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Shay Sheridan - Reality

Chapter 13 - Denial

His eyes were wide, the irises large and black in the dim light.

She leaned down and kissed him gently on the mouth. Then she pulled back, smiling at him. She thought he looked almost terrified, and his breath came in shallow pants. Strange how only a short while ago he'd sounded ill to her, Now she recognized the sound as a sign of the struggle between himself and the animal within.

There was no need for him to struggle now. Virginia knelt on the bed and held his face between her hands. "I am not afraid of you," she said again, her eyes steady, watching his response.

Mike put up a hand to stop her. "Virginia..." His voice was raspy, the syllables came haltingly. She kissed him again, harder, and this time she felt him respond, start to kiss her back. His hands came up around her waist, then slid slowly up her back, clutching her through the fabric of her blouse as his tongue probed into her mouth, and he rose to his knees, hardness pressing against her thigh. Then suddenly he pulled away, dropping his hands, shrinking away from her, eyes not meeting hers. But she wouldn't let him go, capturing one hand between both of hers. He made a sound deep in his throat.

"Don't be afraid of me, or of who you are." She placed his hand on her face and nuzzled it, then kissed his palm softly. He let out a little groan as she did so, then stroked her face. She thought she saw a flicker of light in his eyes, but it could have been a reflection from the window, she wasn't certain.

"You won't hurt me," she said. "Let the wolf out."


Sunlight streamed in through the window where the shade was pulled up, pouring onto the bed, playing over Mike's face, making it impossible to stay asleep. He yawned and stretched, flinching a little at the tightness in his joints as they protested the movement. He squinted into the light, waiting for his brain to catch up and remind him where...and who, he was.

The bedside clock said 8:35 and at first he thought he was late for work and couldn't understand why the alarm hadn't gone off, but then remembered it was Saturday. At least he assumed it was. For all he knew it could be Sunday. That had happened before, more than once, losing an entire day. The thought of what must have transpired again depressed him.

Next to the clock a plastic bottle lay on its side, pills spilling out onto the nightstand. That explained the disembodied feeling. No wonder his brain felt thick, his eyes blurry, his skin a little numb. Probably should go for a run, that would at least start to clear away the fog, but he doubted he'd make it further than the shower. The blanket felt heavy as he raised it, attempting to sit up, and something next to him stirred and sighed, nestling further into his shoulder.

What the hell?


He had no idea why she was there.

Mike let go of the blanket and turned to look at her as she slept. He was used to waking up with a feeling of disorientation, confusion, head filled with the remnants of wild dreams after nights like these, but this was a first. He concentrated, trying to make his sluggish brain assemble all the pieces, and eventually he could remember Virginia arriving at his door just as the unpleasant symptoms that had been building within him all day were about to reach a peak. He remembered, vaguely, her fussing over him, bringing him tea, of all things, bossing him around, fixing up his bed — after that the details blurred and ran together in a foggy, drugged stream. One thing was certain: he'd opened the door for her, not hiding in his apartment incommunicado as he always did. He'd wanted her there, with him, that much was obvious. Even his mother had never gone through this with him; by the time he'd experienced it for the first time, Lisette had been damaged, fragile, locked away.

But the chance he'd taken when he opened that door! And so had Virginia, though she didn't know it. He groaned inwardly at the thought of what MIGHT have happened. Fortunately he'd obviously slept straight through. The fact she was still here (and lying naked next to him) might speak for her expectation that he'd feel better this morning, or that she wanted to stay with him, to comfort him. Or maybe, he thought with a little smile, she just didn't want to sleep in her clothes. Impossible to guess. He'd have to ask her.

He was very, very glad to find her here. Yet he was troubled by the fact of her presence.

He turned on his side, shifting so that he cradled her in his arms. She was beginning to wake up and he traced her profile with his lips and planted a gentle kiss on the tip of her nose. Virginia opened her eyes, smiled sleepily at him and snuggled against him, kissing his stubbly chin and then the hollow at the base of his throat. Which felt very good indeed, quite erotic, and he felt his lower region twitch at the sensation.

