Moonlight: Part 5 Acceptance

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Continued from Part 4, Revelations

Part 5, Acceptance

 

“She’s in pretty deep denial, still.”  I heard Steph say from out on the lawn as I sat in the little cabin on a settee with a blanket clutched around me.

“In the 37 years I‘ve been doing this I can only think of one or two times a person’s first reaction wasn’t some degree of denial.  I’d say this is pretty normal so far.”  Liz said rather calmly.  “It hasn’t been that long, it’s a very natural reaction.  I mean, who believes that werewolves are real?”

“It seems like it’s taking her longer to accept it than it took Grace or Becky.”

“Grace is younger, and Becky was raised by hippies.  Diana is a 32 year old data analyst, she’s used to a much more rational word.  Don’t worry, she’ll be fine.”

“I don’t remember being in denial.”

“Since you were staying here at the Institute with me, I had time to let you really figure it out on your own.”  Liz’s voice took on a more maternal lilt.  “With most people, that isn’t an option.  She’s going home in just 3 days, and I need her to believe this so she doesn’t end up mauling a tourist who decided to hang out in the park after the Cloisters close or something.  Don’t worry, it’s only been a few hours, there’s time.”

“Well, one of us needs to head back to the lodge and make sure all the stuff gets done, and since she’s not ready to go, one of us needs to stay here with her and make sure she’s ok.”

“I think I’ll stay.”  Liz decided.  “She’s going to take a while to come around, and you could use the practice running some of the day to day stuff, so that when the time comes you can just take over for me.”

“Ok, see you guys later.”

I listened as Steph started walking away from the cabin, and Liz approached it.  I heard Liz’s light but decisive footfalls on the wooden board of the porch, then the creak of the door opening.  Liz entered and sat next to me on the settee.

“Let me tell you a story.  In 1974 young Elizabeth Jaager of the Upper Eastside, did what most little girls of wealthy New York City families did, and went to a very nice summer camp out in Pennsylvania.  It had all the usual camp activities, tennis, horseback riding, archery, canoeing, etc.  Elizabeth was having a generally great time.

“One night around the campfire, Elizabeth needed to go to the bathroom very badly, but the girl she was buddied up with didn’t want to miss out on any marshmallow roasting and refused to go with Elizabeth to the bathroom.  They both knew they were supposed to stick together, but they also both had their needs, one for toasty marshmallows the other for indoor plumbing.  So they split up.

“While the trip from the campfire to the bathroom was uneventful, the trip back to the fire didn’t go as well.  Along the established trail, Elizabeth encountered a rattlesnake.”  Liz paused briefly to sigh.  “Now of course, the smart thing to do would have been to turn around, follow the trail back to the cabins, and find an adult.  However, Elizabeth didn’t want to get into trouble for separating from her buddy, and didn’t want to miss another round of marshmallows.  So, Elizabeth made the not very wise choice of leaving the trail so she could make a wide circle around the snake.

“Elizabeth made a very wide circle and went too deeply into the woods, where she was attacked by a wild animal.”  Liz paused again, and started petting my back.  “Fortunately by then, one of the camp counselors at the fire had noticed that Elizabeth was missing and was on her way up the path to find Elizabeth.  The counselor scared the animal away.

“The counselor swore it was a wolf, but it was officially written up as a feral dog, because wolves had been gone from Pennsylvania for nearly 100 years at that point.”  Liz let out an ironic chuckle.  “Elizabeth suffered a few rather large scalp lacerations, and a fractured ulna, but no major injuries.  She spent a little over 2 weeks in the hospital because in those days the rabies shots were much more painful and you had to get a lot more of them than now.

“When little Elizabeth finally returned home to the city, her parents, Fred and Mary Jaager, went a little overboard on trying to make up for what had been a really lousy start to summer.  So, they decided to head to their beach house in the hamptons.  Most of the time there though, Elizabeth just wanted to hide inside and do puzzles or coloring.  She was very self conscious of the scars that not enough hair had grown back to cover yet.

“It was about a month after the attack when Elizabeth suddenly insisted she wanted to go out and play on the beach after dark.  Well her parents just assumed it was because she could play after dark without worrying about being teased.  So they indulged her.

