Phil rang the front door bell with his chin. His arms were full of files, a laptop computer case and a briefcase. He waited half a minute. There was no sign of life from inside. He tried again. Nothing. He bent his knees, careful not to disturb the precarious heap of files he was cradling in one arm, placed the laptop and briefcase on the step and fumbled in his pocket for a key. Half leaning his files against the door, he inserted the key in the lock. His struggle with the key commenced. Swearing, he took the key out of the lock, examined it, found he'd been trying to force it in upside-down, turned it over and, at last, managed to get the door open and enter his house.
The carefully balanced tower of files cascaded into the porch. Phil groaned, picked up the two cases, deposited them on the hall table, gathered up the files and arranged them in two piles next to the briefcase. What a day! What a relief to get home. How perfect it would have been if Jan had opened the door, helped to unload his burden, steered him into the conservatory, sat him down, lifted his feet onto a stool, placed a glass of wine in his hand and spoken a few gentle words of welcome. Where the devil was she anyway?
There was no sound inside the house but he could feel a breeze blowing through from the back garden and hear the sound of sawing. Picking his way through the clutter of the kitchen, he looked out the back door. Jan was reducing a buddleia to kindling. She had her back to the house. Phil called but she just carried on sawing with what appeared extraordinary vigour - violence, even. He called louder - loud enough for Jan to hear easily. She continued demolishing the over-grown shrub with even more energy and determination if anything. She must have heard. This was a bad sign.
Phil stepped quickly back into the house, retreated back through the kitchen, stampeded up the stairs, taking three at a time, swung round the post at the top and rushed across the bathroom towards the medicine cabinet at the far end. The door was hanging off and the medicines were scattered about the floor. Phil dropped to his knees and rifled quickly through, looking for Jan's medication. Spotting the bottle, he picked it up and was puzzled to find it empty.
His first thought on finding Jan reducing the large and sturdy buddleia to match-wood, was that she had failed to take her medication. There should have been a dozen or more pills in the bottle but now it was empty. If she'd taken them all, she should practically be in a coma for the next three days. IF she'd taken them. Had she? Must have!
He couldn't confront Jan on his own in her present state. That would be suicide. He looked out the bathroom window. The buddleia lay in ruins and she'd started on a thicket of eldar and holly.
His expression of worry shifted slightly to accommodate a more decisive cast. He strode out of the bathroom and across the landing, to the front bedroom, where he sat on the bed, picked up the telephone and punched in his brother-in-law's number.
"Ray? Your sister and I need you. Now! .... Yes. .... Pruning the shrubs. .... Yes. It looks as though she's taken the lot. .... No. Could you just come over please? .... A gun? You're joking! .... Is it? .... Okay, bring it then. Just hurry up!"
He heaved a sigh as he replaced the receiver, muttering "Oh man! Here we go again!"
Ray arrived within 20 minuets. Phil was waiting at the front door.
"Not so you'd notice."
"She still in the garden?"
"Am I still in one piece?"
Ray nodded, unslung a long bag from his shoulder, unzipped it, took out a rifle and loaded it with a dart. He moved quickly but cautiously towards the back door and saw Jan half hidden amongst a wreckage of branches, thrashing violently towards the next trunk with her saw. The saw blade must have been almost worn flat by this time, but still she ravaged the wood like a mad woman possessed by a demon. And that wasn't at all far from an accurate description of what she was at this moment.
Phil held his breath. Ray took careful aim at his sister, then fired. Jan stopped, dropped the saw, reached around to where the dart penetrated her right buttock, tore it out, turned a pair of luminous yellow eyes on her assailant and curled back her lips in a snarl that exposed a set of wicked looking white fangs. Ray quickly reloaded as Jan loped towards him, snarling words that were hardly recognisable as human, let alone English. Her face was contorted with rage and hatred. Ray fired the rifle again and hit Jan in the shoulder. He stepped back as her charge slowed but did not stop, and side-stepped behind the kitchen table as Jan crashed through the door. At last her face relaxed and her attack ended - she slumped into a chair, closed her eyes and tipped forward so that her head hit the table with a loud crack.
Phil leaned on the table for support. He was trembling and his legs threatened to give way under him. Ray sat calmly in a chair opposite his sister.
"I didn't get here a moment too soon, did I?"
Phil didn't answer. He was too shaken up.
"You should sit down boy. You look like a ghost."
He dragged another chair over and flopped onto it. They both just sat staring at Jan's unconscious form for a while, gathering their thoughts. Finally Phil spoke.
"What are we going to do? It doesn't look as though the medication is working any more."
He put his head in his hands and said something Ray didn't quite catch - something about a disaster.
"What? Come on, it's not that bad. It could've been worse."
"Worse? You think so?"
"Yeah, you're right. It could've been worse. Someone else could've seen her."
"Ray, it's only a matter of time before Jan loses control altogether and goes romping over the garden fence and rampaging up the street. If any of the neighbours saw her like this, the police would be round to subdue her under the dangerous dogs act."
"That's not funny mate. But point taken. She's no pooch when she's like this."
"You think I'd joke about this?"
"No. Sorry. I can see you're not."
"The physical changes are getting more obvious. You saw her eyes and teeth. Look at her ears! They'd look perfect on an Alsatian."
Phil leaned over and gave Jan's velvety brown ear an affectionate rub. She made a small whimpering noise, like an anxious puppy. Ray laughed.
"You two were made for each other! I swear, if it weren't for her unfortunate tendency to try to bite your head off when she's like this, you'd be just as happy with Jan the wolf as Jan the woman."
Beginning to relax a little, Phil smiled. "Yeah, well. Dogs are better than most humans. Jan's one of those rare, special exceptions to the general rule."
"Anyway. You're right about the physical changes getting more pronounced - and it's happening earlier in the cycle too. It must have started as soon as the moon was visible - still broad daylight."
"What happens when her hands start changing?"
"Well, she won't be able to wield and axe."
"No, she won't. Then how's she gonna work off the rage? It's no good. We've got to get away!"
"We'll take her up the lodge for a few days - just till the tide of moon-madness ebbs. No problem."
Phil groaned. "Right. No problem."
"Now don't get despondent on me Phil. You knew about this interesting feature of our family before you married Jan. You knew there was a chance it might get worse. You knew there was work to do - AND we're doing it! We don't operate like a pack any more. We're quite well organised."
"Yeah, I know but ... "
"Look. It's a curse, right? But we're working on it. Taking our fate into our own hands. And we WILL find a cure. Those of us who aren't affected just have to stay extra vigilant for the ones who are at this time of the month."
"You think I'm being a wimp?"
"No mate. You're just a bit shook up. You'll get over it. Just got to try to stay focused, right?"
"Right. Gotta stay positive. Any good news on the cure front?"
"Well, we've recruited a chemist. And another doctor. They're experimenting with some kind of lichen at the moment. It's looking quite promising."
Ray grinned and gave his brother-in-law a friendly thump on the shoulder.
"You see? It's not so bad. There're other tools in our armoury. Come on Phil. This is just an incident, not a tragedy. My sister'll be the Jan you love again by morning. In the meantime, you know the routine."
Phil stuck out his chin, assumed the least despondent expression he could manage and nodded his assent. They packed a few things, tidied Jan up and carried her out to Ray's car. She snarled quietly in her sleep as they arranged her on the back seat. Phil pulled the hood of her duffle coat up and gently tucked in her ears. He paused a moment, fastening her safety belt, to listen to a distant howl. The two men exchanged a knowing look, then settled themselves into the front seats, started the car and headed for the family's little sanctuary in the hills.