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Tooth & Claw

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The way I see it, nobody likes Monday mornings. There was nothing especially awful about mine, even if I did wake up naked and covered in sweat, what remained of my bed sheets covered in dark hairs. The bed was ruined again: deep scratches in the headboard, the mattress ripped to pieces, and bits of pillowcase trapped between my teeth. They were really wedged in there, too; brushing my teeth as vigorously as I dared could only get about half of what was there.

I splashed a little cold water on my face and opened the medicine cabinet, one of the few doors in the house you couldn’t operate with paws. Believe you me, waking up to bite marks in my iPod once was enough; everything I didn’t want to risk replacing – my wallet, phone, and glory be, a blister pack containing six ibuprofen – had been tucked away safely before moonrise, and I helped myself to three tablets and a handful of cold tap water. Then I stepped into the shower, turned the temperature as hot as it would go, and stayed there until there was no hot water left.

I still felt like shit. But at least I didn’t smell like it anymore.

At some point during the night I must have gotten hungry because the kitchen floor was littered with broken cornflakes. The lamb chops I’d left out on a plate were long gone, as were two packets of Jammy Dodgers, half a jar of peanut butter and some cheese. Despite myself, I was impressed; my other self had never been able to get into the fridge before, even if he had scuppered my breakfast plans by doing so last night.

I got dressed quickly, thinking that I could get something on my way into work. If you were to go to most other villages in England, no matter how small, you’d probably find a tearoom somewhere, a fancy bakery, somewhere to sell visitors on the idea of the cosy village life. Not so in Argleton; all I had to look forward to was a soggy egg & cress from the petrol station.

That was where they’d left Annie’s body.

I didn’t notice her on the way in. It was still dark outside; I was hungry; the newspaper stand had blocked my view. I just picked up a sandwich, paid Sanjit and asked if he was alright.

“It’s the new girl,” Sanjit had said. “Ann Barker, you know her?”

I waggled my hand from side-to-side, as if to suggest that I might recognize the name but couldn’t say for sure. “Rings a bell,” I said. “What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s three bloody hours late is what’s wrong,” Sanjit told me. “If your boss said to you, ‘Thomas, you will be at work for five o’clock’, would you wait three hours without even a phone call?”

I said to Sanjit that I understood but sometimes, things just came up unexpectedly. He continued as if I hadn’t spoken:

“It’s a lack of respect, that’s what it is,” he said. “Complete and total lack of respect.”

“Maybe she’s just ill?”

“Maybe,” said Sanjit. He looked unconvinced. “I could try and call her again.”

“That sounds good,” I said, and left him to it.

Outside the rain was coming down in thick sheets. My head still hurt. I had Year 8 first period and they were supposed to be presenting their group reports on Macbeth, which would mean sitting through four pretend sword fights and three groups shrieking about the contents of their cauldron. And the classroom was going to be freezing. It always was.

It was only when I was leaving that I caught sight of it – of her. Annie. She was on the ground, curled in on herself. One hand was flung up in front of her face, fingers stained as though she was picking cherries. Her shirt had ripped where someone had stabbed her and I knew straight away she was dead.

I wish I could tell you that my first instinct was to help her, or to promise I’d see her killer brought to justice, but it wasn’t. Annie was a nice girl. She deserved better. But all I could think was Thank God she looks human, and then I went to tell Sanjit. He called the police.

They had questions for me, about how I’d found Annie. I answered most of them truthfully: no, I hadn’t touched anything; no, I hadn’t seen anyone else; yes, I went for help as soon as I found her. PC Owen eyed the sandwich in my hand with no small degree of suspicion and I shrugged, hapless. I only came in to get something to eat.

No, I answered when they asked if I knew her. Not really. I couldn't tell if they believed me or not.

I didn't know if I did either.

You see, I didn't know her, not really. Whoever she was when she was with her friends and family, whoever she was while she walked on two legs and wore clothes, that Annie was as much a stranger to me as any other. Besides, it wasn't really me who knew her. Four nights out of a month, neither of us were quite ourselves; and it was our other selves who were our only point of connection. Annie and I shared a curse, shared a pack, but only ever when we were wolves. I wasn't furry enough to know her then.

I know it sounds like I'm making excuses, and maybe you think that's all I'm doing. I won't say that I wasn't scared. But, hand on heart, I thought I was doing the right thing by keeping my mouth shut. I thought - a boyfriend, probably, or a thief. A row. Any of the usual reasons to kill someone. Trying to tell the police about the curse (or even just that Annie had thought she was a werewolf, if I could spin it as some delusion she'd trusted me to keep secret) was only going to distract them, stop them from finding out what had really happened to her, and risk bringing too much attention on us all. For what it's worth, I thought I was acting for the best.

