Colonel Rutledge lets me lead him, his rifle casually carried in his arms as if we were a hunter and his dog walking through the woods rather than a senior officer and a four-legged werewolf training to find improvised explosives in a mocked up Middle East city. He can afford that swagger. I can’t, not when we’re so close to the end of a four day training exercise.
After six months, I’m finally getting used to how the body armor feels on my fur, the weight on my back when I run on four legs. It's not completely unfamiliar. When I was a girl, I sometimes carried my little brother on my back, at least before he got big and started changing, preferring to use his own legs to mine.
“Your nose is better than any dog’s, Specialist. It tells the truth if you’re willing to pay attention.”
I’ve seen Rutledge on CNN a hundred times, advocating for more werewolves in uniform. I’ll never forget the day when he crushed that racist in a debate. The guy trotted out all the usually malarkey: what good is a four-legged wolf in the era of drone warfare, it’s bad for troop discipline, the military doesn’t want us, werewolves aren’t people, et cetera, et cetera. The same garbage I’ve been hearing for the past twenty years of my life. And then Rutledge pulls out some figures and reveals that his wolves are finding three times as much as the best K9 teams. About a week later, some Marine from their program wins a Silver Star for running out of an ambush, outflanking the insurgents, and killing a bunch of them with his teeth. They’re going to be calling us Next-Gen Military Canines or NGMCs, to suit the military’s love of acronyms.
But even with my nose and the familiarity of having done exercises like this, I have to focus to complete my task. I don’t want to disappoint the Colonel.
It was easy at first. The training cadre would leave their scents everywhere and all I had to do was follow it. The Colonel must have caught on because he started bringing in other wolves, veterans who would know how to cover their scent. No, I have to do this the right way, like I was trained.
I pick up a whiff of something acrid and the stink of plastic. My eyes follow to a hole in the drywall, recently repaired and a sniff reveals the wet, pappery stink of newly laid plaster. They can try to disguise the repair, cover it in dirt and scuff marks like the rest of the wall. My nose tells the truth. As I’ve been trained, I sit down in front of it.
Colonel Rutledge crouches next to me. “You got something, Strauss? Here?”
I lean forward, nose aimed directly at the spot on the wall.
“Alright. Just rip it out already.”
Rip it? But that’s not what I was taught… not for explosives. If anything, we should be backing away, just in case some insurgent is watching us through binoculars, detonator in hand. Except this is training and I’m sure that those explosives hidden in there are as harmless as a rock. After a moment of hesitation, I decide to do nothing. The Colonel is testing me… I think. I look at him, tilting my head, and my assumption is confirmed when he smiles.
“Good call. Dumb wolves go clawing through walls and get blown up. Smart wolves wait for EOD and let the bomb expert deal with it. Now, I know this is just training, but perfect practice makes perfect, right?” He slings his rifle, reaching out to run his hands over the retouched wall. “This is some nice work here… probably better than almost anything you’ll see overseas. Almost. We get better, they get better. That’s why you’ve got to be sharp.” He stands back up. “They’re going to be watching you – watching all of us. Not just your battle buddies and the bad guys, but everybody. Civilians, media, all that. And if you haven’t been listening, a lot of them don’t much like us skinchangers.”
Of course I’ve been listening. It’s why I keep my wolf to myself. Nobody needs to know except for other wolves. Growing up, I heard about the lynch mobs. It was bad in the twenties when werewolves became public knowledge and even eighty years later they’ve never quite gone away. That’s why this is so important. We have to prove ourselves to the humans, earn their respect. The Colonel certainly has. That's how he got permission from the President himself to recruit me and other werewolves.
I follow him out of the mocked up building, just behind and to the left of him as befitting my rank. It’s not just a lupine way of showing respect, but military courtesy.
“Heard you were putting in a package for sergeant,” says the Colonel. “I put my recommendation on it. Not like ranks count for much with NGMCs, since you’re working anonymously, but it’s more money and another rung up the ladder. Besides, you get to keep your rank in whatever unit you’ve chosen to hide in. You can get out of a lot of busywork with sergeant stripes.”
I nod. Of course he’s right. He’s the Colonel. He’s the godfather of every werewolf in the Army.
“Just don’t forget: whether you’re in skin or fur, you’ve got to set a good example, be perfect. Follow the regulations to the letter, never give them a thing.”
I nod again, lying without a voice. I hate lying to the Colonel, hate it with every bone in my body, but I know I can’t do that. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to, not anymore. Not since I met her.
Camp Victory, Baghdad, Iraq, 2007
The Marine sits across from me in the relative privacy of my finance office, holding a tattered news magazine with a headline in bold, blood red font.
Colonel Jeremiah Rutledge, Founder of the Army's Next-Gen Military Working Canines Program, Found Murdered
“You alright, Sergeant?” she asks. “You look a little out of it.”
I know her name is Bridget and she certainly knows mine. But it’s best to avoid that, just in case. It’s a miracle we both ended up at Camp Victory, with there being so few Marines around. But that just means that they don’t have their own paymasters and Bridget has all the excuses in the world to visit me.
