First, a word of warning …
I don’t want to get too scientific here, but there are a few things you should know before you sink your teeth into this book. I’ve tried to keep it simple enough that anyone twelve and up could read and understand it. Werewolves were everywhere in Europe in the late sixteenth century. Go to a party, there would be a werewolf. Go to work, you’re probably working next to a werewolf. Bump into a stranger on the street—werewolf!
They were slowly killed off in Europe as the true nature of a werewolf is a terribly hard thing to control. Eventually you get that urge to eat someone. And let’s face it; eating people is just rude.
Now here’s the scary bit, the bit that concerns you. While werewolves ceased to be a part of the world, they didn’t necessarily leave it. On the contrary, humans evolved to repress the werewolf gene out of the fear they would be decapitated, shot with a silver bullet, burned alive, or a terrifying combination of all three. What this means is that every single human being is still carrying the werewolf gene. You, right now, sitting right where you are, has the werewolf gene swimming around somewhere inside of you.
Genes are strings of DNA. DNA makes you who you are. You have that werewolf gene inside you. It’s just not active. Not yet.
To fully activate that werewolf gene, you’d have to be bitten by another werewolf, someone who turns into a giant wolf-like creature when there’s a full moon. So fear not! As long as no one has bitten you recently, you’re likely okay.
So why this warning? You’re probably thinking there’s no chance I’ll turn into a werewolf because I haven’t been bitten. That is absolutely true. However, while it’s impossible to turn into a werewolf unless you’re bitten, it is very possible to awaken that sleeping werewolf gene by learning too much about them. This book will teach you a lot about those hairy creatures of the night, so I want you to be extra careful while reading it.
If you notice any of the following things, stop reading immediately:
– You find yourself looking at other humans and thinking lunch.
– You start to notice smells you never smelled before.
– You growl at people instead of talking to them.
– Your nails begin to grow at an alarming rate.
– You scratch your head in public using your leg.
– You greet your friends at the bus stop by sniffing their butts.
– You begin to grow hair in all the wrong places.
You’ve been warned.
Colin looked directly into the reflection staring back at him from the bathroom mirror and with absolute conviction said, “You are a loser.”
His reflection agreed.
Much as he had done almost every day for the last year, Colin evaluated his body. He was tall for a thirteen year old, with lanky limbs and broad pointy shoulders that bordered on skeletal. His face looked to be at odds with the rest of his body with its gaunt features and perpetually dark circles beneath the eyes. Pale skin stood in stark opposition to his unruly dark and stringy hair. Trying to sharpen his vision, he squinted before fumbling with his glasses.
His reflection didn’t look any better with them on.
After drying off, Colin got dressed and headed downstairs.
“Why are you dressed like that?” snapped his grandmother from her usual place in front of the TV. She hadn’t even looked at him yet, not that it mattered. Colin didn’t know what was more disturbing: that despite his grandmother being completely blind, she still watched TV religiously and commented on his clothes every day, or that he still felt the need to defend his choice of clothing to her. He was wearing jeans and an oversized hoody.
“It’s school today, Grandmother. I’m dressed for school,” he murmured.
“I know that!” she spat.
Nothing wrong with her hearing, though.
“Do you need anything?” he asked.
His grandmother sipped tea from a china cup. “I can take care of myself, you little ingrate. Get to school. You’re going to be late. If you don’t get an education, I’ll never get your lazy butt out of here.”
There was no point in arguing.
“And comb your hair before leaving the house. I don’t want people thinking I’m raising a hobo!” she said.
As Colin walked past the living room, his grandmother turned around in her chair and stared in his general direction with gray eyes damaged irreparably by cataracts. Blind eyes followed him as he walked to the door as quickly as he was able. It wasn’t until he was outside with the door firmly closed behind him that he allowed himself to breathe again.
Colin’s grandmother had always terrified him. He couldn’t remember a time when she wasn’t blind or cruel. Colin’s parents lived in Seattle and over the past thirteen years had managed to have as little to do with their only son as humanly possible. They were young when his mother had discovered she was pregnant, and the following nine months had put a severe dent in their career plans. They were both up-and-coming lawyers at large firms, and as soon as they could be rid of Colin, they’d passed him off from one distant relative to another. Beyond that, they had no parental aspirations whatsoever.
Just over a year ago, after a short stint living with an uncle and aunt in Ohio, Colin had been sent to the small town of Elkwood to live with his only living close relative—his grandmother, Beatrice Strauss.
She hadn’t welcomed him, there were no hugs, no loving relationship, just a bitter old woman who spent most of her days parked in front of the TV and commenting on what a disappointment Colin was. He’d tried to help her, but she never wanted it. Despite being blind, she was more than able to get around and take care of herself. The only time she left the house was to attend the monthly town hall meetings to which he was never invited.
