She received the gift of a puppy. She hadn’t wanted a puppy, but when Lord MacGowan presented her with the little ball of fur, who sat on her feet and looked up at her out of its golden eyes and wagged its fuzzy little tail, she might have fallen a little in love. He’d presented it to her in front of their peers at the Hibernian Society, which gave added pressure to her acceptance of the gift. She objected none the less.
“I don’t have room for a dog,” she protested. She lived in a thin, two-story townhouse with no yard at all.
“You’ll just have to walk him,” he said.
“You just want me to get out more.” She knew she’d been reclusive lately, only going out to the market and rarely to the their social club.
“That’s an added bonus.” His smile, when it showed, added a certain attractiveness to his face. “We just can’t send this cute fellow to the pound, Lady J.”
“Why don’t you keep him?”
“It’s hard to add to the pack. Besides, my staff would skin me alive if I came home with another pet.”
She couldn’t help herself, she had to feel that soft fur. “He looks like a wolf. Where did you find him?”
“Down by the Liffey. He was all wet and miserable. I think someone dumped him there.”
She knew that people sometimes drowned kittens in the river, but a puppy? “People are deplorable.”
“That they are. So you’ll take him then.”
God help her, she would.
As the new owner of a 20 pound puppy, and having never owned a puppy before, she set forth to be a conscientious new owner. Based on advice from a neighbor who had many children, who told her that having a puppy was very much like having a child, which she also had never had, she decided to take the puppy to a veterinarian to determine the condition of its health. Finding a veterinarian turned out to be a slight challenge. No one she knew in Dublinia seemed to know of one. She resorted to hiring one of those self-driving carriages and traveling about to the various stables, figuring that person familiar with horses may be familiar with dogs (they were linked in her mind from the enthusiasm her recently deceased husband had shown for hunting foxes).
She chanced upon a stable at last that had a veterinarian in residence. The puppy, who had found all the running about to be exciting at first but now seemed too tired to care, did not like the veterinarian particularly and whined when poked and prodded. The veterinarian proclaimed it to be healthy. When asked as to what type of canine she had acquired, he said, “A strange one. Did you notice he has five toes on each paw? Dogs usually have two dewclaws and four toes on the front paws. This one has five toes and no dewclaws.” She peered at the puppy’s paws and nodded. The veterinarian continued, “He looks like a wolf, but I’ll note it down for the magistrate as a mix-breed seeing as there are no wolves in Eyre.”
She hadn’t known the magistrate had an interest in dogs. He explained the city ordinance, adding, “It’s due to all those social club types who have lap dogs. Why would you go drink in a private club when you can drink in a pub? Anyone’s allowed in a pub. Social club’s a Englo thing. Next thing you know, we’ll be having those secret societies like they’ve got in Londinium.”
She listened to his rant and put it down to an issue of social standing, but this new topic interested her. “Secret societies?”
“Oh yeah, haven’t you heard? Londinium’s got so many secret societies getting up to unholy rituals, such as animal killings, sex parties, what have you, the city magistrate had to ban them. Now those poor nobles gotta drink in the pubs with the rest of us.” He let out a bark of a laugh.
“How outlandish,” she commented. He didn’t catch her sarcastic tone. She changed the subject back to her new charge.
When asked as to the age of the animal, the veterinarian gave her one of those looks that implied she was daft. “It’s a puppy. Probably less than a year old. Buy it something to chew on if you value your furniture.” She paid him and he said, “Bring him back in a few months and I’ll neuter him.”
She called him Wooflepup, because when he napped, he blew air out of his cheeks, making kind of a whooshing sound. He had sharp puppy teeth and long claws that clicked on the tile of the kitchen. He smelled of that wonderful strange scent that all babies, canine, feline, or human, seemed to have. The coloring on his face made him look as if he wore a mask, with black fur around his eyes and on his nose. His fur had two layers; the top one consisting of long hairs with black bases and brown or gray tips and the lower layer all gray short hair. He’d be hot in the summer and she’d have to sweep a lot more, but she didn’t mind, smart boy that he was. He never intentionally messed in the house, he didn’t chew her shoes or furniture, and he listened when she talked to him, which she found herself doing more and more.