Virginia had awakened at the first tender touch. Her voice still sleepy, she murmured into his neck, "Good morning, my wolf."

He froze.

Virginia felt the change in him immediately and opened her eyes. "Mike?" His hands pulled away from her. "Are you all right?" He didn't answer. "What's wrong? What just happened?" He sat up, his back to her, and alarm resonated in her next words "Tell me. Please."

"Why did you call me that?"

Virginia felt a warning tingle go through her. "Why did I call you--? Well I, I thought...last night, we... That is, I --Mike. It's, it's okay." She sat up behind him and wrapped an arm around his shoulder, pressing herself against his back. "It's all right, I told you. I know--"

Mike stood up, nearly spilling her onto the floor. "You know? What do you know? What are you talking about?" He stared at her, his brow deeply furrowed, his eyes wary.

Virginia's heart started to beat faster. "I know," she said, slowly, "about your secret. I know about the moon --"

He laughed once, and stepped back from the bed, incredulity spreading across his face. "'Secret'? 'Moon'? Virginia, what is this, some kind of joke?" He grabbed his robe off the chair and pulled it on. She knelt on the bed, clutching the sheet, suddenly feeling very vulnerable in her nakedness. This was not what she'd expected, far from it, in fact. "It's no use denying it, Mike, I may be the only person you know who understands --"

"Understands WHAT?" he snapped.

"About you." She knew she sounded desperate, she felt desperate. What was going on, anyway? "You're different --more than human, you're a wolf — a half-wolf maybe, but — "

"A wolf --? Jesus! Are you insane, or, or, on crack or something?"

"You know I'm not. You know it's the truth." Why would he deny it when the truth was so obvious?

"I mean," Mike rattled on, folding up clothes, piling papers, his hands busy and his eyes not meeting hers, "You come in here though you know I'm sick, and I ask you not to, you spend the night without me even knowing it, and, and maybe I was delirious, it's possible, but now you start telling me, what — that you think I'm a, a — a werewolf?"

"YES!" She hadn't meant to shout, but it made him turn to look at her. "Maybe what you are is called that. Maybe you're just a wolf. It doesn't matter. I know what you are, and you don't have to hide it from me, I've seen all the proof — Don't you remember last night?" He didn't answer, and she took a breath and went on. "The full moon — it makes you sick. Makes you want to change..." She started to listen to herself and realized how insane it all sounded by daylight. "What about the scar? On your back, your tailbone?"

His hand went to the spot of its own volition. "Scar?" His eyes moved as he searched his memory. The action looked real to her, not like a performance, and she wrinkled her brow. "That's a birthmark. You mean — that's — you think I have a tail?"

"No, obviously you don't, now, I think it was removed --"

"Listen, Virginia, I don't know what's making you come up with all this crap, but I'm beginning to wonder, you know? I mean, when we met there was that story about your fianc้ and his name was Wolf, so I gotta wonder what this obsession of yours is --"

"Obsession? Mike, what are you talking about?"

"Whatever. Maybe you need to see someone. I don't know what to say. This, this full moon story is weirding me out, all right?"

"Mike, I'm not making this up --"

"Just — STOP it, okay?" He shouted the words at her and threw the books and papers he was holding onto the floor with some force. He let out a long breath. "Maybe you should go."

The extent of the denial was so absolute, Virginia couldn't think of a response. She'd been on the verge of tears, but now all emotion left her. She felt nothing, just numbness, as she retrieved her clothes and took them into the bathroom, where she dressed quickly. When she came back into the room, Mike was sitting in the chair, his head in his hands. "Mike..." He didn't respond, didn't look up. She picked up her purse next to the nightstand and let herself out.

On the street she began to cry, furious, anguished, heartbroken tears.

Why wouldn't he admit it? When she'd been there with him through the night!

Was it possible he didn't remember? That seemed unlikely. But the entire thing was unlikely, wasn't it?