“After a few nights of running around at night, something strange happened, Elizabeth had been acting a bit funny the whole day, restless, not wanting to be inside even though it was a drizzly day.  Then at sunset, she started tearing off her clothing and complaining it hurt.  There in front of her parents eyes, all of a sudden young Elizabeth was replaced by a small wolf pup, right on the beach.”

Liz just stopped the story and kept rubbing my back.  I looked over, not sure if the story was over.

“What happened next?” I asked.  “Is that the end of the story?”

“Not the end, I just to see if you were listening.”  Liz said smiling.  “Elizabeth’s parents fixed up the old hunting lodge Fred’s grandfather had built up in the Adirondacks, and they took Elizabeth to it every month for a few days around the full moon.  They hired a governess, so that they didn’t have to worry about Elizabeth missing school.  Fred and Mary rearrange much of their lives around making sure Elizabeth would be safe and people would be safe from Elizabeth.

“The next summer, another person at the camp was attacked, this time a teenaged C.I.T. named Barbara.  The Jaagers had a funny feeling about it, and invited Barbara up to the hunting lodge to recuperate once she was released from the hospital.  The night of the next full moon, Fred took Elizabeth across the lake to change away from where Barbara was, just in case they were wrong and Barbara didn’t change.  At sunset, Mary made the excuse that she needed to get something from inside, and watched Barbara change from the safety of the lodge through the window.

“And that was when Fred and Mary Jaager founded The Jaager Institute and Retreat Center.”  Liz finished with finality.

“Scalp lacerations?” I asked, because it seemed obvious that Liz was Elizabeth Jaager in the story, but I saw no scars.

“Danny cuts my hair so that it falls in a way that hides the scars.” Liz said, then ran her fingers up into her hair, lifting it up revealing pale hairless lines of scar tissue.  Then let the short hair flop back down completely obscuring the evidence of an attack that supposedly occurred almost half a century ago.

“Ok, so you tell a good story and have scars.”  I admitted.  “That doesn’t mean werewolves are real.  Did you guys give me psychedelics?  Why did you put that video on my phone?  What are you getting out of this?”

“No one here has given you any drugs at all.  I don’t know how to alter videos on someone else’s phone.   The Institute’s motives are exactly what we have stated.”  Liz said calmly.  “Now, one question for you.  Do I smell like I am being honest?”

“It just doesn’t make any sense though.”  I said as I tried to wrap my head around what was happening.

I spent all day on the couch wrapped up in the blanket trying to understand the incomprehensible, but then sunset came and with it the irresistible call of the moonlight.  At that point, Liz talked me into heading back to the main lodge with the promise of food.  

 

The next day, I was ready to start listening.  

After I took a rather uncomfortable shower and washed the blood and dirt from my matted hair, I sat out on one of the lawn chairs and began trying to work the knots out.  I was really near the end of my rope patience wise when Liz came and sat in the lawn chair next to me.

“It’s something about the way we change that seems to get it so badly matted,” Liz stated flatly.  “Everything that we pick up in our fur when we are wolves just gets condensed up into our hair when we change back.”

“I can manage.” I said defensively as I pulled a blade of grass out of the mat I was working on.

“Do you want to walk?”  Liz asked, I had a feeling she could sense my frustration.  “You can keep working on it while we walk, and it’s a good opportunity for you to ask me some questions.

I took in a deep breath and thought about it. “Yeah, I guess that’s a good idea.”

So we got up and started walking along one of the garden paths while I absentmindedly worked my fingers into the mat.

“Am I going to have to come here every month for the full moon?  What happens if I don’t?”  I asked as we passed a rose bush.

“Yes, you need to come here unless you have a way to make other safe arrangements.  If you stay in the city and change in a park, you run an extremely high risk of attacking someone or being killed.”  Liz’s voice had a grave quality to it.  “Some of us that live out in rural areas, can keep large enough fenced in areas, with really tall sturdy fences that they can change at home sometimes.  Risks aside though, it’s much better to change with a pack with lots of room to run.  You feel better than you did when you changed in Central Park, don’t you?”

“I guess a little.  I’m still irritable and restless, but not as empty feeling.  Does it get better?  You seem so calm.”

“It does in some ways,”  Liz promised.  “The urges and feelings will always be there, but we get better at controlling them with practice.  And our brains adjust to processing our wolf memories, so we remember more each time until we eventually have a pretty clear recollection of what we do on full moon nights.”

