Read Benighted Online

Authors: Kit Whitfield

Benighted

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CONTENTS

TITLE PAGE

DEDICATION

EPIGRAPH

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

CHAPTER THIRTY

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

CHAPTER FORTY

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

A CONVERSATION WITH KIT WHITFIELD

READING GROUP QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

COPYRIGHT PAGE

Without Joel, this book would have no beginning;without Peggy, no middle; without Gareth, no ending.

With love and thanks to you all.

From “Sunset to Star Rise”

Go from me, summer friends, and tarry not

  I am no summer friend but wintry cold,

A silly sheep benighted from the fold,

A sluggard with a thorn-choked garden plot.

Take counsel, sever from my lot your lot,

  Dwell in your pleasant places, hoard your gold;

  Lest you with me should shiver on the wold,

Athirst and hungering on a barren spot.

For I have hedged me with a thorny hedge,

  I live alone, I look to die alone:

Yet sometimes, when a wind sighs through the sedge

  Ghosts of my buried years and friends come back

My heart goes sighing after swallows flown

  On sometime summer’s unreturning track.

—CHRISTINAROSSETTI

Question the lady to see if she will tell you why the beast hates her. Make her tell you, if she knows!

—MARIEDE FRANCE,BISCLAVRET

In the reading of this story, therefore I do first request reformation of opinion.

—GEORGEBORES,A TRUEDISCOURSEDECLARINGTHEDAMNABLELIFEOFONESTUBBEPEETER, LONDONCHAPBOOKOF1590

be-night-ed1. (adj) in a state of pitiful or contemptible intellectual or moral ignorance, typically owing to a lack of opportunity 2. (archaic) overtaken by darkness

ONE

The story is a simple one. According to Ellaway, his car broke down, he was lost, and was trying to find a shelter when he started furring up. He shouldn’t really have failed to find one—there are always government lock-ups within walking distance; you should be able to reach at least one between dusk and moonrise. At least, that’s the theory; like most of our theories, it’s prettier than the real world. Winos are the biggest problem since they’re too drunk to make their way, but this guy’s story might be true, manicured nails and all. It happens every month. Then again, it might not. It’s not much of a story. And the fact remains that when Johnny tried to round him up, Ellaway bit his hand off at the wrist. Most lunes don’t do that. They go for you; of course they do. We’ve all got scars. There’s a deep slash running up the inside of my left forearm from my first dogcatch; a heavy dent in one of my hips from when I was twenty-two; a map of lacerations around my calves—and I’m a good catcher, I get mauled less than most. But breaking bone is something more. Lunes aren’t usually savage enough to hurt you that badly before you get them tranked. They all go for you, but they aren’t all the same. It depends what kind of person they are. This man has to have something in him to make him capable of mauling my friend.

His face looks like a college kid’s, though I know he’s a few years older. A boy who works in the financial district, which means he’s paid well, better than I am. He’ll be paying me himself on this one, and then I can pay my bills. I study him with some hope, and notice how differently he sits from the pro bono cases I usually get. He’s crouched forward, watching me. Maybe he’ll have better manners than usual. I light a cigarette, offer him one to be polite. To my surprise, he takes it. Lycos don’t usually smoke.

“So,” I say, “you realize the charges are serious. Your best hope is in proving that you tried to get to a lock-up but couldn’t.”

“I did.” He says this as if it were obvious. My hopes of a courteous client slip a notch.

I sigh. “I don’t suppose you remember the actual crime?”

He gives me a look: I’ve asked a foolish question and called what he did a crime. “Of course not. I can’t even identify the man.”

I flip a picture across the desk. “His name is Johnny Marcos. He’s got a wife and three kids, and since you took his hand off he’s on disability and worried sick about their education. He’s a very decent man.”

“You know him?” My client looks surprised. “I thought legal advisers weren’t meant to take cases where they’re personally involved.”

Bright boy. “This is DORLA, Mr. Ellaway. We all know each other. There’s only a few thousand of us. It’s a small world. And since we all do—” I stop myself from saying dogcatching “—full-moon duties sometimes, that could have been any of us. And since you’ll get a non-lyco judge, you’re going to have to work hard at convincing us it wasn’t your fault.” I don’t mention how well I know Johnny; he doesn’t need to know that. Three days before Christmas, and this happened to him.

“Why can’t I have a normal court? Any bareback judge is going to be prejudiced against me.”

Bareback, well, there we are. He’s no better mannered than any of the tramps I usually get. I give my illusion about the gentlemanliness of the monied classes a little kiss and send it on its way. “Like I said, Mr. Ellaway, this is the Department for the Ongoing Regulation of Lycanthropic Activity, and we handle our own affairs.” I get out a map of the area. “Now, you say you were around here when your car broke down, yes? And you started walking east. There’s two lock-ups within reach.”

