Part 1: A Wizard in West Virginia

Reading Time Approx: 7 minutes

Shepherdstown is overrun with werewolves.

That’s Shepherdstown, West Virginia for those of you who are wondering,  most of you probably. It’s a small university town in the eastern panhandle of the state, the bit that’s more like an annex of Northern Virginia. And if you’re just passing through the town, which makes a lovely tourist spot as it happens, you certainly wouldn’t notice werewolf activity. But, dig under the surface and all sorts of things turn up.

How do I know this? Well apparently it’s an open secret amongst the locals and I would have known this if I’d bothered to do some proper research, but I’m not a local and I didn’t see any mention of giant, hairy, man wolves the brochure of the local university. I’m too lazy to do research so instead I spent a memorable night being chased by a whole pack of werewolves.

It does make sense when you stop and think about it though, which I had plenty of time do while I was hiding from those very angry wolves, as Shepherdstown combines both the obscurity of small town America with the regular influxes of fresh blood that are courtesy of its university and a tourist trade. Nobody stands out in that town, well… not unless they grow fangs anyway.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself though, after all the werewolves wouldn’t have chased me in the first place if I hadn’t stuck my nose into their business. I wouldn’t call them civilized precisely, but they do have their rules. It all started off quite innocently, but I have a bad habit of getting involved in things.

My name is Douglas Brodie and I’m a wizard, now lets get the standard questions out of the way. No I don’t wear a pointy hat. I don’t have a long white beard. I do have a walking stick somewhere round here, but it is neither a magic wand or a staff.  I’ve also never had the opportunity to yell “You Shall Not Pass!”, but I keep hoping, because that would be cool.

I live in Charles Town, West Virginia, another small town in the eastern panhandle of the state. How I ended up there is a long story in its own right, maybe I’ll tell you some time, for now let’s just say I’m not from round these parts. In fact I’m not a native of the United States at all, I was born and raised in Scotland. If you’d asked me when I was growing up, I’m sure I would have told you I had no interest in travelling anywhere, but life likes to play tricks on you, or at least on me.

Anyway, there I was, recently relocated to America and since city living is more than a little expensive, I ended up somewhere close enough to Washington DC to have access to all the city amenities I could want, but far enough away to offer me rent I could afford. America is the land of opportunity, or at least that’s what everyone feels obliged to tell each other on a regular basis, I don’t think they were talking about Wizards when they came up with that particular slogan though. It turns out there’s not a lot of paying work for practitioners of the art. The problem is that while lots of people believe in magic, most of what they believe is wrong, and they don’t like you telling them that. They are particularly disinterested in paying you to tell them they are wrong.

Magic is very, very real, and it’s powerful too, but it’s not showy and it takes effort. People expect to see fireballs and explosions, that’s not how it works. For a start there are rules and there’s also physics. Magic is a lot more than just slight of hand, but you simply cannot ignore the law of conservation of energy. Doing anything remotely useful requires practice and education, shortcuts are… dangerous.

There are three groups of magic, the first is wizards, people who through time and effort can make use of magic. Then there are the innately magical like beithir or dragons, Teine biorach or Will-o’-the-wisps, Each-Uisge or kelpies. The third group are people who have been affected by magic, but cannot control it werewolves, unlike Shetland’s wulver, are in the that third group. Those second and third groups are while people need wizards, even if they don’t know it, and, of course, that’s where I come in. Or at least, I am generally standing in the wrong spot when life intervenes. People in need of assistance have a way of bumping into me. Like I said, magic is subtle.

Geas is just a fancy word for suggestion and in my case the geas is a particularly clever bit of magic. It’s a compulsion that operates below the level of conscious thought. I find myself compelled to offer assistance and somehow the world conspires to put me in situations where people need the sort of assistance I can offer. Ask me another time about how I ended up with that geas in the first place. It’s an interesting story, but it has nothing to do with werewolves, or even West Virginia for that matter. Now, where was I?

Oh yes, chased by werewolves. Of course it was the geas that got me into that particular mess. But I should back up a bit if I want this to make sense.

There was a young man standing on my deck when I pulled the car into the driveway of my house. After working an eight hour shift at Supermart 13 I wasn’t in the mood for a Jehovah’s Witness. I sat in the car for a minute, seriously contemplating just driving off again. But of course he had seen me and I was brought up well, so I’m still far too polite for my own damn good. Sighing heavily and mainly for my own benefit, I got out of the car, showing just a hint of frustration in the way I slammed the door shut.

