The crowd went wild. Mariano Humberto Lemain was unveiling his latest and greatest accomplishment: faux furs and leathers that a discerning eye could not differentiate from the real thing. At long last, rich people could once again rub their opulence in the faces of the poor with a clear conscience.Models strutted the catwalk dressed in mink, fox and even tiger skin. They sported exotic leathers such as Python and Komodo dragon. All guilt free. All synthetic. Mario Humberto Lemain, known to his mother as Bert Hansen, beamed with pride. The fashion critics were practically orgasmic. One woman fainted. It was the happiest day of his life. "How did you do it?" a journalist from Vogue cried. She was well dressed and rather attractive. She was also in her late thirties so Bert considered her less than worthless. But she was from Vogue and for that reason, Bert was willing to talk to her. "It's just backyard science," Bert explained. "You can cook it up in your garage. All you need is vinegar, sugar and a few green tea bags." "That's it?" the woman looked skeptical. "Oh, yeah," Bert winked at her. "And one or two secret ingredients." "It looks so real," she said. She gazed longingly at the mink jacket. Oh, to be able to wear mink again without facing the condemnation of her friends. She did not say these words but she thought them so strongly, Bert could hear them. Heck, he could feel those words orbiting around the room. "It's better than real," Bert bragged. "It's stronger, lighter and resist stains. We're actually working on leather that can heal itself." That much was true. There were scientists working on miraculous fabrics that could do such things but they could not say when or if such accomplishments could ever be achieved. A photographer snapped a few pictures of Bert chatting with the Vogue's journalist. The fact that Bert was in the same picture frame as Vogues' highly respected reporter gave him an air of respectability also. A model, Whitney Something, ran over to him bustling with excitement. "This is so exciting, Mr. Lemain! My boyfriend is a biologist and he says he can't see any difference between your leather and the real thing. And he looked at it under a microscope!" "What are you saying?" Bert snapped. "Did you give a biologist a sample of my cloth?" "No sir," she said, cold water having been thrown on her enthusiasm. "I invited him here and he has a little microscope he keeps in his pocket. He uses it when he's out in the field. It's just a-. . . " "Get rid of him. He's probably a spy from another designer. Go! Now!" He barked. He made a mental note to get rid of her too. Then he smiled sheepishly at the journalist from Vogue. "Excuse me. I am very protective of my work. Maybe even a little paranoid. I'm always thinking someone wants to steal my process." "You aren't paranoid if it's true," she said. "This is revolutionary." It wasn't really that revolutionary. People have been lying about scientific discoveries as long as there has been something to discover and someone to pay for the research. Even in prehistoric days, shamans pretended they knew more than they really did and paid with their lives if they got caught. The truth was, the reason Bert's furs and leathers looked like the real thing was because they really were the real thing. The good thing about using endanger species is that he didn't have to worry about his suppliers blowing the whistle on him. Poachers are more despised than frauds. Even so, Bert made sure he had a convincing cover story. He really did have a science lab working on synthetic leathers. There was a different lab working on synthetic furs. Both labs thought the other had achieved the breakthroughs that made Mario Umberto Lemain's House of Synthetic Fabrics possible. When Bert mentioned backyard science, he wasn't kidding. Both labs were little more than ambitious science experiments in the creator's garage or cellar. He drove up to Dr. Anna Klosky's modest farmhouse. Her lab was in her garage and she was her only employee. Her farm sat on 15 acres of woodland so there was no nosy neighbors to leak any information to the press. It was good to touch base with Anna every so often. Her research into synthetic leather was actually promising and having a working knowledge of what she was doing made it easier for him to fabricate stories for the press. She met him at the front door, all excited about his successful show. "Mr. Lemain! I saw your show on the fashion channel! That was so amazing!" "You're very kind," he said. "I'm just the messenger. It's scientists like you who are making the discoveries that will save the lives of animals everywhere." She blushed prettily. Anna was not what Bert imagined a female scientist would be. She was a pretty redhead with a farm girl figure. She was too sturdy to make it as a model but Bert wouldn't mind jumping in the sack with her. She could probably put up quite a fight. She chatted on about how much she liked his designs as she led him back to the makeshift lab in her garage. "I have made some progress," she said modestly. "Not as great as your lab in Connecticut. To be honest, I don't know why you need me if you have them. Their work is absolutely fantastic." The lab in Connecticut was more like a meth lab. That was a moneymaking deal its own right, but that was a different story. The lab in her garage was clean and cheerful. The walls were cream-colored with a tangerine trim. A dozen glass pans held milky solutions with skim forming on the surfaces. These were the synthetic leathers in various stages of development. Various chemical smells wafted through the room but it was not entirely unpleasant. "I've created leather," she said, "but nothing like the leathers on your show." "Give it time," Bert said. "I'm always looking for new techniques." Anna showed him a brownish black substance growing in a petri dish. It had a rich depth to its color. Bert felt if he stared at it long enough, he could see through it -- perhaps to another world. "I call this