Could it be she HAD concocted this from evidence that pointed to something else entirely? After all, he hadn't grown claws, or fangs, his eyes hadn't really flashed yellow, and if the nature of their lovemaking had been more intense than usual, he hadn't been, well, beast-like or anything. Just Mike, ardent and passionate, but himself.

Unless the pills were somehow affecting him...

The pills, what were they, exactly, and what was their part in his strange denial?

Well, at least she could try to answer that question. She opened her hand and looked at the two little brown pills she'd taken from the nightstand. Perhaps there were other ways, more scientific ways, to find out what was going on. Ways to distract herself from thinking too much about her aching heart.


Mike sat in the chair for some time, trying to think. Trying NOT to think. Wolf. Wouldn't that be nice, to be something strong and powerful and mysterious. In his dreams! Well, in his dreams, that's what he was like, a beast of mythical proportions, more than human, dangerous, yes. But absurdly impossible.

The truth was far more devastating than some mythic fantasy.

He leaned back in the chair and stared at the ceiling. Virginia's conclusion was disturbing, to say the least. But it was clear she knew there was something terribly wrong with him, even though he'd tried to keep it from her. Stupid! Stupid! I should never have let her in!

Too late. Well. He hadn't been in his right mind, had he?

He suddenly felt very anxious. He got up and paced around the room, He could feel his heart pounding and his hands beginning to tingle. I'm hyperventilating; better calm down right now, an anxiety attack won't help. He looked at the clock– nine am on a Saturday morning. Should he call --? She'd said any time he needed to.

He needed to.

He sat down on the bed and dialed a number. After two rings a woman answered.


"Yes, hi, It's Mike, Michael Wolf. I'm really sorry to call you on a weekend, but --"

"Are you all right?"

"No. Yes. No. I don't know."

"Is anything the matter, Michael? Do you need to see me?" "Yes. I don't guess it's possible, today, but..."

"Hold on a minute." She went away from the phone and he concentrated on making his foot stop tapping "Are you there? I can see you at eleven, if you like. Would that be all right?"

He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "Yes. Yes, that would be fine. Great."

"All right then, eleven o’clock. See you then."

"Okay. I really appreciate this, on such short notice."

"That's fine. I told you to call me if you needed to talk. Goodbye."

"Goodbye. And thanks, Dr. Horovitz."


Virginia went home to change her clothes. Tony was out somewhere, but he'd left a plaintive note saying, "Virginia, I was worried about you. If you are reading this, please let me know where you will be." It was about as concerned a note as he'd ever left for her, and with a rush of guilt she realized how she'd been neglecting him lately. She washed up and ran out the door.

She was at the kitchen entrance of the Grill by ten. The crew was surprised to see her, as she didn't have a shift, but she wasn't there to work. She needed to find Candy.

The blonde popped in a little after ten. "Virginia — what are you doing here?" Her face lit up; she and Virginia had been pretty good friends until the last couple of months, since Virginia's accident in the park, and she'd never stopped trying to renew the relationship.

"Listen, Candy, are you still dating that drug guy?"

"Sshh, Virginia, please!" Candy pushed her into a corner. "Tazer's not a drug guy, he's a chemist. Well, I mean he was a chem major until he got suspended. He's working at his dad's pharmacy. You make him sound like a dealer or something."

"Sorry." Virginia had her own suspicions about the guy, but shelved them for the moment. "Do you think I could ask him to test some medicine for, uh, a, a friend of mine, find out what it's made of, you know?"

Candy wrinkled her brow. Thinking was an effort. "Well, sure, I don't know why not. How come you're testing it?"

"He, she got it from one of those herbal places and I want to find out if it's safe. You know. Doing a favor for him. Her."

"Ooh, sounds like a mystery!" Candy liked mysteries, as long as they weren't too challenging. "You're not, like, trying to find a good poison, or anything? Like that movie? The one where there's a serial killer and, and he works as a chef, so he can kill all these people? I mean, God, Virginia, if you were a killer or something, or Typhoid Mary, could you even find a better job than working for a restaurant? I mean, duh! Though I guess maybe you could, if you--"

"--Candy!" Virginia's sharp tone snapped the blonde's attention back to earth. "No one's poisoning the customers. Just want to know what's in this. Will he do it?" She held up a vial and shook the two little pills inside.

