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Due to the size of this story, it's a PDF file. If you're not seeing it, click "download." It's overall a pretty lengthy story and I don't begrudge anyone for not reading the whole thing in one sitting!
This was written for the "Wolves Arting Wolves" theme challenge over at (info here: July's Theme Challenge - Wolves arting wolves?).
Comments and critiques are ALWAYS appreciated.
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On one hand, I was rooting for Melissa. At first, I really wanted "good things" for her. As the story moved along, I found more and more little things about her that I didn't like. However, I stubbornly continued to hope that she would make good choices and do the "right thing" when it came to that part of the story. I hoped she would change for the better. I hoped she would have a change of heart and come around and be a better person. I hoped she would find happiness and answers to her questions.
As you know, that didn't quite happen.
I was horrified as I watched the trainwreck unfold, but I couldn't look away.
The rapid and jarring conclusion to the story (In a good way!) was a surprise. And the last few paragraphs were great! When Melissa realizes with heart-wrenching clarity just what she'd done and what all was going on with her mother AND with her own situation... very well done! THANK YOU!
I look forward to devouring the rest of your stories in short order and being in a daze for days (heh heh) until I get over it. :^)
Thanks! I try to make sure that my stories end in some kind of remarkable way. This ending seemed like the only place the story could really go, at least in my mind.
Actually… I haven’t heard it put quite that way. The belt definitely brings out the worst in Melissa. In fact, I was worried that she actually stopped being sympathetic too early in the story or that it was too obvious that she would keep being a horrible person. On some level, I think she did find what she was looking for – a better understanding of who her mother really is. Melissa put her mother on a pedestal and didn’t realize that she could be so self-destructive. And I think she did find happiness, even if the cost of doing so was horrific. What she probably needed more than anything was just five minutes to talk to her mother.
I’ve been tempted to write a sequel where there’s a new program to take werewolves out of their belts and release them back into the human world, with Melissa’s mother being the first one chosen, but I feel like the concept would be too hard to write.
Also, thanks for the watch and all the faves! And thanks for reading my stuff and leaving all these great comments!
Edit: Ok, so I actually just finished it all. Aww! That ending got me pretty good but I am a bit of a sop anyway, though a bit sad that she had to lose her humanity in the process. She didn't really seem to miss it that much though, and at least she's with her mum. It kind of leaves me hoping that they'll get out one day. Writing stayed strong as well throughout, and it was very interesting noting the main character slowly changing and becoming more wolf-like after wearing the belt (the name of which escapes me at the moment), her mannerisms and thought patterns seem to become more animalistic.
Heh… yeah. I usually try to keep real world media and people out of my writing, if only because I don’t want to lean too heavily on pop culture, but this was something of an exception. Werewolves in that setting didn’t really have such a big impact on history. To some extent, they were rare enough not to shake up cultures and kind of “balanced out” each other militarily. Obviously, it’s quite different in an alternate history like “Love on the Mind” where vampires and werewolves haven’t just taken control of leadership, but torn North America to absolute pieces with multiple wars and constant sectarian strife within individual nations. I guess that setting is my response to the sheer number of “supernatural masquerade” type stories. Because the various supernatural governments aren’t even pretending, it also means that they can direct the full resources of their state to persecute those who question the order.
Yeah… that ending… I felt depressed writing it. This has been two stories in a row where writing them has actually made me feel quite genuinely emotional. Melisa absolutely does not care one whit’s for her humanity. She doesn’t even really identify as “human,” though maybe not to the extreme that Bergman who insists on being called a “werewolf” does. If there’s anything that makes Melisa question her need to be “human,” it’s her mother, who absolutely does not want her stuck on a reservation.
I kind of followed the pattern I set in “Form Follows Function” of an “artificial” werewolf who becomes more and more obsessed until she’s less and less recognizably human, though Melissa never quite sinks to the absolutely insane state that Marion does and until the bitter end, still has chances to stop herself. The difference tends to be that Melissa got obsessed early while Marion’s obsession is definitely a factor of her being so altered that her insanity is really a product of actual damage to her brain chemistry rather than character fault. I guess that also makes Melissa’s conflict worse, since she’s capable of making rational decisions, but also more personal. It’s not just about her, it’s about understanding her mother.