“Yeah,” I say. “Had a long night.” I can’t tell her that I had a long night chasing an insurgent death squad halfway across the city only to get back to base at five in the morning to find a giant pile of finance paperwork waiting. She shouldn’t be burdened with that secret, not since the Colonel died and the military has gotten more careful about hiding wolves.
Bridget shifts in her seat and I wonder if she can detect what I’m not telling her. Just like I can detect that she’s still using that cinnamon-scent body wash she likes and that she was at the rifle range earlier today, the fumes of burned gunpowder absorbed by her black hair.
“Like I was saying,” she continues. “You should get some newer magazines for the waiting area. This one’s more than a year old.”
“We have newer magazines. Did you see that new gun rag we got? I know you hillbillies love your guns.”
“Already read it.”
“You could start carrying a book. Back in basic, I had to carry this dumb guidebook around everywhere. Got so bored I must have read the thing fifty times. I’ve gotten used to dragging a paperback around.”
“What are you carrying around these days?”
“Twilight. I totally identify with Bella.”
I meet her eyes for a moment, keeping a façade of deadly seriousness before it collapses under pressure, both of us muffling our laughs. We’re not supposed to be having too much fun in the finance office.
“Seriously, Sergeant, what are you reading?”
“Rosie the Riveter and the Donut Dollies: The Myths and Realities of Feminism During the Second World War. Rosie the Riveter… builds planes, forges steel, does real ‘man’s work,’ and the moment the war’s over, they send her back to her dishes and stove and tell her to forget about it. But the women remembered. In the end, Rosie was just a face on a propaganda poster for a generic working woman in 1945, but by 1960, that had changed. She'd become a symbol of something so much bigger than the war effort. And of course, there’s the Donut Dollies. Little ladies in skirts serving donuts to men in trenches. Doesn’t look like much, but they’re the first women authorized by the military to serve in a combat zone. But they didn't really get a lot of propaganda and truth be told, got almost forgotten about until pretty recently. What this book is all about is really breaking down the propaganda, getting into the stories of individual women and how it ties into feminism as a…”
She rolls her eyes. “Nerd.”
“Philistine. You can borrow it when I’m done, expand your mind. You Marines probably have nothing on your side of the camp except for gun rags and old copies of Hustler.”
“Well, that’s half the reason I visit this lovely trailer. You Army pukes have all these fancy books and magazines and now I see they’re putting in a Subway? A friggin’ Subway? Last week we got this stew that looks like dog food and tastes even worse. Once that Subway goes up, I’m going to be stopping by an awful lot.”
I meet her eyes. She is in here an awful lot. It worries me. We’ve kept our distance, tried to make it look like we’re just friends at best, but if somebody goes snooping, really sinks their teeth into the two of us, they’ll find out about what we did back home…
What would the Colonel say about this? Probably one of his favorites: “keep your head down and your tail between your legs.” Well... that's certainly what he would have said if he could get over me risking getting a dishonorable discharge over a Marine and bringing shame to his beloved unit.
But the Colonel hadn’t taken his advice either. When veteran werewolves started getting killed by Van Helsing wannabes, he just got louder. He wanted his werewolves kept safe, their identities kept secret, and didn’t care if it meant that the entire planet knew what he was. The Colonel survived Grenada, the Persian Gulf, and a tour of Afghanistan just to get shot to death in his living room. They skinned him and took his pelt as a final insult, just like the lynch mobs did in the old days.
Secrecy is the difference between me and that. And that's why I can't even tell Bridget about what my job actually is. Especially not Bridget. It's not fair to burden her, make her always worry that one slip will cost me my skin.
"Seriously, though," I say, lowering my voice to a whisper. "Someone is going to ask questions. I just... I worry is all. Back at home… after that one time, we couldn’t even go to each other’s houses."
"The hotels were more fun though. Especially the cheap motels. One whole weekend of nothing but getting Chinese takeout, playing Xbox, and... well..." She smirks.
"And the smells – cheap carpet cleaner and the sweat of a thousand other motel guests. And leaving a nice paper trail. They can subpoena that, you know."
"For that...?” She tilts her head leaning forward to whisper. “For us? Not like we’re selling drugs."
“Yes, for that. Especially for that. Or did you miss the memo about a Bible-thumping Texas redneck in the White House who's at the top of your chain of command?”
Bridget furrows her brow.
"I'm a redneck. Read the Bible cover to cover too. And if that wasn’t enough, I lived in Texas for a while."
"I know. But you're different... you're one in a million."
The creases in her brow settle as she smiles gently, leaning back in the old, worn out office chair.
"You'd know better than me," she says, still wearing that smirk. "All those numbers and all that math... Brave spreadsheet warrior Sergeant Joanna Strauss, protecting freedom one number at a time."
