Gallard shook his head. “Becoming a werewolf is not genetic. Your children would not be acquire the pathogen unless they were bitten. But if you bite someone and then they bite someone, the affliction passes, but only to the fifth generation. After the fifth iteration the pathogen is no longer transmissible. A genetic counter shuts itself off and the curse is broken.”
“Pastor Omar, you counseled Tatiana Lang, didn’t you?”
“I did, Detective, for several months. Her death was unexpected and it hit us all pretty hard.”
“Was she violent? Did she ever attack you?”
Omar shook his head. “The content of our counseling sessions is private and will stay that way, even after her death. But no, I never felt unsafe in her presence.”
Pope leaned forward. “I didn’t ask if you felt unsafe. Did she attack you?”
The pastor leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Detective Pope, I’m happy to assist the police, but my sessions with Tati Lang are private. I can give you the dates of our sessions, but what we discussed is off-limits.”
Pope smiled. “You said ‘our sessions are private.’ Twice. Not ‘were private.’ Like maybe she’s not really dead?”
“Sorry. It was a slip of the tongue. Like I said, her death hit us pretty hard.”
“The Book of Lycaon is a marvel, Ms. Lang. It records more than three millenia of blood lore, thirty-three hundred years of werewolf history and genealogy. I’ve made it my life’s study and have translated dozens of obscure, extinct dialects–some recorded nowhere else. The volumes describe how werewolves are created and how they die, and how they are cured.”
Gallard gripped Tati’s arm and drew her to the leather-bound books.
“This is your history now, Tatiana, and your salvation.”
“Being a werewolf isn’t like what Hollywood says. Sure, for a night or two around the full moon you’re on top of the world. The wolf takes over and your body changes into this magnificent beast that owns the darkness. Then the bloodlust rises and you slay indiscriminately, blindly. And suddenly you’re human again and you wake up naked behind a dumpster or deep in the woods or in some farmer’s stock yard. And for four weeks you live with the horrific knowledge that you’ve killed yet again. And one night the full moon rises and the cycle begins again.”
Tati drained the last of her beer. She watched through the window as a local loaded equipment into the bed of a pickup truck.
“These are good folks, Omar. I’d hate to kill any of them.”
Omar leaned close. “The full moon isn’t for three days. Let’s get back to the ranch. There’s a valley miles from town with deer, elk, and antelope. I’ve hunted there for years as a wolf. You don’t have to kill anyone.”
Tati shook her head. “What is this, a twelve-step program for werewolves?”
Omar chuckled. “Now there’s an idea. A twelve-step for recovering werewolves. It’s almost too bad there aren’t more of us.”
“How’d you get to be a werewolf preacher? That’s just wrong on so many levels.”
Omar laughed and grabbed a burrito from the bag. “It’s not, really. I was pretty well lost. I had a bad coke habit, lost my job and my family. I was living in a car I’d stolen. Somebody found me and thought I was worth saving. This guy got me into rehab. It didn’t take the first two times, but eventually something got through. I’d been sober for six weeks when I was attacked on a camping trip. This wolf creature slashed my guts open. I could SEE my intestines hanging out. By the next day my wounds had healed. That’s about sixteen kinds of not right.”
Tati didn’t speak. What happened to Omar had happened to her half a world away–the wolf attack, anyway. At last she said, “And the preaching?”
Omar swallowed a mouthful of burrito. “Somebody took me out of the gutter. My life wasn’t worth saving but he did it anyway. I wondered what kind of person would do that. I wanted to let other people know they were worth saving too.”
“It was Gallard, wasn’t it? Gallard saved you.”
Omar nodded. “Well, Gallard got me out of the gutter. The saving came from somewhere else.”
“But you’re a werewolf. How do you square that with God? I thought there was the whole ‘Thou shalt not murder’ thing.”
Omar laughed. “It ain’t easy. God gives me grace and Gallard lets me use his hunting preserve on the full moons.”
“This isn’t something you ‘come to terms with’. That makes it sound like a negotiation. No, one day you’re a normal person with a normal life and the next you’re an inhuman monster stalking the helpless under a full moon. The smell of blood is the smell of madness–and release.”
Tati cut a thick piece of the rare, juicy steak.
“You know what’s funny? Before I became a werewolf I was a vegan. Ain’t that a kick.”
“You and I have seen the face of abject horror in our victims, the look when the wolf is at their throat and there’s no escape. They soil themselves or attempt to flee from what lies before them. It’s absolute gibbering helplessness.
“But there was one–a girl by a lake in Ontario four summers ago–she welcomed me in utter, loving fearlessness. It wasn’t resignation or some weary longing for the release of death. Death, even in the brutal, tearing jaws of the wolf, held no terror for her. She welcomed what came after, the life after the death. From that time I’ve sought that peace.”
Tati snorted. “Don’t preach to me, Omar. I’m cursed. I’m a werewolf, a creature of the night and all that. Your human morals don’t apply to me. “
The preacher shook his head. “You don’t get off that easy, girl. You’re as human as I am. The difference is you have the wolf pathogen in your blood. When the bloodlust comes on you at the full moon, you’re not making choices, the wolf is.”
He pulled back his shirt collar to reveal a livid scar. “And for the record, you’re not the only werewolf around here.”
Tati gave a feral growl as the full moon broke over the horizon. Her mouth and nose stretched to the form of a muzzle and canine fangs erupted from her jaw. As her back elongated she dropped to all fours. The excruciating pain of the transformation shuddered through her and whatever human consciousness remained faded before the all-consuming wolf awareness. She gave a violent tail-to-snout shake, sat back on her haunches and howled at the silver moon.