"Yeah, okay, sure," Candy said. "Tazer's coming by at noon for a sandwich. I'll give it to him then."

"Thanks, I owe you. Will you let me know when he's done?"

"Sure." She turned as the captain bellowed her name from the front of the kitchen. "You better go before they make ya work. I'll call ya."

"Thanks, Cand." Virginia beat a quick retreat. Might as well go home and wait to make her peace with Tony.


"Come on in."

She stepped aside to admit him, and Mike noticed Dr. Horovitz' only concession to Saturday was to wear a tailored pantsuit instead of a skirt. Her signature silk scarf pinned with a gold bow, the oversized glasses and the intense pink lipstick were all in place, as if this were a regular appointment on a regular day. She greeted him with crisp professionalism, no mention of how he'd missed two scheduled appointments in a row.

"So, Michael," she said, gesturing him to a chair, her Viennese accent as juicy as ever. He didn't sit, but stood by the desk, shifting a little from foot to foot, and she regarded him with shrewd eyes. "So, tell me, what happened, another episode?" Funny, he thought, how part of her skill as a therapist was knowing when to be a Jewish mother. She noticed he was still standing and clucked reprovingly. "You are going to stand for an hour?"

"No, no, I just, I uh..." Now that he was here, he felt very unsure of how to begin. He walked over to the armchair, looking at the walls lined with books. He scratched his chin. He ran a hand through his hair. He cleared his throat. She waited. "Sorry about the missed appointments. I'll pay for them, of course, here --" His hand reached for his wallet, but she stopped him, clucking in a motherly way.

"This is why you are here? I know you'll pay. Forget that for now." She watched him squeeze the high back of the chair, drum his fingers on it, pat it. "You're very nervous today, Mike. You can either sit down and tell me about it, or stand around stalling all day. The choice is yours." "Okay. All right." He sat down, but not on the chair, on the leather couch across the room from her. He looked at his hands. He tapped his fingers on his knees.

She moved to the armchair and watched him owlishly through the enormous eyeglasses. "So. What happened that was so bad you needed to drag me to work on a Saturday? Come on, spill it out."

"I thought..."His voice trailed off. He looked at the books.

"You thought what?"

He took a deep breath. "I thought everything was going fine. I met this really terrific girl — Virginia. I told you about her, last time I was here --"

Dr. Horovitz examined her notes. "Ah yes. In the subway. The one you met in that highly dramatic way." She lifted her head. He nodded. "You are still seeing her?" He nodded again. "Is she as crazy as you thought she was? Is that why you are here?"

He looked up to see the doctor smiling. "No. That was all a mistake. About her ex-fianc้ and all. We hit it off. Things have been going really well. I care about her. A lot, quite a lot. I want to be with her all the time, I feel, I might know."

She nodded her head in understanding. "You think you might even be in love with her. Mike, I don't want to be rude, but we've talked about this co-dependency thing before. With Cathy, you rushed in, and you were mistaken about the relationship. What makes this so different?"

The corner of his mouth raised in a crooked smile. "I don't know, yes. I think I may love her. Maybe, it just seems like it's --" He looked at her, then away. 'Don't laugh. I feel like we're...supposed to be together. Like it's destiny or something." A look of embarrassment crawled across his face. "I know, I know. Romantic bullshit."

Dr. Horovitz looked at him thoughtfully and said nothing for a moment. "Maybe it's preordained for you to be together. These things are possible, I suppose, but what do you know about her that makes you think so?"

"Everything she says, well, resonates with me. It's like I know what she's going to say before she says it. Stuff like that. And, and, she's kind, she's helpful, she's there for me, she's..." The anxious look he'd arrived with was back on his face. "But the problem is, Doctor, the problem, my problem —"

"Yes? The problem is --?"