“Do I have to come for the whole week every time?”  I asked nervously.  “I don’t think that will work with my job.”

“While theoretically, you don’t need to get here till the day of the full moon, it’s very risky to leave at the last minute.”  Liz warned.  “It’s better not to try to push it and end up with stuff happening like getting stuck in traffic.  Arriving here in the nick of time is not fun, It’s happened a few times.”

“When Steph told me the story about what happened to her in Bellevue.”  I said, shuddering slightly at the memory.  “At the end of it, she said that you got her in the nick of time.  When she told me the story, I didn’t understand why she said ‘in the nick of time’ when so many really bad things had already happened to her.  She meant before the next full moon didn’t she?”

“Yes, I actually got her the morning of the full moon.”  Liz said.  “That was before my parents passed away, and though they weren’t close friends with Steph parents, my parents and Steph’s parents moved in the same social circles.  Same fundraisers and what have you.

“Fortunately for Steph, rumors reached my parents, and they called me.  I went down right away, but it was already just 2 days before the full moon. 

“I ended up stuck in the city, trying to get enough time walking around Central Park each night to manage to be calm enough to present myself as the legitimate director of a facility that could actually help their daughter, and they were skeptical as hell anyway.  And I didn’t have time to play the long game.

“I don’t even blame their skepticism.  I was young.  I only have a BA in psychology from a distance learning program and run a retreat center out of an old house my parents gave me.  The doctors at the hospitals are all MD licensed psychiatrists.

“I finally just say to them, ‘Has your daughter made any progress at all in Bellevue, or has she just gotten worse and worse?  What have you got to lose?’  

“So, I finally have them signing the discharge papers, the morning of the full moon.  They hesitate when the doctor points out that it’s against medical advice and brings up the quality of my credentials.  It’s the last thing I need, I’m in a huge hurry, because we need to be back here before sunset and you know what a long drive it is.  

“I say, ‘why don’t we go and ask Stephanie what she thinks about it.’

“And the doctor just answers, ‘She had to be sedated,’ like sedating a teenager in the middle of the morning is no big deal.

“Steph’s father says ‘again’ in this tone that suggests he’s heard it so many times he’s sick of it.  So, I ask them when the last time they actually saw Stephanie was, it had been a couple of weeks.  She’d been sedated or locked in the ‘quiet room’ almost every time they had tried to visit her since admission.  And when they’d seen her two weeks earlier, she’d been barely able to stay awake.

“I said, ‘send her with me, and I promise no matter what, you can see her next weekend.”  Liz paused the story and picked up a red cardinal’s feather that was on the ground, then continued the story as she twirled it.  “Her parents finally agreed.  They signed all the papers and asked that Steph be brought out right away, since I had a long drive ahead of me.

“It took way longer than I would have liked for them to finally bring Steph out.  She was semi conscious in a wheelchair,  pale and gaunt, every inch of her hair had been cut off.  I’d seen plenty of pictures of Steph at her parents’ apartment, but there was no way I would have recognized her if I wasn’t holding paperwork that said who she was.  Her parents were extremely shocked, even though they’d technically signed off on everything that had been done to her, right down to giving verbal permission for the hospital to give her a haircut, not realizing it meant shaving her head.

“The drive back here was a hellish race against time.  You know how restless and hungry we are on the day of the full moon, I had to drive like that in a business suit, without stopping.  Trying to reassure Steph it would be ok every time I heard her move. Even if I’d had time to stop and take breaks, I had Steph.  She was mostly knocked out on whatever drugs they’d given her in the back seat of my car wearing nothing but a hospital gown and wrapped in a thin blanket.  I couldn’t very well pull into a rest stop and either leave her vulnerable in the car like that or take her out to walk with me.

“We pulled up in front of the institute with just minutes to spare.  I didn’t even bother to park the car in the lot.  I just turned off the motor in the driveway and lifted Steph out of the car, and placed her on the lawn.  Whatever they’d sedated her with was only beginning to wear off.  Then I started stripping off my clothing right there on the front lawn.  I hadn’t gotten it all off when the change began.  The pain of the bra straining against my ribcage before the fabric finally gave was horrible.

“We made it though, Steph changed.  I wish I could say that she was totally better the next day, but of course there was still a lot of trauma to work through, plus meds to wean her off of carefully.  But she was dressed, conscious, and able to talk to her parents when they came the next weekend.  Though I’m not sure they enjoyed the things she said to them considering how angry she still was.”

