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?"