The Wolves of Midwinter (The Wolf Gift Chronicles 2) - Page 1

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  • The Story So Far

    Reuben Golding, a young San Francisco reporter, finds his life changed forever by a visit to Nideck Point, an enormous mansion on the Mendocino coast, where he is bitten by a mysterious animal after the murder of the beautiful owner, Marchent Nideck. Reuben, grieving for Marchent, soon discovers he has inherited the house and also he has become a form of werewolf.

    Fully conscious in his lupine form, Reuben is drawn to protect innocent victims of violence against evil attackers. Soon hunted by the police far and wide as the California Man Wolf—a popular superhero—he finds love with Laura, a woman who accepts him in wolfen form. They make their home at Nideck Point where an old portrait of “distinguished gentlemen” on the library wall seems somehow connected to the Wolf Gift that Reuben has been given.

    Sinister scientists appear who seek to gain control over Reuben, pressing Reuben’s suspicious parents, Dr. Grace Golding and her husband, poet and professor Phil Golding, with urgent claims of concern for their “disturbed” son. Reuben’s brother, Father Jim Golding, having learned Reuben’s secret in the Confessional from Reuben, is powerless to do anything about what he knows.

    Meanwhile Reuben, the inexperienced superhero, blunders in bringing yet another innocent into his realm when he accidentally bites Stuart McIntyre, the teen victim of a murderous g*y bashing.

    Reuben and Stuart are soon cornered at Nideck Point by the scientists who would take them prisoner, only to have the plot foiled by the surprise appearance of another Man Wolf before astonished law officers, paramedics, family members, and the newly arrived “distinguished gentlemen” from the library portrait.

    Nideck Point becomes the haven of Reuben, Stuart, Laura, and the Distinguished Gentlemen, with elders Felix and Margon offering answers to all Reuben’s questions about his new nature, the defeated scientists, and the origin of the ancient tribe of Morphenkinder to which Reuben and Stuart now belong.

    1

    IT WAS THE BEGINNING of December, deeply cold and gray, with the rain pounding as always, but the oak fires had never burned brighter in the vast rooms of Nideck Point.* The distinguished gentlemen, who had now become in Reuben’s argot the “Distinguished Gentlemen,” were already talking of Yuletide, of old and venerable traditions, of recipes for mead, and food for a banquet, and ordering fresh green garland by the mile to adorn the doorways, the mantelpieces, and the stairway railings of the old house.

    It would be a Christmas like no other for Reuben, spending it here in this house with Felix Nideck, Margon, and Stuart, and all those he loved. These people were his new family. This was the secretive yet cheerful and embracing world of the Morphenkinder to which Reuben belonged now, more surely than to the world of his human family.

    A charming Swiss housekeeper, Lisa by name, had joined the household only a couple of days ago. A stately woman with a slight German accent, and a very well-bred manner, she had already become the mistress of Nideck Point, seeing to countless little details that gave everyone more comfort. She actually wore a uniform of sorts, consisting of soft flowing dresses in black silk or wool that fell well below the knee, and wore her blond hair in what used to be called a French twist, and smiled effortlessly.

    The others, Heddy, the English maid, and Jean Pierre, Margon’s valet, had apparently been expecting her and they deferred to her, the three of them often whispering together almost furtively in German as they went about their work.

    Each afternoon, Lisa turned on the “Three O’Clock Lights,” as she called them, saying it was Herr Felix’s wish that they never be forgotten, and so the main rooms were always cheerful as the winter darkness closed in, and she saw to the fires that had become indispensable for Reuben’s peace of mind.

    Back in San Francisco, the little gas fires of Reuben’s home had been pleasant, yes, a luxury certainly and often entirely neglected. But here the great blazing hearths were a part of life, and Reuben depended on them, on their warmth, on their fragrance, on their eerie and flickering brilliance, as if this were not a house at all, Nideck Point, but the heart of a great forest that was the world with its eternally encroaching darkness.

    Jean Pierre and Heddy had become more confident since Lisa’s arrival in offering Reuben and Stuart every comfort imaginable, and bringing coffee or tea unbidden and slipping into rooms to make beds the instant that the groggy sleepers had left them.

    This was home, taking shape ever more completely around Reuben, including its mysteries.

    And Reuben really didn’t want to answer the frequent phone messages from San Francisco, from his mother and father, or from his old girlfriend, Celeste, who had in the last few days been calling him regularly.

    The mere sound of her voice, calling him Sunshine Boy, set him on edge. His mother would call him Baby Boy or Little Boy once in a while. He could handle this. But Celeste now used her old title of Sunshine Boy exclusively for him whenever she talked to him. Every message was to Sunshine Boy, and she had a way of saying it that struck him as increasingly sarcastic or demeaning.

    Last time they’d spoken face-to-face, right after Thanksgiving, she had laid into him as usual, for dropping his old life and moving to this remote corner of Mendocino County, where apparently he could “do nothing,” and “become nothing” and live on his looks and the “flattery of all these new friends of yours.”

    “I’m not doing nothing,” he’d protested mildly, to which she’d said, “Even Sunshine Boys have to make something of themselves.”

    Of course there was no way under heaven that he could ever tell Celeste what had really happened to his world, and though he told himself she had the best of intentions for her endless and carping concerns, he sometimes wondered how that was possible. Why had he ever loved Celeste, or thought that he loved her? And more significantly, perhaps, why had she ever loved him? It seemed impossible they’d been engaged for a year before his life was turned upside down, and he wished for nothing more right now than that she would leave him alone, forget him, enjoy her new relationship with his best friend Mort, and make poor Mort her “work in progress.” Mort loved Celeste, and Celeste did seem to love him. So why wasn’t all this over?

    He was missing Laura painfully, Laura, with whom he’d shared everything, and since she’d left Nideck Point to go back home, to think over her crucial decision, he had had no word from her.

    On impulse he drove south to seek her out at her home on the edge of Muir Woods.

    All the way, he meditated on the many things that had been happening. He wanted to listen to music, to daydream, to enjoy the drive, rain or no rain, but matters closed in on him though not unhappily.