"Good afternoon," Dr. Naughton said congenially. "What brings you to my office today, Anthony Webster?"

"Tony," the brown-haired boy seated on the couch replied. He refused to lie down. He hated doctors.

"Tony, then. How old are you now?"

"Fifteen."

"So it's been three years since your last visit, hmm?" Dr. Naughton smiled. Tony said nothing. He didn't look sullen or resentful or anything, merely resigned, as if this were a chore that he had to get through. "So, what have you been up to?"

Tony stretched his hands out in front of him, keeping his brown eyes fixed firmly on the way his fingers interlaced. That way he didn't have to look at Dr. Naughton, and he could pretend he didn't hear his pen scratching against the clipboard on his knee. "Nothing much. I go to Willow Grove High School. I play basketball."

"Any thoughts of college?"

"Not yet."

"It never hurts to think ahead," Dr. Naughton said helpfully. "There are werewolves on the staff of many major colleges, and some of the not-so-major ones, so you won't--"

"Why do you always assume I need to talk about being a werewolf?" Tony demanded.

"Why else would you come to me?" Dr. Naughton replied, looking quite cam and level. He sighed and put down his clipboard, and assumed a frank expression. "When Dr. Lee sent you to me, he warned that you might be a difficult case--more because of your father than anything else." Tony winced at this remark. "He's a good man, Tony," Dr. Naughton said sternly, "no matter what you may think. He's just stubborn, like you. There's no reason for you not to speak honestly to me."

Tony shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "I--I know that. But--I mean, it seems like whenever you look at me, I'm just 'werewolf #163' or something."

"Just 21, actually," Dr. Naughton replied. "In my area, anyway. If I'm forced to think of you as a number, it's because you never opened yourself up." He picked up the clipboard again and fiddled with the pen. "Your father fought this every step of the way. He refused to let us track you, and he refused to allow you to see a werewolf counselor despite the fact that you needed it, since you were very young when you were bitten. He kept thinking there was a cure, but there isn't. When the visits stopped, we allowed it to happen because we were sure you'd stopped them of your own free will, rather than letting your father's shame and rage get the better of you. But now you're back of your own volition, and you won't tell me why?"

"I didn't want to be part of the 'werewolf community,'" Tony said defensively. "I just wanted to be normal. And I am."

"No good can come of repressing the wolf. We told you that."

"I know. And I haven't been. I've been letting him run."

Dr. Naughton nodded. "Very interesting. And do you let him hunt?"

"Sometimes," Tony admitted. "Only animals."

"You know that's dangerous. Once the wolf tastes blood, he'll always want more."

"I know. But we worked out a deal, kinda."

"And you trust the wolf to keep to his word?"

Tony shrugged, but there was a slightly pained look on his face. "What else am I supposed to do?"

The next few moments were occupied with the scratch of pen against paper. "But this isn't what you really came to tell me, is it?"

"Um. No. Well--it's kind of dumb, really--I've just been having these weird dreams lately."

Dr. Naughton did not look the least bit surprised. "Blood dreams?"

"No. I mean, I have those, too, but I told you about them already. Didn't I?"

"To Dr. Lee. But go on."

"Well--" Tony paused, trying to find the right words. "They're, like, dreams of the past, I think."

"How so?"

"Well, the first one was a long time ago, so I don't remember too well. . ."

---

I was in the forest, cutting wood. It was hard work, but good work; it felt great to see a small tree topple under the weight of my axe. I was with two other men at the edge of the forest, and we were all chopping down trees together. The two men knew each other, but I guess I was an outsider of some sort. They kept looking at me strangely, like I had a really big zit on my nose or something. But we laughed and joked and we got along really well, and I swung my axe over and over again.

After a while, we were hot and tired and sweaty. It was summer, I think, and the sun was heavy overhead. Our tunics stuck to our backs, and sweat dripped into my eyes and stung. I suggested that we take a nap.

"Aye, that's a good idea," said one of the men. He spoke in German, but I could understand him.

"Here, let's go further in," said the other man.