Except I'm not, not entirely. I'm out there on the street half a dozen times a week. The rumor mill says that there's a twenty thousand dollar bounty for a dead wolf, more than enough for a nice life in Iraq. And they’ve all got guns and love them just as much as a pure blooded American redneck like Bridget. I can't tell Bridget any of that. I'm supposed to be a quiet little spreadsheet warrior who shivers in fear just to go outside the wire.
I sigh softly. Bridget's smile fades.
"I’m sorry," she says. “I didn't mean anything by it. We're both in the Sandbox out here. Doesn’t matter what jobs we’ve got. It sucks. Every minute of it." She leans in close, to take my hand and squeeze gently.
Both of us know that this is too risky. The next guy in line could jump in early. Maybe he wouldn't file a report, but he'd start a rumor and that would be enough. Bridget leans slowly back, crossing her arms. She looks like a whipped puppy, even though both of us know why we can't touch each other.
"You should get going," I say. "I'm glad we got this sorted out, Corporal." Bile churns in my stomach as I shoo her away.
“I’ll see you around. Keep a close eye on those numbers… never know what might pop up.”
There’s broken glass on the floor, seemingly protecting the doorway, and just because I’m a skinchanger doesn’t mean that my four paws are armor-plated. Carefully, I step over the mess, wishing that someone would invent appropriate footwear to go with the armor. But the glass… its placement shows a clever vexatiousness that brings my focus to the task. If that wasn’t bad enough, everything reeks of charred paper and melting plastic. They’re burning trash at the house next door. I wonder if they’re trying to confuse my nose… or are they? The Iraqis burn trash all the time, Saddam Hussein never having bothered to teach his people about recycling.
Am I just getting paranoid? I’ve been hiding my lupine nature and my love for Bridget for almost three years now. Those secrets have to be taking a toll. But I can’t believe it now. Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean that there aren’t people out to kill me.
Staff Sergeant Goldman, my “assistant” walks through the next doorway, broken glass crunching under his boots.
“Rosie, here.” He points at a crate for emphasis.
After a quick hop over the glass, I lean forward to sniff, finding nothing but dust, and move on to the next.
Goldman is a veteran military working dog handler and it shows. Because he’s “handling” me. I like the newbies better. They've got no idea what to expect and do what I need them to do: stand there with a rifle since I can’t hold one and talk to whoever's in charge, because my tongue is no more eloquent than a wolf’s.
“Here,” says Goldman, pointing to another box.
I can smell that there’s nothing there from a mile away. I walk past it and Goldman scowls at me, the brown skin on his weathered forehead reminiscent of a crumpled paper bag.
“Here.” He points again, jabbing his finger for emphasis.
I roll my yellow eyes, but I doubt he can see them behind the tinted K9 goggles I’m wearing. One more overly dramatic sniff and we can move on to the next box.
I'm about to go through the motions again, when the cloying reek of oil fills my nose. Goldman’s onto something… not in the box, but under it. I follow my nose, leaning closer. The smell is strong and distinctive: cosmoline, heavy, waxy brown grease for preserving weapons. Under the stench I can smell the earthly scent of metal and the sharp, smoky bite of gunpowder. A weapons cache… seems like a good haul from the scent. With my shoulder, I push aside the box, and find a panel of wood hastily screwed into the wall. It's a real hatchet job, so loose that I feel confident that I can pry it off with my paws and see what’s inside…
A powerful force pulls me up with the force of an explosion. I yelp as my paws leave the ground before landing roughly.
Goldman... and he's holding firmly onto one of the straps on my armor, one made to help carry me if I'm injured... or to restrain an unruly dog.
Even with one hand on the strap, he slowly begins to pry off the plywood covering the secret stash in the wall. If only my tongue could speak…
First of all, I can’t smell any explosives, just grease, guns, and ammo. Second of all, if he’s trying to be careful, he’s doing it wrong. The Colonel taught me how these sorts of traps work. Usually there’s a wire attached to the board in the center or if the bomb maker is really clever, he’ll tie the wire to one of the nails. If there had been a booby trap in that hidey hole, Goldman would have probably blown us up by now. Third, if I have any reason at all to believe that there’s a bomb in there, I do what the Colonel taught me: sit down and make sure that nobody comes anywhere near it except for a bomb expert. And if my “handler” had paid attention during his training and had an ounce of faith in my abilities, he would have known all of this.
Eventually, however, Goldman, confirms what I could have told him in words – and what I did tell him through body language – and roughly tears down the plywood revealing a huge hole in the masonry. The stink of cosmoline overwhelms my nose and I barely notice that there’s another human in the room until he’s almost on top of us. I can hear him walking with a slight limp and I know right away who it is.
“Find something, sergeant?” says a calm, baritone voice.
Major Stevens, Goldman’s boss and mine… technically. I have a commanding officer I report to in my day job in Finance, one on the NGMC command, and this GI Joe wannabe. Stevens got awarded a Purple Heart for bravely walking past an IED in 2004. It’s a joke of an award. Bridget didn’t get one for that ugly shrapnel scar on her thigh, though she’s never told me how she got it, probably because she figures I wouldn’t understand. Or maybe she’s just bitter for not getting the medal to go with it. I don’t know. What I do know is that if I got a Purple Heart, there wouldn’t be an awards ceremony, I’d never be allowed to wear it, and it wouldn’t be factored into my promotion paperwork. It just would be a piece of my identity to be classified along with the rest.