black amber. It's the base for all the synthetic skins." "It's kind of pretty." He reached for it. "Oh, don't touch it," she said. As if he were a child! "It needs only a small bit of DNA to replicate the skin. You wouldn't want a jacket made from human skin? Your skin?" "Of course not," he chuckled. "Still. There might be a market for that." "Once it accepts the DNA, it replicates it and this machine rolls and stretches it until you have the consistency you desire. Imagine a pair of stockings as strong as leather." She picked up a swatch of fabric and handed it to him. It was soft and pink. "This is the latest one I did. It reminds me of calfskin." Indeed it did. Only softer. Bert stretched the fabric taut and studied it intently. He wondered what a biologist with a microscope would think of it. "This is exquisite," he muttered. "Take a look at these!" She practically danced to the end of the table where she had several folded sheets of fabric. "This leather can fit over your body like a second skin. It can't make you weigh less but it can give you the look of a much younger body. Nothing sags if you know what I mean." He picked up a strangely heavy fabric. "What is this?" "That is what I believe a woolly mammoth skin would look like. A friend of mine is working on frozen specimen they found in Russia." "Why would you synthesize that?" She hesitated for a moment, as if it never occurred to her that she needed a reason. She shrugged and said, "Because I can." Now he felt faint. Perhaps he was standing on the eve of something great. How could such a feminine little thing have made such an astounding break through" It didn"t seem right. She was going on about the DNA and mitochondria and mimicking DNA and falsifying mitochondria. She began to talk about fabricating human skin to help burn victims and some kind of fabric that might allow paraplegics to walk. "We're going to be rich," he said, cutting through all the philanthropic crap "We're going to change the world," she said. As if that was what got her up and going in the morning. She walked over to a male mannequin. It seemed to be naked until she pulled the elastic skin away from the plastic body. "This is something I'm working on. I'm thinking of giving it to the government." "Giving it? Oh no, honey. That's not how it works." "Well, no one else would have a use for it. It will make its wearer a- sort of- super soldier." Bert was thinking about money and profits. He wasn't sure he'd heard her right. "What?" "The wearer could run faster, jump higher, fight better, be more fearless-. . . " "Who gave you the money to develop that?" "Nobody," she said. "It doesn't take money to think of something. I just did it." She frowned. "But I'm not sure I want the government to have it. Maybe I should just destroy it." "Are you nuts?! Think of how much money we will make if we sell it to the highest bidder!" The look she gave him was deadly. He said, "Do you even know if it works? How did you test it?" "I haven't tested it yet." "I'll do it." He reached for the suit. She pushed his hand aside. He gave her a little shove. "You don't know who you're dealing with Missy. You will learn that women never tell me no." "You will learn that I don't create evil things and then give them to evil men," she said. She tried to snatch the mannequin from him. He gave her a solid push and she fell to the floor. He was pulling the cloth from the mannequin when he heard her get up and go to a cabinet drawer. He knew that was where she kept her handgun. "I told you, women never say no to me!" He broke a glass beaker over her head. This time she went down and stayed down. He thought about checking her to see if she were breathing but then he thought not. If she was dead, he could say she was fine when he left but he had seen a suspicious looking black man lurking around the grounds. Whenever you need a scapegoat, always blame the black guy. So what if Bert's fingerprints were on the broken beaker? Everyone knew they were partners.If she was still alive, well, maybe she'd know now that he always got his way. The models could tell her that. He drove back to the city. The skin sat in the passenger seat as if it were riding shotgun. By the time he got back to his apartment, he was completely over the fight he had had with Anna. He was already convincing himself that he had not hit her all that hard. She was being a bit of a drama queen, lying on the floor that way. The skin seemed so delicate, so fragile. He was beginning to doubt it was all she said it was. The material was finer than a woman's nylons. The only thing to do was try it on. He stripped down to the buff and put one leg into the skin. Surely he would rip it, but- no- it slipped on him easily, like a second skin. The hood stretched over his thick head of hair and then seemed to cling to his scalp. How it got past the follicles of his hair, he couldn't say. He went to the bathroom to check himself in the mirror. The person looking back at him was not him. Oh, he had the brown hair and brown eyes of Burt Hansen. He had the classic features that made people trust him. Made them think that someone that attractive had to be a good person. But something was different. The eyes were piercing. The smile, more wicked. Hmmmmm. Was this look sexier? As he studied his face, his eyes grew more intense, his mouth got wider, his teeth got longer, sharper. His stubble grew even as he watched it. His beard grew in thicker and extended across his nose onto his forehead. He stared into the mirror. A wolf stared back. He was a wolf. He remembered stories from his youth, back when he read horror stories and comic books. Some people were werewolves by choice. They accomplished the transition by putting on a wolf's skin. Could it be that Anna had simulated a wolf's skin that could do what the wolf skins of legend claimed to do? She had said it was designed to turn our troops into super soldiers. A werewolf army would be formidable, indeed. Not to mention untraceable. Bert entertained