The factory was old and abandoned, left over from the days when Lister was still a town. It was all that remained now, the rest of the place eaten up by grass and trees and ivy, swallowing the town up like the tide creeping up a beach. Stone had started to crumble, iron hinges had turned red with rust. When it rained, water dripped in from the roof to form dank, grey-brown puddles on the floor.
They had dragged all the discarded furniture into one room; some rickety chairs and one ancient leather couch they found that was comfortable enough to sleep on. The rest of them slept on piles of blankets or curled up in the old boxes that had been stacked downstairs. There was no point having proper furniture in there; every time they shifted it all got battered to hell anyway.
Flies buzzed noisily in circles over the congealed blood stains on the floor. Some bones were stuck to it, but the carcasses were gone, heaped up in a pile outside the backdoor where no one had to deal with the smell. As though it would have made much of a difference. None of them had showered in weeks and the rain only did so much to wash out the smell of wet dog and piss and blood that clung to their makeshift home.
Rae had been surrounded by that foul scent for so long now, she barely noticed it any more. The baby in the corner was teething though, and she noticed the way it was screaming, day and night. She hadn’t slept in three days because of it. Fitch had yelled at Kerry to shut it up so many times she’d lost count, but either the girl couldn’t, or wouldn’t do it, because still the baby’s crying was relentless.
They’d been here too long now; all of them knew it, even Connell, though he refused to admit it. Weres weren’t designed to live like this, hidden and stationary. They were meant to run and shift and move, but Connell said it was too dangerous now. Even in a pack as large as theirs had grown, it was too great a risk. The leeches were everywhere.
But Rae could feel her skin literally itching to shift and she wondered if it wasn’t a greater danger to keep them locked away like this. So many of them, too, with more arriving all the time. It had just been trickles of them at first; one the first day, two the second and perhaps none the next. But now word was out there, more and more were seeking them out. She didn’t like it; if lycos could find them this easily, what’s to say the leeches couldn’t?
They needed to move again, to keep moving until the pack dwindled back down to the strong and the sharp and maybe then they’d stand a chance. The way things were now, they’d be lucky to survive the week. Even if the leeches didn’t find them, the woods were close to cleaned out. Hunting was getting harder each day, the catch scarcer and scarcer each time. They needed to be saving the food for the young and the strong, not wasting it on the sick old men and women who had sought them out because they had nowhere else to go.
Rae had told Connell as much but he had only shaken his head at her and asked if she wanted to go and dig the graves to put all of them in after they starved.
“You think the leeches will give us a proper burial if they catch us here? They’ll spit on us and leave us to fucking rot,” she had said, but he had ignored her and the argument had ended there.
“You’re a cruel girl,” Fitch had told her later, with his terrible nearly toothless grin.
That wasn’t true. Rae had never been cruel. The leeches were cruel; she was a survivor. It wasn’t as though she wanted the others to die, or even would have considered letting them, if it hadn’t come down to their lives or hers. But now that it had, she saw the necessity in culling the numbers.
Just because she didn’t like to think herself cruel, that didn’t mean she was willing to die for people she didn’t know. Especially not people who, given a year or two more, would be dead anyway. The strain on their bodies would take most of them soon, the way it would all of them eventually, much younger than the leeches.
But Rae wasn’t about to say any of that to Fitch, so she simply stubbed out her cigarette – the second to last one she had left – on the arm of the dilapidated couch and said “go fuck yourself.”
Rain was drumming on the roof again. She didn’t care though; she needed to be outside, she needed to run again. It had been too long and the moon was waxing.
“Where are you going?” Connell asked, as she walked by him.
“Are you worried about me?”
Rae yanked off her leather jacket and dropped it on the floor, beside Kerry. Perhaps if that baby got warm it might shut up. Not that she cared anymore. She didn’t plan on coming back; not again.
A part of her felt bad. Connell had been her pack mate for sixteen years. She’d never been with anyone as long as she’d been with him. Rae had killed for him gladly and she would have died for him too, but she refused to sit around and wait to be hunted down like some kind of animal. That was asking too much.
Outside, the rain smacked against the skin of her bare arms, so much better than the nothing she had been feeling for weeks now. Connell followed her outside. He knew what she was doing, Rae was sure of it. Still, she knew him; he wouldn’t say it out loud. That would mean admitting she was leaving and that he had failed them.
He cleared his throat. “When will you be back?”
Rae shrugged back at him, pulling her shirt over her head. Even now, his eyes still flicked over her body, taking in her naked, rain soaked form. “A couple of hours.” She wouldn’t admit anything he didn’t want her to.
“Be careful,” Connell told her and then she was off, bones cracking and popping into place as she bounded forwards, landing on all fours. A howl erupted from between her teeth, the pain of the transformation still the worst pain she had ever felt. Her bones set, her teeth snapped closed, mud splashed up to coat her fur.
And then Rae ran.
Charlie had been in love with Lyla since the first time he saw her. He was fourteen, and hadn’t ever seen a blonde were before. Hadn’t ever seen many weres if he was being honest with himself. Definitely none that looked like her.
She was fucking gorgeous, even back then. Perhaps not as gorgeous as he liked to think she was, but a looker, no doubt. Tiny and golden and nice. Real nice, like a lady, like how he imagined his mother would’ve been, if the leeches never got to her. Older than him, too. Too old, she said. Not in so many words, but he always knew that she thought as much. Always smiling and rubbing his back and patting him on the head, like she thought she was his mother.
