Sera descended the creaky stairs to the basement, the all too familiar sounds of panic growing louder as she approached to basement door and turned the key.
Michelle stopped pacing in her cell as she heard the lock tumble open and Sera appeared in the doorway.
"Who are you?" Michelle asked, trying not to sound frightened, but failing. She was wearing the black jumper and pants Sera had left in the cage last night, her blue eyes shining with utter terror from beneath her wild, unkempt blonde curls.
"My name is Seraphina Delarosa. Three weeks ago you survived a wild dog attack two blocks from your apartment on Santa Cruz."
"How do you know that?" Michelle stammered, stepping back from the bars as Sera moved closer and sat down on the only stool in the room, her back leaning against the wall, less than a foot from the edge of the cage. Sera heard the top stair creak and knew she had an audience.
"The dogs that bit you were infected with a virus. This disease was transmitted to you through their bite. There is no cure." Sera added, trying hard not to scare her already terrified captive.
"What virus?" Michelle asked, fingering the already faded scares on her arms. "Is this some kind of quarantine? Where am I? How did I get here?"
"Please watch the monitor. It will help explain some of your questions." Sera said nodding towards a screen mounted on the wall, sealed behind protective Perspex glass.
"This is a real time recording of your activities since you arrived her two nights ago. I will play this recording in fast forward to save time, but I assure you it has in no way been altered from what was captured by the security camera over the last few days." Sera explained, knowing how cold she sounded, but not wanting to befriend the girl, for fear of what may be to come. She hit play on the remote and Michelle turned to face the screen.
The camera flashed into life, displaying images of the cage descending with a sedated animal figure lying on the floor. The figure lurched into consciousness and began to wildly claw at the walls and the bars. The camera caught close up glimpses of the animals' face as it thrashed about the cage, showing glowing yellow eyes and sharp fangs.
"I don't understand what this has to do with me. Is this the animal that bit me?" Michelle asked, but Sera just waved her back to the screen.
The timer clicked down to the last hour and Sera slowed the footage down to normal speed. Michelle watched as the animal shook, shuddered and lurched around the cage, its body morphing from a four legged, hairy creature into that of a naked woman, lying unconscious in the middle of the floor. The final few minutes of the grainy footage showed Michelle standing up, wandering bewildered around the cage and dressing in the clothes left on a high shelf in the corner.
Sera stopped the footage and Michelle turned to her in disbelief. Before Michelle could object, Sera walked over to the cage and thrust her arm through the bars.
"What are you doing?" Michelle said, backing up until she hit the far wall.
"Just watch." Sera ordered as she concentrated. Her arm shook slightly from the effort as her slender fingers lengthened, sharp claws emerging from her fingertips as her arm morphed into a muscular clawed paw. Michelle leaned harder into the wall, her eyes black with terror. Sera remained still, concentrating on holding the change only in her arm as Michelle worked up the courage to approach, her eyes fixated on Sera's trembling limb. Michelle reached out gingerly, just touching the claw on what passed for Sera's index finger.
"Jesus!" Michelle exclaimed, pulling her hand back like a child who had touched a scaly skin of a carpet python for the first time.
"You are infected with Lycanis Rubra Vera- a virus that causes massive, recurrent physiological mutations. These changes are dependent on the levels of virus present in your blood, which vary according to the cycles of the moon and the lunar affect on the human physiology. You're a werewolf, Michelle. Welcome to the club." Sera attempted to joke as she pulled her limb back through the bars and allowed it to morph back into her arm again.
"It's not possible." Michelle whispered, her hands trembling as they covered her gaping mouth.
"I'm sorry. This is a fact you must accept. You have one hour to make your decision." Sera said, her tone becoming solemn.
"What decision?" Michelle asked, not sure she really wanted to know the answer.