Goldman smiles at his commanding officer like a good sycophant.
“Yes sir! Looks like a weapons cache.”
He reaches inside, emerging with a brand new Chinese Type 56 rifle wrapped up tightly in a greasy plastic bag. I peer inside and see several more just like it, accompanied by wooden crates of ammunition. Goldman smiles wider, a triumphant hunter showing his trophy.
He's claiming credit for my work! Mine! If he'd given me another thirty seconds, I would have dragged those rifles out myself.
“Nice work, sergeant,” says Major Stevens. “And you too, Rosie.”
And that’s when the Major leans forward and extends a hand in those stupid mall ninja fingerless gloves he always wears. My body locks rigid. He’s going to pet me… pet me. I can’t snap at him, can’t growl at him… he’s an officer. I have to suffer in silence.
His hand reeks of spaghetti MRE, slobbery Copenhagen snuff, and rancid sweat. As he brushes the fur on my head, I know that the stench is going to linger in my fur for a while. I clench my jaw, trying to keep myself from shuddering. After a few strokes, the hand finally withdraws, likely because Major GI Joe expects my tail to wag happily rather than bristle with hate.
“You alright, girl?” he asks. “You did some good work today.”
I’m not a “girl” and I’m not his pet, I’m a sergeant in the US Army, a veteran, and a wolf. And that’s what’s sickening me – I can’t do a thing about this except to report it. It makes me wonder what my ancestors did in this sort of situation… except as I understand it, they didn’t. They kept their heads down or stayed in fur in the woods. Even after the whole world knew about us, that was still true. This unit, this war, me… we were supposed to be changing that here, becoming veterans instead of sideshow freaks and campfire stories.
And that’s why I have to report this indignity to my chain of command instead of just biting his putrid hand off.
There’s a new propaganda poster behind the lieutenant’s desk, wedged between one about how male troops aren’t allowed to touch burqa-wearing Iraqi women during searches and another about how female soldiers should be judged by rank instead of gender. This other poster is much the same and if it weren’t for the fact that it had a picture of a wolf on it, I wouldn’t have noticed it at all. In bold, pitch olive drab type, it declares:
“I am not a pet. I am not a dog. I am not a monster. I AM AN AMERICAN SOLDIER.”
What really has my focus is the wolf. He’s wearing spotless new body armor with crisp squares of gray and green, his brown fur perfectly groomed, standing at attention with his head held high. His face is distinctive, with broad, masculine muzzle reminiscent of a purebred German Shepherd. That’s probably why they put him on the poster; he doesn’t look like a wild animal. The question on my mind is if I’ve seen him before either in training or on some big exercise. I don’t know every wolf, no, but I think that doggish face would certainly stand out. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to wonder if he’s just a paid actor. Like the show dogs from working breeds, some exaggerated standard held up as perfect even though they’ve never done a day of work in their lives.
As fascinating as the question is, it's not why I'm here. Lieutenant Fitzpatrick, my NGMC commanding officer and one of the few to know what I am sits behind his desk in a dank, poorly lit corner of the military police trailer. He’s a small, scrawny little werewolf with closely-cut red hair and a spotless, perfectly fitted uniform which some might say makes him look like a professional soldier, but I think that with his nervous manner, he looks more like a college kid on a job interview.
“Petted me, sir…” I say. “Like a dog.”
“Sergeant Goldman?” he asks.
The color drains from his face. He knows now that this isn’t just some little tiff between sergeants. If he can’t convince me to forget about it, he’s either going to have to report this to his commanding officer or go chew out a higher ranking officer over some “dog’s” feelings. After a moment, however, he regains his composure, leaning back in his chair with a polite smile.
“Aw, c’mon, Strauss. It’s nothing serious. Major Stevens commended you in the after-action report. He certainly appreciates having you attached to his battalion, you know.”
I have to tread carefully here. This lieutenant is my real boss, the one who can make or break me.
“Sir, if my commanding officer in the Finance unit patted my head like that, it would have sexual harassment written all over it.”
The lieutenant’s smile falls away and the “I’m the big brother you never had” act disappears with it. I can tell that we’re about to shift into something else from the officer’s handbook. Furrowed brow, slight frown… oh wonderful, he’s going with “tough love.”
“But it’s not the same,” he says. “You know that. Ever since Colonel Rutledge died, there’s been a lot of eyes on us. The Army wants to know if we’re worth all this trouble, all this secrecy. Some petty crap like this? This’ll kill us. Did you know that Major Stevens is a Congressman’s brother in law?”
“You do now. One of the Congressmen from Indiana, on the Congressional Budget Committee. He says so and we don’t exist as a unit. Is that clear enough?”
“Yes, sir.” No wonder the Major has a Purple Heart.