"It happened again. Yesterday. Last night."

"Another one of your episodes? I thought so. What happened?" He swallowed and nodded. "Yes. Another one. I..."


"I got sick. I felt like I had a fever. Restless, nervous. Then, then a blackout, I guess. Hallucinations. I think they were, anyway." He tugged at his nose, at his hair, then clenched and unclenched his fists. "She was there. Virginia was. I don't even remember what happened. I could have done anything. I could have — I might have --"

"Hold on. Might have? Might have what? What did you do?"

'I DON'T KNOW!" His tone was brutal, but to his horror, Mike felt tears in his throat, his eyes, and he wiped them away with his hand. Dammit! He hadn't realized how close to the surface everything was. "I hate this," he said, miserably.

"You hate this? Come on --I know you can elaborate on that. You went to college, after all, Mike."

Oh, great --she wasn't about to leave him alone. "I hate --feeling like this. Exposed. Crying. Out of control. Crazy. Manipulated." He snorted and made a really unpleasant face at her, then added ruthlessly, "But I guess that's what I pay you for, isn't it?"

"Who manipulates you? Is it me?"

He reached for a tissue and blew his nose. "No. Not really. Not --no. Sorry."

"Don't be sorry about what you feel. It's good to know what you feel, If you're being manipulated, who is doing it?"

He shook his head. "Controls. Tries to control me" He got up and started to pace around the small room.

"Your grandfather, is it him?"

"You know it is. That's not what I want to talk about."

"You know you don't have to do what he says --"

"I told you, I don't want to discuss it!"

"All right, all right. But if you want my opinion, from the way you're acting, I think it's bothering you. Please sit down, you're making me dizzy."

He laughed, a short, bitter sound. "Now you know how I feel." But he sat down again.

She took off her glasses and polished them on her scarf. "All right. Let's go back a little. You are with your girlfriend. You feel sick, you have a fever, then it all gets confusing. Today you are terrified that you might have done something during a blackout. Mike, what are you afraid of? What did you think you might do?"

"Kill her."

She was silent a moment, then spoke softly to him. "Why do you think you'd kill someone you love?"

"Because I'm not myself when I do it."

"If you're not yourself, then who are you?"

He made a disgusted sound. "Not who. WHAT. I've told you this before. Yes, I am myself. But when it happens, I think I'm some THING else. Don't you get it? I'm crazy. Mentally ill. Sick, disturbed, psychotic, whatever. When I have these attacks, these episodes, I actually believe I'm not human! A beast, a, a thing. I feel that way, like I'm a werewolf, or something powerful, horrible. I actually believe it's happening. I act that way."

"So you think --"

"I DON'T think. I'm INCAPABLE of thinking!" He was on his feet again, shouting, growling, hands gesturing madly, eyes staring. "And then in the morning, I can barely remember what I've done. I find things ripped up, broken. Destroyed. And I've eaten anything I can lay my hands on. What if I were to — no, no, I can't think that or I will go completely mad." He started to laugh, a strange, awful laugh that he couldn't stop, and could feel the edge of hysteria advancing, so he breathed deeply a few times, consciously trying to calm himself. "I don't know what's real. It all seems like a dream, afterwards, or delirium. You know what, doc? I am a lunatic --in the real meaning of the word. I see the full moon, I go crazy. I act like some sort of terrible creature. I must be pretty believable at it, too. I actually bit my last girlfriend --I'm sure that's why Cathy left me. Couldn't get far enough away. Afraid I'd eat her up, I imagine!"

"Mike --"

He ranted on, obliterating the doctor's words. "I thought it was gone. I hoped it was gone, now that I met her. But --do you know that this morning, Virginia actually called me a wolf? She thinks I am one, for real, no kidding, that's how sick I am. That's how crazy she is, I guess, crazy after all. But not dangerous like me, no, no. This psychosis, this delusion, this compulsion, this I don't know what it is --I'm losing my mind, one full moon at a time. I can't stand it any more. I don't know what to do. What I'm going to do. My grandfather was right. I'm nuts, just like my father." He started to cry again, suddenly. "Like my mother. Both of them."

