as she could to cut him off.
From Charlie’s perspective, of course, he was suddenly cut off from his way into the office building by a huge white german shepherd. Of course it looked much more like one of those arctic wolves you can see over at the Denver City Zoo, but having one of those loose and running about the city would be crazy. Like unrealistically huge hair-clogs crawling out of one’s bathroom sink, for instance.
Cerai growled at Charlie, bearing her teeth at him in a snarl as she moved a step forward. She made no attempt to hide the intelligence in her eyes. It would frighten the cub even more, but that was the point. He had to run, to experience one last time what it was to be prey before his First Change took hold under her guidance.
“Sir?!” The chauffeur ran back around the car and opened his door. “That dog looks dangerous!” It would be a run for it, but Charlie’s choices were now to try to get past the growling animal, run for it by taking a route directly away from the wolf which would head him down an alley, or dash for the safety of the car and hope he made it before the wolf got him.
Charlie knew the chauffeur would try and protect him. It was his job. But Charlie also knew that Frank (the Chauffeur) was sixty years old and close to retirement.
“Get in the car Frank… slowly.” Camping since he was 4 years old, Charlie knew that when confronted by a wild animal (especially a wolf or dog) you should stay perfectly still and not let the animal out of your sight… Charlie had mace but didn’t want to hurt the animal. Still Charlie kept to see what the animal’s intention would be…
Cerai ignored the chauffeur and circled Charlie, cutting off his path to the car and leaving the alley his only escape route. She growled louder, and felt a long drop of saliva slide out of her mouth towards the ground.
Charlie knew this would be a bad time to pee himself… But it was amazing that with all the adrenaline and terror running through his veins, all he could think about was how he really had to go to the bathroom… This didn’t help his situation much. Hearing the door to the limo shut, Charlie felt a little relief that Frank was safe. Looking straight into the animal’s eyes Charlie tried to read the animal’s intention. Just as he start to give up on his lack of Dr. Dolittle abilities, Charlie thought he saw something… Almost like the beast knew what it was doing… Like it was there intentionally. Waiting it out was now not an option. He could taste his own urine he had to pee so bad. He couldn’t make it to the car or the door… His only option was maybe to get in a dumpster down the alley. At least there he could try and relieve himself. Who was he kidding. That thing would catch him before he even turned one degree. Charlie could feel the mace in his hand… but as he touched the mace can more and more he suddenly realized… That wasn’t mace in his pocket. It was that cuban cigar he was saving for tonight. In a a break of concentration from his fear and frustration at this realization, Charlie made his first mistake.. He moved!
Frank had retreated inside the car, but left the door open in case Charlie might dash inside and escape the wolf. But the car had other ideas. The thing seemed to warp and suddenly take on a mind of its own. To Frank’s extreme shock the car roared to life and took off at high acceleration, burning rubber with a power the car never displayed before. It roared down the road then squealed tires as it slammed on brakes and turn 180 degrees. It then roared and charged right toward Charlie with a terrified Frank frantically waving and beating on the wheel.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Cerai leaped at Charlie, jaws snapping. Her teeth sunk into his shoulder, drawing blood and creating a network of pain. Fear gripped him, but the wolf did not. Charlie fled the mad car and wolf alike, heading down the alley in hopes of avoiding the car-turned-demon and the snarling wolf.
One crazy thought that flitted through his mind was a little tidbit he’d read at the zoo when he was last there. It seemed that wolves rarely took prey down immediately. Their jaws weren’t designed for one-shot kills like that of a cougar or jaguar. No, they worried at their prey, nipping and biting to draw blood, pain and panic. The animal fled, its heart raced, and it bled out.
He had to wonder, then, if he was going to bleed to death before he got away from the crazy white dog.
All he could do was flee. It seemed like the streets, normally busy on a weekend night, grew silent. Few people were about and those who were mostly seemed to ignore his presence entirely. The couple who didn’t seemed to watch in cold and cruel detachment as he raced by.
Charlie stumbled across a road, narrowly avoiding traffic and then fell down an embankment. He found himself racing along Cherry Creek, running north and west.
Cerai noticed them, too. Even as Charlie ran, unaware he’d already begun to Change and becoming something more than human but less than true beast, Cerai noted a few people did not turn away or flee or try to ignore what was happening. Cool curiosity and calm emanated from them and she couldn’t be sure but she thought they might be following what was happening. In truth, she was too focused on her quarry to focus on who they were. Divert her attention now and she could lose track of him.
