They had come into the kitchen and were brewing more tea. Neither of them spoke, just stole glances at each other and then looked away. Each was waiting for the other to break the silence. Kate finally spoke.
“Eric, we need to talk. Not sure what about, but we…”
“Yes Kate, and I think now would be a good time. Where do you want to go sit? Outside is a bit cool now.”
“Let’s go sit in my room.”
“Ok. If that’s alright with you.”
“Its the only place to sit. Everywhere else has someone sleeping in it.” She smiled.
Eric smiled and followed her down the hall. He wondered just how much to tell her. He could risk it all, or he could tell just enough and engender a whole different set of risks. Decisions…
Kate pulled the pillows off of a chair and tossed them on the bed. Eric had the feeling that they were meant to be on the bed, but hadn’t been in a long time. He took the chair and she sat on the bed, propping herself on the pillows.
“Eric, do you want to go first?”
“No, but I don’t think that there is much choice. Whatever you have to say will depend on your reactions to what I tell you.”
Kate gave him a quizzical look. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that once you hear my story, you might feel differently about me.” He was nervous. He knew he had to tell her the whole truth, and that was something he hadn’t done in a long time.
“Oh.” Kate was wondering just what he could say that might change the way she saw him.
Eric took a deep breath and tried to figure out where to start. “We talked before about how I was born in Montana and such.”
“Well, that is the truth. And that I am a famtrad. However, in our family is another tradition, and that part of my history has shaped my whole life. In fact, it defines who I am more than anything else.”
Kate took a sip of her tea and looked at Eric, trying to figure out where this was going. “Ok, go on.”
Eric couldn’t figure out an easy way to say it. “Umm, Kate, I.. ” he couldn’t say it. Deep breath, he thought. Just tell it straight through. “I left home thinking that I could get away from it all. Or, at least part of it. I went to college and joined the military. That was both good and bad. In the end, I felt that I wasn’t doing the right thing.”
“Ok. Lots of people join the military and then decide it wasn’t a good thing.”
“Yes, but I was in a sort of special forces team and did things that I’ll never tell anyone about.” He said it with a finality that made Kate realize he was serious. He took a sip of tea and cleared his throat.
“I fell in love at one point and married a girl. She was not pagan. Thought she wanted to be pagan, but it wasn’t her thing. She was what I think of as a festival pagan. Fluffy, lite and no depth. Unfortunately, I needed depth and understanding. Something she didn’t have to give. Something I didn’t learn until it was too late. What she did give me was Mark and Jamie.” He stopped for a moment.
“So what happened?” Kate sensed that he was beginning to close up.
“Well, I had trouble holding down a job. We moved around a lot and she got tired of it. When an old friend offered a place for us out on their ranch, I thought it would be the ideal thing. So did my wife. We sold everything we could and moved to the ranch about four years ago.”
“That sounds good. You seem like the type of man who would enjoy being up in the mountains.”
“Yes, I do. It was a ranch in the northwest corner of Wyoming. Cattle, hay meadows, hunting and enough work for everyone. My wife started out working in the kitchen while I became a ranch hand. I was back doing things I’d done as a kid. Riding horses, working with livestock and hunting. The kids were fine and she home schooled them.”
“So, what went wrong?”
“The ranch changed hands. The older brother took over and we didn’t have an option to quit. We hadn’t been paid in months, and had no savings. So, we had to keep working. Things got a bit stressed and I lost my temper one day.”
“What was wrong with loosing your temper? Everyone does that.”
“You don’t understand. I… Do you want to know why I lost my temper?” He changed subject in mid sentence.
Kate blinked. “Um, sure.” She didn’t understanding him at that moment.
“I got shot. I got shot because the jerk was conducting an illegal hunt.”
“What?” Kate was totally lost.
Eric took a sip of tea to calm himself down and try to arrange his thoughts. “We lived in Wyoming. Near Yellowstone National Park. They had reintroduced wolves to the area about six years before we got there. The older brother decided that he’d be real smart and earn some extra money by holding an illegal hunt. A wolf hunt, all because he’d seen a wolf or two on his property.”
“Oh shit. And you got caught in the crossfire somehow?”
Eric shook his head. He never thought this would be so hard. “No, I was… I was not caught in the crossfire, I was the target.” There, he’d said it. Or at least started to.
Kate looked at him. “What?” She was puzzled. “You said he was hunting wolves.” she stopped. Her face took on a look that Eric hoped was not panic. “Eric, what are you?” she asked in a calm tone.