She put down the file. "Mike. Those books I had you read, the ones on convinced seasonal or preordained psychosis? Do you remember what they said and what I keep trying to tell you? Your lack of attention growing up and indulged fantasies have led you to believe that something --the moon, in this case --is controlling your behavior. It is not so. You want to let out anger, but don't let yourself, so you create an excuse to do it. Every month you have an 'episode' that coincides with wolf myths. You may have a clinical condition that can be treated --the blackouts, anyway --and the rest will have to be solved with more therapy. Possibly medication."

"I know what you've told me. But it's in my head and I can't get it out, no matter what I do, what I read, how many sessions I have, how many sedatives I take --" He flung himself back on the couch, staring at the ceiling through streaming eyes. "It's been going on so many years. I can't stand it. I just can't. I can't live like this anymore!"

"All right, all right." She passed him the box of tissues. "Let me say it another way, okay? This creature you believe yourself to be, this wolf, or whatever, he is full of rage, he is powerful. He destroys, and he cannot be contained. Correct?" Mike nodded. "He, it, cannot be controlled, not by you, not by anyone, can he?"


She leaned in. "Don't you think it curious, then, that one of your issues has always been your resentment against your grandfather, for how he exerts control over your life, your career, your choices?"

His gaze burned into hers.

"You are very conflicted, this I know you know, about your relationship with him. You feel he is responsible for your parents' tragedies, yet you also love him and depend on him. You choose to depend on him. What kind of creature do you think you would have to be, to break away from someone you give so much power to? And if you can't, or won't, do it consciously, what do you imagine your subconscious mind might do to rebel against all that control?"

"But why be something so horrible? If I need to feel powerful, why don't I think I'm Batman, or something?"

She smiled at him. "Because you feel so guilty about this rage. Your mind can't accept that you hate him so much, so much that you want to kill him. It's not your girlfriend you fear you might kill — you just think that to punish yourself. So is acting out, biting, breaking things. You're angry with him. And you're angry with yourself, for not standing up to him. So? You are a horrible beast. You are not Michael Wolf. You are Michael, the wolf."

"I don't know. It's so real, in a way. And the fever --"

"Your mind can make you physically ill. It is called a psychosomatic effect. And this beast, this uncontrollable wolf, is real to you. Don't get me wrong — this is not a simple problem. But I feel we are closer than we've ever been. I want to ask you about something you said. I haven't given you a prescription for sedatives. What are you taking and how did you get them?"

"It's over-the-counter. Herbal stuff." Yes, supplied by my grandfather. There's an ironic conflict of interest, all right.

" shouldn't take it if it's not FDA approved. Really, be careful. You never know what may be in those things. If you need to relax, or to sleep, try a glass of warm milk."

He laughed, a true laugh this time. "Not chicken soup?"

"Why not? That cures everything."

The call came at about three. Candy was heading off her shift and let Virginia know that Tazer was waiting in his apartment near Columbia University. Virginia made the trek up to 114th Street, to a fifth floor walkup. Smells that were unusual, to say the least, were creeping out under the door, and Virginia hesitated before knocking. She couldn't shake the feeling of doing something illegal. Well, Tazer was probably doing something illegal, anyway. She set her jaw and knocked.

'It's open!"

"Hey, Tazer." She spoke to his back. He was bent over a stained kitchen counter which had been converted into a kind of laboratory, his nose only inches from some greenish concoction in a glass flask. He grunted a hello and took a swig of the flask. Virginia had known him almost as long as she'd known Candy, and she still found them an odd couple. Tazer clearly had intelligence and a vast amount of education, though currently he was "taking a break" while his suspension ran its course. What his infraction had been was anybody's guess, though she assumed it had something to do with controlled substances, and his possession of same. Candy, on the other hand, was, well, to be kind, an airhead. Opposites attract, I suppose, Virginia thought. Of course, I'm one to talk! "Find out anything?"

