Judgment Night

[Judgment Night cover]


Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald

Chapter One

             Three years ago, if you’d asked me what was the worst thing about being a lycanthrope, I’d have had a hard time answering the question. I was new to the game in those days, so all of it was unfamiliar and most of it was inconvenient. Some of it, like the silver bullets, was downright dangerous–because “lycanthrope” is the polite name for a werewolf.

                My name is Valerie Sherwood, I’m seventeen, and the reason I know about werewolves is that I’ve been one for three years now.

                My grandmother used to tell me that you could get used to anything if you worked at it long enough. She was right. By the time my senior year in high school rolled around I didn’t even miss things like silver jewelry and garlic bread. As for spending one night every lunar month running the hills in wolf-shape, chasing rabbits and field mice and howling at the moon, I’d learned to enjoy that part a long time before.

                What I hadn’t counted on was having my “condition,” as my father the shrink calls it, make me probably the only girl at Hillside High who was going to make it all the way to graduation without so much as getting kissed by her boyfriend.

                It’s not that I don’t have a boyfriend, or at least something that passes for one. I’ve been dating Freddie Hanger off and on ever since the autumn of our junior year, and by now everybody is so convinced we’re a pair that I don’t think I could persuade another guy to ask me out if I tried. Freddie knows about the werewolf business, which makes my life easier in some ways–I don’t have to turn down an invitation because it’s on the night of the full moon. He knows better than to ask me out around then.

                On the other hand…Freddie not only knows what I am, he knows how I got that way, in a close encounter of the fangy kind with another werewolf who didn’t have my best interests at heart. Not a typical experience, really. Take it from me, most werewolves don’t have the slightest interest in biting people. When the moon is full and the night is a Technicolor sensorama of wonderful smells, people are about the least interesting thing there is.

                But like they say, every minority group has some exception who’s determined to give everybody else in it a bad name, and I’d had the bad luck to get bitten by one of those nasty exceptions. I got off easy, in fact. Jay Collins had wanted me dead, and in the end it was his bad luck that all he managed to do was sink his teeth into my forearm. One bite, though, was enough to change my life forever–and that’s where the going-on-eighteen-and-never-been-kissed part comes in.

                You’ve got to understand that “Caution” is Freddie Hanger’s middle name. He’s not a coward or anything like that; in fact, I’ve seen him take some pretty crazy risks when he thought he had a good reason to. Most of the time, though, he’s the sort of guy who never jumps into the pool without checking the water with a yardstick first. And while it doesn’t bother him any that his girlfriend’s a werewolf, he has some real strong opinions on the subject of becoming one himself.

                Negative opinions.

                “Face it, Val,” he’d said, the last time the subject came up, “we already know that lycanthropy is spread by biting. And some of the books say that you can get to be a werewolf just by drinking from the same pond that a werewolf drank from. That sounds like a highly infectious, saliva-borne agent to me.”

                He really does talk like that sometimes, honest. And there wasn’t anything I could do or say to convince him otherwise, even though I had my doubts about the “highly infectious” bit. I’d only known one other werewolf besides the late unlamented Jay, but that guy had a perfectly normal wife whom he must have kissed at least once in a while. So there has to be something else to it, something that makes the change “take” on some people and not on others.

                I wish I knew what made it take on me.

                None of my speculations did me any good with Freddie. “Why risk it?” he always said, and I had to agree. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

                I suppose I could have looked for some other guy to go out with, one who didn’t know the truth about me, but I didn’t. For one thing, Freddie might be right, and I didn’t feel like making any more werewolves, thank you. For another–Freddie might not be kissing me, but he wasn’t kissing anyone else either. By the time spring came around, I’d even sort of gotten used to the situation. High time, too, considering that we only had a few months left until school was over for good, and in the autumn we’d go off to different colleges and probably never see each other again.

                Meanwhile, at least I had something that looked from out front like a social life. My friend Diana, now–she had enough social life for two or three people. Nobody serious, though; she’d spent most of her sophomore and junior years in a private girls’ school back East, getting over what her parents thought was a nervous breakdown.

                I knew better, and so did Freddie. Jay would have known better, too, except that Di shot him first. Which probably did mess up her head a little, but not for the reasons everybody thought. The whole thing had put a crimp in our friendship for almost two years–I hadn’t asked to be turned into a werewolf, and I hadn’t asked her to shoot Jay for me either, but we both had trouble remembering that at first.

                Time heals all wounds, though, or at least helps them scab over. These days Diana was back at Hillside High, and claiming that she had to play the social field to make up for lost time.

                “So who is it this weekend?” I asked her one Friday in early March.

                We were eating lunch in the school cafeteria. I’d gone back for seconds once already–not because I liked chicken pot pie and steam-table vegetables, but because it takes a lot of fuel to keep a werewolf’s metabolism up and running. We’re fast; we’re strong; our bodies can heal themselves of almost anything; and the energy for all that stuff has to come from somewhere.

                “Tom Dawson,” Di said. “How about you?”

                Tom was Di’s boyfriend of the moment, and not too bad for a football jock. Not my type, but I’ve already told you who is.

                I shrugged in answer to Di’s question. “I don’t know. Saturday’s out anyway. Full moon.”

                Outside of Freddie and my dad, Di’s the only person in town who knows about me. There used to be some others, but they’re all dead. Courtesy of Jay Collins, mostly–except for Elise Barbizon, and she hadn’t found out my secret while she was still alive.