“Grow up, sergeant. There’s bigger things in the world than you. That’s what Colonel Rutledge taught us, isn’t it?”
I stop myself before I can scowl back. I feel the same bile in my stomach I did earlier, when that disgusting, malodorous paw of a hand petted me.
“I understand, sir.” An idea enters my head, a flash of brilliance. “Any chance it would it be possible for me to transfer?”
The frown deepens as the lieutenant ponders my request. It’s enough of a pause to make me doubt my own words. Do I really want to uproot and get sent somewhere far away from Bridget? No… never.
“What was that?” the lieutenant asks.
“Can you attach me to another unit, sir? I don’t mind doing patrol around camp with the MPs or anything boring like that.”
“No. You’re needed with first battalion.”
It’s easy for me to translate that officer-speak into its real meaning: “It would be pretty easy, but I don’t want to shrink my little fiefdom and piss off some Congressman’s GI Joe brother-in-law in the bargain.”
“I understand, sir.” More lies… but the lieutenant seems to believe it and the frown goes away. I’ve gotten used to lying. It was hard with the Colonel, it’s always miserable to do it to Bridget, but it’s easy with him.
“Good,” he says. “Anyway, I need you outside the wire again on Sunday. You’re attached to some Marines. They’ve got a big sweep in the Green Zone, want to double up on NGMCs. Boring stuff, really. I doubt you’ll find anything.”
More officer-speak: “for bothering me, you’re being punished with extra duty.” But the mention of Marines gets my attention.
“Which unit, sir?”
“Their on-base Military Police battalion.”
That’s Bridget’s unit. I’m not sure if I should be excited or deadly afraid that Bridget is going to recognize me. She knows every little freckle and scar on my body, knows my scent… no she doesn’t. Not my scent. It’s easy for me to forget that humans don’t work that way, don’t have the same obsession with smells. But all the same, I can’t help but worry.
Another day, another “pay problem” for a certain Marine corporal.
“You hear that gunfire on base yesterday?” asks Bridget, pausing to take a sip from the can of Monster energy drink in her hand.
Yesterday afternoon… I was busy. Spreadsheet warriors belong in camp, pounding away on computers, not doing searches in downtown Baghdad
“No.” My breath threatens to choke me. “I had to go outside the wire yesterday.”
She smirks and I wish I’d come up with a better lie.
“Big day, huh? You share yours and I’ll share mine…”
“Nothing really to talk about.”
“Aw, c’mon. I love a good war story.”
“It’s classified.” I hope that gets her to stop. It doesn’t.
“And it keeps getting better and better…” She leans in close to whisper. “You know I can keep a secret, Jess. Just tell me what you can.”
I try to remember the last time I heard about someone going outside on finance business. A memory comes to the forefront from a conversation at lunch. I whisper, trying to feign secrecy.
“Fine... I went outside the wire with a nine, a big bag of cash, and about fifty of the meanest Rangers. I gave that big bag to somebody important wearing a really, really nice suit. That’s all I can say. I mean… hell, I’ve said too much probably.”
She chuckles, leaning back.
"Now that wasn't so hard, was it?" She smirks at me. "So, my turn... gunfire. Got everyone grabbing weapons and jumping into bunkers and it turns out that it's just one guy from motor transport shooting at the sky. After he runs out of ammo, my squad leader knocks him down and slaps the handcuffs on him. Now this guy is some kinda hillbilly and he's screaming about Iraqi jetpack terrorists or flying strawberry daiquiri aliens or something and how he needs to shoot them. Except he can't because he's gone blind."
I tilt my head at her. This sort of thing isn't all that unusual in Iraq. Werewolves in uniform, IEDs hidden in stuffed animals, beheadings, cash bribes to strange men in suits… weird is normal.
"I know, right?" says Bridget. "Anyway, this guy tells us that he's had a few drinks and as we both know, nobody's supposed to be drinking in Iraq. So we get our wolf team on it."
"You've got a werewolf?" I know that the Marines do their own thing with their werewolves, but it's pretty much the same as ours - working canines with secret identities.
"Yeah. Even our little company has one embedded. So the wolf goes looking all over motor transport and can't find anything weird… nothing except for this recipe in a toolbox. A moonshine recipe. Turns out is that these motor trans idiots went into town, found some kind of Iraqi moonshiner, and bought a recipe for making hydraulic fluid and grape drink mix into booze. What kind of crazy and stupid do you got to be to do that? I mean... hell, you're already sneaking into town and bringing booze onto the base, why not just get little bottles of Jim Beam and vodka like everybody else? At least it won’t make you go crazy and blind."
I shrug. "I hear that it's next to impossible to smuggle things on the base anymore, with the wolves around." Except I know it's next to impossible to smuggle things past a wolf's nose. I even worked base security for a while myself.
“The things I’d do for a shot of Jack…” Bridget smiles.
The first drink I ever bought anybody was the shot of Jack Daniels I bought for her almost three years ago. I bought one for myself too, even though I knew I was going to hate it, a small price to pay to convince Bridget I was something I wasn’t. It didn’t work. I drank, I gagged, and Bridget knew that I wasn’t some hard-drinking whiskey girl. She told me that I didn’t need to pretend for her. The next round was banana-flavored vodka.
