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The Werewolf of Slumberday
M. Lopes da Silva
The moon looked full but it was one night waned. At the heart of Slumberday, the moonchimes struck midnight, each note vibrating the long metal leaves of the towering pearlescent structure to create a mournful melody. As the final note played, a cloud of artificial bees drifted out from the center of the moonchimes, humming gently, their yellow LEDs marking their disparate routes as they pollinated and monitored the community’s vast garden. The freshly appointed detective, Seth Oliveira, and his assistant, Tobias Ishiguro, both gardeners, examined the crime scene: half a dozen young dragon fruit trees had been crushed, their twiggy trunks split lengthwise. A crowd had gathered around the broken trees. Oddly enough, they were exchanging rumors of a werewolf.
“No such thing as a werewolf—”
“Did you hear all that howling, though?”
“What howling?” asked Seth, pointing his trowel at the crowd. “Who heard howling, and when?”
The head gardener, an old woman with short cropped hair and a muscular, stout body, stepped forward. “I heard it, and so did Deepti, my wife. It was late yesternight, almost around dawn I’d say.”
Seth nodded. “Who was the dayshift guard?”
“I think Hernandez was working dayshift,” the head gardener said.
“Is she here?” he asked the crowd. She wasn’t.
Tobias looked up from a damaged tree. “I think there’s fur on this one.”
The crowd’s volume increased.
“Let me see,” Seth said. He leaned down to examine the broken sapling that Tobias pointed at. There was indeed a tiny clump of something dark and fuzzy caught there. Seth removed a piece of paper from his vest, then pinched the fiber inside of it, plucking the clue free from the tree’s bark and depositing it in his pocket.
Seth and Tobias walked from the garden to the solar panel-roofed buildings that ringed it, those panels now pitched to catch the subtle lunar light. The buildings glowed with animated biolum lights and LEDs advertising Slumberday’s various delights: produce bars, tea shops, bookstores, dance clubs, biomechanics, and art galleries, all popular with the clientele, the majority being tourists and retirees. Slumberday’s famous garden made the settlement of Slumberday wealthy; they traded with some of the other settlements—and anyone who came in off the Wheel—but residents received regular allotments of goods from the garden themselves. It was settlement policy that all who lived within Slumberday be provided food, healthcare, and shelter; the elderly and disabled residents depended on these things to live. If someone was willfully harming the garden, it had to be stopped.
“Who do you think did it?” Tobias asked.
“It looked messy. Maybe it was just an animal,” Seth said.
“The moonchimes didn’t report any unusual organics in the garden,” Tobias said. “Just those who already have clearance.”
“Then why all the howling?” Seth asked.
Tobias shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe it really was a werewolf.”
“Werewolves aren’t real,” Seth said.
“Sure. Maybe the howls were a sex thing?”
“Maybe? Or somebody practicing their singing or stubbing their toe or a bunch of drunk kids crashing around—who knows? Let’s just put the howling aside for a minute. We still don’t know if this was intentional or an accident,” Seth said.
“Why would anyone intentionally ruin our fruit trees?” Tobias asked.
“To scare us? Or to send a message? There’s a couple settlements that want us to stop providing allotments to residents for free because they want the opportunity to buy those goods instead.”
“I guess. But wouldn’t they want us to know that the message was coming from them?”
Seth sighed. “It’s not a great theory, Tobias. I’ve only been a detective for a day. Do you remember the last time a crime happened around here? Because I don’t. I’m a very tired trans man who only had a veggie bun for lunch. I’m supposed to be checking the humidity on some seedbeds right now, not solving a crime.”
“Just one bun again? You need to get some more food in your system, Seth.”
“I know, I know. I got distracted during lunch and had to fix a sprinkler. Let’s stay focused, here.”
“Yes, on crime.”
They walked through the streets of Slumberday, through the splashes of neon violet, blue, and pink. Past the outdoor moon theater, which was projecting an old black and white film on the moon’s surface as it traveled across the sky, or at least appeared to; the detectives hadn’t rented headsets to see the film. The moon was large, but not terribly large above them — the locals enjoyed the novelty of the experience far more than the quality of the screen. Tobias and Seth heard laughter as they walked by. Must be a comedy screening tonight. The moonchimes struck one. A squeaking trio of bats flew high across the desert clouds.
Hernandez’s roommate answered the door to the adobe-walled apartment, squinting blearily in their pajamas.
“Hi,” croaked the roommate, “sorry, not used to the night-as-day thing yet. Uh, is that a trowel?”
Seth looked down at the garden implement in his hand, then put it away and smiled at them. “Yes, as a matter of fact it is. Move here recently?”
“Yeah, I took the Wheel here—have you ever traveled in that thing? I couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking that the giant gyroscopic machine would just fall over in the middle of the desert. But it didn’t!”
“I’ve never ridden in it. The cabins are always too expensive – and I’m not sure where I’d take it to anyway,” Seth said.
“Oh, you could take it to one of the coastal settlements, or maybe even a mountain one. I’m from Plastic Lake – it’s actually really pretty there. The microplastic moves like water. It even has a tide,” they said.
Seth smiled at them. “That sounds like something to see,” he said. “What’s your name? I haven’t seen you in Slumberday before.”
“I’m Orion,” they said.
“It’s great to meet you, Orion, I’m Seth,” Seth said.
“And I’m Tobias and I’ve been on the Wheel—not that you two would be interested,” Tobias said. Seth and Orion looked at him blankly, and then laughed.
Orion had to wake up Hernandez. She came out in a bathrobe, reluctantly, but perked up when Orion agreed to make some tea.
“I didn’t see any damage when I left work, but I wasn’t looking for plant damage, just animals or kids in case they decided to carve trees or pull leaves,” Hernandez said. “I did hear that howling, though.”
Orion had kept their knuckles pressed against their mouth as they listened to Seth recount his story. Now they spoke.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I broke your trees,” they said.
“What?” Seth asked, a bit disappointed.
“That can’t be right—what about the fur?” Tobias asked.
Orion looked a bit blank, then said. “Oh, I think I tore a hole in my coat last night—should I go get it?”
Seth nodded so Orion went and got their jacket. They all stared at the fresh hole in the sleeve, the same color as the fibers in the paper that Seth had stuffed in his pocket. Seth frowned.
“But why did you do it?” he asked.
“Well, it wasn’t intentional. I was just taking a look at the garden because she suggested it. It’s really a beautiful garden. But, I don’t know, I just moved here and I miss my friends. There’s nobody here that I know aside from Hernandez, and she’s wonderful, but—”
“But I’m also straight, and not the community you’re looking for,” Hernandez said.
“Yeah. Like she said. So I got lonely. Started crying. I fell. And I was lying there, in the mud, looking up at the sky, absolutely done with this place and lonely as hell, and I don’t know where it came from, but I just started howling at the moon. Like it would help me summon my pack.”
Seth’s expression twisted wryly. “Well, maybe it worked. Report to the garden for mandatory community service tomorrow night. You’re one of us now.”
And they were.
M. Lopes da Silva (she/they/he) is a non-binary and bisexual author from Los Angeles. They write queer California horror and everything else. Their fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers, Stories of the Eye, and Your Body is Not Your Body: A New Weird Anthology to Benefit Trans Youth in Texas. Dread Stone Press will be publishing their first novelette What Ate the Angels – a queer vore sludgefest that travels beneath the streets of Los Angeles – as part of their forthcoming Split series.