Monster

No one ever really expects to find an actual monster in their kid’s closet, especially not a werewolf in a tracksuit.

“I can explain,” he said. He held up his hands (possibly paws) in surrender.

“I seriously doubt that,” I replied. “You’re a werewolf and you’re hiding in my daughter’s closet.”

“Ah, well, where I come from, this spot is located in my lab.”

“OK. One: That doesn’t make any sense at all. And, two: you’d better come up with a better explanation than that before I call the police. Or Animal Control.”

“This is going to take a bit of time. Perhaps if I came out of here and you put down the club?” he suggested.

I looked at the baseball bat in my hand. “OK, come on out. But I’m keeping the bat.”

The werewolf stepped out into Lucy’s bedroom. In the better lighting, he looked a bit less wolfish. Definitely not human, though. I’d seen a lot of amazing cosplay and makeup effects but this? This looked real.

“Are you a monster?” asked Lucy, peeking over her comforter.

The werewolf turned to face her. “No, I’m a scientist.”

“Oh, OK. I like scientists. Goodnight,” she said, turned over and went back to sleep. Kids. Go figure.

I gestured toward the bedroom door, still keeping my bat handy. He exited the room, still keeping his hands visible. Closing the door behind me, I directed him down the hall to the kitchen. I mean where else are you going to interrogate a werewolf intruder at 5am?

“So, you were saying that your lab is in my kid’s closet…” I said. Sitting at my kitchen table, he seemed a lot less threatening, and quite a bit more nerdy.

“Sort of,” the wolf replied. “The closet and the lab share the same spacial coordinates, but in different timestreams.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head slowly. “I can tell I’m going to need a coffee to hear the rest of this. Want one?”

“Yes please,” he said.

I started the coffee maker and pulled two cups out of the cupboard. “Are all the people in your ‘timestream’ werewolves, or are you just special?”

“Everyone is like me, yes,” he said. “That’s the primary reason I’m here, if you get my meaning.”

“No, I really, really don’t,” I said. “You’re going to need to fill in a few blank spots for me. Let’s start with why you decided to show up in a kid’s closet in the middle of the night.”

“It’s mid-afternoon where I’m from,” he explained. “There must be some temporal slippage between the streams. It’s March third here, yes?”

“May fifth.”

“May fifth, 2107?”

“2016.″

“Oh dear. Nearly a hundred years’ difference,” said Mr. Wolf. “When I saw the doll, I had assumed you were more advanced and had found a way to reverse the effects of Maladeloup. We’ve investigated several parallel timelines and this is the first one that showed any promise at all.”

I facepalmed at that. “OK, back that up again and start over. What’s Maladeloup and what’s a doll got to do with it?”

“Right, of course,” he said. “Maladeloup is a genetic disease that afflicts the entire population of Earth …my Earth. The first cases were recorded in France in 1823, hence the name. Prior to that, all humans looked like you.”

“What, so this disease just suddenly turned everyone into Teen Wolf?” It was really difficult for me to feel sympathetic, given the circumstances. I had to go downstairs and open the shop in a couple hours and I obviously wasn’t getting any more sleep tonight.

I put the cups of coffee on the table and sat down across from him.

Wolfy shook his head. “No, not overnight. But it did spread quickly. The last natural human died sometime around 1935.”

Oh shit. “You’re not contagious, are you?” My skin started to itch. I could feel my hair starting to grow.

“Oh! No, no,” he assured me. “We found a cure for the virus years ago. You’re in no danger.”

“If you found a cure, why do you still look like that?” I waved my cup at him.

The wolf shrugged. “It’s in our gene line now. I personally never contracted the virus, but I inherited its genetic alterations from my parents.”

I sat back and regarded my “guest” for a moment. “A virus that turns everyone into werewolves and, even if you cure it, your kids inherit it. That seems awfully specific.”

He nodded. “Biology isn’t my specialty but my understanding is that the virus is very sophisticated. Yes. It appears to have been engineered specifically to make superficial physiological changes without causing any real damage to the host.”

“You had genetic engineering in the nineteenth century?”

“No. That’s the big mystery,” the wolfman said. “We’ve only recently been able to decipher all the mechanisms it used to accomplish this sort of change. Several labs have samples of the virus, studying it to see if we can re-engineer it to reverse the changes.”

“But no luck, huh?” I asked, finishing off my coffee.

“One of the problems is, we’d need samples of unaltered human DNA, and we haven’t had access to that in nearly two centuries.”

I looked at him and raised an eyebrow.

I saw realization dawn on his face, even through all the fur. “You have an entire planet full of unaltered human DNA samples.”

“Yep,” I replied. “How many do you need?”

