Excerpt: Midsummer’s Moon

Part One: Waxing Moon

Lowell sighed as yet another car passed him by, and made a note to hate the driver and passengers the rest of his life. ‘Body Found By Highway: No One Would Give Poor Werewolf A Ride in the Rain.’

The cold rain that was probably going to give him hypothermia or the flu or whatever. Maybe that was for the best, really. ‘Werewolf Finally Dies: World Sleeps Better.’

Shaking his head at himself, Lowell waited until the car was well out of sight and truly had no intention of maybe turning around to help the poor bastard drowning slowly to death after all.

Damn it, he just wanted not to be wet anymore. He’d been needing a shower, but this was so not what he’d had in mind. Now if the rain was near-boiling and had come with soap…

Ugh, he must be tired if he was thinking such stupid thoughts.

At least it was a light, if steady, downpour. Unfortunately, the sun had decided to continue obeying the laws of nature. Or space. Physics? Whatever. It had decided to set, rather than help him by not setting, and his chances of hitching a ride diminished by the minute. When it was finally well and truly dark, he could kiss any hope of one goodbye. Dark automatically made him evil and scary, even if he was nothing more than some sort of sad, drowning puppy.

Werewolf. Drowning Puppy. Haha. ‘Werewolf Kills Self To Spare World Bad Humor.’

He probably should have tried to sneak a sleep at the last gas station, but the clerk had creeped him out in no small way. Being a werewolf wasn’t good for much, but it helped loads with the self-preservation thing.

At least the last sign had said Midsummer’s Night was only twenty miles away.

Twenty miles and he could, at the very least, spend an hour or few in a waiting room. Like as not Dr. Kuhl would want nothing to do with him, and have security or something escort him out – that’d happened enough times in his life for him to know when it could happen – but at least for a bit he’d be warm and dry. Maybe there’d be time to read a few magazines, have a nap…

He really had come far in life, Lowell thought miserably, when the highlight of his day was killing time in some doctor’s waiting room. Pathetic. He slid a hand into his pocket and touched the ziplock within it, filched from a shelter kitchen to protect his precious slip of paper from the elements.

Nothing but a name, an address, and the directions he’d gotten off a library computer. Not much at all, but it was a goal – a sliver of hope.

Hope that maybe, just maybe, he’d be able to become normal. Get rid of the damned curse which had ruined any chance he had of a life. To be human, rather than some horrid monster no one could stand.

Of course, he wasn’t stupid enough to get his hopes too high – it did seem kinda farfetched that anyone could actually make a cure for werewolf. He thought there was a fancier term for it. Ly-something.

Though at the rate he was going, it might not matter. He sneezed hard, shuddering in the rain, his clothes totally not up for the inclement weather. He’d had a raincoat once, an ugly red thing with an even uglier plaid lining, but it had been warm and dry. That’s what he got for falling asleep at a bus station. He should have worked harder at staying awake. Served him right.

Drat it. Not so much as a single car. Even for an old highway this was a bit ridiculous.

Not that it really mattered. Raining and getting darker by the second – he should stop looking for a ride and look for a place he could sleep without getting run over or picked up by cops or mugged or something.

For better or worse, he was still two weeks from changing. Just as well, in the end, because he might have been tempted to travel as a wolf and he resisted such temptations whenever possible. The last time that had happened… Lowell shuddered and turned his thoughts elsewhere.

No, wolf form meant finding a place to hide until the hell was over.

Instead of bad memories, he turned to his most-hated, favorite game of ‘what if’.

What if this Dr. Kuhl really had found a cure for ly…ly…werewolf-ness? What if he was good enough to give it to Lowell? Would he expect cash? The thought soured Lowell’s stomach, because what little money he did have he’d refused to spend on the hope a meager two hundred dollars would be enough to pay for the cure, and he had the sinking feeling it wouldn’t be nearly enough.

Maybe, however, Dr. Kuhl would let him work to cover the rest of it. He could certainly think of worse arrangements. Just stupid grunt work, but it wasn’t like he could do anything else.

Then…then he’d finally have the cure, and would be normal and people wouldn’t freak out and shun him or try to turn him over to animal control or the cops. They wouldn’t try to shoot him or toss silver at him…and…

And it was all stupid daydreaming, because even assuming for one minute there was a cure and the doctor would give it to a nobody werewolf like him, he still would have a long way to go before he was anything but a homeless, worthless nobody.

Still, life would be a lot easier when he wasn’t part wolf.

It would.

Determination renewed, he trudged on through the rain, glaring at the now nearly-set sun. It wasn’t like it was the first time he’d had to trudge about everywhere in the dark. He’d live. Probably.

He sneezed again, steps faltering, sneaker catching on some stray bit of rubble and Lowell went tumbling, landing hard on the roadside. Damn it. ‘Werewolf Killed By Own Clumsiness.’