I love stories that make me feel sad like this did. Those sorts of endings are a favourite of mine, kind of like the Battlestar Galactica ending or the RDM one anyway. Hopefully one day they get out, although Melisa has the markings of someone who could be dangerous if given a lot of political support from other werewolves, although you said they weren't a big thing in that world so I guess that's unlikely.
I got hints of Form Follows Function from this big-time towards the end, but when Melisa met her mother I realised "Ah, she still has some humanity in her after all". It's a very sad thing to see when someone slips into an addiction like that, but it's also scary. At least she realised it at the end she had done wrong, even if it was too late.
I think that the risk of adding pop culture is that your reader might not have a clue what it is. For instance, I’ve been following a werewolf comic called “Moonlit Brew” and the comic has, on more than one occasion, brought up various anime and Japanese video games. In one case, two characters are talking about a game for several panels and I just have no idea what they’re talking about and if it might be in any way relevant to the plot or in some way symbolic. I figured that Anthony Hopkins is a prominent enough figure that people would know who he is and why his influence is important. Thanks! I like to have enough diversity with my werewolves that not only is each species different, but what impact they’ve made on their world is different. And of course all of this builds different characters. The werewolves I wrote for “Rougarou Roulette” are probably the most likeable I’ve ever written, though mostly because they’re the least monstrous species I have. I guess we don’t see all-powerful supernatural species taking over governments because… I’d like to say there was a reason, but I think it’s just lack of creativity and wider knowledge on the part of writers. It’s a lot easier to write a “masquerade” if only because your characters can be “normal people” who discover it little by little and you don’t have to worry about how your changes have altered the historical timeline. Well… the vampires I wrote for “Love on the Mind” ARE psychic, hence why they rule over everything and since they use humans as mind-controlled slaves, aren’t particularly good at collaborating. Since every vampire is a god to the humans and werewolves they’ve enthralled, a lot of them have trouble understanding why they should be vassals of other vampires, even if it’s for mutual benefit. The werewolves of the setting are more or less united in hatred of vampires and tend to have such collaborative natures that they go the absolute opposite way with their oppression, being overly enthusiastic with the death penalty to remove “undesirables” from society and engaging in mass conscription, all in the name of the greater good.
They are? I don’t know… I like happy endings. I did write one kind of recently. Though I still love the ending of “The Fairy Godmother’s Wedding Miracle” if only because it’s the most twisted happy ending I’ve ever come up with. The jury is still out as to whether it’s happy or depressing. The obvious problem with trying to get werewolves like Melissa out of reservations is that doing so would probably mean taking them out of their belts so that they can interact with the human world. Most of those werewolves would find that experience extremely traumatic. The belts do tend to cause changes beyond purely cosmetic ones, as Melissa and Bergman unfortunately learn and werewolves do tend to be rather violent creatures at heart.
I realized early on that the stories had that parallel and hoped that there would be a contrast. Melissa at least is still a rational creature by the end and is able to realize that her actions have consequences and not just for herself. Marion, unfortunately, has suffered so much physiological damage that she’s hopelessly insane and incredibly violent. Every dose she gives herself is also making her mental state exponentially worse, since the more she changes her body, the more she damages her mind. By the end of it, she’s barely capable of stringing sentences together and it’s a wonder that her serums aren’t lethal.
One of things I noticed in this story is that the protagonist really wasn't that great of a person and didn't see the pain she inflicted on others until the damage was done. Melissa kinda reminds me of James. A rich, spoiled brat who because of their selfishness brought ruin to others who placed their trust in them and ultimately destroyed themselves too. Plus, like James, Melissa is thrown into a rough 'n' tumble world which is gritty and dark but with some sweetness that gives you hope for some better future, making the best with what they have and turning out even better possibly.
Melissa probably isn’t a terrible person, but she does become obsessed with the belt and her inability to let go, even when it’s patently obvious what the consequences are going to be, are what ruin her. But unlike James, I don’t think that there’s much hope for Melissa. The Reservations are brutal environments that combine hard living with crushing boredom and the knowledge of being under constant surveillance. There’s no way out of them except to die and no real way to build much of a life within the walls. The packs/gangs are a product of helplessness. These werewolves can’t do anything to better their lives, so they vent their frustration on others. Melissa’s mother probably formed her pack out of sheer boredom as much as anything else and at this point, it’s probably something she’s proud of.