“I’d have to check with our biologists but probably a hundred or so,” he said. “Could you get that many volunteers?”

I grinned. “I have an idea how I could, yeah. Can you get back here a week from Saturday? That’s…” I mentally counted. “…nine days from now. About two hours later than you showed up this time. We’ll need time to set up.”

“I think I can manage that. If it means getting DNA samples, I’m sure my superiors will spare no expense,” he said.

“Great!” I said. “Do you have a way of collecting DNA samples non-intrusively? Our techniques are a bit gross. Blood or saliva samples.” I made a face.

He nodded. “I can get a sampler that requires only skin contact. Totally painless.”

I stood up. “Good. Now, if you wouldn’t mind, I need a picture of you. Stand over there, against that wall… Turn your head just a bit… Perfect.”

After I took a couple pictures, he said, “I need to get back. Same way I came in, I’m afraid.”

“OK, we’ll just need to be quiet,” I said. “By the way, I didn’t catch your name. Mine’s Rebecca.”

“Lorne.” We shook hands. His was very furry. Strange sensation. “I can’t thank you enough for this. And I’m terribly sorry about frightening your daughter.” He paused. “I have to say, you’re taking all of this extremely well.”

I shrugged. “You meet all kinds in my line of business.”

“Which is?”

“Oh! I run a costume shop. It’s just downstairs,” I said, pointing toward the floor.

I walked him back to my daughter’s closet. “One last thing,” I whispered, taking care not to wake Lucy. “That tracksuit won’t cut it. You’re, what, a 40 Regular?”

He looked confused but nodded.

“Perfect,” I whispered. “See you next week.”

He pulled out a small, oval device and pressed a button on it. He disappeared. No whoosh, no flash of light, just gone.

I spent the next week promoting the event. I ’shopped up a poster with Lorne’s picture on it. “Meet a Real Live Werewolf!” I had some high school students paper the local streets. I saturated social media with promotional messages, targeting cosplayers, LARPers, tabletop gamers, sci-fi groups.

On the day, at seven AM, I was in my daughter’s bedroom, waiting. Right on schedule, Lorne showed up. But he had a guest.

“I wasn’t expecting two of you,” I said. They were both dressed in jeans and sweatshirts. The other werewolf appeared to be a woman.

“Yes, sorry,” Lorne said. “I really hated to spring this on you at the last moment, but Miriam insisted on coming.”

“Well. Hello Miriam,” I said, shaking her hand. “To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?”

“I apologize for the intrusion.” She pulled a silver wedge-shaped device from her satchel. “The DNA sampler is an expensive and complex instrument. I needed to ensure it’s used properly.”

Lorne nodded at Miriam. “Our genetics expert. She didn’t feel comfortable entrusting their precious equipment to a lowly temporal physicist.”

“Damn straight,” said Miriam. Turning towards me, she asked, “So, where should we set up?”

“Downstairs,” I said, leading them out of the room.

“Is your daughter not around today?” Lorne asked.

“She’s with her father this weekend,” I replied. “She’ll be disappointed she didn’t get to talk to you. She’s a big fan of science.”

“Yes, she mentioned. And baseball, apparently,” added Lorne, nodding to the bat, still propped up in the kitchen.

We made our way down to the shop. I’d set up a “meet and greet” table in one corner of the shop. “Oh! We’ll need two chairs, won’t we?” I went to fetch one.

When I returned, Miriam asked, “So, we’re supposed to just sit here and take DNA samples? I’m not sure how all this is supposed to work.”

“Just be yourselves. Talk to the customers, have your picture taken with them,” I said. “This is a costume shop. Everyone will assume it’s really good prosthetic makeup. And, if anyone asks who you are and what you’re doing, just tell the truth. Oh, and try not to open your mouths too wide. Dead giveaway.” No point in scaring the customers.

“But first,” I said, beckoning them to the back of the shop, “we need to get you some more interesting outfits.”

We tried a bunch of different looks. Everything from Medieval to futuristic. Space suits got rejected right off the bat. They were hot and made them look like Star Wars cantina extras. We finally settled on Victorian.

“Steampunk werewolves,” I said, adding brass accessories. “I like it!”

Lorne and Miriam took their places, and I got down to the business of opening up the shop.

They were a huge hit. Everyone thought they were “in character” and played along. When Miriam requested a DNA sample, most complied, happy to be part of the “act”.

Lots of folks had their picture taken with the pair. I’d set up a nice forest backdrop in anticipation of that. I charged $5 a pop. What the hell, might as well make a few bucks out of the deal.

One of my regulars, Ellie, stopped me to rave about them. “They’re amazing! It must’ve taken forever to do their makeup.”

“Oh, you would not believe!” I said, grinning.

