Things in the Dark Night
When you have no hope,
It is not the end of the story,
It is actually the beginning.
Exuberance! I feel my four feet spring through the dark forest in the cool mist of the night. I am safe while I am here, but I will eventually have to leave and become a fugitive again. My travel amulet is lost and I have no way to get home.
This is France right before the Hundred Years War and I came here searching for an artifact that could be very important to me. Legend talks about an artifact that can be used in an exorcism to cure the curse of a werewolf and this is the time and place where folks were looking for it.
Life in this time is difficult. Life expectancy is around thirty, mostly due to child mortality, but if you can live into adulthood you might live half a century. That will change in a few years when the Black Death arrives and one in three people die. For now, though, life still has its joys. If you avoid the cities, there is little pollution to deal with. Sunrises and sunsets are brilliant. The thought of romance, like in all other times, entices and blinds the young and old alike. It is the one commandment that humankind has been completely faithful to, “Be fruitful and multiply.”
In the rural areas, strangers are suspect and every locale has its own variation of the Latin based Romance language. When you travel, the guise of a merchant trader draws the least attention and offers the best excuse for having an odd dialect. For example, if you impersonate a priest, you will need to actually know proper Latin. You do not need gold or coins, virtually all commerce is by barter. Simple modern household products like pencils, paper, or cleaning brushes are sufficient. At the end of the day, a town or city will typically offer an inn or tavern as an oasis. Be ready to sleep on bare floors or if you are lucky in a straw bed.
Oh, an important reminder, always check the moon phase for your destination date and do not forget about the Julian to Gregorian calendar change over in 1582; otherwise, you will be thirteen days off. Yes, you guessed it. I landed right in the middle of a full moon. All my clothing, my barter items and my travel amulet were left in a clearing in the woods when I had to flee from a pack of dogs.
Taking a long circular route back to my belongings over the course of the night, I arrive in the clearing just before dawn. The grass is tall, so I use my nose to follow my own scent back to where I landed. As the sunlight signals the end of my animal form and I start shedding my body hair, I grab my clothing and quickly dress. Thinking I am finally safe again, I check my pack and everything looks in good condition. Then I start to look for the amulet, thinking it must have fallen to the ground during the change, but I can not find it anywhere. Horror flashes in my mind as the reality of being stranded surfaces yet again. “Wait!” I think, “Was there another scent just now? A human scent?”
The thing about being a werewolf is that not all the folklore is true. Silver bullets will kill, but so will normal bullets, but few in Europe at this time even have gunpowder, let alone guns. There are other ways to die, however, and as most weapons the common folk have are for hunting, they would be sufficiently deadly. Another myth is that a werewolf has no control over the change. Perhaps that might be true in some cases, but it is not a universal rule. From what I have learned, it does take practice and concentration, but sadly, it is not something I have mastered.
“If I were the wolf, I could track that scent.” I sit on the ground with the grass swaying in the morning breeze and try to imagine myself back in wolf form, but after several minutes, I realize it is not going to happen.
I devour an energy bar out of my pack and find a hiding place in a huge tree where I can stash everything and wait for the change tonight. Then, I can track down who ever has my amulet. Tired from the night before, I take a long nap.
As the shadows get long and the day starts to turn into twilight, I hear the dogs again. This time there is the murmur of men as well. Soon, the hunting party enters the clearing and I glean an idea about what they are hunting. It is something large from the look of the equipment they have brought. They have lit torches and the dogs are leashed as they make their preparations. The dogs catch my scent from last night and start yelping. On that note everybody disappears into the gloom. “This complicates matters…” I think to myself.
Soon, I am back in the wolf world. My stuff is out of sight in the tree, so I start tracking the mystery person that has my amulet. Too my horror, the scent is in the same direction the hunting party has taken, but I am desperate. I wind up tracking the scent for over an hour, not traveling too fast so as not to overtake the men and dogs. Then it dawns on me. Whoever has my amulet is following my trail from the night before. Eventually, they are going to return to the clearing on their own. I decide waiting is my best course of action and return to the clearing for the night.
Just a few minutes after getting somewhat comfortable, which is quite a feat for a wolf in a tree, the hunting party comes stumbling back into the clearing. “Wow,” I think, “I would have walked right into them if I had kept going!” Fortunately, they disperse and head home and I am left with the dark quiet of the night.
Dawn comes and the change takes place. I dress and start walking backwards on my original path. I contemplate who I will find coming in the opposite direction. To my surprise, about mid-morning I see a little girl approaching.
“Hello, I am William. Are you alone out here?” I say is my best imitation of the local dialect.
She looks at me funny, then in a more natural dialect, “Hello, I’m Mary. I’m looking for my Daddy.”
Thinking that her father is probably one of the hunting party, I ask, “Is your Daddy out hunting?”