We moved a little farther into the trees so that we could lie in the shade, near a large rock. I lay down, too, but I didn't sleep; I had my eyes closed and I counted their breaths. When I thought they were asleep, I got up and stripped off my tunic and my belt and my boots, and I dug out something I'd had in my pack of bread and cheese and ale--another belt, but this one made of animal skin. Wolf hide, actually. As soon as I put it around my waist, I turned into a wolf.

The dream seemed really familiar at this point, for some reason, as if I'd been there before, or maybe like I'd been there my entire life. I guess, I mean, even though I've never known German, I have been a wolf before. I sped out of the woods and into the fields, where there were some horses grazing nearby. I took down one of the foals without even blinking, it was that easy. Then I dragged it back into the trees to eat. I must have eaten all of it, because there wasn't anything left.

I don't remember what happened afterwards, but I guess we must have finished chopping wood, because then we were walking back to the village with big bundles of wood tied together with twine slung over our backs.

What did the village look like? I don't know, I wasn't really paying attention. It looked pretty old-fashioned, I guess, like something out of Robin Hood, with smoke curling out of the chimneys and thatched roofs and maybe some chickens pecking around. No paved roads or anything like that. I was wearing a tunic and leggings, so this wasn't exactly the height of the 21st century, you know? But I can't really say, because I never got there.

Yeah, that's right. My stomach kept hurting, see, and I kept complaining about it. Pretty stupid, actually--I mean, of course my stomach hurt because I'd just eaten a bunch of raw meat, and humans aren't really meant for that. But then one of the other men spoke up--really quiet, so the third guy couldn't hear--and he said, "I can well believe your stomach hurts, since you have an entire foal in there."

I dropped all my wood and said, "If you'd said that to me in the forest, you wouldn't be walking home now." And I had the wolf belt out, just like that, and I tied it around my waist and ran away. That's when I woke up.

---

Dr. Naughton made a few more notations on his clipboard and looked up. "Very interesting."

"Yeah." Tony's agreement was easy enough, but maybe there was a little bit of annoyance in his voice, as if to say, 'is that all you have to say?'

Dr. Naughton must have picked up on it, because he went on to explain, "These dreams are not uncommon. They occur particularly in people who have a close connection to the wolf. We don't speak the same language, obviously, but you seem to have made your intentions known, since you managed to bargain with the wolf." He waited for Tony's nod. "And now, the wolf seeks to communicate to you in the only way it knows how--through visions and dreams."

Tony nodded again. "Right. Okay. So what's that dream supposed to mean?"

"I'm sure a dream analyst would give you a different answer," Dr. Naughton said, and he picked a book off the shelf next to and behind his chair. "However, I believe that dream is, most often, a prologue of sorts. A sort of, 'here I am, now listen to me.' What you dreamed about, in fact, was a take on an old German werewolf legend that's been handed down for a few hundred years now. It's speculated to be something akin to the creation legend of the werewolves." He licked his finger and turned to the table of contents. "At some point, someone just didn't take the wolf belt off, and he turned other people into werewolves through his bite. Have you had any other dreams?"

"Yeah. Just last night."

---

"Are you sure you want to do this?"

I swallowed, my hands sweaty around the bamboo sword. Then I nodded, jerkily, as if I weren't quite in control of my own body. What was I thinking? I was just a skinny little boy of sixteen years, and here I was facing down Saitou Hajime for my entrance exam into the Shinsengumi. How was I supposed to even hold my own against him, much less defeat him? All I knew of kenjutsu--of swordsmanship--was what I had learned from my father, who had been a dojo master before he had died of pneumonia three years ago, like my mother five years before that. I had practiced by sparring with my older brothers, but then they had gone off to join the revolution--and I was determined to follow in their footsteps. I wanted to defend the Shogunate against those who wanted to restore the emperor. I wanted to defend the honor of Japan. I wanted to wear the light blue kimono-shirt with the mountain-shaped stripes on the sleeves.

