Nobody believes in werewolves.
That's just what Paul McHew and his friends are counting on.
They and their kind roam our city streets: a race of people from whom the terrible legend stems; now living among us invisibly after centuries of persecution through fear and ignorance. Superficially Caucasian but physiologically very different, with lunar rhythms so strong that during the three days of the full moon they are almost completely controlled by their hormonal instincts, you might have cursed them as just another group of brawling youths or drunken gang-bangers. Now at the point of extinction, if they are to survive their existence must remain restricted to mere stories and legend, but, paradoxically, they also must marry outside their society in order to persist.
The responsibility for negotiating this knife-edge is given to Paul, who runs the streets with his friends during the full moon, keeping them out of real trouble and its resultant difficult questions. Having succeeded for years, he finds his real test of leadership comes when he meets Susan, a potential life-mate, to whom he will have to reveal his true identity if he is ever to leave his pack.
The male characters, the werewolves, in Leaving the Pack have sex with a lot of strangers. It's best just to get that out there. They are the ultimate pick-up artists. They roam the city for two reasons: to expend energy, and to find girls. Of course, ultimately, they're looking for mates, relationships, wives. But they're in no hurry.
So how are they so successful? Pheromones.
There are many types of pheromones in nature, and most of them usually involve sex - getting it and making it worthwhile (from an evolutionary perspective). From chemicals that direct male moths towards receptive females, to the molecules that make female mice sexually receptive in the presence of a strange male (including causing pretty drastic changes in her reproductive cycle), these substances can take over animals' behaviour and make them act differently to how they would if they never smelt them.
As a zoologist, the physiology of attraction has always interested me: from the first explanation of animal behaviour and experiments using photos of handsome people and cloths soaked in sweat, to my days spent in the field, videotaping deer mating in harems. The successful bucks seemed to only get more successful, as does selected the same ones the other females had, milling around and waiting their turn.
That image might not turn everyone on - it doesn't turn me on - but it is intriguing. I wonder what would happen if we could separate that buck, bring him to another group of does who hadn't watched the previous matings. Would he still be attractive? What exactly are the does attracted to in joining his harem?
The step of translating such animal studies to humans has been taken and research is ongoing. It makes for fascinating reading, but just one example will suffice here: photos of men are voted sexier if the voter is told that 80% of previous respondents consider the man handsome rather than just 20%.
But if you meet that man in a bar, how do you know that 80% of women consider him handsome?
As I learned on facebook recently (who says Facebook can't be educational, as long as you friend learned folk?) Freud said, "How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved."
Confidence. That's what's sexy. At least, that's what everybody says, and dating experts are making money talking about it and teaching people (read men) to emanate confidence.
Doubtless you can relate to this (irrespective of your views on deer). We've all had experience of it: a run of just not getting any action and then suddenly after you find someone, there are potential partners crawling out of the woodwork looking for a date.
A friend of mine used to call it a purple patch, when you just can't go wrong in seducing any object of affection.
So how is this confidence projected? Is it in your mannerisms, your body language, your demeanour, the tenor of your voice? Or is it in your smell?
Dogs (read wolves) and other animals can smell fear. If they can smell fear, then they can smell the opposite of fear, which is confidence. If they can it's because we release such a chemical. And if we release it, why would evolution not have our own species capable of picking it up?
Is confidence perhaps just the absence of some kind of fear scent? Doubtful. While people are probably able to perceive fear as well as confidence, not being afraid is our default and thus not very sexy, while confidence is. There must be some separate substance produced, perhaps stimulated by successive conquests - not just having sex with one's regular partner. This could be why it has been so difficult to find and isolate the chemical (there are people trying). Its production is probably erratic.
Not so with the pack.