Wooflepup grew quickly and after almost a year, appeared to be full grown – over 100 pounds, three-feet tall at the shoulder, gorgeous. People on the street took him to be a real wolf, and stepped widely around them, which was fine by her. She’d started to socialize a little more, including meeting people with other dogs for long walks in the woods outside of town. She often took Woofle, no longer pup, to her club. The club accepted this with good humor and even brought him leftover soup bones to chew on. He’d lie under a table, chewing his bone, watching her while she danced.
One night, after a fancy dress ball, she and Woofle returned home. She had had a wonderful time at the party, had gotten a little too drunk, and just couldn’t get out of the dress she had on. She considered just sleeping in her clothes, but her corset had been digging into her side for the past hour. The dress she wore had cute little pearl buttons down the spine and a puffy bustle. She’d had a girlfriend help her dress, but that friend had gone home with someone else. She had a moment of self-pity, thinking of Abigail, her maid, who had helped her dress, cleaned for her, done the shopping and basically pampered her. “Well, Lady J had been lazy,” she said to Woofle, who thumped his tail in response. She supposed she could use brute force on the buttons, but didn’t want to ruin the dress. After reaching as many buttons behind her back as she could, half joking she asked Woofle to get the rest.
“I’m bushed,” she said, “I just might pass out here on the couch.” When unseen hands undid the buttons that she couldn’t reach, she didn’t take much notice of them.
“Thank you, darling.” She undid her corset and collapsed face-down on the couch. She felt Woofle’s warm body curl up behind her legs and she fell asleep.
Time passed with more parties, more outings. Her heartbreak scabbed over so that it hardly mattered that she walked along the edge of her previous life. She noted the staff had let the vines grow along the iron fencing. She found a hole in the fence and told Woofle to go do his business on the lawn. It wasn’t as if the staff would notice it, so unattended its appearance. Woofle woofed and raced about for a bit, did his business, and returned to her to be sedately clipped to his leash again. A polite clearing of a throat alerted her that she hadn’t been as circumspect as she may have wanted. She looked up to see Mr. Hollingsworth, the manor’s driver, standing a few feet away smoking and reading a broadsheet.
He tipped his cap to her, “Ma’am. Lovely day for a walk, eh?”
“Oh, Mr. Hollingsworth, such a pleasure to see you.” They chatted for a while and watched a self-driving carriage with a matched set of pearl-colored robotic horses roll past.
“Can you believe that?” Mr. Hollingsworth asked.
“The carriage? They are quite useful but the mechanical horses are slightly disturbing. Too lifelike if you ask me.”
“Oh aye. But I meant the bodies.”
“Found in the woods just down there. Wolves, they’re saying. No wolves in Dublinia as far as I know.”
“Quite. How awful. We go walking there on occasion.”
“Best be careful, ma’am. But you’ve a fine man with you, I see,” Mr. Hollingsworth said.
“Oh, you mean Woofle. Yes, he is very fine.” Woofle, not paying attention before then, gave Mr. Hollingsworth a toothy smile.
“Ah yes, well. The master will be heading off to the greens soon. Good to see you, ma’am.” He turned to the dog and said, “And you take care of her, see. She’s mighty precious to the lot of us.”
Woofle huffed at him. She thought it slightly odd that the driver would speak so to her pet, but she also found it charming. They continued their walk.
Woofle turned aggressive over time. He didn’t seem to mind females, but males bothered him for some reason. The season had started and she noticed the difference after she’d started having more girlfriends over to help her dress. She took Woofle to the parties. He wouldn’t watch her if she danced with women but if a man asked her to dance, he sat up and watched closely. When she brought a girlfriend or girlfriends home to continue the party in a more intimate setting, he always thumped his tale and smiled a toothy smile. Her girlfriends loved him, giving him treats stolen from the table, throwing a toy for him to chase or chew on, and giving him lots of belly rubs. When the difficult dresses and corsets came off, Woofle liked to stick his nose where it wasn’t necessary wanted. He’d howl when put into the other room.
When Lord MacGowan asked her for tea at the club, she’d thought nothing of it. She brought Woofle along and he settled as normal under the table.