Fascinating! I love these kinds of “what if” scenarios taking place in modern times. You really capture the feel of many of the folkloric wolf belt stories. Do you have any particular source of inspiration, or do you tend to draw in ideas from all over the place?
The story I wrote for werewolves versus this time around is actually one of these… only werewolves are a much more recent phenomenon and primarily involved in music. But even then, people are generally very well aware of their musical influence and there are businesses, particularly in pharmaceuticals, that cater to them.
In general, I draw ideas from all over. I’ve been wanting to do something else with wolfskin belts for a while and I couldn’t resist the similarity to costumes here. I’m not much of a folklorist and I’m perpetually afraid of falling into the trap of having werewolves that I tout as being “authentic” but are really just more pop culture iterations. Probably the biggest inspiration to me are “werewolf things that piss QW off.” That’s really why I’ve been writing so many stories with female, often queer werewolves in alternate universes. I can’t stand the common depictions of female werewolves in general, which is doubly irritating when they’re so uncommon in mainstream werewolf media. But the belt thing specifically… Folklore about wolfskin belts was all over Western Europe at one point and then it got almost completely displaced in pop culture by full moons and bites. It’s compelling to me since a werewolf wouldn’t be able to seek out and wear a wolfskin belt except through deliberate effort. Accidental werewolves are fun, but people who become werewolves on purpose are sadly underrepresented and offer such wonderful possibilities for storytelling.
Yeah, that kind of world building is tricky. Probably why I do better with shorter stories.
I grew up reading a ton of folklore, so I’m always glad to see people exploring “forgotten” elements of a myth. I also love how you incorporated Bergman’s history lectures. She might have taken one risk too many, but she sounds like she would be a pretty interesting person to talk with. I feel pretty bad for her at the end of this.
It’s why I struggle with short stories – I keep cramming more and more complexity in there rather than just sticking with “oh, it’s just like real life, only here’s a werewolf.”
I tried to make the belts quintessential to how the story actually worked. If nothing else, I think that wolfskin belts need to be something people write about, if only because it’s so easy to link to folklore and, by extension, history.
I worry that the awful thing that happens to Bergman overshadows the other bits of awful. It’s definitely her worst nightmare, given that she expressed disgust about Reservations. What’s worse in her case is that Bergman is an intellectual but she’s strapped into something that’s alters personality. I’ve already had one request for a sequel featuring Bergman.
Yep – that’s what I was aiming for. I was hoping that it would be pretty obvious why those belts would be heavily regulated, with use closely monitored. But at the same time, I didn’t want it to just be some sort of chemical or magical dependency. The Bisclavret is just so important to Melissa in ways that go beyond that kind of physical addiction. She hasn't really done anything with her life besides try desperately to follow in her mother's footsteps.
Out of curiosity, was this intended as a subtle dig at wolfaboos?
Not really, no. Only in the sense that I was making a dig at people who let nostalgia and fantasy cloud their judgement.
Keep in in that in the setting, werewolves have been a factor throughout history, in roles ranging from feral monsters to shamans to kings. Though regardless of the role, they've always been special in the societies where they've existed. They're a source of interest to modern people for sure, even more so than the folkloric werewolves of our world.
Melissa's mother's King title had this song pop in to mind: www.youtube.com/watch?v=8obrc0… , I think it's very fitting for the final scene of the story.
Bergman is definitely the “hero of another story” here. She’s a bit mercurial and stubborn, but really not a bad person – and she obviously cares about her students. Earlier in the story, Bergman makes a comment about how every werewolf who gets stuck on the reservation is a “victim” and it’s certainly true here too. Ulfhednar belts are definitely a power trip, though they aren’t something that you’d want to be wearing for very long given that these things were made based on what limited understanding the Vikings had about human psychology to make an “ideal warrior.” That and there’s something that I find horrifying to think of them sticking those belts on women who wouldn’t accept their social role. But anyway, there's a lot of back and forth between those two. I revised an earlier version of the ending where the belt did actually "work" and Bergman ended up being dominated, but I like this MUCH better. Ultimately, they are both "victims" and neither of them end up with much of anything to show for the events of the story. I can imagine that Bergman might not be a king, but she'll certainly end up being the kind of solitary monster who everyone gives a wide berth.
I’m thinking of making a poll about that though – which belt people would wear.
Oooh… I like it! I’m thinking of getting some art of King Andrea Thorpe for sure.