Chapter 01

Colin Ferguson was sitting at the desk in his bedroom, his fingers virtually flying over the keyboard of his laptop, when he suddenly noticed something strange about his hands.

“Dammit!”

He saved the unfinished document, reached out for a bag beside his bed and ran downstairs. He barely managed to lock the front door behind him, not to mention switching off any lights in his house. He ran across the wide street and along the edge of the golf course to a road leading to the seashore and only slowed down when the sodium lights from the street failed to illuminate his path further.

“Damn,” he whispered nervously. He was afraid of the dark, which made his monthly trips a nightmarish experience. He forced himself to go on and finally found his hiding place in the middle of the scrubs.

By then his hands had already transformed into ugly hairy paws and he never dared to think of what his face might look like. The transformation hurt badly, and to make matters worse, it was already November andEdinburghcould be a cold place even in the summer.

Colin tried his best to open the bag, making a mental note while doing so not to close it next time. When he finally succeeded, he fished into it for a woollen blanket and wrapped his body in it. It went surprisingly well, considering how clumsy his paws were.

Then he lay down and stared at the full moon in the sky.

It was boring. Once the transformation was over, he was allowed to lie peacefully and shiver in the cold – he never became a violent creature – but dared not risk doing this at home. So he curled himself into a ball and waited for dawn to come, drowning in self-pity meanwhile.

“I hate this, I hate this, I hate this!” he complained loudly, as if he would have been glad if someone had heard him and felt sorry for him, but he was only thankful there was no one near.

Colin was not particularly worried about his regular transformations, he had learned to handle them perfectly; the real problem was the normal life he was missing. Being a werewolf made him an outcast: always scared of revealing his true identity, permanently lonely and failing to belong anywhere.

A few hours earlier he had learned there was a community of not-totally-human creatures inEdinburgh, and now he thought he should probably try making friends with the others. They met in what people considered an abandoned pub near the Royal Infirmary. Colin stayed in Silverknowes (which was somewhat ironic considering what he was), and there was a direct bus connection from there to the hospital.

He spent another half hour picturing a new life he might get if his “mission” went well, and then eventually fell asleep.

He woke up with the sunrise, his body aching and numb with cold. He grabbed the clothes he had prepared in the bag and quickly got dressed, thinking he should maybe light a fire next time he comes here and keep it. It would mean not getting any sleep, but anything was better than freezing.

When he was ready, he picked up the bag and made his way home. He found the key, unlocked the door and began the usual ritual of switching off lights. The hall, the staircase, his bedroom…

He kicked the bag under his bed and headed for the bathroom to take a hot shower. Afterwards, feeling much better, he made himself breakfast and then went to bed and slept until afternoon.

It was Monday, but it did not bother him too much – he had taken a day off work. He got up at about two, wondering how he should spend the rest of the day. In the end cleaning the house won, but first he decided to make himself some lunch and watch a film while eating it. It was an old habit of someone who liked to take their time and never hurry, and Colin spoiled himself like this whenever possible.

He left the (by that time) sparkling clean house at five to six and wandered down the street to the bus stop. The bus left from Muirhouse several minutes after six and spit him out in front of the huge complex of modern white buildings shortly before seven. He had always pictured the Royal Infirmary as a relatively small, cosy Victorian red brick house, and was astonished to see what it really looked like. The allegedly closed down pub was situated on the other side of the road, crouched small under one of the four tall buildings dominantly looking over Moredun.

Colin was almost overwhelmed with excitement when he saw the place, but when he came near, he stopped, wondering how to get in. The house looked totally deserted and no sound came from within. Too scared to try the door, he just stood there, making his mind up about what to do.

Then, to his amazement, the door opened and a woman called:

“Hey there, wanna come in?”

Colin let out a sigh of relief and managed a smile, while he replied: “Yeah, thanks.”

“You’re new in town, aren’t you?” asked the woman as they walked along a narrow dark corridor towards a yellow spot on the other side – a door to a brightly lit room full of music and chatter.