At last the spiritual pressure afflicting Charlie’s soul and the world around him reached a bursting point and he erupted into full Gauru, the war-form for which true werewolves were legendary. Pain, fear, anger, all the emotions crashed down upon the new werewolf “cub” and he howled and screamed to the half-moon risen high above him. But the time of tension between this world and the world of spirit was past. No more would creatures reach to him across worlds, through the veil that normally separated the human world from the spirit. At least, then, those near Charlie would be safe from that.
Cerai kept her distance as his mournful rage continued. Instinctively, his body was mourning the death of his previous life and simultaneously welcoming the rise of his new life as one of the Uratha, one of Luna’s children.
And then it was over. Charlie lay on the banks of the Cherry River near where it met with the South Platte River. Now fully dark, only shadows covered his naked body. He could feel his rapid pulse still pounding beneath his skin, could feel the fevered heat of his body warming the cold rocks upon which he lay.
The place Cerai and Charlie now found themselves was part of a nature preserve, a greenway right in the city of Denver itself. It was blessedly shielded with trees and bushes. But the cover did not hide the fact they were not alone.
Cerai heard the heavy sound of tires on gravel as a car stopped not far away. Someone must have pulled off Speer Boulevard above. Doors opened and closed and Charlie and Cerai could hear the crunch of footsteps as they closed the distance to them.
It was difficult to make out who they were in the gloom. But they seemed well dressed. There were two men and a woman. The first was a man with a goatee and it was he who spoke first. “Peace,” he said to both Cerai and the exhausted Charlie. “You are in our territory, but we mean no harm to the new cub.” He smiled, revealing a friendly, open manner.
Cerai ducked her head for a moment, acknowledging them. She shifted to Hishu form as she crouched semi-protectively over Charlie. “Please forgive the trespass.” An apology would not put her at more of a disadvantage, and though they had professed peace, her stance was cautious, ready to act. “I am Howls at Moonrise, also known as Cerai.”
Charlie Knew this wasn’t a dream. Trying to get the haze of adrenaline at bay, Charlie tried to focus on what was around him. He knew from the cool breeze and wet grass that he was naked. And, the wolf was next to him. He thought the wolf was there to see him bleed out, but that was not the case. The creature stood over him. Almost like a mother protecting it’s cub. Then he thought he heard footsteps. Then someone was speaking… This was when Charlie realized just how out-of-it he really was. But then the most amazing thing happened. Charlie saw the most beautiful women crouched over him. She looked to be someone who might live in the wilderness. At first he thought the woman was the wolf’s owner come to collect. But then he saw her eyes for a brief instant. Like a brick to the head, Charlie suddenly realize his world had changed. WOW, did it change.
The Man speaking to her seemed like the kind of guy he would do business with. In fact he did look familiar. But something in Charlie’s head told him that his trust should stay with the beautiful vagabond. So Charlie laid in the cool grass and listened as best he could… in the back of his mind he also hoped an prayed that he could reschedule the appointed he missed.
“Max Roman,” said the man with the goatee. He smiled and added, “We’re the Silver Syndicate. We couldn’t help but notice the two of you. While I’m familiar with Mr Thomas by name, I hadn’t met you before, Cerai. I thought you could use a hand. Richard, would you mind giving Mr. Thomas some clothes?”
Richard grinned and brought something he’d had under his arms over to Cerai and the naked Charlie.
Cerai stood and backed away, giving Charlie room. “I’ve been taking pains to avoid being spotted by other Uratha since I arrived. I’ve been traveling for months, from near Juneau. There was no room in the packs of my kin, and my visions led me south.
“In fact, my visions led me to this cub. I foresaw his First Change. Had I not gone to be his..” she paused for a moment, trying to think of the English word, “his /krauyimatauyok/, his guide, he would have slain all the /tautujuitok/, the humans when he went to his appointment.”
“Very likely,” Max agreed.
“Roman… Max Roman… I thought I recognized the face. Thank you for the clothes.” Charlie slowly started to get up. Every joint in his body ached but the pain felt good. Like the rush you get from runner’s high. Charlie looked around in slight modest fashion at Cerai but also noticed she was not at all looking to him. So with a slight shrug he clothed himself. After getting is shirt over his head, he instinctively reached for his pocket. “Had”, was the operative word. Now Charlie was depressed.
A – His life has now changed completely into a world he knows nothing about.
B – And more importantly, he missed a meeting that could very well cost him millions.
C – And the most gut retching of all, he lost his last Cuban cigar.
Charlie looked to the figures and said with a slight air of humor, “Can I catch ride?”
“Why not?” Roman replied. “Come. We have some things to discuss.” He turned and walked back over the rise. His two associates waited for Charlie and Cerai to follow.