Colin was twenty feet from the bus stop when the school bus flew by. The mocking grins of students plastered the bus’s back window as it disappeared over the hill. Thankfully, the school was centrally located, which meant he’d be only slightly late.
On his way to school, Colin passed Mrs. Flipple, a kind old lady who walked her tiny, yappy dog, Jinx, each morning, rain or shine. As per usual, Jinx went straight for Colin, yapping in that high-pitched bark that only small, irritating dogs can make. Colin nodded politely to the old lady and held on to a secret hatred for that little dog.
The town was always overcast, and it rained almost every day of the year, which suited Colin’s depressed personality. He was thankful he didn’t live in a warmer climate as he’d have a much harder time being pale and awkward.
He’d survived the seventh grade at Elkwood School with above-average grades and a below-average number of friends. He was still considered a stranger here. His lack of personality, athleticism, and sense of humor didn’t help in the slightest. He wasn’t handsome enough to be popular or ugly enough to be ignored. He was just weird enough that students could be heard wondering aloud about him as he walked by. Now in the second week of his eighth grade year, Colin had one sort of friend, one unrealistic crush, and was the constant focus of several bullies who were determined to make his life miserable.
He reached Elkwood School just as the second bell rang to indicate the start of classes. On average, each grade at the school contained only twenty to thirty students, and because of a limited number of teachers, some classes taught more than one grade or subject.
As Colin ran up the steps to the main entrance, a dark, looming shape confronted him. He looked up into the face of Principal Hebert.
“You’re late again, Mr. Strauss.” His voice sounded like rumbling thunder.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Hebert. I missed the bus.”
“While I admire your use of a classical excuse, I’d prefer if you’d made an attempt at originality. Had you been more creative, I would not feel the need to place you in detention.”
“I’m really sor—”
“But as you’re still trying to apologize rather than give me something interesting to work with, I’ll be seeing you after school.”
Colin studied his feet carefully. “Yes, sir.”
“Run along.” Mr. Hebert gestured, pushing his hand ahead of him in a forward motion.
Colin made his way into the building and chanced a glance back to see Principal Hebert slowly shaking his head. Hebert was a former marine and rumored war hero who had retired to Elkwood almost ten years ago and although he had absolutely no qualifications had been appointed as the school principal. He was a massive hulk of a man with the sort of physique that suggested he could bend large metal things with his bare hands. Principal Hebert was a firm believer in detention and hard work and often liked to combine the two. Most detentions involved cleaning something. Colin made a mental note that his day was not off to a rip-roaring start.
Can’t get any worse.
Colin’s day quickly got worse.
He moved down an empty corridor, his sneakers squeaking loudly on the clean laminate flooring before entering the last classroom on the right.
The entire class turned to look at him. Some groaned, others laughed, a few smirked. Mrs. Davenport was the substitute teacher again today for Biology, and she greeted him with a warm smile.
“Good morning, Colin. Please take a seat. We were just getting started.”
Colin shuffled over to his seat next to Jeremy Rodson, the only person in Elkwood Colin could refer to as a friend. Everyone liked Jeremy even though he had never really joined one particular group. He played on the basketball team, so the jocks liked him. He was smart and maintained decent grades, so he was accepted by the smart kids. He was a good actor, so the creative types liked him. Colin had met him on his first day, and Jeremy had introduced him to the school. With so many commitments, Jeremy wasn’t always around, so Colin was still forced to maintain his unhappy, loner lifestyle.
“No Mr. Winter again?” Colin asked quietly.
“Apparently he’s sick,” said Jeremy and grinned. “Why are you so late?”
“Missed the bus.”
“Pay attention, boys,” said Mrs. Davenport with a smile. She was flipping through a PowerPoint presentation about pheromones.
As the only substitute teacher in the small Elkwood School, Mrs. Davenport was never short of work. She was also the kindest teacher that Colin had ever encountered. Her presence had a calming effect on the students that Mr. Winter could never manage.
Mr. Winter was a jerk. It wasn’t just Colin’s opinion but more of a collective agreement throughout the entire school, including the teachers. An uptight individual in his late thirties, he had a particular hatred for students, teaching, other teachers, and did I mention, students? A few years ago, Mr. Winter’s entire family—wife, parents, grandparents—had been killed in a car accident, and rumor had it that the insurance settlement had been sizeable. The rumor quickly proved true when Mr. Winter started travelling the better part of the school year.
“Pheromones indicate the availability of a female for breeding.” Mrs. Davenport was met with a round of sniggers. “Well, it’s true,” she said calmly. “All animals excrete pheromones, and they can indicate a variety of things. Anything from sex to marking territory, and it can even act as a defense mechanism.”
