“I’m sorry, Sean. You know I can’t let you,” the basketball coach had told him. “No parental permission, no tryout.”
“But I’m good!
“You are good. You’re sharp, fast, and you’ve got an incredible jump shot. I hope your dad will change his mind, but until he does, my hands are tied.” The coach bounced the ball on the hardwood floor, punctuating their conversation with an echoing thump. “Have him call me. Maybe I can convince him.”
“Nothing will change his mind,” Sean snarled. Then, remembering his manners, he controlled his voice and said, “Thanks, Coach. Maybe next year.”
It had been “maybe next year” since he was thirteen. Now, at fifteen, he was tired of the limits created by his parents’ ridiculous rules and superstitions.
His dad was a control freak and his mom was a doormat.
Sean glanced up at the moon, almost full, that stalked him. His parents were probably beginning The Ritual.
They used to take him to her mother’s house for those three nights. Grandma Wessler received him with joy and tried to hide her revulsion at the reason. Still, he had warm memories of fresh baked cookies and cold milk or hot cocoa, depending on the season. It wasn’t until his voice began to change that his parents kept him home and revealed their secret.
He hated the way his mother meekly followed his dad into the basement, past the washer and dryer, past the boxes of Christmas decorations, past the cages of rabbits his father raised, and into a cage of her own. It didn’t look like a cage, more like a storage locker equipped with a small cot and bucket, but he knew what it was. And he knew what they did there.
He knew because the first time he stayed home during The Ritual, curiosity compelled him to ease open the basement door and listen from the top of the stairs.
At first it had been titillating, but it quickly became disturbing. Snarls, yelps, moans and whines alternated with soft voices of encouragement. He sensed that the encounter was both violent and desired. He was thrilled and horrified, swamped by a confusing mix of emotions.
The second night was worse, with the terrified shrieks of rabbits joining the animalistic sounds of his parents. He fled the doorway before his father came padding up the stairs, licking bloodstained lips and heading for the shower. His mother remained in the basement, no doubt locked in her cage.
After that, he stayed away from the basement door during The Ritual, but his disgust and anger grew.
The kitchen was empty, tidy and polished, the way his mother always left it. A note on the refrigerator offered him a choice of leftovers to heat in the microwave. He glanced at the basement door, unconsciously lifting the corner of his lip until his teeth showed.
“Good, you’re home.” His father suddenly appeared from the front of the house, wearing jeans and a black t-shirt. His shoulder length mane of dark hair, long as only a self-employed entrepreneur could afford to wear it, was beginning to gray at the temples. “I was getting worried about you.”
“I’m fine,” Sean snapped, dropping his backpack in the corner.
“You’re edgy.” His father opened the refrigerator and pulled out a foil covered casserole dish. “I remember feeling the same way when I was about your age.”
“No!” Sean was vehement. “I’m not like you! I’ll never be like you!”
“Sean…” His father sighed, setting the dish on the counter and beginning to unwrap it.
“You have to control everything!” Sean felt his anger well up like molten lava, hot and oozing, burning inside and ready to engulf everything around him. “The way you treat mom. It’s evil.”
“We’ve talked about this before. She chose that when she married me. She wants it. She needs it.”
“You lock her in a cage! Why is she in a cage?”
“To keep her safe. To keep you safe.”
“That’s a joke. What could she possibly do to me that hasn’t already been done?”
“We still don’t really know if you’re one of us.”
“I’m not ‘one of you’. How can I be something I hate?” Sean was almost as tall as his father and only dimly aware of how much they looked alike: dark hair, slim build, unusual amber eyes. They faced each other across the kitchen counter like two wary dogs, neither wanting to give ground. His father tried to break the tension with facts and logic.
“It’s a dominant gene. I have it, but my mother was a convert, so I’m not pure. If what you got from me is her gene, then you will not be one of us. Unless you want it, the way your mother did. But neither of us wanted your mother, in her frenzy, to force it on you if you had a choice.”
“So she is in a cage for my sake?”
“Partly. But also because she is truly out of control during her frenzy.”
“That’s what makes the sex so good, right?” Sean’s expression was halfway between a smirk and a sneer. He wanted an angry reaction.
“There is nothing like sex with a convert,” his father said, refusing to rise to the bait. “In the old days, our kind used to make them for just that reason. But without constant monitoring and attention, they will self-destruct.”
“But not you?”
“I was born, not made. For a natural lupine, it’s like you’re inoculated, and the frenzy is less dramatic, more controllable.”
“Then why can’t I join the basketball team? First you tell me it’s because you don’t know if I’m lupine, and I might manifest any time. Now you’re saying it’s controllable.”
“Not at first. At first, you have emotions and feelings so strong and difficult that you have no idea what to do with them.”
“Are you going to put me in a cage, too?”
The father froze, mouth slightly open, and stared at his son in growing awareness. Slowly, a growl of a laugh grew in his chest, working its way up through his throat and past his teeth, finally ending in a series of short barks that rocked his body and scared his son. “You’ve started to manifest, haven’t you?”
“Don’t lie to me. I know.” The older man placed one hand on the kitchen island for balance and leapt over it like a gymnast clearing the vaulting horse. He landed beside Sean and grabbed his shirt collar.
“I know,” he repeated, as he pulled the collar hard enough to pop the buttons off the front of Sean’s shirt, exposing Sean’s neck and half of his back. “You’ve got a pelt!”
“God Dad, what am I going to do?” Sean crumpled to the floor in tears. “I don’t want to live like you and Mom. I don’t want to lose three days out of my life every time there’s a full moon and lock myself away so I don’t hurt anyone. And raise rabbits!”
“Oh, Sean.” His father helped him back to his feet and wrapped him in a bear hug, then quickly released him. “It doesn’t have to be like that. A lot of what your mother and I do is because she’s a convert. For her, every urge is stronger, and the frenzy begins earlier and lasts longer. She gave up everything to share my life, so I give up some of my freedom to take care of her during the moon time. But you can learn to manage this if you want to.”
“And join the basketball team? Even if they have night games and sometimes there will be a full moon?”
“Yes, next year for sure.”
“Why not now?”
“I have to teach you to control this, so you can be safe when the frenzy comes on you.”
His father paused, looking into his eyes, then continued. “You know, I would love you no matter what. Part of me hoped you would have a simple, human life. But deep down, I always wanted this day to come.”
“What happens now, Dad?” Now that his secret was out, a great wave of relief had washed the tension from his shoulders and lifted his spirit. “Tomorrow is the full moon. For a few months, I’ve been feeling strange on the night. Pacing. Full of energy. Like I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
His father smiled. “Tomorrow, I’ll start your training. We’ll go out to the woods so you can really feel how much sharper your senses are. Maybe we’ll find an animal with more chance of getting away than a rabbit in a cage. Tomorrow, we’ll go hunting, son!”
Sean grinned, then threw his head back and gave his first howl.