Rolling his eyes, Lowell started to get up again – then just fell back down, suddenly too tired to move. His motivation of only seconds before had gone out like a light. What was he thinking, seriously? He was wearing jeans that had more holes than he could count, socks that were only clean because he’d collected enough change to do some laundry. The expense had made him cringe, but he definitely wasn’t going to get a cure if he smelled like a garbage pit…an old corduroy jacket that should have been retired long ago…and hair so scraggly it was probably hard to tell he did, in fact, spend most of his time in a human-shaped form.

Homeless and pathetic, that’s all he was, and one glance was all it took for anyone to figure it out. No way was some semi-famous doctor going to waste his time on a vagabond werewolf when he could sell the cure for thousands or even more to wealthy werewolves.

If there was such a thing, Lowell supposed. Probably there was. Surely not all werewolves were like him…but he’d only ever met a handful of others, and none of them had been much better off than he. There didn’t seem to be many of them, but there must be if werewolves kept popping up, if a doctor would go to the trouble of creating a cure.

Right?

So, likely Dr. Kuhl would just call security and that would be that.

Which meant, nice waiting room aside, he was wasting his time. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He should take his pathetic two hundred dollars and a find a room and food and then in the morning he could scrounge up some work to do to make more money.

…and pretend to be normal until the full moon struck and he turned into a wolf and either was accidentally seen or missed work and was fired, or something more disastrous (which had never happened to him, but he’d heard stories from the few other wolves, and didn’t want a story of his own to tell).

Sighing, Lowell tried to make himself stand, because doing something was better than nothing – but for more years than he could remember he’d been trying one thing or another and all it had gotten him was an address and an empty road while the rain slowly pneumonia-ed him to death.

His head jerked up at the sound of a car, and he reflexively held out a thumb – wholly unsurprised when it kept right on going, paying him no mind.

Jerks. Couldn’t they see he was too wet and cold and miserable to be a crazy ax murderer? His poor little backpack, filched from a dumpster, couldn’t even hold an axe. It barely held his spare clothes as it was.

Lowell yawned, and gave serious consideration to the idea of falling over and going to sleep right in the puddle he was occupying.

Another car approached, but he didn’t bother to try and flag it down, simply waited for it to zoom on past.

Except…he must be going crazy, cause it sure as hell sounded like it was slowing down…

Looking up, he saw that either he was sick enough the hallucinations had started – or the car really had stopped.

Then a man got out, bearing an umbrella, and jogged toward him.

“Are you okay?” the man asked. Lowell couldn’t really see him much, not with the rain and dark and only the car for light…but his voice was pleasant. He knew real kindness when he heard it, and despite the sneezing his sense of smell wasn’t totally gone.

What little he could smell actually smelled…yummy. Bad dog. No weird thoughts. Humans did not smell yummy, except to big bad wolfs and he wasn’t one of those, no.

“Um…” Lowell tried to think of something to say, but obviously his brain was waterlogged. ‘Mute Werewolf Left to Die.’ Yeah, that’d be fitting.

But his possible rescuer didn’t seem fazed at all, merely smiled and reached out to grasp Lowell’s arm, tugging him up and close enough to stand beneath the large umbrella. “Come on, my friend, you can’t stay out here – you’ll catch your death, if you haven’t already.”

Lowell started to speak, then realized he’d probably only say ‘um’ again, and snapped his mouth shut.

Too tired to worry if Mr. Nice Guy might be the axe murderer, he allowed himself to be dragged toward and pushed down into the car.

Oh, heat. He was making a mess of the car and felt really bad about that, but the heat was turned on and rain wasn’t falling on his head anymore and he didn’t have to keep walking for at least a little bit…

It was almost enough to make him cry.

The driver door opened, his rescuer sliding into the seat, and Lowell dared to take a wary peek, never certain what to say or do in these rare moments where someone was nice to him.

Damn.

Was it a blessing or a curse that his rescuer was insanely hot? Not like, typical hot, but…something out of an old book or movie hot. Khakis, oxford, a long trench coat he hadn’t bothered to fasten up… Slender, but not boney, dark hair and pretty blue eyes behind old-fashioned looking spectacles. Pretty.

“You look as though you’ve endured more than your fair share of the rain,” the man said with a gentle laugh, fingers moving absently over the dash as he cranked the heat up, adjusted the vents. “We should be home shortly, you can shower and dry off and all there; I should even have some clothes lying about the place.”

Lowell blinked. Come again? “Um – you don’t – that is – I don’t want to be a bother. Um. Thanks for the lift, it’s really appreciated.” He sneezed hard, and was almost grateful for it cutting off the rest of the stupidity that would have fallen out of his dumb mouth.

The man laughed. “Not a bother. You’re welcome. I insist you come to my house. I promise I won’t kill you or anything. Where are you headed?”

“Um.” Lowell wanted to smack his head against the window. Think, stupid. Speak. Good dog. “I’m trying to get to Midsummer’s Night.”

“I see,” the man said softly, and Lowell wondered why the happy tone of his voice had suddenly shifted. His smell had altered too, and he’d better stop thinking about smell because now that they were out of the rain he was forced to conclude that the stranger really and truly did smell yummy.

He couldn’t quite define what yummy meant, but he knew that was definitely the way to describe it.

Damn it.