"Opening the Door"
Hilla spent the whole second month
as a werewolf studying lycanthropy.
It was a race against time,
but not all the same time.
She was studying herself
and Randie and the cycle of
the moon, but in the back of
her mind, a roomful of clocks
were ticking away the seconds
of all her friends' lives and
their chronic conditions.
Hilla learned everything she could
about the pros and the cons
of her new condition.
She had forgotten what zero pain
even felt like, but now she rediscovered it.
She had so much energy that she hardly
knew what to do with all of it -- she
could work the whole day away if
she wanted to, and loved it.
Adjusting to the changes in
her sleep pattern was hard.
She slept in naps, no more
than a few hours at a time,
especially after a big meal,
and more during the day
than through the night.
Her heightened senses were
both pro and con in turns --
she could tell when the milk
was just starting to go bad,
but just leaving the cover off of
the garbage can made her barf.
Randie tried to help, but she
didn't know much more about being
a werewolf than her own experience.
Her mentor had turned her accidentally, and
only stuck around long enough to teach her
the basics before disappearing for good.
It was hard, so hard, to wait a whole month,
but Hilla made herself do it anyhow.
When the moon grew full and
the second transformation came,
Hilla was ready for it.
The pop of joints and
stretch of muscles still hurt,
but it wasn't as disorienting now
that she knew what to expect.
This is some really patterned pain,
Hilla thought as her body pulled itself
slowly apart. What's good for that?
Oh, Lamaze! Felice said it's great for
rhythmic cramps. I should learn Lamaze.
She had only fleeting awareness
of her time as a wolf -- how the sounds
changed whenever she moved her ears,
and she couldn't stop moving them;
how the smells got even stronger
while colors faded away like
madras plaid in hot water.
In the morning, Hilla could still
remember the night she had spent
locked in Randie's basement.
The memories weren't particularly clear,
but they were there: enough to give her
hope that she could learn how to
hold onto more of herself
when she was a wolf.
Knowing that she would
have whole weeks of zeros
to look forward to, Hilla
coddled herself through
the day of level-three pain.
When it dropped down to nothing,
she went out to a meeting.
Heads turned when Hilla walked in,
and she knew it wasn't just because
of two months' absence and Randie's
badly phrased attempts to wrap up
Hilla's life so people wouldn't
hunt them both down.
It was the lightness of her step,
the fluid motion, the open pleasure
on her face instead of pain.
Then she stopped short of the circle
because they all stank, her nose
wrinkling as the smell of sickness
pouring off the other women.
"What are you on and where
can I get some?" Felice asked.
She was wrapped in heating pads;
the endometriosis must be flaring again.
"I don't care about the costs or legality
or possible side effects. I want some."
Some of the other women were nodding,
and Hilla hadn't even said anything yet.
Well fine then, she thought,
let's just introduce it this way.
Hilla recalled a long-ago yoga class
that hadn't helped her flexibility as
promised at the time, but would
come in handy now. She bent
into Downward Facing Dog,
held it for a long minute, then
flowed into Upward Facing Dog.
"Jesus Christ," said Lucille.
"Two months ago, I was attacked
in the park and bitten," Hilla said.
"I don't have multiple sclerosis
anymore. I have lycanthropy."
"Werewolves aren't real," Lucille scoffed.
"Those yoga poses are real," said Felice.
"That's all I care about. Sign me up."
Hilla held up a hand. "Wait. I know
it's hard, but you have to wait and
hear me out. I made myself wait
a month so that I could give you
a fair idea about the advantages
and disadvantages of lycanthropy."
"I'm listening," said Felice. "Hit me."
"First, it's hard to control," said Hilla.
"I got turned because Randie broke out
of her basement lockup. I've managed
to retain a few foggy memories, but I
still wouldn't trust myself outside.
I think that will get better in time,
but I can't guarantee it."
She went on to explain the changes
in her senses and the other odd effects.
"Now give us the good parts," said Felice.
"This is my pain chart for the month,"
said Hilla as she unfolded the page.
"Transformations really suck -- that
reminds me, Felice, can you get me
the number of your Lamaze coach?
You said she was really good."
"Sure." Felice passed over a business card.
"So it's a day of feeling restless, then
increasing crappiness with a few minutes
of childbirth-level pain, a night of mostly blackout,
and finally a day or two of hangover," said Hilla.
"The rest of the month, no pain at all."
"Sounds fantastic," said Felice.
"I'm not sure I'd want to be
a wolf," said Lucille.
"You have a month to decide,"
Hilla said. "Lycanthropy is
only contagious in animal form.
I can't help anyone for a month."
"Then why did you wait so long?"
Sigfrieda said, her voice cracking.
She wore the red silk sleep mask
over her face again, which meant
her eyes were hurting again. She had
primary-progressive multiple sclerosis,
and it left her fully disabled.
"If you'd told us sooner, then
we could have made the change --
what, yesterday," Sigfrieda continued.
This was exactly how the issue with Lucille
had blown up, and Hilla didn't want
to waste time on arguments.
She explained again, carefully,
the need to observe the pros and cons
so that people could make an informed decision.
She reminded them about Catherine's
ill-advised adventure with some drug that
her doctor had recommended and turned out
to be far more trouble than it was worth,
which could have been discovered
with a little more fact-checking.
She pointed out the challenges of
transmitting the disease -- or cure -- safely,
given that Randie had torn her arm off.
But Felice was an engineer and
insisted that the logistics could
be managed somehow.
There were quibbles and quarrels
throughout most of the meeting, but
they were no more than eddies
in a deep, rushing river.
In the end, seven out of the twelve women
wanted to try it, and some of the others
were still debating the merits.
There would be enough of them to form
a pack, to continue the support network
that was so important to all of them.
Maybe that would help them learn
how to cope with the cranky parts
of lycanthropy, how to stay sane
in the full moon, how to remember
what happened in their wolf-time.
They had carried each other
through agony and diagnoses
and medications that might or
might not help and often had
horrendous side effects.
They could handle lycanthropy,
even with other degenerative diseases
nipping and snapping at their heels,
because now they had a way
to turn and face the harriers.
Hilla looked around at the women
for whom she would soon be
opening the door of the moon.
In a month, they wouldn't be
racing against time anymore.
They would be racing each other.
* * *
Wolves are primarily nocturnal, although they may be active in daylight sometimes. They sleep a few hours at a time, especially after a heavy meal.
Originally developed for childbirth, Lamaze methods work well for any rhythmic pain.
Classic Madras plaid is known for fading into a soft, weathered look over time.
Yoga poses include Downward Facing Dog and Upward Facing Dog.
Multiple sclerosis signs and symptoms may differ greatly from person to person and over the course of the disease depending on the location of affected nerve fibers. Sigfrieda's typical symptoms are italicized.
• Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs that typically occurs on one side of your body at a time, or the legs and trunk
• Partial or complete loss of vision, usually in one eye at a time, often with pain during eye movement
• Prolonged double vision
• Tingling or pain in parts of your body
• Electric-shock sensations that occur with certain neck movements, especially bending the neck forward (Lhermitte sign)
• Tremor, lack of coordination or unsteady gait
• Slurred speech
• Problems with bowel and bladder function
There are different patterns in the disease, and Sigfrieda has primary-progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS). This is characterized by steadily worsening neurologic function from the start. Although the rate of progression may shift over time with occasional plateaus and brief, minor improvements, there are no distinct remissions or flareups. About 10% of cases are diagnosed as PPMS. Sigfrieda's pattern looks like this.