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Kitty and the Midnight Hour
I tossed my backpack in a corner of the studio and high-fived Rodney on his way out.
"Hey, Kitty, thanks again for taking the midnight shift," he said. He'd started playing some third-generation grunge band that made my hackles rise, but I smiled anyway.
"I noticed. You didn't used to like the late shift."
He was right. I'd gone positively nocturnal the last few months. I shrugged. "Things change."
"Well, take it easy."
Finally, I had the place to myself. I dimmed the lights so the control board glowed, the dials and switches futuristic and sinister. I pulled my blond hair into a ponytail. I was wearing jeans and an oversized sweatshirt that had been through the wash too many times. One of the nice things about the late shift at a radio station was that I didn't have to look good for anybody.
I put on the headphones and sat back in the chair with its squeaky wheels and torn upholstery. As soon as I could, I put on my music. Bauhaus straight into the Pogues. That'd wake 'em up. To be a DJ was to be God. I controlled the airwaves. To be a DJ at an alternative public radio station? That was being God with a mission. It was thinking you were the first person to discover The Clash and you had to spread the word.
My illusions about the true power of being a radio DJ had pretty much been shattered by this time. I'd started out on the college radio station, graduated a couple of years ago, and got the gig at KNOB after interning here. I might have had a brain full of philosophical tenets, high ideals, and opinions I couldn't wait to vocalize. But off-campus, no one cared. The world was a bigger place than that, and I was adrift. College was supposed to fix that, wasn't it?
I switched on the mike.
"Good evening to you, Denver. This is Kitty on K-Nob. It's twelve-oh-twelve in the wee hours and I'm bored, which means I'm going to regale you with inanities until somebody calls and requests a song recorded before 1990.
"I have the new issue of Wide World of News here. Picked it up when I got my frozen burrito for dinner. Headline says: 'Bat Boy Attacks Convent.' Now, this is like the tenth Bat Boy story they've done this year. That kid really gets around—though as long as they've been doing stories on him he's got to be what, fifty? Anyway, as visible as this guy is, at least according to the intrepid staff of Wide World of News, I figure somebody out there has seen him. Have any of you seen the Bat Boy? I want to hear about it. The line is open."
Amazingly, I got a call right off. I wouldn't have to beg.
"Uh, yeah, dude. Hey. Uh, can you play some Pearl Jam?"
"What did I say? Did you hear me? Nothing after '89. Bye."
Another call was waiting. Double cool. "Hi there."
"Do you believe in vampires?"
I paused. Any other DJ would have tossed off a glib response without thinking—just another midnight weirdo looking for attention. But I knew better.
"If I say yes, will you tell me a good story?"
"So, do you?" The speaker was male. His voice was clear and steady.
I put my smile into my voice. "Yes."
"The Bat Boy stories, I think they're a cover-up. All those tabloid stories, and the TV shows like Uncharted World?"
"Everybody treats them like they're a joke. Too far out, too crazy. Just mindless trash. So if everybody thinks that stuff is a joke, if there really is something out there—no one would believe it."
"Kind of like hiding in plain sight, is that what you're saying? Talk about weird supernatural things just enough to make them look ridiculous and you deflect attention from the truth."
"Yes, that's it."
"So, who exactly is covering up what?"
"They are. The vampires. They're covering up, well, everything. Vampires, werewolves, magic, crop circles—"
"Slow down there, Van Helsing."
"Don't call me that!" He sounded genuinely angry.
"It's—I'm not anything like him. He was a murderer."
The hairs on my arms stood on end. I leaned into the mike. "And what are you?"
He let out a breath that echoed over the phone. "Never mind. I called about the tabloid."
"Yes, Bat Boy. You think Bat Boy is a vampire?"
"Maybe not specifically. But before you brush it off, think about what may really be out there."
Actually, I didn't have to. I already knew.
"Thanks for the tip."
He hung up.
"What an intriguing call," I said, half to myself, almost forgetting I was on the air.
The world he talked about—vampires, werewolves, things that go bump—was a secret one, even to the people who inadvertently found their way there. People fell into it by accident and were left to sink or swim. Usually sink. Once inside, you especially didn't talk about it to outsiders because, well, who would believe you?
But we weren't really talking here, were we? It was late-night radio. It was a joke.
I squared my shoulders, putting my thoughts back in order. "Right. This raises all sorts of possibilities. I have to know—did I just get a call from some wacko? Or is something really out there? Do you have a story to tell about something that isn't supposed to exist? Call me." I put on Concrete Blonde while I waited.