She wore dresses too, sometimes. God, he loved it when she did that. It wasn’t all the time, just occasionally, when she was going somewhere important. One time when he dropped by with Parke, she had on this gorgeous white number, with little red heels and a ribbon in her hair. He got hard over that thought for months afterwards.
That was back before Parke taught him to snap leeches’ necks with his bare hands and scale walls more quietly than humans walked down hallways. Before he got older and colder and bloodier. Before she stopped patting him on the head, like some little kid.
It happened after one of the leeches ripped a chunk out of his scalp. The hair never grew back. He started wearing hats, just ‘cause he saw the way she looked at the scars. He wasn’t ashamed of them, not since he ripped the fucking leeches’ teeth out but they made her sad, even made her cry once or twice. After that, she moved her hands to his shoulders.
She stopped wearing dresses too, and ribbons in her hair. Now it was all black pants and dirt stained men’s shirts. Never his shirt though; Parke’s or Tony’s or Donovan’s. Never his.
At some point she started having sex with Donovan. He wanted to call it fucking, ‘cause he knew that’s what it was, but he still couldn’t bring himself to use that word about her. It made him feel sick to think about it. Not quite as sick as he should’ve felt maybe - ‘cause Don was a good guy, with his glasses and awkward, gawky limbs that didn’t move quite right – but sick all the same. They were always touching, and looking at each other in a way that would’ve made him jealous if it wasn’t so fucking stupid. And even then it still made him a little bit jealous.
Sometimes though, when it was late and cold and she was having one of her days where she acted like the old Lyla, she’d come and lean on him. Just for a minute, just while she talked to someone or looked at something, maybe just to whisper something in his ear and smile one of those smiles. On the best days she would rub his shoulders with her tiny hands that never looked to him like they were strong enough to take the transformation, and he would love it and hate it at the same time. Love it, because the feel of her skin on his was just about the best thing he ever felt anymore these days and hate it, because Charlie knew she wouldn’t touch him like that if she didn’t still see him as the fourteen year old kid she met that day eight years ago.
He still remembers that day. He thinks about it all the time, remembers how things were before the purge. Parke had taken him round to her house. It was just meant to be a stop off, but as soon as she’d seen Charlie, she’d insisted they stay. He’d thought it meant something else back then; thought she’d been as taken with him as he was with her. It had been years before she had told him about her younger brother; one of the unlucky kid-weres who never made it past the early shifts. It wasn’t that uncommon – there had never been a time when the strain of shifting hadn’t taken a few earlier than was fair.
“You remind me of him,” she had said softly, tucking a strand of delicate golden hair behind her small ears.
“R-really?” Back then, he couldn’t speak to her without tripping over his words.
“I wish he was here to meet you.”
Charlie wondered if she would still say the same now; if she would wish this fate on one of the people she loved most in the whole world. Lyla saw the purge as a tragedy, but Charlie could see the beauty in it; at last, they could fight back without fear. At last, after centuries of routine oppression, they had a reason to stand up for themselves. They were always going to die, but at last, they could die on their own terms.
Before the cleansing began, Wylie fancied himself an amateur electrician. The job title never caught on.
Instead, they called him crazy. It used to just be whispers, nipping at his ears as he slipped out of rooms, but now it was all the time, out loud, to his face even, like he was a fucking nobody who they could talk down to. They thought ‘cause they dressed up nice and they spoke with their posh accents, all educated and the like, that they could laugh at him; that they were better than him. They weren’t though.
Wylie was smarter than all of them, smarter than those dogs in the rebellion and those smart suited leeches with their slicked back hair, even smarter than that ginger cunt who thought she was something well special. Truth was, Wylie was a fucking genius ‘cause Wylie D knew what it took to make it out of a war.
They’d been dropping like flies ever since the cleansing began, the dirty lycos who used to beat the shit out of him back when he was just a shitfaced bum living gutter to gutter. If only they could get a look at him now: living the fucking high life, he was and not ‘cause he didn’t earn it. The leeches were disappearing too, but that ginger bitch was keeping that well quiet. Thought they were above it, but all the time now the lycos were getting to them, picking them off one by one. And all the while he was sat back, hiding in the shadows, watching as shit went down around him with no one giving him a second thought.
‘Cause Wylie knew it wasn’t the brave who survived wars. Not the brave, or the beautiful or the rich or the strong or the smart. They were the first to go, ‘cause they didn’t understand how the rules changed when people lost their minds. But Wylie, he lost his mind years ago and so he knew; it was the desperate who lived, and no one else. The ones who made a life out of surviving. The ones who gave everything they had and then some, just to keep breathing for another day.
He told the bitch that once, while she was flicking her ginger hair around getting ready for some TV appearance or other. She had laughed at him and called him crazy. Truth was, she was just fucking stupid.
“It’s the powerful who survive, mutt,” she told him. “What’s more, they choose who else survives so if you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep those dirty paws of yours off my Gucci dress.”
He had laughed of course, and stopped touching that fucking ugly dress that she was so fond of, but she was wrong.
He knew she was, because before the cleansing began, Wylie fancied himself an amateur electrician and he’d learned a little something in that line of work; too much power and sooner or later, any fuse would blow.