“Colin, you should get yourself some pheromones,” said Gareth Dugan from behind a textbook. His cronies laughed in honor of their leader’s display of wit.
Gareth was a bully with scraggly hair and a troubled complexion. Having been raised on a farm on the outskirts of Elkwood, Gareth had always struck Colin as being quite large for his age. Gareth didn’t like Colin, but then, the feeling was mutual.
“Why would I need pheromones?” shot back Colin. “Your smell already overpowers everything in the room.”
That probably wasn’t smart.’
The entire room agreed with him by sitting in absolute silence.
“That’s enough,” said Mrs. Davenport and cheerfully continued to describe other chemical factors that trigger social responses.
Colin dared a glance back to see Gareth glaring at him like a lion eyeing an injured antelope.
Gareth would inevitably seek revenge. Colin didn’t need a chemical factor to trigger a social response. All he had to do was open his mouth.
He tried his best to concentrate on his textbook, opened at random, but his thoughts remained fixed on how to save himself a beating Jeremy, who remained happily oblivious and completely free of any such dealings, leaned over enthusiastically.
“Did you take a look at Tori yet? Classic Tori outfit.” He grinned and subtly tilted his head backward. Having developed earlier than any other girl in school, Tori was the blond bombshell of Elkwood. Okay, she was more like a small nuclear explosion. To aid the raging hormones of teenage boys, she made a habit of wearing low-cut shirts complimented by extremely short skirts.
Mrs. Davenport turned to the whiteboard, and Colin glanced back three rows on the right to see Tori conveniently perched on the edge of her stool wearing a short powder-blue skirt and knee-high boots.
Colin’s eyes followed the curves of her body upward until he realized she was looking directly at him with a wry smile. He blushed instantly, but the awkward moment was suddenly interrupted as a textbook smashed into the side of his head, sending his glasses skittering across the desk and onto the floor.
The class laughed as Colin slipped from his stool and crawled around in front of the desk, searching for his glasses.
Mrs. Davenport whirled around, spied Colin on the floor, and asked, “What was that? Colin, what are you doing?”
“Sorry, Mrs. Davenport. Just looking for my glasses.”
The bell rang before any further interrogation could be made, and the class headed for the exit. Colin still couldn’t find his glasses.
Ironic. If I was wearing my glasses, I’d have no trouble finding them.
The side of his head was throbbing from where the textbook had struck him. No doubt Gareth or one of his minions to thank for that.
Colin stood and came face-to-face with Becca Emerson, his heartbeat doubling in speed.
“I found your glasses,” she said, handing them over.
“Uh, thanks, B-Becca.”
The rest of the class had cleared out. He put on his glasses, and she came into focus. Around his height with fiery red hair and pale skin, Becca displayed a standoffishness that made most people avoid her. She wasn’t developed like Tori, but neither were most cover models. Becca was a little like Jeremy in that she didn’t associate with any one group, but where he belonged to everyone, she tended to avoid all people. Her dad was some sort of government worker, which translated to “spy” to most middle schoolers.
Becca always wore dark makeup and dark clothes making her look paler than she actually was. She maintained high grades, avoided large groups, and Colin had loved her since he first saw her. It was, of course, a secret love because there was no way he could ever work up the nerve to do anything about it.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
Oh, that voice.
“Uh, yeah. Just another head wound. Probably won’t be the last.” He attempted a half-hearted grin.
They awkwardly stared at each other as Colin’s mind raced for something smart to say.
What do I say? You’re gorgeous? Want to share a slushee? Marry me?
“Okay, well have a good day,” said Becca, and left.
Smooth, Strauss. Very smooth.
Not the most suave guy at the best of times, Colin managed to be even less so around Becca. How would he ever be able to ask her out, let alone have an entire conversation with her if he didn’t even manage to open his mouth?
Having made it to last period unscathed, Colin was busy staring at Becca as the minutes on the clock clicked by while he planned his escape. He would have to move fast, get out of the school, and off the grounds. He’d skip the bus altogether—
“Wonder what Hebert’s going to have you do for detention today? My money is on cleaning the gym floor,” said Jeremy.
“I’m so screwed.”
“It’s not that bad, just cleaning.”
“Not that,” groaned Colin. “Gareth got detention in third period.”
“Well at least you’ll have company,” said Jeremy unhelpfully.
The bell rang, and Colin’s heart skipped a beat.
“Just once Jer, just once I’d love to be as oblivious as you are.”
“You got detention today, Colin?” asked Becca.
Colin almost dropped his books. He hadn’t noticed her approach. “Uh, yeah. I was late today.”
“I know. I was there.”
“I was wondering if I could talk to you. Alone. I can walk you to your detention.”