We fall silent, looking at one another. She smiles at me, taking another sip of that wretched energy drink, another favorite of hers that doesn’t suit me. Even in my skin I can smell what seems to be a mix of chemical byproducts and fermented bubble gum. All the same, I can still smell Bridget over it… earthly, with a touch of grease and gunpowder, and that cinnamon body wash she likes. Even out here, fighting a war in a reeking city in the middle of the desert, she smells like Bridget.
She shifts in her seat. Our time for the day is coming to an end.
“So, I got a patrol tomorrow afternoon,” she says. “Joint service crap, working with some Army pukes.”
She tilts her head. “Yeah… how did you know?”
For a moment, I’m tempted to tell her… just to have someone know what I am, someone who would appreciate what I do… appreciate me.
Reality ensues. The ugly truth is that I’ve said too much and have to tell another lie to cover it up:
“Well, you’re a lucky lady.”
Goldman opens the door for me and hellish winds carry dust and burning air into the air conditioned sanctuary of the Humvee. I hop down to the worn pavement, following my “handler” and searching for scents. If I wasn't feeling conspicuous enough in fur, Goldman and I are wearing the Army's ugly dark gray and tan digitized squares while the Marines have a far nicer blend of tan and brown that actually looks like it might be camouflage. It certainly looks nice enough on Bridget.
Bridget… I don’t see her out here and my nose comes up with nothing. That’s just as well. In a minute or two, we’re going to have to go to work and I don’t need the distraction.
“Wait here,” barks Goldman. “Stay.”
“Stay…” Dogs stay. Wolves say “to hell with that” and do what they please. The moment Goldman turns his back, I go wandering among the convoy and the Marines, though not going too far from my assigned waiting spot. As usual, I’m getting stares, distracting young men from their duties, and as usual, it baffles me that troops find me odd. There are certainly other wolves around and I doubt I’m the first they’ve seen up close. Maybe it’s human nature, that old fear of predators, even friendly ones. Or maybe they’re just surprised to see me wearing a name tag that says “Rosie.” That’s certainly unusual. Everywhere I go in the Army, I smell males – that masculine reek of sweat and dirt – and the NGMC units are no exception. When it came time to pick out our codenames, arguments broke out over “Cujo,” “Ghost,” and “Fang,” as if their male honor depended on what label they wore on their body armor. The funny thing was that the few women were soon fighting over the names… nobody else had any interest in being named after a feminist propaganda icon.
A scent new catches my nose. Lupine and female... and... something else. Something familiar. I follow my nose, forgetting about waiting for Goldman. I try to focus, eliminate all the distractions. And then I see her. Another wolf, like me, but bigger, brawnier, clad in a coat of neatly groomed black fur. Neat aside from the patch of scarred flesh on her back leg. I know that scar. Under the dirt and exhaust fumes and motor oil and rotting garbage, even under the fur she’s wearing, I can smell something a little different: gunpowder, energy drink, and cinnamon. Bridget. My Bridget. She turns to look at me and her yellow eyes widen. Is she that surprised to see me here? Because the more I think about it, I’m not. The clues were always there if I’d only been paying attention.
I could have told her about this years ago… should have told her years ago. Just like I told her that I was a soldier and the risks I was taking in being with her and she told me the same. How did I not notice? I could have paid closer attention, maybe picked up the tinge of fur her scent so often carried. But why didn’t she tell me? Maybe… she was afraid of burdening me as I was with her.
The shock fades fast and her tail slowly wags. For a moment, I want to run forward to pull her tail and make her chase me, play the sorts of four-legged canine games I played as a kid. I wonder if she’s played them before. But not now. No, we both have a job to do and fur or not, I know that we’re pushing the line. We should back away, go our separate ways before someone gets angry enough to report it to our masters up the chain of command. Someone with enough power to know who we are and tear our lives apart. But as I slowly back away, Bridget leaps forward, tail held high. I'm not sure how to respond to her boldness, but she knows. Gently, her nose touches mine and our eyes meet, a wolf's kiss.
Neither of us has to keep secrets from each other. I see that now; I see it as clearly as I can see Bridget’s true self. She’s more beautiful than any wolf I’ve ever seen.
I quickly turn my head, making sure that no prying eyes are looking, and give her a kiss of my own.
I really wanted to stick with the prompt of "finding out one of your fellow soldiers is a werewolf" and try to show a bit more of the military experience than kicking in doors and taking out bad guys. The truth is that for every frontline soldier, there are about a dozen that make his presence on the battlefield possible: cooks, clerks, paymasters, supply officers, truck drives, and yes, military working dog teams. I also tried to work with some subjects that I don't usually and with a werewolf species that's a notable departure from my usual gang of HulkWolves.
As always, feedback is appreciated.
the possibility. Just getting through the annoying politicians and
they can do, what they actually could have done as humans
without having politicians decide something.
