Gods and Monsters Installment 18: We Are The Stuff That Genes Are Made Of

Reading Time: 8 minutes

LAST WEEK:  Jim begins working at Moirai Mechanics making animal figures. River is attacked by a werewolf, and wakes up with a gun in his hand. Wang Lijun is lying next to him, dead. Kristjan, Jim’s old lover, dies.
Read last week’s installment hereSee all installments here.

(Image created by E.E. King with Adobe Firefly.)

Chapter 52

Jim

Ray Brook — 1984

Totems

One night, I got home later than usual. It was one of those perfect warm fall evenings that happen more often in memory than reality. There was no moon, but Sirius, the Wolf Star, shone out bright as day. It made me think of my tiny cell. It filled me with a sweet sadness, that light from a distant past. I don’t know why, but sometimes hard times lived through can be good to remember. Something had happened to me in prison that could never unhappen. Nor did I want it to. I would not want to live those days again, but they taught me things I might never otherwise have learned.

On my doorstep was a book. Frost was edging the trees, and the air had that fresh tingle you get right before the first snow. The book, though, was as warm as if it had been laying on top of a hot stove all day. It was dusty and so old it was hard to tell what color it had once been—burgundy, maybe? It smelled of sage and time. The word Totems was scrawled on the cover in a thin, spidery hand. The ink was so dark it was like looking into a deep red pool. I recognized both writing and ink. It was the same that had been on the envelope containing my thousand dollars. Inside the book, on the cover page, was my name.

The book was thin, with worn, rust-colored pages, soft as cured leather. About the first twenty pages had been filled by the writing of that meticulous hand in that same peculiar ink. The rest was empty.

I took it inside, sat on my broken-spring bed and started reading. The book told legends of animals, spirit guardians, totems, crows, wolves, and coyotes. I never did figure out who left it there.

Chapter 53

River

San Francisco – 1984

On Demons and Deities

“I wonder why certain archetypes—monsters if you will—are so constant throughout history?” Ryo whispers.

River lies immobile in a hospital the colorless color of tapioca. He’s glad of Ryo’s voice filling the emptiness.

I think I’d go crazy if I were all alone here, he thinks. Then he laughs. The pain takes his breath away. But the ghost of a smile shades his face. Most people wouldn’t consider talking to your dead uncle a sign of sanity.

“You,” Ryo says, “are not most people.”

River is not surprised that Ryo can hear his thoughts.

“Vampires and Werewolves,” Ryo continues…. “Chupacabra, Buda, Lycanthropy, Michigan Dogman, Therianthropy, Lobishomen, Skin-walkers, Hopping, Loogaroo, Asanbosam, and more—all conceived from a fear of darkness, death, and the unknown. The same monsters appear in all places and times under different names. Society modernizes, but fear never subsides or changes. The most sophisticated shiver when a howl shatters the night. We pretend that men no longer transform into beasts, yet deep inside I wonder: if a worm can turn into a butterfly, why not a man into a wolf?  We have created these demons and our fear keeps them alive.”

Chapter 54

Gods and Monsters

1921- 1953

Becoming a werewolf by getting bitten or scratched is common in modern horror fiction, but rare in actuality. We like to believe we control our destiny, but fate is written in tiny strands. Werewolves are usually born, not bitten. It’s genetic, like having blue eyes or large breasts. Silicone can amend the latter, and contact lens the former, but modern science has not yet discovered a way to transform man into wolf.

The werewolf gene is recessive. It skips generations, lying in the bones for decades, occasionally even centuries, before emerging in the full moon with hungry teeth and cutting claws.

The gene resides on the Y chromosomes of Western Europeans. Werewolves are not indigenous to Asia, or the Americas. They are invasive, brought to new lands by explorers, missionaries, and colonists.

Still, considering that Scylax the Greek visited the Middle Kingdom in 500 BC, and the waves of Europeans that have broken on the shores of China from that time to this, it’s almost unbelievable that the werewolves did not enter, or at least did not infect China until 1921. Still, it is the nature of werewolves to be unbelievable.