He sucks on the cigarette I gave him. “I told you, I don’t know the area.”

“You should know enough to stick to the main roads. You would have come to a shelter if you had.”

He shrugs, and lounges back, his legs asplay. I take out another file. “I’ve got your record here. Dangerous driving, twice, driving over the legal limit, and possession of narcotic substances. I have to tell you, Mr. Ellaway, it doesn’t look good.”

“They dropped the narcotics charge.” He drops ash on my floor.

“Were you using anything that night?”

“Drugs are illegal.” He looks amused at himself.

“How about a little nicotine withdrawal? Cross because you couldn’t fit a cigarette in your jaws?”

“Hey, hey.” He sits up, waving his hand. “I didn’t come here to be accused. I’m your client, you know?”

I run my hands through my hair. “Mr. Ellaway, I’m just trying to tell you the kind of things they’ll ask you in court. You’ve crippled a man for life. If you can prove it wasn’t your fault you were out, then you’ll get off. And if you can’t, then it’s negligence, grievous bodily harm, the works, and you are looking at years. Years, Mr. Ellaway. Judges don’t take kindly to this sort of thing.”

He shrugs again.

The telephone rings. “Excuse me,” I say, and pick it up. “Hello?”

“Lola?” It’s Josie. She’s been working reception ever since she let two lunes get away in one night. “Lo, I got a call from your sister. She says she’s gone into labor and could you go to the hospital. She’s at St. Veronica’s.”

My throat jumps a little. “I’ll get on it. Thanks, Josie.” I turn to Ellaway, who is still dropping ash on my floor. “Mr. Ellaway, I have to go. I’ll see you again tomorrow, and I want you to think about what I’ve said. I need as many details as possible, so remember everything you can. Now, good morning.”

“Good morning.” His handshake cracks the bones in my knuckles, and he’s still sitting in the chair.

“Mr. Ellaway, you can go now.”

“Oh. Right. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He gets up and swings out of the room.

“And could you close the—” He disappears, leaving the door wide open. I express a few opinions under my breath, and go to close it, making myself a promise to bill Ellaway for every possible expense I can think of. I’ll bill him for every cup of coffee I drink as long as I’m working for him. I’ll get it hand-ground, I’ll add cream. The thought cheers me a little.

I call my boss and explain. “Is it all right if I take the day off? I’ll work overtime next week.”

“A baby.” His voice sounds reflective, not that it ever sounds any different. “Well, off you go. You can see if it turns out to be one of ours.”

I can’t tell if this is a joke, so I laugh just in case. I get my coat and squeeze out of my little office. On the way past reception, a hand comes down on my shoulder.

“Miss Lola May, you save my life.” It’s Jerry, one of my winos, being herded in by my friend Ally. Jerry smells like a trash can, which means he’s fallen off the wagon again. “Wanna thank you frall your good legal advice, Lola May, you’re good legal vice lady.”

“Hey, Jerry,” I say. “What are you doing here?”

“Got stuck out last moonite. Wasn’t my fault, tried to shelter, you know always try. Don’t mind shelters, quite like them ashu-ally. Can’t always find my way, not my fault if I try, Lola May. This guy says I pissed on him when he tried collar me but would I do that? Wouldn’t. You know I’m nice guy, Lola May.” He rocks back and forth, his eyes wide like a kid’s. “Think they’ll sue me for cleaning bill, you gotta help me, Lola May. Don’t wanna pay cleaning bill. Not mon—not mada—mada money. Tell ’em I wouldn’t ever piss on a guy juss doing his job.”

I’ve seen him worse than this: he’s pretty bad, but his sense of humor hasn’t drowned out yet. He’s been able to go out and get drunk again, so he can’t have been locked up in the cells all this time. Maybe this won’t be too rough. “What’s he in for?” I ask Ally, who’s standing a little back from his charge.

“Moon loitering. This is the twelfth time, he’s not doing well.”

“No cleaning bill?” says Jerry, swiveling his head.

“Jerry,” I say, “what happened to your AA program?”

“M’wife left me,” he says.

“Yeah? Was that before or after you fell off the wagon?”

“Ohh Lola May you gon break my heart. You’re hard woman, Lola May.”

My feet are starting to itch. “Look, Ally, I’ll take this case if you can hold it over till tomorrow, he’s one of my regulars.”

“Lucky you.”

“He’s harmless.”

“I,” Jerry declares, “am a gentleman. Do my best.”

“Can you just put it on hold for a day?”

“I think I’ll put him in the lock-ups to dry out,” Ally says, grinning.

“Don’t wanna sleep on straw. Lola May, tell him I don wanta sleep on straw!” Jerry wails as Ally hustles him down the corridor.

I turn to head out, and that’s when I see there’s a man on the chairs who’s been watching the whole exchange. His hair sticks up in tufts, his eyebrows are trained into fierce peaks. He sits with his lips a little apart, baring his teeth. The effect is meant to be vulpine, but it looks more like a bad photograph.