“It’s been a year, dear lady. Surely you can set your widow’s weeds aside?” Lord MacGowan gestured toward her black dress. She hadn’t even thought about it. All of her clothing seemed to be black. “Did the police ever come to a conclusion about the death of your husband, God rest his soul?”
She looked out the window at the club’s green lawn and watched a gardener trim a bush with a mechanical contraption. Everything had to be mechanical it seemed. The whole world was taken with it. She brought her attention back to her companion. “Conclusion? Why would they?”
“Well surely they investigated his death. It was so unexpected, so unusual.” He looked down his nose through his wire-rimmed spectacles at her.
“I have no idea,” she said, slipping her shoe off and rubbing her bare foot over Woofle’s back.
“Well surely Baron Ardee kept you informed?”
“Baron Ardee and I do not speak.”
He did not appear to take the hint from her frosty reply. “Really? Do tell.”
“This is not gossip, my lord.”
“Of course not,” he said, fanning the thought away with his long fingers. “I merely wish to know what has been happening in your life. You’ve been so distant, dear Baroness.”
“Don’t call me that. The Baroness is Ardee’s wife.” Woofle raised his head under the table, knocking her knee. She rubbed his ears.
Lord MacGowan waited for her to speak. After a long sip of tea, she said softly, “I just do not wish to relive the embarrassment. When my husband died so unexpectedly, his brother moved in almost immediately. He declared that no Keltoi would live at Raglan Road. He set me on the curb and that was the end of it.”
“Baron Ardee gave you the boot? How preposterous.” He lowered his voice, “Damn Englos. I wish they’d never come here to our island.”
She nodded and changed the subject.
When Lord MacGowan asked her to dinner, she agreed and remembered to wear something other than black. She chose dark blue. Woofle, not invited, did his best to leave large amounts of hair on her skirt. The next date, for Lord MacGowan appeared to be courting her, Woofle stood at the door, all 120 pounds of him, and refused to let her out of the house. She had to bribe him away with a treat. The day Lord MacGowan came into the house for a tea, Woofle greeted him with a growl.
“Now Woofle, you know Lord MacGowan. He’s the reason you’re here after all.”
Woofle didn’t care. Lord MacGowan cut the visit short and the next afternoon, when she let Woofle run off-leash in the woods, he refused to come when she called. In fact, she lost sight of him all together. She had an appointment with a lawyer Lord MacGowan had insisted she get in order to pursue the topic of her lost money and status at the death of her husband. Tempted as she was to not show up at that appointment, she had promised his lordship she’d go, and so she left Woofle running alone in the woods. He’ll return to me, she thought. He’s just hunting.
But Woofle did not return.
A week or more later, after posting notices around town and looking all over, with the assistance of Lord MacGowan and her girlfriends, she found his collar hanging from the iron fence of her old house on Raglan Road. She worried that something terrible had happened to her Woofle.
Another week passed and she realized how terribly lonely her little house had become with out her pet. She walked every day in the woods and when the nights were too lonely, she’d spend them in the club. Her girlfriends were all sympathetic; however, Lord MacGowan seemed less so. One evening after briefly describing her day, he puffed up. “Don’t go walking in those woods alone. Those woods are dangerous. Don’t you read the broadsheets? And besides, it’s just a dog. I’ll run down the pound and get you a new one tomorrow.”
“I don’t want a new dog. I want my dog.”
He fiddled with his ascot for a moment and cleaned his glasses in annoyed silence.
“I forbid you to go to the woods,” he announced.
“You’re not my husband,” she said with a hiss. “You will never be my husband.” She felt lighter after saying it. She gathered her things and gave him a prim “Good night,” and left him there, mouth agape like a grotesque.
She fumed all the way back to her modest townhouse. “Didn’t want that puppy. Didn’t want to be courted by you. Well, by Jove, I will not be treated like a child.” Her muttered rant stopped briefly when she heard a step behind her. She looked back, only to see a man dodge into the alley.
“Have me followed will you?” She sped her step and found herself at her house. She looked around before going up, but no sign of the man appeared. She made sure that all of her locks were locked before going to bed, where she lay awake missing her dog and dreading the repercussions of her temper.
The next day when she went to the market, she saw the same man. Moderate height, dark hair that showed a reddish highlight in the light, odd golden eyes. He didn’t approach her, just watched. She took a self-driving carriage home, only to find him across the street. Watching. She hurried inside. When she went to the club that night, she found Lord MacGowan sitting with some of her girlfriends.