The light on the phone showing an incoming call flashed before the song's first bass chord sounded. I wasn't sure I wanted anyone to call. If I could keep making jokes, I could pretend that everything was normal.
I picked up the phone. "Hold, please," I said and waited for the song to end. I took a few deep breaths, half-hoping that maybe the caller just wanted to hear some Pearl Jam.
"All right. Kitty here."
"Hi—I think I know what that guy's talking about. You know how they say that wolves have been extinct around here for over fifty years? Well—my folks have a cabin up in Nederland, and I swear I've heard wolves howling around there. Every summer I've heard them. I called the wildlife people about it once, but they just told me the same thing. They're extinct. But I don't believe them."
"Are you sure they're wolves? Maybe they're coyotes." That was me trying to act normal. Playing the skeptic. But I'd been to those woods, and I knew she was right. Well, half-right.
"I know what coyotes sound like, and it's not anything like that. Maybe—maybe they're something else. Werewolves or something, you know?"
"Have you ever seen them?"
"No. I'm kind of afraid to go out there at night."
"That's probably just as well. Thanks for calling."
As soon as I hung up, the next call was waiting. "Hello?"
"Hi—do you think that guy was really a vampire?"
"I don't know. Do you think he was?"
"Maybe. I mean—I go to nightclubs a lot, and sometimes people show up there, and they just don't fit. They're, like, way too cool for the place, you know? Like, scary cool, like they should be in Hollywood or something and what the hell are they doing here—"
"Imagination is a wonderful thing. I'm going to go to the next call now—hello?"
"Hi. I gotta say—if there really were vampires, don't you think someone would have noticed by now? Bodies with bite marks dumped in alleys—"
"Unless the coroner reports cover up cause of death—"
The calls kept coming.
"Just because someone's allergic to garlic doesn't mean—"
"What is it with blood anyway—"
"If a girl who's a werewolf got pregnant, what would happen to the baby when she changed into a wolf? Would it change into a wolf cub?"
"Flea collars. And rabies shots. Do werewolves need rabies shots?"
Then came the Call. Everything changed. I'd been toeing the line, keeping things light. Keeping them unreal. I was trying to be normal, really I was. I worked hard to keep my real life—my day job, so to speak—away from the rest. I'd been trying to keep this from slipping all the way into that other world I still hadn't learned to live in very well.
Lately, it had felt like a losing battle.
"Hi, Kitty." His voice was tired, flat. "I'm a vampire. I know you believe me." My belief must have showed through in my voice all night. That must have been why he called me.
"Okay," I said.
"Can—can I talk to you about something?"
"I'm a vampire. I was attacked and turned involuntarily about five years ago. I'm also—at least I used to be—a devout Catholic. It's been really . . . hard. All the jokes about blood and the Eucharist aside—I can't walk into a church anymore. I can't go to Mass. And I can't kill myself because that's wrong. Catholic doctrine teaches that my soul is lost, that I'm a blot on God's creation. But Kitty—that's not what I feel. Just because my heart has stopped beating doesn't mean I've lost my soul, does it?"
I wasn't a minister; I wasn't a psychologist. I'd majored in English, for crying out loud. I wasn't qualified to counsel anyone on his spiritual life. But my heart went out to him, because he sounded so sad. All I could do was try.
"You can't exactly go to your local priest to hash this out, can you?"
"No," he said, chuckling a little.
"Right. Have you ever read Paradise Lost?"
"Of course not, no one reads anymore. Paradise Lost is Milton's great epic poem about the war in heaven, the rebellion of the angels, the fall of Lucifer, and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. As an aside, some people believe this was the time when vampires and lycanthropes came into existence—Satan's mockery of God's greatest creation. Whatever. At any rate, in the first few chapters, Satan is the hero. He speaks long monologues what he's thinking, his soul-searching. He's debating about whether or not to take revenge on God for exiling him from heaven. After reading this for a while, you realize that Satan's greatest sin, his greatest mistake, wasn't pride or rebelling against God. His greatest mistake was believing that God would not forgive him if he asked for forgiveness. His sin wasn't just pride—it was self-pity. I think in some ways every single person, human, vampire, whatever, has a choice to make: to be full of rage about what happens to you or to reconcile with it, to strive for the most honorable existence you can despite the odds. Do you believe in a God who understands and forgives or one who doesn't? What it comes down to is, this is between you and God, and you'll have to work that out for yourself."
"That—that sounds okay. Thanks. Thanks for talking to me."