“Excuse me,” I say.

The man doesn’t take his eyes off me.

“Are you being seen?”

He turns his head aside, slowly, and spits through his teeth onto the floor. Then he looks back at me.

“Fucking skins,” he says.

 

I take the bus to the hospital. Sitting in the back, I catch myself folding a little paper bird out of my ticket: I crumple it and stuff it into my pocket. There’s no need to fall back on nervous habits.

My sister Becca and I are not really close.

The baby could be one of two men’s thanks to a DORLA screw-up that’s just another wedge between us. Caught between home and work one moon night, Becca presented herself at the nearest lock-up like a good citizen. It happened to be Friday, and there were a lot of people there; Fridays and Saturdays are always the worst. So some genius put her in a cell with some man she didn’t know. Which would probably not have had serious consequences, except that Becca is one of those unlucky women whose menstrual cycle tends to be at midpoint around the full moon. When she furs up, she goes into heat. If I’d known that at the time, I could have told her to take the Pill and knock her cycle out of sync, but I didn’t hear about it till later.

It’s a government mistake, not hers, so legally neither she nor this anonymous man is responsible. But unfortunately for Becca, her husband didn’t see it that way.

Like a good sister, I went with her to the prenatal classes. I helped her with breathing exercises, I held her hand. I got DORLA to certify that the adultery wasn’t her fault, which was no joke, but I did it, entitling her to enough of her husband’s fortune that she had money to get by on. I even promised to stay with her when she went into labor. Throughout the pregnancy, though, there was a barrier between us, and I could guess what it was. It isn’t just that I work for the department that’s responsible for her being a single mother, my conservative sister’s worst nightmare. It’s that she couldn’t tell me how much she hoped her baby would be normal, because that would be telling me how much she hoped the baby wouldn’t be born the way I was.

More than most people, she has a horror of having a non-lyco baby, and that is because of me. It was only when we were very little that she didn’t notice the difference on moon nights. She’d lock up at home with my parents, and spend the night grooming or whatever, while I would be opted out of it and taken to a DORLA creche. She gave me looks like I was refusing to share something. And later, I couldn’t join in the excitement of choosing a career, because we all know what happens to barebacks: they get conscripted into DORLA. There’s a choice of what you can do within it, but no question, ever, of not working for them. It’s too big a job, and being non-lyco is too rare a birth defect: we all double up and do several jobs at once as it is. That is decided for you at birth. Becca never says that I wouldn’t get into the spirit of things at home, but I know that’s how she thinks. As far as she’s concerned, the Department for the Ongoing Regulation of Lycanthropic Activity stole her little sister. If it steals her baby, I don’t know what she’s going to do.

 

Becca is in the middle of a white bed, her dark hair in a mess that in other circumstances she would be ashamed of. As I come in, she gives me a polite smile that just about covers the disappointment that I’m not her husband. “How’s it going, sis?” I say.

Her voice has a different accent than mine, because of the lyco schooling: even when she’s this tired and stressed, she sounds classier. “The doctor says everything is going fine, it should only be a few more hours.”

A few more hours sounds like quite a while to me, but then Becca always said I had no patience. I settle myself down in the chair by the bed. Becca appears to go into a contraction, and I let her have my hand. Her grip is harder than Ellaway’s.

“Breathe,” I remind her.

I want a cigarette, but if I lit one in this place they’d have me arrested, DORLA agent or not. Becca pants on the bed, and I inhale the sterile air, trying to imagine it is ash-gray. It tastes of disinfectant.

A man with a green paper hat comes in with a purposeful stride and examines my sister without making any comment. After a couple of minutes, Becca releases my hand and I flex it, trying to get the flesh back to where it was before. The green-capped gentleman nods to himself and says something about dilations to the nurse. He turns toward the door.

“Hello,” I say to him before he can reach it.

“Hello. I’m Dr. Parkinson, the obstetrician—I assume you’re a friend of hers?”

“I’m her sister.” Becca flops her head back on the bed, and doesn’t say anything.

“Well, she’s doing just fine,” he says in a soothing voice. “I’ll make a few more calls, but there should be no problem.”

Becca’s face creases for a moment with anxiety, then she turns away from me. Evidently she hasn’t asked him what’s uppermost in her mind. She would have done better to ask behind my back before I got here. Since she hasn’t, she’s not going to say it to my face. She isn’t fooling me, but I appreciate the gesture. Though I’d appreciate it more if she didn’t need to ask him so badly.

“Is it going to be all right?” I say.

“Pardon?”

“Is it going to come out feet-first like it should?”

He makes the beginnings of a deprecating sound, and I cut across him. “Only I was born head-on, you see, and my sister and I agree that one non-lyco in the family is enough.”

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