Abel and Mary Rancunier were Protestant missionaries who came to Northern China in 1918 to spread the word of Jesus, bringing with them the hope of resurrection and recessive genes.

Abel was an unforgiving man. And when, the morning after full moon, he awoke stained red with blood, he thundered into the congregation and told them about sin. He told them that their ancestors would burn forever in hell because they had not known the Lord. He was terrible and majestic in his wrath.

It was Mary, gentle Mary that brought congregants in, not by words, but deeds. She helped the women grow rice in flooded fields. And when illness spread throughout the village, Mary cooled flushed, fevered cheeks with damp cloths and soft hands, calming delirious children with her clear soprano voice. Her songs rose from sick beds, shattering darkness, and just for a moment, when the notes lingered in the air like mist, it seemed that miracles might be possible.

And when she burned in labor for four days, sweating until she was dry, and screaming till she had no voice, the woman came and comforted her and tried to soothe her pain with the poultices and herbs that had quieted the agony and push of birth for centuries. But it did no good.

After Mary’s death, the church emptied. No one wanted to hear Abel call upon the fury of the God who consigned their ancestors to eternal damnation.  When, in 1953, Abel, along with all Protestant missionaries, was expelled from China, sighs of relief rose from the village like flocks of freed birds.

***

 It was a month before Abel’s departure. Fog hung so thickly, the rice fields and sky merged into a single grayness. By noon the sun would poke burning fingers through the mist, illuminating the curving waves of the paddies and the straight, green rows of young rice, but now the world was muffled. Only the whistling of a young farmer, out checking the health of the young shoots, disturbed the stillness.

In a shallow declivity around one of the trenches, he saw something pale and fleshy. It was a foot. The foot of fourteen-year-old Jun Mei. She lay in the ditch motionless and bloody, like the discarded remnant of some wild beast, though there were no large carnivores left near the village.

For weeks Jun Mei lay in the still, empty space between this world and the next. No one talked openly about her injuries. But the villagers hid strings of ten emperor coins beneath thresholds and draped five-emperor coins over lintels to ward off evil spirits.

Jun  Mei survived, but the happy, round-faced, carefree girl changed into a pale, silent, somber woman. When she recovered, almost six weeks later, she was married to Wang Fan, a man in the next village, many years her senior.

***

A wolf’s gestation is sixty-three days, and a human gestation is nine months, but hybrids follow different rules, so perhaps it is not strange that Jun Mei’s son, Wang Lijun, was not born until twelve months after she’d been found in the rice field.

Wang Fan never suspected the child was not his own. Lijun gave no sign he was of mixed race. His only unusual features were the heavy, single brow that shaded his eyes and his long, fine, slender fingers, the index and middle digits of equal length, that seemed out of place on his thick, squat body.

Chapter 55

Wang Lijun

China — 1966

We Are the Stuff that Genes Are Made Of

Lijun grew up in rural China, the oldest of two sons. His brother, Bao, was eight years younger. His father, Fan, was a hard man, quick to anger, fast with a strap. Jun Mei, his mother, viewed the world through tear-stained lenses. She’d been married too young to this man, a stranger she did not love or even like. She feared her husband and resented Lijun. He was a bitter reminder of a full moon and a dark night. Her dreams wrapped her in moonlit rice fields and rang with howls as sad and lonely as forgotten memories.

All babies are born with a need to be loved and to love. It never fades. Lijun’s need was not fulfilled. His only consolation was Bao.

Bao was everything Lijun was not: happy, carefree, and loved. Lijun might have been jealous. He might have been resentful. He was not. Instead, he loved Bao deeply, with all the intensity of his hungry heart. His brother was his only friend; a solace to loneliness provided by nature.