Eric put his empty cup down. “I’m… I’m a lycanthrope. A werewolf.” He waited as the silence in the room grew. He waited for Kate to scream or throw things. All the reactions that his wife had shown that day he’d come home with a bloody leg.
Kate just looked at him. She wasn’t sure what to think. She knew that lycanthropes existed. Her friend Nick shifted on an astral level. He’d been her comfort when David died. Hell, there’d been times she’d swear she’d shifted on the astral level. Plus, Zach’s dreams. She realized that she’d been silent too long. Eric had that look of a man waiting for the ax to fall. What to say? For the moment, there was nothing to do but believe him.
“Eric. I’m a little rocked by what you just said, but I have a friend who shifts, so I’m not totally in disbelief. I just… I’ve never met anyone else who’s said they were a lycanthrope.”
Eric let out a long slow breath. He didn’t realize he’d been holding it. “I know I sound crazy, but its true. Its the other family tradition. Some of the people are lycanthropes and it follows bloodlines.”
“Now tell me what happened.” Kate really wanted, no… needed to know what had happened.
“I was out riding fence. I’d finished my work, and decided to slip forms and go hunting.”
“Oh my Gods! Rabbits!” It all dawned on her the real significance of Jamie’s fussing.
Eric blushed. “Yes. Rabbits. I had a family to feed.” He was as matter of fact as he could. “Jamie just never realized how I hunted the rabbits.”
Kate smiled and reached out a hand to Eric. He took her hand, and held it as he continued his story.
“I had four or five rabbits and was just heading back to the spot I’d dropped them with another when riders appeared over the hill. I froze, but it was too late. One of them had spotted me. I could smell the guns and ran. I heard the crack of the rifle and felt the pain in my back leg. I kept going, because I knew if I didn’t, I’d be dead. And what they’d find wouldn’t be a wolf, but me. I hid in a dead fall pile. They crisscrossed the area, and didn’t find me. Didn’t find the rabbits or the ranch horse either. They were so stupid.”
“So, what did you do?”
“I waited until they left, and went back to the rabbits. Shifted and dressed my wound as best I could. Luckily the guy was a lousy shot, and it went clean through.” He let go of her hand. Eric pulled up his left trouser leg and showed her a dimple with a matching one on the other side of his calf.
Kate reached out and touched his leg. Her hand went instantly hot in the way it always does when she does healing work. “It still bothers you doesn’t it.”It was her turn to speak in a matter of fact tone.
“Yes. Nerve damage that never got set straight.” He pulled down his trouser leg.
“What happened when you got home?”
“I got home late, and the minute I walked in the door, she was yelling about how the boss had been looking all over for me. So, I went up to the big house. I got there, and they were all drunk. What they wanted me for was the last straw.”
“Go on.” Kate prompted.
“They wanted me to dress the rest of the animals they’d killed. Two coyotes and a wolf.” He went quiet.
“Oh… oh…” Kate’s, hand went to her mouth. “What did you do?”
“I gritted my teeth and told them I would. I took the animals out of the truck and put them in the back of my farm truck. Said I had to go out away from the barn because they were carnivores and the smell would bother the horses.”
“What did you really do?”
“I gave them an honorable burial,” he said quietly.
“Then what did you do?” Kate asked, not sure she really wanted to know.
“I went back and told them it would be a bit before the skins were cured. So, the city hunters climbed in their cars and headed back to town. I went back to my house for a while. I had to wait and see to my leg.”
“What did your wife say? Did she know you were a wolf?”
“No. She didn’t. That was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. I didn’t tell her. I hid it from her for nearly 12 years. Hell, I did my best to hide it from the military. I never should have.”
“I take it that she took things badly.”
“That’s putting it sweetly. She reacted badly to the fact that I’d been shot. She over reacted to me telling her the truth. Screamed that I’d eat her or the children and a hundred other stupid prejudiced things. Screamed that I’d deceived her all those years. If she had known how to drive the truck, I think she would have left me that night, taking the kids with her. Granted, once she thought about it, she didn’t want the kids either. Said I’d polluted them. Said that I’d made more filthy monsters by tricking her into having children!” He shuddered with the memories of that night.
Kate moved forward, and put her arms around him. She pulled him towards her so that she could hug him. He started to pull away, and she held on tighter.
“Kate,… aren’t you…”
“Shush,” she said, and held him until he stopped quaking.