“Are you having me followed?” She asked without preamble.
“Why would I?” He answered.
Why indeed. She nodded coolly to him, shot her girlfriends a glare, and went to the bar to have a sherry. One of the women who had been sitting with the insufferable Lord MacGowan sat next to her.
“He’s a real catch, you know. A proper Keltoi lord.”
“I don’t care what his nationality is. He is inconsiderate.”
The girlfriend shrugged. “You should be more careful with your discards.”
“He wasn’t mine to discard.”
“If it’s like that…”
“Then you won’t mind if I go with him to the theater.”
“Please feel free. I hope you enjoy it.”
The girlfriend, who seemed to have been trying to get a more animated reaction, huffed and went off.
She finished her sherry and went home, noting that her stalker was there, waiting to follow. She ignored him.
A week later, at the club, gossip abounded about the missing woman who had been her girlfriend until Lord MacGowan had come along. Some indicated she had run off with a lover, abandoning her husband (whom she considered useless) and others indicated she had become a victim of what the broadsheets were now calling The Phoenix Park Monster. She suspected the truth lay somewhere in between, yet she added worry about her friend to her bed of worries, which included the incessant stalking by the dark haired young man. The man never did speak to her or offer her overt harm, but he followed her about every night or stood under the teslalight across the street watching her house if she didn’t go out. Didn’t he have something better to be doing with his evenings? She’d even gone so far as to turn and run toward him the other night, hoping to catch him. He’d stepped into the shadows and slipped away. She determined that they would have a lively conversation if she ever got close enough to have a conversation.
When Lord MacGowan approached her after an official inquiry into her missing friend had been announced, she expected him to somehow manipulate her worry for her lost friend in some manner. He did not. Instead, he stood at a proper distance from where she stood at the bar and gave her a little bow.
“Let us have peace between us. I apologize for treating you like a child.”
She considered his offered hand and recalled that he had brought Woofle to her. She also considered her somewhat flat bank account.
“I accept your apology and will have peace between us. I apologize for acting like a child.”
They shook hands.
“To make it up to you, I’d like to invite you to attend a lecture. Doctor Edward Van Sloan, a prominent authority on astronomy, will be talking about the moon two nights hence. He promised to show us the moon in all her glory through his telescope.”
Her late husband had actually funded some of Doctor Van Sloan’s research, but she didn’t mention that to Lord MacGowan. She checked the empty social calendar in her head. “Yes, thank you. I would enjoy that.”
“Then I shall pick you at your home two nights hence, at 9 p.m.” He bowed and retreated.
Later that night the man who had been following her waited at her gate.
“Do not trust MacGowan,” he said in a gruff voice as soon as she got out of her carriage.
“Who are you?” She asked his retreating back. She soon lost sight of him in the dark.
At the appointed time, Lord MacGowan promptly arrived in a self-driving carriage, complete with a matched set of glossy mechanical black horses. The teslalights had just come on, so she noted how he was dressed. Lord MacGowan wore a long black cloak over something robe like, which seemed unusual for him as she’d only seen him in dark suits and ascots. She had spent some time on her choice of clothing and wore a maroon double-breasted velvet coat with a sable collar and a matching velvet hat, so his choice of cloak and robe were disconcerting. She’s sold most of her jewelry to finance her style of living, and only wore one small cameo, a face in crescent moon, which she thought would go with the night’s events. Lord MacGowan had on a ring that looked like a wolf’s head. Other than greeting her and helping her into the carriage, he didn’t speak. She looked out the window as they drove, noticing that the night had turned partly cloudy. When they turned on the road to the club, she asked, “Where will this lecture and viewing take place?”
They arrived at the club, but pulled around to the side, where attendants met them and took the carriage away.