At 4:00 A.M., the next shift came on. I didn't go straight home and to bed, even though I was shaking. All the talking had taken a lot out of me. After a late shift I always met T.J. for coffee at the diner down the street. He'd be waiting for me.
He wasn't, but I ordered coffee and when it arrived, so did he. Slouching in an army surplus coat, glancing around to take note of every person in the place, he didn't look at me until he slid into the booth.
"Hey, Kitty." He flagged the waitress for a cup of coffee. The sky outside was gray, paling with the sunrise. "How'd your shift go?"
"You didn't listen to it?" I tried not to sound disappointed, but I'd been hoping to talk to him about it.
"No, sorry. I was out."
I closed my eyes and took a deep, quiet breath. Grease, cigarette smoke, bad breath, and tired nerves. My senses took it all in, every little odor. But strongest, right across the booth from me, was the earthy smell of forest, damp night air, and fur. The faintest touch of blood set my hair on end.
"You went running. You turned wolf," I said, frowning. He looked away, ducking his gaze. "Geez, if you keep doing that, you're going to lose it completely—"
"I know, I know. I'm halfway there already. I just—it feels so good." His look grew distant, vacant. Part of him was still in that forest, running wild in the body of his wolf.
The only time we had to Change was on full moon nights. But we could Change whenever we wanted. Some did as often as they could, all the time. And the more they did, the less human they became. They went in packs even as people, living together, shape-shifting and hunting together, cutting all ties to the human world. The more they Changed, the harder it was not to.
"Come with me next time. Tomorrow."
"Full moon's not for another week," I said. "I'm trying my damnedest to keep it together. I like being human."
He looked away, tapping his fork on the table. "You really aren't cut out for this life, you know."
"I do okay."
That was me patting myself on the back for not going stark raving mad these last couple of years, since the attack that changed me. Or not getting myself ripped limb from limb by other werewolves who saw a cute young thing like me as easy prey. All that, and I maintained a semblance of normal human life as well.
Not much of a human life, all things considered. I had a rapidly aging bachelor's degree from CU, a run-down studio apartment, a two-bit DJ gig that barely paid rent, and no prospects. Sometimes, running off to the woods and never coming back sounded pretty good.
Three months ago, I missed my mother's birthday party because it fell on the night of the full moon. I couldn't be there, smiling and sociable in my folks' suburban home in Aurora while the wolf part of me was on the verge of tearing herself free, gnawing through the last fringes of my self-control. I made some excuse, and Mom said she understood. But it showed so clearly how, in an argument between the two halves, the wolf usually won. Since then, maintaining enthusiasm for the human life had been difficult. Useless, even. I slept through the day, worked nights, and thought more and more about those times I ran in the forest as a wolf, with the rest of the pack surrounding me. I was on the verge of trading one family for the other.
I went home, slept, and rolled back to KNOB toward evening. Ozzie, the station manager, an aging hippie type who wore his thinning hair in a ponytail, handed me a stack of papers. Phone messages, every one of them.
"I was going to ask you the same thing. What the hell happened on your shift last night? We've been getting calls all day. The line was busy all night. And the messages—six people claiming to be vampires, two say they're werewolves, and one wants to know if you can recommend a good exorcist."
"Really?" I said, sorting through the messages.
"Yeah. Really. But what I really want to know—" He paused, and I wondered how much trouble I was in. I was supposed to run a late-night variety music format, the kind of show where Velvet Underground followed Ella Fitzgerald. Thinking back on it, I'd talked the entire time, hadn't I? I'd turned it into a talk show. I was going to lose my job, and I didn't think I'd have the initiative to get another one. I could run to the woods and let the Wolf take over.
Then Ozzie said, "Whatever you did last night—can you do it again?"
The second episode of the show that came to be called The Midnight Hour (I would always consider that first surprising night to be the first episode) aired a week later. That gave me time to do some research. I dug up half a dozen articles published in second-string medical journals and one surprisingly high-level government research project, a kind of medical Project Blue Book. It was a study on "paranatural biology" sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers attempted to document empirical evidence of the existence of creatures such as vampires, lycanthropes, etcetera. They more than attempted it—they did document it: photos, charts, case histories, statistics. They concluded that these phenomena were not widespread enough to warrant government attention.
The documentation didn't surprise me—there wasn't anything there I hadn't seen before, in one form or another. It surprised me that anyone from the supernatural underworld would have participated in such a study. Where had they gotten test subjects? The study didn't say much about those subjects, seemingly regarding them in the same way one would disposable lab rats. This raised a whole other set of issues, which gave me lots to talk about.
