Story Part the First: Atavistic Were
INTRO: These next two weeks, we’re experimenting. I’ve started a story. My fellow authors are going to further the story and then finally complete it. But no pressure. 😀 We have not talked about our plans or compared notes on the characters or plotline. This should be a surprise for all of us.
“Ms. Smith? I’m Samuel Talbridge, the reporter you asked for.”
The woman pacing the faded, thread-bare carpet of motel room he’d been given a key to, glanced at him. The impression of pale, tawny hair, long, muscular legs, broad shoulders and a prominent jaw line made him hesitate in the open doorway. But it was the intensity in her amber eyes that whispered ‘danger’.
“Come in, Mr. Talbridge. Close the door,” she said in a rich, mellow alto. “Who do you write for?”
Forcing a smile to his face, he complied and then pulled his notepad from his pocket. Most reporters recorded interviews. He did, too, but he found the physical distraction of pen and notepad let him control the flow of information. Something about the woman studying him made him suspect he needed every advantage he could get. “I freelance. My stories are usually published by the local papers. A few have been picked up by the AP. If you have a story. I’d very much like to hear it. Even if Smith isn’t your real name.”
She lifted an eyebrow. “Is that an impediment, my attempt to protect myself?”
“Not if your story warrants it.”
“It does. I am a were, Mr. Talbridge. A were alone. I’d like your . . .”
“What sort of were?”
“One of the big cats.”
His shoulders drooped. He’d been trying to crack the werewolf packs for three years.
‘Ms. Smith’ laughed. “Restrain a puppy, Mr. Talbridge, and it submits, going limp in your grasp, whimpering to urge you not to kill it. Restrain a kitten and it fights to its last ounce of strength against the indignity.”
“Cats are fragile,” he said.
“It pleases me to have you think so.”
In a flash he couldn’t see she spun, lashing out with one hand at his cheek. He felt the breeze of her hand pass. She’d missed.
Blood sprinkled his notepad.
He blinked. His cheek burned. His heart thudded hard against his ribcage as he touched a tentative fingertip to his face. Scratches. She’d whipped her claws across his face. A tremor of belated panic flooded his gut.
He met her cool, amber gaze. Her nostrils flared and her lips curled.
“I see your point,” he said.
“Four of them,” she corrected, lifting her bloodied nails for inspection.
“Right.” He pressed his handkerchief against his face. The burn turned to a throb, but when he pulled the cloth away and glanced at it, very little blood marred the white surface. He put it away to hide the fact that his hands were shaking. “So. You – uh – you’re a solo? Driven from your – what? Pack?”
“Pride,” she corrected, turning away to look out the window again.
“I thought cats were solitary ani–creatures.”
“And nocturnal?” she supplied. “We are. In the wild. But the press of modern civilization requires that we adapt. When hunting territories can be negotiated and worked out, there are advantages in numbers.”
“But you were thrown out. Why?”
“Atavistic manifestation of traits that once existed, but which do no longer.”
The bitter, derisive edge in her tone made him stare at her, trying to discern some hint of what her words meant from the lines of tension in her back. Atavistic?
She glanced over her shoulder at him, amber eyes glittering. “I’m a throwback.”
He leaned forward, curiosity piqued against his better judgment. “How far back?”
His brain scrambled for footing. What cat had lived so long ago? “Sabre-toothed?”
“Smilodon populator. Huge. Native to parts of the world I’ve never seen,” she said.
She sighed, faced him, and shrugged. “I’m not a geneticist. I don’t know. Even those who proposed to study my DNA speak only in terms of hypothesis and conjecture. Am I a mutant to have become something that once existed in the world but which went extinct with the advent of the last ice age? Or is this some unlikely malfunction on the genome? One that brought fourth an ancient form in the modern world? No matter how you slice it, I’m a freak of nature. Something that can’t, shouldn’t exist.”
“But you do.”
“I don’t want your pity.”
“What do you want?”
“It is possible, if unlikely, that I am not the only legend walking around and taking on fur with the moon phases. If other prides have cast out their misfits and those misfits have survived, I’d like you to help me find them.”