A Hero By Accident (Ch. 1)

A Hero By Accident (Ch. 1)

Chapter 1: The Rubber Throne

Sebastian White chewed his lip anxiously as his eyes panned over the horizon.

His mind was preoccupied with the unwelcome surprise he had recently found sitting on his rubber throne—rubber because he argued it was safer than a throne of iron that he might walk into and wound his toe upon.
Continue reading “A Hero By Accident (Ch. 1)”

The Woheha

She was not the first to show up at the entrance to the village without her tongue. There had been three before her.

They all arrived in the same condition: a desperate panic, unable to do more than repeatedly moan what sounded to be a name.


Each victim had apparently set out for the neighbouring town, but nobody was sure what had happened to them along the way. They could not tell their tales without their tongues and, like most of the farming village, they could neither read nor write.

The first man, a particularly poor artist, sketched a picture of this Woheha. It looked like a lion, at least according to the drawing. But why and how would a lion only take his tongue?

The second scribbled a picture of a tall man with a gaunt face

The second scribbled a picture of a tall man with a gaunt face. The third, a dog with a flower where its head would be.

The only thing that was consistent was that, whatever had done this to them, they seemed inclined to avoid the topic altogether, even had they not been condemned to silence.

The Woheha became a legend that lived in whispers and was buried in questions.

The fourth victim was different though. For one, she was just a child of 16 years. But what’s more is she could not only read but would often write in her spare time.

She could tell her story.

A few weeks after she arrived, when her mind had recovered from what had happened, she was handed a pen and piece of paper. She sat still an hour, carefully weighing her words, before she committed any ink to paper.

This is what she wrote:

I live here with my aunt to help her with the crops. We’d gotten news that my mother, who lived in town, had fallen ill. Nothing life-threatening, just a lingering fever. My aunt sent me with some things to bring her: medicine, soup stock, vegetables from the garden, and a small pouch of spice.

It was my first time making the journey. We were often told the best route to town was to travel north on the road that led around the nearby forest. It took nearly a full day walking to get there.

My aunt had reminded me, before I left, to stick to the road so I would not get lost. I should have listened.

If you have ever traveled this road and bothered to look through the trees, you would notice that there is actually an open field if you cut through the forest: a grassy clearing that made for a tempting shortcut into town.

I found it strange that this shortcut was not common knowledge. It seemed like it would save everyone a couple of hours getting to the town.

So I cut through the forest and arrived in that empty field. And empty it was with nothing but green grass and blue skies, and not so much as a single tree interrupting my view from one end to the other. But what I noticed first, as soon as I stepped foot into this sprawling space, was the unsettling silence.

Thinking back, I had never known true silence until I entered that field. Absolute silence: the kind of quiet only the dead hear. I saw birds fly overhead and crickets sitting amongst the grass. But I didn’t hear a thing. The field seemed to swallow every sound.

The squishing sound of grass was absent as I walked over it with mute footsteps. The trees moved in the breeze, but I could not hear the familiar whistle of the wind through the leaves. I walked in awe through this soundless scene. Had I gone deaf? Had the world gone dumb? I exhaled deeply, only to hear the sound of my breath suffocated as I walked further into the field.

“Visitor.” A voice behind me, unlike any I had heard, shattered the silence. I turned around slowly to face the speaker.

I fell backward, scrambling away as my face met what seemed at first like a massive flower that crawled slowly towards me on four legs. I opened my mouth to scream, but I nearly swallowed my tongue as it fled back into my throat.

“Do not be shy.” I stared speechless as this golden beast lumbered forward on all fours, five long fingers where I expected paws. It spoke in a voice that seemed borrowed-sporadic in tone and manic in manner

The creature shrugged itself upright and tilted its head forward, revealing a pale, yellow, sunken face with slit eyes like a snake and a flat nose that hovered over a small mouth. Every time it spoke its expression remained blank and its lips did not move. But it was the crown of petals-at least I thought so at first- that shocked me into silence. It was only when I had a moment to take in its appearance that I realized it was mane of tongues.

As much as the creature’s form had frightened me, standing as tall as two men, its voice was what made my heart sink into my stomach.

“Might I have the privilege of your name?” it asked as it drew closer, a long tail like a lion following behind it. There was no rhyme or reason to how it spoke, but every syllable seemed both familiar and strange, like each beat belonged to a different speaker. The creature sounded like a chorus of voices, speaking, singing, yelling, whispering, out of sync and altogether. I am hard-pressed to put it into words here.

I felt exposed in the middle of that field, anxiously aware of my open back. I pursed my lips at the sight of the some hundred tongues that framed the creature’s head. It was at that moment that I remembered the rumours about the walking flower, the men who came back without their tongues, and the single name they spoke: Woheha.

The Woheha raised its front legs, doubling its height as it slowly stood upright like a man.”You are a quiet one. Speak with me, will you not?” the creature asked, it’s lips unmoving on its expressionless face. A chill ran down my spine as the friendly words that left its mouth were mangled by a voice that sounded simultaneously like an angry child and a sleepy old man.

“Speak,” it repeated in a seductive lisp.

I shook my head. It was like the soundless air that hung about forbid me from opening my mouth, as a cloud of birds flew by without a song. I knew a terrible thing would befall me if I dared to break this unnatural silence.

“Peculiar. My previous guests were more t-t-t-talkative.” The beast now had a stutter I was sure was not its own. Now standing, it moved one of its hands onto my shoulder. I could feel the weight of its heavy palm and long fingers as if they were reaching for my racing heart. It was erratic, beating against my chest, as I felt fear like I had never felt.

I tried several times to move past it, but each time the beast followed and cut me off at every turn. “Sssssstay,” it groaned in a slow whisper.

The creature would not let me go. I stared at its crown of tongues, each alive and flailing as if struggling to escape. And then I had an idea.

I put my pack down and rummaged through it to look for a small pouch among the vegetables and other contents. The creature tilted its head to one side, conveying a curiosity it did not wear on its blank face.

I remember trying to stifle my heavy breathing as I opened the pouch filled with spice and scattered its contents over the tongues that circled the beast’s face. The Woheha roared in a hundred tones as its tongues lashed about as if on fire.

I left my pack and ran as fast as I could across the field.

I ran until I ran out of breath, not daring to look back. After a few minutes, I finally turned my head to see it wasn’t following. The towering creature was nowhere to be seen. There were no places to hide in that empty field; it was as if the Woheha had vanished.

“Rude girl,” a voice said behind my shoulder. I turned around slowly to see its face inches from my own. “Keep your name for yourself. But know mine. I am called the Word Eater. Do you know… why I am called so?” Even amid the mixed emotions conveyed by its speech, the anger it felt still came through.

“What are you?” I meant to ask without thinking, but “What” was all I managed. The moment I spoke I was swallowed up by the Woheha-the Word Eater-caught in what seemed a mouth of wet tongues instead of teeth.

That was the last thing I remember before everything went black.

I woke up outside the field underneath a tree, groggy and confused. It had been a dream. For three brief seconds, I felt relief. Until I tried to feel the inside of my mouth.

I screamed. I screamed. For minutes, alone on the outskirts of the field, I screamed. But only a desperate moan escaped my mouth.

The Lamb that Wore Wolf’s Fur

The Lamb that Wore Wolf’s Fur

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.