But, I guess Iraq is a bad place to be in 2007. It's the last
place on earth, where I would want to be.
And I didn't see it comming that Bridget was in fact not so
different from Joanna. So, what's their story together?
I am curious how the werewolves in other countries are doing,
though. I sense a lot of police werewolves, though. Actually,
it's alternate history, so I am curious about the history
being altered here.
It would also put a whole other situation on the race ethics
of the Third Reich, because on one hand Hitler used the term
wolf a lot for anything, but he was a fucking xenophobic ass.
You didn't see that coming? Wow... I was worried that it didn't offer any surprise at all and was downright predictable.
I hadn't really put too much thought into their story together, aside from the fact that they met by chance during Joanna's training (Bridget is the Marine mentioned at the end of the prologue), liked each other's company, and were engaged in a very long term relationship despite both of them trying not to be seen in public. I think it's very telling that they've stayed together this long under these circumstances.
I tried to imply that werewolves' own struggle paralleled the Civil Rights Movement, but to be honest, I hadn't considered alternate history too much as I wanted to keep the story from becoming too long or reading like a history textbook. But I imagine that the treatment of werewolves varies a bit on account of human culture. That is an interesting question, especially since the Nazis called their Postwar plan for guerrilla warfare Werwolf. Hitler was also deeply superstitious and interested in the occult and may have viewed werewolves as divine Germanic spirits sent to help him rather than a subhuman race to be destroyed. There was also a tendency in much of the Nazi Empire to overlook issues of race in matters not relating to Jews and Gypsies when it suited their goals. All branches of service recruited heavily from non-German populations, including the once "Aryan Pure" Waffen SS, which would ultimately field more "foreign legions" than any other wartime organization.
that's sligthly discriminating.
Perhaps it was expectable, but not that predicatable. I
mean, even if anybody could be a werewolf, I won't
point my finger on someone... unless we are playing
a specifc role-playing game, where this is the point.
"Enganged" like in a relationship of two lovers? I guess
that's a pretty tough situation with both being
werewolves and in the military. Or in general in a
society, which is known for a rather mean mentality
about it. Which is also the case in any other country,
except for the few exceptions.
That's also my assumption. Adolf basically is a combi
of the words Adel and Wolf, which mean "noble" and,
unsurprisingly, "wolf". And this is reflected in basically
most thing named by him, as with Werwolf like you
said. And then there are things like the spear, which
pierced through Jesus on the Cross... or at least
what he believed it to be. Didn't pierce through
the Russian army, though.
It's the funny thing about this unfunny history. He
was basically using his ideology pretty flexible to
get rid of specific groups. Those he didn't hate were,
as you say, welcome in his army. Sounds like the
greates bigotry of the last century.
Yep. They've been close for a while. At the time, of the story, members of the US military were not permitted to serve while openly gay. Despite the fact that Don't Ask, Don't Tell stopped a lot of the witch hunts, servicemen were thrown out after being spotted with members of the same sex in bars, restaurants, or other public places. It really didn't take much and I know firsthand that it was a lot easier to get thrown out for being gay than it was for being an incompetent soldier. Things have at least gotten a little better.
I did actually know that and having werewolves in his bodyguard and inner circle definitely plays to Adolf Hitler's ego. I'd write an alternate history piece with a werewolf as one of Hitler's trusted confidants, but I doubt even my ability to do this in such a way that doesn't offend or make me look like a Neo-Nazi or something silly. Hate has a funny way of disappearing in the military. I think that part of why the Civil Rights movement was so successful was because of the Vietnam War. It wasn't the first war to feature racially integrated units, but it was the first where the NCO corps was integrated and the military had made strides towards tearing down racism Life and death has a way of making race seem not so important.
surprising, but only somewhat. I watched 42, where this
was mentioned to show the irony behind the victory against
the Nazis. And alas, if you have something which is not
eve fully human, the same problem might repeat itself. Guess
that makes the fact that in Morrowind most slaves where
Argonians and Khajiit also much more explainable.
Seems really surreal in the 21th century in a country of the
so called Western World. But alas, it's not much different
in other countries than the USA. It's really something, I
can't understand rationally. And emotionally just as much.
I don't see the actual problem people have. I just see a
bunch of people being dicks to people, who just happen to
be different in their preferences.
It is certainly difficult to do so. You can't easily portray a
character, without somebody thinking that he reflects your
psyche. And with someone, who has nazi affiliations, you
get the big pile of problems.
However, there are ways to avoid that. There is hardly
black and white in the history of man and there has been
resistance against Hitler... even amongst those, who had
position and power. You probably guess whom I am talking
It's better to have allies than enemies in a war. The secret is
indeed that the imminent presence of death makes every
aspect of conflict within a group pointless, because only
united they stand. Divided they will probably be shot and
killed. A shame that we had those changes through war
and not something, which didn't result in countless people
getting killed. I must qoute on Juvenal here: "It is difficult not
to write Satire".