“But we’re at the club…” she started to say, but Lord MacGowan waved a hand for her silence. He took her to a part of the building she hadn’t been before and up a fancy lift decorated with brass swirls to one of the upper floors. The lift emptied out into the small entryway of a tower room. The room had a dome made of metal that looked as if it might open, which she supposed would be good for viewing the moon. Most of the walls were windowed doors that looked out on the darkness of the lawn and the lights of Dublinia. A round table, decked out with a red velvet table cloth, sat in the center of the room, directly under the dome. On it sat a strange contraption of mirrors and magnifying glasses, which did not look like any telescope she’d ever seen. There were no chairs in the room, which she thought odd for a lecture. To the left, near the lift, she saw a partially covered animal cage.
She turned to Lord MacGowan and found that he had removed his cloak, displaying the fancy crimson and gold robe underneath. He took her coat and asked her to stand next to the table. He then rang a bell and all of the doors opened. In came eleven more people in similar fancy robes with wolf-face masks on. One gave her a little wave that seemed familiar. Another man arrived on the lift. She recognized him as Doctor Van Sloan, a small, hunched over man with wild slate gray hair and scraggly goatee. He smiled, showing horrible teeth, when he joined her at the table.
“Vell, now, shall ve get started?” Doctor Van Sloan said in an odd accent. He took the bell from Lord MacGowan and rang it again. At this, someone turned out the lights, leaving only a faint glow from the candles scattered about the perimeter of the room. the robed group formed a circle about the table and started chanting in Latin. Some, she realized, spinning around to look at them, were women, including, she was certain from the mole just to the right of her chin, her missing girlfriend.
The chanting finished and the doctor rang the bell again. A group of men, who had come up the lift she presumed, brought in Baron Ardee, dressed in a nightshirt, and her dog. Baron Ardee had been gagged and her dog muzzled.
“Woofle!” She ran to him and he whined at her.
“Why is he muzzled? Where’d you find him?” she asked the men. The man on the right was Mr. Hollingsworth, she realized. He winked. Baron Ardee glared at her and his gag muted the horrible words he spewed.
“What’s going on?” She asked, turning to Lord MacGowan.
The doctor did something on the table that made the dome above open up like a fan collapsing. Just then the moon peaked out of the clouds, the group turned to look up at it. The doctor directed the men holding her dog to stand in a specific spot. He fiddled with the mirrors and caught a beam of moonlight, which he directed at Woofle. Woofle yelped and then suddenly turned into her mysterious stalker, only naked.
The man nodded and then shook the muzzle off of his face. Lord MacGowan covered the man’s hairy body with his cloak.
Other yelps and cries went up as the doctor turned the moon’s beam upon the group of followers. Wolf-faced masks were replaced with actual wolf faces on human bodies. Even her girlfriend morphed from human to human-wolf. The woman next to her, Abigail, turned into a full wolf. Lord MacGowan and the doctor remained human. Everyone else, save Baron Ardee and the human-looking Woofle, had turned into creatures.
Lord MacGowan directed the men to bring the struggling Baron to the table.
“Welcome to The Morrigan Society. I know you have questions, my dear,” he said to her, “but I think a demonstration would be more instructive.”
She gathered her scattered wits and said, “Surely a brief introduction could aid in my instruction. You did offer me a lecture, after all.”
Lord MacGowan let out a bark of laughter and gestured to the doctor. “Doctor Van Sloan, if you please.”
“Of courz, of courz,” the doctor said. “You see, Baronness. May I call you Baroness?”
“As you vish–“
“A brief summary, doctor, if you please,” Lord MacGowan added.
The doctor thought for a moment, rubbing his goatee with his hand. “Ah, Dee Morrigan Society is made up of like-minded individuals of Keltoi heritage who have discovered dee power of dee moon. Deir goal is to influence politics and society by introducing an agonist into prominent leaders that either influences the nobility to deir cause or, well, destroys dem. I can go into dee scientific details if you vish, Lady.”
After a moment of absorbing this information, she looked at Lord MacGowan and said, “You’re a revolutionary.”
She turned to the doctor, “Yes, please, doctor, if you could please explain how this metamorphosis occurs and what it has to do with my pet?”
The doctor gestured, metaphorically passing the ball to Lord MacGowan.
“Ah, the demonstration.” He gestured for the wolfmen to hold Baron Ardee tightly. He rolled the Baron’s sleeve up. He retrieved a box from the table and took a syringe from it.
“This is the agonist that the good doctor mentioned. As you know, I have a great interest in chemistry and we developed it together. One dose small dose causes slight hallucinations and changes to personality. A larger dose causes actual physical changes.”