We kept walking for a bit as I absorbed the story.  It was a lot to sort through.

“I’m confused about what would have happened if you hadn’t gotten Steph, I mean why aren’t there lots of reports of people just suddenly changing into wolves in the middle of hospitals?”

“We don’t change if we aren’t out in the moonlight, that’s why the urge to be outside is so strong.  We just either go mad or die.  Stroke or heart attack usually.”

“What would have happened if I hadn’t called Steph and agreed to come?”  I asked, taking a deep breath.

“We’d have tried again.  You’d have gotten a phone call from me, then Steph would have stopped by again.  We were pretty sure you were coming though.”  Liz said then put a hand on my shoulder.  “Unfortunately, we don’t always succeed.  Some just refuse to come.  I’m sure there are plenty that just never get noticed by us. We still haven’t tracked down who bit you unfortunately.”

We walked in silence for a bit, Liz playing with her feather, I kept trying to loosen the mats in my hair with my fingers.  I felt something scratchy in the middle of one of them.  I pulled at it, and something came loose, I brought it around and looked at it.  It was a cricket leg.  I had a feeling the rest of the cricket was still in there.  I stopped walking and just stared down at the leg in my hand.

“That’s why Steph and I think it’s inevitable that you will eventually agree to a short haircut.”  Liz said, peering over my shoulder.  “There is nothing you can do to prevent what happens to your hair when you change over to wolf.  You get stuff in your fur, then it all condenses back into your hair.  When it’s short, you can just comb out all the stuff more easily.”

“I’ll get it all out by the time I go home.”  I grumbled as I dropped the leg and started trying to pull out the rest of the cricket as we resumed walking.  “Did your parents make you cut off your hair when it got matted?”

“I had very little hair the first few times I changed.  It was still growing back from having the scalp lacerations repaired.  The mats were why I didn’t insist on wanting to grow it out long again though, it was hard enough sitting still while they were combed out of my short hair.”  Liz explained.  “Barbara, the C.I.T. from the camp in Pennsylvania, tried to keep her hair long at first.  She made it about 5 or 6 months I think.  My parents had hired her to be grounds keeper here by then.  I remember when she first came she had long dirty blond pin straight hair.

“One day 2 or 3 days after a full moon, I was casually eavesdropping the way little kids can by pretending to just be playing and ignoring the grownup conversation, not that Barbara was really a grown up, but she seemed like one to me.  Barbara was crying and showing something I couldn’t see to my mom and telling her that she’d only just found it in her hair, and it had to have been in there for days.

“Mom invited her to come visit us in the city, which she was pretty excited about because she’d never been, so she could go to mom’s salon.  As much as Barbara was excited to see the city, the haircut wasn’t exactly something she was thrilled about.  It really was just something she was resigned to.  I ended up going along to the salon, because my governess had to go home to help her mother with some emergency.

“I was sat down in the waiting area with a coloring book while Barbara was taken away to be shampooed.  When Barbara was taken to the hairdresser’s chair, I watched.  I was so sad as I watched the scissors just slice Barbara’s long hair off just above her shoulders,  it fell like a waterfall down behind the chair, just landing there in a clump on the floor.  I could tell Barbara was crying even though she tried to hide it.

“That haircut took forever, the hairdresser gradually trimming it a little shorter and shorter.  I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but I feel like back in the ‘70s they always cut hair very slowly to the finished length, but now stylists just go for it then add textures and layers.  

“Anyway, by the time it was over, Barbara had a haircut better suited for a 30 yearold housewife than a young single teenager. It just barely covered her ears.”  Liz turned and looked away, then finally added. “She got used to it though.”

“You’re saying I’ll get used to it?”  I asked.  “What if I can get used to unmatting it each month?”

“If you can handle unmatting your long hair every month, you’ll be the first.”  Said Liz matter of factly.  “If I thought it was realistic I’d be all for it.  It’s your decision.”

“You just think I’m making a bad decision.”  I said as I picked out and dropped some more cricket.

“If you decide to get it cut, it’s best to get it done around the new moon.  That’s when we are our calmest, our most human.”  Liz explained.  “The week of the new moon is the best time to do anything emotionally charged.  That’s when it’s best for you to make the decisions about relationships and careers that you’re going to have to.”

