The condition was difficult to detect in most people. But there were two not-so-subtle methods.
Silver, in close proximity, caused 1st degree burns to the subject. Trace amounts in the bloodstream brought on severe hemorrhaging from every open orifice in their body.
The 2nd was more obvious: an allergic reaction to sunlight when it was reflected off of a full moon.
Exposure activated a dormant gene that caused a painful physical transformation into a Lycanthrope—half man and half beast in form. While in this shape, the virus could be passed on to other humans with the smallest bite or scratch. As I sat in the third row of a Lycanian History lecture, I was reminded that I was part of the few: I wasn’t one of them.
“The Great Turn– the period in our history when the wheels of change began to turn,” my wrinkled professor said from the front of the class, “I was in my forties when I was bitten. Back then most of you were likely too young to know what was going on.”
“Harris Barker was the first man to contract the Lycan A-23 virus when he was attacked by a rabid wolf while hiking. The wounds were severe and as his condition worsened, doctors did not think he would survive the night. But the next morning he was perfectly healed and was discharged from the hospital by a bewildered staff. He returned to his wife and daughter, and his life resumed normally… until the morning after the next full moon.” The professor paused here, to look around at the class.
“He awoke to find himself surrounded by a mess of blood and flesh, trails of red leading from his family’s bedrooms to his own. He realized he was anything but normal. And that was the first instance of human-human transmission of the Lycan A-23 virus. Since it was straight out of a work of fiction, nobody believed it was happening, and nobody did anything about it. The virus spread faster with each full moon, becoming increasingly swift alongside the rising number of infected.”
“The human genome was forever changed. The effects were hereditary, carrying over to future generations. For a time, there was anarchy as society fell apart. But, in the words of our President, ‘in the condition of chaos, humanity has established order before’. We soon adapted, realizing that the best solution was equal parts unanimity and isolation. Fighting the virus proved fruitless, so we embraced it instead. We made changes. As most of us had developed severe allergies to silver, we banned its refinement and trade across the continent, replacing it with nickel instead, as you already know. We made full moons a statutory holiday, and churches formed to worship the moon as a God for the new sway it held over us.”
“As all of former North America accepted the inevitability of the virus, the rest of the world chose to quarantine us indefinitely. All connections were severed, all bridges were burned. They were afraid, you see; though most days we were no different than the average human. Yet this isolation proved good; we became a stronger autonomous identity. And 15 years later, what was once the North American continent has now become the Lycania you know today: 95 percent Lycanthropes, and a steadily declining 5 percent human population.” The professor paused to write these figures out.
The 5% jumped out at me from the blackboard: my family and I were a part of it, like lambs living among wolves. But our secret wasn’t as difficult to hide as you might imagine. You see, nobody ever remembers what happens during their transformations. I’ve heard they simply wander, preying on other animals or mauling unchanged humans. Then they awake the next morning with no clue where they are or how they got there, not unlike after a night of reckless drinking. All we had to do was hole up in our house every full moon, and we were safe. My parents would tell me it used to be the weather they kept an eye on; now the lunar charts took precedence over the possibility of a rainy day. On full-moon nights, you could hear the distant howling outside. I never saw from where they came, but my imagination didn’t need to.
I’d heard of wolf packs being formed, mostly by young delinquents, where groups would gather just before dusk to bathe under the moonlight and undergo their monthly shape-shift as a pack. On these nights, the thought that outside, everyone, my neighbours, friends, even the postman had become mindless monsters that would attack me on smell… well for us Fangless, as we were called, it was unsettling to say the least.
“Didn’t the humans try to kill us off though?” my peer asked with his hand raised.
“Oh yes, but you could not tell the difference between a man and an infected, as we were unjustly called back then, so the hunts were called off as soon as they started. The turning point was when the President himself contracted the virus. The effect was inevitable. Within 10 full moons, with no prospect of a cure, about 50% of the population had turned. Our leader made the decision: at this point, we could only embrace the virus. Infection did not kill us, and it was only in purity that we could be saved from chaos. With a homogenous population of ‘werewolves’, we could still make our society work,” the professor said.
I’d kept a low profile most of my life, as per my parents’ wishes. There weren’t many like us left, as the media never ceased to emphasize. We couldn’t leave the country since no planes flew out anymore. I’d heard that most people (about 75%) had assimilated willingly. My family seemed to be all that was left of the uninfected. On paper, the government couldn’t force us to turn, but that didn’t stop them from using the media to pressure all remaining humans to turn themselves into these conversion centres for the greater good.