On a warm summer evening, on his sixteenth birthday, Lijun sat on the porch, watching as the full moon peeped over the rice paddies. Suddenly, his stomach was gripped as if by a large hand wringing his intestines like a towel. His head felt constricted by a vise. Rolling on the ground, he writhed in agony. From his throat rose an unearthly howl, a howl of longing and of fright. His face and arms lengthened, legs shortened, fingers contracted, nails hardened, growing sharp and pointy. Rough, coarse hair sprouted all over his body. Suddenly he could see, clearer than he had ever seen before. His now pointed ears picked up the sounds of tiny creatures, night birds, and distant children. He heard his father snoring and his mother sigh. And he smelled! He smelled not only the earth and sky, but time and distance. He smelled what had passed by and when. He smelled fear and joy, life and death, hunger, and lust. But most intensely, he smelled food. He needed food, required flesh. He was famished. With a howl, he leaped at a small animal cowering at the end of the field. He tore limb from body, ripping hair. He sucked the marrow from delicate bones that crushed easily between his jaws. Leaving nothing, but not sated, he bounded off in search of other prey.

He awoke at dawn, sore and scratched. His mouth, clothes, and limbs were covered with gore. His clothes were in tatters. He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts, trying to remember.

Making his way to the edge of a field, his dirty reflection in a pool of stagnant brown water horrified him. He tried to wash away some of the blood, to cleanse himself of remnants of flesh and muscle. Slowly, painfully, he made his way home.

At the edge of the rice field near his home, his mother and father knelt. His mother was wailing. His father was silent and grim. The grain around their feet was crushed and bloody.

“Where, where have you been?” Fan demanded.

“Ahhh,” Jun Mei screamed. “You are alive, you are alive!” She ran to him and threw her arms around him, then pushed away, holding him at arm’s length, noticing his blood-stained tattered clothes. “What happened to you? You were attacked?! My boy was attacked!”

“Yes,” Lijun said. “I—I was watching the stars, and suddenly I was grabbed from behind. I was mauled. He took me far, far away. I… I don’t remember any more.”

“He,” said Fan. “He who?”

“I didn’t see.”

“And Bao, where is Bao? Where is my baby? Where is my baby?” Jun Mei cried.

“I—I never saw him,” Lijun stuttered.

Jun Mei bent down, scooping up something from the field. “AHHHH!”  Jun Mei’s howl exploded into the sky, a rocket of panic.  She was holding the end of a child’s little finger.

Bao was never found. His disappearance was never solved. The family never spoke of him. His mother’s sorrow and his father’s rage hung over the house thick as rain clouds. Wang Lijun closed his heart. He would love no more. It was too painful.

***

The sisters sit.  They are silhouettes of black and white. The usually dark room is illuminated by the full moon. It casts long shadows. Nona has just finished a tiny boy’s jacket, woven of fine silk. It is the pale, luminous green of Luna moth wings, fringed by a deep carmine sash. She sighs.

“Two brothers close as woof and warp,” she says, “Two brothers close as hands and feet. I do not know whom I feel sorrier for.”

“Two sons make one brother,” Morta says. “One is gone and feels no pain, the other feels only pain, forever alone with only memories and hunger. I know who I would pity.”


Watch the author read this week’s installment in the video below:
YouTube player

NEXT WEEK: One day, I went to work and there was nothing there. The whole shop and sisters three had vanished. There was just an empty field where they had been. 

Edited by Mitchelle Lumumba and Sophie Gorjance.

E.E. King is cohost of the MetaStellar YouTube channel's Long Lost Friends segment. She is also a painter, performer, writer, and naturalist. She’ll do anything that won’t pay the bills, especially if it involves animals. Ray Bradbury called her stories “marvelously inventive, wildly funny and deeply thought-provoking. I cannot recommend them highly enough.” She’s been published widely, including Clarkesworld and Flametree. She also co-hosts The Long Lost Friends Show on MetaStellar's YouTube channel. Check out paintings, writing, musings, and books at ElizabethEveKing.com and visit her author page on Amazon.

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