( 9) France, July 1977
Andre stood in the doorway to the courtyard. He watched as people moved around the farm. Children played in the garden, running between rows of onions and carrots. He could smell dinner cooking, glad to note that it was Elsa cooking, and not Anias. That woman could burn water.
“All quiet?” Libby asked as she walked up from behind.
“Yes. The Basques have stopped streaming into France.”
Libby nodded. It had been a busy spring and early summer as the Spanish government dealt with echos of Franco’s death three years earlier. It seemed as with every disaster, Ferme Louve dealt with waves of shifters. Some times they stayed, as had Anias and her husband Jacques. Others barely left a pawprint. “Dinner’s ready.”
Andre stepped out into the yard and walked over to the bell and rang it three times. The deep tone rang out over the yard, garden and into the fields. People noticed and began to head towards the house.
“I say we need a new place. This one is too crowded.” Corbett replied to the question Elsa had asked about the farm.
“You always say it is too crowded,” retorted Paul.
Libby looked around the table. Counting the six children, there were twenty-two shifters. With a sigh, she nodded. “Yes, there are a lot of us. Corbett, I know you would rather live alone. In the last few months, most shifters have come and gone rather quickly. Perhaps it is time to move to a new place.”
“But what about the farm? Where would we go?” asked Anias with panic in her voice.
“It would still be here,” said Andre. “We would simply take those who wished to move with us. We would find a new place to look for shifters in need of pack.”
Libby agreed, and others nodded as well.
“But… taxes and the law. What would we do without you?” asked another.
“It will be taken care of. None of you need worry. The farm is self sufficient. Our lawyer in Toulouse takes care of taxes, paperwork and legal issues. Our clinic in Vancouver and the Yukon runs the same way,” Andre explained.
“What if we get a crazy one? Like George?”
“We would deal with him.” Paul’s sub-vocals rumbled the length of the table. George had been driven insane by LSD and then heavy handed medical treatment. When he’d arrived at the farm, he’d seemed fine until one night he systematically killed every chicken and began stalking the children. Paul had shot him.
People nodded up and down the table and then concentrated on finishing their food.
“Are you going to come with me Papa?”
“Where are you planning to go Libby?”
“I’m not sure. I think the Italian Alps. I have been looking for stories of dogs and wolves, and there seems to be a lot of them at the border of Italy, Switzerland and Yugoslavia.”
“Are you hearing them?”
“Little bits.” Libby could hear most shifters. Some days it was a blessing. Other days a frustration or even a curse. “Not enough to tell who or where they are though.”
“Who else are you going to ask to go with you?”
Libby blushed. “Juan.”
Andre smiled. “I expected that. Corbett?”
Libby nodded. “He and one or two others that are quiet hungry.”
“When do you plan to go?”
“August I think. That gives us a few weeks.”
It was Andre’s turn to nod. He pulled his daughter into his arms and held her. It was time for him to move on as well, before people began to notice that he wasn’t aging.
Juan held Libby. Their lovemaking had been short, but sweet. Her growls had woken him. She stirred in her sleep, as if she was having a bad dream. Her skin was soft against his rough hands as he rubbed her back trying to ease her back to sleep.
She sat up, and pulled the sheet to her chest. “We have company.”
“Shifters. Three of them. All in bad shape.” Libby stood, stretched and reached for her clothes. She was dressed before Juan had a chance to untangle himself from the sheets. “I’m going to wake Papa. Find Paul and Daniel.”
Juan threw back the covers and dressed. He tried to remember who was on patrol tonight. Paul, of course. He swore the man never slept. Heading downstairs, he found people stirring. Out in the yard, Daniel stood next to a wolf. In the light of the single bulb, it was difficult to tell who the shifter was.
“Daniel, do you know where Paul is?” Juan asked.
“Non.” He bent to the wolf and whispered something. The wolf shot out of the yard. “Elsa will find him.”
Juan nodded. Unlike some, Elsa was a large wolf. He watched as she cleared the garden and headed into the woods.
Andre dressed and headed out to the clinic across from the house. Newcomers were always brought to the clinic first. It was safer for everyone. Fleas and ticks not withstanding, some shifters were just too unsettled at first to be around anyone. He checked the surgery, and opened the door on the field side.