"Your infection was an accident, Michelle. A few infected individuals were out to have a good time, to hunt and kill. You were wandering the street alone, at night, and they picked you. You were never meant to survive. You were just lunchmeat to them. Some local police happened by, intervening before the pack could kill you. The infection you sustained from the attack that night helped to repair your injuries- injuries that would have killed a normal human. And now you're here and you must choose." Sera took a deep breath and continued. "Right now we are surrounded by a pack of Lycans- werewolves. You must decide if you want to join the pack out there or if you want to start over in Lincoln Falls, where you could live a relatively normal existence, learning to live with the repercussions of your infection."
I want to go home." Michelle said, tears escaping from her frightened eyes. Sera looked away, staring into the darkest corner of the room.
"You can never go home, Michelle. Every full moon you will change into that monster you saw on the screen and kill. I can't let you do that. These are your only two choices- Lincoln Falls or the pack."
"And if I choose the pack?"
"I will allow you to leave here now, if that is your decision."
"Just like that?" Michelle questioned, knowing there had to be more than that going on.
"Yes." Sera replied, soberly. "Then I will hunt you down like the animal you will have chosen to become and destroy you before you hurt anyone else."
Michelle stared back at her in shock.
"And if I choose Lincoln Falls?" Michelle stammered.
"You will be educated on how to live with your infection. You could live a relatively normal existence, contributing to the community, hold down a job. Maybe even meet someone and start a family. You may even live to seen your grandchildren born in Lincoln Falls. If you survive."
"What do you mean if I survive?" Michelle asked, feeling more confused by the minute. Sera sensed her bewilderment and sighed.
"Okay. This is how it goes: If you join the pack you have less than a 3 chance of survival. You will most probably be killed by me or others like me, or will die of pack brutality, starvation or disease. In Lincoln Falls the stats are a little better. There's a 30 chance you will become a productive member of the community and live a long, happy life."
"What happens to the rest of the people who go to Lincoln Falls?" Michelle asked, her voice shaky and small.
"The rest of the people who choose the Falls will do one of two things- leave and attempt to rejoin the pack, resulting in death by pack brutality, starvation, etcetera, etcetera or they choose to commit suicide."
"Why do they kill themselves?" Michelle asked, still sensing there was something her captor was holding back.
"There are so many reasons for someone to go that way. In some cases intervention was too late and the individual had already massacred their loved ones. It is nearly impossible for anyone to recover from that kind of devastation." Michelle sensed an overwhelming sadness in Sera's voice as she spoke. "Other cases its guilt over leaving people behind, self-hatred, depression, loneliness, who knows. Some refuse to accept their new condition and end up killing their own families when they attempt to return home." Sera avoided eye contact, the morbid subject matter making her feel extremely uncomfortable.
"I would never hurt my family." Michelle protested. "I want to go home."
"I'm sorry. You can't control the change. It's just instinct."
"You don't know that. You don't know me at all. I could be different. And you can control it, why can't I?" Michelle screamed, becoming hysterical.
"Your right. I don't know you or what you're capable of. But I do know for sure you will never be able to control it." Sera replied softly.
"Why not?" Michelle challenged.
"Two reasons- There are only seven people on this continent that can do what I can do and it all depends on the right genetics, which you don't have. And…" Sera hesitated.
"And the second reason?" Michelle pushed, rage bubbling beneath the surface.
"You've already killed your family. I was too late to stop you. Your husband, Pete, your two children, Matthew and little Michael, and your dog, Speckles, are all dead."
Michelle dropped to her knees, tears streaming down her face, crying 'no' over and over again.
Sera shifted her weight, desperate to leave the basement as quickly as she could.
"I'm sorry. I need your answer in an hour." Sera said and rushed out of the room, not even sure if Michelle heard her over her own sobs. Sera took the stairs two at a time, relieved to be away from Michelle's overwhelming outpouring of grief, and bumped into Sam at the top of the stairs.
"You could have been kinder, she just lost her family." Sam criticised.
"Don't tell me how to do my job." Sera growled, shoving Sam hard into the wall and forcing her way past.