Excerpt: “The Trouble with Clothes” FAILUR, Chapter 1

This is the first chapter of my novel, FAILUR. When you are a werewolf, one thing worse than waking up with little memory of the night before under a bridge completely naked, is to wake up with little memory of the night before under a bridge in someone else’s clothes.


It’s a cliché of failure. The new werewolf wakes up naked in the abandoned lot, the city park, the small undeveloped clump of trees, wondering what happen the night before and hoping desperately that it was not irrevocable. It’s so banal a scenario, that the drug companies use it regularly in the commercials for Morphastat and other suppressants. I thought about those commercials, as I lay in the patch of weeds under a bridge. They tell you that there are two paths for werewolves. One path leads to a relatively normal, if disciplined, life. The taste of garbage in my mouth was the latest sign that I tumbled down road of humiliation and possible incarceration.

I tired to get up, look around, discover if I were in immediate danger, but blood drained from my head and blackness pooled behind my eyes. I crumpled. This was new. My head hadn’t throbbed before. The world hadn’t tilted away. Anxious to move, but helpless against the swimming earth, I gathered the little information falling into my eyes and ears. Car rumbled on the bridge above me, but not many. It was still dark, not yet rush hour. That was good. There were no voices, no footfalls, no crackling in the grass – also good. After sometime I regained the ability to prop myself up on an elbow. I saw now that I lay above an empty jogging trail on the bank of the Etritus. Before me, leviathan container barges hauled fresh meat, toilet paper and smart phones toward the harbor. The chemical stink blowing off the water placed me near the warehouse district. I was lucky. I could have wound someplace much worse.

Another scent, heavy and acrid, the odor of combustion and disaster, blew back a flash of last night. I shuttered with disgust and exhilaration. Though still too disoriented to recall details, I felt the sickly thrill of knowing that the world had in some way been altered. (It was exactly the same feeling I would experience later when Amanda rushed to me at the Lost and Found her eyes a bright as moons and smelling of victory, clutching her find, the walking stick with double “X” carved into it.) There had been a fire and a lot of excited people. I didn’t think that I had been close enough to the fire to be in danger. Nevertheless, the fire had been important – so important that adrenaline had spiked my blood, and the disease had disfigured my body six days on the downside of the full moon.

Panic replaced dim memory. In the post-outbreak haze, I’d overlooked the most disturbing fact of my condition. There’d only been a few moons since I’d become infected. At first I’d been comforted by denial. I had driven to the night before lying to myself about the purpose. I’d walked back to the car, my bare feet bleeding, naked and shivering, wondering stupidly what had happened. Since the diagnosis, I’d been careful. On nights around the full moon I folded my clothes in a neat pile, barricaded myself inside, and waited to see if the suppressant would work. These mornings had been bad. This morning was much worse. I’d changed at a half moon- that was bad. I knew that could happen, but it hadn’t happened to me. Worse, I had changed downtown where I might have hurt someone. The most disturbing thing about this morning was that I woke fully dressed in unfamiliar, ill-fitting clothes.

I checked my arms and legs for blood, probed my fingernails for foreign skin, and licked my lips for traces of flesh. I found no evidence of violence. I relaxed a little. It didn’t make sense. I might have attacked someone as the wolf, but I would not have been capable of taking clothes and dressing myself. Someone else had to have done it. I thought there had been people last night. You’ve heard that werewolves forget what happens when they change. That’s not quite true. There are memories, but they are made of foreign sensations and alien symbols. Sometimes if I concentrated I could construct these loose impressions into some reasonable explanation of what happened. This morning was worse than usual. I felt hung over, but I don’t think I drank much before I changed. I had one memory, really more of the chemical aftertaste, of being surrounded by people. The only thing clear what their scent. It was still here on the clothes. It was sweet and oily, but beyond that, I lacked the vocabulary to describe it. It had to be them – the people of the scent – that dressed me. They’d given me shoes, no socks, pants, no underwear, and a shirt smelling of mildew. They’d tucked three dollar and change in one pocket – enough for the bus or phone calls – and dumped me in under a bridge and left me sleeping in weeds. It could have been worse. They could have called the authorities or dropped me at a charity kennel. The though of my mystery benefactors caused a smear dizzy claustrophobia to explode from the residual wolf mind. My body convulsed involuntarily and I felt a compulsion to move away very quickly.

When I could stand without swooning, I stumbled down to the trail by the river. I quickly saw why there were no morning joggers. An orange plastic fence blocked the trail. A familiar diamond-shaped sign indicated that this was the site of another future construction project of the New Sol Revitalization Authority. Walked on the trail along the river until I reached S. Kerry Blvd. The server at the flapjack hole at the bottom of the Laire Building, let me use his phone, after I had proven I had enough cash to cover a cup of coffee.

Friend called, coffee ordered, I wandered to the men’s room at the back of the restaurant. After standing unproductively over the toilet for several minutes, I concluded that my nausea, like my headache, was neither natural nor a product of my disease. I blinked a couple dozen times before I could focus on the mirror. To my surprise, I didn’t look so bad. Chances are that you only know me from the video of the press conference at Blindland Auditorium, with my singed hair cropped short and the bandage over my eye. The guy looking back at me from the mirror was tall and thin. I had an angular face that looked younger than my twenty-nine years. My dark hair was only controlled with the aid of products prescribed to me by girlfriends past. I’ve been told that I have nice eyes. I’m not sure what that means, but I can make them look serious when I have to for a business presentation. I splashed water at the dirt on my face and pushed finger through my hair.

The server followed me back to the booth with the cup of coffer.

“Thanks,” I said. “It was a rough night.”

“Honey, everyone needs their coffee this morning. The whole city had a rough night.”

“The fires,” said the server said in response to my puzzled look. “The prophecy. The streets of water and flame.”

Then I recalled the thing that had shot adrenaline in my blood and triggered the change on an off moon night. It was the end of the world.

Copyright 2014 – Brian Wittenbrook.

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