“I’ve got to run anyway. Catch ya later.” And with that, Jeremy bounced off.
“Y-yeah, of course,” said Colin. This was new territory. Other than the occasional passing pleasantry, Colin had never had a full conversation with Becca. They walked down the south corridor toward the detention room at the back of the school.
“I know it hasn’t been easy for you,” said Becca without looking at him. “It must be strange to move here. Most people are born here these days.”
“Uh, yeah, I’ve heard that. No one ever moves to Elkwood.”
“The people here aren’t open-minded. They only know what they know. And who they know. This probably isn’t making any sense.”
“No. I mean, yeah. Well. No, no it’s not.”
Becca turned to him. Her eyes were a deep hazel color, he’d never noticed before. She put a hand on his shoulder, and suddenly his insides were on fire. It was only a moment, but Colin felt as if she was looking through him.
Colin was way beyond his comfort zone and didn’t know what to do. Was he supposed to say something? Did she want him to kiss her? Or was he misunderstanding her? When it came to reading girls, he was dyslexic. On the flipside, Becca Emerson was actually touching him! With her actual hand! But then she took her hand away and for a moment looked sad.
“I’m sorry, Colin. I thought maybe … but no.” She sighed. “I don’t know if you’ll ever be able to see things clearly here.”
Colin had no idea what she was talking about; he was still reeling from her touch and for once actually managed to say something. “Maybe you could help me?”
Did I just say that?
What was he thinking?
“I have to go. My dad will wonder where I am. Good luck in detention.”
And just like that, she was gone.
The ominous voice of Principal Hebert floated down the hallway. “Nice of you to join us, Mr. Strauss. Are you going to just stand there, or do I need to drag you into detention?”
Colin entered the room, noting the other attendees. Two students, Micah and Nathaniel Cross, otherwise known as the goth twins. They were pale with black tattoos, long black coats, tight black clothing, and permanent frowns plastered across their faces. Gareth sat with his feet up, smirking at Colin.
“Listen up,” began Principal Hebert. “You’re here because you did something or you didn’t do something. All I care about is what you do from here on out. Gareth and Colin, you’re on garbage cleanup. Nathaniel and Micah, you’ll be sweeping the gym floor. One hour, people, and then I expect you back for dismissal.”
Colin’s heart sank in his chest, down his legs, and through the floor. He was a dead man.
Gareth clapped his hands with false cheer. “All right, Colin, buddy. Let’s get to it!”
They grabbed a couple of garbage bags and headed outside. Without saying a word, Gareth just started picking up garbage. Colin, braced for an attack and watched him for a moment before hesitantly bending to the task too. ’It was getting dark, and the rain made the job all the more miserable.
After half an hour, Gareth had vanished around the other side of the building, and Colin began to think that maybe he had been worrying needlessly.
As he rounded a corner toward the back of the school, he saw his mistake. Sam Bale and Kevin Hadfield were sitting on one of the permanent picnic benches. They both looked menacing, as usual. Backtracking quickly, Colin turned and bumped into Gareth who shoved him.
“Where you going, buddy?” He spat that last word.
Colin dropped his garbage bag and backed right into Sam and Kevin, who were standing behind him.
“We don’t have to do this,” pleaded Colin.
“You don’t belong here, Colin,” said Gareth.
“I know. You’ve told me before.”
Gareth stabbed a finger to his chest. “And that smart mouth of yours really doesn’t belong here.”
“It’s attached to the rest of my body; I really don’t have a choice in the matter.”
Gareth faked a punch, and Colin flinched.
“Please, just tell me what to do,” begged Colin, fighting to keep the tears at bay. He’d been here before; he knew what was coming.
Kevin and Sam grabbed one of Colin’s arms while Gareth stood inches from his face. His breath stank. “I want you to go away. That’s all. You don’t belong here. Sooner or later you’ll get the message.”
Gareth punched him hard twice in the stomach and then once in the kidneys. Colin dropped to the ground and curled into a ball. Sam and Kevin began kicking him and then stripped him down to his underwear until finally, they left. Colin lay sobbing on the cold ground, half-naked and in pain.
This had been Colin’s life for over a year. Feeling like he’d failed at life in general, Colin had been reduced to living in a state of constant fear and humiliation. He had suffered bullying and his grandmother’s hatred.
Colin knew he was a loser, but he hated that everyone else knew it too.
The only positive he could think of was Becca and the strange, brief conversation they had shared. He picked himself up, feeling his bruised ribs, wincing as he walked barefoot across the parking lot away from the school. Hebert would be angry that he didn’t return for the end of detention, but he didn’t care. He didn’t intend to come back. He had to do something or he was going to end up dying here in Elkwood.
Colin decided he had to go to Seattle to see his parents.