“What decisions, I have a great relationship with Jenny and a great paying job in an office where everybody loves me.”

“Do you though?”  Liz pointed out.  “I know you still love and care deeply for Jenny, but what about passion?  Or…does she smell too human?”

“I can get used to it.”

“Do you think you are up to going back to a job where you sit behind a desk most of the day staring at a screen?”  Liz asked seriously.  “If you go back to the office, do you think everyone will treat you the same as before, or will they all just be thinking about the day you got put onto medical leave?  Will they be walking on eggshells around you.”

“I just want to go back to the life I had before.”  I said, suddenly just feeling numb and sitting down.  “I want to go back to being the person I was before.”

“I’m sorry, but that doesn’t happen.”  Liz said in that way too calm way of hers as she sat next to me and draped an arm around my shoulders.  “You are different now, and it’s about finding a way to play the cards you’ve been dealt.  Talk some of this out with your therapist when you get back to the city.  Just don’t tell him you’re a werewolf unless you want to end up committed to a psych ward.  And if you do get committed, call me immediately, but don’t worry too much, they can’t do the kind of crap they did to Steph to you without a judge signing off on it since you are legally an adult.  You can just refuse everything.”

“It just sucks being a werewolf doesn’t it?”  I asked as I pulled a bit more cricket out of my hair.

“Often yes.  The world isn’t set up to accommodate us.”  Liz admitted.  “There are some upsides though.  You can smell it when people aren’t being genuine.  You can hear well beyond the normal human range.  You’re physically stronger.”

“Those things really don’t make up for the shitty stuff though, do they?”   I asked as I pulled out what I hoped was the last part of the cricket.

“Nope, not really.”

 

I was still working on the mats on the ride back down to the city.  I gave up when we passed Yonkers, just preparing myself for what Jenny was going to say when she discovered the state my hair was once again in.

I sat on the couch with Jenny, trying to feel the passion I knew I should as she gently worked on unmatting my hair, but I couldn’t feel it.  She smelled human and frustrated and kept making exasperated sounds.

“Diana, I’m sorry, I’m going to need to use the scissors again.  Some of this is just damned near solid.”  Jenny said getting up and heading to the closet by the bathroom.

“I’m sorry,”  was all I said, not complaining or trying to convince her not to.

“How did you do this?”  Jenny asked as she sat.

“It’s hard to explain.”  I said, and realized that if I told Jenny the truth, she wasn’t going to believe me.

“Oh well, at least what I cut shouldn’t show with all these layers.” Jenny said.  “It seems like there are more than when you left?”

“The girl I was sharing a room with was getting a haircut and I tagged along, and it was already beginning to tangle and they thought maybe a trim would help.”

“Well,” Jenny sighed, giving off a scent that scared me.  “It doesn’t seem to have been enough.”

“Please don’t cut it shorter.”  I said as my heart started pounding.

“I’m sorry.  Relax.  I didn’t mean I planned to take off more. I promise I will only snip upward a little tiny bit,” Jenny said, more compassionately. “I will do my very best to not cut more than I absolutely have to to loosen up the mats a little, and I won’t touch the length.”

I hugged my knees to myself as I heard the first snip.  It was followed by a fair amount of combing, before the second slightly crunch-like cutting of hair that sounded like more than just a little snip.  Then there was lots of combing again and another snip.  The combing interspersed with occasional snips or crunches, went on for a good 45 minutes before Jenny declared me mat free and promised what she’d cut blended in with the layers.

I turned and looked down at the towel Jenny had under me.  There was less hair on it than there had been the previous month, but it still felt like a significant amount.  There were also several blades of grass, a twig and a leaf.  No more crickets fortunately, because I was pretty sure that would make Jenny freak out.

“If we do this every month, I’m going to end up with short hair anyway, aren’t I?”

“But you’re getting better, aren’t you.”  Jenny smiled at me as she folded up the towel, hiding away the strands I lost.  “So hopefully this won’t happen again.  By next month you’ll be back at work and we’ll be getting back to normal.”

“What if normal has changed?”  I asked,  “What if I’m never going to be the old version of normal again?  What if I’m just different now?”

“Don’t be so pessimistic,”  Jenny said as she finished shaking the towel out over the bathroom trash and dropped the towel into the hamper. 

to be continued…

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