Once in his car — one of your standard limousines, complete with facing seats, liquor, and a small tv set into the back of the front seat — Max let the two settle in and the car to get back on the road. It was just the three of them in the back. His two associates filled the driver and front passenger seats, leaving them to their privacy.
“I’m sure this is all moving very quickly for you Mr. Thomas. Sadly, we have little time for you to absorb what’s happened to you and to come to terms with who you are. That, I’m afraid, will have to come on your own time. For the moment, you need some security. Help from allies that can aid you in understanding and coming to some kind of terms with the heritage you have now embraced.”
He withdrew a card from his coat pocket and a pen. He turned it over and wrote a number and a name, “Odin”. Then he presented it to Cerai and Charlie. “You both may benefit from contacting this person. He is a part of a small group and I believe that you could help him and his friends as much as they can help you.”
Cerai took the card and glanced at it before tucking it into the pocket of her jean jacket. “Is he looking to expand his pack?” she asked.
Max smiled, pleased she figured out what was going on so quickly. He judged she already had been well prepared for life as a Uratha, despite her youth. He nodded. “In fact, I believe he is just now attempting to build a new pack and set up a territory. Odin and his friend Blood Fang were recently cut loose from my pack to find a third member. She was only introduced to me just earlier today as Shayd. I had thought her a ghost wolf but this is not the case. I believe that they have only just completed laying claim to what is theirs and is currently in the process of claiming a locus for their pack. So, you and Mr. Thomas come along at the perfect time to get in and establish yourselves right away. That should give the both of you time to acclimatize and for Mr. Thomas to learn some things.
“Speaking of which,” Roman said, turning his attention to Charlie, “I suspect you have a lot of questions right now. I’ve said a lot of things you may not understand. And I’m afraid I won’t have the time to answer them myself tonight. But I’ll give you a couple of other options. I can drop you off where ever you like and you can call the number I’ve given Cerai when you are ready. Or, I can bring you directly to the people who can and will answer your questions — right now.”
At first Charlie thought of fixing himself a drink from the mini-bar that teased him just a few inches away. But then he knew he would not be able to hold his hand still. He did not want to show anyone right now any kind of emotion other than what he would convey.
“Thanks for the lift Mr. Roman. I do appreciate it. As for my destination I think it’s, for now, in the hands of Cerai.” Saying that Charlie suddenly turned to Cerai, extended his hand slowly and introduced himself, “I’m not sure if this is necessary, but it will help me cope. My name is Charlie Thomas. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Cerai took Charlie’s hand. “A pleasue to meet you too, Charlie.” Her smile turned into a grin, and it appeared she was going to say something but changed her mind. Her grasp was strong and firm, the kind of grip a CEO would use when shaking hands with one of his VP’s.
She turned her attention back to Max. “I think we need to get in contact with Odin right away, and then see if we can figure out what to do with you, Charlie.”
Max grinned and knocked on the window separating them from the front seat. It slide down a little and Max told the driver, “Head down Colfax and pick a suitable location near a phone booth south of City Park. Our guests would like to make contact there.” The driver nodded and rolled the window back up.
Max addressed his two guests next. “I’m guessing that will be close to the new territory chosen by Odin’s young pack.” He flipped open a lid in the armrest and removed some change. He gave Cerai $1.25 in change to make the call.
As the limo accelerated down Colfax Avenue, Romen stated, “I know it is premature to discuss tribal affiliations, but perhaps your new pack can explain your options to you, should your meeting with them go well. Whatever you choose in the end, just know that the Iron Masters welcome you.” He grinned. “I can say that since it would be fair to say I’m the most senior of the Iron Masters in this city.” He winked at Charlie.
The car eased to a stop and the young lady with Romen’s crew got out and opened the door for the passengers.
As Max’s limo drove away into the night, Charlie took stock of his surroundings. He knew this part of the city. It was a rough area, often a hotbed of crime. Hookers could be had at nearly any street corner and clubs and shops selling sex was a common sight. It was a place where people of his kind might go for “slumming” but not much else. Still, he knew that one traveled north just a few blocks the atmosphere changed considerably with comfortable little restaurants, culture-rich places such as the Museum of Natural History and the IMAX theater, and other more reputable places did exist.
Right now they stood at a gas station with a public pay phone standing at the corner near the sidewalk instead of in the station — ostensibly for privacy.
Cerai walked over to the phone booth, looking around for signs of who laid claim to this territory, if anyone. Once at the phone, she pulled the card out of her pocket and made the phone call.