                “The dance is tonight,” Di pointed out. “Hasn’t Mr. Suave and Sophisticated Hanger gotten around to asking you yet?”

                I sighed. “You know Freddie. He’ll probably wait until the last possible minute.”

                A couple of minutes later Freddie showed up in person with his lunch tray. I don’t know where he’d been to make himself late for lunch–the school library, at a guess, since he had a couple of books with him: Guardians of the Grail and Mathematical Jokes and Puzzles. Freddie’s taste in reading material is what my father calls “eclectic” and most people would call downright weird.

                “Hey, guys, what’s doing?” he said. Di and I looked at each other.

                “We’re not guys,” I told him. “Haven’t you noticed yet?”

                Di shook her head gravely. “A sad case of arrested development, if you ask me. Val, aren’t you taking care of this poor boy’s education?”

                “I’ve been trying,” I said. “I don’t think it took.”

                “Do you have anything planned for tonight?” Freddie asked me, nothing daunted. “Nothing daunted” is about the best two-word description of Freddie Hanger that you could come up with. He’s tall, and nicely built, with red hair and a cute smile–and he’s got a backpack in his bedroom filled with stakes, silver crosses, mandrake roots, holy water, and assorted other supplies you don’t usually find anyplace outside of an alchemist’s lab.

                That’s the other thing about Freddie. Diana and I believed in lycanthropy the same way we believed that Carson City was the capital of Nevada–werewolves were a fact of life. She’d seen one; I’d been one. Freddie, though, was a True Believer, with a capital T and a capital B. He knew all there was to know about everything supernatural from ley lines to Lemuria, and could tell you more about the abominable snowman than you wanted to hear. It was what he studied at home when he should have been doing his physics homework. Remember the Professor Van Helsing character in all the Dracula movies? Now imagine Van Helsing in high school. That’s my boyfriend Freddie.

                But he does have a cute smile. So I shook my head and said, “No, nothing special.”

                “How about going to the dance?”

                “Sure,” I said. I could see Di trying not to laugh.

                “Great!” Freddie said. “Pick you up?”

                “Planning to bring a paper bag I can put over my head so no one will see me riding in your Ford?”

                Freddie’s old Ford pickup truck was a thing of wonder–too worn-out to do farm work anymore, which took some doing, scratched and dented all over, with metal sheets pop-riveted in place where panels had rusted entirely away. It had a gun rack in the window behind the cab, and I’m not certain but I think there used to be a snowplow attached to the front bumper.

                He looked defensive. “I’ll wash it, okay?”

                “Fair enough,” I said. “Then I won’t need the paper bag.”

                The dance that night wasn’t going to be anything special–no live band or anything, just a DJ and some records and a few crepe paper party streamers in the high school gym. The student government and the PTA cosponsored a couple of those dances every month, supposedly to give the kids in town a place where they could go out on dates and not get into trouble. I don’t know if the idea worked or not, but at least it was something to do on a Friday night that didn’t involve pizza and Coke. I don’t have anything against Coke, mind you; but pizza without garlic simply isn’t worth the trouble.

                Since the dance wasn’t a major occasion, I didn’t dress up; although I will admit I took a bit more time getting ready than I would have for school. My dad was working late, getting his stuff in order for a professional conference that was coming up out of town, and I had the house to myself. I left a note–“Gone to school dance with Freddie; back by midnight”–propped up against the salt shaker on the kitchen counter, and waited in the living room until Freddie showed up to knock on the front door.

                He’d been as good as his word, too, washing the pickup and even putting a coat of wax on the parts of it that still had the original paint. I was impressed.

                The inside of the pickup was tidier than usual–none of its normal clutter of schoolbooks, tools, empty soft-drink cups, and miscellaneous bits of ghost-hunter paraphernalia like beeswax candles and forked hazel twigs. It didn’t take me long to figure out that Freddie wanted to show something off: otherwise, I’d have had to take my chances with the dust bunnies and duct tape like always.

                “New radio?” I guessed aloud, after we’d been driving for a minute or two. It certainly looked as if somebody had been at work around the dashboard, and some of the lights and buttons were different.

                Freddie nodded. “Yeah. I installed it myself.”

                “Not too shabby,” I said. “How does it sound?”

                He’d been waiting for me to ask that, of course. He pressed the On button, and we drove the rest of the way to the dance listening to the music. It took us a while to find a station, since I like heavy metal and Freddie, if you tied him down and forced him to give an honest answer, would have to admit to liking bluegrass. We finally split the difference and listened to classic rock instead.

                There isn’t all that much to say about the dance itself. We got there early and stayed to the end, and I guess I had a good time. The student government dance committee had refreshments available for outrageous prices (they had to pay for all those crepe paper streamers somehow) so at least I didn’t starve to death. Freddie and I had the last slow dance, and it felt really good to be held. Then the DJ was packing up his stuff, and it was time to go.

                We didn’t talk much on the way home, just listened to the radio. We were about halfway to my house when that fancy new radio of Freddie’s lost synch with the classic rock station we’d been listening to. For a moment a ghost station filled the silence, playing some piano piece I didn’t recognize.

                I didn’t take much notice of it–car radios lose stations all the time, and the dropout was only for a couple of seconds before the rock station came back on.

                Freddie walked me up to the front steps of my house. Then he gave me a hug and kissed the air beside my cheek and I did the same with him, and I went inside. As grand passion goes it wasn’t much, but it looked like about the best I was going to get.

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