We’re on the last book of the series! Will it all be worth it?

To tell you the truth, I like werewolf stories. People tend to write off werewolves as the most cliché and overdone stock monsters, but too bad, I like them. If there’s any monster that’s overrated in fiction, I think it’s zombies – there’s a rant about that to come another day. But what’s Anthony Masters’s take on werewolves? All will be revealed.

We open with a gang of kids who are on a camp-out with their youth club or something. As usual, they decide to tell scary stories. A girl called Kim has a scar on her throat and someone jokes that a werewolf bit her, which she denies. No way is that an obvious lie! They all get talking about werewolves and Tom says he has a true story to tell, honest guv:

Full Moon

Richard and Neil are on a camping trip. They’re kept awake half the night by the sound of an animal howling, which they assume is from the nearby zoo. It scares them enough that in the morning they decide to check out the zoo, just to prove there’s nothing scary going on.

We’re all going to the zoo tomorrow …

The animals at the zoo are being kept in horribly cramped conditions. As you can probably tell, PETA doesn’t have a strong presence in the UK. Fergus Armstrong, who owns the zoo, tells the boys not to worry. He’s just taken over the business, and is about to have the whole place renovated with new enclosures for all the animals. But the lady on the ticket desk says Armstrong is a liar; he’s been running the zoo for six years, and has done nothing. He just lies about it so the authorities won’t close him down. The boys notice a wolf that appears to be glaring venomously at Armstrong. There’s such a deft subtlety of touch to Anthony Masters’s foreshadowing, and that is why I love him so much.

When the boys go to sleep that night, the howling starts up again. Suddenly it stops abruptly. They fear that Armstrong is abusing the wolf, so they decide to go back to the zoo and break in – OK, seriously. What is it with these books having children constantly break and enter? They arrive just in time to see the wolf chasing Armstrong, who shuts himself in a cage for his own safety. The boys see that this is no ordinary wolf; it has fangs!

Richard makes noise, alerting the wolf. A chase ensues. For a moment, the wolf changes into a boy their own age, then changes back again. There’s no explanation as to how that happens, other than to make it obvious that this is a werewolf. I know you don’t usually expect to find werewolves in a book called Werewolf Stories to Tell in the Dark, but hey, life’s full of surprises. The boys lose the wolf, but then decide to FOLLOW IT BACK TO THE ZOO. I honestly don’t know how much more of this I can take, and we’re only one chapter into the book.

Armstrong tells the boys to get in the cage with him before the werewolf comes back. He says the staff will let them out in the morning. Neil and Richard say no, but then the werewolf arrives, and they hide quickly. The werewolf becomes human again, opens the cage, and then turns back into a wolf and kills Armstrong.

It’s difficult to make sense of this story. The werewolf is apparently in wolf form most of the time, even during the day; yet it can change back into a human at will? If so, why didn’t it do that before so it could escape from the zoo? We’re not off to a very promising start here.

Sweet Dreams

Tina has a recurring dream of running across the moor at night, consumed with a hunger for human flesh. Is there some kind of innuendo bingo card we can tick off here? Whenever she has this dream, there’s a news report the next morning that a wolf-like beast was seen on the moor. She also finds that her sports clothes are all muddy, proving she’s been outside. Now, in a book like this you might be drawn to a certain conclusion. But Tina doesn’t think anyone will believe her, because she’s a “twelve-year-old schoolgirl, her mother the local postmistress and her father a farm manager.” Well, she can’t possibly be a werewolf then. The Werewolf Handbook says so.

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Chapter 18, Page 253: “No werewolves or their families shall be employed by Royal Mail”

Tina has the dream again, but this time, a local resident called Jureg Kalinsky shows up. Remember, folks: for that note of authenticity in your horror story, just clumsily crowbar an Eastern European character into the plot. Kalinsky says something about silver bullets, then shoots at Tina. Sure enough, when she wakes up, she’s been shot in the arm. She decides that after school she must go to visit Kalinsky – but he’s been expecting her. He confirms she is a werewolf and that there’s a curse on her family. The only thing that might save her is bathing in moonlit water. He tells her to go to a nearby open-air pool that night.