Shading her eyes and looking up at the sun, she answers, “No, not right now.”
“Where do you think your Daddy is right now?”
“He is somewhere here, but I can not find him.” Cupping her hands she leans forward and a mouse emerges from her jacket pocket. “I found a friend though.”
I bend down to take a closer look. The mouse looks up at me seemingly as startled as I am.
“What is your friend’s name?”
“I don’t know. Every time I ask her, she just says ‘I’m only a mouse.’”
“Then call her ‘Miss Mouse.’”
“I think she is maybe a mommy.”
“Then call her ‘Mrs. Mouse.’”
“I like that. Ok, Mrs. Mouse, back in my pocket, please.”
Cute as it was, having small talk with a small one, I felt more pressing needs. “You didn’t happen to find a small pendant with a wolf face on it did you?”
Looking at me suspiciously, “Maybe… but I gave it to a wolf last night.”
“The moon was very bright. Then I saw the wolf. I thought it was my Daddy, but he was very angry. When I told him my name, he wasn’t as angry. Then Mrs. Mouse climbed on my shoulder and whispered in my ear. She told me to give the pendant to the wolf.”
“What happened next?”
“When I put the pendant around the wolf’s neck, he turned into a naked man. He was embarrassed and hid. He thanked me a whole lot and told me he was a priest named Father Philippe. Then he ran away in the woods.”
“Werewolves to spare…” I thought, “No wonder the citizenry is so prepared to hunt me. It also explains why they were looking for a way to cure it. Only one problem with all that, my amulet is a travel amulet not a cure… or is it? Definitely need to get it back.”
“You thought it was your daddy?”
“My Daddy can turn into a wolf, but he left before I was born. Mommy misses him, so I came looking for him.”
Stunned, my only thought was, “I never came back and I left a daughter behind.”
I decide not to tell her who I am for the time being. We head into the local town to see the priest and I catch up on my missing life as we walk and make small talk.
The priest is busy sweeping the floor when we enter the small church in the middle of the afternoon. The priest recognizes Mary and begins speaking to her. “Hello, my child Mary! How can I help you?”
“I found this man in the woods. He wants to talk to you.”
The priest looks over at me, “I am Father Philippe. What is your business here?”
“I am a traveler and I have lost a medallion that is very important to me. Mary says she gave it to you.”
“Can you tell me what this medallion looks like?”
“It has a wolf head and an inscription: Lupus Spiritus Gratis.”
He looks down at Mary, who is nodding her head to reaffirm what I am saying. “Yes… I have this thing, but I can not part with it. It is an answer to my prayers.”
“Yes, I know. Perhaps we can make a trade. I will grant the medallion to you, if you will use it to cleanse me of the wolf curse and if you will let me use it to go home.”
He smiles, “We can do this.”
We spend the rest of the day preparing for our ritual, which obviously can not happen until after the moon rises.
As I sit on the floor in the dim light of the priest’s cottage, Mary is holding my hand. The priest is dressed in his finest robe and is studying a manuscript by candle light. The moon will soon rise. I can feel it and I see the dread on the priest’s face and know he can feel it as well.
My change is quick and the priest looks at me concerned. I speak, “Ok, let’s get this over with.”
Mary takes a quick look at me and hugs me tight, “Daddy!”
In an astonished tone, the priest stutters, “You control the wolf?”
“Yes, I am still a human inside.”
“Why do you have a problem being a wolf a few nights of the month?”
“I am not the one with a problem. It is other people that have a problem.”
“Yes, I understand.” The priest nods and pulls the medallion from inside his robe and holds it up in the light.
Just at that moment, there is a loud pounding on the door and the bay of the hunting pack. “Father! Are you safe? We have tracked a wolf monster to your door!”
The priest opens the door a crack and with his best fake calmness tells the men that he is fine and asks them to leave. As you might guess, the room is instantly filled with the pandemonium of men and dogs. Mary, still holding on to my shoulder, bravely stands in front of me as if she could stop them all.
Mary’s mouse is loose and scampers up my back and whispers in my ear, “Go to sleep, Bill!” and that is the last thing I remember of my adventure.
I wake up. The sun is shining though the floor to ceiling windows of the apartment bedroom. The bed is comfortable and warm.
“You’re back, huh…” comes the irritated voice of my wife next to me.
The child is cuddled against me in the bed. “Where is your fur, Daddy?”
“When did you get a daughter?” my wife asks.
“She followed me home. Can we keep her?”
My wife is a beautiful witch, at least when she wants to be. Right now, she is not, as she muddles over our situation.
“So… Explain this to me!”
“Barbara, it’s our daughter…”
“We do not have a daughter! Where have you been exactly?”