Paul was halfway back to the farm when he heard a sharp bark. “Libby…”
“Back pasture. Come quickly, but approach slowly.”
“Oui.” Paul ran and as he approached the hill that separated the back pasture from the wheat field, he slowed. A hundred meters ahead, there were three figures in the dark next to Libby who was holding a flashlight. The growls were mixed with whimpers of pain. The stench hit his nose and then he was next to Libby.
Two men and one woman. They were emaciated and naked. Scratches, and filth clung to their skin. “What do you want me to do?”
“Carry her and I will help the smaller man with the help of the other.”
Paul nodded and approached the woman carefully. “I will carry you.”
The woman looked at him with no understanding. Paul mimed carrying her. She finally understood and let him pick her up. He turned and started to walk to the clinic.
Libbly went to help the smaller of the two men. The other one took up the arm on the opposite side. They began a slow hobble across the field.
Andre saw Paul coming across the field, and tried to figure out what to grab first. A blanket or a stretcher. Juan came up beside him. “Get Jacques and a stretcher. Head for Libby.”
“Set her down slowly.” Andre wrapped a blanket around the shivering woman.
“I can’t understand her,” said Paul.
Andre tilted her head up. “Deutsche?”
She shook her head.
Andre was beginning to run out of ideas. “Romanesc?”
She stiffened and slowly nodded.
Andre nodded. “Vorbești altă limbă?” He knew his attempt was horrid, but her reaction showed that she understood him. She shook her head back and forth. Andre wracked his brain trying to think of what languages were spoken by the pack. Romanian wasn’t one that came to mind.
Anias scratched at the door. She was holding a teapot and a plate covered by a napkin. Andre walked over to the door and took them from her. “Find us some bathrobes. And start up the hot water in the bathhouse.”
Anias nodded and ran.
Ten minutes later, Libby, Juan and the two men came in the door. Andre wrapped them in blankets. “I think they are Romanian, but my extent of that language is a few phrases.”
Juan nodded. “The taller man speaks Italian I think.”
“I can speak to them,” Libby said as she tapped her temple. The two men nodded. Juan handed each a cup of tea and a thick slice of bread covered in honey butter. As the three shifters inhaled the food, Libby began to talk with them.
“Where are you from?”
“Why have you come here?”
“Death. Earthquake. Pack gone. Lost. Hear of sanctuary.”
“Just the three of you?”
“No. Twenty of us started. We are all that is left.”
“What did they say?” asked Andre.
“There was an earthquake in Vrancea. Their pack was destroyed, and twenty of them headed this way.”
“Twenty? Where are the rest of them?”
Libby looked down at her feet. “Dead. I’m not certain as to how, but I don’t think all of it was because of the journey.”
Juan and Paul who could hear some of the mind conversation nodded.
Andre looked at the three people once more wishing that he could speak mind to mind and understand the haunted look in their eyes. “Let’s get them checked out, bathed and into bed.”
As the leaves began to turn, the three Romanian shifters had enough language to explain the desperate trip that had brought them to Ferme Louve. The story was one of horror. The earthquake which had happened in March, had devastated the region. Bucharest had a high number of deaths and buildings destroyed, but the small rural areas had often been wiped out. Dălhăuţi, the area near the pack’s farm had been one of those. Survivors were moved to safe areas. Some didn’t react well, and were hospitalized. Others ran. Ion, Vasile and Andreea had left with about half of the young pack members. A cousin had been traveling and heard of Ferme Louve. Without the support of their elders and families, they figured it would be the best solution.
Bucharest had been rough. Heading west was the only solution, and the pack moved with hundreds of displaced people. Rail yards offered transport in baggage cars. Then the military patrols began to round up people. Most times the shifters would wait until dark; then shift and disappear. One woman lost her mind when her baby died and shifted in the hospital where they’d been taken. The military police was called and she disappeared. After that, the hunt for the rest of the pack began.
Food and money ran out quickly. Hitching rides on trains helped. Otherwise, they were forced to shift and run as wolves. They tried to hunt without drawing attention to themselves. Three were shot by farmers. By the time they reached Italy, they were reduced to four women and six men. Outside Carcassone, one of them was hit by a bus. Two stayed with him. Two more gave up outside of Limoux. Once they were in the forest, two more shifted and ran. Vasile had kept the other two going until they had reached the edges of the farm.