Tazer looked up at her and squinted over his John Lennon glasses. The bright blue bandanna holding back his frizzy hair made his curls stand up on top of his head, and coupled with the Hawaiian shirt he wore over an old pair of green scrubs gave him the chaotic look of a hippie mad scientist. He threw Virginia a meaningful look. "Yeah, I guess you could say I found out some stuff."

She slid onto a high stool across from him. "And?"

He lifted a stoppered vial and stared at the sediment thoughtfully. "Who did you say gave you this again?"

Tazer was looking at her with a fair amount of suspicion, and Virginia felt a strange tingle up her spine. "Uh, someone I know who got sold this stuff. For his -- migraines. I told him not to take it until I checked it out."

"Good thing you told him that. This stuff is dangerous."

She had gripped the counter without realizing it. "Why? What is it?"

"Well," Tazer flipped open a pad that lay on his desk. "Mostly Aconite. Alkoloidal aconine in crystalline form, with the alkaloids of aconine and benzaconine. Plus point one percent belladonna. The rest is starch, buffer material, coating --" He leaned over the counter. "This stuff is almost pure Aconitum napellus. It's a deadly poison — even this small a dose. Sure, it could stop a migraine. It could stop your heart, too. Who did you say was selling this stuff?"

"I — I don't know. My friend didn't tell me." She sat still for a moment, trying to recover from what he'd told her. "Thanks, Tazer, I really appreciate it." She got off the stool and started to the door.

"Do you want this back?"

"No, I do not want it back. Throw it out, okay? I mean it."

"Sure, I will."

She paused with her hand on the doorknob, the dazed feeling wearing off. "Wait. What did you say it's called again?"

"Aconite. It's from a plant, Aconitum napellus, of the Ranunculaciae family." She groped for the pad in her pocket but couldn't find a pen. "Don't have to write that down. Just remember it from its common name."

"Which is?"


"Wolfsbane?!" Her own heart seemed to stop for a moment. "Thanks, Tazer," she muttered again, and groped her way to the door.

"You're welcome. Hey, tell your friend to stay away from whoever sold it to him. But if it's designer drugs he wants --"

Virginia didn't hear him. Her brain was racing. Wolfsbane, wolfsbane. Mike was systematically poisoning himself. With something called wolfsbane.

Twenty minutes later she stood in front of a Kinko's, cursing the fact that she had no computer at home and had to rent time on one.

Four minutes later she was logging into the Internet.

Seven minutes after that she sat staring at the website for The Pharmacological Directory of Poisons, Herbs and Medications.

Twenty-eight minutes later, hands shaking, she looked at the pages she'd printed out, and read:

Wolfsbane, aka Monkshood, Old Wife's Hood, Friar's Cap. Botanical: Aconitum Napellus; Wolf's Bane, common name, the direct translation from the Greek iycotonum, known in classical times as Aconitum lycotonum, derived from the idea that arrows tipped with the juice, or baits anointed with it would kill wolves.

In homeopathy wolfsbane and aconite are used for the reduction of pain. As a tincture taken internally or injected with a hypodermic, it diminishes the rate and force of the pulse and reduces fever.

Symptoms of aconite poisoning include:

Tingling of the mouth, numbness, soon extending to the entire surface of the body, paralyzing sensation of the throat and vocal cords, reduction of appetite and cessation of thirst, epigastric pain, bloodless appearance of the face, cold extremities, reduction in body temperature, staring eyes, suppression of hearing, contraction of the iris, reduced heart rate, sedation, weakness, hallucinations, delirium. Death.

Historically Wolfsbane was thought to be an antidote against other poisons, but criminals given the herb as an experiment in 1524 died quickly. A common herb, wolfsbane has been used by witches in potions since medieval times. Mixed with belladonna it was thought to be part of a "flying potion" because it induced hallucinations of flying.

In the middle ages, wolfsbane was believed to cure lycanthropy — to prevent those afflicted from assuming their wolfen forms.

Virginia stared at the words on the page until they began to swim.

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