Short Story: A Public Warning

“Sounds like a bad joke, don’t it?” Paul asked, smiling widely.

Father Stevenson raised an eyebrow irritably and grunted, “Excuse me?”

“A priest, a director and a journalist walk into an abandoned movie theatre. It sounds like the start of a bad joke.”

“Ah, yes,” the priest sighed. “I forgot that you fancied yourself as a comedian. You like to fill your articles with puns, do you not?”

Paul shrugged, and sat down heavily into one of the free seats near the front of the big screen. “Not just puns, observational puns. A bit of pop culture and jibes at the government makes the articles more relatable to readers without a predisposition for the weird, ya know? The regulars’ll read it for the content, it’s the general public that you need to work to draw in.”

Tanya cleared her throat, drawing both men’s attention, and absently pushed her long, auburn hair behind her ears. “Honestly Father, you promised that you’d behave.”

Father Stevenson lowered himself into a seat a few along from Paul and turned on his best dignified smile. “Oh, I am behaving Miss Rose. If you knew the things that I wanted to say, then you’d be grateful for the small mercy of my current mood. After all, it was not I that voted in favour of letting this buffoon into our inner circle, no matter how temporary his stay may be.”

“Hey, I resemble that remark,” Paul chirped, completely unperturbed by the priest’s attitude.

Tanya, ignoring the journalist’s retort, continued, “You know full well that your personal views matter about as much as mine in the grand scheme of things. We have a board so that we can avoid personal stuff steering our decisions towards catastrophe. Democracy, Father, is a wonderful thing.”

“Yes, yes, I am well aware of the concepts of working towards the greater good and catering for the needs of the many. That does not mean that I have to like it.”

“Look,” Paul cut in. “I don’t wanna be rude, but do you think that we could get started? All this talk of whatever internal politics you two have going on is fascinatingly vague and all, but you promised me a werewolf.”

Tanya glared at Father Stevenson and asked, “Do we need to continue this later?”

“No, no. I know my place, Miss Rose. Let us just give Mr Jensen what he came for and get this over with, shall we?”

Tanya nodded and strode over to the curtain to the left of the screen. She pulled out a remote control and pointed it at the back of the room, dimming the lights and starting up the projector. She then walked back to the front row and took one of the free seats between her two companions. “Now, what you are about to see is raw footage from the upcoming film The Cursed Beast. Both myself and Father Stevenson have been working tirelessly on this, in more ways than one. To reiterate, the point of this meeting is that we want you to report on what you see. You may be as descriptive as you wish in your article, but may not embed any photos or videos.”

“Yeah, yeah, hence you confiscating my phone before we came in. You said that you were gonna show me a real-life werewolf though, not some promotional stuff for your next run at Hollywood.”

“Oh, it’s very real,” Father Stevenson snapped. “Can we begin, please?”

Tanya nodded and pressed play on her remote, and the screen flickered a few times then cut in on a shot of a naked man lying face up on the floor. His wide eyes are darting from side to side and his lips are twitching, but he is not otherwise moving.

“This one,” Tanya confirms, “took us a while to find. He was hiding out in an apartment block and had taken some steps to mask what he was. We’re talking fully sound proofed walls, heavy duty locks, stuff like that. Nothing so out of the ordinary that it would raise alarm bells, but certainly necessary, all things considered. Given the danger, we took the liberty of inducing a temporary paralysis while we got things ready. That’s about to change though.”

A man walks into shot, kneels, and pushes a syringe into the man’s neck. He pushes the plunger down, emptying the near transparent liquid into the man’s veins, and walks off shot.

“So, what’s happening there?” Paul asked.

“Werewolf genetics mean that they need to change form a few times a month …”

“A few times a month? I thought that it was a full moon thing?”

“Someone doesn’t read Urban Fantasy. No, it’s not a full moon thing. They have control over when to change, provided they don’t leave it too long, but not so much control over the shifted form.”

The man on the screen starts to shiver and lets out an anguished grunt.

“Of course,” Father Stevenson added, “if they have control over when to change, it stands to reason that they have control over when not to change too, no? That is a problem for our organisation, or at least for those that view all this as necessary. So, after a period of research, we discovered that, at the start of a change, a werewolf’s human body simultaneously undergoes a large jump in both their temperature and the level of serotonin in their body. The liquid that you have just seen injected into the specimen is designed to replicate this and so trick their body in commencing the change.”

On screen, the man’s shivers have developed into full blown spasms, and he has begun to cry out. His hands clench and unclench in time with the erratic rising and falling of his chest, and a series of loud crack begin to sound out as his head swings from side to side.

