The prompt for Carry On Tuesday this week is a good one. It is from Paul Auster’s City Of Glass –
“It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night…”
Arian was disappointed. His great uncle Ignatius had died and left him nothing but an old wooden box full of junk. Arian hadn’t even known he had a great uncle until a month ago but he had hoped when he learned his uncle was from Slovakia that maybe he had left him a little cash. Didn’t people from that part of eastern Europe live in grand 16th century castles or something? Arian had been hoping for at least ten grand, but all he got was that stupid old box.
Richie Aces wasn’t going to accept a crummy old box in lieu of the ten grand Arian owed him. If Arian didn’t get his hands on some cash soon it would be his heart that ended up in that box – probably still beating.
Arian was a loser. Everybody said so. He had failed medical school because he just couldn’t help but deal the pharmaceuticals in the hospital. Easy money. His mother had disowned him when she found out, said he was just like his no good father who was lost somewhere in the wilds of Romania.
Arian was beginning to accept that the general consensus was right. He had three talents – microbiology was one. The best and brightest star in the laboratory. That had been Arian. He had wanted to go into research when he graduated. That dream was history now.
Arian’s second talent was his eyesight. He could see in the dark. Clear as day. The doctors thought he was a freak when he was a kid but they couldn’t deny his clarity of vision. His second talent tied in with his third – he was a crack shot. Any gun, any target. He never missed.
Those three talents were not worth anything in the marketplace. They merely meant Arian was virtually unemployable and had a ticket on the train to Loserville.
He had nothing. Nothing but that crappy old box. Arian still couldn’t figure out why great uncle Ignatius had left it to him. It contained a length of rope, fragile looking but strong and a a lock of hair wrapped in a cloth. Thick, silver hair that looked like it belonged to some kind of dog. Uncle Iggy had obviously had a sick sense of humour. Arian mentally flipped him the bird as he thrust the box under his bed.
It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night. Arian had been sleeping, dreaming of men with thick, silver beards handing out boxes to random strangers. He picked up the phone each time, heard the crackling on the line. He knew that crackling – it came from the phone box across the street. Richie Aces always called him on it just so he could say: ‘I’m watching you. I’m watching you right now, loser.’
Arian moved to the window. Someone was watching him. Someone else. A woman. Her hair was pale as seashells in the lamplight. She indicated she was coming up. Arian didn’t know what he was doing, it was three in the morning, but he buzzed her in.
She stood in the hallway, dressed in khaki and leather. She had on combat boots over her pants that laced almost to her knees. Arian felt it safe to assume she had been raised on a diet of Lara Croft and Buffy Summers.
She strode into the apartment. ‘You are Arian,’ she said. Very matter of fact with a slightly Baltic accent.
‘Yes, I am. And you are?’
‘I am Ludmila. Luda.’ She pulled something from beneath her coat. Long and shining. A Colt M-16 made entirely of silver.
‘From your Uncle Ignatius. He cast it himself. He has found that silver is delivered best from silver.’
‘You’ve lost me.’ Arian was puzzled, but he couldn’t take his eyes off that gun.
‘Where is the box?’
‘It’s under the bed, but there’s nothing in it.’ Arian pulled it out, handed it to her. She opened it. There was a scar on her right hand, jagged and deep. It looked like something had bitten her.
‘This rope is weaved from silver thread,’ she explained. ‘Its bonds cannot be broken. The fur is for your research.’
‘I’m not with you,’ said Arian.
Luda pulled a sheaf of papers from her coat. ‘You did your research thesis on developing a serum to counteract lycanthropy, no?’
‘Yes, but that was a joke. I was high on oxycontin at the time. The faculty was going to throw me out anyway so I decided to do my thesis on something stupid.’
Luda wasn’t dissuaded. ‘You found a young man. Who’d been camping. He’d been attacked by a wolf. He recovered from his wounds but his family reported a change in his behaviour around the time of the full moon. It got worse every month.’
‘That kid was a major drug fiend. He was one of my best customers. No one believed a word he said.’
‘You did. You took samples of his blood and found his DNA had been altered. 98% of his DNA comprised of that of a wolf. You knew what he was all along, didn’t you?’
‘I really don’t know what you mean.’
‘You started work on a serum to rid him of the wolf genes. You tested it on wolf cubs you found in the woods. They ended up being more like harmless puppies than wolves.’
‘There was an incident with the boy where he attacked a group of men. He left scars on their faces that looked as if they had been clawed. Yet in the morning when the police questioned him he had the hands of a normal human.
You knew it was almost too late so you administered the serum. The boy returned to normal almost immediately. All charges were dropped against him. There was no proof. But you knew what he was, didn’t you?’
Werewolf. The word flew unspoken throughout the room. Arian caught sight of the silver hair in the box, just like the boy’s when he attacked, hair that was gone when the power of the moon began to wane.
‘Why are you here?’ Arian asked.
‘There is one more thing in the box.’ Luda pressed the bottom of it, twisting it slightly. A drawer slid out, lined in velvet. It was full of silver bullets.
‘I am here to help you fulfil your destiny,’ Luda said.
She put two tickets on the bed. One way to Romania.
‘We fly before dawn,’ she said. ‘You’d better pack.’
Arian didn’t argue. He was scared and intrigued at the same time. The idea of Romania appealed to him because of his father. Then there was Luda. That accent was driving him crazy.
‘What about my research? All my notes and stuff weigh a ton.’
‘We have copies of all your original research.’
‘But how? Why? Who is we?’
‘I will answer all of your questions on the plane. We must hurry. In three days the moon will be full.’
Arian sat on the plane watching Luda sleep. He had no idea how she had got the gun and the bullets through the metal detectors at the airport, but she had. His mind was reeling. She hadn’t answered any of his questions. Who was it that had copies of his research? Did they want him to start work on a serum straight away? Would he get to see his father? Would he get to fire the gun?
Arian was stunned, exhilarated and unsurprised if he really admitted it to himself. The call of the wolf. He’d been hearing it for years, plucking at him with fierce fingers; caressing the ivory night. His life’s work had begun. He knew it.