Pulling all this together, at least part of the medical community was admitting to the existence of people like me. I started the show by laying out all this information. Then I opened the line for calls.
"It's a government conspiracy . . ."
". . . because the Senate is run by bloodsucking fiends!"
"Which doesn't in fact mean they're vampires, but still . . ."
"So when is the NIH going to go public . . ."
". . . medical schools running secret programs . . ."
"Is the public really ready for . . ."
". . . a more enlightened time, surely we wouldn't be hunted down like animals . . ."
"Would lycanthropy victims be included in the Americans with Disabilities Act?"
My time slot flew by. The week after that, my callers and I speculated about which historical figures had been secret vampires or werewolves. My favorite, suggested by an intrepid caller: General William T. Sherman was a werewolf. I looked him up, and seeing his photo, I could believe it. All the other Civil War generals were straitlaced, with buttoned collars and trimmed beards, but Sherman had an open collar, scruffy hair, five-o'clock shadow, and a screw-you expression. Oh yeah. The week after that I handled a half-dozen calls on how to tell your family you were a vampire or a werewolf. I didn't have any good answers on that one—I hadn't told my family. Being a radio DJ was already a little too weird for them.
And so on. I'd been doing the show for two months when Ozzie called me at home.
"Kitty, you gotta get down here."
"Just get down here."
I pondered a half-dozen nightmare scenarios. I was being sued for something I'd said on the air. The Baptist Church had announced a boycott. Well, that could be a good thing. Free publicity and all. Or someone had gone and got themselves or someone else killed because of the show.
It took half an hour to get there, riding the bus. I hadn't showered and was feeling grouchy. Whatever it was Ozzie was going to throw at me, I just wanted to get it over with.
The door to his office was open. I shoved my hands into the pockets of my jacket and slouched. "Ozzie?"
He didn't look up from the mountains of paper, books, and newspapers spread over his desk. A radio in the corner was tuned to KNOB. A news broadcast mumbled at low volume. "Come in, shut the door."
I did. "What's wrong?"
He looked up. "Wrong? Nothing's wrong. Here, take a look at this." He offered a packet of papers.
The pages were dense with print and legalese. These were contracts. I only caught one word before my eyes fogged over.
When I looked at Ozzie again, his hands were folded on the desk and he was grinning. That was a pretty big canary he'd just eaten. "What do you think? I've had calls from a dozen stations wanting to run your show. I'll sign on as producer. You'll get a raise for every new market we pick up. Are you in?"
This was big. This was going national, at least on a limited scale. I tried to read the proposal. L.A. They wanted me in L.A.? This was . . . unbelievable. I sat against the table and started giggling. Wow. Wow wow wow wow. There was no way I could do this. That would require responsibility, commitment—things I'd shied away from like the plague since . . . since I'd started hanging out with people like T.J.
But if I didn't, someone else would, now that the radio community had gotten the idea. And dammit, this was my baby.
I said, "I'm going to need a website."
That night I went to T.J.'s place, a shack he rented behind an auto garage out toward Arvada. T.J. didn't have a regular job. He fixed motorcycles for cash and didn't sweat the human world most of the time. I came over for supper a couple of times a week. He was an okay cook. More important than his cooking ability, he was able to indulge the appetite for barely cooked steaks.
I'd known T.J. forever, it seemed like. He helped me out when I was new to things, more than anyone else in the local pack. He'd become a friend. He wasn't a bully—a lot of people used being a werewolf as an excuse for behaving badly. I felt more comfortable around him than just about anyone. I didn't have to pretend to be human around him.
I found him in the shed outside. He was working on his bike, a fifteen-year-old Yamaha that was his pride and joy and required constant nursing. He tossed the wrench into the toolbox and reached to give me a hug, greasy hands and all.
"You're perky," he said. "You're practically glowing."
"We're syndicating the show. They're going to broadcast it in L.A. Can you believe that? I'm syndicated!"
He smiled. "Good for you."
"I want to celebrate," I said. "I want to go out. I found this all-ages hole-in-the-wall. The vampires don't go there. Will you come with me?"
"I thought you didn't like going out. You don't like it when we go out with Carl and the pack."
Carl was the alpha male of our pack, god and father by any other name. He was the glue that held the local werewolves together. He protected us, and we were loyal to him.
When Carl went out with his pack, he did it to mark territory, metaphorically speaking. Show off the strength of the pack in front of the local vampire Family. Pissing contests and dominance games.
"That's not any fun. I want to have fun."