Tina goes to the pool, freezes her arse off in the cold water, then goes home. That night she has the same “dream”, and this time, there’s another wolf. They fight and she bites her enemy in the leg. When she wakes up, she’s so scared she decides to tell her cousin Ben. But he’s not at school, so she goes over to his house. His mother says he’s very ill and has a mysterious fever. When Tina goes up to his room she sees he has a bite mark in his leg – and that there’s fur beginning to grow on her hands.

In a post-script, the kid telling the story explains that Tina and Ben were eventually shot and killed. Their bodies were found by the pool in the moonlight, and Jureg Kalinsky still lives in the village. So all’s well that ends well, then? Let’s face it, this guy is the real villain of the piece. He gave them a “cure” that doesn’t work, and told them where to go so he’d know exactly where to find them. Murdering bastard

The Institute

Danny and Mary are curious about the “Institute”: a decrepit old building with a constant stream of people coming in and out. Their teacher vaguely says that the Institute is for scientific research, yet doesn’t know what kind of research. One day, the kids decide to check it out. There’s a sign saying that it’s “The Lycanthropy Institute”, but they don’t know what this means. (They aren’t quite as sharp as some of Masters’s other protagonists, who would just go to the library for a dose of exposition.)

The kids nose around inside the building. There’s a clock ticking, which seems to get louder by the second, and makes Mary feel like “(her) time’s running out.” The ground floor contains several motel-style rooms with nameplates on the doors, and the kids find animal hair on one of the pillows. They go upstairs, where there is nothing interesting – but then they hear people downstairs. Danny and Mary stay put for hours, afraid to leave their hiding place. Finally, everything goes quiet. After a while they dare to venture out, but Danny insists on looking inside one of the rooms or he’ll “spend the rest of (his) life wondering.” Fear not, Danny, I don’t think that’s going to be very long.

Danny peeks around the door and sees a sleeping woman, but nothing else. As he closes the door, he crashes into Mary, who falls to the ground with a thunderous noise like a typewriter being dropped inside a skip. A guy comes out of one of the rooms; and the kids run for it. But the front door’s locked. The clock chimes wildly, and the kids hammer on the door, eventually managing to get it open somehow.

They make a break for the nearest London Underground station, but it is suspiciously empty. Danny remembers that there’s a Tube strike this evening, so no trains. The people from the Lyncanthropy Institute catch up with the kids and chase them. Danny and Mary run down to the platform, and a train passes by, but doesn’t stop and no one is on it. After much futile running around, the kids break out through an emergency exit, and run smack into the werewolves who were waiting for them on the other side.

Every lycanthrope's favourite London destination.

Every lycanthrope’s favourite London destination.

The narrator of the story says that Danny and Mary did get home, but “were never the same again.” Someone else explains that lycanthropy is “the power to change oneself into a wolf.” It’s true that in some mythology a werewolf can transform whenever they want, but the idea that werewolves change at the full moon  is so prevalent in fiction that I can’t help thinking this would confuse a lot of readers. Anyway, our young storytellers are so creeped out that some of them want to go to sleep, but then a refugee boy says he’s got a story. And the others can’t say no, because he’s a refugee.

Meat

Andros and his family are living in a refugee camp in … I don’t need to tell you where, do I? The author doesn’t even specify which part of Eastern Europe. I guess at least that means he’s not insulting any real-life country. The refugees are starving, but one day Andros’s father says that his old friend Fidov has somehow managed to sneak meat into the camp. Fidov claims that he got it from a Red Cross patrol at the border.