Colin nodded.

“What are you?”

“A werewolf,” he confessed.

“Mm,” said the woman, “interesting. I’m a witch. We’re not particularly dangerous to the human society, but they like us here, ’cause we’re able to keep the noise down,” she went on and unintentionally explained to him why he had not heard anything from the outside. “Most of the folk round here’s vampires, though. They kinda like the hospital so close.”

“I can imagine,” Colin nodded.

“Well, then,” said the witch once they reached the room behind the door. “Welcome to our world and have a lovely time.”

“Thanks.”

Colin headed for the bar and a minute later the innkeeper noticed his presence.

“Oh, a newcomer,” he smiled. “Like our cosy little pub?”

“Oh yes, very much,” Colin nodded.

“What will you have?”

Colin shrugged. “Preferably something without alcohol… My home’s quite far and I’d like to get back there beforemidnight.”

“Coffee? Tea? Or something cold?”

“Tea will be fine, thank you.”

“Just a sec,” said the innkeeper and turned round to prepare the tea. When he got back with it and Colin paid him for it, he asked: “So what’s your name?”

“Nicholas. Most people call me Colin.”

“You’re not a vampire, are you?” the man guessed.

“No, I’m a werewolf.”

“Thought you might be. Well, Colin, there’s an empty table there,” he pointed in the direction of one of the few empty tables left in the pub, “so you don’t have to stand here. Tea is a ritual,” he winked at him.

Colin smiled back. “You’re right,” he said and sat down at the table.

Just being at this place felt great. Everyone else was an outcast like him – a vampire, maybe a werewolf as well, or something completely different, but still potentially dangerous to normal people… And everyone was having fun.

Well, except the band on the stage. They were probably not having fun at all. It was not that they played badly, it was just that their singer somehow did not live up to their instrumental standards. And they looked very tired from the negative response they were getting from the audience.

They finished a song and almost ran away from the stage. They re-emerged about twenty minutes later to try to solve their grave situation over a final beer.

“‘Scuse us,” they addressed Colin, who lifted up his head from his tea. “D’you mind if we join you?”

Colin looked around the room; the other previously empty tables had already been occupied.

“No, not at all,” he shook his head and they sat down.

“We’ve had it,” said the drummer. “They’re not gonna want us play here anymore.”

“You bet they won’t,” said the bass player.

“We weren’t that bad, were we?” asked the guitar player.

“You know we were, Harry,” answered the bass player mercilessly.

“Maybe they just don’t like the songs,” suggested the keyboard player.

“Well, we certainly have to find out what’s wrong and do something about it, unless we want to quit the band,” thought the drummer aloud.

They didn’t want to quit the band.

“Hey, wee chap!” called the guitar player out suddenly. Colin looked up abruptly. With his 170 cm he was an easy target for taller guys, and was so used to it he immediately knew the guitarist was talking to him, even though if their body masses were compared, Colin might actually win against the haggard musician. “You’re listening, aren’t you?”

Colin smiled apologetically. “Sorry.”

“Well? What do you suggest we do?” insisted the guitar player.

“You don’t want to know,” Colin refused to co-operate.

“I think that’s for us to say, wee chap.”

Colin shrugged. “You don’t want to play someone else’s songs. The audience always compares your version with the original. Especially if you’re trying to sing Opeth without knowing how to do the death metal vocals.”

“But Opeth… they’re a living legend! We just want to spread their word!” the bass player protested.

“Then thank God for the ‘living’, because if Mikael was dead he’d have to turn in his grave, listening to what you’re doing to his songs,” remarked Colin.

“So we want our own songs, you say,” the guitar player summed it up before a further argument could start. “We do have some. Anything else?”

“Oh yes. You want a better singer. Honestly, guys, you play rather well. But you, Harry, would be better in a karaoke bar than a rock band.”

“And what are you, for God’s sake? A bloody music teacher?” Harry burst out. He did not think his voice was excellent, but hated being told it was really bad.