"You know you ought to tell Carl, if you want to go out."
I frowned. "He'll tell me not to." A pack of wolves was a show of strength. One or two wolves alone were vulnerable. But I wanted this to be my celebration, a human celebration, not the pack's.
But the thing about being part of a pack was needing a friend at your back. It wouldn't have felt right for me to go alone. I needed T.J. And maybe T.J. needed Carl.
I tried one more time, shameless begging, but I had no dignity. "Come on, what could possibly happen? Just a couple of hours. Please?"
T.J. picked up a rag off the handlebars and wiped his hands. He smirked at me like the indulgent older brother he'd become. If I'd been a wolf, my tail would have been wagging hopefully.
"Okay. I'll go with you. Just for a couple of hours."
I sighed, relieved.
The club, Livewire, got a deal on the back rooms of a converted warehouse at the edge of Lodo, just a few blocks from Coors Field, when the downtown district was at the start of its "revitalization" phase. It didn't have a flashy marquee. The entrance was around the corner from the main drag, a garage-type rolling door that used to be part of a loading dock. Inside, the girders and venting were kept exposed. Techno and industrial pouring through the woofers rumbled the walls, audible outside as a vibration. That was the only sign there was anything here. Vampires liked to gather at places that had lines out front—trendy, flashy places that attracted the kind of trendy, flashy people they could impress and seduce with their excessive sense of style.
I didn't have to dress up. I wore grubby, faded jeans, a black tank top, and had my hair in two braids. I planned on dancing till my bones hurt.
Unfortunately, T.J. was acting like a bodyguard. His expression was relaxed enough, and he walked with his hands in his jacket pockets like nothing was wrong, but he was looking all around and his nostrils flared, taking in scents.
"This is it," I said, guiding him to the door of the club. He stepped around me so he could enter first.
There was always—would always be—a part of me that walked into a crowded room and immediately thought, sheep. Prey. A hundred bodies pressed together, young hearts beating, filled with blood, running hot. I squeezed my hands into fists. I could rip into any of them. I could. I took a deep breath and let that knowledge fade.
I smelled sweat, perfume, alcohol, cigarettes. Some darker things: Someone nearby had recently shot up on heroin. I felt the tremor in his heartbeat, smelled the poison on his skin. If I concentrated, I could hear individual conversations happening in the bar, ten paces away. The music flowed through my shoes. Sisters of Mercy was playing.
"I'm going to go dance," I said to T.J., who was still surveying the room.
"I'm going to go check out the cute boys in the corner." He nodded to where a couple of guys in tight leather pants were talking.
It was a pity about T.J., really. But the cutest, nicest guys were always gay, weren't they?
I was a radio DJ before I became a werewolf. I'd always loved dancing, sweating out the beat of the music. I joined the press of bodies pulsing on the dance floor, not as a monster with thoughts of slaughter, but as me. I hadn't been really dancing in a club like this since the attack, when I became what I am. Years. Crowds were hard to handle sometimes. But when the music was loud, when I was anonymous in a group, I stopped worrying, stopped caring, lived in the moment.
Letting the music guide me, I closed my eyes. I sensed every body around me, every beating heart. I took it all in, joy filling me.
In the midst of the sweat and heat, I smelled something cold. A dark point cut through the crowd like a ship through water, and people—warm, living bodies—fell away like waves in its wake.
Werewolves, even in human form, retain some of the abilities of their alter egos. Smell, hearing, strength, agility. We can smell well enough to identify an individual across a room, in a crowd.
Before I could turn and run, the vampire stood before me, blocking my path. When I tried to duck away, he was in front of me, moving quickly, gracefully, without a sign of effort.
My breaths came fast as he pushed me to the edge of panic.
He was part of the local vampire Family, I assumed. He seemed young, cocky, his red silk shirt open at the collar, his smirk unwavering. He opened his lips just enough to show the points of his fangs.
"We don't want your kind here." Wiry and feral, he had a manic, Clockwork Orange feel to him.
I looked across the room to find T.J. Two more of them, impeccably dressed in silk shirts and tailored slacks and oozing cold, blocked him in the corner. T.J.'s fists were clenched. He caught my gaze and set his jaw in grim reassurance. I had to trust him to get me out of this, but he was too far away to help me.
"I thought you guys didn't like this place," I said.
"We changed our minds. And you're trespassing."
"No." I whined a little under my breath. I had wanted to leave this behind for a few hours.
- On Sale
- Dec 8, 2020
- Page Count
- 984 pages
- Grand Central Publishing