That determination, however, wasn't very helpful with the commander of the third unit before me. He looked very confident, very poised, in total control of his body, bamboo sword grasped in knowledgeable hands. I was sure I was shaking like a leaf.

Okita Souji stood off to the side, in front of the red flag with the Shinsengumi motto of "GLORY" emblazoned on it in fat strokes. He looked far too young to be captain of the first unit and the best swordsman besides; he seemed barely out of boyhood himself. But his face was serious, his hand hovering in the air, and I was reminded to look at my opponent.

"Begin!" Okita's hand fell, cleaving the air.

I was barely able to take a breath before Saitou's weapon collided with my ribs and I was knocked to the ground, gasping for air. But I was on my feet again, remembering my vow, and I took up a defensive stance. There was no use in charging him; he'd just have me on the floor again.

Perhaps the fifth time I was knocked to the dojo floor, I decided to stay there. Saitou was breathing quickly as well, but unlike me, he was not completely covered in sweat. He flicked the practice sword to the side in a sharp gesture that I recognized with a jolt as the one used to clean blood off the sword. I knew the move, of course, but mine was nowhere near that precise or sharp--it was only a formality. For perhaps the first time, I realized the enormity of my decision. But I had performed so badly, there was no way they would accept me.

"Please, go into the next room," Okita said courteously as I gingerly levered myself up off the floor. "We must discuss your membership. Someone will take care of your hurts."

Time seemed to jump and flow for me here. The next thing I knew, I stood before not just Okita Souji, but Hijikata Toshizo, the Vice Commander of all of the Shinsengumi. I felt my knees start to tremble again, but I clenched my fists and stood as tall as I could, feeling every year of my age. Hijikata seemed nothing like the boyish, kind Okita; the Vice Commander was every inch a man, one who radiated the way of the samurai from every pore.

"You have been accepted to the Shinsengumi," Hijikata said. There was no trace of congratulatory warmth in his voice. Okita handed him a folded-up piece of yellow paper, and my eyes widened. Hijikata could read! I didn't think that my esteem for him could get any higher, but it did; no common samurai could read. Then he spoke again, and I was rapt. "These are the laws of our society.

1. It is not allowed to deviate from the path proper to man.
2. It is not allowed to leave the Shinsengumi.
3. It is not allowed to raise money privately.
4. It is not allowed to take part in the litigation of others.
5. It is not allowed to engage in private fights.

If the unit leader is mortally wounded, all members of the unit must fight until death.

It is not allowed to retrieve the corpses of the dead, save the corpse of the leader of the unit.

If a member of the Shinsengumi engages in a fight and is wounded and cannot defeat the enemy, he must not run away.

The penalty for breaking or disobeying any of these articles is seppuku."

Honorable suicide. But for some reason, staring into Hijikata's eyes, I felt okay.

"Are you ready for this, Harada Tetsunosuke?" Hijikata asked quietly.

I nodded.

"Are you ready to lose your humanity? Can you become a demon?"

I nodded again.

Hijikata nodded at Okita, who proceeded to slide shut all the open doors. What was going on? I suddenly realized that the room was completely empty; there was no one there but Hijikata, Okita, and myself.

"You have doubtless heard our old nickname," he said. Hijikata pushed down the shoulder of his gi and I saw a scar on his shoulder, red and livid against his skin. It looked like an animal bite, but none that I had ever seen.

"Miburou," I replied in a whisper. The wolves of Mibu.

Hijikata nodded and pulled the gi up again, covering the scar. "That was when our old headquarters was in Mibu. But now you will find out how apt that nickname really is."

He lunged forward abruptly, and I cried out, hands flailing as I fell backwards, landing hard on the tatami. I realized then that Hijikata was an enormous, black-furred wolf, his fangs sunk deep into my shoulder, his weight pressing me down. His breath was hot against my neck, and his saliva burned like fire. I think I might have cried.

Then I woke up.

---

Tony realized that Dr. Naughton was no longer writing on his clipboard. He was listening with every evidence of intense interest, the book he'd been thumbing through earlier set aside. The scrutiny was uncomfortable.