I’ve certainly noticed that some European nations have taken a hard reverse course on the subject of gay rights (Russia is the obvious one). I think everyone with a brain knows that the US is going to see gay rights expanded, particularly gay marriage. It’s just a matter of time and I think that the louder the conservatives scream, the less people listen. The Federal Government (including the US Military) now recognizes gay relationships as being legally equivalent to heterosexual ones.
Ah! You’re talking about none other than the Desert Fox, correct? Of course, there were other July 20 plotters, but Rommel certainly stands out, especially since postwar history revealed that Rommel had refused to carry out war crimes, ignored unethical orders from Hitler, and even protected Jewish prisoners of war. Or are you referring to Oskar Schlinder, who was a well-known and very well-connected member of the Nazi Party and would later use these connections to save lives?
People by nature prefer the status quo. War, disaster, and other deadly situations have a way of making the status quo seem suddenly unimportant. That’s a good quote. It’s certainly something I’ve noticed in my study of history.
had a whole network basically for propaganda against any
enemy he had. The same network was also used to spread
his ideals prior to his rise to power. You might guess why
the discredition of competition is illegal in Germany today.
SPD still does it, though, even though very mildly.
But back to the Afro-Americans. I assume after the crimes
of the Nazis (and their helpers) and with a lack of reason
for segretation it is probably not surprising that many
countries simply threw it of board in the end. It's still far
from the point I wish it were, but it's an effort.
Russia certainly has a lot of tendencies backwards to the
last century. His anti-gay politics are so much outdated
it created a lot of discomfort. Certainly, because he also
compared homosexuals to pedophiles, as I read it between
I can't say much for other countries, though, and in my
country it's basically not much different from what the USA
are going at right now. But also just recently. Really took
the world it's time here.
Every single one of them is a good example, but initially
I refered to Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, who was
a high-ranking member of the military, yet in the end he
attempted to assasinate Hitler in the Operation "Valkyre".
Of course everyone, who resistet against him is worth to
be looked at for something like this.
Certainly explains it pretty well. Status Quo is basically
something where people are happy with, because it
goes well for them till some point, where things get
worse and they need a change to change back to a
peaceful state. Of course, some cases might have been
different about it, like expressionists, who waited for a
war to annihilate the unfair society they live in... then they
got it and they didn't like it, of course. This humanity is
Russia is… well… Russia. They go through series of liberal reform followed by hardcore reactionary reversals. They just happen to be in the “reactionary” stage at the moment. The “homosexual = pedophile” mistake was also very common in the US in the past. There’s a 1950s video around that explains that children should report homosexual men to the police or they’ll likely be molested. The world really did take its sweet time on the issue.
Ah, yes… I’d forgotten von Stauffenberg. The “July 20 Plot” is another term for “Operation Valkyrie.” If you’re familiar with the plot, it’s frustrating to see just how one anonymous officer moving the briefcase unknowingly spared Hitler’s life and prolonged the war for another 10 months at the cost of millions of lives.
Humanity has always been crazy. It’s what I love so much about being a historian. My current project at work involves working with documents from the Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident – the sheer stupidity and madness on all sides is just amazing.
I've wanted to touch on the alternate timeline a bit in "Blood Money" too but never have the chance.
I've wanted to touch on the alternate timeline a bit in "Blood Money" too but never have the chance.
You didn’t see the twist with Bridget coming? Oh man… I thought it was almost pathetically predictable. Probably because of the fact that I promoted this story in my friendship circles as “military werewolf lesbians in Iraq.” One thing I’ve always found difficult about “werewolf surprise twist endings” is that you really have to foreshadow it or it won’t take with your readers. I’ve had dozens upon dozens of failed stories where I didn’t do this properly. If you reread, you’ll probably notice some stuff. It’s mentioned a couple times that the Marines have their own werewolf program, often followed by a reminder that Bridget is a Marine herself. There’s also a lot of little stuff: Bridget tilts her head when confused, calls the disgusting stew “dog food,” implying that she suffers much of the same discrimination as Jess/Rosie does, mentions wolves a couple times and describes what they do with a surprising amount of detail, and like Jess/Rosie, she seems to be something of an outsider in her own unit since she never talks about any of her fellow Marines and is always visiting Bridget. All very small details that require a lot of inference, but I was hoping that they’d be enough to foreshadow without being predictable.
Hmm, well I'm not saying you didn't foreshadow it well--all those things make it seem obvious in retrospect, which is how good foreshadowing works. I guess I just wasn't looking out for a twist at the end.
It is indeed. I suppose that it's okay as long as the reader doesn't roll their eyes and stop reading. I was taught that a twist ending is always a good thing. It doesn't have to be "Bruce Willis is dead," but the story shouldn't just predictably plod to a close.
The "Werewolf Apocalypse" theme? I'm really hoping we see some creative entries since I've worked with this theme myself.
And I can't wait to finish my entry. I'm trying a new POV, and my go-to, as usual, is Lupin. Because...werewolf. That's why. I don't even care about winning, I just wanna finish it and be happy with it and hope its halfway decent to read.