The place was packed for most of the day. I had to fend off the crowds every so often, so that the “performers” could take a break.

During one such break, Miriam approached me and said, “Someone actually asked me for my autograph. I have no idea what they think they can do with that.” I just laughed. Some of my customers can get a bit overenthusiastic.

At one point, I was ringing up a customer when I overheard someone speaking very loudly and argumentatively with Lorne.

“Look, the whole backstory, it just doesn’t work. An engineered virus created a hundred years before you even knew what DNA was? Who engineered it, aliens?”

Lorne replied, “We have no idea. Extraterrestrials are, unfortunately, the most likely explanation.”

“Oh, sure, it’s aliens. Any time you get stuck with a plot hole, trot out the aliens. E.T. ex machina!”

I made my way over to rescue Lorne. Todd was leaning on the table, getting right in Lorne’s face. Of course it was Todd. Todd was our resident expert in Everything That’s Wrong With Science Fiction. He also often very rude. I noticed Miriam was pointedly ignoring them and still taking samples.

As I approached, I politely but firmly said, “Todd, Lorne? Could I see you both in the back room for a moment please?”

Both men looked up, startled (and looking a bit guilty). They followed me into the back.

“Todd,” I said, “we’ve discussed this before. If you want to continue coming into my shop, you need to behave in a polite and respectful manner at all times.” Nicest guy in the world when he was happy but, when he was nit-picking about sci-fi, he could be a serious asshole.

I turned to the wolfman. “Lorne, show Todd the inside of your mouth. Stick out your tongue and say ‘ah’, please.”

Lorne complied. Todd turned white.

“So, the lesson here,” I continued, “is that even reality has plot holes sometimes.”

Lorne closed his mouth again. Todd kept staring. “Does… does anyone else know?” he asked.

“No, and we’d like to keep it that way,” I said. “Lorne and Miriam are taking a considerable risk being here, so we’d like to keep it quiet.”

Todd grinned. “By hiding them in plain sight. I love it!” And suddenly Todd was happy again. Turning to Lorne, he said, “Sorry about the third degree. And, don’t worry, I’ll keep your secret. But… um…”

“Yes?” said Lorne.

“Could I get a picture with you and Miriam?” he asked sheepishly.

The rest of the day went relatively smoothly. Todd stuck around to watch the action. He was much more amiable now that he was in on the secret. At slow points, he’d query the pair on details of their world.

After closing the shop, the two scientists changed back into their street clothes, and I escorted them back to the closet.

“I can’t thank you enough for your help,” Miriam said. “The samples we collected today should give us enough information to reverse the effects of Maladeloup.”

“I’m glad I could be of help,” I said. “Let me know how things go, OK?”

Lorne shook his head. “I’m afraid this is goodbye. We were only allowed funding for this project because of what was at stake. It’s unlikely we’ll be able to visit again.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well… um… good luck, then.”

“We did want to give you something in return for all your help,” Miriam said, pulling a couple of tablets out of her satchel.

I was going to point out that today was my best sales day in years but thought better of it and accepted the gifts graciously. “What are they?”

“Interactive tablets,” said Miriam. “This one is pre-loaded with a series of science courses, from elementary school level, through college. We thought your daughter might appreciate it.”

“She’ll love it. Thank you,” I said. “And this one?”

Lorne shrugged. “We weren’t sure what to get you, so this one is loaded with music.”

“Well, thank you. That’s very nice,” I said, trying to imagine what werewolf music might sound like.

We finished our goodbyes and they disappeared.

Over the next few days, Lucy and I played with our respective gifts. Lucy loved the science lessons and was already whizzing through them, well above her grade level. The music, well, some of the pop songs were a bit odd but there were lots of really good classical works. I could probably sell the rights to a few of them.

I also noticed that the tablets never seemed to need recharging, but assumed they had some sort of advanced power source. They were about a hundred years ahead of us, technology wise. A hundred years ahead…

I put down my tablet and looked over at Lucy. “Sweetie, may I borrow your tablet for a moment?”

She shrugged. “Sure.” She handed it over.

Most of the early lessons were pretty standard stuff. I scrolled through the table of contents and picked out some of the more advanced stuff. There were lessons in here about stuff I’d never even heard of. I even did web searches. Their world was way ahead of us in nearly every field.

I sat there staring at the tablet for some time. The tablet itself was nearly a century more advanced than anything on this Earth. Probably hundreds of patents. Its contents, though…

Eventually Lucy came over and asked for her tablet back. She saw the look on my face. “Are you OK?” she asked.

I hugged her. “I’m fine, sweetie,” I said. “It’s just that, if we play our cards right, we’re going to be rich.”

“Oh,” she said, flipping back to the lesson she’d been on. “That’d be nice.”