“I think it was Fourteenth Century France, sometime around the Hundred Years War.”
“You are always disappearing. Is this a love child?”
“Honest, Dearest, I found her wandering in the woods.”
“And you didn’t eat her for supper?”
“I am a werewolf, not a wild animal.”
“In this century, it is called a lycanthrope, Bill. One who believes they are a wolf. You are not actually a wolf-man.”
“Yes, yes, more words, but less understanding. Want to watch some TV, Honey?” I turn on the television and find a children’s cartoon.
“Goody, cartoons! Oh no!”
“What’s wrong, Honey?”
“It’s a rerun…”
My wife stares at me and speaks, “Definitely not from medieval France!”
“What is wrong with you?” I ask.
“Nothing is wrong with me! This is the last straw, I am filing for divorce!”
About that time the mouse, who has been sitting on the end of the bed, transforms into another version of my wife, oddly though, completely dressed. The two women stare at each other in disbelief. Mary sequels in joy, “Mommy!”
Then the icing on the cake, another version of me walks in the front door. “I’m home!” he shouts right before he walks into the bedroom. “Hey! Who is this guy in my bed? And… which one of you is my wife? And… where did this kid come from?”
Finally, the mouse version of my wife speaks, “This is going to take some explaining.”
We talk for hours, order pizza, and talk more into the evening. Our alternate egos know a local teenager, who they get to babysit Mary. Finally, after midnight we more or less sort it out.
“So,” I begin the summary, “All the time travel interrupted the time continuum and the time we have traveled back to is different. I am a werewolf, but the new version of me only thinks he is a werewolf, so he never tried to time travel. Barbara, my wife, is a witch, but her new version is actually a PhD physicist who teaches quantum mechanics.”
“And a skeptic,” PhD Barbara added. “Magic does not exist. This is some gigantic practical joke. But… carry on, it is sort of amusing, and I still haven’t figured out all of your tricks.”
“Are you still divorcing your husband?” my Barbara asks.
“After all this nonsense? Oh, definitely!”
“Hun?” came my alternate’s plea for mercy.
“So,” I continued, “My Barbara bought me a magic medallion with a wolf head on it.”
“Darling, it was a trinket I found at a flea market. It was not magic. I just wanted you to get over all the werewolf stuff.”
“So, even though he is allegedly an actual werewolf, it still annoys you?” asks PhD Barbara.
“Absolutely, he does his transform thing and then wanders around the apartment all night keeping me awake. I finally found a simple bit of magic that puts him to sleep and changes him back to human. It is keyed whenever I tell him to go to sleep.”
“So, that’s what that was about…”
“The other thing that annoys me is the fact that magic is what you believe in. The strength of your belief will determine whether it manifests itself or not. If my Bill will ever concentrate on it, he will be able to control whether he is a werewolf or not or when and where it will occur. Too be fair though, not believing in magic is just as powerful. Strong willed skeptics can absolutely negate any magic.”
“So, my Barbara prevents me from being a real werewolf?” asks my alternate as he stares at his wife.
I ask my Barbara, “If the medallion did not have any magic, how was I able to travel through time?”
“I never dreamed you would figure out how to time travel, but you did that on your own. I guess it was just pure determination. Mary figured it out as well, but she left me bread crumbs, and I just followed her. I still have no idea how to do it.”
I think of another question for my Barbara, “Where does all the mass go when you become a mouse?”
“It’s magic! Don’t question it.”
“And how do you take along your clothing?”
“You just have to visualize the final change and the change back. If you believe you will be naked, then you will be naked. If you believe you will transform clothed, then you will transform clothed.”
Taking the floor again, “Ok then, I traveled to medieval France and disappeared there without creating a blip on the time continuum. My wife, the original Barbara was pregnant and raised a little girl, Mary, in my absence. Mary grew up and traveled to find me, her father, but for some reason was not able to come home either. She also, left no impact on the time continuum. Barbara then traveled to find Mary and succeeded in bringing all of us back, but the time continuum was impacted. Most likely, leaving the medallion with a motivated were-priest caused a pandemic of changes to the time-line.”
Leaving at dawn the next day we discuss the situation. “So, Darling, I guess we are homeless…”
“We have a home!” Mary insists.
“No, Honey, we don’t live here anymore.”
“Not here. We live on the top floor!”
“Honey, this is the twelfth floor. It is the top floor.”
“No, we live on the thirteenth floor!”
We walk down the hall and summon an elevator. When we enter, Barbara points to the control panel. “See, Honey, there is no button to take us to the thirteenth floor.”
Mary takes her two index fingers and dramatically presses the “one” button and the “three” button at the same time. The elevator gently accelerates upward for a second or so and the doors open. Mary dashes down the hall to a familiar location. We follow in silence to our new condo on the thirteenth floor.