The headmistress offered to let me take the rest of the week off while I recovered from the shock, which I thought was nice of her even though I refused. Staff room gossip being what it is, I knew that by Wednesday the entire student body would be convinced I fought off Annie's murderer single-handed, and that if they were left to their own devices until Friday the legend of Mr Reeves and the murdered girl would be impossible to live down. I took three days, which was a decision born of pragmatism as much as it was respect: Tuesday night was the last of the full moon.

I spent the rest of Monday at home. Rather than go out to the shops, I ordered a curry and ate it in front of the telly while Matt Baker and Alex Jones talked about binge-drinking with a medical expert and a stand-up comedian. The general consensus was that we shouldn't do it, although the comedian joked that it just meant more for him and everyone laughed. I switched it off and finished my biryani in silence.

There were four others in the village, not counting myself, but I didn't know who they were. It was safer that way. It was only by chance I'd known about Annie, after we woke up next to one another one morning, and I had no way of knowing if anyone else knew about me. Whatever old wives' tales you might have heard about yellow eyes or hair in strange places, you can forget it. There's only one way to be certain if someone's a werewolf or not and that's to watch them change, because unless you can see that big round moon above us then you and me are as human as human can be.

In the distance, there was the sound of church bells. Someone howled, long and lilting, and I reached out to close the curtains just as my spine began to twist and grow, just as my fingers began to clump together and all I could hear was the familiar sound of my body tearing itself apart. I opened my mouth and my tongue, not designed for human jaws, lolled out to touch my chin. I tried to scream.

The next morning was much less painful, which just goes to show. Because I had nothing else to do, I vacuumed the covers and then climbed back into bed with a mug of tea, intending to listen to the local radio for a bit. The programme was Rachel In The Morning, and Rachel was halfway through her news bulletin when I tuned in. Her voice was shaky, as though she'd been crying or running a marathon before she started, and I remember thinking that she must have been talking about Annie's death. In a village like ours, violent crime doesn't tend to go beyond fistfights when someone's had a few too many. A murder was the sort of thing that only existed in detective novels for most of us.

"... shocking twist, he was discovered to be entirely naked," Rachel was saying. "I can reveal that the second body was discovered early this morning. When asked to comment..."

I began to shake. To this day, I still can't tell you what it was that tipped me off. It might have been the nudity - in my experience, there are only a few reasons why someone might be outside all night with no clothes on, and lycanthropy happens to be one of the more persuasive. Maybe my subconscious had been churning over the facts of Annie's death, wondering why anyone would want to harm her, and had come to the conclusion that our secret was more important than I'd first thought, or perhaps it was nothing more than paranoia and a lucky guess. A few moments later when Rachel commented on the victim's unusual dental work, I knew my suspicion was correct: someone was hunting werewolves.

"-anyone with information to come forward," continued the radio. "And we'll be back with more details about these brutal attacks right after the break." Then there was the closing jingle, dah-DAH-dah-dah, before the adverts started to play. I switched it off. Then I got dressed.

It was a stupid idea, but it was the only one I had so I went straight to the offices of Rachel In The Morning and demanded to speak to a manager. "Um," said the young woman I was addressing. "I'm Rachel Marsh. I'm, you know, Rachel but also - well, all the other roles here, so I guess you want me?"

I looked at her and nodded. "I want you to interview me," I told her.

"I can't just-"

"I found the first body."

That was when I knew I had her, but she insisted on asking me a few questions first. I answered them honestly, for the most part. It didn't matter. All I needed was to get on the air, you see, and then I could warn everyone. That was the plan.

When the ad break ended, she handed me a pair of headphones and had me take my place. I waited until the last of the music faded away and Rachel nodded at me.

"Hello and welcome back," she was saying. "I have here in the studio-"

"Werewolves!" I shouted. I smacked the table with my open palm to emphasize the point. "Werewolves, they're killing werewolves! We have to-" There was a loud electric pop as Rachel hit something on her computer. I carried on shouting for a second longer before the meaning of it registered, and I rounded on the woman. I'd scared her. She was taking several small, hurried steps away from me and I held up my hands to show that I wasn't a threat.

"I think you'd better leave," she told me, and so I did. I'd done what I needed to do, or so I thought, and when the next night came and nobody died I thought that it had worked. That everyone else would be safe. That I'd made myself a target for whatever monster was out there, yes, but I'd managed to save lives, hadn't I? It was going to be worth it. Nobody else would have to suffer, that was the plan.

Yeah, I'd never heard of the broadcast delay either.