Father Stevenson crossed his arms and stared emotionless at the screen. “I have always wondered if the pain experienced when changing is God’s way of reminding the cursed of what they are. Perhaps He is telling them that, if they insist on risking causing pain to others, then they too must suffer. I tell you this though, Mr Jensen. Truly, it is not enough. Not for what they are capable of.”

The man’s face begins to twist and contort, his flesh stretching around the growing bones. Tears roll down his cheeks, even as his sobs become unintelligible noise, snuffed out by his tongue as it expands and lengthens in his new mouth. Seeming to regain some degree of movement, he struggles onto all fours. The man’s arms elongate noisily, forcing his back into a near horizontal position. He is drooling uncontrollably, and his cries have now become gruff growls. At the base of his spine, a small tail is sprouting, growing out agonisingly slowly, and not yet finished by the time that the thick black hair has started to force its way through the man’s skin.

Finally, the man collapses, and his body lets out another big shudder. When he pushes himself back up onto all fours again, he doesn’t look like the werewolves of traditional movies. He isn’t standing on his hind legs like Lon Chaney Jr, nor is he like the thick, bear-like beast at the end of An American Werewolf In London. Instead, he has maintained his decidedly average human mass. Yes, he has the wolfish snout, hair and tail, but the over-long humanoid arms make him look less canine somehow.

“Full marks for originality,” Paul mumbled. “He’s a monster all right.”

Though more mobile now, the transformed beast is still sluggish and barely manges to raise its head towards the woman that walks on screen next. The woman is dressed in a leather trench coat, tight PVC trousers, and a Ramones shirt. She looks down at the creature and shakes her head. “I’m sorry,” she says, and pulls a sawed-off shotgun from inside her jacket.

The werewolf doesn’t move as she presses the barrel of the gun against its head. It gives a defiant snarl, and the woman pulls the trigger.

Paul shook his head at the graphic mess on the screen. “You’re never gonna get that by the censors. When’s the movie out?”

Tanya turned the light back on and extinguished the projector. “We haven’t filmed it yet. Other than that scene, of course, though we have a lot of work to do on it. Especially once we cast our werewolf.”

Paul frowned. “So, that was what? A trial run?”

“We promised you a real werewolf, did we not?” Father Stevenson sighed.

“Do you remember Furious 7?” Tanya asked. “And how they dealt with Paul Walker’s death?”

“Sure,” Paul shrugged. “They filmed his brothers and superimposed his face on them.”

“That’s what we’ll be doing. Once we have our cast, we’ll use CG to add their face in over the footage.”

Paul considered this for a moment, then got to his feet. “Look, what you did there was great, OK? The special effects were fantastic, left me real uncomfortable, but you can’t honestly expect me to believe that what you just showed me is anything more than a publicity stunt. Now, I’m happy to give credit where it’s due, and I’ll absolutely hype this thing for ya, but I’d have appreciated it more if you hadn’t got me out her under false pretences.”

“I told you this would happen,” Father Stevenson huffed, and pushed himself to his feet. “This way if you please Mr Jensen.”

Paul watched the priest shuffle toward the curtain at the side of the screen, let out an exasperated sigh, and followed. Behind the curtain sat a single small table, and behind that was a door. Father Stevenson produced a key from his pocket, pushed it into the lock, and twisted it with a loud click. He reached inside the room, pressed a light switch and stood aside, ushering Paul in.

Paul stepped forward and stopped. The smell had hit him first, overpowering him and causing his eyes to well up. He covered his mouth in disgust the moment that his brain registered that he was looking at the room from the movie.

Father Stevenson leaned in close to Paul’s ear and sneered. “As you can see, this is far from a publicity stunt.”

“We filmed that earlier today,” Tanya explained. “The bodies gather flies pretty quickly you see, so our timing had to be … well. We only had a small window of opportunity.”

“I can’t … I thought that you were just kooks when you called me. Then the movie, I thought … why are you showing me this?”

“It’s just as we discussed on the phone. We want you to write about what you’ve seen on your site.”

“But this is huge. Why me? Why not a major news outlet?”

“The board believes that we need to let the werewolves know that we are coming for them,” Father Stevenson replied. “They think that scaring them will cause them to make mistakes and in doing so make it easier for us to root them out. Ah, but national news channels, that would be going too far. We want to panic the targets, not the general public. You, on the other hand, are a nobody, Mr Jensen. Your site has a small readership compared to the professionals, but it caters to the correct market. There are likely to be a handful of werewolves monitoring sites such as yours in the hopes of finding others of their kind. They will read what you write, see the eventual film, realise that it is all too real, and the word will spread to right people. It’s a stupid risk in my opinion, but what do I know?”

“So,” Tanya said, placing her hand on Paul’s shoulder. “Will you do as we requested?”

Paul stared at the body on the floor. What was left was still twisted into its hybrid form. Paul looked at Tanya and, after forcing the bile back down his throat, nodded.

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