Because of the international quarantine, most Lycanthropes hated regular humans, and would even go so far as to position themselves nearby on a full-moon if they ever found one. No laws existed to protect these humans either, as to be mauled by a Lycan was not considered an attempt at murder but on par with a bear attack on a camping trip. So, it was a grave possibility that my family alone remained among the Fangless.
My parents had a strict rule not to mention our lack of fur and fangs to anybody. The consequences were too dire; nobody could be trusted and rightly so. A werewolf might feel more of a bond to his own kin than to us Fangless. So I wore a mask whenever I went out, so to speak, and as far as they were concerned I was just another wolf-boy. We had a respectful wariness of the moon’s changes, and scoffed at the idea of humans who did not have our superior blood coursing through their veins. The words Our and We burned my tongue every time I spoke these lies; in truth it was just I and Me, alone in my difference.
But when the moon was full, that difference was hardest to bear. It wasn’t fear that consumed me during these nights; I was safe inside my home. It was loneliness. Being a werewolf is the last thing I wanted; I had heard the transformations were painful and I didn’t relish the thought of losing grip on my sanity and identity for a whole night every month. But I have been tempted to turn. Not to be a werewolf so much as to just be like everyone else. Everyone openly expressed their disdain for us Fangless, and I joined in partly to maintain my life-long disguise but mostly because I didn’t want to be different. I was living a lie, but it was a lie I needed to live, to even be here in this classroom right now.
The professor walked to his desk and pulled out a box, drawing from it a green herb with bluish-purple petals. “Does anyone know what this is?” The Professor looked around for an answer.
One student, I didn’t know his name, slowly raised his hand as he answered, “Wolfsbane?”
The Professor nodded his head and repeated the name, “Wolfsbane. It is a peculiar herb: lethal to humans, but to us werewolves… utterly harmless. Let me show you.” His eyes scanned the class as my heart started to beat to the erratic rhythm of my worst fear. His eyes fell upon me, and the next words he spoke confirmed what I had been dreading. “You there, why don’t you try some and tell us how it tastes?” I had heard about Wolfsbane before; it was the easiest way to distinguish a human from a werewolf, but the trade-off was death for the human.
“I-I think I’ll pass. My stomach’s not feeling so great.” I lied through clenched teeth. The situation felt surreal; so far I’d managed to keep under the radar and it was to be simple, plain bad luck that would bring the question of my blood to the forefront of everyone’s attention.
“All the better! This herb is known to have curative properties for our Lycanthrope race.” The Professor said. Every eye in the lecture hall looked at me as I continued to refuse.
“Haha, you act like you’re still a pup. I assure you it has a sweet taste, it may as well be a leaf of lettuce. Well, unless one is a Fangless,” His smile dropped as he said this, approaching the front of my desk.
“No! Of course not!” I said as firmly as I could, trying my hardest to maintain eye contact.
“Then you should have no problem eating just a leaf,” He gestured to the herb in his hand. I reluctantly took it into my hand, and looked around at the class. I could see all of their faces clearly. There were thirty-some, bright, young faces just like mine. Just like mine. I noticed many of their eyes were cast down to avert my own. Did they already know I wasn’t one of them? Had my entire act been revealed?
“No…” I whispered to myself, as something dawned on me
“What is that?” the professor asked with a raised brow.
“I mean, yes. I’ll take the whole box of it”. I said more strongly.
“Wolfsbane isn’t so easy to get, boy. I won’t have you gulping it all down.” The professor said.
“It’s not all for me,” I said determinedly, and snatched it from his hands and proceeded to hand out bits of the herb to every student in the class. They all looked to me nervous, confused and silent.
“What are you doing!?” the professor shouted, but could do nothing to stop me.
Upon coming full circle around the room, I stood at the front of the class and said with all the power of my voice, “If all of you in this room eat what’s in front of you, because you really are Lycans and have nothing to fear, then I’ll eat it too and I… I’ll die, but with nothing to hide anymore!”
The entire hall stood still and silent. It was a History class of thirty-seven students. Only eight took the herb in their hands and consumed it. Two of them promptly died, their heads striking their metal desks in perfect unison. The ringing of the metal reverberated for a very brief moment through the numbing silence of the room: a dull, monotonous and inglorious sound.