some truly evil thoughts. This suit covered him from head to toe. The only DNA he'd be leaving on a crime scene was that of a wolf skin. And, look at him! He turned sideways to admire his lupine profile. Any witness would say that any crime he committed was committed by a wolf. He jumped out of the bathroom window, knocking the screen down and creating quite a clatter. He didn't care. So his neighbors saw huge dog jump out his window. Let them wonder what that meant. The sun was setting. Soon it would be dark. This was probably as good a time as any to be on the hunt. He trotted through the streets, keeping to the shadows. He came to a river. He had heard werewolves couldn't cross running water. He cautiously jumped to a small rock in the water. Nothing. He jumped to another rock. The current was pretty strong as the river crashed over the smooth stones creating some aggressive white waters. Maybe this wasn't a good idea. But he was in the middle of the river now. Might as well keep going. He slipped on the next stone and his back left foot splashed into the water. Icy hot pain surged up his leg. Water, the universal solvent, seemed to dissolve the bond between his skin and the wolf skin. Unfortunately, it didn't dissolve the bond entirely and when the skin was further pulled off his body by normal movement, it ripped off. Only now it occurred to Burt that he might have trouble getting this skin off when he was tired of playing wolf. Maybe he would need to soak in a hot tub. Soon he found himself in the middle of the park. There were plenty of trees and bushes in there to hide. The place was emptying out. He wanted to wait until he could be alone with a victim. An athletic man in gray shorts threw a Frisbee for his dog to catch. The dog was a German shepherd. Bert remembered a story where the writer acknowledged that no dog could stand a chance against a werewolf. Still, it was easier to attack someone who didn't have a dog. He heard angry growling behind him. Bert turned around and almost bust out laughing. It was a raggedy mongrel. Some kind of terrier mix, no more than 40 pounds. Bert snapped at the little dog. It yelped and jumped backward but it wasn't too long before it was growling again. "Bella! Where are you?" A little feminine voice called. Bert turned toward the voice. He suddenly felt a great hunger. Immediately something hit him from behind. That cheeky bitch! She had to jump on his back before she could get to his head but she did what she had to do to get where she wanted to go. "Ow! Ow! Ow!" Bert roared. Bella, if that was who she was, locked onto his wolf ear and shook it like a rat. Part of the wolf skin tore free and, much to Bert's horror, his own skin came off with it. After much flailing about, he managed to throw Bella off him. It was the story of his life. Every time he found a new opportunity, some skanky bitch came by and ruined it. He was going to have to kill this mutt before he did anything else. He should have just bit its head off. But the cur was so vicious, he was actually afraid it would bite his tongue off while he was biting off its head. Swipe. Miss. Swipe. Miss. Damn little nuisance. Bella was howling now. It was a bizarre yelp. Bert could almost understand the dog's communication. This bark meant, "I don't know what this creature is but it's not right." Bella released his torn and bloody ear and backed deeper into the shadows. Bert dared not turn his back on the mutt. It might rip his other ear off. Besides, he could easily kill this fluffy rat. If he could only get his hands on it. Then, the little girl would be his for the taking. She was still calling for her dog. She too was moving deeper into the brush. Suddenly, she screamed in horror. She ran off crying, "Mommy! Mommy! Some big dog is trying to eat Bella!" Run. Bert thought. Run, you little mutt. Follow your mistress. Bert would follow and easily attack the dog from behind. But Bella would not run. Her tiny teeth were sharp as needles. She could not win this fight but she could leave her mark. Again she began her annoying yapping. It would feel so good to silence this obnoxious barking. The other humans nearby were getting stirred up. Bert heard them asking each other what was going on. Maybe he should just cut out of there. The German Shepherd showed up almost magically out of the shrubbery. Of course, Bella knew the terrain better than Bert. She was bringing him past the shrubs to the center of the park. Maybe the Shepherd was her buddy. That made two dogs. The shepherd started making the same bark. Something alien stirred in Bert. Something he'd never felt before. Then he recognized it for what it was. Instinctive fear. Common sense should have told him. When a dog barks, what is he doing? Talking to other dogs. On the open greens Bert found himself surrounded. One dog, no problem. Two dogs, not a big problem. Three. Four. Five. Suddenly they were everywhere. How far away can a dog hear another one bark? "Wait! Wait!" Bert tried to yell, but his wolf-like throat foiled him "It's a suit. Look. It's just a suit." He tried to undo the fasteners on the back of his neck. They came loose but when he tried to remove the wolf skin, his skin started to come off too. "Help me!" He pleaded to the stunned humans, some of them are taking videos of this. "It's a suit!" He broke and ran into the bush but the dogs were everywhere. One little Jack Russell leapt on his back and grabbed the loose skin in its mouth. After that everything started to unravel.
x x x
I don't usually publish werewolf stories. Those, vampire tales, and zombie stuff have been so emonsterlated (like that?) by TV and Hollywood that they're neither scary nor interesting any longer. When Adrienne Ray (SarahColeman) writes one, though, I take notice. This weird short added just the right touches of traditional horror, funky humor, and legend mingling (skin walker/werewolf interplay) to make me want to share it with anotherealm's readers. What do you think, folks? Tell me on our BBS. - GM .