Inventing a race of werewolves allowed me free range to imagine what the scientists might find in the future. The members of the pack are infinitely sexy and have confidence in buckets, because they produce this pheromone during the full moon without even thinking about it. They're not infallible, of course. They still have to be charming, still have to seduce the objects of their affection. It's also a potential double-edged sword. Apart from the fact that if they're ever discovered, they might be milked for their pheromones like bears farmed for their bile, more immediately, not only do they have their own aggression to control, but they also often disgruntle other men in the city by attracting their girlfriends. This can make war go hand in hand with love.
The pack wield this power they have relatively benignly. They treat their ladies with respect - they don't want a lot of irate women hating them. They're powerful men, but hell hath no fury... as the saying goes. And they stay away from married women. They're very family-orientated, for all their casual sex. They don't wish to damage any long-term relationships by making a spouse guilty when she'd really less control over her actions than she realised.
We don't see so much from the ladies' point of view, except Susan's, when she first meets Paul during a full moon. She's ready to do things she'd never before contemplated (there's an excerpt of this scene below), but later, when they meet again after the moon, Paul has to prove himself just as seductive, without the aid of what he calls his "little chemical friends."
“Ehmm... I was wondering if you would like to dance with me,” he asked, gazing at the floor as he spoke and then fixing her with a stare that made her heart quicken and a reply out of her mind's reach.
‘Yes, please!’ a voice yelled inside her. Nevertheless, she knew full well by now that he was playing with her, and that the game consisted in not making things too easy for this stranger who was clearly accustomed to getting what he wanted. She had the will to resist her heart's demands, if only for a few more moments. Fixing him with an expression that said yes, her voice eventually replied, “But it's not even a slow song.”
As she said it, however, the music changed tempo to Madonna's ballad: Live to Tell. Couples began to form as the lyrics began. Susan acknowledged that she was caught. Still she paused for some time, scrutinizing him as though trying to peer inside him, before she conceded.
“OK,” she nodded with a smirk.
He smiled wryly and she put her arms around him, considering how he had manipulated her from the beginning. They danced for what seemed hours to Susan, as she clung to this beautiful man and let herself drift away, getting lost in his fragrance. It brought images to her mind of summer days in woods, raw sex in a meadow, the slight scent of wildflowers and crushed stems, encapsulated in a ring flattened by bodies rolling on the rough ground, cushioned only by the grass, feeling its texture on bare skin, the sun pouring into the circle past its borders of seed heads and the sound of bees.
She wondered about him calling her ‘sex.’ About to ask whether he had been for real or just taking the piss, she decided it didn’t matter. She thought that the word, the plain truth, was much more suited to him, and realized why she was so reluctant to give in easily to his request for a dance. It was not just a dance she had agreed to. This was not a normal situation, where she could get to know someone during the night and decide later if she would take it further. She had already crossed that line and knew that she would end up having sex with him that night. They would leave the bar and go to his place, or her place, or his car, or the alley around the side of the building – it did not matter – and she would have sex like she’d never had before.
Clinging to him now, she could arouse no resistance to the idea. In fact, she was ready to do whatever they would do, right then. She felt no need to know any more about him. His nearness and his smell were enough to make her want to leave immediately and let him do what he willed with her body.
“What’s your name? Or is it really: 'Interested'?”
She blushed again and replied, asking his before remembering that he had told her already. His name did not matter to her, either. It was superfluous information, now that he held her in his arms. He grinned, showing that he knew she had only asked him automatically.
“Well, I don't seem to have made much of an impression on you, if it takes three times for you to remember my name!”
“Yes, I'm sorry. It's Paul, isn't it?” she said, staring into his eyes for the first time since they’d begun dancing. They were so dark they seemed to be hiding in the shadows. She could not read what he was thinking - a thing she could often do - but sensed he held a secret behind those ebony orbs. Then she realized that she had been scrutinizing him for a long time and looked away.
“What are you thinking?”
“Nothing much,” she replied, searching for an answer. “Just wondering how long it is going to be before you make a pass at me.”
“I won't need to,” he whispered in her ear.
10% of the author's royalties will be donated to WWF, the World Wildlife Fund.