Libby was uneasy. She knew that the three had not told them everything. It wasn’t a matter of language, but one of fear. As if telling the whole story would bring the evil they had fled to France.
“What do you think they are hiding?” Paul asked as they sat around the table late at night.
“Don’t care. Just tired of them flinching like the boogie man is going to jump out of the shadows,” said Corbett. He was attracted to Andreea, but she flinched at every loud noise or breath of wind.
“Should we go look for the rest of them? It can’t be too hard to find a bunch of refugee Romanians littering the countryside.”
“Paul, that is probably a good idea. I’ve been hearing stories of wild dogs and ‘beast’ stories,” said Juan. Others nodded. They were very careful to police themselves and never ventured out shifted without checking for people.
“Are any of them strong enough to travel Papa?” Libby looked at Andre who’d been monitoring the three shifters.
“Vasile. Andreea might be in a year. Her feet are still shredded. As for Ion, unless he talks and lets us understand the nightmares in his head, he will never be right.” Andre had set up a special room for Ion, after a week of him waking up everyone with his screams.
“If we are going to track them, it would be easier in the next few weeks before the weather gets too cold,” said Juan. He didn’t want to be out in the winter. He had too much respect for the dangers of the mountains having been born high in the Basque regions of Spain.
“What are you worried about? Your coat is so thick I’m surprised you feel anything!” jested Paul. That made many of them laugh.
“Which ones of us are going?” asked Libby. “Papa should stay here. Juan, Paul, Anias?”
“Don’t forget Vasile,” said Juan.
“Ask him first. We may have none of them that are willing to go. They still look so worn out,” Andre added.
A week later, Libby, Juan, Vasile and Paul loaded supplies into the farm truck. The cover plan was to sell off the last of the garden produce, and pick up supplies for the winter. If they found any of the Romanian shifters, they would split up at Montpellier. Anias and Paul would return with them to the farm. Libby, Juan and Vasile would continue to follow back to at least Italy. They waved as they left. Andre watched until the truck disappeared. He was worried, but knew that telling Libby to stay would work about as well as telling her not to shift or eat chocolate.
The first night, they camped in a field near where Vasile thought the two had run into the forest. As night fell, he howled as he walked the parameter of the camp. Nothing. He gave up when the moon set and returned to camp.
“Vasile, are these yours?”
Vasile woke and turned towards Libby’s inner voice. In the early morning light next to her were four wolves. He smiled. “Yes.” He stood slowly and walked over to his packmates. They mobbed him like a bunch of puppies. The noise woke the rest of the sleepers. Vasile translated as each set told their tales of adventure and meeting up in the forest.
In Carcassone, they found the three that had stayed there in a hospital run by the church. The man with the broken leg was mending and the two women had regained a little weight, having eaten well once the nuns had assured them that they could eat in the rectory. Libby paid the hospital bills and they made ready to leave. She promised the nuns that the man with the broken leg would be watched over by her father. The nuns padded a space in the truck and helped the man to get comfortable before they waved goodbye.
“Seven new faces for Papa,” Libby said with a smile. She sat next to Juan as they headed back to Limoux. The plan was to split the group there. Some back to the farm and some to head farther east. It would give Libby a chance to scout for a new safehold for shifters.
“Agreed. You do know that your papa is not happy that you are venturing out.”
Libby looked at Juan. “Yes. He is afraid, but even he must leave soon.”
Vasile sitting on the other side of Libby looked at her with a questioning look on his face.
“Papa is… different.”
“Yes, but… why would he have to leave? None of us care that he is looking so young.” Juan didn’t care. He didn’t understand the fuss.
Libby had had this discussion with Juan before, so she turned to Vasile. “Papa doesn’t age like we or humans do. He is ‘other’.”
Vasile nodded slowly. “He smells very old, but looks young.”
“Yes, and from time to time, he disappears and then becomes his son or nephew. It is time to do it again, before the neighbors notice that he looks the same age as his daughter.” Libby wasn’t certain if she would have as long a life as her papa, but knew the issues well.
“Ah. But if he lives so long, will not you?”
“We don’t know Vasile. What I do know is that we need to help other shifters. And, you must tell us why Ion cries in the night.”
Vasile looked at her, his jaw clenching. “Another time. Not when my pack can hear.” He tossed his head in the direction of those in the back of the truck.