The young man slouched, nervously straightening the collar of his shirt as he watched me walk towards him. He seemed too well dressed to be anything but a Jehova’s Witness, but he lacked their usual calm certainty. Feeling suddenly sorry for the boy, I nodded in his direction and tried to force a smile on my face. I’m not sure it was very reassuring.

“Are you the… ah that is… the um… wizard?” The boy’s tone was almost apologetic for asking such an absurd question. Though clearly fully grown I had now definitely classified him as a boy rather than a man.

I nodded again, keeping my face neutral as I wondered just who this young stranger was. I don’t advertise. Well, would you? Even so, word of mouth is a remarkably powerful thing and I suppose it was just possible that I’d started to make a name for myself. That couldn’t possibly be a good thing.

“I was told you could help me. That you would know what to do about werewolves.” The boy rushed through the words as though desperate to get the request out.

I paused, trying to come up with an appropriate response. In fact I had no idea what to do about werewolves of any sort. With a little time I would probably be able to find out. But what exactly was I about to get myself into?

“You’d better come in.” This time I hoped my sigh was inaudible. I could stall for a while longer, but I was just going to end up agreeing to this anyway. Besides it was over 90 degrees so I might as well take advantage of the air conditioning while the geas screwed up my life one more time.

Turning my back on the boy, I unlocked the door and with a practiced kick pushed it open to let him in. Now you might wonder what on earth I was thinking letting a stranger into my house, but trust me when I tell you that there is nothing worth stealing. I call it a house, but it is in fact what is colloquially referred to as a double-wide.

Hey, I work at Supermart 13, what do you expect, a mansion?

Inside was messy, but not embarrassingly so. I briefly considered offering my visitor a drink, but decided I wasn’t in that good a mood. Turning to face the boy I looked him up and down, just to make him squirm a little. Yeah, I can be an ass.

“So. Werewolves.” I said.

It turns out that Steven’s girlfriend was missing and the local authorities had little to no leads to work on. Sadly that’s not as uncommon as it ought to be. Young women go missing. You’ve all seen it on the news. And it doesn’t explain why Steven was convinced that werewolves had his girlfriend Naomi.

In fact as far as I could tell from his stammered and barely coherent story, the only connection at all was that Naomi had apparently mentioned them in some recent emails to him. Something he hadn’t taken very seriously up to now.

So a missing student who talked about werewolves. The more cynical amongst you may be wondering what sort of drugs young Naomi was sampling. I had a strong suspicion that I wasn’t being told everything, but it as I’ve already told you magic exists, and so do werewolves. Plus Steven clearly wasn’t going to leave my house until he at least got a promise of assistance out of me.

And I wanted him to leave my house so I could have some peace and quiet.

Do you know what wizards hate about promises? They’re binding. Everything in life has consequences. Every action a re-action. The closer you are to the ethereal web (don’t blame me, the name wasn’t my choice), the tighter you are bound to its effects. The consequences can be hard to measure, but the short version is… don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep!

“Let me do a little research.” I told him in what I hoped was a reassuring voice. “Come back and see me tomorrow evening and I’ll see what I can find out for you.” He seemed to buy it and I was able to usher him out of the door with only another fifteen minutes worth of assurances.

He wasn’t a bad kid, but people in their late teens are so dramatic about everything!

I closed the door with a sigh of relief and headed for the fridge. It was a little early for anything heavy so I grabbed a soda. Magic and alcohol is a risky combination. Slumping down on my rather battered sofa I rubbed my eyes. Now all I had to do was find out the connection, if any, between werewolves, a student named Naomi and the local university. All before I started my next shift. Easy!

I sat there and pitied myself for a little longer before deciding I’d better do what everyone does when they need information. I headed straight onto the internet. More specifically in my case I sent a message to Mercedes begging for help.

It’s not that I can’t use Google you understand. I’m young enough to be more than functional on the web. But Mercedes is exceptional. That woman has sources. Lots of sources. Or something. I really don’t know how she does what she does exactly. She’s a secretive sort. I don’t even know her last name. Sometimes it’s best not to ask too many questions and just appreciate the assistance when you get it.

Unfortunately for me, Mercedes wasn’t responding right now. So I went to my best source. The Wikipedia entry on werewolves offered up a number of theoretical explanations for the phenomenon (without actually admitting they exist mind you), but was annoyingly short on specifics.

Sadly while there’s a good body of research into the magical world, no one has got round to digitizing it yet. And there isn’t exactly a local mystical library in Charles Town.

Perhaps a more pedestrian approach was required. Time to visit the Shepherdstown Police Department and find out what they did know about this Naomi.


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