“No, just someone who can hear your voice has no expression. It’s not out of tune, but has no interesting sound to it, which, of course, doesn’t matter in the bathroom, but certainly does matter on the stage,” Colin explained calmly, although a part of him was worried. Harry was a vampire. You do not want to be in conflict with those. Besides, he did not mean to introduce himself as a big head here. He wanted friends.

“Here’s an idea,” Harry sneered. “The karaoke hours are just about to start, wee chap. Why don’t we try who’s better – you li’l wise guy or myself?”

Colin shrugged. “If that pleases you…”

“You bet it will.”

In fact it did not. They seized the karaoke catalogue and Colin let out a “wow” as soon as he delved a bit into the list. This was not a usual karaoke selection. Most of the songs would not ring a bell with ordinary people.

“Good, ain’t it?” said the drummer, noticing how pleasantly surprised Colin looked.

“Seems like it,” Colin nodded. “I guess I’ll go for Bite My Tongue.”

“Quite brave, aren’t we?” remarked Harry.

“Well, it does take some guts to sing in front of a room full of vampires, doesn’t it?” Colin shrugged.

The band burst out laughing.

“I’ll take Through Her Eyes,” announced Harry.

“What’s that?” asked Colin, unable to recollect this title.

“Dream Theater, Scenes from a Memory. Honestly, wee chap, one would think you had to come across it since you chose a song by Enchant.”

Harry stood up and went to the stage to announce the contest between him and the newcomer. The audience welcomed the upcoming event heartily. It looked like fun.

Harry’s song of choice infected the whole pub with a relaxed atmosphere. He sang it well; even those who did not like his earlier performance much had to admit this fact. That still did not make him a rock singer in their eyes, but it greatly improved their judgement of his abilities.

“How so very American,” smiled Colin when his opponent finished. “Well done, Harry.”

“Thank you, wee chap. Let’s hear what you can do,” said Harry.

Colin took the microphone from Harry’s hands and hesitantly stepped onto the stage. Having all this audience focusing on him was a terrible crime against all his instincts (each moment of his life he had dedicated to learn not to draw too much attention to himself), and he certainly did not feel too comfortable about it.

The music started to play and he soon had to concentrate on other things than the audience. And then he made the mistake of forgetting about the world outside the song. It surrounded his consciousness and made him blind to everything else. He closed his eyes and let his voice do what it could.

The not-totally-human beings in the room fell totally silent. That newcomer was… so brilliant! He made them unable to do anything but stare.

Harry stared too.

“This is exactly it…” he whispered quietly to himself.

Colin finished his mini rock concert and immediately realised he was in for a perfectly negative reaction from the audience. He did his best to prepare for it, and thus failed to prepare for what eventually did come. The pub remained absolutely silent. He had not noticed that before, but now the absence of sounds hit him hard.

He had no idea what it meant, but suspected nothing good was to arise from this situation. He wondered what he would learn if he dared ask them what was going on.

“Thank you very much,” he said quietly in the end. Nobody moved. Nearly panicking, Colin made his way back to his table, grabbed his things and almost ran out of the pub.

When he reached the bus stop at the Royal Infirmary, it wastwenty past eight, and his bus was leaving in six minutes. He sat down on a bench and hid his face in his palms.

Well, that’s that. He screwed up. There was no way he could ever come back there. He played a stupid show-off, and was going to pay for it dearly.

“Why did he…” the pub wondered.

“Where did he go?”

“Who was he?”

“Does anyone know who that guy was?” asked Harry, inspired by the previous question. “I want him, for God’s sake, I want him!”

“You what?” the bass player looked at him with an edge of surprise in his voice.

Upon seeing his gaze Harry realised what he had said and hurried to explain his point.

“I mean for the band, of course!” he snapped.

“Well, you’ll have to tell him next time he comes…”

Harry shook his head. He was not going to tell the others, but he did understand why Colin had fled from the pub, and was worried he was not coming back.

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