That night, the refugees cook the meat around the fire. But it is so disgusting that Andros and his sister Ela can’t eat it. The other kids wolf down the lot and then start in on Andros’s portion. That night, Ela wakes up Andros in the night and says there are wolves around the fence. Andros tries to tell her that all the wolves in the area died out years ago, but she insists she’s seen them and that they are waiting for something.

The next morning all the kids in the camp, except Andros and Ela, are mysteriously missing. Andros’s father says they’re just sick. There’s a makeshift hospital on the grounds, and Andros finds all the children in there, writhing around in agony. His friend claims that “they’re waiting for us”, but doesn’t specify what or who. Andros and Ela are told that Fidov has mysteriously “moved on”; and that night, they’re woken by the howling of wolves. Sure enough, the fence is surrounded by wolves. Ela says that there are many more than there were the night before.

A man comes running out of the hospital, saying “the children are gone.” Andros sees that the fence is covered in torn bits of the children’s clothing. He wonders how they could have climbed the fence if they are so ill, but Andros’s father ushers his family into a hut and barricades them in. The wolves leap over the fence and eat anyone who didn’t get indoors fast enough. Andros’s father says they’re coming for “the meat they’ve learned to crave.” One of them tries to break down the door, and Andros realises to his shock that this wolf has the familiar eyes of his friend. The next day, the surviving refugees are moved on to a new camp.

I don’t know what to make of this one, really. You can tell I’m not fond of random Eastern European characters or settings just for the cheap Hammer Horror effect. What the hell did the meat come from, anyway? Another werewolf?

The Padding of Paws

Sarah’s mother has just married the captain of an oil tanker. So for their honeymoon they’re taking the tanker through the Norwegian fjords. Sarah hates her new stepdad, but she still has to come along for the ride. She spends the whole trip being rude and sulky to everyone, and wandering around the tanker by herself. One day, she finds a guy climbing up a ladder out of one of the oil tanks. He’s got a nasty cut on his face, but gives Sarah the brush-off when she asks if he’s OK. Sarah thinks this is weird and then realises why: because it looked more like he had a bite than a cut.

Sarah’s stepdad denies there are any animals on board, but does warn her not to climb into the tanks. He’s smuggling Things He Should Not Have, and also the tanks are dangerous. So of course she wants to explore one. She gets partway down the ladder and then hears what sounds like dogs growling. She comes to the conclusion that he’s got guard dogs keeping watch over something illegal. Hurrah! If Sarah can get evidence against him, he’ll go to jail and her mother will divorce him!

Sarah grabs a torch light and tries to look inside the tank through the inspection hatch. It’s too dark to see much, but she does hear what sounds like animal paws pacing constantly back and forth. This, combined with an unearthly stink, convinces her that the creatures are no dogs. But she’s determined to go into the tank and catch her stepdad out at whatever horrible crime he’s committing. She climbs down the ladder towards what she thinks is a row of red lights; but realises too late that they’re eyes. Somehow, the eyes hypnotise her into climbing down for the wolves to eat.

Crime: Together, we'll crack it.

Crime: Together, we’ll crack it.

The injured crew member shows up out of nowhere. He cries out to her to come back up, but she can’t. He stamps down on her knuckles, and the pain cuts through her senses, breaking the spell over her so she can climb up to safety. This was a great idea, and in no way ran the risk of making her break her grip and fall off the ladder. Sarah passes out, and when she wakes up, her stepfather explains that suspicious villagers believed the creatures were cursed. He doesn’t believe this, oh no of course not, but they’ve paid him to drown the wolves when the tanker reaches the deepest water.

Sarah’s woken in the night by the sound of the wolves being released into the water. She shudders at their pitiful cries, which now sound oddly human. Then again that might be the crew member. He was bitten by a werewolf, so he should have been thrown overboard too, right? The captain did remember that … right?

This story wasn’t bad at all. Sarah’s a horrid brat, but the oil tanker made for an interesting setting, and the wolves are kept mysterious in a way that actually works and isn’t just the author not bothering to fill in details.

Up next: The end! That’s it! This is the last book!

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