“With dee addition of moonlight,” The doctor added.
“Yes, yes. The light of a full moon is essential for the change to occur.”
He turned to the Baron and said, “You threw this lovely lady to the wolves and now the wolves are getting even.” Lord MacGowan’s smile looked feral. The Baron objected loudly through his gag.
Lord MacGowan injected Baron Ardee with the concoction and the doctor focused the beam of moonlight on his face. The Baron went from struggling to frozen, his face shocked.
“It takes a few minutes,” Lord MacGowan said softly.
“What’s supposed to happen?” she asked after a moment. Baron Ardee was not her best friend by any means, but she didn’t want him to suffer, too much.
“His body will either accept the agonist and change into one of these lovely creatures you see about you, or he will go briefly insane and die.”
The Baron started to twitch and shake uncontrollably. A bit of foam escaped from his clinched mouth. He started to shrink inward. Hair sprouted from his face and his nose elongated. One could hear the popping of bones.
“Oh dear. Well, lads, put him into the cage.”
The foaming Baron was shoved into a cage.
“Some times, Lady J, the mix is not quite right and we get a rabid wolf-hybrid. Luckily, it only lasts until the moon sets and then the subject moves on to meet the Goddess.”
“All praise The Morrigan,” the group of wolfpeople said, along with the doctor and Lord MacGowan. The wolfpeople’s voices were like howls.
“Those bodies reported in the woods, they were your failed experiments.”
“Woofle was an early experiment. You see, we had to do some reverse engineering. Woofle is a wolf who turns into a human for short periods of time.”
Woofle growled, a deep and very menacing growl.
“Hush you,” Lord MacGowan said, “If you’d just done your job, we wouldn’t be in this predicament.”
“He was supposed to bite you and transfer the agonist in a natural manner. Ideally you would have turned into a wolflady and I would be there to sort things out for you. But the cur did not bite you.” He directed the last sentence at Woofle, who snarled, while he pulled out another syringe.
“Oh but he did bite me. Several times in fact.”
“You gave me a puppy. Puppies bite; it’s part of their nature.”
“Did he draw blood?” The doctor asked.
“But you haven’t turned into a wolflady.”
“Have you turned into a wolflady?”
The doctor changed the mirrors and a beam of light struck her face.
Woofle broke free of his captors at that moment and leapt at Lord MacGowan. Mr. Hollingsworth, although a wolfman himself, attacked the contraption. Her maid Abigail attacked her former girlfriend. The rest of the wolfpeople watched with interest. She watched for a while as well and then called a halt to the ruckus.
“Ho there. There now. Good boy, Woofle. Thank you Mr. Hollingsworth. Could please close the roof.”
Mr. Hollingworth nodded the moonlight disappeared from the room. Someone turned on the teslalights and the room brightened.
She looked down at Lord MacGowan, noting the blood dripping from multiple parts of his body. He looked at her with wide eyes. Doctor Van Sloan crawled out from under the table.
“How did you not turn into a volf?” He asked. Woofle gave the doctor a warning growl when he made a move toward her.
“I am a good dog owner. I made sure he had his inoculations the first day I had him.”
Lord MacGowan howled, whether in frustration or pain she couldn’t tell. She guessed that the bites and scratches from Woofle had added more agonist into the man’s system. He didn’t need the moonlight to turn into a pile of furry goo.
“Doctor, is there an antidote?”
“Well, ve were vorking on…”
“Is there an antidote? The Baron Ardee is in need of it.”
“Of courz, Lady.”
So she saved her nemesis and regained her pet that night. Lord MacGowan had disappeared, according to the broadsheets. Baron Ardee, in a rare gesture of generosity, gave her back her title and money. Shortly there after, he moved to Londinium, vowing never to set foot in Eyre again. Doctor Van Sloan, at her insistence, scurried off to Europa. The others took the antidote and kept their mouths shut. Only Woofle refused the dose. They moved from her townhouse to back into the manor on Raglan Road, where Mr. Hollingsworth and Abigail resumed their roles. They had lovely parties and were very social, still attending the club. However, when the moon shown full, they stayed locked in the house and played like the two love puppies they were.