"Interesting," Dr. Naughton said at last. "Very interesting. The Shinsengumi--why, it's remarkable, then, that they lost. Their membership exceeded 300 at one point, and if they were all werewolves--"

"What?"

"The Bakumatsu. Towards the end of the Edo era--during the 1850s and 1860s--there were those who wanted to tear down the Shogunate and restore the Emperor to power, and there were those who wanted to retain the status quo. The Shinsengumi were among the latter. We didn't know they were werewolves, however."

"You didn't know they were werewolves?" Tony echoed. Dr. Naughton--and Dr. Lee, too--seemed to know everything about werewolves.

"Oh, we know very little about werewolves in non-English speaking countries," Dr. Naughton said. Now he was writing on his clipboard, so quickly that Tony had no idea how he could understand his own handwriting.

"Maybe they weren't all werewolves," Tony said helpfully.

"It's possible. If only the captains were werewolves--well, they couldn't be everywhere, and I'm sure they couldn't bite everyone who passed the entrance exam. Your Tetsunosuke was unfortunate, I suppose."

The remark on his Tetsunosuke reminded Tony of his purpose. "So wait--what did that dream mean?"

"What do you think it means?"

Tony was sure that Dr. Naughton had already formed a correct--or close to correct--interpretation of his dream and was just withholding the information. But he ground his teeth and forced himself to think carefully.

"It was. . . it was about losing my humanity," Tony said slowly, trying to keep track of his train of thought. "It was about making choices--and choosing to become a monster." He frowned. "I didn't have a choice, though."

"No, you didn't," Dr. Naughton agreed. "But perhaps the wolf regrets that as much as you do." He smiled, fleetingly. "He respects you, perhaps. Maybe he's learned something of honor from the Shinsengumi." He sat up a little straighter and began to shuffle papers noisily. "I see you have a lot to think about, Tony, and our hour's up. Why don't you see Ms. Steinkamp out in the hall and make another appointment for next week? Try and keep a journal of your dreams."

---

"Water," I gasped, hoping the party of robed bedouins was not another mirage.

They looked at each other questioningly. Didn't they understand me? I could understand them. I didn't know why, but I could.

"It's another one of those crazy Romans," said one of the men. "They wander out in the desert to battle their demons."

I wanted to laugh. That man had no idea how right he was. Yes, that's right, I was out here to battle my demons, but instead I was going mad from the sun and thirst. My tunic had long ago been reduced to shreds and I wandered the desert bare-chested and sunburned. How many days had I been here, anyway? Months? Years? Days? Who was the emperor now? But, oh, my thoughts were wandering. I desperately needed water.

"Water," I repeated.

"Let's go on," said another one of the men. "He's obviously mad. He'll die anyway, whether we give him water or not."

"Wait, let us be compassionate," replied another. "It costs us nothing."

"We've no water to spare--"

"No, but there was an oasis not far back."

I brightened considerably. An oasis!

"Yes, yes, let's tell him about the oasis."

One of the bedouins, who had apparently elected himself spokesperson, turned to me and spoke slowly and carefully. "That way," he said, pointing. "One day. Water." He handed me a small pouch of something--it felt like dried fruit. But I was too parched to eat it.

"Thank you," I croaked, and I staggered off in the direction he had indicated.

I reached the oasis after what seemed like days, but it couldn't have been that long. Once there, I plunged my entire face in the water and drank greedily. When I'd had my fill, I pulled my entire body into the shallows and sighed in relief as my scorched body was immersed in the cooling liquid.

What was I doing here? I had left behind my family, my home, my land, to come out here and battle the wolf? The monks had told me that the desert was where I wanted to go if I wanted to wrestle with my demons. But so far, it had accomplished nothing. The wolf was still there, and it burst out with each full moon whether I liked it or not. I didn't even know how to fight it.

What had I done to deserve this? Maybe I should just die. If I died, at least the wolf would die, too. But what purpose would that serve? At least, if I lived. . . if I lived. . .

I let my eyes drift shut, and I dreamed.



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